This comes with the normal disclaimer that, of course, I like tons of bloggers and can’t feature them all, but I’d like to give a shout-out to at least some of my favorites!
Also I have not filled out a nomination for every category (for example, I don’t follow romance blogs), so if you want to nominate bloggers, you should check out the original rules post at Forever and Everly or Drizzle and Hurricane Books.
I think some people got the impression I did not actually like this story based on my review, which admits that parts of it are contradictory or don’t make sense (and segments are literally missing), but I did enjoy it! It’s wild and over the top like some of the most entertaining medieval literature, and it leads to interesting questions and conversations about God, love, duty, and more!
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is definitely a gem I’ve been overlooking for far too long. I love nearly every book I’ve read by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, so I have no idea why I haven’t read this until now. On the bright side, I do think I appreciate a story about strong women surviving abusive relationships more now as an adult than I might have if, say, I had read this as a teen.
I did say in my initial review that I don’t quite love this book or find it as life-changing as many people do, but I did enjoy it! It was different and interesting and quite motivational, and it made me think about everything from destiny to purpose to religion to love, so it was a very worthwhile read.
I love fairy tale retellings, and Thorn reminded me why. An original take on “The Goose Girl,” it kept me glued to the pages as I wondered how the protagonist would reclaim her rightful identity and manage to save her new home from a terrible ruler.
This is a beautiful and unique novel that’s imbued with magic–but in a more subtle way than one typically associates with high fantasies. It’s also a wonderful celebration of literature. I highly recommend it.
I really just mean the entire Scythe trilogy when I list The Toll. Shusterman’s story is bold and original and not quite like anything I’ve read in YA recently–or probably ever. It also makes the reader think about life and death and even God and free will.
A timely, crucial, and empowering exploration of racism–and antiracism–in America
This is NOT a history book. This is a book about the here and now. A book to help us better understand why we are where we are. A book about race.
The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.
Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.
Popular middle grade and young adult author Jason Reynolds offers a “remix” of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning for the teen crowd. Essentially, the book is a distillation of Kendi’s, a focus on some of the key moments and figures in the history of racism and antiracism in Europe and the U.S. Although assured that they are not reading a history book, teens, will, in fact, learn a history of ideas, starting with the “world’s first racist” and ending with the election of President Barack Obama and the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. The book is a succinct, accessible overview and it is no surprise that educators and librarians have been eager to pick up and share this stunning new release.
Some readers may fear nonfiction or worry about picking up a book that is meant to be “educational.” Jason Reynolds expertly seeks to engage these readers, promising them that he is not writing them a history book (although he clearly is–maybe just not the kind they expected) and crystallizing ideas into easy-to-understand images and concepts. Readers can power through what is not really a lengthy book, by any means, and still close the pages feeling like they have learned a lot–a lot they certainly never learned in school. Though the book is marketed as young adult, it will appeal to anyone looking for a history book that feels accessible and relevant.
Because the book is really just an overview, some readers may be disappointed by what appear to be possibilities for lengthier discussion. For instance, the book’s treatment of Abraham Lincoln is one I have seen cropping up more regularly in recent history books. This is the announcement that–surprise, surprise!–Lincoln isn’t the hero you think he was. He did not set out to end slavery when he was elected president, it took him a long time to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, and the proclamation was largely powerless since it only applied to states in rebellion, over which the U.S., at the time, had no control. Newer history books try to shock readers with these “revelations.”
