best fantasy books

Surprise! It’s NOT an ode to Queen. It’s another flaming list. 

 

I’ve said it a couple hundred times before and I’ll say it a couple thousand times more: I love a good list. But you know what I love even more than lists? Books. I can’t get enough of them. I could build a throne of all the books I own. I could crawl up into a fort made of books and lose myself in fiction for days. Have I made my book fetish clear yet? You get it, right? I love books and lists. I can stop banging on about it now. So, this month, I’ve brought the two together again because I clearly have too much time on my hands—and voila: another book list. Specifically, the BEST books, and not just any books but the best fantasy books.

 

Ode to Fantasy

 

Now, I could no sooner choose a favourite genre or book than I could choose between Ian Somerhalder, Johnny Depp, and [insert your favourite eye candy here]. I want them all—all the men; all the books. That being said, there’s something special about Fantasy. To sum up what would otherwise be a very long and (for you) laborious declaration of love, I think Brandon Sanderson said it best: fantasy is all of that good stuff (romance, action, drama, etc, etc,) only WITH DRAGONS!

I am OBVIOUSLY paraphrasing here. Mr Sanderson is a damn sight more eloquent than this. But that’s the gist of it. Fantasy hits all the spots, checks all the boxes… I can’t think of a third… So…

 

On to the List!

 

Here are ten of the best fantasy books (probably OF ALL TIME), and because everyone and their pet crocodile has heard of the best fantasy books a bazillion times already, I won’t summarise any of these but I AM adding five of my personal favourites. (See my additions at the bottom.)

 

1. The Fellowship of the Ring (Lord of the Rings) by J R Tolkien

2. A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) George R R Martin

3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter) by J K Rowling

4. The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan

5. The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle) by Patrick Rothfuss

6. A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle) by Ursula K. Le Guin

7. Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy) by Robin Hobb

8. Northern Lights (His Dark Materials) by Philip Pullman

9. The Final Empire (Mistborn) by Brandon Sanderson

10. The Colour of Magic (Discworld) by Terry Pratchett

 

Five of my Personal Favourites

 

uprooted

1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast but with intriguing mythology and a beautifully vivid nature-based magic system. It follows a girl who is yet to learn who and what she is until she meets the Dragon.

See full review:
Uprooted

discovery of witches

2. A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy) by Deborah Harkness

A witch who doesn’t want her magic and a vampire older than the hills, time-travel through history to uncover the mystery behind a mysterious tome. This is rich with history and intrigue and is one of my favourite witchy books.

See full review:
A Discovery of Witches

shadow and bone

3. Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

Original storytelling with Russian elements, the Grisha Trilogy is rich with detail and depth. The fleshed out world is refreshingly unique in both setting and story, and is centred on an orphan girl who is thrust into power and magic.

See full reviews:
Book One: Shadow and Bone
Book Two: Siege and Storm
Book Three: Ruin and Rising

Witch Child

4. Witch Child by Celia Rees

A wonderful weaving of fiction and fact, set around the Salem Witch Trials and centred on a girl called Mary as she discovers who she really is and how to survive in her threatening world. Immersive and bewitching and unputdownable.

See full review:
Book One: Witch Child 

once burned

5. Once Burned (Night Prince) by Jeaniene Frost

Technically an action-packed paranormal series with witty, kick-ass vampires but with enough magic (particularly in the fourth book) to pass as fantasy. Easily my favourite vampire from one of my favourite authors, this crackling (punny!) series will have you binge-reading for days.

See full reviews:
Book One: Once Burned
Book Two: Twice Tempted
Book Three: Bound by Flames
Book Four: Into the Fire

Bonus

 

Lastly, if you haven’t yet checked out (or heard of) the fantasy romance series by yours truly, I’m adding it to this list, not because it comes anywhere close to the classics of the genre but because it does tick the boxes for magic and adventure in a faraway fictional land. (I visit this land on a basis far too frequently to be considered healthy or sane.)

I’ve added the synopsis below. Have a nosey. Check it out.

If you want to, that is. I’m not the queen or anything. Not today, anyway.

 

Immisceo: Taken (The Immisceo Series)

 

In the land of Nosiras, the Duciti’s word is law and their reign is absolute.

Luciana is a powerful witch: independent and wilful as she is strong. But when she is chosen by the Duciti to conceive an Immisceo witch to use as a weapon against Amara and her Outcasts, she has but two choices: obey with her freedom or without. When her Immisceo son is kidnapped, she will stop at nothing to get him back.

Nathaniel was born to the streets, then raised in an environment one rung down from captivity. Guarded by his older brother, he seeks freedom and adventure from his restrained life. Meeting Luciana will grant him one of these and will set him on a path which will test his ties of blood and love.

Caught between two enemies, Luciana and her unwitting companion are against the odds in their quest to save her son from a war that shouldn’t have been his to fight. In the hands of his kidnapper, Eli is as much a weapon as he would be in the Duciti’s—a weapon Luciana created. His life has been predetermined by those who would harm him, and Luciana must now right the wrongs she has dealt her son and save him from his fate—but at what cost?

 

Read the first three chapters now.

 

More about Immisceo

 Immisceo Taken review quote 2

 

 

What are your all-time favourite fantasy books? How many of the ‘fantasy classics’ have you read?

Let me know in the comments.

strong female characters

Strong female characters are everywhere these days. Right?

Perhaps.

The Damsel in Distress has certainly screamed her last plea for help, and we hear a lot about Kick-Ass Females in both book and movie culture. But it seems to me that we all have a slightly different idea of what makes a woman ‘strong’.

I love a heroine who can fight her way through a room full of henchmen with nothing but a… nail file as much as the next person. (I’m kidding about the nail file. Totally kidding.) I also love a heroine who isn’t afraid to hold her own when faced with a douchey, retro-thinking side character or antagonist who hasn’t yet caught up with the rest of us.

But you know what I love more than that?

Inner strength.

