More than one word: I didn’t dislike this. I just wanted to like it more than I did. I actually liked his lists of comfort songs and movies, and his little chapters about inspirational people a lot. But a lot of it felt repetitious.
More than one word: I enjoyed the book, but everything built toward learning what happened about a barbeque (the first half of the book is alternating lead up and aftermath) and when we finally learned what happened, it wasn’t exactly earth shattering. I mean it was for the characters, I’m sure, but not for the reader.
More than one word: After loving Harrow’s twofull length novels, I didn’t think that this novella quite lived up to them. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as I felt like it could have been. I’ll still read the sequel though.
More than one word: I’ve been trying to read some Victorian Christmas ghost stories this year, so this was one of those. I enjoyed it, in that it kind of made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up a bit (my measure of a good ghost story) It definitely felt like a short story, rather than something like A Christmas Carol which is more novella territory.
More than one word: I really liked this. I wasn’t sure what it was going into it. I couldn’t tell if it was intended to be a retelling, and one of the reviews I read said the less you know going in the better, so after reading that, I stopped looking. I’m glad I did because it let me fully appreciate what Valente was doing as this unfolded.
More than one word: I wanted to like this one more than I was able to. The biggest problem for me was the character who was supposed to fill the romantic hero role, was totally unappealing, unlikeable and unheroic.
More than one word: Anyone who reads my blog knows how much I love Eva Ibbotson. This wasn’t my favorite of her books. Not that it was bad at all! I think my expectations may have been too high based on my love for the author, but it felt like it tried to do a bit too much.
Rather than adding new books to my (already too long) TBR, I’m just sharing the next 10 books I plan to read. The order might change depending on my mood:
The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson– My book club does one week each month where we select genres and all read our choice of book from them. Next month we’re doing Middle Grade books, and I’ve had this book by one of my faves, sitting on my shelf for quite a while.
Dancing on Knives by Kate Forsyth– This was a gift from my Aussie book buddy. It’s by Kate Forsyth who is one of my favorite authors of fairy tale influenced fiction. This is an older work of hers. It’s a bit different from her retellings (I think the fairy tale is more of an influence here), but I’m looking forward to it.
Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty – I have a copy of this sitting on my shelf, and it feels like something I’m sort of in the mood for. It looks like a sort of “dark side of suburbia, everyone has secrets” kind of read.
The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp – Another one that’s been sitting on my shelf for a while. I keep saying to myself “I’ll read this next,” and then picking up something else. I really do what to read it though!
The Herd by Andrea Bartz– My book club had a book swap over the summer and I picked this one up. I’ve heard good things about it recently, so I’ll give it a try.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides- This has lived on my shelf for a looong time. I never seem to get to it. But I will. I will! One of my resolutions this year was to finally read some of those books that have been sitting there gathering dust.
But I really only have about 3 preferred reading spaces. So I went with a Tag Tuesday instead. Annie’s Tea Book Tag seems made for me because I love books and I love tea. It was created by booktuber Amy at From A Dusty Bookshelf, but I can’t find the channel now. I discovered this tag on Zezee With Books.
DOUBLE BERGAMOT EARL GREY: A ROBUST, DEEP, INTELLECTUAL, AND FLAVOURFUL BOOK
The Quincunx by Charles Palliser is an interesting puzzle of a novel that feels thoughtful, but in a fun way. The plot is a Dickensian mystery involving a will, a hidden document, several unreliable narrators and a journey through 19th century England from the gentry to the poor, the provincial to the metropolitan, and back again. I think the words “robust” and “flavorful” made me think of it. .
TIM HORTON’S STEEPED: A BOOK YOU READ ON THE GO THAT YOU COME BACK TO AGAIN AND AGAIN
This is hard because usually books that I read “on the go” aren’t books that I return to again and again. One of the few exceptions is Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader. I think I read the bulk of these essays literally on the go: on public transportation and in waiting rooms and such. But I’ve returned to several of them several times since then.
