For the That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:
July 3: Books with Red, White, & Blue Covers (In honor of the 4th of July in the USA. Choose covers with your own country’s colors if you prefer!)
I went with a top nine this week so I could do three books for each color. And I’ve done a little shameless self-promotion on the last one. I promise I’ll try not to do that too often!
1. The Eight by Katherine Neville– In 1972, a computer expert, Cat Velis is sent to Algeria for a special assignment. She finds herself trying to unravel the mystery of the Montglane Service, a chess set that was gifted to Emperor Charlemagne from the Moors. Legend has it that the set holds the key to unlimited power. Two hundred years earlier, Mireille, a novice at Montglane Abbey must help her cousin Valentine disperse the pieces of the chess set before they fall into the wrong hands. The stories of Cat and Mireille intertwine in unexpected ways as they go about their similar goals, two hundred years apart. But the only way to stop the violence, conspiracy, and betrayal that follows the chess set, may be to unlock its dangerous secrets.
2. The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy– In 2012, Ariel Levy left the US for a reporting trip to Mongolia. At the time, she was pregnant, married, financially secure, and had a successful career. A month later, she returned to the US and none of that was true anymore. Ariel Levy was raised to rebel against traditional gender roles. She was raised to believe that she could be anything. She built an unconventional life, that she was happy in. But nothing comes without a cost. Sometimes that cost is simply the result of bad luck. Sometimes it’s a result of bad decisions, and sometimes it comes from being blind to what we don’t want to see. For Ariel Levy, it was probably a combination of the three factors. But when your life falls apart, the only thing you can do is learn what you can from the experience, pick up the pieces, and keep going. To her credit, that’s what Levy did.
3. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling– I decided to feature this book because I think I’m one of the few people who liked it. I guess one reason was that I wasn’t expecting anything like Harry Potter. Another is that I felt that even though the tone was bleak, it was appropriate for the material. It was billed as a dark comedy, but Rowling said that she thinks of it more as a “comic tragedy” and I think that’s a good description. Set in a suburban town called Pagford, the book begins with the death of a Parish Councillor. WIth his seat suddenly vacant, an election must take place. The candidates find their secrets come to like on the Parish Council online forum. These secrets pit rich against poor, husband against wife, one family against another. By the time the casual vacancy is resolved, Pagford may be forever changed.
4. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown– The Andreas family love to read. Their father, a Shakespearean scholar speaks almost entirely in verse named his three daughters after the Bard’s heroines. When their mother falls sick with breast cancer the three sisters return home to help out during her treatment. But they’ve got their own drama going on. Rosalind still lives in her hometown, and can’t quite keep her nose out of the rest of the family’s business. But it’s for the own good. Surely they can’t manage without her! Bianca is a NYC attorney whose need for the glamorous life may have left her with nothing. Cordelia is a flighty bohemian who has just realized that she’s pregnant that her carefree lifestyle will have to change. When they’re all under the same roof again, the Andreas girls fall into old patterns. But they also learn that coming together may be the way out of their problems.
5. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls– Rex and Rose Mary Wells had four children. Rex taught his children physics, geology and how to embrace life. He was also a destructive alcoholic. Rose Mary was an “excitement addict” who couldn’t bear to cook for her family when she could be painting a picture (after all the dinner will last for as long as it takes people to eat it, but art is forever). For the first six years of Jeanette’s life, they roamed around Arizona and California. But once the excitement of that life (and money) faded they retreated to West Virginia. Financial difficulties made Rex’s drinking worse and Jeannette and her siblings were often left to fend for themselves. But for all their parents’ many faults, they maintained a deep affection for them. In this memoir, Walls details how she and her siblings became successful despite the odds against them, and even pays tribute to her unconventional upbringing.
6. The White Album by Joan Didion- This book of essays by Joan Didion. It covers a variety of subjects but tends to center around California (and the US in general) in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as a place of simultaneous paranoia and detachment. In the title essay, Didion describes her own psychological issues as well as her experience as a journalist covering the Black Panthers and the Manson trials. Other essays in the volume cover subjects ranging from Doris Lessing and Georgia O’Keefe to the Hoover Dam and water in the desert. It’s interesting to look at what seemed to be a chaotic time in America from a contemporary perspective. While the tensions and threats of the late 1970’s/early 1970’s don’t quite seem quaint, I did have the impulse to tell the people “you ain’t seen nothing yet!” A few years ago I might have said that a lot of the things that made people nervous at that time were no longer huge issues, or were at least significantly better. Reading it now it’s hard to say whether we’re better or worse off.
7. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon– Nurse Claire Randall and her husband, Frank, were separated by WWII for most of their marriage. After the war ends, in an effort to reconnect, they take a second honeymoon to Scotland. When Claire goes near a standing stone, she suddenly finds herself in Scotland circa 1743 facing Frank’s ancestor Jack Randall. Jack Randall is a sadistic bully who assaults her. To escape, Claire falls in with the Mackenzie clan. They take her to their home, where her medical skill is valued even though some suspect her of being a British spy. All Claire wants to do is go home. But Jack Randall is a powerful Redcoat, who wants Claire for his own purposes. The only way to avoid becoming his prisoner is to marry a Scot. Enter Jamie. Claire doesn’t know much about him other than the fact that he’s related to the Mackenzie’s but is not a member of the clan. He’s got a price his head and scars on his back (both thanks to Jack Randall) and he’s willing to marry her. Claire endures kidnapping and being tried as a witch, with the loyal, devoted Jamie always on her side. But when she finds herself before the standing stones once again, she’s forced to decide where she truly belongs.
8. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier- At a Confederate military hospital, Inman recovers from wounds sustained in battle. He’s tired of fighting for a cause in which he doesn’t believe, and he sneaks away from the hospital to return to his home, Cold Mountain, North Carolina, where his beloved Ada waits for him. Meanwhile, on Cold Mountain, Ada’s father has died, and Ada struggles to survive on the family farm, with the help of her friend Ruby. We follow Inman on his journey home, constantly threatened by the Confederate Home Guard who hunt down military deserters. We also follow the challenges that Ada and Ruby face on Cold Mountain. This novel mirrors Homer’s Odyssey as we see the soldier returning from war, and the faithful wife waiting for him. But in this case, Inman is not a victor but a deserter on the losing side, and Ada, though faithful, is very changed when Inman finally gets back.
9. Beautiful by Fran Laniado– Is this cheating? I don’t care if it is. This is my blog, and my novel is being published tomorrow, so I’m gonna plug it. So there! Eimear is Faerie. She left the land of her birth, to find a place where she felt like she could belong. She finds herself in the World, and she begins to build a life for herself. But when she encounters Finn, supernaturally beautiful but thoughtless and selfish, she gets angry. In a fit of rage, she casts a spell on Finn. It’s a spell that she can’t undo, even when she discovers that she’s ruined Finn’s life. Finn is wealthy, arrogant, and cruel. He didn’t think twice about insulting Eimear until it was too late. Now, exiled from the only home he’s ever known, he is forced to make his own way, for the first time ever. He does have support- if he wants it. Eimear wants to assuage her guilt by helping him. In an isolated place, thrown together initially out of desperation and need, Eimear and Finn find a way to live together. That alliance eventually blossoms into friendship, and even love. But before they can have their happily ever after, Eimear must go on a perilous journey that will force her to confront everything that she ran away from when she left Faerie.