Top Ten Tuesday: Best of the 2010s

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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December 10: Freebie

It’s a little late, but it’s still Tuesday!

I’ve been seeing a lot of “best of the decade” lists lately, so I figured that this week I’d share my top books of the last ten years.

91dwjhs08ml._ac_uy218_ml3_Room by Emma Donoghue (2010) I think that the first thing that really struck me about this book was the perspective: five year old Jack, a boy who has never left the small room where he and his mother are held captive, makes a unique voice. He doesn’t know anything different so he doesn’t fully understand how messed up his reality is. His mother keeps it that way for his own protection: why tell him about a world he may never see? But when he and his mother escape, his perspective changes. Donoghue’s mastery of Jack’s voice comes across as we begin to understand how Jack’s minuscule reality and limited experience has shaped the way he thinks, and how that grows as Jack’s world expands.

818ezr7u2al._ac_uy218_ml3_The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern(2011) I was actually torn between this book and Morgensern’s 2019 offering The Starless Sea, which I read recently and loved. However I went with this book because I think that it’s more accessible to casual readers than The Starless Sea, which is more dense. I also think that the vivid, descriptive, magical setting of The Night Circus lays a groundwork which The Starless Sea builds upon.  It’s a setting that dominates the plot and characterization.

51avlw-rakl-_ac_us218_Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (2013) In some ways it feels like this book, about being an African immigrant in America was written 100 years ago. It feels like racial tensions in America in the past decade have erupted in a way that make the Obama era seem like a distant dream. But that’s how it feels to me, as a white, native born citizen. In other words, I’m in a very privileged position in my country in many ways, and therefore I don’t experience it in the same way that someone who has a different position experiences it.  I think that this book made me aware of some of the ways that make privilege impacts my perception of events that might help answer the “how did we get here?” question.

81v5wp2zeql._ac_uy218_All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) This novel set during WWII features two endearing protagonists; a blind French girl who must flee Nazi occupied Paris and a German boy who uses his skills building and fixing radios to help the Nazis find the Resistance. Even though these characters are from different countries and on different sides of the war, their stories are intrinsically interwoven.  When their paths cross it feels almost inevitable.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_A Little Life by Hanya Yanaghiara (2015)- This is a story of friendship over many years and the families that we create. It’s also a story of trauma, and it asks whether recovery is even possible. When we meet Jude, he his is a young college grad with several close friends, a good job, and a traumatic past. As we come to know him and his friends, we see him grow into a successful attorney who maintains his friendships and develops new relationships. But he’s still haunted by his past. His struggle to overcome it, and doubts about whether that’s possible, are the bulk of this novel. It’s a struggle that isn’t always pretty. At time’s its downright brutal, but the struggle is still beautiful. The novel itself is long and at times difficult but I think one of the reasons it appeals to me is that it recalls a 19th century Bildungsroman.

81vn8opa4zl._ac_uy218_M Train by Patti Smith (2015)- I’ve seen Smith’s other memoir, Just Kids, on many similar lists. But I actually prefer this one. It’s less linear and more internal. We spend time not just in Smith’s life, but also in her dreams. Just Kids is a memoir of Smith’s youth in the 60’s and 70’s. M Train is a memoir of her life over the past decade or so. While Just Kids gives background that’s important to understanding the woman in M Train, I feel that this is the more mature work.

81tljs7lr7l._ac_uy218_ml3_Circe by Madeline Miller (2018)- I was actually torn between this and Miller’s other book Song of Achilles for this list, because they’re both beautiful works. But I went with this one because it feels somehow larger. Not larger as a physical book (they’re about the same size) but as a story and as a depiction of Miller’s world. But I highly recommend both books.

81xr45udqkl._ac_uy218_ml3_Educated by Tara Westover (2018)- Tara Westover was the daughter of mentally ill survivalists who was homeschooled (a process which ended once she learned to read and write) and later pushed herself to get into Brigham Young University, Harvard, and Cambridge. But her educational success doesn’t give her what she needs to understand her upbringing. Even after she earns her PHD, her understanding of her abusive childhood depended on learning to trust herself and her memory. I appreciated the fact that this book complicated the notion of “hard work = success.” Westover depicts success, and education, as a process rather than a fait accompli.

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield (2018) I was really excited to read this because I loved Setterfield’s previous novel The Thirteenth Tale. This was one of the rare highly anticipated novels that lives up to expectations. I think one of the reasons that it works for me is that it doesn’t try to give easy answers. It opens with a mystery and offers several possible conclusions but doesn’t tie itself down to any of them.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorites of the Last Ten Years

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

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May 28: Favorite Books Released In the Last Ten Years (one book for each year) (submitted by Anne @ Head Full of Books)

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_2019 (so far…) Once Upon A River By Diane Setterfield– Set in a pub in a village along the Thames in the late 19th century, this novel opens on a winter’s night. A man, badly hurt and soaking wet, staggers in holding a little girl who appears dead. A local nurse saves the man and realizes that the girl isn’t dead (anymore?), but the man has no memory of how he came across the girl or who she is. When she regains consciousness the child is unable to talk. A local family believe that she’s the baby that was kidnapped from them two years ago. Another family thinks that she’s the lost daughter of their prodigal son. A woman well into middle age believes that the 4 year old child is her sister. The story winds its way from one character to the next, and each character’s back story becomes like a tributary.

