What one fantasy book have you read since last Wyrd and Wonder that you want to put on the rest of the party’s radar?
Well since I’ve never participated in Wyrd and Wonder before, this should be pretty easy. It’s not though: so. many. choices! I did recently really enjoy Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl. It’s set in a sort of limbo between life and death, where the main character, Beatrice, and her friends have to relive the day of their death over and over until they can vote on who will be the only survivor of the group.
I never knew my father #TropeTuesday This year, Tuesdays are all about fantasy tropes we love (to hate) #TropeTuesday In honour of Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You) we’ll kick off with orphans, foundlings and other secret heirs to the throne / a grand inheritance / the magic in their blood
I’m going with the Tarien Soul series for this one, since the final book is on my TBR for the month. The heroine, Elysetta, has a loving adoptive father, but she’s never met her biological father, so I’m counting it. The reader knows who her biological family is, and what happened to them, but so far in the series, Elysetta hasn’t met them. I expect that will (or, at least, it may) change in the conclusion.
I can do this all day
Underdogs or victory (in battle) against the odds (in honour of Cinco de Mayo)
In Ashling, the third book in Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn series, there is going to be a rebellion against the totalitarian Council. The Misfits of Obernewtyn can help the rebels with their unique powers and abilities. But in order to do so, they must first convince the rebels to overcome their prejudice against Misfits, and accept their help. To do so, they participate in a sort of test of their abilities, called BattleGames.
Fly my pretties
A book featuring any flying animal character or on the cover is fair game today, but bonus points if it’s a pegasus (our 2021 Wyrd and Wonder mythical mascot)
Does this have to book a book I’ve read? If not, I’ll go with Pegasus by Robin McKinley (which is on my TBR)
Fantasy from around the world
Fridays are all about celebrating fantasy from around the world – this week focuses on fantasy settings inspired by non-European cultures
Most recently, I really enjoyed Gods of Jade and Shadow, which was set in Mexico and played with some Mayan mythology. I read Akata Witch and Akata Warrior fairly recently too, and those are an interesting look at some west African magic.
Spine poetry OR Mother’s Day spine poetry (combine book titles into a poem) or celebrate fantasy mums (mother figures, female mentors etc) for international Mother’s Day
For this one, I’ll give a shout out to October Daye (of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire) who is mother to a daughter she hasn’t seen in years. The absence wasn’t her fault. She’d been turned into a fish. But her daughter doesn’t know that.
Maybe it didn’t meet your expectations, maybe you loved some bits but not others, maybe it made you both incredibly happy and very sad… but tell us why!
I found Mary Robinette Kowel’s Glamourist Histories good enough that I wished they were better. They’re regency romance a la Jane Austen, but with fantasy thrown in. The main characters are Glamourists who work with a sort of art form known as glamour. This takes a physical toll on the worker, but it was very hard to understand how glamour actually worked. So the parts that dealt with that weren’t clear, and it felt like it was a big part of the series that I wasn’t completely getting. But I enjoyed it in spite of that issue.
Reluctant hero(ine) #TropeTuesday
Since I’m currently in the middle of the All Souls series (read the first two books, and am currently watching season 2 of the show) I’ll go with this one. In the first book, A Discovery of Witches, the heroine, Diana, is pulled into a struggle between creatures (witches, vampires and daemons). She knows she’s a witch, but she’s not happy about it, and keeps distance from her magical heritage. Except in this book she realizes she can’t do that anymore.
May 11: Books with Nature on the Cover (flowers, trees, landscapes, animals, etc.)
I decided to just go with the last 10 I read:
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl– I really liked this one. It’s sort of a YA fantasy meets Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery. I initially sought this out because I liked Night Film, one of Pessl’s previous books, but this was totally different. But I liked this too.
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link– Liked this one a lot too. I’ve never read anything by Link before, but I definitely want to check out more of her work. Most of these stories are set in places we recognize enough so that they seem familiar, but Link introduces elements that set it askew, and eventually turn it upside down. The stories dip into and out of different genres with ease. The only thing that all these tales have in common is that feeling of ordinary strangeness (or strange ordinaryness, depending how you look at it!)
