Top Ten Tuesday: Best Novellas and Short Stories

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

July 17: Favorite Novellas/Short Stories

515izn3gadl-_ac_us218_1. The Story of An Hour by Kate Chopin– Like Chopin’s famous novel The Awakening, this short story is an early exploration of how confining marriage could be for a woman at the turn of the century. It begins when Mrs. Mallard is informed of her husband’s death and follows her through the next hour, as she absorbs what that means for her life now.

 

51ugyhie53l-_ac_us218_2. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson– This is probably one of the more famous examples from the genre and for good reason. The more you think about what happens and the reasons for it, the more disturbing the implications become.  All the residents of a small town gather one summer morning to draw lots. Eventually, the residents are narrowed down more and more, until one is selected. What eventually becomes of the “winner” of this lottery will unsettle you.

41iob1yraol-_ac_us218_3. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway– I’m not usually a Hemingway fan at all, but I feel like in this case, his spare, economical style served the material well. A man and a woman are waiting at a train station. We follow their conversation over several pages and eventually we can put two and two together and understand where they’re going and why. Without any narrative commentary, the reader still gets a sense of the emotional distance between these people, and the tension comes from what they’re not saying.

61g-wucnurl-_ac_us218_4. The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield- This poignant story deals with a wealthy family preparing for a garden party. When they receive the news that their neighbor has died, the daughter Laura wants to call off the party. She’s overruled by the rest of the family. But when Laura is sent to bring some flowers to the dead man’s grieving family, she’s forever changed by what she encounters. To me, it’s a perfect example of what makes the short story special. It covers what is really a tiny piece of the character’s life (only a few hours), but also a time that will change her in a profound way.

61l1afcvhtl-_ac_us218_5. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter- The title story in Carter’s collection of retold fairy tales, this story explores the classic fairy tale, Bluebeard, in which a girl marries an older man and is taken to his castle, where she’s given the keys to all the rooms and is told that she can’t open one room. Of course, she does open it and discovers the bloody corpses of her husband’s previous wives. Carter’s retelling explores themes that are prevalent throughout her work, but most particularly her fairy tale retellings. These themes include sexuality and maternal instinct.

31g7ovvubul-_ac_us218_6. Shopgirl by Steve Martin– This novella by Steve Martin (yes, that Steven Martin) focuses on Mirabelle, a department store salesgirl in her late 20s who becomes involved with an older man. But it’s not the typical older man/younger woman misogynistic fantasy that you’d expect from an older male author. The focus of the novel remains on largely on Mirabelle throughout; her loneliness, her frustrations, and the reasons that she becomes involved in this relationship. It’s funny and poignant at the same time.

51ktieauzl-_ac_us218_7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer–  Margaret Johnson, a wealthy woman from North Carolina, travels to Florence with her daughter Clara in 1953. Margaret’s husband, Roy, stays home to work. In Florence, Clara meets Fabrizio Nacarelli, a young man with whom she falls in love. Clara isn’t quite as she first appears, which may be a barrier to her future with Fabrizio.  Margaret hates the thought of her daughter suffering the pain of love gone wrong. But she is not able to express her concerns to Fabrizio or his family due to the language barrier.  Or so she thinks. As Clara and Fabrizio’s relationship progresses Margaret realizes that while she’s afraid of what will happen if Clara’s secret is discovered, her fear may be overruled by her hope for Clara’s happiness. These dual maternal instincts tear at her, as she tries to figure out what is in her daughter’s best interests.

51q4ceca-kl-_ac_us218_8. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan– In 1962, Florence and Edward fall in love and get married.  Both are virgins. While Edward is nervous about his wedding night, he is nonetheless looking forward to marriage. Florence, on the other hand, is terrified by the little she knows is involved in sexual intimacy. Because they’re both young and unsure, they navigate this tension in a clumsy way. But the words they don’t say, and the gestures they fail to make, may ultimately be what determines the fate of their marriage and the course of their lives. The narration runs parallel to the conflict. What isn’t explicitly said about the characters is implied. And those are the things that may make all the difference. This book caused some controversy in 2007 when it was nominated for the Booker Prize. At less than 40,000 words, it’s technically a novella, but it was allowed onto the shortlist of novels by the panel.

41srw9zyjrl-_ac_us218_9. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin– Omelas is a utopian city where all the residents live in peace and prosperity. As our unnamed narrator describes it, it seems too good to be true. In order to convince the reader that it is true, the narrator begins to speak of the price that is paid for the city’s happiness. It’s a price that’s initially horrifying to the residents once they learn of it. But most make their peace with it, knowing that it’s for the greater good. But some people aren’t able to accept it and end up leaving Omelas. The unasked question for the reader is, of course, “which would you be?” Would you live in paradise knowing that somewhere, an unseen injustice takes place all the time to keep you there? Or would you leave?

5100vzgkz-l-_ac_us218_10.  The Landlady by Roald Dahl– Billy Weaver is a young man traveling from London to Bath on business. He stops overnight at a bed and breakfast. The landlady is an older woman whom Billy initially suspects might be a little senile.  When he goes to sign the guestbook he sees that two of the previous lodgers have names that seem familiar to him but he can’t quite place. The landlady gives him some tea and they chat a bit. Nothing that happens seems ominous but the feeling that something is “off” pervades the story. When the truth about the B&B is revealed the reader will go back and look through the story trying to spot the clues.