I’m talking about a test of true character in the face of adversity. Or acknowledgement of a fatal flaw and the overcoming of it. Or belief in something no one else believes in and a willingness to stand up for the cause anyway—and triumphing. You get the picture right?

Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: there is nothing wrong with physical strength—hell, I want to be Wonder Woman when I grow up—and a female character who displays physical prowess is generally viewed as capable and fiercely independent. There are more and more women owning their physical capabilities as genderless and in their own right but for the longest time, this type of strength was measurable by comparing it to that of a man. Physical strength was (and sadly in some pockets of the world, still is) viewed as a primarily masculine trait or ability. And this type of strength is but one of many examples.

How many times have we seen (in all media) a woman portrayed/acknowledged as an equal based solely on her ability to fight or play sports or fix a car? That’s cool and all, but these are learnable skills for either sex; not a determining factor of a woman’s strength.

Female characters who demonstrate their ability to overcome the ‘Man’s World’ stigma are nothing short of empowering. But once again, it emphasises the divide between genders. I get that this is important for the sake of progress in equality but I still abhor the way we often use a previously ‘masculine’ skill or ability as a standard measure.

The strengths I appreciate and LOVE to see portrayed are those which are fundamentally HUMAN—without gender biases. For me, this type of strength, the kind which is definitive by character alone, is ten times more liberating.

 

Here are eight of my favourite strong female characters

 

Chiyo / Sayuri from Memoirs of a Geisha

Chiyo’s strength is in her ability to thrive under the crushing hardships; to endure the limitations of her culture even when it means burying her emotions and denying herself fleeting happiness in order to survive long-term. She pursues her goals with a steely yet poignant determination to the height of success then finally an arrangement with the man she loves. 

“Adversity is like a strong wind. I don’t mean just that it holds us back from places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.”
― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

strong female characters - memoirs of a geisha
Vintage / Columbia Pictures / Dreamworks

 

Celie from The Colour Purple

Celie’s strength is an admirable and often unbelievable force. She is resilient yet pure. Despite having every opportunity to turn a ruthless cheek to the world, she doesn’t. Time and time again, I expect her faith to waver but she thrives beneath her misfortunes and comes out the other side stronger than ever with a wider understanding and acceptance of herself and the world she lives in.

“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.”
― Alice Walker, The Colour Purple

strong female characters - the colour purple
Washington Square Press / Warner Bros.

 

Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth’s strength is in her very nature. She is self-assured and principled, and despite the inhibiting time in which she lived, she never swayed from her individuality. She was not afraid to be who she was even under the scathing eye of society. Then, when her prejudices came to light, she readily acknowledged them, admitted and owned her errors, and ultimately overcame them.

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

strong female characters - pride and prejudice
Penguin / Universal

 

Hermione from Harry Potter

Hermione’s strength is embedded in her fierce loyalty and friendship with Harry and Ron, and in her innate sense of what is good and right. She is not afraid to be the odd one out or stand for causes she deems worthy. By embracing and nurturing her smarts and ambition, she saves the day over and over.

“But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. Because there are somethings you can’t go through in life and become friends, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

strong female characters - harry potter
Bloomsbury / Warner Bros.

 

Elinor from Sense and Sensibility

Elinor’s strength is quiet and understated but nevertheless rock-solid. Her sense of propriety and responsibility is both a blessing and a curse and the way in which she bears her family’s hardships is nothing short of admirable. She is the glue that holds the Dashwood family together and although her practical approach leaves her wanting when it comes to matters of the heart, eventually, she strikes a balance within herself and takes a risk. Though she does find happiness, her inner struggle to open up is long and achingly tender, made more poignant by the contrast of her strength and wisdom in all other matters.

“…After all that is bewitching in the idea of a single and constant attachment, and all that can be said of one’s happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it is not meant — it is not fit — it is not possible that it should be so.”
― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

strong female characters - sense and sensibility
Penguin / Columbia Pictures

 

Jo from Little Women

All the women in this book have strength in their own way. For me, Beth stood out for her unwavering compassion but Jo is my favourite. A little like Elizabeth Bennett, Jo is confident and candid and feisty; she is stubborn and leads with her passion—be that of heart or mind—and despite everything thrown at her, her strength is embedded in the fact that she remains true to who she is throughout.

“I’m glad you are poor. I couldn’t bear a rich husband,” said Jo decidedly, adding in a softer tone, “Don’t fear poverty. I’ve known it long enough to lose my dread and be happy working for those I love. . . .”
— Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

strong female characters - little women
Penguin / Columbia Pictures

 

Éowyn from Lord of the Rings

Her strength is in her determination. Éowyn plays her part in battle with admirable physical strength but her real strength though is the fierce motivation she possesses. She wants to give her all to her cause and she’s willing to die to do so.

“What do you fear, lady?” [Aragorn] asked.
“A cage,” [Éowyn] said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

strong female characters - lord of the rings
Mariner Books / New Line Cinema

 

Melanie from The Girl with All the Gifts

Her strength is in defying and overcoming the base instincts of who she has become in the horrific dystopian world she lives in. Instead of succumbing to her natural urges, she embraces the humanity within her despite the extreme odds and in doing so, proved to both herself and those around her that strength of will can save us all if we have the nerve to risk everything.

“And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what’s inside is good or bad. Because it’s both. Everything is always both. But you have to open it to find that out.”
― M.R. Carey, The Girl with All the Gifts

 

strong female characters - the girl with all the gifts
Orbit / Poison Chef / BFI

 

Which strong female characters are on your favourites list? What strengths do you value?

Tell me in the comments.

50 of the Best Opening Lines in Fiction Books

Despite the warning not to ‘judge a book by its cover’, I’d bet we’ve all been guilty of it more than a few times. A cover is a window of sorts into the book. It’s a test as to whether or not the book is worth our precious bookworm hours. Having passed that test though, there’s another favourite way to measure a potential new book: the opening lines.

