Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!
March 25: Smiths and Stars: Once Upon a Time (Guest Post by BookmarkedOne)
March 26: The Fall of Númenor by J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. by Brian Sibley
March 27: My First Trip to Middle-earth: Why I Read The Lord of the Rings for the First Time (Guest Post by Michael)
March 28: Dualism in LeGuin and Tolkien (Guest Post by Ari)
March 29: In Defense of Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Guest Post by Charles Larrivee)
March 30: Mr. Bliss by J. R. R. Tolkien
March 31: Would You Be Able to Reclaim a Silmaril from Morgoth? (Flow Chart)
April 1: The Story of Kullervo by J. R. R. Tolkien
April 2: 10 Nonfiction Books about Tolkien and His Works If You Don’t Know Where to Start
Use the hashtag #TolkienReadingEvent23 to follow our event and share your thoughts on Tolkien! We’ll also be sharing discussion questions and polls.
Goodreads: Creeping Beauty Series: None (but potential for a sequel) Age Category: Young Adult Source: Netgalley Publication Date: August 22, 2023
Bitsy is no one’s ideal princess.
She’s heard it all: that it’s a shame she’s so plain, so lacking in grace. That the best thing for her to do is simply wait (and wait some more), and hope some prince will grant her a happy ending.
Then Bitsy pricks her finger on a spindle and falls down, down, down.
Into a world where cutthroats and con artists are more common than curtsies. Where no one ages and everyone is beautiful. Where an inscrutable evil rests at its core.
A land where Bitsy’s fate and her future are solely in her own hands—and neither are what she expects.
The dark and deadly world of Heartless meets the empowering twist of Cruel Beauty in this thrilling, unpredictable, multigenre retelling of one of the most beloved fairy tales: where instead of falling asleep to await her prince, this sleeping beauty finally wakes up.
I love a good fairy tale retelling, so I was excited to come across Creeping Beauty on Netgalley, as the summary promises a spin on “Sleeping Beauty” that is “dark and deadly,” filled with unsavory characters. While there are elements of the story that are original and that give the book some promise, ultimately it feels unfinished with episodic scenes that don’t come together, important issues that aren’t fully explored, and a number of elements that are illogical or downright contradictory. The book is scheduled for August, so maybe some revisions can be worked in before then, but I personally feel as if this book needs more developmental editing than it was apparently given.
I was on board with the beginning of the book. There are elements I don’t love, such as the characters coming across as caricatures, but the world building once Bitsy pricks her finger and falls into an entirely new world intrigued me; I could definitely see the author’s imagination at work. And while the opening chapters are particularly episodic, with Bitsy going from one setting to another quite quickly, I enjoyed the settings and thought I would get something out of the book.
However, as the book progresses, things simply start making less and less sense. I don’t wish to be too spoilery, but one example is that when Bitsy falls into the new world, she doesn’t speak the language. Fair enough. But then she meets one person who speaks HER language, and then later some more. There is no explanation given for this. Another example is that there is a notorious city that no one goes to because if you attempt to travel there, you die. Yet people know things about this city, and it’s implied it receives visitors and imports. Who is going there if no one goes there because they all die???
My biggest hang-up, however, is that someone does something truly heinous to her, and yet it’s barely a blip in their relationship. They even flirt! There is only a hand-wavy acknowledgment about what was done and maybe it was bad and maybe she shouldn’t like the person who did it, but it’s not enough. And when the other people who participated in this heinous act experience negative consequences, it’s presented as if Bitsy should feel sorry for them! I truly do not know what to do with this. There are way to have the love interest be someone who “isn’t good” or is a criminal and ways to make them seem likable in spite of their life of crime. But it doesn’t work with this particular circumstance in this book. The love interest does something very, very terrible to the protagonist herself, and it’s essentially presented as no big deal.
And Bitsy herself as a character cannot redeem the book for me. She’s judgmental, and although her whole schtick is that she is not as vain and focused on her appearance as her dithering cousins back at home . . . she is very clearly obsessed with how she looks. She is constantly thinking about her clothes and whether they look nice enough and whether she looks princessy enough and has things befitting her station. She is convinced she herself is plain, but she is still obsessed with dressing gorgeously. A lot of this is tied to her obsession with her station, and she also clearly considers herself above the other characters and is always on the lookout for other nobles she can talk to to make things right. There’s some degree of self-reflection by the end of the book, but, frankly, not a lot. Just in the sense she moves from believing she must be passive to having a sense that she can make things happen for herself.
