We have an absolutely amazing guest post from Poppy, who is recounting some of her favorite book moments!

Poppy is a long-time fan of SBTB and loves cats, books and coffee, in that order. She illustrates The Loo Cats, an imaginative series starring her rescue cats in the most fantastical, improbable scenarios. The series is an ode to four spunky felines who survived abuse and abandonment before they found their forever home. Now they are elderly and ill, and can only travel in their human’s wild, colour-saturated imagination – but they continue to bring delight and iridescence to the lives of those around them. Join them on their adventures @geninepoppyloo on Instagram!

The past weeks have been brutal, so instead of reading whole books, I have been bingeing on my favourite book moments. This means borrowing dozens of books, revisiting specific chapters, pages – sometimes even sentences! – and then returning them. You have probably guessed where this is going – I’ve put together a Best Book Moments list! I originally picked out ten, but man, that was taking a long time to write. Eventually I settled on my favourite three, and in true meme style, titled the list “The Top Three That Moment Whens”.

Also, a few months ago I picked up phone doodling to cope with dreary work commutes, inexplicable sad days, and fits of anxiety. In the past weeks there have been plenty of those, so there have also been quite a few doodles. To accompany my list, here are three, loosely inspired by the scenes mentioned below.

Warning: There will be cats. In fact, I have edited out the original book characters in favour of cats because #crazycatlady. (Other cats-in-situations doodles are on Instagram @geninepoppyloo if anyone’s interested!)

Alright, here goes in no order of merit:

  1. That Moment WhenCake and Flowers Don’t Mean Shit if the Guy Don’t Get It

    From Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare

Say Yes to the Marquess
A | BN | K | AB

Clio “Waitmore” Whitmore wanted out of her engagement to Piers Brandon, the man who proposed to her and then disappeared to work overseas for eight long years. She had inherited a castle, and had big plans to turn a profit by setting up a beer brewery in the castle ground. To make that happen, she needed to get out of the engagement, and so sought out Pier’s brother Rafe as acting marquess to sign the dissolution papers.

As you can guess, Clio and Rafe had all the feels for each other but Rafe thought he should do the right thing (for a variety of reasons) and persuade Clio to go through with the wedding, which brings me to That Moment When:

Rafe decided, rather ham-handedly, to pull out all the stops and get Clio to realise how awesome it would be to be a bride. He surprised Clio with a room stuffed with stunning blooms for her wedding bouquet and a literal buffet of wedding cake. Clio was at first amazed and moved at the incredible effort (and spectacle), until:

She understood his strategy now. He meant to overwhelm her with luxury, lavish choices upon her. If he piled on enough fantasy and spectacle, surely Clio would give in. A little cake waved under her nose, and she would give up her dreams and plans to walk down the aisle instead.

She couldn’t decide whether he failed to understand her, or didn’t respect her… All her plans for this place – and her own independence… Rafe thought she would trade it all for a twelve-tiered cake with cupids bursting out the top.

YES! I love this moment of Clio’s crystal-clear, soul-piercing realization: when she looked past the grandiose gesture to see what’s truly important to her and what she really needed – not the distraction of daffodils and dessert, but understanding and respect. And importantly, she also saw clearly at that moment that she’s not getting it from Rafe. (Although the scene ultimately ended in a sexy food fight, some kissing and a dog that swallowed an engagement ring.)

Dog spoiler
Not to worry – the dog is fine!

While I love Clio’s aha moment, frankly, the idea of all the food and flowers going to waste gave me a bit of anxiety.

So here is a doodle inspired by this scene, with my two cuties going to town on the munchies (in this fantasy world they can eat all the cake they want!)

A colorful drawing of two cats surrounded by yummy cakes.

  1. That Moment When the Heavenly Mountains Shelter You from the Outside World

    From My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas

My Beautiful Enemy
A | BN | K | AB

I find it difficult to talk about this with any degree of rationality because I love this book so much. I love it for many reasons, but mostly because like the two protagonists some of my happiest days were spent in Xinjiang, and it is impossible to think of that time without my stomach clenching in painful longing.

Of course – OF COURSE – my favourite scene is Ying-ying’s and Leighton’s hide-out in a cave near the Heavenly Mountains (the Tian Shan), after he rescued her from a fight with bandits. Their courtship, up to this point, had been beautifully handled as the slow burn of two extraordinary people and their growing mutual attraction. But until the fight and subsequent hide-out, there had been too many complications between them – Ying-ying was disguised as a man and carrying out secret duties on behalf of her stepfather, Leighton was undercover as a Persian gems dealer and spying on behalf of Britain. In the forced proximity of the cave, though, all external circumstances – even their true names – fell away. In that paradisiacal bubble under the shadow of a giant faded Buddhist mural, they could just be two people getting to know each other, taking care of each other, and falling quickly and intensely in love.

