Top Ten Tuesday: Autumn Books

For That Artsy Reader Girls Top Ten Tuesday

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November 5: Books That Give Off Autumn Vibes (Autumn scenes/colors on the cover, autumn atmosphere, etc.)

These are just books that give me a strong sense of the season:

41hn3x56n9l-_ac_us218_1. Autumn by Ali Smith– This is the first in Smith’s quartet of interconnected, stand alone cyclical novels each focused on a different season. The plot, such as it is, deals with a platonic friendship between a thirty two year old woman and a man seventy years her senior. But really it reads more like a post-Brexit prose poem.

“November again. It’s more winter than autumn. That’s not mist. It’s fog. The sycamore seeds hit the glass in the wind like – no, not like anything else, like sycamore seeds hitting window glass. There’ve been a couple of windy nights. The leaves are stuck to the ground with the wet. The ones on the paving are yellow and rotting, wanwood, leafmeal. One is so stuck that when it eventually peels away, its leafshape left behind, shadow of a leaf, will last on the pavement till next spring. The furniture in the garden is rusting. They’ve forgotten to put it away for the winter. The trees are revealing their structures. There’s the catch of fire in the air. All the souls are out marauding. But there are roses, there are still roses. In the damp and the cold, on a bush that looks done, there’s a wide-open rose, still. Look at the colour of it.”
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2. First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen– This book deals with the same characters that we first met in Addison’s debut novel, Garden Spells, but First Frost can definitely be read as a stand alone. The Waverly sisters are a slightly magical pair, living in Bascomb, North Carolina. For the Waverley family, Autumn is a season of transformation, change and magic. Sometimes in a very literal sense!

“On the day the tree bloomed in the fall, when its white apple blossoms fell and covered the ground like snow, it was tradition for the Waverleys to gather in the garden like survivors of some great catastrophe, hugging one another, laughing as they touched faces and arms, making sure they were all okay, grateful to have gotten through it.”

61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_3. Night Film by Marisha Pessl– Ashley Cordova, daughter of a famous director of scary movies, commits suicide one rainy, October night. Investigative journalist, Scott McGrath has suspicions about the death and his investigation takes him into the nightmare world of Stanislas Cordova. Not only is this book set during a rainy, foggy, autumn, it consists of textbook excerpts, newspaper articles and more that give the text a similarity to a pile of multicolored leaves.

My Cordova tale began for the second time on a rainy October night, when I was just another man running in circles, going nowhere as fast as I could…I was too strung out to sleep, hounded by an inertia I couldn’t explain, except for the vague understanding that the best part of my life was behind me, and the sense of possibility that I’d once had so innately as a young man was now gone. It was cold and I was soaked. The gravel track was  rutted with puddles, the black waters of the Reservoir cloaked in mist. It clogged the reeds along the bank and erased the outskirts of the park as if it were nothing but paper, the edges torn away.

818ezr7u2al._ac_uy218_ml3_4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– In terms of plot, this novel deals with a competition between two magicians that will result in a high stakes fight to the death for their children. However, the setting, Le Cirque des Reves, a circus open only at night, that arrives without warning, and defies the conventional laws of physics, is the real star here. It puts the reader in minds of crisp autumn nights, hot apple cider, and hints of magic everywhere.

“The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.”

91ucd7rhqhl._ac_uy218_ml3_5. The Cider House Rules by John Irving- This novel is set in Maine in the first part of the twentieth century. It tells the story of Dr. Wilbur Larch, obstetrician, ether addict, abortionist, orphanage director; and his favorite orphan, Homer Wells, who is never adopted. The rural new England setting brings to mind picturesque autumns full of colorful trees and crisp blue skies fading into golden sunsets.

 When he would almost despair, when the ether was too overpowering, when his own age seemed like the last obstacle and the vulnerability of his illegal enterprise was as apparent to him as the silhouettes of the fir trees against the sharp night skies of autumn, Wilbur Larch would save himself with this one thought: I love Homer Wells, and I have saved him from the war.”

