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

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was:

March 16: Books On My Spring 2021 TBR

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

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

The Questions

What is your fantasy origin story? (The first fantasy you read)

I honesty don’t know which one I first read. I read fairy tales obsessively as a child. When I loved a story I’d seek out as many versions of it as I could find, and compare and contrast them. (Yes, I was like 5 at the time!)

If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Hmm… That’s an interesting question. I’d want it to be someone who wouldn’t do anything too terrible to a hero or heroine, so that leaves out a lot of authors! Maybe I’d go with Eva Ibbotson. Her fantasy books are intended mostly for younger readers, and while enough happens to make them interesting to an older audience, it’s usually nothing terrible to characters we like! As for tropes, I’d like to be the “Lucky Novice” whose never done something before, or done something with minimal training, and can do it really well. I usually have to practice a lot to be even halfway decent at something!

What is a fantasy series you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

This year is still fairly young and I haven’t read that many fantasy series yet. I suppose I’ll highlight Fairy Godmothers Inc., which is the first in the Fairy Godmothers, Inc. series. But it’s got a major caveat: while I think the series has potential I didn’t like the first book. I found the two main characters to be awful, separately and together. I say the series has potential though because it seems like the kind of thing that follows different characters in each book. It’s about three fairy godmothers living in the magical town of Ever After, Missouri. Love is the source of the magic in their world, but it’s running low. They decided to help attract more love to the town of Ever After by making it a popular wedding destination. But they need some help promoting it. They ask their goddaughter Lucky (who tends to have terrible luck!) a popular artist, to fake-marry their godson (and her ex) Ransom Payne (a billionaire who runs a chocolate company) in a high profile ceremony. Lucky and Ransom both agree because they want to help their beloved godmothers, but they are both the most annoying characters I’ve read in a long time. But the book is clearly setting up for a series set in Ever After, revolving around Fairy Godmothers, Inc. The residents of Ever After include Red and her werewolf Grammy, a frog prince named “Charming”, a reformed evil queen, and more. I don’t recommend it yet, because as I said I didn’t like the first book. But I think it has the potential to be a feel good, fun series, so I’ll give it another chance.

What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? 

Ummm, I can’t choose! I’ll say that fantasy inspired by fairy tales; even though that can fall into several different subgenres. After all, Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series which is sci-fi oriented, but is fairy tale inspired. Meanwhile Juliet Marillier’s work is also fairy tale/legend inspired but it tends have a strong historical setting. The Fairy Godmothers, Inc series I mention above seems like it also draws heavily from fairy tales, but it has a light, magical realist tone. So I guess “fairy tale inspired fantasy” allows me to cheat and pick lots of different subgenres!

What subgenre have you not read much from?

I don’t read much in the way of Sword and Sorcery. I’m not really into reading about straight out battles and violent conflicts most of the time. I prefer more subtle rivalries. But there are exceptions to every rule.

Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

Just one?! I’ll say Juliet Marillier. I’ve read some books of hers that I’ve liked more than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one that I disliked.

How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram..)

All of the above. There are some bloggers whose opinions I trust, and I look at what my friends are reading on Goodreads mostly though.

What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley is described as “Jamaica Inn by way of Jeff Vandermeer, Ursula Le Guin, Angela Carter and Michel Faber” so that’s a big “yes, please!” from me.

What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

I suppose I’d have to differentiate between reading fantasy and writing fantasy for this one. For reading, I’d say the notion that it’s only for kids has to go. Yes, you can absolutely have fantasy intended for children. But the genre can often get dark, violent, subversive, and disturbing. In other words, not for children at all! In terms of writing, I’ll say that the idea that fantasy writing requires no research needs to die. There’s a lot of research involved. I rant about it a bit in this post.

If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

This is a tough one!

I wouldn’t do series because that’s a commitment and some don’t get really good until quite a ways in. I also think some classics of the genre tend to be too dense for beginners. Plus those always come with high expectations. So I’ll go with

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

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– I recommend this one because it’s a stand alone of reasonable length that introduces readers to a more magic realist variation on fantasy. Plus I think Morgenstern beautifully engages the reader’s senses.

-The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker- This gets into the mythical creates of two different traditions and draws them together in a historical setting. It’s a great example of how fantasy can draw on different sources, and set itself in the “real” world. I actually see now that there’s a sequel that’s coming out in June, but I think it works as a stand alone, if someone chooses to read it that way.

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

An overhyped classic that you didn’t really like

The one that jumps to my mind is War and Peace. I read it in college in a freshman seminar that explored the themes of war and peace in general. It wasn’t the worst book I read in that class (Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, I’m looking at you!) but after some really dense stuff, I was sort of looking forward to getting into a novel. Besides which, I actually enjoy big, sweeping, epic stories,. But nothing about the narrative or the characters grabbed me. My professor said that Tolstoy was “a great writer, who needed a great editor.” While I think that’s true, I think some of his writing is more compelling in other work. Here he gets to bogged down in extraneous stuff.

Favorite time period to read about

I’m a fan of the Victorian era, which is a pretty long era, spanning Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837-1901. A lot of my favorite writers of days past (the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Elliot, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins) were of this time period.

Favorite fairy tale

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

To be honest I think Beauty and the Beast has always been a favorite. I love almost every version I’ve read/seen (yes, including Disney!) It’s strange that one of the elements that always appealed to me was the forgotten, enchanted, castle where the Beast lives, but that’s an element that I didn’t include in my retelling at all!

I go on to talk about some pitfalls I wanted to avoid in my own work, so read the interview if that interests you. But I do think that the “gothicness” of the story always appealed to me. The brooding hero, who seems like a villain at first, the abandoned, enchanted castle…

What is the classic you are most embarrassed you haven’t read yet

I try not to be too embarrassed about not having read certain books yet. I mean, having new books to read (even when they’re not technically “new”) is one of life’s great joys, isn’t it? I consider myself pretty well read, but I’ve only been on earth so long, and there are other things I’ve had to do!

There are a few books I feel like I should have gotten to by now though. One of them is Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I think what’s stopped me so far from reading it, is the fact that it’s considered depressing, even by Hardy’s standards! I think he’s a beautiful writer, but he can be kind of a downer, and lately I haven’t felt up to tackling anything like that.