617j4awgzul-_ac_us218_2018 Idaho by Emily Ruskovich- Ann and Wade are a married couple living in Idaho. As Wade’s memory fades with early onset dementia, Ann begins to piece together the fate of Wade’s first wife, Jenny (now in prison) and their two daughters  (one dead and one missing). The novel moves from one characters point of view to another in a nonlinear fashion. There’s a sense of strangeness to the events and characters of this novel, but there’s a familiarity as well. We’re never actually told what happened to Wade’s family, but we’re given enough pieces to put it together. If you like things laid out clearly, you probably won’t like this. But if you like a bit of ambiguity and gorgeous prose, you might like this.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_2017 A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- Four young men meet in college and become friends. When they graduate, they move to NYC and begin their lives. Willem, an aspiring actor, is kind to his core. JB is a bright, witty, and occasionally cruel painter, Malcolm becomes an architect at a prominent firm. But the nexus of the group is Jude, withdrawn, intelligent, with a dark, unspeakable childhood of trauma behind him. Over the years, their friendships deepen and change as they face different challenges. But Jude himself is their greatest challenge. We do eventually learn what happened to Jude, and it’s ugly. Very ugly. Like hard to read about. But there’s something beautiful about Jude’s struggle to overcome it, and his friend’s struggle to help him.  Much like Jude’s like the experience of reading this is tragic, traumatic, and sometimes brutal. But it’s also beautiful.

51muf7bj-ll-_ac_us218_2016 The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss– When some unexpected excitement comes to an inn one evening, the innkeeper faces it like a veteran. But then he goes back to his regular life, and tells his story. Kvothe’s childhood was spent in a troupe of travelling players. When he encounters an Arcanist (sort of a scientist/wizard) he’s tutored and develops into a powerful Arcanist in his own right. When the world of his childhood is overturned, Kvothe just barely escapes and becomes a beggar before fate brings him to University. He makes several friends and several enemies before discovering the reason that his was killed. This is a pretty epic novel that covers the first 1/3 of Kvothe’s life and is the first in a planned trilogy.  I haven’t read the second book yet, because I’m waiting for a release date for the third book before I invest more time in the series.

41oplfqimil-_ac_us218_2015 The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters– Dr. Faraday is called to Hundred’s Hall, the home of the Ayers family. As a child his mother worked there as a maid. But now, its owners (a mother and her two adult children) are struggling to keep up with modern society. He treats the young maid, but he strikes up a friendship with Caroline Ayers, the daughter of the house. He also begins to treat her brother, Roderick, who is still recovering from wounds he sustained during WWII. He comes to understand the family’s dire financial straits. The stress of the attempts to reconcile these straits coincide with some disastrous events that may or may not be supernatural in origin and lead to tragedy. But  what’s great about this novel is that it remains ambiguous, hovering on the edges psychological and supernatural without fulling diving into either category.

51jx4jtbmpl2014 Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth– Forsyth’s Rapunzel retelling is a wonderful braid of narratives that overlap. Charlotte Rose de la Force is banished from Versailles after a number of scandalous love affairs. She goes to a convent where a nun tells her a story of a young girl who was  sold by her parents for a handful of lettuce after her father is caught stealing from the courtesan Selena Leonelli. Margherita is the price he pays for his crimes. She grows up locked away in a tower. The combined stories of these three women tell the traditional Rapunzel story as well as the story of the women who wrote it. The novel is both a historical fiction account of real women and a fairy tale retelling.

41-kxlbhnl-_ac_us218_2013 The Other by Thomas Tryon– Holland and Niles Perry are thirteen year old identical twins. They live in a small New England town with their parents, and when their father dies in a tragic accident, the extended family gather, while their mother stays in her bedroom, heartbroken. This allows the boys to roam free. Holland, always a bit of a prankster, grows more sinister with his games. This book offers several twists on the ghost story genre as well as the evil twin/doppelganger trope. One seems fairly obvious from the beginning but that twist plays out early on, and there several other surprises in store.

51eksizfwl-_ac_us218_2012 Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– Major Pettigrew is a rather cranky widower living in Edgecombe St. Mary, an English country village where nothing much changes (which is how he likes it!). When he strikes up a friendship with Jasmine Ali, a widowed Pakistani shopkeeper, they bond unexpectedly over their love of books and the loss of their respective spouses. As their friendship develops into something more, they and the village must decide what elements of culture and tradition are worth preserving and what should change with the times. It’s a gentle story about the ways people are different and the things that they have in common.

41oyve54sgl-_ac_us218_2011 Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier– Catrin, a young scribe, takes refuge from a mysterious danger in Whistling Tor, a crumbling fortress that belongs to Anluan, chieftain living under a curse. Retained to sort through some family documents, Catrin and Anluan form a surprising connection. But if they are to have a future together, Catrin must unravel the mysteries of Anluan’s family curse. This Beauty and the Beast variation incorporates elements of mystery, fantasy and romance.

81l67wbztml._ac_ul436_2010 The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton– In 1913, a little girl is discovered alone on a ship headed to Australia. She has nothing but a small suitcase with a book: a single volume of fairy tales. She is taken in and raised by a couple, but when they tell her the truth on her twenty first birthday, Nell goes to England to try to trace her real identity. The quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor, a Cornwall mansion that is home to the doomed Mountrachet family. But it’s not until many years later when Nell’s granddaughter Cassandra discovers the garden of the book’s title that the mystery can finally be solved. This book combines several elements I love: dual timelines, Gothic drama, and fairy tales.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Friendships

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

November 27: Platonic Relationships In Books (friendships, parent/child, siblings, family, etc.)

