Author Archives: Tara

Favorite Books for Spring

Spring is officially in the air (in some places more than others) and, man, am I ready for it. I’ve slowly been coming around to winter over the years, but there comes a point when you’re ready for fresh air, open windows, short sleeves and leaves on the trees again, y’know? And even though it’s raining and snowing right now in my neck of the woods, I can still get those springy, fresh vibes from some of my favorite rejuvenating novels. There’s nothing really about them that makes them specifically spring-like, but all of them make me energized and happy, and what else is springtime for?

The Ordinary Princess – M. M. Kaye

The ordinary princess book cover


“Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries . . . or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she’s so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there . . . much to everyone’s surprise . . . she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is!”

This is a short, easy, delightful read. It’s a middle grade book but if you enjoy cute, straightforward, fairy tale stories, you’ll enjoy this. It’s sure to soothe away the harshness of winter!

The Goose Girl – Shannon Hale

The Goose Girl book cover

 

“Anidora-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree spent the first years of her life listening to her aunt’s incredible stories, and learning the language of the birds. Little knowing how valuable her aunt’s strange knowledge would prove to be when she grew older. From the Grimm’s fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she could become a queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original and magical tale of a girl who must understand her own incredible talents before she can overcome those who wish her harm.”

Maybe there’s just something about fairy tales that lift my spirits? I’m not sure, but pretty much anything Shannon Hale writes will do the trick. I chose The Goose Girl for this post even though it’s not my favorite of Hale’s novels (that honor goes to Princess Academy) because there’s something distinctly nature-loving threaded throughout this story. Perfect light, fresh read for the early thawing months.

The Blue Castle – L. M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle book cover


“Valancy lives a drab life with her overbearing mother and prying aunt. Then a shocking diagnosis from Dr. Trent prompts her to make a fresh start. For the first time, she does and says exactly what she feels. As she expands her limited horizons, Valancy undergoes a transformation, discovering a new world of love and happiness. One of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s only novels intended for an adult audience, The Blue Castle is filled with humour and romance.”

This one’s definitely on the more adult/serious side of things, but is so sweet and inspiring that it’s got to be on the list. I love Valancy’s independence and the way she takes control of her life when she has nothing left to lose. This novel is a perfect way to step into a fresh season and reevaluate. Charming as heck.

Anne of Green Gables – L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables book cover

 

“Everyone’s favorite redhead, the spunky Anne Shirley, begins her adventures at Green Gables, a farm outside Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. When the freckled girl realizes that the elderly Cuthberts wanted to adopt a boy instead, she begins to try to win them and, consequently, the reader, over.”

I came to this story as an adult—and I am so sad I didn’t grow up with Anne Shirley, because she would have changed my life. Luckily, I have this story now, and she’s changing my life anyway. I’m not sure any book could be better for spring when you’re given the chance to see this beautiful world through Anne’s eyes. Her descriptions of Green Gables make me want to move there immediately. I love this book.

Honorable Mention: The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden book cover


“Ten-year-old orphan Mary Lennox comes to live in a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors and discovers an invalid cousin and the mysteries of a locked garden.”

This one is an honorable mention only because I haven’t actually read it before. But I’d like to read it this spring, because if it’s anything like the movie it’ll get me right in the season-change mood with all the gardeny, earthy, mysterious and beautiful feelings evoked in its pages. What could be more perfect for spring than a book about a garden coming back to life?

Got any favorite books for springtime? Let me know! And hopefully wherever you are there’s a little more sunshine and warm weather. Maybe we can will it upon ourselves with a bit of spring reading, hm? 

A Defense of Twilight

Yes, you read that right.

I’m sure I’m not the first to have written something like this, particularly since it’s well past prime time for Twilight…anything. The wave of wild appreciation for the novels passed long ago, as did the quick-to-follow wave of derision. But it’s something that I think is actually quite important, as a writer and as a human. Important enough to sit down a write a spiel about a decade later. Important enough that I must first give you some of my personal history with Twilight.

Allow me to set the scene:

It is 2006. I am sitting on a charter bus that is swaying its way across the west American desert in the general direction of Anaheim, California, where my high school choir will be singing about 15% of the time and engaging in all manner of (mostly innocent) teenage degeneracy at Disneyland for the other 85%. Sitting beside me is one of my friends with a book in her hands, and she is entirely captivated. The cover art is compellingly simple, a solid design. I’ve seen it before, numerous times and in numerous hands; I ask what the book is about. My friend hands me the book to read the synopsis.