You know you’ve discovered a gem of a book when you open it and find yourself hooked in a single sentence. You want to continue reading. Immediately. Opening lines are often the stuff of writers’ nightmares and rightly so, since for readers, those all-important first words are the deciding vote when it comes to adding a book to the read pile or not.

Show of hands for those with To-Be-Read piles taller than the average human…

It’s about to get a little taller.

Here are fifty memorable opening lines from literature. The kind that will have you running to the bookstore. (Or you know, hitting up Amazon. 21st-century perks don’t come any better than that.)

Opening Lines from some of my Favourite Books

 

1. ‘Once upon a time, there was a prostitute called Maria.’ — Eleven Minutes, Paulo Coelho

 

2. ‘Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.’ — Uprooted, Naomi Novik

 

3. ‘You better not never tell nobody but God.’ — The Color Purple, Alice Walker

 

4. ‘It was no accident.’ — Ferney, James Long

 

5. ‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’ — The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

 

6. ‘People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can’t answer the real question. All I can tell them is, It’s easy.’ — Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen

 

7. ‘I stiffened at the red and blue lights flashing behind me, because there was no way I could explain what was in the back of my truck.’ — Halfway to the Grave, Jeaniene Frost

 

8. ‘On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide—it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills—the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.’— The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides

 

9. ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ — Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

 

10. ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

 

Classic Opening Lines

 

11. ‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like… and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’ — The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

 

12. ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.’ — Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

 

13. ‘It was a pleasure to burn.’ — Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

 

14. ‘Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…’ — A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

 

15. ‘Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.’ — Moby Dick, Herman Melville

 

16. ‘When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.’ — Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

 

17. ‘Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.’ — Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

 

18. ‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticising any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ — The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

19. ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’ — I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

 

20. ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ — 1984, George Orwell

 

21. ‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.’ — The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

 

22. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.’ — A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

 

23. ‘We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.’ — The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

 

24. ‘Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.’ — Middlemarch, George Eliot

 

25. ‘Mother died today.’ — The Stranger, Albert Camus

 

26. ‘All this happened, more or less.’ — Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

 

27. ‘Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realised it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.’ — Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

 

Modern Gems (and I use the term ‘modern’ loosely)

 

28. ‘Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.’ — The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

 

29. ‘The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years—if it ever did end—began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.’ — It, Stephen King

 

30. ‘124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.’ – Beloved, Toni Morrison

 

31. ‘A mile above Oz, the witch balanced on the wind’s forward edge, as if she were a green fleck of the land itself…’ — Wicked, Gregory Maguire

 

32. ‘Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression.’ — At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien

 

33. ‘The darkness behind my eyelids was thick and stank of chemicals, as though someone has poured black oil inside my head.’ — Ultraviolet, R J Anderson

 

34. ‘The night breathed through the apartment like a dark animal.’ — Reckless, Cornelia Funke

 

35. ‘Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.’ — Room, Emma Donoghue

 

36. ‘In the afterlife you relive all your experiences but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together. You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet. You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife. But that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant.’ — Sum, David Eagleman

 

37. ‘For the better part of my childhood, my professional aspirations were simple–I wanted to be an intergalactic princess.’ — Seven Up, Janet Evanovich

 

38. ‘I have lived more than a thousand years. I have died countless times.’ — My Name is Memory, Ann Brashares

 

39. ‘I, Lucifer, Fallen Angel, Prince of Darkness, Bringer of Light, Ruler of Hell, Lord of the Flies, Father of Lies, Apostate Supreme, Tempter of Mankind, Old Serpent, Prince of This World, Seducer, Accuser, Tormentor, Blasphemer, and without doubt Best Fuck in the Seen and Unseen Universe (ask Eve, that minx) have decided—oo-la-la!—to tell all.’ — I, Lucifer, Glen Duncan

 

40. ‘The circus arrives without warning.’ — The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

 

41. ‘I’ve been locked up for 264 days.’ — Shatter Me, Tahereh Mafi

 

42. ‘First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. HERE IS A SMALL FACT: You are going to die.’ — The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

 

43. ‘Like most people, I didn’t meet and talk to Rant Casey until after he was dead.’ — Rant, Chuck Palahniuk

 

44. ‘The small boys came early to the hanging.’ — Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

 

45. ‘I’m pretty much fucked.’ — The Martian, Andy Weir

 

46. ‘There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.’ — The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

 

47. ‘They say the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle.’ — The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett

 

48. ‘It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.’ — Matilda, Roald Dahl

 

49. ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’ — The Go-Between, L. P. Hartley

 

And finally, the quintessential sentence that has stood the test of time…

 

 once upon a time | 50 of the best opening lines in fiction books

50. ‘Once upon a time…’ Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

 

What makes a good first sentence? What are some of your favourite opening lines? Share them with me in the comments section below so I can add a few more books to my ridiculous ambitious TBR pile.

love quotes

 

I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough.

— Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

 

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

— Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

 

Soul meets soul on lovers’ lips.

— Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound

 

If all else perished and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.

— Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

 

No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

 

In all the world, there is no heart for me like yours. In all the world, there is no love for you like mine.

— Maya Angelou

 

He was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest.

— W H Auden, Stop All The Clocks

 

You don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.

— Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

 

I want to know you moved and breathed in the same world with me.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it.

Jeanette Winterson,  Written on the Body 

 

Even when this world is a forgotten whisper of dust between the stars, I will always love you.

— Sarah J. Maas, Empire of Storms

 

The way her body existed only where he touched her. The rest of her was smoke.

— Arundhati Roy, The God Of Small Things

 

If I were to live a thousand years, I would belong to you for all of them. If we were to live a thousand lives, I would want to make you mine in each one.

— Michelle Hodkin, The Evolution of Mara Dyer

 

Do I love you? My god, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches.

— William Goldman, The Princess Bride

 

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope… I have loved none but you.

— Jane Austen, Persuasion

 

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind. And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.

— William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

The curves of your lips rewrite history.

— Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

To love or have loved, that is enough.

— Victor Hugo, Les Miserable

 

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

— Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

 

No measure of time with you will be long enough. But let’s start with forever.

— Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn

 

After all this time?
Always.

— J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

christmas gift

So, you’re shopping for a book lover… Or you wanna treat yo’self… If so, it’s kind of a no-brainer that books will be at the top of your shopping list. But why not spice it up a bit? Go the extra mile.

Here are ten literary gifts to make you swoon. 

 

1. Literary merchandise

What better way to show off your book love than with a piece of merchandise adorned with a favourite quote or sentiment. I am loving this mug, this bag, and this necklace below. Sigh.

gifts for book lovers - jane eyre necklace
Via notonthehighstreet.com

 

2. More literary goodies

Or how about a framed page print of a favourite book, like this Pride and Prejudice print below. 

gifts for book lovers - pride and prejudice page print
Via theliterarygiftcompany.com

 

3. Movie adaptations

Yes, we love books, and more often than not we’ll annoy you with outbursts of ‘the book was better!’ BUT there are some amazing film adaptations of our favourite stories. Some of my favourites include Lord of the Rings, Girl Interrupted, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Practical Magic. 

gifts for book lovers - lord of the rings boxset
Via Amazon UK

 

4. Booklight

Need a sneaky bedtime-reading fix? Significant other too misguided to understand the call of One-Last-Chapter Syndrome? This booklight will help, and whilst hardly a new concept, this particular design is the dandiest I’ve seen in a while. It’s a bookshelf, booklight, and bookmark—all-in-one!

gifts for book lovers - lililite booklight
Via lililite.com

 

5. Bookends

When you’ve run out of actual bookshelves, you need a place to store your precious hoard. Those babies won’t stand up on their own. Here’s one option:

gifts for book lovers - bookends
Via theliterarygiftcompany.com

 

6. Library set

The only thing worse than not being able to show off your bookshelves, is showing off your bookshelves and having someone say: ‘Oo, could I borrow that?’ If you can’t get away with telling that person to ‘eff off’, this cute little library kit will at least put an end to all lending woes.  

gifts for book lovers - library kit
Via booklovergifts.com

 

7. Bookmarks

We’ll mark our page with anything. A ribbon, a receipt, our beloved pet (not really.) We also have an enormous collection of bookmarks and can quite easily concoct an excuse a reason for another… like this beautiful feather bookmark:

gifts for book lovers - feather bookmark
Via notonthehighstreet.com

 

8. Book List Journal

Maybe you’ve never heard of Goodreads, or perhaps you have but you simply love (or prefer) the act of handwriting in a journal (I get it). This journal is specifically for book lists: books you’ve read, by genre, by favourites, favourite spots to read… and so on. It’s a lovely way to document your reading history offline, if you’re into that. 

gifts for book lovers - literary listography journal
Via Amazon UK

 

9. Kindle Paperwhite

Whether you’re aboard the electronic book train or not, this version of the Kindle is a beauty. Just LOOK AT IT. It’s practically a REAL book. Only without the weight and WITH a built-in nightlight. Add in a subscription to Kindle Unlimited and you’re golden.

gifts for book lovers - kindle paperwhite
Via Amazon UK

 

10. Finally, More Books. Duh.

There’s no such thing as too many books. If all else fails and you’ve reached the end of your Christmas shopping rope, get a hold of their To-Read list and have at it. Here’s mine.  You know, just in case. (Wink-wink.) 

 

Happy holidays!

Back in September, I spent three solid days shamelessly glued to the PlayStation with Uncharted 4. For those of you who aren’t gamers, Uncharted is a series of role-play action-adventure games featuring Nathan Drake—a wisecracking hunk of beefcake with a penchant for treasure hunting and getting himself into gun-fighting pickles. One could argue that video games can hardly be counted as ‘Book Chat’ material but the Uncharted franchise is so beautifully story-oriented that I’m letting this one slide.

The latest instalment ( Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End) has the main protagonist, Nate, following the trail of real-life pirate Henry Avery, and his colony, in search of a ‘treasure of a lifetime’, all in the name of saving his long-lost brother, Sam. It’s a mashup (as always) of Indiana Jones and Die Hard (but with an even better storyline) and Nate is ridiculously easy on the eye—not to mention a stickler for an impossible mission.

Which got me thinking (not as rare an occurrence as you’d think): Nate’s flaws are plenty but they make him doubly attractive—and relatable—particularly handy, since we can’t possibly relate to his knack for hurling himself willy-nilly off cliffs and the like.

So I decided to make a list. (I love a good list.)

Here are five of Nathan Drake’s character flaws commonly found in a host of other fictional characters from books, TV, and film.

1. OBSESSION

Number one on a LOT of lists, the flaw of obsession is hardly uncommon. Whether it’s a thirst for revenge or a fool’s errand in pursuit of riches or power, characters whose obsessions take command of their lives are aplenty. Nathan Drake is no exception. In earlier games, his reckless need to beat his opponents and uncover the mystery of whatever lost treasure he’s tracking, drove him to extremes. In Uncharted 4, he’s finally out of the thief game, living a normal and oh-so-mundane life. This time, the lure of the treasure is second in line to the need to play hero—and bail out his brother. Nonetheless, the obsession fogs his view, clouding his judgment in more than one instance, and leading him to do things he shouldn’t. Like lie. And steal. And murder people left, right, and centre…

“Let’s see… I ruined my marriage. Drove my best friend away. And now my brother’s gone missing. On the bright side: at least there’s no one around to call me an idiot.” — Nathan Drake, A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog)

Oh, Nate… You idiot.

Image Source

Other obsessive fools we (kind of) relate to:

Regina Mills (Evil Queen) from Once Upon a Time

Source

Captain Ahab from Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Source

Lady Macbeth from Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Source

 

2. ARROGANCE

So, obviously Nate is a… superfly guy. I know it, you know it, he knows it—and boy, does he milk it. His arrogance gets him into bigger trouble fifty percent of the time but more often than not, it’s his arrogance that gets him out of it in the end. Also, it’s charming as all hell.

