Top Ten Tuesday: Small Town Novels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:


This week’s topic was:

August 11: Books I Loved but Never Reviewed

But the thing is that there are a lot of books I’ve loved but never reviewed. My reviewing a book has more to do with time/inclination than love.

Since I wasn’t feeling this week’s topic, so I decided to go with one of my own. I’m definitely more of a big city girl IRL. But I do appreciate some small town fiction.

  1. 71pevpzotdl._ac_uy218_Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn– Camille is a reporter who returns to the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri  to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls. She finds a town that’s even more toxic than the one she left years earlier. At the same time she must grapple with some equally toxic family relationships.
  2. 81jwx0nliyl._ac_uy218_Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery– Avonlea is practically a character in these novels (most of them at least). Actually most of Montgomery’s work features small PEI based towns that play a large role in the story.
  3. a1eoxybsj5l._ac_uy218_We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson– The small town takes on a villainous role in this one. I think it rivals Wind Gap for toxicity! This town has it’s own set of witches (sort of), but the “normal” townspeople might be more dangerous than the witches!
  4. 91paeh4pugl._ac_uy218_Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen- A lot of Allen’s fiction is set in small towns, but this one (and the sequel First Frost) is set in Bascom, North Carolina. It’s a typical small Southern town in many ways, but some of the residents (namely the Waverly family) are anything but typical. That fact sends Sydney Waverly out of town right after high school graduation. But it might also be what brings her back.
  5. 91j44fyb1ml._ac_uy218_Salem’s Lot by Stephen King- I’m actually not a big fan of  this novel, but one thing that King does in it really successfully (IMO) is create a portrait of mundane, everyday evil. We see acts of abuse and bullying that make up the fabric of daily life in ‘Salem’s Lot. Ultimately I think that’s more chilling than the vampires that eventually make an appearance.
  6. 81ap62fhl._ac_uy218_Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris– I know that the Sookie Stackhouse novels, the Aurora Teagarden series and the Midnight, Texas series are also set in small towns (and have small screen adaptations) but those never really resonated with me. I prefer this series set in Shakespeare, Arkansas. I included this book because it’s the first, but any of the others also apply.
  7. 41fsa9p0jul._ac_uy218_Peyton Place by Grace Metalious– This novel is about how three women come to terms with their identity as women and sexual beings in a very conservative, small, gossipy New England town. This book was a major bestseller when it came out in the 50’s (it was quite scandalous because it dealt with subjects like incest, abortion, adultery, and murder; as well as larger issues like hypocrisy, social inequality, and economic privilege) . It spawned a sequel, and both books got film adaptations. It also inspired a successful TV series. I read it years ago, and don’t remember much in terms of plot, but I do remember that secret filled town.
  8. 713lu0aeegl._ac_uy218_Empire Falls by Richard Russo– The titular town in this novel is a working class town sees through the eyes of Miles Robey. Miles owns the Empire Grill (where everyone in town seems to eat) and is father to a teenager.
  9. 81d3bhbgngl._ac_uy218_Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng- Shaker Heights prides itself on being an open minded small town.  Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl arrive and make a home for themselves there. But when a controversial custody case divides opinions in town, Mia finds herself on the opposite side from her employers, the Richardson family. The split could have dangerous consequences.
  10. 81ay1lxk9l._ac_uy218_To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee– I think that Maycomb, Alabama is one of the of first places I think of when I think of fictional small towns. Like many, it’s a close knit community where there’s a lot of gossip and people know each other’s business. It’s harmless, until it’s not. We see another side of this town from a different perspective in Go Set a Watchman.

