Top Ten Tuesday: Authors That Make Me Smile

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 7: Books Guaranteed to Put a Smile On Your Face

I did a similar lists here and here but I figure that people can always use a reason to smile, right? This time I decided to stick to authors rather than specific titles.

Books by Georgette Heyer– I’m slowly rationing these so that I don’t run out. They’re mostly Jane Austen-eque regency romances, but also some whodunnits. So far my favorite is probably The Reluctant Widow or These Old Shades. A Christmas Party is a good whodunnit

Books by Barbara Pym– Pym’s social comedies are influenced by Austen, but her heroine is often a spinster (and stays one) throughout the matchmaking and meddling with other peoples lives. I haven’t read all of these either but Excellent Women, Jane and Prudence and Crompton Hodnet are all worth a read. Wow, can you tell Jane Austen makes me smile? I just put two authors on my list because they remind me of her work in some way! (Austen herself was on a previous list, linked above)

Books by Sophie Kinsella – Not great literature by any stretch of the imagination I really liked the first 3ish books in her Shopaholic series but then I feel like it just went on way too long. I like some of her others though. My (Not So) Perfect Life, Can You Keep A Secret, and I’ve Got Your Number are all silly and fun.

Books by Marian Keyes – Sometimes Keyes ventures into slightly darker territory, but most of her work is light and fun. Check out Watermelon, Sushi For Beginners and The Other Side of the Story. Her essay collections, Cracks in My Foundation and Under the Duvet are also fun.

Books by Sarah Addison Allen – Her books take place in a world very recognizable to our own, and feature people with (mostly) real world problems. But there are touches of magic everywhere that take you out of the mundane. I loved Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen and The Girl Who Chased the Moon.

Books by Rainbow Rowell– I haven’t read all of her work, but I’ve liked what I’ve read. Fangirl, Attachments and Landline are all good for a smile. I know her Simon Snow series (a Fangirl tie in) is really popular, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

Books by Jill Mansell- My biggest problem with these is that they all tend to blend together in my mind, so it’s hard to tell what I’ve read and what I haven’t. That’s not a criticism though. It’s nice to know exactly what you’re getting sometimes. Especially when all you want is to smile a bit. I recommend Rumor Has It, Making Your Mind Up, and An Offer You Can’t Refuse, but I could be confusing them all with other books by the same author!

Books by Eva Ibbotson– What’s nice about Ibbotson is that her books are all comforting to some extent (based on what I’ve read anyway) and she’s got something in almost any genre you could want. Many are geared for a young, or at least YA, audience, but there’s plenty for readers of all ages to enjoy. Want romance? Check out The Secret Countess. Fantasy? The Secret of Platform 13 is a good one. Adventure? Try The Journey to the River Sea.

Books by LM Montgomery– Whether you’re partial to Emily, Anne or Pat; if you like short story collections or stand alones, there’s always something to enjoy or smile about here.

Books by Cecilia Ahearn– There have been one or two by this author that I didn’t enjoy but for the most part she’s reliable for a smile. I tend to enjoy her books best when there are touches of the fantastic. I wouldn’t call it fantasy precisely, but I especially enjoyed There’s No Place Like Here, The Book of Tomorrow, and If You Could See Me Now.

Tag Tuesday: Amy’s Tea Book Tag

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday was

August 17: Favorite Places to Read

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.
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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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 10: Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love -Warning, some of these have spoilers

1. Beth in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Beth’s description is pretty much summed as “the sweet one who dies.” That’s what she’s remembered for. But I recently read March Sisters: On Love, Death and Little Women, in which four contemporary writers look back on the March sister that resonated with them most. Carmen Maria Machado writes about Beth, and how her illness and death take over anything else she may have been, both for her sisters and for readers. Beth was based on Alcott’s own sister, Lizzie, who also died young (though not quite as young as Beth). While Alcott seemed to remember Lizzie in much the way the March sisters do Beth, there’s historical evidence to suggested that Lizzie Alcott was more than simply someone who died tragically young. That makes me suspect that Beth may also have more going on than she’s given credit for.

2. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare – Mercutio steals almost every scene that he’s in, in most productions and adaptations of this play. There’s plenty of LGBT speculation about his relationship with Romeo prior to the action of the play, but even leaving that aside, he’s so vivid and vibrant, witty and cynical, which makes his death even more tragic. He’s not a Montague or a Capulet. He’s simply caught up in their feud because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. But his death is sort of a hinge for the play. Prior to that, there was hope for a less than tragic outcome. But when he’s killed, and Romeo kills Tybalt in revenge, the seeds for the dénouement are sown.

3. Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark TwainHuckleberry Finn got his own book. But Becky was in that cave with Tom and she’s just forgotten and dismissed as the “girlfriend character.” Surely she deserves better!

4. Jane Fairfax in Emma by Jane Austen – Emma is bright, accomplished, pretty, and rich, but she feels a sense of rivalry around Jane. She senses that Jane is an equal and in some ways a superior, and therefore she considers her a threat. That’s what makes the reader initially take notice. Of course when it comes out that Jane been secretly engaged to Frank Churchill (who’s been openly flirting with Emma…) we get the sense that there’s been more going on beneath the surface of Jane. We never really learn what it is though. Joan Aiken wrote some fan fiction speculation in Jane Fairfax but that’s as close as we’ll ever get.

5. Walter Blythe in the later books of the Anne of Green Gables books by LM Montgomery– Like Anne he’s got some literary asperations, and is admired for his ability to “talk book talk” (I love that phrase!) He’s bullied in childhood, but bright and imaginative. Oh, and doomed. He was definitely my favorite of Anne’s children.

6. Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– Come on! These guys do just as much work as the main three, they get awfully close to the main action, but they’re constantly relegated to the sidelines.

7. Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen– Kitty and Lydia are the silly ones. Jane and Lizzie are the smart ones. But what is Mary? There’s been plenty of fan fiction (just a few examples here) speculating that there’s something more to her than just the middle child. I really tried to limit myself to only one Austen character (I also think Charlotte Lucas and Mrs. Bennet deserve more love) but I found I had to do two.

8. Great Uncle Matthew from Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild– He’s Sylvia’s uncle and he takes care of her following the death of her parents, but we don’t know much more than that really… He’s geologist who seems to go around the world collecting parentless babies? Surely there’s got to be more to the story than that!

9. Molly Grue from The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – Molly dreamed all her life of seeing a unicorn. When she finally does, she’s no longer young and beautiful. She tells the unicorn off for taking so long, saying “‘Where have you been…Damn you, where have you been?… Where where you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?‘ With a flap of her hand she summed herself up: barren face, desert eyes, and yellowing heart. ‘I wish you had never come. Why did you come now?’ The tears began to slide down the sides of her nose.” I think that sense of missed opportunity is heartbreaking. I think that the fact that Molly reacts to it with anger first is such a human thing to do, that it makes it even more heartbreaking. She deserves more love.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set on Islands

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

This week’s topic was:

July 27: Books I’d Want With Me While Stranded On a Deserted Island

But since I did something similar recently, I decided to do books set on an island. To make it a little more challenging I decided not to use any obvious island books: so no Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies, etc.

1. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell– This was a childhood favorite about a 12 year old girl who lives alone on an island off the California coast for years. It’s loosely based on the true story of Juana Maria, the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. There’s also a sequel called Zia, and I vaguely remember reading it, but have no memory of the actual content of that one.

2. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton – Is it strange that I don’t really think of this as taking place on an island? I guess the dinosaurs commend attention more than the location! But actually the fact that it takes place on an island is important because it’s means that a) it’s an isolated location (so the dinosaurs don’t threaten the rest of the world) and b) the characters can’t get away so easily.

3. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray – I said I wouldn’t count Lord of the Flies, and I didn’t but I will count this satire. It’s sort of an all female version of Lord of the Flies meets Lost meets America’s Next Top Model meets Pirates of the Caribbean.

