Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ladies of the House: A Modern Retelling of Sense and Sensibility by Laura Edmondson (2021)


It’s unfortunate that a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility felt the need to forgo, or actually decry, any sense of moral restraint and instead delved deeply into American politics with a liberal agenda being the end all/be all of feminism and liberated women. I’m so sick of American politics that I could puke, and Ladies of the House did not improve my mood one iota.

Turning Mr. Dashwood into a sleazy politician with a propensity for young things in their twenties made me sick. Any chance I had for liking Daisy and Wallis, and there were moments because I like the sister theme, was immediately undermined by the next political undercutting maneuver. I liked Wallis a tick more than Daisy, just a tick. She is the most accurate of the women and has a very Marianne feel. And Atlas? Well, to be fair, he’s just as spineless as Edward Ferrars, but at least Edward had a controlling family keeping him under their thumb, unlike Atlas who’s just lily-livered. And heaven forbid that Blake should turn against Wallis to run for his mother’s senate seat under a political banner different from Wallis’ own! Horrors!

I did get the inspired by Sense and Sensibility vibes, which was more than I was expecting, but at the same time, it didn’t impress me. The author would have done much better if she had just steered clear of a Jane Austen retelling and just written her political novel. If she had, I would have never read it and we would have both been happy.

As it stands, I read it. I will never read it again. I would rather re-read Sense and Sensibility for the umpteenth time than this half-baked reboot chock full of political posturing. The only other Austen retelling I hated this much is Unleashing Mr. Darcy, a novel I loathe to the core of my being.

Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC. I wasn’t required to give a positive review.

Ladies of the House

Author: Laura Edmondson

Year: 2021

My Rating:  ★

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

A high fantasy adventure - The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme (2021)

Jillian Boehme delivers top-notch high fantasy with The Stolen Kingdom. Not since J. R. R. Tolkien or C. S. Lewis have I experienced such a perfect blending of faith and fantasy.

Stories of rightful heirs to a throne intrigue me, which is why I elected to read this novel in the first place. Maralyth comes from a line of rightful kings to the land of Perin Faye, a truth unknown to her until she is forced into a bid for the throne. Magic has always dwelt in the veins of the true kings and queens of Perin Faye, a gift from the Holy God given only to those leaders. When the magic was stolen by a usurper to the throne 100 years before Maralyth's time, it turned into something dark, evil, and twisted, the complete antithesis of its healing and merciful purpose.

Prince Alac, second-son of the usurper lineage, and not expecting to be in line for the throne, also ends up in a bid for the throne when the rebellion against his family becomes all too real. His affection for Maralyth deepens every day since the first moment he met her during the events leading up to his older brother's wedding. But when he discovers she is not what he believed her to be, even though he never desired the power of the magic, it begins to whisper dark things to him, turning him even against Maralyth.

There must be a way for the rightful rulers of Perin Faye to take the throne without bloodshed or without breaking the deepening bond between Maralyth and Alac.

Jillian Boehme's characters are richly developed, from Maralyth to Alac and even to Alac's best friend and loyal guard, Tucker. The story never flags, never wavers, never turns to the right or to the left. Common tropes are avoided, leaving nothing to distract me from the story. It is strong and cleanly thought out from start to finish. The prose is colorful without falling into the pit of purple prose. I felt by the end of the book that I knew and loved both Maralyth and Alac.

Maralyth especially is a solid example of what a YA heroine should be. She is strong without demeaning others. She avoids petty squabbles or fits of childishness. She is imaginative, gentle, and fun, a deeply authentic person who feels real, as if she could just walk off the page of the book and be someone I would enjoy calling a friend. She is a true ruler who puts the well-being of her people far ahead of herself.

As for Alac, I loved him from the beginning. A reluctant prince who ends up being enticed by magic that doesn't belong to his family. He yearns for it and is repulsed by it at the same time because he knows it is not meant to be his. Every emotion he undertakes feels natural, even down to his rage and hurt before he finds his way to forgiveness and love. It also helps to remember that Alac is being negatively affected by the stolen magic. It is changing him, little by little, and not in a good way. Ultimately, the true Alac that he is on the inside and who she finally frees from a burden that wasn't his to carry is a perfectly equal love interest to Maralyth and they are ideally suited.

Sexual content is kept to a minimum. A young woman is almost forced into a political marriage with a much older man against her will. Alac's brother and his fiance have been intimate before their marriage and Alac interrupts one of their intimate sessions, but nothing is seen. Alac's love for Maralyth is both intellectual and decidedly physical, so he suffers from all of the effects that go along with being a teenage boy in love for the first time. There are some kisses shared between them, but nothing else.

