Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set on Islands

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

This week’s topic was:

July 27: Books I’d Want With Me While Stranded On a Deserted Island

But since I did something similar recently, I decided to do books set on an island. To make it a little more challenging I decided not to use any obvious island books: so no Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies, etc.

1. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell– This was a childhood favorite about a 12 year old girl who lives alone on an island off the California coast for years. It’s loosely based on the true story of Juana Maria, the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. There’s also a sequel called Zia, and I vaguely remember reading it, but have no memory of the actual content of that one.

2. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton – Is it strange that I don’t really think of this as taking place on an island? I guess the dinosaurs commend attention more than the location! But actually the fact that it takes place on an island is important because it’s means that a) it’s an isolated location (so the dinosaurs don’t threaten the rest of the world) and b) the characters can’t get away so easily.

3. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray – I said I wouldn’t count Lord of the Flies, and I didn’t but I will count this satire. It’s sort of an all female version of Lord of the Flies meets Lost meets America’s Next Top Model meets Pirates of the Caribbean.

4. Foe by JM Coetzee – This one is also strongly inspired by a book I wouldn’t allow on my list, in this case Robinson Crusoe. It’s about a woman who was supposedly on the island with “Cruso” she tells writer Danie Foe her story.

5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – Here’s another one that I don’t usually think of as being an “island book,” even though the island setting it pretty important to the plot.

6. Circe by Madeline Miller- A lot of the action of this novel takes place on Aiaia, the island where Circe has been banished by Zeus. But she makes the place a home, and it becomes sort of an extension of Circe’s powers as she uses things growing on the island to make spells.

7. The Magus by John Fowles– This is another book I don’t often think of as being on an island. In this case I think it would work in any isolated spot cut off from outside influence.

8. The Beach by Alex Garland – This one is also strongly inspired by Lord of the Flies, but since it’s not Lord of the Flies, it counts. I’m actually not the biggest fan of this book (just not really my taste), but it does fit the list…

9. Moloka’i by Alan Brennert- This book opens in Honolulu in the 1890’s and then moves to Kalaupapa, the leper colony on the island of Moloka’i. There’s a sequel, called Daughter of Moloka’i but once again this moves the action away from the island.

10. The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve – This is a dual timeline novel set on the island of Smuttynose in New Hampshire. One timeline is contemporary and one follows murders that happened in 1873

Honorary Mention

Anything by LM Montgomery– Most of her work is set on Prince Edward Island. I didn’t include any in the list because I couldn’t settle on just one.

Top Ten Tuesday: Dark Academia

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

June 1: Freebie (choose any past topic, or come up with you own)

Lately I’ve been really into what I’d call “dark academia” as a literary subgenre. I love academic settings. I love gloomy gothic trappings. I love weirdness. So it’s really no surprise that I’d love literary mashups of all of that!

1.The Secret History by Donna Tartt-This is sort of a definitive cornerstone of the genre. It follows Richard, a student at a New England college. He wants to study Greek, and Julian, the enigmatic professor eventually allows Richard into his selective tutorial of only six students. Richard is slowly drawn into the world of the other students. But it’s a world that goes beyond the boundaries of morality and even legality. As Richard finds himself privy to the group’s secrets, he also learns that some members of the group will stop at nothing, including murder. I read this in my senior year of high school, and it just so happened that we were reading Crime and Punishment at the same time in one of my classes. I’m glad that was the case, because I think that it allowed me to get more out of The Secret History, since Dostoyevsky’s work is clearly a strong influence. I’m actually sort of surprised that Hollywood hasn’t tackled this book yet. But I think it would be a hard book to translate to film in a way that worked.

2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This has all the elements of dark academic setting with a bit of a sci-fi twist. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are all students at Hailsham, an isolated boarding school in the English countryside. The atmosphere of the school is very cliquey and the teachers always remind the students how “special” they are. Years later, with the knowledge and understanding of how and why they were “special,” Ruth reflects on her time and Hailsham, and the friendships she formed there. There’s a film version of the book, and while it’s a pretty good adaptation, it tells the viewer what makes the students at Haimsham special in the first ten minutes or so. In the book it’s sort of a gradual, growing realization for the reader. As I started to understand, I was sort of hoping I was wrong. I think that experience is a part of what makes this book special, and it’s definitely why I’d recommend reading the book before seeing the film.

3. The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman– Actually a lot of Goodman’s work, including the Fairwick trilogy (a romantic fantasy series that she initially wrote under the name “Juliet Black,”) and her YA fantasy Blythewood series, qualifies for this list. I chose this book to feature mostly because it doesn’t incorporate as many other genres. A week before her high school graduation, Jane Hudson fled the Heart Lake School For Girls after three of her classmates committed suicide. Jane was the only one who knew the truth about their fates, and she carried that knowledge with her for the next twenty years, When she returns to the school as a Latin teacher, troubled students once again begin to die, and the memories that Jane repressed for so long, begin to surface.

4. Villette by Charlotte BronteJane Eyre comes to mind first of course, and there is a notably dark school setting early in that book, but the setting also changes very early in the book. This book, on the other hand, has all of the gothic-ness that we expect from Bronte, and it’s set almost entirely in a boarding school in Belgium. The heroine, Lucy Snow, travels there to teach after a family disaster, and becomes involved in romance, intrigue and adventure. I do think Jane Eyre is a “easier read,” and it also features a dark aesthetic with academic plot points, so I’d recommend readers unfamiliar with Bronte start there. But Villette is an enjoyable next step in the Bronte journey through dark academia.

5. The Broken Girls by Simone St. James– Idlewild Hall is a Vermont boarding school for girls that’s reputed to be haunted. In the 1950’s four students at the school became good friends, until one of them disappears. More than 60 years later, journalist, Fiona Sheridan’s sister’s body is found near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. Her boyfriend was convicted of the murder, but Fiona has her doubts. When she learns that the school is being restored by a mysterious benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But what she learns involves a horrifying secret that connects her sisters murder to the disappearance so long ago.

6. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray – The whole Gemma Doyle trilogy is a lovely mix of Victorian Gothic and fantasy with a boarding school setting. Gemma Doyle is sent from the life she knew in India, in 1895, to Spence, an English boarding school, following the death of her mother. Gemma is initially lonely. She’s haunted by her mother’s death and visions that have a tendency to come true. But things get really crazy when Gemma is drawn into a clique of girls who are dipping their toes into the world of spirits. What they learn will change them forever.

7. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss– I was a bit iffy about whether to include this one, because it’s not set in a “traditional” academic setting. Silvie and her family live in modern England, but they live as if they’re ancient Britons, with the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age. One summer, Silvie’s father takes the family to join an anthropology course that is reenacting life in the Iron Age. But mixing with these students gives Sylvie a chance to see the prospect of a life away from her father’s obsession with the ancient Britons. As the group gets closer to the lifestyle of their subjects, things take a darker turn. The push and pull between the modern life that intrigues Sylvie, and the ancient life that obsesses her father, becomes a tug of war. Even though it’s not set in a school, the fact that it’s set amongst students in a practical exercise gives it that “academic” feeling.

8. Red Leaves by Paullina Simons– Kristina, Jim, Conni and Albert are all students at Dartmouth College. They have a close friendship, and one Thanksgiving weekend they all decide to stay on campus. When Kristina’s body is found in a snowbank shortly after, detective, Spencer O’Malley is on the case. As he learns about the groups dynamics, questions arise. Why did Kristina’s friends fail to report her missing? Their answers to his questions reveal a web of jealousy, secrets, deceptions, and possibly murder.

9. Down A Dark Hall by Lois Duncan- A ghost story set in a mysterious gothic boarding school. Pretty much made for this list! Actually Duncan’s Daughters of Eve also fits it pretty well, but I’ll go with this, since it’s the first one I thought of. Kit Gordy is sent to Blackwood Academy when her mother remarries. She’s not happy about it. She’s even more disturbed when she learns that she’s one of only four students accepted this term. When Blackwood’s students begin to show amazing talents in the arts and sciences, Kit can’t help but notice that it’s taking a toll on their health. She often wakes up with sore arms and fingers. The headmistress is quick to explain everything away, until Kit learns something that puts her and her classmates in terrible danger. I devoured this book when I was eleven or twelve. I don’t know how well it holds up, but I did recently see the film adaptation which wasn’t bad.

10. The Magus by John Fowles– Nicholas Urfe is a young Englishman who takes a teaching job on a remote Greek island. There he meets Conchis, the reclusive millionaire who owns the island. Conchis offers Nicholas what seems to be friendship. But he is drawn into a twisted game of betrayal, violence, and psychological traps. Soon Nicholas is unable to tell past from present and fantasy from reality. He finds himself fighting to maintain his sanity and stay alive. Even though this is set at a school on an island, most of the action takes place outside the school. But I’m counting this because I’d call the relationship that Conchis has with Nicolas to be very academic (at least to start off). There’s also a film adaptation, but I haven’t seen it yet.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best MetaFiction

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

July 28: Freebie (This week you get to come up with your own TTT topic!)

I made this list recently and decided to use it here. For the purpose of this list, I’m calling metafiction a “self conscious” novel. These books discuss, and think about themselves as works of fiction, within the context of the novel. So we have lots of books within books, narrative footnotes that continue to story while commenting on it, and other forms withing the novel (diaries, letters, poetry, essays, plays etc).

51va-sxea5l._ac_uy218_1.The Princess Bride by William Goldman – The author frames the story as an abridged  retelling of an older book with the boring parts taken out. He frequently alludes to these parts throughout the text.  In the film adaptation this was handled by having frame story in which a grandfather reads his grandson the novel. We see this in the book as well, but it’s less prevalent.

“He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”

 

71jfo2zkzvl._ac_uy218_2.If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino– This one opens with “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.” Throughout the text the fictional reader and real reader’s relationship is discussed and addressed, blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. There are also several books within  the book that we read (at least in part).

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice — they won’t hear you otherwise — “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything: just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

810pcxbl3l._ac_uy218_3. House of Leaves by Mark Danielwski– This books is has text arranged in strange ways that mirrors the events of the story. It contains lots of footnotes (which also have footnotes themselves) that reference works that don’t really exist. There are several narrators some of whom directly address the reader. It claims to be an unpublished manuscript of a lost documentary film, annotated by a tattoo artists. There’s also an appendix of letters from the tattoo artist’s (insane) mother.

“This much I’m certain of: it doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish [the book] and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It won’t matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how. You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place”

 

81oy308r7ql._ac_uy218_4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles– This novel looks at the 19th century novel as seen through a late 20th century perspective. We read the story that takes place in 1867, and the narration that calls one’s attention to the fact that the 1867 plot line is in fact, fictional. This was handled in the film adaptation by having a second timeline in which we see the 1867 story line being made into a film.

“You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for loved ones; for vanity, for pride, for curiosity, for amusement: as skilled furniture makers enjoy making furniture, as drunkards like drinking, as judges like judging, as Sicilians like emptying a shotgun into an enemy’s back. I could fill a book with reasons, and they would all be true, though not true of all. Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world. It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.”

 

71scqfzfhel._ac_uy218_5.  Atonement by Ian McEwan– Minor spoiler alert: The book turns out to have been “written” by one of the characters in the novel. The reasons that the character has for doing this involve much bigger spoilers. Interestingly the film adaptation didn’t try to do anything fancy with a secondary timeline. The “reveal” is simply there at the end.

“How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.”

 

51xunct3xjl._ac_uy218_6. The Keep by Jennifer Egan– In the first chapter, this shifts from a story about two estranged cousins a Gothic castle to being about a man named Ray who is writing the story as a part of a prison’s creative writing program. The two stories unfold, switching back and forth, as the storylines reflect  back on one another.

Being somewhere but not completely: that was home for Danny, and it sure as hell was easier to land than a decent apartment. All he needed was a cell phone, or I-access, or both at once, or even just a plan to leave wherever he was and go someplace else really really soon. Being in one place and thinking about another place could make him feel at home.”

81qh7u4anel._ac_uy218_7. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne– I remember reading this in college with a big, “WTF!?” expression on my face the whole time! It claims to be the memoirs of a country gentleman, but it’s really one digression after another, and sometimes the digressions have digressions of their own! We also get some sermons, essays, drawings and more mixed in there. I tend to think of metafiction as being postmodern, so it’s amazing that this book was written in the 18th century!

“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading;—take them out of this book for instance,—you might as well take the book along with them;”

 

813yvojs9pl._ac_uy218_8.The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood– This book includes a story within a novel within a novel. Iris is publishing a book written by her sister, Laura. Her book is about Alex Thomas, an author pulp sci-fi, who has a complicated relationship with two sisters (who may be counterparts for Iris and Laura). It also contains one of Alex’s stories, The Blind Assassin. Got that?

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

a150ni9rjrl._ac_uy218_9.Possession by AS Byatt- This novel follows two academics as they follow a paper trail, researching the love affair between two fictional 19th century poets. It incorporates fictional diary entries, letters, and poems. These devices are ultimately used to question the authority of textual narratives.

“Think of this – that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.”

