Best of 2018

What a great reading year 2018 was! Even though I had an eye infection that prevented me from reading much for over a month, and I went on several trips where almost no reading was done, I am still determined to make my goal.

But man. It was strong in what I did read. And I think that was because I was more picky. I know what I like. And I am not much into romance, or just drama for drama’s sake. So the big YA series like Throne of Glass or A Court of Whatever are not really for me. (Before you gasp, I tried Throne of Glass, and I got three or four books in, and nah, I’ll just continue on with what I like, tyvm.)

My first book of the year continues to be one of my favorites – The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert! I loved this darkly macabre fairytale! Set in contemporary New York City, it quickly scuttles over to a dark and sinister fairytale place. I am chuffed to find that they will be publishing the actual Tales of the Hinterland (a book integral to the plot), as well as a second in the series! Very excited for those.

I can’t really pick my top three. I had so many five star reads! But here are a few more that I really loved:

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Give me Vikings and a really strong female protagonist! And the world building! Oh, this was a great ride.

Tales of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin

Read this with a group starting right after her untimely demise. We read the whole series, and I’m so glad I did! It was wonderful, each book individually, but also, wow, the series as a whole! Highly recommend.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Oh my gosh, why did I wait so long? This was a feast for the senses, as well as a really cool story. I loved it, and it made me very keen to do everything in black and white (with a touch of red, of course!)!

The Illuminae Series by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman

I did a group reread of the series leading up to the release of Obsidio, and oh man, it just gets better.  This series was so fun and heartbreaking and intense! I don’t generally read scifi but I will die on this hill.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Another one that I can’t believe I waited so long for! Here is to backlists, people. This was fantastic! And THEN, AND THEN… I got to meet him at a Con this summer! Oh my gosh. And hearing him read his work was just amazing. I’m going to have to devour the rest of this series soon because he is working on something new!

The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien

Look. I understand. You think that Lord of the Rings is boring, or too dense, or too long. But hey. IT IS ONLY BRILLIANT. And this book is kind of a prequel. So it deserves some love. Reading it during Middle Earth March gave me a lot of background for the many references made in Lord of the Rings, so on my current reread of the series, I am getting even more out of it than before. Which is saying something.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

This was a seriously fun romp through Europe, combining historical fiction with YA in a way that was clever and entertaining. I loved this as a summer read, and I am looking forward to reading the second one. I will say, though, that it had moments of gripping tension and dealt with serious issues. But the cast! This ensemble cast was amazing.

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Ahhhh! I LOVED LEAH!! This was a snarkfest masquerading as a contemporary. I didn’t get to meet Becky (even though she came here, because airport duty), but my friend Lupe shot a video of her saying hi to me and then she got me a signed book! Oh my gosh, my heart. This was a bookish highlight of the year for me. I also read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda this year and yes, of course I loved that too. Becky is my newest auto-buy author.

A few Middle Grade – so many good ones!

The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler

This was astounding in its imaginative scope. Slightly scary. Amazing high stakes. I put this in my Halloween Reads but it deserves a spot here as well. Get thee to the backlist, folks!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Another one that I hadn’t read for whatever reason. But then I also watched the movie. Oh my gosh. This is for kids? Give me a break. The book, dear reader, was better.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

I got to meet Victoria!! She was amazing! I had not read this when I met her, and I am sad that I didn’t get a copy signed, but this series in one that I will be looking forward to each new book. I still haven’t read Vicious or Vengeful, either. More Victoria for me!

Laini Taylor

Oh, just go read all of it. I had several Laini books on my list this year. I got to MEET her! I finally finished the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, based on her advice to finish that before reading Muse of Nightmares. So I did. And I read The Night of Cake and Puppets (great break in the middle of the DoSaB trilogy if things are getting too intense for you), and I read Strange the Dreamer. Now I need to read Muse and her short story collection, Lips Touch. I am here for all things Laini.

