Top Ten Tuesday: Books By My Favorite Authors That I Still Haven’t Read

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

September 25: Books By My Favorite Authors That I Still Haven’t Read

There are a lot of books by favorites by authors that I still haven’t read, because when I love an author I’m usually able to read their books faster than they can write them (go figure!) So I can end up saving books to hold me over until the author’s next release. That said, these are the titles that come to mind:

51qnu73oy4l-_ac_us218_1. The Haunting of Maddy Claire by Simone St. James- I discovered Simone St. James last spring and I quickly devoured her other 5 titles; all gothic mystery romances. Most are historical. This looks like it’s in that vein but I’m trying to hold off on reading it! If I do cave in and go for it, October seems like a good time to read it.

 

336472091 2. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth– I love Kate Forsyth’s fairy tale inspired historical fiction like Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl, and The Beast’s Garden. This Sleeping Beauty inspired story is set among the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists and poets. I haven’t read it for several reasons. First is because it’s not available in the US at the moment, but I have an Aussie friend who can hook me up if I really want. My other reason is just to have something to read in a desperate moment before her next book comes out.

51hl6oq7e4l-_ac_us218_3. Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier– I love Juliet Marillier’s historical fantasy novels. This is the third in her Blackthorn and Grim trilogy. I want to see how everything is resolved. However, Marillier’s next book isn’t due until summer 2019 so I feel like I should hold off until close to then.

51sfno9ygsl-_ac_us218_4. Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahearn– There are actually a couple of Ahearn titles that I still haven’t read. I chose to go with this one because of those it’s got the highest rating. But I also need to read The Year I Met You and The Marble Collector.

51do33s3al-_ac_us218_5. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters– I still have to read The Paying Guests also, but I have a copy of this sitting on my shelf, so I should probably read this one first.

51i5s4yjhyl-_ac_us218_6. The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George–  This is the latest Lynley and Havers novel. I’ve felt like the last few have been sort of convoluted. I’ll see how this goes and decided to continue with the series or not.

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7.  River Road by Carol Goodman– I really enjoy Carol Goodman’s literary mysteries. I still haven’t read this one, or her latest, The Other Mother.

51o1uxkkkl-_ac_us218_8. A Question of Trust by Penny Vincenzi– I think that this is one of the few Vincenzi novels that I haven’t read yet, but it’s hard to say for sure because her books are often released with different titles and covers in the US and the UK.

51gfnebrhsl-_ac_us218_9. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– There are actually a few other Adichie books that I haven’t read yet either, but once again, in this case, a copy of Purple Hibiscus is sitting patiently on my shelf…

 

Why is Beauty and the Beast Retold So Often?

51noohzpcsl-_ac_us218_Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favorite fairy tales. I didn’t set out to retell it when I wrote Beautiful. I had actually just started off writing a story (a short story, mind you, not a novel) and I found myself doing inspired by the fairy tale about a quarter way through the first draft. But ever since I was a kid I loved the mysterious gothic castle and the idea that you can’t always trust your eyes. It’s odd that those are elements that I did away with in my own version. Instead, I found other aspects more interesting. I  wanted a dual redemption arc for both my Beauty and my Beast. I wanted some ambiguity regarding who qualifies as the “beauty” and who is the “beast.” I also became interested in the idea that we don’t always appreciate beauty when we first encounter it. Sometimes it’s something we need to be ready to appreciate. I’d like to say that I’m the first person to re-imagine this fairy tale, but I’d be lying if I did. A lot of great writers have done interesting fresh, diverse things with this story. These are some of my favorites that have gone before.

51pwjyt4e0l-_ac_us218_Beauty by Robin McKinley– This is probably most similar to the classic fairy tale that most of us know. For that reason, I found it a bit dull but I know a lot of retelling fans love it. And it’s well done. It just doesn’t do much that feels original or new. But it was written in 1978, so there’s a good chance that at the time, it did feel fresh!

 

 

51ck4irm2cl-_ac_us218_Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley– McKinley had more than just one Beauty and the Beast story in her! Unpopular opinion time: I actually prefer this one. McKinley moves outside of the box and puts her own spin on things. She even throws in a bit of a twist ending.

 

 

41oyve54sgl-_ac_us218_Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier–  Marilier is one of my favorite authors in this genre and she doesn’t disappoint with this offering. The conventions or fairy tales are mixed with gothic romance and it’s all set in 12th century Ireland. When Caitrin takes refuge in Anluan’s garden she is hired as a scribe to sort through family documents. Anluan’s family is under a curse that Caitrin must unravel if she, Anluan or anyone in the household is to find happiness.

51spwrt1xrl-_ac_us218_The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey– This is one of those books you shouldn’t judge by its cover. It’s part of Lackey’s Elemental Masters series but since each book in the series is very much standalone that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s set in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Rosalind is a medieval scholar who is hired as a governess, but when she arrives at her employer’s house she discovers that he has no children. Indeed she isn’t even able to meet him face to face. Her job is to read to him from ancient manuscripts through a speaking tube. She assumes that his interest in medieval spells and sorcery is just an eccentric trait. But she discovers that his interest isn’t academic at all. On the contrary, he has a very practical reason for this.

