The Broken Wall by TaraSoleil

Story TitleThe Broken Wall
Author NameTaraSoleil
Category:  Harry Potter
Story Url: Story Link
Content Rating:  Mature
Status: Complete
Length:   80,648 words
Story Summary:   It was only a book. No harm ever came from reading a book.

Gioia’s Rec:
What a delight this story was!  I’m not normally a fan of stories in which Harry encounters the Mauraders as teenagers.  But this story introduces Harry to his parents in such an unusual way, it easily won me over.  This is not a time travel story, for starters.  In some ways it reminds me of SamVimes’ story “The Cartographer’s Craft.”  If you’ve read a time travel story in which Lily falls in love with James Potter just because she learns that they ended up married together, or if you’ve seen a teenage James try to act like a father to Harry, don’t make any assumptions about “The Broken Wall.”  None of that occurs here.

The focus of this story really isn’t on Harry and his parents.  The person who brought about this miracle isn’t too much of a surprise, though I won’t spoil you here.  The focus of the story is on that person and on the repercussions of those actions.  Dumbledore’s oft quoted canon remark, that it is our choices which define us, is certainly applicable here.  Can magic which is meant to be evil be used with good intentions?  And if so, are there repercussions?

“The Broken Wall” is two parts action/adventure, one part romance, and, if you choose to focus upon it, perhaps one part wisdom mixed with hope.  (Feel free to ignore that bizarre formula. I’ve never claimed to be good at math.)  Don’t let the latter parts intimidate you, though, if you’re not in the mood for deep thinking.  Though I admittedly inhaled this story too quickly to focus excessively on the contemplative moments, I’ve been left feeling reflective afterwards, thanks to the marvelous writing, the characters’ careful contemplations, and the author’s own insightful thoughts, made obvious in every carefully crafted moment within this story.

In the end, though, it isn’t the deep thoughts which made me such a fan of “The Broken Wall.”  It’s the pure fun and excitement which captivated my imagination.

Spoilers are below in the tags, so I’d recommend avoiding them for now, especially as the sole ship is like nothing I’ve ever read before.

Posted in Action/Adventure, Content Rating-HP: Mature (R), Harry Potter, Hermione-centric, Maurader-centric, Sirius Black/Hermione Granger, Spoilers for Half-Blood Prince | Tagged | 4 Comments

We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines

We Don't Need RoadsStory Title:  We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy
Author Name:  Caseen Gaines
Category:   Published Book
Story Url: Amazon Link
Story Url: Publisher’s Site
Content Rating:  All Ages
Status: Completed
Length:   288 pages
ISBN: 0142181536
Story Summary:   A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the wildly successful and beloved Back to the Future trilogy, just in time for the 30th anniversary

Long before Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled through time in a flying DeLorean, director Robert Zemeckis, and his friend and writing partner Bob Gale, worked tirelessly to break into the industry with a hit. During their journey to realize their dream, they encountered unprecedented challenges and regularly took the difficult way out.

For the first time ever, the story of how these two young filmmakers struck lightning is being told by those who witnessed it. We Don’t Need Roads includes original interviews with Zemeckis, Gale, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Huey Lewis, and over fifty others who contributed to one of the most popular and profitable film trilogies of all time.

With a focus not only on the movies, but also the lasting impact of the franchise and its fandom, We Don’t Need Roads is the ultimate read for anyone who has ever wanted to ride a Hoverboard, hang from the top of a clock tower, travel through the space-time continuum, or find out what really happened to Eric Stoltz after the first six weeks of filming. So, why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here – and start reading! We Don’t Need Roads is your density.

Gioia’s Rec:
As with most Gen-Xers, the Back to the Future trilogy is a big part of my childhood and teen years. So I was delighted to see that a definitive book had been written on the making of the trilogy. The stories contained within “We Don’t Need Roads” were immensely entertaining to me, and I happily forced family members to listen as I quoted sections from the book ad nauseam for days. But although I enjoyed the book, I’m not sure whether others will be as interested as I was in some of the minutia, unless they are big fans of the series or of the movie industry in general.

My husband and I both have extensive backgrounds in the entertainment industry, with decades of experience under our belts. Therefore, the things that were interesting to me — such as the details of pre-production, casting, production, and even some post-production, or the way the special effects were set-up, or the frustrating situation with Crispin Glover’s absence in the last two movies — may not be interesting to everyone else.

Thankfully, the book is laid out in such a way that if one isn’t as interested in, for example, how the hoverboards were made to look real on screen, it’s easy to skip that section. You won’t need to keep up with every detail in the book in order to focus solely on the info that interests you. And while the numerous subjects of his interviews certainly provide an ocean of information, the author very helpfully skimmed those interviews down to the essentials, and even kindly reminds the reader periodically who the different individuals are, whether cast, crew, or Eric Stoltz.