 

So as you can tell, it was really an amazing Book Year. I met some very wonderful authors, and I just can’t thank them enough for their graciousness and really, they were so nice! I did a lot of readalongs, which helped with some things (like two Shakespeare plays and some classics such as Jane Eyre and The Picture of Dorian Grey!). I met a ton of great folks over on Bookstagram, and I mean, I’m having such a good time on there that I am probably slacking on this blog because of it. But if you have read this far, thanks so much and I really do hope to post more on here in the coming year.

Some plans for 2019:

I am going to be participating in #theunreadshelfproject2019 for the coming year. Monthly challenges, intentional library building, and a great host in Whitney! The first task she asked for was that we should count our unread books. Oh my. But I’m going to start that as soon as I make my goal. I know it is in the hundreds. But I also know that there are many books in the house that I do not want to keep. So I’m hoping to sort that out better this year.

I’m also going to be taking part in a couple of long-term readalongs. One is for Jane Austen, under the hashtag #ArdentlyAustenBookClub – we’ll be reading one of her books every month until July. This is great, because I’ve only read one! And I’ve always meant to read more. I will also be reading an Agatha Christie book every month. I’m doing two of these – who knew that she was so popular, right? One is #AYearwithChristie2019 with @thewrittenwordandtea and the other is with a friend, where we are going to read all the Miss Marple books. I don’t think there is much overlap, so by the end of the year, I’ll be very much caught up on my Agatha! And my Jane! And my undread books! Oh, this is going to be great.

If we are not already connected on Bookstragram, come find me at @lindabookmania. I’m posting there daily, and I love to chat!

 

Halloween Reads 2018

Need a good book that will send chills up your spine? I have a great selection this year! If you are not familiar with my Halloween Reads posts, I have been doing this since 2010 (first on Examiner.com, where I was the Minneapolis Books Examiner, and now on my own blog. Look for links at the end to these past posts for more recs!). I love it when the weather turns chilly and gloomy, leaves blowing across the grass, and a slight mist in the air. Join me! I’ll wait while you get your hot beverage of choice, a pumpkin latte? A hot cider? Good old hot chocolate? Mulled wine? Here we go!

Quick recap: these are not horror. I don’t have the nerves for that. I try to find a couple different genres, but really, I just post whatever I find that appeals to me!

Let’s start with a classic!

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I read this as part of a readalong on Instragram, and that was just the encouragement I needed. This was much creepier than I had anticipated. I got the witty banter that I expected, especially from Henry. But his monologues got a little long. It was Dorian that I liked. Until… oh boy. Dorian, you poor misled sap. It is a period piece, just remember that, with a fascinating premise, that becomes all consuming. The basic plot sails along, with poor Dorian growing more and more degenerate by the chapter, and his picture becoming, well, hideous. You almost feel sorry for poor Dorian. It’s not his fault he’s beautiful. I never saw the ending coming, and I look forward  to reading more of Oscar Wilde.

Classic Retelling

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
Frankenstein? Yes, please. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of the classic monster story, so it is no surprise that there are retellings. I was able to see the author on a panel a short time ago, and after reading this book, I was not surprised to find that the schedule to publish it was rushed. It felt like it could have used a little more care. But editing aside, I do like the idea of telling this story from the point of view of a character that is often overlooked (overlooked? In fact, I had forgotten she existed!). This was an imaginative take on the story, and actually had a lot of insight into how women were treated at the time, especially in terms of their own personal license, inheritance, and how they could expect to live. Be careful what you wish for, Elizabeth! It was very intense, and was satisfying in the end. I’m sure it would appeal to folks who love the classic, and maybe bring some others in who haven’t read the original. And that’s always a good thing.