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens– I was actually really a bit disappointed in this one. I think because it had been hyped so much. I didn’t think it was bad by any means! I just didn’t think it was as great as I’d heard. I do think that people who really like nature infused writing will enjoy this one though.
Blackthorn by Judy Nedry– This one was a disappointment. It’s subtitled “A Gothic Thriller.” Since I really like gothic thrillers, I was looking forward to it. I ended up with a very unlikeable heroine (which is fine with me, if it works for the book, here I didn’t feel like it did) and a fairly predictable set up.
It Started With A Secret by Jill Mansell- I read this early in the year during a somewhat stressful period for me, and it was just what I needed. It was silly, fun, and it didn’t try to be anything more.
Christmas at the Heartbreak Cafe by Melissa Hill– I suppose that I could say the same for this one that I said for the book above this one. It was sort of the literary equivalent of a Hallmark/Lifetime movie: you know exactly where it’s going, but you still enjoy getting there, if you’re in the right mood for it.
The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin Kwaymullina – Another fantasy/mystery. This one is a short read (about 200 pages) but it packs a lot into that small space. We get two narratives told in poetry and prose. It also provides a look at some dark Australian history and a look at historical and modern Aboriginal culture.
The Deep by Alma Katsu – This is sort of a supernatural thriller set against the backdrop of the sinking of the Titanic and it’s sister ship the Brittanic. It was a fun combination of mystery, fantasy, ghost story and historical fiction.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter – This is about two separate events and the connection between them that spans many years, many lives. Not perfect, but I enjoyed it.
I’m trying to find some beta readers for my new book, Frost. It’s a stand alone sequel to Beautiful (you don’t need to have read Beautiful to understand anything here. It follows different characters). It’s been through about 3-4 drafts and one edit at this point, and I’d like a better idea of what it needs next.
In the past, I’ve found betas in this goodreads group and on twitter, but I’m not having any luck this time around. Does anyone else know where beta readers can be found? Also if anyone wants to beta read it, please let me know!
This month I’ll be attempting to participate in Wyrd and Wonder’s Challenge celebrating the fantasy genre (well see how much I get done. It’s a busy month for me!). But today I managed to think about my Desert Island Reads.
Here are The Rules:
Eight (audio)books – your Desert Island Reads float ashore in a watertight chest, phew!
If you want to take a series, each book in it counts as one of your eight unless a collected edition has been published. So Temeraire would be all your books; The Lord of the Rings could be just one (rather heavy) book
No, you can’t have a fully-loaded ebook reader. Nice try
A podcast, TV show or movie – for when you really can’t read any more
If you choose Podcast / TV show: yes, you get all the episodes / seasons
If you choose Movie: since I’m being lenient, yes this can be a series / franchise
One thing you just can’t do without
A favourite food, something comforting, a touch of luxury – this can be pretty much whatever you like, so long as it’s inanimate, can’t help you escape or communicate with the outside world, and doesn’t require electricity or internet connectivity
Bonus: you can listen to audiobooks / podcasts or watch your TV show / movie (on some magical waterproof device that doesn’t need power and has very limited storage, shh)
Don’t worry: you already have access to any medication you require to manage medical conditions, plus a well-stocked first aid kit
Assuming you do this for the Wyrd And Wonder Challenge, please limit your bookish and entertainment picks to fantasy titles. If you’d like to make a non-fantasy-related response at another time, you’re very welcome.
1.Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – Yes, I have a collected edition. I also have a rather complicated history with these books. In the past, I’ve found them very hard to get into. But I am a fantasy reader and writer, and they are a genre cornerstone. I think on a desert island I’d have time to really dive into it!
2. Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss- I enjoyed The Name of the Wind, but the sequel has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I sometimes need to summon up the motivation to commit to a really long book (over 1000 pages). But again, If I’m on a desert island with limited reading material, I think I can manage it!
