May 24: Book Quote Freebie (Share your favorite book quotes that fit a theme of your choosing! These could be quotes about books/reading, or quotes from books. Some examples are: quotes for book lovers, quotes that prove reading is the best thing ever, funny things characters have said, romantic declarations, pretty scenery descriptions, witty snippets of dialogue, etc.)
No common themes here other than that I gave these books 5 stars (some were rereads) and these quotes stood out to me.
The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid– “Stories are supposed to live longer than people, and the turul is the most ancient story of them all. Tears go running hotly down my face. Maybe killing it will save this generation of pagans, but what about the next? When the fabric of our stories thins and wears, the people will be alive, but they won’t be pagans anymore. And that, I realize, is what Virág always feared the most. Not our deaths, or even her death. She was afraid of our lives becoming our own. She was afraid of our threads snapping, of us becoming just girls, and not wolf-girls.”
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis – “I was never going to get any sleep. I was going to have Alice in Wonderland conversation after Alice in Wonderland conversation until I died of exhaustion. Here, in the restful, idyllic Victorian era.”
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce – “I meant to ask Hatty questions about the garden,’ Tom wrote to Peter, ‘but somehow I forgot.’ He always forgot. In the daytime, in the Kitsons’ flat, he thought only of the garden, and sometimes he wondered about it: where it came from, what it all meant. Then he planned cunning questions to put to Hatty, that she would have to answer fully and without fancy; but each night, when he walked into the garden, he forgot to be a detective, and instead remembered only that he was a boy and this was the garden for a boy and that Hatty was his playmate.”
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow – “Those of you who are more than casually familiar with books — those of you who spend your free afternoons in fusty bookshops, who offer furtive, kindly strokes along the spines of familiar titles — understand that page riffling is an essential element in the process of introducing oneself to a new book. It isn’t about reading the words; it’s about reading the smell, which wafts from the pages in a cloud of dust and wood pulp. It might smell expensive and well bound, or it might smell of tissue-thin paper and blurred two-colour prints, or of fifty years unread in the home of a tobacco-smoking old man. Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, or literary weight or unsolved mysteries.”
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – “Our generation still carry the old feelings. A part of us refuses to let go. The part that wants to keep believing there’s something unreachable inside each of us. Something that’s unique and won’t transfer. But there’s nothing like that, we know that now. You know that. For people our age it’s a hard one to let go.”
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton – “It was the old New York way… the way people who dreaded scandal more than disease, who placed decency above courage, and who considered that nothing was more ill-bred than “scenes”, except those who gave rise to them. ”
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl– “We are all anthologies. We are each thousands of pages long, filled with fairy tales and poetry, mysteries and tragedy, forgotten stories in the back no one will ever read.”
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier – “Men are simpler than you imagine my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone.”
Children’s books usually have child protagonists. YA books usually feature teenage protagonists. That makes sense. But the protagonists for adult books also tend to fall in the late 20’s to early 30’s range. But people don’t cease to be interesting at the age of 35! So I stated thinking about books that feature older main characters. I left off books where it starts off with an elderly character reminiscing and then the whole book takes place in flashback when the character was 20. Also, for the purpose of this list, I decided that “older” meant middle aged +. But obviously age is relative. Though even 40 something heroes and heroines are hard to come by in general literature!
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf- This book would be a lot less interesting with a younger protagonist. The whole point is that Mrs. Dalloway is interacting with a lifetime’s worth of memories. Actually the character is only 51, which is considered more “middle aged” these days, but it’s true regardless: she’s live long enough to have a significant portion of her life to reflect upon.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro– I think of this book as greater than the sum of its parts. Stevens is the perfect butler, having spent 30+ years working at Darlington Hall. On a drive one day, he reflects on his life and tries to reassure himself that it was well spent in the service of a “great gentleman.” But as we learn more, we start to have some suspicions about the “greatness” of Stevens’ employer, and we realize that Stevens has those suspicions as well. But if Lord Darlington isn’t great, has Stevens wasted his life?
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro- This is sort of a polarizing book, even among the author’s fans (of which I am one). It’s very different from Remains of the Day. It center on an elderly couple’s search for the son they haven’t seen in years. It seems like fantasy usually has youthful protagonists, even if they have an older mentor. But I think that one reason this book is polarizing is the genre expectations for fantasy. It doesn’t fill them (or try to).
