For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:
February 20: Books I’ve Decided I’m No Longer Interested In Reading
This topic didn’t really speak to me. My thinking is that if I’m no longer interested in reading them, then why waste time writing about them? So instead I decided to look at one of my favorite fictional genres. I love dual timeline narratives in which the past and the present interact in some way. It could be a literal interaction; such as someone from the present having contact with someone in the past, or it could be more thematic- the present day character learns about some past event that illuminates something that s/he is experiencing. My “rules” for this list are that there isn’t allowed to be any literal time travel. Each character needs to remain physically in his/her own period. Visions of the other period are allowed though. Also, only two primary timelines are allowed. We can learn bits and pieces of what happens in between, but the main narrative focuses on two timelines. Here are ten favorites:
1. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton– I was initially reluctant to read this after having been rather disappointed in Morton’s debut The House at Riverton. But I’m so glad that I gave her another chance because now she’s one of my favorite authors! This story starts off with a little girl, turning up abandoned on a ship from England to Australia in 1913. The only clue as to her identity is a book of fairy tales in her suitcase. Years later, her granddaughter, Cassandra, inherits a cottage in Cornwall, and journeys to England to discover the truth about her grandmother’s origins. She discovers that the key to the puzzle exists before her grandmother’s birth, with a Victorian country house full of family secrets. Friendship, rivalry, betrayal, romance, and murder all play out in stories within stories. But even though the narrative is intricate (to say the least) it’s not hard to follow. Each chapter heading tells us exactly when and where the bit we’re reading takes place.
2. Mariana by Susanna Kearsley– Susanna Kearsley has written many wonderful novels in this genre. For me, this one is a standout but anything she’s written is a reliable bet. Julia Beckett moves into an old farmhouse, one that she’d wanted to own since childhood. But when she moves in, she begins dreaming of Mariana, a British woman who lived in the house in the 17th century. Mariana loved her neighbor, Richard, a Loyalist, whose politics put him at odds with her uncle. Though their romance ended in tragedy, Mariana and Richard loved each other too much to stay separated. Their love will come full circle in the present day, and Julia will have an important role to play in the resolution.
3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diana Setterfield– Reclusive author, Vida Winter, has never told anyone the truth about her life story. When she’s old and ill, she hires Margaret Lea to write her biography. Margaret listens in fascination and disbelief as Vida tells her story of gothic weirdness. It’s complete with twins, a ghost, a governess, a fire, and a secret that’s never been shared. Margaret has her own issues with trust and intimacy, and her own past. Through listening to and telling Vida’s tale, she may find some resolution in her own life.
4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel– During a performance of King Lear, Arthur Leander, famous actor, has a heart attack onstage and dies despite the best efforts of an EMT in the audience. The EMT, Jeevan, later learns that on this same night the terrible flu began to spread. There is no cure, hospitals are flooded, and people begin to panic. Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves in his apartment as the world around them falls apart. Fifteen years later, Kirsten, who as a small child appeared in that fateful production of King Lear, is an actress with the Travelling Symphony. This is a performing arts troupe that travels from one settlement of the ruined world to another. They perform Shakespeare and play music for the small communities of survivors because “survival is insufficient”- people need reminders of what it means to be human. When they arrive at St. Deborah by the Water and encounter a cult and a violent prophet who doesn’t let anyone leave. The book covers twenty years during which the twists of fate that link these disparate characters are revealed.
5. The Plague Tales by Ann Benson– In 1348, a Spanish doctor Alejandro Canches is tasked with keeping the court of Edward III alive during the plague. Nearly 700 years later, in a futuristic 2005 (the book was written in 1995 so 2005 was the future then!) Janie Crowe, a physician comes across a soil sample that contains a microbe that may unleash the bubonic plague on a post-Outbreak world that has already been decimated by disease. As the book progresses, these two separate stories of doctors fighting disease begin to intertwine in interesting ways. This book can be read as a standalone, or as the beginning of a trilogy. It’s followed by The Burning Road and The Physician’s Tale.