However, Lincoln’s complexities and seeming contradictions are no secret. Any decent biography acknowledges all this. The interesting part of the story is possibly not so much that Lincoln was not the ardent abolitionist some people assume, but the political machinations of his day. For instance, Lincoln did run on a platform that was anti-expansionist (against the expansion of slavery into any of the new territories) and not one that was abolitionist (a promise to end slavery everywhere), but why? Despite Lincoln’s personal beliefs that slavery was wrong, he also recognized that, even in the North, abolitionism was seen as a fringe movement. He probably would not have won by promoting abolitionism. So, a more interesting question might be something along the lines of: Is it okay to compromise some of your beliefs in order to achieve some good rather than zero good? Additionally, Reynolds talks about how some people can hold racist, assimilationist, and antiracist views throughout different periods of their life, or even at the same time. How can we understand Lincoln and his political choices more fully through these definitions? Unfortunately, because the book tries to hit so many key points so quickly, readers are not going to get this type of discussion out of it, and will have to do more research on their own.
Another area readers might wonder about in terms of expanded information might be the War on Drugs and how both Democrats and Republicans participate in it. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness argues that “felon” has become synonymous with “Black” and is society’s last/most recent acceptable way to impose racial order by incarcerating unprecedented numbers of black and brown men in a country that “does not see color.” Alexander argues that even Barack Obama failed to act meaningfully to end to the system, and suggests that even he at times fell into the pitfall of accusing Black communities for their incarceration problems. In contrast, Reynolds’ account of Obama’s presidency is largely positive, and he argues that Obama spoke out against “uplift suasion”–the idea that Black people must act a certain way in order to be accepted by white people. These are competing views of Obama’s legacy that the book does not address, again probably because it does not have the space. But also, probably, partially because the book wants to end in a message of hope, not a critique of the nation’s only Black president. It is a book written for teens, however, so I can understand the motivation. People generally expect YA books to have positive endings.
I also, despite the glowing reviews about how Reynolds speaks so to this new generation, found the tone of the book a little distracting. To appeal to teens, the narrative voice takes on the tone of a “friend,” a guy who’s just giving it to you straight. It also seeks to connect to the youth by making comparisons to things like football and Nike sneakers. Some might argue that teens really love these things and the book is just trying to be relatable. However, even as a teen, I always wondered why teachers thought everyone loved football and wished they would stop trying to be hip by making allusions I didn’t care about. This is just my personal preference, however. The football and Nike lovers of the world might really find the book’s tone appealing. And if talking about football convinces more people to read history, why not?
These critiques are, of course, minor. Stamped has rightly received national attention because it teaches history many people probably were previously unaware of. And it does so by making that history easy to understand and easy to read. Most reviewers have given the book glowing reviews without any negative mentions, probably because the content and the effort to teach antiracism outweigh any quibbles over how relatable the average teen finds any specific sport allusion. Because the book is an overview, it will not cover the complexities of every topic it raises. But it does serve as an excellent starting point for individuals to start learning more.
Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.
HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?
Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!
(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)
THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:
Tell us about a classic picture book you love for the illustrations.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres
I have never actually liked the story of Peter Rabbit. At best, it’s too obviously didactic with its lessons about listening to your mother and being a good little bunny (child), and at worst it’s pretty dark. Mrs. Rabbit flat out says that Mr. Rabbit “had an accident” in Mr. McGregor’s garden and “he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor!” This was nearly traumatizing to me as a young reader, but she throws it out so casually. Oh, don’t go into the garden next door–you might be murdered and eaten! I simply was not a big fan as a child, and rereading the story recently hasn’t suddenly made me think it’s the epitome of children’s literature.
However, my family had this Little Golden Book edition of the story when I was growing up, and the illustrations are adorable! I believe I read the book multiple times simply because the pictures are so cute, while also detailed and rather evocative. Just look at that plump fluffy bunny on the cover, wearing his stylish coat and shoes!
I loved looking at the pictures, and I still think they’re astounding. I still want to just pick up all the bunnies and hug them, and I still love looking at all the details in the background, like the mother mouse with her baby mice in a cradle or all the little furnishings in Peter’s home. I also love the expressions on Peter’s face during his adventures, the single tear on his face when he gets caught in a net in Mr. McGregor’s garden and his anguish when he’s lost and can’t find his way home. The story is often sad and dark, but the illustrator really works with that! You start to feel for Peter, even when he brought all his troubles on himself.
