Why: Cackle was a fun, feminist, witch story, so I decided to see what Harrison does with werewolves! Actually I also looked at her other book, The Return, which I’ll also get to at some point, hopefully.
Why: The Wolf and the Woodsman is a dark, sometimes ugly, fairytale that incorporates Hungarian history and Jewish folklore. While not a sequel, Juniper and Thorn is Reid’s second book, and it is set in the same world.
Why: The two I read in 2022 were weird hybrids of horror and humor that appealed to the strangeness in me. Hendrix tends to explore a different subgenre in each of his books, and I’m interested in reading his take on the haunted house story.
Why: I won A Spell of Rowans in a Goodreads giveaway, and really enjoyed it. It combines a genre I often find comforting (small town witch story) with a darker story of trauma, and a murder mystery. I definitely want to read more of Nash’s work, and The Wicked Wolves of Windsor appealed to me most at first glance.
Why: I won Sometimes I Lie in another Goodreads giveaway (I had bizarrely good luck with Goodreads giveaways in 2022!) and I really enjoyed the domestic thriller/murder mystery. Feeney has a few others that look good but this had the highest rating so I might try for this one first.
Why: The Nature of Fragile things told a compelling personal story against the backdrop of historical events: in this case the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is a dual timeline (a device I love) set in contemporary LA and Old Hollywood (I’m an old movie buff!).
Why: My book club read Lolly Willowes and I loved the weird hybrid of character study, family drama, and the third act transition to witch story! I think it also reads nicely as a companion to Cackle (above), which turned out to just be good timing on my part. I did a bit of googling about what to read next, and came across this review, which intrigued me, so I decided to go with The Corner that Held Them next.
Why: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths was another book club read. I had an interesting response, in that I liked it more after reading than I did while I was reading. I wanted to read more so I did some research. This blog says that Our Spoons is probably not the best place to start with Comyns (oh well!) but recommends this and another one. This sounded more interesting at the moment.
Why: I had a slightly conflicted reaction to The House in the Cerulean Sea (explained here) but I did really like it and want to read more from the author. This and In the Lives of Puppets both look good really, so I’ll see which I get to first.
I was honored to be asked to write an author list for Shepherd.com. Since Beautiful is a faerie tale (I explain why I used that spelling in my intro!) I went with a list of other books that portray faeries as ambiguous and “other” in some way. Basically these aren’t your butterfly-like creatures hopping around gardens! Check out my list here, and let me know what you think. Do you agree with my picks? Disagree? Is there anything I should have included?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen fans both love and hate adaptations of her work. We’re eager to see a new interpretation of a beloved work, but when it’s not done right, we get angry. Sometimes, very angry.
So I knew going in, that whatever I’d be watching, it wouldn’t be Persuasion as written by Austen. I tried to let those expectations go and watch it with an open mind. As a standard Hollywood romantic comedy, it was fine. No more, no less. I certainly didn’t find it as offensive as some did! The historically anachronistic elements didn’t bother me because they seemed intentional. But there’s no Jane Austen there, and when I wanted her, I felt her absence. For example, when Anne reads the note that Captain Wentworth has written her, that beautiful love letter comes off like a note jotted on a post-it with a number two pencil. Actually, I won’t say there’s no Jane Austen there. Rather it’s the wrong Jane Austen. While Austen is known for satire, Persuasion isn’t where those elements primarily come out.
Not long after, I happened to catch Modern Persuasion. This 2020 film is, as it sounds, Persuasion set in the modern day. Wren Cosgrove fell in love with Owen Jasper in college. After graduation he wanted to move to California, and asked her to come with him. Wren’s godmother didn’t think it was such a good idea, and told her so, in no uncertain terms. Years later, wealthy and successful, Owen hires Wren’s company to promote his new app… This movie is very…OK. Again, it’s fine as a romcom but it’s not the best of Hollywood’s romantic comedy offerings by a longshot. It’s not a Hallmark movie but it feels very “Hallmark-esque” (yes, I did make up that word.) Even though this movie is set in contemporary New York City, it feels similar to Netflix’s version. Both try to force Persuasion into a romantic comedy “box.” While much of Austen’s work fits in that box, Persuasion (despite a beautiful romance and a happy ending) doesn’t.