 

71vksxqmbul._ac_uy218_10. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz– Susan is editing the new manuscript by best selling mystery author Alan Conway, known for writing in the tradition of authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. We read the manuscript along with her. But there seems to be a chapter missing. Specifically, the last one where we learn whodunnit! Susan figures that it’s a mistake and she’ll talk to Alan on Monday and get the missing pages. But then she learns that Alan has just died and the missing pages are nowhere to be found. As she starts looking for the rest of the book, Susan discovers that the missing portion of the manuscript may reveal more than just the murderer in the novel: it may also contain information about who was responsible for Alan’s own death. In this case not only the manuscript, but the title itself if a clue as to whodunnit.

“I had chosen to play the detective—and if there is one thing that unites all the detectives I’ve ever read about, it’s their inherent loneliness. The suspects know each other. They may well be family or friends. But the detective is always the outsider. He asks the necessary questions but he doesn’t actually form a relationship with anyone. He doesn’t trust them, and they in turn are afraid of him. It’s a relationship based entirely on deception and it’s one that, ultimately, goes nowhere. Once the killer has been identified, the detective leaves and is never seen again. In fact, everyone is glad to see the back of him.”

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.

.

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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Anti-Travel Books

For That Artsy Reader Girl‘s Top Ten Tuesday, this week’s topic was

June 12: Books That Awaken the Travel Bug In Me

But then I started thinking that books that make me want to stay home might also be kind of fun…

51vkfhy5xal-_ac_us218_1. Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

Location: Greek Resort

Problem: Lottie is disappointed when her boyfriend doesn’t propose. When her ex-shows up they impulsively decide to elope. After the ceremony, it’s a quick flight to Greece. But Lottie’s sister, Fliss, knows that this marriage is a terrible idea. She also knows the marriage can be easily annulled if it’s not consummated, so she’s on a mission to keep that from happening, getting everyone from the groom’s best friend, to the hotel staff to help her.

41unjbdr4ql-_ac_us218_2. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Location: Italy

Problem: Tom Ripley has been hired by a rich man to get his son Dickie to return to the US. Tom meets up with Dickie and some of his friends in Italy. But instead of getting Dickie to go home, he ends up killing Dickie and assuming his identity.

41yn-xblul-_ac_us218_3. Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier

Location: Venice, Italy

Problem- A young couple is vacationing in Venice while trying to recover from the loss of their daughter. They meet two women who claim to be psychic, and the women give a warning and tell them that their daughter’s spirit is with them. At the same time, a serial killer is stalking the city’s streets and canals…

51zbak-airl-_ac_us218_4. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Location: Scandinavian luxury cruise

Problem: Lo is a travel writer, assigned to cover the maiden voyage of a new cruise line.  Her first night on board, she hears a scream and a splash. Looking out her window she sees something in the water. However, the ship’s officials don’t believe that anything really happened. Lo had been drinking that night, and no passengers are missing.

51mny8nb9il-_ac_us218_5. The Ruins by Scott Smith

Location: Cancun, Mexico

Problem: Four friends are on a beach vacation. When the brother of one of them disappears they decide to look for him where he was last seen, checking out some ancient ruins in the jungle. When they reach the ruins, the locals don’t seem to want to let them go, and once they do make it, they’re not allowed to leave, because an ancient enemy lives in the ruins.

51q4ceca-kl-_ac_us218_6. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Location: Dorset coast, England

Problem: In 1962, Florence and Edward have just gotten married, and are on their honeymoon. But one of them has a secret that may tear them apart.

 

41thlz3l7dl-_ac_us218_7. Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes

Location: Ireland

Problem: Rachael is an Irish ex-pat living in NYC. But when her tendency to overdo things lands her in the emergency room, her family whisks her back to Ireland and sends her to the Cloisters, a rehab. Rachel thinks it might be kind of nice: a little vacation, some spa treatments, maybe a celebrity roommate… What she finds are a lot of group therapy and some unwelcome self-knowledge.

51c7vwzpjhl-_ac_us218_8. Sleeping Arrangements by Madeline Wickam (aka Sophie Kinsella)

Location: Spain

Problem: Hugh feels alienated from his wife and kids. He hopes that a trip to a friend’s luxury villa in Spain will help the family reconnect. Meanwhile, Chloe and her family are facing similar problems and their friend offers them the same solution. But it turns out that their friend booked both families in the villa for the same week. And Chloe and Hugh have a history, and before the week is out old ghosts will be put to rest, new tensions will erupt, and the families may or may not make it out intact.

51ohnm-86zl-_ac_us218_9. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Location: North Africa

Problem: Port and Kit travel to Africa believing that it’s one of the last “unspoiled” places in the world. They’re soon joined by several annoying, parasitic travelers. To escape they head into the Sahara without plans or directions. It does not go well.

51yxivihhl-_ac_us218_10. The Magus by John Fowles

Location: Greek Island

Problem: Nicholas Urfe is a recent grad who has accepted a job teaching on a Greek island. He befriends the owner of an estate on the island, who plays elaborate mind games with him until he can’t tell what is and isn’t real.

A to Z Reading Survey

I found this on Gin & Lemonade‘s blog and thought it looked like fun:

Author you’ve read the most books from:

It’s hard to say. Some are more prolific than others so I’ve read more from them even if they’re not my “favorite” authors. According to Goodreads I’ve read 19 books by LM Montgomery, 18 by Juliet Marillier, 17 by Lisa Gardener, 15 by Mercedes Lackey, 15 by Marian Keyes, 15 by Phillippa Gregory

But I wouldn’t say that they’re my favorite authors. Just that they’ve written more than a lot of other authors that I read.

Best Sequel Ever:

Hmmm… This one is hard! I’m thinking of book two in my favorite series… Often the second books aren’t my favorites! My initial instinct is to say Anne of Avonlea but I don’t want to be too predictable, so I’ll say Emily Climbs. It’s the sequel to Emily of New Moon and it’s by the same author.

Currently Reading:

Just started Marlena by Julie Buntin. So far it’s good but I’ve only read the first few chapters so far.

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Tea. Iced in warm weather, hot in the cold.

E-reader or Physical Book?

I’ll read an ebook on occasion but I far prefer physical books. If I read something as an ebook I feel less like I’ve read it. Does that make sense? Probably not!

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:

51kc21bqngl-_ac_us218_Hmm… This is surprisingly tough because most of the guys in YA aren’t guys I’d want to date, and most of the guys in adult fiction are too old for high school me to date (have I been giving this too much thought?) Maybe Gilbert Blythe when he was high school age. He was always a sweetie!

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

Hmm… I remember when I read Crime and Punishment my senior year of high school. I didn’t think I’d hate it but given previous experiences with Russian literature I didn’t think I’d end up liking it. But I did. I don’t know if it qualifies as me “giving it a chance” since I had to read it for school. But we ended up talking about it in class at the same time that I was reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History at home. Since Tartt’s novel alludes to Crime and Punishment quite a bit, the class discussions ended up enriching both books for me.

