My First “Favorite Author”

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.

I remember reading about Henry Huggins, Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, and of course Ralph Mouse. But Ramona Quimby had (and has) a special place in my heart. I simultaneously wanted to be her and felt like I was her. She was the first literary character that I remember really relating to. I felt like she was my friend.

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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Funny Book Titles

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

March 23: Funny Book Titles

  1. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss- Because saying a panda “eats shoots and leaves” is very different from saying he “eats, shoots and leaves” Commas can save lives! I actually used to use the kids edition of this book with my class, and they always got a kick out of it.

2. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: The Facts of Daily Life in 19th Century England by Daniel Pool– I used this in college when I wrote a pseudo-Victorian novel for my senior project. It’s actually really good about explaining the minutia of daily life at the time: little things that you don’t often think about. That’s why the title makes me laugh too. I don’t often think about Jane Austen eating (but I know she must’ve done so!)

3. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith -I always think of this one in the same breathe as the the equally funny titled IMO, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I suppose the titles strike me as funny because I think of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility as being about very proper, mannered, British gentry. Throwing zombies and sea monsters makes it bizarre and funny.

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.

6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night- Time by Mark Haddon– I like this title because it sounds like the title of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The main character of this book is an autistic teen who sets out to solve the mystery of the death of his neighbor’s dog, as Sherlock Holmes would. So I think for that reason the title is witty. Not “ha-ha” funny really, but witty.

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.

9. To Say Nothing of the Dog: Or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump At Last by Connie Willis Firstly, this title strikes me as funny simply because it’s a mouthful! It’s also a reference to the subtitle of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. Plus, the subtitle about the Bishop’s Bird Stump sounds funny too.

Tag Tuesday: A Few Tags I’ve Been Meaning To Do

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was:

March 16: Books On My Spring 2021 TBR

But I didn’t want to do yet another TBR, so I decided to clear up some tags that I’ve been meaning to do.

The first is the Get To Know The Fantasy Reader tag which was originally created by Bree Hill I found it on Hundreds and Thousands of Books

The Questions

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 Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson– This books is a relatively easy, quick read, that uses a lot of the tropes that Harry Potter does, in a stand alone story.

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.

I’ve also been meaning to tackle The Classic Book Tag, which I first encountered on BookwyrmKnits blog. It was originally created by It’s A Book World.

An overhyped classic that you didn’t really like

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.

Favorite fairy tale

I was recently asked this question in an interview I did with F H Denny. I hope no one minds if I copy/paste this from my answer!

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!”

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring-y Books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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!

  1. 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.

10. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed- Cheryl Strayed is in sort of a personal, metaphorical winter at the beginning of this memoir. And much of the content takes her though actual snowpack! But she emerged from the winter, stronger, wiser, and most of all, hopeful: a metaphorical spring ends the winter.

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters With Cool Jobs

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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!

  1. 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 Widows by 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)

7. The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis– When you’re a writer and full fledged theatre geek like me, being a Broadway playwright sounds wonderful. You can write, and be in that theatrical atmosphere 24/7. Yes, some of the great elements in this book are threatened by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare, but aside from that it sounds like a really cool job!

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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Made Me LOL

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 23: Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud (Claire @ Book Lovers Pizza)

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!

  1. 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!
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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.

10. Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations With Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg– This book imagines text conversations with literary characters. So it’s pretty much what you’d expect: Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind) uses her unlimited data plan to constantly try to tempt Ashley away from Melanie. Mr. Rochester sends Jane Eyre ardent, all caps texts. Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby) texts while driving, and asks you to pick her up after she wrecks the car. You’ll also see some texts from Emily Dickinson, Peeta and Katniss (The Hunger Games), Edgar Allen Poe, and many more.

Things I Miss (A Partial List)

Just to clarify: I’m not talking about the big things: the lives lost, the livelihoods ruined. I’m talking about small every day pleasures that I miss.

We’re about a year into this pandemic and I’ve been thinking about what I want to do again when this is all over. What’s on your list?

