1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey– Jack and Mabel are a childless couple, struggling to make a home in 1920 Alaska; a brutal environment. In a rare moment of levity during the first snowfall of the season, they build a child out of snow. The next day the snow child is gone, but they discover a little girl, who calls herself Faina. Faina seems to survive alone in the Alaskan wilderness. They come to love her like their own child. This retells a fairy tale, but in a very elegant way. It feels very grounded in the realities of the Alaskan homestead.
2. Light on Snow by Anita Shreve– Twelve year old Nicky Dillon and her father discover an abandoned baby in the snowy woods near their home in New Hampshire. They rescue the baby and bring it to a nearby hospital. Then Nicky and her father, a grieving widower, settle in for a bleak Christmas. But as the snowflakes from the season’s first blizzard begin to fall, a young woman turns up at the house, claiming she wants to purchase a table from Nicky’s father (he builds furniture). It soon becomes clear to Nicky and her dad that this girl is the baby’s mother. She faints, and by the time she comes to, Nicky, her father and the girl are snowbound. Will Nicky’s dad turn the girl in to the police for abandoning her baby in the cold? Nicky soon becomes drawn to the girl, who she sees as an older sister/mother figure, creating a tense emotional situation for all three characters.
3. Whiteout by Ken Follett– Maybe not the best to read during a pandemic, this thriller is about what happens when a canister of a deadly virus goes missing from a Scottish research lab. The lab’s security director, and several people (all with something to gain or lose from the drug they’re creating to fight the virus) take shelter in a remote house during a Christmas Eve blizzard.
4. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin– This story brings us to a slightly alternate version of the Belle Époque in New York City. In this version the city is bombarded by blizzards. One freezing night, a thief called Peter Lake, breaks into a mansion where meets and falls in love with a young woman who is dying of consumption. The harsh winter is a death sentence for her. But Peter will do whatever he has to, to change things.
5. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– Ethan Frome is married to Zeena, a hypochondriac. Her marriage to Ethan is unhappy and both are bitter. When Zeena’s impoverished cousin, Mattie, moves in with them, Ethan falls in love. This book has a key scene involving sledding, so I’m counting it. (Also it’s set in a snowy Massachusetts winter)
6. Icebound by Dean Koontz– I read this one a long time ago, but I do remember snow and ice! It’s about a group of scientists (scientists seem to have bad luck with snow in thrillers!) in the Arctic. They find themselves stranded on an iceberg. A massive explosion is hours away (they’re blowing up the iceberg for sciencey reasons I think…) and if that wasn’t bad enough, one of them is a murderer. I know the plot is rather farfetched, but it’s just fun!
7. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie- Snow foils what should have been the perfect crime when an avalanche stops the Orient Express in it’s tracks- just before a passenger is found dead in his berth. There are 13 potential suspects on the train, and no one can get away, but all have seemingly perfect alibis. What’s a detective to do?
8. Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg– This one is also sort of hazy in my memory, but I remember that Smilla was half Inuit and she was raised in Greenland, where she became very intuitive about snow. As an adult, she works as a scientist who studies different types of snow. When her six year old neighbor dies from a fall of the roof of their apartment complex, the police think he had an accident while playing. But seeing the tracks that the child left in the snow on the roof, Smilla knows that isn’t what happened. She suspects murder, but the police don’t want to hear it. So Smilla investigates for herself.
7. Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade– I love the idea of this. An actor, unhappy with how his character has been written, takes refuge in the word of fan fiction. When he agrees to a publicity date with a fan, he realizes that she’s also his fandom friend in fanfic world. I think that this draws parallels between the love an artist has for his/her work and the love a fan has for something. I’m interested to see how it plays out.
8. Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch– I love the idea of delving into the women of this period who are often left out of regency novels, and even much of written history. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jane Austen, but the regency wasn’t all about white women! This books looks at women of color and LGBTQ women, who have been too often overlooked by history.
9. Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney– I loved Cooney’s YA novels when I was younger, so I was excited to see that she had a new book for adult readers out soon. I also like that this book focuses on a protagonist in her 70’s. So many books focus on 25-35 year olds exclusively!