Hidden Gem Book:

Time and Chance by Alan Brennert- I actually just remembered the title and author of this one after only remembering the plot for a long time!

Important Moment in your Reading Life:

Probably the first time I fell in love with a book. The “problem” is that I’ve fallen in love with a lot of books from an early age.

Just Finished:

Touch by Courtney Maum

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

Non-fiction about topics that hold no interest for me.

Erotica

Graphic/gory horror

Longest Book You’ve Read:

According to Goodreads, it’s Clarissa by Samuel Richardson at 1,534 pages. I read it in college. Though I read a different edition from the one on there. I think my edition was probably a few hundred pages less. Mostly likely due to bonus material like introductions, footnotes etc.

Major book hangover because of:

517p1odjdbl-_ac_us218_51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_I suppose it depends on what we mean by “book hangover”. If we mean a book that stayed with me emotionally for a long time after I read it, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry and A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara, are probably the most recent ones. I’ve read other great books since then but these lingered under my skin in some way.

Number of Bookcases You Own:

2. But my books are not limited to bookcases.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I think in college I was sort of obsessed with it. I did my senior project on it and discuss it a bit in this post.

Preferred Place To Read:

My bed. I can also go for a hot bathtub. I want to get a really comfy oversized chair just for reading.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be 51tz5m0vibl-_ac_us218_intolerably stupid.” Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (because sometimes a quote just a true thought perfectly into words)

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.” – A.A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh (just simple and lovely)

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (something I try to remember!)

Reading Regret:

You mean like a book I’ve never finished? Or one I wish I hadn’t read? I don’t understand…

Series You Started And Need To Finish(all books are out in series):

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher- I don’t actually know if it’s complete but I’ve only read the first 6 and I think there are like 15 in all.

Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Tarien Soul by CL Wilson

The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear- Again, I don’t know if it’s complete but I’ve only read the first 3 and there are many more out there.

The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

It is insanely hard for me to limit this to just three books!!!

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

Outlander. I started reading the books over a decade ago. When the TV series started I revisited them and got hooked all over again.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:

At the moment I’m looking forward to Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

Worst Bookish Habit

Planning to read more than I can get to.

Dog-earring pages.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:

Well, it doesn’t say which bookshelf, but I picked one at random. The 27th book is The Collector by John Fowles

Your latest book purchase:

I bought these at a used bookshop at the same time:

Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye

The Night Watch by Sara Waters

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

Probably Night Film by Marisha Pessl. I think that’s the last time I remember thinking “I should go to sleep. But I need to know what happens next!”

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Neo-Victorian Novels

This is for That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday. The topic this week is

January 16: Bookish Resolutions/Goals

However, I feel like I covered a lot of that in some of my recent posts, so if anyone wants to know what my 2018 reading might look like check out these posts.

Since I love Victorian novels, I decided that this week I’d do top ten neo-Victorian novels, written in a Victorian style.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_11. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– I remember reading this on a train. I got to a point mid-book where I had to stop reading and look around and see if there was anyone around me who I could tell about what I’d just read. I won’t say much about the plot because it would be a crime to spoil some of the twists and turns in this book.  It features thieves and con artists, an heiress, orphans, and pornographers. There is murder, deception, betrayal, and long-buried secrets (all some of my favorite elements of Victorian fiction) You can look at it as a critique of Victorian moral hypocrisy, a mystery, a love story, or a gothic melodrama. I personally think it’s all of the above.

51yolftykzl-_ac_us218_2. The Quincunx by Charles Palliser– This book is a tale of a family inheritance (as is a lot of Victorian fiction) and the reader is led through a very twisted family tree and numerous plotlines. It’s a big book (about 800 pages) but it doesn’t seem like work. Rather, the reader suspends disbelief as the hero is flung from rags to riches to rags again. Pay attention to the number five as you read this. The title refers to a heraldic symbol in five parts, that appears at important points in the text. The novel itself is in five parts, each dedicated to a different family with which our narrator becomes involved. It’s a neat trick, that for the most part, the author manages to pull off.

51t906lssol-_ac_us218_3. The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox– This book opens with our narrator, Edward Glyver, committing a murder. He later tells us that this murder was practice, just to make sure he could do the deed. His true target is Phoebus Rainsford Daunt. The narrative takes us back in time, and we eventually learn who these characters are and why Glyver wants to kill Daunt. But as we follow Glyver’s twisted logic, we come to realize that he’s an unreliable narrator. Is Daunt really the monster that Glyver makes him out to be? This book is followed up by a sequel (which could be read as a standalone) The Glass of Time, which some say is even better than the first. I think it read more easily, but I was glad that I’d read the first novel because I was able to appreciate certain elements more.

51sdee-q1sl-_ac_us218_4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles- This book explores the relationship between amateur naturalist Charles Smithson, and Sarah Woodruff, an independent woman with whom he falls in love. It follows a lot of the conventions of the Victorian novel (and is set in Victorian England) but it simultaneously critiques those conventions and explodes them. The author inserts himself into the story as an omniscient narrator as well as (briefly) a character. He tells us about what is happening in the character’s world, what will happen to it, and what the character’s future will be. He also offers the reader three possible endings to the story, from which the reader can choose. Because of the innovative form, I don’t know if I’d call this Neo-Victorian. Maybe Post-Modern Victorian or Meta Victorian would be more accurate.

51j8xsssd0l-_ac_us218_5. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber– The heroine of this novel is Sugar, a Victorian prostitute with a love of books and hopes for a better life. She becomes involved with William Rackham, a wealthy perfumer. His patronage of Sugar brings her into his world, where she meets his “hysterical” wife Agnes and his daughter Sophie who is left mostly in the care of others. Faber explores the notion of morality a lot, emphasizing that the line between “good” citizens and those who they look down upon is subjective.  There is sex in this book (unsurprising given Sugar’s occupation) but the description of sex, and really almost anything physical, has a clinical tone to it, and our peaks into Victorian bedrooms don’t leave out the chamber pots. So while there is an emphasis on physical acts and processes that most Victorian writers wouldn’t touch directly, it seems like a warning against thinking that Victorians were too prim and proper to get dirty.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_6. Possession by AS Byatt– This novel features a dual timeline. Two academics in the late 20th century uncover a secret love affair between two Victorian poets. We read a great deal of the work of these two fictional poets. The male poet’s work is reminiscent of Robert Browning, while the female poet’s work recalls Emily Dickenson. The two scholars engage in a sort of competitive romance that contrasts their era’s expectations of romance and sex with that of their subjects. I wouldn’t recommend this book to the casual reader because it’s demanding. You have like Victorian style poetry,  and read excerpts of fictional biographies and scholarly journals.  All of this is important to the overall story and characters, but it does make it a rather dense read. Though I suppose the same could be said of many Victorian novels.