913bxaz8drl._ac_uy218_ml3_6. The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick– This is another book set in New England. Patience Sparrow is the town healer (and some say witch) whose herbs and tinctures are given to many. But her remedies are implicated in a tragedy, the town is consumed by fear, and it’s witch hunting history may resurrect itself. The fear that infects the town causes a sort of premature autumn: leaves and plants, wither and die, fishermen return empty handed.

“The Sparrow Sisters’ roses still bloomed on New Year’s Day, their scent rich and warm even when snow weighted their petals closed. When customers came down the rutted road to the small eighteenth-century barn where the sisters worked, they marveled at the jasmine that twined through the split-rail fence, the perfume so intense they could feel it in their mouths. As they paid for their purchases, they wondered (vaguely, it must be said, for the people of Granite Point knew not to think too hard about the Sisters) how it was that clematis and honeysuckle climbed the barn in November and the morning glories bloomed all day. The fruit trees were so fecund that the peaches hung on the low branches, surrounded by more blossoms, apples and pears ripened in June and stayed sweet and fresh into December. Their Italian fig trees were heavy with purple teardrop fruit only weeks after they were planted. If you wanted a tomato so ripe the juice seemed to move beneath the skin, you needed only to pick up a punnet at the Nursery.”

517vbd5d37l-_ac_us218_7. Still Life by Louise Penny– This is the first in Penny’s series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec. It’s a popular series, but even though I enjoyed this book, I haven’t read any of the others yet. It’s set in Three Pines, a small hamlet near the US Border, where there’s been a suspicious death on Canadian Thanksgiving (in early October). Three Pines seems like a perfect, picturesque Autumn town, where anyone would love to life (if not for the gruesome death…)

Three Pines wasn’t on any tourist map, being too far off any main or even secondary road. Like Narnia, it was generally found unexpectedly and with a degree of surprise that such an elderly village should have been hiding in this valley all along. Anyone fortunate enough to find it once usually found their way back. And Thanksgiving, in early October, was the perfect time. The weather was usually crisp and clear, the summer scents of old garden roses and phlox were replaced by musky autumn leaves, woodsmoke and roast turkey.
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8. Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour– In some ways this book is a victim of the YA fantasy craze of the early 2000s. But the time this came out in 2014, a lot of elements had become cliche. But the story, set in upstate NY and inspired by the Scottish ballad, Tam Lin, has a vivid Fall setting. It’s set on a college campus (to me campus novels always have a whiff of Autumn) and most of the action takes place in October, culminating on Halloween.

He held out a hand.
Beware, the rustling leaves seemed to whisper.
Finn clasped Jack’s hand as her own self whispered, Be brave.

81nnru9c61l._ac_uy218_ml3_9. The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert– To be fair I just started this one, but it seems like it’s very much a seasonal read. It’s set on a family run orchard, where the daughter, who has some major issues, is trying to start a cider business. Meanwhile, a single father comes to work on the orchard for the season, with his son, from whom he’s keeping some big secrets.

 

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: “Fall-ish” Books

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

October 10: Ten Books With Fall/Autumn Covers/Themes (If the cover screams fall to you, or the books give off a feeling of being Fallish)

Actually this week it’s more like top 8…

When I think about Fall I think about the end of the year. The end of the summer. I think about the leaves turning bright colors before turning brown and disappearing. I love fall, but there’s a melancholy to it. To me these books have a similar sense of melancholy.

51jkmsmns9l-_ac_us218_1. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro– This is about Stevens, an English butler in the mid-twentieth century. He was raised to be a “Gentleman’s gentleman.” He served the same family for decades. He gave up the woman that he loved in order to do it. Now, nearing the later part of his life, he takes a drive through the country. As he dives he thinks about the past, and tries to reassure himself that he spent his life serving a “great gentleman” and thereby served humanity at large. But as we travel through his thoughts we come to realize that he harbors doubts about the true greatness of the family he served, and even stronger doubts about his own life and choices. This is a book that is greater than the sum of its parts. Ostensibly it’s about an old man out for a drive. But it’s really about his life and his world. His doubts about how he spent his life come too late, once most of his life is gone. This book evokes a strong sense of melancholy that I think is very fall-like.