4. Foe by JM Coetzee – This one is also strongly inspired by a book I wouldn’t allow on my list, in this case Robinson Crusoe. It’s about a woman who was supposedly on the island with “Cruso” she tells writer Danie Foe her story.

5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – Here’s another one that I don’t usually think of as being an “island book,” even though the island setting it pretty important to the plot.

6. Circe by Madeline Miller- A lot of the action of this novel takes place on Aiaia, the island where Circe has been banished by Zeus. But she makes the place a home, and it becomes sort of an extension of Circe’s powers as she uses things growing on the island to make spells.

7. The Magus by John Fowles– This is another book I don’t often think of as being on an island. In this case I think it would work in any isolated spot cut off from outside influence.

8. The Beach by Alex Garland – This one is also strongly inspired by Lord of the Flies, but since it’s not Lord of the Flies, it counts. I’m actually not the biggest fan of this book (just not really my taste), but it does fit the list…

9. Moloka’i by Alan Brennert- This book opens in Honolulu in the 1890’s and then moves to Kalaupapa, the leper colony on the island of Moloka’i. There’s a sequel, called Daughter of Moloka’i but once again this moves the action away from the island.

10. The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve – This is a dual timeline novel set on the island of Smuttynose in New Hampshire. One timeline is contemporary and one follows murders that happened in 1873

Honorary Mention

Anything by LM Montgomery– Most of her work is set on Prince Edward Island. I didn’t include any in the list because I couldn’t settle on just one.

The Serial Reader Tag

I saw this on @Bookwyrmknits blog and thought it looked like fun. It was most likely created by Dutch blogger, @Zwartraafje in this post

I’m not going to tag anyone, but if you’d like to do this, go ahead! Please let me know so I can see your answers (I’m very nosy!)

From which series are you reading or did you read the spin-off series?

I actually can’t think of many books series that have spin off series. The one that pops into my mind is the Lord John series which is a spin off of the Outlander series. Unlike Outlander, which has elements of SFF weirdness, these are for the most part historical mysteries. They feature a character, Lord John Grey, who is introduced in the third Outlander book and plays a significant role in several of the following books. But in the Lord John books, we learn that he had his own stuff going on too.

The only other spin off series I can think of is Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series. It has an original trilogy (Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, Child of the Prophecy) which follows three generations of a family in ancient Ireland that lives on the border between the real world and a shadowy Otherworld. The story then moves ahead a few generations and a second trilogy focuses on a new generation of the same family. The books in the second trilogy (Heir to Sevenwaters, Seer of Sevenwaters, and Flame of Sevenwaters) each follow one sibling of the family. There’s also a short story called “Twixt Firelight and Water” that is part of the second trilogy.

I actually just thought of a third. Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series eventually transitioned into her Will Trent series, but I won’t go into how that happened since it involves major spoilers!

With which series did the first book not sell you over from the start?

Does a trilogy count as a series? For my purposes I’m saying it does! I really enjoyed Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, but the first book was probably my least favorite. Not that it was bad- it wasn’t! But I gave it 4/5 stars, whereas the second and third, I gave 5/5. I think it took some time for me to get really attached to the heroine, to the point where I was really invested in what happened to her and the people she cared about.

Which series hooked you from the start?

I think that I was captured by Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy after the first chapter of the first book. It opens in a market in 19th century India, and (without spoilers) the heroine witnesses something traumatic and life changing. The next chapter moves the story to a very different setting, and I was totally on board for the trip! I want to reread the series, because it’s been a long time since I originally read it, but I’m afraid it won’t live up won’t live up to my memory of it.

Which series do you have completed on your shelves?

A few, but one of the only ones I have as a set is the Anne of Green Gables series. I was given a volume that included Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne’s House of Dreams for a childhood birthday and I fell in love with Anne and company. It was a few years later that I learned that the series actually has 8 books, not 3! While Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea are the first two, Anne’s House of Dreams isn’t #3 it’s #5, so it always seemed kind of random that it was included in that volume. I actually still have the volume, because it’s a beautiful, hardcover, illustrated volume, but the choice of books is rather strange to me. So when I learned that there were other Anne books out there, I got the complete set so I’d have them all!