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Freebie

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:


This week’s topic was:

October 29: Halloween Freebie

So I decided to do short stories that are perfect for the season

41yn-xblul-_ac_us218_1. Don’t Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier- This story features a lot of creepiness in under 50 pages. There’s a slow building sense of dread as a married couple, who have recently lost their daughter go on vacation in Venice and try to start anew. We have the sense early on that their misfortune isn’t over yet and we turn out to be very right. Then Venetian setting is gloomy and Gothic and the bereaved parents make sympathetic protagonists. There are several threats ranging from a serial killer to some weird psychic sisters, but the most dangerous threat may be what the protagonists can’t (or won’t) allow themselves to see.

1973 Film Adaptation 

61l1afcvhtl-_ac_us218_2. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter- Angela Carter is known for her feminist take on classic fairy tales. In this story she takes on one of the creepiest fairy tales out there: Bluebeard is sort of deliciously Gothic to begin with: a girl marries a man who gives her the keys to all the rooms in his grand house, and tells her not to open one door. Of course she opens it, and she finds something very disturbing in there. This story has a creepy setting (a vast, decadent mansion/castle), a nasty villain, and lots of blood.

810xurhlstl._ac_uy218_ml3_3. The Grown-Up by Gillian Flynn– This is the rare short story that was published as a stand alone. And it does stand on its own. We have a character who poses as a psychic is out to make a quick buck off a family who thinks they’re being haunted. She discovers that they are (in a sense) right, and that she may never be free of them. In some ways this is an homage to the Victorian ghost story, but Flynn gives it a contemporary twist.


5100vzgkz-l-_ac_us218_4. The Landlady by Roald Dahl- You can see some of the creepy villains from Dahl’s children’s stories in the title character of this short story. She’s less over the top than some of the stuff that Dahl writes for younger readers but she still makes your skin crawl in a really primal way. I read somewhere that this was Dahl’s attempt to write a ghost story but it didn’t quite come out that way. IMO that’s fine, because it’s plenty creepy as it is!

Tales of the Unexpected episode based on The Landlady from 1979

31562177._uy630_sr1200630_5. The Bus by Shirley Jackson- I almost went with “The Lottery” which is Jackson’s best known short story but I find this one more “halloweenish” (and yes, I made that word up). It’s about an older woman who gets off the bus at the wrong stop and ends up somewhere somewhat familiar but very twisted. Another story that I almost chose was “The Summer People” but that also didn’t seem quite right for Halloween. But many of Jackson’s stories are thematically suitable.

91vzvuoe0gl._ac_uy218_ml3_6. The Truth is A Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman– This story was originally published as part of a collection and later performed before a sold out crowd at the Sydney Opera House in 2010 where Gaiman read the tale live as illustrator, Eddie Campbell’s, artwork was presented on large screens and accompanied by live music composed for the story and performed by the FourPlay String Quartet. But even if you just read the story as a story, its unsettling in its portrayal of greed and revenge. Fortunately the story is available with Campbell’s beautiful artwork.

81pnhm5odl._ac_uy218_ml3_7. The Horla by Guy de Maupassant– I read this in a college French class (it’s available in English though!) and I was really unsettled by it. It’s written as journal entries of a character who sees a boat and waves at it. The boat in question has recently arrived from Brazil and the man realizes that his wave may have inadvertently been taken as an invitation by something on that boat. As the narrator becomes obsessed with this thing that may have invaded his home, his body and his life, we begin to doubt his sanity. The fact that Maupassant was committed to a mental hospital about a week after finishing it, makes it even creepier.

1947 radio production read by Peter Lorre


61iuhxe9kds._ac_uy218_ml3_8. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates- This story is really creepy in a way you don’t expect. Oates said it was inspired in part by serial killer Charles Schmid, who preyed on teen girls. But the focus isn’t really on the presumptive bad guy, Arthur Friend. Rather it’s on Connie, a rebellious, self absorbed teen who knows Arthur from a local restaurant. He seems nice enough when he shows up unexpectedly at her house one day, with his friend Ellie.  In only a few pages Oates takes us from Connie’s initial flattery at Friend’s attention, to her growing unease and outright fear as she comes to believe that she has no choice but to do what Friend tells her. As a reader, we can see how Friend preys on Connie’s naivete and vanity. It’s a reminder that the most frightening monsters often comes disguised as friends (pun intended) and the most harrowing journeys often take place in a single location in only a few minutes time.