10. A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire– I’ve had mixed success with Maguire as an author, but I’m eager to see what he does with one of my favorite fairy tales, The Wild Swans set in 1960s NYC.
1.Majesty: American Royals II by Katharine McGee: September 1, 2020. I just finished American Royals. It was a soap opera that imagined an America if George Washington had been king instead of president, and his descendants had inherited the throne. It was totally trashy but sort of the mindless thing I needed at the moment. This is the sequel. I’m sure in the coming months there will be a time that I need another mindless, trashy soap opera.
April 21: Titles That Would Make Good Band Names (submitted by Michelle)
I couldn’t think of anything for this right now, so I went my own way.
I know a lot of us are in some variation of this right now. And I know most of us want to ignore or escape the implications of it. But others prefer to think through the various scenarios, and sort of dive into this. Or we just want to read about people who are going through something similar. For those people I offer this list:
1.The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio-I read this in high school. The premise is that ten people flee a plague ridden Florence for a villa in the countryside. To pass the time there they agree to each tell a story each evening for ten nights. Thus, by the end of the period they will have 100 stories. Then we read the stories. It’s similar-ish to The Canterbury Tales.
2. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel– This novel, set after a swine flu pandemic has decimated the world, is set largely among a troupe of actors who perform Shakespeare through the great lakes region in exchange of necessities, and because “survival is insufficient.” That resonated with me: the attempt to hold on to what’s great about humanity, even when it’s future isn’t assured.
3.The Plague by Albert Camus– Published in 1947 this novel tells the story of a plague overtaking the French Algerian city of Oran. There is an interesting portrayal of both government and individuals joining together to fight the spread of the disease.
4. The Plague Tales by Ann Benson– This book has two narratives. One is set in the 1300s and is about a Jewish doctor charged with keeping the English royal family safe from the Bubonic plague. The other is set in the future (2005, which was the future when the book was written in 1998!) where a forensic archaeologist accidentally releases the ancient bacteria.
5.Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks- This novel is set in the small of Eyam, which was quarentined in 1666 when the Black Death of the 14th century recurred there. It is told from the point of view of a housemaid named Anna.
6. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis– Kirvin Engle is a young historian preparing an on-site study of the Black Death, but when something goes wrong, Kirvin is stranded in the 14th century. As she fights the plague there, the same illness threatens the team of academics in the 21st century that is trying to get her home.
7. World Without End by Ken Follett– This is the second book in Follett’s trilogy about the building of a Cathedral. Set in the 14th century (about 200 years after book one ends) a new set of characters, deals with challenges and heartbreak in the village of Kingsbridge. One of those challenges is the plague.
8. The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer– Beatrice is a neurosurgeon undergoing professional difficulties. When her brother, passes away, she travels to the Tuscan city of Siena to wrap up his affairs. Amid his things, she discovers a 700 conspiracy to decimate the city. She also discovers the work 14th century artist Gabriele Accorsi, which transports her to the year 1347. As the plague threatens to destroy everything she’s come to love, Beatrice’s knowledge of the future may be the only thing that can save her.
9. The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni– My Freshman year of college I did a semester of freshman seminar dedicated to a close reading of this Italian epic. It features a star crossed betrothal against the backdrop of a plague that struck Milan around 1630. I remember that we read and discussed the plague scenes in great detail in class but I don’t recall much about the characters themselves.
10. Love in the Time of The Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez– I mean it has “Cholera” right here in the title for goodness sake! Actually I recently learned that in Spanish (the book’s original language) cholera is cólera, a word that’s often used to denote passion, rage or ire. This pun in the title makes sense for a book is which love and passion is almost like a disease and of itself.
11.Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson– I read this book a long time ago but in some ways this historical novel about a yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia in the late 18th century feels very relevant now. Enough so that I’ve thought back to it and the characters several times over the last few weeks.
The Stand by Stephen King– This has been on my TBR for a while. I’ve got a copy sitting on my shelf, but I think it’s going to have to stay put for now, because I find this whole experience terrifying enough without Stephen King’s take on it!
