Top Ten Tuesday: Places in Books I Would NOT Want to Live

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

March 30: Places In Books I’d Love to Live

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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That I Got Lost In

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

November 24: Thanksgiving/I’m Thankful for… Freebie

For this list I decided to look at the kind of books I’m thankful for. This year I definitely sought out the experience of losing myself in a book for a while. I was thankful when books allowed me to do that. So I decided to list books that I was able to fall into, and forget about reality for a while. They’re not all books that I read this year (nor are they all great literature, by any stretch of the imagination!) but they’re books that gave me the sort of experience that I was grateful for this year. Hope that makes sense!

  1. Harry Potter series- In spite of my ongoing issues with the author, I will always have love in my heart for these books. They created a world that I cared about, and let me live in it with the characters for seven books. When it was done, I felt like I’d grown up with these characters. Oh, and I say that I can put an entire series in one spot on this list! My list my rules!

2. Outlander series- This isn’t perfect either (I think issue with a few themes) but it did create another world that I could live in. Reality disappears when I read about the reality of these characters even if they’re doing something relatively mundane (with the right characters, a chapter on laundry can be fun!) but knowing these guys, excitement and adventure is usually just around the corner.

3. The Dollinganger series by VC Andrews- Full disclosure: I got lost in this series when I was about 12. What was shocking and page turningly compelling then, probably wouldn’t hold up now. But I do remember spending an entire bus ride on a school field trip engrossed in Petals On The Wind (I had just finished Flowers in the Attic and I needed to know what came next!)

4. The Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray- I came for the Victorian era feminism. I stayed- glued to the page- the find out about the worlds in which Gemma found herself. I was invested in these characters, intrigued by the mythological systems that Gemma encounters, and eager to see what a young Victorian girl with little agency in her own life, could do with supernatural realms of power. I read the first two back to back, but The Sweet Far Thing hadn’t come out and that point, so I had to wait to finish.

5. Intensity by Dean Koontz- I can’t remember what first made me pick this book up. I think someone might have recommended it. But I remember starting it on a Friday and not putting it down for the rest of the weekend.

6. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton- I picked this up with relatively low expectations (the only Morton book that I had read prior was The House at Riverton, which I thought was just OK) but I was pleasantly surprised. The story spoke to a lot of my literary tastes (multiple timelines, fairy tales, historical fiction) and just cast a spell on me. I’m glad I gave Morton another chance because now she’s an automatic read for me.

7. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- I started getting into this late one night, and couldn’t put it down until the next morning. It was a literal all nighter. I distinctly remember coming upon a plot revelation at around 1am and wishing I could talk to someone about it!

8. Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie- In this case, I don’t know why I found this book so compelling. It retold a story that I find interesting but not usually riveting. But this book was glued to my face for some reason. I read it at work during my lunch break. I also enjoyed the second and third in the author’s Camelot trilogy, Grail Prince and Prince of Dreams, but not quite as much as this one.

9. The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons- This is another one that I suspect would not hold up well to a reread, but teenage Fran was unable to put the book down (or stop crying when it was over!) I ordered the rest of the trilogy and read it ASAP.

10. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel- I read this my freshman year of high school and was briefly interested in studying human evolution because of it. The subject still interests me, but not as something to study. Unfortunately the quality of the books in the series diminished with each one (second was good, third was OK, fourth and fifth were not good. I didn’t even bother with #6)

11. The Pact by Jodi Picoult- For some reason everyone in my high school was reading this book, so I picked it up. In retrospect, I think some of the themes wouldn’t hold up well, but at the time, I recall it being a page turner. Though I see it’s subtitled “A Love Story” and I don’t recall it being that at all…

I think sometimes the experience of not being able to put a book down depends on the right book finding you at the right time. In these cases, these books found me in the right mood/frame of mind to read them compulsively. Some hold up better than others, and some I’d rather remember well, than revisit. Regardless, I am very thankful when I’m able to disappear into a book world, like I did with these.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read Based on Their Covers

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 15: Cover Freebie (choose your own topic, centered on book covers or cover art)

We all know we’re not supposed to judge them that way, but every once in a while you see a book cover that’s so pretty that it’s just love at first sight. Sometimes it’s not pretty but something about it grabs your attention and you need to know more. You know you need to read this book. So here are some book covers that put their books straight on my TBR. Some of the books lived up to the cover hype, some didn’t. But something about these covers drew me in.

  1. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss – This one has the advantage of looking like a wild celebration of nature, while at the same time looking like a skull. It’s beautiful and sinister at the same time. As it turns out, that serves the content of the book well.

2. Educated by Tara Westover– This is another book cover that’s sort of two things at once. First I saw a pencil, and I just thought it was a book about education, with a pencil on the cover. Kind of boring. But when I looked closer, I saw it was also a silhouette of a person against the backdrop of a mountain, and I became more intrigued. Is it a pencil or a mountain? And which is more of an important instrument in the author’s education? It’s up to the reader to decide. The fact that the ground (or paint on the pencil, depending how you see it) is also red. I think that you can read into that too. Red of course suggests blood. Which could mean family, or spilled blood. Again both might be appropriate.

3. Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour- The current cover of this book looks a bit different, but I love the colors of this one. The green and black evoke the natural world at night and the gold lettering and edges suggest something artificial as well. The nettles look like they’re warning you off and yet the leaves feel like it’s drawing you in. And what about the girl? Is she sleeping? dead? comatose? I also like that the shape of this book is different from most (it’s a perfect square) which makes it stand out a bit.

4. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs– When I first saw this cover I couldn’t figure out why the little girl was so eerie. Was it because she was brighter than the black and white background? Then I realized that she was floating! But even that doesn’t really explain why I find this cover unsettling. But it did intrigue me!

5. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray– I could see how someone might look at this book cover and think they were getting a bodice ripper. But for some reason that wasn’t what I thought of when I saw it. Instead I thought “that girl looks like she’s realizing her corset is too tight” which as it turns out, is a metaphor for a theme in the book. I wasn’t into reading fantasy when I read this book, so I’m glad they didn’t go that direction with the cover. It might have put me off, but this book pulled me back into the genre after some time away.

6. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– The audiobook edition is the only one I could find that still has this cover. The current cover is a bit different. I think I was about 11 or 12 when I saw this cover, and knew that I had to read the book to find out who the girl was and why she was trapped in what looked like a dollhouse. To make matters even more intriguing, it was a peephole cover. When you opened it, you saw this image. So I had to read the book to find out what that was about! It probably wasn’t a remotely appropriate book for a kid that age, but the cover sure made it look intriguing!

7. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer- Whatever your opinion of sparkly vampires, I think credit goes to the designer who created a really alluring cover. The pale hands against the black background make a great contrast. The apple offered has suggestions of forbidden fruit and loss of innocence. The red against the white and the black also draws you in suggesting blood. It’s natural to see it and think “I want to know what that’s about!”

8. The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen– Sometimes I’m just a sucker for a pretty dress. This quartet features some very pretty dresses on the covers. Check them out (is it cheating to include all 4 in one space on my list?) Actually they’ve changed the covers since these came out, which is kind of a shame IMO. These books were total guilty pleasures, and the dresses on the covers sort of played into that. I’d like to think I’m above such shallow lures, but really, I’m not.

9. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– I love that this cover sort of fools you. You don’t quite trust your eyes. You think you’re seeing a man and a women locked in a passionate embrace. But then you realize that you’re seeing hats and coats on a coat rack! Oddly I didn’t find that disappointing though, I appreciated the trick. It showed a sort of humor on the designer’s part, and I wanted to see if that humor was continued through the book.

10. The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth– This may be a cheat because I may have read the book even if it had a different cover, because I like the author. But this cover also really drew me in. I think one reason is that blue is my favorite color, and the cover has a lot of it! But also because blue roses are something you don’t see every day. The title refers to a Chinese fairy tale about a man searching for a blue rose for his beloved.

Honorable mention- Persephone ClassicsPersephone Books is a London based bookshop and publisher that reprints neglected works by mid twentieth century writers (mostly female). Most of their books have a plain grey cover. However, they have reissued twelve best sellers with colorful art. The drawback to these is that they don’t have the full color end papers that other Persephone titles have, but the cover art is pretty enough to draw my in on it’s own!

Novels That Would Be Great On Stage

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

One thing I miss most about life before the pandemic is theater. I miss going to the theater with the sense of anticipation just before the curtain rises. I miss knowing that I shared that anticipation with the rest of the audience as well. I miss reading reviews and planning what I want to see next. So I thought I’d make a wishlist of books that I think would be great onstage someday, if/when we can go back to the theater. Some of these I imagine as musicals, others as straight plays, but I’m flexible about that.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid– Since this is written in the form of interviews it would be very easy to translate to theatrical dialogue (or monologues). They could also have the songs presented as if it were a bio-jukebox musical (ala Jersey Boys or Beautiful) but with a fictional band. The lyrics to Daisy Jones and The Six’s songs are at the end of the novel, so it’ s just a matter of finding someone to write the music to accompany them.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders– I just finished reading this and the whole time I was thinking how theatrical it felt with the chorus of voices. It has the potential to feel very much like parts of Our Town or The Spoon River Anthology with a cast of dead people in a graveyard, but that’s alright.

Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– I’m sort of surprised that this hasn’t been tried before. There were two attempts to film it, and neither was very successful at recreating the Gothic claustrophobia of the novel. I think film might be the wrong medium for a performance of this. The single setting seems to lend itself to the stage and the role of Grandmother is a great one for an over 60 actress. But I suppose that the fact that much of the cast would need to be composed of young kids dealing with disturbing content could make it rather challenging.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter– I imagine this beginning in a very intimate setting with Fevvers sitting in her dressing room (onstage) talking about her past. But as things go on, what we see expands and becomes more fantastical, and Fevvers becomes integrated with the action rather than just a narrator.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo- The book is already a novel in verse those verses could be the lyrics for songs. The music could be influenced by the racial/ethnic backgrounds of the characters. The main character, Xiomara, could narrate much of it, and the music could grow more complex as Xiomara’s poetic voice gains confidence.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim– This book already made a beautiful film, but I can also see it working really well onstage. It has a single primary location (the early scenes in England can take place as a prologue on a limited set, which would emphasize everything about England that the characters need to escape). One challenge might be how to bring that sense of outdoor freshness to an indoor theater, but I suppose an outdoor, socially distanced production is possible even now…

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett– This novel was made into a film, but I think the film suffered for the same reasons it could work well onstage: it has a single location and a theatrical subject matter. An opera singer, a Japanese businessman and guests at a party at a South American embassy are taken hostage by rebels. In this situation, which drags out over time, they realize that music may be their only common language. The subject matter lends itself to an intimate chamber musical, or even a play with music. Onscreen it seemed too stagey, but onstage it could be beautiful.