Finally, I love the religious aspect of the story. Jillian Boehme approached the idea of magic uniquely. It isn't something that can belong to everyone but is a gift from a Holy God who loves His children, to be used for good by the rulers of Perin Faye. When it is stolen, the world erupts into chaos and great damage is done.

Many, many congratulations to Jillian Boehme for her marvelous book. I hope to read many, many more from her in the future as she continues her writing career.

Thanks to Netgalley and Tor Books for a free ARC of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

The Stolen Kingdom

Author: Jillian Boehme

Year: 2021

My Rating:  ★★★★★

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Pretty in Pink: A Lesson in Unrequited Love

Blane, Andie, and Duckie in Pretty in Pink (1986)

Written for the Unhappy Valentine's Blogathon hosted by PEPs.

So many times, unrequited love happens because one member of a long-standing friendship falls in love with the other member.

Such is the case with Pretty in Pink.

A cinematic stunner written by John Hughes, Pretty in Pink puts 1980s teen romance on display with one of the most used and abused tropes in the history of fiction, that of the love triangle.

Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Duckie (Jon Cryer) have been friends since before forever. Best friends, even. And somewhere along the way, Duckie fell in love with her.

Unfortunately for him, Andie has been in love with pretty-boy Blane (Andrew McCarthy) for just about as long as Duckie has been in love with her. 

What a mess!

And of course, Andie from the lower-income family ends up with rich boy Blane instead of best friend Duckie because that's just the way the world works.

Duckie and Andie going to prom (that is admittedly a hideous dress)

Duckie is a goofball and no mistake. But he's a sweetie. He comes from a similar low-income background to Andie and they've been like twins since forever. His yearning for her makes my heart break every time because the audience can see how dearly he loves her, and we can also see how clueless she is and that it's just never going to work.

Ms. Ringwald much later actually outed Duckie as gay, and all I can say to that is that if it's news to the author of the screenplay and the actor playing Duckie, then you're barking up the wrong tree, girl. Apparently, the character is too flamboyant? More than likely his flamboyance is due to his personality type and not his sexuality. I know my fashion and my sister's fashion are both due to our personality types so, to me, that makes the most sense. I suspect Ms. Ringwald just didn't like Jon Cryer, so she undermined the characters' relationship. Shame on her if it's true.

I guess the biggest question is should Andie and Duckie have ended up together? They have more in common, by far. Duckie has more personality in his pinkie finger than Blane has in his entire body, so there's that. And he's just one of those guys that makes you feel warm and comfortable like you've wrapped yourself in a favorite quilt. so, yes, it's a shame that Duckie and Andie were fated to never get off the ground. It's not fair, but I put the blame more on Ms. Ringwald's stubbornness than on Jon Cryer's vibrancy. If she'd tried just a little bit harder to perform with some chemistry, then maybe Duckie and Andie would have had the ending they deserved.

Ultimately, Duckie gets the short end of the stick against the will of John Hughes himself who was bullied by the studio into changing the end of his story.

Duckie and Andie

Pretty in Pink is not one of my favorites of John Hughes' films because Andie and Duckie were sidelined in favor of the rich boy. Not that I'm against falling in love with a rich boy, but it's the same issue I had in the tv program, Veronica Mars. Veronica and Duncan are boring. There are no sparks whatsoever and yet, fans endured waaaaaay too many episodes of them together. It's the same here. Andie and Blane are boring, and on top of that, he's a bit of a bully which is a whole other problem, end of story.

Duckie deserves kudos, though. Apart from John Bender in The Breakfast Club, Duckie is my favorite of Hughes' male characters. He's proof to me that the boy next door can be brilliant. I know, that's another old trope, but sometimes it's one worth using. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Valentine's Day Period Drama Tag

Here are my answers to Heidi's tag for her Valentine's Day Period Drama Blog Party at Along the Brandywine. It was immensely fun to fill out and made me stop to think and remember some of my favorite period dramas. That was exciting.

My main blog post for her blogathon is about Christine and Raoul from The Phantom of the Opera, in case you're interested.

1) Your current three (or up to five!) favorite period dramas?