Other arrogant bastards we love:

CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean

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Vlad Tepesh from The Night Prince by Jeaniene Frost

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Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries

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3. OVER-PROTECTIVENESS

Of course we all want someone in our lives willing to go the extra mile to protect us and make us feel all warm and cosy and secure at night. But when said person begins omitting truths (blatantly lying) and manipulating events to try to protect us, it can be, quite frankly, annoying. I’m more than capable of deciding whether to risk getting myself killed or not, thank you very much, Nate. I don’t need you to decide for me just to play the big hero… Oh wait, that wouldn’t be ALL bad, I guess… (well, there goes my girl power.)

Other over-protective control freaks we secretly want to hug:

Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries

Source

Edward Cullen from Twilight (I’m sensing a theme here…)

Source

(Young) Charles Xavier from X-Men: First Class

Source

 

4. SMART ASS-ery

The line is: ‘No one likes a smart ass,’ but I beg to differ. I LOVE a smart ass, but I should point out that this pertains only to the fictional world. Nathan Drake is a one-liner genius, resorting to quick wit and one-uppers against his foes even in the face of mortal peril. 

Flynn: “Found the ships though, didn’t I?”

Nate: “You couldn’t find your ass with both hands.”

— Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Naughty Dog)

Other smart-asses we find hilarious:

Doctor Cox from Scrubs

Source

 

Chandler Bing from Friends

Source

 

Damon Salvatore from TVD

Source

I know! I listed him twice. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

 

5. GREY MORALITY

This is by far one of my favourite character flaws, whether it’s in a book, film or any other media. It’s so deliciously complex, and builds intrigue and excitement around the character. When it comes to morally grey characters, we find ourselves succumbing to their plea, empathising with their cause no matter how ludicrous, and no matter the cost. We tend to overlook their (often) criminal or unjust behaviour, making up ridiculous excuses: ‘I know he just killed nearly an entire army, but he HAS to save his brother, dammit!’ (Me, on Nate.) These folk really know how to spin our moral compasses.

Other morally grey souls we make excuses for:

Thorin Oakenshield from Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Rumpelstiltskin (Mr Gold) from Once Upon a Time

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Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries 

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Last time, I swear.

And there you have it. My list of character flaw observations to justify the hours spent lost in the world of Uncharted when I should have been writing.

It was completely worth it. 🙂

What are your favourite flaws? Who are your favourite flawed characters? Who did I leave off the list? We all know who I didn’t leave off the list. (Still not sorry.) Let me know below in the comments.

The spooktacular holiday of All Hallows’ Eve is almost upon us and besides donning my slutty nurse costume (jk), I can’t think of a better way to get a head start on the spooks than by curling up with a good book… in particular, books about witches. In fact, Halloween or otherwise, I’m always up for a witchy read in any shape or form—fantastical, historical, those who embrace their magic and those who want nothing more than to be ‘normal’ (Witches, please… normal is overrated).

Here are my seven favourite books about witches to get you in the mood for trick or treating.

  books about witches - a discovery of witches

A Discovery of Witches

Deborah Harkness

Loved this. The perfect blend of history and fantasy in both a modern and historical time setting with memorable characters, including a protagonist who struggles to accept her powers, and a charismatic vampire (in case it isn’t exciting enough already). Shadow of Night (the follow-up) is chock full of all the elements of the first book, throwing time travel into the mix alongside encounters with some of history’s greats. Brilliant series!

  books about witches - witch child

Witch Child

Celia Rees

One of my absolute favourites. This is yet another beautifully written story weaving together the fictional story of Mary of Salem with just enough historical elements to immerse you in the past. Written in journal entries, Mary’s story is captivating and is a must-read for fans of Salem witch stories.

  books about witches - macbeth

Macbeth

William Shakespeare

Now, I love me some Shakespeare (especially the Sonnets <3) but I’ll admit that I only read Macbeth in school… so, needless to say, I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time. Whether that’s my excuse or not, I’ll admit: as deep and tragic as the actual play is, for me, it’s those three witches who are truly unforgettable—and that classic cauldron chanting is unrivalled.

 books about witches - uprooted

Uprooted

Naomi Novik

My most recently discovered gem, Uprooted has become a fast favourite for me. A standalone adult fantasy with Beauty and the Beast elements, the storytelling is steeped in nature and the magic is breathtaking. Despite the fairytale elements, it is quite unlike any other magical story I’ve ever come across. Read my full and unashamedly gushing review here.

 books about witches - tim and the hidden people

Tim and the Hidden People

Sheila K McCullagh

I read this series as a child. Try to buy this online, I dare you, and the price will make your eyes pop. I can’t condone the staggering cost, but the stories, if you can get your hands on them are lovely. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe not, but these stories were undoubtedly my gateway for all things magical.

 books about witches - the witches

The Witches

Roald Dahl

Classic Roald Dahl. (The Twits is still my favourite.) As an adult, I love The Witches, both the book and the film adaptation, but it definitely scared me as a child. These witches are mean bitches. As always, though, his books are full of humour—unique and insightful; funny, twisted stories about (some) funny, twisted characters with brilliant morals at the heart of it all. The Witches is no exception and if you didn’t read it as a child, do it now. Your inner child will thank you.

 books about witches - wicked

Wicked

Gregory Maguire

A retelling of the Wizard of Oz, this is one of those stories that flips the switch and gives you an alternate point of view: the villain’s, with the Wicked Witch of the West as the protagonist, I’m currently reading this one and enjoying the storytelling immensely so far. I’m also a sucker for the morally grey, slightly misunderstood characters, and it doesn’t get any better than the Wicked Witch. (Exceptions may include Damon Salvatore.)

  books about witches - harry potter

Honourable mention: Harry Potter

J K Rowling

What witch list would be complete without mentioning the world of Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I’m still waiting on my bloody letter. Stupid owl has clearly gotten lost. The witches and wizards of Hogwarts and the world of Harry Potter are regulars on most book lists. The series is a phenomenal modern classic and quite frankly, if you haven’t heard of this one yet, where the hell have you been? Get reading.