51j2bc8fhbjl-_sl160_The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth– Forsyth bases this novel on the Grimm’s version of the Beauty and the Beast story called The Singing Springing Lark. But it’s set in Nazi Germany.  Ava loathes the Nazis and everything they stand for and she joins a resistance group to try to fight them. But in order to save her father’s life, she has to marry Leo, a Nazi Officer. Leo seems kind and intelligent, but Ava can’t overlook the people with whom he associates. But appearances can be deceiving. Leo hates the Nazis as much as Ava does. He uses his position within the party to give German military secrets to the allied forces, sabotage Geman plans and save as many lives as he can. But his activities might put at risk the lives of all that Ava holds dear.

61l1afcvhtl-_ac_us218_The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter- Maybe this is cheating because it’s actually a collection of short stories but Angela Carter includes several that have Beauty and the Beast elements. These are most obvious are “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” and “The Tiger’s Bride,” but you can find traces of the fairy tale’s influence running all through the tales in this brilliant collection.

 

51uytfmeel-_ac_us218_The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson– Again I might be stretching it a bit here, as I don’t think this was intentionally written with Beauty and the Beast in mind. But there are a lot of parallels. I feel like it definitely influenced the author, whether or not he was aware of it. Just a warning- the first chapter includes a very graphic description of the main character’s injuries in a car accident and the treatment of those injuries. If you can, try to push past it. It’s not that graphic throughout. The driver of the car is in a hospital burn unit when Marianne Engel finds him. She tells him that they were lovers in a previous life. She tells the elaborate story of their past lives together so vividly that the burned man is no longer able to dismiss her.

The Beauty and the Beast story as we know it probably has its roots in the Cupid and Psyche story, and the Norwegian fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. All of these are part of a broader tradition of women taking men disguised as beasts as their husbands. There is also a tradition of animal bride stories in which the female is in some way “other.” Think about swan maidens, selkies, and even The Little Mermaid.

Different cultures have used these stories in different ways. For example, the original French tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and later adapted by  Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, was used as a way to reassure wealthy girls going into arranged marriages that just because their intended might not seem promising at first glance, don’t give up hope. It’s also been used to convey the “true beauty lies within” message.  But ultimately I think that they’re about how people respond to differences. How do we respond to what’s considered “monstrous”? What a society considers “other” will vary.  Likewise, the response to others varies depending on the individual. Those variations allow for writers to use their imaginations. They take the classic story and change some of the variables. What happens is sometimes surprising.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Liked But Don’t Remember Much

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

January 23: Books I Really Liked but Can’t Remember Anything/Much About

There are a lot of these. Including many whose names and authors I can’t remember! But these I do remember reading and liking:

51cmzm27jl-_ac_us218_1. Replay by Ken Grimwood– This was about a middle-aged man who dies and wakes up one morning and is 18 again. Then he dies again and the same thing happens. So he relives his life in many different ways. Don’t ask me about any of those ways though, because I don’t remember!

 

 

51kqcjspqwl-_ac_us218_2. City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling– I remember that is was about Manhattan when it was still the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam.  There were a brother and a sister who somehow ended up as enemies and the feud extended through their descendants. Apparently, it’s the first in a trilogy about historical NYC. I can’t remember if I read the other books.

 

51ujrgneuml-_ac_us218_3. City of Light by Lauren Belfer– I remember how this book ended, though I won’t spoil it here. It’s about the headmistress at a school for girls in upstate NY. There’s a hydroelectric power plant near the school and when someone dies at the plant, it brings up secrets about the headmistress’ past.

 

 

41yuqyv000l-_ac_us218_4. The Circus of the Earth and the Air by Brooke Stevens– A man’s wife volunteers for a magic act at a circus. The magician makes her disappear, but she never reappears. He goes backstage after the show, to try to find her, and no one working at the circus seems to remember her taking part in the act. Don’t ask me what happened to the wife though, because I don’t remember!

 

510o1wih4jl-_ac_us218_5. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood– I read this while I was on a Margaret Atwood kick, and while I liked it, it blends in with a lot of the other work I read at that time. But I want to revisit it because Atwood wrote two sequels to it that I’d like to read. It took place in a dystopian future (somewhat familiar ground for Atwood) and was about one of the last humans, Snowman and his involvement with the title characters.

 

41tu5mjgful-_ac_us218_6. Woman at the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy– The main character in this book is in a mental hospital because she thinks she can communicate with someone from the future. It turns out she’s very sane and she can really communicate with the future. I remember there was a point where if she makes one choice the world turns into a utopia. But if she makes the other choice it turns into a dystopia. But that’s about all I remember!

 

51h1fidmd9l-_ac_us218_7. Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith– I was obsessed with this for a while when I was in middle school. It was actually two separate books then, and they were later published as a single volume. It was about a fantasy world where a young girl leads a rebellion against a corrupt king. I remember that it went into what happens after the rebellion which was one of the first times I can remember an author going past the “natural” ending point.

 

51jmlaov-el-_ac_us218_8. Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier– I love Juliet Marillier and I remember liking this book. I remember it was about a land that was under the rule of an evil king who had outlawed magic, but the heroine had something magical about her. I think I read this book at the same time that I was reading a lot of the genre and it gets mixed up with some others in my memory.

 

51ft9lt9c-l-_ac_us218_9. Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan– This took place in an English country house between WWI and WWII. I think there was a love story. I remember that I found it reminiscent of The Secret Garden in some way, but I can’t remember how.

 

 

41q3nn-asxl-_ac_us218_10. Devil Water by Anya Seton– Anya Seton wrote some really good historical fiction. This is included in that category, I think. Unfortunately, all I can remember is that it’s about the daughter of a man who was executed for taking part in a Jacobite uprising. I think she goes to America.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Literary Leaders

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

November 7: Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders (Leaders of what? That’s your decision. Who could lead a country, an army, a book club, a classroom, etc. Or maybe characters that would be trendsetters?)