I'm not watching very many period dramas at the moment but if I were to pick, it would probably be the following:

Sense and Sensibility from 1995 because the film is just so pretty to look at and I just love Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood. It's stunning.  It's also rather funny seeing Hugh Grant bumble about so awkwardly in Regency clothes. Poor soul, he's much more suited to films like Music & Lyrics or Paddington 2

The Personal History of David Copperfield from 2020 with Dev Patel because the casting is so remarkably clever and it's just a truly excellent film, and very clean, practically no objectionable content. My favorite adaptation so far and that's saying something since Maggie Smith is hard to beat. I wish it had gotten half the acclaim as that heinous miniseries Bridgerton. 

And then the 1982 film adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour. Because no one can beat this adaptation and the lead couple is darling. It's a truly stunning film and it just makes my heart happy.

2) What would you recommend to someone who’s never seen a period drama as a starter?

Probably something that's Jane Austen, maybe the 2005 Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley, or the 1996 Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam. They're film length so nothing too intimidating and they're extremely pretty, plus, they star fairly well-known actors and that can be a help when people are first starting out in the period drama realm.

3) A favorite couple that wouldn’t be included in answer #1 (cause I’m figuring those are already top favorites ;)) and/or a favorite secondary character romance? 

Oh the tragedy of it all, poor Ivanhoe and Rebecca, doomed to fail before they ever got started. And why you ask? Because he is a Christian knight and she is a Jewess. It crushes my very soul. As you may have guessed, I'm not a fan of the main romance in Ivanhoe (specifically the 1982 version with Anthony Andrews), but instead, I wish it could have been different and Ivanhoe and Rebecca could have been together. They were so clearly drawn towards one another, but alas, it was not meant to be. Pardon me while I go weep in a corner.  I wrote in greater detail about Ivanhoe and Rebecca in my Sacrificial Love: Ivanhoe and Rebecca blog post.

4) What do you consider foundational qualities for a healthy romance? 

The ability to respect boundaries, have mutual interests, and mutual political and religious associations. The ability to still maintain and even grow other relationships in addition to the romantic one, that's a biggie. So in other words, not Edward and Bella from Twilight. They're the antithesis of a healthy relationship.

5) Worst villain/antagonist?

I truly despise Mr. Grandcourt from Daniel Deronda. He absolutely makes my skin crawl. He's just horrendous on so many levels, but especially for forcing his wife to have intimacy. It was just so bad. It's a wonder I can stomach Hugh Bonneville in anything else, but I'm actually very fond of him as an actor, just not in Daniel Deronda. I guess it means he did his job right.

6) A favorite proposal scene?

I'm sorry guys, but I LOVE the absurdity of Mr. Darcy's first proposal. He muffs it, big time, and I always laugh in every single version I've seen.

I'm especially partial to the proposal in the 1938 version where Laurence Olivier's eyes pretty much pop out of his head in astonishment at her refusal, which you can see above. Ignore the inaccurate costuming, I know they're off in era, but for me, it doesn't matter.

7) Favorite period drama characters based on a real-life couple?

I don't really watch a lot of biographical type period dramas, but if I were to take a stab in the dark, I would go with Victoria, meaning Victoria and Albert. I only watched the first season, but it was very good and I enjoyed their relationship.

8) Any classic b/w period dramas you like?

I love the 1938 Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson and *flutters eyelashes* Sir Laurence Olivier. I know, I know, it doesn't match the Regency era and the fashion is all wrong. But I LOVE it anyway. It was my first introduction to Jane Austen when I was a teenager, and I have loved it ever since.

Laurence Olivier does this thing with his gloves when he takes them off. It just makes me giggle every time. Seriously.

9) Most mature romance in a period drama? (mature as in age and/or characters who are consciously and wisely ripened by life experience, etc.)

Mmmm, I would say Doctor Thorne and the American heiress Martha Dunstable. I love the miniseries Doctor Thorne, and this couple truly made me happy. I realize she's not that old, but Doctor Thorne has charming grey hair. Their attraction is downplayed by the younger couple, but it's quite real and quite charming.

10) Most excruciatingly long, slow-burn romance in a period drama?

Margaret Hale and John Thornton in North & South. It takes them FOREVER to get ANYWHERE. It's a beautiful miniseries, but it does drag on endlessly. And then even more endlessly beyond that. It is an endless trail of endlessness.

11) A story that has multiple film adaptations where you love more than one of them?

I'm partial to 3 versions of Jane Eyre.

The 1943 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine is excellent, although his Mr. Rochester terrifies me the most of all of them. Then there's the 1983 version with Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke. That one's my personal favorite. And, of course, the 2006 version with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens.

All 3 of them have their merits and considering I've never gotten past 100 pages in the novel, I'm not busy comparing film to book, just film to film. And I happen to love Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester and I adore Zelah Clarke's unbridled spunk. They're brilliant.