1985 Film Smooth Talk based on the story

2014 short film Dawn based on the story

Wishing a HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all!

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Tropes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:


August 20: Favorite Tropes (a trope is a commonly used theme or plot device) (submitted by Andrea @ Books for Muse)

1. Mysterious school

2. Slow burn romance

3. Small towns

4. Missing/Absent parents

5. Family secrets

6. Gothic

7. Neo-Victorian

8. Time Travel / Time Slips

9. Dual Timelines

10. Fairy Tale retellings

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.


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?

Continue reading

Top Ten Tuesday: “Girl”-ish Suspense Novels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

April 24: Frequently Used Words In [Insert Genre/Age Group] Titles

A lot has been written about the publishing industry’s “girl” in the title trend. Many of these novels tend to be in the suspense genre. Why? Is it misogyny or simply publishers trying to replicate the success of a previous book? Is it good visibility for female writers, narrators, and protagonists? Is it patronizing? I don’t know, I’m just listing these! You can read some various speculation and opinions here:

The Gone Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on the Train

The Girl in the Title: More Than A Marketing Trend

This is Why So Many Books Have ‘Girl’ In the Title

This Summer, Girls in Titles and Girls in Peril

Here are a few mystery/suspense novels that I’ve read with “girl” in the title:

41n-cqd9cfl-_ac_us218_1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn– On Nick and Amy’s wedding anniversary, Amy disappears. At first, Nick seems appropriately concerned. Then his concern shifts to himself as he realizes that he might be a suspect. But when we learn Amy’s side of the story, we realize that neither Nick nor Amy make reliable narrators. I read this one after it had already become a best seller and had a film adaptation in the works. When you read something at that point, I think, expectations play a factor in your enjoyment. I definitely liked this book, but I didn’t find it as “twisty” as promised.

51vg7zt42ul-_ac_us218_2. All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda-Nicolette returns to her hometown to help her brother fix up the family home so that they can put it on the market. She’s been away from her hometown for a decade; ever since her best friend from high school disappeared. When her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend also vanishes, suspicion falls on Nicolette. But this novel is told in reverse over a two week period. It starts on Day 15 and ends on Day 1. While this could be interesting, here it just felt gimmicky.

51vcmamyul-_ac_us218_3. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins- Rachel commutes to and from London every day. Every day, from the train, she sees a happy couple, Jason and Jess, in their yard, and fantasizes about their life. But one day she sees Jess kissing another man, and the day after that, Jess goes missing. As Rachel’s voyeurism leads her to investigate Jess’ disappearance, she also gets drawn into the lives of her ex-husband and his new wife, Anna, who just happen to be Jason and Jess’ neighbors. I was interested in this while I read it, but found it rather forgettable.

516o2pmlbl-_ac_us218_4. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll– Ani FaNelli is living what she thinks is a perfect life. Fancy job, eligible fiance, designer clothes, cool zip code. But Ani has been running from her past ever since high school. Ani attended Bradley Prep in Philadelphia, where she dreamed of being part of the cool crowd. This led her to make some bad decisions, which later spiraled out of control culminating in an “incident” that leaves Ani forever known as both a victim and a villain.  When the director of a documentary being made about the incident wants to interview Ani on film, she agrees, thinking about how great she’ll look on camera with her gigantic engagement ring. But as she goes home and revisits places she never wanted to return to, she realizes that she’ll have to reconcile what happened in her past, if she wants a future. The biggest problem this book has is that Ani is so unlikable. We do eventually learn the origins of Ani’s obsession with the perfect life, and it makes sense. But it’s hard to tolerate her attitude until that point!