So I thought about some of the other adaptations of Austen’s work that I’ve seen. I think my first Austen exposure was rather obliquely through the film Clueless. If you’re not in the know, Clueless is an adaptation of Austen’s Emma set in a high school in Beverley Hills in the 1990’s. I saw it for the first time when I was about ten, and I was sure that’s what high school would look like for me (reader, it was not.) It wasn’t until I was in college, years later, that I actually read Emma and it became my favorite Austen novel. I still maintain a great fondness to Clueless for being a sort of instruction to Austen’s themes albeit in a very different milieu. I’m still surprised that Clueless managed to pull off what it did, as well as it did.
But it’s far from the only time that Emma has been done well onscreen. I’m probably the only Austen fan who is partial to the 1996 film with Gwyneth Paltrow, but she always always struck me as very Emma-y. Plus I really like Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightly and Toni Collette as Harriet Smith. But the 2020 film has a lot to recommend it. So does the 1996 ITV film with Kate Beckinsale and the 2009 miniseries with Romola Garai.
In 1996 Helen Fielding introduced the world to Bridget Jones. Bridget was the single, thirty-something, Londoner who launched a genre. She also inspired a hit motion picture in 2001. But before there was Bridget, there was Lizzie. Lizzie Bennet to be precise, heroine of Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie and Bridget were different. Aside from the nearly two centuries between them, Lizzie was country girl, a nonsmoker, didn’t work in publishing, and didn’t get drunk five nights a week. But they both loved a Mr. Darcy. Lizzie’s was Fitzwilliam Darcy and Bridget’s was Mark Darcy. Both Darcys were played by Colin Firth in notable adaptations. Both got sidetracked and prejudiced by Mr. Wrong (Wickham and Cleaver respectively) before realizing that Darcy was right there all along.
Is Bridget Lizzie? No, not by longshot. Just like Clueless’s Cher isn’t Emma. But regardless of how faithful adaptations are, the unfaithful ones don’t usually feel as gratingly “off” as the recent adaptations of Persuasion. That’s because Pride and Prejudice and Emma are both very different books from Persuasion. On the surface, that’s not so clear. All three are set in the same geographic location, at the same time period. All three deal with issues of love, marriage, money and family, among the same social class.
But Emma and Pride and Prejudice are both what I’d call coming of age comedies. Emma and Lizzie are both naïve at the beginning, despite both thinking they’re very wise. Wisdom is developed in both their stories, through life, and mistakes, and being humbled, and falling down, and getting up again. In Persuasion much of that has already happened before we meet Anne. She’s loved and lost before we open the first page. She’s changed as a result of suffering, taken responsibility for her mistakes and been humbled. She’s more an adult that Austen’s other two heroines, she’s more introspective and brooding. Actually, characters in Persuasion repeatedly comment that Anne has lost the “bloom” of her youth. Therefore it feels more wrong and jarring to see her act like a perky heroine in a romantic comedy. It’s not that they’re no humor or wit in her tale. There is. But there is also a hard-won wisdom. That’s what feels missing in the most recent films.
I, personally, would recommend the 1995 film for those seeking Persuasion out onscreen. But if you prefer there’s also a 2008 TV movie. While neither is perfect, both feel far more like they’re based on the novel Jane Austen wrote than either of the more recent versions do.
In thinking about my favorite Austen adaptations, and the less successful ones, it seems like the ones that do well, understand that there’s more to Austen’s work than just a funny love story. You could read Jane Austen for political commentary. You could read her for life lessons. And some of the more successful adaptations recognize that. Clueless has a lot of social satire. By it’s very title, it’s telling us that Cher is, at the beginning, “Clueless” about the real world. Bridget Jones highlighted a period of life that didn’t really exist for women in Austen’s day: after college and before marriage. It highlighted trying to establish oneself in a career just as much as in romance. Those are things Lizzie Bennet might do if she lived 200 years later (even though Bridget does a lot of things she probably wouldn’t do!). Neither are the stuff of great literature mind you, but they realize that their source material is.