5. Trinity by Leon Uris– This was recommended by several people but it’s a heavy subject matter and it’s 894 pages.
6. Kristin Lavranstradder by Sigrid Undset– This is technically a trilogy of three normal sized books but apparently the translation matters, and I have the first book in the wrong translation. At some point I’ll try to read it and if it’s no good I’ll go for this edition which is supposed to be the “good” translation, but it’s all 3 books together making it a cumbersome 1168 pages.
10. An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear- This is the fifth in the Maisie Dobbs series. I’ve been enjoying it but after a while the terrible things that these characters go through (so far it’s not limited to war, PTSD, drug addiction, illness, and death) make it a fairly depressing experience.
September 4: Bingeworthy TV Shows/Amazing Movies (The new fall TV season is starting up this month, so let’s talk about what shows everyone should watch when they’re not reading!)
I decided to look at TV series based on books. But I set myself some rules for this list. I have to have seen the TV series and read the book. The TV series also had to be something that ran continuously for at least a full reason, rather than a simple 2-3 part miniseries.
1. Big Little Lies- The big change here was moving the setting of the story from Australia (in the book) to California. Originally this was intended to be one season, but then it was renewed for a second season. I don’t know what they’re going to do with the second season though, because the first season was based on the book. The book has no sequel.
3. Outlander– This adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s series seems to be sticking to a 1 season to 1 book model, with the first three seasons of the show corresponding to the first three books in the series. There are changes for the screen of course, but the overall story that the TV series seems to be telling still seems in line with what the books are doing. More often than not the changes are for the sake of simplicity.
4. Alias Grace– This Netflix miniseries adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name is pretty faithful. It’s six episodes long, and doesn’t seem to aspire to renewal, which makes sense because the novel comes to a definite conclusion. What I appreciated about the adaptation here was the fact that it maintained the same ambiguity that the novel did. Things aren’t clearly laid out, but rather are left open to interpretation.
5. Anne of Green Gables– Anne has been given a wonderful miniseries adaptation that I discuss a bit here. But that doesn’t apply because according to my self-imposed rules I can’t choose anything that has only 2 or 3 parts. However, Netflix’s Anne with An E applies. It makes some interesting creative choices and significantly diverts from the cannon toward the end of the first season. I haven’t seen the second season yet for that reason. I need to be in the right mood to be willing to accept those divergences.
6. Sharp Objects– I’m still in the process of watching this miniseries based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, so if there are any significant changes in later episodes, don’t tell me! So far it seems like they’re sticking fairly close to the book though.
7. Dexter– The first season of this show stays pretty close to Jeff Lindsay’s first novel in the book series that inspired it. The second season diverts so that while the premise is the same (sympathetic serial killer works with the cops by day, takes out bad guys by night, and tries to balance his “normal” life with it all) but not much else is. Though I’ve only read the first two books of the series so perhaps there are returns later on. Also a note, that in the last few seasons the show takes a major downturn.
8. The Lynley and Havers series– The TV show for some reason focuses more on Inspector Lynley than Havers (who is far more attractive and far less interesting in her TV incarnation than in the books) but otherwise, the first few seasons of this show are fairly in line with the source material by Elizabeth George.
9. Bleak House– This is an eight-hour miniseries that was aired in the UK in 30-minute segments. In the US it aired in six installments the first and last being two hours long and the rest was one hour. It was later rebroadcast in four two hour segments. The series was shot and was designed to air in a soap opera format. The logic of using this format was the Dickens wrote popular, long, serialized narratives much like soap operas. It’s true that the novel was originally released in monthly installments, ending with cliffhangers. Regardless of the intention, this miniseries does its source material proud.
