Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 11

I know I left off this series discussing manga I loved in middle or high school, but this time I’m doing a half-manga, half-novel entry because I remembered I never covered one of my favorite books in middle school…

Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan


In 5th and 6th grade, my Reading teacher (we had separate Reading and English classes in 5th and 6th grade for some reason) passed out mini-catalogs of books to take home to our parents. We got their permission and brought the cash, I think, and she would order a book for us that we could pick up at school in a few weeks. This was long before Amazon, and it was a great way to find books we’d never otherwise have heard about.

Since a friend and I were fantasy fans (largely thanks to The Chronicles of Prydain books), a fantasy book in this catalog called Winter of Fire piqued our interest. We both got copies, and we both wound up loving it. I re-read it a number of years later, and although I know I found it a bit simplistic, I still loved it—and made it a quest to track down the other (many out of print) niche titles by New Zealand author Sherryl Jordan (whose most well-known book, I believe, is The Raging Quiet).

I don’t remember a ton about Winter of Fire, other than it was set in a bleak, snowy fantasy world where half the people, the Quelled, are slaves to the other half, the Chosen. The slaves are miners, digging up firestones, which heat the homes of the Chosen. The protagonist, Elsha, is a slave (with a broken eye socket—you can kind of see it on the cover!)  and something happens to make her slave (handmaiden, says the wiki summary?) to the leader of the Chosen. I remember there was romance, too, and I believe Elsha had a special power…

After I graduated high school (thus her books never appear in this series), I started reading Diana Wynne Jones (thanks to news that Miyazaki Hayao was set to adapt one of her books, Howl’s Moving Castle) and devoured every one of her books I could get my hands in within a few years. DWJ is definitely the queen of middle grade and YA fantasy in my opinion, but I have a special affinity for Jordan’s fantasy books, too. I’m still working on reading them all—I managed to buy most of them second-hand a few years ago online—but I’m pretty close. My love for the first book of hers I read was enough to inspire me to keep reading her books all these years later. (Too bad her latest release seems to be New Zealand only…)

Kodomo no Omocha (“Child’s Toy,” called Kodocha: Sana’s Stage in the US) by Obana Miho


I’m kind of cheating here because I’m not sure I read much of the manga before graduating high school. (I did buy and read it all shortly thereafter, though.) However, the anime based on the manga was a favorite in middle and high school. Kodomo no Omocha, called Kodocha for short, is a zany comedy series starring 11-year-old Kurata Sana, a (fictional) popular child actress. The story follows her shooting her most popular TV show, commercials and other events, but it’s largely set in the normal school she attends and at her crazy home.

Sana’s mother drives a Power Wheels-type car around the house, always wears a kimono, and lets a pet squirrel live in elaborate and ever-changing tiny homes in her hair. She’s as rich as Sana, having written an award-winning and globally-best-selling book called The Gigolo and I, the story of her troublesome and crazy marriage. Sana’s mother’s ex-husband, whom Sana lovingly calls the Gigolo, and whom she’ll tell you early on is not her father, is often over begging Sana’s mother for money she made from the book but rarely gets it.

Sana and her mother live with Rei, a twenty-something homeless guy Sana picked off the street and made into her bodyguard, whom she lovingly and publicly refers to as her “pimp,” thinking the word means something like “boyfriend.” (Although that’s entirely one-sided on her part.) Sana requires Rei to wear a suit and tie and sunglasses at all times, even at night, because she thinks that’s what bodyguards need to wear.

Sana’s happy-go-lucky insane life is turned on its head when she goes back to school to find that a bunch of delinquent boys have so scared their teacher, they goof off and cause destruction during class and the frightened teacher doesn’t do anything to stop it. In one instance, the boy’s leader, sullen Hayama Akito, sits back and orders the other boys to shoot their teacher with water pistols. Sana, who’s tried to ignore the problem but has had enough, snatches a water pistol and shoots Akito instead. Akito vows revenge after school, but when Sana goes to finish the altercation, she finds him ordering the other boys to shove one of her friends into the pool—all because that friend called him a “demon child.” Sana and Akito fight, and Sana’s not intimidated, even when Akito, karate champion, gets rough. The two begin a rivalry that has the potential to blossom into something more as Sana tries to get to the bottom of why, when she’s so happy in her own life, someone could act like Akito does and not care much whether he lives or dies…

Kodocha tackles some serious drama (sometimes melodrama), but it’s mostly incredibly funny. The manga lasted for 10 volumes, but the 102-episode anime made up a few story arcs and characters to get the most out of the franchise. I actually prefer the anime to the manga—it’s even funnier, and Sana’s insanity has to be seen to be believed—but the manga that started it all is funny and just as sweet, if a bit even more melodramatic.

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 10

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but when I last did, I was working on getting through the manga I loved in middle and high school, and some recent news that one of those manga is getting a sequel spurred me to get back to business! In both of these cases, I was introduced to the anime version first, and it wasn’t until late high school/early college that I got my hands on English-translated versions of the manga series. But still, I loved the stories in middle and high school and imported the Japanese versions originally, so they count, right?

Marmalade Boy by Yoshizumi Wataru


One of the first shoujo (aimed at pre-teen and teen girl readers) series I liked that was just plain dramatic (and occasionally comedic) hijinks, no magic or sci fi or fantasy elements included. In the sense that there are so many love entanglements it’s practically a mishmash of love octagons, Marmalade Boy isn’t that different from standard shoujo fare. But it was my first, it was addicting, and I remember ravenously consuming every anime episode when I first watched—and then went on to re-watch it all within a year again. (I also re-watched it all some years later and realized only then how cheesy and overdramatic it could be, but I still love it. It certainly spoke to me when I was in the target audience.)