I was in a recent book club discussion where someone mentioned Moby Dick and I realized I’ve never read that before either. I’m not sure if I want to. Part of me wants to read it, if only to say I did, but another part figures “why bother? There so much out there I actually want to read!” Any advice from anyone who’s read it?

Top 5 classics you would like to read soon

Well there are many, many classics that I’d like to reread. But in addition to those I’d like to get to these for the first time:

Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay- I really like the film adaptation and I’ve always found the story to be very intriguing.

The Lark by E. Nesbit- I’ve enjoyed E. Nesbit’s books for children and I’d like to read some of her work for adults as well.

Armadale by Wilkie Collins- I’ve really enjoyed Wilkie Collins’ other work that I’ve read. The is the only one of his “major” novels that I haven’t read yet.

Maggie-Now by Betty Smith- Again this is a case of me having liked the author’s other work, and wanting to read more of it.

The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf- I’ve always liked Virginia Woolf best as an essayist so I definitely want to get to this at some point.

Favorite modern book/series based on a classic

So many wonderful choices… Can’t decide on just one…

I’ll go with two books by one author: Circe and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It’s strange that I loved these books even though I’m not a big fan of the Greek classics on which they were based! I discuss them in this post for anyone interested.

Favorite movie version/tv-series based on a classic

Again, I feel almost like my head is about to explode from so many choices! I’m going to cheat and pick one movie and one tv series.

For film, I’m going with an adaptation of Little Women. I know the Greta Gerwig adaptation was really popular recently, but I actually prefer the 1994 adaptation. Not only is it a beautifully made film with an excellent cast, but it focuses on the story and characters, and not some of the more pedantic aspects that Louisa May Alcott got bogged down with at times. It emphasizes some of the politics and philosophy in which Louisa May Alcott (and her father, Amos Bronson Alcott) strongly believed, but it never espouses these ideas at the expense of the narrative. Rather, it highlights the moments that the narrative espouses these ideas.

For a TV series, I’m going to go with the 2005 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. It’s an eight episode miniseries, that manages to convey the epic scope of the novel, without getting bogged down in the minutia. Some of Dickens’ work easily lends itself to adaptation. This book isn’t one of them. I’m very fond of it. In fact, I might call it a favorite, but the plot, surrounding a chancery court case doesn’t lend itself to big, dramatic scenes or spectacle. Some of the twists and turns may even seem contrived to 21st century readers/viewers. However this series manages to make it compelling drama with a strong cast. It also manages to recreate the dark, well, bleak, atmosphere of Dickens’ novel in a way that works cinematically.

Worst classic to movie adaptation

The one that comes to mind first is the 1995 adaptation of The Scarlet Letter. The book was about the cruelty of public shaming and punishment, guilt, and pain. The movie features a Hollywoodized romance that changes the ending and in the process ends up contradicting the message of the book. It also features a very miscast (IMO) Demi Moore.

Favorite edition(s) you’d like to collect more classics from

I think that Virago Modern Classics are very pretty, and they include a lot of lesser known, underrated classic works. Ditto for Persephone Books. I don’t want to replace all my classics with fancy elaborate editions tough. I like the mishmash of classics that line my walls, with my notes in them, and places I’ve dog-eared still creased a bit. It always annoys me a bit when people have classic editions that look like they haven’t been opened!

An under-hyped classic you would recommend to someone

I’m going to push for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. She’s often overlooked in favor of her sisters (which is easy to happen when your sisters are Emily and Charlotte Bronte!) and even Lucasta Miller’s book, The Bronte Myth, dismissed her in a few sentences. But her work was just as strong in it’s own way, as that of either of her sisters. I love how angry she looks in the family portrait that’s on the book cover next to this text. I always imagine her saying “How dare you overlook me! I’m brilliant!”

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Make Me Hungry

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 1: Books that Make Me Hungry (They could have food items on the cover, foods in the title, be about foodies or have food as a main plot point… they could be cookbooks or memoirs, etc.)

I actually did a list like this a few years ago. But I took up the challenge again and came up with ten more. I must confess, I’m not much of a foodie. Oh, I like food, don’t get me wrong! Give me something I like, and I’ll eat plenty of it!. But I can by a picky, finicky eater. I don’t like to cook. And there are lots of foods I don’t like. So making me hungry is an uphill battle for a book. But here are some that have accomplished the task!

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl- This is sort of a no-brainer! I mean there’s a whole room made of candy! I used to fantasize about eating my way out.

2. Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson– There is a character in this who is homesick for England and it’s food. Actually, a few of the descriptions of British food, did make me a bit peckish (though a few also make me wonder what that character was thinking!). The description of some of the Brazilian foods and fruits also sounded good.

3. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor– This book make me crave fried plantains! Actually it made me want to try several of the African dishes.

4. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber– A lot of the food served at the Blackbird Cafe sounds wonderful, but if I had to pick just one thing I’d want to eat, it’s the pie.

5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan– I pretty much craved really good Chinese food, the whole time I was reading this book.

6. The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert– Basically any food involving apples sounds appealing when reading this book. Apple pie, tart, sauce, and cider of course.

7. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee– This doesn’t stand out in my mind for food related reasons, but at the same times of the food descriptions definitely made my stomach growl.

8. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen- Confession: I have a terrible sweet tooth, that wasn’t helped by the sweets that the title character of this book also loves.

Top Ten Tuesday: Springtime Reads

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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May 5: Things I’d Have at My Bookish Party (choose 10 things: items, accessories, foods, people (real or fictional), decorations, activities, etc.)

This week’s topic didn’t grab me, so I went in my own direction again. It’s finally starting to feel like spring in my neck of the woods, and even though I think of myself as a “winter person,” behind my mask and beneath my gloves I’m starting to celebrate.  So I’m sharing ten books that feel like spring to me:

51p9iawrnol._ac_uy218_1.The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett- I think that this book is perfect for spring, because we follow this orphan who comes to England from India. She’s bereaved and isolated, but she finds the secret garden. As she brings it back to life, her own health and spirits are also rejuvenated.  It’s about renewal and rebirth.