Photo by Charlotte May on Pexels.com
  • Eating and drinking in public- not just at restaurant (though I do miss those a lot!) but I miss being able to drink a hot/cold beverage while walking down the street, and not worrying about being six feet away from the people I pass.
  • Live performances-Music. Theater. Sitting in a crowd full of people watching the same performance and knowing that it’s evoking similar feeling in the person across the room from me, who I’ll never meet. I miss that sense of connection with strangers in that environment. I miss the immediacy of knowing that the performance is happening, as I’m watching it, in real time: something could go wrong and often does. Someone could miss a note or forget their lines. Someone in the audience could do something distracting. The stakes are higher for live performances, and I miss being a part of that.
  • Buying groceries and not worrying about washing them off before I put them away.
  • Browsing- In stores. In the library. Looking at things and deciding what I want. Taking my time in those places.
  • Getting together with friends- For meals, events, or just spending time together doing nothing special. I miss seeing friends in person as opposed to through a screen.
  • In person family holidays – not that zoom isn’t great…It’s not the same though…
  • Public transportation- Sitting in a bus or train full of people and reading a book, or just looking out the window, and not worrying about masks and germs.
  • Movies in theaters- Sitting in a dark theatre that smells like stale popcorn, and has a sticky floor from all the spilled soda, with a bunch of strangers and watching the same movie at the same time. Laughing together, screaming together, crying together.

Tag Tuesday: Bookish Rave and Rant

Since today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic didn’t speak to me (but Happy Mardi Gras! Laissez les bons temps rouler!) I decided to do this tag that I saw on @bookwyrmknits blog recently.

Rules:

  • Use this tag to dump your thoughts on books which you’d like to talk more about but usually don’t. Time to really rave about loved books, and rant about frustrating books.
  • And be sure to tag or ping back to the original post by Sumedha!

RAVE: a book you loved but don’t talk enough about

Usually when I love a book I won’t shut up about it, so it’s rare that this happens! I’m trying to think of an unknown/underrated book to talk about, and of course I’m drawing a blank. One recent one that I don’t think I’ve blogged much about was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It’s about a woman who struggles with social skills and tends to say exactly what pops into her mind. As a result, she doesn’t have many friends, which is OK, because she avoids social situations anyway. (We do eventually learn why she’s this way, and it’s not what you’d think!) When Eleanor and a coworker, Raymond, help an elderly gentleman, Sammy, who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three form an unlikely friendship. It’s going to be made into a movie soon, and I’m really hoping that they don’t change certain story elements to make it more mainstream. For example, in this case, I liked that the friendships stayed platonic!

RANT: a book you didn’t like and haven’t spoken about

Well most recently would probably be That Autumn in Edinburgh by Ciji Ware. It’s part of Ware’s Four Seasons Quartet, which are stand alone sequels to her historical novels This one is a stand alone sequel to Island of the Swans, which I enjoyed, so I was disappointed to find this one such a bore. Basically it’s about two (unrelated) descendants of the star crossed couple in Island of the Swans, who meet and fall in love. They learn about their ancestor’s love story, and make some business decisions. Since Island of the Swans had sort of an open ending, it was nice to have a bit of closure for those characters, but that could have been accomplished in a short story/novella format. I didn’t need a whole novel about these other characters who I really didn’t care much about.

RAVE: an author whose works you love

Hmm… Actually I do like Ciji Ware even though I just ranted about one of her books. I’ve enjoyed most of them, so I feel kind of bad ranting about that one!

But an author I wish I could read more from is Sarah Addison Allen who writes what I’d call “small town magical realism.” I really enjoyed her Waverley Sisters novels, as well as most of her stand alone novels like The Sugar Queen and The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Her most recent book, First Frost, came out in 2015, and there’s no word on a follow up, so she definitely leaves me wanting more!

RANT: an author whose works you just cannot like

Chuck Palahiuk. I had a friend in college who really liked him so I tried to read a few of his books. I think I tried Fight Club, Lullaby and one other (I think it might have been Choke or Invisible Monsters but I can’t remember). I found something about the narrative tone very off putting.