Which series have you read completely?

Many of the ones I’ve mentioned so far I’ve read completely. Others that jump to mind include:

Which series do you not own completely but would like to?

I’ve read the first two of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and I own the third book as well though I haven’t read it yet. I want to eventually read the whole series but they’re slow going and I don’t want to buy the rest before I’ve read the first few. They’re good, but they’re not easy reads because they have a lot of references to things with which I’m not familiar. We’re also not in the main character’s head much, so his thoughts and motivations are a mystery a lot of the time. That’s the way it’s supposed to be until all is revealed, but it can make it a challenge to get into the books if you’re not it in the right mood for it.

I also got The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss from the library some time ago. It’s the first in a trilogy called The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, and I definitely want to read more. I think I’d also like to own a copy of the first one in case I want to revisit it at some point.

Which series do you not want to own completely but still read?

I recently discovered the October Daye series (I’ve only read the first book so far) and I definitely want to read more, but there are 14 books in all and I don’t have enough shelf space as it is! I’ll stick to the library and ebooks.

Another series is The Dresden Files. I think I’ve read the first six or so books, and really enjoyed them. But there are 17 in the series, so I run into the same shelf space issue. Plus some things on the author’s twitter make me question whether I want to support him financially, so I’m going to stick to library copies

I’ve also been enjoying Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series. But there are 15, and they’re probably not books I’ll want to revisit after I finish them.

Which series are you not continuing?

Most likely the Cormoran Strike series. It’s unfortunate, because I really enjoyed the first few, but ever since it came out that the most recent book in the series, Troubled Blood is a platform for a Rowling’s transphobia, I haven’t been looking forward to reading it. It’s not the first time some of transphobia seeped into the series (there was a questionable episode in The Silkworm) but it seems like the first time it’s really taken over a book.

Which series you haven’t started yet are you curious about?

MANY! The first one that came to mind is Leigh Bardugo’s Alex Stern series, which starts with Ninth House. I haven’t read Bardugo’s other work, but this appeals to me because of it’s collegiate setting. I’m really liking the whole “dark academia” genre lately.

Which series would you like to re-read?

There are a lot of series I’ve loved that I don’t want to reread either because I worry that they won’t live up to my memory or I suspect that they won’t. I try to only reread if I feel like I’ll get more out of it, because it always feels like a bit of a risk. I recently saw the film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and realized that while I remember that book well enough, I only have the vaguest memories of the sequels.

Which series did others love and you did not?

There are a few of those! One would probably be A Song of Ice and Fire. I read the first book (and watched the first few seasons of Game of Thrones) and while I enjoyed parts of it, it kept on killing off the characters I got attached to! It felt like every time I got invested in a character, it was a death sentence for him/her! I may give it another try at some point, but I got tired of having to find new characters/storylines to care about only to lose them in a few chapters.

Charlaine Harris‘ Southern Vampire/Sookie Stackhouse novels are a series I really tried to like. It sounds like the kind of thing that would be right up my alley, and I read a few of them, but I just couldn’t warm up to the characters or invest in the world that she’d created. I’ve liked a few of her other series (see above) but this just didn’t work for me for some reason.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 29: Favorite Book Quotes (these could be quotes from books you love, or bookish quotes in general)

  1. “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.” —  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

For a character who is “no bird” Jane is often associated with them in this novel. Even her name sounds like “air”. But perhaps it is a free bird, as opposed the the caged bird she calls to mind here, that one associates with Jane the most. No matter what happens she is able able to take off when she chooses. She may seek out greener pastures, or go back to battle old ghosts. I think it takes a lot of nerve for her to assert this actually. At this point in the book, nothing in her life has told her she has value. She’s “poor, obscure, plain, and little,” but she feels that she has intrinsic worth in spite of that. That’s what gives her the guts to assert herself, to take off when she feels it’s necessary, and to refuse to be ensnared.

2. “From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood.” —  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was about 12 and I definitely identified very strongly with Francie. I still do, even though I’m older now. This quote is a perfect example of why. I honestly do feel like books are my friends. Some people might see that as sad, but I see it as having reliable friends who never talk back and never leave me or let me down. (I do also have some actual, human friends too!)

