Top Ten Tuesday: Happy Books and Comfort Reads

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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This week, I wasn’t really feeling the topic:

January 22: Books I Meant to Read In 2018 but Didn’t Get To

So I decided to do something a bit different. Since I’ve been kind of stressed lately I’m sharing some of my favorite comfort reads. These are great for when you need cheering up.

31yhicomrpl-_ac_us218_1. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

This is a rare case where I prefer a film adaptation to its literary source because the film developed some things that the book didn’t. But that also makes the film a bit heavier. The book its lighter than air, which is why its a great cure for a bad moon.

 

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_2. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding  

From a literary point of view, Pride and Prejudice is obviously far superior, but from a “happy” perspective the modern craziness of this appeals to me. I recognize Bridget’s overwhelming life with family, job, friends, dating etc, and while Bridget is too over the top to be realistic, that recognizably  helps me to relate a bit.

 

517rjrogill._ac_ul436_3. The New Moon With the Old by Dodie Smith

I prefer Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, but I don’t consider it a “happy” book in the same way, because a few parts make me sad. This one is… sillier. But ultimately it’s about resilience. When a wealthy-ish man must flee the country for legal reasons his four kids must figure out how to exist in the world without Daddy’s money. The things they come up with aren’t always moral, are sometimes shocking, but usually goodhearted.

 

51mlugh65hl-_ac_us218_4. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

This spoof of gothic melodramatic novels always makes me smile. I love Flora Poste, the Londonite who comes to Cold Comfort Farm and tries to fix the lives of her relatives who live there from her Uncle Amos who preaches fire and brimstone, to her cousin Set who loves movies but does noting around the far but impregnate the the serving girl, to Aunt Ada Doom who hasn’t been quite right since she “saw something nasty in the woodshed…”

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_5.The Anne series by LM Montgomery

This also has some sad parts. We lose characters that we’ve come to love. But Anne’s characteristic optimism makes it feel comforting even when we do.

 

 

 

81et21xr6bl._ac_ul436_6. Emma by Jane Austen

Any Jane Austen has a certain comfort factor. What I love about Emma though is that it’s full of imperfect people with good intentions. People are silly, petty, frivolous, but no one is really bad.

 

 

 

 

 

51eksizfwl-_ac_us218_7. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew is a cranky old man who falls in love with someone very unexpected in the comedy of manners. It fits in very well  with my love of authors like Jane Austen, Barbara Pym, Stella Gibbons, etc.

 

 

 

51tsapquwul-_ac_us218_8. Madinsky Square by Eva Ibbotson

I had trouble picking just one Ibbotson novel for this list, since most of her books are great comfort reading.  I went with this one because it’s got a nice “slice of life” quality.  It’s set around a square in Vienna in 1911. We get to know it, and the characters that live there, and they come to feel like friends.

 

61bwr8sfvhl-_ac_us218_9. Mandy by Julie Andews Edwards

This novel, about an orphan girl who makes  a home for herself never fails to make me smile. It’s reminiscent of The Secret Garden, but less broody and gothic.

 

 

 

91vzywk17tl._ac_ul436_10. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

A lot of the time (especially when things are stressful) I feel like if I just had a bit of magic things would be easier. But this book is a nice reminder that that probably isn’t the case! Still the fact that it’s got a tight knit family at its core makes it a great comfort read.

The Netflix Book Tag

I saw this at Dwell in Possibility and couldn’t resist the combination of Netflix and books!

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RECENTLY WATCHED: The last book you finished reading.

The last book I finished was The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. It was interesting. Apparently, it was a big deal when it was released in the late 1950’s. It’s about five women who work for a Manhattan publishing company. They’re all in their early 20’s. The story follows their lives over the course of about five years, through hook-ups, break-ups, promotions, let-downs, and breakdowns. They ultimately end up in very different places from where they started.  It was interesting (though horrifying) the way these women took harassment and assault from lecherous bosses as par for the course. It’s also interesting to see the various ways that the life of a single, career focused woman has changed and stayed the same over the last 60 years.

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TOP PICKS: A book that has been recommended to you based on books you have previously read.