MEYER LEMON: A TANGY, FAST-PACED READ; GONE BEFORE YOU’VE FULLY SAVOURED THE FLAVOUR
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty was a book I read in about two days. It kept me involved and guessing, though I’m not sure how much there really was to “savor.” It did pose an interesting moral dilemma for one of the characters though. I’m really not sure what I’d do in the same position.
CHAMOMILE LAVENDER: A RELAXING, CALMING LATE NIGHT READ
The Countess Below Stairs/ The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson (you might find it under either title) is a charming reverse Cinderella story. It’s best read as a fairy tale (which in this case I mean in a soothing way, not a disturbing and subversive way!) It’s got madcap adventures and misadventures and a lot of charm.
LADY GREY: A SMOOTH, SUBTLE, CLASSIC BOOK; PERFECT FOR A SERENE WINTER MORNING
For some reason a winter morning suggests a mystery to me. I was thinking about doing a cozy mystery for this one (maybe that’s why I associate mystery with winter, the “cozy” suggests being curled up with a good book and a cup of tea on a winter’s morning!) but since it also says “classic” I was going to go with And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, since that’s an old favorite of mine. But then I decided on Murder on the Orient Express since that’s more winter-y.
ORANGE PEKOE: A POPULAR NOVEL THAT EVERYONE’S READ
I had a surprisingly difficult time with this one. Pretty much any book I think of, I’m sure someone could comment and say they haven’t read it! Also I didn’t want to do Harry Potter for a number of reasons. I’ll say The Hunger Games. As I said, there are people out there who haven’t read it, but it’s undeniably popular.
ENGLISH BREAKFAST: A BRITISH CLASSIC
Just one? For some reason I’m tempted to go with Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. I guess I’d describe Gaskell as midway between Austen and Bronte with a bit of Dickens thrown in here and there. This is her final book and was never completely finished before Gaskell’s death in 1865. The ending was written by Frederick Greenwood. It was also made into a miniseries in 1999 that was pretty good.
CANADIAN BREAKFAST: A TITLE THAT TASTES A LITTLE LIKE ENGLISH BREAKFAST BUT READS LIKE THE NEW WORLD (AN EARLY CANADIAN OR AMERICAN WORK)
I almost did Anne for this (she’s like my Canadian BFF!) but I changed my mind and went for Emily of New Moon instead. She’s a bit darker in some ways, and less boundlessly optimistic, but I think I’m probably more like her than Anne (as much as I always love Anne!)
GREEN: A HEALTHY BOOK THAT FEEDS YOUR MIND
When I first read this, I stated trying to think of books about healthy food/exercise. Then I decided that was probably too literal (plus I couldn’t think of any!). I recently read a book in which Kate Bolick had an essay and that made me think back to her book Spinster: Making A Life of One’s Own. I think that book frames women’s choices (whatever they may be) in a really positive way. I wrote about it a bit here.
ICED TEA: A SWEET SUMMER TREAT, BREWED FOR THE LAZY BRIEF DAYS OF SUMMER
When I read the word “sweet” I immediately thought of Sarah Addison Allen. When I read “summer” I thought of Garden Spells, but The Sugar Queen is sweeter (and sugar themed) even though it’s set in winter.
“Oh what a guy, Gaston!” A villain you can’t help but love- I’m not usually the type to love a villain. I find them compelling characters sometimes, but at best it’s usually a character I “love to hate.” I’ve had a sense of sympathy with Nurse Rached in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ever since I started teaching though. I think it’s sort of unfair that people think of her as a villain. She’s working in a mental hospital with a vulnerable population that needs consistency and routine. So when Randall McMurphy comes in and starts upsetting things, she pushes back. I know that she’s supposed to represent the medical institutions that dehumanize the mentally ill, but I do think that some of her actions did have valid reasons behind them. Though I wouldn’t say I “love” her!