What do you think of my list? Are there any books that you’d love to see adapted for the stage?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in A Single Location

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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April 23: (First Ten) Books I Reviewed (These do not have to be formal reviews. A small sentence on a retailer site or Goodreads counts, too! Submitted by Rissi @ Finding Wonderland)

Since I can’t think of where to begin with that (I’ve written some form of book reviews for years!) I decided to make up my own topic: books set in a single location. While some of these have an opening and/or closing scene in another location all of them have about 70-80% of the narrative set in one space.  Some books, like Room, don’t apply because they’re only 50% in one space and then the story moves elsewhere. Others, like Jane Eyre or The Shining, are set largely in one place but important events to the story and the characters happen elsewhere, during the action of the story.

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1. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett- While there are flashbacks to other places at other times, the bulk of the action in this novel takes place while the characters are held hostage in home of the Vice President of an unnamed South American country.

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_2. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– About 85% of this book takes place in the attic of Foxworth Hall. About 10% takes place elsewhere in Foxworth Hall. I think only the first chapter or two takes place in another location.

51sslc2wctl-_ac_us218_3. Misery by Stephen King– This novel is set entirely (save for the epilogue) in an isolated farmhouse where the main character, novelist Paul Sheldon, is being held hostage by Annie Wilkes, a woman who rescued him from a car wreck somewhere in the Colorado Rockies.

51lz9ueudjl-_ac_us218_4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie–  In this case all the action takes place on a train. The train itself moves (until it’s stopped by a snowdrift somewhere in Croatia) but no one gets on or off.

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5. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson– In this case we learn things about the characters, and their lives prior to their arrival at Hill House, and their motivations for being there, but the action of the story itself takes place in the house.

51mny8nb9il-_ac_us218_6. The Ruins by Scott Smith- I’d estimate the first 20% of this book is set elsewhere in Mexico, leading up to the four protagonists arriving at the titular ruins. But from the moment they arrive there, they’re trapped.

518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_7. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn– In this case, the protagonist, Anna Fox, is  an agoraphobic who is unable to leave her Harlem townhouse. We learn about how she developed her condition via a flashback but a few steps outside of the door is as far as we see her travel during the action of the plot.

41oieugca5l-_ac_us218_8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– The action of this novel is set almost entirely in a mental hospital. Once again, we learn (in some cases) how the characters ended up there, but that information is conveyed via flashback and conversation.

Does anyone have any other novels set predominately in one location?

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Villians

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 23: Villains (favorite, best, worst, lovable, creepiest, most evil, etc.)

I went with the creepiest/ most evil for this one

TRIGGER WARNING: Some of these villains do some very bad things, so in discussing them, I mention some of those. It you have triggers, be warned.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_1. Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– You don’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be a creepy villain, but Mrs. Danvers totally is. From forbidding demeanor to her pathological obsession with her employer’s late wife (the title character) she makes life a living hell for his second wife, interfering in their marriage, playing psychological games and trying to goad the second wife to suicide.

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51sslc2wctl-_ac_us218_2. Annie Wilkes in Misery by Stephen King- I think that the development of the internet makes such a villain even more plausible. I’ve seen fandoms in which a few people are only lacking the opportunity to save their favorite writer (or actor/singer/whatever) after being injured in a carwreck in an isolated, snowbound area and keep him/her prisoner for months, demanding new material according to the specifications of the individual fan. When the object of Annie’s fanning resists, things get ugly.

51xphws9jdl-_ac_us218_3. Black Jack Randall Outlander by Diana Gabaldon– There’s a common misconception that Black Jack Randall is gay. He’s not. According to the author, he’s a “bisexual sexual sadist” but I might leave off the “bisexual” because if the opportunity presented itself in an appealing way, I don’t think he’d limit himself to only men and/or women. Early  on in the book he assaults the heroine, and only circumstances keep him from raping her. Later we learn about his assault on our heroine’s sister in law which  was unsuccessful because his intended victim began to laugh (a hysterical reaction, but he took it to mean that she wasn’t suffering, so he couldn’t perform). His fixation with a male character stems from an encounter in which Randall flogged him until he was near dead, but he stills refused to give Randall the satisfaction of screaming and begging. That makes him see this character as his ultimate challenge. It’s got nothing to do with gender.

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_4. Corinne Dollinganger Foxworth in Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– Corrine was disowned by her parents about fifteen years prior to the action of the book. When she’s widowed and in dire financial straits, with four children,  she returns to her wealthy parents home. Her mother explains the situation: her father won’t accept her back if he knows that her marriage produced children, but he’s on his deathbed. She can tell him there were no kids and he’ll write her back into his will. So the children need to stay hidden from him. Fortunately the mansion has an attic where the kids can stay. Once he’s dead, they can come out. It’ll probably only be a week or so. Corrine reluctantly agrees to this plan. But as time goes by and her father lingers on, Corinne develops a fondness for the finer things in life. The kids are really perfectly fine in the attic. And when it becomes clear that her inheritance may depend on no one ever learning of their existence, Corrine is really OK with that…

41uffqdrfll-_ac_us218_5. Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- Eva Khatchadourian is ambivalent about motherhood, even after the birth of her son, Kevin. She does most things “right.” She pays attention to him, takes care of him, is involved in his life at school. But something about him strikes her as “off.” He’s manipulative, and often hostile to her, but her husband, Franklin is pretty convinced that they have the perfect son. When Kevin commits a series of horrific crimes as a teenager, Eva is left wondering where the responsibility lies. Was it nature? Did she sense that something was deeply wrong with her son from the beginning? Is that why she was unable to form an attachment with him? Or was it nurture? Did his own mother’s distaste for him turn Kevin into a monster? Eventually she asks Kevin why he did what he did, and his answer is chilling.