This week I decided to make things difficult for myself and go for ten fictional books about real life leaders.

51mlcvfodel-_ac_us218_1. Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George– This novel, told in Cleopatra’s own voice, begins with a memory of the three year old Cleopatra witnessed her mother’s death. But the story really starts when the twenty year old Queen of the Nile, sets her sights on Julius Caesar; the most powerful man in the world. She survives his loss, and the defeat of Mark Antony, the only other man she loves. What destroys her, is not these losses. Rather it’s her own pride. She’d rather die by her own hand that be a symbol of someone else’s victory over her. This book combines history with legend so seamlessly that it’s hard to tell which is which. Some of the more outrageous events are factual!

“I realized then how odd it must seem to them to be summoned by a woman. Roman women were at home quietly minding their business or else doing what wives were known to do in joke and song: boss, nag, forbid. As a foreign queen I was the only woman who was their equal and had the power to summon them, question them, and advise them on matters other than domestic details. I thought that a pity; there should be others.”

51lptm9h-zl-_ac_us218_2. Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross– Did she really exist? I have no clue. But she certainly makes a great story! Joan rebels against medieval society’s prohibition against educating women. Following her brother’s death, Joan takes on his identity and takes his place at a monastery. As “John”, Joan distinguishes herself as a scholar and healer, and eventually, is drawn to Rome. As I said, I have no idea if there is any truth to the “Pope Joan” legend, but the novel is definitely historical fiction. There are several scenes in this one, where Joan is about to be discovered and is saved from discovery just in the nick of time, in true soap opera fashion. But if you can overlook that, it’s a really fun read.

“As for will, woman should be considered superior to man for Eve ate of the apple for love of knowledge and learning, but Adam ate of it merely because she asked him.”

51qrr9xoysl-_ac_us218_3. Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund- As many of us know, Marie Antoinette was only 14 when she left her home in Austria to become the wife of the Dauphin of France (who was all of 15 at the time). She came of age in a very public environment and had a seemingly good relationship with her husband, though his inability (or unwillingness) to consummate their marriage made what both Marie Antoinette, and the people of France most wanted; an heir to the throne. This book shows her disappointment, eventually leading to isolation. Thus she remains ignorant of the many problems that plague her country. Marie Antoinette comes off as frivolous in the early portions of the book, but as things take a darker turn, and tragedy nears, the use of foreshadowing (and the fact that the story is based on historical events and the reader knows what’s to come) the book instills a strong sense of dread in the reader. It’s a tension that’s only really resolved when the inevitable finally comes to pass.

“I feel only sorrow that I have failed to please. Sorrow-and not resentment-for my mother says that resentment is the most readily visible of all the sinful emotions, but sorrow can enhance one’s sweetness and appeal. Resentment, the empress says, is like a snake that nests in the bosom, and it can turn and strike her who harbors it.”

51h87duc9il-_ac_us218_4. The Sunne in Splendor by Sharon Kay Penman– Shakespeare (who wrote under a Tudor monarch) portrayed Richard III as a bitter, twisted, hunchback who murdered his nephews to secure his throne. Five centuries later, Sharon Kay Penman portrays a very different King Richard. Her Richard was raised in the shadow of his older brother, King Edward IV. When Edward dies at 40, Richard is put in the position of Protector, and he is the target of various conspiracies from those he trusts and those he doesn’t. He “usurps” the throne from his nephews because he believes it to be the best course of action for England as well as the best way to protect the boys. Much is made of the fact that Richard had nothing to gain and much to lose from their murders. In Penman’s eyes, Richard III is a man born into a world of lies, betrayal and manipulation for which his was never suited. He was a man who tried to live honorably while surrounded by deception, and ultimately loved too deeply to survive its loss.

“Richard, might I ask you something? We’ve talked tonight of what you must do, of what you can do, of what you ought to do.But we’ve said nothing of what you want to do.Richard, do you want to be King?”
At first, she thought he wasn’t going to answer her. But as she studied his face, she saw he was turning her question over in his mind, seeking to answer it as honestly as he could.
“Yes,” he said at last. “Yes…I do.”

51x5chc9f7l-_ac_us218_5. Katherine by Anya Seton– This book introduces us to several “leaders”. Some are obvious. John of Gaunt is the Duke of Lancaster, son of King Edward III and uncle to Richard III. There are appearances by Geoffrey Chaucer (Katherine’s brother in law) and a fictional encounter with the saint Julian of Norwich. But I see Katherine herself as leader in a way. An orphan, Katherine finds herself in a loveless marriage to Hugh Swynford, a knight. She bore him two children and helped him to run his estate. After Swynford’s death, Katherine’s path crosses that of John of Gaunt. John falls deeply in love with Katherine and she with him. He cannot marry her for reasons of state, but their affair produced four children who were later legitimized. Their descendants went on to found the houses of York, Lancaster, and Tudor. Even Queen Elizabeth II is one of their many descendants. In Seton’s novel, Katherine herself is a leader with an independent will. She breaks societies strictest taboos to follow her heart, and gives up all she loves when that threatens her conscience.