3. “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” — Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

I’ve always had a tendency to be hard on myself. Even when I was a child, I would take myself to task for my mistakes. I first read this book when I was about nine, and right away something clicked when I read that! It was so freeing to see things that way! Even now, if I have a bad day, I try to remember that there’s always tomorrow, and there are no mistakes in it yet! It doesn’t always help, but I do try to remember it.

4. “How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.” — Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was a more recent read, and a big theme in this book is the perceptions of others vs. self perception. That really resonated with me, even independent of the rest of the book. I think that we constantly create different versions of ourselves with different people. To some extent that’s natural: we behave differently with out friends from adulthood for example, than we do with people who have know us since we were children. But it can be cultivated too. Sometimes we have a sense of how someone else sees us, and we can try to live up to it. How a stranger sees you for the first time is powerful, because it can give us the feeling of a blank slate. We can sort of create ourselves anew.

5. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

This is from a conversation between Gandolf and Frodo, after Gandolf tells Frodo about the Ring. Frodo wishes that this hadn’t happened during his lifetime, and this is Gandolf’s response. They’re words that I’ve thought of a lot through the craziness of 2020. Things happen that we don’t control. But we control our response.

6. “There are few people whom I really love and still fewer of whom I think well.”Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This quote stands out to me because of the distinction made between loving someone and thinking well of them. We often think of loving people as thinking of them in the highest regard. But really, we can love people and not think well of them at all. We can love people and not like them. So the distinction makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

7. “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)” – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Just very true words. People can turn anything into a weapon. They can make things that are supposed to help up, things that are supposed to make us better, destructive. Is that true of everyone? No, of course not. A whisky bottle in the hands on one man may be meaningless. It might simply mean that he likes the taste of whisky and enjoys a glass of it and the end of a long day. But in the hands of another man, it could mean that he’s about to become a violent drunk. Similarly, the Bible is a book that is supposed to teach people to be kind to one another, to help each other. And one person may use it that way. But another may use it as a way to oppress others and even as a justification for it.

8. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” – The White Album by Joan Didion

I just think that this is so true. When something terrible happens, we immediately try to understand it. We try to put it into some kind of workable context. I once lost someone close to me, and I almost immediately tried to put that loss in narrative terms. I thought about how this person’s narrative arc was complete, even though he was young. I was aware that I was imposing a narrative on something that didn’t necessarily have one, but it did help a bit to think of it that way. Stories help us get through life, by escaping it, and sometimes by giving us tolerable ways to understand it.

9. “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”The Twits by Roald Dahl

Once again a children’s book proves that it can articulate something more simply and memorably than something intended for adults. I think that this was something that I tried to convey when I wrote Beautiful. Needless to say, I definitely think it’s true. And the reverse is too. Someone might be totally gorgeous, but if they act like a jerk, sooner or later, they won’t look so appealing.

Top Ten Tuesday: Small Town Novels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

This week’s topic was:

August 11: Books I Loved but Never Reviewed

But the thing is that there are a lot of books I’ve loved but never reviewed. My reviewing a book has more to do with time/inclination than love.

Since I wasn’t feeling this week’s topic, so I decided to go with one of my own. I’m definitely more of a big city girl IRL. But I do appreciate some small town fiction.