Simply put, this seems like a rough draft. There are interesting ideas, but they aren’t cohesive, and there are themes that should have been worked out a lot more. I try not to be too harsh on books, but I was baffled by this one. Perhaps it was affected by the HarperCollins strike and the editor was on strike during the author’s revisions? It’s the only theory I have to go with because too much of this book doesn’t make sense for it to be a final product.
Goodreads: Queens of the Conquest Series: England’s Medieval Queens #1 Age Category: Adult Source: Library Published: 2017
The story of England’s medieval queens is vivid and stirring, packed with tragedy, high drama and even comedy. It is a chronicle of love, murder, war and betrayal, filled with passion, intrigue and sorrow, peopled by a cast of heroines, villains, stateswomen and lovers. In the first volume of this epic new series, Alison Weir strips away centuries of romantic mythology and prejudice to reveal the lives of England’s queens in the century after the Norman Conquest.
Beginning with Matilda of Flanders, who supported William the Conqueror in his invasion of England in 1066, and culminating in the turbulent life of the Empress Maud, who claimed to be queen of England in her own right and fought a bitter war to that end, the five Norman queens emerge as hugely influential figures and fascinating characters.
Much more than a series of individual biographies, Queens of the Conquest is a seamless tale of interconnected lives and a rich portrait of English history in a time of flux. In Alison Weir’s hands these five extraordinary women reclaim their rightful roles at the centre of English history.
If anything can be said of Alison Weir’s Queens of the Conquest, it is that the book is meticulously researched and scrupulously detailed. While I was hoping for some non-fiction that would read like fiction, and introduce me to the dramatic lives of the queens of England, what I found was more of a vast history, encompassing five queens, yes, but mostly accounts of the wars of their husbands fought, and extensive lists of the abbeys they founded and supported. Pick this one up if you enjoy scholarly reads that leave no detail unexamined, no bequeathed chalice unmentioned.
In my defense, Weir’s apologetic introduction led me to believe that her account would appeal to the average reader, and not specifically medieval enthusiasts. She writes: “This book is not an academic history, although it is informed by many academic sources. It is a narrative account of a turbulent period, written to appeal to anyone who loves history, and based largely on primary records. Popular historians all the way back to Strickland have been accused of emotionalizing history, but I strongly fell that, while an objective view is essential, no history would be complete without some comprehension of the emotional realities of the subjects’ lives, and I have tried to offer that here.” I have trouble imagining, however, that anyone could ever accuse Weir’s writing of being “emotional.” I enjoy both medieval history and non-fiction in general, and yet felt that Queens of the Conquest was a dry slog.
Perhaps the difficulty is, in part, that the queens in question left few personal records. Weir quotes letters when she can, but, in general, what we know about the queens seems to be largely from other primary source evidence. Thus it is that Weir cites every single time the queens issued a charter, and where. And every time they founded a religious house or donated a mattress or a cup or a cross. Otherwise, we mainly see them in light of what the men were doing. William the Conqueror is riding this way, so his wife must go here. Or, Stephen is in prison, so Matilda must act in his absence. Only in the final chapters with Maud and Matilda fighting each other do the women really take center stage and become, well, interesting! Consequently, the queens never really came alive for me.
I also found the writing strangely unfocused. Weir has a tendency to be writing about one topic, say, the emergence of particular religious orders. Then, suddenly, the next paragraph is about something completely unrelated, like what clothes or food were in fashion. Again, I appreciate that the lack of documents specifically focused on the queens means we might have to imagine their lives through a look at the time period in general. But, I need, at a minimum, some sort of transitional phrase to indicate that we are changing topics.
I initially picked up Queens of the Conquest because I saw the third book in the series advertised at my local library, and thought it only made sense to start at the beginning. However, after a lackluster reading experience, I might wait before starting the next volume, or possibly just look for different medieval histories altogether.
We love libraries here at Pages Unbound! From books to computers to programs, libraries offer many services that support their communities and promote equal access. Still, there’s always room for improvement, right? Here are some of my thoughts on how public libraries can continue to improve.
Advertise tutoring services as a positive tool for everyone–not just struggling students.