41bzvplqikl-_ac_us218_6. Miss Havisham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens– This may surprise some people since Miss Havisham is generally seen as pathetic rather than villainous. And she is a pitiable figure, refusing to change out of her wedding dress, or take the wedding decorations down after her intended leaves her at the alter. But I think that she becomes villainous some years later when she takes in beautiful  young orphan named Estella, and trains the girl from childhood to torment, manipulate and spurn men, as a revenge against the man who broke Miss Havisham’s heart years earlier. Not only is this unfair to men (who are not all responsible for her fiance’s behavior!) but it’s unfair to Estella, who misses out on friendships and healthy relationships due to her early training.

51cfd7bn2hl-_ac_us218_7. The Other Mother in Coraline by Neil Gaiman- As children, we are supposed to see our mothers as safe, nurturing, and loving (though some of the ladies on this list prove that isn’t always the case!). Coraline’s mother isn’t perfect. She’s often busy and inattentive. But she loves her daughter, and tries to help her. When Coraline stumbles upon the Other World, she discovers the Other Mother. She looks like Coraline’s real mother, but with black button eyes. During the course of the story she comes to look less and less like Coraline’s real mother as she grows taller and thinner. She’s unable to create and can only copy the real world and make her own twisted version of it. She wants someone to mother, so she collects children who she loves possessively to the point of destruction. She’s a twisted version of what we usually associate with motherhood.

51f1lrsblyl-_ac_us218_8. Frederick Clegg in The Collector by John Fowles– When Freddie Clegg wins the lottery it’s a chance to do something he’s wanted to do for a long time. He quits his job and buys an isolated house with a big cellar. He’s admired Miranda Grey for a long time, and he wants to be with her, but his social awkwardness keeps him from approaching her. So he kidnaps her instead, so that he can add her to his “collection” of pretty, preserved objects. Hopefully, after being with him for a while, she’ll grow to love him. After all, he’s fixed up the cellar for her nicely, and he treats her with “every respect.” His difficulty relating to others might make Freddie sympathetic in some circumstances. But when he chloroforms Miranda, shoves her into the back of a van, kidnaps her and holds her prisoner in his basement for an extended period of time, our sympathy starts to waver a bit. But the book is insidious in making us feel for Freddie at times anyway.

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_9. Henry Winter in The Secret History by Donna Tartt- Henry is a Classics student at Hampden College in Vermont. He’s a linguistic genius and probably a sociopath. When he’s blackmailed by another member of his social group (for accidentally killing a man, but it was an accident, so that’s OK) Henry’s solution is to kill his blackmailer and get his friends to help him. As the murder, and the response, tear the group apart, Henry’s sanity begins to unravel (though whether he was ever very “ravelled” is up for debate!) but his charm is probably his most disconcerting characteristic.

512sbygkbgl-_ac_us218_10. Zenia in The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood– This  novel is a gender reversed contemporary re-imagining of the fairy tale The Robber Bridegroom, in which the title character lures women promised to him in marriage back to his house, where he eats them. Zenia isn’t a literal “man eater” in this book but she’s already destroyed the lives of three women by stealing their partners, meddling in their careers, and interfering with their lives. But perhaps the most “evil” thing she does is create a dynamic amongst these women, where they’re almost dependent on hating her. Once she is no longer a threat they seem lost.

Fairy Tales, Princesses, Gothic Witches, & Popular Fiction

First, just to clarify: in this post, I won’t be discussing fairy tale retellings (books that set out to retell a specific fairy tale in a different way) but rather fairy tale inspired works.

If you look at many of my favorite books from Jane Eyre, to Rebecca, to Wuthering Heights, to We Have Always Lived in the Castle, you’ll see a lot of similar elements. Big houses, family secrets, and other gothic trappings. But there’s another element that’s consistent in them: fairy tales. Jane Eyre and Rebecca are both Bluebeard stories: A young woman becomes romantically involved with a wealthy man with a big house. It would seem to be a Cinderella story, but there’s a secret involving the man’s previous wife. In both cases, the man bears some degree of culpability. In Wuthering Heights, we see Heathcliff continuously compared to a beast; called “wolfish” with “sharp, cannibal teeth.” But unlike the traditional fairytale romantic beast, his actions are as beastly as the rest of him. While the love between Beauty and the Beast sets the Beast’s castle free of an enchantment, the love between Cathy and Heathcliff imprisons them and their families for a generation. We see a more traditional Beauty and the Beast story play out later with their children. Hareton is the Beast made in his father’s image, and Catherine is the Beauty who “tames” him. In We Have Always Lived in the Castle, we see the fairytale castle before it became an enchanted ruin. We learn about the crime that made Witches of normal women.