12) A book you think needs to be made into a film (or a new adaptation)?

Would somebody please remake Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and do it RIGHT, without all of the stupid visions and imaginings that they love to put Catherine Morland through? Could she please be allowed to just be an innocent girl who enjoys reading who falls in love with a charming and slightly snarky vicar? That's all I ask. Just do it RIGHT, with the proper casting (a feat they haven't managed yet), without adding any politically correct nonsense or rewriting the story to be just shy of absurd. It shouldn't be so hard to do a proper adaptation!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Childhood Friends: Raoul and Christine in The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Written for the Valentine's Day Period Drama Blog Party hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine.

And many thanks to my blogging buddies who helped me choose my topic! As you can tell, PotO had the most votes. ðŸ˜‰

There has always been and will always be the age-old battle of the love triangle in The Phantom of the Opera.

Do we love the Phantom and Christine or Raoul and Christine? 

I was on the side of the Phantom and Christine for many, many years. Erik (the Phantom) is a pitiable character and there's something appealing about being worshipped. He's desperate for connection and relationship and we can all relate to that reality. 

But approaching relationships in such an obsessive way is dangerous. Especially when people start dying. Erik is a terrifying figure, lonely or not, and Christine is more afraid of him than in love with him. A relationship built on fear is bound to fail.

Somewhere along the way, my loyalty shifted to Raoul. 

Not every Raoul, mind you, but Patrick Wilson's Raoul possesses a tenderness that is sometimes lacking in the character. I don't know if it's simply because his costar, Emmy Rossum, was so young, or if that's the approach the director wanted, or if it was his own idea. But whatever the reason, it works.

Here is their rendition of All I Ask of You. It's sometimes easy to miss the importance of Christine's desire to not live in the night, and Raoul's desire to be light for her. It's a deeply moving moment in the film and any of the stage productions.

What it really comes down to is Christine's choice. One man is her choice and the other is not. Raoul could be the nicest man in the world, but if Christine had chosen Erik? It would have been her choice, foolish, but still, her choice and Raoul wouldn't have really had a right to interfere.

Christine's only hesitations to develop a relationship with Raoul openly are born out of fear. Fear that she would upset her Angel of Music, that he would turn against her, and even that he might hurt someone if she disobeyed him. Her requests to keep her engagement with Raoul a secret until the right time, even her reluctance to go with Raoul after the performance because she knows her Angel will visit, none of those moments speak of trust or respect to the Phantom, simply of fear of repercussion.

I adore their reunion scene (minus Raoul's not listening, but we'll get into that later). Christine is sitting at her dressing table, brow furrowed, afraid, and then Raoul comes and her smile lights up the room. The relief on her face when they embrace is palpable. It's beautiful, the banter, and the shared memories they possess from a sweeter, more innocent time.

As it stands, Raoul and Christine move from reunited childhood friends to an affianced couple super quickly. Raoul never gives the impression of being a playboy. He recognizes Christine from when they were children (I'm guessing an age gap of maybe 4 years). He remembers Little Lotte and when he renews their acquaintance, he's reminded of all the reasons he liked Christine to begin with. He's not wooing a theatrical ingenue. He's wooing the girl he grew up with.

The downside to Raoul is that he doesn't listen. He doesn't listen when he wants to take Christine out for dinner after her first performance and she tells him it will anger the Angel of Music. And he doesn't really listen when they're trying to coerce her into performing in Don Juan Triumphant in order to trap the Phantom and she's completely terrified and begs him not to put her through this. Unfortunately, this means he's a Victorian man and Victorian men rarely listened to the feminine concerns or worries or reluctances of their women. 

Does this make Raoul any less in my estimation? Maybe a little bit, but his ultimate nobility makes up for the lacking, or what we see as a lacking from our very modern perspective. Regardless he treats Christine gently as if she's precious to him. There is no roughness or harshness in him and that's the main reason why I adore Patrick Wilson's Raoul. 

Raoul is the light and Erik is the dark. In the end, all Christine truly wanted was the light. Erik's attempted corruption of her innocence is horrifying as I view it now through older, more mature eyes. And Raoul's attempts to preserve her innocence endear him to me tenfold.

I would have included the confrontation scene at the end of the film buuuuuuut, I think it might be a little much for this post. So, to sum up, for both Raoul and Christine, romantic love was hovering just out of reach, waiting for them to meet again. And when they do, love awakens.