Beatrix Potter I can take or leave as an author in general, but I really do love Cyndy Szekeres’s illustrations for The Tale of Peter Rabbit!
Zatanna lives with her father, a professional magician, in a house the neighborhood largely avoids. Still, her biggest worry is actually school. Her best friend seems to be growing up faster than she is and she’s tired of being teased by the school bullies. Then, one day, she returns home to find her house invaded by magical creatures. How did she never realize her house is actually the House of Secrets, full of magic many would dearly love to possess? Now it’s up to her to find her father and save the house.
Zatanna and the House of Secrets invited me to pick it up with its colorful and, dare I say, adorable artwork. The cartoony style, the soothing color palette, and the playful air Zatanna and her father possess all made me want to dive into what seemed like an exciting new middle grade graphic novel from DC Comics. Only later did I find out that Zatanna is actually a real sorcerer superhero in the DCU–complete with overly sexualized magician outfit. But no matter. In my heart, she will now always be a cute middle school student with her faithful rabbit sidekick Pocus.
The book drew me in from the start, introducing the delightful Zatanna and her equally delightful father–a magician who can make even breakfast amazing by making pancakes disappear! I loved their rapport and was excited to see where the story would take them. Clearly Zatanna was about to find out that maybe her father’s magic is real! Even though he did not appear in the story for long, it was easy to see how much he loves Zatanna and tries to care for her after her mother’s death.
The relationship between Zatanna and her father, unfortunately, ended up being one of the most developed in the book, her father’s disappearance notwithstanding. Her friend she gets teased about for having a crush on and her friend who seems to be growing up too fast are mere side notes, barely relevant to the plot or Zatanna’s character arc. The witch queen and her son who appear to threaten Zatanna and her house are also under-developed. Readers never know who the witch is or why specifically she wants the house’s magic. She’s really just a plot device, a reason for Zatanna to discover the house’s secrets.
Indeed, much of Zatanna’s world remains unexplained. How does magic work? Where is the witch queen from? What other magical creatures are out there? What’s up with Pocus? I love fantasy worlds that are highly developed, explaining the rules of magic–at least to some degree–and making it feel as if the world could be real. However, Zatanna’s world is merely a backdrop, a reason for her to have fun adventures. It does not feel like a world with real rules that someone thought out.
I enjoyed Zatanna and the House of Secrets and I would probably pick up a sequel if one ever appeared. However, I admit it is not my favorite in the DC line, largely because the worldbuilding simply is not there. I loved Zatanna and her dad, and I loved the artwork. But this just isn’t a memorable story that I can see myself recommending to others or rereading.
When Wildfell Hall is let to a new tenant, Helen Graham, the neighbors wonder at her eccentricities, until one man gains her trust and the story of the painful past that led her to flee to this remote location.
When people discuss their favorite novels by the Brontë sisters, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall rarely comes up (unless you’re my co-blogger, who explains why The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is her favorite Brontë novel here), and perhaps that is because the novel is not as romantic as Jane Eyre and, yes, even Wuthering Heightsare considered. It’s not a love story, after all, but rather a story about a woman caught in a loveless and abusive marriage that she never imagined. The remarkable insight that Anne Brontë offers into protagonist Helen Graham’s psyche, however, as well as the unflinching portrayals of men giving into different temptations and debaucheries to the suffering of the women around them make The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a masterpiece I am sorry I did not read soon.
The novel does have a frame narrative, which is always something I’m conflicted about because so often I get absorbed in the frame only to be broken away to hear a story from the past, and it was no different for me here. Readers are introduced to Helen Graham, the titular tenant of Wildfell Hall, who is clearly trying to walk a line between being private but not so reclusive that neighbors think she’s weird…and failing, based on the mystery and gossip that begin to surround her. I was caught up in the mystery myself, even though the footnotes gave me more hints than I cared for about why Helen was at Wildfell Hall; I would have liked to know if I would have figured out her story based on the foreshadowing if the editor hadn’t kept telling me the plot.
