Review of “The Winter Sea,” by Susanna Kearsley & Special Literary Tea Recipe!


Amazon/Barnes & Noble/ Books-A-Million/Goodreads

 After having been thoroughly engrossed by Diana Gabaldon’s wonderfully dense historical fiction novel Outlander, I have been on my own purposeful quest to find other stories in the same genre corridor, which I know from the outset won’t be comparable to Outlander.That should never be one’s modi operandi for seeking out books,which are only superficially similar, in terms of certain key genre commonalities. Beyond those though, the characters of the story will probably be cut from an entirely different fabric, and readers should thus be open to the tumultuous emotional experiences that lie therein with whatever book they are reading to potentially serve as another wonderful, distractionary opiate, to provide some fleeting relief from your stressful lifestyles.

That is what Susanna Kearsley’s adeptly written, psychological tale of one writer, rediscovering her family’s heritage, through the cathartic psychotherapy experienced  through writing her next historical-fiction bestseller is doing, in a sense, within this novel (in other words, a novel within a novel). This is a novel about the enigmatic mysteries of writing, and the mysterious faculty of the mind that somehow has the ability to fabricate stories, which in one sense have a uncanny resemblance to events and circumstances from either our own immediate reality, or even events from our own past history (that seamlessly floods in from the subconscious mind, which Jung theorized connected one’s mind through archetypal dreams, to convey things known, recognized,and experienced by others in the tightly-knit, though bafflingly unscientific collective unconscious). I see the collective unconscious, for scientific reasons, as something that more than likely is only currently remaining in the realm of the “metaphysical,” or ideas that still largely unscientific or unproven.

But being first and foremost a fiction novel, the novel key writer character, the sharp, keen observer of the world around her, Carrie McClelland, begins writing a historical fiction saga that seems to be mysteriously flowing in a very seamless way, as if the voice of that story, Sophie from the early eighteenth century, in Scotland, during the time of the Jacobite Revolution, were really some dormant, though accessible memory lying in her subconscious.  And somehow, the memories flood her more reasoning, frontal-lobe mind, which activates our conscious sense, or our cognitive senses that deal mostly with how we interact with reality. Settling herself in a small cottage along the rocky shores of the ruins of Slains, she rents this provincial property from a kindly,old Scottish man,who recently lost his wife and has two sons, who are vying for the romantic interest of Carrie M. throughout most of the present story scenes The Winter Sea. But as she is working diligently on her novel set in eighteenth-century Scotland,Carrie finds herself serving as a conduit for Sophie’s story, and the present story chiefly and fantastically reads like a light mystery novel, laced with some romance, as Carrie tries to grapple with the mystery of this strong pull of this story from three-hundred years prior, which seems to be dredged up from the depths of her own mind, and she wonders if the memories of this character, letting her write at a unprecedented speed, are those of a past ancestor of hers. This might explain the almost rapid-fire way that the words seem to magically appear on her computer screen, as if her the writer, as a distinct, conscious voice in this narrative disappears during the process of writing, and this separate psychological personality then becomes manifest in the story.

   This novel provides a profound, but imaginative hypothetical scenario of that strange, ubiquitous phenomenon all writers (and sometimes experience), at one time or another, of their novel or novel idea seeming to emerge from the deep depths of their own psyche. Is novel-writing just a way to realistically let other disparate voices in our minds be able to safely tell their story, within the context of a craft sometimes disparaged as self-indulgent, fanciful flights to madness? These personalities do not need to necessarily be real; they could just be unfavored, or socially-undesirable elements of ourselves that we try earnestly to divorce or disassociate ourselves  consciously with. Yet in dreams, we often see these unfavorable elements of ourselves appearing within the ephemeral visual of a dream, which can easily be forgotten the next morning, but sometimes something disconcerting about the revelation of what we thought we actively repressed in our dreams could continue haunting our daily wanderings, in the most, subtle haunting way throughout the course of our day.