The basic introductory summary for Marmalade Boy is wild, and I could certainly see it as a zany YA book. As time goes on, the craziness that starts the action of the story is less important than the everyone-has-tons-of-people-who-want-to-date-them-and-misunderstandings-lead-to-heartbreak that follows, but still. It stars Koishikawa Miki, a high schooler whose parents come home from a Hawaiian vacation with smiles on their faces and inform her they’re getting divorced. If that wasn’t shocking enough, they inform her that they still love each other (more like brother and sister love, they say), and they’re both getting re-married—to another couple they met also on vacation in Hawaii who’s divorcing each other with no ill will. (As in, Miki’s mom is marrying the husband of this couple and her dad is marrying the wife.) And since the original couple still considers their exes-to-be good friends and there are kids to consider, they decided they’re all moving in together, both new couples under the same roof, with kids in tow.

Miki is flabbergasted, to say the least. When she hears the other couple has a son named Matsuura Yuu her age, she feels even more awkward, but she hopes he’ll think it’s as bizarre as she does and that the two of them can talk their parents out of it. Nope. When she first meets her new step-parents and step-brother-to-be, Yuu doesn’t give a crap about the situation, and Miki’s literally the only voice of reason. Before she can have more than a melt-down or two, her parents are divorced and re-married, the new step-parents are moving in, and she’s got a new step-brother, who’s aloof… But also really cute.

Of course, Miki’s got a ton of emotional baggage with her childhood friend and once unrequited crush, she has a gorgeous and quiet best friend who’s hiding an earth-shattering secret from her, and Yuu’s ex-girlfriend isn’t taking kindly to him living with another girl to whom he’s not technically related—just to give a hint of all of the drama to come. There’s a lot more going on with Miki’s and Yuu’s parents than meets the eye, too.

The manga, only eight volumes, is almost entirely adapted in the anime version, but I was able to read it later, so it was a refreshing way to get back into the story. There’s an entire arc set in the US that’s in the anime and not the manga, and the manga does have one small arc later on that never made it to the screen. Definitely check it out if you like crazy drama and sweet romance!

Shoujo Kakumei Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena) by Be-Papas/Saitou Chiho

rev utena1

Shoujo Kakumei Utena was one of my favorite anime in high school. It’s visually stunning, artistically bizarre, and really spell-binding. Unlike the other manga I’ve reviewed in this category, it was created to be an anime, and there was a manga adaptation, but that came after in development. (Although I believe it started publication slightly before.) If you like one, you’re sure to like the other. The stories in both are fairly different, too—enough to get a different experience when you read and watch.

Utena is hard to explain, but I’ll try. It takes place in a pseudo-classic French-looking Japanese boarding school (but you never see the real world). Tenjou Utena is a middle schooler who dresses and acts like a boy (but still looks fairly feminine). It turns out when she was very young, when she was at her lowest at her parents’ funeral, a prince appeared and offered her words of comfort as well as a rose signet ring. Instead of falling in love with the prince, she decided she wanted to become him, so much did she look up to him. She wears the ring still and always stands up for those who are weak and bullied.

One day she comes across a beautiful student watering roses in a greenhouse. She watches in horror as another student, a high school boy, batters her. Utena intervenes and learns that the female student, Himemiya Anthy, is engaged to the boy and has no objections to him beating her. Horrified, Utena challenges the boy to a duel, thinking they’ll meet in the practice room of the kendo club. Instead, the boy sees her ring and asks if she’s a duelist, saying he’ll meet her in the “arena” outside of the school.

Utena goes, and finds that she can only open the door to the arena with her ring. She climbs magical, impossible stairs and finds a strange scene at the top of the arena. Anthy appears dressed as a princess, and her fiancé claims she’s the “Rose Bride.” He draws a sword out of her chest and fights Utena, who manages to defeat him even with only a wooden sword with which to defend herself. Baffled, Utena leaves and goes back to her dorm, not sure what to make of what happened.

Anthy appears at her dorm shortly thereafter. She explains that Utena is now the victor of the duels and that means that she, Anthy, is engaged to Utena. She’ll do whatever Utena asks of her, and Utena now must accept challenges from any duelist with a ring who asks for a duel. Originally unsure that she wants to be engaged to this other girl, Utena eventually comes to revel in the duels and keeping Anthy away from unworthy fiancés/fiancées, determined to protect the weaker girl and show her what it means to have self-confidence and self-respect. And of course, there’s a pretty weird, magical reasoning behind everything going on that’s revealed over time… And all these years later, I’m only sort of sure I understand it, actually, but I love it even so.

For some reason, the only kind of “battle” I love watching on screen is a sword battle. (I’m talking lightsabers, medieval swords, whatever.) Utena has plenty of those, as the duels are sword-based. Each duel has its own operatic song, too, and I just really got pumped every time I watch the duels, even when I’ve re-watched the series a few times over the years.

There are only five volumes of manga, and it entirely skips a large arc of the anime. There’s also a bonus sixth volume loosely based on the movie—and the movie itself is a different continuity than the anime series, so there are plenty of different versions of Utena to go around.