 

 

41etjy5BOOL._AC_US218_2. Spring by Ali Smith– This is part of Smith’s seasonal quartet. Each book is stand alone, but has subtle links to the others.  This one focuses on characters that seem very separate: Richard is an elderly director who is grieving after the loss of his friend and Brit works at a migrant detention center until she meets Florence, a young girl travelling to what she hopes will be a better life. It examines current events in Britain, which in this case probably aren’t too different from the US, but  it also weaves together the characters and ideas to create a larger picture. The characters’ relationships and their values are highlighted and questioned against these larger issues.

812ey934m8l._ac_uy218_3. A Room With A View by EM Forester– Miss Lucy Honeychurch, A Proper English Young Lady, is destined for a Respectable Marriage, until she takes a vacation in Tuscany. She meets George Emerson, who is travelling with his father, and “In the company of this common man the world was beautiful and direct. For the first time she felt the influence of Spring.” When she returns to Italy respectability tries to take over her life once again, but Lucy has already become open to a different kind of life.

913a0g0ghvl._ac_uy218_ml3_-14. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim– Yes, I know it’s May, but this book still applies. It’s about four Englishwomen with little in common other than the fact that they need a break from their daily lives. They decide to rent a castle in Italy for the month of April. The new location restores them and brings them new perspective in different ways.  When the men in their lives join them (sometimes by invitation, sometimes not) the transformation can’t help but overcome them as well.

 

71-ozsgkwsl._ac_uy218_5. Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf-This book is an imagined biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog, Flush. From a dog’s eye view, we get a chance to see Elizabeth as a young invalid who spends most of her time indoors. She manages to meet Robert Browning (initially a fan of her work) and they fall in love. He whisks her (and Flush, naturally) off to Italy (I’ve never been to Italy but I get the sense that it’s the place to be in springtime!). We see Elizabeth transform through Flush’s perspective, and we see Flush transform as well: he goes a lapdog to a dog about town.

51tsapquwul-_ac_us218_6. Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson– On the first day of spring in  1911, Susanna Weber, who runs a dress salon in the titular square in Vienna, starts to keep a diary. In it she records the lives of and stories of herself and her neighbors. Other than being literally set in spring, this book feels springy to me because it’s about life: good, bad, and occasionally ugly.

 

51kc21bqngl-_ac_us218_7.Anne of Avonlea by LM Montogmery- Read just about any LM Montgomery book and you’re almost sure to find a beautifully written description of spring. I suppose that I chose this particular book because it’s about growth- Anne’s growth and that of her friends. They’re in the spring of their lives here. It reminds us That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.”

 

81wnvagspxl._ac_uy218_ml3_8.Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed–  When Cheryl Strayed started to hike the Pacific Crest Trail she had lost her mother and her family dissolved,  her own actions had brought about the end of her marriage to a man she still loved, and she was lost in a mire of substance abuse. She was in an emotional winter. While she treks through miles of snowpack and hot desert, she grows and changes. She emerges from her journey renewed and reborn, in a personal spring.

 

91mfkvjzw-l._ac_uy218_9. Emma by Jane Austen- For some reason I always associate this book with picnics. I can recall one important picnic scene, but in my head it seems like Emma and friends are always going on a picnic. But I also think of Emma as a springtime character. She embarks on several (disastrous but well-intentioned) attempts at matchmaking only to realize how in the dark she really is. Finally she comes through a bit wiser and the world opens up around her. Her mind opens up. She’s in a metaphorical spring.

 

91paeh4pugl._ac_uy218_ml3_10.Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen– The Waverly family is endowed with usual “gifts” that make them outsiders in their small time home of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has special powers. Claire is a caterer who brings a magical touch to her dishes with these plants, but her sister, Sydney fled town as soon as she was old enough to go. When Sydney returns, daughter in tow Claire’s quiet life it turned upside down. Sydney and her daughter tear down the boundaries that Claire had put up around her heart, leaving her wide open.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Read As A Child

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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April 28: Books I Wish I Had Read As a Child

While I’m of the firm belief that children’s literature can be enjoyed at any age, I do wish I’d encountered these books earlier in life:

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_1. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling– My deep dark secret: I didn’t read Harry Potter until I was in college. I can’t remember how old I was when the first book came out, but I was still in “child” territory definitely. I think it may have been the first book I avoided due to the hype. I avoided the series for a long time. Then I wished I’d read it earlier!

 

 

51u5q5-bzl._ac_uy218_2.The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente– This author is a fairly recent discovery for me, and this book didn’t exist when I was a kid, which is unfortunate, because I think the whole series would have been my jam!

 

 

511dus14-9l._ac_uy218_3. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine– Another book and author that little me would have gone nuts for. Fairy tales and story heroines are and were my thing! But I think I would also have enjoyed this one a bit more if I’d read it younger.

 

 

 

81rxbvyofvl._ac_uy218_4. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo– I read this book with my students for the first time a few years ago. I remember wishing that I’d read it with a class in my childhood. I think I got more out of it as an adult reading it in an academic setting (it’s a surprisingly rich text and I might not have picked up on everything on my own!), but reading it as a child in that setting might have helped me appreciate the magic a bit more.

 

 

81szgsmnzl._ac_uy218_5.Esperenza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan- I think that the Little Princess aspects of the plot of this book would have appealed to little me. But I also think that the historical and cultural setting would have taught me a lot. There weren’t a lot of books from/about the experiences of  POC when I was a kid (even fewer than there are now!).

 

 

61gh98fh3il._ac_uy218_6. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch- I think that this book was around when I was a child, but for some reason I never encountered it. It’s too bad too, because I think I would have loved it! A kick butt princess who saves the prince and then promptly dumps him for being a total loser? Yes please!

 

 

81oxn5iufnl._ac_uy218_7. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak-Maybe it’s good that I didn’t read this one until I was an adult because I think it would have destroyed me if I’d read it as a tween/teen. But I think it would have destroyed me in a good way.

