Top Ten Tuesday: Best MetaFiction

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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July 28: Freebie (This week you get to come up with your own TTT topic!)

I made this list recently and decided to use it here. For the purpose of this list, I’m calling metafiction a “self conscious” novel. These books discuss, and think about themselves as works of fiction, within the context of the novel. So we have lots of books within books, narrative footnotes that continue to story while commenting on it, and other forms withing the novel (diaries, letters, poetry, essays, plays etc).

51va-sxea5l._ac_uy218_1.The Princess Bride by William Goldman – The author frames the story as an abridged  retelling of an older book with the boring parts taken out. He frequently alludes to these parts throughout the text.  In the film adaptation this was handled by having frame story in which a grandfather reads his grandson the novel. We see this in the book as well, but it’s less prevalent.

“He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”

 

71jfo2zkzvl._ac_uy218_2.If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino– This one opens with “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.” Throughout the text the fictional reader and real reader’s relationship is discussed and addressed, blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. There are also several books within  the book that we read (at least in part).

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice — they won’t hear you otherwise — “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything: just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

810pcxbl3l._ac_uy218_3. House of Leaves by Mark Danielwski– This books is has text arranged in strange ways that mirrors the events of the story. It contains lots of footnotes (which also have footnotes themselves) that reference works that don’t really exist. There are several narrators some of whom directly address the reader. It claims to be an unpublished manuscript of a lost documentary film, annotated by a tattoo artists. There’s also an appendix of letters from the tattoo artist’s (insane) mother.

“This much I’m certain of: it doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish [the book] and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It won’t matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how. You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place”

 

81oy308r7ql._ac_uy218_4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles– This novel looks at the 19th century novel as seen through a late 20th century perspective. We read the story that takes place in 1867, and the narration that calls one’s attention to the fact that the 1867 plot line is in fact, fictional. This was handled in the film adaptation by having a second timeline in which we see the 1867 story line being made into a film.

“You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for loved ones; for vanity, for pride, for curiosity, for amusement: as skilled furniture makers enjoy making furniture, as drunkards like drinking, as judges like judging, as Sicilians like emptying a shotgun into an enemy’s back. I could fill a book with reasons, and they would all be true, though not true of all. Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world. It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.”

 

71scqfzfhel._ac_uy218_5.  Atonement by Ian McEwan– Minor spoiler alert: The book turns out to have been “written” by one of the characters in the novel. The reasons that the character has for doing this involve much bigger spoilers. Interestingly the film adaptation didn’t try to do anything fancy with a secondary timeline. The “reveal” is simply there at the end.

“How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.”

 

51xunct3xjl._ac_uy218_6. The Keep by Jennifer Egan– In the first chapter, this shifts from a story about two estranged cousins a Gothic castle to being about a man named Ray who is writing the story as a part of a prison’s creative writing program. The two stories unfold, switching back and forth, as the storylines reflect  back on one another.

Being somewhere but not completely: that was home for Danny, and it sure as hell was easier to land than a decent apartment. All he needed was a cell phone, or I-access, or both at once, or even just a plan to leave wherever he was and go someplace else really really soon. Being in one place and thinking about another place could make him feel at home.”

81qh7u4anel._ac_uy218_7. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne– I remember reading this in college with a big, “WTF!?” expression on my face the whole time! It claims to be the memoirs of a country gentleman, but it’s really one digression after another, and sometimes the digressions have digressions of their own! We also get some sermons, essays, drawings and more mixed in there. I tend to think of metafiction as being postmodern, so it’s amazing that this book was written in the 18th century!

“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading;—take them out of this book for instance,—you might as well take the book along with them;”

 

813yvojs9pl._ac_uy218_8.The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood– This book includes a story within a novel within a novel. Iris is publishing a book written by her sister, Laura. Her book is about Alex Thomas, an author pulp sci-fi, who has a complicated relationship with two sisters (who may be counterparts for Iris and Laura). It also contains one of Alex’s stories, The Blind Assassin. Got that?

