April 13: Book Titles That Sound Like They Could Be Crayola Crayon Colors (Take a moment and Google some of the crazy Crayola crayon colors that exist. Can you think of any book titles that sound like they could also be a crayon color? It might be fun to include a description of the kind of color you’re picturing.)
OK, so follow my logic on this one! I didn’t want to do the topic for this week, so I chose to do settings that I consider “colorful” (yes it’s a bit of a leap, but who cares?) For some reason some settings just resonate with you as a reader. If a book is set in a carnival, circus or amusement park it automatically gets my attention. They have a bright, technicolor surface, but that can hide darkness underneath. From the death defying acrobats to the wild animals to the games of chance, it seems like circuses, carnivals, amusement parks, side shows and fairs have hundreds of stories beneath the tent. Here are some:
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern– At Le Cirque des Rêves, a competition is underway between two magicians. Celia and Marco have both trained since childhood for this purpose, though they don’t know it. So when they fall in love, it doesn’t bode well that only one can be left alive at the end of this competition.
2. The Circus of the Earth and the Air by Brooke Stevens– At the circus, Iris, a volunteer from the audience is steps into a magician’s box, and the box is set on fire. After the show her husband, Alex, goes backstage to find her (assuming it was a stunt!) But she never reappears. The circus itself vanishes overnight. Alex sets out to find out the truth about what happened to his wife.
3. The Book of Speculation by Erica Swyler– Simon is a librarian, living alone in his family home on Long Island. When a book dealer sends him a mysterious volume that may have some connection to his family, Simon gets caught up in the tale it tells, of a misfit living and working with a traveling circus. But he soon comes to realize that the book may reveal a curse on his family. If Simon is right, it may be the only thing that can save his sister.
4. Joyland by Stephen King– This book is more in the crime genre (with some supernatural crossover) than the horror with which King is usually associated. Devon Jones starts working at an amusement park in a small town in North Carolina in the summer of 1973. The first half of the book has a nostalgic feel as Devon comes to know the workers at the park. He befriends a dying boy (who has a secret), and falls for the boy’s beautiful mother. The second half gets more into a murder mystery.
5. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman- The Museum of Extraordinary Things is not a museum at all. It’s a Coney Island freak show in 1911. Coralie Sardie is the owner’s daughter. She’s an excellent swimmer who appears as a mermaid in the show. When she encounters photographer Eddie Cohen, a runaway from his community and his job, they fall in love. But when Eddie photographs the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he gets pulled into the mystery behind a girl’s disappearance.
6. Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz– Slim McKenzie has premonitions. He can also see what he calls “goblins” who hate and inflict suffering on humanity. When he kills one of these goblins, he runs away to join a travelling carnival. Where he discovers that goblins abound. Initially, I thought that the “goblins” were a metaphor for bad people. I thought Slim’s ability to see them was an ability to see through the civil façade that these people present. Then I realized they were actually demonic creatures, but then the explanation of their existence veers more into realm of sci-fi.
7. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen– Jacob is a veterinary student who is orphaned and penniless. When he crosses paths with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, he is hired care for the animals. He meets the beautiful Mariana, a beautiful horseback rider married to August, an abusive animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, the “untrainable” elephant. I had my issues with this book, but the circus setting and lure is the best part.
8. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter– Sophie Fevvers is an aerialist, and the start of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She also claims to be part swan. Journalist Jack Walser is intrigued by her story and joins the circus on its European tour to find out the truth about her, And he falls in love with Sophie (of course!)
9. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury- I think of this as coming of age meets horror/dark fantasy. When Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show comes to Greentown, Illinois in time for Halloween, and Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway are a bit enthralled by the mirror maze and carousel that can make someone grow older or younger depending on if they ride it forwards or backwards. But an something sinister and evil is using the carnival as a way to harvest souls. Jim and Will, along with Will’s father, Charles, have to learn some important lessons to fight the evil force which has invaded their home.
10. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton– When you think about it, Jurassic Park is really an amusement park gone horribly wrong. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 30 years or so, you’re probably at least semi-aware that it’s about a rich man who harnesses technology for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA. He sets up a theme park where people can see the dinosaurs up close. But after a series of incidents prior to the opening, a team of experts come to evaluate the safety of the park. But it soon becomes clear that the people who made the park overestimated their control over mother nature.