 

 

 

51co4tjztjl._ac_uy218_8.The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson– I discovered Eva Ibbotson via her romances (which are now being marketed as YA) and they’re lovely. But she also wrote wonderful books for a middle grade audience. I enjoy them now, but I wish I’d read them when I  was the “proper” age.

 

 

811ppqnzgql._ac_uy218_9.Rules by Cynthia Lord- Through most of my childhood and adolescence I put up a “socially acceptable” front. My goal was basically not to do or say anything weird enough for my peers to tease. While I think that many people can relate, this book shows just how arbitrary and silly those “rules” really are, and how much is wasted trying to uphold them.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Literary Married Couples

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 12: Favorite Couples In Books

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Since so many romances roll the credits when the central couple gets married, I decided to do a favorite married couples list. These characters keep the romance (and/or major drama!) going strong long after the wedding.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_1. Anne and Gilbert in The “Anne” series by LM Montgomery- These were sort of a  given for me.  They’ve been my idea of a great fictional couple since I was a kid. They grow up together, they grow apart and come back together again. They give each other space to thrive and they’re always there for each other if things go wrong. They tied the knot in Anne’s House of Dreams, book 5 (out of an 8 book series). Even though the last two books in the series focus more on their children, there’s plenty of Anne and Gilbert drama post marriage in book 6, Anne of Ingleside.

517zcqxmvll-_ac_us218_2. Valency and Barney in The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery- This stand alone novel features Valency, a spinster who gets some bad news from the doctor. In an attempt to seize the day, she asks Barney to marry her. It’ll make her happy and, and it’ll only last for about a year… But Barney finds happiness with Valency and soon the terms of their marriage aren’t acceptable to him. He wants more time… But there are indications even before the wedding that there might be something special between these two. I missed them on first read, but I picked up on a few after a recent reread.

51ozv7qacul-_sx260_3. Claire and Jamie in the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon- These two really make each other better. Jamie’s a smart fellow and being with a woman from the future opens his mind to new ways of thinking. Claire is challenged by sexist thinking whether she’s in the 20th century or the 18th but being with someone who believes in her absolutely encourages her to challenge those systems right back. They get married about halfway through the first book and the series is currently 8 books and they’re still going strong.

51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_4. Scarlet and Rhett in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- Scarlet may have her eyes elsewhere for most of the book, but if she’d been married to Ashley Wilkes she’d have walked all over him to the point where he’d have been a slip of paper on the floor in about a week. She and Rhett get married around midway through the book. Rhett is someone who can match her wit for wit,  manipulation for manipulation. Scarlet is used to having the upper hand but Rhett challenges her for it and sometimes claims it for himself. For other partners, they’d be toxic. But for each other they’re pretty perfect, which is why I maintain that they’ll eventually work it out.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_5. Maxim DeWinter and his second wife in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- I don’t think it’s a good sign when we don’t know the second wife’s first name, but the first wife is the title of the book! But the unnamed narrator this novel feels tormented by her husband’s beautiful, beloved late wife.  I think that’s probably a common experience to some extent (albeit with less Gothic twists than this novel!). Marrying a widow or widower means accepting their previous spouse and whatever feelings may linger.

51pclzvhwel-_ac_us218_6. Henry and Claire in The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger– These two definitely have a weird relationship thanks to Henry’s Chrono-Displacement Disorder. It means that Henry (who unintentionally time travels) occasionally meets his wife as a kid, and sometimes runs into her after she’s widowed… But they make it work! It’s not always what I’d call healthy but it’s certainly a marriage that faces some unique challenges.

 

51bumg7jwll-_ac_us218_7. Ruth and Quin in The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson– Ruth is separated from her family when they’re immigrating to England after Hitler invades Austria. Now the Austrian-Jewish Berger family is safe in London except for Ruth. Family friend Quinton Sommerville is a British citizen and he offers to help: he and Ruth will get married. They can get into England together and once there, they can get the marriage annulled. But the best laid plans often go awry… An annulment turns out to be more complicated than expected and when Quin and Ruth start to fall in love, things get even more unpredictable.

51mssp4enl._ac_ul436_ 8. Henry and Margaret in Howard’s End by EM Forester– In a lot of ways these two are an odd couple. Henry is a wealthy industrialist with three children from a previous marriage. Margaret is a spinster with progressive politics and intellectual passions. But they legitimately like one another. The marriage faces challenges from day one, ranging from Margaret’s good hearted but flighty sister, to Henry’s checkered past and his  hostile children. But the biggest challenges come from their different ways of seeing and responding to the world.

71a-uqdbfwl._ac_ul436_9. Sir Percy Blackney and Marguerite in The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy– It’s the French Revolution and aristocrats are falling prey to Madame Guillotine. Their only hope is The Scarlet Pimpernel who rescues them from their fate with the aid of daring disguises. Lady Marguerite Blackney is married to Sir Percy, a man who seemed to love her during their courtship only to reveal himself to be a rather dim witted fop.  When her beloved brother is arrested and facing execution, she’s told that she might save him if she helps the French Republic find the Scarlet Pimpernel. Most readers will be able to guess the Scarlet Pimpernel’s true identity based on that synopsis, but it’s still a lot of fun.

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_10. Carl and Annie in Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith– This book looks and Carl and Annie’s first year of marriage. They got married against the wishes of their parents in 1927 and left their native Brooklyn so that Carl could attend law school in the Midwest. They face challenges ranging from loneliness to poverty.  But they push through with loyalty and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 recognizability  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 Seth who loves movies, but does nothing around the farm 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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 11: Hidden Gems (which books haven’t been talked about as much or haven’t been marketed as strongly that you think deserve some recognition?)

51rkzkhzekl-_ac_us218_1. A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin– Our narrator is an intelligent, good-looking young college student. He’s dating Dorothy, a wealthy young woman with a problem. She’s pregnant. If/when her dad finds out about the baby, he’ll cut her off penniless. Thereby eliminating any use she might be of to our narrator. But that’s easily solved. He can get rid of Dorothy and try to marry money again in a year or two. She’s got two sisters after all! We spend the first portion of the book seeing through the eyes of a sociopath, and the latter portion we see from the perspective of his potential victims. I’m usually pretty good at spotting an author’s tricks. About 2/3 of the way through I was sure that I knew exactly where this was going and I was totally wrong! Ira Levin is well known for some of his other books like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. This is his debut and it definitely teases his future ability as a storyteller.