Carrie often feels like her characters are clamoring for her attention, by beckoning her to go to her laptop, and begin typing furiously, sometimes faster, than a manual keyboard can manage to keep up, to let a story that seems so far afield, from our own experience, be sprung into existence, incrementally, page-by-page. And, the historical fiction story that springs up onto the page is rich and saturated with so many dynamic emotions, rich personalities, and historical conflicts with intriguing nuances that we didn’t know about. Having read Outlander, I have quite a lot of profound respect for Scottish History, when seen apart from the way it became subsumed by British Culture after the Union was enacted in the early eighteenth century. Many people, reading history, do not know that the American Revolution was only unique insofar that is was successful, but there have always been many strands of stories about people fighting intrepidly for their independence. I do not blame the Scottish people of this time, as they had very divergent cultural customs, and their own unique language and dialect, which did set them apart from Britain, in many ways.  The history of the Scottish people, fighting futilely, though seriously, for their independence apart from Britain lives on till today. And, The Winter Sea uses that drama as a background for the story of Sophie, who happens to fall in love with a soldier, who is an active, patriot in the Jacobite cause.
Sophie’s unique, emotional travails of love never are smothered by the historical exposition, which Susanna Kearsley beautifully evokes on the pages,in a tender, poignant way, that never straddles too close to the precipice of cloying oblivion, where overdone romance stories became mockeries once they plummet into the great abyss of nonsensicality. Sometimes, the pacing of the story was a bit slow, as there was some extraneous scenes, which were not always coherent with the more pivotal scenes or elements of the novel. Nonetheless, this is a moving, rapturous, beautiful psychologically-deep portrait of a writer, and the stories that emerge in the writer’s mind, which somehow connects us all to an entirely different era of life, maybe either on this dimension or one we know nothing about just yet…

   If you enjoyed the artful, romantic drama of Outlander (combined with just enough historical intrigue and drama to keep the romance from getting too silly/sentimental) ,you will be swept away by the wintry waves of this novel, that is aptly named Winter Sea, in that can be at times, coldly tragic, but the waves  of tragedy in this story also will bring you back onto shore, with a wonderfully edifying ending, that leaves a rich hope to linger deep in your heart, leaving you to believe that all tragedy, whether through love, death, or some form of the many evils at bay in this world that threatens your faith in life, can sometimes lead to a deep sense of the redemptive aspects of all facets of life, in the end of it all .

LITERARY TEA RECIPE: WINTER SEA TEA:

Ingredients-
*1 tsp. of Yezi Tea’s White Peony Master Grade Tea
(Featured here, as a tea reviewed by our wonderful tea connoisseur- Sara Letourneau)
*Dash of Ginger

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When concocting this tea recipe, my main aim was to be an earnest minimalist, meaning I tried to minimize anything ingredients that may become an excessive taste, taking away from the light, (semi-“almondy”) taste of white teas. This White Tea is wonderful, lightly flavorful (it is robust, in its light taste, a rare balance of light/deep), which instantly made me think of the core emotion that the emotive prose of Susanna Kearsley’s book is awash in.

More important, the light taste of this excellent White Tea, from Yezi Teas, reminds me of a certain emotional experience, key to this novel, which is wistfulness, defined as silent,reflective musing, and sometimes this pensive frame of mind is characterized by an undertone of melancholy, perfectly matching the light, though deep, taste of this white tea. I gave it a dash of Ginger, just to give it a slight strong side of mettle (which ginger strangely makes me think of stubbornness or some strange reason, if I were to anthropomorphize the personality of ginger), and the ginger made me think of the resoluteness and inspiring courage of the many Scottish Jacobites, who risked their lives, for trying to make their dream of a free,independent Scotland become manifest in their time.

As the writer documenting this story, passed down mysteriously through her genetic memory, the writing of this story puts the writer in a wistful state of mind, making her think that the emotional experience of going through this story is really like being tugged under by the strong pull of a wave of a cold, frigid, winter sea, but there is also a strong resiliency, imbibed from being near those Scottish individuals, who believed so ardently in that possibility that King James could be their king of an emancipated Scotland. This is what keeps the writer, and the character who is experiencing these events (Sophie) from drowning in cold melancholy.

That is why this wistful white tea (wonderful for winter) has a slight note of strong, bold ginger, to make it the perfect literary tea beverage, for those cold, pensive, and slightly wistful nights, spent reading The Winter Sea,while seated comfortably,next to a roaring fire.

**Tea Companies, if you’re interested in having your tea featured, as both a Tea at Reverie tea review (written by Sara Letourneau), and featured alongside a book, as a Literary Tea Recipe, be sure to check out our sub-page Tea at Reveriefor more information on just how to make that happen!! We’d really love to hear from you!!