Often, I see “cute” little social media posts showing frustrated students who need tutoring because they’re apparently just so bad at school, but the library can help with their tutoring program! I don’t like the implication that tutoring is only for failing students because it stigmatizes the process and makes it seem like people who need tutoring should be ashamed of it. I’d rather see libraries advertise tutoring as a positive tool that can be used by everyone as a way to improve. Firstly because students should not be encouraged to wait until they are failing to seek tutoring. By that point, the semester is usually over and their grades can’t make the same improvement they would if they had been getting feedback all along. Secondly, even “good” students can benefit from personalized feedback. Showing some motivated-looking students in the pictures and writing a blurb about how tutoring is beneficial for all would go a long way towards encouraging more students to try it.
Stop making jokes about how hard math is/how no one likes math.
It seems like libraries attract many workers who see themselves as “humanities-oriented” and who are self-proclaimed, “Bad at math.” I have heard many librarians over the years joke about how they can’t do basic math functions like addition and subtraction. I have heard them assume that, “No one likes math,” because, apparently, they personally don’t. I even see the aforementioned tutoring services offered explicitly in connection with math, as if it is to be understood that MATH IS VERY DIFFICULT and everyone struggles.
This…isn’t true. I really liked math as a kid. Lots of kids like math. It always felt very alienating for me as a kid to go to the library and watch the staff struggle to add up my minutes read and hear them joke about math like it’s a dirty word. Libraries are supposed to be all about making learning accessible and fun these days. That should include math, even if all the staff aren’t equally comfortable with their own math skills. They don’t have to solve equations flawlessly in front of the public, just not unthinkingly disseminate the ideas that everyone should find math scary, or that people can only be good at one thing–English or math.
Don’t worry about going viral.
I like seeing library staff making funny videos as much as anyone. However, sometimes it seems like libraries are taking social media advice that isn’t particularly meant for libraries. I check library social media pages to see what programs and services are being offered, and to learn about closures. I don’t follow them for the pun of the day, cat memes, and other non-library content that gets a lot of “likes” but isn’t related to informing the public about how the library works and what it offers.
Going viral can feel nice, but I don’t know if churning out a bunch of funny content just for the views makes sense for libraries. The goal surely is to appeal to their service area so local people understand what the library can do for them–and consequently then walk into the library to increase circulation, program stats, etc. A secondary goal could be to inform people in general about what libraries offer–and humor could help with this. But high views on random, non-library content won’t translate into increased library usage. And cluttering a library page with non-library content is frankly baffling.
Remove library policies that allow patrons to be removed for body odor.
These types of policies still seem to be floating around. They are explicitly aimed at people experiencing homelessness and they are very unwelcoming. Yes, other patrons might be bothered by body odor, but it’s not a person’s fault if they do not have access to bathing and laundry facilities, and it seems cruel to tell them they cannot stay in a safe space because of that. Libraries are public buildings and that means people will be exposed to other people from all walks of life. And that is okay.
Remove the one-desk model–or accept that all staff at the front desk should be trained (and paid for) reference duties.
Back in ye olden days, most libraries had two desks–the circulation desk and the reference desk. The staff at the circulation desk only did circulation duties–checking books in and out, and looking up accounts. The staff at the reference desk did reference duties–looking up the locations of materials, suggesting books that could help with research or providing suggestions for read-alikes, placing inter-library loans, etc. The reference staff traditionally had to have more education/degrees and were subsequently paid more. Then, libraries thought customer service would be improved by a one-desk model. This meant patrons did not have to puzzle through which desk to approach, or get annoyed if they approached one desk and were asked to talk to someone at the other desk instead. Now, everywhere seems to have a one-desk model.
The difficulty? Patrons don’t know if they are talking to a circulation staff member who has only been trained on circulation duties, or a reference librarian. In my personal experience, the reference librarians provide much more helpful reference services (no surprise–they are trained on these duties). The other problem is that the circulation staff are now doing the same job as the reference staff–but they are still usually getting paid less. If library administration want circulation staff to be doing reference at the front desk, that’s fine–but they need their pay to reflect this. Having a one-desk model sometimes seems like a sneaky way to save money because the public usually do not know the difference between job roles and assume everyone at the desk is equally trained and equally paid. But many libraries have begun talking about equity in the past few years. Why not take action with a little pay equity?
What ways do you think the public library can improve?
Wondering where your invite to the wizarding life has been mislaid? Can’t get enough of magical boarding schools and secret societies? Check out these ten middle grade books featuring schools of magic!
After her brother Quinton goes missing, Amari receives an invitation from him to join the mysterious Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. She thinks she can discover Quinton’s whereabouts if she accepts, but first she will have to pass three trials–and prove to the supernatural world that she is no threat, despite possessing illegal magic. Things become even more complicated when Amari learns that an evil magician has risen again, and he has plans to infiltrate the Bureau.