RAVE: a book you recently loved that you want everyone to read

How recent is “recent”? I’m currently finishing the third book in Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League series. I enjoyed all three books in the series and I would recommend them, even to people who don’t usually like historical romance. All three are set against the backdrop of the Civil War, involving a (real) covert organization of spies. The reading order is 1) An Extraordinary Union 2) A Hope Divided 3) An Unconditional Freedom. But each book is more or less stand alone, with links to the others in terms of common characters. I would recommend this to non-romance readers because I think that Cole does an excellent job with the suspense (even though I know who won the Civil War, I was anxious for the characters and wanted their missions to go well) as well as imagining voices of characters who aren’t usually represented that well in fiction: the Loyal League is made up of free blacks of all backgrounds and stations, but there’s are also white allies. One book features a character who seems to be on the Autism Spectrum, and another features a biracial character who comes to the US from Cuba. None of these feel like they’re thrown in for diversity’s sake. All are really well developed characters, with backgrounds that are important to the story being told.

RANT: a book you did not finish recently and haven’t spoken about

I actually rare DNF books. It’s something I want to be able to do more, because I feel like I waste a lot of time with stuff I don’t enjoy, but I always worry that I’ll stop reading a book and then 2-3 pages after I stop, it’ll get good! I don’t remember the last book I didn’t finish.

RAVE: a book you would recommend to everyone

I’m always hesitant to answer this question because in truth there is no book I’d recommend to everyone. Every book I love has someone who dislikes it as much as I love it. Every book I dislike, has it’s lovers. It is a truth universally acknowledged that no single book is for every reader. But for the purposes of this tag, I decided to choose something.

Angela Carter is a writer I’ve long since admired for her novels and her short fiction. I love her collection The Bloody Chamber which is short fiction based on fairy tales. However, for this tag, I’m recommending Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories, because it’s more complete. It includes all of the stories in The Bloody Chamber, as well as some great stories that weren’t included in that collection.

In terms of “everyone” I find it safest to include some variety; so I thought a collection would be a good choice. Different people can gravitate toward different stories.

RANT: a book which others like and you don’t understand why

I think I was in high school (or thereabouts) when The DaVinci Code came out and was really popular. I didn’t get a chance to read it until college, and I remember thinking “what’s the big deal about this?” Yes, it’s a fast read. But I didn’t find it that enlightening or entertaining. I suppose for some people it challenged some religious ideas that they’d accepted as a given, but that wasn’t the case for me. So I was left with a fairly “meh” read that had been totally overhyped beforehand.

Let me know if you decide to do this tag, I’d love to see your answers!

Top Ten Tuesday: Romance (genre) books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 9: Valentine’s Day/Love Freebie

I think for a long time I didn’t give romance as a genre the attention it deserves because I bought into a lot of the misogynistic accusations that have been hurled at it over the years. I’m only recently started to question that more and more (see here and here for more). But in the past few years I’ve been trying to rectify that by seeking out books that I’ve heard are good, in the romance genre. And even before I made the conscious effort, a few slipped in here and there! These are some I’ve enjoyed.

  1. Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale– The Duke of Jervaulx is well known in the newspaper’s scandal sheets as a womanizing rake, but is also a brilliant mathematician, who occasionally collaborates with Mr. Timms a blind Quaker. One day, the Duke (Christian to his friends) collapses after presenting a paper to the Analytical Society, and Mr. Timms, and his daughter Maddy, believe he’s dead. Christian isn’t dead. He’s suffered a stroke, that’s left him without the ability to speak. Maddy encounters him sometime later at asylum, where she’s considering a job. She comes to realize that the math genius her father worked with is still in there, but he can’t communicate. The characters in the book face several problems on the road to a happy ending. The primary one is Christian’s disability, but Maddy’s crisis of faith is given almost equal weight. She worries that she’s compromising her Quaker principles by falling for Christian, whos exploits are the stuff of scandal. She also worries about getting her heart broken.

2. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole– This is the first in Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League trilogy. I really enjoyed it, and intend to read the rest, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s about Elle Burns, a former slave, with an eidetic memory. She uses her gifts to act as a spy for the Union Army, posing as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator. Malcolm is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service, who is pretending to be a Confederate soldier, so that he can get information for the Union Army. When Malcolm and Elle come upon information that might turn the war the Confederacy’s way, they must get the information in the right hands no matter the cost. I was impressed with how Alyssa Cole managed to keep the stakes and suspense high. Presumably all her readers know how the Civil War ended, but I was still worried for Ellen and Malcolm’s mission as I read!