 

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning
This is a different kind of retelling! What if Sherlock were actually possessed by demons? What is Lestrade were a vampire? And so on… all delivered with dry witty humor, nonstop. Dr. Watson takes it upon himself to help poor Warlock, who is clearly in over his head, and could use a little aid. Well. A lot of aid. This is a solid, fun, innovative retelling. Whether or not you are familiar with one of literature’s greatest detectives, you will enjoy this slight off-kilter look at how a demon gets a roommate, and attempts to become worthy of his reputation. If you are a Sherlock fan, you will find it uproariously funny. Those little quirks of our detective are magnified and played out like the best classic comedy. The stories follow a similar trajectory as the originals, but you won’t see the punchline coming until it hits you square between the eyes. Denning has captured the essence of the period, as well as the characters, in this spoof. There are more in the series, too, and I’ll be on the hunt for those. Bwahahaha!

 

Middle Grade

The Middle Grade authors are killing it this year (no pun intended… well, okay, maybe a little pun). This is a selection of a few that I have come across.

The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler
Not necessarily scary (for adults), but very tense! Dreams and Nightmares, what more could you ask for? This was a crazy thrill-ride of imagination. Around every corner, there was a different scenario, with different rules, that threatened our three siblings and the folks that were trying to help them. But we never lost sight of the true aim – to change their mom back from a bird. With her memory intact. This is no small order, and the perils that had to be overcome to get there are immense. The rules are different in Dreamland, and more so in the Wicked Places. There are any number of ways to get snuffed. “Dead in Dreamland, dead in the real world.” You will root for Nell, you will scream at her – “Don’t do it!” and you will follow her around every twist and turn. This overlooked title deserves more attention. It is Gaiman-esque, in the best possible way, with threats that dreams are made of, and of course, as in all the best stories, some truths scattered throughout.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I put this off for a long time, because I started to watch the movie once and it didn’t grab me. I then got a lovely edition illustrated by Chris Riddell, and I read the book. This is a children’s book? Oh my. There are some seriously scary moments in here, particularly if a child has an attachment issue. I would only recommend this for children who are very secure with their parents! That said, it is in the best vein of Gaiman. Button eyes, secret doors, and all kinds of mayhem await a child who is simply bored. I went back and watched the movie, and I think it is even creepier than the book. I was startled by the absolutely lack of attention that the real parents pay to Coraline. Not really an endearing portrait of them. But maybe that’s the point. This is a eerie, deliciously dark story that is among Gaiman’s best.

The Collectors by Jacqueline West
There are some really scary moments in this adventure story of a secret society that collects not only wishes, but the beings that feed on them. What if any wish could come true? Can a wish be dangerous? What if you could collect wishes? I am a great fan of Jacqueline West, and highly recommend her Books of Elsewhere series for additional shivers. Again, she hits it out of the park here with her darling main character, Van, and his propensity for noticing things. Like a girl stealing pennies out of a fountain, and the silver squirrel she is talking to. Van has a hearing disability, and I love that this did not hinder him, mostly. He may be who he is “because” of his disability, and not in spite of it. He finds himself in peril because he is simply a kid who wants everything to be all right. But when you play with wishes, anything can happen.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
I devoured this in one evening! I don’t do that often, even with Middle Grade. This is Schwab’s first MG novel, and she hit all the right notes. It is a wonderful, creative, fantastical story where all the pieces slot into place, the setting (Edinburgh) is perfect, characters are involved in real relationships, and the mystery has you guessing until the very last pages. With parents who are ghost hunters, how can Cassie help it that she is also someone who can visit beyond the Veil? An old legend, cemeteries, and the rules of interacting with the realm of the Veil make this a perfect spooky read. I love Cassie, and her friend Jacob, the sweet sod, and this has me clamoring for the next one in the series. I can’t wait to see where Cassie and Jacob go next!

 

I hope you like this selection! If you are looking for more Halloween Reads, I’ve got several other posts with round-ups of spooky reads. Check it out here and here and here. Or you can start with last year’s post and just work backward. All the links are contained in that one. Let me know if you have a favorite spooky read that I haven’t covered yet!

Independent Bookstore Day Preview

Hey all you bookfreaks! Have you got plans on April 28? I certainly hope not, because you are going to need to spend your day visiting a local indie bookstore or three. It is Independent Bookstore Day!