31vqaqjxh5l-_ac_us218_2. Passion by IU Tarchetti– This was made into a film called Passione D’amore in 1981 and was adapted as a Tony-winning musical in 1995, but it’s still not very well known. Giorgio is a young soldier, having an affair with Clara, a slightly older, slightly married, woman. When he’s transferred to a provincial military outpost, he meets Colonel Ricci, his new commanding officer. The Colonel lives with his sick cousin Fosca. When the Colonel mentions that Fosca is an avid reader, Giorgio lends her some books. But when he meets Fosca he’s taken aback by her illness, her ugliness, and her lack of polite social skills. Still, he tries to be kind to her when their paths cross. As Fosca falls for Giorgio, she makes no effort to hide her feelings. And when she finds out about Clara she makes her opinion known. The strength of her overtures deeply unsettles Giogio who is thrown into the depths of emotions, love as well as hate, with an intensity that he’s never before experienced. I think one reason this doesn’t have mainstream popularity is that the reader doesn’t have an obvious person to root for. Giorgio is a perfectly nice guy, but he’s most comfortable on surfaces. He’s all for polite chatter and interactions. Fosca forces him beyond that, pushing him (and the reader) into uncomfortable territory. Yet that’s also the reason that it’s hard for a reader to identify with Fosca. She makes Giorgio, and us, uncomfortable.

51tsapquwul-_ac_us218_3. Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson– Susanna is a dressmaker in Vienna circa 1911. She watches over her neighbors and keeps a journal. We meet the people in her life. There’s Herr Egger, a fellow with a nasty habit. Nini is Susannah’s dress model, who moonlight’s as an anarchist. Then there are the Schumakers and their six daughters, Sigi the piano prodigy next door, Susannah’s lover, an aristocratic field marshall, and her friend Alice, the only person who knows that Susannah has secrets of her own… Eva Ibbotson is best known for her middle-grade fantasy and YA romance novels, which are lovely. While this has romantic elements it’s more a slice of life than her other work and seems aimed at a slightly older readership. I wish that Ibbotson wrote more for this audience.

5196005bwql-_ac_us218_4. Watch By Moonlight by Kate Hawks- Many of us have read Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman,” in which an innkeepers daughter “had watched for her love in the moonlight.” The poem is notable for its strong rhythm and vivid narrative. In this book, Hawks expands and retells the poem’s narrative. We meet Bess Whateley, who works in her parents’ public house, and falls in love with Jason Quick, a thief who steals to buy his father out of indentured servitude. He is now pursued by the King’s 54th Regiment. In the poem, the title character is presented as a romantic hero. He is here too, but as we learn about his character and his background we see him become more three dimensional. Is he romantic? Yes. but he’s also a criminal. He’s doing bad things for a good reason, which makes him very human and flawed. If you’re not familiar with the poem I’d suggest going into the story fresh. Hawks includes bits and pieces throughout the novel, and it’s included in its entirety at the end. I knew the poem, so the ending took on an inevitability for me as I read the book.

51zjlwr-kl-_ac_us218_5. Time and Chance by Alan Brennert– One night, Richard Cochrane, an actor, flubs his lines during a production of Brigadoon. Following the performance, he learns that his mother died, and he goes back to his New Hampshire town.  Going home has made him reflective. He thinks about the decisions he made, and what he gave up to pursue his acting career.  Thirteen years ago, Richard broke up with his girlfriend and left town in pursuit of his dreams. But now that he’s back, Richard encounters the man he might have been: the Richard who put aside his dreams of an acting career, got a steady job at an insurance company, married his girlfriend and had a family. Both Richards are unhappy and on some level both regret the choices that brought them to this point. So they decide to switch places so each can see if he’s happier if he’d decided differently. Yes, this is a fantasy, in which a man meets a parallel version of himself, but I think most people can relate to in some way. We all have decision points in our lives that leave us wondering “what might have been” if we’d chosen a different path.

51boj2l7mll-_ac_us218_6. The Ear, The Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer– Zimbabwe, 2174. General Amadeus Marsika’s three children disappear from their yard one day. They quickly learn that their world is one of contrasts. Wealthy people, like their family, live in vast estates staffed by robots. The poor live in a neighborhood called The Cow’s Guts where they search for plastic in a toxic waste dump. Here, the Marsika children are taken, prisoner. They escape only to encounter new dangers. Meanwhile, they are pursued by three very unusual detectives, knowns as The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm, who seem to always be a few moments too late to rescue the kids. This stands apart from so many other YA dystopias with its blend of high tech futuristic setting and African tribal folklore. While there are parallels to other fantasy tales, such as The Wizard of Oz, this has enough to make it unique and provocative.

21mg6dwqdwl-_ac_us218_7. Lionors: King Arthur’s Uncrowned Queen by Barbara Ferry Johnson- Keep in mind, I read this as a teen and loved it, I but I haven’t read it since. I don’t know how well it holds up.  Lionors is mentioned in several literary sources as King Arthur’s mistress and the mother of his illegitimate son, but in this book, she takes center stage. Lionors, daughter of the Earl of Santam, meets Arthur, the ward of Sir Ecktor. They fall in love and plan to marry. But when it turns out that Arthur is actually the son of Uther Pendragon, and is now King, it becomes clear that he must marry elsewhere to secure the peace of the kingdom. However, he returns to Lionors whenever he can. She hears about what’s going on in Camelot, but her life is at her manor. The book is managing something tricky. The narrator is removed from the action for the most part, but she has stakes in it nonetheless. Aside from her visits from Arthur, and the child she has with him (here it’s a daughter), Lionors is connected to the events of Camelot via visitors for the most part and she struggles to have a purpose beyond the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: “You will be a queen, but you will die uncrowned and unknown…”

61nsx83i0fl-_ac_us218_8. Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee- In 4B there are no limits to pleasure. People are encouraged to eat, drink, have sex with multiple partners, and take drugs. If they get bored they can always commit suicide and be brought back in a new body. Really the only thing that’s forbidden is murder. When our protagonist becomes bored and jaded we follow her in and out of various bodies and circumstances, until she breaks that one rule. She’s faced with a choice. Either she undergoes personality dissolution, in which all her memory will be wiped, or she is given a single, permanent body, and banished from 4B. The unnamed protagonist opts for banishment and finds herself in a desert, where she must make a life for herself. For the first time, she discovers that some sacrifices may be worthwhile, and that being human means making choices.