3. A Knight in Shining Armor Jude Devereaux- When Dougless Montgomery’s boyfriend ditches her on their English vacation, she goes to a church and cries on the grave of Nicholas Stafford, earl of Thornwyck, who died in 1564. She’s very surprised when a man in 16th century clothing shows up claiming to be Nicholas Stafford! Dougless helps Nicholas discover what brings him to the 20th century and how he was wrongly accused of treason. They fall in love and he decides to stay with her, only to be pulled back in time again, to the 16th century. Dougless goes after her beloved, only to discover that the 16th century Nicholas has no memory of the 20th century or falling in love with her. I liked that this broke the time travel romance “mold” a bit. For one thing it involves someone from the past, coming to the present and vice versa.

4. Remembrance by Jude Devereaux- Hayden Lane is a best selling author of romance novels, who becomes so obsessed by one of her heroes that she barely notices when her fiance breaks their engagement! She goes to a psychic to learn more about this man she supposedly made up. The psychic tells her that in a past life she was Catherine Tavistock, Lady De Grey, an Edwardian woman whose ghost haunts her husband’s English home. Hayden undergoes hypnosis, desperate to learn more. But the hypnosis goes wrong and instead of just remembering the past, Hayden is living it. She discovers that in earlier lives she loved a man, and they betrayed one another, and cursed their future incarnations. Now Hayden has to figure out how to set things right in the past, so that she can find happiness in the present.

5. Too Deep for Tears by Katheryn Lynn Davis– I wasn’t sure about including this on my list or not, since I’m reluctant to recommend it after this but I read this book a long time ago and enjoyed it, and since that’s the criteria for this list, I decided to include it. Charles Kitterage travelled the world and left behind three daughters with different mothers. Ailsa lives in the Scottish Highlands, Li-an (this portrayal may be very problematic, as is explained at the link above, but I didn’t realize it when I read it) lives in Peking, China, and Genevra lives in Dehli, India. They never met one another, and each has grown up haunted by a legacy of betrayal. But when a dying Charles wants to meet his daughters, they meet for the first time.

6. Lord of the Fading Lands by CL Wilson- I think this is technically classified as “paranormal romance” but I’m including it because it’s my list. Plus the book has a cheesy cover and is tropy enough to be considered romance! It’s the first in Wilson’s Tarien Soul series which follows Rain, the Tarien Soul, King of the Fey. When he claims Ellysetta, the daughter of a woodcutter, as his soul mate, no one is more surprised than Ellysetta herself. But their lands are facing an unseen enemy that threatens everyone and everything they care about and the happiness that they’ve found. It’s only by working together and facing their dark pasts, that they can find the hope of a future together. The first book sort of sets the stage for the rest of the series, and it’s one that you have to read in order if you want it to make sense!

7. The India Fan by Victoria Holt– I went through a phase at one point where I read a lot of Holt’s books, which are often classified as historical romance. To be honest, a lot of them blend together in my mind, but for some reason this one stands out, so I’m including it on my list. It’s about a parson’s daughter, Drusilla, who enthralled by her wealthy neighbors and friends, the Framling family- especially their handsome son, Fabian. But when they give her a beautiful peacock feather fan as a gift, Drusilla has no idea that it’s cursed. It brings with it a long history of death and destruction. But ultimately it may be less dangerous to Drusilla than Fabian Framling.

8. Public Secrets by Nora Roberts– Just a note, I read this one a long time ago, and have no idea how well it holds up. But I remember it fondly. Emma McAvoy is the daughter of a British rock star. At the age of six, her baby half-brother, Darren is killed in a kidnapping attempt gone wrong. Emma was the only witness, and remembers little of that night. Investigators believe that someone close to the family was involved, but can’t solve anything. So Emma grows up under the shadow of guilt. Over the next twenty years, Emma carves out a career, falls in love, and builds a life for herself. But this long ago crime, could threaten everything she’s worked for. I would call this an “ensemble romantic thriller.” The mystery storyline is just as important as the romance and there are actually several secondary romances as well.