Probably the three biggest stories which captured my mind as I read this book were the firing of Eric Stoltz after five weeks of shooting, the absence of Crispin Glover in the second and third movies, and the horrific accident in which stuntwoman Cheryl Wheeler was nearly killed.  I won’t spill details regarding Eric Stoltz, as I think that tale is too good for me to attempt to retell it.

You can see Cheryl injured if you watch the hoverboard race around the Clock Tower in Part 2. Just watch for the female villain to fly toward the glass, only to hit the pillar, then begin falling 30 feet to the concrete below. The Cassandra comparisons are hard for me to avoid seeing in this situation. There were many, many warnings and questions — from both Cheryl and others on set — which ought to have prevented that catastrophe from occurring, but were instead blown off and ridiculed, in a snide manner which infuriates me and makes me want to summon Hermione Granger and point her at the patriarchy.

Crispin Glover’s involvement with Back to the Future is complex, yet absolutely worth reading. I don’t think that anyone is ever going to know the whole story here, as Glover’s 1990 lawsuit was settled out of the court, which means that the documented facts of the case will probably never be publicized. I understand where Glover was coming from in his creative requests for the character of George McFly, and I agree that it was uncool for the producers to use prosthetics to make another actor look like Glover in the sequels. They should’ve simply recast the role, as was done with Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer. Additionally, some of the details about the producers’ sequel negotiation tactics struck me as having been more about making Crispin publicly submit, acknowledge their authority over him, and return to the set as a chastened, humbled creature, rather than focusing on what was good for their franchise. And while Glover did receive some remuneration from the lawsuit, he also likely sabotaged his Hollywood career.

Yet, having worked exclusively in production, I know I would have been driven batty by some of Crispin Glover’s on-set behaviors. He made life immensely difficult for the crew, at a time when they were working around the clock, and thus exhausted, over-worked, and enormously stressed.  Reliable reports from the set of the first film describe Crispin defiantly disregarding directions and figuratively digging his heels in by arguing constantly over seemingly every step of the production. Frankly, he is lucky they didn’t fire him the first day he pulled that behavior on set.  And if, during negotiations for the sequels, Crispin really did insist upon a salary equal to that of Michael J. Fox (a charge Crispin denies) along with script approval (which means Glover could have forced the writers to change any parts of the script Glover disliked), then “the Bobs,” as they are called in this book, were right to be firm in their negotiating terms. It’s also worth noting that the producers of the film are far more forthcoming about the mess than Crispin Glover is, which could imply that Glover doesn’t want to admit to some of his poor business decisions.

Ultimately, I was left feeling most sorry for Jeffrey Weissman, the actor who replaced Glover and was treated poorly on set when the sequels were shot, and was unfairly blackballed in Hollywood afterwards. I felt badly for Crispin Glover, who doesn’t seem to have been deliberately malicious during either Part 1 production or Parts 2 & 3 negotiations, even if he was an enormous pain in the rear to deal with. I felt less badly for the producers, even though they may very well be right about Crispin’s diva antics, because they seem to have responded badly to his obdurate behavior by being intentionally unkind in the end.  No matter how he behaved, they did not need to use their positions of power to avenge themselves on a man who was no threat to them.  I may be biased, though, because the vengeful, mean streak which runs deep in Hollywood is the very reason why I’m very grateful to now be out of that industry for good.

Behind-the-scenes stories such as those above are what make this book a great read. A huge chunk of the book was about the making of the first movie. The stories about the two sequels felt rushed and abbreviated. It seemed to me as if way too much time was spent on issues like Mattel’s toy hoverboard controversy and the Back to the Future fandom as a whole. I’m not particularly interested in learning about why certain fans started websites, conventions, or fan clubs. The last chapter, in fact, was rather tedious for me. I’d rather hear more about how Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis envisioned 2015 for the film, why the films mispronounce “gigawatt,” and what ideas didn’t make it into the scripts. I was also a bit frustrated that the book’s author, Caseen Gaine (and, by extension, his editor and publisher) didn’t seem to know the definition of the word “nonplussed,” as it yanked me out of the narrative each time he misused it. Overall, though, there’s little to complain about here. The book’s trivia will entertain nearly all fans, and the negotiations, production problems, and publicity details will enthrall any cinephile.

Posted in Non-Fiction Book, Published Novel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Innocent by MarauderLover7

Story Title:  Innocent (I only recommend Chapters 1-71)
Author NameMarauderLover7
Category:  Harry Potter
Story Url: Story Link
Alternate Url: Google Doc
Content Rating:  Mature (I’m not sure why it’s got such a high rating. I would’ve said “Teen,” and that’s just for the language.
Status: Complete
Length:   494,191 words
Story Summary:   Mr and Mrs Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive, were happy to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. The same could not be said for their eight year old nephew, but his godfather wanted him anyway.