A lot goes into whether or not an adaptation works. It’s not just about sticking closely to the events on the page, and making sure each character looks exactly as described. It’s about knowing your medium; understanding that what works on the page might not work on the big screen. What works on film, might not work as a four part miniseries. But I think a big part of it is also about respecting the complexity of your source material, rather than trying to push it into a pre-cut genre shape. It’s about recognizing what makes it unique from others in it’s genre rather than trying to hop onto a successful bandwagon.
One of the nice things about being an author is the knowledge that even after you’re gone, your books will still be out there. But some authors continue to put out new books even after they’ve died. In most cases, this is because the family of the author (or whomever owns the copyright, I suppose) hires a ghostwriter to continue to write under that author’s name. ‘
A famous example of this is author VC Andrews. In 1979, Andrew’s debut novel, Flowers in the Attic became a best seller. She wrote a few other successful novels before her death in 1986, and more than 70 bestsellers since! The vast majority of her work has been written under her name by Andrew Neiderman. Initially Neiderman was hired by Andrews estate to finish Garden of Shadows, the prequel to Flowers in the Attic that she’d been working on at the time of her death. He later finished her unfinished Casteel series and continued from there.
Andrews wrote mostly 4-5 book series (with a single stand alone title) that were mostly non-supernatural gothic horror. But literary markets change. So Neiderman has written trilogies, standalone and duologies in her name. And sometimes a lot changes: for example the duology Daughter of Darkness and Daughter of Light introduces vampires to Andrews’ world. Obviously no one can know what Andrews would have thought of this: she may have been all for it, or she may have hated it! But the Andrews estate is pretty open about Neiderman’s work. In an open letter included in the book Dawn in 1990 they announced that a ghostwriter had been hired to “organize and complete Virginia’s stories and to expand upon them by creating additional novels inspired by her wonderful storytelling genius.” It was another several years before it was revealed that Neiderman was the ghostwriter. Since then, he has been interviewed a number of times about the gig, and written a biography of Andrews under his own name.
Tilly Bagshawe is another writer whose work frequently appears under a different name. Sidney Sheldon had sold hundreds of millions of books when he died in 2007. Bagshawe, who has written books under her own name as well, has a Sidney Sheldon page on her website where she reveals that she’s taken “up the mantle of this late, great author, writing in his inimitable Sheldon style.” All of Bagshawe’s work in Sheldon’s name has titles like “Sidney Sheldon’s Mistress of the Game” and “Sidney Sheldon’s The Silent Widow” whereas Sheldon’s own work is just called by the novel’s title. Additionally, Bagshawe is listed as an author on all the “Sidney Sheldon” books she wrote.
An interesting case is romance writer Janet Dailey. Dailey died in 2013 having written a number of romance series. However, over on the Topaz Literary Blog, Lyndsay E Hobbs wrote that as a February 2021 Dailey’s website made no mention of her death, and even seemed to make an effort to make it sound like she was still alive and writing. You could subscribe to the “author’s” newsletter, follow “her” on Facebook, and read a bio written in the present tense with no mention of Dailey’s death. When Hobbs sent a contact email to the website about this she received this in reply: That’s a good question and one I get asked frequently. Before she died, Janet mentored a young author and taught the woman how to write in her style. Janet also left outlines of future books and outlines for the characters to work from. I guess Janet knew how beloved her characters were and how heartbroken readers would be if no one ever knew what happened to the Calders, or her other characters. We like to think the writer is doing a good job of keeping to the spirit of Janet’s writing, and she is acknowledged in every book.” However the website admin she’d been corresponding with didn’t even know the name of the ghostwriter. After she’d contacted the publisher and been told they don’t give out any info about ghostwriters, she said that it did seem as if the publisher was trying to be deceptive about Dailey’s death. She received no response.