3. The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody- This is the final book in the Obernewtyn series. I’ve read and enjoyed all the others. But this one is another book I’ve put off due to the size (again, over 1000 pages). But as I look at this list, I’m thinking I should stop being intimidated by really long books!
4. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis- Yes, again this is a collected edition, and it’s a series I’ve been meaning to reread for a while. I think that the island would give me a chance to do that.
5. Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – Pretty much anyone who has ever looked at this blog knows that I’m a fairy tale girl! This would let me dip into different stories that would suit different moods.
7. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare- I figure this counts, because plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest are definitely fantasy. Macbeth has three witches, and other plays have hints of the supernatural here and there. Plus Shakespeare holds up to repeated readings.
This is tough! I think I’m going with TV show, since that’s the most entertainment bang for my buck (it’ll take me the longest to get through). On one hand I’m tempted to pick something I’ve never seen before. I’ll get a chance to binge. But what if I don’t like it? It seems like a big risk…
I’ll go with The Twilight Zone, assuming that in addition to all the seasons I’ll have access to the reboots as well. I haven’t seen every episode so there will be something for when I’m in the mood for something new. But I like the episodes I’ve seen, so the risk factor is fairly minimal. The anthology structure gives me some variety.
One Thing You Just Can’t Do Without
A lifetime supply of chocolate. I think no explanation is needed for this one.
April 27: Animals from Books (these could be mythical, real, main characters, sidekicks, companions/pets, shifters, etc.) (Submitted by Paige @paigesquared and Jennifer Y. @ Never Too Many to Read)
For this one I decided to keep it simple and go with animals of any kind: pets, sidekicks, main characters, side characters, real and fantastical.
Maruman (cat) from the Obernewtyn series– Maruman is a cat with whom the heroine of the series, Elspeth, communicates mentally. He as bouts of madness and a tendency to make cryptic statements about the heroine, Elpeth’s, fate. He’s a “Moonwatcher” or a guardian for Elspeth on her quest.
Flush (dog) from Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf- This is Woolf’s “biography ” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel, Flush. In it we get some dog’s eye view observations of the world but we also get some very human musings. We see Elizabeth’s romance with Robert Browning from Flush’s perspective, but we also see Flush himself grow from a stifled lapdog to a dog-about-town.
Fern (chimpanzee) from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler- The Cooke family consists of Mom and dad, Rosemary, her brother, Lowell, and her sister Fern. Fern is a chimpanzee, being raised alongside humans for the purposes of science. When the book opens, Rosemary is 22. She hasn’t seen Lowell in 11 years and Fern disappeared when she was 5. As the book progresses we come to learn what unraveled her family.
Lorelei (dog) from Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst- Paul is a linguistics professor who comes home from work one day to find that his wife has fallen from an apple tree in the backyard and died. The only witness to the death was their dog, Lorelei. Desperate to know whether his wife’s death was an accident or a suicide, he tries to teach the dog to talk so that she can tell him what happened. It’s really about Paul’s grief, but Lorelei is an important character throughout.
Gogu (frog) from Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier– This is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Jena and her sisters (and Gogu) travel to the Otherworld through a secret passage each month. But when danger threatens both worlds, Jena must keep them both from falling apart. Gogu is her companion throughout. She can talk to him and hear his thoughts, but he might have a secret…
Small (horse) from Fire by Kristin Cashore- Small is the protagonist’s horse. He carries Fire everywhere, including into battle. There’s nothing really unique or special about Small, unless you count his loyalty.
Rosie (elephant) from Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen- Jacob Janowski is an orphaned veterinary student just shy of a degree. When he is hired by the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, he is put in charge of caring for the circus animals. That includes Rosie, the untrainable elephant that is considered the greatest hope the circus has of making it through the great depression.
Desperaux from The Tale of Desperaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo – Initially I didn’t want to include children’s books on this list, because there are soooo many that use animals as characters. But this story about a mouse who loves music, literature, and a princess named Pea is really a lovely book for any age. Yes, the anthropomorphized characters do suggest a younger audience, but there’s a lot of an adult to appreciate here.