“But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently? One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way. In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had. Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”

41migzs6vxl-_ac_us218_2. Howard’s End by EM Forster– This book explores the various intricacies surrounding British class relations at the turn of the twentieth century. It centers around three families; one representing the working class, one the middle class, and one the elite. The nature of their class status affects the characters social relationships for better and for worse. But we, as the reader know something that neither the characters, nor the author (who published the book in 1910) do: that two world wars are just around the corner. They will decimate the class system that had previously prevailed. While Forster couldn’t have known in 1910 that WWI was around the corner, he did clearly sense a coming end to the the British empire and the the rigid class structure. It’s no accident that the house around which much of the action takes place is called Howard’s End!  This sense of one era ending and something new lurking is very… autumnal to me.

“Some leave our life with tears, others with an insane frigidity; Mrs. Wilcox had taken the middle course, which only rarer natures can pursue. She had kept proportion. She had told a little of her grim secret to her friends, but not too much; she had shut up her heart–almost, but not entirely. It is thus, if there is any rule, that we ought to die–neither as victim nor as fanatic, but as the seafarer who can greet with an equal eye the deep that he is entering, and the shore that he must leave.”

512xmuzxkzl-_ac_us218_3. The Cider House Rules by John Irving– It has the word “cider” in the title for goodness sakes! There’s an orchard, and apple picking! Actually this story is  set over the course of about 30 years (from the 1920’s to the 1950’s) Dr. Larch founds an orphanage in St. Cloud, Maine. His favorite orphan is Homer, who eventually follows in his footsteps and becomes a doctor. During the years that the book takes place, abortion was illegal in the US. Having seen the result of illegal, back alley abortions (a dead woman and a dead fetus) Dr. Larch performs abortions in a safe, sterile environment. When Homer learns of Dr. Larch’s side business he is horrified and leaves St. Cloud. He joins his friends in a cider making business. He types up a list of rules for the apple pickers who come to work for them for the season. All of that makes it very fall-y.

“That was when Angel Wells became a fiction writer, whether he knew it or not. That’s when he learned how to make the make-believe matter to him more than real life mattered to him; that’s when he learned how to paint a picture that was not real and never would be real, but in order to be believed at all- even on a sunny Indian summer day- it had to be better made and seem more real than real; it had to sound at least possible.”

51dtol9n8al-_ac_us218_4. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder- This one is more literal. A lot of the book deals with a pioneer family preparing for winter. We get descriptions of harvesting sap, and making maple syrup, and candy. And of course in the evenings Laura and her family are safe and warm in bed, listening to Pa play the fiddle…. OK so those aren’t really my fall activities. But they are activities that scream “fall” to me!

“She thought to herself, “This is now.” She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

41azoatsy3l-_ac_us160_5. Persuasion by Jane Austen More so than any other Jane Austen I see this one as being about endings and renewals. We’re told early in the book that Anne has lost her youthful “bloom”. Much of the conflict centers around what happened when Anne and Captain Wentworth were young. Their failed romance provides the groundwork for the novel. So essentially we go into a story beginning with an ending, a failed love affair. This was the defining event of Anne Elliot’s youth (or springtime, if you will) over the next decade she removed herself from the marriage market and lost that “bloom”. When we meet in Persuasion she appears to be at the end of something. The end of her youth, the end of her marriageable days. In other words, even though she’s still young (27) she’s prematurely entered the “fall” of her life. But against the odds she manages to turn back the clock a bit and regain some spring and summer.

“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn–that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness–that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.”

51sskkgyvgl-_ac_us218_6. First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen- This is another semi-literal pick. It takes place in the fall. It’s a sort of stand alone sequel to Allen’s Garden Spells. You don’t have to read Garden Spells to read this one. The Waverly sisters, Claire and Sydney live in Bascom NC with their husbands and children. The family home has a spirited apple tree in the backyard and all of the Waverly women have a bit of magic.  Claire’s nine year old daughter, Mariah, has made a mysterious friend, whom no one else can see. Sydney’s fifteen year old daughter, Bay, has proclaimed her love for a boy who doesn’t return her feelings. There are issues with the older Waverly’s too. Sydney is heartbroken over her seeming inability to get pregnant again, and Claire’s candy making business is taking over her life. A mysterious stranger has turned up in town bringing secrets that could destroy the Waverly family. And with the first frost coming, a lot of things are going to change.