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 9

This week I’m continuing my look at manga I loved reading in middle and high school. (See the last post for an explanation about a bit of the “cheating” I’m doing here.)

Ayashi no Ceres (Ceres, Celestial Legend; literally “Ominous Ceres”) by Watase Yuu

My first Watase series, Fushigi Yuugi, was my favorite manga and anime for a couple of years, so that inspired me to check out what else the creator had done. The series she was working on at the time was Ayashi no Ceres, which soon surpassed Fushigi Yuugi as my favorite series throughout middle and high school. At the time, no one was bringing it out in the States, so I imported the manga and read some fan translations (in script form–none of this “scanlation” stuff that goes on now) until Ceres finally got a US release when I was in college. Ceres eventually got an anime adaptation in 2000, but it was far shorter than the Fushigi Yuugi anime, and a lot had to be cut out. The 14-volume manga remains the best way to get a hold of the full story.

Ceres had a beginning I could easily see in a paranormal YA book today: High school twins Mikage Aya and Aki (Aya’s a girl, Aki’s a guy) are dragged to their grandfather’s house for their 16th birthday, a tradition the Mikage family upholds for all of their family members. Aya and Aki are confused to see their normally loving extended family acting somber and cold towards them. They open the gift they’re given and discover it’s a mummified hand! The hand causes Aya to transform into an older, beautiful woman and Aki to be cut all over his body by invisible daggers. The Mikage family tells Aya that she has to die, and even her parents do nothing to save her.

Aya manages to escape very real attempts on her life and finds a little solace in a new adoptive family that can explain what’s going on and wants to protect her. It turns out Aya is the reincarnation of a tennyo, a “celestial maiden,” that was a Mikage ancestor in ancient times, and there are other celestial maiden reincarnations out there, too. Every few generations, the Mikage maiden reincarnates in a member of the Mikage family on her 16th birthday, with the aim of wiping out all of her descendants and finding the celestial robe that will allow her to return to the heavens. Aya is the first in the history of the family to escape immediate execution, and she has to come to terms with this celestial being who takes over her body at times and communicates with her through her mind. Meanwhile, her brother is discovered to be the reincarnation of an important figure in the Mikage family as well: the original mortal man who forced the celestial maiden into marriage by stealing her celestial robe–and he wants his wife back. Ceres wants Aki dead; Aya wants to save her brother.

Ceres has got action, romance, fantasy and science fiction elements–I’ve barely scratched the surface! I remember actually not being too enamored with the main love story with Aya, but I loved the characters and the plot overall. I think the story holds up well even today; it’s still among my favorite series.

Boku no Chikyuu wo Mamotte (Please Save My Earth; literally “Protect My Earth”) by Hiwatari Saki

Please Save My Earth–which fans in the US call PSME for short–is one of those I’m “cheating” to count as a middle and high school manga fandom. I did get introduced to the series while in high school–I won a contest Animerica Extra held and they sent me the first VHS tape of the anime–but the manga wasn’t available in the US until I was in college. Since I couldn’t read it yet in full, I watched the six episodes of the (regrettably short) anime (that barely, barely touches on the whole story but does a great job adapting the first few volumes of the manga), imported the manga, and read as much information as I could about the series in magazines and online during the burgeoning years of the Internet. It was such a relief to finally be able to read the English release a few years later.

The 21-volume manga PSME ran in Japan from 1987 to 1994, a number of years before I got into it in the late 1990s. It’s actually even today still referred to by many modern manga artists as a favorite, particularly by those who do shoujo (girls) manga. There’s a sequel series that started in the mid-2000s and is still going–I just wish PSME had sold well enough to convince US publishers to bring that out, too! (Until then, I’m stuck with import manga.)

PSME is another tale of reincarnation. (I love these types of stories, if you couldn’t guess.) 16-year-old Sakaguchi Arisu (or “Alice”) is so painfully shy, she cries when 7-year-old Kobayashi Rin, her neighbor, teases her each day after school. Asked one night to be his babysitter–it turns out Rin has a crush on the older girl and asked his parents to request her–Arisu can’t bring herself to weasel her way out of the nightmare. Rin behaves for a bit but gets angry when Arisu (understandably) rebuffs his innocent advances and talks instead about having a crush on a boy at school. He takes it out on something he knows Arisu finds dear: a potted plant.

Rin knows that Arisu can hear animals and plants speaking to her, and plants and animals seem drawn to her, something her family has never been able to explain. By threatening to toss a potted plant off of the highrise apartment building balcony, Rin is basically threatening to kill something she thinks of as a friend. Arisu slaps Rin for being so cruel, but the force of the slap makes Rin fall of the balcony himself. He barely survives, and Arisu is devastated.

When Rin awakes, he’s not quite himself, but he keeps his new, darker, more adult-like side from his parents, who ask Arisu to pretend to be Rin’s girlfriend to humor him; after what she did, Arisu can’t bring herself to say no. It’s about this time that Arisu has a dream that she’s a beautiful humanoid alien who studies Earth from a secret scientific base on the moon. Shortly thereafter, Arisu befriends some people at school (including the one she sort of had a crush on) who’ve also had dreams of being alien scientists who work together on the moon, and they begin to realize they’re dreaming of their former lives.

PSME has a crazy, heart-aching romance amidst heated love triangles (pentagons?) and drama. It turns out life on the moon base wasn’t all rosy, and betrayals and feelings from those on the moon continue to haunt the current reincarnations. Rin reveals he was one of the moon scientists, too; and there’s a painful reason why he’s nine years younger than the other reincarnations. There’s also a lot of sci fi action, as reincarnated people from the moon have ESP, and Earth is home to a few people with ESP who are willing to fight the aliens if they do harm to the planet.