41erf8g69dl-_ac_us218_9. All This and Heaven Too by Rachel Fields– This book is a fictionalization of the life of Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, the author’s great aunt by marriage. In the mid 19th century, Henriette was the most notorious woman in France. Hired as the governess to the children of the Duc and Duchesse de Praslin, she quickly came to see the problems that existed in her employer’s marriage. She and the Duc formed a close (platonic) relationship based largely on their mutual interest in the children- an interest which the Duchesse didn’t share. However, the Duchesse was aware of the closeness that existed between her husband and the governess and felt threatened. She dismissed Henriette without a letter of recommendation, and then met a tragic end. The gossip surrounding the relationship between Henriette and the Duc, as well as the circumstances surrounding Henriette’s dismissal, meant that both fell under suspicion of murder. Forced to defend herself in a trial, Henriette soon becomes hated by a nation, making life there impossible. So she flees to America where she starts anew like so many others. In 1940 this was made into a film starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. However, despite the film’s popularity, the literary source material has fallen by the wayside. The film focuses on the first half of the story, ending with Henriette’s departure for America. However, the book follows her to her new life. While it’s less dramatic than the first half (with accusations of adultery and murder!) it’s interesting to see what became of this remarkable woman.

51polcsfrl-_ac_us218_10. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor– When this came out in 1944 it caused quite a stir, but it seems like few people know it now. If I had to compare it to another book, I’d compare it to Gone With the Wind. Amber is a very Scarlett-like heroine. But Scarlett O’Hara was born with a silver spoon, whereas Amber St. Clare is pregnant, abandoned, and penniless when we first meet her. Amber navigates the streets of 17th century London, through the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of 1666, eventually rising to be the favorite mistress of King Charles II. But she keeps her heart true to the only man she’s ever loved; a man who she can never have.  Several historical figures appear as characters in the book, such as Charles II, Nell Gwyn, Barbara Palmer, George Villiers, and more. It was banned as pornographic is fourteen states, was condemned by the Catholic Church for indecency and was banned in Australia.  What’s remarkable is that there’s really nothing explicit. Yes, Amber has a number of affairs, but for the most part, they take place behind closed doors.  It sold about three million copies worldwide and was made into a film in 1947, but if I mention to a historical fiction fan, chances are that they won’t know what I’m talking about.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Could Re-read Forever

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

February 27: Books I Could Re-read Forever

I’m usually not a huge re-reader. I have a whole list of books that want to re-read, but my TBR so big that I rarely spend time on stuff I’ve already read. But even so, there are some books that I’ve revisited over the years. A lot of them tend to be books I read at some point during my childhood, because I was more of a rereader then. But making this list has definitely inspired me to do more re-reads!

51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- I wrote a bit about my journey with this book a while back. I read it for the first time in high school and was sort of shocked by the disparity between its reputation as a tragic romance, and the actual content of the book. I felt like the various narrative frames kept me at a distance and that there was some kind of elusive content that I was just missing. Those very qualities have made it an interesting re-read. I understand it differently each time I read it. At different points, it’s Freudian, feminist, sadomasochistic, gothic, and subversive.

51fkpmqzdyl-_ac_us218_2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- The first time I read this, also in high school, I loved it. I thought it was a lovely romance with a happy ending and a heroine I could root for. When I re-read it in college I realized that while it was all those things, it was also a lot more. There was a subtext that I’d completely missed on my first read through; regarding colonialism, gender relations, religion, morality, and autonomy. There were parallels that had gone over my head the first time. For example, Jane and Bertha are presented as two sides of the same coin. Jane is depicted as impulsive, willful and even violent as a child (see her behavior with the Reeds, the red room etc) she eventually masters these traits in a way that Bertha isn’t able to.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_3. The work of LM Montgomery- Maybe this is cheating but I can’t pick just one book here. As I kid I wanted to be Anne Shirley. As a slightly older kid, I wanted to be Emily Starr. As a teen, I discovered The Blue Castle for the first time. They’re all books that I find myself wanting to revisit at different points. There’s something comforting about them.Maybe it’s the landscape of Prince Edward Island that I’m attracted to, or maybe the smart female characters appeal to me.  Maybe I like different things at different points.

51ozv7qacul-_sx260_4. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon- The first time reading through this series I read for plot. They’re pretty densely plotted books, and because I was invested in the characters I wanted to see what happened to them. I’ve re-read parts now that the TV series is airing and I’m sort of shocked at how much I missed on those initial read throughs. A lot of character development happened that I wasn’t aware of, because I was focused elsewhere! I missed a lot of subtle cues, foreshadowing, and even sub-plots. I suppose that there’s only so much you can focus on in one read through.

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_5. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- I suppose in this way I’m a true product of my generation. I haven’t read them all the way through multiple times though. Like the Outlander series, my re-reads have been in bits and pieces. I’ve read parts of several later books more times that several earlier books, for example, though as I read later books I revisited earlier ones to refresh my memory of what happened. It seems to be the later four books or so that I’ve revisited the most. Maybe that’s because there was more happening in them than in the first three.

51srrilel-_ac_us218_6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott- The first time I read this, I was obsessed with Jo. I wanted to be Jo. I still love her, but on later read-throughs, I focused on the journeys of the other characters. For example, it’s easy to overlook Meg and Beth the first time through. They’re not as attention-grabbing as Jo and Amy. I definitely dismissed them as “the boring one” and “the tragic one” until I re-read it and realized that they were just as compelling in their own ways as Jo and Amy were.