“On the day the tree bloomed in the fall, when its white apple blossoms fell and covered the ground like snow, it was tradition for the Waverleys to gather in the garden like survivors of some great catastrophe, hugging one another, laughing as they touched faces and arms, making sure they were all okay, grateful to have gotten through it.”

41yn-xblul-_ac_us218_7. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne DuMaurier– This is a great Halloween read because it’s spooky but it also has a shadow of death hanging over it. A married couple visit Venice to recover after the death of their daughter. But they encounter mysterious twin sisters, one of whom is a blind psychic. She tells them that their daughter is sending a warning: the must leave Venice. If that weren’t enough there is also a serial killer stalking the city. As the husband, a psychic who hasn’t accepted his gifts, chases the figure of a child around the city, things that seem like back story move slowly forward. The Venetian atmosphere is palpable, it’s gloomy, damp and strangely beautiful (like a certain season…). Death has followed the central couple on their trip, and there’s only one way for it to end.

And he saw the vaporetto with Laura and the two sisters steaming down the Grand Canal, not today, not tomorrow, but the day after that, and he knew why they were together and for what sad purpose they had come. The creature was gibbering in its corner. The hammering and the voices and the barking dog grew fainter, and, ‘Oh God,’ he thought, ‘what a bloody silly way to die…’

51f91e7cxql-_ac_us218_8. Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan-Eben Adams is an artist. He sketches a schoolgirl, Jennie, in Central Park and talks to her a bit. The resulting sketch conveys more emotion than any of his previous work. When Eben next meets Jennie, she seems to have grown a few years older. The same thing happens again. Jennie is now fully grown, and as Eben paints her portrait he realizes that when  he finishes, Jennie will disappear as mysteriously as she appeared. Jennie brings a sense of mystery with her. Aside from her rapid aging, she seems to talk as if she’s from another time. Is she a ghost? A time traveller? What is the strong song she sings? With the shadow of Jennie’s upcoming disappearance looming over them, her and Eban’s story is Autumn. Brightly colorful, just before the end.

I had one clear day of happiness, and I shall never forget it. Even the miserable ending to it cannot change its quality in my memory; for everything that Jennie and I did was good, and unhappiness came only from the outside. Not many—lovers or friends—can say as much. For friends and lovers are quick to wound, quicker than strangers, even; the heart that opens itself to the world, opens itself to sorrow. I

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Made Me Laugh Out Loud

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 focus on ten novels that have made me laugh, giggle, or snort out loud (you might think twice about reading them in public!)

51hq1svllxl-_ac_us218_1. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen- This spoof of gothic novels got me into an embarrassing situation on a train. It was a long trip, people were listening to music, reading quietly, doing work…. I was reading this book. I was at the part where our heroine, Catherine, is staying at a grand old house that she’s sure is full of secrets. She discovers a piece of paper one night with writing on it. But it’s too dark to read (this was pre-electricity, remember). So she must wait until sunrise to read it. She’s sure that the paper is someone’s plea for help, or someone’s confession of murder. She builds it up in her mind until, finally the sun rises and she realizes the hidden paper is actually… a laundry list. That gives you an idea of the tone here. Actually it’s ironic that Catherine is so sure that she’ll discover some sensational evil about her new friends that she is initially blind to everyday cruelty, snobbery, and nastiness.

“To be disgraced in the eye of the world, to wear the appearance of infamy while her heart is all purity, her actions all innocence, and the misconduct of another the true source of her debasement, is one of those circumstances which peculiarly belong to the heroine’s life, and her fortitude under it what particularly dignifies her character. Catherine had fortitude too; she suffered, but no mumur passed her lips.”