 

There you have seven—well, eight—witch tales to get you all fired up for October 31st festivities.

What are your favourite magic books? Who is your favourite witch? How many times have you hollered ‘Accio!’ in the last ten years?

Let me know in the comments.

As a reader, I enjoy multiple genres of books, and picking a favourite is, for me, not just impossible but criminal. Having said that, there are a few that stand out. These books are the ones I nose-dived my way through; they hooked me at first word and had that can’t-eat can’t-sleep effect. There’s also one other thing they all have in common: the storytelling is fearless. 

Here are my Top 3 Fearless Books

Fearless Books

Forbidden

“You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel.”

 

If ever there’s even such a thing as ‘fearless books’ outside of my reading bubble, this is one that would make the cut with its hands tied behind its back. I will rave about this story until I’m senile or dead. Never have I read a story that compelled me as much as this did to turn a blind eye to the norms of society. The author took a taboo subject—incest—and spun it on its head, with characters so real and relatable that I could do nothing BUT root for them, even though on a basic level I knew I shouldn’t have. The story has never left me, and I dare you to read it and let it haunt you too.

Full review of Forbidden

Fearless Books

The Tied Man

“The summer I met Lilith Bresson, I had begun to die. Not physically, you understand. I had never been that lucky. But each day a little more of my soul disappeared.”

 

I read this one only recently, and it is by far one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever come across. That’s not to say it isn’t good. The writing is brilliant; the fast-paced action, dry (dark) humour, and the isolated setting really lend themselves to the atmosphere of the book. The real fearless quality though is in the characters and the extent of horror of the events. Never have I read something which made me cringe as much as this book did, yet I couldn’t have put it down if you’d paid me to.

Full review of The Tied Man

Fearless Books

The Bell Jar

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

 

A fairly modern classic, The Bell Jar is well-known and well-loved, and one of my all-time favourites. I can relate to so much of Sylvia Plath’s work and her only novel is no exception. The subject centres around the protagonist’s fledging writing career, and her struggle with mental illness (loosely based on Sylvia Plath’s own life). The style of writing is poetic (not for everyone) and Plath demonstrates that remarkable and elusive skill of taking a bleak and morbid situation, and transforming it into compelling prose. This, to me, is as fearless as it gets.

Full review of The Bell Jar

So, fellow bookworms, what would you consider your favourite fearless books? Which of them has a permanent haunt spot in your life? Tell me in the comments.

Writers are often asked if real life events end up in their fiction writing or rather—if their fiction is actually based on true stories. In many cases, my personal answer to this is ‘I sincerely hope not.’ Can you imagine the horror of Stephen King’s daily life if that were true?

Instead of being based on true stories, fiction, as Mr King puts it, is: “the truth inside the lie.”

In the case of my book (a contemporary romantic suspense novel) and other books like it, the horror is entirely more subtle. The realism of it, the fact that it could happen—that it does happen—makes it terrifying.  

As for whether real life has an actual place in my books, Brooke’s situation in Blood’s Veil (no spoilers) is entirely fictional as far as I’m concerned, but my life experience whether through real events, literature or film, have all aided me in creating her and her story. I’ve lived with the crippling aftermath of sexual abuse and I’m no stranger to depression. Some of this seeps into my fiction writing — but it’s organic. I draw on this inner source of inspiration if the moment requires it rather than setting out to write what would essentially be a memoir.

Writing a character like Brooke allowed me to express a tiny fraction of my experience whilst keeping that much-needed distance, but I did this because it was true to her character. 

My current work in progress, Immisceo, is part of a fantasy series. There’s adventure, there’s magic, all in a fictional setting and bygone time—none of which I experienced (wouldn’t that be cool!?) Yet in every story, no matter how exciting or fast-paced or fantastical the plot is, as readers, we relate to the characters. If a character is a likeable dude on a noble life quest, we automatically begin to root for him. If a character is unspeakably evil, we immediately loath them. If they’re somewhere in between—the anti-hero like Severus Snape from Harry Potter or anti-villain like Rumplestiltskin / Mr Gold from Once Upon a Time—we feel a certain kind of kinship with their struggles; it speaks to something within us all—the complexity of the human psyche.


“Has it ever crossed your brilliant mind that I don’t want to do this anymore?”

fiction writing


fiction writing
ONCE UPON A TIME – ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” stars Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold. (ABC/KHAREN HILL)

 

This is where truth comes in. It doesn’t matter if we’re writing or reading about (or watching) a character struggling through the mundane day-to-day routine of a job he hates or battling a terminal illness; or one who is about to take on a fifty-foot dragon… what it all boils down to is real emotion. A human connection with what we see before us.

Fiction Writing vs. Real Life: Blurring the Line

fiction writing
Source: imgkid.com

I’ve never fought a dragon before but I can I recall a time when I felt so scared I could barely breathe or a time when I had to attempt something for the sake of someone else—nothing life-threatening like a living, breathing dragon of course, but the fear and awe are emotions and experiences I’m familiar with.

 

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” Stephen King

Writers take those feelings, those memories, and amplify them tenfold, gives the character a whopping great sword and a pair of balls the size of Texas and—boom! And while the action is fun and exciting, when we witness this as readers or viewers, the part we relate to is the fear, the adrenaline, the sheer wonder of the size of that scaly beast.

So, how often is truth found in fiction? My answer is: always—in terms of human emotion and experience, and everything that makes a story relatable. The rest is a wondrous product of the imagination.

messages in books

Why do we read?

Is it knowledge, personal interest, connection? Or maybe entertainment or story? The purpose of a book is neither fixed nor singular since often, a single book can serve multiple purposes, and give as many rewards. Of all the rewards a book can bring, the one which encompasses ALL of the above is enjoyment. Books give us pleasure. Yet lately, I’ve noticed readers who not only search for but expect messages in books; they consistently expect stories to offer up a philosophical theory or a nugget of wisdom.