Cat (cat) from Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote- Holly Golightly is unwilling to form emotional attachments. She finds and takes this feline into her home, but refuses to give it a name, because she is so reluctant to attach herself to anything in her life. But attachments sometimes form whether we want them to or not.
The animals on the farm in Animal Farm by George Orwell- I have to give some credit to Orwell for using animal stand-ins to represent important figure of the Russian Revolution, most notably Stalin and Trotsky, as played by two pigs.
“Oh what a guy, Gaston!” A villain you can’t help but love- I’m not usually the type to love a villain. I find them compelling characters sometimes, but at best it’s usually a character I “love to hate.” I’ve had a sense of sympathy with Nurse Rached in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ever since I started teaching though. I think it’s sort of unfair that people think of her as a villain. She’s working in a mental hospital with a vulnerable population that needs consistency and routine. So when Randall McMurphy comes in and starts upsetting things, she pushes back. I know that she’s supposed to represent the medical institutions that dehumanize the mentally ill, but I do think that some of her actions did have valid reasons behind them. Though I wouldn’t say I “love” her!
“Here’s where she meets Prince Charming” Your OTP- OK, so I find it very had to just pick one (and yes, I know the “O” in OTP stands for “one!”) but I suppose if I had to I’d probably pick Jamie and Claire from the Outlander series. A lot has happened to them over the course of 8 books, but I’ve never consistently stopped rooting for them as a couple (I have once or twice momentarily when I was mad at one or the other).
“I want so much more than this provincial life” A character destined for greater things. – I suppose any book that uses the “chosen one” trope could fit this one. I’m going with the Obernewtyn Chronicles though. When we first meet Elspeth Geordie, she’s an orphan in a post-apocalyptic world. She struggles to hide her special mental abilities from the totalitarian “Council.” But when she’s caught, she’s sent to Obernewtyn, a mountain retreat where “Misfits” are sent. But there are secrets at Obernewtyn that no one knows about. Over the course of the series Elspeth learns what happened to the world to bring about the apocalypse, and that it may happen again. Her presence there isn’t an accident at all. In fact, she may be the only one who can stop it.
“Be our guest!” A book that made you hungry.- I think some of the descriptions of food in The Night Circus are very tempting!
Dish after dish is brought to the table, some easily identifiable as quail or rabbit or lamb, served on banana leaves or baked in apples or garnished with brandy-soaked cherries. Other courses are more enigmatic, concealed in sweet sauces or spiced soups, unidentifiable meats hidden in pastries and glazes.
“Should a diner inquire as to the nature of a particular dish, question the origin of a bite or a seasoning, a flavor she cannot put her finger on (for even those with the most refined of palates can never identify each and every flavor), she will not be met with a satisfying answer. …
The desserts are always astonishing. Confections deliriously executed in chocolate and butterscotch, berries bursting with creams and liqueurs. Cakes layered to impossible heights, pastries lighter than air. Figs that drip with honey, sugar blown into curls and flowers.
“Beauty and the Beast” Opposites attract. I’m sort of tempted to use my own book for this one, but I won’t! I’ll got with The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It’s about Don Tillman, a socially inept geneticist (it’s suggested that the character has Aspbergers but he’s not diagnosed). When he decides he wants to find a wife, he designs The Wife Project; a sixteen page, scientifically valid, survey to help weed out smokers, drinkers, and women who are tardy. Rosie Jarman is all of the above. She and Don end up on a date due to a mix up and she confides that she’s trying to find her biological father. Even though he has no romantic interest in her (according to the survey she’s all wrong for him!) Don designs The Father Project. You can probably see where this is going. I thought this book was really sweet, but I wasn’t a fan of the sequel. I haven’t read the third book yet, but I think this one works perfectly well as a stand alone.