Since there aren’t many books I’d gladly throw in the ocean (even if I strongly dislike it, someone else may like it! That just seems like such a waste!) I decided to take the ocean theme in it’s own direction. These are my top books set at/near/on the ocean.
Just an early disclaimer: I have read a lot of the sea set novels that we now think of as for children (though are some aren’t) like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Treasure Island. My opinion varies depending on the book but for one reason or another a lot of them don’t resonate with me. So this won’t be a list of novels with “the most” ocean presence. But they’re books about the ocean that I enjoyed.
Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter-Naslund– I suppose this list is a good place to confess that I’ve never actually read Moby Dick, so that won’t be on this list. But the ocean takes a strong role in Una’s epic as well. I actually did really like this book, but it didn’t make me want to read Moby Dick more. I was actually more interested in what Una was up to while Ahab was off at sea.
Circe by Madeline Miller– Parts of this novel (based on a character who shows up in The Odyssey) take place at sea. Other parts take place under it, and still others take place on an island, but the sea is present throughout, so I’m counting it as “nautical.”
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware– Not only a whodunnit, but also a “did it even happen?” set at sea. A travel journalist sees someone thrown overboard on a cruise. But no one else saw anything and no one is missing.
The Pearl by John Steinbeck– Years ago, I read this short novel about a poor pearl diver with a sick son. But it’s haunted me for a long time. When he finds a huge pearl the family’s fortunes change, and his family dreams of a better life. But the pearl may be more of a curse than a blessing. It’s a retelling of a Mexican folktale, in which diving, pearls, and the sea, play an important role.
Foe by JM Coetzee– This is the third book on this list that reimagines a sea set classic. In this case, Coetzee imagines that a woman named Susan Barton tells Daniel Foe (Defoe’s name before he fancified it) about her experiences on an island with a shipwrecked Cruso (Robinson Crusoe) and his manservant Friday. But Foe changes up the story a bit to make it more marketable. Barton turns Cruso into her own invention in the story, and then Foe turns that into his invention. It’s really about the enigmatic nature of storytelling, but the ocean (and an island) are strong settings throughout.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys- Wow, yet another classic reimagining with a strong nautical element. Jane Eyre isn’t nautical at all, but this tale of the madwoman in the attic, begins on the shores of the Caribbean.
For this one I decided to twist things a bit: I’ve given a bit of thought to places in books I’d want to visit/see (here and here ) but these are places I would avoid!
1.Manderley in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- In this case the problem is the servants. Well, really just the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers; but she’s cruel, treacherous, cunning and destructive. Who wants to live with that?
2. Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– Here there would be two major issues. One is the fact that I have a crappy sense of direction and I’d probably get lost all the time. The other is the ghosts in the bathrooms. There are some places I just need privacy, and that’s one of them.
3. Panam in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins- The reasons for this one should be fairly obvious. But I would always worry about being chosen for the Hunger Games. I know if I was selected I’d be one of the first to die. Actually there are a lot of dystopias I wouldn’t want to live in. I won’t list them all (that would be a different list) but really most of them sound pretty awful!
4. Obernewtyn in the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody– You could call this one a dystopia I suppose. It takes place in a pretty awful post-nuclear holocaust world. But Obernewtyn itself, after the first book in the series (where it’s a horrible place), becomes sort of a refuge. So I suppose if I had to live in that world this is where I’d choose, but I’d rather not live there at all thankyouverymuch. Just a note: these books are pretty popular in Australia but I think they deserve to be better known in the US.
5. Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– In this one, the biggest problem is the madwoman in the attic who constantly escapes the woman who’s supposed to be watching her, and starts fires. When picking literary houses, that’s an issue I just can’t overlook.
6. Wuthering Heights in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte– This one is pretty bad too. From the master of the house who is on a vengeful mission, to the ghost who wanders the moors outside, I would just rather not deal with any of them.
7. Neverworld Wake in Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl- Sort of a limbo state between life and death where the characters must relive the day of their deaths over and over again until they vote on one member of the group to be the sole survivor. Not only does the prospect of limbo sound bad, but reliving the same day endlessly until you make an impossible decision? No thank you!
