Sappy Christmas Movie Challenge

white people kissing

“Pic for Attention”?

Well sort of, but also sort of relevant! Dane and I were goofing off with this one, which we jokingly call the “White People Almost Kissing Photo.” We started calling it that when we realized that the cover of pretty much every single Nicholas Sparks book or film has a “White People Almost Kissing” image on the front. (The “almost,” part is important; people in the act of actually kissing tend to have unattractively squished noses.)

And you know what else usually has a cover with people *almost* kissing and follows some pretty consistent formulas? Sappy Christmas Movies. In particular, I’m talking about the uber romantic ones you might find on the Hallmark Channel or, over the last couple of years, on Netflix.

These are the movies that swallow up your suspensions of disbelief and recompense them with warm fuzzies. They’re getting married even though they met last week? Sure. He was able to dodge airport security because he loves her? Of course! The millennial barista makes enough money to afford THAT apartment? Why not?

Whether you love them or make fun of them (or both), the Sappy Christmas Movie is a staple of December. It’s safe enough to have on with the kids in the room, mindless enough to not get confused by the plot  if you are watching it while doing some holiday baking or wrapping, and -well-sappy enough to give a cozy feeling that we all especially enjoy this time of year.

From what I can tell, there are a few rules to the Sappy Christmas Movie  formula:

  • Usually there are a few standard character types to choose from for the male/female characters.
  • Also, the story line will STRONGLY remind you of two or three well-known movies without  being an exact copy of any of them.
  • Obviously, despite some standard obstacles, the two main characters fall in love.
  • This MUST happen at Christmas, preferably in a small town.  If you don’t like small towns, New York City is also acceptable. Or the North Pole. Or a tiny European country that kind of  rhymes with “Genovia.” You get the gist.

In honor of this much-beloved seasonal staple, I wanted to create a challenge/game for those of us who love (and love to make fun of) the Sappy Christmas Movie.  I’m going to give you some categories and suggestions/ideas to get you started, and there are a few funny (okay, not standard) options in there, just to keep in interesting. After you come up with something for each category (use my ideas or not), go ahead and write a short (paragraph-ish) summary of your Sappy Christmas Movie!  I’d love to read yours…so post it in a comment! The sillier, the better.

Merry Christmas!

Sappy Christmas Movie Formula

2 Overused Character Types/ Unlikely Match + 2 Other Movie Plots Smushed Together +Christmas+ Idyllic Setting= SCM SUCCESS

Choose:

2-3 Standard Character Types

Ideas:

  • The lonely single mom/dad
  • The party girl/guy
  • The workaholic
  • The former workaholic who has recently lost it all and having an identity crisis
  • The person who has forgotten their family and friends
  • A combination of any of the last three (basically Scrooge)
  • The Manic Pixie Dream girl of Christmas
  • Charming Smalltown Shop Owner
  • Charming Smalltown Farm Owner
  • Charming Smalltown enthusiast of any kind
  • Big City writer/reporter
  • Charming Big City business owner
  • Santa’s child/grandchild
  • An unhappy princess/prince
  • A lawyer having a moral crisis

1-2 Scenic Location (s)–There is an option for 2 locations in case one person has to chase after a romantic interest halfway through story

Ideas:

  • A Farm (the deep south, the midwest, the pacific northwest)
  • A Christmas-loving town in Anywhere, USA
  • Manhattan
  • Paris
  • London
  • Some small, European country that is undefinable but where everyone speaks English
  • The Jungle
  • A Resort/Amusement Park

2 Hit Movies  “Borrow” Plot Devices From

Ideas: Usually these are romantic comedies, but I’m also gonna throw some randoms and beg you to make them work! 🙂

  • The Holiday
  • 500 Days of Summer
  • The Wedding Planner
  • A Roman Holiday
  • The Princess Diaries
  • The Prince and Me
  • Mrs. Doubtfire
  • Jurassic Park
  • James Bond
  • Mary Poppins
  • Kate and Leopold
  • Diehard
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Twilight
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • The Fifth Element
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Prince and the Pauper

1 “Unexpected” Roadblocks to Romance

Ideas:

  • Emotional walls refuse to budge because of a breakup/ loss of loved one
  • One character’s DARK SECRET is revealed (AKA they were a jerk until this point in time, they are lying about their career/identity,  they are secretly writing a story about the love interest, or they actually have super powers)
  • One person has to move far away because of an opportunity that has been a lifelong dream.