  1. 71pevpzotdl._ac_uy218_Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn– Camille is a reporter who returns to the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri  to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls. She finds a town that’s even more toxic than the one she left years earlier. At the same time she must grapple with some equally toxic family relationships.
  2. 81jwx0nliyl._ac_uy218_Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery– Avonlea is practically a character in these novels (most of them at least). Actually most of Montgomery’s work features small PEI based towns that play a large role in the story.
  3. a1eoxybsj5l._ac_uy218_We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson– The small town takes on a villainous role in this one. I think it rivals Wind Gap for toxicity! This town has it’s own set of witches (sort of), but the “normal” townspeople might be more dangerous than the witches!
  4. 91paeh4pugl._ac_uy218_Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen- A lot of Allen’s fiction is set in small towns, but this one (and the sequel First Frost) is set in Bascom, North Carolina. It’s a typical small Southern town in many ways, but some of the residents (namely the Waverly family) are anything but typical. That fact sends Sydney Waverly out of town right after high school graduation. But it might also be what brings her back.
  5. 91j44fyb1ml._ac_uy218_Salem’s Lot by Stephen King- I’m actually not a big fan of  this novel, but one thing that King does in it really successfully (IMO) is create a portrait of mundane, everyday evil. We see acts of abuse and bullying that make up the fabric of daily life in ‘Salem’s Lot. Ultimately I think that’s more chilling than the vampires that eventually make an appearance.
  6. 81ap62fhl._ac_uy218_Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris– I know that the Sookie Stackhouse novels, the Aurora Teagarden series and the Midnight, Texas series are also set in small towns (and have small screen adaptations) but those never really resonated with me. I prefer this series set in Shakespeare, Arkansas. I included this book because it’s the first, but any of the others also apply.
  7. 41fsa9p0jul._ac_uy218_Peyton Place by Grace Metalious– This novel is about how three women come to terms with their identity as women and sexual beings in a very conservative, small, gossipy New England town. This book was a major bestseller when it came out in the 50’s (it was quite scandalous because it dealt with subjects like incest, abortion, adultery, and murder; as well as larger issues like hypocrisy, social inequality, and economic privilege) . It spawned a sequel, and both books got film adaptations. It also inspired a successful TV series. I read it years ago, and don’t remember much in terms of plot, but I do remember that secret filled town.
  8. 713lu0aeegl._ac_uy218_Empire Falls by Richard Russo– The titular town in this novel is a working class town sees through the eyes of Miles Robey. Miles owns the Empire Grill (where everyone in town seems to eat) and is father to a teenager.
  9. 81d3bhbgngl._ac_uy218_Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng- Shaker Heights prides itself on being an open minded small town.  Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl arrive and make a home for themselves there. But when a controversial custody case divides opinions in town, Mia finds herself on the opposite side from her employers, the Richardson family. The split could have dangerous consequences.
  10. 81ay1lxk9l._ac_uy218_To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee– I think that Maycomb, Alabama is one of the of first places I think of when I think of fictional small towns. Like many, it’s a close knit community where there’s a lot of gossip and people know each other’s business. It’s harmless, until it’s not. We see another side of this town from a different perspective in Go Set a Watchman.

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I’ve (Probably) Read The Most Books By

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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Today’s topic is:

July 7: Authors I’ve Read the Most Books By

But since Goodreads got rid their Most Read Authors page, I can’t be sure. So I decided to add a “probably”, since this isn’t really scientific.

51j6zrifyl._ac_uy218_1. Ann M. Martin- As a kid  I was a Babysitter’s Club addict. I also read her Little Sister spin off series. Since they came out with a new book every month or so (in retrospect I think a ghost writer might have had something to do with it) I’m sure it added up to a lot. Yes, I also watched the film and TV series. I’ve also watched the new netflix series and plan to blog about it soon. At heart, I’m still very much a nine year old girl!

81liithy6el._ac_uy218_2. Francine Pascal– I also read a lot of  Sweet Valley books in my childhood. There were Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High. I was too young for the Sweet Valley University books that emerged at some point. But I’m sure it added up to a lot. And yes, I think a lot of these were from a ghost writer too.

71vhhjdel._ac_uy218_3. Carolyn Keene– Nancy Drew was another favorite series in my childhood. I read the old school series and the newer ones. I’ve since learned that “Carolyn Keene” was the pseudonym that the Stratmeyer Syndicate authors used. Many of the Nancy Drew books were written by Mildred Wirt Benson, but other ghostwriters used the name as well. So I suppose I should say that I’ve read a lot of books by the various authors who used that name.

51ge6nyeul._ac_uy218_3.RL Stine– Yet another one from me youth. I read the Goosebumps books when I was little and the Fear Street series when I got a little bit older.