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Tea Time At Reverie: Yezi Tea’s White Peony Master Grade White Tea

Yezi logo

After some brisk and flavorful brews for the past few Tea Times, it’s time for something more delicate. So, I went through my Yezi Tea samples and decided on their White Peony Master Grade White Tea. This brand of White Peony (also known as Bai Mu Dan) is grown in the Jian’ou County of China’s Fujian province and harvested during the spring. The young leaves are then gently dried in the sun on bamboo trays. No doubt this process – plus the fact that white tea isn’t oxidized like black, oolong, and green teas are – gives this tea its celebrated delicate aroma and flavor. The Master Grade level also indicates the highest possible quality for a White Peony tea. So, let’s have a cup or two (or three) of White Peony together, shall we?

The Basicswhite-tea-baimudan-leaves_master 2

Yezi’s Description: When White Peony tea leaves dry, they twist into small and irregular floral patterns. The similarity of the tea to flowers is readily noticed once again in the exquisite floral notes it emanates during the brewing process… The brew is a natural yellow color and has distinct notes of almond. The tea is low in caffeine and makes for a quiet, pleasant, and meditative evening companion.”

Ingredients: Bai Mu Dan white tea leaves

Steeping Instructions: Use 1 tsp of tea for every 2 oz of water. Heat water to 185 degrees Fahrenheit / 85 degrees Celsius, and steep for 1 minute. Add 15 seconds for each subsequent brew.

Multiple Brews?: 3 to 4 times

Bagged or Loose Leaf?: Loose leaf

Caffeine Level: Low

The Experience

High-quality White Peony tea is known for its downy, gray-green leaves and abundance of unopened buds known as tips. (Lower grades contain thinner, brownish-green leaves and fewer tips. Check out this article to see photos that show the difference.) So, right away, I can tell why this White Peony sample from Yezi Tea is ranked at Master Grade. Each teaspoonful contains twists of fine, sage green leaves and strong, silvery tips. Many of the leaves have a soft, downy underside that’s velvety to the touch. White Peony is also fluffy and well-stretched, so fewer leaves will fit on your measuring spoon. This explains White Peony’s higher leaf-to-water ratio compared to other teas.

When dry, White Peony’s aroma suits its delicate appearance. A subtle floral aroma with hints of plants and almond drifts out of the package when I open it. I think I even detect a whiff of caramel. Once brewed, the liquid carries a mild floral fragrance with a trace of seaweed. I’m not crazy about the seaweed undercurrent, but it’s still a pleasant-smelling tea. Not a permeating jasmine-like perfume, but gentle and fresh.

Despite the tea’s high leaf-to-water ratio, 1 teaspoon of dry tea for every 2 ounces of water sounds like a lot of leaves. So, I decide to steep 2 teaspoons of White Peony in 8 ounces of 185-degree water for 1 minute. The infusion results in a faint yellow-green – almost colorless! The flavor is there, though: a mellow blossoming of floral, seaweed, and almond. Again, I could do without the seaweed note, but it’s quiet enough that it doesn’t overpower the more attractive flavors.

To my delight, White Peony improves with each subsequent brew. With Steep #2 (1 minute 15 seconds), the liquid turns a brighter gold, and the seaweed tinge dissipates to let the floral and almond notes shine through. As it cools, the tea develops a slightly sweet aftertaste that reminds me of the caramel I thought I’d smelled earlier. Yay! Steep #3 (1 minute 30 seconds) introduces a buttery texture that enhances the flavor combination even more, especially once the tea’s down to room temperature.

My fifth and final cup of White Peony steeps for about 2 minutes. The flavor bouquet is mostly floral and plant now, but still mellow. No bitterness, no astringency – simply soothing from sip to finish. The ambiance this tea creates reminds me of floating down a river: peaceful and serene, with the soft trickling of water, the flicker of sunlight on the surface, and a touch of mist. Ahhhh, yes. I can see myself meditating or relaxing with a good book while savoring this.

The Aftertaste

Harmony in your cup! Yes, “harmony” is the word I’d use to describe Yezi Tea’s White Peony Master Grade White Tea. Though light and more refined compared to other teas we’ve covered here, it’s flavorful to the last drop. I don’t care for the seaweed tang in the first brew, but the floral, almond, and caramel notes complement each other so well in the later steeps that I no longer mind the first one’s odd taste, since I know what’s coming next. ;) White Peony is also such a pretty tea to look at and touch because of its unique silk-down texture. It’s a hair on the expensive side (almost $10 US for 1 ounce), but the quality and delightfulness make it worth every penny.