1 Christmas Theme /Symbol/Trope

Like:

  • Redemption ala Scrooge or the Grinch
  • Realization of a Lifelong Dream (inspired by Christmas)
  • Snow as a Magical Entity
  • Tis Better to Give Than Receive
  • Christmas Eve is a time when Wishes Come True
  • At Christmas You Realize That You are Where You Are Supposed to Be
  • Help: I’m Stuck Reliving Christmas Day Multiple Times
  • Kissing a Stranger Under the Mistletoe

 

 

How Do You Like My Leaf?

One of the many things I loved and miss about my mom is how we used to make up silly songs together about ordinary situations. Usually, this would happen when we were walking or cleaning or driving somewhere. I used to love running errands with her, even when I was older. She was the kind of person who made mundane things in life a little extra special and fun.  When my dad would protest to the unrealistic nature of blockbuster musicals, we would point out to him that he kind of lived in a musical.

Though my mom and I both had a deep appreciation for good music, the songs we’d make up were classically terrible. Just really, really bad–but funny. Snort until (your pants are at risk) level of funny. Usually, the melody would either be stolen or very haphazard, and the lyrics would be morbid, purposely obtuse, or random observations.  Sometimes they wouldn’t make any sense to anyone but us. We could rarely remember them later.

HOWEVER, I do remember the very first song.

The very first song we ever made up together was when I was about three years old, and it was called, “How do you like my leaf?”

Mom and I were walking at Wilshire Trails park in Gainesville, Ga. It’s a beautiful park, with paths that wind through threes and over streams, an old, covered “Troll bridge,” and several large rocks on which to climb. It was autumn, and the ground was strewn with wet red, yellow and brown leaves stuck to the path. I picked one up gleefully and beamed up at my grown BFF.

“How do you like my leaf?” I singsonged.

Without missing a beat, mom sang back: “It’s very wonderful!”

“How do you like my leaf?”

“Very Very NICEEE!”

“How do you like my leaf?”

“I don’t want to sing this song!” (still singing of course)

“How do you like my leaf?”

“VERY VERY NICE!!!!”

This kept going. It escalated. The faux angst to my mom’s response lyrics got increasingly more panicked. You get the idea.

Whether we wanted to or not, we would remember, “How do you like my leaf?” forever after.  It can get stuck in your head permanently. Eventually, my mom, dad and I hated that song, but we loved it too.

Well, that silly little song has been in my head a lot this week, and I know it is because it is the week of my mom’s birthday.   Autumn was, in so many ways, her season. It was the time of the year when my small family made so many formative childhood memories. Autumn was when we’d head up to the Appalachian Mountains and camp as much as we possibly could. Autumn is when we’d meet my grandparents for a cozy vacation in Tennessee. Autumn was when we’d head to Jaemor Farms to buy all the apples and explore the corn maze. It was when my dad would light up the old fireplace for the first time in months, making our house by the lake smell like old stone and smoke and spices and woods.

All of these memories, and so many more, float through my head  constantly  this time of year. They are like memory-leaves scattering down, catching on light breezes as my heart jerks in response to them.

A few days ago, I was walking with Kora, my three year old daughter, and she found a bright orange leaf that she thought was amazing. She beamed at me with her billion watt smile.

“Look, mama! A Nana (banana) leaf!”

It was a perfect leaf, and a perfect memory, and a perfect moment to share a little bit of my mom with my daughter. So I taught Kora the infamous jingle. Of course, what with being the very bottom of the barrel it terms of sophistication, the song thrilled Kora’s little heart and provoked many giggles.

Yesterday, out of nowhere, she wanted to sing it with me again. It caught me in the gut, but made me smile, too.

My mom’s birthday is tomorrow (October 27), and it is the first year since she’s passed where I have a very full day that does not allow me much time to reflect. The last four years, I’ve purposefully tried not to schedule much, unless it was getting together with my dad and/or grandmother. It has kind of been a day for me to remember, to put flowers on my mom’s grave, to look at pictures. Tomorrow will not be that, though. I’ll be participating as a first-time vendor in a really whimsical local fall festival, selling  the apothecary products that I make.  When the opportunity first presented itself, I knew I wanted to do it immediately. However, when I found out it was on the 27th, I hesitated. Would it be wrong to be busy?