“Here’s where she meets Prince Charming” Your OTP- OK, so I find it very had to just pick one (and yes, I know the “O” in OTP stands for “one!”) but I suppose if I had to I’d probably pick Jamie and Claire from the Outlander series. A lot has happened to them over the course of 8 books, but I’ve never consistently stopped rooting for them as a couple (I have once or twice momentarily when I was mad at one or the other).
“I want so much more than this provincial life” A character destined for greater things. – I suppose any book that uses the “chosen one” trope could fit this one. I’m going with the Obernewtyn Chronicles though. When we first meet Elspeth Geordie, she’s an orphan in a post-apocalyptic world. She struggles to hide her special mental abilities from the totalitarian “Council.” But when she’s caught, she’s sent to Obernewtyn, a mountain retreat where “Misfits” are sent. But there are secrets at Obernewtyn that no one knows about. Over the course of the series Elspeth learns what happened to the world to bring about the apocalypse, and that it may happen again. Her presence there isn’t an accident at all. In fact, she may be the only one who can stop it.
“Be our guest!” A book that made you hungry.- I think some of the descriptions of food in The Night Circus are very tempting!
Dish after dish is brought to the table, some easily identifiable as quail or rabbit or lamb, served on banana leaves or baked in apples or garnished with brandy-soaked cherries. Other courses are more enigmatic, concealed in sweet sauces or spiced soups, unidentifiable meats hidden in pastries and glazes.
“Should a diner inquire as to the nature of a particular dish, question the origin of a bite or a seasoning, a flavor she cannot put her finger on (for even those with the most refined of palates can never identify each and every flavor), she will not be met with a satisfying answer. …
The desserts are always astonishing. Confections deliriously executed in chocolate and butterscotch, berries bursting with creams and liqueurs. Cakes layered to impossible heights, pastries lighter than air. Figs that drip with honey, sugar blown into curls and flowers.
“Beauty and the Beast” Opposites attract. I’m sort of tempted to use my own book for this one, but I won’t! I’ll got with The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It’s about Don Tillman, a socially inept geneticist (it’s suggested that the character has Aspbergers but he’s not diagnosed). When he decides he wants to find a wife, he designs The Wife Project; a sixteen page, scientifically valid, survey to help weed out smokers, drinkers, and women who are tardy. Rosie Jarman is all of the above. She and Don end up on a date due to a mix up and she confides that she’s trying to find her biological father. Even though he has no romantic interest in her (according to the survey she’s all wrong for him!) Don designs The Father Project. You can probably see where this is going. I thought this book was really sweet, but I wasn’t a fan of the sequel. I haven’t read the third book yet, but I think this one works perfectly well as a stand alone.
“But there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see” A character who is more than they appear- For some reason the first book I thought of for this one was The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. Cecilia has been married to John-Paul for years. They have several children and a pretty happy family life. But when Cecilia finds a letter from her husband in the attic, with instructions that it’s supposed to be opened in the event of his death, Cecilia reads it, even though he’s very much alive. What she learns turns their lives upside down. It throws Cecilia into a moral dilemma that she never imagined, and makes he wonder who is the man she married.
“I was innocent and certain, now I’m wiser but unsure” A book that changed you in some way- I’ve always been aware that I’ve lead a privileged life, but sometimes I don’t think of certain things as a privilege because they’re things I’ve taken as a given. Growing up in the US in the late 20th and 21st century, I took for granted that I could read whatever I want. Yes, I was aware that this was not a freedom everyone in the world enjoyed, but I never really thought about what that meant, or what it looked like to fight against it, before I read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafazi. I think being a reader has made me who I am. It’s taught me empathy. It’s taught me how little I understand the scheme of things. So if I didn’t have the freedom to read as I chose, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today. This book made me consider all these ideas for the first time. Why would oppressive regimes go to so much trouble to ban books, and keep certain books out of certain reader’s hands? Because I’m not alone in this! Reading anything (regardless of whether or not it’s an “important” book) opens minds and hearts. Therefore it’s extremely threatening to an oppressor. Reading about the discussions that this Iranian book club had, and their responses to what they read made me realize on a conscious level that one of the most important things that literature (and art more generally) does is to show us that we’re not alone. That other people have emotional reactions to things, just like we do. Art can be a bridge between people of very different backgrounds and viewpoints. These connections can threaten the very foundations of a society. In that way, reading a novel, and sharing it with others, can be one of the most subversive things a person can do.