Grade: 9 / 10

Recommended For:

  • Tea Drinkers Who: Like white, green, or decaffeinated teas
  • Time of Day and Year: Spring afternoons and evenings
  • Possible Book Pairings: White Peony offers a sense of comfort during turbulent historical fiction stories such as Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia. It also makes a good companion for journal-writing or browsing through books on the craft of writing, like Judy Reeves’ A Writer’s Book Of Days.

You can purchase White Peony Master Grade White Tea directly from Yezi Tea here.

*       *      *

In addition to being a tea enthusiast, Sara Letourneau is an avid reader and a writer who… well, enjoys writing! Currently she’s working on a novel, and she writes book reviews and articles on the craft of writing. She’s also a published poet with works available in various print and online publications. Visit Sara at her personal blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

If you’re a tea seller and would like to have one of your products reviewed here, please visit the Contributors page for contact information.

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Lestat Book Coven Prince Lestat Discussion Week 1 Assignment Details/Questions


Amazon/Barnes&Nobles/Books-A-Million/Goodreads

Prepare yourself for an intellectually intense two-and-a-half months worth of discussion, revolving around our favorite feckless vampire price!

“Turn your two eyes
This way and see this people, your own Romans.
Here is Caesar, and all the line of Iulus,
All who shall one day pass under the dome
Of the great sky: this is the man, this one,
Of whom so often you have heard the promise,
Caesar Augustus, son of the deified,
Who shall bring once again an Age of Gold
To Latium, to the land where Saturn reigned
In early times.”

(Travel into the Underworld; Aeneas’ father Anchises, who speaks in-depth about Aeneas’ heroic destiny to be the purveyor of the “Golden Era,” for Rome)

“The Cross is not a shadow of death, but a sign of progress.” (Teilhard de Chardin)

How Discussions will work?  I don’t have the time to spare to do the type of video chat based discussions anymore. Logistically-speaking, it just won’t work. So, all discussions will mostly be based here on this blog,where you will be able to respond to the weekly discussion posts, being posted here every Thursday. Discussions all week, though, will be taking place directly on the Lestat Book Coven Facebook Group Page. There are over 2,000 members there now, discussing a myriad number of different topics. These discussions, due to the civility and polite enthusiasm of the coven members, have been really wonderful, and so far problem-free (I hope I’m not speaking too soon, or cursing the page now).

Below, you will find details about our weekly reading assignments, along with the relevant discussion questions that relate directly with the reading. Answering these questions are not required for participation in this group ;these reading discussions are mostly here for those that prefer structure of some kind to guide/organize their discussions. I personally need some form of structure, to encourage me to make the required posts, to keep the flow of discussion from becoming prematurely stagnant.

OBVIOUS SPOILER WARNING: I know many people get very chiding, when it comes to yelling at you over spoilers, but I am not going to reiterate this point too much, as anyone seeing the words “discussion” coupled with Prince Lestat should already know not to read any spoilers about a book they may not have had the chance to read.

Nonetheless, I’ll still try to put banner warnings of “spoilers ahead!” for the benefit of not having someone, again, reprimand me via the comments section below about spoilers.

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Thursday Harlequin Romance Cover Parodies- Perfect for the Chilly Winter Evenings

Several years back, I was on the internet, and stumbled by pure happenstance on the funniest crop of Harlequin Book Cover Parodies (Longmire does Harlequin Romance), thus inciting my love for great satire of this campy, silly genre. So, get your bedroom eyes eyes ready. and smoldering glances adjusted, for a funny look at some Harlequin book cover parodies, with covers that I found through random searches on Amazon

 Please do not take any of these seriously! If you are a writer of any of these books, I really hope you know that I made sure to link the cover images to your original works, where they are available to purchase on Amazon, so you know that this silly, fun project may even be construed as a form of flattering promotion for your works. In the future, you are allowed to poke fun at any of my book covers in well-earned vengeance for the following satirical defacements of your precious book covers.

Warning to those with a shred of proprietyPlease do not disabuse yourself of your respectability, by perusing these rather euphemistic (Shakespearean-style) parody covers!! Thank you!

man boobs

beached stud

buried

Farm Animals

The subtitle for this lurid novel is as followed “No Dogs or Farm Animals were mistreated during the writing of this novel.”

steamy wenches

amish alien baby

texas

rigor mortis

1001 amorous nights


saving christmas

Untitled

fabulous brothers
Untitled

CHECK BACK NEXT WEEK FOR MORE IRREVERENTLY SORDID BOOK COVER PARODIES!