51mlugh65hl-_ac_us218_2. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons– This is also a spoof of so many British writers: Jane Austen, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy and even a bit of DH Lawrence. Flora Poste is orphaned, with only a hundred pounds a year to live on. She doesn’t want to *gasp* get a job! So she moves in with her distant relatives the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex.  The mother Judith stays in bed moaning about her son, Seth. Seth is addicted to “talkies” and spends most of his time on the farm impregnating the serving girl. Amos, the father, is a hellfire and brimstone preacher. And then of course there is Aunt Ada Doom who stays room and only comes down to be seen by the family twice a year. But she has good reason. She “saw something nasty in the woodshed…”

“The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.”

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_3. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– I’m sure this modern take on Pride and Prejudice is known to many. Those who don’t know the book probably know the film. Regardless it’s funny. A lot of reviewers tend to say people relate to Bridget because she’s “everywoman” I disagree. She’s too ridiculous for that. But most of us have a little bit of Bridget in us. It’s the part that will eat an entire pint of ice cream for breakfast, or sing loudly into a hairbrush while bouncing around the room. Bridget is very forthright about that stuff in her diary, and we laugh because we recognize hints of our own silliness. That allows us to invest in her, even when she’s not using the best judgement. 

It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting “Cathy” and banging your head against a tree.

51yazpjjl8l-_ac_us218_4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman– I guarantee that the film adaptation of this is familiar to most people. While the movie was great, the book is worth a read too. Unlike the film the frame story isn’t an old man reading the book to his grandson. Rather it’s frame involves the writer, abridging a novel by “S. Morgenstern”, which supposedly is a great story but far too long winded. So he gives us the “good parts” and summarizes the not so good parts. That adds a layer of satire that’s absent from the film.

“See?” Fezzik pointed then. Far down, at the very bottom of the mountain path, the man in black could be seen running. “Inigo is beaten.”
“Inconceivable!” exploded the Sicilian.
Fezzik never dared disagree with the hunchback. “I’m so stupid,” Fezzik nodded. “Inigo has not lost to the man in black, he has defeated him. And to prove it he has put on all the man in black’s clothes and masks and hoods and boots and gained eighty pounds.”

51yltwfpdgl-_ac_us218_5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving– A quick warning: this also made me cry. But the Christmas pageant scene still makes me giggle. The story itself is about a friendship between John, a boy from a wealthy family, and Owen, an unusually short working class boy with a damaged larynx. As kids they play some pretty hilarious pranks, and when Owen is cast as the baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant (they’d used a doll in previous years but he was so small that it seemed like perfect casting) things go horribly awry. Owen has a sarcastic sense of humor and goes on verbal rants at times that made me chuckle. For all those reasons this book goes on the list, even though it deals with some more serious themes.

“No touching Baby Jesus.”
“But we’re his parents!” proclaimed Mary Beth, who was being generous to include poor Joseph under this appellation.
“Mary Beth,” Barb Wiggin said, “if you touch the Baby Jesus, I’m putting you in a cow costume.”

51rqr9-0jel-_ac_us218_6. Storm Front by Jim Butcher– The protagonist of this series, Harry Dresden,  is a professional wizard, and he narrates the books with a dry sense of humor that makes it really great. Business is pretty bad for a Chicago wizard, and Harry spends most of his time working for the police. He helps them solve crimes when those crimes involve things that most people would like to pretend don’t exist (ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and curses). When he encounters a grisly double murder, he suspects black magic may be involved, which means that he’s the only one who can handle the case. Harry’s tone in all the books is wisecracking, sarcastic, and dry, which works really well against the backdrop of all the craziness he encounters.

“Have you ever been approached by a grim-looking man, carrying a naked sword with a blade about ten miles long in his hand, in the middle of the night, beneath the stars on the shores of Lake Michigan? If you have, seek professional help. If you have not, then believe you me, it can scare the bejeezus out of you.”

51zs47eoayl-_ac_us218_7. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion- I found the sequel to the book really tired and borderline offensive, which was a shame because this book was sweet and funny.  Don Tillman is a professor of genetics who isn’t good with social cues and norms and isn’t able to express emotion well. The book never actually says that he has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, but it’s strongly implied that he has Asperger’s. When a friend tells him he’d make a good husband, he decides to embark on The Wife Project. He makes a list of qualities he’d want in a potential wife. Rosie, a woman looking for DNA samples so that she can find her father, has none of those qualities. Don is a man who lives by lists, rules and logic. Which may prevent him from seeing that Rosie would be perfect for him.