8. Foxworth Hall in the Dollinganger series by VC Andrews– In this house I don’t know what’s worse: the religious fanatic owners, the greedy, heartless daughter, the sadistic butler, or the four kids locked up in the attic.
9. The Overlook Hotel in The Shining by Stephen King– Even if it weren’t for the malevolent ghosts that drive you crazy, I wouldn’t want to live somewhere that’s so isolated. Plus, the fact that you have to take care of the boiler carefully or the whole place will blow up, sounds very stressful. So the fact that it’s haunted just makes it a bit worse. Really any/every haunted house book falls in this category (similar to dystopias) but I won’t list them all.
Last Thursday, Beverly Cleary, acclaimed author of numerous children’s books, died at the age of 104(!). When I was really little, before I could read well ((like five or six) my parents would read me several chapters from her books each night before I fell asleep.
Beverly Cleary obviously lived a long life. Her books touched many readers in some way, and they certainly played a big part in turning me into a reader. She will be missed. I am grateful to her for all the literary friends and adventures.
4. The Ear, The Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer– I actually really like this book and think it deserves to be better known. But the first time it was recommended to me, I heard the title and thought “WTF?” It’s takes place in Zimbabwe in the year 2174. It’s about three kids who escape their parents heavily guarded home to explore the dangerous world outside. They’re pursued by the detectives their parents have hired to find them: the ear, the eye and the arm. I always get a mental picture of an ear, an eye, and an arm, all walking around on little legs when I hear it!
5. Going Bovine by Libba Bray– I think the title is meant to sound like “going nuts” or “going crazy.” But it’s about a kid who gets mad cow disease, so he’s “going bovine” instead. It’s a totally wild book, that’s like a mash up of Don Quixote, Norse mythology, and The Phantom Tollbooth. I think the title suits it.
7. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman– She’s not though. And I think the title sort of lets us know she’s not, right off. It sounds sort of defensive. When I first looked at the cover, and saw the woman with her arms crossed protectively in front of her, I thought: “Methinks she doth protest too much.” And I was right. Again, it’s not really LOL funny, but it strikes me as having a sense of humor about itself. Also the name “Eleanor Oliphant” makes me chuckle a bit, because if you mashed together the beginning of the first name and the end of the last name. it turns into “elephant.”
8. The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis– This is the third Narnia book and I always smile a bit when I see/hear the title. I think it’s the inversion of the expected “The Boy and His Horse” that does it. We naturally expect the emphasis to be on the boy rather than the horse.
What is your fantasy origin story? (The first fantasy you read)
I honesty don’t know which one I first read. I read fairy tales obsessively as a child. When I loved a story I’d seek out as many versions of it as I could find, and compare and contrast them. (Yes, I was like 5 at the time!)
If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?
Hmm… That’s an interesting question. I’d want it to be someone who wouldn’t do anything too terrible to a hero or heroine, so that leaves out a lot of authors! Maybe I’d go with Eva Ibbotson. Her fantasy books are intended mostly for younger readers, and while enough happens to make them interesting to an older audience, it’s usually nothing terrible to characters we like! As for tropes, I’d like to be the “Lucky Novice” whose never done something before, or done something with minimal training, and can do it really well. I usually have to practice a lot to be even halfway decent at something!
What is a fantasy series you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?
This year is still fairly young and I haven’t read that many fantasy series yet. I suppose I’ll highlight Fairy Godmothers Inc., which is the first in the Fairy Godmothers, Inc. series. But it’s got a major caveat: while I think the series has potential I didn’t like the first book. I found the two main characters to be awful, separately and together. I say the series has potential though because it seems like the kind of thing that follows different characters in each book. It’s about three fairy godmothers living in the magical town of Ever After, Missouri. Love is the source of the magic in their world, but it’s running low. They decided to help attract more love to the town of Ever After by making it a popular wedding destination. But they need some help promoting it. They ask their goddaughter Lucky (who tends to have terrible luck!) a popular artist, to fake-marry their godson (and her ex) Ransom Payne (a billionaire who runs a chocolate company) in a high profile ceremony. Lucky and Ransom both agree because they want to help their beloved godmothers, but they are both the most annoying characters I’ve read in a long time. But the book is clearly setting up for a series set in Ever After, revolving around Fairy Godmothers, Inc. The residents of Ever After include Red and her werewolf Grammy, a frog prince named “Charming”, a reformed evil queen, and more. I don’t recommend it yet, because as I said I didn’t like the first book. But I think it has the potential to be a feel good, fun series, so I’ll give it another chance.