For this one I decided to go with friendships. Sometimes the friendships in question are between siblings, but there’s always a strong basis in affection as opposed to just familial bonds. It’s also OK if two characters within a group are in a romantic relationships as long as the group itself is held together by platonic bonds.

511jzqi9ekl-_ac_us218_1. The March Sisters in Little Women– Yes they’re sisters. And that holds them together even when they grow apart in other ways. But the March’s bond is built on a foundation of confiding in one another, having shared memories and experiences and being there to support one another when things go wrong. All those are things that exist among groups of friends, whether or not they share the same blood.

 

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_2. Anne Shirley and Diana Barry in the Anne series by LM Mongomery- Anne and Diana are kindred spirits, bosom friends pretty much from day one. You can only get drunk on cherry cordial with a bestie. When you share something sweet with a bosom friend it tastes even sweeter because you shared it.  A best friend like this stands by you even when you’re not using your best judgement, and helps to pick up the pieces when you fall. Yes, I’ve read some contemporary criticism that claims this was more than platonic friendship. But on a purely textual level they’re simply BFFs through thick and thin.

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_3. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- I was probably one of the few readers who was relieved to see Hermione end up with Ron, without even a hint of a romance with Harry. As Harry tells Ron in The Deathly Hallows “She’s like my sister.” These three befriended each other early in the series and proved that together they were a formidable trio. Yes, Ron and Hermione hooked up eventually but they were friends first and since there was nothing going on at any point between Harry and Hermione or Harry and Ron, they qualify for the list.

51h6recpxtl-_ac_us218_4. The narrator and Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving- The unnamed narrator has nothing but love for his best friend Owen Meany and their friendship survives a turbulent childhood in which Owen accidentally kills the narrator’s mother (oops!). Owen weights less than 100 lbs and is less than five feet tall when he’s fully grown. He has a screechy, strangled voice. He’s also kind, honest, selfless, and rebellious.  He comes into the narrator’s life early on and his influence is felt to the point where the rest of the narrator’s life is lived as a prayer for this childhood friend.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_5. Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm in A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara- These four friends met in college. Over the next few decades there are fallings out and other friendships that come into and out of their lives, but these four are there for one another through it all. In this case the biggest threats to the group don’t really come from the action of the novel, but from the character’s  haunted pasts. Once again there’s some romance in the group, as Jude and Willem eventually become a couple, but their relationship started as friendship only and existed as friendship for two decades before becoming romantic. Since there are no other couples within the group at any point, it qualifies for my list.

41haymrzhdl-_ac_us218_6. Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar in Shirley by Charlotte Bronte- Caroline’s father died and her mother abandoned her, and she was raised by an uncle. Shirley is also an orphan, but she’s wealthy, and cheerful and full of ideas. The become good friends and get involved in  a labor dispute at the local mill. They also learn some family secrets and become romantically involved with two brothers. There’s confusion and revelations in the plot, but even at a point when it seems like Caroline and Shirley are being set up to be romantic rivals, they maintain a friendship. In fact while the book deals with a number of topics I consider the primary plot to be a story of friendship.

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_7. Mary, Dickon, and Colin from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett- As a child the fact that the garden was a metaphor for the friendship that blooms between these three characters, went totally over my head.  Fortunately I reread it later on. Well, actually now that I think of it, the garden is a metaphor for several things in that book, but one of them is the friendship forms among these three very different children from vastly different backgrounds.

41uqpdzu9hl-_ac_us218_8. George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck- George and Lenny are two migrant workers during the Great Depression who dream of a little bit of land and a home to call their own. Lenny is a large man with a child’s mind and George is his protector. But when Lenny’s love of soft things leads to tragedy, George shows the kind of loyalty that the best of friends share,  in the most terrible way possible.

 

51e3moi918l-_ac_us218_9. Jane and Prudence in Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym- Jane is a forty one year old Vicar’s wife, with a daughter, who lives a very proper parish life. Prudence is a twenty nine year old spinster who lives in London and is fiercely independent. Jane was Prudence’s tutor at Oxford and despite their different lives, they’ve maintained a friendship. Jane decides that local widower, Fabian, would be a perfect match for Prudence, but Prudence is interested in her (married) boss. Neither character is particularly likable but as I finished reading the book I felt like I would miss them and their friendship.

51kwpr263l-_ac_us218_10. Julie, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, Ash and Goodman in The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer-  Julie, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, Ash, and her brother Goodman meet at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970’s and dub themselves “The Interestings.” Over the next few decades the group comes together and breaks apart in various ways. Their dynamics change and change again. Ethan and Ash marry but that’s really the only romantic relationship within the group.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Fictional NYC

That Artsy Reader Girl lists this week’s Top Ten Tuesday as a freebie, so I decided to look at the various ways that one of my favorite places has been depicted in fiction. I decided to specify fiction because NYC also has a vivid nonfictional presence that I might want to look at in a different post. I think that the incredible diversity that NYC has in terms of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, education and more makes it a great place to set a story.

61ygpmell4l-_ac_us218_1. Eloise by Kay Thompson– Even though this is technically “A Book For Precocious Grown-Ups” I loved Eloise as a kid. She lived in the Plaza with her dog, her turtle (Skipperdee, which I always thought was a great name for a turtle) and her nanny and she knew absolutely everything about everyone. I imagine that she’d be an annoying kid to have around if she were real: she bothers people on the elevators and in the hotel lobby, she crashes weddings, she runs up and down the halls, and considers pouring water down the mail chute. But as a kid, I found her hilarious and even today it’s hard not to be charmed by her antics.