51uvxo85zl-_ac_us218_7. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell- This may be cheating because I haven’t reread it in a long time, but there was a point in my childhood where I would read this book, finish it, and then just start reading again! I should probably reread it at some point if only to understand why I was so obsessed with it at one point. Maybe the isolation of the main character appealed to me. Maybe it was the fact that she bravely faced a situation that would probably leave me a quivering lump of fear. Maybe it’s the fact that her ordeal didn’t end when she was “rescued”. It could have been the fact that this is based on a true story. Or it could be that different things appealed to me different times.

511prxozevl-_ac_us218_8. Here’s to You Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume- When I was about ten or eleven I was obsessed with this book. Maybe it was the main character who appealed to me. Maybe it was the dynamic between her and her family and her friends. Or maybe it was Jeremy Dragon, who was my first book boyfriend. In retrospect, I don’t even know why he appealed to me as much as he did. He wasn’t even a major character. But I suppose the element of wish fulfillment in a guy you have a crush on actually liking you, was something that appealed to me at the time.

614tt378kel-_ac_us218_9. The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson- This is actually a book I wish I’d read for the first time when I was younger.  Like in Harry Potter, this book features a platform at King’s Cross Station in London, which leads to a magical world. But this platform only opens once every nine years, so when the prince of this magical world is stolen, the magical creatures have nine years to plan the rescue. Of course, that doesn’t mean that anything actually goes according to plan. I think that, along with Harry Potter, this appealed to the part of me that longed for something magic hidden alongside the mundane.

51cbwb1nmql-_ac_us218_10. Fairy Tales– I know that this is more of a genre/category than a book, but fairy tales were like a religious experience for me as a kid. I would read them compulsively. Before I could read myself, I had others read them to me over and over again. I sought out different versions of fairy tales. I was possibly the only four year old who could explain how the Disney version of Snow White differed from the Brother’s Grimm! Even now, fairy tales inspire a lot of my own writing.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Lesser Known Romances

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday;

February 13: Love Freebie (Romances, swoons, OTPs, kisses, sexy scenes, etc.)

I feel like a lot of my favorite romances are pretty well known.  I love Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and Jane and Mr. Rochester (why do 19th-century male characters never go by their first names?) as much as the next girl.  But this week, I decided to share a few favorites that might not turn up on everyone else’s list.

51bumg7jwll-_ac_us218_1. The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson– Eva Ibbotson was primarily known for her children’s books. However, she wrote five romances intended for older readers (the others A Company of Swans, The Secret Countess, A Song For Summer, and Magic Flutes are also worth reading). They’ve since been re-released for a YA audience. They’re flawed in that they depict relationships with gender roles that are somewhat old-fashioned. But they’re usually sweet enough and fun enough so that it doesn’t bother me too much. I have a fondness for this one. It’s about a Jewish family in Austria. They get out of the country when Hitler invades and make it to England. But they’re separated from their twenty-year-old daughter, Ruth who wasn’t able to get the proper paperwork. Quinton Somerville, a friend of the family, offers to help Ruth. He’s got the papers to get to England, and she can come with him, as his wife. Once they’re safely in England they can get the marriage annulled. Ruth takes him up on his offer, but neither of them counts on falling in love…

51eksizfwl-_ac_us218_2. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– I forgot why I picked up this book in the first place. Novels about cranky old men aren’t automatic reads for me. But something attracted me to this book and I’m glad it did! Major Ernest Pettigrew is a retired Englishman who is the embodiment of duty, pride, and traditional values. Major Pettigrew is a widower who is trying to keep his son from selling off the family heirlooms when he finds an unexpected ally in his neighbor, Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. Their cross-cultural romance shocks everyone, themselves most of all. But it also reminds us that while people may seem like opposites, they can still find strong common ground; enough to build the foundation of a relationship. And it proves that falling in love at 70 is just as sweet as it is at 17.

51guog1xvl-_ac_us160_3. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee– I can’t remember how I first came across this book. But its a provocative futuristic sci-fi love story. Jane is living a life of luxury on an Earth that’s barely recognizable to the reader. But she’s not happy. Robots have replaced humans as laborers but when a new line comes out they’re also used as performing artists and the wealthy use them as sexual partners. When Jane meets Silver, a robot minstrel, his song convinces her that there’s something more to him than just metal and programming. Something almost human. She gives up everything and she and Silver run away together. As their relationship grows, Silver becomes more and more human. Is that just a clever illusion created by his programming? Is Jane needy and mentally unstable? Or has she seen in Silver something that no one else can?  If Silver is truly capable of loving Jane, he’s in terrible danger, because he’s more than anyone expected. If he has all of the advantages of a robot but can truly feel and love like a human, then actual humans can’t complete.

51l6zlabawl-_ac_us218_4. The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– I feel like this book has been getting more attention lately which I’m glad about. But it’s still largely unknown, so I feel like it can go on this list. Valancy is a twenty-nine-year-old “spinster” who lives under the overbearing thumb of her mother and her aunt. When she gets devastating news from the doctor, Valancy is motivated to do some living while she still has the chance! She becomes friends with Barney, a handsome free spirit whom her family does not approve of! She confides to Barney that she doesn’t have long to live, and proposes marriage. After all, he won’t have to live with her for long, and it’ll make her happy before she dies. After they marry, Barney and Valancy are happier than they’d ever dreamed. But Valancy’s fate hangs over their heads. Colleen McCollough wrote a novel in 1987 called The Ladies of Missalonghi, with a very similar plot set in the Blue Mountains of Australia. The similarities prompted accusations of plagiarism. Having read both, I think they’re just two novels that have similar plotlines.  I prefer The Blue Castle though.

51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_5. Precious Bane by Mary Webb– This is a fairly new discovery for me. Prue Sarn’s “precious bane” is her cleft pallet. It sets her apart from the other girls in her Shropshire community for better and for worse. It isolates her from her peers, but that isolation is also the source of inner strength. Prue’s brother, Gideon, is determined to lift the family out of poverty. He devotes everything he has to make money, which is the very thing that may ultimately destroy him. In a way money is his “precious bane”. It promises a better life but ultimately destroys life and love. Meanwhile, Prue has fallen in love with Kester Woodseaves, a weaver with a gentle spirit. Like Prue, he’s an outsider, due to his gentle nature rather than anything external. Will his good heart allow him to see the beauty in Prue?