PSME is still one of my favorite manga and anime ever, and I think it would appeal to any age group. The romance is one of the sweetest I’ve ever read. Some of the characters make me swoon even to this day!

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 8

I’m going to sort of “cheat” for the next few posts on this topic. I decided to move on from the novels I loved in middle and high school for now to the manga I loved at that time, but technically, it wasn’t always available. The unflopped-$10-or-less-a-pop manga boom began when I was just getting to college. When I was in middle and high school, I had limited access to manga. What I did get was imported from Japan (at least I saw pretty pictures and practiced my fledgling understanding of Japanese, but I certainly didn’t totally follow the story) or limited/edited/flopped (as in mirror imaged to follow American left-to-right reading style)/much more expensive for the most part. In other words, this library wasn’t anywhere near this large back then (each shelf is double-stacked; there’s another row of volumes behind it, although some non-manga stuff has creeped in there. Should I be bragging about probably thousands of dollars spent on manga over a decade and a half? Not really, but yes… Yes, I should… ):

Still, the manga I’ll cover in this series meant a lot to me as a middle and high schooler, and they still mean a lot to me today. I may or may not have had the translated volumes until after high school, but I often had import volumes and grew to love these series through anime adaptations, so I certainly knew the stories.

Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon (Pretty Solder Sailor Moon) by Takeuchi Naoko

I have to start here. Sailor Moon was my first “official” introduction to anime at age 12–what I understood to be anime, anyway–and it snowballed into a huge part of my life ever since. Japanese anime and manga not only inspire me creatively, but this facet of pop culture inspired my love for the Japanese language and culture, helped me make many of my most treasured friends, and led me to meet my boyfriend of seven years in a college Anime Club, too. (More than seven years ago. We didn’t date immediately!)

So although I’ve read and seen so many manga and anime since, and I may not think SM stands up as the very best of the best or anything, it means a lot to me. At the time, finding a whole team of girl superheroes–girls around my age at that–spoke to the comic-book-loving girl I was. The series not only balances superhero battles of good and evil, but it has drama, comedy and romance, too.

The series starts with a single heroine, 14-year-old Tsukino Usagi, who discovers she can transform into Sailor Moon and fight evil demons attacking Tokyo thanks to a talking cat named Luna (whom I named my own kitty after). Eventually, she finds four other girls her age who are other Sailor Senshi, and even later, she encounters five more, older and younger girls, to round out the team. (And possibly even more girls after that. It gets complex.) There’s way more to it than that, including reincarnation and a love that lasts through lifetimes, but that’s the very basics.

The anime is actually quite different from the manga, other than characters and the enemies of each battle arc, but I actually did have access to translated SM manga in middle and high school, a sort of butchered version by Mixx/Tokyopop that I collected first in a magazine called Mixx Zine, then in a magazine called SMILE, then in individual American comic-book-style issues, and then in graphic novel form. Actually, some of that was concurrent; they published different arcs at once. And the translation used half English dub names and half original Japanese names; it was just a mess! But still, I collected it eagerly. And a few years ago finally rid myself of the whole haphazard mess… Thank goodness Kodansha started bringing out a much nicer and better translated version last year! (And they were the first to translate the prequel series, Codename Sailor V, yay.)

The original manga is 18 volumes, although the re-release packs more in one volume, so it should be 12 (14?) in the end. Although it’s much more drawn out, I think I prefer the anime to the manga, although I’m a fan of the manga’s gorgeous style. Still, I appreciate having two versions of the same story; many manga are almost completely unedited adaptations of their manga (or these days, light novel or game) origins.

Fushigi Yuugi (or Yugi; “Mysterious Play”) by Watase Yuu

This series became my absolute favorite series in middle school, perhaps only eclipsed in high school by a another Watase series, Ayashi no Ceres. I started with the anime (and watched it four or five times all the way through–there was less to watch back then!) and collected the manga in Japanese shortly thereafter, but some of the manga was available in English by the time I got to high school, in a magazine put out by Viz called Animerica Extra. I collected the manga in English through the magazine for all of its run, but it was canceled before the 18-volume manga ended, and years later I got rid of the magazines and collected it in six big three-volumes-in-one re-releases.

FY follows the tale of two 15-year-old Japanese best friends, Yuuki Miaka and Hongo Yui, who get magically sucked into a book about fictional ancient China. One goes on to become the Suzaku no Miko (“priestess of Suzaku”‘; Suzaku is one of four mythical beasts in Chinese folklore), and the other the Seiryuu no Miko, her mortal enemy. How these two friends come to be at such odds is a compelling part of the drama, and the two are in a race to gather their seven warriors and call their mythical beasts to grant them three wishes. Oh, and those warriors? Most are handsome men, and there are love triangles and rectangles and all sorts of shapes going on, which spurs more of the drama. And the series can be pretty funny at times, too.