Many thanks to Heidi for hosting the blogathon and I'm glad I could participate.

Friday, February 5, 2021

A Peter Pan retelling - Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas (2021)

When children go missing, people want answers. When children go missing in the small coastal town of Astoria, people look to Wendy for answers.

It's been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.

Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don't do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what's waiting for her in the woods.

Peter is what really shines in this book. The author clearly had a solid vision of what their Peter Pan should look like, feel like, act like, and the book really brings him to life. I appreciate that Peter is slightly different from the usual incarnations of a boy who refuses to go up and constantly runs from trouble. Peter is a shepherd of sorts, in a way that I won't go too deep into since I don't want to give spoilers. He's generous, compassionate, and merciful, a very sweet boy with a universe of stars in his eyes. And all the emotions that go along with first love.

I had a bit of a harder time pinning Wendy down. Peter's obvious right from the beginning, and I love him, but Wendy is difficult to like. You feel bad for her, yes. Grieve for her, absolutely. But liking her is a different thing altogether. She would be a very heavy weight in anyone's life, so I have to say that Jordan is a much, much better friend than I would be capable of being. I did love Wendy's fairy lights that she's got strung up by her window. It makes sense since I have fairy lights too. And once she's acknowledged that Peter is who he says he is, well, it makes her more relatable. Along with all the girly emotions of crushing on Peter Pan because, seriously, he's always been one of my crushes. So, as the story progresses, I grew to like Wendy more, and she becomes quite a courageous heroine by the end.

One thing I did think was a little difficult was the prose. It feels a little too juvenile for the age of the characters, and that's unfortunate. There's also a ton of passive descriptors used instead of active ones. Active sentences are my jam in fiction so I hate it when authors don't use them enough.  I also get tired of the anti-police trope that's in full force right now. I just can't go along with that stereotype. And unfortunately, Lost in the Never Woods is full of incompetent, bullying cops. Not cool. One of the reasons I love the tv series Teen Wolf is because Stiles' dad is the town sheriff and he's amazing, a great dad, and a terrific sheriff. It would have been nice to see something similar done here.

There's also a distinctive gap of action in the middle of the novel, but at the same time, this is when we see Peter and Wendy really interact, so it's a toss-up. They're charming when they're together, and their physical attraction is very real. Peter cherishes her, if that's even a thing anymore, and I loved watching their relationship grow stronger. Kisses are nice.

Also, I'm not sure if the author has seen the Rise of the Guardians film, but Peter and his Shadow have a LOT in common with Jack Frost and Pitch Black. I mean, a LOT. So that was a bit, mmm, on the iffy side for me. I'd seen it before, so that plot device didn't feel very original. That being said, I liked the use of shadows in this retelling, and that they're built of people's fear. That was pretty neat.

Overall, it was a light-hearted read with just a few hiccups. My favorite Peter Pan retelling at the moment is Dust by Kara Swanson, but I did enjoy most of Lost in the Never Woods. It'll be interesting to see if there's ever a sequel since the book finishes a little open-ended. I'm good either way, sequel or no sequel.

On a completely random note, the cover is super pretty.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Swoon Reads for a free ARC. I was not required to give a positive review, and all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Lost in the Never Woods

Author: Aiden Thomas

Year: 2021

My Rating:  ★★★

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday


I've never done this before, but I think it might be a fun goal for the new year, except for January because, yah, that's gone already. The Top Ten Tuesday was started by That Artsy Reader Girl and I found it through Elza Reads.

I have read countless books that were written before I was born, in fact, some of these books are my favorites of all time! So this was not a difficult list to compile.

Number Ten - Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)

This is one of those terrifying novels because I don't actually like any of the characters and I grieve for the depravity, sorrow, and loss of all the characters. It's a terribly tragic novel, and one I can easily imagine being penned by a girl who lived out on the moors. It's truly a cautionary tale of obsession.

Number Nine - The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)

I love The Sign of the Four because Holmes seems particularly amusing in it and we get to meet the woman who would later become Mrs. John Watson. I still resent the fact that Doyle killed her off with just a random mention in one of his later short stories. How unfair is that? The story is very exotic with theft and murder and adventures in India. We also get to experience a lively chase down the Thames and meet the Baker Street Irregulars, Holmes' little band of street urchins who find him answers when he's unable to.

Number Eight - Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

The movie is ghastly, but the book is brilliant. Fahrenheit 451 a dystopian tale where firemen actually start fires, where books are burned without remorse, and where people can live in a world of their own making if they can afford to purchase the ear seashells and the screens for their walls. It's terrifying and ghastly. A movie that's sort of similar is Equilibrium starring Christian Bale, quite a brilliant film, and it involves the same idea of censorship and destruction.