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_6. Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith– A lot of readers compare this book to the (brilliant) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though it was actually a fictionalized account of the first year of the author’s own marriage. Nonetheless, the heroine, Annie Brown, has a lot in common with Francie, the heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Annie and Carl get married in the 1920’s just before Carl starts law school in the midwest. Annie leaves her Brooklyn home to go with him. Their families oppose the marriage, but they’re young, in love, a bit naive, and optimistic. They face challenges from poverty to more personal conflicts. This isn’t really a plot-driven book. It’s far more character driven. It’s hard not to root for Carl and Annie as they begin to build a foundation for their lives together.

51ktieauzl-_ac_us218_7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer– I first encountered this novella after seeing the exquisite musical that was inspired by it. It’s a beautiful book as well. Margaret Johnson is an unhappily married, wealthy, Southern woman traveling in Florence with her daughter, Clara in the 1950s. When Clara falls in love with Fabrizio, a young Italian (and he with her), Margaret finds herself torn between two equally strong impulses: to protect her daughter and spare her the pain of lost love or to hope that Clara might be luckier in love than Margaret was. The story is about the courage that it takes to fall in love and the bravery in hoping (in the face of experience) that it might last forever.

31vqaqjxh5l-_ac_us218_8. Passion by IU Tarchetti– This is probably an odd choice. It’s another book that I discovered thanks to my obsession with musical theater. Sondheim’s musical of the same name won a Tony in 1994 but is still one of his less popular works, though it’s one of my favorites. The story is about Giorgio, a handsome, young, Italian soldier. He is having an affair with the lovely (but married) Clara in Milan when he is transferred to a remote base in Parma. There he is invited to dine at his commander’s residence, and he meets the commander’s cousin, Fosca. Fosca is terminally ill, highly strung, and unattractive. She is also madly in love with Giorgio. Though he tries to avoid her at first, Giorgio eventually realizes that Fosca is offering him something that Clara cannot: a pure, true, love that requires his total surrender, yet gives him everything that she has in return.

51x5chc9f7l-_ac_us218_9. Katherine by Anya Seton– Though this book is a novel, it is based on a real-life love story. During the fourteenth century, John of Gaunt, son of a king, fell in love with the already married Katherine Swynford. Even after Katherine is widowed, she and John are prevented from marrying due to politics. However, their affair survives decades of struggle, war, politics, adultery, murder, and danger. I can see where some contemporary readers might see John and Katherine’s romance as one-sided or not very romantic. However I think that is holding a couple in the middle ages to modern expectations. In a time and a place where royal used and discarded mistresses on a regular basis, John maintained his love for Katherine over the course a lifetime, even when casting her aside would have been more politically expedient. He regarded Katherine as his wife and his partner. The descendants of John and Katherine’s children, the Beauforts, include much of the British royal family. For fans of medieval literature this book has appearances from Geoffrey Chaucer (who was Katherine’s brother in law), and includes the writings of Julian of Norwich who also appears as a character in the book.

51lsl4lfqql-_ac_us218_10. Remembrance by Jude Deveraux– Hayden Lane is a bestselling romance author with a problem: she’s fallen in love with the hero she wrote in one of her books.  When a psychic tells her that her obsession may be due to something that happened in a past life, Helen decides to see a hypnotist, who transports her to Edwardian England where she encounters a previous incarnation. But she must go back even further, to the Elizabethan era, before she learns how her earliest incarnation, Callie, was in love with a man named Talis, and how they unintentionally betrayed each other and cursed their future selves. In order to set things right, Hayden will have to figure out a way to break the curse and change history. Some elements of the plot are a bit farfetched (even if you believe in reincarnation, the curses can be hard to buy into!) but it kept me reading. Unlike many romance novels, this doesn’t have a traditional “happily ever after”, though the ending is decidedly hopeful.

#PersephoneReadathon Days 4&5

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(Day 4) Author Shout-out: Shine a spotlight on a neglected woman writer you wish more people knew about

Wow, this is tough because there are SO many amazing female writers out there!

  • I love Kate Morton’s work. Usually, she writes dual timeline novels set in England. My favorite is probably The Forgotten Garden, though The Distant Hours is a close second. I’d recommend her work to fans of Susanna Kearsley.
  • Kate Forsyth started off writing a popular fantasy series The Witches of Eilenan, but I’m a fan of her more historical novels. The plots are based on fairy tales, but Forsyth weaves them into real history. Bitter Greens is a triple timeline novel based on Rapunzel. It’s probably the most “fantasy” of the newer books. The Wild Girl is based on Dorchen Wild, the wife of Wilhelm Grimm. The Beast’s Garden is a WWII set love story based on “The Singing Springing Lark” which is the Grimm’s version of Beauty and the Beast.
  • Sarah Addison Allen writes magical realism. Her debut Garden Spells is a bit like Practical Magic and I’d recommend it to fans of Alice Hoffman. I also enjoyed most of her other work. I also really liked The Sugar Queen and The Girl Who Chased the Moon.
  • Finally, Eva Ibbotson wrote so many fantasy novels for an audience of teens and middle-grade readers. Fans of Harry Potter need to check out The Secret of Platform 13 right now. She also wrote some lovely romances and short stories intended for adults. I’m fond of most of her work for older readers (which has since been reprinted, targeting the YA market) but my favorites are probably The Secret Countess, A Company of Swans, and The Morning Gift.

(Day 5) Read This: Give a book recommendation/readalike based on a Persephone title

Since I’m currently immersed in The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett, I’ll go with that one. I can easily see how it influenced Burnett’s most famous novel, The Secret Garden. Like The Shuttle, The Secret Garden emphasizes that the restoration of a place’s natural beauty can restore a broken spirit as well. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte is another novel that comes to mind. Like The Shuttle it looks at an abusive marriage in a time and place where feminism wasn’t even a thought, and divorce was taboo. Though Helen (the protagonist of Tenant) is very different from Rosalie in The Shuttle and handles her situation in a very different manner. Finally, The American Heiress also deals with the turn of the 20th-century trend for wealthy American girls to marry impoverished British nobility.