Gioia’s Rec:
Harry-3-harry-james-potter-22431766-400-414This is a first for me.  I adored chapters 1-71.  I am not recommending the rest of the story, though, particularly chapter 79.   I’ll explain why at the end, because if your interests are anything like mine, I strongly suggest you skip the last act of this story.

First, I do recommend it as one of the best stories, if not the best, that I’ve ever encountered in which Sirius rescues Harry from the Dursleys. The author not only does a masterful job of creating well-developed, age-appropriate, dynamic characters and riveting plots, MarauderLover7 also created magical spells and theories which flowed naturally into JKR’s world, while still belonging wholly to this story. “Innocent” was a rich and vibrant world, and I was absolutely mesmerized for a week by this epic length tale.

The story weaves together the lives of numerous characters scattered throughout the wizarding community. Kreacher is a real treat, the relationship Remus has with Greyback’s pack was brilliant, Tonks’ relationship woes as a new graduate were very discerningly written, and even Petunia was written in a way that was quite astute.  I was equally fascinated with the author’s insight into the House of Slytherin, for example. I know many fanfics, and perhaps even the books, seem to indicate that the Slytherins learn their lessons of ambition and cunning while at Hogwarts.  However, MarauderLover7 rightfully illustrates that it is in the home that children first learn such lessons. For example, from Lucius Malfoy we learn that he believed a parent should quit showing signs of physical affection to a child after the age of 5; that the child no longer needs it. Additionally, we see scenes in Malfoy’s home in which the children of Slytherin families ridicule one other heartlessly, even mocking a girl for crying when her mother dies, while the parents do nothing to stop this malicious behavior. It makes sense to me that the children are prepared in this manner when I consider how malevolent Pansy Parkinson is toward Neville Longbottom in canon during that first flying lesson. MarauderLover7 is also correct in establishing the idea that a child’s behavior is the responsibility of the parents, not the school.

The ending plot thread, though, ruined the entire story for me and left me so enraged, I was a mess for the rest of the day. Details are below, due to the obvious spoilers. For those of you who don’t want spoilers, I’ll simply suggest that you stop reading before you hit Chapter 72. Every major plot point is resolved by the end of Chapter 71. Chapters 72-80 are an entirely different story arc which is unnecessary for one to understand or enjoy the previous 71 chapters. If I’d had someone to offer me that advice, this recommendation would likely be much longer, as I waxed rhapsodic about the thousands of reasons I loved the brilliantly-written story.

Spoilers below.

Spoilers below.

My Only Critique:  The Serpent Sworn mystery which Harry and Sirius stumble upon in Chapter 72 turns out to be an incredibly manipulative, dangerous test set for certain characters by people they trust. It’s comparable to the Season 1 episode “Helpless” on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  For the perpetrators to have thought it was a good idea to throw this traumatic exercise at anyone – much less those who had fought in a war, had lost others in battle, and naturally had resulting difficulties with trust issues (and rightfully so, given their awful pasts) – was nothing short of vicious cruelty.

In Deathly Hallows, Remus scolds Harry that he can’t avoid killing enemy combatants; that it’s dangerous to keep disarming them without permanently disabling them from a battle. Canon Harry stands firm against Remus, and I think it’s probably the right answer for Harry at that age and in that moment. But those of us who are parents know very well that we would absolutely not hesitate to kill someone who was a threat to our child. The fact that nobody is killed as a result of the senseless, callous Serpent Sworn test is a matter of pure chance. Sirius and the person who fights at his side appear to be in grave danger for their lives, and Sirius is terrified for Harry’s life throughout those scenes. If he and the person assisting him had killed someone in defense of others, only to find out later on that it was a hoax perpetuated by people they trusted, it would have devastated them. Frankly, Sirius’ ally in that scene many not have survived such an unveiling, considering the similar grief and shame that person was already fighting. Had I been in that situation, I would have packed up my child and fled upon discovering it to be merely a nasty test. The main thing that test taught me was that Sirius was right not to trust anyone else, except perhaps for his only ally during that awful battle.  I was already struggling with Dumbledore’s behavior toward Sirius, both in denying him a trial in 1981, and in denying him help again in Chapter 76. That so-called test, though, was just too huge and risky for me to accept.  It wasn’t that I had a problem with the way the author characterized Dumbledore; she was spectacular in that regard. I simply struggled along with Sirius on the matter of trusting Dumbledore in light of his mistakes.  Therefore, when Sirius laughs off the Serpent Sworn test at the end of Chapter 79, my love for this story was greatly hurt. I felt manipulated and betrayed.