“Presently comfort came to him, and he thought the she had always given him of her strength though he had never quite realised it until now.
Glory had passed him by; fame too perhaps would not endure; it might well be that the incalculable goddess would decree ill fame as his due. Perhaps there might not be included in his epitah the one tribute to his knighthood the he knew he deserved “Ii fut toujours bon et loyal chevalier” (He was always good and loyal knight)
But whatever the shadowed years might bring, as long as life should last, he knew that he had here at his side one sure recompense and one abiding loyalty.”

51pebgfjasl-_ac_us218_6. The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory– I have mixed feelings about Gregory as an author. I’ve really enjoyed many of her books, but there have been many I’ve disliked too. I decided to forgo the more popular ones like The Other Boleyn Girl or The White Queen (though I do like both of them) because this fuses together the Plantagenet and Tudor series.  We all know that Henry VIII changed a great deal over the course of his life. In his youth, he was a handsome, charismatic, intelligent, athletic young king. As he aged, he became paranoid, tyrannical, and homicidal. Many historians believe that this change was due to the Kells blood group antigen, inherited by his maternal great grandmother, Jaquetta Woodville, (the main character in Gregory’s The Lady of the Rivers. In this book, Jaquetta, who is a bit of a witch, cursed the Tudor line)  which caused impaired fertility. This paired with McLeod syndrome both caused infertility (or at least very limited fertility) and eventually psychotic changes in personality. The way that  Jaquetta’s curse plays into contemporary historical speculation  is discussed in this blog.  This novel deals with Margaret de la Pole, a deposed royal with a unique view of the deteriorating Tudor court, that eventually led to the toxic, paranoiac atmosphere of the court we see in Gregory’s later installments in the series such as The Boleyn Inheritance and The Taming of the Queen.

“Life is a risk, who knows this better than me? Who knows more surely that babies die easily, that children fall ill from the least cause, that royal blood is fatally weak, that death walks behind my family like a faithful black hound?”

51rs3pyqdel-_ac_us218_7. The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier–  Yes this book is definitely fantasy. But like many of Marillier’s books, it’s got a basis in fact. This book opens Marillier’s Bridei trilogy (followed by Blade of Fortriu and Well of Shades). It deals with the young Bridei, who was king of the Picts for about 30 years in the sixth century. The first novel in the series tells of Bridei’s education under Broichan, the king’s druid. One night, when he is still a small boy, Bridei discovers a baby, left by the Fair Folk (that much is likely fantasy!)  whom he names Tuala. As they grow together, Bridei and Tuala form a bond that is threatened as they both come to terms with the destinies.

“Tales within tales. Dreams within dreams. Pattern on pattern and path beyond path. For such short-lived folks, the human kind seem determined to make things as complicated as possible for themselves.”

51fjvdesonl-_ac_us218_8. The Master of All Desires by Judith Merkle Riley– This is another historical novel, dealing with real leaders that ventures into the realm of fantasy. In 1556, Queen Catherine de Medici is trying to obtain an ancient, cursed object, known as the Master of All Desires, rumored to have the power to grant any wish. The Queen has a few wishes, but first and foremost is getting rid  of her husband’s mistress. However, Sybille Artaud de la Roque, a young poet, has recently come into possession of it, and is tempted to us it for herself. Only Nostradamus, the Queen’s seer knows that terrible things happen to those who use it. With France on the verge of civil war, he must stop both women, before they inadvertently destroy all of France!

“Poverty is the curse of ancient but numerous lineages.”

51c5lkxcvwl-_ac_us218_9. The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis– Most of us have heard of the poison-happy Borgia family. As screwed up as they were, they were certainly influential. The family patriarch was the pope! Sancha of Aragon was also pretty powerful;  a princess of the royal house of Naples. She married Jofre Borgia for political reasons, and soon begins an affair with her brother in law, Caesare Borgia.  But as far as this family goes, Adultery is pretty tame! Sancha’s bigger problem is that her sister in law Lucrezia has a thing for Caseare (yes, her brother), and has a tendency to poison her rivals. So Sancha will have to be sneaky enough to outwit this family at their own games.

“How could you ever have loved a man so cruel?’
Trusia lifted her chin at that, and regarded me intensely; her voice held a trace of indignance, and I understood that the depth of her love for my father transcended all else. ‘You speak as though I had a choice,’ she said.”

51wox42dwvl-_ac_us218_10. The Many Lives and  Secret Sorrows of Josephine B by Sandra Gulland– I’ve never thought of Napoleon as much of a romantic lead. A leader, yes, but not very romantic! In this book (the first in a trilogy) we meet Josephine, born in Martinique, as a Creole girl named Marie-Josephe-Rose Tascher. An arranged marriage brings her to France, where she and her children managed to survive the Reign of Terror. She is widowed, and then meets Napoleon, who she marries as a favor to a friend.. This book ends with their marriage, but the trilogy continues through the years of their marriage and their eventual divorce. Rose, whose name is later changed to Josephine, is a character who we like. And we end up liking Napoleon more than we might expect to!

“He calls me Josephine. He says I’m an angel, a saint, his good lucky star. I know I’m no angel, but in truth I have begun to like this Josephine he sees. She is intelligent; she amuses; she is pleasing. She is grace and charm and heart. Unlike Rose; scared, haunted and needy. Unlike Rose with her sad life.”

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Book Recommendations for Outlander Fans

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

August 15:  Ten book recommendations for ______________: (Skies the limit here…examples: for Hufflepuffs, for fans of Game of Thrones, for people who don’t normally read YA, for animal lovers, for video game lovers, etc.