This movement was started a few years ago to celebrate and lift up indies. Well, I think it has wildly outstretched anyone’s imagination. This year, the Ambassador for Independent Bookstore Day is Celeste Ng, the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. According to the official website, over 500 stores will participate in 48 states this year.

Stores have the opportunity to purchase exclusive Independent Bookstore Day (IBD) merchandise. Last year, this included things like an edition of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman with an exclusive cover, a perfect bound short story by Rainbow Rowell, adult coloring books, and several other goodies. This year’s items include a darling little onesie for bebe, plushies, a $6 book of short stories, tea towels with fun quotes on them, and an amazing giclee print of the Literary Universe, which highlights some of the best scifi in the galaxy.

Last year, I went around with my friend Laura, which was fantastic. We had a blast. We visited 12 stores, and ate lunch at a wonderful African restaurant, and ran into friends, and just generally had a great time. Sure, we were exhausted by the end, but it was worth it. I think Laura came home with 12 books, and I hauled home 14. You can see the whole haul on my Instagram account.

We scoped out our tour very carefully, and tried to be strategic about it. One thing we wanted to do was visit Milkweed Books in downtown Minneapolis (the only bookstore left downtown) to talk with Peter Geye, who was there as a guest bookseller. Many of the stores will have guest booksellers, who are usually published authors, there to help you make your choice, or to make recommendations for you. Laura and I visited stores we hadn’t been to before, and got to check out one of the newest stores, our last stop, Addendum Books, which specializes in YA fiction.

In the Twin Cities, where we live, there are many indies, and several that specialize in different things. There are so many, in fact, that the local independent bookseller association, MiBA, organized a passport activity. You got your passport stamped at each store you visited. This unlocked a coupon that was already printed on the passport. If you got a certain number of stamps, you were entered in a drawing. If you got more than 10 stamps, you were entered in the Grand Prize drawing. Well guess what. I won the grand prize! I got the most giant box of books you could imagine. I was simply floored. There were 28 books from stores and publishers, along with some other goodies like pins, notebooks, a tote and more.

Once again, there will be a passport, and it is being handled by Rain Taxi. There are more prizes, and coupons, and fun at each stop. Visiting just five stores will enter you in a drawing. And don’t forget to check each place for the special IBD merchandise that is offered. Much of this is only available on this day. The selection at stores will vary, because each store orders their own merch. There are also giveaways that are exclusives to the day, such as stencils, tattoos, storybooks, posters and more.

Recently I talked to a few stores that gave me a rundown of their plans. Put these on your docket:

Magers & Quinn Booksellers:
Local Poet Lynette Reini-Grandell will be Guest Bookseller for poetry and English lit from 11am to 2pm. From 3:30 to 5pm, local 8th graders will be Guest Booksellers, giving their favorite recommendations in the children’s section. At 7pm, you’re in for an evening treat, with a reading of juvenilia. Volunteers offer to read off their best from all those old notebooks! This is an open mic event. If you’re interested in reading, you can sign up in advance or just drop in!

Subtext Books:
They will start off with coffee and donuts in the morning, guest booksellers in the afternoon, and live music from Brian Barnes in the evening, plus lots of exclusive merch and freebies.

Moon Palace Books:
They will have specials in the store and café, and round the day out with a giant poetry reading put on by Poetry Asylum (known as the Great Twin Cities Poetry Read), which will feature more than 30 poets. Start off with a free cup of coffee from 9 to 11am, 2-for-1 tap beer, cider or house wine from 3 to 6pm, and special deals from 6pm to close when you bring in receipts from other indies! Check the website for deets.

Red Balloon Bookshop:
Storytime and face painting in the morning, and a John Green hunt (like Where’s Waldo) in the afternoon! Two scavenger hunts will each last an hour, and the winner of each will get a signed copy of Turtles All the Way Down! Plus more prizes, merch and scratch-off cards.

There are other special deals going on, like a free audio book (the #1 Indie Next Pick, Tangerine by Christine Mangan), free ebooks, and many other treats that booksellers have been planning for months.