“Kill the Beast!” A book you picked up because of hype. – Are we talking about books that lived up to the hype, or books that didn’t? I suppose the most recent one was Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, which I heard was amazing, but I found it just OK. It actually inspired me to write a post of when you don’t love a hyped book. So stay tuned for that!
“I’ll never shake away the pain” A book or moment that always makes you cry- I didn’t want to repeat too much on this but when Jamie and Claire separate just before the battle of Culloden in Dragonfly in Amber, they think it will be forever. Jamie tells Claire that he’ll see her again someday. That always makes me weepy.
“I will find you,” he whispered in my ear. “I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you – then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest.”
His voice dropped, nearly to a whisper, and his arms tightened around me.
Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.”
“How does a moment last forever” A book that you’ve loved since you were little.- So. Many. Books. Can’t…choose! I’m tempted to use my “standard” answer for this one and say “fairy tales” (I go into the reasons why a bit here, here, here and here) but I decided to mix things up a bit. I think I was about nine years old when I picked up this book sort of randomly knowing nothing about it. That edition had the author’s name as “Julie Edwards.” As I read I fell in love with the sweet story of an orphan trying to create a home for herself. I flipped to the “about the author” page in the back of the book and saw that “Edwards” was the married name of Julie Andrews, star of Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music etc. Apparently in addition to being an Oscar winning actress with a gorgeous singing voice, she is also a writer. When I saw that, I felt like an old friend that I thought I knew surprised me in a magical way. Mandy is still worth reading for adults. It’s a little reminiscent of The Secret Garden in some ways.
Name a book that is an odd pairing but they still fit perfectly– Inigo Montoya and Fezzik from The Princess Bride always struck me as sort of an odd friendship. I don’t know if they were intended to be a sort of comic echo of Lennie and George in Of Mice and Men, but they always remind me of that. To look at the giant Fezzik, he’d seem to have nothing in common with Inigo, a thin, vengeance obsessed, swordsman. But they have a solid friendship, and seem to offer each other comfort and support on a regular basis.
A book/series that you have a love/hate relationship with– As much as it breaks my heart to say this, Harry Potter. I’ll always love Harry Potter, but JK Rowling’s recent behavior has cast a shadow on it for me. I don’t “hate” her, but I don’t approve of or agree with some of her recent statements and actions. I’m still trying to make peace between my love for the books and my disappointment in their author. I have no doubt that I will do it, as I said, the books will always have a special place in my heart, but it’s still a work in progress for me.
A character that is totally clueless but you love them anyway– Is it totally cheating to pick Emma for this one?! (For those who don’t know, Clueless is based on Jane Austen’s Emma, which is why I say that it might be cheating)
Name a book that made you cry– A Little Life by Hana Yangihara totally did me in. I think it was a beautiful book but it was hard to read at times. I’m always hesitant to recommend it, because of that. I’m sort of glad that I read it at a moment in my life when I was able to appreciate it, rather than at a time when I might not have for various reasons.
A book that makes you laugh– I’m assuming this means intentional laughter. There are a few (see here and here). There are also books that have made me laugh unintentionally, but that’s another story… One that I haven’t mentioned on the lists but would like to highlight is Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. It’s sort of what might happen if Lord of the Flies met America’s Next Top Model, and then they invited Pirates of the Caribbean over to hang out. It touches on some heavy subjects in a humorous way, without ever actually making light of those subjects. It’s a delicate balance and I majorly admire Libba Bray for pulling it off.