Maybe it’s the fact that the 3rd season of the TV series is coming up, but lately I’ve been looking for read alikes to the Outlander series. If you haven’t read Outlander, the series is 8 books in at the moment with a ninth in progress (the author says she expects it to be 10 in all) and it follows the adventures of Claire, a WWII combat nurse who falls through time, and her 18th century husband, Jamie Fraser.  Even though the premise is fantastical, these books are really well researched from a historical perspective. Jamie and Claire find themselves caught up in the Jacobite rebellion of 1845 and later in the Revolutionary war. They interact with actual historical figures and at real events. After eight books, the characters start to feel like old friends. So once you finish the series it can be hard to jump into something else. Here are some suggestions:

51byrmqnal-_ac_us218_1. Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (the Wilderness Series) In 1792, Elizabeth Middleton, a 29 year old spinster, arrives in upstate New York. Her father brought her there with promises that she could be a school teacher, but the real motive was to marry her off to Richard Todd, a physician who is more interested in her inheritance than her. Elizabeth finds her attention drawn to Nathaniel Bonner (son of “Hawkeye” Bonner, hero of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans). Nathaniel has a strong connection to the Mohican (Mahican) people. His wife was a Mahican woman who died years earlier. The Mahican want to buy part of their land back from Elizabeth’s father. Richard Todd wants it for his own purposes and Elizabeth finds herself sympathizing with the Mahican claim. Meanwhile, her relationship with Nathaniel leads to more conflict between the Mahican and the European settlers.  This kicks off the start of a six book series (it’s followed by Dawn on a Distant Shore, Lake in the Clouds, Fire Along the Sky, Queen of Swords, and The Endless Forest) that follows Elizabeth, Nathaniel and their family.  Outlander fans should be on the look out for a cameo from some Outlander characters in the first book.

“Elizabeth Middleton, twenty-nine years old and unmarried, overly educated and excessively rational, knowing right from wrong and fancy from fact, woke in a nest of marten and fox pelts to the sight of an eagle circling overhead, and saw at once that it could not be far to Paradise.”

51omzinvtpl-_ac_us218_2. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons (the Bronze Horseman trilogy) -On the day that WWII begins, Russian, Tatiana Metanova goes out to buy some food. On the bus, she meets Alexander Belov, a young soldier in the Red Army. Alexander and Tatiana are drawn to one another immediately, and he helps her bring her packages back to her family’s apartment. That’s when Tatiana discovers that Alexander is the same man that her sister, Dasha, had been talking about falling in love with. Tatiana is very devoted to her sister and refuses to steal her boyfriend. So she tells Alexander that nothing can happen between them. Complicating matters further is the fact that another soldier, Dmitri, has information that could destroy Alexander. And Dmitiri is romantically interested in Tatiana. In order to protect Dasha’s feelings and Alexander’s life, Tatiana and Alexander find themselves draw into a romantic quadrangle, as German forces siege Leningrad.  As the brutal Russian winter begins, Tatiana, Dasha, Alexander, and Dmitiri face starvation, deception and danger. This is the first in a trilogy (it’s followed by Tatiana and Alexander and The Summer Garden). There are also two prequel books that tell the story of Alexander’s parents; Children of Liberty and Bellagrand.

“Tatiana lived for that evening hour with him that propelled her into her future and into the barely formed, painful feelings that she could neither express nor understand. Friends walking in the lucent dusk. There was nothing more she could have from him, and there was nothing more she wanted from him but that one hour at the end of her long day when her heart beat and her breath was short and she was happy.”

515yocsadl-_ac_us218_3. Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon (The Lord John series)- Maybe this is cheating, because it’s technically an Outlander spinoff series, but I’m counting it anyway. We meet Lord John briefly in Dragonfly in Amber, and start getting to know him better in Voyager. The events of this series take place during the events of Voyager, usually while the main Outlander characters are doing other things. Lord John is an interesting character. He’s a good man, and honest by nature, but the reality of the world he lives in forces him to live a lie every day. He’s involved in several mysterious events in this series. There are a few full length novels in addition to this one; Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, and The Scottish Prisoner (Jamie from Outlander is the title character, and a co-narrator in this one) as well as a number of novellas. You find find some information about the books and the suggested reading order here and here.

Tom gave him a look of mingled bewilderment and suspicion, obviously suspecting that Grey had made up the word upon the moment for the express purpose of tormenting him.

51fbqr8a2jl-_ac_us218_4. The Pirate Captain: Chronicles of A Legend by Kerry Lynne (The Pirate Captain series)– This series has faced accusations of being an Outlander rip off (with no time travel) mixed with a bit of Pirates of the Caribbean, but it’s still a fun read in it’s own right. It takes place in the years after the battle of Culloden. Catherine MacKenzie is the widow of a Scottish rebel. She has survived for several years living secretly London. She gets passage on a ship away only, to be kidnapped in a pirate raid. Captain Nathanael J. E. Blackthorne wanted revenge against the men who destroyed his life. He ended up with Cate MacKenzie as a rather inconvenient hostage. They fall in love but have both been hurt in the past, and are both hesitant to trust. They’re also facing several external threats. This series continues in Nor Gold, and Treasured Treasures (coming in late 2017).

Beset by a chill reminiscent of the more sour days in the Highlands, Cate hunched on the trunk, listening to the gale tear at the windows and doors, clawing to violate her solitary bastion. The ship lurched to dizzying heights, and then sickeningly pitched downward, disorienting one to the point of doubting which way was up. The rain a hammering drone, the wind screaming through every crevice, and the grind of planking combined into a din that battered one to numbness.