He handed her the pouch of gems. She closed her fingers over it, knowing that she was holding a promise.

She grinned at him. “There will be only pebbles inside when I give it back.”

He smiled back. “I would rather have pebbles from you than the Koh-I-Noor from anyone else.”

She watched him ride away, her heart as bright and sun-drenched as the day.

The outside world soon intruded once Leighton travelled out for supplies – he overheard some soldiers talking about Ying-ying and came to the mistaken belief that she was an agent of the Ch’ing state that he was spying on. A heartbreaking and rather horrifying parting followed, and they continued to be separated for years until they met again in London.

I love the cave hide-out for representing those magical moments in life – the brief uncomplicated joy when time, space, and state of being fuse into an unrepeatable instance that can only live on afterwards as a poignant memory. Throughout the book, Ying-ying and Leighton separately reminisced about Xinjiang and their days hiding in the cave, yearning not only for each other and the heartwrenchingly beautiful landscape, but also the persons that they were and the less complicated circumstances they were in then.

Happily for them, they reunited and it’s implied that they would travel back to Xinjiang and the Heavenly Mountains and create new memories. Sadly, the same is not possible for me (for now) so here is me and kitty hiking the stunning Muztagh Ata (the “father of ice mountains”) which sits in Kashgar on the borders of Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan.

A doodle of Poppy and her cat hiking in the mountains

  1. That Moment When it is the Beginning of the Rest of Your Life

    From His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

His Majesty’s Dragon
A | BN | K | AB

The book opens with Captain William Laurence in a very good place in his life – he is a decorated, respected captain of a frigate, a committed Navy man, about to propose to his childhood sweetheart… until the French ship he captures turns out to be carrying a very valuable dragon’s egg. This is a world in which the Napoleonic Wars have been reimagined with a strategic aerial dimension, in the form of a dragon corps.

The Corps believed that dragonettes had to be harnessed soon after hatching; otherwise they would go feral and it would be impossible to press them into service. They were also notoriously finicky about their handlers; the person harnessing them would essentially end up with a lifelong responsibility of care. Knowing how crucial dragons were to Britain’s defence, Laurence reluctantly took on the care of the dragonette, which meant giving up his career in the Navy and his plans to wed.

After Laurence accepted the responsibility of harnessing the dragonette – Temeraire – he went through a series of moments in which he realized it was, indeed, the beginning of the rest of his life, but one that has been unfairly and painfully foisted upon him:

Laurence sat down with a thump and stared at the sleeping dragon, as at an instrument of doom.

…He dearly loved society; conversation, dancing, and friendly whist were his favourite pursuits; and when he thought that he might never go to the opera again, he felt a very palpable urge to tip the laden cot out the windows.

It was not until the ship made port at Madeira, leaving Laurence and Temeraire onshore for a few days, that Laurence started to develop genuine affection for his dragon. This came to the test when the Corps, having heard of the valuable harnessed dragon, arrived to relieve Laurence of his duty. Faced with the prospect of giving up Temeraire to the aviator who was to take his place, Laurence came to his own realization:

Temeraire was quiet for several minutes, while they stood comfortably together… “If you would like to have your ship back,” Temeraire said, “I will let someone else ride me… I will not make you stay.”

Laurence stood motionless for a moment, his hands still on Temeraire’s head, with the dragon’s warm breath curling around him. “No, my dear,” he said at last, softly, knowing it was only the truth. “I would rather have you than any ship in the Navy.”

I’ve re-read the Temeraire series at least three times now, and this scene always makes me sniffly: seeing Laurence go from treating Temeraire as a duty-driven obligation to realising that he wants Temeraire, and would be happy to build a life with what is essentially now his foster child. (Albeit one larger than a warship and with the ability to snap a man in two with a single bite.) Is this what the kids call “owning it”?

I love this entire series for military strategies, the very clever commentary on politics, social and gender issues, and most of all, the human-dragon relationships. That last bit is probably not surprising for an adoring mama to four kitties, so here is one of them mounted on his own dragon whilst his fussing, freaked out mom watches.

Poppy watching her black cat fly away on the back of a red dragon

And that concludes my list of Top Three That Moment Whens. What are some of your favourite book moments?

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