Old Filth by Jane Gardam – The “Filth” in the title is an acronym; it stands for Failed In London Try Hongkong. It is the nickname of Sir Edward Feathers, formerly a lawyer in Southeast Asia, later a respected Judge at the English bar. After a successful career, Filth retires to Dorset at the age of 80. He expects his life to end without event or drama. But he soon discovers that “anywhere you go, there you are.” He is haunted by his life’s traumas and triumphs, as well as a nemesis turned neighbor. This is actually the first in a trilogy about the characters.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery- Renee is the cranky middle aged concierge at a Paris apartment building. She has a genuine attachment to her cat, bunions on her feet and an addiction to soap operas. That’s the front she presents to the world. She’s also a lover of books, art, music and philosophy. She observes the lives of her tenants. She unintentionally forms an unusual bond with a Paloma, girl who lives in the building, as well as Uzo the building’s newest resident.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– Brought together by their mutual love of literature, and the loss of their spouses, Major Pettigrew finds himself falling for Mrs. Ali, a shopkeeper of Pakistani heritage. But their English village doesn’t readily embrace the cross cultural romance.
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West– This one has an 88 year old widow as a protagonist. When her husband dies, her children expect her to live with one of them for a year or two before dying quietly herself. She has other ideas…
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman– I love the idea of elderly true crime buffs in a retirement community solving a murder. Unfortunately in this case I felt like the execution didn’t live up to its promise. Looking at the reviews though, I seem to be in the minority. It actually kicks off a series.
After All These Years by Susan Isaacs– After her husband of 25 years leaves her for another woman, Rosie Meyers feels like she could kill him. But she’s still shocked when his body turns up in their kitchen! With all the clues pointing her her this middle aged English teacher goes on the lam to try to find the real killer.
March 29: 21st Century Books I Think Will Become Classics (Submitted by Lisa of Hopewell)
I really love this topic actually. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and here’s what I’ve come up with.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro -Published in 2005 this book already seems to have achieved a sort of modern classic status. It tackles issues of love, mortality, memory, the lives we value and those we don’t. It’s also a book that you can only say a little about without spoilers.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – 2017 A story that follows a family through several generations. It begins in the early 1900s when Sunja falls for a wealthy stranger, and learns she’s pregnant, just as she learns he’s married. She marries a minister instead and leaves Korea with him for Japan. That decision will reshape her family’s future.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 2015 – I’d be curious to see how future generations respond to this, since it is so polarizing now. I can understand why some people love it (beautiful writing and enduring themes), and why some hate it (the content is…difficult to say the least). It’s about absolutely sickening abuse and it’s aftermath, so if you don’t want to read about that, be warned. But it’s also about love and friendship. It asks which ties us more tightly, trauma or love? They answers are not be very comfortable.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel- Published in 2014 I now think of it as the pre-COVID COVID novel. It’ll be interesting to see how writing about a pandemic fairly accurately several years pre-pandemic plays into this book’s legacy. What I liked about it was that it asks what humanity’s legacy will be: art and beauty or death and destruction. And are those mutually exclusive?
Atonement, Ian McEwan – The film adaptation may have it’s a legacy on it’s own. But this book about family, class, memory, responsibility, and guilt, is it’s own haunting magic trick of a novel.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– 2000- This novel/screenplay/notes/something-or-other is definitely a dizzying example of multiple narrators and texts within texts. It’s even got it’s own set of companion works by the other and others in different forms of media.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– 2001 – I think of this as a sort of valentine to books and libraries. It’s one of my deepest hopes that both will last well into the next century, but this book celebrates what’s lost and forgotten. Even in a best case scenario for books they won’t all be remembered. I love the idea of a Cemetery of Forgotten Books!
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– 2002- This is another book that’s you’re better off the less you know about it going in. But it’s a favorite for it’s twisty, gothic, Victorian-inspired narrative.
I’m posting it a bit late today, but here is The Official List:
1. Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl-This is a book that requires a bit of explanation. Beatrice’s boyfriend died, just before their high school graduation. The death was a presumed suicide. A year later, she reunites with her high school friends, and they spend an evening out. On their way home they have a car accident. They soon learn that they are in “Neverworld Wake” following the accident; a kind of limbo in which they will relive the day of the accident again and again. Only one of them will survive the accident and they must have a unanimous vote on who that will be. It soon becomes clear that in order to make this decision, they must learn the truth about Beatrice’s boyfriend’s death the year before. They began to investigate from inside “the wake.” But they quickly realize that they’re all hiding something about the night he died… This book combines Sci-fi/Fantasy with an Agatha Christie-eque murder mystery. It’s a mash up that works surprisingly well.
2. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro- Klara is an Artificial Friend (AF). She’s solar powered and therefore sees the sun as a deity. She watches from her place in the store as customers come in to browse. Eventually she’s chosen an moves to her new home. She movies in with teenage Josie, who lives an isolated life, and suffers from a mysterious illness. It’s hard to explain this book, since it’s sort of a fable. It’s about humanity and friendship and faith.
3. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow I’m actually not sure how to explain this one, because I think it’s the kind of book that’s better the less you know going in to it. Suffice it to say that it’s a fun hybrid of genres including adventure, fantasy and historical fiction. Also, it’s about Doors (yes, I used a capital “D” on purpose.)
4. The Betsy -Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace I’d heard these discussed and cited as being very important to people’s childhood reading, but somehow I’d missed them as a child. I got a treasury of the first four books at a used bookstore and was utterly charmed. It follows the childhood of Betsy Ray and her friends in Minnesota at the turn of the twentieth century. I found these books to be very comforting and reassuring. Yes, things are sometimes hard for Betsy and her friends, but we know with a child’s innocence, that they’ll make it through their struggles. Is it totally realistic? No. But I think just reading about happiness can be very reassuring.
5. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce – This was another book that I’d heard of as being a very important childhood read for a lot of people. So when I saw a copy I grabbed it. It’s a slow strange story about a boy named Tom who is shipped off to stay with his aunt and uncle when his brother gets sick. He’s sure he’ll have a terrible summer. But one night he hears the clock chime an unexpected thirteen times. He’s transported to a garden where he meets a girl named Hattie. He returns to the garden every night, but as the summer ends and he has to return home, he starts to look for a way to his secret place.
6. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay – I came to this somewhat knowledgeable about what to expect thanks to having already seen the film and the miniseries. But in spite of prior knowledge about the content, I still found this book compelling. It’s a slim and rather slow moving novel about the disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher on a St. Valentine’s Day picnic in 1900 Australia. It creates a strong sense of atmosphere that manages to be gothic in spite of the sun drenched setting.
7. The Tiger Catcher by Paullina Simons– I’d had this on my TBR for a while. The author is one I’ve liked in the past and often pay attention too, but I’m about 50/50 on her books. This one had some not so great reviews, but it exceeded my expectations, which was nice. It’s about Julian, a handsome young man who falls in love with a mysterious woman named Josephine. But when he learns that she’s not what she seems, she vanishes from his life forever. Desperate to get her back, Julian takes a leap into the unknown… It’s the first in a trilogy, and I look forward to reading the rest in 2022.
8. Weather by Jenny Offill – This is a perfect read for those days when it feels like humanity, and the world itself, is headed straight downhill. The main character, Lizzie, is a librarian who takes on a side gig answering letters that come in to a doom-laden podcast called “Hell and High Water.” She tries to inject a note of hope into her answers, but it’s hard, especially when she spends her days answering people who write into the podcast, who tend to be rather pessimistic, to say the least. I saw this book as being subtly, and unexpectedly, optimistic. It has a wry sense of humor about itself. I also really like the title, the more I think about it. “Weather” can be a meteorological event or condition, but it can also be a verb that means both “to wear away by long exposure” and “to endure and come through safely.” I think it’s up to the reader to decide which definition is the most relevant to the book. It’s a quick read, but I found it an unexpected surprise.
9. Killers of the Flowers Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann– I’m not usually a true crime buff, but my book club read it this year and I found myself unexpectedly drawn into it. It takes place in Oklahoma in the 1920’s. The Osage Nation was extremely wealthy due to oil found on their land. Then they start to be killed off. People who investigated the murders were also killed. As the death toll rose, J Edgar Hoover hired a former Texas rancher to solve the mystery. The story that emerges has “stranger than fiction” qualities, but is still utterly believable.
August 24: Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time
1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I wish I could read this again and not know what was coming. At the same time I’m really glad I read this for the first time when I did, because my high school English class was reading Crime and Punishment at the time. There are a lot of parallels and I appreciated the enriched experience in that way. I think it would hold up well to a reread though. I just wish I could recreate that experience of finding those parallels and getting excited.
2. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– Last year I reread this with a book club and I found myself really jealous of the members who were reading it for the first time and didn’t know what twists and turns lay ahead.
3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie- The first time I read this I tried to read it as a detective and figure out whodunnit as I read. I wasn’t right, but I tried! I think I’d like the experience of reading it as more of a reader and going along with the story without trying to be two steps ahead.
4. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– I remember staying up late into the night with this one, and feeling the thrill of surprise as the story unfolded. Those reading experiences are wonderful and rare.
5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This one had a slowly building sense of dread as I realized what was happening. At the same time I kept hoping that I’d be proven wrong. That sense of building tension without a “reveal” (rather a gradual unfolding) is not something I encounter often.
6. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters -I read this book for the first time while I was on a train. At one point I got to a plot twist and I literally shouted, “Holy crap!” Out loud. It’s a rare book that makes me embarrass myself on public transportation.
7. The Other by Thomas Tryon- There was one twist in this book that I felt was really obvious. Once it was revealed, I felt like I was very smart, I’d figured the book out, and it was going to be disappointing. Little did I know there were other turns ahead! I think the initial twist as a sort of misdirection, so the reader wasn’t on the lookout anymore.
8. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- This one didn’t have any huge surprises in it, but I became so invested in these characters, for better or for worse (and often it was for worse.) I was legitimately worried about them it was a wonderful and stressful experience. I think it would hold up to rereads, though, because I know what’s coming for the characters and I can focus on other things without worrying about them so much. Just a note: I’m always hesitant to recommend this one without including a content warning, because some of the content is very difficult.
9. East of Eden by John Steinbeck -I honestly think I was too young for this the first time I read it. It’s on my to be reread list, and I think I’ll get a lot more out of it a second time, but I wish I was coming to it fresh.
July 20: Books I Read In One Sitting (or would have if I had the time)
For this one I just decided to keep things simple and go with the last ten.
1. Weather by Jenny Offill- This was one I read because I’d seen it recommended several places. It was short and had brief chapters so it went quickly, but it was also beautifully written, so it made me want to read more.
2. Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill- I sought this one out because I enjoyed Weather so much. It was written in a similar style, so I read it in about an afternoon. I don’t know if these are technically novels or novellas.
3. The Guest List by Lucy Foley- This had short chapters, and most of them ended on a cliffhanger or with an unanswered question. So I’d want to read another chapter, and the next one was short too, so I did… I read most of the book that way!
6. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro– Ishiguro’s writing just flows so beautifully that it makes me want to keep reading it. I think it probably actually took me a couple days to get through, but I did read it pretty quickly.
7. The Mother in Law by Sally Hepworth– This one was clever about showing something from one character’s perspective that seemed inexcusable, and then showing the same event from another character’s point of view and letting us see that there were valid reasons behind it. That back and forth kept me interested.
9. You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann– I read this for a book club. We were supposed to read a horror book for Halloween, but I wasn’t in a horror mood, so I just went for something short. It was pretty compelling though and and I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would.
June 1: Freebie (choose any past topic, or come up with you own)
Lately I’ve been really into what I’d call “dark academia” as a literary subgenre. I love academic settings. I love gloomy gothic trappings. I love weirdness. So it’s really no surprise that I’d love literary mashups of all of that!
1.The Secret History by Donna Tartt-This is sort of a definitive cornerstone of the genre. It follows Richard, a student at a New England college. He wants to study Greek, and Julian, the enigmatic professor eventually allows Richard into his selective tutorial of only six students. Richard is slowly drawn into the world of the other students. But it’s a world that goes beyond the boundaries of morality and even legality. As Richard finds himself privy to the group’s secrets, he also learns that some members of the group will stop at nothing, including murder. I read this in my senior year of high school, and it just so happened that we were reading Crime and Punishment at the same time in one of my classes. I’m glad that was the case, because I think that it allowed me to get more out of The Secret History, since Dostoyevsky’s work is clearly a strong influence. I’m actually sort of surprised that Hollywood hasn’t tackled this book yet. But I think it would be a hard book to translate to film in a way that worked.