31mezqr7t8l-_ac_us218_5. Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner (the Exit Unicorns series) – In 1968 Belfast, Northern Ireland, the lives of three very different characters intersect. Pamela O’Flaherty just arrived in Ireland, after the death of her father, looking for the man that she fell in love with as a child. James Kirkpatrick is a wealthy industrialist who has lost everything he cares about. Casey Riordan is a member of the IRA who just been released after five years in prison. As the lives of these characters intersect, love for people comes into conflict with love for country. Ireland itself is on the brink of revolution. A civil rights movement is building. The changes threaten the lives of these characters and extend them possibilities  they never imagined. There is also a connection to Ireland’s mythical past that skirts the edges of this story; a sense of a lost magic. The series is continued with Mermaid in A Bowl of Tears,  Flights of Angels, and In the Country of Shadows. Brander is working on the next book in the series.

“From the time I was born, I’ve been surrounded by people who had to be strong everyday just to survive. They had to be hard in mind an’ in heart to get from one year to the next. An’ ye’ve seen my back, I’ve known hatred, come to understand it well an’ promised myself I’d never be vulnerable to it again. But I’d no idea that love could make ye ten times more open to destruction. I’ve had men beat me until I was certain there was only a minute or two left between me an’ the grave an’ yet the fists an’ the knives never hurt the way it does when I think of losin’ ye.”

51f5bryehbl-_ac_us218_6. Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson- In 1682, Catriona (Cat) Campbell first meets Alasdair (Dair)  Og MacDonald. They’re little more than children at the time and even though they know they’re supposed to be enemies, they like each other. As they get older that turns into something more. By 1691, King William offers the Highland clans a pardon for their part in the Jacobite Rebellion, as long as they take an oath of allegiance. The Chieftain of the MacDonald takes the oath. Later, when a regiment of soldiers led by the Campbell clan arrives at the MacDonald  household, Highland hospitality demands that they offer them a place to stay. They believe it’s safe, since both clans took the same pledge.  But the Campbells were under orders from Captain Campbell, to slaughter the MacDonalds,  supposedly to show what happens to those who only took the oath under duress. What followed, became known as the brutal Massacre of Glencoe. The longstanding feud between the two clans threatens to tear Cat and Dair apart as they become pawns in the fight. There are times when it feels a bit like a Scottish Romeo and Juliet plotwise but it’s actually very rooted in real history. Alasdair Og MacDonald was a real person, and he did marry a Campbell (though her name was Mary, not Cat).  It’s good for readers who want a well researched historical romance in Scotland with very little bodice ripping!

Such plain, simple words, and so eloquent a declaration. In that moment he shared all the pain, all the insecurities of an awkward lass made to believe she was worthless to any man but a feckless father who preferred whisky and wagers to pride in himself and his daughter.

51em7j9uqel-_ac_us218_7. A Knight in Shining Armour by Jude Devereaux- Dougless Montgomery had been on vacation in England with her boyfriend, when he ditched her in a churchyard with no money, no car, and no passport. She sits down near the grave of Nicholas Stafford, an earl who died in 1564, to have a good cry. When the earl himself shows up Dougless is shocked to say the least! He says that he’s been falsely accused of treason, and he wants to clear his name. Dougless agrees to help. As he falls in love with Dougless, Nicholas realizes he doesn’t want to leave her and go back to his own time. But when he’s pulled back into his own time anyway, Dougless heads back to the 16th century to find him. I’m not usually a “romance” genre reader but I do make exceptions. This was highly recommended and I enjoyed it. Another book by Deveraux that Outlander fans may like is Remembrance.

My soul will find yours.

51dpf3jtk7l-_ac_us218_8.  Green Darkness by Anya Seton– I think many Outlander fans would like most of Seton’s work. It’s well researched historical fiction with a strong focus on human relationships. I would also recommend Devil Water, which deals with a Jacobite rebellion about 30 years prior to Culloden.  This one is a bit different from Seton’s other work though because there’s a supernatural element. In the 1960’s, Richard brings his new wife, Celia to his ancestral lands. Almost immediately the couple begins to act differently. Richard begins to be cruel and Celia has strange fits and visions. It’s a Hindu guru who eventually figures out what’s wrong with the couple. As things begin to get dangerous, it’s obvious that Richard and Celia need to resolve something that happened in their previous lives in order to be happy in this one. Celia goes back to her past life in Tudor England, where she was a young woman in a forbidden love affair with a monk.  Only by resolving this couple’s tragic end can Celia and Richard find peace in their 20th century lives.

“As there were no real answers in her life. She was in abeyance. Stuck in a pattern of waiting for a future she could not guess.”

51kvyusq41l-_ac_us218_9. The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley– Once again I think Outlander fans would enjoy a lot of Kearsley’s books. I also recommend Mariana, The Firebird, The Shadowy Horses, and A Desperate Fortune. I chose this one for the list because it’s features time travel in a more prominent way than some of the others. Eva Ward returns to Cornwall following the death of her sister Katrina. It’s the place that Eva remembers being Katrina being happiest, and where she wants to spread Katrina’s ashes. She renews some friendships, but the Cornwall house just isn’t the same without her sister. When she slips into 1715, and then back to her own time, she worries for her sanity. Eventually her trips to the past get longer. But no matter how long she stays in 1715, no time passes in the 21st century. She returns to the same moment she left.  Eva bonds with Daniel, the 1715 owner of the house where she’s staying, and Daniel’s friend Fergal. Daniel is a widower, a smuggler and a Jacobite. As she falls in love with Daniel, Eva begins to question where, and when she belongs. But even if she chooses to stay with Daniel, how is she supposed to handle her knowledge of the future? And how does she avoid getting pulled back to her own time?