What is your favourite fantasy subgenre?
Ummm, I can’t choose! I’ll say that fantasy inspired by fairy tales; even though that can fall into several different subgenres. After all, Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series which is sci-fi oriented, but is fairy tale inspired. Meanwhile Juliet Marillier’s work is also fairy tale/legend inspired but it tends have a strong historical setting. The Fairy Godmothers, Inc series I mention above seems like it also draws heavily from fairy tales, but it has a light, magical realist tone. So I guess “fairy tale inspired fantasy” allows me to cheat and pick lots of different subgenres!
What subgenre have you not read much from?
I don’t read much in the way of Sword and Sorcery. I’m not really into reading about straight out battles and violent conflicts most of the time. I prefer more subtle rivalries. But there are exceptions to every rule.
Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?
Just one?! I’ll say Juliet Marillier. I’ve read some books of hers that I’ve liked more than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one that I disliked.
How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram..)
All of the above. There are some bloggers whose opinions I trust, and I look at what my friends are reading on Goodreads mostly though.
What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?
Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley is described as “Jamaica Inn by way of Jeff Vandermeer, Ursula Le Guin, Angela Carter and Michel Faber” so that’s a big “yes, please!” from me.
What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?
I suppose I’d have to differentiate between reading fantasy and writing fantasy for this one. For reading, I’d say the notion that it’s only for kids has to go. Yes, you can absolutely have fantasy intended for children. But the genre can often get dark, violent, subversive, and disturbing. In other words, not for children at all! In terms of writing, I’ll say that the idea that fantasy writing requires no research needs to die. There’s a lot of research involved. I rant about it a bit in this post.
If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?
This is a tough one!
I wouldn’t do series because that’s a commitment and some don’t get really good until quite a ways in. I also think some classics of the genre tend to be too dense for beginners. Plus those always come with high expectations. So I’ll go with
–The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– I recommend this one because it’s a stand alone of reasonable length that introduces readers to a more magic realist variation on fantasy. Plus I think Morgenstern beautifully engages the reader’s senses.
-The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker- This gets into the mythical creates of two different traditions and draws them together in a historical setting. It’s a great example of how fantasy can draw on different sources, and set itself in the “real” world. I actually see now that there’s a sequel that’s coming out in June, but I think it works as a stand alone, if someone chooses to read it that way.
The one that jumps to my mind is War and Peace. I read it in college in a freshman seminar that explored the themes of war and peace in general. It wasn’t the worst book I read in that class (Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, I’m looking at you!) but after some really dense stuff, I was sort of looking forward to getting into a novel. Besides which, I actually enjoy big, sweeping, epic stories,. But nothing about the narrative or the characters grabbed me. My professor said that Tolstoy was “a great writer, who needed a great editor.” While I think that’s true, I think some of his writing is more compelling in other work. Here he gets to bogged down in extraneous stuff.
Favorite time period to read about
I’m a fan of the Victorian era, which is a pretty long era, spanning Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837-1901. A lot of my favorite writers of days past (the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Elliot, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins) were of this time period.
To be honest I think Beauty and the Beast has always been a favorite. I love almost every version I’ve read/seen (yes, including Disney!) It’s strange that one of the elements that always appealed to me was the forgotten, enchanted, castle where the Beast lives, but that’s an element that I didn’t include in my retelling at all!
I go on to talk about some pitfalls I wanted to avoid in my own work, so read the interview if that interests you. But I do think that the “gothicness” of the story always appealed to me. The brooding hero, who seems like a villain at first, the abandoned, enchanted castle…
What is the classic you are most embarrassed you haven’t read yet
I try not to be too embarrassed about not having read certain books yet. I mean, having new books to read (even when they’re not technically “new”) is one of life’s great joys, isn’t it? I consider myself pretty well read, but I’ve only been on earth so long, and there are other things I’ve had to do!