2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This has all the elements of dark academic setting with a bit of a sci-fi twist. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are all students at Hailsham, an isolated boarding school in the English countryside. The atmosphere of the school is very cliquey and the teachers always remind the students how “special” they are. Years later, with the knowledge and understanding of how and why they were “special,” Ruth reflects on her time and Hailsham, and the friendships she formed there. There’s a film version of the book, and while it’s a pretty good adaptation, it tells the viewer what makes the students at Haimsham special in the first ten minutes or so. In the book it’s sort of a gradual, growing realization for the reader. As I started to understand, I was sort of hoping I was wrong. I think that experience is a part of what makes this book special, and it’s definitely why I’d recommend reading the book before seeing the film.
3. The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman– Actually a lot of Goodman’s work, including the Fairwick trilogy (a romantic fantasy series that she initially wrote under the name “Juliet Black,”) and her YA fantasy Blythewood series, qualifies for this list. I chose this book to feature mostly because it doesn’t incorporate as many other genres. A week before her high school graduation, Jane Hudson fled the Heart Lake School For Girls after three of her classmates committed suicide. Jane was the only one who knew the truth about their fates, and she carried that knowledge with her for the next twenty years, When she returns to the school as a Latin teacher, troubled students once again begin to die, and the memories that Jane repressed for so long, begin to surface.
4. Villette by Charlotte Bronte– Jane Eyre comes to mind first of course, and there is a notably dark school setting early in that book, but the setting also changes very early in the book. This book, on the other hand, has all of the gothic-ness that we expect from Bronte, and it’s set almost entirely in a boarding school in Belgium. The heroine, Lucy Snow, travels there to teach after a family disaster, and becomes involved in romance, intrigue and adventure. I do think Jane Eyre is a “easier read,” and it also features a dark aesthetic with academic plot points, so I’d recommend readers unfamiliar with Bronte start there. But Villette is an enjoyable next step in the Bronte journey through dark academia.
5. The Broken Girls by Simone St. James– Idlewild Hall is a Vermont boarding school for girls that’s reputed to be haunted. In the 1950’s four students at the school became good friends, until one of them disappears. More than 60 years later, journalist, Fiona Sheridan’s sister’s body is found near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. Her boyfriend was convicted of the murder, but Fiona has her doubts. When she learns that the school is being restored by a mysterious benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But what she learns involves a horrifying secret that connects her sisters murder to the disappearance so long ago.
6. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray – The whole Gemma Doyle trilogy is a lovely mix of Victorian Gothic and fantasy with a boarding school setting. Gemma Doyle is sent from the life she knew in India, in 1895, to Spence, an English boarding school, following the death of her mother. Gemma is initially lonely. She’s haunted by her mother’s death and visions that have a tendency to come true. But things get really crazy when Gemma is drawn into a clique of girls who are dipping their toes into the world of spirits. What they learn will change them forever.
7. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss– I was a bit iffy about whether to include this one, because it’s not set in a “traditional” academic setting. Silvie and her family live in modern England, but they live as if they’re ancient Britons, with the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age. One summer, Silvie’s father takes the family to join an anthropology course that is reenacting life in the Iron Age. But mixing with these students gives Sylvie a chance to see the prospect of a life away from her father’s obsession with the ancient Britons. As the group gets closer to the lifestyle of their subjects, things take a darker turn. The push and pull between the modern life that intrigues Sylvie, and the ancient life that obsesses her father, becomes a tug of war. Even though it’s not set in a school, the fact that it’s set amongst students in a practical exercise gives it that “academic” feeling.
8. Red Leaves by Paullina Simons– Kristina, Jim, Conni and Albert are all students at Dartmouth College. They have a close friendship, and one Thanksgiving weekend they all decide to stay on campus. When Kristina’s body is found in a snowbank shortly after, detective, Spencer O’Malley is on the case. As he learns about the groups dynamics, questions arise. Why did Kristina’s friends fail to report her missing? Their answers to his questions reveal a web of jealousy, secrets, deceptions, and possibly murder.
9. Down A Dark Hall by Lois Duncan- A ghost story set in a mysterious gothic boarding school. Pretty much made for this list! Actually Duncan’s Daughters of Eve also fits it pretty well, but I’ll go with this, since it’s the first one I thought of. Kit Gordy is sent to Blackwood Academy when her mother remarries. She’s not happy about it. She’s even more disturbed when she learns that she’s one of only four students accepted this term. When Blackwood’s students begin to show amazing talents in the arts and sciences, Kit can’t help but notice that it’s taking a toll on their health. She often wakes up with sore arms and fingers. The headmistress is quick to explain everything away, until Kit learns something that puts her and her classmates in terrible danger. I devoured this book when I was eleven or twelve. I don’t know how well it holds up, but I did recently see the film adaptation which wasn’t bad.