In spite of my complete melt-down at the end of Chapter 79, I really do recommend this story.  As readers here should know, I never recommend a story unless I am nuts about it.  This is simply the first time I’ve ever had to discriminate between sections of the story.  There are two sequels: Initiate, which is completed, and Identity, which is still in progress.

Posted in Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Baby/Kid-Fic, Character Study, Content Rating-HP: Mature (R), Friendship/Mentorship, Gen, Harry Potter, Harry rescued from the Dursleys, Harry-centric, Introspective, Sirius Black avoids or escapes Azkaban earlier than in canon, Sirius-centric | Tagged | Leave a comment

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Story Title:  11/22/63
Author Name:  Stephen King
Category:    Published Book
Story Url: Amazon
Content Rating:  Adult
Status: Published 2012
Length:   880 pages
Story Summary:   Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out.  President John F. Kennedy is dead.  Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

USA Cover of 11/22/63

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Gioia’s Rec:
This is probably going to be biggest rant I’ve ever written for a book I actually like.

I’ve wanted to read a Stephen King novel for years. He’s an accomplished writer with a vivid imagination. Unfortunately, I get nightmares far too easily to touch most of his books. My husband, a long time fan, encouraged me to try King’s 2012 time travel novel, 11/22/63. The time travel genre has interested me since childhood – something about the concept of lost opportunities is just entrancing – so I read my first Stephen King novel this week.

If you want to skip the ranting, I’ll simply say that it’s a very intriguing story, brilliantly researched in spite of a few glaring mistakes, and the characters are pitch perfect. If you’re a Texan who loves the Lone Star state, though, prepare to be ticked off periodically throughout the book.

Mid-way through this book, I began quizzing my mother, a highly-educated professional in the field of linguistics and a fourth generation Texan, about both her experiences in Dallas in 1963, as well as several other linguistic, cultural and factual mistakes in 11/22/63. I couldn’t believe that a book as well-researched as this one is could contain so many incorrect details, particularly since in each case, even the silly, minor inaccuracies seemed to consistently indicate a clear disgust with Texas and Texans.

For example, and please excuse how trivial this example may sound, Dallas and Fort Worth do not stink of petroleum products, nor have they ever in the last 50 years, to my knowledge. In fact, the DFW region has long been known for its startlingly clear air. With most of my adult life lived outside of my native state, I can attest to how jarring it is to drive south on I-35 and suddenly see very clear details on the buildings of downtown Dallas, 30 miles or more in the distance. It’s how I always knew I was almost home. My mother and I can both tell stories of friends we’ve brought to Texas dating back to the 1960s, all of whom have remarked on this phenomena. The west Texas oil fields which King seemed to indicate were responsible for a stench across DFW are 350 miles away.

Next, the word “Y’all” is a second-person plural form of address. In Spanish, one would use, “ustedes.” In Italian it is “voi.” In French, “vous.” American English lacks an official second-person plural pronoun. Regionally, though, one will hear, “you guys,” “you all,” or the contraction, “y’all.” No born-and-bred Southerner would use, “y’all” to address one individual. I’m not sure whether King needs a reminder about the use of apostrophes in a contraction (“Y’all” = “You all,” indicating more than one person is being addressed), or if it is simply that he and his editors have no southerners among their close friends.

There are numerous other errors I could point out, but there’s one issue I think in particular needs to be addressed: that of bigotry in Texas. First, I’ll provide some personal details I would not normally list online. I am of mixed heritage. Going back just two generations maternally, you’ll find Jews (from Stuttgart) and Cherokees (from Alabama) mixed with distant descendants of Europeans. As a child, I was usually taken for a Mexican or Tico, which suited me fine, as I grew up in Spanish speaking countries. So, the following is based on my own experiences, and will therefore be flawed.

Texas absolutely has issues with bigotry, as does every other plot of land on this cursed planet. But the kind of community outrage King describes in 11/22/63 as occurring widely in DFW regarding the threat of integration is something none of my family ever witnessed. My mother’s high school was fully integrated in 1963, the year she transferred from another school that had been fully integrated for many years before that. The elementary schools in her 1963 school district were already integrated, and the upper grades had been slowly integrated, beginning some time before 1963. Shamefully, we believe the reason for this integration had more to do with the excessive cost of busing segregated students around than any civil rights issues. During the 1963-1964 school year, my relatives cannot recall a single protest, nor a single newspaper article referencing any protest, of the integrated schools across the state. Let me add to that fact, that her integrated school was in a district which had extremely affluent white residents mingled with middle-class, multi-cultural residents. That community should’ve been ripe for riots and protests if King’s descriptions of Texas were accurate. My grandmother cleaned houses for affluent white families for years with a partner who was black. The two of them ate together, worked together, traveled together, and neither of them was ever criticized, ridiculed or bothered. This might have been different if either of them had been Mexican.