Twilight back cover synposis


I wasn’t particularly interested, then. It sounded “girly” and at this time in my life I took great pride in not being “girly,” which is a whole separate topic for another day. And, setting my disappointing aversion to stereotypically female things aside, I tended to prefer older and more fantastical settings in my novels. So a year or two passed before I thought of the Twilight books again.

Somehow my family acquired copies of the first few books and brought them on a family trip to Yellowstone. My mom, brother, and I each read all of the available books within that 4-5 day trip while my dad, presumably, wondered what the big deal was. (I think he tried to read them and gave up after the first couple of pages. Haha.) I was as drawn into the books as everyone else seemed to have been, as much as my friend on the bus had been that day in 2006. Suddenly I was part of their popularity, buying the final books the day they were released and discussing the story and characters with my friends.

And then…the backlash. Suddenly the books were a stain on literacy. Few would admit to ever having liked them. The grammar was ripped apart, the questionable ethics of Edward and Bella’s relationship were illuminated and decried, the interpretation of vampires became an offense to mythology, and those brave enough to stand by their beloved book series were mocked as stupid teenagers or horny house wives. And I admit—I joined in. Not in mocking people for liking something (that’s rude, guys), but I did make fun of the novels. I saw the poor grammar, the purposefully bland character of Bella, the stalker-but-it’s-okay-because-she-likes-it character of Edward, and I acquired the same harsh contempt for the books that so many around me adopted.

Gif reads We're kind of the freaks of the vampire world!


But here’s the thing: I recently read the books again, knowing that they’re not my genre, that the grammar was pretty shoddy, that the romance was dubious and controversial, and that my opinion of the book was probably the most unforgiving of any book I’d ever read. And I couldn’t put it down. I was hooked—again! All that other stuff didn’t matter. And that’s when I realized that for as much hate as Stephanie Meyer got for these books she’d tapped into something that created a phenomenon, and there was something there that would teach me about writing.

This book has a relatable main character.

Gif reads I never felt normal. Because I'm not normal, I don't want to be.


So many women enjoyed reading this book because Bella is, shall we say, versatile. She has very few defining personality traits, which is often pointed out as a flaw of the book (and I would agree.) But she does have several very understandable interests and motivations. She wants to be seen as something special—so do most of us. She would make great sacrifices for love—so would many of us. Many times Bella feels underqualified for her situation—too normal, too ordinary.  I don’t know about you, but that feels very familiar.

If you are a writer, I wouldn’t recommend doing this the “Bella” way. Good characters feel like fully finished people, with their own interests and quirks and faults that make them unique. But Stephanie Meyer did a good enough job with the other stuff—the external things that we can all understand and relate to—that it was wildly successful anyway. That’s pretty impressive, when you think about it.

It got people to read. 

Gif of girl holding up a book


This really needs no explanation. Twilight was one of the most successful book series of all time, and it brought hundreds of previous non-readers into the world of words and imagination. I think that’s worth something, don’t you?

The mockery of Twilight fans and their interests is frequently rooted in sexism. 

Gif reads I'm just crazy!


Yeah…here’s where my feminist side struts on out to present my unsolicited hot take. But honestly, the interests of teenage girls and stay-at-home moms are constantly, constantly made fun of by anyone who doesn’t fall into these categories, and often by people who do (like younger me). Music, hobbies, fashion and—of course—books that women latch onto are widely considered to be silly or frivolous or any manner of unflattering adjectives. A series as wildly popular as Twilight was would never have received the extreme and near-immediate backlash that it did if it weren’t so popular among female audiences. Isn’t that sad? I’m not saying that if you made fun of this book or its readers that you are definitely sexist, but it is a thing and worth considering. This series got people to read and made those oft-mocked readers feel special and interesting as they stepped into Bella’s shoes. Maybe that’s not really super cool to make fun of, in the end.

This whole rant/essay isn’t here to change anyone’s opinion about the books. They’re definitely not for everyone, and you don’t have to think they’re good. But if you’re someone who, like me, used to wonder why so many people loved this “trash”…well, as they say, sometimes these things are more treasure than we think. Perhaps it’s better to wonder what we can learn from it instead.

Happy reading, friends!