41likqxjkrl-_ac_us218_7. The Prestige by Christopher Priest– Many readers may be familiar with the 2006 film adaptation of this novel. While the adaptation was good, I think that the novel will still hold several surprises for readers. It brings us to the music halls of Victorian London, where two magicians each have a seemingly impossible illusion. They compete to learn the other’s secrets. But what begins as professional rivalry turns into an obsession with consequences that their descendants will feel for generations.  The novel plays with a lot of conventions of the Victorian sensation novel; family curses, multiple narrators, doppelgangers, and seances. But, while for the most part, it’s a Wilkie Collins style thriller, it occasionally ventures into HG Wells territory.

61n06chw1ol-_ac_us218_8. The American Boy by Andrew Taylor– Thomas Shield, a London teacher, becomes tutor to a young American boy named Edgar Allen Poe and his friend, Charles Frant. While the book tries to present the young Poe as the catalyst for the novel’s events, really the focus of the novel is on Shield and his love for Frant’s mother, which causes him to become involved with the mystery of her late husband’s death.  Actually, the novel recalls more of Wilkie Collins’ work stylistically than anything that Poe ever wrote. But while I felt like it was somewhat mistitled (the original title was apparently An Unpardonable Crime, which fits better), it’s a historical mystery that’s entertaining enough so that it didn’t bother me too much.

51h-9e-csql-_ac_us218_9. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood– In 1843, Grace Marks was convicted of the murders of her employer and his housekeeper/mistress. Some believe that she’s innocent. Others don’t. But was the 16-year-old Grace old enough to be held responsible for her actions? Did she understand what she was doing? Was she sane? Grace herself claims to have no memory of the murders. A group that believes that Grace is innocent hire Dr. Simon Jordan to try to find out the truth about what happened. Dr. Jordan works in the new field of psychology and is very much in the same position as the reader, as Grace tells him her story. But is Grace telling him the truth? Is she an innocent victim or a femme fatale? And are those two archetypes really the only options for Grace? This is based on a real murder case. Atwood maintains ambiguity throughout. Recently a well done Netflix miniseries, based on the novel was released.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_10. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– Vida Winter is a famous author who is most famous for her collection of twelve short stories. Over the past sixty years, she has created several life stories that she claims have been hers. Now, near the end of her life, she hires biographer Margaret Lea to tell her true story. It’s a story of gothic strangeness, of a governess, a ghost, an abandoned baby,  a house fire and a truly bizarre family. As Margaret tries to verify its truth, she doesn’t realize that Vida’s final story is ongoing and that she’s got an important role to play. This book has two timelines; one is the story that Vida is telling, and one is a contemporary timeline in which Vida tells her story to Margaret. However, stylistically the book is very Victorian. As a heroine, Margaret recalls Jane Eyre in that she seems sensible and repressed, but there is a lot going on beneath the surface. The Yorkshire setting recalls the Brontes, and thematically there’s a bit of The Turn of the Screw in there as well.  It also featured a twist that made me put the book down and go “wow”.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Settings I’d Love To Visit

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

December 5: Ten Bookish Settings I’d Love to Visit

I decided to keep this list to bookish settings that actually exist. So much as I’d like to visit Narnia, or Hogwarts, these can all be found on a map or globe. Also I decided it to limit to places where I’ve never been (yet).

1. Prince Edward Island, Canada as seen in the work of LM Montgomery– I’ve loved the work on LM Mongomery since I was a child and Prince Edward Island is a character that is consistent in her work. It sounds beautiful. It looks beautiful based on the pictures that I’ve seen. It’s definitely on my literary travel list!

prince-edward-island

“…the Lake of Shining Waters was blue — blue — blue; not the changeful blue of spring, nor the pale azure of summer, but a clear, steadfast, serene blue, as if the water were past all modes and tenses of emotion and had settled down to a tranquillity unbroken by fickle dreams.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

2. Scotland as seen in the work of Diana Gabaldon, The Lymond Chronicles by  Dorothy Dunnett, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson,  the  Too Deep for Tears trilogy by Katheryn Lynne Davis, Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware- I’ve read a lot of books set in Scotland, that draw on the rich history and beautiful landscape. My third grade teacher was Scottish and had what sounded like the coolest accent to me at the time. In some ways it seems that Scotland is an enchanted fairy land more than a real place to me! But I do know people who have been there and assure me it’s real, and that while there are certainly the fantasy places that are described in books, there are many normal places too.

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“The sigh of all the seas breaking in measure round the isles soothed them; the night wrapped them; nothing broke their sleep, until, the birds beginning and the dawn weaving their thin voices in to its whiteness”
― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

3. Cornwall, England as seen in the work of Daphne DuMaurier– The cliff-side mansion in Rebecca. The smugglers hideout in Jamaica Inn, the pirates of Frenchman’s Creek. Cornwall is a place of mystery, danger and romance in my eyes, thanks in large part to Daphne DuMaurier.

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“The peace of Manderley. The quietude and the grace. Whoever lived within its walls, whatever trouble there was and strife, however much uneasiness and pain, no matter what tears were shed, what sorrows borne, the peace of Manderley could not be broken or the loveliness destroyed. The flowers that died would bloom again another year, the same birds build their nests, the same trees blossom. That old quiet moss smell would linger in the air, and the bees would come, and crickets, the herons build their nests in the deep dark woods. The butterflies would dance their merry jug across the lawns, and spiders spin foggy webs, and small startled rabbits who had no business to come trespassing poke their faces through the crowded shrubs. There would be lilac, and honeysuckle still, and the white magnolia buds unfolding slow and tight beneath the dining-room window. No one would ever hurt Manderley. It would lie always in its hollow like an enchanted thing, guarded by the woods, safe, secure, while the sea broke and ran and came again in the little shingle bays below.”

4. The Yorkshire Moors, England as seen in the work of the Bronte sisters, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgden Burnett

moors-wuthering_heights

‘And what are those golden rocks like when you stand under them?’ she once asked.

The abrupt descent of Penistone Crags particularly attracted her notice; especially when the setting sun shone on it and the topmost heights, and the whole extent of landscape besides lay in shadow. I explained that they were bare masses of stone, with hardly enough earth in their clefts to nourish a stunted tree.

‘And why are they bright so long after it is evening here?’ she pursued.

‘Because they are a great deal higher up than we are,’ replied I; ‘you could not climb them, they are too high and steep. In winter the frost is always there before it comes to us; and deep into summer I have found snow under that black hollow on the north-east side!’

-Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte

“Listen to th’ wind wutherin’ round the house,” she said. “You could bare stand up on the moor if you was out on it tonight.”
Mary did not know what “wutherin'” meant until she listened, and then she understood. It must mean that hollow shuddering sort of roar which rushed round and round the house, as if the giant no one could see were buffeting it and beating at the walls and windows to try to break in. But one knew he could not get in, and somehow it made one feel very safe and warm inside a room with a red coal fire.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

5. Paris, France as seen in Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens- Yes, I am very aware that these are books that depict very different era’s in Paris’ history. Of the three the Paris in The Elegance of the Hedgehog is probably most like the Paris I’d visit today. But I also know that the Cathedral de Notre Dame , still stands, with it’s gargoyles even if Quasimodo isn’t hiding among them. And there are still shades of the reign of terror that Dickens depicted.  I’ve read about Paris in a lot of other books too. Books set in occupied Paris during WWII. Books depicting la belle epoque. In some ways that convergence of beauty and violence is what makes the city seem so appealing to me.

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“Admirable, however, as the Paris of the present day appears to you, build up and put together again in imagination the Paris of the fifteenth century; look at the light through that surprising host of steeples, towers, and belfries; pour forth amid the immense city, break against the points of its islands, compress within the arches of the bridges, the current of the Seine, with its large patches of green and yellow, more changeable than a serpent’s skin; define clearly the Gothic profile of this old Paris upon an horizon of azure, make its contour float in a wintry fog which clings to its innumerable chimneys; drown it in deep night, and observe the extraordinary play of darkness and light in this sombre labyrinth of buildings; throw into it a ray of moonlight, which shall show its faint outline and cause the huge heads of the towers to stand forth from amid the mist; or revert to that dark picture, touch up with shade the thousand acute angles of the spires and gables, and make them stand out, more jagged than a shark’s jaw, upon the copper-coloured sky of evening. Now compare the two.”

-Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out…”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

6. Barcelona, Spain as seen in The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon- The Barcelona seen in this novel is a twisty, Gothic place full of hidden secrets. In other words, it’s the kind of place I could really go for! Sure Zafon claims that some locations from the novel such as the rambling Hospice of Santa Lucia or the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books are fictional, but it seems like the kind of place where one might turn a corner and unexpectedly find something strange and beautiful.gothic-quarter-barcelona

“Before we knew it, we were walking along the breakwater until the whole city, shining with silence, speak out at our feet like the greatest mirage in the universe, emerging from the pool of the harbor waters. We sat on the edge of the jetty to gaze at the sight.

“This city is a sorceress, you know, Daniel? It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it.”

-The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

7. The Greek Islands as seen in The Magus by John Fowles- The book’s setting, the island of Phraxos, is technically fictional. But the author based it on his time on the real Greek island of Spetses, so I think it still counts for this list. The island that Fowles describes is beautiful and mysterious and isolated. It’s the kind of place where it’s easy to be overwhelmed and see menace hidden in the beauty. That’s certainly what happens to our narrator, Nicholas Urfe, in the novel. But since his sanity is open to debate, I think it’s also the kind of place where I might enjoy going and getting away from it all.

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“The lifeless sea was ruffled here and there by a lost zephyr, by a stippling shoal of sardines, dark ash-blue lines that snaked, broad then narrow, in slow motion across the shimmering mirageous surface, as if the water was breeding corruption.”

-The Magus by John Fowles

8. India as seen in The Far Pavillions by MM Kaye- Actually, I think that parts of this novel also take place in what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan. While it’s set in the 19th century the beautiful mountains stand out to me as a strong setting. It’s what I remember most about the book, and what I’d most love to see if I ever visit that part of the world. 10717253

“They rode out together from the shadows of the trees, leaving the Bala Hissar and the glowing torch of the burning Residency behind them, and spurred away across the flat lands towards the mountains…
And it may even be that they found their Kingdom.”
― M.M. Kaye, The Far Pavilions

9. Egypt as seen in The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif- When I was a kid I think I imagined Egypt as being desert, pyramids, sphinxes, and mummies walking around wrapped in toilet paper (in retrospect I think my childhood perception of Egypt might have been largely based on an episode of Scooby Doo). The Egypt that this book depicts has none of that. Well, we do see desert and pyramids, but  we also see cities and the Nile. It makes Egypt seem like a vivid place that’s almost breathes and has a pulse.

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“Fields and more fields on either side of the road.From where they are it looks as if the whole world were green.But from higher up,from a hill-if there were a hill in this flat country-or from a pyramid(one of the many that two thousand years ago lined this route from Thebes to Memphis,from the Delta to the Cataract)or from an aeroplane today,you would be able to see how narrow the strip green was,how closely it clung to the winding river.The river like a lifeline thrown across the desert, the villages and the town hanging on to it, clustering together, glancing over their shoulders at the desert always behind them.Appeasing it,finally,by making it the dwelling of their head.”
― Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love

10. Ireland as seen in the novels of Maeve Binchy, Cecelia Ahern, Marian Keyes, the Exit Unicorn series by Cindy Brandner, The Mermaid’s Singing by Lisa Carey- In some ways I think if Ireland in a way similar to Scotland; full of myths and lore. But I’ve also read enough Irish work set in contemporary times to have a better sense of what it is today. I’d still like to go, because I think that the richness of the lore pervades a place.

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But the sea, despite its allure, is not our destination. For we seek land- a land of myth and madness, of poets and politicians, rebels and raconteurs, of blood and brotherhood. A land unlike any other, half legend, half truth, wholly and terribly beautiful.

We fly through the night, until we see a line on the horizon, and we feel the relief of homecoming after such a very long voyage, after the faceless ocean undulating eternally beneath us. And so here we arrive, to the edge of a country of limestone cliffs, soft-faced with moss and nesting gulls . In we fly across a patchwork quilt of a thousand shades of green and low stone walls, with sheep dotting the dawn’s landscape. But do not let this enchantment fool you, for this is a land that has known much pain, whose fields are watered well and deep with blood. This is an old land, and our people have lived here long, some saying we were the small dark ones that dwelled in the trees, before the coming of the Celts, but we are older even than them. We knew this land before man, before God, before light.

-Flights of Angels by Cindy Brandner

11. Florence, Italy as seen in The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer, A Room with a View by EM Forster- Florence in these books seems more alive than other places. It’s a place where people are able to get away from social notions of respectability, and really get in touch with their feelings.

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“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles which look clean though they are not; with a painted ceiling whereon pink griffins and blue amorini sport in a forest of yellow violins and bassoons. It was pleasant, too, to fling wide the windows, pinching the fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and, close below, Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.”

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Being Worth the Effort

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

September 5Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Being Worth the Effort

These are all books that I considered putting down at one point (though in several chases they were assigned for school, but if they hadn’t been I may have considered it!) but I ended up being glad that I didn’t.