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

a150ni9rjrl._ac_uy218_9.Possession by AS Byatt- This novel follows two academics as they follow a paper trail, researching the love affair between two fictional 19th century poets. It incorporates fictional diary entries, letters, and poems. These devices are ultimately used to question the authority of textual narratives.

“Think of this – that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.”

 

71vksxqmbul._ac_uy218_10. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz– Susan is editing the new manuscript by best selling mystery author Alan Conway, known for writing in the tradition of authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. We read the manuscript along with her. But there seems to be a chapter missing. Specifically, the last one where we learn whodunnit! Susan figures that it’s a mistake and she’ll talk to Alan on Monday and get the missing pages. But then she learns that Alan has just died and the missing pages are nowhere to be found. As she starts looking for the rest of the book, Susan discovers that the missing portion of the manuscript may reveal more than just the murderer in the novel: it may also contain information about who was responsible for Alan’s own death. In this case not only the manuscript, but the title itself if a clue as to whodunnit.

“I had chosen to play the detective—and if there is one thing that unites all the detectives I’ve ever read about, it’s their inherent loneliness. The suspects know each other. They may well be family or friends. But the detective is always the outsider. He asks the necessary questions but he doesn’t actually form a relationship with anyone. He doesn’t trust them, and they in turn are afraid of him. It’s a relationship based entirely on deception and it’s one that, ultimately, goes nowhere. Once the killer has been identified, the detective leaves and is never seen again. In fact, everyone is glad to see the back of him.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Upcoming Releases for the 2nd Half of 2019

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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June 18: Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2019

91jsy6np7vl._ac_ul436_1. The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis– I’ve enjoyed Fiona Davis’ previous novels The Address and The Dollhouse. Like those, this is set in historical NYC, which is one of my favorite literary settings.

  • Publication Date: July 30, 2019

81aluwjrekl._ac_ul436_2. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware–  I liked several of Ruth Ware’s previous thrillers (In A Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10) and I really enjoyed her most recent The Death of Mrs. Westaway, so hopefully this one continues that trend.

  • Publication Date: August 6, 2019

71x4baxyxvl._ac_ul436_3. The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale #2) by Margaret Atwood- I have mixed feelings about this sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. While it was a very influential book in my life, I do wish a sequel didn’t feel as timely or relevant as it does. But I’m definitely curious about Atwood’s response to some of what has happened since the publication of The Handmaid’s Tale.

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2019

81r6y57acfl._ac_ul436_4. Akin by Emma Donoghue – Emma Donoghue is another favorite author of mine. I loved The Wonder, Room, and Slammerkin. The setting of this one (Post WWII France) intrigues me too.

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2019

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5. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern– I really enjoyed Morgernstern’s debut The Night Circus and I’ve been eagerly awaiting her follow up.

  • Publication Date: November 5, 2019

81ypuey8lbl._ac_ul320_6. I Like To Watch by Emily Nussbaum– I think that Emily Nussbaum’s essays arguing for new ways of criticizing TV have the potential to be both entertaining and insightful.

  • Publication Date: June 25, 2019

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7. The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West– I think that this look at the sociopolitical moment that we’re in has the potential to be incisive and funny.  In this book, West looks at films, TV shows, internet phenomena and lifestyle guru’s who have created our culture.

  • Publication Date: November 5, 2019

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8. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James–  (is this cheating since technically it’s released in early 2020?) I discovered Simone St. James last year and I really like her gothic romantic suspense. She seems to be moving into more contemporary stuff with her last few books but as of now, I’m still along for the ride.

  • Publication Date: February 18, 2020

9124eym6u8l._ac_ul436_9. Where The Light Enters by Sara Donati– I’ve been looking to Sara Donati’s follow up to The Gilded Hour for a while. I really enjoyed the first book in her new series and I’m eager to see how she develops the plot and the characters.

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2019

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10. The End of Forever Saga by Paullina Simons– I’ve had really varied reactions to Paullina Simons as a writer. But this trilogy, that incorporates romance and time travel sounds like it might be up my alley. The first book has already been released and reactions seem pretty polarizing. Some loved it some didn’t. Then other two books are being released over the next couple of months so I’m sure I’ll get around to them at some point soon.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Literary Rebels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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December 11: Freebie (Make up your own topic, or use a previous TTT topic you might have missed.)