But the more I think about it all,  the more I feel good about it. My mom would have been so excited about me doing this, and I know it will be a fun new fall memory for me and my family.  So many little things this week keep pointing me back to the thought that I am able to go forward while smiling back at the beautiful memories behind me.  There is heartache to be felt, but sweetness to remember…And wonderful things that can only be built because of what has come before.

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The Secret Garden (AKA The Library)

The deep South has its fare share of gardens. In fact, here in south Mississippi, where I currently reside, a step outside in mid-to-late spring yields an instantaneous whiff of deep, sweet fragrant flowers—Honeysuckle, Magnolia, Gardenia. These are some of the most most heavenly, decadent blooms of all, to my mind. They are also some of the most short-lived. This is almost ominous, because if spring in the deep South is beautiful and lovely (and it is), it is equally short-lived.

Then we get summer. About five months of it.

And in some parts of the deep South, like south Mississippi, summer is a time that you don’t really want to be outside too much.

Why?

If you have to ask, then you clearly have never sat in a sauna with an non-breathable blanket over your head.

Then you have clearly never felt the need to change clothes after a short and exhausting walk to the mail box.

You have clearly never seared the bare-skin of your thighs on the seat of a car when attempting to run errands.

You have clearly never had your hairstyle or makeup melt, almost instantly, off your face the second you leave the house.

You have clearly never—

You getting the picture?

It’s not just hot here.  It’s a drowning kind of heat. And in a small town, like where I live, there’s not much you can do to escape it.

There’s not a mall here. There aren’t many restaurants. There are no indoor parks. My town doesn’t have a movie theater.  You can drive to other towns for some of  those things, if you feel like it. But, a lot of times, you don’t really feel like being out all day, because of the heat.  There’s one public swimming pool, but it’s pretty insane once the the heat picks up.

Mostly, people are inclined to visit each other: at their houses, at church, at work, at pools of friends and families of friends. If you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, and that’s the vibe you are getting…it’s because it really IS like that. (If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird,  then I suggest you do so immediately).

There are definitely wonderful things about living in a small, Southern town. But summers can be hard. This is not true everywhere in the south, of course. I grew up in the south, a town in Northeast Georgia. But it was a bigger town than where I live now, and it was also close to the mountains, as well as a lake. There were plenty of ways to be outside and get cool. My husband grew up in Florida (which is not really the South, culturally speaking, though it’s plenty hot).  Still, he had the beach.

Because of this heat-issue, I struggled a little with making things fun for my (then) almost-2 year old, last summer. Now, even though it’s just the first of May, I’ve started thinking about ways to make this summer more memorable for her.  Summers are such a magic time, aren’t they? At least, I think they SHOULD be. Thanks to a certain HGTV show, the downtown area of our neighboring town has flourished, and we now have more things to go and do nearby. However, all of these things cost money,  which tends to add up if you are using them to escape the heat.

Then I remembered something. One of those simple, duh, moments. A memory from my own childhood.

The library, of course. We don’t have a bookstore here, but we DO have a library. The town right next to us has an even bigger library.

My own childhood is filled with memories of the library, especially in the summertime. We’d go every Friday–my mom, dad, and I.  Coming in from a sparklingly bright parking lot to the quiet, clean smell of dusted books and the cold, sharp AC elicited a feeling of excitement.  Reverent  tones. The flicking of pages. I can still feel the weight of the bags of new books we’d leave with–worlds waiting to be discovered.

So yesterday, I told my almost-three year old about the library.

That it was a place we would be going. A place where for her to listen to stories with other children and find new books to read. A place so special, a place of such awe, that you have to whisper when you go there.

And we went. And she loved it. She picked out three books and we have read them all about three times since yesterday.

In the perilous summers of the deep South, the library is its own haven.  Some say libraries are on their way out in the digital era, but all I can say is that I refuse to believe it. Libraries are a sanctuary, a secret garden. Many may have forgotten them, but those who remember the library love it truly and always. May we nurture it and share it’s beautiful secrets with others, so that we never forget what an oasis it can be.

