Top Ten Tuesday: Snowy Books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday: It’s late today, but it’s still Tuesday!:

December 8: Holiday/Seasonal Freebie (holiday books/covers/titles, wintry reads, snow on cover, cool color covers, takes place in cold settings, cozy scenes on cover, etc

Last year I listed books that were set during/about the December holidays. This year I’m just going for snow. Snow plays a significant part in all of these books. Maybe I’m just thinking snow because my upcoming book is very snowy (I had to get a bit of Shameless Self Promotion in there!)

1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey– Jack and Mabel are a childless couple, struggling to make a home in 1920 Alaska; a brutal environment. In a rare moment of levity during the first snowfall of the season, they build a child out of snow. The next day the snow child is gone, but they discover a little girl, who calls herself Faina. Faina seems to survive alone in the Alaskan wilderness. They come to love her like their own child. This retells a fairy tale, but in a very elegant way. It feels very grounded in the realities of the Alaskan homestead.

2. Light on Snow by Anita Shreve– Twelve year old Nicky Dillon and her father discover an abandoned baby in the snowy woods near their home in New Hampshire. They rescue the baby and bring it to a nearby hospital. Then Nicky and her father, a grieving widower, settle in for a bleak Christmas. But as the snowflakes from the season’s first blizzard begin to fall, a young woman turns up at the house, claiming she wants to purchase a table from Nicky’s father (he builds furniture). It soon becomes clear to Nicky and her dad that this girl is the baby’s mother. She faints, and by the time she comes to, Nicky, her father and the girl are snowbound. Will Nicky’s dad turn the girl in to the police for abandoning her baby in the cold? Nicky soon becomes drawn to the girl, who she sees as an older sister/mother figure, creating a tense emotional situation for all three characters.

3. Whiteout by Ken Follett– Maybe not the best to read during a pandemic, this thriller is about what happens when a canister of a deadly virus goes missing from a Scottish research lab. The lab’s security director, and several people (all with something to gain or lose from the drug they’re creating to fight the virus) take shelter in a remote house during a Christmas Eve blizzard.

4. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin– This story brings us to a slightly alternate version of the Belle Époque in New York City. In this version the city is bombarded by blizzards. One freezing night, a thief called Peter Lake, breaks into a mansion where meets and falls in love with a young woman who is dying of consumption. The harsh winter is a death sentence for her. But Peter will do whatever he has to, to change things.

5. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– Ethan Frome is married to Zeena, a hypochondriac. Her marriage to Ethan is unhappy and both are bitter. When Zeena’s impoverished cousin, Mattie, moves in with them, Ethan falls in love. This book has a key scene involving sledding, so I’m counting it. (Also it’s set in a snowy Massachusetts winter)

6. Icebound by Dean Koontz– I read this one a long time ago, but I do remember snow and ice! It’s about a group of scientists (scientists seem to have bad luck with snow in thrillers!) in the Arctic. They find themselves stranded on an iceberg. A massive explosion is hours away (they’re blowing up the iceberg for sciencey reasons I think…) and if that wasn’t bad enough, one of them is a murderer. I know the plot is rather farfetched, but it’s just fun!

7. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie- Snow foils what should have been the perfect crime when an avalanche stops the Orient Express in it’s tracks- just before a passenger is found dead in his berth. There are 13 potential suspects on the train, and no one can get away, but all have seemingly perfect alibis. What’s a detective to do?

8. Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg– This one is also sort of hazy in my memory, but I remember that Smilla was half Inuit and she was raised in Greenland, where she became very intuitive about snow. As an adult, she works as a scientist who studies different types of snow. When her six year old neighbor dies from a fall of the roof of their apartment complex, the police think he had an accident while playing. But seeing the tracks that the child left in the snow on the roof, Smilla knows that isn’t what happened. She suspects murder, but the police don’t want to hear it. So Smilla investigates for herself.

Top 10 Tuesday: Books That Surprised Me

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

March 13: Books That Surprised Me (in a good or bad way)

For this one, I initially interpreted it as being for books that I liked but didn’t think I would, or books that I thought I would love and didn’t. But then I thought it might be fun to look at books whose plots surprised me in some way.