In 2017, Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone mystery novels died. She’d started the Kinsey Millhone series in 1982 with A is for Alibi. At the time of her death, her most recent novel, Y is for Yesterday had just been published. In a Facebook post, her daughter wrote: “Many of you also know that she was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.” In an interview, her husband Steven Humphrey added that she’d been struggling to think of an ending for the series when she became ill, so there’s no manuscript to work from. “Nothing’s been written. There is no Z.”
Obviously there are a number of ways to handle someone else writing in the name of a dead author. Personally I’m OK with the idea, as long as the author would have been OK with this (I think in Grafton’s case her family did the right thing), and as long as they are open and forthcoming about the fact that the books are being written by a ghostwriter. Would I want someone writing in my name someday when I’m gone? I don’t know…
What do you think of this practice? Are you comfortable with ghostwriters taking over from popular authors?
We all know that the literary canon is represented by white, male writers to a disproportionate extent. But there are many exceptions, and diverse writers are gaining more exposure all the time. Women read about 50% female authors and 50% male authors. But for men that ratio is about 80:20 in favor of male authors. Why? I think there are a lot of reasons having to do with how our society at large sees and defines masculinity. But The Guardian recently put out a list of Books By Women That Every Man Should Read. The list included contributions from the likes of Ian McEwan, Richard Curtis, Salman Rushdie and more.
On one hand I don’t want to criticize The Guardian for seeing the discrepancy between male and female reading habits and trying to rectify some of the imbalance. But something about this article doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe it’s the authors who are left off. The omissions include (but are no means limited to) Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, any of the Bronte sisters, Agatha Christie, Zora Neale Hurston, Patricia Highsmith, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson and that’s just off the top of my head! But there’s no way a list like this could possible be comprehensive. They asked a handful of men to name a favorite and these are the ones that came up. That’s fair. If they’d been asked to list favorite books by male writers there would be many gaps and omissions as well. That’s the nature of such a list.
Maybe what doesn’t sit right with me is the idea of a bunch of men telling other men that these are the books by women that are “acceptable” for them to read. I’m aware that’s not the intention. The intention is the highlight great work by female authors. But it’s how it comes off.
This article also spurred me to think about my own reading habits. Looking at the books I’ve read so far this year, I’ve read thirty eight books so far. Nine were by men. Clearly I gravitate toward women authors in my own reading. My TBR looks more or less consistent with that proportion. So am I in any position to criticize men for reading things are they feel are in line with their own experiences of the world? Maybe not.
I think the take away is that we should all try to step outside our comfort zones. That goes for gender, but also for race, ethnicity, nationality, class, and any other category you can think of.
Do you gravitate toward books that reflect your experience/identity? If so do you think it’s worthwhile to try to read outside that comfort zone?
Ilona Andrews- Someone in my book club recommended her Innkeeper Chronicles as good comfort reads. It looks like she’s got a lot of other books, but I figure that’s a good place to start, since comfort is always needed!
Stacey Halls-I’ve seen some of her books that look good the last few times I went to the library. I keep meaning to read them, but I’ve gone for other things (I can only carry so much!) On my TBR: Mrs. England, The Familiars
This week the literary world lost two great writers, who introduced me to the strange and mythical land called California.
Eve Babitz died on December 17th at the age of 78. A week later, today, Joan Didion (who I wrote about more here) died at 87. They were very different writers (and I’m sure they were very different as people as well) but both wrote novels, essays, journalism and creative nonfiction.
I’m an east coast girl, through and through. I’ve never been to California (unless you count the airport, I’ve had flights that stop over there) but in Babitz I encountered the Los Angeles cultural scene in the 60s, 70s,and 80’s. The references to iconic artists, musicians, actors and writers made it seem like these were people you might encounter and chat with any time you stop for coffee. Didion’s California is coolly observed; a place that even in the 60s and 70s, was home to the vast cultural divides that many people only became aware of more recently.