41cqtfv5hpl-_ac_us218_1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky- This was a book that I read with my AP Lit class in high school. I read it again in a 19th Century Novel class in college. It’s not easy going because a lot of what occurs takes place in the mind of Raskolnikov, the main character. Raskolnikov is an impoverished ex student living in St. Petersberg. He believes that there are some people who are a drain on society, who take advantage of the little guys, and who the world is ultimately better without. Surely we’d all be better off if these people would be put to death…. After a lot of deliberation, he kills Alyona Ivanovna, a greedy pawnbroker. In the process he also ends up killing her sister, Lizaveta, who happened to witness the crime. Once he makes his escape, Raskolnikov can’t get a moment’s peace. He worries obsessively over the details of the murder. Raskolnikov isn’t what you’d call psychologically sound. So spending a lot of time in his head can get confusing, and occasionally frustrating. But it’s worth it overall, to watch this feverish, tortured man, do the inexcusable, while truly believing it to be the best thing for society overall. It’s interesting to see him begin to realize the horror of what he’s done and wonder if redemption is possible.

418rxncl2rl-_ac_us218_2. The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– At first it feels like there’s too much happening here. We begin with the story of Johnny Truant, a tattoo artist who confesses to being “an unreliable narrator”. He’s looking for an apartment and his friend tells him about the apartment of Zampano, a recently deceased old man. In Zampano’s apartment, Truant finds a manuscript called “The Navidson Record” which is an academic study of a documentary film, which may or may not actually exist. So we have Zampano’s study of the film, Truant’s autobiographical asides, a transcript of part of the film, interviews with people involved in “The Navidson Record” and masses of footnotes. We also get some narration from Truant’s mother through a self contained set of letters. It gets overwhelming! But as we read, we discover that there are small cues to keep the narratives straight, and that eventually they all come together to create a whole.

61eiooixctl-_ac_us218_3. Middlemarch by George Eliot– I read this for a college class and initially it seemed like a huge chore. We had what seemed to be endless descriptions of this town. The subtitle of the book is “A Study of Provincial Life” and for the first few chapters it seemed more like an academic study than a novel. Fortunately, as time went on, we become more involved in the lives of the town people. To a large extent, the focus is on the life of Dorothea Brooks, and the career of Tertius Lydgate and how the two intersect. But significant attention is also given to the courtship of two townspeople, and one man’s disgrace. I was surprised to go from dreading reading about dry facts, to slowly becoming involved in the lives of these characters.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_4. Possession by AS Byatt– Byatt says that she wrote it in response to author John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman:

Fowles has said that the nineteenth-century narrator was assuming the omniscience of a god. I think rather the opposite is the case—this kind of fictive narrator can creep closer to the feelings and inner life of characters—as well as providing a Greek chorus—than any first-person mimicry. In ‘Possession’ I used this kind of narrator deliberately three times in the historical narrative—always to tell what the historians and biographers of my fiction never discovered, always to heighten the reader’s imaginative entry into the world of the text

The novel portrays two present day academics, Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey, who investigate the life and relationship of two Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash (based on Robert Browning and Alfred, Lord Tennyson) and Christabelle LaMotte (based on Christina Rosetti). They follow a trail of clues hidden in letters and journals,  to find out about the true nature of the Ash-LaMotte relationship, before rival colleagues do. The extensive diaries, poetry, and letters of the main characters are presented in the book as is the fictional poetry of Ash and LaMotte. All of this, and the academic way that Roland and Maud think, can initially make this feel dense and inapproachable. It takes some patience and getting used to.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_5. A  Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This isn’t a book that hard to read because anything about the text itself is difficult. Rather it’s hard because it’s is so sad, and deals with so many difficult and taboo subjects. Four friends graduate an elite college and begin their lives in NYC. Willem is a kind hearted aspiring actor. JB is a painter of Hatian descent.  Malcom is an architect from a biracial family, who still lives at home. Jude is a lawyer of unknown ethnicity. Though the narration is omniscient and we meet all the characters, the bulk of the focus falls on Jude. We’re first told of an “accident” when he was a child that wasn’t really an accident, but left him permanently disabled and in a lot of pain. Then we learn that the orphaned Jude has a tendency to cut himself. We also learn that he hates sex, and that he doesn’t believe that he deserves any of the devoted friends and family that he has. It’s some time before we learn the truth of Jude’s life before he met his friends at college. When we do learn about it, it’s more horrific than anything we imagined. Some reviewers called the book “melodrama” or even “torture porn”. But it doesn’t embrace the elements to shock the reader, but rather to access an emotional truth. When Jude finally tells a loved one the truth, this person tells him that it wasn’t his fault. He was a child. He was the victim of people who preyed on his innocence and desperation, and that none of what he experienced has made him unworthy of love. Jude struggles to believe that, and to live a good life- one that he has earned through his own hard work. He loves other people and he tries to let them love him in return. For most of us these things aren’t a struggle at all. But for Jude they are a constant battle. But there’s tremendous beauty in that effort.

51zpob-ijil-_ac_us218_6. Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett- Frances Crawford of Lymond is a Scottish nobleman accused of deceit, treachery, treason, rape, and murder. He’s only guilty of a few of those things. He returns to Scotland in 1547 after several years in exile for reasons that won’t be revealed for some time. His own brother has vowed to kill him. But for rather complicated reasons, Lymond, accused of treason, may be the only person who can save his country from an English invasion.  I think the series is definitely worth reading (based on the first two books) but they’re not easy reads. We don’t really get inside the character’s thoughts much, so it’s often a while before we understand what’s going on and why.  The main character is a brilliantly educated polygot who often makes references that I don’t get right away. So it takes some effort to get into. Another author would have told us early on what’s happening, what Lymond is accused of and what accusations were false, where he’s been for the past few years and why he’d return to Scotland. In that case, the action of the book, would be front and center. The fact that Dunnett leaves the character’s motives so unknown makes this an interesting, sometimes confusing take on the historical fiction genre.

 

51j8xsssd0l-_ac_us218_7. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber -In 1870’s London, Sugar is a prostitute in a brothel. Like many in her profession, she longs for a better life. William Rackham is a well-to-do businessman takes Sugar on as a mistress, and she’s draws herself into his life; his mentally fragile wife, Agnes; their deceitful housekeeper Clara, their mysterious daughter Sophie…. The characters aren’t easy to classify. Is Sugar a bad woman scheming to manipulate a wealthy man and get his money? Or is she a woman who was dealt a bad had, doing what she can to make her way in a world that’s not very kind?  At times the author suggests the answer to this question, but never outright answers it. But it’s not an easy read. At 922 pages it’s a long haul and we really see the ugly side of Victorian London, in a way that Dickens spared us.