However, the main story, the story of Helen’s courting and then marriage and its subsequent decline is incredibly compelling, more so than the frame narrative I had become so invested in. It’s a penetrating look into abusive marriages–how a young Helen, idealistic and certain she had found true love–fell into an ultimately loveless marriage with a man addicted to drinking and other women. It also gives a harsh reality check to those who think they might be able to reform bad men if they just do/say the right things or are good enough themselves. And, finally, it’s a compassionate look at why women in abusive relationships so often stay. (Yes, Helen had fewer options for leaving her husband due to the time period than she would today, but the psychological aspects of why she stays for so long seem timeless.)
I also enjoyed (if that’s the right word), the portrayals of Helen’s husbands friends–all of whom are heavy drinkers and generally terrible people, just in different ways. That is, Brontë doesn’t have a cardboard cutout “type” of a man who abuses his wife or just the people around him; she shows a whole range. Some drink more. Some drink less. Some get angry. Some lay hands on their wives, while some do not. One even tries his best to abstain from addictions like drinking and gambling but never has the strength to separate himself from his bad friends. Each is characterized with care, but the overall picture is not bleak because, rest assured, there are actually good men in the book, as well.
If you want a story about a strong woman or a story concerned with the inner lives of women and how they deal with bad relationships, check this out.
There’s a lot of advice out there on how to read the “right” books. Sometimes that means adults telling children (or other adults!) comics and graphic novels are not “real” books. Sometimes it means readers telling other readers that listening to audiobooks “does not count.” Sometimes it means articles denouncing all readers of YA books as unintelligent and unable to move on from their youth. Sometimes it means readers of romance being told their preferred books aren’t “serious” enough. No matter what you like to read, at one point or another, it is very likely that you have been told it’s wrong for you to read it, and that you would be better off–more cultured, more educated, more respected–if you would read something else.
At the heart of the reading debates seems to lie a shared cultural assumption that reading is somehow “good” for people. There is an assumption that reading is superior to other forms of entertainment such as watching TV shows or playing video games and more profitable than other types of hobbies. (For example, I once read a post where the writer chastised a grown woman for “wasting her time” by indulging in adult coloring books when she could be doing something valuable–like reading.) As a result, people are expected always to be doing the type of reading that leads to some sort of personal betterment. They are not expected to be reading for fun.
Other hobbies do not seem to inspire quite the same level of shaming that reading does among its enthusiasts. I have yet, for instance, to read an argument decrying all the viewers of Disney+ for wasting their precious time on fictional cartoons instead of relevant documentaries or “important” artsy films. And I think that is because we still, as a society, have this idea that reading is–or should be–inherently beneficial. In contrast, streaming TV shows is seen as just for pleasure or relaxation–no one cares that much if you indulge in a Disney singalong instead of trying to make it through the Top 100 Most Important and Incredibly Cultured Movies of All Time.
However, when we are confronted with arguments about what we “ought” to be reading, we have to ask ourselves first why we are reading. Many people do read to learn new information or gain cultural clout. But many other people read primarily for enjoyment. If a person likes to relax on the weekend with an Amish romance, it does not make a whole lot of sense to attempt to shame them into reading Shakespeare instead. Amish romance is their genre. English renaissance drama is not.
Reading does, of course, have many benefits for individuals. Reading on grade level helps students understand their textbooks and achieve academic success. Reading helps us learn new things, visit new place, and experience new points of view. Reading can help us gain valuable critical thinking and communication skills. There have even been studies suggesting that reading literary fiction makes us more empathetic. But isn’t reading for pleasure and relaxation beneficial, too? We all need time to unwind, or even time to escape. So why do we have to shame people for what they read? What you read is up to you–and so is the value you find in it.