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But the fairy tale influence isn’t just limited to classics.  As a pre-teen, I was, like many, obsessed with VC Andrews. My favorite of her books was Flowers in the Attic. I haven’t reread it in years and I don’t want to. I have the sense that it’s not the kind of book that will hold up well. But the fairy tale influences are strong throughout. When their father dies, four children are brought to Grandmother’s House by their mother. In this case, Grandmother’s House happens to be a mansion and the children are locked in the attic because if  Grandfather finds out they exist, Mom won’t get her inheritance.  They’re told they won’t be up there long. Grandfather is old and dying. And Mom will try to tell him about them eventually. They’ll be in the attic maybe a week tops.  They’re up there for three years. We have two “witches” here. Grandmother has a bible verse for every occasion, a wide definition of sin, and a ready whip. But even more frightening is Mom, who seems a helpless, beautiful Princess at first. Caught in a bad situation she just wants to do what’s best for her family. But by degrees, she becomes convinced that keeping the kids locked up is the best thing for them. Then she realizes it’s the best thing for her and stops caring about them.  The narrator, Cathy, is twelve when the book begins, and fifteen when it ends. In many ways, she’s literally the Princess locked away in a tower. But she’s also got a bit of a Witch in her (explored more in the sequel, Petals on the Wind) in that like most teenage girls, she’s selfish, cynical, and can see things as pretty bleak. Also, in her family, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. She comes from a long line of Witches. A lot of the tension in the series deals with who she ultimately becomes: Princess or Witch?

A few years ago, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl became a major bestseller. We saw some of that Witch/Princess emerge in the character of Amy. She’s beautiful, in danger, and (for a time) locked away. But she also has some fairly witchy characteristics. Unlike Cathy, in Flowers in the Attic, who is always straddling the Princess/Witch divide, Amy definitely falls on one side more than the other. I won’t say which, to avoid spoilers. But Gone Girl wasn’t the only fairy tale inspired work that Gillian Flynn has in her oeuvre. Its success made her other two novels best sellers. Sharp Objects was just turned into a TV miniseries. In it, we have a clear Witch and a Princess/Witch. Camille is a  troubled journalist who returns to her hometown to investigate a double murder. We also meet her mother, Adora, is a manipulative narcissist. In her essay, “I Was Not A Nice Little Girl” Flynn discusses her intention to write about a Princess raised by a Witch.  Would Rapunzel, raised in a tower by a Witch, be a good woman? Or would she turn into a Witch herself?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Can’t Believe I Read

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

January 30: Books I Can’t Believe I Read

I decided to be pretty open in how I interpret this one. It could mean books I can’t believe I read because they’re not my usual genre or books I can’t believe I read because I hated them so much, or books I can’t believe I was lucky enough to read. A lot are books that didn’t appeal to me at first but I read them anyway and was surprised by how much I liked them. A few are books that looked great and I can’t believe I kept reading them when I discovered how disappointing they were.

51j4urrkj3l-_ac_us218_1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy– I read this for a class in college. I wasn’t a fan. I found the war parts dull and several of the peace characters really irritating. It’s a long book to read when you’re not enjoying what you’re reading! But I did it.

 

 

 

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_2. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– This is more in the category of “I can’t believe I read this stuff in middle school!” I loved it at the time. I read the whole thing in a weekend and went right on to the sequels. But the story involves incestuous romance, child abuse, religious fanaticism, and that’s just the first book in the series! Scandalous stuff for an 11-year-old!

 

41bdgu2fkpl-_ac_us218_3. New Moon by Stephanie Meyers– Well I can believe I read the first one. It was really hyped and I like to check books out when they’re really popular with a lot of people. But I can’t believe I read the rest of the series. I suppose because I found the first one to be OK (at the time) and then wanted to finish what I started? I don’t think much of this series though.

 

51vg7zt42ul-_ac_us218_4. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda– Stories told in reverse don’t usually work for me. It usually becomes more about the trick than the story itself.  That was my problem with this book. I read this because I found it for a dollar at a used book sale. It was worth the dollar but I’m glad I didn’t spend much more than that.

 

 

51pnvfoqqcl-_ac_sr160218_5. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken– I think I outgrew YA a few years ago. That’s a very general statement. There are many YA books that I love. But in general, the YA fantasy trilogy/series thing doesn’t interest me much anymore. But a few people told me that this series was a lot of fun so I decided to give it a try. It was a fast read, but even though it ended with a pretty big cliffhanger, I realized that I didn’t care enough about the characters to keep reading.

 

515a-chyel-_ac_us218_6. Public Secrets by Nora Roberts– I don’t usually read Nora Roberts. I have nothing against her, but I always saw her as sort of “corporate” in a way… I picked up this book when I was staying at my grandmother’s house and needed something to read. It was OK. It didn’t make me want to run out and read lots more Nora Roberts books, but it entertained me enough at the time.

 

51bphux9gl-_ac_us218_7.  Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear– Something about this series seemed very… blah to me when I first read the description. Or maybe I just didn’t find the cover intriguing (I know, I know, I’m not supposed to judge them that way…) I read the book based on a recommendation and I’m really glad that I did. Three books into the series, I’m loving the series about a female psychologist/detective in England between WWI and WWII.

 

51lnzses14l-_ac_us218_8. The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley– I picked this up because a dual timeline novel taking place in contemporary England, and during WWII sounds right up my alley. The review from Shelf Awareness said that it was  “sweeping, poignant saga that will enthrall fans of The House at Riverton, Rebeccaand Downton Abbey”. So really it’s not surprising that I read it. What’s surprising is that I kept reading it. I suppose I wanted to see if it got better as I went on. It didn’t.