In his Acknowledgements at the end of 11/22/63, King includes a mini diatribe against Texas and Texans which disgusted me. This wasn’t a non-fiction account which required a journalistic approach and a lack of bias, but I wish he hadn’t been so blatant in his attitudes. He rightfully pointed out that the behavior of some Texans toward Pres. & Mrs. Kennedy and the Johnsons was disrespectful, ill-mannered and absolutely out of line. However, he neglects to acknowledge that this sort of behavior is not unique to Texas, nor to that presidency. Presidents have been treated with such wretched abuse for decades, if not much, much longer. Did Jackie Kennedy deserve to be spat upon? Of course not! Nor did Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Nancy Regan…shall I go on? Implying, as he does, that Texans were unique in their awful behavior on the occasions he cited is wrong. He had the opportunity here to address something broader, and he blew it.

King did a fantastic job of showing much that was good and much that was bad about the 1950s and 1960s. There’s a jarring tale included of a time the protagonist goes looking for a bathroom while on a road trip, and finds a men’s restroom, a woman’s restroom, and a sign with an arrow for “Coloreds.” The sign directs black patrons down a rough, poison-ivy lined path to a board across a stream, where women can squat and men can stand against a tree. It’s an amazing, eye-opening method of depicting the sickness of racism that has plagued our country for centuries.

But the author had the opportunity here to do more. Unfortunately, he runs the risk of alienating much of his Texas audience due to numerous silly mistakes (far more than I’ll list here), seemingly born of his own bigotry. 11/22/63 is a spectacular time-travel story, a plot device that allows for excellent comparison/contrasts of 1958-1963 vs. 2011. Within the subtext there is a very important message about what has changed, and what still needs to change, since then.

I love Texas. I also am immensely unhappy about the bigotry toward Hispanics which has existed there for generations. I know without a doubt that there has also been inexcusable bigotry towards those of other races and creeds. I also know without a doubt that such bigotry is present in New England, Chicago, California and in every other region in this country, and outside of it. Sin and hatred are a universal commodity. If King wants to make a difference with his books, he needs to quit scapegoating a culture he clearly neither understands nor respects and focus on treating all mankind with the fairness and equality he’s demanding of it.

One of the many things Stephen King did get right, though, is his depiction of certain so-called evangelists from that era. My grandfather is a preacher and author of some renown, and was so even in 1963. However, King’s depiction of preacher Billy James Hargis is so outside my experience, I initially wondered if the author invented Hargis, or exaggerated his characteristics. He didn’t. To paraphrase my mother, during the 50s and 60s, radio preachers like Hargis were a dime a dozen. They were sickening, mixing the Gospel of Christ with political propaganda and racist, blasphemous drivel. Corrupting and misquoting the story of Noah the way Hargis does in this story was, apparently, a common way that many in the U.S. tried to excuse racial prejudice. I was sorry to learn that Stephan King was completely right in this depiction. How nauseating that the very people who should have been sharing a message of grace, acceptance and equality, instead distorted it to excuse their own cowardly, twisted beliefs!

If you can therefore tolerate the clear authorial bias, read the book. It really is a good story, and King gets far more right than otherwise. It could’ve been better. But then, that’s probably the epithet for nearly every book written.

One final note: This story does include scenes of an adult nature (though they are not explicit), violence, and a great deal of swearing.  I would not consider it appropriate for children or young teens.

Posted in Action/Adventure Novel, Character Study, Drama/Angst, Het: M/F, Historical, Historical Novel or Setting, Introspective, Main Character Death, Mystery/Crime Novel, Mystery/Suspense, Published Novel, Religious/Faith/Spiritual element, Romance, Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi Novel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Say Something and Around The Bend by JennWithAPen

Story Title:  Say Something, Around the Bend
Author Name:  JennWithAPen
Category:  Anne of Green Gables
Category: Rare Fandom
Story Url: Say Something and Around the Bend
Content Rating:  Teen
Status: Both Completed
Length:   53,344 words and 61,841
Story Summary – Say Something:   Anne Shirley has loved Gilbert Blythe all her life. Did he really need to catch the fever for her to realize it, or is there another scenario that would have brought he and Anne together? This time, Gilbert takes control of his own destiny. This is an alternate ending—a little more tension, a little more humor, and of course… a little more romance!
Story Summary – Around The Bend:  SEQUEL TO “SAY SOMETHING.” Anne and Gilbert are in love, newly engaged, and hoping for a summer full of only one thing: each other! Will the season be as simple and sweet as they wish it to be? This story picks up right where Say Something leaves off.