July 24: Books with Sensory Reading Memories (These are the books that are linked to very specific memories for you: where you were, what time of year it was, who you were with, what you were eating, what you were feeling, what you were seeing, etc. Ideas include books you read while on vacation, books that you read while you were eating, books you read at work/at a family or social event/on the train or plane, books you’ve buddy read with loved ones, books you read during an emotional time in your life, books you read by the fire, etc.) (Submitted by Jessica @ A Cocoon of Books)
1. A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett– I read this book in high school when I was at home, sick. Even though I enjoyed the book, when I think about it, I remember a sore throat and an earache!
4. The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer– I read this one when I was in the hospital due to cellulitis from an infected spider bite. I was in the hospital for 2-3 days because the initial antibiotic that they gave for the infection didn’t work, so they had to use another one. Whenever I think about this book, I think about wanting to rip an IV tube from my arm and scream in pain and frustration. But the book itself was OK if memory serves me correctly.
5. Road to Paradise by Paullina Simons– It makes sense that I’d read a book about a road trip while traveling. But in this case, I was traveling by plane, not car. It was a long trip and I was squished between two rather large people. I didn’t particularly enjoy the book either.
6. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit– This is another book that I’ll always associate with travel and being cramped in uncomfortable spaces. I read this on a train when I was about ten. My family was going to Disneyworld, but there was a freight train on the track in front of us that derailed and we were stuck on the tracks somewhere in Georgia for an entire day waiting for them to clear the tracks so we could go. While I was waiting I read this.
7. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle- Oddly this is a book that I associate with the sensation of dried, callused skin on the bottom of a foot. I think the reason for that is simply that at one point in the book, a character is described as having feet like that, and I really hate that feeling!
8. The Woman in the Window by AJ Flinn– This is a recent one that I read when I had insomnia one night. I think the insomnia was twofold: partially because I’d had a late nap that day, and partially because I wanted to know whodunnit! Nonetheless, I do associate it with the somewhat frustrating sensation of wanting to sleep and not being able to.
9. These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer– This is another book I read while traveling. I remember I had to sleep in a really hard bed, and I was reading this because I wasn’t able to sleep because I couldn’t get comfortable. All I remember about the actual content of the book is that the heroine is disguised as a boy for the first portion.
10. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton– I remember that I started reading this after a horrible week at work. I don’t remember what happened that week that made it so bad, but by Friday afternoon I was screaming for something to take me away. Fortunately, I started reading this book, because it did just that!
I decided to be pretty open in how I interpret this one. It could mean books I can’t believe I read because they’re not my usual genre or books I can’t believe I read because I hated them so much, or books I can’t believe I was lucky enough to read. A lot are books that didn’t appeal to me at first but I read them anyway and was surprised by how much I liked them. A few are books that looked great and I can’t believe I kept reading them when I discovered how disappointing they were.
1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy– I read this for a class in college. I wasn’t a fan. I found the war parts dull and several of the peace characters really irritating. It’s a long book to read when you’re not enjoying what you’re reading! But I did it.
2. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– This is more in the category of “I can’t believe I read this stuff in middle school!” I loved it at the time. I read the whole thing in a weekend and went right on to the sequels. But the story involves incestuous romance, child abuse, religious fanaticism, and that’s just the first book in the series! Scandalous stuff for an 11-year-old!
3. New Moon by Stephanie Meyers– Well I can believe I read the first one. It was really hyped and I like to check books out when they’re really popular with a lot of people. But I can’t believe I read the rest of the series. I suppose because I found the first one to be OK (at the time) and then wanted to finish what I started? I don’t think much of this series though.
4. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda– Stories told in reverse don’t usually work for me. It usually becomes more about the trick than the story itself. That was my problem with this book. I read this because I found it for a dollar at a used book sale. It was worth the dollar but I’m glad I didn’t spend much more than that.
5. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken– I think I outgrew YA a few years ago. That’s a very general statement. There are many YA books that I love. But in general, the YA fantasy trilogy/series thing doesn’t interest me much anymore. But a few people told me that this series was a lot of fun so I decided to give it a try. It was a fast read, but even though it ended with a pretty big cliffhanger, I realized that I didn’t care enough about the characters to keep reading.