There’s a prequel series, Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden, about the first Japanese girl to become a miko in this ancient book, that’s still coming out both in Japanese and English, but volumes are few and far between these days since Watase is juggling multiple projects and this one seems to be on the back burner. The middle schooler in me loved hearing there would be another tale set in that universe (especially since we learn a bit about this protagonist in the original series), and I do love many things about it, but it perhaps doesn’t have quite the charm as the original to me (it’s less funny, too), and the conflict is more political than personal like it was in FY. I actually would have preferred a prequel story about the Byakko no Miko, who comes after the Genbu no Miko, from what we learned in the original FY, but I’m not sure Watase will be up for it since she’s accomplished her dream of doing a weekly shounen (boys) manga, as opposed to the monthly shoujo (girls) manga she used to do. Ah, well.

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 7

Today I have a few more books I loved in high school to reminisce about (or “about which to reminisce” if we’re going to be grammar sticklers).

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

This book was one of the books we read as a class in, I believe, AP English my senior year. I might have been one of the few who enjoyed it! I can’t explain why the book connected with me, although looking back, I wonder if it was the start of my love for classic English literature that continued in college with the likes of Jane Austen and the Brontës. (And talk about loving “classic” English literature–I did my honors college thesis on Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, arguing it was the first “true novel.” A 15th century work, entirely in Middle English; it was such a blast to read and analyze.) I was so determined to write a good term paper on this book, I even went to a nearby college library for sources. *gasp* We had the Internet, but it wasn’t as comprehensive as it is today, and books always make for more legitimate resources.

The Mayor of Casterbridge begins with a drunkard named Michael Henchard at a tavern selling his wife and baby daughter for a small amount of money to a lonely sailor who offers to buy them off of him. (She’s sitting right there, by the way!) Obviously, Susan isn’t too happy with her husband, but she’s also sick enough of the man (they were arguing, which is why the sailor thought he’d better appreciate her) that she goes along with it. When Henchard recovers, he finds his wife and child gone.

Years pass, and Henchard has become a new man who’s risen through the ranks in his small town of Casterbridge and is now the mayor. But his drunken actions of eighteen years prior still haunts him, and he’s worried people will find out what kind of man he once was. Lo and behold, who should move into town than a sailor’s widow and her young maiden daughter? The book is not only about keeping secrets–and untangling the truth about whether or not Henchard and Susan are still married, at least on paper–but Henchard’s desire to form a fatherly relationship with his daughter without revealing his past.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams

Unless my memories are muddled (which wouldn’t surprise me after more than a decade), I think the first The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was on the “choose your second summer reading book” list for my senior AP English class. I wound up being an English major in college (after a brief detour), and I’m glad I had a foundation in so many of the classics, but admittedly, I only truly enjoyed maybe one in three of the books I “had to” read. When I chose this book for required reading, it was a welcoming break! This book is so funny. I read it quickly and went out and bought this huge five-book collection of the whole “trilogy” (as far as what Adams penned anyway).

It’s been a while since I read it (although I remember the movie that came out a few years ago), but even if it was fresh in my mind, I’m not sure I could fully explain it. Suffice to say it follows an ordinary man on an intergalactic adventure after his home… and the whole planet… is destroyed for a hyperspace bypass. Anyone who talks a lot about towels or tells you that the answer to life is 42, and that what you actually ought to want to know is the question to life, the universe and everything, has read this book!

During the rest of that school year, we had to continue reading books outside of what was required for class discussion, and they had to be “quality” books approved by the teacher. (Some of my other interests wouldn’t fly!) So for a while I got away with reading the sequels (the first one was on the reading list, after all!) until my teacher told me it was time to branch out and read something else. I don’t think I finished all five books, and I’m not even sure where I left off. But still, the first was definitely worth the ride!

And no, I didn’t realize that today’s the anniversary of the book’s publishing when I sat down to write this.

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Geek Out, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 6

Sorry I haven’t been posting as often as I’d like; I’ve been busy in the writing cave, working on exciting things! Today I felt like reminiscing about some more of my favorite reads from high school.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

This was another required reading in high school (I think my senior AP English class? I’m not sure…) that I took to. (I have an honors degree in English literature and I was still bored by half the books I had to read for school, bad me! But I read them, analyzed them and all those good things.) It’s about a young American man, David, who spends time in Europe as sort of a last hurrah before getting married to his girlfriend. While he’s there, he’s pretty unsure he even wants to get married… It turns out, we eventually discover, it’s because he’s gay but isn’t fully ready to admit it.

After quite a while abroad failing to find himself, David meets Giovanni, a bartender in a gay bar. They fall in love, and David moves into “Giovanni’s room.” However, David has still not come to terms with himself and broken it off with his fiancee… And a dark act soon threatens their relationship.

It’s been a while since I’ve read the book, so I don’t remember the details, but I do remember being swept up in the narrative, particularly the beautiful, desperate romance, and crying toward the end, I felt so bad for the characters. I went on to recommend the book to a few friends at different schools, and they loved it too. This is a very poor analogy for a piece of classic literature written in the 1950s, but I felt at the time it had a very “anime” feel to the story (and my 17-years-and-counting love of anime was certainly strong in high school), which is perhaps why my friends and I enjoyed it. I’d love to see an anime adaption someday, but that’s never going to happen!