“Whatever time we have,” he said, “it will be time enough.”

61wblmzijl-_ac_us218_10. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (Kingsbridge trilogy)- In the 12th century, Prior Phillip of Kingsbridge decides to build a cathedral. He hires Tom Builder to accomplish the task, which eventually falls into the hands of Tom’s stepson, Jack.  Meanwhile, Aliena, the daughter of the Earl of Shiring promises her dying father that she’ll see her brother, Richard, installed in his rightful position as Earl. But she and Richard are soon cast out of their own when their castle is seized. They end up in Kingsbridge, where Jack falls in love with Aliena. But pursuing a future with Jack might mean abandoning her promise to her father.  The “sequel” World Without End takes place about 200 years later. The cathedral is still in the process of being built, though the characters and events of the first book have become the realm of legend. The third, A Column of Fire, will be released in September. It takes place in Kingsbridge Cathedral in 1558. Just a note, Outlander fans may also enjoy Follett’s A Place Called Freedom, which is a love story that begins in Scotland in the 1760’s and eventually moves to the American colonies.

She looked at his young face, so full of concern and tenderness; and she remembered why she had run away from everyone else and sought solitude here. She yearned to kiss him, and she saw the answering longing in his eyes. Every fiber of her body told her to throw herself into his arms, but she knew what she had to do. She wanted to say, I love you like a thunderstorm, like a lion, like a helpless rage; but instead she said: “I think I’m going to marry Alfred.”

Honorable Mention

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel (Earth’s Children series) I was hesitant to include this series in the list, because while the first book (Clan of the Cave Bear) was great, and the second, The Valley of Horses was very good, and the third, The Mammoth Hunters was pretty decent, the second half of the series showed a steady decline in quality. The Plains of Passage (book 4) was alright, but a bit redundant. The fifth, The Shelters of Stone was fairly dull and the sixth, The Land of Painted Caves, was hard to finish. So I would suggest that Outlander fans read the first four books which brings the characters to a decent leaving off place. Then ignore the last two books.

Fairy Tale Retellings

Since most of what I write is in the overall category of fairy tale retellings, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites in the genre. If there’s a specific tale that you’re interested in, mention in the comments. I might know some good retellings. I’ve read a lot of these over the years!

Novels

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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth– Kate Forsyth is amazing. She’s  a long time fantasy author, with a doctorate in fairytale studies.  Her blog has some amazing background information on this book.  This Rapunzel retelling imagines three parallel storylines. Charlotte-Rose de la Force is banished from Versailles due to a series of affairs. She takes refuge in a convent, where a nun tells her the story of a young girl who is sold to a mysterious woman in exchange for some bitter greens. It also tells the story of Selena, the muse of the 16th-century artist Tiziano, who comes to be known as La Strega Bella. These three narratives are braided together (pun intended) to create the story of Rapunzel. Charlotte-Rose de la Force was a real person who wrote the Rapunzel story. Selena is also based on a real historical figure.

“I had always been a great talker and teller of tales.
‘You should put a lock on that tongue of yours. It’s long enough and sharp enough to slit your own throat,’ our guardian warned me, the night before I left home to go to the royal court at Versailles … I just laughed. ‘Don’t you know a woman’s tongue is her sword? You wouldn’t want me to let my only weapon rust, would you?”

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Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon– This is a retelling of The Little Mermaid, that has a sad tone more in line with Hans Christian Anderson than Disney. Princess Margrethe’s kingdom is at war. One day while walking along the beach she sees a mermaid rescue a nearly drowned man. By the time Margrethe reaches them the mermaid has disappeared beneath the waves. As Margrethe nurses the man back to health, she learns that he’s a prince of the enemy kingdom. But she falls in love with him, and certain that he was brought to her for a reason. Margrethe comes up with a plan to bring peace to both kingdoms. Meanwhile, mermaid princess Lenia is also unable to forget the drowning man that she helped to rescue. She’s willing to sacrifice her home, her voice, and her health to become human, to be with him. While the prince is a bit more two dimensional than I might like (I’d like to know why these two women love him so much) the fact that this novel presents both of these characters as heroines and puts them at cross purposes, makes it both poignant and compelling.

“There are people all over the world who carry the mermaid inside them, that otherworldly beauty and longing and desire that made her reach for heaven when she lived in the darkness of the sea.”

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Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier– This retelling of The Wild Swans kicks off a six book series, though it can be read as a stand-alone. Lord Colum of Sevenwaters (in Ancient Ireland) has seven children. Six sons and a daughter, Sorcha. When Colum marries a sorceress, Sorcha’s brothers are enchanted. They are turned into birds. In order to break the spell, Sorcha must weave shirts out of nettles for all of them, while remaining silent until her task is complete. The silence becomes more difficult when Sorcha is captured by the Britons and taken overseas. But she continues her task until she is confronted with choosing between saving her brothers and protecting the man with whom she has fallen in love. Sorcha is a wonderful heroine. She’s smart, determined, and strong but not in a cartoonish way. She has weaknesses too, that make her a well-rounded character.