If you don’t live in an area that has independent bookstores, I honestly feel for you. But there must be something you can do, right? Possibly visit a neighboring town! It’s the perfect excuse for some bookstore tourism. In fact, this year there is an initiative which will encourage just that. A map has been created (by none other than Kevin Cannon, our favorite bookstore artist, who created previous maps, posters and individual store drawings), called the Midwest Bookstore Map. Visit bookstores on the map, and post about it, tag @Midwestbooks and the bookstore, and you could win monthly drawings or a grand prize (drawn next year on Independent Bookstore Day). That’s a whole year of possibilities! But then, a bookstore is always full of possibilities.

Hope you can get yourself out and enjoy some time with a local indie this weekend. Or put it on your calendar next year – it is always the last Saturday in April!

Book Review: The Hazel Wood

Have I got something for you. There has been a lot of buzz in the past couple years about fairytale retellings, sure. But Melissa Albert takes it a step further yet. This is a newtelling (new-telling? New Telling?) – a wholly new world, The Hinterland, which we learn about from the character searching for the book within the book.

People. The booklove in this book! This is literally a bookfreak’s dream come true.

But I digress.

What is so arresting about this book is its immediacy. It is almost magical realism in its here-and-now-ness. We are in modern day New York City. Our MC has current problems. Her cell phone is dead. Her stepdad is a jerk. Her stepsister is a bitch (who makes her feel like “an awkward breadstick”). Okay. We’ve all been there. In bits and pieces, we get more of the story, more of her story – the midnight runs, the near misses. Her mother. The weird stuff that seems to explode around them. Why?

And her name… wait for it… is Alice.

I love it. Everything about this story felt so right on.

And while we are in modern New York City, yet… there is something, just a hair’s breath away, just over a slight border, one you cannot see, just waiting. The Hinterland. And that, my friends, is where Alice must go to find her mom. Whether the Hinterland is a place or a people, we aren’t sure.

There is unexpected help, there is unexpected danger. All around. It is endemic to the fairytale. Wait. The stories. Danger is endemic to the plurality of stories that exist in this other land.

I’m doing a bad job of explaining it, because it’s just that good. But you can get a synopsis from anywhere. What I’d like to tell you about is the beauty of the way this was put together, the intricacy of it, and the wild success of it. Albert has come up with a whole new realm, and folks, she’s going to take us there. I was excited reading this, excited like the first time-reading-Harry Potter excited. Because everything felt imaginative and whole.

As good as the storytelling is, the writing is even better. One of the things that I loved so much right away about Harry Potter was the wordplay. Albert scores hit after hit on that. Albert sings when she is putting us in Alice’s memories: the way a book is evocative of the place you first read it. The way that smells are colors and sounds are food. Waylan Jennings is whisky and a suit is an exhausted brown. This is what makes a story stick.

Things like this, one of the best list paragraphs I’ve read in a long time:

“Everyone is supposed to be a combination of nature and nurture, their true selves shaped by years of friends and fights and parents and dreams and things you did too young and things you overheard that you shouldn’t have and secrets you kept or couldn’t and regrets and victories and quiet prides, all the packed-together detritus that becomes what you call your life.

But every time we left a place, I felt the things that happened there being wiped clean, til all that was left was Ella, our fights and our talks and our winding roads.” – p130

Alice is worth our time, too. She climbs into bed with The Blind Assassin, “because if you’re not with the book you want, you might as well want the book you’re with.” She doesn’t like her stepdad because, among other things, he doesn’t read the right books. She tamps down an anger she doesn’t understand with “hippie shit” her mother teaches her, and once called, she is laser-focused on her goal.

And Alice has a friend. Finch wears an expression like armor, one that seals him off from the world and protects him from… what, exactly? He is a superfan, one of the few who has read the book Alice’s grandmother wrote, and who has a deep appreciation for story. (And he wants to go home at one point, “because that’s where my first editions are.” Don’t we love this sweet little cinnamon roll?) I was really getting a soft spot for Finch.