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I’ve Been…

  • Loving every second of my summer vacation
  • A published author for about a week now. It still only feels semi-real. Most of the feedback that I’ve gotten so far has been good. I know that negative feedback will come sooner or later (it does to everyone) but at least I can balance it out with some of the positive.
  • Checking Beautiful on Amazon at least twice a day for any change in review status, ratings, sales, etc.
  • Working on the paperback release of Beautiful. It should be ready by early next week. Maybe holding an actual, physical copy of my book will make it seem more real? 51noohzpcsl-_ac_us218_
  • Included in New York’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction.  The story they’re using is the same flash fiction. that was posted in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal last year.
  • In what might be the opposite of a reading slump. What do you call it when you’ve read several really good books in a row? In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been really impressed by The Immortalists, The Changeling, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and Margaret the First. I’m currently reading and enjoying The Stolen Child.
  • Pleased to hear that Jane Austen’s final, unfinished novel, Sandition, will be adapted for television. As much as I love Austen’s finished novels, I don’t think that we need another TV adaptation of the same old thing. I look forward to something a bit different.
  • Continuously shocked and horrified by the actions of my government. Writers for Families Belong Together has a number of auctions and lotteries for prizes from book sets, ARC’s of highly anticipated books, manuscript critiques from agents, editors, and authors, and much more. All proceeds go to reunifying families. Check it out, before it ends on July 15, and participate if you can!

Top Ten Tuesday: Page To Screen Adaptations

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

July 10: Best Books I’ve Read In 2018 (So Far) (This prompt was originally going to be a TTT throwback, but I know how much people love the bi-annual top ten books of the year and I forgot to add it to the list! Feel free to do a throwback instead if you want!)

Since I did a mid-year book post not too long ago, I figured I’d do a throwback this week.  I went with the Top Ten Book To Movie Adaptations.  But since I’m including TV/miniseries I’m just going with “page to screen”.

1. Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1995) I know that the 2005 film has its fans, and it has its good points. But for me, Colin Firth is Darcy. Jennifer Ehle is Elizabeth. That’s just all there is to it. Perfect casting. Beautiful adaptation.

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2. Jane Eyre (BBC 2006) There are several great adaptations of Jane Eyre, but I’ve always been partial to this one because it’s got a spirit of fun to it. Yes, Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens are probably better looking than the Jane and Mr. Rochester described in the book might be,  but they seem to love their characters. I read a review once saying this didn’t add any new colors to the story but it brought all of the existing colors to their full glory (or something along those lines). To me that says it pretty well.

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3. Little Women (1994) I think I saw this film for the first time not too long after I first read the novel. Maybe that’s why these actors seem fused to their characters. Or maybe it’s just really well cast! The film adds some outright feminism and political commentary that doesn’t feel extraneous at all. It also manages the tough plot points well. For example, whenever I watch it, I want to see Jo end up with Professor Bhaer rather than Laurie. And it doesn’t even bother me much when Amy is played by a different actress halfway through.

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4. Anne of Green Gables (1985 miniseries) I’ve seen a few screen Annes (including the most recent “Anne With An ‘E'”) but to me, none of them have approached Megan Follows, who just is Anne to me.  This is another example of something I saw for the first time around the same time that I read the book, which may explain why it’s so definitive for me. I also just really like Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert.

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5. Gone With the Wind (1939) It’s almost impossible to picture Scarlett O’Hara as anyone other than Vivian Leigh. Likewise, it’s hard to picture Rhett Butler not looking like Clark Gable. And yes, occasionally I picture the antebellum American South in something like old Hollywood technicolor, though I’m aware that plantation life was hardly as pretty as the film makes it look. Perhaps its a testament to a good film that I can forget about the ugly reality for a few hours as I watch it, and believe in the fantasy.

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6. Rebecca (1940) This is an example of a film that changes some important plot points from its source material but still works as an adaptation because it maintains the mood and atmosphere of the book. Hitchcock made a wise move refusing to cast Vivian Leigh as the unnamed narrator. The same qualities that made her perfect for Scarlett O’Hara would have made her all wrong for this role. Also, whoever cast Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers really knew what they were doing!

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7. The Age of Innocence (1993) I felt like the narration of this film did it a great service, which is rare, because in many films I find the device overbearing. We see the characters go about their lives, but in the book the weight of social norms and expectations as they did this was tremendous. In the film, we might not even be aware of this if not for the narration that lets us know about it at important points. It could have been done in a clunky way, but it wasn’t. For the most part, it works.

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8. The Princess Bride (1987) This is an example of an adaptation that could have gone all wrong. William Goldman’s novel indulged in tropes that it simultaneously satirized. That’s the kind of thing that is really hard to translate to screen.  It’s done just right. Instead of presenting it as an abridgment of the novel by S. Morgenstern with “commentary” from Goldman, we’re given a frame story of a grandfather reading the book to his sick grandson. It might not have translated at all, but it does.