61wblmzijl-_ac_sr160218_9. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett– My dad recommended this one to me. I had my doubts about being entertained by a novel about building a cathedral in the middle ages. But once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.

 

 

 

41ii-qq8gpl-_ac_us218_10. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley– I’d seen this recommended so many times. When it started off slow, I told myself to give it time. When it didn’t get better, I told myself there must be a reason why people love it so much. When I finished the book I wondered why I gave it so much time and effort.

Top Ten Tuesday: Teenage Throwback

For the Broke and the Bookish‘s Top Ten Tuesday. A little late in the day today, but it’s still Tuesday!

September 12: Throwback Freebie: Ten Books I Loved During The First Year I Started My Blog, Favorite Books Published 5 or 10 or 15 Years Ago, Ten Older Books I Forgot How Much I Loved, etc. etc. Tweak however you want!

I struggled with this one a bit because I’ve done a post on childhood favorites and touched on them in several other posts as well. I’ve also done American classics. So I decided to look back to my teens.  What was I reading then? I made one or two rules, like if it was for school it doesn’t count. And this is what I ended up with. I actually learned a bit from looking back on my tastes as a teen. Some things I loved then I love now. But as a teen I was into melodrama. I still have a fondness for it, but I also appreciate subtlety now, in a way I didn’t back them.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_1. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– An unnamed heroine meets the handsome, wealthy Maxim DeWinter while working in France. She falls in love and they marry. Maxim is a widower who the owner of Manderley, a mansion in Cornwall. When the heroine arrives at her new home, she finds that Max’s late wife, Rebecca, is still Mrs. DeWinter as far as the staff are concerned. Especially Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper who seems obsessed with Rebecca. The heroine (she doesn’t even get a first name, while her predecessor gets the book title!)  finds her home and her marriage overshadowed by the deceptive legacy of the beautiful, Rebecca. I found a copy of this for $0.50 at a yard sale when I was about 14 and my dad said it was good, so I picked it up. I literally had no idea it was famous and no expectations. I think I read the whole thing in a few days!

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. We can never go back again, that much is certain. The past is still close to us. The things we have tried to forget and put behind us would stir again, and that sense of fear, of furtive unrest, struggling at length to blind unreasoning panic – now mercifully stilled, thank God – might in some manner unforeseen become a living companion as it had before.”

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_2. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews- Catherine Dollanganger lives with her parents, her older brother, Christopher, and her younger siblings, toddler twins named Cory and Carrie. But when their father dies, her mother, Corinne tells the kids that their grandparents (who they’ve never met) are still alive and are very wealthy. They disowned Corinne when she got married, but now they’re willing to take her back. So the Dollangangers go to Foxworth Hall, a Gothic mansion. They’re met by their Grandmother, who  brings them to a room adjoining the attic of Foxworth Hall and locks the door. Corinne’s father won’t give her an inheritance if she had children with their father, but he’s won’t live too long. So the children just have to stay in the attic until he dies. I read this when I was about 13. I don’t know how appropriate it was content wise, but I was utterly enthralled. In retrospect, aspects are obvious. The name “Dollanganger”, a pseudonym that Catherine’s parents made up, looks and sounds an awful lot like “doppelganger”. The oldest kid, Christopher, was named after his father, and Cathy, Cory and Carrie sound an awful lot alike…. A more experienced reader wouldn’t be surprised when the children, confined to the attic, repeat the sins of their parents. But at the time I was totally shocked. I devoured the book and all the sequels, and pretty much everything else Andrews wrote, which was actually only about 8-10 books. Most of the books attributed to Andrews were written by a ghostwriter hired by her family, following her death.

“It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like the sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. ‘Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine.’ Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic.”

61niazvuszl-_ac_us218_3. Intensity by Dean Koontz– I think I started this one Friday afternoon when I was around 14 and didn’t actually put it down until early Saturday morning, when I’d finished. Chyna Shephard is a graduate student, who is visiting the family of her friend, Laura, for a weekend. When Edgar Vess, a serial killer breaks in, he kills Laura’s whole family. He captures Laura; and Chyna, who’d been hiding, secretly follows to try to save her friend. But Laura is killed before that can happen, and Vess starts driving, with Chyna still in back of his motor home. When he stops at a gas station, she sneaks out to find a phone.  She overhears him bragging about Ariel, a young girl who he is holding prisoner in his basement, to the clerks just before he kills them. Chyna  continues, desperate to save Ariel. But before that can happen, Vess captures Chyna too. He’s intrigued by her actions and decides not to kill her right away. But what Vess doesn’t know is that Chyna has already survived an abusive childhood and isn’t going to see another child suffer. Nor will she be a willing victim. I think I admired Chyna when I first read this book. She was sort of like a superhero. Well, a superhero who could have just called the cops from the gas station, told them what she knew about Ariel, given them Vess’ license plate number, and avoided the whole hostage situation. Even as a teen I thought that would be the brighter move….

“The normality of the house terrified her: the gleaming surfaces, the tidiness, the homey touches, the sense that a person lived here who might walk in daylight on any street and pass for human in spite of the atrocities that he had committed.”

