Book News, Sept. 12th

Happy September, bookworms. Normally, this is right around when I start to get excited for the fall and autumnal weather. But I live in Ireland now, and our summer was basically three days at the end of June. So it’s already cool, and fall-like here (think hoodies, yoga pants and socks). But the bigger news is that my PhD programme is starting soon! I mean, technically, I’ve already started working because a PhD is no joke, my friends. But the official kick-off is next week. Eeeeeek! While I freak out yet again, how about you read the book news?

  • Back at the end of July, I wrote about the removal of Courtney Summers’ Some Girls Are from a SC high school’s reading list, and the subsequent efforts to do something positive in reply. Kelly Jensen at Book Riot has an excellent wrap-up of the challenge she issued to get copies of Summers’ book into the hands of the teenagers in SC. More than 800 copies donated by readers across the country and from Canada eventually made their way to a librarian in Charleston, who then distributed them to local libraries and directly to the high school students themselves. Thankfully, it also looks like the high school in question will be revising their challenge procedures (which weren’t followed in this case anyway) so that in the future, one parent’s opinion of a book won’t stop all readers from having a chance to discover a book for themselves.
  • So, the Hugo Awards this year were kind of a mess. I can’t remember if I wrote about the nominations earlier this year, but basically, major categories were stacked thanks to a campaign by a small but vocal group of readers and writers. But the unhappiness over the nomination process resulted in a surge in voting members, so eventually chose to give “no award” in several categories when the winners were announced. In happier news, both Ms. Marvel (Best Graphic Story) and an episode of Orphan Black (Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form) won awards and deservedly so. (And in case you wonder why the Hugos matter, Wired answered that question for you.)
  • And moving on to yet ANOTHER controversy. (Jeez, what is in the water?) Apparently, some folks just have trouble with the idea of optional summer reading. Duke University included Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home on its list of optional (key word there, optional) summer reading for incoming freshmen. A number of those incoming freshmen not only refused to read it on “moral grounds” but took their objections with the book to Facebook. Be careful what you put on the Internet, little college freshmen, because now it’s national news. I can understand someone for choosing not to read a specific book if they think it will conflict with their personal beliefs, but I don’t understand the outrage over a book that was OPTIONAL to begin with. Moreover, as Book Riot points out, college is a stepping stone between childhood and adulthood. And adulthood can be uncomfortable. Us adults have to interact and even get along with different people all the time. Reading material you wouldn’t normally read is actually a good exercise in learning how to navigate a world that doesn’t always agree with you.
  • In happier news, J.K. Rowling continues to be the Queen of Twitter. In a conversation that started with questions about the upcoming West End “it’s not a prequel” Harry Potter play, Rowling also touched upon Hagrid’s abilities, joked with some of the actors from the films and revealed her favourite theory about her beloved series. For the record? He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is not the titular cursed child in the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play, which will open next summer in London. (Road trip!)
  • Mayeth the Force be with thee. If you haven’t discovered the sheer awesome-ness that is William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, then get thee to a bookstore or computer, stat! Quirk Books, the publishers behind the Shakespearean versions of that well-loved epic from a galaxy far, far away has launched a Star Wars Sonnet Generator. Answer four easy(ish) questions and a 14-line, iambic ode to the Force will be yours. Now you can profess your love for Han Solo as the Bard intended.
  • The first full-length trailer for Room, based on Emma Donoghue’s book of the same name, has been released. The book and the movie tell the story of young Jack, whose entire life takes place in one single room. Over time, Jack and readers realise that Jack’s mother is being held captive by the man who had kidnapped her. Donoghue adapted her own book for the screenplay. The movie will be released in October.

As always, happy reading.

Kronborg – Hamlet’s Castle

I recently had the opportunity to visit Copenhagen, Denmark and one day, I took a side trip up the North Zealand coast to the town of Helsingør. In that town lies Kronborg Castle, which is also known as Hamlet’s Castle after Shakespeare immortalised it in his tragic play under the Anglicised name “Elsinore.” Though scholars debate whether or not Shakespeare himself ever visited Helsingør and Kronborg Castle, they do confirm that he likely had heard stories of the town and its castle through various Renaissance actors who had performed at the castle before joining Shakespeare’s troupe in England.