“But there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see” A character who is more than they appear- For some reason the first book I thought of for this one was The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. Cecilia has been married to John-Paul for years. They have several children and a pretty happy family life. But when Cecilia finds a letter from her husband in the attic, with instructions that it’s supposed to be opened in the event of his death, Cecilia reads it, even though he’s very much alive. What she learns turns their lives upside down. It throws Cecilia into a moral dilemma that she never imagined, and makes he wonder who is the man she married.
“I was innocent and certain, now I’m wiser but unsure” A book that changed you in some way- I’ve always been aware that I’ve lead a privileged life, but sometimes I don’t think of certain things as a privilege because they’re things I’ve taken as a given. Growing up in the US in the late 20th and 21st century, I took for granted that I could read whatever I want. Yes, I was aware that this was not a freedom everyone in the world enjoyed, but I never really thought about what that meant, or what it looked like to fight against it, before I read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafazi. I think being a reader has made me who I am. It’s taught me empathy. It’s taught me how little I understand the scheme of things. So if I didn’t have the freedom to read as I chose, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today. This book made me consider all these ideas for the first time. Why would oppressive regimes go to so much trouble to ban books, and keep certain books out of certain reader’s hands? Because I’m not alone in this! Reading anything (regardless of whether or not it’s an “important” book) opens minds and hearts. Therefore it’s extremely threatening to an oppressor. Reading about the discussions that this Iranian book club had, and their responses to what they read made me realize on a conscious level that one of the most important things that literature (and art more generally) does is to show us that we’re not alone. That other people have emotional reactions to things, just like we do. Art can be a bridge between people of very different backgrounds and viewpoints. These connections can threaten the very foundations of a society. In that way, reading a novel, and sharing it with others, can be one of the most subversive things a person can do.
“Kill the Beast!” A book you picked up because of hype. – Are we talking about books that lived up to the hype, or books that didn’t? I suppose the most recent one was Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, which I heard was amazing, but I found it just OK. It actually inspired me to write a post of when you don’t love a hyped book. So stay tuned for that!
“I’ll never shake away the pain” A book or moment that always makes you cry- I didn’t want to repeat too much on this but when Jamie and Claire separate just before the battle of Culloden in Dragonfly in Amber, they think it will be forever. Jamie tells Claire that he’ll see her again someday. That always makes me weepy.
“I will find you,” he whispered in my ear. “I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you – then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest.”
His voice dropped, nearly to a whisper, and his arms tightened around me.
Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.”
“How does a moment last forever” A book that you’ve loved since you were little.- So. Many. Books. Can’t…choose! I’m tempted to use my “standard” answer for this one and say “fairy tales” (I go into the reasons why a bit here, here, here and here) but I decided to mix things up a bit. I think I was about nine years old when I picked up this book sort of randomly knowing nothing about it. That edition had the author’s name as “Julie Edwards.” As I read I fell in love with the sweet story of an orphan trying to create a home for herself. I flipped to the “about the author” page in the back of the book and saw that “Edwards” was the married name of Julie Andrews, star of Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music etc. Apparently in addition to being an Oscar winning actress with a gorgeous singing voice, she is also a writer. When I saw that, I felt like an old friend that I thought I knew surprised me in a magical way. Mandy is still worth reading for adults. It’s a little reminiscent of The Secret Garden in some ways.
Name a book that is an odd pairing but they still fit perfectly– Inigo Montoya and Fezzik from The Princess Bride always struck me as sort of an odd friendship. I don’t know if they were intended to be a sort of comic echo of Lennie and George in Of Mice and Men, but they always remind me of that. To look at the giant Fezzik, he’d seem to have nothing in common with Inigo, a thin, vengeance obsessed, swordsman. But they have a solid friendship, and seem to offer each other comfort and support on a regular basis.
A book/series that you have a love/hate relationship with– As much as it breaks my heart to say this, Harry Potter. I’ll always love Harry Potter, but JK Rowling’s recent behavior has cast a shadow on it for me. I don’t “hate” her, but I don’t approve of or agree with some of her recent statements and actions. I’m still trying to make peace between my love for the books and my disappointment in their author. I have no doubt that I will do it, as I said, the books will always have a special place in my heart, but it’s still a work in progress for me.