Now personally, I love books that do this, but it isn’t a requirement–and it certainly has never been the reason I pick up (or put down) a book. Still, from what I gather from many other readers, it seems every book MUST have a message, and the message MUST coincide and adhere to every possible rule and opinion under the sun (preferably all without causing offence).

Why does every book have to carry a hidden message?

And why is there such a prevalent trend to assume that those books with messages are often sending the wrong one? 

Maybe we look for messages in books–more specifically, answers–to help us with certain aspects of our own lives, or maybe we need guidance, inspiration, or reinforcement of our morals. Whatever the reason behind this, I agree that stories can offer incredible insight and positive lessons that we can apply in our daily life.

The downside?

Whittling a book down to its underlying message is not always straightforward, or even necessary. A book might have more than one message, and these messages or themes might be conflicting.

Sometimes, a story is outside of the norms of society, with or without an intended message. For instance, the story might follow a character who plays on the wrong side of the track. Of course, you could argue that the story is a lesson on how NOT to live your life or deal with a certain situation, but maybe… perhaps… it’s just a story. Pure entertainment value.

Some stories are told for the sheer pleasure of it. These are usually the books bearing the brunt. The books that are often labelled as trash, or fluff; accused of offering no significant contribution to the literary world, for lack of message and moral, or for the inclusion of a perceived lopsided one.

It is worth remembering the all-important reason for reading.

Enjoyment.

A novel doesn’t have to be the next War and Peace, or the next 1984, or Great Expectations.

As readers, we each have our own standards, preferences—and most importantly—unique view of the world, and this can influence how we interpret the stories we encounter. What one reader might view as a positive message, might be just the opposite for another.

Even if an author intends to present a specific message, moral, or theme to the reader, there is no guarantee the reader will receive it as intended. This is the beauty and magic of words—they have the power to transform themselves in ways which are personal to everyone who reads them. One might argue that a great writer would carry a message with such strength and clarity there would be no room for mistaking its meaning. Yet—depending on a reader’s point of view, their level of understanding, their life experience—this great writing is still susceptible to a unique interpretation.

“A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”

— Samuel Johnson

This phenomenal versatility of words and the power of storytelling is why the magic of books will never die. We as humans have spent centuries reading and analysing some of the most classic and precious of books, and yet, a new perspective, theme, or indeed, a message still can surface—even now.

On a smaller scale, think of your favourite book—the one you’ve read over, and over again. I’ll bet there are certain aspects which jumped out at you on your second or third reading, which might have been invisible to you the first time you read it. This is true for most readers.

Messages in books are not always concrete.

They aren’t set in stone. They change as we change, they alter as we seek new and different meaning. The only constant is the pleasure reading can bring, and sometimes, in the epic search for epic messages, this point gets lost along the way.

banner img write for yourself

Earlier this month, I came across a post thread in a writing forum commenting on the release of Stephenie Meyer’s new book, the gender-reversed Twilight, Life and Death.

The original poster implied that this was nothing more than ‘a lazy way to make more money of an already successful idea’. Before I say anything further, let’s make one thing clear: I love Twilight, but I have long been an avid reader of all types of literature, and as a reader, and a writer, I am fully aware of the flaws in the Twilight series. I am not, nor have I ever been a ‘Twi-hard’ fan (whatever that means), but I enjoyed the story—also, obsessive perv or not, I had, and still have, an unhealthy crush on the immortal Edward. That said, this post is not a defence of Twilight; it is an observation on the criticisms writers face, and my two cents on the subject.

All jobs are tough in their own way; in the case of those in the creative industry—namely, the writer—the writing itself, as simultaneously joyful and irritating as it often is, is only the tip of the iceberg. The ridiculously frustrating journey from brain to page is nothing compared to acknowledging the personal experience your book might bring a reader. Personally, I love reading or hearing about multiple interpretations of a single story—it’s fascinating how much our values and social differences influence the way we perceive many things. You can read my post on the perception of ‘stupid’ characters here. 

Equally fascinating is the way these individual perceptions are received by others. 

Have you ever truly enjoyed a book, and like the proud nerd you might be, gushed about it to someone else, only to be ripped to shreds because the book, according to them, is just ‘utter crap’?

Or maybe you didn’t gush about it. Maybe you overheard a discussion about a certain book, and recognising the downright vicious criticism of it, decided not to mention your initiation into said book’s fandom…

If none of these apply–great.

It means you haven’t been subjected to someone whose concept of book standards goes something like this: ‘I didn’t like it; therefore it must be crap. Everyone, listen up: this book is crap. If you are seen reading it, I will assume you are an idiot.’ 

THIS ↑↑↑ is idiotic.

 
Case in point: I happen to hate exercise, but we all know that despite my intense hatred, exercise is, and will continue to be, a positive part of a healthy lifestyle (of which I am not at all familiar with, btw). If a percentage of readers hate a book, this does not—and should not—equate to the standard of the book. The remaining percentage who might love the same book will often speak for itself. 
This brings me to that forum post I mentioned. The original poster of the discussion—a writer—implies that Stephenie Meyer was milking the idea—trying to squeeze more money out of fans. Several follow-up comments even wondered how the book made any money in the first place.
 
Here’s the thing, though: 
No one is forced to buy a book—any book. Readers choose books because they happen to love them, or at least, think/hope they will. Assuming they don’t, there will be plenty of writer-bashing from reviewers without fellow writers having to chip in. When one writer calls another writer lazy, it makes me want to crawl under my desk and stay there, binge-eating ice-cream. We, as writers, are all in the same boat—okay, Stephanie Meyer has a much bigger boat, sure—a luxury yacht, probably, whilst we have a raft made by Tom Hanks and Wilson—but dammit, we KNOW the joy of finishing a manuscript… and we ALL dread the awful, inevitable backlash of bad reviews or bone-crushing criticism. We expect it from reviewers, editors, agents… from READERS. So why on earth would we want to add to all this dread, and start doing it to one another?