The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Callum Hunt does not want to be a magician. His father has warned him about their evil ways. But even though he tries to fail the entrance test to the Magisterium, he still gets admitted and soon is training under a renowned magician. But are the magicians as corrupt as his father says?
Every four years, two children disappear from the village of Galvadon, whisked away in the night by the School Master. The villagers believe the children attend the School for Good and Evil, where one child learns to become a fairy tale hero and the other a fairy tale villain. Sophie longs for the day the School Master comes to take her away to attend the School for Good, where she will wear beautiful gowns and meet her own prince. She assumes Agatha, the weird girl who lives by the graveyard, will become a witch. But when the School Master comes for the children, he drops Agatha in the School for Good and Sophie in the School for Evil. How can Sophie correct this mistake and end up where she truly belongs?
Eleven-year-old Ella Durand dreams of attending the prestigious Arcanum Training Institute, which previously had accepted only Marveller students and not Conjurors like herself. So, when the opporunitey comes, she seizes it–only to realize that not everyone wants her there. Ella will have to avoid all the whispers and stares if she is to succeed. But things only become more complicated when a notorious criminal escapes from a Conjuror prison, and the Marvellers start pointing at Conjurors like Ella.
Twelve-year-old Kyana has just discovered she is a witch! That means she gets to attend Park Row Magic Academy–until the funding runs out. But she and her classmates cannot afford the fees at the fancy magic school. So Kyana hatches a plan to enter a baking competition and win the money the school needs to stay open.
Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster’s life changes forever the day a boy appears and reveals that she’s an elf and that she can learn to control her Telepathetic abilities if she leaves her world behind to train at a magical academy. But even as Sophie delights in the wonders of her new world, she worries about her past. Why was she sent to live with humans? Why is she capable of things no other elf can do? And why does she seem to remember things she’s never learned at all?
Oneyka never knew she was magic. Not until the day her hair comes to life and saves her best friend from drowning. Then, her mother reveals that Oneyka is one of the Solari, a group of magic people in Nigeria. Suddenly she is training at the Academy of the Sun. What is the truth and what is a life?
Skandar Smith dreams of leaving the Mainland to join the Island as a unicorn rider. All he has to do is pass the Hatchery exam, and he will be one of the chosen few to travel to the island and hatch a real, life unicorn. But not the type of unicorns people on the Mainland thought were cute (and imaginary). Real life unicorns are vicious, violent creatures who can control the elements, and share that magic with their bonded riders.
But the Hatchery exam does not go as planned, and Skandar finds his world shrinking–until a stranger knocks on his door at midnight and smuggles him onto the Island. People are disappearing, and a mysterious figure known as the Weave is stealing unicorns. And Skandar might be the only one who can save the Island.
Morrigan Crow has been told all her life that she is cursed and must die on her eleventh birthday. Instead, however, a bold and brilliant man named Jupiter North arrives, chased by hell-hounds, to whisk her away to the magical world of Nevermoor. The catch is, Morrigan is not meant to be there at all. To stay, she will have to earn a place in the prestigious Wundrous Society, comprised of members who each possess a remarkable talent. But Morrigan does not believe she has any talent at all.
In Illyria, only boys can become sorcerers and wield the magic that holds back the dread. So no one thinks anything of Marya Lupu, whose brother is the only one deemed to have a future. But then Marya finds herself at a school full of girls–Dragomir Academy–where they work for a sorcerer and learn startling truths about their country.
Goodreads: Anne Series: None Age Category: Middle Grade Source: Library Published: 2022
Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, residents of the Avon-Lea apartment complex, asked to foster a baby. But a computer glitch sends them feisty teenage Anne Shirley instead. But soon Anne is winning over their hearts–and losing hers to her best friend Diana Barry.
Anne of Green Gables meets the modern world in this graphic novel adaptation from the author of Jo. Anne Shirley arrives at the apartment complex the Avon-Lea, where she enchants Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, and falls in love with her best friend Diana Barry. Though the artwork is not the most appealing I have seen for the tween crowd, the story is heartwarming, and I think readers will fall in love with Anne all over again.