51fm3ylbgvl-_ac_us218_2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith– Before Williamsburg was a haven for hipsters, it was an immigrant community. There’s a sense of optimism amidst hardship in this book that begins with the very image of a tree pushing through concrete to grow. It is the optimism of immigrants who left their native countries in the hopes of a better life and it’s the optimism that Francie observes watching moments in the lives of various Brooklynites from her fire escape.

51371fbdool-_ac_us218_3. Forever by Pete Hamill– Cormac O’Conner arrives in New York as an immigrant in 1740. Thanks to a shipboard incident Cormac is blessed (or cursed) with eternal life, as long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan. Through Cormac’s eyes, we see New York grow from a small settlement to a thriving metropolis over the course of 250 years. He gets involved in the issues of every age. He’s not a passive observer of the city, but rather an active participant, who knows each ally, each street corner, each subway tunnel.

51kwpr263l-_ac_us218_4. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer– Several teenagers meet at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970’s. They’re all creative and enthusiastic. But the kind of creativity that is celebrated at 15 isn’t always something that can sustain you into adulthood.  Jules gives up her dreams of an acting career in favor of something more practical. Her friend, Jonah, gives up the guitar and becomes an engineer. Ethan and Ash, on the other hand, see their artistic dreams come true beyond anything they could have imagined. This is a character study of these friends over the course of several decades. But NYC is very much a character here as well, and we see it change over the years, alongside these characters.

51kam6gmnql-_ac_us218_5. The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe– Five women work for an NYC publishing company in the 1950’s. There’s Caroline, who dreams of leaving the typing pool and being an editor. Ivy is a Colorado transplant whose naivete may be her undoing. Gregg is an aspiring actress who gets involved in a potentially dangerous affair with a Broadway producer. Barbara is a divorcee with a two-year-old daughter, who isn’t sure if she’ll ever make it out of her mother’s apartment,  and Mary Agnes, who has spent the past two years planning her wedding. This novel follows all of them through promotions, setbacks, break-ups, and breakdowns.

51sb1fc4xl-_ac_us218_6. Extremely Loud and Terribly Close by Jonathan Safon Foer– Oskar Schell is a nine-year-old New Yorker on an urgent quest that takes him through the city. On 9/11, Oskar’s father died in the World Trade Center. Oskar finds a key that he believes was “sent” by his father, and ventures out into a city, still reeling with grief and shock, to find the lock that it fits, or the person who owns the key. His mission takes him all over the city, where he befriends a wide array of inhabitants. While the premise of the book is definitely sad, it’s not without humor. And like the city that he calls home, Oskar is a survivor.

61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_17. Night Film by Marisha Pessl–  Scott McGrath is a reporter who is interested in the reclusive film director Stanislas Cordova. Cordova is known for making horror/thriller/dark films. When Cordova’s daughter, Ashley commits suicide downtown, Scott is convinced that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. He begins to investigate. It’s hard for the reader to identify the point where Scott falls down the rabbit hole, but the NYC where he investigates is a sort of nightmare version of the real thing.  Things that should be familiar to him take on strange, threatening shades and Scott begins to doubt everything that he once believed.

31rsdvpxz0l-_ac_us218_8. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton– This novel is set in the 1870’s when the city was in a state of transition; farmland would be next to beautiful mansions. It involves an engaged, upper-class couple and the arrival of a woman with a scandalous past, who may threaten their plans. I chose this one over some other Wharton novels because it seems to ooze its setting (in a good way!)

 

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_9. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara– Four friends graduate college and move to the city to pursue their dreams.  For some of them, the city represents the opportunity to fulfill their ambitions. Willem is an aspiring actor, JB is an artist,  and Malcolm is an architect. But for Jude, it’s a place where he might finally be able to escape his past. While it’s easy to be anonymous in such a big and busy city, this book celebrates friendship and devotion. In this book, NYC seems to be an almost friendly place, because its where these characters find that kind of friendship (and because most of the other places in the book are decidedly unfriendly).

51znbwc8r-l-_ac_us218_10. The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati– Anna Savard and her cousin, Sophie, are both graduates of Women’s Medical School. They live in NYC in 1883, and treat some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. When they cross paths with Anthony Comstock, an anti-vice crusader who considers himself the enemy of anything indecent (like birth control), everything that they’ve worked for is put at risk. At the same time, they must reunite a family, catch a killer, and find the courage to break out of the places they feel safest.

 

 

 

The Book Courtship Tag

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I was tagged by the wonderful Jessie @ Dwell in Possibility to participate in The Book Courtship Challenge.

Phase 1: Initial Attraction (A book you bought because of the cover)

51jim7nty8l-_ac_us218_The  Children’s Book by AS Byatt– I love the contrast between the blue cover and the green jeweled dragonfly. Since I’ve read other books by AS Byatt and liked them, and since the synopsis (about a British family before and after WWI) interested me, I decided to buy it. But the cover definitely helped me make that decision. But apparently, I shouldn’t judge books by their covers (who knew?) because this was a bit of a disappointment.

 

Phase 2: First Impressions (A book you got because of the summary)

51cztvl1wgl-_ac_us218_The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase– This one was difficult because I usually pick books based on their summaries. So I just went with the most recent.

When fifteen-year-old Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the sisters become divided by new tensions when two handsome neighbors drop by, Margot finds herself drawn into the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must unite behind an unthinkable choice or find themselves torn apart forever.

Fifty years later, Jesse is desperate to move her family out of their London home, where signs of her widower husband’s previous wife are around every corner. Gorgeous Applecote Manor, nestled in the English countryside, seems the perfect solution. But Jesse finds herself increasingly isolated in their new sprawling home, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumors that surround the manor.