61g8cli07xl-_ac_us218_1. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone– I remember being terrified of this book as a kid. Grover tells the reader that there’s a monster at the end of the book, and to stop reading before you get there. So I would always slam the book shut before the end (hey, if Grover’s giving advice, I’m going to listen!). One day my mom sort of insisted that we keep reading. I was absolutely petrified, wondering why she refused to listen to Grover’s warnings. I still remember the utter surprise when the monster was revealed.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– This actually has several twists and turns that I wasn’t anticipating. But the one I’m thinking of here comes about midway through the book. It made me rethink pretty much everything that I’d read until that point.  I mean, I was reading it on a train and I literally shouted “Holy Crap!” when this happened. But even if you somehow manage to see that one coming, the plot twists yet again…

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- This twist was a triumph of misdirection. I was focused on the happenings in the English country house and the crazy antics of the family. But all the time there was something else happening in the background, that I didn’t notice until it was pointed out. It gave me that feeling like the hairs in on the back of my neck were standing up. I think it’s sort of what Freud called “uncanny.” He used the term to refer to the sense of something familiar and intimate that has been distorted or changed somehow to become threatening, or tempting, or unknown.

51hytcoi7l-_ac_us218_4. Atonement by Ian McEwan– I’m really glad that I read this book before I saw the movie. While the twist in the movie is an additional scene added on, in the book, it’s revealed through the narration at the closing. It seemed more surprising that way, but less like a “trick.” One thing I liked about this ending was that the story can stand on its own, without it. It’s not one of those things where the entire narrative hinges on a twist. But it does add an additional layer to things.

51s4merpcjl-_ac_us218_5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– I’m a big fan of this title actually because there’s a clue in it, regarding the whodunnit. It’s about people who come to an island party and are murdered one by one. It’s only when there are none left that the twist is revealed and we learn who the killer is. We get to know each of the characters before they’re murdered. We learn that they all have secrets and that there might be someone out there who wants any one of them dead. Learning that backstory is entertaining in itself. But once the bodies start piling up, we see these characters in a stressful situation, and that reveals even more about them.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_6. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– This twist was one I sort of saw coming because I knew that there was something off with the Max/Rebecca marriage. But I liked the ambiguity regarding the execution. It complicates things for the reader because we’re not 100% sure what we want to see happen next. The Hitchcock film (which I’m a big fan of) left fewer moral gray areas for the protagonists. That was most likely intended to make audiences sympathize with them, but I like being a little unsure of what I wanted to see happen, and what would feel like justice.

61ugxeeqibl-_ac_us218_7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This is another one that I’m very glad that I read before seeing the film. On film, the important information is revealed in the title cards at the very beginning, and a character explains it explicitly in the first 10-15 minutes. But in the book, it’s a slow, gradual realization. There’s no big “reveal.” Rather it starts off as a suspicion that leaves the reader hoping that s/he is wrong about what’s going on. There’s a sense of dread that builds as s/he realizes that s/he’s not.

41tynpkim4l-_ac_us218_8. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– The action of this book takes place as a sort of extended flashback. The unnamed narrator is spending the winter in Starkfield where he sees a figure limping around town, and inquires about this “ruin of a man.” We learn that the man is the title character, that he had a bitter, suspicious, hypochondriac of a wife and that he fell in love with her cousin, Mattie. This dilemma is eventually resolved in a way that gives all three characters what they wanted but in such a way that they no longer want it.

51nzvigpebl-_ac_us218_9. The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve- This book ties into Shreve’s other novel The Weight of Water in an interesting way, that the casual reader of either book may not guess. But it’s easy to read one and fully appreciate it without reading the other. This book is about two lovers who meet at a literary festival. Then the novel moves backward in time, showing us a time that they met previously, and then it moves backward again, showing us their initial meeting. From there we see how they became sort of cursed to meet at different points in life (rather than spend it together) and to primarily discuss the last time they met each time they see one another.

518ktztx7ol-_ac_us218_10. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– This book is about a woman who finds a letter for her husband, that instructs her to open it only upon his death. It reveals something that has the potential to destroy their family and their lives. Except she finds it and opens it while her husband is very much alive. The first surprise is the nature of her husband’s revelation. I think that I was expecting him to tell her about an affair or something. But what he confesses in the letter doesn’t just affect their lives, but the lives of several other people too. It left me asking myself what I would do in that situation and unsure of the answer. Then, once everything is resolved at the end, the author gives some information that reframes everything that’s happened.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Dual Timeline Novels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 20: Books I’ve Decided I’m No Longer Interested In Reading