A book with a crazy party– Well, I once made a whole list about this, but if I had to pick just one, I’d say the literary masquerade party in The Starless Sea sounds like one of the few parties I’d really enjoy. Though I do think I’d have trouble deciding on a costume! I don’t know if I’d call it a “crazy” party (though it does lead to some craziness), but crazy parties don’t appeal to me that much anyway.
Name a character that you can never fully trust– For this one, Tinkerbell from Peter Pan comes to mind. Yes, I know that “All you need is Faith, Trust and a little bit of Pixie Dust.” I know she seems like a sweet tiny fairy, full of just those things. That’s why it’s easy to forget that she’s jealous to the core and pretty destructive!
A book with a memorable villain– Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca is one of my favorite villains of all time. I suppose you wouldn’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be threatening, which is what makes her great. She’s so manipulative too, She gets under the skin of the second Mrs. De Winter and then tries to push her to suicide. And then she gets really destructive! I talk about a few other favorite villains on this list.
Name a book with witches– Just one? I’m actually working on a list of my favorite books about witches at the moment! But I suppose if I have to choose just one, I’ll say Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. because I don’t think it gets enough love (actually I can’t just say one, because it has a sequel called First Frost) It’s overshadowed a lot of the time by Practical Magic, and there are some similarities (both are about sisters who are witches, both use a magical realist style) but they’re not the same (especially now that you can take the Practical Magic books as a series that goes in a very different direction). I would say that Garden Spells is worth reading on its own merits.
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.
June 19: Books to Read By the Pool/At the Beach (This can also serve as your summer TBR)
For me, a “beach/pool read” is a very special kind of light read. It has to engage me enough so that I can disappear into it for a while, but it also can’t get me too stressed about the characters, or too emotionally involved. If I’m reading it by a pool or the beach I should be able to put it down and go for a swim. I should also be able to realize that I need to reapply sunscreen before I look like a tomato. But the purpose of a beach/pool read is entertainment first and foremost. These are books that have qualified.
1. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell- Set during the dark ages of the internet, this is about an office that has recently gotten online. Two female coworkers have developed the habit of chatting via email all day. They don’t know that the company has hired an internet security officer, or that he’s fallen in love with one of them thanks to reading her emails.
2. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple– This book is composed mostly of emails, documents, and other communications that help Bee, a young girl, find her mother, who has gone missing. Bee earned a trip to Antarctica thanks to straight A’s on her report card. But the agoraphobic Bernadette finds the prospect of such a trip difficult. This book is a satire that takes aim at helicopter parents, technology, and the notion of “genius”. It’s clever in places and made me giggle, but not care too much about what happened.
3. Searching For Grace Kelly by Michael Callahan– This is set in NYC’s Barbizon Hotel For Women, where, in the 1950’s secretaries, models, and editors lived side by side while searching for success. Famous residents include writers like Sylvia Plath (who write about it in The Bell Jar, under the name “The Amazon”), Joan Didion, Eudora Welty, and Edna Ferber. It was also home to performers such as Grace Kelly, Ali McGraw, Liza Minelli, Gene Tierney, Elaine Stritch, and Joan Crawford. This book follows three fictional residents: Laura, a college student who plans to work at Mademoiselle for the summer; Dolly, who comes from a blue-collar background and attends secretarial school, and Vivian, a British gal who believes that the Barbazon’s rules were made to be broken. Very similar in many ways to Fiona Davis’ The Dollhouse.
4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid– For anyone who loves old movies this is for you. Evelyn Hugo is a Hollywood legend. A gorgeous Oscar winner whose personal life has made headlines for decades, for both her films and her tempestuous personal life, marked by seven (yes, seven) marriages. But at the age of 79, Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the whole truth about herself, her husbands, and her life. She hires Monique, an unknown journalist to write her biography. Evelyn reveals the secrets that she’s kept hidden to save her career and protect the people she loves. She tells about the deception that’s haunted her for decades, and she tells Monique about the true love of her life, the one she was unable to marry.
5. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion– Don Tillman is a professor of genetics. He’s a creature of habit and struggles to understand social cues. He’s never really considered romance for these reasons. But when a friend tells him that he’d make a wonderful husband, he thinks that statistics indicate that there’s someone for everyone out there. So he embarks on The Wife Project; an evidence-based quest for his soul mate (who will be punctual and logical and absolutely not a smoker or a drinker). Rosie Jarman is definitely not the woman for Don. But she needs his help. She’s trying to find her father, and Don’s skill as a DNA expert is required. So Don’s Wife Project takes a backseat to Rosie’s Father Project. The unexpected relationship that Don and Rosie strike up makes Don realize that what he actually wants is very different from what he thinks he wants.
6. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– Cecilia finds a letter from her husband with instructions that it should be opened only if he dies. Cecilia opens it, while her husband is very much alive, and learns a secret that has the potential to destroy their marriage, their family, and even the lives of their children. You might make a guess regarding the nature of the secret going into the book. But you’re probably wrong! I found myself wondering what I’d do in Cecilia’s situation, and how I’d justify either choice.
7. Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz– Eve Babitz has had an interesting life to be sure. She’s been an artist, a muse, a journalist, a novelist, and a party girl. In this collection of essays that’s part memoir and part fiction, she changes some names to protect the innocent, but there’s a very strong sense of Babitz’ native LA throughout. Her father was a violinist who worked on movie scores. Her mother was an artist. Her godfather was Igor Stravinsky. She attended Hollywood High and knew lots of famous people. She’s got some interesting stories to tell.
8. Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– Three decades in the life of a fairly dysfunctional family, this novel centers around Julie. It consists of letters and emails that her family writes her, that range from loving to passive aggressive to laugh out loud funny. We get Julie’s intellectual father who is Very Concerned that Julie will never reach her potential. We also get Julie’s mother, a therapist who is perhaps a little too aware of what her daughter is going through psychologically, and Julie’s little sister, who makes some questionable decision. But non-family members send Juliet their missives too. That gerbil she killed when she was a little kid sends her an angry letter from the gerbil afterlife. The container of hummus in the fridge calls to Julie when she’s hungry at an awkward moment. The book is funny because there is a lot of truth in it, about families at their best and their worst. At about 200 pages it’s also a quick read.
9. In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware– Nora gets an invitation from her former best friend, Clare, to attend Clare’s bachelorette weekend in the English countryside. Something happened between Nora and Clare years ago, something that caused them to lose touch. But thinking that Clare wants to bury the hatchet, Nora accepts the invite. Then she wakes up in the hospital, unable to remember how she got there. The action flashes back and forth between the weekend in Clare’s aunt’s cabin, and the hospital, where an increasingly frightened Nora tries to piece together what happened, how someone ended up dead, and why there is a police guard outside her hospital door. This is a very fluffy whodunnit. It’s good for a beach/poolside read because it’s fun and entertaining, but you can also put it down, enjoy yourself for a while and not be too eager to keep reading to find out what happened.
10. Windfall by Penny Vincenzi– In the 1930’s, Cassia has spent the past seven years as a doctor’s wife, despite having medical training herself. But when she inherits a large amount of money from her godmother, Cassia is able to hire a nanny and resume her medical career. But Cassia’s husband isn’t happy about his wife’s new independence, and her windfall threatens to destroy her family. She also starts to suspect that her newfound inheritance might not be what it seems. It might even have a few strings attached.
March 13: Books That Surprised Me (in a good or bad way)
For this one, I initially interpreted it as being for books that I liked but didn’t think I would, or books that I thought I would love and didn’t. But then I thought it might be fun to look at books whose plots surprised me in some way.
1. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone– I remember being terrified of this book as a kid. Grover tells the reader that there’s a monster at the end of the book, and to stop reading before you get there. So I would always slam the book shut before the end (hey, if Grover’s giving advice, I’m going to listen!). One day my mom sort of insisted that we keep reading. I was absolutely petrified, wondering why she refused to listen to Grover’s warnings. I still remember the utter surprise when the monster was revealed.