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9. Matilda (1996) This film relocates the action of Roald Dahl’s tale from the UK to the US. Usually, that’s not a move that I’m a fan of with adaptations. But in this case, it doesn’t hurt the material. Casting wise, Mara Wilson was a lovely Matilda. The character needs to come off as smart and sweet without crossing too far into the precocious and annoying territory. Wilson finds just the right balance. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman are just the right amount of loathsome as the Wormwoods.

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10. Bleak House (BBC 2005) I never thought a story about a legal battle over an estate would capture my interest, but Charles Dickens pulled it off in this book. I didn’t think a book with so many plotlines and characters could be done well as a TV miniseries, but this miniseries proved that wrong too. Most of the plotlines do make it into the series, and the ones that were omitted were the right ones. Plus it’s hard to go wrong with a cast that includes Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Carey Mulligan, Alun Armstrong, Anna Maxwell Martin and Denis Lawson.

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What do you think? Did I miss any?

Publication Day!

Well, this is it! I am now a published author!

How does it feel? It definitely feels good to have accomplished something that I’ve always wanted to, something that most people never do. But it’s also frightening for most of the reasons I wrote about a few days ago. I think a lot of that will frighten me until I start to see people’s reactions to it.

A lot of writers describe publication day as something that they build up in their minds as a party or celebration, that turns out pretty quiet and normal. Maybe because I’ve read a lot of those descriptions, my expectations were a little different. It was sort of reassuring to wake up this morning and go about business as usual. I’ll do something later to celebrate though.

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You can get Beautiful as an ebook on Amazon here. If you want a print copy, stay tuned because I’ll have information about that very soon.

If you do read and enjoy Beautiful, please leave a review on Amazon. It doesn’t have to be long at all. Reviews and word of mouth are an indie author’s best friend!

Thank you to everyone who has been supportive of me on this journey, and I hope you enjoy!

Here is my interview with Fran Laniado

I was interviewed about Beautiful, writing, and a few other things on Fiona Mcvie’s Author Interviews blog. Check it out!

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Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.

 

Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?

My name is Fran Laniado. My age is somewhere between 20 and 50. That’s as specific as I get!

Fiona: Where are you from?

New York mostly.

Fiona: A little about your self (ie,  your education, family life, etc.).

I come from a very loving, supportive family. I grew up in New York and New Jersey. I went to Bard College where I majored in Literature. Then I got my Masters in Curriculum and Teaching from Columbia University. I’ve been an elementary school teacher for the past few years.

Fiona: Tell us your latest news.

My first novel, Beautiful, is published on July 4, 2018!

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I think I wanted to be a…

View original post 1,815 more words

Top Ten Tuesday: Red, White and Blue

For the That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

July 3: Books with Red, White, & Blue Covers (In honor of the 4th of July in the USA. Choose covers with your own country’s colors if you prefer!)

I went with a top nine this week so I could do three books for each color. And I’ve done a little shameless self-promotion on the last one. I promise I’ll try not to do that too often!

51ixaf4tmsl-_ac_us218_1. The Eight by Katherine Neville– In 1972, a computer expert, Cat Velis is sent to Algeria for a special assignment. She finds herself trying to unravel the mystery of the Montglane Service, a chess set that was gifted to Emperor Charlemagne from the Moors. Legend has it that the set holds the key to unlimited power. Two hundred years earlier, Mireille, a novice at Montglane Abbey must help her cousin Valentine disperse the pieces of the chess set before they fall into the wrong hands. The stories of Cat and Mireille intertwine in unexpected ways as they go about their similar goals, two hundred years apart. But the only way to stop the violence, conspiracy, and betrayal that follows the chess set, may be to unlock its dangerous secrets.

51myhqwnyyl-_ac_us160_2. The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy– In 2012, Ariel Levy left the US for a reporting trip to Mongolia. At the time, she was pregnant, married, financially secure, and had a successful career. A month later, she returned to the US and none of that was true anymore. Ariel Levy was raised to rebel against traditional gender roles. She was raised to believe that she could be anything. She built an unconventional life, that she was happy in. But nothing comes without a cost. Sometimes that cost is simply the result of bad luck. Sometimes it’s a result of bad decisions, and sometimes it comes from being blind to what we don’t want to see. For Ariel Levy, it was probably a combination of the three factors. But when your life falls apart, the only thing you can do is learn what you can from the experience, pick up the pieces, and keep going. To her credit, that’s what Levy did.

51d91qzjhsl-_ac_us218_3. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling– I decided to feature this book because I think I’m one of the few people who liked it. I guess one reason was that I wasn’t expecting anything like Harry Potter. Another is that I felt that even though the tone was bleak, it was appropriate for the material. It was billed as a dark comedy, but Rowling said that she thinks of it more as a “comic tragedy” and I think that’s a good description. Set in a suburban town called Pagford, the book begins with the death of a Parish Councillor. WIth his seat suddenly vacant, an election must take place. The candidates find their secrets come to like on the Parish Council online forum. These secrets pit rich against poor, husband against wife, one family against another. By the time the casual vacancy is resolved, Pagford may be forever changed.