 

AMWAP Book Review: Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

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Book length: 192 pages

The following AMWAP book review: 192 words.

Disclaimer: It is hard to give a book review in  only 192 words.

AMWAP Review of Daniel Wallace’s

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions

Big Fish is a humorously-told series of short, fantastical “myths” about Edward Bloom’s adventures in Alabama as a younger man. Contrasting with this are the more mundane, realistic narrations given by Edward’s son, William. While the stories of Edward’s life read like something from The Odyssey, it becomes clear that his son’s personal quest is to discover the true nature of his father before Edward dies.

Adults who want to understand their parents beyond the title of “mom and dad,” will likely find hidden gems in this book.  I think it also has merit for those who are trying to process the illness or death of a parent. As a twenty-something reader (and only child) who lost my mom to cancer, Big Fish hit home in a way that was a bit melancholy. However, the book is also funny and abstract enough to be more thoughtful than depressing.

Ultimately, Big Fish whimsically conveys some universal themes for anyone: a father’s desire to be remembered as a great man, a son’s desire to be closer to his fading father, and the looming question of what it means to truly be known and loved.

 

AMWAP Book Review: Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology

 

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Length: 297 pages

The following AMWAP review word count: 297 words

*AMWAP  stands for “as many words as pages.” I made this up as a challenge for myself. I’m not OCD…just quirky.

My AMWAP Review of Norse Mythology

Thanks to some recent superhero films, most of us recognize the names, “Loki and Thor.”

thor-loki

 

(Oh, hey guys.)

And if you enjoy any type of  fantasy, you likely know who Neil Gaiman is, too.

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However, many of us don’t know much more about Norse mythology than what we’ve learned from Marvel.

Gaiman, the king of modern mythology, seeks to fix that by paying tribute to his roots with Norse Mythology .

This work consists of sixteen myths, arranged in a narrative arc that traces the Norse gods from origin to end.  It’s a quick read.  I appreciated that each story was short and engaging while also fitting into a larger, more complete story. We also come to know the characters more deeply with each chronicle.

My only dissonance with the work comes from own expectations.  Excepting the origin story of the gods (which was plenty weird, but dryly told), the rest of the content didn’t seem as creative as some of Gaiman’s other works.

The reason behind this is, of course, not an issue: these stories aren’t Gaiman’s to tell. But they are Gaiman’s stories to retell to us, the modern reader.

Does he do that?

I think so.

The voice of the work is humorous and knowledgeable, as if Neil has gathered us around the campfire to tell us about these ancient, mighty, childish heroes of the North.

I laughed at the antics of Thor, at the constant conclusion that “it is always Loki’s fault,” and at challenges and tricks that shocked and delighted me.  I also learned about the Norse concept of Hell (or Hel), the origin of the phrase “mind’s eye,” and countless other gems.  Ultimately, I come away from this work feeling pleasantly interested in, and more connected to, Norse mythology as a whole.

 

 

AMWAP Book Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Note: AMWAP Reviews are a thing I made up. Each book review is exactly the same amount of words as number of pages in the novel being reviewed. I like to challenge myself to read a few books a month, but don’t always write a review. If there’s a book you would like to see reviewed, leave it in the comments! -Katie

 

Length: 406 Pages, The following review: 406 words

Jae-Jones’ debut novel is a dark, romantic fairy-tale for young adults that combines traditional folklore with modern themes of self-discovery. Nineteen-year-old Liesel seems plain and responsible, but she has a wild streak, and a fierce talent, buried beneath her familial duties.  As a child, she danced to the music in her head and played games with a mysterious boy whom she pretended was the Goblin King. As years pass, she grows into a stifled composer living under the shadow of her beautiful sister and gifted brother.  When her sister is taken to the Underworld by the (very real) Goblin king, Liesel must accept the reality of her childhood imaginings. Armed with tenacity, Liesel travels to the Underground, where she discovers that the Goblin King and his domain are more complicated, and more connected to her own passion, than she ever would have guessed.