2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– This actually has several twists and turns that I wasn’t anticipating. But the one I’m thinking of here comes about midway through the book. It made me rethink pretty much everything that I’d read until that point. I mean, I was reading it on a train and I literally shouted “Holy Crap!” when this happened. But even if you somehow manage to see that one coming, the plot twists yet again…
3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- This twist was a triumph of misdirection. I was focused on the happenings in the English country house and the crazy antics of the family. But all the time there was something else happening in the background, that I didn’t notice until it was pointed out. It gave me that feeling like the hairs in on the back of my neck were standing up. I think it’s sort of what Freud called “uncanny.” He used the term to refer to the sense of something familiar and intimate that has been distorted or changed somehow to become threatening, or tempting, or unknown.
4. Atonement by Ian McEwan– I’m really glad that I read this book before I saw the movie. While the twist in the movie is an additional scene added on, in the book, it’s revealed through the narration at the closing. It seemed more surprising that way, but less like a “trick.” One thing I liked about this ending was that the story can stand on its own, without it. It’s not one of those things where the entire narrative hinges on a twist. But it does add an additional layer to things.
5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– I’m a big fan of this title actually because there’s a clue in it, regarding the whodunnit. It’s about people who come to an island party and are murdered one by one. It’s only when there are none left that the twist is revealed and we learn who the killer is. We get to know each of the characters before they’re murdered. We learn that they all have secrets and that there might be someone out there who wants any one of them dead. Learning that backstory is entertaining in itself. But once the bodies start piling up, we see these characters in a stressful situation, and that reveals even more about them.
6. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– This twist was one I sort of saw coming because I knew that there was something off with the Max/Rebecca marriage. But I liked the ambiguity regarding the execution. It complicates things for the reader because we’re not 100% sure what we want to see happen next. The Hitchcock film (which I’m a big fan of) left fewer moral gray areas for the protagonists. That was most likely intended to make audiences sympathize with them, but I like being a little unsure of what I wanted to see happen, and what would feel like justice.
7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This is another one that I’m very glad that I read before seeing the film. On film, the important information is revealed in the title cards at the very beginning, and a character explains it explicitly in the first 10-15 minutes. But in the book, it’s a slow, gradual realization. There’s no big “reveal.” Rather it starts off as a suspicion that leaves the reader hoping that s/he is wrong about what’s going on. There’s a sense of dread that builds as s/he realizes that s/he’s not.
8. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– The action of this book takes place as a sort of extended flashback. The unnamed narrator is spending the winter in Starkfield where he sees a figure limping around town, and inquires about this “ruin of a man.” We learn that the man is the title character, that he had a bitter, suspicious, hypochondriac of a wife and that he fell in love with her cousin, Mattie. This dilemma is eventually resolved in a way that gives all three characters what they wanted but in such a way that they no longer want it.
9. The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve- This book ties into Shreve’s other novel The Weight of Water in an interesting way, that the casual reader of either book may not guess. But it’s easy to read one and fully appreciate it without reading the other. This book is about two lovers who meet at a literary festival. Then the novel moves backward in time, showing us a time that they met previously, and then it moves backward again, showing us their initial meeting. From there we see how they became sort of cursed to meet at different points in life (rather than spend it together) and to primarily discuss the last time they met each time they see one another.
10. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– This book is about a woman who finds a letter for her husband, that instructs her to open it only upon his death. It reveals something that has the potential to destroy their family and their lives. Except she finds it and opens it while her husband is very much alive. The first surprise is the nature of her husband’s revelation. I think that I was expecting him to tell her about an affair or something. But what he confesses in the letter doesn’t just affect their lives, but the lives of several other people too. It left me asking myself what I would do in that situation and unsure of the answer. Then, once everything is resolved at the end, the author gives some information that reframes everything that’s happened.