A character that is totally clueless but you love them anyway– Is it totally cheating to pick Emma for this one?! (For those who don’t know, Clueless is based on Jane Austen’s Emma, which is why I say that it might be cheating)
Name a book that made you cry– A Little Life by Hana Yangihara totally did me in. I think it was a beautiful book but it was hard to read at times. I’m always hesitant to recommend it, because of that. I’m sort of glad that I read it at a moment in my life when I was able to appreciate it, rather than at a time when I might not have for various reasons.
A book that makes you laugh– I’m assuming this means intentional laughter. There are a few (see here and here). There are also books that have made me laugh unintentionally, but that’s another story… One that I haven’t mentioned on the lists but would like to highlight is Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. It’s sort of what might happen if Lord of the Flies met America’s Next Top Model, and then they invited Pirates of the Caribbean over to hang out. It touches on some heavy subjects in a humorous way, without ever actually making light of those subjects. It’s a delicate balance and I majorly admire Libba Bray for pulling it off.
A book with a crazy party– Well, I once made a whole list about this, but if I had to pick just one, I’d say the literary masquerade party in The Starless Sea sounds like one of the few parties I’d really enjoy. Though I do think I’d have trouble deciding on a costume! I don’t know if I’d call it a “crazy” party (though it does lead to some craziness), but crazy parties don’t appeal to me that much anyway.
Name a character that you can never fully trust– For this one, Tinkerbell from Peter Pan comes to mind. Yes, I know that “All you need is Faith, Trust and a little bit of Pixie Dust.” I know she seems like a sweet tiny fairy, full of just those things. That’s why it’s easy to forget that she’s jealous to the core and pretty destructive!
A book with a memorable villain– Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca is one of my favorite villains of all time. I suppose you wouldn’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be threatening, which is what makes her great. She’s so manipulative too, She gets under the skin of the second Mrs. De Winter and then tries to push her to suicide. And then she gets really destructive! I talk about a few other favorite villains on this list.
Name a book with witches– Just one? I’m actually working on a list of my favorite books about witches at the moment! But I suppose if I have to choose just one, I’ll say Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. because I don’t think it gets enough love (actually I can’t just say one, because it has a sequel called First Frost) It’s overshadowed a lot of the time by Practical Magic, and there are some similarities (both are about sisters who are witches, both use a magical realist style) but they’re not the same (especially now that you can take the Practical Magic books as a series that goes in a very different direction). I would say that Garden Spells is worth reading on its own merits.
April 13: Book Titles That Sound Like They Could Be Crayola Crayon Colors (Take a moment and Google some of the crazy Crayola crayon colors that exist. Can you think of any book titles that sound like they could also be a crayon color? It might be fun to include a description of the kind of color you’re picturing.)
OK, so follow my logic on this one! I didn’t want to do the topic for this week, so I chose to do settings that I consider “colorful” (yes it’s a bit of a leap, but who cares?) For some reason some settings just resonate with you as a reader. If a book is set in a carnival, circus or amusement park it automatically gets my attention. They have a bright, technicolor surface, but that can hide darkness underneath. From the death defying acrobats to the wild animals to the games of chance, it seems like circuses, carnivals, amusement parks, side shows and fairs have hundreds of stories beneath the tent. Here are some:
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern– At Le Cirque des Rêves, a competition is underway between two magicians. Celia and Marco have both trained since childhood for this purpose, though they don’t know it. So when they fall in love, it doesn’t bode well that only one can be left alive at the end of this competition.
2. The Circus of the Earth and the Air by Brooke Stevens– At the circus, Iris, a volunteer from the audience is steps into a magician’s box, and the box is set on fire. After the show her husband, Alex, goes backstage to find her (assuming it was a stunt!) But she never reappears. The circus itself vanishes overnight. Alex sets out to find out the truth about what happened to his wife.
