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  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2015/08/14 Permalink
    Tags: , cynthia voigt, , , homecoming, , nancy mitford, , , the pursuit of love, v.c. andrews,   

    5 Books Featuring Runaway Parents 

    There are a few things in life that are supposed to be sacrosanct, and one of those things is that parents should love their children and devote themselves to supporting, raising, and helping their kids. When that doesn’t happen in real life, it can be devastating. In novels, though, a runaway parent—who leaves their family behind by choice—can also be a powerful storytelling device. Here are five novels in which parents ran off and left their children to fend for themselves—with powerful consequences.

    Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple
    After having suffered the sort of betrayal and professional setback that destroys people, Bernadette Fox is living (more or less as a recluse) in Seattle with her husband and her precocious, brilliant daughter, Bee. Bernadette’s decision to run away and leave her family behind is sparked by what can only be seen as a complete emotional breakdown, but this is communicated in such caustic, hilarious episodes that the gravity of Bernadette’s mental and emotional condition is obscured. Her flight to, of all places, Antarctica, and Bee’s detective work in tracking her down to bring her back (in more ways than one) is equally hilarious and heartwarming, as Bernadette grows and evolves into a better person, and her daughter Bee sees her mother in a more realistic if no less affectionate light, as the murky details of her past are brought into clarity.

    The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford
    When one of your parents is unnamed and referred to solely by the nickname “The Bolter,” you know you’ve got problems. Mitford’s deceptively complex novel (which spawned two sequels) has narrator Fanny’s mother in the background for most of its chapters, and her nickname stems from her habit of bolting to new marriages in order to flee problems and seek adventure—something Fanny’s cousin Linda seems to replicate. In the novel’s closing arc, however, The Bolter returns and serves as the catalyst for the careful reader to sense a shift in the novel’s tone and message, changing not only the possible point of Fanny and Linda’s romantic adventures, but even making you realize that the heroine of the story isn’t really Linda, whose adventures Fanny has focused on throughout the novel, but Fanny herself.

    Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews
    Okay, Corrine Dollanganger doesn’t literally run away from her family. In fact, when her husband dies and leaves her deep in debt, she brings her children with her to her parents’ estate, where her own mother initially insists the children live in the attic, hidden from their grandfather. Later, seeking to ensure her inheritance and have a clean slate for a new marriage, Corrine turns into the villain of the story when she increasingly ignores her own children—making her metaphorical flight from her family very real, very sad, and very horrifying. Corrine Dollanganger proves you don’t have to physically leave in order to run away from your family, though most readers would likely agree they’d prefer parents just go one and run if the alternative is imprisonment and, ultimately, attempted murder.

    Armada, by Ernest Cline
    Armada, uber-geek Cline’s followup to his smash hit Ready Player One, is the story of Zack Lightman, whose expertise in the titular video game turns out to be the product of a decades-long campaign by secretive world powers to train the human race for a coming alien invasion. Zack spends the beginning of the novel believing his father to be dead, but when he arrives on a secret moon base for his training with the Earth Defense Alliance (EDA), he discovers that his father has been working with the EDA secretly for the past two decades, and the two must work together to defend Earth from a surprise attack from the aliens. What geeky kid with a missing parent wouldn’t love to discover they were secretly a superspy, a wizard—or part of a secret program to save the world?

    Homecoming, by Cynthia Voigt
    Voigt’s 1981 novel, the first in a series of seven following the Tillerman family, opens with the iconic scene in which the four Tillerman children, led by 13-year old Dicey, are simply abandoned by their mother; left in the family car in a shopping mall parking lot. When the children realize their mother is not coming back, Dicey takes charge and leads her siblings on an emotionally rich journey to their closest relatives, the first of several journeys the kids take in their efforts to stay together and find some sort of safe haven. Although the eventual fate of Dicey’s mother demonstrates that she wasn’t so much a “runaway” parent as a deeply troubled one, the story resonates with anyone who has ever felt abandoned, however briefly, by their parents, and Voigt’s novel remains a powerful story about family and the terror that love can sometimes inspire.

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  • Nicole Dieker 5:30 pm on 2015/05/27 Permalink
    Tags: books for everyone, , , , , , , , , , , , v.c. andrews   

    9 Books Even Non-Readers Will Love 

    Books like War and Peace, David Copperfield, and Ulysses are classics we think everyone should read—but when you take a look at our bookshelves, you might see an entirely different set of volumes. When the classics feel daunting, you can turn to this list, full of titles even self-described “non-readers” will love, ones we turn to when we want to do that most daring of activities: read for pleasure.

    Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer

    Jon Krakauer’s newest book, Missoula, investigates sexual assaults on college campuses, but it’s his 1997 Mount Everest narrative Into Thin Air that climbed its way into readers’ hearts and bookshelves. Into Thin Air is often included in high school English curriculums, telling the story of how an ordinary man—Krakauer himself—decides to summit Everest and finds himself in the middle of a life-or-death storm several of his climbing companions don’t survive.

    Why is Into Thin Air so popular? Perhaps because it pits will against nature, man against the mountain, and reveals how much of our fate is based on chance. Or it could be because a lot of us read it in high school, and found it much more compelling than Ethan Frome or The Scarlet Letter. Either way, look for the upcoming September film adaptation Everest, starring House of Cards Michael Kelly as Krakauer and Jake Gyllenhaal as expedition leader Scott Fischer. And look for new editions of Into Thin Air to start turning up on commutes and lunch breaks everywhere.

    To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Here’s another high school classic that tends to stay on our bookshelves long after graduation. Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a delicate and powerful look at how racism and sexism influence a small Southern town, and her unforgettable characters—Scout, Dill, Boo Radley, Tom Robinson, and of course Atticus Finch—make this book beloved by even the most “non” of non-readers.

    It doesn’t hurt that the 1962 film version, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus, was pretty much perfect. In a world where we get updated versions of Little Women or Pride and Prejudice for every new generation, Hollywood has left To Kill a Mockingbird alone, knowing nothing can compete with what’s already been filmed. This July, Harper Lee’s previously unpublished companion novel, Go Set a Watchman, will be released, and we’ll finally get to learn more about Scout, Atticus, and life in Maycomb, Alabama. Reread her debut first.

    Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews
    If you’re of a certain age, V.C. Andrews’ 1979 Flowers in the Attic might have been passed to you under a desk in middle school, making its way from one backpack to another so it could be taken home and read in secret. Even the cover implied secrets: the flap with the rectangle cut out so you could pull it back and see the four Dollanganger siblings with their grandmother looming overhead.

    Once you gorged yourself on the melodramatic prose, you could follow it up with the even more melodramatic 1987 movie, which seemed pre-designed to be screened during slumber parties. Of course, if you read or watched Flowers in the Attic in the ’80s or ’90s, you probably gathered your friends together to have a wine-and-cheese screening of the 2014 Lifetime movie remake, and tweet about how Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka is (impossibly!) old enough to play Cathy.

    And maybe you’ve kept your copy of Flowers in the Attic with the vague idea that you might give it to your own daughter someday. But maybe it’s better if she gets it surreptitiously passed to her from a friend.

    Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
    This one you will pass down to your daughters (and your sons). Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was published in 1970 and remains one of the most cherished YA books that conveniently doubles as a puberty guide for parents who want to outsource the conversation. Publishers were finally obliged to update the text to include newer models of sanitary napkins, but Margaret is still smartphone- and Internet-free, and still happily chants “We must! We must! We must increase our bust!” with the three other members of the Pre-teen Sensations.

    The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
    Green’s novel hit the top of the New York Times‘ YA bestseller list upon publication, and only three years later has it finally fallen to #3. His story of young love, combined with an honest look at illness and how our culture treats cancer patients, ensured that Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters would get to share their forever within the numbered pages with all of us.

    The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    This book is polarizing. It’s yet another classic you probably read in high school, long before you were old enough to understand what it feels like to have failed dreams. Because of that, some readers dismiss the book outrigh—then find that green light beaming at us from across the current, flickering in our minds and nudging us to read the book again as an adult. If once you do, you’ll find a very different novel, one you’ll empathize with far more than when you were sixteen.

    BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries starring Colin Firth (and his wet shirt) as Mr. Darcy will try to read Jane Austen’s 1813 novel at least once.

    And most of us will love it: Austen is very clever, after all, and there are some funny jokes about sneezes. Then we’ll put it on our bookshelves and watch the BBC miniseries over again, letting it play in the background while we clean the apartment or fold the laundry. “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” we will say under our breath, along with Darcy.

    The Hunger Games Series, by Suzanne Collins
    How quickly did you make it through Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy? The fast pacing and high stakes make The Hunger Games the kind of book you forget you’re reading until you turn the last page and realize you’re at the end—and that Collins left you on a cliffhanger, so you’d better start the next one.