Rich with the heat and angst of love both young and old, The Wildling Sisters is a gorgeous and breathtaking journey into the bonds that unite a family and the darkest secrets of the human heart.

It’s got a few elements I love: mysterious house in the English countryside, dual timeline, hints of murder… It wasn’t brilliant but it was an entertaining read.

Phase 3: Sweet Talk (A book with great writing)

61gfhxkbrll-_ac_us218_Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff–  I can see where someone might not like this novel; there aren’t really characters who the reader has sympathy for, and if you don’t like stories with multiple threads that don’t come together until later in the book, you won’t like this. But it’s hard to deny that Groff’s prose is an accomplishment. At times it’s weighty: when the focus is on a rather pretentious character it becomes so full of metaphors and literary references that it can be hard to “get”. But that’s intentional. When the perspective changes so does the writing.

 Phase 4: First Date (A first book of a series which made you want to pursue the rest of the series)

51znbwc8r-l-_ac_us218_The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati– I am impatiently waiting for the second book in this series to come out! It takes place in NYC in 1883 and follows two female doctors, Anna and Sophie. There’s romance, mystery, and some real historical figures like Anthony Comstock. Comstock saw himself as a protector of morality and in this novel, he serves as a kind of villain. But all together, it’s a lot of fun.

 

Phase 5: Late Night Phone Calls (A book that kept you up all night long)

41ieqbejzwl-_ac_us218_Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James– This is the most recent book to give me the “just one more chapter…” problem. It’s not great literature but it’s a fun read. In 1921 Jo works as a paid companion to Dottie, the aunt of her husband Alex, who died in WWI. When she goes to live with Dottie at Wych Elm House, she’s exposed to things that go bump in the night, family secrets, and the fact that her late husband might not have been entirely truthful with her. This book did a nice job with atmosphere and it kept the tension going with some plot twists and turns.

Phase 6: Always On My Mind (A book you couldn’t stop thinking about)

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara– This book is hard to describe because some elements are so beautiful and others are so ugly. The prose is lovely. Its one of the few books where I would read and savor certain parts again and again. Some of the content is beautiful too; dealing with family, friendship, and love of all kids. But some of what the main character endures is so ugly. The fact that Yanagihara’s writing can be beautiful even when she’s describing horrors is somewhat disturbing. I still think about the characters sometimes as if they’re real people.

 7: Getting Physical (A book you love the feel of)

51j0fpre5nl-_ac_us218_Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock- This book is a tactile experience. It’s a love story told through the letters of two artists. You take each letter from the envelope and read it. Often there’s a postcard in there, and some decorative stamps as well. The letters are on different stationary, sometimes handwritten, sometimes typed. The story itself is good too! One of these characters might be mentally ill and hallucinating the whole correspondence. Or Griffin and Sabine might actually have a psychic connection from different universes.

Phase 8: Meeting the Parents (A book you would recommend to your friends and family)

51vrv0hceml-_ac_us218_Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi- First of all, I’m cautious recommending books because one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. I need to know something about someone and their tastes before recommending. But this is one I’d recommend to most people. It’s a “memoir in books”. Nafisi had to leave her job as a professor at the University of Tehran due to repressive policies. But she invited seven of her best female students into her home each week to discuss classic Western literature. I think this book really explores how fiction can take people outside of themselves, how it can inspire people to create real-world change, and how it can help people survive in difficult times. I came away from this book feeling, perhaps for the first time, that reading a novel might be the most subversive thing a person can do.

Phase 9: Thinking About the Future (A book or series that you know you’ll re-read many times in the future)

61bwr8sfvhl-_ac_us218_Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards– This is a lovely, comforting book. I remember picking it up randomly as a kid and falling in love with the characters and the setting. And when I flipped to the “about the author” page and saw that Julie Edwards was actually the married name of the Julie Andrews (who I knew and worshipped thanks to Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music) I was wowed. I reread it a few years ago, and it still put a smile on my face. I think it might be one to revisit in the future when I need something comforting and cozy.

Phase 10: Share the Love (Here’s who I’m tagging)

(Sorry if you’ve already been tagged, and there’s no pressure to participate if you don’t feel like it)

If I didn’t tag you, don’t let that stop you, go for it!

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Book Quotes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

March 6: Favorite Book Quotes

I don’t know if this list is 100% accurate. But these were the top ten that I thought of.

51hq1svllxl-_ac_us218_1. “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

-From Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Because some things are just so true.

 

 

51z5jz2frjl-_ac_us218_2. “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” —From Peter Pan by JM Barrie

I think this applies to a lot more than just flying. It’s really about taking risks. If we stop and think about all the things that could go wrong, we’d never do anything. Sometimes you have to just put all that out of your mind, and take a (metaphorical) leap.

 

51qphks8hyl-_ac_us218_3“…. my mother gave me a brown paper bag which I filled with caught butterflies so that by the time we were ready to go and the sun was ready to set in that Florentine filmy amber it gets down there at about 6 in the summer, I had caught a lot.

I’d wait until the car was all paced and we were just driving off and then I’d open the window, tear the bag quickly and watch the silent explosion of color fly out. “I’ll always remember this,” I thought, “forever.”

Then we’d go home and eat dinner I suppose, I don’t really remember.”

-From Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz

I just read this book recently, and I marked this passage because it really stood out to me. I think that the language shows just how vivid the memory of the butterflies is, compared to whatever happened afterward. It’s how I often remember childhood. Certain memories are very clear, and others just fade away.