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By Light We Knew Our Names by Anne Valente comes up on Goodreads based on my “read” shelf. This is the description: “From ghosts to pink dolphins to a fight club of young women who practice beneath the Alaskan aurora borealis, By Light We Knew Our Names examines the beauty and heartbreak of the world we live in. Across thirteen stories, this collection explores the thin border between magic and grief.”

RECENTLY ADDED: The last book you bought.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters- I haven’t started it yet, but I love Sarah Waters and it got great reviews, so I’m hopeful.

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POPULAR ON NETFLIX: Books that everyone knows about. (2 you’ve read and 2 you haven’t read or have no interest in reading.)

Read

 

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness- I was disappointed in this. I’m not usually a fan of vampires, but it was recommended based on several books I’ve liked, it has some great reviews, and it’s the subject of a TV adaptation… But I didn’t like the characters. I didn’t care about them. I actually found both main characters to be drama queens/kings, but I didn’t want to use the same book for two posts.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– I thought that this was an insightful, intelligent, and occasionally beautiful look at race and identity in the western world. Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love, in military-ruled Nigeria. Ifemelu has an opportunity to study in America. Obinze initially plans to join her but instead ends up and undocumented worker in London. They undergo very different experiences before reuniting in a newly democratic Nigeria.

Haven’t Read

 

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante– I was really excited to read this because I’d heard wonderful things about it. I stopped about halfway through because it just felt like words on a page. Nothing was having any impact on my thoughts or feelings. It’s rare for me to stop reading something in the middle, and I was surprised that I had that reaction to such a popular book.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan– I’ve enjoyed Egan’s past work (The Keep, A Visit From the Goon Squad) and this has gotten a lot of acclaims, so I’ll probably get to it at some point. But for some reason, the description of this novel set on the WWII Brooklyn docks doesn’t grab me.

COMEDIES: A funny book.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion– I thought the sequel was derivative and occasionally crossed the line into bad taste, but this misfit love story managed to strike the right comic tone IMO.

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DRAMAS: A character who is a drama queen/king.

The Wise Woman by Phillippa Gregory– Alys is an orphan who joins a convent mostly to escape her foster mother. When Henry VIII’s men burn the convent, Alys escapes but is haunted by the dying screams of the other nuns. She ends up working in a castle as a scribe, and she falls obsessively in love with the lord’s son. But he’s already married, so she plots to take over as the lady of the manor in any way she can.  Granted her life is pretty dramatic from the start, but Alys embraces the drama and delights in it. I don’t really recommend this book, but it certainly features a drama queen!

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ANIMATED: A book with cartoons on the cover.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

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Since this book is a parody of the Gothic Romance genre, it sort of makes sense that the cover illustration would be cartoons. Several characters are rather cartoons send-ups of a “type”.

WATCH IT AGAIN: A book or series that you want to re-read.

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser- I loved this neo-Victorian mystery/romance/saga. It had a very complex plot though and I only recall the broad outlines of what happened. I’d like to reread it and refresh my memory.

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DOCUMENTARIES: A non-fiction book you’d recommend to everyone.

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I’m always hesitant to recommend a book to “everyone” because for me at least, book recommendations are personal. That said, I did recently recommend Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi on this blog, so I’ll repeat that.

ACTION AND ADVENTURE: An action packed book.

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Fingersmith by Sarah Waters- This book can fall into several different genres, but the sheer amount and nature of the twists and turns that it took certainly made it feel action packed! The second half of the novel had one “WTF!” revelation after another.

NEW RELEASES: A book that just came out or will be coming out soon that you can’t wait to read.

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As always, there are a number of books that I’m excited to read ASAP, but The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock comes to mind first. I’m trying to moderate my expectations because I’ve been disappointed before, but this combination of historical fiction and magical realism seems to be just my kind of weird.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Made Me Laugh Out Loud

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week I decided to focus on ten novels that have made me laugh, giggle, or snort out loud (you might think twice about reading them in public!)