Star Wars: Heir to to the Empire trilogy by Timothy Zahn

In high school and late middle school, I was obsessed with Star Wars. I’d seen bits and pieces of it here and there before (I remember having a fondness for Jabba as a kid for some reason), but I didn’t properly sit down to watch them from start to finish until the 20th anniversary theatrical re-release in 1997… And I went nuts. I saw each of the original trilogy three times in theaters over the next few months (so nine visits for SW), I wore SW shirts every day I could to school (when we were allowed to stop wearing uniforms), I so blindly defended anything to do with SW that I saw The Phantom Menace SEVEN TIMES in theaters. (Ha ha, eight if you count this year’s 3D re-relase. Yes, I saw it, despite disliking 3D movies… I still watch the Clone Wars TV series, too, which my boyfriend makes fun of as being one long series of senate meetings, despite being a show for kids… It’s mostly true. But where else would you get the insane, flesh-eating torso of Darth Maul melded onto a robotic spider?) Attack of the Clones kind of finally made me see that the prequels lack what made the originals great (yes, I still dislike II more than I; maybe it’s the crappy romance… Oh, by the way, I still saw it twice in theaters despite that!), although I’m all right with Revenge of the Sith, disappointing that the dialogue and acting may be at times.

But anyway, back in high school, I was still in high SW gear. So that meant getting my hands on SW in any form, and I discovered the rich novel universe, which told what happened to the characters over the next few decades. (I wonder how far they’ve gotten now? Seriously, I was reading through until some of Han and Leia’s kids–yes, they have three, boy and girl twins and another son–had kids of their own, and Leia was dealing with grey hair and menopause…) There were quite a few of the novels I really liked (and some that bored me a bit), but the “Thrawn trilogy” was my favorite.

Set about five years after Return of the Jedi, these books center around the heroes of the New Republic dealing with the last remnants of the Empire. (They didn’t all just die when their leader blew up, after all.) Strangely, the Empire is led by an alien–bizarre considering Palpatine was an alien-cist (? racist against aliens?)–but he was that good at what he did; he made it to Grand Admiral even when Palpatine was alive, and was the highest-ranking leader left. Thrawn. The well-mannered, harsh blue-skinned guy with black hair in a white uniform… After Darth Vader, he’s just the perfect SW villain to me.

The books are also notable for introducing Mara Jade, a secret assassin strong with the Force called “the Emperor’s Hand” (She’s also so good, she got the job–Palpatine was also a misogynist after all–all those white human men in high ranks…) who’s out to fulfill her final mission from her master: kill Luke Skywalker. I loved Mara Jade–a strong, likeable female villain! I tend to like villains in fiction in the first place, though…–and all the fights she had with Luke… And readers did, too. It took quite some time, and she had to move beyond her dark past, Luke had to have another fling or two, but I’ll tell you a huge spoiler: Mara Jade Skywalker. Enough said!

There are some funny things in the books now, too. The details are vague (I read them more than once, but it’s been a while), but since they pre-date the prequels by eight years (I believe they may have been the first official books that took place after RotJ? Later books went back and bridged the five-year gap, though–Leia and Han already have their older two kids in these books for one!), the “Clone Wars” was still misunderstood and I think a crucial part of the book involved them stumbling upon a random cloning facility and there being clones of Jedi Masters… Oops. I’m sure they shoehorn that in there somehow, though.

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 5

I apologize for neglecting my blog a bit lately; I’ve been on a roll creatively and am trying to get one of the WIPs’ first draft done within the next few weeks, if possible. But I thought I’d stop by and talk about a few more books I loved in high school.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

This was another required reading, I think for my AP English course. I remember that we strangely got to take TWO WEEKS out of regular class to watch the miniseries during school, too. (And that actually our history teacher of all people was vying to be allowed to show it in her class instead, but the English teacher won out since we could actually read and discuss the book…) It wasn’t this welcome break that made me love it, though, although I loved the Jeremy Irons adaptation for the most part; it was one of my first forays into period fiction (I didn’t grow to love Austen and the Brontes until college and post-college… Granted, those are much earlier periods, but still…), and I loved the characters, and the journey the protagonist goes on, although I remember not really being too happy with the ending for personal reasons. But not all books end the way you want them to.

The story follows Oxford student Charles Ryder first through his close (close, like really close!) relationship with a spoiled, haughty, carefree rich kid, Sebastian Flyte. Sebastian is a jerk, but his laissez-faire attitude is of course masking deeper problems, and Charles begins to see another side of his friend-maybe-lover. The two part, Sebastian off to drink himself into ruin, and Charles entering into an unhappy marriage. The latter half of the book features a middle aged Charles returning to Sebastian’s family home (which is named Brideshead, thus “revisited”…) and becoming closer friends with Sebastian’s sister Julia, who’s also in an unhappy marriage. The two become lovers on the cusp of World War II and hope to one day wed…

That’s just the bare bones of the plot. There’s also an important theme about faith that resonated with me and led to the aforementioned ending I wasn’t sure was what I expected or wanted for the character, but that’s just me. It’s still a great read.

X-Men: Mutant Empire Trilogy by Christopher Golden

Not every book I read and loved in high school could pass for required school reading, of course. When I was 11 or 12, my sister showed me the ’90s Fox X-Men cartoon and I joined in her in her obsession for that soap-opera-with-superpowers that is the X-Men franchise, which opened the gate to my overall love for superhero comics, movies and cartoons that’s still with me today. (An aside: The ’90s animated Batman is THE best version of The Dark Knight, I swear!) Part of the way I got my superhero fix between waiting for the latest issues and episodes was reading a bunch of Marvel superhero books coming out at the time. I loved a number of them, but the X-Men: Mutant Empire trilogy was my favorite, hands-down, and I’ve re-read them a few times since I first read them as a teen.