51aznmcwg9l-_ac_us218_4. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices.”

I think that this is very true. It is for me, at least. When terrible things happen I have this need to impose some sort of narrative as a way to give them meaning. If I can’t see the meaning at the moment, it just means that the story’s arc isn’t complete yet.

51-np75sehl-_ac_ul320_sr218320_5. “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” – From Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

 This is something that I try to think about. Often I’ll wake up in the morning and still be mad at myself for some mistake I made yesterday. I think it’s healthy for me to try to remember Anne’s words and regard each day as a fresh start.
51iyq4ny4ol-_ac_us218_6. “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

-From The Twits by Roald Dahl

In my experience this is true. That’s not to say that a kind person who isn’t conventionally attractive will start to look like a movie star to me, but I notice the less attractive elements far less. Likewise, if someone isn’t very nice, then no matter how beautiful they may be, after a while I won’t see them that way.

 

51fkpmqzdyl-_ac_us218_7. “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” -From Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Something about Jane Eyre when she gets going, makes me want to scream “you go, girl!” I mean she’s not a character who you would expect to be able to assert herself that way or have that kind of self-confidence. It’s the Victorian era where women weren’t regarded as people in their own right. Jane less so than most, because she’s “poor, obscure, plain, and little.” She’s got no financial advantages, no connections in the right places, but she’s still able to stand up for herself and demand respect.

 

61ugxeeqibl-_ac_us218_8. “What I’m not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.” -From Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

I think that ultimately this speaks to how privilege matters and how little it really means. One person may be regarded as better or “more” than another, and that brings real advantages. But ultimately, we’re all just feeling our way around the world. We all have limited understanding, and we all want something more.

51qe5e8fmtl-_ac_us160_9. “I tried on Claire’s double strand of pearls in the mirror, ran the smooth, lustrous beads through my fingers, touched the coral rose of the clasp. The pearls weren’t really white, they were a warm oyster beige, with little knots in between so if they broke, you only lost one. I wished my life could be like that, knotted up so that even if something broke, the whole thing wouldn’t come apart.” – From White Oleander by Janet Fitch

The necklace with the knotted pearls is a great image and it definitely seems to serve the metaphor for one’s life. To me, it seems that when something goes wrong in my life, it can be like a chain reaction. My attention goes to whatever went wrong, and then because I wasn’t paying attention to something else, that goes wrong. Obviously, it’s easier to knot beads than it is to compartmentalize in the same way.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_10. “He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.” -From A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I think that this is a beautiful expression of the human condition really. Life is tough. Everyone has struggles and problems. But we all keep pushing through regardless. It can be seen as sad, yes. But I think also beautiful.

Top Ten Tuesday: New To Me Authors I Read in 2017

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

January 2: Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2017

  1. 51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_Mary WebbPrecious Bane– I read Precious Bane at the end of 2017 and loved it. It’s a beautiful story about Prue Sarn, a girl with a harelip, her (crazy) family, the village where she lives and her seemingly hopeless love for the weaver Kester Woodseaves. It’s been compared to the likes of Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy. While I see some parallels in terms of setting and theme, I think Webb’s work has its own identity. Author Kate Forsyth recommended Webb’s Gone to Earth as a follow up read, so that’s on my 2018 TBR.
  2. 515vcf5e7ol-_ac_us218_51bn96akpgl-_ac_us218_CL Wilson– Tarian Soul series- I suppose that I’d call these books romantic fantasy. I had some issues with first one, Lord of the Fading Lands, in that it was a bit too Cinderella-ish. But some of that was changed in the follow-up Lady of Light and Shadows. It’s still not perfect mind you, but it’s got my interest enough to keep reading the 5 books series.
  3. 51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_Lyndsay FayeJane Steele– After finding Jane Steele to be a lovely surprise (I recommend it to anyone who wonders what Jane Eyre would be like if Jane were a serial killer), I definitely want to check out some of her other work. I’m not sure if I’ll get to Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Jack the Ripper Killings by John H. Watson (basically Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper) first or The  Gods of Gotham, the first in her Timothy Wilde trilogy about a police officer in 19th century NYC. But both are on my TBR.
  4. 61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_1Marisha PesslNight Film– Night Film was like a crazy fever dream of a read. It was entertaining, disturbing, and innovative. I definitely want to read more of her work in 2018. Her debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics received a lot of acclaims, so that might be where I go next. But there’s another book coming out called Neverworld Wake that also looks good…
  5. Marina WarnerFly Away Home- I really enjoyed Marina Warner’s short story collection Fly Away Home. Like many collections of short work, some stories were, of course, better than others.  But I liked how she played with the line between fantasy and realism in different ways in these stories. Next up, I may go for a novel or some nonfiction like From Beast to Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers.
  6. 51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_Hanya Yanagihara A Little Life– I’ve spoken about this book before. Even people who say that it’s too dark have praised the beautiful prose. Personally, I found it dark, but appropriately so, and ultimately I took something hopeful from it. I hope to read Yanagihara’s first novel, The People in the Trees in 2018. Hopefully, that’s got something equally beautiful to offer.
  7. 41hn3x56n9l-_ac_us218_Ali SmithAutumn– Autumn was the first in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. While it wasn’t perfect, I appreciated the emphasis on how art and current events influence our perceptions of what is temporary and transient and what is eternal and unchanging. I also appreciated that the crux of the story was about the platonic friendship of an older man and a younger woman. Platonic relationships don’t get much attention! Anyway, I definitely want to pick up the follow-up, Winter in 2018. Preferably before spring hits!
  8. 51t-vfynk1l-_ac_us218_Susan Bishop CrispellThe Secret Ingredient of Wishes– Well done magical realism- especially when it’s not the highbrow Gabriel Garcia Marquez/Isabelle Allende/Salman Rushdie kind- is hard to find. I enjoyed The Secret Ingredient of Wishes enough to want to read some more of Crispell’s work, though with titles like Dreaming in Chocolate I suspect it might make me very hungry…
  9. Johanna SinisaloTroll: A Love Story– This was a weird book. Actually, her work has been dubbed “Finnish Weird”. Troll is about a Finnish man who stumbles across an injured, sick troll (a rare species but not unheard of) and takes it in. The events of the story are mixed with excerpts from “sources” about troll folklore and scientific “sources” about where and how they live. Her only other book that’s been translated into English is called The Core of the Sun, and it sounds equally strange.
  10. 51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_Richard SikenCrush– I’m  not usually a poetry reader. I mean I’ll read a poem in a magazine here and there but I’m not usually someone who goes out and buys a volume of poetry. But Siken’s collection is a ferocious look at love and obsession. Some poems had an almost violent linguistic impact. For that reason, his follow up War of the Foxes is in on my TBR for 2018.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2017