It’s a tale as old as Hades and Persephone. And it’s undeniable that S. Jae-Jones took blatant inspiration from Phantom of the Opera and Labyrinth, too.  Honestly, there are a few times when it’s a little too much. For instance, Wintersong’s Goblin King bears an uncanny resemblance Bowie’s Goblin King (down to the two differently-colored eyes). Still, Jae-Jones expands this character in ways that makes him angsty and interesting in his own right. In fact, character development is something that this author does really well.  The main character, Liesel, toes the line between complacent young woman and fiercely-passionate feminist in a way that will resonate with almost any female reader.  Her relationship with music, too, is evocative and unique. Ultimately, this protagonist’s complexities, and her unexpected decisions throughout the book, give this story a fresh spin.  The author’s writing is lyrical and descriptive with some unnecessary repetitions. I enjoyed her style, though it is not for readers who prefer more action-driven writing. My main criticism of this novel is that the pacing seemed slightly off.  With minor tweaking and editing, this book had enough plot to be two separate novels. As it is, the story comes across as a little unbalanced.

This novel is labeled as YA, but I actually think there is more there for the emerging New Adult audience (twenty-thirty somethings).  Adult lovers of music, fairy-tales and dark romances will gobble up this escapist novel with hidden depth. Wintersong renewed my inner-teenager’s passion for Labyrinth and Phantom of the Opera, while giving me some brand new characters to love.

 

 

 

AMWAP Book Review: The Light Between Oceans

Note: What is an AMWAP review? It’s a thing I made up. It stands for “As Many Words as Pages.” My AMWAP book reviews are uniquely crafted towards a specific word count. It’s my little way of keeping things snappy (and driving myself crazy).

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The Light Between Oceans

by

Pages:343

      The following book review is 343 words.

With The Light Between Oceans (2012) M.L. Stedman wrote the “first novel” which only exists in most writers’ daydreams. The story reads like a classic, and maybe it will considered as such one day. Meanwhile, it’s already a New York Time’s Bestseller, an O Magazine favorite, fodder for book clubs everywhere, and the basis for a 2016 film with an all-star cast.

Like I said: not bad, Stedman, not bad.

When a stoic WWI veteran (Tom) sets off to become the lighthouse keeper of uninhabited Janus Rock, he meets a passionate young woman who steals his heart (Isabel). The two marry and are happy in their own little world on the island—until Isabel’s series of miscarriages begin. Wracked by grief and loneliness, Isabel believes it is a miracle when an infant washes ashore in a boat. The little girl-Lucy- will draw them together as they become a family, and pull them apart as the truth struggles to become known. Meanwhile, a woman named Helen is haunted by the disappearance of her husband and baby daughter…

Some things about this story read like a fairytale: the idyllic setting of Janus and the coastal town of Partageuse, in which the author’s familiarity with her birthplace of Australia shines through. Other elements are more fable. The story is driven by consequences of the characters’ actions and questions of right and wrong. However, I found the most prominent thing about the novel to be the realness of the characters’ emotions: Tom and Isabel’s complicated love for one another; Isabel and Helen’s maternal grief; the rage of betrayal; the quiet emptiness after an internal storm.  Stedman expertly conveys the many facets of human emotion which are woven through every important relationship which can exist between two people.

Loss is real in this story. Love is real. Right is real. Wrong is real. Perhaps, more real than anything, is the idea that the lines between these experiences are not clearly marked—not at all.

This exquisitely written page-turner had me underlining sentences while soaking them with my tears.

That Gingerbread Feeling

 

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(Pictured: My grandparents’  Christmas Day table, as it was always set, up until a few years ago: holly plates, glasses and teacups.)

The other night I was listening to John William’s Home Alone score. One of the loves Dane and I share is for film scores–his all time favorite film score composer being John Williams (THE man). I’m actually not sure who my favorite is.  I default to Hans Zimmer (the other man) , but I guess I tend to be much more drawn towards specific scores than composers. But we can talk about film scores another time.

Anyway, I’ve never really stopped to pay much attention to the words that the choir  kids are singing in the main title of Home Alone, “Somewhere in my Memory.” Have you? Here they are, in any case:

Candles in the window,
Shadows painting the ceiling,
Gazing at the fire glow,
Feeling that gingerbread feeling.
Precious moments,
Special people,
Happy faces,
I can see.

Somewhere in my mem’ry,
Christmas joy’s all around me,
living in my mem’ry,
All of the music,
All of the magic,
All of the fam’ly home here with me.