There are a few books I feel like I should have gotten to by now though. One of them is Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I think what’s stopped me so far from reading it, is the fact that it’s considered depressing, even by Hardy’s standards! I think he’s a beautiful writer, but he can be kind of a downer, and lately I haven’t felt up to tackling anything like that.
I was in a recent book club discussion where someone mentioned Moby Dick and I realized I’ve never read that before either. I’m not sure if I want to. Part of me wants to read it, if only to say I did, but another part figures “why bother? There so much out there I actually want to read!” Any advice from anyone who’s read it?
Top 5 classics you would like to read soon
Well there are many, many classics that I’d like to reread. But in addition to those I’d like to get to these for the first time:
Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay- I really like the film adaptation and I’ve always found the story to be very intriguing.
The Lark by E. Nesbit- I’ve enjoyed E. Nesbit’s books for children and I’d like to read some of her work for adults as well.
Armadale by Wilkie Collins- I’ve really enjoyed Wilkie Collins’ other work that I’ve read. The is the only one of his “major” novels that I haven’t read yet.
Maggie-Now by Betty Smith- Again this is a case of me having liked the author’s other work, and wanting to read more of it.
The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf- I’ve always liked Virginia Woolf best as an essayist so I definitely want to get to this at some point.
Favorite modern book/series based on a classic
So many wonderful choices… Can’t decide on just one…
I’ll go with two books by one author: Circe and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It’s strange that I loved these books even though I’m not a big fan of the Greek classics on which they were based! I discuss them in this post for anyone interested.
Favorite movie version/tv-series based on a classic
Again, I feel almost like my head is about to explode from so many choices! I’m going to cheat and pick one movie and one tv series.
For film, I’m going with an adaptation of Little Women. I know the Greta Gerwig adaptation was really popular recently, but I actually prefer the 1994 adaptation. Not only is it a beautifully made film with an excellent cast, but it focuses on the story and characters, and not some of the more pedantic aspects that Louisa May Alcott got bogged down with at times. It emphasizes some of the politics and philosophy in which Louisa May Alcott (and her father, Amos Bronson Alcott) strongly believed, but it never espouses these ideas at the expense of the narrative. Rather, it highlights the moments that the narrative espouses these ideas.
For a TV series, I’m going to go with the 2005 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. It’s an eight episode miniseries, that manages to convey the epic scope of the novel, without getting bogged down in the minutia. Some of Dickens’ work easily lends itself to adaptation. This book isn’t one of them. I’m very fond of it. In fact, I might call it a favorite, but the plot, surrounding a chancery court case doesn’t lend itself to big, dramatic scenes or spectacle. Some of the twists and turns may even seem contrived to 21st century readers/viewers. However this series manages to make it compelling drama with a strong cast. It also manages to recreate the dark, well, bleak, atmosphere of Dickens’ novel in a way that works cinematically.
Worst classic to movie adaptation
The one that comes to mind first is the 1995 adaptation of The Scarlet Letter. The book was about the cruelty of public shaming and punishment, guilt, and pain. The movie features a Hollywoodized romance that changes the ending and in the process ends up contradicting the message of the book. It also features a very miscast (IMO) Demi Moore.
Favorite edition(s) you’d like to collect more classics from
I think that Virago Modern Classics are very pretty, and they include a lot of lesser known, underrated classic works. Ditto for Persephone Books. I don’t want to replace all my classics with fancy elaborate editions tough. I like the mishmash of classics that line my walls, with my notes in them, and places I’ve dog-eared still creased a bit. It always annoys me a bit when people have classic editions that look like they haven’t been opened!
An under-hyped classic you would recommend to someone
I’m going to push for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. She’s often overlooked in favor of her sisters (which is easy to happen when your sisters are Emily and Charlotte Bronte!) and even Lucasta Miller’s book, The Bronte Myth, dismissed her in a few sentences. But her work was just as strong in it’s own way, as that of either of her sisters. I love how angry she looks in the family portrait that’s on the book cover next to this text. I always imagine her saying “How dare you overlook me! I’m brilliant!”
March 9: Spring Cleaning Freebie (for example, books you’re planning to get rid of for whatever reason, book’s you’d like to clean off your TBR by either reading them or deciding you’re not interested, books that feel fresh and clean to you after winter is over, etc.)