71i9zxpntfl._ac_uy218_4.Dean Koontz– I had a whole shelf full of his books at one point. I think he was the first “adult” author I read, when I was about 12. I was really interested in scary stuff  and someone recommended them to me. I think I was as enthralled with reading “grown up” stuff as I was with the books themselves. I haven’t read anything by Koontz in years.

41mq0rfvfvl._ac_uy218_5.VC Andrews– These were my 12 year old guilty pleasure. I devoured them! Though VC Andrews herself only wrote the Dollangager series, My Sweet Audrina (the sequel to this one was written by the ghostwriter), and the first books in the Casteel series (Heaven, Dark Angel, Fallen Hearts) before her death. The rest of the books were penned by a ghostwriter hired by her family after she died. Supposedly the ghostwriter had a lot of notes and drafts for other books to work from. I used to imagine exactly when he/she ran out of material is when the quality declined sharply. I’d try to identify where that was. Again, I haven’t looked at most of these in years.

71xd7ivfuel._ac_uy218_6.Sidney Sheldon– I stayed with my Grandmother one summer when I was about thirteen and she had a lot of these books. I devoured them and then sought out more! I remember very little about them except that everyone was beautiful and had evil secret plans. According to wiki he wrote 18 books but it feels like I read more than that… It’s been many years since I’ve read one of these though.

51nw7swclrl._ac_uy218_7. Lisa Gardner- For years Lisa Gardner has been a go to writer for me when I want a fast moving plot that will absorb me while I  read it, but not as too much of me in the way of outside investment. I think she’s got about 25 total. She also writes romance under the name Alicia Scott but I haven’t read any of those yet.

81epj1g-5vl._ac_uy218_8. Karin Slaughter– I got to this author for the same reasons as the author above. The quality of her work has been pretty consistent over the years. But she does sometimes get a littler darker than I’d like for “mindless reading.” I think I stopped reading her Grant County series at one point when I was upset about a plot development but I picked the series back up and went along with it as it morphed into the Will Trent series) According to wiki she’s written 18 novels, but again it feels like more.

81jwx0nliyl._ac_uy218_9.LM Montgomery– I’ve loved LM Montgomery since I was a kid, and that love has continued into adulthood. In this case I’ve read most of her novels (she wrote 20: 8 “Anne” books, 3 “Emily” books, 2 “Pat” books and several stand alones) but I also have several volumes  of her short fiction. I still love her work.

71vfsf-jfl._ac_uy218_10.Sophie Kinsella– I think Sophie Kinsella might also deserve a place on this list. I gave up on the Shopaholic series about  5 books in (around the time when the main characters antics crossed the line from cute to grating, IMO) but I’ve also read most of her stand alone titles and the books that she wrote under her real name (Madeline Wickham) She’s good for a laugh and an escape from reality, which is why I find myself returning to her often over the years.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Feel Good Reads

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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March 24: Genre Freebie (pick a genre and build a list around it! i.e., best/worst romances, non-fiction for travelers, memoirs for foodies, classics that feel timeless, romance novel kisses, science fiction that feels too real for comfort, women’s fiction for newbies, etc.)

I think we’re all at least a little stressed, anxious and need of feel good reads right now.

419ewleob1l-_ac_us218_1. Anything Jane Austen: Austen is an author whose complexity is often overlooked for a number of reasons: she’s a woman, she employs the marriage plot in her works and she’s funny. But those are also the reasons that her work makes for feel good reading. It’s hard to go wrong here. Her inclusion on this list probably won’t help her get the recognition that she deserves as an author of complexity and depth. But it will help you feel a bit better.

 

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_2. The Anne series by LM Montgomery– Bad things happen in these books. People get sick and die. But the heroine sees the world with optimism even through the bad times, and when we read about it through her eyes, we can’t help but see it the same way.

 

 

91eu73x8il._ac_uy218_ml3_3. Gravity is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty -20 years ago tragedy struck Abi’s family and she got a  book called The Guidebook in the mail. She always linked the two events in her mind, so when she gets invited to a retreat by the writers of The Guidebook, she goes, half expecting answers. What she finds is not what she expects but it is something that will change her life nevertheless. This book is about love, loss, hope, believing in the impossible, the self help industry, and more. It’ll make you laugh and cry, possibly at the same time.