As I sat listening to this song in the glow of the Christmas lights, I was struck by its meaning. The first verse conveys the feelings you have when you’re young at Christmas. You are mesmerized by all the beauty of the things happening in the moment: the lights, the people, the presents. The second verse is more about what happens as you get older.

In one sense, some of the magic fades. Time goes by more quickly, the pressures of things to get done increase as life responsibilities go up. However, and more significantly, the passage of time also does something amazing  as each new Christmas is stacked upon memories of the last. It creates something beautiful to unwrap each December alongside the lights, the scents and the traditions.

Sometimes we all have a few long stretches of years where we get to share our Christmases with the same loved ones, the same recipes, and the same annual outings. Even so, no Christmas is the same. But then there are the Christmases where someone important is missing, or maybe when someone new has entered the picture. These stand out in our lives, linked by their connection with this powerful time of year.

I’ve learned about that over these last few Christmases, as so many loved ones who defined my childhood have passed on and as I’ve experienced Christmas as a wife (and now) as a mother.  Still, I can see those Christmases as a child so clearly. I can feel them, even as I appreciate this new Christmas for all that it is. It’s painful. It’s joyful. It’s beautifully bittersweet.

Somewhere in my mem’ry,
Christmas joy’s all around me,
living in my mem’ry,
All of the music,
All of the magic,
All of the fam’ly home here with me.

What a poignant time of year this is, that it allows us to see a kaleidoscope of our lives… All the big things, anchored in Christmas.

~As you think about this time of year, what Christmases jump out to you the most? What is different, this year? What things can you count on to be the same?~

 

 

Your Last Autumn

It drifted in twirling pathways

Of deep grey rain and golden sunbursts

On the mountains

–Your last autumn.

Anxious finches, the rustling light on leaves.

The world in memory. The world in preparation.

Only in Fall

Can the world be angled so differently.

Your eyes were a cerulean blue,

Like the sky,

Your last autumn.

I wonder what moments were focused in those lenses.

Crinkly-smile lines and warm sweater hugs?

The final leaf falls, in a sigh.

But now it is some other Fall,

And I see grays and golds

And blues

And you.

-Kathryn Gustafson, 2016

AMWAP Book Review: Here on Earth

*Note: What is an AMWAP review? It’s a thing I made up. It stands for “As Many Words as Pages.” My AMWAP book reviews are uniquely crafted towards a specific word count. It’s my little way of keeping things snappy and driving myself slowly insane.For instance…The following book review is 309 words long.

Here on Earth

Pages: 309

Last night I finished reading Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth (1997).  In case you are unacquainted with her, Hoffman’s got this raw-but-lyrical quality that leaves you feeling like you’ve been emotionally stripped bare at some kind of intervention, but that (somehow) you were thoroughly enchanted by the entire experience. It’s fitting that she often writes about magic, because her stories are spellbinding.

Recently, Here on Earth caught my eye. I read a New York Times Book Review that called it, “a Wuthering Heights . . . profound.”  Sadistic though it may be, I’ve always loved Emily Bronte’s twisted love story and the way it makes prickle with goosebumps of anger, passion, and regret.

And that’s pretty much the exact same effect of Hoffman’s Here on Earth.

5159The story successfully carries the haunting themes of Wuthering Heights into a setting of 1990s America as it follows the return of March Murray to her small hometown.  When March re-encounters Hollis, the childhood love she never let go of, the passionate bond between them grows.  As their relationship illuminates the ghosts of their common past, it also begins to cast a destructive shadow over their lives.  Despite the absence of Bronte’s moors, the rural Massachusetts setting of Here on Earth carries a ghostly mystique of its own.

Though I openly recommended this book to everyone while still in its early chapters, I would be more selective in my recommendations having finished it.  Literary triumph? Definitely.  Disturbing? Definitely.  Just don’t tell your teenager to read this alongside Wuthering Heights, okay?

Overall, Here on Earth is a choice autumnal read for those who know what they are in for:  a dark and compelling re-imagining.  It poses some pretty interesting questions about romantic possession, redemption, revenge and what might have happened if Catherine and Heathcliff had gotten a chance to be together, “here on earth.”