519ak8fcsvl-_ac_us218_4. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown– The Andreas family love to read. Their father, a Shakespearean scholar speaks almost entirely in verse named his three daughters after the Bard’s heroines. When their mother falls sick with breast cancer the three sisters return home to help out during her treatment. But they’ve got their own drama going on. Rosalind still lives in her hometown, and can’t quite keep her nose out of the rest of the family’s business. But it’s for the own good. Surely they can’t manage without her! Bianca is a NYC attorney whose need for the glamorous life may have left her with nothing. Cordelia is a flighty bohemian who has just realized that she’s pregnant that her carefree lifestyle will have to change. When they’re all under the same roof again, the Andreas girls fall into old patterns. But they also learn that coming together may be the way out of their problems.

41qfdmnyvxl-_ac_us218_5. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls–  Rex and Rose Mary Wells had four children. Rex taught his children physics, geology and how to embrace life. He was also a destructive alcoholic. Rose Mary was an “excitement addict” who couldn’t bear to cook for her family when she could be painting a picture (after all the dinner will last for as long as it takes people to eat it, but art is forever). For the first six years of Jeanette’s life, they roamed around Arizona and California. But once the excitement of that life (and money) faded they retreated to West Virginia. Financial difficulties made Rex’s drinking worse and Jeannette and her siblings were often left to fend for themselves. But for all their parents’ many faults, they maintained a deep affection for them. In this memoir, Walls details how she and her siblings became successful despite the odds against them, and even pays tribute to her unconventional upbringing.

51aznmcwg9l-_ac_us218_6.  The White Album by Joan Didion- This book of essays by Joan Didion. It covers a variety of subjects but tends to center around California (and the US in general) in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as a place of simultaneous paranoia and detachment. In the title essay, Didion describes her own psychological issues as well as her experience as a journalist covering the Black Panthers and the Manson trials.  Other essays in the volume cover subjects ranging from Doris Lessing and Georgia O’Keefe to the Hoover Dam and water in the desert. It’s interesting to look at what seemed to be a chaotic time in America from a contemporary perspective. While the tensions and threats of the late 1970’s/early 1970’s don’t quite seem quaint, I did have the impulse to tell the people “you ain’t seen nothing yet!” A few years ago I might have said that a lot of the things that made people nervous at that time were no longer huge issues, or were at least significantly better. Reading it now it’s hard to say whether we’re better or worse off.

51xphws9jdl-_ac_us218_7. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon– Nurse Claire Randall and her husband, Frank, were separated by WWII for most of their marriage.  After the war ends, in an effort to reconnect, they take a second honeymoon to Scotland. When Claire goes near a standing stone, she suddenly finds herself in Scotland circa 1743 facing Frank’s ancestor Jack Randall. Jack Randall is a sadistic bully who assaults her. To escape, Claire falls in with the Mackenzie clan. They take her to their home, where her medical skill is valued even though some suspect her of being a British spy. All Claire wants to do is go home. But Jack Randall is a powerful Redcoat, who wants Claire for his own purposes. The only way to avoid becoming his prisoner is to marry a Scot. Enter Jamie. Claire doesn’t know much about him other than the fact that he’s related to the Mackenzie’s but is not a member of the clan. He’s got a price his head and scars on his back (both thanks to Jack Randall) and he’s willing to marry her. Claire endures kidnapping and being tried as a witch, with the loyal, devoted Jamie always on her side. But when she finds herself before the standing stones once again, she’s forced to decide where she truly belongs.

41-f8aif5zl-_ac_us218_8. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier- At a Confederate military hospital, Inman recovers from wounds sustained in battle. He’s tired of fighting for a cause in which he doesn’t believe, and he sneaks away from the hospital to return to his home, Cold Mountain, North Carolina, where his beloved Ada waits for him. Meanwhile, on Cold Mountain, Ada’s father has died, and Ada struggles to survive on the family farm, with the help of her friend Ruby. We follow Inman on his journey home, constantly threatened by the Confederate Home Guard who hunt down military deserters. We also follow the challenges that Ada and Ruby face on Cold Mountain. This novel mirrors Homer’s Odyssey as we see the soldier returning from war, and the faithful wife waiting for him. But in this case, Inman is not a victor but a deserter on the losing side, and Ada, though faithful, is very changed when Inman finally gets back.

51noohzpcsl-_ac_us218_9. Beautiful by Fran Laniado– Is this cheating? I don’t care if it is. This is my blog, and my novel is being published tomorrow, so I’m gonna plug it. So there!  Eimear is Faerie. She left the land of her birth,  to find a place where she felt like she could belong. She finds herself in the World, and she begins to build a life for herself. But when she encounters Finn, supernaturally beautiful but thoughtless and selfish, she gets angry. In a fit of rage, she casts a spell on Finn.  It’s a spell that she can’t undo, even when she discovers that she’s ruined Finn’s life. Finn is wealthy, arrogant,  and cruel. He didn’t think twice about insulting Eimear until it was too late.  Now, exiled from the only home he’s ever known, he is forced to make his own way, for the first time ever. He does have support- if he wants it. Eimear wants to assuage her guilt by helping him. In an isolated place, thrown together initially out of desperation and need, Eimear and Finn find a way to live together.  That alliance eventually blossoms into friendship, and even love. But before they can have their happily ever after, Eimear must go on a perilous journey that will force her to confront everything that she ran away from when she left Faerie.

 

 

 

Pre-Publication Jitters

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When I initially decided to publish Beautiful I was sort of daring myself to do it. I wanted to stop saying “I’ll publish a book someday” and take control. Because there’s always going to be a reason not to do something you want to do. At some point, you just have to do it anyway.