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 12: Top Ten Favorite Books of 2017

I’m doing the best I’ve read in 2017 rather than the best that were published this year. I had no intention of just doing books by female writers but that’s how it worked out this year!

517p1odjdbl-_ac_us218_1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery– It took me a while to start loving this book. The main characters initially aren’t all that likable. Renee is a concierge at a wealthy apartment building in Paris. She’s a fifty four year old widow with no formal education but a lifetime of reading under her belt. She conceals her intelligence from the tenants in her building to avoid curiosity. Paloma is a twelve year old girl who lives in the building. She’s highly intelligent but she considers her parents snobs and is convinced that life is meaningless. She plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday unless she can find a good reason not to. In each other, it seems that Renee and Paloma have found an unlikely kindred spirit.  As I said it was slow moving, but I came to care about these characters and invest in their future. I looked forward to the random, quirky events in which they both found a strange beauty.

“Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary–and terrible elegant. ”

51u68hsyiml-_ac_us218_2. Play it As It Lays by Joan Didion I “discovered” Joan Didion last year, but this was the first time I’ve read her fiction. This narrative switches back and forth between the main character’s first person narration and a strangely detached third person narration. Set in Hollywood in the 1970’s, Maria Wyeth is a minor screen actress. Through her eyes, we see a culture of exploitation, built on open secrets. Just as the narration goes back and forth between Maria’s first person narration and that of others around her, the story itself is alternately shaped by Maria’s choices and the choices of others.  The word that comes to mind when describing this book is “lonely”. It’s a lonely book but there’s beauty in that loneliness.

“One thing in my defense, not that it matters: I know something Carter never knew, or Helene, or maybe you. I know what “nothing” means, and keep on playing.”

51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_3. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye– My expectations of this book weren’t high (I’ve read some pretty disappointing Jane Eyre fan fiction!) so maybe it was the fact that it was a pleasant surprise that makes this book stand out. Maybe I just loved the gleeful, dark, slightly messed up humor of a homicidal Jane Eyre figure. In most gothic romance (Jane Eyre included) we see what is essentially a Bluebeard narrative. A young girl goes to live with/work for a wealthy man, who may or may now be a murderer. She usually falls in love with him regardless.  Rebecca, Dragonwyck, and Mistress of Mellyn, are other notable examples. Here Lyndsay Faye turns that narrative on it’s head. Yes, our hero, Mr. Thornfield, has secrets, but in this novel, Jane’s past is just as colorful.

“Reader, I murdered him…”

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_4. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara– I always feel the need to put a warning before recommending this book, because I feel like it’s such a hard read. It’s long (about 700 pages) and emotionally draining. When we learn about the main character’s background, the abuse and trauma that he endures may be triggering for some readers. Even though I wasn’t triggered,  I found it almost too horrible to be believed. I certainly didn’t want to believe that such abuse could be real. But I can’t deny that it most likely isn’t as fictional as I’d like to believe.  I could see the wrong person, picking up this book at the wrong point in their life might see it as an author saying that there are things too horrible to ever truly recover from. Maybe that is partially what she’s saying, but I feel like she’s doing something more. She’s depicting love in all its forms. She shows how people who love someone don’t give up on them just because it seems hopeless. She shows the beauty that’s a part of the struggle through life.  And ultimately the lesson that she leaves us with is one of compassion.

“But then again, he would think, what about his life- and about Jude’s life, too- wasn’t it a miracle? He should have stayed in Wyoming, he should have been a ranch hand himself. Jude should have wound up – where? In prison, or in a hospital, or dead, or worse. But they hadn’t. Wasn’t it a miracle that someone who was basically unexceptional could life a life in which he made millions pretending to be other people, that in that life that person would fly from city to city, would spend his days having his every need fulfilled, working in which he was treated like the potentate of a small, corrupt country? Wasn’t it a miracle to be adopted at thirty, to find people who loved you so much that they wanted to call you their own? Wasn’t it a miracle to have survived the unsurvivable?Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely? Wasn’t this house, this beauty, this comfort, this life a miracle?”