 

I can’t say whether I will ever read the new Twilight, but I disagree that re-writing it is just a ‘lazy way to cash in’. I don’t believe there IS a way to ‘cash-in’, and if there is, by jeebus—please let me know what it is. Maybe I’m naive, but I feel a story has to actually be good to create a fanbase, whether through luck, marketing, or the actual storytelling. In this case, the interest of the fans speaks for itself. 

The bottom line? 

If an author WANTS to rewrite their OWN STORY from the perspective of a bloody tree, it’s their call. Others may love it, hate it, buy it, or burn it—but more power to the writer for writing what they love regardless. 

Love or hate Stephenie Meyer—on this occasion, I salute her. 

Characters are important, if not the most important aspect of a good story; great characters have to be fully developed with appealing qualities, true to life flaws, and a host of inner desires, conflicts, motivations and goals. Just like all real life folk. Recently though, a statement from another writer brought up the question of judgment of character. Stupid characters in particular.

So. Many. Stupid Characters.

He claims that ‘so many books are filled with stupid characters making stupid choices’, and I can see the point of his statement. On some level, I’m inclined to almost agree—almost. What stops me agreeing is this:

What exactly, in the eyes of the reader, makes for a good character?

Is it strength, and integrity, and intelligence? Quick wit, feistiness, charm? Does physical appearance play a part, if at all? And to what extent? Does the rise-of-the-underdog score more points with you, or do you prefer to witness the shallow-but-popular ass evolving into a relatable 3-D hero? Does a heroine have to be the typical Mary Jane with an unknown destiny awaiting her, and lots of obstacles to rise above?

These are all common themes/tropes within stories (if a little limited).

Whether the book focuses on the main characters themselves, or whether it is driven by plot, every story will have a protagonist with at least one goal, and, as far as the author is concerned, a vast number of motivations and means by which to meet this goal. Authors are human too though, and they write the story they want to write, and read, (which is exactly as it should be.)

In doing this, they can often, unfortunately, piss off the reader. Getting from point A to point B can be done in so many ways that it is impossible to please every single reader; a character choice may seem poor or even dumb to one reader, yet may appear perfectly reasonable to another.

Let me give you a (ridiculously basic) example:

stupid characters snow white
Stupid characters and their stupid fruit.

Snow White in Walt Disney’s animated film
Source

Snow White

The princess has fled for her life knowing someone wants her dead. She then sets up home with seven little men, and when a scary old lady offers her an apple, she accepts it and immediately takes a bite, no questions asked despite the fact that she is on the lam, and the woman is hideous beyond belief.

Some would call her stupid, and naive; a little clueless. On the other hand, Snow is an innocent fourteen-year-old girl, with (apparently) a heart as pure as her namesake, thus she trusts easily, and wants to see the good in everyone. She doesn’t for a second believe that this little old lady would want to harm her.

stupid characters bella swan twilight
Stupid characters and their stupid hiking trips

Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan in
The Twilight Saga: New Moon Source

A more recent example is… (dare I?)

Bella Swan

Bella is an (apparently) average teenager whose love for Edward is all-consuming, and upon his leaving in New Moon, she all but gives up on normal life for several months at a time.

Some would call this stupid, and weak; a little melodramatic. On the other hand, Bella is a teenager, and we all know that fully grown adults are capable of drama, much less a seventeen-year-old. A breakup is tough on any one of us, and Bella is no exception. Her love for Edward was written to be of such an epic scale that losing it would be like losing a part of herself; anything less than that would make the reader doubt the scale of their love in the first place.

If you’re thinking: ‘What a lame bunch of lame examples!’, first: get yourself a thesaurus; and second: let me offer up a third and final example—one who is not a teenage girl, nor a central character of a fairy tale / young adult romance saga: 

Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

stupid characters doctor faustus
Stupid characters and their stupid inability to read the small-print

Illustration from the 1620 edition of The Tragical History
of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus Source

Doctor Faustus is smart; he is highly accomplished in the arts and sciences to the point of feeling dissatisfied with the mediocrity of what little there is left to learn. He is a fully-grown man, a well-established social figure in his time—yet what does he do? He makes a deal with the devil! Pretty stupid, yes? Or no? It could easily be assumed that voluntarily signing a blood-contract with a messenger from the depths of hell pretty much ‘puts the stu in stupid’ (technical term). Yet, whilst there is no question that his choices leading up to—and during—his deal did indeed lack judgment, Faustus was, on the whole, not stupid; self-centred, frivolous, arrogant to the point of self-destruction, and clearly prone to ‘silly’ decisions—but not stupid. His discontentment with life, his initial search for greater meaning—even power—are all too common in the real world, in some form or another; it may not justify his decisions but it does shed light on the reasoning behind it.

Snow White, Bella, and Faustus (jeez, weirdest dinner party ever!) demonstrate that regardless of character traits, flaws, and intentions, every reader is likely to interpret a character in a different way. What is dumb and weak to one person is to another, completely understandable, even to an extent, realistic. We all appreciate and admire smart people and smart choices, fictional or otherwise, but how drab would it be to always be faced with these know-it-all smart-asses, with their excellent lives, rubbing our Average-Joe noses in their success?

Certainly, despite good decisions, a smart character can have things in life go wrong for them as a result of an external source, but can you honestly say you’d enjoy reading the riveting account of how easy it was for them to overcome the obstacle thanks to yet another predictably smart choice? Shortest book ever—and not particularly entertaining; entertainment being the whole point of writing and reading in the first place.

My point is this: despite what appeals to us on a personal level when it comes to our preferences in the characters we write or read about, one thing we all are likely to have in common is that we want our characters to be as real and relatable as possible.

AND HERE’S THE THING…

Real people, smart or otherwise, sometimes make stupid choices, and despite judgment, whether from other writers, readers, or haters, books with outwardly stupid characters making stupid choices will continue to sell, because if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a reason for a character’s moment of idiocy; and more notably, this moment of idiocy amidst the chaos of life is real and relatable.