All of that sounds great.  But now that the publication date is less than a week away, I find myself getting nervous. I woke up this morning wondering if was too late to back out of the whole thing.  It’s not the prospect of strangers reading this book that scares me, it’s the prospect of people who know me reading it. Will their impression of me change? If so will that change be positive or negative? Will people judge my decision to go indie rather than try for a traditional publisher? My inner snob pops up occasionally and worries that people will judge me for writing genre fiction. Another part of me worries that people who came to know me via my blog will be disappointed when they read my fiction.

I’ve always felt that I reveal more of myself when I write fiction than when I write nonfiction. It seems counter-intuitive, but I think that fiction reveals more about how I think and feel.  Plus, I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to writing this novel, rewriting it, editing, revising, proofreading, selecting a cover, writing a blurb, finding beta readers and editors… I don’t want to feel like that time and effort was wasted.

Given the investment I’ve put into this, it makes sense that I’m nervous. A while ago I considered what I’d define “success” for this book. I decided that I’d consider it “successful” if some readers enjoy it. Not everyone will and I don’t expect that. But I want some to like it. And I want to write another book, and continue to grow. To do that, I know that I have to release this book. I’ve done what I can with it, and now it’s time to let it go and see what happens.

Does anyone have any advice for pre-publication jitters?

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Plan To Finish Someday

For That Arsty Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

June 25: Series I’ve Given Up On/Don’t Plan to Finish (Submitted by A Book and a Cup). (Feel free to switch this to Series I’d Like to Finish Someday)

I decided to series I do plan to finish because it’s more fun. There are a lot of series I’ve given up on when the characters became caricatures of themselves and the plots became ridiculous. But who cares about those? Also, I’m doing only series that are currently complete, not series that are still being written. Basically, all the books in the series need to be out to make it onto this list.

1. The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

First book: The Game of Kings

I’ve read the first two books in this series

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This series features a really compelling hero, who is often a mystery both to characters an to readers. Set in 16th century Europe (the first book is set in England and Scotland, the second is set in France), the series follows the adventures of Frances Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish nobleman, who is a sought-after military leader, spy, and diplomat.  But Lymond’s motivations and goals are often a mystery to the reader, at least initially, and only become clear over time. He’s also a well-educated polyglot who enjoys making references to obscure sources, which can make some of his dialogue rather tough. Even though the books present a vivid historical background and a compelling character, they can be rather dense reading. I’m slowly making my way through the six book series.

2. The Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody

First book: Obernewtyn

I’ve read the first six in this series of seven books. (In the US the 6th book is split in two, so there are eight books total)

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Elspeth Geordie is a young girl living in a world that has long since been destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. Elspeth must keep her mental powers a secret from the Council, the governing body in this new world, as well as the Herder Faction, a religious authority.  It’s a brutal world, and Elspeth finds herself sent to Obernewtyn, a place where people investigate Misfits and look for a “cure” for their mental abilities. Or so it’s said. When Elspeth discovers what’s really happening at Obernewtyn, she and her friends begin a rebellion to create a safe place for themselves in a hostile world. But as time goes on, they realize that the fate of their world is still being shaped, and they may be able to save it or destroy it forever. Carmody began writing this series at the age of 14 and finished the first book when she was in college. Like the Harry Potter series, the books become darker and more complex as the characters become adults. They’re hard to find in the US, and the later books in the series of quite large. My friend in Australia is usually the one who gets these to me. But the last volume is 1120 pages, which is a monster to ship!

3. The Jacobite Chronicles- By Julia Brannan

First book: Mask of Duplicity

I’ve read the first book in this six book series.

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Beth Cunningham is living a pretty happy life in the English countryside until her father dies. Her brother, Richard, who has been away in the military for most of her life, returns home, to find that his inheritance isn’t nearly as large as he’d assumed. He wants a military commission, and the only way he can afford it is to marry Beth off well. Richard reconciles with some extended family, that disowned their father when he married Beth’s mother and drags Beth to London, where she is launched into society. Here she encounters a band of Jacobite rebels (with whom she sympathizes) and the mysterious Sir Anthony Peters, an effeminate nobleman, who is hiding something that Beth may find very interesting. Since the series is known as “The Jacobite Chronicles” I imagine that Beth’s Jacobite sympathies will be explored more in the future books and that the rebels she encounters will take center stage at some point. But it seems like this was setting up some interesting characters and storylines.

4. The Tairen Soul Series by CL Wilson

I’ve read the first two in this five-book series.

First book: Lord of the Fading Lands

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A thousand years ago, Faerie king Rain Tairen Soul’s wife was killed. In his grief, he destroyed half the world. Now his people are dying out and an old enemy is rising. Ellie is a woodcutter’s daughter. At twenty-four years old, she’s entering spinster territory, when her path crosses Rain. Ellie is Rain’s soul mate, the first true mate of a Tairen Soul in history. Ellie is drawn to Rain, but she has some secrets of her own. The first book in the series is very much a Cinderella story, that sets the stage for numerous conflicts that begin to develop in the later books. Or at least, in the second book. I haven’t read farther than that yet!

5. Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal

First book: Shades of Milk and Honey

I’ve read the first four of this five-book series

51mmrr0hqcl-_ac_us218_If Jane Austen had written fantasy, it might have looked something like this. Jane Ellsworth envies her sister Melody’s beauty and Melody envies Jane’s ability to manipulate magical glamour. Mr. Vincent is a highly accomplished glamour artist, who has been hired to create murals in a nearby mansion. He’s brusque, mysterious and brilliant, with no interest in social niceties. When Jane discovers a secret that may destroy the Ellsworth’s and other local families, she finds herself torn between keeping it, and avoiding the trouble that she knows it will cause, or telling the truth for the sake of the greater good. As the series continues we see the family grow in a variety of situations both magical and nonmagical. The fantasy aspect of these books is pretty light most of the time.

6. William Marshal Series by Elizabeth Chadwick

First book: A Place Beyond Courage

I’ve read the first in this four book series.

51immr0h0gl-_ac_us218_William Marshal was an obscure knight who saved Elinor of Aquitaine, tutored her son, Henry, heir to the throne, and was eventually responsible in part for the Magna Carta. His descendants include George Washington and Winston Churchill. Of course, I don’t know much about him, since the first book of this historical fiction series focuses on his father, John FitzGilbert. John was also a knight of some renown, who backed a woman’s claim to the throne over the king, which forced him to take a gamble that he may not be willing to lose. We really only meet William as a child in this book, but it was an interesting read, and I’m very curious as to how William sees his father’s actions.

7. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

First book: Justine

I’ve read the first of this four book series.

41lrxakb1ql-_ac_us218_Set in Egypt between WWI and WWII, the plot of the first book in this series is hard to describe. An unnamed narrator tells this story of his various friends and acquaintances. The plot essentially deals with the narrator’s affair with the mysterious Justine. Justine is a Jewish woman, married to Nessim, the son of a wealthy Coptic Christian family. However, her religious background keeps her from being truly accepted in her surroundings. This has writing that’s sometimes very beautiful and evocative, but at other times seems a bit too flowery. It’s also difficult because the story isn’t linear. In a way, this seemed hazy and impressionistic. It’s more about atmosphere than plot. Yet something about the ending suggested to me that there’s more to this plot and these characters than meets the eye in the first book.

8. MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

First book: Oryx and Crake

I’ve read the first book in this trilogy

510o1wih4jl-_ac_us218_Snowman (once called Jimmy) is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the only person left alive.  Humanity has been decimated by a plague. He mourns the loss of Crake, his best friend, and Oryx, who both Snowman/Jimmy and Crake loved. We eventually do learn what caused the plague, and it’s frighteningly easy to imagine this actually happening in our lifetimes. It’s compelling enough that I want to read more of the series, but I think I need to reread the first book because I don’t remember too much about it.

9. Asian Saga by James Clavell

First book: Shogun

I’ve read the first in this six-book series

51vjdahwfal-_ac_us218_Technically these books can be read as stand-alone, but when taken together, they all deal with the experiences of Europeans in Asia.  Thematically, they’re united by the ways that East and West impact one another when they meet. Shogun is set in feudal Japan in the year 1600, but other books take place elsewhere at different time periods. I read Shogun a long time ago. As I understand it, some of it isn’t completely accurate historically, but it’s still a good story that depicts the meeting of two very different cultures.

10. War at Home series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 

First Book: Goodbye, Picadilly 

I’ve read the first two of this five book series.

51r2dchl-zl-_ac_us218_This series depicts WWI from the point of view of a wealthy (but not aristocratic) British family and their servants. Each book covers one year of the war. Yes, there’s a Downton Abbey vibe at times, but I found the characters compelling. Very little seems to take place on the battlefield. Rather it looks at how the war affected the people who stayed home. It looks at how they deal with loss and worry, and how they try to pursue a future in a world that rapidly looks like it might never be the same again.

 

2018 Mid Year Book Freak Out

I’ve seen this tag on a lot of blogs, so I thought “why not mine?”

BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2018

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Idaho by Emily Ruskovitch– While I enjoyed the plot, this wasn’t a book to read to find out whodunnit or what happens next. If you read it for clear, unambiguous answers, you’ll be frustrated. But there are passages in this book that are so exquisitely written that I almost had to stop reading for a moment. There is ugliness in the plot. People do ugly things. But those are written about so beautifully that you almost can’t help but find something lovely in them, even when you don’t want to. The book consists of this torturous pairing of sadness and hope, and love and pain.

BEST SEQUEL YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2018

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Actually, I don’t think many of the books I’ve read in 2018 qualify as sequels. Probably one of the only ones is Messinger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear, which is the 4th in the Maisie Dobbs series. While somewhat grim (set in the aftermath of WWI and the looming shadow of WWII) the characters developed in interesting ways. One of the characters’ circumstances took a turn that I didn’t quite expect. I’m eager to see what becomes of him in the next book.

NEW RELEASE YOU HAVEN’T READ YET BUT WANT TO

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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is one that I’m very anxious to read because I’ve heard good reviews from several fairly reliable sources. The combination of fantasy and historical fiction is right up my alley.

MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASES FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE YEAR

There are a lot. At the moment, the most notable are these.