I feel a bit weird about doing a single post for both of these ladies. Their work was often compared during their lifetimes because they were both female writers of the same generation working with similar genre and subject matter fairly often. I could contrast their lives and work too, there were many differences. It’s interesting that they both died this week. Didion was very aware that we frequently impose narrative and meaning on disparate events. I’m very aware that’s what I’m doing here, and I’m curious what she’d say about it.
This week the literary world lost two great writers, who introduced me to the strange and mythical land called California.
Eva Babitz died on December 17th at the age of 78. A week later, today, Joan Didion died at 87. They were very different writers (and I’m sure they were very different as people as well) but both wrote novels, essays, journalism and creative nonfiction.
I’m an east coast girl, through and through. I’ve never been to California (unless you count the airport, I’ve had flights that stop over there) but in Babitz I encountered the Los Angeles cultural scene in the 60s, 70s,and 80’s. The references to iconic artists, musicians, actors and writers made it seem like these were people you might encounter and chat with any time you stop for coffee. Didion’s California is cooly observed; a place that even in the 60s and 70s was home to the vast cultural divides that many people only became aware of more recently.
I feel a bit weird about doing a single post for both of these ladies. Their work was often compared during their lifetimes because they were both female writers of the same generation working with similar genre and subject matter fairly often. I could contrast their lives and work too, there were many differences. It’s interesting that they both died this week. Didion was very aware that we frequently impose narrative and meaning on disperate events. I’m very aware that’s what I’m doing here, and I’m curious what she’d say about it
Katherine Langrish– Langrish is a fantasy and nonfiction author who tweets lots of interesting articles and links to her blogs about fairy tales and folklore. [twitter][blog]
Thomas Kane- Kane is another fantasy author who has been incredibly supportive of the #WritingCommunity on twitter. I first encountered him on a writing forum and he’s been an amazing resource in terms of writing and publishing. [twitter][blog]
Anne Lamott– Anne Lamott is a novelist and writing guru who shares writing and life advice on twitter. She’s not shy about sharing her opinions, but I feel like she’s usually coming from a good place. [twitter][facebook]
Terri Windling- Windling is a fantasy author, as well as an editor, artist folklorist and fairy tale historian. I love her blog, which is an amazing source of information. On twitter she shares interesting tidbits from her life in an English village, where she lives with her husband and dog. [twitter][blog]
Alexandra Silber– Silber is an actor/singer/blogger/author of historical fiction and memoir. She shares her thoughts and opinions on her blog and social media accounts. She tends to be very candid and vulnerable in a way that I admire but could never emulate! [twitter][blog][instagram]
Catherynne M. Valente– Valente’s work is mostly fantasy though the subgenres vary pretty widely. She tweets about just about everything, from random, thoughts to interesting anecdotes, to what she’s watching, reading, and thinking. [twitter][instagram]
Stephen King- Love his work or hate it (I tend to be sort of 50/50) I do like to see his opinions, and jokes and thoughts on twitter. I think he seems to love stories so passionately – his own and other people’s – he genuinely seems to enjoy discussing them and sharing them with others. [twitter]
Katherine Harbour– Harbour is a YA fantasy author, who actually isn’t on social media very much, but I’m including her on this list, because it’s a highlight for me when she is! She shares her favorite reads and thoughts about writing and stories on her blog, which I have permanently bookmarked! [twitter][blog]
Neil Gaiman– Gaiman is a fantasy author whose work ranges from short fiction to epic novels for audiences ranging from children to adults and everyone in between. Truthfully, I don’t always love his literary work, but I do sometimes. And I do enjoy following him on social media where he shares what he’s up to, and info about various adaptations of his work for film/tv/theatre/whatever. [blog] [twitter]
October 19: Online Resources for Book Lovers (what websites, podcasts, apps, etc. do you use that make your reading life better?)
I did a list sort of like this a while ago. I’m including some different ones here though. And I’m assuming that everyone here hasn’t been living under a rock for decades and knows about Amazon, GoodReads etc.
BookBub– An amazing resource for free and discounted books according to your personal preferences.