These books follow the X-Men at what was the height of the series to me, the Blue and Gold Teams in the ’90s. Cyclops’ Blue Team was off in space helping his father space-pirate Corsair deal with some intergalactic problems (meh, my least favorite part of the trilogy, but Cyclops has always bugged me…) and Storm’s Gold Team was dealing with Magneto’s takeover of Manhattan to serve as a home for mutants. Magneto managed to reconfigure Sentinel robots to attack humans instead of mutants, so only mutants could get in on the ground and take him out. This was a much more tangible kind of crisis against Magneto versus what I’d seen in the comics or cartoon, with the made-up island of Genosha or Asteroid M acting as Magneto’s havens.

By the way, I was reading these books when an English teacher asked what I was reading in my free time, to “prove” I was an avid reader… Which didn’t score me too many brownie points! She didn’t know what I was talking about, so I had to explain that I read a lot of franchise books like Star Wars books (at the time–haven’t touched those in over a decade)… At least she’d heard of that! Ah, well, read what you love, I say!

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 4

This time I’m finally going to discuss a couple of books I liked in high school. During middle school, I read a lot of long-running series. In high school, I put many of those aside and gravitated toward one-shot books or books from short series.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

I read, discussed and wrote essays about this book for school not once, but twice, in high school and in college. It’s a good thing I fell hard for the book during my high school English class; seeing it on my college course syllabus was a welcome surprise, something I might not have felt about some other required reading books with which I never quite connected.

The plot involves a woman ostracized by society for “having relations” while unmarried to a French lieutenant who was passing through town. (Shades of The Scarlet Letter.) An engaged gentleman becomes fascinated with this mysterious woman, and he soon discovers that there is far more to her than meets the eye.

More compelling to me than the plot–which I did enjoy–was the narration. Fowles frequently breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader about the craft of writing. He went on to write three different endings to the story! I never saw the movie, but I wonder if they filmed all three endings. I also want to know how they translated the narration, which was an essential part of the book to me. Maybe I should pick the film up.

Centennial by James A. Michener

This book wasn’t any part of my compulsory reading for school. What prompted me to pick up this massive tome (1000+ pages in my version) was the massive TV miniseries (21-ish hours total). This was a couple of decades after it first aired, but it was airing again on some cable network while I was in high school. My mom had liked it when it first aired and thought I might like it, too. She was right! I was so hooked, I even warned a friend who called me one of the days an episode was airing that I had to hang up when it started airing. And I did wind up literally hanging up (she was still talking). She called back to ask what happened, and I said, “My show is on!” and I hung up again. Ah, what a good friend I was… (She forgave me!)

I actually have minimal interest in Westerns, although I’ve watched a few. What compelled me to love this show was the unceasing drama, a saga of a fictional Colorado town that lasted generations. I found the same and more in the book, which my mom also had on hand. Luckily, I loved the show enough to make it through the first few chapters, though… Because they literally began with the formation of the earth that made up this town and continued through some pre-historic animals living there… If I’m not mistaken, it was at least 100 pages, if not more. (What was Michener’s editor thinking?! I’m guessing it was something he was known for.) I remember they pretty quickly brushed past that part in the TV series. In any case, once you get past (or skip) the pre-historic part, you get to the juicy drama, and it becomes a page-turner. I finished it pretty quickly.

I thought I might like more of Michener’s works, so I picked up a few more volumes. All of them had pre-historic first chapters… And not knowing for sure I’d love the drama within, I gave up on them. (I probably should have skipped those chapters, but I never do that!) Still, Centennial remains dear to me. I got the DVD set a few years ago, and I became hooked again and re-read the book. My well-worn copy from the 1970s will always remain on my bookshelf.

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 3

A Wrinkle in Time (and the rest of the Time Quintet) by Madeleine L’Engle

I have to admit that I never read The Chronicles of Narnia books until my twenties. (It was the first The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie that finally did it. I’d seen the animated movie and even a community theater production as a child, but I think I was too afraid of the witch to turn to the books.) My trippy but awesome fantasy for kids with apparently Christian themes that I missed at the time was L’Engle’s Time Quintet.

Whenever my family went on road trips when I was growing up, my parents softened my distaste for long car rides and built up excitement for my sister and me with a little “gift basket” of things to keep us entertained. Since I was the voracious reader, I got all of the books. A Wrinkle in Time was given to me on one such occasion, and I remember devouring it quickly over the next few days and asking to be taken to a bookstore while still on vacation, so I could pick up the next book!

Despite this, I have to admit that my memory of what happens in these books is fuzzy. Even though I took time out from studying for my college exams to watch the TV movie adaptation in 2004 (which I think I thought was okay), I still can’t remember much. I do remember this, though: it features a strong, young female protagonist on an epic, science fiction/fantasy adventure. That was pretty rare for me to find at the time. I also think that Many Waters was one of my favorites of the series. Something about the twins being older and traversing a desert land… I really ought to re-read more of my childhood favorites! (Too bad my to-read list is endless at the moment.)

Izzy, Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voight

Not every book I read in middle or high school was part of a series. (Although you wouldn’t know that from the books I’ve covered in these blog posts so far!) Although I didn’t remember all of the details of this book (that’s what summaries are for!), I remembered I really liked it.

The name of this book is fun to say! However, the book is anything but fun because poor Izzy is “willy-nilly” when her life is turned upside down. Izzy, a popular high school cheerleader, makes a few bad choices and winds up missing a leg after getting into a car with a drunk driver. Not only does she go through a lot of powerful emotions dealing with her disability and physical therapy, but she discovers that everyone treats her differently, too. She can’t go back to being that popular cheerleader. She doesn’t even know if she wants to. So she learns what real friendship is all about.