Anne reminds me strongly of Anne of West Philly, another recent contemporary graphic novel adaptation of L. M. Montgomery’s classic work. Both works feature Anne at school, working on trending STEM projects, and crushing on Diana instead of Gilbert. In this version, however, Anne does not consider herself good at science (which made me sad) and contributes more to the artistic angle of her school project. Additionally, Gilbert comes off rather badly–kind of like a bully who just will not understand why it is not funny to tease Anne when she asked him to stop. Most notably, however, this version features a lot of talks from the adult figures in Anne’s life, which help her with her social-emotional learning. She has some anger issues, but she learns to deal with her emotions in a mature way instead of lashing out.
The colors are a bit muted and the artwork is not altogether to my taste. However, I think the storyline is enough to carry the book. And, though I tend to favor a different art style, I recognize that my tastes are not universal. Plenty of readers might like the illustrations more than I! At any rate, I do think Anne is worth reading for this fun contemporary take on a beloved children’s book.
Pick this one up if you are a fan of middle grade graphic novels, or if you love seeing how authors put new spins on old tales. Or, of course, if you are an Anne fan and just can’t get enough of the beloved redhead!
This year, Pages Unbound is hosting a challenge to support and promote book bloggers through sharing posts, commenting on posts, and otherwise recognizing book bloggers. If you would like more information on how it works or how to join in, read the introduction post here.
Pinterest (Views have decreased since I stopped putting a lot of effort into maintaining a Pinterest presence, but it’s impressive how much that initial investment has paid off!)
Twitter (not remotely close to views from other sources)
BLOG VIEWS AND NUMBER OF PUBLISHED POSTS
~197,000 views, our best year ever!
Up from ~185,000 views in 2021, a slight increase, which I am nonetheless pleased with since we posted significantly less in 2022 than we did in 2021. In 2021, we published 357 posts. In 2022, we published 279 posts.
OUR MOST VIEWED POSTS
READING STATS AND FACTS
Oldest Book Briana Read This Year: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme that was created and hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and then cohosted with Dani @ Literary Lion. It is currently hosted by Aria @ Book Nook Bits. The meme encourages participants to discuss a new topic each week and visit each other’s posts to keep the conversation going.
Prompt: Christmas books and movies dominate the media during the winter season, but Christmas isn’t the only holiday being celebrated. Do you like reading holiday books at all? Have you ever read a holiday book about another religion? What about a holiday book not set during the winter season? If you’re religious but don’t celebrate Christmas, do you feel represented in the holiday media?
I suppose it is difficult for me to say that I like reading holiday books because, in many ways, the holiday book market seems to be primarily relevant only for picture books. There are, of course, some Christmas classics such as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or J. R. R. Tolkien’sLetters from Father Christmas. And it seems like the YA market occasionally dabbles in a title such as the Hallmark movie-esque So, This Is Christmas. But there aren’t exactly a ton of middle grade, YA, or adult books out there centered around New Year’s Eve, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, or any other holiday one could name. Even Halloween book lists usually contain generic horror and thriller titles– not books specifically set during Halloween. How can one enjoy reading books that do not seem to exist?
In some ways, I understand why there is not a big market for holiday-themed books. Centering a title around a holiday would mean that its shelf life would be short. There would be a big marketing push maybe in the month or two leading up to the holiday, and then the hype would be over. Not many people would likely want to read a book about a Fourth of July romance in September. Even so, it does seem like there is room for more holiday books. People and libraries presumably buy the holiday picture books to get children in the holiday spirit. Older children and adults might want something festive, too.
I would love to read more books about holidays and books that feature characters who practice different religions in general. But I do think these holiday books would need to have some thought put in and be done right. One of the things that confuses me about holiday picture books, for instance, is that popular characters will often have several books out–“Character Celebrates Christmas,” “Character Celebrates Diwali,” “Character Celebrates Hanukkah,” and so forth. I understand wanting fans of the character to have a book that reflects their own celebrations, but it seems strange to have a character celebrating multiple religious practices and cultures. Which one is actually theirs? All of them? None? And sometimes holiday picture books are reduced to mere symbols of the holiday, such as baking a special food and gathering with family. The actual reason for the celebration and the beliefs of the people who celebrate that holiday don’t get mentioned at all, leaving readers with a very superficial understanding.
There definitely seems to be room in the market for more holiday books, and I imagine there would be readers willing to buy them. After all, holiday movies tend to be popular. Surely the people who watch those would also read a holiday book? It would be wonderful if publishers took a chance on more holiday stories. And more stories that reflect a deeper cultural and religious understanding of the holidays they depict.
You must be logged in to post a comment.