Part Two: Books that Changed My Life

I told you this would take more than one post. Here is part two.

So continuing with my list of books that changed my life, again in no particular order or preference:

  1. The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett—I know The Secret Garden is on everyone else’s list, but mine was Princess. It was so wonderfully tragic and melodramatic. I read and re-read this book a hundred times when I was a kid. It sparked my Anglophilia despite my Hungarian background.
  1. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell—This book had so many fascinating facts and ideas that spoke to me as truths. The 10,000 hours idea, the way gifted children are tested, the way they play hockey in Canada and Czechoslovakia. I quickly went out an bought his others books, Tipping Point and Blink. Funny thing is that the book belongs to my daughter and when she moved out so did the book. Come to think of it, I need to go to the bookstore. Be right back.Mockingbird
  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—I didn’t read this book until I was an adult, and the first time I “read” it I was listening to it as an audiobook when I had to drive to Denver by myself. I only picked it up because it was one of those classics I had missed in my education. OH MY GOD. I was kicking myself by the time I arrived home. I loved the book. I went out the next day and bought myself a copy and read it (I didn’t feel right writing “re-read it”). I have since taught the book and grown to love it even more, so much so that when my dog chewed up a brand new copy that I was teaching from, I kept it alongside my old falling-part copy.
  1. The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn—This book along with Bewitching (see previous post) is the reason I believe Romance can be sublime. Again, it was the first book in a long time that made me laugh out loud and cry. A wonderful experience all around. I hope someday to put my readers through something like that in the books I write.
  1. The Wizard of Oz and the Oz series by L. Frank Baum—The movie just doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t. And the next books were better. I lived in Oz in elementary school. I remember reading Glenda of Oz on a camping trip with my best friend. We read by flashlight in our tent. It was an adventure to read an adventure. And it helped wake my love of fantasy.
  1. And Then There Were None and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie—I have always read mysteries starting with Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew (Hmmm, they should make the list somewhere), but Dame Agatha is simply the queen. I have read many mysteries since reading her entire collection, but none have ever come close to the brilliance of Poirot, the hidden depths of Miss Marple, the spunk of Tommy and Tuppence, the other-worldiness of Harley Quin, and the ones that star no one in particular. A translation of one of her books was the first complete novel I read in Hungarian, and I have several German translations too. They got me through my year abroad and helped teach me the language at the same time. The Secret Adversary was the first book I downloaded on my Kindle too. Nobody does it better (whoops, wrong franchise).
  1. Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling—Really? Do I need to say anything else? I’m working on reading it in my second language right now. I had as much fun with these as my twins who waited for their Hogwarts letters when they turned eleven.

Hmm, still not done with my list. How about some honorable mentions before one last big winner: Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (I should just write the Song of Fire and Ice series, but more people will recognize GoT); Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore; Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, the first book in a long time that had me completely engrossed; Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare—while technically a play, it meant so much to me as a teenager; I’m over it now, really, and my favorite Shakespeare is Taming of the Shrew, but R&J were the teenage thing; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows; No, David by David Shannon, the first book that my youngest could really enjoy.

I suppose I should stop. There may be a part three in the future, or at leas a list of honorable mentions, but time to move on. But one last book first . . .MatterOfConvenienceLatestSmall

13 (And yes, I like the number thirteen). A Matter of Convenience by Gabriella Anderson—The first book I sold. It started me on this crazy, rollercoaster of a heartbreaking career that I don’t know why I still pursue. That’s a lie. It’s the stories. It’s always about the stories.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Aszkaban by J K Rowling

The Series Killer

No, not “serial.” That is not an error. In which I show my excitement for the supposed demise of series novels. What ever happened to the stand alone novel?

I heard from a second and totally unrelated source that novel series are losing their appeal (for romances–I can’t apply this info to other genres; please chime in if you’ve heard something). For me, this is good news. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a series (romance) and grew tired of the same setting over and over. Sometimes you can tell the author just didn’t want to write another book in this world. There are exceptions–Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons, for example, but each book had a complete story, connected only by family, well, connections–but most of the time, I enjoy a novel and then forget the details. I remember the warm feeling I got while reading it, but when I pick up a second or third novel in a series and am taxed to remember which cousin introduced the oldest brother’s mother-in-law’s grandchild to the American relation, the story loses its punch for me. Series work for me when the story in the series isn’t dependent on previous works; where I don’t have to know that this character is the niece of the neighbor’s second cousin who gave the duke’s half-brother who is now married to the uncle’s sister-in-law’s vicar’s daughter a beating when they were children. In other words, if I can’t pick up a book out of order, read it, and enjoy it, it isn’t the work for me.