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The Platonic Elements of “Divergent-” Dystopian Month

Being deeply engrossed in Veronica Roth’s Divergent Trilogy, I find the strong Platonic elements of her text to be far too overt, to simply ignore. One of my favorite literary scholars, John Granger (who often writes about the religious and spiritual elements of series) has a lot of very strong, interesting points about the Platonic elements of series like Hunger GamesHarry Potter, and even Twilight (I respect his analysis of that series, I’ve read it, enjoyed it, just don’t really like that series all that much). He wrote a book about the literary alchemy in Harry Potter, in his excellent scholarly volume-Unlocking Harry Potter-Five Keys for the Serious Reader. I’m going to write one short, cursory overview of Plato’s Cave allegory, then relate it directly to CS Lewis’ Silver Chair, and then we are going to talk about how Veronica Roth skillfully grafts this metaphor, much like Suzanne Collins in many ways, onto the template of a YA dystopian novel.

Anyone that has ever taken Philosophy 101 knows about the Plato Cave Allegory. The general gist of this metaphor is that this cave is a model of our structural reality of society (my own interpretation of it). It can be any structural reality, in either a fictitious sense (as in “Middle Earth”); a global sense (as in “the Earth”); your small municipality; your own psyche (and your perception of your “interior reality,” “or the reality without.”) Okay, let me make this simple again, for the sake of making this cohere with the Silver Chair more. The “cave” is reality, devoid of your analysis, your personality, your questions; it is a facile grasp of the surface layer. So, a cave is just a cave,in a sense, and it seems idyllic, because you have habituated yourself to this belief that this drafty, slightly dour, but mostly pleasant cave environment is nice.  There are people, surrounding you, who also feel the same shred of complacency with this acceptance of the “homey cave,” and they don’t even ponder “just who the hell made us, who put this cave here, who is the one engineering this reality, motivating my acceptance that it’s comfortable, idyllic” In reality, it might really be dour, as you suspected earlier, but you brushed it off, because the idea of a comfortable cave, without all those difficult philosophical aforementioned considerations ruins what you have adopted in your mind of the “only acceptable, palatable idea of cave. The person (or persons),who bravely venture on a harrowing journey of escaping from the cave,, to observe the world outside, and wonder who created all of this, why am I here? etc. is/are the quintessential hero figure ( or figures).

Now, in CS Lewis’s Silver Chair (one of the most exemplar, crystal-clear portrayals of this allegory), Eustace, Jill, and Puddleglum must escape from not one, but two different forms of  Plato’s Caves in the story. In the middle of the story, we are given a rather tense, unnerving sequence, as both Eustace and Jill become smitten with the Giants abode, where they are smothered with sentimental pleasures, like hot beverages, good hearty meals, which are things that provide fleeting diversions from the marked despondency of finding any entrance into the subterranean world below, where the Lady of Green Kirtle dwells (in a world with grey-skinned, servile, monosyllabic-speaking minions, who are the fun Dickensian caricatures of the hard-working, marginalized peasants of Dickens’s  Hard Times). It is through a troubling dream that Jill remembers their quest, along with Puddleglum’s own insistence to Jill and Eustace, to not be so enamored with the Giant’s treatment, that this comfortable reality really hides a more sinister, ulterior element. We learn soon that they were to be eaten, and quickly, they run to the entrance to the underground world, where the Lady of Green Kirtle keeps them captive. It is this band’s (or triumvirate’s) resolve to believe in a deeper, more paradoxical, more edifying notion of a deeper dimension to the world (Narnia, in this case, being this deeper dimension beyond the comfortable, though vacuous realm of the Lady of Green Kirtle world) that really saves them and Prince Rilian in the end.  It is this continuous insistence to believe in deeper, more miraculous things, ethical good that allows them to destroy the fragile reality of the Lady of Green Kirtle cave/underworld, in the end.  It is also another retelling of the Plato’s Cave story, like the tale of Orpheus, that tells true reality is mind-blowing, rapturous, beautiful, edifying, and it runs deeper than what our mind is capable of grasping.
Hard Times, by Charles Dickens,is much the same, which conveys the message that abstract mysteries like self-consciousness, justice, love, are all things that exist deeper than material, structural reality of industrialized, smog-choked London.