10. The Magus by John Fowles– Nicholas Urfe is a young Englishman who takes a teaching job on a remote Greek island. There he meets Conchis,the reclusive millionaire who owns the island. Conchis offers Nicholas what seems to be friendship. But he is drawn into a twisted game of betrayal, violence, and psychological traps. Soon Nicholas is unable to tell past from present and fantasy from reality. He finds himself fighting to maintain his sanity and stay alive. Even though this is set at a school on an island, most of the action takes place outside the school. But I’m counting this because I’d call the relationship that Conchis has with Nicolas to be very academic (at least to start off). There’s also a film adaptation, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume (technically this is two sentences. Also, I don’t like the most recent cover which makes it look like Margaret is texting. I get that they’re trying to make it appeal to contemporary audiences but I don’t think they should do it by making seem like it something it’s not)
May 4: My Ten Most Recent Reads (maybe share a one-sentence review to go with?)
Didn’t do anything too fancy this week. These are the last ten books I read:
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson- This one was kind of silly but it was basically just a lot of fun. It opens at the funeral of Mila Flores’ best friend, Riley. Understandably, Mila is having a tough time, especially because she thinks there’s something suspicious about Riley’s “suicide.” For one thing Riley didn’t seem even remotely suicidal. For another, her death came straight on the heels of the double suicide of Fairmont Academy mean girls June Phelan-Park and Dayton Nesseth. Mila and Riley practiced Wicca, and when Mila comes across a spell for reanimating the dead for seven days, she’s all in. So what if she’s never done magic even remotely in this category before? She figures she’ll resurrect Riley, ask whodunnit, and get a chance to say a proper goodbye. But when her spell resurrects June Phelan-Park and Dayton Nesseth along with Riley, she’s in for a shock. None of the three remember anything about their deaths. They have to lie low in an abandoned house for seven days while Mila does some detective work to figure out who could have wanted all three of them dead, and why. I guess Riley, June and Dayton are technically “zombies” in this, but they’re pretty tame zombies. They look alive-ish as long as Mila is within 100 steps, and they spend their days hiding out eating pizza, not brains. They’re not killers, they’re just trying to find one.
2. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka- This slim novel (only about 150 pages) tells the story of a group of women who come from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” in the early 20th century. We follow that women over the next 30 years or so, from their first meeting with their new husbands, to their jobs, through birth and child rearing, up to WWII Japanese internment. It’s told with first person plural narration. The experiences of the different women vary, but they speak as one. It’s a choice that I’m honestly not sure how I feel about. On one hand it gives a strong feeling of community, but on the other hand, it feels like it erases individual voices.
3. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro- I was a bit nervous reading this one because Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors, and this book seemed similar-ish to Never Let Me Go (one of my favorite of his books) in that they both take place in dystopian near futures, with technology that we may someday have. Klara is a solar powered Artificial Friend (AF) with outstanding observational qualities. She watches from her store, waiting be chosen by a customer. She has been programmed to give kindness, and recognize it in others. She’s eventually bought by Josie, and goes to live with Josie and her mother. The family has been through dark times, and Josie has an illness. So Klara tries to help however she can, based on the understanding she has. At times this is both more and less than a normal “human” understanding. Yes, it gets into some questions about artificial life. Klara is said to be unusually observant for an AF. Does that mean she’s surpassed her programing in some way? And if that’s the case what is she? AF, AI, human, or some combination of the above? I would say that I didn’t like it quite as much as Never Let Me Go (which I gave 5 stars). This I gave 4.5 (rounded up to 5)
4. Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen– Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness mysteries as a series of cozy mysteries that follow Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 34th in line for the British throne, but penniless due to the great depression. Unfortunately, the queen has a tendency to ask favors a lot. The most recent is to represent the royal family at a wedding in Transylvania. They think she’s be a good choice since she went to school with the bride. But no sooner does Georgie arrive that a wedding, then a guest is poisoned. Being no stranger to murder, and hoping to avoid an international incident, Georgie helps out with the investigation. I think if you’re interested in the series, start with the first one. The same cast of characters pop up throughout the series, and it’s good to get to know who they are. But if you’ve read other books in the series already, this one is fun too. Jump in!