“But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact.
‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.”

51g2gffpw8l-_ac_us218_8. Watermelon by Marion Keyes– On the day Claire gives birth to their first child, her husband tells her he’s leaving her for another woman.  So she decides to take her daughter and go back to the bosom of her madcap family in Dublin. While home with her four sisters, her soap opera addicted mother and bewildered father, Claire starts to build a new life, and even find new love. So when her ex waltzes back in, he’s in for a surprise. This book doesn’t really have any surprises. It’s exactly like what it claims to be: sweet, refreshing but nothing too substantial.

“I knew it, I just knew it! The person who had the job of writing my life’s dialogue used to work on a very low budget soap opera.”

 

51l7cslhhyl-_ac_us218_9. After All These Years by Susan Isaacs- Rosie Meyers have a pretty nice life.  Wealthy husband, big house, enjoyable job, grown children and nice friends. When her husband, Richie, leaves her for another woman just days after their big 25th anniversary party, she’s devastated. But she’s still genuinely shocked to come downstairs for a midnight snack and find Richie’s body in the kitchen with a knife sticking out if it. As far as the police are concerned, she has a perfect motive. So she goes on the lam to find the real killer. Since Rosie is a suburban school teacher, she’s in some pretty unfamiliar territory, and her fish out of water situations are humorous. Her attitude and witty comments add to the fun.

That summer, I went through all the scorned-first-wife stages. Hysteria. Paralysis. Denial: Of course Richie will give up a worldly, successful, fertile, size-six financial whiz-bang for a suburban high school English teacher. Despair: spending my nights zonked on the Xanax I’d conned my gynecologist into prescribing, regretting it was not general anesthesia.

41b2mraamwl-_ac_us218_10. Name Dropping by Jane Heller– Nancy Stern is a preschool teacher. When another woman with the same name moves into her apartment building, there’s a bit of confusion. The new Nancy Stern interviews celebrities, lives in the penthouse, and has a long line of boyfriends. Preschool Nancy gets her mail, deliveries and phone calls on a regular basis, and she feels pretty pathetic next to the Glamorous Nancy. One day Preschool Nancy gets a call intended for Glam Nancy  about a blind date, and in a moment of madness she accepts. She hits it off with the date and is debating when and how to tell him the truth, when Glam Nancy is found dead in her apartment, the victim of murder. However, it soon becomes clear that the wrong Nancy may have been killed. So preschool Nancy finds herself caught up with jewel thieves, murderers, and romance. This isn’t great literature but it’s a lot of fun in an I Love Lucy kind of way.

The other Nancy Stern, I mused after I hung up. A Nancy Stern who’s chummy with ambassadors and movie stars, apparently. A Nancy Stern who travels, shops, dines fine. A Nancy Stern who, according to the American Express lady, lives in 24A, on the rarified penthouse floor of the building, not in 6J, on my thoroughly average floor. A Nancy Stern who, I’d be willing to bet, doesn’t regularly get vomited upon by four-year-olds.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Fathers

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

June 13: Father’s Day related Freebiefavorite dads in literature, best father/daughter or son relationships, books to buy your dad, worst dads in literature, etc. etc.

I wouldn’t give up my own father for the best of these guys. But they are pretty amazing. Just a few notes: I didn’t want to include Atticus Finch because he shows up on all of these lists. Also, I found it interesting that so many of these were adoptive rather than biological fathers. In many cases they do far more for their children than the children’s biological fathers ever did. It just goes to prove love makes a parent. Not biology.