This week I decided to go with an old topic. These are some of my favorite rebellious characters in books.

1. Randal Patrick McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– I’ve actually started to feel differently about McMurphy in recent years. When I first read this book, I was in high school and my sympathies were 100% with McMurphy as he tried to upset the routine in a  mental hospital, rallying the patients to demand better treatment. But since I started teaching, I saw how important routine is when managing large groups- especially groups of people who are vulnerable to upset and need consistency to feel safe. I started to see Nurse Rached’s reasons for wanting to run her ward the way she does, and McMurphy’s tricks (running a card game, sneaking in prostitutes) seemed like less an admirable attempt to think outside the box and more of a dangerous upset to a vulnerable population. 

2. Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood– It’s ironic that Offred’s rebellion against role that she’s been forced into as a woman, initially involves reading fashion magazines and sneaking cosmetics. Usually we see those things as part of the role into which out society pushes women. But when the basics of bodily autonomy are denied, when one’s clothing is no longer one’s choice and reading is forbidden, then secretly indulging in these ways of claiming your own identity are acts of rebellion. From these initial rebellions, Offered goes further, embarking on affair with a mean who also longs to escape Gilead. In doing so, Offred asserts her right to make choices about what she does with her mind and her body.  

3. Matilda Wormwood in Matilda by Roald Dahl– I love that this rebel us a five year old girl, who stands up to the adults who don’t live up to their responsibility to protect and care for her. In doing so she also “frees” her teacher, an adult who has been cowed by cruelty. Matilda is someone who has been told she’s powerless by everyone in her life, but flat out refuses to accept that. As a kid, I was very jealous of her ability to take power into her own hands!

4. Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– Jane is a rebel early on, with her Aunt Reed and at Lowood. But it’s really at Thornfield that she refuses to violate her principles, even when a part of her wants to. She’s given the opportunity to spend her life with the man she loves. He’s a rich man and she’ll live a life of luxury. Yes he’s secretly already married to a crazy lady, but no one has to know that. But Jane knows, and she knows that in trying to marry her anyway, without telling her, he tried to make her into something she’s not. So she leaves, even though it breaks her heart to do so. Rebelling against your own desires is one of the hardest things to do. 

5. Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– Scarlett initially seems like a perfect southern belle. And she is, until she doesn’t get what she wants! When she’s widowed a sixteen year old Scarlett refuses to live the quiet, dignified life that society dictates for her. Instead she goes dancing. And stops wearing black. And gets remarried. Her rebellions continue as she insists on living on her own terms in spite of a world that tries to dictate the terms. But she discovers that pursuing what she thinks she wants, may cost her what she truly does want. Actually I see Melanie Wilkes as a rebel too. When society turns its back on Scarlett and condemns her, Melanie remains a steadfast friend. 

41ocx2m77yl-_ac_us218_6. Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyoevsky– Sometimes rebelling against the status quo doesn’t lead characters to do “the right thing.” In this case, Raskolnikov  rebels against conventional morality by murdering a woman whom he believes the world would be better without. Regardless of his victim’s moral character, this act of rebellion has ripples that Raskolnikov never could have predicted, and he learns that sometimes when society says something (like murder) is wrong, we should just listen!

517zcqxmvll-_ac_us218_7. Valancy Stirling in The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– Valancy isn’t a rebel initially. She’s a 29 year old spinster who lives under the thumb of her domineering family. But when a devastating medical diagnosis gives her an expiration date that’s a lot sooner than she’d like, Valancy gets the courage to rebel, to live the way that she wants to, with the person she wants to. She’s definitely not what we tend to think of when we think of rebels. But she defies her surroundings and her inhibitions to live the life that she wants. IMO that makes her a rebel. 