81gw6tyoeul._ac_uy218_ml3_4. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman–  Nina Hill is a compelling character because she feels like someone you might really know. She has a full life that she likes, but when it’s turned upside down, she realizes how much more the world has to offer.  She’s deeply flawed and those flaws aren’t magically gone by the end of the book, but we know that Nina can live with them and thrive.

 

71hpnqntwul._ac_uy218_ml3_5. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – This is a coming of age story about an introvert who ventures outside her comfort zone for the first time in many ways. It’s also a celebration of loving a fictional story to the point of geekery.

 

 

 

913a0g0ghvl._ac_uy218_ml3_-16. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim– This book is about four strangers who are in a rut in their own ways. They all buy into a month long getaway at an Italian castle, and that getaway changes them all in different ways. This book is gentle, but lovely. As the characters start to feel better you start to feel it as well.

 

 

91qjazuvljl._ac_uy218_ml3_7. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman– Eleanor Oliphant has issues. She tends to say exactly what’s on her mind no matter what that might be. She avoids social interactions whenever possible and her life is kept to a careful timetable. When she meets Raymond, an IT guy from her office, she’s initially disgusted: he’s unhygienic. He’s a smoker. But when they save the life of another lonely fellow on the street, Eleanor finds herself drawn into a friendship with two other people. I made some assumptions about Eleanor when I first started reading that turned out to be wrong, when I read her story and got to know her. Similarly, Eleanor’s assumptions turn out to be wrong much of the time.

51xnngtdkl._ac_uy218_ml3_8. Love, Rosie by Cecilia Ahern– Rosie and Alex are best friends who are meant to be together. But just as it seems that things are happening right, they go very wrong. The book is a series of letters, emails, and notes over the course of years and Rosie and Alex come together and apart and together time and time again. This books is frustrating at times, but it’s a reminder that things endure beyond the frustration.

 

91paeh4pugl._ac_uy218_ml3_9. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen – The Waverly’s have always had mysterious gifts that make them outsiders in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Claire has embraced those gifts as a caterer, preparing her dishes with what people need. But her sister Sydney left town as soon as she could. When she returns, with her daughter, she confronts everything that she left behind. This book is brimming with bits of magic. It never overtakes the narrative, but it grows around the edges and creeps inward.

 

 

What are your favorite feel good (or feel better) books?

Top Ten Tuesday: Character’s I’d Follow on Social Media

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

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I really liked this week’s topic:

February 25: Characters I’d Follow On Social Media (submitted by Tilly @thebiblioshelf)

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_1. Anne Shirley from LM Montgomery’s Anne series: Anne’s social media would be positive and upbeat enough for me to feel good when it pops up on my feed, but not so much so that it gets annoying/overbearing.

61vqqqhktdl._ac_uy218_ml3_2. Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I have the sense that her social media would be witty.  It might also be  occasionally judgmental but once you brought that to her attention she’d try to do better in the future. Actually I think a lot of Austen’s characters would be great on social media…

31yhicomrpl-_ac_us218_3. Delysia La Fosse from Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day by Winifred Watson: If social media had existed in the late 1930’s I think that this character would be a social media “influencer.”

51xphws9jdl-_ac_us218_4. Claire Randall Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series: Claire’s funny, self aware observations of life amid 18th century natives and time travelers would make me laugh.

81tljs7lr7l._ac_uy218_ml3_5. Circe from Circe by Madeline Miller– I can see this character as being a very fierce and inspiring, empowering presence on social media.

61ygpmell4l-_ac_us218_

6. Eloise from Eloise by Kay Thompson– I think that Eloise’s 140 character observations about life in the Plaza would be so much fun!

51rqr9-0jel-_ac_us218_7. Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher– This guy has a job that’s made for social media and sense of humor that’s perfect for it. Who wouldn’t want to follow the only wizard in the Chicago area?