    The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling
    It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say everyone has read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, but not by much. Did you wait in line at a Barnes & Noble Midnight Magic Party to get your copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the minute it released? Have you taken a quiz to determine whether the Sorting Hat would place you into Gryffindor or Ravenclaw? Do you have serious opinions about the epilogue?

    We know you do. You don’t even have to tell us. We also know you are going to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them when it opens in 2016, reportedly starring Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, just because you want one more peek into Potter’s magical kingdom. Harry Potter brought a lot of people into the world of reading, the same way Hagrid pulled Harry into a world of magic. And once you’re there, we think you should stay.

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  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2015/05/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , portnoy's complaint, , v.c. andrews,   

    The 5 Worst Mothers in Literary History 

    As Philip Larkin wrote in the Greatest Poem of All Time (GPAT): “Man hands on misery to man/It deepens like a coastal shelf/Get out as early as you can/And don’t have any kids yourself.” This doesn’t hold true for every parent, but it certainly would’ve been good advice to give to any of the mother monsters listed below. Take our quick and terrifying tour through some of the worst mothers in literary history, and feel grateful all over again for your own.

    Margaret White (Carrie, by Stephen King)
    Most people concentrate on the monstrous teens in King’s iconic novel, the cool kids who torment Carrie until she has history’s worst psychotic break. But the kids aren’t the villains of this story, and neither is Carrie: it’s her awful, awful mother. How awful? Not only is everything—including the conception and birth of her own daughter—a sin to Margaret, she also seems to believe disciplining a child should involve locking her in a closet. Constantly. Margaret White is one of the few mothers who completely and richly deserves her terrible fate.

    Charlotte Haze (Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov)
    While Charlotte Haze isn’t the brightest bulb in the literary universe and might be excused for not noticing Humbert Humbert is, how shall we say this, a predatory criminal, her true monstrosity becomes clear when you look a little deeper. Charlotte is enamored with Humbert not because she craves love or companionship, but because she wants “the finer things” and believes Humbert, with his European manners and fussy, academic airs, can provide them for her. She doesn’t so much not notice his attentions towards Lolita as ignore them lest they ruin her chances for a “good life” she can barely define.

    Corrine and Olivia (Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews)
    The brilliant trick of V.C. Andrews’ novel about incest, greed, and spectacularly bad parenting is that it initially presents Olivia, the grandmother, as the true Monstrous Mother, and Corrine, the mother, as a goodhearted parent who is guilty of incredibly poor decision-making but not true evil…then it slowly turns the tables, not by making the grandmother a better person but by making Corrine the worst person. Poisoning your children slowly (while forcing them to hide in the attic) in order to assure your inheritance is actually more horrible than locking them in closets for days on end. At least Carrie got to attend gym class from time to time.

    Fiona Brewer (About a Boy, by Nick Hornby)
    Sometimes a humorous novel can distract us from the horrible people populating it, as with Nick Hornby’s touching, funny, and somewhat disturbing story of an awkward, unhappy boy and a slick, unhappy man. Fiona Brewer initially seems a bit strange in an amusing way, and fiercely protective of her son—but then you realize she attempted suicide in a way that pretty much guaranteed her son would walk in on her cold, dead body, and that most of his social anxiety and awkwardness is due to her own cynical view of the world. In the end, Fiona does not completely belong in the Hall of Fame for bad mothers, for she rallies over the course of the book to demonstrate true love for her son, which leaves her a long way from the sullen, unhappy, and resolutely selfish woman we meet in the beginning.

    Sophie Portnoy from Portnoy’s Complaint, by Philip Roth
    If it isn’t a standard belief that mothers should not stand outside the bathroom while their sons defecate and then demand they not flush so their output can be examined, then by gum, it should be. Sophie Portnoy is the sort of mother only novelists and psychiatrists can imagine, a woman so smothering and domineering she’s at the root of all her son’s “complaints”—including the (frequently awful and disturbing) sexual ones, which push her well into Monstrous Mother territory despite the black humor surrounding her every utterance and action in Roth’s infamous novel.

    So there you have it—the Injustice League of Bad Mothers. Which fictional moms did we miss?

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  • Maurie Backman 7:00 pm on 2014/08/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , thomas harris, v.c. andrews   

    6 Great Books to Read on a Dark and Stormy Night 

    The ShiningYou’re home alone, the wind is howling, and a steady rain is beating down heavily against your window. You put on your most comfortable pair of pajamas, pour yourself a mug of hot chocolate, and prepare to cozy up on your couch with a fuzzy blanket. Now all you need is the perfect book to let this dark, stormy night take hold of your mind, and we’ve got several suggestions.