Gioia’s Rec:
I’m nuts about L.M. Montgomery’s books and short stories.  I’ve checked fanfiction.net periodically over the years for fanfiction based on her work, with little success.   Since some of her stories are now in the public domain, I find it surprising that this fandom is so small.  There are probably some websites devoted solely to the LMM fandom, as with the Jane Austen fandom, but I’ve yet to explore any.  This month, however, I was delighted to discover JennWithAPen’s stories.

My previous attempts at rooting out good LMM-based stories floundered when I discovered that most authors struggled to mimic Montgomery’s writing style and voice. Additionally, given the way Anne’s journeys are chronicled in such detail from ages 11 through 53, perhaps there aren’t as many areas for a fanfic writer to elaborate upon without a story feeling trite and unnecessary.  Thankfully, JennWithAPen seems to excel both in channeling L.M. Montgomery as well as finding “scope for the imagination.”  Her stories feel so very Montgomery-ish, I found myself checking my own Anne books periodically to verify what was canon, and what was Jenn’s own work.

“Say Something” begins at the end of Anne’s time at Redmond, just before graduation.  In Anne of the Island, it isn’t until Roy proposes that Anne realizes she can’t marry him.  In Jenn’s version, Gilbert confronts Anne before their graduation.  Gilbert’s long unrequited love, Anne’s confusion and stubbornness, and Philippa’s plainspoken common sense are written pitch-perfect.  I particularly enjoyed the alternating POVs, as we never got to see through Gilbert’s eyes in canon.  I won’t spoil it for you, but the romance in this story is absolutely beautiful and heartwarming.

“Around The Bend” covers the summer after Redmond, before the events of Anne of Windy Poplars.  Once again, JennWithAPen does a marvelous job of getting the voices down right for each of the side characters. I especially enjoyed the way she writes Davy’s whimsical chatter and the banter between Mrs. Lynde and Marilla.  Jenn’s insight into several canon issues was brilliant and gave me a better understanding of the protagonists.  For example, I had long wondered why Anne and Gilbert didn’t marry before he went to medical school.  The conversation on this subject between Anne and Gilbert made perfect sense.  In spite of their longing, I came to realize there really wasn’t any other way.

I find myself frustrated in writing this recommendation, as there is very little I can discuss in detail without spoiling the stories, as the two stories both cover short time periods in which the canon events are well known.  The main point of the stories is, in fact, what events would be changed by Gilbert attempting one more time to win Anne’s love at the beginning of “Say Something.”  Could Anne be persuaded in Gilbert’s favor? How would she handle Roy?  Would Gilbert still become seriously ill? How would their friends and family respond to these changes?  As for the latter, I can at least say that the discussions between Mrs. Blythe and Anne are particularly outstanding.

There is one other alteration I can briefly address.  Those of you who have read all of L.M. Montgomery’s stories will be acquainted with her interest in presentments, also called “second sight.”  We see that most frequently in the Emily of New Moon series, although there is also a bit mentioned in Rilla of Ingleside, too.  In “Around the Bend,” Jenn has written one such scene.  It’s a moment of sheer, nail-biting suspense, as we agonize along with Anne as to whether she should act on this moment or not.  This was one of those times when I found myself double-checking canon, as the scene is so vivid, and so very Anne-like, that I had to assure myself that this moment was entirely of Jenn’s creation.

Finally, there’s a third novel-length sequel currently in progress, “Heart’s Desire.”  However, it is written in such a way that you don’t have to read “Say Something” or “Around the Bend” first.  I’m eagerly following “Heart’s Desire,” and am unabashedly giddy over each chapter update.  If you’re not patient enough to wait for the next post, I encourage you to dive in to the rest of JennWithAPen’s stories. They’re all brilliant.

Posted in Anne of Green Gables, Conventional (Canon) Couple, Drama/Angst, Fantasy/Folklore/Mythology, Favorite Story, Fluff, Het: M/F, Hurt/Comfort, Introspective, Outsider-POV, Rare Fandom, Religious/Faith/Spiritual element, Romance, Series | Tagged | Leave a comment

Just Stay Here Tonight by Monroeslittle

Story Title:  Just Stay Here Tonight
Author Name:  Monroeslittle
Category:   Harry Potter
Story Url: Story Link
Content Rating:  Mature
Status: Completed
Length:   38,077 words
Story Summary:   AU. Lily Evans isn’t a witch.

Gioia’s Rec:
As most of you probably know, my worst fault, at least when it comes to recommending stories, is that I frequently fail to write an adequate story description out of a fear of spoiling the story’s plot.  I suspect this is going to be one of those posts.

As the story’s official summary says, Lily isn’t a witch.  Instead, she’s a muggle who meets James Potter in a bar, not long after they’ve each graduated from their respective schools.  The story then focuses on some fascinating relationship changes in addition to the plot alterations.

