[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have author Molly Ringle guest post on the site today. Take it away Molly!]
The twenty-first century is a wondrous time to be a reader. Publishers are taking chances on a more colorful variety of books than ever, featuring characters of all stripes (or polka dots or paisley) and plots that mix our favorite traditional tropes with imaginative new elements.
As someone who’s always had eclectic tastes, encompassing the fresh and fanciful as well as the straight-up weird, I love this trend.
The earliest books I remember my parents reading to my little sister and me—and which I soon picked up and read myself—were L. Frank Baum’s Oz books.
They’re packed with fantastical oddball details: a tree that grows different types of fruits and flowers one after another, a walking-and-talking glass cat, a clockwork man, a city of emerald buildings whose visitors are required to wear green-tinted spectacles, a princess transformed into a boy (and back again). I accepted all of that without question when I was a grade-school kid, and only as a grown-up revisiting the books did I realize how wonderfully innovative these stories were, and how much they must have shaped my own sense of whimsy in storytelling.
But the real world, or at least a fictional version of it, could enthrall me too: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, though it has no fantasy elements, captivated me as a kid and remains one of my favorite books to this day.
So Gothic and creepy!—imagine being that orphan girl sent alone to a mansion on the moors with eerie sounds coming from other rooms at night, and locked garden walls you are told never to enter. I can’t get enough of that kind of thing. Better still, the story has a happy arc: the garden blooms under Mary’s care, and with it so does she, along with every other member of the formerly somber household, all their secrets aired out at last.
Given how flowers and atmospheric houses and upbeat endings moved me, it’s no surprise that soon I wanted romance in the books I read, and by eighth grade I was happily gorging myself on any Sweet Valley High book I could find (by Francine Pascal and her team of writers), sighing over the soon-to-come prospect of my own teen romances. (Spoiler: mine ended up a lot less satisfying and swoony than the ones in books. What gives? Are the teen years actually awkward or something?)
In high school—aside from having a lot of mostly one-sided crushes (and one boyfriend; go me!)—I kept cultivating my love of variety, but scaled it up to bigger and more challenging books. I devoured Stephen King for my modern-weird-freaky appetites, and fell in deep and dramatic love, as only a teen can, for over-the-top swoony literature such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
Secret forbidden love, secret wife in the attic, secret past griefs—ahh, how I love strange juicy secrets. All the better if they take place in a charismatic old house in Britain. (Between Burnett, Shakespeare, and the Brontës, along with my inborn appreciation of cool rainy climates, I also developed a heavy-duty Britophilia before long. By the time I realized what a cliché this was for an American, it was too late; I couldn’t be cured.)
Incidentally, it took me much too long to notice that The Secret Garden is essentially Jane Eyre for children: a big Yorkshire house out on the moors, to which a lonely orphan girl is sent, with family members living there that no one talks about, and a gloomy master, all of which is set right by the pluck and the good heart of the girl—definitely some similarities. No wonder I love them both.
When I stumbled upon E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View my freshman year of college, my heart broadened into a deeper and more mature, but no less swoony, level of love. England, romance, flowers, lovely language—it has everything. Not to mention a fabulous film adaptation starring wee eighteen-year-old Helena Bonham Carter.
Eager to read more Forster, I continued on to Maurice—and oh myyyy, what was this? It was about a young man falling in love with…another young man? Naturally I knew gay people existed, but I hadn’t read it like this before, in all the exquisite, subtle language of literature, tinged with the poignancy of a love that was, in Edwardian times in England, illegal. Romeo and Juliet had set me up to fall hard for star-crossed lovers, so Maurice’s forbidden love completely stole my heart. And! Pleased to say, despite the too-common theme of tragedy in gay love stories of the past, Maurice ends happily, making it all the more extraordinary for the time in which it was written. (A fabulous film adaptation was made of this one, too, starring baby-faced Hugh Grant and Rupert Graves.)
Once I discovered that m/m romance was a thing, I dove right into this new world of sweet-and-hot wonders. The writing duo Summer Devon and Bonnie Dee penned several of my favorites in the genre, all of them historicals set in the UK (my Britophilia strikes again), and tending to feature two men totally socially unsuitable for one another but who can’t get enough of each other nonetheless. (More secrets! Dreamy sigh.)
I didn’t abandon my love of fantasy, however—on the contrary, even now, I tend to start itching for magic and otherworldliness if I’ve gone too long without it. Some of the paranormal romances and fantasies I’ve loved in recent years are m/m, such as the brilliant Peter Darling by Austin Chant, which pairs up Captain Hook and Peter Pan in a way that not only sizzles, but which provides a new explanation for Neverland itself that turns the whole story lovelier and less disturbing than the original.
On the male/female side in fantasy, I’ve adored Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, about a part-dragon girl and a human prince, as well as the dazzling, epic Sevenwaters series by Juliet Marillier, each book featuring a new generation of an early-medieval Irish family, with a love story to redeem each suffering heroine. Finally, though it’s billed as YA, the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner is devilishly clever and grown-up, and though it would be spoilery to tell you who the unlikely romantic pair is, suffice it to say they’re one of my favorite fictional couples ever.
So if those books resonate with you too, and if your tastes are as eclectic as mine, embracing love stories about all types of people, the literary alongside the commercial, the subtle along with the salacious, in realms magical as well as realistic, then come sit by me: you are my tribe.
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About the Author:
Molly Ringle began life as a quiet, weird kid and grew up into a quiet, weird writer. She writes love stories of various types, some with paranormal problems (Persephone’s Orchard, The Goblins of Bellwater, The Ghost Downstairs) and some with real-world problems (Summer Term, What Scotland Taught Me, All the Better Part of Me). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, guinea pigs, and corgi.
Find her at:
All the Better Part of Me by Molly Ringle, out Sept 2019!
It’s an inconvenient time for Sinter Blackwell to realize he’s bisexual. He’s a twenty-five-year-old American actor working in London, living far away from his disapproving parents in the Pacific Northwest, and enjoying a flirtation with his director Fiona. But he can’t deny that his favorite parts of each day are the messages from his gay best friend Andy in Seattle—whom Sinter once kissed when they were fifteen. Finally he decides to return to America to visit Andy and discover what’s between them, if anything. He isn’t seeking love, and definitely doesn’t want drama. But both love and drama seem determined to find him. Family complications soon force him into the most consequential decisions of his life, threatening all his most important relationships: with Andy, Fiona, his parents, and everyone else who’s counting on him. Choosing the right role to play has never been harder.