4105aauymzl-_ac_us160_4. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb– I think that when I was about 15 or 16 I tried to read all (or most) of the books Oprah picked for her book club. I forget, why. I’m not a huge Oprah fan really…. Anyway, this one resonated with me the most. It explores some  heavy topics: domestic abuse, mental illness, dysfunctional families; but it maintains a certain humor in spite of itself. It’s about a set of twins, one of whom is mentally ill (like in the opening scene he cuts off his hand because he thinks God told him to) and the other who is a productive member of society. The “sane” twin has a strong sense of responsibility toward his sibling. But as he helps his brother through a crisis, he becomes aware of his own self destructive tendencies. I think this was the first book I read that really made it clear that machismo and male posturing can be as damaging to men as misogyny can be to women.

“I didn’t respond to him. Couldn’t speak at all. Couldn’t look at his self-mutilation–not even the clean, bandaged version of it. Instead, I looked at my own rough, stained house painter’s hand. They seemed more like puppets than hands. I had no feelings in it either.”

 

51hkibf29rl-_ac_us218_5. A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett- I think this was one of the books that I discovered on my dad’s bookshelf one day, when I was looking for something to read. I read it when I was home from school sick, and it definitely took my mind off not feeling well.  It starts in Scotland in the 1760’s. Mack McAsh is an indentured coal miner who dreams of freedom. He finds an unlikely ally in Lizzie Hallim, the daughter of a laird, who is, in her own way, just as trapped as Mack is. They make their way to America amid intrigue and danger. In retrospect it was a bit far fetched the way that the novel kept Mack and Lizzie always running into one another, but it also depicts life in the American colonies prior to rebellion, as well as the slow decline of the British empire.

“I pledge this child to work in the mines, boy and man, for as long as he is able, or until he die.”

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_6. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– I think I was about 17 or 18 when I first read this. It was the kind of book I breezed through in about a day, but it got me on a “brit chick lit” reading frenzy for a while. I don’t think I’d even read Pride and Prejudice at the time, so I didn’t appreciate this book as an adaptation until I read P&P my freshman year of college…. But I did enjoy on its own.  A lot of reviewers tend to say people relate to Bridget because she’s “everywoman” I disagree. She’s too ridiculous for that. But she’s forthright and honest about her mistakes in her diary. That makes us sympathize with her and root for her.

“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.”

51qe5e8fmtl-_ac_us160_7. White Oleander by Janet Fitch– After she is sentenced to life in prison after killing her boyfriend, Ingrid’s daughter, Astrid, is sent from one foster home to the next, experiencing all kinds of trauma. When Astrid’s false testimony could set Ingrid free, Astrid makes it clear to her mother that she’ll do it, but it will have a deep psychological cost. This was one of the first books I can remember reading, where I would stop at different points and just appreciate the beautiful prose.

“They wanted the real mother, the blood mother, the great womb, mother of fierce compassion, a woman large enough to hold all the pain, to carry it away. What we needed was someone who bled…mother’s big enough, wide enough for us to hide in…mother’s who would breathe for us when we could not breathe anymore, who would fight for us, who would kill for us, die for us.”

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood- I think I was around 16 when I first read this. Of course, now most people are familiar with the TV series, and the fact that as far as dystopias go, this one is looking all too plausible. But it’s  rare that you can pinpoint when you form a definite, strong belief about something, but this book helped shape my views about reproductive rights, women’s rights, and separation of church and state.  My ideas were headed in this direction anyway, but this gave them a definite push.

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_9. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I remember I read this my senior year of high school, so I must’ve been about 17. I read it at the same time that my English class was reading Crime and Punishment. I saw strong parallels throughout the novel (though there are also a lot of allusions to Greek Classics) and even noticed that Richard’s narration quotes Dostoevsky at one point. I remember getting all excited and pointing it out to my teacher at one point! Like Crime and Punishment, it explores the psychological and moral deterioration that result from willfully destructive actions. But of course, this has a contemporary setting.

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_10. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– I read this freshman year of college, so I’d have been about 18 at the time. I was really pulled in by Scarlett as a character. She’s selfish, spoiled, entitled, and stubborn. In another book she might be a villain. But here, we find ourselves rooting for her, in spite of her actions. Melanie, her… well I guess “frenemy” would be the best word…on the other hand was a lovely, kind hearted character who I found far less compelling. Likable, but she wouldn’t keep me reading on her own.

“That is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned!”

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Mother’s Day Related Freebie

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

May 16:  Mother’s Day related Freebie: favorite moms in literature, books about motherhood, best mother/daughter or son relationships, books to buy your mom, worst moms in literature, etc. etc.

I wouldn’t want a different mom in real life. Mine is pretty amazing. But on the page I’ve seen some winners and losers. These are the most notable according to me. All of these have something to be said for them, even if I wouldn’t want them to be my own.