6. Public Secrets by Nora Roberts– I don’t usually read Nora Roberts. I have nothing against her, but I always saw her as sort of “corporate” in a way… I picked up this book when I was staying at my grandmother’s house and needed something to read. It was OK. It didn’t make me want to run out and read lots more Nora Roberts books, but it entertained me enough at the time.
7. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear– Something about this series seemed very… blah to me when I first read the description. Or maybe I just didn’t find the cover intriguing (I know, I know, I’m not supposed to judge them that way…) I read the book based on a recommendation and I’m really glad that I did. Three books into the series, I’m loving the series about a female psychologist/detective in England between WWI and WWII.
8. The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley– I picked this up because a dual timeline novel taking place in contemporary England, and during WWII sounds right up my alley. The review from Shelf Awareness said that it was “sweeping, poignant saga that will enthrall fans of The House at Riverton, Rebecca, and Downton Abbey”. So really it’s not surprising that I read it. What’s surprising is that I kept reading it. I suppose I wanted to see if it got better as I went on. It didn’t.
9. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett– My dad recommended this one to me. I had my doubts about being entertained by a novel about building a cathedral in the middle ages. But once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.
10. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley– I’d seen this recommended so many times. When it started off slow, I told myself to give it time. When it didn’t get better, I told myself there must be a reason why people love it so much. When I finished the book I wondered why I gave it so much time and effort.
1. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton– This has been on my TBR for a while. It’s about a young man who goes to New Zealand in 1866 to word in the goldfields, but he and his coworkers get caught up in a series of mysterious events. It definitely seems like the kind if thing to tackle over many a cold evening, curled up in my pajamas with a cup of tea!
2. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin– I like the premise of this one: if you knew the date of your death, how would that inform the choices that you make in life? This book is four siblings who learn when they’ll die. It follows them as they try to live the rest of their lives with that information.
4. The Revolution of Marina M by Janet Fitch- This is another one I’ve really been looking forward too. I loved Janet Fitch’s White Oleander, and I’m very curious to see how she does with historical fiction. Plus, the Russian setting seems very wintery to me.
5. The Cage-maker by Nicole Seitz– This novel is about a 21st century blogger who inherits an exquisitely detailed birdcage from an unknown relative. In a hidden compartment in the birdcage she finds letters, journal entries, and newspaper articles that tell the story of her family. It’s a bit love story, a bit gothic thriller, a bit historical fiction, and it definitely seems like the perfect read for a cold night.
7. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing- I think more attention is being paid to being alone lately, which is good. In some ways it’s a new thing. I don’t mean feeling alone. That’s existed for about as long as people have! But more people are opting not to marry and have families, or putting that off for the future. That leads to more young people physically being alone. This book looks at loneliness through the lives of iconic artists. It also addresses how technology factors into all this. Does it allow us to connect to the outside world, or trap us behind our screens, and keep us from interacting? To me winter has the potential to be a lonely season. You’re indoors keeping warm, rather than in public space. So this seems like a great read to keep me company.
8. Idaho by Emily Ruskovich– A friend of mine recommended this very highly. It’s told from multiple perspectives and is about a woman whose husband is losing his memory. As his mind fades, she becomes increasingly interested in finding out what happened to his first wife. In some ways I see winter as a season where things fade or are buried by snow. For that reasons it’s also a time when people don’t see things or only see parts of them. So it seems like this would be an appropriate book for a season where things are so uncertain.
9. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden– This is a retelling of Vasilisa the Wise, a Russian fairy tale. It’s set in Russia in the 1300s, which I definitely picture as a sort of deep winter world, where people huddle together to stay warm. I imagine them telling stories to pass the time by the fire as they do that (I’m sure the real fourteenth century Russia was a lot less pleasant than I’m imagining it!). This would be one of the stories that they tell. It’s the first in a trilogy called the “Wintersnight trilogy” so I think I’m on the right track here.
10. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey– This series has been recommended to me over and over again. The initial trilogy (later books continue the story in another generation) is made up of three big books set in a vivid, complicated world. Perfect for a season when you’re trapped inside by a snow storm and want to escape somewhere else.