Number Seven - The Shining by Stephen King (1977)

The Shining is the story of one man's reluctant descent into insanity, provoked by the spiritual and supernatural evil residing in a hotel high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I only read this book for the first time last year, but it is brilliant, and I grieve for the loss of Jack Torrance, a man who desperately loves his wife and son, but couldn't find the alcoholism and the whispering voices of temptation alone. The ending is profound because it implies redemption, an implication realized in the epic sequel Doctor Sleep, published in 2013. As for film adaptations, I despise the 1980 film but love the 1997 miniseries because at least the miniseries got the characters right.

Number Six - Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (published 1817, written in 1803)

I love Northanger Abbey the best of all Jane Austen's work because it is playful, the heroine loves novels, and she is allowed to grow and develop without losing sight of who she is as a person. Catherine Morland thinks the best of people but also knows what she does and does not like in the people she meets, like John Thorpe, an odious man well worth despising. Catherine and Henry Tilney are well-suited for one another and it's simply a delightful read. There has yet to be a decent film adaptation.

Number Five - The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis (1953)

If we're going chronologically, The Silver Chair is the 7th book in The Chronicles of Narnia series. I love it because we get to return to Narnia with one of the characters from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace, who underwent an extremely spiritual and emotional transformation due to his time in Narnia. It's specifically about a quest, finding the Prince Rilian who has been missing for a decade. And we get to see a partnership between Eustace and a girl named Jill Pole from his school, to say nothing of the brilliance that is Puddleglum, the marshwiggle. It has adventure and giants and danger and people who live beneath the earth's surface, and all sorts of glorious things. And best of all, it has Aslan continually acting as a guide for the children when they go astray, which happens quite often, especially when they stay with the giants. And I love that Aslan grieves the death of King Caspian and restores him to his youth when he takes him home to Aslan's country. It's a beautiful story.

Number Four - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes before The Silver Chair and is my favorite of the Narnia books because it stars Prince Caspian as a teenager instead of a child, and we get to see the outer edges of Narnia, all of the islands and their various purposes and peoples. It's a high adventure. I'm also partial to Eustace being turned into a dragon because he was a rather beastly little boy, but Aslan has profound mercy on him. It's a beautiful little book with lots of excitement. We also get to see Caspian fall in love with the daughter of a star. How often does that happen?

Number Three - Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I just love the pure craziness of this book. A crazy lady who wanders around in her tattered wedding dress and still has her wedding cake of decades ago decaying in the dining room? Who wouldn't love that! In my mind there really isn't all that much in terms of social commentary in Great Expectations, just a really creepy read that I find deeply enthralling and have loved since the very first moment I picked up a copy from the library. I suppose it's also an interesting look into how money can and does alter people the way it alters Pip and not for the better. For quite a while we barely recognize the sweet little boy at the beginning of the story.

The best film adaption in my opinion is the 2012 film with Holiday Grainger, Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, and Ralph Fiennes. I say this because the screenplay manages to capture all of the relevant details of the book without having to be 3 hours long. It also includes the marvelous character of Wemmick who lives in his version of a castle with a drawbridge and is utterly devoted to his elderly father, who he calls his Aged Parent. It's excellent.

Number Two - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (1848)

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is tragically underappreciated. The story begins from the perspective of Gilbert Markham, a young man suitably attractive to the ladies, but who is finding himself drawn to the mysterious female lodger Helen Graham and her son who have just moved into his neighborhood. As the story progresses, we switch from Gilbert's perspective to Helen's perspective and discover she is a woman who married for love, but to absolutely the wrong man, a man who would introduce her sweet and innocent son to all sorts of depravity. And so she left him, a woman on the run from her marriage to protect her child because she cannot obtain a divorce. It's a very unsettling tale, but an excellent commentary on marriage and divorce.

I wish I could praise the miniseries as much as I praise the book, but the miniseries is terribly lacking. It changes elements of the story that should not have been altered, and that is frustrating. Not even Toby Stephens could save it for me, and I love Toby Stephens.

Number One - A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

And finally, A Christmas Carol, one of my favorite books of all time. Such a powerful message of redemption and change crammed into such a small package. I love how Scrooge undergoes his slow and steady transformation from cold and cruel miser to a generous benefactor. Salvation is at the heart of A Christmas Carol and the belief that anyone can change for the better. I read this book every Christmas and it always moves me to tears.