5. The Mother in Law by Sally Hepworth- Lucy had always had a complicated relationship with her mother-in-law, Diana. But she loves her husband Ollie, and their children. When Diana is found dead, an apparent suicide, the whole family is surprised. But Diana had recently lost her husband and was facing a battle with cancer… But as the days pass, unanswered questions pile up. Why did the autopsy find no cancer? Why were there traces of poison and evidence of suffocation in Diana’s body? Why did Diana recently disinherit her children and their spouses? The answers to these questions lie somewhere in Lucy’s long history with her in-laws. We follow that history, and the present investigation into Diana’s death. Hepworth alternates narration between Diana and Lucy, and shows us that there truly are at least two sides to every story.
6. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore– I thought this was beautiful, but I can see someone else not liking it at all. It’s about the close friendship between Bernie and Sils, two teenage girls working at Storyland, an amusement park in upstate NY. They spend their breaks smoking and gossiping, and live with the impulsivity of the young. But when Sils gets into a difficult position and actually needs help, Bernie does something that changes everything for both of them. The story is narrated by a middle aged Bernie, looking back on friendship with several decades distance. She realizes that even though she and Sils weren’t BFFs for life, the friendship gave them both something they needed. You might even say it made them who they are. I thought that was a beautiful concept. There are a lot of friends I’ve fallen out of touch with as our lives took us in different directions. But it’s nice to think that those relationships weren’t a waste of time at all. They gave me something valuable (and hopefully I did the same to them) and then we both moved on with life.
7. Bunny by Mona Awad- I remember this one was described as Heathers meets The Craft, which was a “yes please” from me. Another review said there was a bit of The Secret History (which I also liked) in the mix. But after I read it. my response to this one was a resounding “WTF?!?!” I think the latter describes it better. It’s the kind of book you can’t really say a lot about without spoilers, but the basic premise involves Samantha Heather Mackey, student in a prestigious creative writing MFA program at Warren University. She’s utterly repelled by her cohort: a group of rich girls who are super-cutsie and all call each other “Bunny” for some reason. But when the Bunnies invite her to their famous “Smut Salon,” she’s accepted into the group. Things get a lot crazier from there…
8. Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson- Amy Whey is a typical suburban mom, who loves her life. When a new neighbor arrives and joins Amy’s friend’s book club, she’s welcomed. The mysterious and sultry Angelica Roux keeps the wine flowing, and starts a game of spilling secrets. Everyone thinks it’s just silly fun, but Amy has something to hide. Something that could destroy her family and the happy life she’s built. As soon as they’re alone, Roux tells Amy that she’s going to pay, one way or another. In order to protect herself and her family, Amy joins Roux in a dark twisted game of hidden pasts and long buried secrets. Amy is sure that she isn’t the only one who is hiding something terrible. And Roux’s secrets might be her only chance to win. I enjoyed this book right until the end, but then I really didn’t like the twist.
9. Home Before Dark by Riley Sager– Twenty five years ago Maggie Holt and her parents moved into Baneberry Hall, a Victorian estate in Vermont. They lived there for three weeks, before leaving in the middle of the night, fleeing for their lives. Later, Maggie’s father, Ewan, wrote about the family’s experience in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors (which sounds a lot like The Amityville Horror) Though she was too young to remember her time in Baneberry Hall, Maggie is sure that her father’s book is really fiction disguised as fact. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she decides to do what she does: restore old homes and sell them for a higher price. But staying in Baneberry Hall is an experience that Maggie isn’t prepared for. We read chapters from House of Horrors alongside chapters that Maggie narrates. The real tension is that as she learns that parts of her father’s books were truer than others, Maggie’s own perception of reality and fiction, past and present, also begin to blur.
10. Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia– In Mexico in the 1920’s Casiopea cleans her grandfather’s floors and dreams of a better life for herself. One day, she finds a mysterious wooden box in her Grandfather’s room. When she opens it, she accidentally frees that Mayan god of death, who asks for her help in regaining the throne his brother stole from him. Well, “asks” might not be the best word. Casiopia may die if she refuses…Of course she might also die if she accepts and they fail! But if they’re successful, all of her dreams may come true. I enjoyed this as a fantasy, but I wondered as I was reading if I was being ethno/theocentric. After all, this is based on a religion that people believe in for a long time. It felt uncomfortable to call it “fantasy” for that reason. But the author said in her acknowledgments that it’s intended to be read as a fantasy. She included some other sources for readers who want to know more about the Mayan religious mythology.