6. A Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware– Blythe Barton was one married to a Hollywood power player. Then she walked in on him in bed with her sister. One messy divorce later, Blythe takes refuge in Cornwall, where she’s rented a cottage for the summer. She meets Lucas, the owner of the cottage that she’s renting. Jack is a widower, the father of a young son, who is trying to keep his estate going. Blythe wants to help. But she soon begins to have dreams and visions of Lucas’s ancestors. In the 18th century, the estate belonged to a woman, also named Blythe Barton. She was married, against her will, to a man named Christopher, though she loved his brother, Ennis. All three have tragic fates, but observing these historical events gives Blythe the perspective she needs to move on with her own life.
7. The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve– In 1873, two women living on the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, were found murdered. A third woman survived by hiding in a sea cave. In the present day, photojournalist Jean goes to the island with her husband, Thomas and their daughter Billie. The plan is for Jean to shoot a photo essay for a magazine about the murders. They take a boat with Thomas’ brother Rich and his girlfriend, Adelaine. As Jean is drawn into the murders that happened so long ago, Thomas and Adelaide are drawn to each other. All of the characters, in both timelines, are heading toward disaster. The book is based on real murders that happened on the island Smuttynose, though the contemporary story is fictional. Actually, the historical story is fictional too since the crimes in the book happen in a way very different from the story that came out in court at the alleged killer’s trial. The book was given an ok film adaptation in 2004. It’s worth a look if you like the story, but it comes as no surprise that the book is better.
8. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood– Like The Weight of Water, this is based on a real-life murder. In 1843, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery were murdered in Upper Canada. Grace Marks, a maid in the household, and James McDermott, a stableman/handyman, were convicted of the murder. McDermott was hanged and Grace Marks was sentenced to life in prison. That much is historical fact. Atwood’s novel begins after Grace has been incarcerated for some time. A committee that believes in her innocence hopes to have her pardoned and released. Since Grace cannot remember the crimes, they hire Dr. Simon Jordan, a psychologist to evaluate her and determine her sanity. Dr. Jordan meets with Grace and listens as she tells him the story of her life, leading up to the day of the murders. We follow Grace’s story and at times we wonder about the truth of what Grace tells Dr. Jordan. She seems to make an effort to keep his interest. We’re left with a sense of ambiguity. How much of what Grace tells is the truth? If what she tells isn’t the truth, does that mean she’s lying? This was recently made into a netflix miniseries that was also pretty good.
9. Possession by AS Byatt– In the 19th century, poet Randolph Henry Ash, known for being a devoted husband, had an affair with his fellow poet Christabel LaMotte. At the end of the 20th century, scholar Roland Mitchell discovers evidence of the secret romance and begins to investigate. His quest leads him to LaMotte scholar, Dr. Maud Baily. The two become obsessed with finding out the truth about what happened between Ash and LaMotte, and their own romantic lives begin to become entwined with those of the poets. Both stories are told in parallel and come to echo one another in interesting ways. The book had a film adaptation that wasn’t bad on its own but made some fairly significant changes from the novel.
10. The Eight by Katherine Neville– In 1790, Mireille, a novice nun at Montglane Abbey is tasked with helping her cousin, Valentine, disperse the pieces of a chess set in order to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. The set was a gift from the Moors to Emperor Charlemagne, and now it’s sought by power-hungry men and women including Napoleon, Robespierre, and Catherine the Great. In 1972 computer expert Cat Velis is sent to Algeria on a special assignment. Before she leaves, she is asked by an antique dealer to find the Montglaine Service, the same chess set that Mireille had tried to protect. It’s rumored to be in Algeria. As Cat tracks down the chess set and learns its history, she discovers the power that it contains. The author wrote a sequel in 2008 called The Fire but I haven’t read it yet.
11. The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor- Yes I know it’s supposed to be ten but I had trouble deciding between a couple, and I ended up just including an extra book. This is also based on a real incident. In 1917, England was still in the grips of the most devastating war that it had ever seen. Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two cousins in Yorkshire, announced that they’ve photographed fairies in their garden. They release the photographs and become a national sensation. A country torn apart by war seems to have found the magic it desperately needs. Eventually, though, Frances and Elsie feel that they must tell the truth about the pictures. In 2017, Olivia Kavanagh inherits her grandfather’s bookshop and discovers an old manuscript. She becomes immersed in the story it tells, that ties past to present. But when she discovers a photo, she learns that reality and fantasy may be intertwined as well.