Island Heritage

The year is drawing to a close, and as I reflect on the books I read this year, and those I didn’t, I can’t help but look forward. For the first time since 2009, since before starting this blog, I am finally able to return to The Bahamas for the holidays. As one who has spent nearly as much time away from home as I have living at home, this time is incredibly sentimental. We alternate our holiday destinations between the United States and The Bahamas. My birthday is a week after Christmas, right after New Years. In the past, this has meant that the whole family is together for at least a week or two.  This year, everyone will be down in the islands. While I write this, our first New England snow of the season comes down. The plows scrape and rumble by, frightening my cats.

But to the heart of this entry: This year was also the first time I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo… and by attempted, I mean, I didn’t really write much… BUT, I do have an idea. A grand idea if you ask me — but one that requires quite a bit of research on my part. I realize that next semester should be my last in my graduate school career, and for next NaNoWriMo, I want to be poised and ready to hammer out my fifty thousand words. Though I feel it’s too early to discuss this idea, I will say that it involves some aspects of the Caribbean. There’s not a terrible amount of visible Caribbean literature out there. I say visible because I know how rich and vibrant story-telling is in the islands, but not as many tales are written down and then published.

I also can’t stop thinking about Tiphanie Yanique’s book Land of Love and Drowning sitting on my shelf (scandalously adjacent to Herman Wouk!) so, tonight, I’ve picked it up. Yes, there are still three titles I haven’t read out of my 16 book gauntlet, and I still have reviews to write for about a half-dozen, but I’m still pleased that I finished most on the list! Anyone watching my other page will notice how much that list has grown… Trust me, I’m reading!

land of love and drowning tiphanie yanique caribbean Ah, look how beautiful under the dust jacket!

My task for this next year is to read as much as I can find about my cultural heritage from The Bahamas, as well as the other topics involved with my NaNoWriMo idea. I’ll be starting with the titles I already own, such as Tiphanie’s book, but also Paradise Overdose, by Brian Antoni, re-reading titles by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, whatever I happen to find at home in my old room, and many more Caribbean authors. I’m taking International and Comparative Librarianship in my final semester of grad school, so ideally, I’ll be making some contacts (in the islands) for a class-related project. (You see how I worked that out, right?) We’ll see if I can skate around without purchasing any books… But I’m a sucker for a signed copy! I’d also like to revisit some titles from my childhood studies, such at The Cay by Theodore Taylor, and The Wooing of Beppo Tate by C. Everard Palmer. I can’t believe I actually remembered those to tell you the truth. Despite realizing that many… most… of these will not have audiobook versions, I am looking forward to reading physical copies.

If nothing else, I hope these books help me feel a bit warmer during the winter.

Spotlight: Maggie Stiefvater

I don’t often do this. In fact, I never have. But I want to take a moment and talk about an author that I’ve developed quite an appreciation for. This may become a regular thing… like an author spotlight or something… But for now, I’ll just gush about my latest author crush.

Maggie Stiefvater

maggie stiefvater raven boys

Her books preceded her. I heard about “those new werewolf books” (The Wolves of Mercy Falls) several years ago but refused to pay them any attention. In fact, I didn’t even associate her name with the book series because I forced myself to be THAT uninterested. It was probably because I was too turned off of teen paranormal romance at that time. Thanks, Twilight. Then as one of the first choices for a book club that I joined, we were tasked with reading The Raven Boys. I found the audiobook available on Overdrive and started listening.

Loved it. I’ll spare the premise, since I’m focusing on Maggie, here. But it’s awesome. Go read it. In fact, read all of her books. Cuz I pretty much have, now.

Maggie lives in Virginia – SCORE
After I moved away from the Bahamas, I lived at a boarding school in Virginia, went to college in Virginia, and ended up living there almost 10 years. Virginia has always been my home away from home. Maggie has written several of her books set in Virginia. The Raven Boys, specifically, is even about guys in a boarding school. Without needed to say much more, it was so incredibly easy for me to relate.