For this one I decided to stay simple and go with books that feel like/ remind me of springtime. Themes of nature, rebirth, renewal, hope, and second chances abound!
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim– It’s a miserable February when two English ladies see an advertisement “To Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.” They end up spending their April with two other ladies. The only thing these four have in common really is dissatisfaction with their everyday lives. The month they spend in a medieval castle in Portafino, Italy, is transformative for all.
2. The Lake House by Kate Morton– This is actually not my favorite Kate Morton book, but it does strike me as the most spring-y. Alice lives on her family’s estate in Cornwall. Her baby brother, Theo vanishes without a trace one night after a party, and the family, torn apart, abandons the lake house. Decades later, the house is discovered by Sadie, a young detective with the London police force, who is staying in Cornwall with her grandfather. Her investigation into what happened long ago connects her with Alice, and some shocking revelations. I think the themes of healing and second chances make this one feel like springtime.
3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett- This childhood favorite is all about rebirth, renewal, second chances, and of course, gardens! Mary is raised in India and sent to her uncle’s gloomy English manor after she’s orphaned by a cholera outbreak. As she tries to crave a new life for herself on the moors, she discovers and abandoned garden. In making the garden grow, she helps herself and others grow as well. She brings healing, and new life, to a grieving household.
4. Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth by Phillipa Gregory- Technically these two books make up the Tradescant duology, but they’re both pretty stand alone, so they can be read in either order. The first book is about John Tradescant, royal gardener in 17th century England. The second book follows his son, who immigrates to America (which was then colonies). The only thing that the father and son, and the two books, have in common is their name, and their strong connection to nature.
5. Arcadia by Lauren Groff- In upstate New York, in the 1970s, a few idealists found a commune on the grounds of a decaying mansion (Arcadia House). They vow to work together and live off the land. The books follows the utopian dream through it’s demise. This may seem almost: anti-spring! After all the living off nature idea falls apart. But the people change. They grow. They realize they have to face the wider world outside, and they emerge when they’re ready to take it on. To me that seems like a springtime theme.
6. Persuasion by Jane Austen- This is actually one of my least favorite Austen books (which still makes it better that about 90% of other books!), but it’s themes of first loves and second chances make it great for spring. It’s about a couple that falls in love and is separated by fate. Years later, they meet again. Older, wiser, and still in love. Is it too late for them? After all, they’ve both grown and changed… Of course not! Spring is the season of second chances.
7. Spring by Ali Smith-Spring is the third novel in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet. All of the novels have connections but they’re all stand alone and can be read in any order. All are about contemporary Britain, but also in a larger sense about the attitudes of the western world. This book has a focus on immigration and refugee crises. While the depiction of detention centers is sometimes hard to take, there is also a sense of optimism and hope that we can learn and change, that feels spring-y.
8. Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf– This imagined biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s loyal canine friend is a story of love, companionship and renewal. It’s also a story of transformation, change and growth. We see Flush go from stifled lap dog to cosmopolitan dog about town.
9. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter- This book opens on the Italian coast in 1962. A chance at romance between an innkeeper and an aspiring actress is cut off. But 50 years later it might get a second chance thanks to some Hollywood hustlers. This could have been a cynical Hollywood satire, but Walter gives the story a sweetness that is accompanied by wit.
March 2: Characters Whose Job I Wish I Had (maybe not even because the job sounds fun, but maybe the co-workers are cool or the boss is hot?)
This was actually harder than I thought it would be!
Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier– The main character in this one is a scribe, who sorts through family documents. Basically it sounds in the book like she reads all day, and transcribes things. I’m sure that medieval scribes had more to do than just that, but in this book that’s what it seems like. I think I could handle it, though I do have terrible handwriting…
2. Dresden Files series by Jim Bitcher– Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only professional wizard. Business isn’t always great, but he can get cool consulting gigs, helping police solve crimes that involve things that people most people like to pretend don’t exist (ghosts, vampires, werewolves etc). Truthfully I probably wouldn’t make the best ghost/vampire/werewolf hunter. But it certainly doesn’t seem like I’d get bored!
3. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widowsby Balli Kaur Jaswal- Nikki is a law school dropout/bartender who takes a job teaching creative writing at a community center and finds her niche. I’ve taught kids. It’s hard and exhausting. But teaching Punjabi widows sounds like fun! They’re actually taking a class because they want to be there and they want to learn. And I’d be teaching something I love. Truthfully this wasn’t my favorite book (it wasn’t bad though!), but it did sound like a fun job.