51yxivihhl-_ac_us218_8. The Magus by John Fowles– Nicholas is an Oxford grad who takes a job as a teacher at a school on a remote Greek island. Over the summer, he becomes bored, depressed and lonely. Then he meets Maurice Conchis, a wealthy recluse who lives on the island.  Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis’ psychological games. At first he sees these games as a sort of a joke. But as they grow more elaborate and intense, Nicholas reaches a point where he isn’t able to tell what’s real and what isn’t. The reader can’t tell either and it gets kind of trippy. Several portions of the book have a “what the heck was that?” quality to them. But that ambiguity is also what makes it interesting.

51656aeukhl-_ac_us218_9. East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood– Lady Isabel Carlyle leaves her husband an babies to elope with Frances Levison. She bears Levison’s illegitmate child before she realizes that he has no intention of marrying her. He deserts Isabel, who is then disfigured in a train accident, and her child is killed (because apparently bad things really do happen in threes!) Lady Isabel gets a job as a governess in the household of her former husband and his new wife. This allows her to be close to the children she abandoned. But the pressure of keeping up the facade becomes too much for her. I read this because I was interested in Victorian “sensation” novels. I enjoyed it, in spite of, and at times because of, its rather implausible plot. But it’s also tough going at times because of the various shifting and double identities.

414n0roja3l-_ac_us218_10. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard– This play shifts between modern day Sidley Park and the same locations in the early 19th century. In the past, Thomasina, the daughter of the house, and Septimus Hodge, her tutor. The present day story concerns Hannah and Bernard, two academic researchers investigating a scandal caused by Lord Byron when he stayed at Sidley Park. The two story lines interweave math, physics, literature, philosophy,  architecture, and philosophy. I was assigned to read this in the summer before I started college before my freshman seminar. It made me very nervous about not being smart enough for college, because I felt like a lot of it went right over my head! But when we started to go through it in class and analyze it, I realized how clever, funny, and enjoyable this really was.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Summer Books

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week, I decided to look at ten books that are set in the summer and evoke the season somehow.

1. Atonement by Ian McEwan– In the summer of 1935, thirteen year old Briony Tallis sees a moment of sexual tension between her sister, and the housekeeper’s son, but doesn’t quite understand it. This misunderstanding leads her to tell a lie that will haunt the three of them for decades to come.

 “Dearest Cecilia, You’d be forgiven for thinking me mad, the way I acted this afternoon. The truth is I feel rather light headed and foolish in your presence, Cee, and I don’t think I can blame the heat.”

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2. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver– This novel features three interconnected plots that take place over a hot, humid, Appalachian summer. 

“Solitude is a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot, a tug of impalpable thread on the web pulling mate to mate and predator to prey, a beginning or an end.”

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3. Summer by Edith Wharton– This book, about a bored 18 year old who has an affair with a neighbor and gets pregnant, caused a bit of a scandal when it was first released in 1917. A century later it’s not as shocking, but Wharton is, as always, a beautiful writer.

“She was blind and insensible to many things, and dimly knew it; but to all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded. She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it.”

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4. The Magus by John Fowles– Nicholas is an Oxford grad who takes a job as a teacher on a remote Greek island. Over the summer, he becomes bored, depressed and lonely. Then he meets Maurice Conchis, a wealthy recluse who lives on the island.  Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis’ psychological games to the point where he isn’t able to tell what’s real and what isn’t. 

“I knew that on that island one was driven back into the past. There was so much space, so much silence, so few meetings that one too easily saw out of the present, and then the past seemed ten times closer than it was.”

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5. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer- This books follows the lives of several kids who met at a summer arts camp in the 1970s as they grow up. They circle one another over the year, coming together and apart. 

“But here was where the question of talent became slippery, for who could say whether Spirit-in-the-Woods had ever pulled incipient talent out of a kid and activated it, or whether the talent had been there all along and would have come out even without this place.”

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6.  Evening by Susan Minot– A dying old woman remembers a wedding in Maine, one summer in the 1950’s. It was the summer she found and lost the love of her life. This novel is as bittersweet as a summer romance.

“Who ever said that one got what one wanted. It was a small thing compared to… well, to a lot of things. She’d gotten over things before none like this she’d left things behind this was more she couldn’t speak of it this was the first thing only hers she would have to forget. It was too great it was her heart. She couldn’t explain and to try and to fail would be worse. It pressed in her. Life simply went on. He was not the only man. Her heart did not believe it. There were other men in the world. There was only one. She would try to live a life he would be proud of. She could not imagine it. She would always have him with her. He would go he would disappear he was already disappearing already he was gone. He had given her a great thing. He has gone, said her heart. She would not let this defeat her. Her heart swam on ahead. She would keep going, she would never speak of it. Her heart went on without her. No one would know. She swam through the cold water and let cold reason take over and the heart which had asked for too much left her behind and when she emerged from the water on the rocky beach she had let go of it and there was a new version in her, a sort of second heart. She went in with one heart and came out with a second heart inside.”

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7. Joyland by Stephen King- This isn’t King’s best known work by any means, but it does evoke a summer feel. It’s about a 21 year old by who spends his summer working at a North Carolina amusement park. At first there’s a sense of innocence that’s shattered as our narrator encounters an murder and a haunting.

“When you’re twenty-one, life is a roadmap. It’s only when you get to be twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you’ve been looking at the map upside down, and not until you’re forty are you entirely sure.”

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8. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume- Caitlin and Vix are best friends who spend every summer together. As they grow up, they find their relationship strained. Just a note, Blume is known for children’s and YA fiction. While the coming of age story might sound like it’s child friendly this novel is clearly intended for adults.

“Some people never get over their first loves. They spend their whole lives trying to recapture the thrill. Sometimes, after fifty years they get back together. They meet at some reunion or other and realize they were meant to be together.”

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9. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf- The Ramsey family spend their summers in the Hebrides on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.  Woolf’s depiction of the emotions and ideas can be so overwhelming that it’s easy to forget that this is really a book about family, about “getting away from it all” with the people who mean the most to you but also annoy you the most.

“She felt… how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.”

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10. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith– Tom Ripley is hired by a rich man to go to Europe and convince the man’s son, Dickie, to come home. Tom befriends Dickie, and grows attached to the extravagant lifestyle he enjoys with Dickie. But when Dickie begins to tire of him, Tom takes drastic measures. This book is set mostly in sunny vacation spots in Italy and Greece that seem to evoke the smell of citrus and sunblock.

“Why should Dickie want to come back to subways and taxis and starched collars and a nine-to- five job? Or even a chauffeured car and vacations in Florida and Maine? It wasn’t as much fun as sailing a boat in old clothes and being answerable to nobody for the way”

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