In Divergent, the question that plagues Tris is that the values held by the different groups are really far too shallow and technical, given their true nature. For one, Eric-the repugnant, sadistic leader of the Dauntless clan- perverts the idea of being brave, only to really superficialize the value of your life and the lives of others, and that being brave is a guise really to act cruel and malevolent towards others, which Tris rightfully recognizes as being shallow, empty cowardice, and that it is a deeper aspect of bravery (as embodied by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), involves selfless projection and empathy into the minds of others. She was raised in abnegation, which touts itself as being self-effacingly “selfless,” but being divergent; her understanding of bravery is more nuanced, and it is about having the right, moderate (not immoderate) degree of selflessness/ “ethical” selfishness. It is about moderation, or temperance-this is not about belonging or ascribing completely to each and every virtue, in a way that psychologically cloisters an individual in a “Plato’s Cave” form of extremism or neuroticism,  but learning to adopt the deeper, more nuanced ideas of each of the five classifications and beyond. By having a world that takes these things too literally and they become cogs in a societal machine (as in the dystopian world of Divergent), they merely become severely erudite, or things that are only ways for someone, with control of the structure of reality, to take advantage of entirely.

Having a sober mind (or divergent mind) is the Platonic inclination of minds that help to create a more democratic, ethical society; it is what keeps Narnia from being overrun by a thawing winter, the world of wizards in Harry Potter from being overtaken by the cruel, repressive tactics of the Death-Eaters, etc. All these tales, are in some sense, analogously recreating the Plato Cave Myth, which is invariably a cathartic form of storytelling that lets readers engage with the plight of everyday life, and find renewal, enlightenment, edification, by journeying into the dark depths of unenlightened,ethically-void evil,  out into a world bursting with possibility, miracle, alchemical-transformation, and paradox. Divergent continues the same mythic thread, used by these modern novels and others, lending to signs of their popularity, because there is something universally resonant for readers of stories like these, that really engage readers of any demographic and age-group.

 Next Post about the Divergent Trilogy,for Dystopian Month, will revolve around Insurgent, and the meaning behind the truth and peace serums, what are the hidden psychological or philosophical meanings behind simulations, serums in this series of books?

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Dystopian Month on “A Bibliophile’s Reverie” The Hidden Genius of YA Dystopian Fiction- Why these books are not “brainless and inane?”

    For this entire month of November, I’ll be reviewing and spotlighting some of the best,noteworthy titles (just my opinion of the “best,” feel free to disagree,please!!) that I thought were thought-provoking reads!

When teens start to show any countercultural, stigma-defying interest in reading, the first reaction from the snobbery caste of the literary hierarchy is to question the intelligence of the books, then make sneaky insults about the supposed “dumbing down” of literature that is evidenced by these teen’s enthusiastic love for YA dystopian series like Divergent and Hunger Games. Three years ago, I was at an academic symposium, where I heard some of my peers, speaking in a dismissive undertone about “those horrid Hunger Game books,” “those fake-y readers,” “this is clearly the bane of fiction these days.”  If fiction is  objectively geared first and foremost for entertainment and geared for the pleasure of the reader, it is somehow mistakenly seen as being devoid of intelligence. Many older works of literature, including Charles Dicken’s slew of classic novels written in the nineteenth century, were popular fiction of the time, yet have now been relegated to the classics shelf, loved and appreciated by the many haughty literary snobs. It is somehow their guideline that literature must be aged a certain period, and then they graduate from the laymen category of popular fiction, and instantly become part of the elegiac ranks of classic fiction.

There has been a lot of fatalistic hand-wringing over the popularity of series like Hunger Games and Divergent,not just for teen readers, but for the fact that adults are unabashedly reading these books in a very public way.This is enough to make AS Byatt types cringe, and decry the apocalyptic “dumbing down” of literature.” These groups are normally more conservative, not in a political sense, but in a more rigid/mind-closing state of mind, where the objective behind holding ideas is to preserve the traditional,classical gloss of much older ideas, rather than constantly ponder, question, and examine new ideas, as true active thinkers are wont to do. This kind of dusty, insularized state of mind is driven by fear, and the fear stems from experimentation in literature, or different modes of storytelling that happens to appeal to a wide array of different readers.