Despite the somewhat tenuous connection to the Bard, Kronborg celebrates its Shakespearean roots with an annual Shakespeare festival and a daily tour for visitors that connects the castle to Shakespeare’s play. (The castle’s gift shop, of course, sells several Shakespeare-related items and memorabilia, including a “To Be or Not to Be” hooded sweatshirt that I picked up.) While Denmark’s literary history is often dominated (and rightly so) by Hans Christian Anderson, Kronborg Castle offers Shakespeare fans a bit of the Bard outside of England.

Below are some of the pictures I took while visiting.


Last Will and Testament

Last Will and TestamentFor Lizzie Brandt, college means a carefree existence, with parties, regrettable hook-ups and barely passing grades. That all comes crashing down with Lizzie’s parents are killed in a car accident and she suddenly becomes guardian to her two younger brothers. Overnight, Lizzie must clean up her life and do everything she can to keep her family together, and one of the only people who can help her is the TA for one of her classes, Connor Lawson. Despite Lizzie’s initial dislike of him, Connor keeps surprising her in unexpected ways and the two build an unlikely friendship. Before long, however, that friendship hovers on the edge of becoming something so much more – but Connor is still Lizzie’s TA and they both have a lot to lose if things go wrong.

Some of my favourite books come to my attention in the most unexpected ways. After seeing a random tweet on Twitter, and then following the trail of that conversation, I found Dahlia Adler and her new adult novel, Last Will and Testament. On a whim, I purchased it and started reading, and did not regret it for a minute. Adler’s novel and her characters are grounded and real, and while the story is filled with heartache and angst, it’s ultimately really satisfying in that push-through-it-to-get-to-the-other-side way.

Part of what makes Last Will and Testament a really good book in my opinion is Lizzie. According to the law, Lizzie is an adult, but just barely. As a result, Lizzie acts exactly like you’d expect an 18-year-old suddenly thrust into unfamiliar territory to act. That is, she’s kind of a mess. She makes mistakes, says the wrong things, and reacts badly in certain situations. But she also struggles with her own grief and guilt, while valiantly (if somewhat ineffectively) trying to help her brothers. And honestly, that was my favourite part of her. Adler doesn’t try to make Lizzie perfect, or give her all the answers or a miraculous transformation. Lizzie at the end of the novel is certainly a different person than she was at the start of the novel, but she’s still an almost 19-year-old prone to messing up now and again. There’s no magic makeover; just one young adult trying her best to do the right thing in difficult circumstances.

Adler likewise gives Connor his own fair share of flaws and imperfections. One of the best parts of Last Will and Testament (for me, anyway) was when Connor admits to Lizzie that he’s hesitating on being with her precisely because she has guardianship of her brothers. Sure, Lizzie had no intention of having custody of her siblings at age 18, but they are her family and she can’t (and won’t) walk away. But Connor can – and his own family dynamic makes him wary of having an instant family. It’s a brutally honest thing to admit, and I loved that Adler included it because it added to the realness of the novel. Sure, it may be a romance, but it’s not idealised in any way. 

There are a lot of other little things in Last Will and Testament that help ground the novel in reality and add authenticity. To start, Adler doesn’t shy away from having her characters directly address both Connor and Lizzie’s age difference (his 25 to her 18), and his position of authority as a TA in one of her classes. Just as importantly, Adler weaves real-world consequences into Lizzie and Connor’s relationship; his job could be in jeopardy, while Lizzie must face visits from the social worker checking up on her guardianship. I really loved that Adler’s characters faced the hard stuff head-on and didn’t ignore it. And I even loved that the ending is bittersweet. Without giving anything away, Adler chooses to end the book without neat and easy resolutions. Things don’t work out perfectly, but they do work out in a realistic way.

I love being surprised by novels, and Dahlia Adler’s Last Will and Testament definitely surprised me in the best way. There may be a lot of angst in Connor and Lizzie’s story (seriously – so. much. angst!), but the wholly realistic nature of their story completely won me over. I can’t wait to read the next books in Adler’s Raleigh University series.

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]


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