  1. Jean Valjean in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo- Early in the novel, ex-con Valjean turns away from a life of crime and tries to live as an honest man. But he only truly learns to love when he adopts the orphaned Cosette. He’s 110% devoted to her.
  2. Silas Marner in the novel of the same name by George Eliot- Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Silas Marner becomes curmudgeon and a miser. One night he finds a two year old girl wandering in the snow and adopts her. Little Eppie changes his life. He becomes more involved in the community, he makes friends and cares for her completely.
  3. Mathew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables– While his tough as nails sister, Marilla takes a while to warm up to the orphan Anne, Mathew loves her right away. He is the first person in her life to truly show her kindness, and he faces his fears to make her happy.
  4. Daniel LeBlanc in All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr-  Widowed father of a blind daughter, Daniel LeBlanc teaches his daughter, Marie-Laure to be independent by creating a scale model of their Paris neighborhood for her to memorize by touch. He also provides her with novels in Braille. When the Nazis invade Paris Daniel brings Marie to the coastal town of Saint-Malo, where he once again creates a model for her to learn her surroundings.
  5. James Fraser in the Outlander series– Over the course of 8 books (so far) fatherhood isn’t always kind to our hero. Unable to raise his biological children from childhood, Jamie still raises his fair share of kids, from the French pickpocket Fergus, to his nephew Young Ian. But when his biological children do enter his life later on, he proves that parenthood doesn’t end when one’s children are grown.
  6. Frank Gilbraith Sr in Cheapter By the Dozen by Frank B Gilbrath Jr and Ernastine Gilbraith Carey is an efficiency expert and father of twelve. He was rather eccentric, but his children’s book about him recalls a home full of children, laughter, warmth, and love.
  7. Pa Ingalles from the Little House series by Laura Ingalles Wilder is always present.  He had a major case of wanderlust but took his family along with them, giving them a view of life that few people did in the 19th century. He was able to go hunting and built a house but also taught his children to treat others with kindness and care and led by example.
  8. Horton from Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss- When Mayzie the bird lays an egg but can’t be bothered to hatch it, Horton steps in.  In spite  of the absurdity of an elephant sitting on a bird’s egg, Horton refuses to abandon his charge.
  9. Dr. Wilbur Larch from The Cider House Rules by John Irving- Dr. Larch is the founder and director of the orphanage of St. Cloud. He gives all the children in his care his attention and affection, but he loves Homer Wells like a son. Even as Homer grows up and makes his own way in the world, he and Dr. Larch maintain a powerful bond.
  10. Ned Stark in Game of Thrones by George RR Martin- once he left the series I lost a lot of my interest in the story actually. Everything he did was for the safety and well being of his children. No principle had priority above their welfare

And a few of the worst literary fathers on my “dishonorable mention” list:

  • Harry Wormwood in Matilda– Harry is a duplicitous used car salesman, who believes that everything he needs to know he can learn from television. He is initially horrified that his daughter, Matilda, isn’t a boy. His horror is compounded when it becomes clear that she would rather read a book than watch TV. Otherwise doesn’t much care what she does.
  • Jack Torrance in The Shining– From the beginning of this book, Jack isn’t an example of paternal excellence. He’s an alcoholic who has a tendency toward violence when her drinks. But when he gets a job as the winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, the now sober Jack, moves there with his wife and 5 year old son, Danny. As the ghosts of the Overlook invade his psyche Jack becomes increasingly unstable, until, finally, he ends up chasing his wife and Danny through the hotel with a croquet mallet.  But in his final moments he is able to wrench his mind free from the hotel’s destructive influence encourage Danny to escape. So perhaps, in spite of his many flaws, there was love at the bottom of it all.
  • Franklin in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- I spoke about his wife, Eva as a notable, but deeply flawed fictional mother. But Franklin is just as flawed. His sin is denial. He can’t- or won’t- see that his son is anything less than wonderful. When his wife tries to make him see warning signs in Kevin’s behavior he turns a blind eye. He pays for this in a major way.
  • Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- It’s one of my favorite books, but Heathcliff is still a nasty piece of work. He marries for revenge after his true love marries another man. Then he takes his anger and sadness out on his sickly son. Nice.
  • Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- I know he has his fans, and that his wife has her own issues (discussed here) but there is a very serious issue facing his family that he completely disregards. He has five daughters who can’t legally inherit his property. That means that following his death they’ll be without resources. His wife is, understandably, concerned about this, and he mocks her for it. To make it worse, he mocks her in front of his daughters, thereby diminishing their respect for their mother.