It is easy to deride series like Hunger Games and Divergent for their popular appeal, or certain romance/soap-opera tropes that are really a ubiquitous, accepted element of these series. These are just surface-level elements of these stories though; the real reason for their appeal is the fact that these series are engaging teens to come to grips with certain irrepressible vexations with modern society. Hunger Games does a fabulous job, satirizing the vapidness of our media, which duplicitously acts as a way of diverting people away from serious sociological and ethical concerns affecting our world now. While we might not be living in a perfect-storm scenario of a Hunger Games dystopian world, there are many key elements in these books that do subtly offer a critique or sounding board for teen readers to really engage with these questions- the effects of imperialism, the dangers of a totalitarian,overreaching centralized government,  the paralytic symptoms of the a society that constructs a  slippery moral slope that makes wholesale warfare and violence ethically easy. These books hit upon so many relevant issues, and it gives teens a safe place, outside of the ideological-limited prisons of chattering, talking-head networks, to really deal with these issues in a more nuanced manner that goes beyond the safety bubbles of liberal and conservative. As a reader, Hunger Games deals with some really tough and difficult ethical issues, which sometimes goes further than more genre-limited adult fiction. The number one reason for YA fiction’s appeal is that there are no set limits on genre elements and tropes to be utilized, and it is why even adults are venturing into this section, in a not-so shy way, because well-written, resonating stories like the Hunger Games satisfies some deeper need for ourselves, to read fiction that effectively acts as a catharsis for us; a way for us to project ourselves onto another character, and self-empty our minds in another reality, which helps deeply change ourselves by the story’s end, or leave us with an entirely new way of thinking about different social,political issues that occupy our minds each and everyday.

Having just finished the marvelous Divergent, written by Veronica Roth, the amount of vitriol directed at this series is very intense, very didactic, and discordant. I had to forcibly remove my mind from reading too much of it, as much of it was strangely motivated by mob psychology. I found the collective stance of deep hatred and resent, for Veronica Roth, for the supposed controversial ending to Allegiant to be curious at first, but now it’s almost humorously ironic, given this is a book series that deals with the psychological paradox we face everyday of trying to be strong-opinion individuals, in a loud, boisterous world of strong, group psychology impulses. Many people found the premise of Divergent’s  dystopian world to be implausible, considering it deals more with group psychology/ideological enclaves, more-so than Hunger Games. Yet, Veronica Roth’s series powerfully acts as a very deep analysis of internet culture, and how internet culture may be causing an erosion of democracy, and really fueling more pernicious patterns of group psychology.

One of the things I found absolutely ingenious about Divergent was this deep awareness of group dynamics, which is something very strong reminiscent to how people on the internet often engage in dialogue with one another. Venture sometime over to Huffington Post, read through a religious-themed article, but read the ridiculous, group-minded comments between the clashing internet Christians and Atheists in the bottom portion. You’ll see many of the more moderate, open-minded, disinterested thinkers  (of either group or in between) often postulate more questions than provide answers, much like those in Divergent, who are part of the divergent group. Writers or artists normally are those, who are more observant, or born into the world as fence-sitting scrutinizers of the world around them; Tris and Four are uniquely two different forms of these types of disinterested observers of the world around them. Both characters uniquely provide readers of the Divergent Trilogy an opporitunity to really become deeply involved with the psychological interplay between different types of characters, with different psychological temperaments.

The best thing about this series is that amongst the exciting, frenetically-paced action sequences, some of the trademark (and slightly boring) requisite romance scenes is really this psychological drama that exists on every page. Tris is really the Freudian ego of the entire series, or whom the famous writer Doris Lessing would have called “the writer, artist, observer of the text.” While reading Divergent over the past few days, I borrowed a copy of Prisons we choose to Live Inside, from the library, to read and pore over the insights Doris Lessing makes about the complexity of human psychology, evidenced by the patterns of our social psychology.