51hq1svllxl-_ac_us218_1. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen- This spoof of gothic novels got me into an embarrassing situation on a train. It was a long trip, people were listening to music, reading quietly, doing work…. I was reading this book. I was at the part where our heroine, Catherine, is staying at a grand old house that she’s sure is full of secrets. She discovers a piece of paper one night with writing on it. But it’s too dark to read (this was pre-electricity, remember). So she must wait until sunrise to read it. She’s sure that the paper is someone’s plea for help, or someone’s confession of murder. She builds it up in her mind until, finally the sun rises and she realizes the hidden paper is actually… a laundry list. That gives you an idea of the tone here. Actually it’s ironic that Catherine is so sure that she’ll discover some sensational evil about her new friends that she is initially blind to everyday cruelty, snobbery, and nastiness.

“To be disgraced in the eye of the world, to wear the appearance of infamy while her heart is all purity, her actions all innocence, and the misconduct of another the true source of her debasement, is one of those circumstances which peculiarly belong to the heroine’s life, and her fortitude under it what particularly dignifies her character. Catherine had fortitude too; she suffered, but no mumur passed her lips.”

51mlugh65hl-_ac_us218_2. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons– This is also a spoof of so many British writers: Jane Austen, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy and even a bit of DH Lawrence. Flora Poste is orphaned, with only a hundred pounds a year to live on. She doesn’t want to *gasp* get a job! So she moves in with her distant relatives the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex.  The mother Judith stays in bed moaning about her son, Seth. Seth is addicted to “talkies” and spends most of his time on the farm impregnating the serving girl. Amos, the father, is a hellfire and brimstone preacher. And then of course there is Aunt Ada Doom who stays room and only comes down to be seen by the family twice a year. But she has good reason. She “saw something nasty in the woodshed…”

“The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.”

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_3. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– I’m sure this modern take on Pride and Prejudice is known to many. Those who don’t know the book probably know the film. Regardless it’s funny. A lot of reviewers tend to say people relate to Bridget because she’s “everywoman” I disagree. She’s too ridiculous for that. But most of us have a little bit of Bridget in us. It’s the part that will eat an entire pint of ice cream for breakfast, or sing loudly into a hairbrush while bouncing around the room. Bridget is very forthright about that stuff in her diary, and we laugh because we recognize hints of our own silliness. That allows us to invest in her, even when she’s not using the best judgement. 

It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting “Cathy” and banging your head against a tree.

51yazpjjl8l-_ac_us218_4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman– I guarantee that the film adaptation of this is familiar to most people. While the movie was great, the book is worth a read too. Unlike the film the frame story isn’t an old man reading the book to his grandson. Rather it’s frame involves the writer, abridging a novel by “S. Morgenstern”, which supposedly is a great story but far too long winded. So he gives us the “good parts” and summarizes the not so good parts. That adds a layer of satire that’s absent from the film.

“See?” Fezzik pointed then. Far down, at the very bottom of the mountain path, the man in black could be seen running. “Inigo is beaten.”
“Inconceivable!” exploded the Sicilian.
Fezzik never dared disagree with the hunchback. “I’m so stupid,” Fezzik nodded. “Inigo has not lost to the man in black, he has defeated him. And to prove it he has put on all the man in black’s clothes and masks and hoods and boots and gained eighty pounds.”

51yltwfpdgl-_ac_us218_5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving– A quick warning: this also made me cry. But the Christmas pageant scene still makes me giggle. The story itself is about a friendship between John, a boy from a wealthy family, and Owen, an unusually short working class boy with a damaged larynx. As kids they play some pretty hilarious pranks, and when Owen is cast as the baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant (they’d used a doll in previous years but he was so small that it seemed like perfect casting) things go horribly awry. Owen has a sarcastic sense of humor and goes on verbal rants at times that made me chuckle. For all those reasons this book goes on the list, even though it deals with some more serious themes.

“No touching Baby Jesus.”
“But we’re his parents!” proclaimed Mary Beth, who was being generous to include poor Joseph under this appellation.
“Mary Beth,” Barb Wiggin said, “if you touch the Baby Jesus, I’m putting you in a cow costume.”

51rqr9-0jel-_ac_us218_6. Storm Front by Jim Butcher– The protagonist of this series, Harry Dresden,  is a professional wizard, and he narrates the books with a dry sense of humor that makes it really great. Business is pretty bad for a Chicago wizard, and Harry spends most of his time working for the police. He helps them solve crimes when those crimes involve things that most people would like to pretend don’t exist (ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and curses). When he encounters a grisly double murder, he suspects black magic may be involved, which means that he’s the only one who can handle the case. Harry’s tone in all the books is wisecracking, sarcastic, and dry, which works really well against the backdrop of all the craziness he encounters.