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Bellwether and The Clockmaker’s Daughter are the long-anticipated new books by two of my favorite authors.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

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After Anatevka by Alexandra Silber

I think that I wanted to like this more than I did. I’m a fan of Alexandra Silber as an actress and a blogger and I wanted to love her debut novel. She played Hodel in the 2007 London production of The Fiddler on the Roof and Tzeitel in the 2016 Broadway revival of the same show. In this book, she imagined Hodel’s life after she leaves the stage (Hodel is last seen getting on a train to Siberia, where she will join her lover, Perchik in a labor camp). Tzeitel is also given a voice in letters she writes to her sister. I thought that this was a great extension of the creative process, from an actress who clearly has a strong connection to the material and the characters. Which makes my biggest problem with it surprising. An actor is supposed to show who a character is and what s/he feels by illustrating it with their body and voice. But in this book, we’re told things about the characters rather than shown. We know for example that Hodel loves Perchik because we’re told that this is the case, but not because we see it. So ultimately I liked this less than I wanted to.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

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I read this because I’d seen it recommended many times, rather than any interest I may have had in a Nigerian couple struggling to conceive. But this story of the traditional culture coming into conflict with modern life drew me in right away. I found that I cared about the characters and the things that happened to them. The plot twisted in directions that I didn’t expect, but it never felt contrived.

FAVORITE NEW AUTHOR

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I look forward to reading more from Susanna Fogel, author of Nuclear Family. According to her bio she’s written a couple of screenplays and some stuff for The New Yorker. But her first novel has a really nice blend of the humor, love, and exasperation that makes family what it is. Granted, the Fellers are their own unique kind of dysfunctional, but the blend of wanting to simultaneously hug some of these people and never see or speak to them again is something that many people will understand. The chapters consist of letters that the family writes to the main character, Julie. They have names like One of the Eggs You Just Froze Has a Question, Your Mom’s Rabbi Has a Great Idea for a TV Show!, Your Uncle Figured a Mass E-mail Was the Best Way to Discuss His Sexuality, The Gerbil You Drowned in 1990 Would Like a Word With You, and Your Intrauterine Device Has Some Thoughts on Your Love Life.  Yes, some of it’s weird, but Fogel pulls it off.

FAVORITE NEW CRUSH

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I haven’t really encountered any new literary crushes. I’ve recently discovered Simone St. James though, and while her books aren’t great literature, they’re good fun. Her romantic heroes tend to be compelling enough for me to fall for, for the duration of the book, even though they’re not likely to become long-term book boyfriends.

FAVORITE NEW CHARACTERS

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Probably Sir Anthony Peters, Beth Cunningham, and Alex MacGregor from The Mask of Duplicity. All three are intriguing. I’m eager to get to know them all a bit better in the next book in the series.

BOOKS THAT MADE YOU CRY

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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett probably came the closest. It takes place over five decades but the events in two time periods really got to me. One is when several children in a blended family are playing one summer day. The other is when one of those children is caring for her sick father, nearly a half a century later. When she and her father are directly confronted with the events of that summer day, I got a bit of a lump in my throat. I won’t say more, because I can’t without giving away spoilers.

A BOOK THAT MADE YOU HAPPY

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Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

The movie has always been one of my “happy movies”- something I put on to make a bad day a little bit better. I found the novel on which it was based to be even frothier and lighter than the film. In some ways, I actually wished for some of the additional weight that the film added, but the book definitely left me in a good mood.

MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOKS YOU’VE BOUGHT SO FAR THIS YEAR

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Cheerful Weather For the Wedding by Julia Strachey. Like most Persephone Classics, it’s a small work of art, as an object. Its cover features Girl Reading, a painting by Harold Knight. I like the colors in the painting and the general state of repose of the figure. The endpaper features a printed dress fabric design by Madeleine Lawrence. It’s also beautifully written.

WHAT BOOKS DO YOU NEED TO READ BEFORE THE END OF THE YEAR?

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The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien– I’ve never actually made it through the Lord of the Rings books. Finally, the prospect of being a fantasy writer who had never read Tolkien was too much. I’m making my way through this slowly, in between reading other things. I will finish it before the end of the year though!

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach/Pool Reads

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

June 19: Books to Read By the Pool/At the Beach (This can also serve as your summer TBR)

For me, a “beach/pool read” is a very special kind of light read. It has to engage me enough so that I can disappear into it for a while, but it also can’t get me too stressed about the characters, or too emotionally involved. If I’m reading it by a pool or the beach I should be able to put it down and go for a swim. I should also be able to realize that I need to reapply sunscreen before I look like a tomato. But the purpose of a beach/pool read is entertainment first and foremost. These are books that have qualified.

41uc1zr7dzl-_ac_us218_1. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell- Set during the dark ages of the internet, this is about an office that has recently gotten online. Two female coworkers have developed the habit of chatting via email all day. They don’t know that the company has hired an internet security officer, or that he’s fallen in love with one of them thanks to reading her emails.

 

 

419byxeainl-_ac_us218_2. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple– This book is composed mostly of emails, documents, and other communications that help Bee, a young girl, find her mother, who has gone missing. Bee earned a trip to Antarctica thanks to straight A’s on her report card. But the agoraphobic Bernadette finds the prospect of such a trip difficult. This book is a satire that takes aim at helicopter parents, technology, and the notion of “genius”. It’s clever in places and made me giggle, but not care too much about what happened.