Maggie is an artist – AWESOME
I’ve always loved art. When I was little, I toted around a stuffed Crayola Bunny that had a pocket in its overalls to hold a few crayons. I was so obsessed with those color names too. In fact, at my primary school, I identified my peers to my parents by what color their skin was by Crayola standards: peach, tan, brown… And I was so confused when people said they were white or black, because THEY DIDN’T MATCH THE CRAYON!  My love for art continued throughout my high school career, expanding my craft into dark room photography, which I ultimately majored in when I went to college.

Maggie is a musician – OMG
For many years I played piano. I really enjoyed it, until I had to start composing my own pieces for these examinations… then I felt burnt out. Though I never practiced at home, my teacher said I showed great talent – and just imagine what I would be like if I DID practice at home! It’s been years since I’ve played, but it’s one of those things I hold dear and have such an appreciation for.

Maggie is a race car enthusiast – SERIOUSLY
Okay, so I don’t have much to say about this point, besides race car being a fun palindrome. But come on, guys… how many people do you know zip around in neat cars with custom license plates (cuz it’s so darn cheap in Virginia!) and graffiti their car in 3.5 minutes?? Seriously, check out the video on her website.

Maggie writes some seriously fantastic books – DONE!
After breezing through The Raven Boys, I decided (with some hesitation) to try out The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, then Scorpio Races. Most recently, (cuz I have to do all of these in audio now) The Dream Thieves. For a typical contemporary Young Adult author, her stories are remarkably fresh and original. The bits of romance in WoMF were tender, honest and realistic. Scorpio Races was enchanting — come on, a girl enters the ‘wild & crazy water horse’ race to save her struggling family? Who comes up with this stuff? This chick does. Oh, and she also composes and performs the music for the audio books.

Done, done, done! Subscribe me +1000 times! Fav, retweet, blast that out.  Maggie Stiefvater is a rock star. I told her once. She proved it:

twitter maggie stiefvater

Have I said enough? For an author that wasn’t even on my radar, she has sprung up out of nowhere and completely captured me. Like a bear trap, actually. Or a snake with big fangs. But a nice snake. A colorful, cheeky, magical snake. She has sunk her sharp and witty teeth in to my unsuspecting self and pumped in her intelligent prose and beautiful imagery. So read (or listen) to her books. I’m going to pine over her Tarot card illustrations and maybe dance to a tribal summoning song  and hope she comes out to Western Mass one day. Hey, there’s a thought…

 

 

Down With Dystopia: The Rise of the Royal Court

When I tried describing a book to someone last week, I realized that I was mixing up characters and plots, pulling from multiple titles I had recently read. Finally setting aside some time, I decided to look into these books a bit more, and then I fell down a rabbit hole. Suddenly, I’m not seeing dystopian books a-la Hunger Games and Divergent anymore. Now, books about princesses and kingdoms (and magic – ooo!) have taken the floor and are proudly waltzing by.
dystopia royal court princess

Is anyone else noticing this? Does this mark the end of depressing dystopian worlds? Is historical fiction donning a fancy new Y.A. get-up? We still have strong female characters completely dominating young adult literature; however, rather than the run-of-the-mill dystopia once dominating popular books, our heroines are now featured in the high courts of fantasy realms and fairy tale retellings.

I’m not saying this is a problem, but, does my observation carry greater meaning when I point out that many…most… of these books are written by debut authors?  I get that these things come in waves, but this seems more like a tsunami. Below are a number of recent, and soon-to-be books that include some aspect of royal courts:

  1. Red Queen (et al) – Victoria Aveyard
  2. Shadow & Bone (et al) – Leigh Bardugo
  3. Girl of Fire and Thorns (et al) – Rae Carson
  4. Graceling (et al) – Kristin Cashmore
  5. The Selection (et al) – Kiera Cass
  6. The Healer’s Apprentice (et all) – Melanie Dickerson
  7. The Jewel (et al)- Amy Ewing
  8. Deception’s Princess (et al) – Esther M. Friesner
  9. Princess of the Midnight Ball (et al) – Jessica Day George
  10. Seraphina (et al) – Rachel Hartman
  11. Cruel Beauty (et al)- Rosamund Hodge
  12. Princess of Thorns – Stacey Jay
  13. Stolen Songbird (et al)- Danielle L. Jenson
  14. The Queen of the Tearling (et al) – Erika Johansen
  15. Grave Mercy (et al)- Robin LeFevers
  16. Winterspell (et al)- Claire Legrand
  17. Stitching Snow – R. C. Lewis
  18. Throne of Glass (et al)- Sarah J. Maas
  19. Cinder (et al)- Marissa Meyer
  20. Suspicion – Alexandra Monir
  21. Legendary (et al) – L. H. Nicole
  22. Queen of Hearts: The Crown (et al)  – Colleen Oakes
  23. Snow Like Ashes (et al) – Sara Raasch
  24. Camelot Burning (et al)- Kathryn Rose
  25. Legacy (et al) – Jesikah Sundin
  26. Stray (et al) – Elissa Sussman
  27. A Wicked Thing (et al) – Rhiannon Thomas
  28. Crown of Ice (et al) – Vicki L. Weavil
  29. Storm Siren (et al) – Mary Weber
  30. Illusions of Fate (et al)- Kiersten White

That’s well over a two dozen titles, not including the respective continuations and sequels, e-book prequels or e-book short of some kind. (Those marked by ‘et al’ indicate some continuation in their series or intended series.) Of the authors that I’ve pulled into this list, there are only three that do not explicitly note a continuation of story.  I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see more than just one entry in these remaining three all the same.

So what’s with this sudden spike in popularity? Here are some observations:

Women authors — At least in this genre, it seems as though unless your name is George R.R. Martin, most fantasy books are being written by women. There are a few men that are writing for young adults: John Green, Rick Yancey, Patrick Ness, Scott Westerfeld, Rick Riordan… but they’re not necessarily explicitly ‘fantasy’ authors. Where is the new blood? Where are the male debut authors? And where are the male debut fantasy authors?

Princesses — I don’t think I need to point out the dream every little girl (and some boys!) have of growing up to be a princess. Rags to riches, coming of age, reluctant hero(ine)… and other themes are common in such princess fantasy stories. Also present are kings, queens, princes, duchies, nobility, lords, ladies, and the like. Everyone loves to play dress up. Everyone also loves coming from modest beginnings,  and not necessarily entitled to the fame and fortune, but, of course, deserving. Humble = likable.

Gossip — I really, really don’t want to go there, but there’s also a clear connection between certain elements in this genre (such as spies, assassins, espionage…all of which boil down to gossip, lies, and general underhanded-ness,) that are present in many stories with women characters. Perhaps it’s simply an aspect of the everyday feminine culture that is handled in different ways from book to book, but it is undeniable that gossip is a common thread.

**NOTE: There’s much hesitation, self-awareness, and self-censorship I exercise in writing this entry. I feel like feminist readers of my blog will tear me to pieces… but these aren’t meant to be pokes or jabs at the nature of feminism or female culture. I’m not criticizing these points I bring up, but rather I seek to open a thread of conversation to be had with a purity of motive.**

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At this year’s Horn Book Awards Colloquium, held at Simmons College (Boston, MA), there was an interesting panel held on the diversity of literature for children and young adults. This was headed by individuals in the publishing world, all of whom claim to scour for talent every day trying to find diverse books to publish. Unfortunately, without the talent… there’s nothing to publish.

So much of this time I had been blaming the publishing world. I’d thought, well, of course they are the reason there is not more diversity in books – because they want to take something popular that makes them money and drill as far down into the well as they can… Further illustrated by my list above. Or is it? Are books like these getting published because that’s just what the writing talent is currently producing? Is it because these books are easily marketable to the established audience? Are there writers out there producing diverse literature and the work is just ‘not good enough’ yet to make it to print? I think it’s unfair to place the blame on any one faction of the book world. Everyone simply has to work harder to produce and promote diverse literature.

My final question is this: Does the list above demonstrate the diversity we are all working so hard for?