  1. Marmee in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott- Yes, it’s kind of predictable. But really how can you not include the warm, loving Marmee, who encouraged her daughters to be smart,kind women, and led by example? Marmee took over the March household while her husband was a war, and raised her daughters through hardship and poverty.
  2. Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables (series) by LM Mongomery- Marilla never intended to be a maternal figure. She intended to have a boy come stay with her and her bother, Matthew, and help them out. But when the orphan Anne Shirley is sent, rather than the boy Marilla expected, Marilla doesn’t know what to make of the optimistic, intelligent, spirited young girl. While Matthew takes  to Anne right away, Marilla hold her at a distance. But as she gives Anne structure, and food, and a home she ends up loving the girl as the daughter she never had.
  3. Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- Yes, she’s ludicrous. I don’t dispute that. But she also sees a disturbing reality. She had five daughters who, due to the law, can’t inherit her husband’s property.  She and her husband won’t live forever. Unless they marry well, the Bennett girls will be alone, homeless, and unable to support themselves. Given those circumstances she does what she can to ensure a decent future for her daughters.
  4. Precious in Push by Sapphire- Her life is heartbreaking. She becomes a mother, as a teenager, under the worst possible circumstances (she’s raped by her father). Yet in spite of that, she loves her children and wants a better life for them. For my one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book is when the illiterate Precious is learning the alphabet. She whispers what she knows of it to her son in utero. She knows that education could mean a better life for her children. She wants that advantage for them, even if, at the moment, the only thing she can give her son is part of the alphabet. It’s all she has, and she’s gives it to him.
  5. Katie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith- Francie relates more to her creative, sentimental father, Johnny. But as Johnny’s alcoholism grows worse, he is unable to hold down a job. Katie holds the family together with grit, determination and hard work. She is determined that her children will have a better life than she did, and she gives them the strength that they need to survive in a tough world.
  6. Ingrid from White Oleander by Janet Fitch- This is a deeply flawed mother if ever there was one. After she is sentenced to life in prison after killing her boyfriend, Ingrid’s daughter, Astrid, is sent from one foster home to the next, experiencing all kinds of trauma. When Astrid’s false testimony could set Ingrid free, Astrid makes it clear to her mother that she’ll do it, but it will have a deep psychological cost. Ingrid must decide if she can put her daughter’s needs before her ow for the first time ever.
  7. Ma in Room by Emma Donoghue- Ma also becomes a parent under pretty horrendous circumstances (kidnapped, imprisoned in a small shed, and raped), but she loves her son, Jack, and makes a world for him in the small room that they share. When if becomes clear that this way of life isn’t sustainable for them, Ma arranges for the five year old  Jack to be taken from the room so that he can  free them both. Jack has difficulty processing the outside world after being locked up in a small space for his whole life. And Ma must confront questions regarding her actions in captivity. Did she always do what was best for Jack? And if not, can she live with herself?
  8. Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer- Margaret is visiting Italy with her mentally disabled daughter, Clara in the 1950’s. Clara falls in love with a young Italian and he with her. There’s a language barrier so Clara’s condition is less obvious than it might otherwise be. Margaret watches this relationship bloom and realizes that Clara may be more capable than anyone imagined. Margaret (whose own marriage to Clara’s father is unhappy) finds herself torn by two equally strong impulses: to stop the relationship and spare her daughter the pain of love gone wrong; or to take a risk see Clara have something that Margaret never did- a love that last a lifetime.
  9. Helen Graham in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte- Anne is often the unfairly forgotten Bronte sister. But she created a strong, loving memorable mother in Helen Graham. Married to an abusive, alcoholic, Helen breaks the law and risks kidnapping charges when she takes their son, and leaves him. She took this risk because she saw the influence that her husband was having on their son, and to her that was more torturous than any legal repercussions.
  10. Eva Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- I’m sure that this is a controversial pick. Some people consider Eva to be the true villain of the piece. I’m not sure that she’d disagree with them! Eva was ambivalent about motherhood at first and always felt alienated from her son, Kevin. She even wonders if those feelings contributed to Kevin’s horrific violent rampage as a teenager. Did she sense evil in Kevin before his crimes? Was that why she found it so hard to bond with him? Or did Kevin sense her conflicted feelings about motherhood early on? Were his crimes in some way a reaction to that? In the aftermath of violence, Eva reviews her life as Kevin’s mother. She also considers what it means to be his mother in the future. Can she ever forgive him for what he’s done? Was she responsible in some way? I think that the last paragraph of the book speaks volumes:

“…after three days short of 18 years I can finally announce that I am too exhausted and too confused and too lonely to keep fighting; and if only out of desperation or even laziness I love my son. He has five grim years left to serve in an adult penitentiary, and I cannot vouch for what will walk out the other side. But in the meantime there is a second bedroom in my serviceable apartment. The bedspread is plain. A copy of Robin Hood lies on the bookshelf. And the sheets are clean.”

And a few honorable (or less than honorable) mentions:

  1. Corrine Foxworth Dollenganger in Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews- Yes it’s hard to be a widow with four young children. Especially with no money. And if your parents are rich I can see where it would be tempting to throw yourself on their mercy even if they did disown you upon your marriage. But when Corrine learns that she’ll be disinherited if her father ever learns that her marriage produced children, her solution is to lock them up in the attic of her family’s mansion. Christopher (14), Catherine (12), and the twins, Cory and Carrie (3) live up in the attic for several years. And by hiding them away, Corrine ensures that they will repeat the sins of their parents (it’s no accident that their name sounds like “doppelganger”). The repercussions of the horrors that happen in the attic haunt the children for the rest of their lives.
  2. Margaret White in Carrie by Stephen King- I was actually a bit conflicted about this because Margaret loves her daughter and honestly believes that she’s doing the best thing for her. Another widowed mother in difficult circumstances, Margaret is very close to her outcast daughter. But when Carrie starts exhibiting telekinetic powers and acting a bit rebellious, Margaret begins to fear for her soul. Her solution is questionable to say the least: killing Carrie while she’s still young and innocent so that the girl can still be saved.