Goodreads:Cakes and Ale Series: None Source: Purchased Published: 1930
Cakes and Ale is a delicious satire of London literary society between the Wars. Social climber Alroy Kear is flattered when he is selected by Edward Driffield’s wife to pen the official biography of her lionized novelist husband, and determined to write a bestseller. But then Kear discovers the great novelist’s voluptuous muse (and unlikely first wife), Rosie. The lively, loving heroine once gave Driffield enough material to last a lifetime, but now her memory casts an embarrissing shadow over his career and respectable image. Wise, witty, deeply satisfying, Cakes and Ale is Maugham at his best.
The more I reflect on this novel, the less I feel I have to say about it. It’s one of those books I admire because, to some degree, it doesn’t have a plot, and I am always a bit impressed when authors can just write about someone’s life without there being some main guiding point to the book. Here, the glue that holds it all together is just the narrator’s reflections on an author who just died and that author’s first wife, whom he and many others had an affair with. It’s just…a story about how the narrator met and knew these people. At times it’s interesting, but I can’t say I came away feeling much about it.
The most memorable parts of the book, for me, are not that the narrator was having an affair and not that the first wife was apparently vivacious and exciting in addition to being promiscuous. Instead, my attention was caught by random small details–the setting of the scenes rather than the plot. This a rare book where I felt like I actually could pop right into the time period of the past and have a sense of what it was like to live then. For instance, the narrator muses on how when he was a child, bicycles were rare, so when you saw someone on one, you stopped what you were doing, turned your head, and watched him ride until he was gone into the distance. That has nothing much to do with the story (except that the author and his wife helped teach the narrator to ride a bike of his own), but it did make me feel like the setting was coming alive and like the narrator was a real person.
Otherwise, I can’t say I immensely enjoyed Cakes and Ale. It’s a bit sarcastic; the narrator doesn’t seem to have a fond opinion of anyone except the woman he had an affair with, and he characterizes authors as insincere charlatans, most of whom don’t have actual talent backing up their success. (Though his observation that the surest way to authorial fame is knowing the right people and coming from privilege will likely ring true to many today.) There are some reflections on art and literature in general, such as what the nature of beauty is, but I guess I didn’t think the narrator quite as clever as he seems to think himself.
The book is short and…fine, I guess, but I find myself with little to say about it, whether about plot, characters, or even general philosophy, so I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to others.
I am a huge fan of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, so when I saw there was a cookbook for the book, I had to try it out. Recipe books based around other books can be hit-or-miss. Oftentimes, it feels like the creators wanted to cash in on a popular title more than they really wanted to pay homage to it or even offer some actually tasty meals. The Little Women Cookbook, however, surpassed my expectations. Wini Moranville clearly appreciates Alcott’s work and attempts to offer a cookbook that acknowledges Alcott’s beloved book while also providing recipes for authentic period dishes–thankfully updated for the modern cook.
Moranville largely bases her recipes around actual meals and food mentioned in Little Women. Entries typically have a quote from the book, reminding readers of passages such as Jo’s famous ruined dinners and Amy’s failed picnic. Readers then have the opportunity to cook something similar to what the Marches and their friends would have enjoyed. Other times, Moranville will offer a recipe that was actually found in the “receipt” book Meg consulted, or a recipe that would have been common at the time. The result is that readers will feel confident that they are really experiencing something akin to what diners in the 1860s would have. (Updates such as allowing for the use of a temperature-controlled oven or gelatin in lieu of calves’ feet allow readers to modernize the experience a bit.)
Fascinating historical facts and explanations intersperse the book, making it an interesting read for fans of Little Women, even if an individual does not feel like making any of the recipes. For example, Moranville illuminates readers as to the nature of the “messes” Meg cooked for Beth; discusses how the Marches, though poor, managed to afford lobster; and finally explains what a blacmange is. Other historical notes explain why Louisa May Alcott’s work was filled with apples, or talk about how her father was what we would now call a vegan. Moranville ends up answering questions about Little Women and its author that readers may not have even known to ask.