3. The Book of Speculation by Erica Swyler– Simon is a librarian, living alone in his family home on Long Island. When a book dealer sends him a mysterious volume that may have some connection to his family, Simon gets caught up in the tale it tells, of a misfit living and working with a traveling circus. But he soon comes to realize that the book may reveal a curse on his family. If Simon is right, it may be the only thing that can save his sister.
4. Joyland by Stephen King– This book is more in the crime genre (with some supernatural crossover) than the horror with which King is usually associated. Devon Jones starts working at an amusement park in a small town in North Carolina in the summer of 1973. The first half of the book has a nostalgic feel as Devon comes to know the workers at the park. He befriends a dying boy (who has a secret), and falls for the boy’s beautiful mother. The second half gets more into a murder mystery.
5. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman- The Museum of Extraordinary Things is not a museum at all. It’s a Coney Island freak show in 1911. Coralie Sardie is the owner’s daughter. She’s an excellent swimmer who appears as a mermaid in the show. When she encounters photographer Eddie Cohen, a runaway from his community and his job, they fall in love. But when Eddie photographs the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he gets pulled into the mystery behind a girl’s disappearance.
6. Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz– Slim McKenzie has premonitions. He can also see what he calls “goblins” who hate and inflict suffering on humanity. When he kills one of these goblins, he runs away to join a travelling carnival. Where he discovers that goblins abound. Initially, I thought that the “goblins” were a metaphor for bad people. I thought Slim’s ability to see them was an ability to see through the civil façade that these people present. Then I realized they were actually demonic creatures, but then the explanation of their existence veers more into realm of sci-fi.
7. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen– Jacob is a veterinary student who is orphaned and penniless. When he crosses paths with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, he is hired care for the animals. He meets the beautiful Mariana, a beautiful horseback rider married to August, an abusive animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, the “untrainable” elephant. I had my issues with this book, but the circus setting and lure is the best part.
8. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter– Sophie Fevvers is an aerialist, and the start of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She also claims to be part swan. Journalist Jack Walser is intrigued by her story and joins the circus on its European tour to find out the truth about her, And he falls in love with Sophie (of course!)
9. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury- I think of this as coming of age meets horror/dark fantasy. When Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show comes to Greentown, Illinois in time for Halloween, and Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway are a bit enthralled by the mirror maze and carousel that can make someone grow older or younger depending on if they ride it forwards or backwards. But an something sinister and evil is using the carnival as a way to harvest souls. Jim and Will, along with Will’s father, Charles, have to learn some important lessons to fight the evil force which has invaded their home.
10. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton– When you think about it, Jurassic Park is really an amusement park gone horribly wrong. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 30 years or so, you’re probably at least semi-aware that it’s about a rich man who harnesses technology for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA. He sets up a theme park where people can see the dinosaurs up close. But after a series of incidents prior to the opening, a team of experts come to evaluate the safety of the park. But it soon becomes clear that the people who made the park overestimated their control over mother nature.
Since there aren’t many books I’d gladly throw in the ocean (even if I strongly dislike it, someone else may like it! That just seems like such a waste!) I decided to take the ocean theme in it’s own direction. These are my top books set at/near/on the ocean.
Just an early disclaimer: I have read a lot of the sea set novels that we now think of as for children (though are some aren’t) like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Treasure Island. My opinion varies depending on the book but for one reason or another a lot of them don’t resonate with me. So this won’t be a list of novels with “the most” ocean presence. But they’re books about the ocean that I enjoyed.
Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter-Naslund– I suppose this list is a good place to confess that I’ve never actually read Moby Dick, so that won’t be on this list. But the ocean takes a strong role in Una’s epic as well. I actually did really like this book, but it didn’t make me want to read Moby Dick more. I was actually more interested in what Una was up to while Ahab was off at sea.
Circe by Madeline Miller– Parts of this novel (based on a character who shows up in The Odyssey) take place at sea. Other parts take place under it, and still others take place on an island, but the sea is present throughout, so I’m counting it as “nautical.”
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware– Not only a whodunnit, but also a “did it even happen?” set at sea. A travel journalist sees someone thrown overboard on a cruise. But no one else saw anything and no one is missing.