Cover Spy– One of my favorite things about public transportation is seeing what other people are reading. This tumblr is a collection of book covers and the description of who is reading it on what mode of transport.
Trall.org/booklovers– This is part of the Middleton Thrall Public Library (in Middleton, NY) and it’s a gold mine of lists, reviews, reading group guides, blogs, reader resources and more.
LitLovers– This features a guide for starting book clubs and also has some established book clubs. It includes reading guides, recipes to accompany books, courses you can take to get more out of your reading, and yes, a blog.
You’re Booked Podcast– This podcast appeals to the nosiness in me that wants to look through other people’s bookshelves. Each episode talks to a different personality (usually a author) about the contents of their bookshelves, as well as other topics.
Overdue Podcast– This is about the books that you’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t gotten around to yet. That might mean classics, but it also encompasses pop culture phenoms and best sellers.
Parcast– A network focused on podcasts and audio dramas. They’ve got something for just about any genre or mood you can imagine!
But I feel like I did a list like this pretty recently (OK so it was 2 years ago, but how creative can you get with the topic really?). So I decided to do a Tag Tuesday instead. This tag was created by @jamishelves and I first discovered it on @zeezeewithbooks. I decided on this one because my home is slowly being taken over by books I want to read but haven’t gotten around to yet. Everything here has been living on my shelves for a long, long time…
A BOOK YOU FEEL THE NEED TO READ BECAUSE EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT IT
Actually I don’t think I have anything on mu TBR shelf that I feel like I have to read for that reason. I cheated and used my kindle for this one. I’m going with Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I keep meaning to read it, but putting it aside and reading something else instead, for one reason or another. I really, really want to read this one though, because I’ve heard great things about it.
A BOOK THAT’S REALLY LONG
I have a few really long ones on the shelf (they tend to be put off for the longest because I know they’re a big investment in terms of time) I think the longest book on my unread shelf is Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (1007 pages). I enjoyed its predecessor, The Name of the Wind, but it’s hard to dive into a book this long. Plus who knows if/when book three will come out. I’d hate to get invested more in the series and then just be waiting, and waiting, and waiting…
A BOOK YOU OWN/HAD ON YOUR TBR FOR TOO LONG
I picked up Kristin Lavransdatter Part I: The Bridal Wreath about ten years ago at a library sale, because I’d heard that this three part novel was a great read. But before I started reading, I learned that the translation that I had wasn’t the preferred one (the consensus seems to be that the Penguin Classics edition is the best), and I wasn’t sure if I should give the one I had a shot or go straight for the preferred translation. So I put it off until I decided. And now it’s been a decade.
A BOOK THAT WAS “REQUIRED” READING (E.G., SCHOOL TEXT, REALLY POPULAR CLASSIC — SOMETHING YOU FEEL OBLIGATED TO READ)
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard is a book I got for two reasons. One is that it was on some list I saw, somewhere, of books every writer should read (or something along those lines). Two is that I want to appreciate nature more. I feel like I’m very caught up in the human world, and I like the idea of slowing down, meditating and philosophizing on the natural world. But while that idea appeals to me, it seems like it might be a slog to read through.
A BOOK THAT INTIMIDATES YOU
The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett is the third book in the Lymond Chronicles. I enjoyed the first two but with an enigmatic hero who speaks in multilingual riddles and obscure references, it can be tough going. I actually want to buy this guide before I do read it.
A BOOK THAT YOU THINK MIGHT BE SLOW
The Overstory by Richard Powers won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It got rave reviews. But it’s about trees. How exciting can that be?
A BOOK YOU NEED TO BE IN THE RIGHT MOOD FOR
I read Paullina Simons’ The Tiger Catcher in the right mood and ended up enjoying it a lot more than I expected to. Now I’m waiting for the right mood to read the second in the trilogy, A Beggar’s Kingdom.
A BOOK YOU’RE UNSURE YOU WILL LIKE
I suppose I’m a little bit nervous about The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I love academic settings in books, and I love books dealing with the marriage plot in general (think Austen, Eliot) but I’ve had mixed reactions to some of the author’s past work.