Let’s not forget Ella. Ella in all this is more than just the crazy mom who married up, the waitress who can beguile a rich guy. The daughter of the woman who wrote the tales of the Hinterland down. Ella has guts. Ella is bad-ass her damn self. But we don’t get much of her story.

The three of them do a kind of dance with The Hinterland, each for their own reasons. And along the way, we get bits and pieces of the stories of the Hinterland. Oh, by the way, we’re getting those in full, too. It has just been announced that Albert will be releasing two more books – one will be the actual Tales of the Hinterland (squeeee!) (presumably the book that Althea, Ella’s mother, wrote in the first place) and the other will be set in the same world, a follow-up to this one. So we have Hinterland for the next two years!

So yes, Leigh Bardugo wrote original, imaginative fairytales set in her fantasy world (The Language of Thorns was my top pick for 2017). And Lev Grossman gave us a doorway into a hidden world through an alleyway. But this is like Ravka meets Brakebills. Except that school is the least of our worries. And the world feels as real as your own backyard. So it’s not a retelling – it’s new. We get it first.

Go on, get this one. But a note here: the author posted that some bookstores had put the book out early, and asked people to hold off on buying it until Jan 30. Please, booksellers, don’t skirt a Strict on Sale date. And readers, if you know a book is out early, wait to buy it. I know, it’s hard. But it could make that small difference for where – or whether – a book lands on the New York Times bestseller list, among other things. And this one is sure to land there, somewhere. Help it land higher by buying it during release week. On-sale date is January 30. Set an alert.

Because I forgot to mention, in case you can’t tell from my Bookstagram photo above, that this book is gorgeous in and of itself! I have heard the final copy does not disappoint – gold foil, embossing, just everything. The ARC is easily one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I can’t wait to get my final copy!

Oh, and five stars on GoodReads! I don’t usually give stars, but I think that I will start doing that for all my reviews on GoodReads this year. Just as an experiment. I wrestle with anything less than five stars. But maybe it will help people decide what to read, and help authors I love. Come find me there!

Happy New Year!

 

January Readathon and 2018 Challenges

I tackled a couple of reading challenges last year. And they really helped to start my year off right. In fact, they gave me such a huge spurt of accomplishment, I made my reading goal – and knocked out some books I’d been wanting to read for a long time, several of them five star reads. All this to say, I’m here to do it again.

This year, I thought I’d do the #RockMyTBR challenge again, but with a different tack. I’m doing #BeattheBacklist, which involves a little more accountability, a little more checking in. In fact, it looks like Austine put a heckuva lot of work into this!  There is a Bookstagram challenge, teams and prizes. I’m on the Story Sorcerors team. I fell off #RockMyTBR about halfway through, so I still have quite a pile of stuff here that I need to either read or just peruse and unhaul. Continue reading

Best Books of 2017

My year got hijacked. I started off strong, reading something like 20 books in January (thanks in large part to a part-time job as a warming house attendant, which essentially meant uninterrupted reading time on most days). Then I got a job at a bookstore. Sounds ideal, right? Well, it really cut into my reading time, I can tell you that!

However, I did manage to get close to my goal of 75 books. I might even make it. At this writing, I have two days left, and I’ve read 60 books. And there’s a readathon tomorrow!

But all that aside, I did manage to read some great books this year. Books that blew me away, and that made me think, that stayed with me. And that is always the best thing. The following are the ones I most heartily recommend. Continue reading

Halloween Reads 2017

Every year since 2011 I have done a round-up this time of year of spooky and creepy reads that I have enjoyed. I have sometimes included horror recommendations from other people (like in last year’s post from Alison at Little Bookworm), but I haven’t read those because I am a chicken. This year, though, I am happy to supply several titles that seriously fit the bill. I personally know a couple of these authors, but honestly, that has no bearing on my recommendation. They are all great stories.

At the bottom you will find links to my previous years’ posts, and an apology from me for falling off the radar here for so long. First, on to the books! Continue reading

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

As October quickly zooms by, I am hard at work trying to get my Halloween Reads post done. This title will go on that list, but I wanted to do more than a capsule review on it. It deserves its own space.