 

51yon8-7k2l-_ac_us218_3. Searching For Grace Kelly by Michael Callahan– This is set in NYC’s Barbizon Hotel For Women, where, in the 1950’s secretaries, models, and editors lived side by side while searching for success. Famous residents include writers like Sylvia Plath (who write about it in The Bell Jar, under the name “The Amazon”), Joan Didion, Eudora Welty, and Edna Ferber. It was also home to performers such as Grace Kelly, Ali McGraw, Liza Minelli, Gene Tierney, Elaine Stritch, and Joan Crawford. This book follows three fictional residents: Laura, a college student who plans to work at Mademoiselle for the summer; Dolly, who comes from a blue-collar background and attends secretarial school, and Vivian, a British gal who believes that the Barbazon’s rules were made to be broken. Very similar in many ways to Fiona Davis’ The Dollhouse.

515oqah-rtl-_ac_us218_4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid– For anyone who loves old movies this is for you. Evelyn Hugo is a Hollywood legend. A gorgeous Oscar winner whose personal life has made headlines for decades, for both her films and her tempestuous personal life, marked by seven (yes, seven) marriages. But at the age of 79, Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the whole truth about herself, her husbands, and her life. She hires Monique, an unknown journalist to write her biography. Evelyn reveals the secrets that she’s kept hidden to save her career and protect the people she loves. She tells about the deception that’s haunted her for decades, and she tells Monique about the true love of her life, the one she was unable to marry.

51zs47eoayl-_ac_us218_5. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion– Don Tillman is a professor of genetics. He’s a creature of habit and struggles to understand social cues. He’s never really considered romance for these reasons. But when a friend tells him that he’d make a wonderful husband, he thinks that statistics indicate that there’s someone for everyone out there. So he embarks on The Wife Project; an evidence-based quest for his soul mate (who will be punctual and logical and absolutely not a smoker or a drinker).  Rosie Jarman is definitely not the woman for Don. But she needs his help. She’s trying to find her father, and Don’s skill as a DNA expert is required. So Don’s Wife Project takes a backseat to Rosie’s Father Project. The unexpected relationship that Don and Rosie strike up makes Don realize that what he actually wants is very different from what he thinks he wants.

518ktztx7ol-_ac_us218_6. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– Cecilia finds a letter from her husband with instructions that it should be opened only if he dies. Cecilia opens it, while her husband is very much alive, and learns a secret that has the potential to destroy their marriage, their family, and even the lives of their children. You might make a guess regarding the nature of the secret going into the book. But you’re probably wrong! I found myself wondering what I’d do in Cecilia’s situation, and how I’d justify either choice.

51qphks8hyl-_ac_us218_7. Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz–  Eve Babitz has had an interesting life to be sure. She’s been an artist, a muse, a journalist, a novelist, and a party girl. In this collection of essays that’s part memoir and part fiction, she changes some names to protect the innocent, but there’s a very strong sense of Babitz’ native LA throughout. Her father was a violinist who worked on movie scores. Her mother was an artist. Her godfather was Igor Stravinsky. She attended Hollywood High and knew lots of famous people. She’s got some interesting stories to tell.

51wn17e1xil-_ac_us218_8. Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– Three decades in the life of a fairly dysfunctional family, this novel centers around Julie. It consists of letters and emails that her family writes her, that range from loving to passive aggressive to laugh out loud funny. We get Julie’s intellectual father who is Very Concerned that Julie will never reach her potential. We also get Julie’s mother, a therapist who is perhaps a little too aware of what her daughter is going through psychologically, and Julie’s little sister, who makes some questionable decision. But non-family members send Juliet their missives too. That gerbil she killed when she was a little kid sends her an angry letter from the gerbil afterlife. The container of hummus in the fridge calls to Julie when she’s hungry at an awkward moment. The book is funny because there is a lot of truth in it, about families at their best and their worst. At about 200 pages it’s also a quick read.

61mtmxfnoql-_ac_us218_9. In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware– Nora gets an invitation from her former best friend, Clare, to attend Clare’s bachelorette weekend in the English countryside. Something happened between Nora and Clare years ago, something that caused them to lose touch. But thinking that Clare wants to bury the hatchet, Nora accepts the invite. Then she wakes up in the hospital, unable to remember how she got there. The action flashes back and forth between the weekend in Clare’s aunt’s cabin, and the hospital, where an increasingly frightened Nora tries to piece together what happened, how someone ended up dead, and why there is a police guard outside her hospital door. This is a very fluffy whodunnit. It’s good for a beach/poolside read because it’s fun and entertaining, but you can also put it down, enjoy yourself for a while and not be too eager to keep reading to find out what happened.

51slyxywlxl-_ac_us218_10. Windfall by Penny Vincenzi– In the 1930’s, Cassia has spent the past seven years as a doctor’s wife, despite having medical training herself. But when she inherits a large amount of money from her godmother, Cassia is able to hire a nanny and resume her medical career. But Cassia’s husband isn’t happy about his wife’s new independence, and her windfall threatens to destroy her family. She also starts to suspect that her newfound inheritance might not be what it seems. It might even have a few strings attached.