    While you don’t necessarily need ominous weather to enjoy these great works, there’s just something about flashing lightning, crashing thunder, and the heavy pitter-patter of pouring rain that creates the perfect backdrop. For an even more intense experience, we suggest reading one of these books by candlelight. You can always turn the lights back on if you find yourself getting a little too spooked for comfort…

    The Shining, by Stephen King
    There’s a reason Joey from Friends had to stash this novel in the freezer halfway through. If you’re going to get drawn into the world of a haunted, isolated hotel, you might as well do it on a night that lends some realism to the already spooky setting. We won’t spoil the plot, but let’s just say supernatural forces abound to create a tale that’ll rattle you to your very core—especially against a stormy background of your own.

    The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, by Edgar Allan Poe
    This collection features some of Poe’s most thrilling, suspenseful works, from the terrifying “The Pit and the Pendulum” to the fear-inducing “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Pick and choose your favorites and prepare to get swept away by the satisfyingly scary settings Poe creates. Throw in a little real-world thunder and lightning, and it won’t be long before you’re tempted to hide under your own covers until morning.

    Dracula, by Bram Stoker
    Nothing complements a Gothic Transylvanian setting like a pounding storm, ideally one that intensifies as you keep reading. Pummeling rains and wailing winds can only make this chilling novel better, especially if you’re reading it for the first time.

    The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris
    Forget about the movie version. If you’re looking for a character that will truly mess with your head in the most thrilling of ways, Hannibal Lecter most certainly fits the bill. This novel screams psychological thriller, and against the backdrop of an already eerie night, you’ll be hard-pressed not to consider going to sleep with the lights on.

    Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews
    Now here’s a story that will captivate you in the creepiest of ways, especially when the dreary, isolated nature of the attic is echoed by a real-life raging storm. Reading this novel in an eerie setting of your own will elevate it in a manner that’s as thrilling as it is disturbing.

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson
    The first novel in Steig Larsson’s trilogy introduces us to the ever-fascinating and complex characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, who team up to solve a mystery with a twist so disturbing it’ll leave even the most jaded of readers reeling. The intricate storyline and cold, icy, remote island setting make this masterpiece the perfect stormy night read.

    What books do you recommend for a dark and stormy night?

  • Molly Schoemann-McCann 5:00 pm on 2014/07/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , petals on the wind, , , v.c. andrews,   

    13 Signs You Might Be Living in a Gothic Novel 

    Flowers in the Attic

    We love gothic novels for their emotional power, their over-the-top drama, and the creepy-shivery feelings we get while reading them. Of course, part of the fun of gothic novels is that their characters and situations are so much larger than life…or are they? If you’ve started to suspect that the drafty cathedral your family has called home for countless centuries may in fact be the setting of a bona fide gothic novel, here are 13 spooky ways to tell for sure:

    1. Either there are no clocks in your house, or your house is filled with clocks…but they’re all set to different times.

    2. Also, though you refer to it as “your house,” it’s actually one of the following: a dilapidated mansion, a moldering manor, or a crumbling castle with no plumbing to speak of. Also, the wind is always howling outside.

    3. People around you are regularly tumbling dramatically down stairs and breaking all of their bones.

    4. You can tell that things are starting to get kind of serious with the guy you’ve been seeing because he’s started talking about how you two are actually one person and how if you’re ever separated by death he will throw himself into your open grave and be buried alive with you. Also, you suspect that the two of you might be somehow related. Best not to dwell.

    5. Flickering candles everywhere.

    6. Three or more friends or family members have wasted away from mysterious fevers, but always looked great doing it.

    7. Instead of watching TV, you plot revenge.

    8. Every time you’re about to finally fall into bed with the long-term object of your obsession, a gust of wind ablows the French doors open, a candle gutters out, and one of you immediately begins to waste away from a mysterious fever.

    9. Your living quarters are no great shakes, but you’ve noticed that going outside is somehow always a bad idea.

    10. 20% of the meals served and eaten in your house are laced with some kind of drug or poison.

    11. People are constantly being locked in their rooms or locking other people in their rooms without anybody ever batting an eye over it.

    12. Most of the marriages of the couples around you were motivated by vengeance.

    13. An attic without an insane person chained up in it for years just doesn’t have that lived-in feeling. Same goes for cellars, and the odd cupola.

    Do you suspect you might be living in a gothic novel?

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