4. Majesty: American Royals II by Katherine McGee– Queen of America is a job I could totally deal with! Actually, there are some significant drawbacks to the role, as the books shows, but I feel like I could cope with most of them if it means having the power to really help people in this country, as I might be able to as queen. Or even just draw attention to issues and causes that I feel are important. Because let’s face it: people listen more when you’re queen!
5. The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox– This is another example of a job that’s probably a lot harder than it sounds in the book, but based on what’s there, it sounds pretty nice. Sophronia Carver publishes a literary magazine, and it seems like she spends most of her time reading submissions. Yes, everyone in town thinks she’s a witch who murdered her husband (I could live without that part!), but she get’s the read for a living!
6. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman- What booklover doesn’t want to work in a bookshop? I did it for a summer in college and it was a lot of fun. Yes, there were some hard days, and some bad days, but even on the worst days, I was surrounded by books! The only reason I don’t do it now is because you really can’t make a living working for minimum wage (or slightly above in some cases)
8. Detective Daniel Hawthorne series by Anthony Horowitz- In this series Anthony Horowitz writes a fictional version of himself as a sidekick to an investigator. Daniel Hawthorne wants a ghost writer to document to his life: to be a Watson to his Sherlock Holmes. So the (fictional) Anthony Horowitz teams up with him on all of his investigations and writes about it. Sounds fun to me. Yes, there are two books so far, and in both of them, Horowitz almost gets himself killed, but surely I’d be smarter than that!
9. The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess– In this book an aspiring writer gets a job as an assistant to a famous writer. She later has an affair with him, but again, that’s a mistake I’d avoid! I could deal with spending the summer doing research and helping out a famous writer in a big house on Cape Cod.
10. The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag- Peggy runs a boarding house at 11 Hope Street in Cambridge, England. She takes in women who are destined for greatness in some way, but have hit obstacles. They have 99 days to stay in the house, get what they need from the talking portraits on the walls, and the messages that seem to find whichever resident needs them most, and then move on with life. I think running a boarding house like that (past residents include Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Florence Nightingale, Beatrix Potter and Dorothy Parker) could be a lot of fun. Plus, it would be nice to help people through difficult moments.
I did a list like this a while back, but I know we all need a laugh sometimes, so I figured I’d take on the challenge and make another! All different books of course!
One For the Money by Janet Evonovich- There are now 28 Stephanie Plum books. I’ve only read the first ten or so, and I’d say that the first 5-6 really made me laugh. When we meet Stephanie in this book, she’s unemployed and broke. She gets her cousin to give her a job as an apprehension agent (aka bounty hunter). Of course Stephanie knows nothing about apprehending criminals, but she can learn! When she learns that her first case involves finding Joe Morelli, a vice cop accused of murder, who also happens to be her ex, things get even more interesting. Truthfully, much of the time, Stephanie is a little inept as a bounty hunter. That’s what makes it funny. For the first few books in the series. I felt like it all went on a little too long after a while.
2. Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen- I’ve read the first three books in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, and while they’re not deep and meaningful, they’re good for a chuckle and a lot of fun. It’s set in 1932. Georgina is 34th in line for the throne. In other words, she’s distant enough so that she has no money, but close enough so that the queen will ask the occasional favor. When she gets home from her latest attempt to make some money, she discovers a dead body in the bathtub and her brother accused of the murder. Apparently getting away with murder is not one of the advantages of a royal bloodline… Georgie knows that her brother is innocent: he’s not smart enough to plan and pull off a murder. Unfortunately the police don’t consider this argument a valid defense. So Georgie is on the case! .
3. I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella- Most of the time, Sophie Kinsella is good for a quick read with a few laughs. I think most of her books could go on this list, but I chose this one because I remember the mental image of one of the scenes made me laugh as I was drinking, and spit everywhere. Poppy Wyatt had a bad day. She lost her engagement ring in a hotel fire drill, and as she’s panicking about getting it back, her phone is stolen. When she notices a phone in a trash can, she figures “finders keepers”: at least this way she can leave the hotel with a number to contact when they find the ring. But the owner of that phone, Sam Roxton, wants it back! He also doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and becoming involved in his personal life. Sam and Poppy spend the next few days communicating via email and text, and trying to get things sorted out as Poppy also tries to prepare for her wedding, and hide her now ringless finger from her fiancé and his family.
4. Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in Letters by Susanna Fogel– Despite the subtitle, I’d actually call this a straight out “comic” novel in letters. The letters in question are sent to out heroine, Julie, over the course of three decades. They come from her father, a former child prodigy turned haiku poet; her stepmother, who attempts to help Julie find a husband; her mother, who overshares EVERYTHING; her free spirited sister; and assorted other family members. Julie also gets the odd missive from other things present in her life, such as her Nordic Track, a container of hummus at her grandmother’s deathbed, her boyfriend’s dog, and the gerbil she accidentally drowned when she was 10. Despite the fact that we come to know these characters over the course of three decades, this novel is pretty short, and the epistolary format means you can dip into it for a few minutes or read it straight through. However you choose to read it, chances are, you’ll laugh.
5. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite– This is a pretty dark comedy, but my sense of humor can sometimes be weird, so it made me laugh. The book opens with Korede, a nurse, getting a call from her sister, Ayoola. Ayoola is frantic, saying her boyfriend attacked her, and she killed him in self defense. Now she needs Korede to help her dispose of the body. Korede wants to believe her sister’s story, but it’s hard: this is the third boyfriend that Ayoola has killed in “self-defense.” Somehow Korede is always the one to drag out the bleach and rubber gloves, clean up her sister’s messes, and get rid of the bodies. Pretty soon, Ayoola has her eyes on another guy, and this time it’s someone Korede knows and cares about. How can she warn him of the danger her sister presents without exposing them both? This book has a wonderful contemporary Nigerian setting. It’s a quick read that packs a satirical punch.
6. At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald– Set at a children’s theatrical school in London in the early 1960s, “Freddie’s” is run by a woman who keeps her school running in spite of a complete lack of income. Over the course of a few months, the star pupil lands (and may lose) an important role, the most talented student gets some new opportunities, the school’s only two teachers flirt with romance and one another, and Freddie fends off the financial wolves. Nothing earth shattering happens in this slim novel, but we’re given an appreciation for the love these characters have for the school and the theater, so we’re invested in what happens to them. I’d describe the tone of the novel as “tragicomic”. It’s definitely witty and makes you chuckle. But some of the characters have an earnestness that pulls at the heartstrings too.
7. Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman– This novel is told via letters, notes passed in class, interoffice memos, and scraps of paper taken from lockers, notebooks and trashcans. It was written in 1964 about a 1st year teacher in a NYC high school and what’s remarkable is how much (and how little!) has changed since then. Anyone who thinks that having summers off makes teaching an easy job needs to read this. Read it to appreciate the teachers in your life a bit more. Or just read it because it’s a fun (and funny) book.
8. Going Bovine by Libba Bray: Full disclosure: I bought this book almost solely on the basis of this interview. with the author. The book is more or less exactly what you’d expect from that. Our protagonist, Cameron, is a teen slacker, who just wants to get through high school with as little effort as humanly possible. When he learns that he’s dying of mad cow disease, he’s understandably depressed. When he learns from a possible hallucination/possibly real punk angel named Dulcie that there’s a cure, he goes off on a quest for it. His companion is a death obsessed video gaming dwarf and yard gnome (who may also be a Norse god) It’s sort of Don Quixote meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s totally weird and bizarre, but so am I, so it works!
9. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell– I read this book because I’m a fan of the TV series The Durrells in Corfu, which is based on Gerald Durrell’s Corfu trilogy, of which this is the first book. Gerald Durrell was a British naturalist and conservationist. At the age of 10, in the 1930s, his widowed mother moved him and his siblings (who include famous writer Lawrence Durrell) to the Greek island of Corfu to live. According to the author, this book was initially intended as a natural history of the island. But his family dominated every page. From their mishaps and experiences, to eccentric family friends to young Gerald’s endless procession of animals (including, but not limited to puppies, toads, scorpions, geckos, octopuses, bats and butterflies) this is a family you’re unlikely to forget.