 

41wjujfmkyl-_ac_us218_5. Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman- Anne Fadiman is a creature that most bibliophiles will recognize. She’s the woman who will relish a really long word (or Sesquipedalian, which, as I’ve recently learned, means really long word)  rolling it over her tongue and savoring the taste. She’ll look forward to the opportunity to read aloud. She’ll challenge you to see who can find the most typos on the restaurant menu. These essays describe her lifelong love affair with language and books, from her childhood, building with books rather than blocks, or “marrying libraries” with her husband of five years. She takes us inside her “odd shelf” (“small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection reveals a good deal about its owner”) which is sort of a metaphor for her brain, I suppose.

“Books wrote our life story, and as they accumulated on our shelves (and on our windowsills, and underneath our sofa, and on top of our refrigerator), they became chapters in it themselves.”

61kl8q74sml-_ac_us218_6. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff– This was actually the second Lauren Groff book I read this year (the first was Arcadia) but it stands out as a departure from her usual style. While Fates and Furies and Arcadia feature beautiful, poetic prose; this is more plot-based than either of those. It’s part contemporary novel, part ghost story, part historical fiction, and part magical realism. These different elements come together in ways that are occasionally messy, but that’s part of their charm. It’s somewhat less polished than Groff’s other work, and I love it for that reason too.

“Then, when we had done so, we put our hands upon the freezing cold monster, our monster. And this is what we felt: vertigo, an icicle through our strong hearts, our long-lost childhoods. Sunshine in a field and crickets and the sweet tealeaf stink of a new ball mitt and a rock glinting with mica and a chaw of bubblegum wrapping in sweet sweet tendrils down our throats and the warm breeze up our shorts and the low vibrato of lake loons and the sun and the sun and the warm sun and this is what we felt; the sun.”

41z63vm8bwl-_ac_us218_7. Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing And Life by Anne Lamott–  This memoir/writing advice guide has been recommended to me over and over again over the past several years, but something irrational in me was turned off by something about it. I finally pushed past whatever it was, and I’m really glad that it did. Lamott shows how difficult writing can sometimes be, from the discipline of actually doing it, to the fact that writing and anxiety go hand in had, to the understanding that by writing a book you’re essentially sharing yourself with strangers. There’s no way to separate the personal from the professional. But she gives her readers advice  with humor and  honesty.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

51m2nd4g30l-_ac_us218_8. The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks-These short stories defy genre and description. They’re strange, inventive, weird, and uncanny. Though they draw on mythical sources and themes, there’s also something very modern about these stories. It’s hard to discuss some of these stories without spoiling them, but let’s just say that there’s a retelling of “The Wild Swans” a story about a space janitor, and a story about a time traveler desperately trying to stop an artist from creating a painting.

“It just goes to show, people said later. It just goes to show how fairy tales always stop too soon in the telling. Others said it was never a fairy tale at all. Anyone could see that. They were all too lovely, too obviously doomed. But the wisest said, that’s exactly what a fairy tale is. The happily-ever-after is just a false front. It hides the hungry darkness inside.

41xbvxm07hl-_ac_us218_9. Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly– This is a unique look at Austen’s work that many Jane-ites would do well to read. It argues that in the twenty first century we frequently misread Jane Austen. Her work was more socially and politically aware than we realize. A 19th century readership would have been aware of many of the small references she makes to events that were then current, and they would have understood her work very differently from how we understand it now. Helena Kelly analyses Austen’s work, looking at several of the issues that Austen tackles explicitly and and subtextually. For example, Mansfield Park doesn’t just touch on the slave trade. References to cases and literature that a 19th century readership would know,  are pervasive and they make the book far more political than a 21st century audience realizes. I think that at times the author gets so caught up in her ideas that she reaches a little too far, but I also think that she makes some excellent points about reading Austen through the lens of her own time rather than ours.

And once we read like this, we start to see her novels in an entirely new light. Not an undifferentiated procession of witty, ironical stories about romance and drawing rooms, but books in which an authoress reflects back to her readers their world as it really is—complicated, messy, filled with error and injustice. This is a world in which parents and guardians can be stupid and selfish; in which the Church ignores the needs of the faithful; in which landowners and magistrates—the people with local power—are eager to enrich themselves even when that means driving the poorest into criminality. Jane’s novels, in truth, are as revolutionary, at their heart, as anything that Wollstonecraft or Tom Paine wrote. But by and large, they’re so cleverly crafted that unless readers are looking in the right places—reading them in the right way—they simply won’t understand.

61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_110. Night Film by Marisha Pessl– This is a weird book to describe. On one hand you can say that it’s about a reporter investigating the apparent suicide of a celebrated filmmaker’s daughter. On the other hand, you could describe it as an eerie, hypnotic adventure that gets better as the plot grows more convoluted. Throughout the pages we see props: newspaper clippings, website screenshots, a coffee stained transcript, and stolen police reports that are intended to blur the line between fiction and reality a bit more. It also blurs the line between film and literature a bit. The structure and the atmosphere of the book are very film noir. We learn about the victim’s father’s films in vivid detail. As we get into some possible theories regarding the girl’s fate, it starts to feel like the more outlandish possibilities are more likely than the realistic ones.

“The Shadow is what people are hunting throughout the tale. Or else it can dog the hero, refusing to leave him alone. It’s a potent force that bewitches as much as it torments. It can lead to hell or heaven. It’s the hollow forever inside you, never filled. It’s everything in life you can’t touch, hold on to, so ephemeral and painful it makes you gasp. You might even glimpse it for a few seconds before it’s gone. Yet the image will live with you. You’ll never forget it as long as you live. It’s what you’re terrified of and paradoxically what you’re looking for. We are nothing without our shadows. They give our otherwise pale, blinding world definition. They allow us to see what’s right in front of us. Yet they’ll haunt us until we’re dead.”