This topic didn’t really speak to me. My thinking is that if I’m no longer interested in reading them, then why waste time writing about them? So instead I decided to look at one of my favorite fictional genres. I love dual timeline narratives in which the past and the present interact in some way. It could be a literal interaction; such as someone from the present having contact with someone in the past, or it could be more thematic- the present day character learns about some past event that illuminates something that s/he is experiencing. My “rules” for this list are that there isn’t allowed to be any literal time travel. Each character needs to remain physically in his/her own period. Visions of the other period are allowed though. Also, only two primary timelines are allowed. We can learn bits and pieces of what happens in between, but the main narrative focuses on two timelines. Here are ten favorites:

51pv4ly0mtl-_ac_us218_1. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton– I was initially reluctant to read this after having been rather disappointed in Morton’s debut The House at Riverton. But I’m so glad that I gave her another chance because now she’s one of my favorite authors! This story starts off with a little girl, turning up abandoned on a ship from England to Australia in 1913. The only clue as to her identity is a book of fairy tales in her suitcase. Years later, her granddaughter, Cassandra, inherits a cottage in Cornwall, and journeys to England to discover the truth about her grandmother’s origins. She discovers that the key to the puzzle exists before her grandmother’s birth, with a Victorian country house full of family secrets. Friendship,  rivalry, betrayal, romance, and murder all play out in stories within stories. But even though the narrative is intricate (to say the least) it’s not hard to follow. Each chapter heading tells us exactly when and where the bit we’re reading takes place.

51iaiuahol-_ac_us218_2. Mariana by Susanna Kearsley– Susanna Kearsley has written many wonderful novels in this genre. For me, this one is a standout but anything she’s written is a reliable bet. Julia Beckett moves into an old farmhouse, one that she’d wanted to own since childhood. But when she moves in, she begins dreaming of Mariana, a British woman who lived in the house in the 17th century. Mariana loved her neighbor, Richard, a Loyalist, whose politics put him at odds with her uncle. Though their romance ended in tragedy, Mariana and Richard loved each other too much to stay separated. Their love will come full circle in the present day, and Julia will have an important role to play in the resolution.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diana Setterfield– Reclusive author, Vida Winter, has never told anyone the truth about her life story. When she’s old and ill, she hires Margaret Lea to write her biography. Margaret listens in fascination and disbelief as Vida tells her story of gothic weirdness. It’s complete with twins, a ghost, a governess, a fire, and a secret that’s never been shared. Margaret has her own issues with trust and intimacy, and her own past. Through listening to and telling Vida’s tale, she may find some resolution in her own life.

5160vyclkel-_ac_us218_4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel– During a performance of King Lear, Arthur Leander, famous actor, has a heart attack onstage and dies despite the best efforts of an EMT in the audience. The EMT, Jeevan, later learns that on this same night the terrible flu began to spread. There is no cure, hospitals are flooded, and people begin to panic. Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves in his apartment as the world around them falls apart.  Fifteen years later, Kirsten, who as a small child appeared in that fateful production of King Lear, is an actress with the Travelling Symphony. This is a performing arts troupe that travels from one settlement of the ruined world to another. They perform Shakespeare and play music for the small communities of survivors because “survival is insufficient”- people need reminders of what it means to be human. When they arrive at St. Deborah by the Water and encounter a cult and a violent prophet who doesn’t let anyone leave. The book covers twenty years during which the twists of fate that link these disparate characters are revealed.

51lo8bgzurl-_ac_us218_5. The Plague Tales by Ann Benson– In 1348, a Spanish doctor  Alejandro Canches is tasked with keeping the court of Edward III alive during the plague. Nearly 700 years later, in a futuristic 2005 (the book was written in 1995 so 2005 was the future then!) Janie Crowe, a physician comes across a soil sample that contains a microbe that may unleash the bubonic plague on a post-Outbreak world that has already been decimated by disease. As the book progresses, these two separate stories of doctors fighting disease begin to intertwine in interesting ways. This book can be read as a standalone, or as the beginning of a trilogy. It’s followed by The Burning Road and The Physician’s Tale.