    Writers “are by nature, more easily able to achieve this detachment from mass emotions and social conditions.” (Lessing 7). This includes even writers, who are devout members of religions and ideologies, which again is a misunderstand of what Doris Lessing means by being wary or attentive of group motivations. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be part of a group, or somehow hazardous; it just means that in every group there is the individual able to achieve the paradoxical identity of being part of the group,but yet being themselves. It is what makes democracy work best, because it respects the importance of both parts of our identity: the social and individual factors. But, these things need to be underscored by liberality or a measure of dignity and worth to a person, granting them the ability to form these identities for themselves. In a democratic country, we still often live under the heavy burden of group obligations, that are often too severe, and psychologically-limiting, such as teaching children that they must belong to a certain religion, in order to escape from some nonsensical, mostly metaphorical “hell dimension.” This threat of punishment, implicit in some ideologies, is what destroys democracy; and this is when group psychology becomes lethal. Some religions, including certain forms of Islam, will threaten the death-sentence, for the crime of apostasy (which is a human rights violation  which really needs to be outlawed all around the world).

In Divergent, not belonging to a group in a certain restrictive way causes one to become “factionless,” or ostracized from society, become the social psychological frame of their world is totalitarian. And ever since Hitler, Mai’s Cultural Revolution, the disheartening legacy of Russian communism, we have ample evidence of the dangers that extreme forms of group psychology, involving implicit or explicit threats of violence and coercion (this includes religions w/ threats of hell), have on limiting our rights to express ourselves as individual, to really have a more sound,clear, healthy mind to think more clearly and seriously about the many social and political issues of the day.

Books, like Hunger Games and Divergent,are really too important, thus, to begrudge people that read them, view them as insipid by just being influenced by group-motivated opinions. You don’t need to subjectively love them, to objectively recognize they do bring forth some very important issues for any readers, of any age group or demographic, to discuss. Yes, these books are really fun, very entertaining, (and not everyone may think that, but that’s not the point of this post); I think the important thing really for this post is really to try not to vilify the readers of these books, or be condescending towards people that read them, because neither series is what I would call brainless books.

In a world where we have sensationalized, chattering news-channels with talking heads, talking stupidly and boorishly about many important topics, or groups talking incessantly about “being mock offended” by something not-so PC, it’s getting harder to talk freely about serious social and political issues, without our conversations being silenced in the name of “politically-correct decorum,” or “ideologically-safe rhetoric.” You do not need to belong to a certain group, in order to engage with different issues, grapple with different viewpoints, etc.  You can be part of a group, and still be an open-minded individual, because there are many, many moderate thinkers everywhere, who find the zealotry or extremist factions in any religious or ideological group quite off-putting. Our world is far too polarized now, with too many interest-groups, or lobby groups, for us to worry constantly about having a certain laundry list of ideologically-acceptable ideas, for whichever group you think you’re a part of. Being divergent, or a disinterested observer/fence-sitter, sometimes (who honestly doesn’t have a clue about every single thing in the world) is sometimes the most honest place to be, and this fence doesn’t need to be consigned to being perched outside your community, because belonging to human society, still requires engaging healthfully, sanely in human society in some way. And, Divergent and Hunger Games, like any dystopian fiction book, are equipping us with the necessary mental tools to acclimatize or adjust ourselves to a paradoxical world, and this kind of lesson is very important for teen readers today, and adult readers too often need to be reminded of this, as well, making these books really perfect for all readers!

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Dani Hoots’ Review of The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill


Amazon/Barnes & Noble

Published by: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Review by: Dani Hoots

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill follows Arthur Kipps as he is assigned to attend the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow up in the marshes of the Nine Lives Causeway. While he attends this funeral, he sees a woman in black lingering around the graveyard. Who was this woman? And why will no one in the town answer his questions about her.

As Arthur goes through all of Mrs. Drablow’s paperwork, he finds more clues as to what happened, who she was, and the mystery behind all of their weird things going on around town. It isn’t until he stays the night at Mrs. Drablow’s Eel Marsh House does he begin to understand why the people in the two feared the house and why no one wanted him to go.

Will he escape the curse that follows whoever sees the woman in black? You will have to read this creepy, well-written story to find out!

This story is very well-written, giving an old Victorian feel with a modern voice. Susan Hill does a spectacular job making your heart jump at every slightest thing she describes. She starts out the story perfectly, with Arthur Kipps and his family getting ready for Christmas and the children are telling ghost stories. This makes Arthur Kipps begin to write down his story. It is a great introduction to the character and makes you wonder what exactly happened.

I did, however, want to know more about his fiancé, Stella, in the story to understand why he cared for her so much. She seemed one dimensional because we didn’t get to interact with her much, although I am also guilty of that in my own writing.

I give this novel a 4.5/5, loving every moment, but wanting just a little bit more for characters other than Arthur himself.

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