“Have you ever been approached by a grim-looking man, carrying a naked sword with a blade about ten miles long in his hand, in the middle of the night, beneath the stars on the shores of Lake Michigan? If you have, seek professional help. If you have not, then believe you me, it can scare the bejeezus out of you.”

51zs47eoayl-_ac_us218_7. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion- I found the sequel to the book really tired and borderline offensive, which was a shame because this book was sweet and funny.  Don Tillman is a professor of genetics who isn’t good with social cues and norms and isn’t able to express emotion well. The book never actually says that he has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, but it’s strongly implied that he has Asperger’s. When a friend tells him he’d make a good husband, he decides to embark on The Wife Project. He makes a list of qualities he’d want in a potential wife. Rosie, a woman looking for DNA samples so that she can find her father, has none of those qualities. Don is a man who lives by lists, rules and logic. Which may prevent him from seeing that Rosie would be perfect for him.

“But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact.
‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.”

51g2gffpw8l-_ac_us218_8. Watermelon by Marion Keyes– On the day Claire gives birth to their first child, her husband tells her he’s leaving her for another woman.  So she decides to take her daughter and go back to the bosom of her madcap family in Dublin. While home with her four sisters, her soap opera addicted mother and bewildered father, Claire starts to build a new life, and even find new love. So when her ex waltzes back in, he’s in for a surprise. This book doesn’t really have any surprises. It’s exactly like what it claims to be: sweet, refreshing but nothing too substantial.

“I knew it, I just knew it! The person who had the job of writing my life’s dialogue used to work on a very low budget soap opera.”

 

51l7cslhhyl-_ac_us218_9. After All These Years by Susan Isaacs- Rosie Meyers have a pretty nice life.  Wealthy husband, big house, enjoyable job, grown children and nice friends. When her husband, Richie, leaves her for another woman just days after their big 25th anniversary party, she’s devastated. But she’s still genuinely shocked to come downstairs for a midnight snack and find Richie’s body in the kitchen with a knife sticking out if it. As far as the police are concerned, she has a perfect motive. So she goes on the lam to find the real killer. Since Rosie is a suburban school teacher, she’s in some pretty unfamiliar territory, and her fish out of water situations are humorous. Her attitude and witty comments add to the fun.

That summer, I went through all the scorned-first-wife stages. Hysteria. Paralysis. Denial: Of course Richie will give up a worldly, successful, fertile, size-six financial whiz-bang for a suburban high school English teacher. Despair: spending my nights zonked on the Xanax I’d conned my gynecologist into prescribing, regretting it was not general anesthesia.

41b2mraamwl-_ac_us218_10. Name Dropping by Jane Heller– Nancy Stern is a preschool teacher. When another woman with the same name moves into her apartment building, there’s a bit of confusion. The new Nancy Stern interviews celebrities, lives in the penthouse, and has a long line of boyfriends. Preschool Nancy gets her mail, deliveries and phone calls on a regular basis, and she feels pretty pathetic next to the Glamorous Nancy. One day Preschool Nancy gets a call intended for Glam Nancy  about a blind date, and in a moment of madness she accepts. She hits it off with the date and is debating when and how to tell him the truth, when Glam Nancy is found dead in her apartment, the victim of murder. However, it soon becomes clear that the wrong Nancy may have been killed. So preschool Nancy finds herself caught up with jewel thieves, murderers, and romance. This isn’t great literature but it’s a lot of fun in an I Love Lucy kind of way.

The other Nancy Stern, I mused after I hung up. A Nancy Stern who’s chummy with ambassadors and movie stars, apparently. A Nancy Stern who travels, shops, dines fine. A Nancy Stern who, according to the American Express lady, lives in 24A, on the rarified penthouse floor of the building, not in 6J, on my thoroughly average floor. A Nancy Stern who, I’d be willing to bet, doesn’t regularly get vomited upon by four-year-olds.