51iqjeozjvl-_ac_us218_6. A Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware– Blythe Barton was one married to a Hollywood power player. Then she walked in on him in bed with her sister. One messy divorce later, Blythe takes refuge in Cornwall, where she’s rented a cottage for the summer. She meets Lucas, the owner of the cottage that she’s renting. Jack is a widower, the father of a young son, who is trying to keep his estate going. Blythe wants to help. But she soon begins to have dreams and visions of Lucas’s ancestors. In the 18th century, the estate belonged to a woman, also named Blythe Barton. She was married, against her will, to a man named Christopher, though she loved his brother, Ennis. All three have tragic fates, but observing these historical events gives Blythe the perspective she needs to move on with her own life.

41xgjp2alkl-_ac_us218_7. The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve– In 1873, two women living on the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, were found murdered. A third woman survived by hiding in a sea cave. In the present day, photojournalist Jean goes to the island with her husband, Thomas and their daughter Billie. The plan is for Jean to shoot a photo essay for a magazine about the murders. They take a boat with Thomas’ brother Rich and his girlfriend, Adelaine. As Jean is drawn into the murders that happened so long ago, Thomas and Adelaide are drawn to each other. All of the characters, in both timelines, are heading toward disaster. The book is based on real murders that happened on the island Smuttynose, though the contemporary story is fictional. Actually, the historical story is fictional too since the crimes in the book happen in a way very different from the story that came out in court at the alleged killer’s trial. The book was given an ok film adaptation in 2004. It’s worth a look if you like the story, but it comes as no surprise that the book is better.

51h-9e-csql-_ac_us218_8. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood– Like The Weight of Water, this is based on a real-life murder. In 1843, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery were murdered in Upper Canada. Grace Marks, a maid in the household, and James McDermott, a stableman/handyman, were convicted of the murder. McDermott was hanged and Grace Marks was sentenced to life in prison. That much is historical fact. Atwood’s novel begins after Grace has been incarcerated for some time. A committee that believes in her innocence hopes to have her pardoned and released. Since Grace cannot remember the crimes, they hire Dr. Simon Jordan, a psychologist to evaluate her and determine her sanity. Dr. Jordan meets with Grace and listens as she tells him the story of her life, leading up to the day of the murders. We follow Grace’s story and at times we wonder about the truth of what Grace tells Dr. Jordan. She seems to make an effort to keep his interest. We’re left with a sense of ambiguity. How much of what Grace tells is the truth? If what she tells isn’t the truth, does that mean she’s lying? This was recently made into a netflix miniseries that was also pretty good.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_9. Possession by AS Byatt– In the 19th century, poet Randolph Henry Ash, known for being a devoted husband, had an affair with his fellow poet Christabel LaMotte. At the end of the 20th century, scholar Roland Mitchell discovers evidence of the secret romance and begins to investigate. His quest leads him to LaMotte scholar, Dr. Maud Baily. The two become obsessed with finding out the truth about what happened between Ash and LaMotte, and their own romantic lives begin to become entwined with those of the poets. Both stories are told in parallel and come to echo one another in interesting ways. The book had a film adaptation that wasn’t bad on its own but made some fairly significant changes from the novel.

51ixaf4tmsl-_ac_us218_10. The Eight by Katherine Neville–  In 1790, Mireille, a novice nun at Montglane Abbey is tasked with helping her cousin, Valentine, disperse the pieces of a chess set in order to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. The set was a gift from the Moors to Emperor Charlemagne, and now it’s sought by power-hungry men and women including Napoleon, Robespierre, and Catherine the Great. In 1972 computer expert Cat Velis is sent to Algeria on a special assignment. Before she leaves, she is asked by an antique dealer to find the Montglaine Service, the same chess set that Mireille had tried to protect. It’s rumored to be in Algeria. As Cat tracks down the chess set and learns its history, she discovers the power that it contains.  The author wrote a sequel in 2008 called The Fire but I haven’t read it yet.

51timps1ytl-_ac_us218_11. The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor- Yes I know it’s supposed to be ten but I had trouble deciding between a couple, and I ended up just including an extra book. This is also based on a real incident. In 1917, England was still in the grips of the most devastating war that it had ever seen. Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two cousins in Yorkshire, announced that they’ve photographed fairies in their garden. They release the photographs and become a national sensation. A country torn apart by war seems to have found the magic it desperately needs. Eventually, though, Frances and Elsie feel that they must tell the truth about the pictures. In 2017, Olivia Kavanagh inherits her grandfather’s bookshop and discovers an old manuscript. She becomes immersed in the story it tells, that ties past to present. But when she discovers a photo, she learns that reality and fantasy may be intertwined as well.