I also appreciated that Moranville provides several full menu suggestions for readers who want to do something like create their own picnic–just like the Marches and Laurie. Sometimes new recipes can be confusing. What are you supposed to pair them with? Are they supposed to constitute a full meal or are you supposed to add side dishes? Moranville takes the guesswork out, and, really, I wish more cookbooks would do the same.
To give a full review of The Little Women Cookbook, I decided to try out some of the recipes myself. At times, I did feel a little bit like Jo, somehow running into absurd dilemmas while cooking, but, ultimately found the recipes relatively easy to follow and ultimately delicious. I chose to cook: apple orchard chicken, Jo’s lettuce salad, and black raspberry jelly cake with lemon cream.
The apple orchard chicken was pretty easy to make. You simply cook your chicken on the stove top, then prepare a sauce made of apple juice, chicken broth, and cream to pour on top. The only problem I had was that the liquid is supposed to reduce on the stove top before you add the cream to complete the sauce. I kept it boiling, but for some reason, it didn’t want to reduce. My chicken was ready, however, and I was hungry so I gave up and ate a soupy sauce. I would make this recipe again, but I will have to boil the sauce a lot longer than I had anticipated. I recommend cooking the sauce while you cook the chicken, to account for this added time, even though the book says to make the chicken first and then to wrap it in foil while you make the sauce.
For Jo’s lettuce salad, I prepared a Dijon mustard and egg yolk-based dressing that Moranville assures readers “was among the most common ways to dress salad a the time.” You are supposed to pair it with an “assertively flavored green” like arugula, since the salad does not call for anything other than the dressing and greens. The only arugula I could find, however, seemed pricey for the amount, so I just used iceberg lettuce and dressed up my salad with tomatoes, green olives, and banana peppers–I figured that would make the salad taste assertive enough. I did really enjoy the dressing, however, which basically tastes like really tangy Dijon. I acknowledge, however, that the dressing may be acquired taste, since my test subject went to look for a different dressing. Fortunately, the book recommends that you make the dressing separately rather than tossing it in with the leaves, since it is so heavy. This makes it easy for your guests to taste the dressing before committing to dumping it all over their greens.
For dessert, I chose to make the hot milk sponge cake, which you can then transform into the black raspberry jelly cake with lemon cream. The store only had grape jelly and strawberry, however, so I turned it into a strawberry jelly cake with lemon cream. Moranville instructs cooks to make the hot milk sponge cake, let it cool, then cut it in half. You are then supposed to spread the jam in the middle, put the top make on, and put the lemon-flavored whipped cream on top. I found these instructions a little strange since the cake recipe only makes one round 8-inch pan’s worth of cake, which is rather thin to cut in half. Gamely, however, I tried. And failed. I ended up spreading the jam on top of the cake and then spreading the whipped topping over it. It really didn’t matter; it still tasted delicious and was probably the best part of the meal. I also forgot to add the sugar to the lemon cream topping, but, since it was spread on top of jam, that also did not matter. (Though it did make me feel rather like Jo trying to cook!) In future, I will double the hot milk sponge cake recipe and make two cake pans’ worth if I want to create a layer cake.
Altogether, The Little Women Cookbook is a pretty useful cookbook. The recipes are things you might actually want to make and they typically do not require odd ingredients. For my meal, the main things I had to buy that I don’t usually stock were things like heavy whipping cream*, lemons, jam, and apple cider vinegar. If the book were ever updated, I do think it would be helpful for Moranville to include advice such as how to store certain recipes–what type of container, cold or room temperature, how many days, etc. Possibly most cooks will not need this information, but I find it reassuring to be told my storage choices are correct, and I think new cooks in particular might benefit from this information. Altogether, however, I can say that The Little Women Cookbook was a delightful read as well as a culinary success.
*Part of me regrets not also buying an electric mixer since it took me at least 15 minutes to whip the cream by hand, but I like to think this added to the authentic March family experience.