How will Petunia and Lily get along when Lily isn’t a witch?  Initially I thought that the self-loathing I sensed in this story’s Petunia (as opposed to the loathing which canon!Petunia focused upon anyone magical; anyone who was a freak) was one of those things that was different. Later, I decided that Petunia’s self-loathing was present in both this fic and in canon; I had just failed to grasp Petunia’s canon characterization as well as this author.  It’s strange how a story as AU as this is managed to make me understand canon better.

How would James Potter be altered when he hadn’t chased Lily Evans throughout seven years at Hogwart? James’s latent maturity is often credited to his relationship with Lily. Again, I suspect that the Monroeslittle had a better grasp on the potential within canon!James than I did.  I like the idea that James grows up not necessarily because of the girl in his life, but because of the war and because of his own desire to be better.  It speaks well of him that he grows up for better reasons than just to catch a girl.

This story isn’t solely about the romance of James and Lily, of course.  The war is practically its own character within this story.  Viewing the war through the eyes of a muggle, Lily, casts it in a very different light, too.  It’s both a more distant threat, and a more terrifying reality.

What really captivated me about this story, though, is how the author handles the angst.  Well, that and the way I was forced to contemplate the nature of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is not one of my strengths, I’ll admit.  And when James screws up big time, and then others screw up just as badly, it’s awful. So does forgiveness mean forgetting, or at least choosing to attempt to forget? And does forgiveness mean there are no further consequences for one’s actions?

When Lily opens herself up to love, it’s like James carves out a Potter-shaped hole in her heart. And when he blows it, it isn’t as if that part of her heart is emptied.  It’s more like that hole is filled with a dementor, sucking all the joy out and poisoning even the good memories.  As a result, I bawled my way through a good-sized chunk of this story.

“Just Stay Here Tonight” has a beautiful ending which makes the angst all worthwhile.  And coming from one as angst-phobic as I am, that should mean something.  I’m so glad I read this.  I’m only sorry that the author has just two stories (this one and another) in fandoms I know.  Never mind! The author’s additional Harry Potter stories are HERE. And holy cow, is THIS one ever awesome, or what?  My mother-heart is in love.

Posted in Alternate Universe, ANGST! ANGST! ANGST!, Character Study, Content Rating-HP: Mature (R), Conventional (Canon) Couple, Drama/Angst, Harry Potter, Het: M/F, Introspective, James Potter/Lily Evans, Pre-canon setting, Romance | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Man Who Loved Pride And Prejudice (aka Pemberley By The Sea) by Abigail Renyolds

Story Title: The Man Who Loved Pride And Prejudice (aka Pemberley By The Sea)
Author Name: Abigail Reynolds
Category: Pride & Prejudice
Story Url: Story Link
Alternate Url: Amazon Link
Content Rating: Mature
Status: Completed
Length: 123,800 words
Story Summary: Marine biologist Cassie Boulton likes her coffee with cream and her literature with happy endings. Her favorite book is Pride & Prejudice, but Cassie has no patience when a modern-day Mr Darcy appears in her lab. Silent and aloof, Calder Westing III doesn’t seem to offer anything but a famous family name. But there is more to Calder than meets the eye, and he can’t get enough of Cassie Boulton. Especially after one passionate night by the sea. But Cassie keeps her distance. Behind the veneer of scientific accomplishment, wit, and warmth, she is determined to hide secrets from her past. That means avoiding men who want to get too close, especially tempting and dangerous ones like Calder. Frustrated by Cassie’s evasions, Calder tells her about his feelings the only way she’ll let him – by rewriting her favorite book, with the two of them in the roles of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. But only Cassie can decide whether to risk her future by telling him the dangerous truth.

Gioia’s Rec:
Abigail Reynolds is one of those authors who never disappoints.  I love her books.  I’ve had this one on my To Read list for a few years.  I initially hesitated to dive in because I wasn’t fond of modernized versions of P&P.  (I’ve changed my mind on that, as is probably apparent by some of my recent recs.)  I also had the mistaken impression – I don’t recall why – that this was an angsty story.  It’s not.  It’s inspiring, educating, emotional and romantic.

One reason I’ve not been as enthusiastic about modern versions of P&P is that I’ve seen a few which were rather light on character development and mostly just focused on the idea of how cool it would be to marry a rich man. (And yes, Fiddler on the Roof is playing in my head as I type that.)  It’s not that I’m entirely opposed to a Cinderella-ish story; it’s that, for me, Jane Austen’s book was always about far more than money.  It’s the character growth, the wit and the suspense which first sold me on Pride and Prejudice so many years ago.  Thankfully, that seems to be what Abigail Reynolds loves about P&P, too.  Although her version of Darcy is rich, it would be impossible to trivialize this book as simply being about money.  I won’t attempt to encapsulate the book’s purpose, but I will say that one thoughtful point made was understanding the difference between following one’s dreams at all costs vs. deciding that a new dream is more important to one’s happiness, even if it involves seemingly sacrificial choices.