I remember thinking the book had a lot of powerful images. A scene where Izzy takes a bath after she’s let out of the hospital and just stares at her amputated leg as reality sinks in still sticks with me. And it showed a “popular girl” character with depth! Popular girls aren’t the usual type of character I enjoyed reading (Sweet Valley excepting, but there were geeks in that, too), yet here, she was entirely compelling.

I read this for school and I remember my friends really loved it, too. We had to do a sketch of a scene for class, and I got to play Izzy (sitting on one leg). We borrowed the school nurse’s wheelchair with her permission (glad no one needed it while I was in class!), and my friends pushed me in it all the way back to class. Several people stopped us to ask me if I was okay… Oops!

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading, Sweet Valley Confidential

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 2

My Big Sweet Valley News!

Since I started this series just last week, I have some exciting news to announce! I was contacted by the PR team for Sweet Valley Confidential, the re-launch of the Sweet Valley franchise, to see if I’d be interested in reviewing the brand new The Sweet Life novella ebooks coming out this summer. Since I’d been meaning to check out the re-launch for some time now, in a sort of nod to my childhood self, this is the perfect excuse to see what the Wakefield twins are up to now that we’re all about 30. Wow. I feel like I won some sweepstakes I didn’t know I even entered! Who knew nostalgic posts about books I loved as a kid could prove so worthwhile?

Watch for reviews in the upcoming weeks, then! And be sure to check out the books yourself if you were a fan as a kid like me.

And speaking of sweepstakes I didn’t even know I entered, this brings me to the first series I’ll talk about loving in middle school today:

The Baby-sitters Club by Ann M. Martin (and ghostwriters… What, I didn’t even realize a man wrote over 40 of them!)

The Baby-sitters Club was my pre-Sweet Valley obsession, which actually began when I was in elementary school. Unlike with Sweet Valley, I started with the younger reader spin-off books, Baby-Sitters Little Sister. (I’m looking at Wikipedia here for all of the odd grammatical choices in the titles, by the way!) And it was this book series that must have prompted me to enter a fan contest through the publisher, although I don’t remember doing so. I do remember that in autumn of one year, I got a huge box from Scholastic saying I had won the “Birthday of the Month” honors or something of the sort for fans… But my birthday was in April. In the included letter, they explained an oversight had resulted in the delay. My prize, though, was worth the wait: box sets of the entire Baby-Sitters Little Sister series out thus far, in addition to an autographed copy of the first book in the series. (Some of that may have been a bonus for the delay, if I recall.) Wow! The package definitely made my belated-by-half-a-year birthday!

I don’t remember precisely when I “graduated” to The Baby-sitters Club, but I was definitely into it by 5th grade, as I remember reading one of the books for a book marathon after school. I loved every girl in the series—whether because I felt similar to them (Mary Anne’s shyness, Kristy’s tomboyishness, Mallory’s geekiness, Stacey dealing with a medical condition) or because I thought they were radical and fun to read about (Claudia, Dawn and Jessi all had confidence and style). I actually never babysat a day in my life (unless you count helping a grandparent babysit a younger cousin… But on second thought, I was actually being babysat, too!), but I doubt it could have lived up to the adventures these girls had. I loved the (albeit short) TV series so much I could practically quote it. I enjoyed the movie version, too, but maybe not as much. I stopped reading sometime in middle school, but I have to admit I picked up the last book in 2000, despite being a senior in high school by then, because I never really stop loving the things I loved in my childhood!

I love all of that crazy ’80s and ‘90s fashion and lifestyle, too. I specifically remember that the girls met in Claudia’s room because she was the only one with her own phone line. Her own household phone line! It was a big deal. I imagine the updated version (which apparently exists? I did not know this) would have all of the girls with cell phones…

Goosebumps by R.L. Stine

Goosebumps. If you know me, you’d know how odd it is that I was ever into a horror series, however tame it might be. I avoid horror movies because I don’t like being scared or grossed out, thank you very much. I only recently sat down to watch the A Nightmare on Elm Street series and discovered they were pretty awesome (the second movie excepting…) and not terrifyingly scary like I was afraid they’d be. But tell that to my middle school self who couldn’t even look at Freddy Krueger without shuddering or who was haunted by a billboard of Chucky she saw at night while on a trip to New York in the ‘80s, and it’s a wonder I ever gave Goosebumps a chance at all.

The first one I picked up was Attack of the Mutant because the premise (it featured a comic book fan and a supervillain who comes to life) was right up my comic book-loving alley. I remember writing in my diary how surprised I was that I read a “scary” book without being too scared, as if this were something to document for perpetuity. (It wasn’t at all scary, now that I think about it. Hardly worth congratulating myself over!) I liked it enough to go back and pick up earlier books, and I spent a year or two reading the books in the series that struck my fancy. I particularly liked the Choose Your Own Adventure-style ones called Give Yourself Goosebumps. (And I admit. I’d “cheat” and go back and choose a better ending!) My love for the series led me to watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Nickelodeon back in the day, and yes, I watched some of the Goosebumps series too. (They did Attack of the Mutant! It was so cheesy…) I never really “graduated” to more sophisticated horror books, but the thrills and chills I got from these tame versions were just enough for childhood me.

Were any of you fans of Goosebumps or The Baby-sitters Club?