Somehow, this back to school season has inspired me to read more, not less. I thought the fatigue and workload of teaching would make me less likely to want to read, let alone have time to read, but instead I'm finding that a good book is exactly what I need to unwind amidst all the grading and planning and emails (not to mention what a good book can do when you're feeling under the weather!). Reading truly is my release and my escape. And this month, my book list made that escape all the more sweet.
Harry Potter & the Cursed Child by JK Rowling
It took some serious self restraint, but I waited a month to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child after it came out. My expectations were kept in check, knowing that this would be a script as opposed to a true 8th book in the series, but I still put the book in my Amazon cart more than once leading up to the release date. In the end, I borrowed the book from a student after he and his mom had finished reading it first, and I'm glad I waited. While it's a fun story, and I got to catch up with my favorite characters, it's actually not a book I need to own. Because it's a script. Reading Cursed Child has me anxious for the play to come to the states, but it also made me miss JK Rowling's writing. I'll use this as an example for my students of what detailed writing with imagery and sensory language does to a story- a script relies on the set and the actors to bring it to life, but a good book only has to rely on the words. You certainly shouldn't read this book if you haven't read all of the Harry Potter series- there is an expectation going in that you are very familiar with story and characters. But for someone like me, who likes anything Rowling publishes about the characters' lives since the battle of Hogwarts, it's a nice, easy read to continue a story we all wish had never come to an end.
The Winter Sea And Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
I'm kind of a book snob. I have a tendency to judge books by their covers, and I'm skeptical about book recommendations. A good friend at work recommended the Slains series by Susanna Kearsley, but before dubious me would add it to my "to-read" list, I had to put it through a bit of a vetting process.
Recommended by an esteemed fellow reader? Check.
Back of the book summary sounds good? Check.
Goodreads rating? Average of 4.06 out of 5 stars from 44,000 readers. Check.
Available at my local library? eBooks available for immediate download. Check.
So I read the books!
Now, I'd almost be willing to recommend these books to anyone who loves historical fiction with a bit of romance, told from two perspectives: now and then. But the author also asks you to buy into just a bit of science fiction. At first, I found this a little off-putting and distracting, but the stories and characters helped me through those initial hesitations. I especially loved the first book, following a young novelist living and writing in a cottage right on the northern coast of Scotland. What a dream!
Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston
Jane Austen has inspired untold Pride & Prejudice enthusiasts to continue the story of Darcy & Elizabeth. How many of us finished that perfect story and lamented not getting to more time at Pemberley or to see the characters futures' unfold? Personally, I have read several P&P retellings hoping to satisfy that longing, many of which are sad disappointments (Mr. Darcy's Daughters or the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series), a few of which are new favorites. Austenland by Shannon Hale is cute. Longbourn by Jo Baker tells the story from the perspective of the servants- very interesting. Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James, now also a brilliant miniseries, puts a murder mystery spin on the characters' future. It's definitely not the happily ever after I had in mind, but the author stays true to Austen and her characters, so it's a must read for P&P lovers.
Perhaps my favorite new Pride and Prejudice novel is Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston. I happened upon it in that article titled "The Very Best Pride & Prejudice Sequels, Spinoffs, and Retellings." Of all the recommended books, this one caught my eye. The very idea of getting to see Darcy and Elizabeth court and change and fall in love is exactly what I missed so much in the classic original. Pride and Prejudice is by far the superior novel, but this retelling made the girl in me who grew up with P&P just giddy. I got to read the whole book in a day on one of those rare sick days that happened to fall on a weekend when I was all caught up with work and not too sick to just sit and read.
The story veers from the classic at Darcy's first proposal- What if Elizabeth had been so shocked by his feelings, that she immediately began to question all of their interactions and her judgments of him? If you can accept that Lizzy would have been able to suppress her passionate outburst that followed Darcy's condescending proposal, the rest of the story offers an alternative in which we see the characters go through some serious self-reflection. I especially love how metacognitive the author's portrayal is. From the perspective of the characters, we see their thought processes, their paradigm shifts, and their realizations. We see their concessions and their hopes and fears and motivations. We see them fall in love, and it's perfect.