The Pearl by John Steinbeck– Years ago, I read this short novel about a poor pearl diver with a sick son. But it’s haunted me for a long time. When he finds a huge pearl the family’s fortunes change, and his family dreams of a better life. But the pearl may be more of a curse than a blessing. It’s a retelling of a Mexican folktale, in which diving, pearls, and the sea, play an important role.
Foe by JM Coetzee– This is the third book on this list that reimagines a sea set classic. In this case, Coetzee imagines that a woman named Susan Barton tells Daniel Foe (Defoe’s name before he fancified it) about her experiences on an island with a shipwrecked Cruso (Robinson Crusoe) and his manservant Friday. But Foe changes up the story a bit to make it more marketable. Barton turns Cruso into her own invention in the story, and then Foe turns that into his invention. It’s really about the enigmatic nature of storytelling, but the ocean (and an island) are strong settings throughout.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys- Wow, yet another classic reimagining with a strong nautical element. Jane Eyre isn’t nautical at all, but this tale of the madwoman in the attic, begins on the shores of the Caribbean.
For this one I decided to twist things a bit: I’ve given a bit of thought to places in books I’d want to visit/see (here and here ) but these are places I would avoid!
1.Manderley in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- In this case the problem is the servants. Well, really just the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers; but she’s cruel, treacherous, cunning and destructive. Who wants to live with that?
2. Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– Here there would be two major issues. One is the fact that I have a crappy sense of direction and I’d probably get lost all the time. The other is the ghosts in the bathrooms. There are some places I just need privacy, and that’s one of them.
3. Panam in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins- The reasons for this one should be fairly obvious. But I would always worry about being chosen for the Hunger Games. I know if I was selected I’d be one of the first to die. Actually there are a lot of dystopias I wouldn’t want to live in. I won’t list them all (that would be a different list) but really most of them sound pretty awful!
4. Obernewtyn in the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody– You could call this one a dystopia I suppose. It takes place in a pretty awful post-nuclear holocaust world. But Obernewtyn itself, after the first book in the series (where it’s a horrible place), becomes sort of a refuge. So I suppose if I had to live in that world this is where I’d choose, but I’d rather not live there at all thankyouverymuch. Just a note: these books are pretty popular in Australia but I think they deserve to be better known in the US.
5. Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– In this one, the biggest problem is the madwoman in the attic who constantly escapes the woman who’s supposed to be watching her, and starts fires. When picking literary houses, that’s an issue I just can’t overlook.
6. Wuthering Heights in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte– This one is pretty bad too. From the master of the house who is on a vengeful mission, to the ghost who wanders the moors outside, I would just rather not deal with any of them.
7. Neverworld Wake in Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl- Sort of a limbo state between life and death where the characters must relive the day of their deaths over and over again until they vote on one member of the group to be the sole survivor. Not only does the prospect of limbo sound bad, but reliving the same day endlessly until you make an impossible decision? No thank you!
8. Foxworth Hall in the Dollinganger series by VC Andrews– In this house I don’t know what’s worse: the religious fanatic owners, the greedy, heartless daughter, the sadistic butler, or the four kids locked up in the attic.
9. The Overlook Hotel in The Shining by Stephen King– Even if it weren’t for the malevolent ghosts that drive you crazy, I wouldn’t want to live somewhere that’s so isolated. Plus, the fact that you have to take care of the boiler carefully or the whole place will blow up, sounds very stressful. So the fact that it’s haunted just makes it a bit worse. Really any/every haunted house book falls in this category (similar to dystopias) but I won’t list them all.
Last Thursday, Beverly Cleary, acclaimed author of numerous children’s books, died at the age of 104(!). When I was really little, before I could read well ((like five or six) my parents would read me several chapters from her books each night before I fell asleep.
Beverly Cleary obviously lived a long life. Her books touched many readers in some way, and they certainly played a big part in turning me into a reader. She will be missed. I am grateful to her for all the literary friends and adventures.