I can hear you saying hypocrite right now. I have published two and a half series. The first are tied together by family, but you don’t have to read them in order, they do stand alone, and you don’t have to know the history to understand them. My second series was cut off after the first two books were published (I still have plans to finish that third one, but a few other things have to happen first before I do), but it wasn’t by my choice. And the last series are definitely connected stories that I hope can be read and understood without reading them all, but there is a story line that arcs over all three books, so you’re better off reading all three. These are also fantasies, though, which leads me to my next point.

I don’t mind series in fantasy or sci-fi. Movies or books. Star Wars was fantastic in part because of the ongoing story. But Indiana Jones are all stand alone. I love Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer series (book three appears soon this month). My only fear with series like that is that they become successful and the publishing houses want to extend them to more books. If this story doesn’t end in this book, I’ll be pissed (American sense, not British sense). You can write new stories in the series, but finish the stories first. That’s why I like Once Upon a Time. They finish stories, then throw the characters into new situations. That I can get behind. And of course, I’m still waiting for GOT to finish. Two more books to go. Ugh.

So back to me (it’s my blog, I can be narcissistic if I want). Most of my books are single title, stand-alone books. Yes, I could finagle a second book in the series, but the stories would involve different people and a different story. So if you’re tired of series and just want a fun read, try one. (Fantasy romance recommendation: The Falcon and the Wolf; historical recommendation: Temptation’s Warrior, To Tame a Rose, or one I shall be putting up soon called The Sea Eagle–stay tuned; Even Ever Yours is totally stand alone, although technically it’s part of a series, but they’re not connected in the way you think and every story is an individual story and has no effect on the next). I have a couple of manuscripts I’m working on that are totally stand alone.

And if you like series, I have those too. I guess there’s room for both.

What are your thoughts?

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Paper Magician by Charlie N Holmberg

Tastes and Age

Lately I find myself engrossed in a couple of television shows. I was a firm fan of How I Met Your Mother, but it’s over now. I watch The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, but I’m absolutely hooked on Grimm, Once Upon a Time, and Agents of Shield. I’ve glommed a few series on Netflix: Dr. Who, Eureka, Warehouse 13, Primeval, The Dresden Files, Firefly; and I’ve caught a few episodes of Torchwood and Farscape (not glomming those, though). Most of my friends who are not in the writing world don’t watch any of these. They don’t read the same books as I either. They’ve all seen Breaking Bad, which I am currently watching, but more out of a sense of “need to” rather than “want to.” I recognize the superior story crafting, the superb acting, but it’s just not my thing. I’ve been pleading with them to watch Game of Thrones with little success. We own the discs and the books.

It’s left me wondering about tastes and age. I suppose most people believe that as one ages, one’s tastes become more serious. I’ve found the opposite to be true. I’m gravitating even more toward the paranormal (to use a generic term for sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction). I recently visited my daughter in Boston, and I think I shocked her roommates when I not only understood their references, but added my own insights to their conversations. We watched Pacific Rim together and had a great time.

So am I just more youthful in my tastes? I don’t think so. I believe that all entertainment, whether it’s books, movies or television, is about the characters. It’s the great characters that keep us glued to a show or a book. It’s just the delivery method that changes. A character gives us someone to recognize and cheer for. When they change, we grow. When they hurt, we ache. We feel with them and experience universal truths through them (This ties into Theme, which proves that you can’t isolate one element of a story with any kind of success). Tyrion Lannister is a fair, loyal, and just character with great flaws who happens to be a member of a ruthless family from whom he’s learned some of his behavior. Does that sound like Hamlet to you? (Okay, not exactly, but you get the picture.) And when [SPOILER–skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know even this non-event specific fact] they push him too far, he finally rejects them. He is honorable in his own way. We root for him even more than the outrightly noble character of Ned Stark, because liking Ned is too easy (Not that his death wasn’t heart-breaking, but, really, he was too good.)

Perhaps I like my characters in settings that aren’t of this world because I am so aware of the realities of this world. I’m highly political (which I try to keep from these pages), aware of current events, scientifically minded, and have my own personal demons I battle. In my entertainment, I don’t want to face those realities in a realistic setting. I would argue those same realities are in the paranormal, but in a background where they are easier to handle and comprehend and still be entertained. I would also argue that historical fiction is also not of this world. Must be why I like it too.

So don’t expect me to write or read the next great American novel. Give me magic, fairies, spaceships, and time travel. I’ll take my characters and morality from real fiction instead of reality fiction. Disagree with me? That’s fine. I’m not asking you to change your mind. But don’t judge my tastes either.

Meanwhile I’m waiting for a friend of mine to return from her European trip and bring me the Harry Potter series in German. Can’t wait to re-read them.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin (re-read)