41ansdjnybl-_ac_us218_5. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica– One night, Mia, the adult daughter of Chicago judge, James Dennett, impulsively goes home with Colin. What seemed like a one night stand, turns into a nightmare when Colin forces her into his car at gunpoint. He’s been hired to kidnap her for ransom, but rather than bring Mia to his employer, he decides to bring her to a remote cabin instead. Meanwhile, back home, Mia’s mother, Eva, wonders why her husband isn’t panicking about Mia’s kidnapping the way that she is. Gabe, the detective investigating, wonders the same thing.  Mia, Colin, Eva, and Gabe all serve as narrators in alternating chapters. Events are also divided into “before” and “after.” This structure initially makes things confusing. But eventually, they come together pretty well. I would have liked this book a lot more, had it not had an epilogue that throws in an additional twist. That twist makes the whole rest of the book not make sense anymore.

51ofjphi6l-_ac_us218_6. Pretty Girls by Karen Slaughter– In the early 1990’s Julia has been taken from a family with three daughters. Each member of the family has different ways of coping with their loss. The book starts twenty years later. The two remaining sisters, Lydia and Claire, haven’t spoken in years. After Claire’s husband, Paul, is killed, Claire makes a discovery that sends her to find her estranged sister, Lydia, who is quite pleased to learn of her brother-in-law’s demise. From there both sisters are drawn into a complicated “whodunnit” scenario that involves everyone they thought that they could trust. This book has a lot of twists and turns and some jaw clenching tension. However, it’s also extremely violent and quite graphic, so readers be warned.

51l3fbhyml-_ac_us218_7. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson– This is arguably the one that started the trend. Forty years ago Harriet Vanger, the daughter of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families disappeared. Her uncle still wants to find out what happened to her, so he hires journalist Mikhael Blomkvist to investigate. Blomkvist is accompanied by tattooed computer prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Salander has her own troubling past. Together, she and Blomkvist uncover some horrific secrets. I know that this series has some big fans, but I’m not one of them. I finished it because I tend to like to finish things once I start them. But in terms of my feelings about it, occasionally I was curious, but more often I was disgusted. There wasn’t enough of the curiosity to balance out the disgust IMO.

41ay05dlaxl-_ac_us218_8. Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma– Chloe and Ruby are sisters. When a night out with Ruby and her friends goes horribly wrong, Chloe finds the body of a classmate floating in a reservoir. She’s sent away from home. Two years later she comes back. Her return forces the sisters to confront the truth about what happened that night. Even though this book is technically classified as YA, it doesn’t really feel like it.  It’s not something you’ll burn through in one afternoon. It’s surreal, strange, eerie, and atmospheric. It’s hard to tell what is real and what’s a dream/fantasy/something else. I think that you could have more than one interpretation of exactly what happened.

51azpk8ifvl-_ac_us218_9. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel– Lane left her grandparent’s Kansas estate, Roanoke, years ago when she was a teenager. She returns when her cousin Allegra goes missing.  The story is told in two timelines. One takes place the summer that Lane arrived at Roanoke, following the death of her mother and continues as we learn what made her run away. The other takes place in the present, as Lane searches for the truth about what happened to Allegra. About two or three chapters in, we learn something that made me go “ick.” I think that was the intention. I kept reading out of morbid curiosity. Once all the pieces are in place, it’s not hard to put them together. It gets ickier. Not explicit or graphic, but it still makes your skin crawl.  If you have a high “ick” tolerance, you might want to check this out.

51ssmq6cx2l-_ac_us218_10. The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen– A dead body is found mutilated in Boston’s Chinatown. The only clues are two silver hairs- not the victim’s- found clinging to the corpse. Medical examiner, Maura Isles, discovers evidence that links the crime to a murder-suicide that happened in Chinatown almost two decades earlier. The only survivor of that night is now the target of the killer. I’ve read most of Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series, and this wasn’t my favorite. It’s an OK read if you’re interested in something suspenseful and unchallenging, but ultimately that’s really all it is.