“The man journeyed far, and he heard and saw many strange things on his travels. He learned that – that the friend and the enemy are but two faces of the same self. That the path one believes chosen long since, constant and unchangeable, straight and wide, can alter in an instant. Can branch, and twist and lead the traveler to places far beyond his wildest imaginings. That there are mysteries beyond the mind of mortal man, and that to deny their existence is to spend a life of half-consciousness.”

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Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier– This is a Beauty and the Beast story that is both fantastic and very human.  Eighteen-year-old Caitrin was trained as a scribe, but she runs away from home to avoid a forced marriage. She takes refuge at Whistling Tor, where Anluan, the crippled, cursed chieftain, lives in a house full of (literal) ghosts. When violence once again threatens her happiness, Caitrin and Anluan must stand together to break a curse.  By making Caitrin find refuge from an outside threat with Anluan, Marillier avoids any possible accusation of Stockholm syndrome, and creates a lovely, bittersweet romance.

“He was seated on the bench now. He had his left elbow on his knee, his right arm across his lap, his shoulders hunched, his head bowed. White face, red hair: snow and fire, like something from an old tale. The book I had noticed earlier was on the bench beside him, its covers shut. Around Anluan’s feet and in the birdbath, small visitors to the garden hopped and splashed and made the most of the day that was becoming fair and sunny. He did not seem to notice them. As for me, I found it difficult to take my eyes from him. There was an odd beauty in his isolation and his sadness, like that of a forlorn prince ensorcelled by a wicked enchantress, or a traveller lost forever in a world far from home.”

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Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley– I am one of the rare McKinley fans who prefer Rose Daughter to McKinley’s other Beauty and the Beast story, Beauty. Don’t get me wrong, I like Beauty but I think Rose Daughter’s more innovative while still keeping the spirit of the original story. I can see where the ending of this one might be a bit controversial among fans, but I liked it. We see Beauty have a different relationship with her sisters than we’re used to. They don’t always get along, but they basically care about one another. We also see that Beauty has really fallen in love with the Beast himself, rather than the castle and his wealth etc. There’s more complexity to this telling IMO.

“She looked up at once, pierced to the heart by the sorrow in his voice and knowing, from the question and the sorrow together, that he had no notion of what had just happened to her, nor why. From that she pitied him so greatly that she cupped her hands again to hold a little of the salamander’s heat, not for serenity but for the warmth of friendship. But as she felt the heat again running through her, she knew at once it bore a different quality. It had been a welcome invader the first time, only moments before; but already it had become a constituent of her blood, intrinsic to the marrow of her bones, and she heard again the salamander’s last words to her: Trust me. At that moment she knew that this Beast would not have sent such misery as her father’s illness to harry or to punish, knew too that the Beast would keep his promise to her, and to herself she made another promise to him, but of that promise she did not yet herself know. Trust me sang in her blood, and she could look in the Beast’s face and see only that he looked at her hopefully.”

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Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory McGuire This book tells us straight away that we should forget about the magical Cinderella story we knew. In 17th century Holland, the widowed Margarethe marries a painter and she and her two daughters move in with him and his daughter, Clara.  We follow the story of Iris, Margarethe’s plain-faced daughter, and Ruth, her mentally challenged sister, as they try to find a place for themselves in the world. They learn that deception can be found where you least expect it. But love can be found there too. The “wicked” stepsisters here have complex reasons for their actions. And love is usually at the heart of those reasons.

In the lives of children, pumpkins can turn into coaches, mice and rats into human beings…. When we grow up, we learn that it’s far more common for human beings to turn into rats….

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East by Edith Pattou– In the rural villages of Norway it is believed that children inherit the qualities of the direction in which they are born.  Nymah Rose was born facing north. North born babies are intelligent, unpredictable, and likely to leave home and break their mother’s hearts. Rose’s mother lies and says that her daughter was born facing the more obedient east. But destiny can’t be denied that easily. One night a white bear shows up at the house and says that if she goes with him her ailing, poor family will be happy, healthy and rich. Rose jumps at the chance. She lives with the white bear in his castle. But when her actions unintentionally harm her new friend, Rose must go on a seemingly impossible quest to save him. This story blends the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon with Nordic superstition, Norse mythology and Inuit mythology. It moves through the voices of each of the characters to give us a kaleidoscopic view of the world Pattou creates.

“I knelt by the design. Yes, there was the sun rising. But the white form I had always thought to be a cloud was a bear. I could see it now, upside down. White bear, isbjorn, stood for north. Father had not been able to help himself. The truth was there, too. Truth and lie, side by side.”

Short Fiction/Poetry

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The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter If you’re a teen or adult who loves fairy tales but hasn’t read this collection, please do so right now. I’ll wait. In these stories, Carter retells tales that we all know, Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Red Riding Hood… But she retells them in ways that are humorous, dark, sensual, and subversive.

“There is a vast melancholy in the canticles of the wolves, melancholy infinite as the forest, endless as these long nights of winter and yet that ghastly sadness, that mourning for their own, irremediable appetites, can never move the heart for not one phrase in it hints at the possibility of redemption.”

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Transformations by Anne Sexton– In this collection, Anne Sexton adapts seventeen fairy tales. Each poem opens with a modern-day prologue in which Sexton, compares the tale to a modern theme. These touch on topics like desperation, memory, insanity, and deception.  Then she retells the story through this lens. Most of these poems have a sense of humor, but there’s an undercurrent of darkness as well.

“He turns the key.
Presto!
It opens this book of odd tales.
Which transform The Brothers Grimm.
Transform?
As if an enlarged paper clip
Could be a piece of sculpture.
(And it could.)”