The protagonists in The Man Who Loved Pride And Prejudice are flawed.  That really ought to go without saying in any novel, but again, I’ve been bored in the past by books that feature perfect people.  I’ve never been perfect, and I think a romance with such a person would be immensely annoying.  I relate far more to people who make utter disasters of their lives every once in awhile.  Reynolds’ protagonist, Cassie, is an extremely accomplished woman in that regard, even though every decision she makes is one that seems perfectly sensible and logical at the time, given the information at her disposal.  When a stiff, taciturn, snobby rich guy walks in making arrogant remarks and then freezing up when Cassie is friendly and welcoming, I was offended on her behalf.  And while I know the typical P&P plot structure fairly well (As per my son, “Popular, hot, rich guy is a jerk.  Middle-class, hot girl is a jerk back at him. Popular guy turns out to be nice.  Middle-class girl decides he’s not a jerk after all.  Cue make-out scene.), Reynolds still managed to blow me away with the journey her characters take.  And here’s the kicker: Even when I disagreed with Cassie’s opinions or actions, I was rooting for her every step of the way.

Mid-way through the book we have the Hunsford-esque scene, when the veil is torn from Cassie’s eyes and she suddenly figures pseudo-Darcy out.  Oh, but the way this happens is amazing. It’s brilliant. It’s sheer genius.  I was stunned.  The stand-in for Darcy’s letter is a phenomenal plot device.  Have you ever loved a book so much you wanted to give a standing ovation to the author?  I definitely had one of those moments here.

romney

I’ve wanted an excuse to post this picture for years. I give you the best Politician Barbie I’ve ever seen. Please note his patriotic color coordination and resolute expression.

Calder Westing III, Reynolds’ version of Darcy, turns out to be a member of a political clan that is very Kennedy-ish.  It’s as if John-John strolled into this book.  But that doesn’t mean that Reynolds writes Calder as if he’s some plastic Ken The Politician Barbie Doll.  Calder’s well-rounded enough to surprise me repeatedly, and so appealing I just want to hunt the poor man down and hug him.  Even his family is far more complicated than they first appear. His personality, goals and dreams are, too.  There’s no cookie-cutter Darcy here.

I’ve cried over these characters, booed a few, cheered my favorites on, and I was seriously tempted to do a little jig in a few spots.  Given what I’m juggling in life right now, this book was an incredibly welcome mental vacation.  As an angst-a-phobe, I’m also thrilled to attest to the fact that Reynolds doesn’t create pointless relationship angst. I’ve ranted many times in the past about how I like to see a literary couple face their troubles (aka growth opportunities) in issues originating outside the relationship, not within. There’s no reason to make people miserable just to provide conflict for a story.  Abigail Reynolds has not bought into producer Jason Katims’ absurd belief that, “A happy couple is a boring couple.”  Instead, she proves in this story that a happy, united couple can kick ass thanks to trust and unconditional love.

My Only Critique:  As with my last rec of Gardiner for America, be aware that the few political references in this story are from the perspective of a Democrat.  As a Republican who gets extremely annoyed when my beliefs are portrayed as signs of secret fascist urges, trust me when I say that you should have no problem with this book.  Unlike Gardiner for America, this book isn’t actually centered around politics.  But when political views are mentioned, it’s crystal clear that the bad guys are portrayed as bad guys because they’re bad guys – not because they hold to one political view or another.  If you’re tempted to recommend this book to your conservative friends, it’s far more pertinent for me to warn you about the love scenes than the politics.  I don’t think anyone’s enjoyment of this story will be hindered by the politics.  As for the love scenes, they were focused on the romance and the emotion, not the smut.   Even so, although my family wouldn’t blink over the politics, I’d probably tell my mom to pull out her official Judy Blume Black Marker Of Censorship if I loaned my copy of the book to her.   My poor copy of Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing was never the same, though, so I’ll probably just keep this book to myself.

Posted in Bennets have a son, Character Study, Chick Lit, Content Rating-P&P: Mature (R), Conventional (Canon) Couple, Drama/Angst, Era: Modern, Het: M/F, Hurt/Comfort, Introspective, Mr. Bingley/Jane Bennet, Mr. Darcy/Elizabeth Bennet, OMC/Elizabeth Bennet, Original Character featured, Pride & Prejudice, Prior Relationship for Elizabeth or Darcy, Published Novel, Romance | Tagged , | Leave a comment