I knew it would be good, having read Will’s previous books. But it was better than good. Here we have another stellar story from the indomitable Will Alexander. Continue reading

Book Review: City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

You may remember that February was my month of reading mysteries. This was one of my February reads, and one of the top books I have read yet this year. I gave it Five Stars on GoodReads. And then I had to calm down a bit because yeah, man, it was THAT good. And as for the publisher’s description, no, not Gone Girl. There was nothing unreliable about this narrator. Nothing at all. This was Girl with a Dragon Tattoo meets Life After Life. So many choices. So many unanswered questions. Continue reading

Tolkien Reading Day 2017

I hadn’t really anticipated becoming wholly consumed by Tolkien during the month of March. But that appears to be what has happened.

First, I heard about this from the bloggers over at Pages Unbound. They put out a call on Twitter for bloggers to take part in their two-week Tolkien blog fest, which would feature posts they wrote plus lots of guest posts. I was happy to write a post about how Tolkien has influenced my work, which can be seen here. And there are lots of other posts about all things Tolkien, so get on over and check them out.

Then I saw a challenge on Instagram. I do a lot of photo challenges (which, if you don’t know, are basically lists of prompts that you interpret and then share with a hashtag), and this was to be a month-long Tolkien theme under the #MiddleEarthMarch tag. I thought that sounded like loads of fun, so I was eager to participate in that. This also included a Lord of the Rings read-along, which was preceded by a read-along of The Hobbit, where we followed along on #febandbackagain.

I had a blast with the prompts, and had fun going through my books and gathering together all my Tolkien-related titles. Come to find out that I actually have a pretty good collection! I am especially happy with a special edition I picked up at a con a year or so ago for $20 – it is the green leather one in a slipcase, with runes on the cover and spine. It’s gorgeous, and a lovely addition to my library (but really, I’m a sucker for anything in a slipcase or a boxset).

On my #RockMyTBR challenge, I had already ear-marked a Tolkien title, The Silmarillion, for April. But I substituted the above titles, which was handy because I found that either I do not own The Silmarillion or I simply couldn’t find it. I just swapped my previous March title with April. And then GoodReads changed its rules so that you could count rereads as part of your challenge goal, so that helped speed me along.

Before I saw the Pages Unbound post, I honestly didn’t even realize there was going to be a Tolkien Reading Day in March. March 25 is the anniversary of the day of the defeat of Sauron, in case you are wondering. The celebration is sponsored by the Tolkien Society, and there are lots of celebrations worldwide. This worked out perfectly for me, since I read that scene in the book on the night of March 24! I was able to keep on track with my reading in the read-along, though I am sad to say that I hardly read anything else during March. But it was worth it.

I never read The Lord of the Rings until after college. So this was only maybe my third time reading the series. The last time was when the movies came out. When I was in high school, fantasy was a class for stoners and slackers. I loved English and reading, so instead, I took Shakespeare and English lit. Well, let that be a lesson to you. Don’t skip a class if it sounds interesting! Had I taken fantasy in high school, I might have been a decade ahead on my Tolkien obsession!

And now I am well and fully hooked. I have always loved the movies, and my son and I did a binge watch of the extended version DVDs over the holidays. So that set me up nicely for all the reading. Now I am looking forward to The Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion. I have been looking around, and it sounds like this is the order which is most recommended in reading Tolkien (that is, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion).

I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Beren and Luthien, which is being released in May, and was edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee. Many Tolkien fans will know that this story of star-crossed lovers was very close to Tolkien’s heart. He even had the name Luthien engraved on his wife’s headstone when she died, and then instructed that Beren should be engraved under his name (they share a headstone).

I’ve long had a wish to go to Oxford, and see his haunts. I would also love to go to New Zealand, where you can see the set for the Shire, and have lunch at the Green Dragon. So go ahead, Tolkien merch, take all my money! I don’t even care.

 

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