31mezqr7t8l-_ac_us218_8. Pamela O’Flaherty in Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner– Again this is a seemingly odd choice in a book that’s essentially about rebels. Other characters are more overt about leading political rebellion. But for other characters, that rebellion is something that they were born into. For Pamela isn’t not. Pamela is an Irish American. She grew up far away from any conflicts between British and Irish, Protestant and Catholic. Her rebellion started in her very choice to leave behind that distance and throw herself headfirst into the conflict. 

51zdmvpgfgl-_ac_us218_Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery– A lot of critics see Becky Sharp as the inspiration for Scarlett O’Hara. Whether or not that’s true, only Margaret Mitchell can say, but Becky is a character who doesn’t have many advantages in terms of the world she was born into. She makes a place for herself in it by seeing the flaws in people- the way they see the world and the way that they see themselves- and exploiting those flaws. Vanity Fair is subtitled A Novel Without A Hero, and while that’s perhaps true, it does have a compelling, rebellious protagonist. 

519rvznz89l-_ac_us218_10. Satan in Paradise Lost by John Milton– When he announces “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heaven” Milton’s Satan tells us that he’s a rebel who won’t be beholden to anyone. He’s literally happy to be in the worst place imaginable, as long as he gets to do what he wants. According the William Blake, Milton (whether or not it was intentional), glamorized Satan making him an epic, almost heroic figure. “‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” So if you believe that, Milton was a bit of a rebel too. 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Villians

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 23: Villains (favorite, best, worst, lovable, creepiest, most evil, etc.)

I went with the creepiest/ most evil for this one

TRIGGER WARNING: Some of these villains do some very bad things, so in discussing them, I mention some of those. It you have triggers, be warned.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_1. Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– You don’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be a creepy villain, but Mrs. Danvers totally is. From forbidding demeanor to her pathological obsession with her employer’s late wife (the title character) she makes life a living hell for his second wife, interfering in their marriage, playing psychological games and trying to goad the second wife to suicide.

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51sslc2wctl-_ac_us218_2. Annie Wilkes in Misery by Stephen King- I think that the development of the internet makes such a villain even more plausible. I’ve seen fandoms in which a few people are only lacking the opportunity to save their favorite writer (or actor/singer/whatever) after being injured in a carwreck in an isolated, snowbound area and keep him/her prisoner for months, demanding new material according to the specifications of the individual fan. When the object of Annie’s fanning resists, things get ugly.

51xphws9jdl-_ac_us218_3. Black Jack Randall Outlander by Diana Gabaldon– There’s a common misconception that Black Jack Randall is gay. He’s not. According to the author, he’s a “bisexual sexual sadist” but I might leave off the “bisexual” because if the opportunity presented itself in an appealing way, I don’t think he’d limit himself to only men and/or women. Early  on in the book he assaults the heroine, and only circumstances keep him from raping her. Later we learn about his assault on our heroine’s sister in law which  was unsuccessful because his intended victim began to laugh (a hysterical reaction, but he took it to mean that she wasn’t suffering, so he couldn’t perform). His fixation with a male character stems from an encounter in which Randall flogged him until he was near dead, but he stills refused to give Randall the satisfaction of screaming and begging. That makes him see this character as his ultimate challenge. It’s got nothing to do with gender.

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_4. Corinne Dollinganger Foxworth in Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– Corrine was disowned by her parents about fifteen years prior to the action of the book. When she’s widowed and in dire financial straits, with four children,  she returns to her wealthy parents home. Her mother explains the situation: her father won’t accept her back if he knows that her marriage produced children, but he’s on his deathbed. She can tell him there were no kids and he’ll write her back into his will. So the children need to stay hidden from him. Fortunately the mansion has an attic where the kids can stay. Once he’s dead, they can come out. It’ll probably only be a week or so. Corrine reluctantly agrees to this plan. But as time goes by and her father lingers on, Corinne develops a fondness for the finer things in life. The kids are really perfectly fine in the attic. And when it becomes clear that her inheritance may depend on no one ever learning of their existence, Corrine is really OK with that…

41uffqdrfll-_ac_us218_5. Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- Eva Khatchadourian is ambivalent about motherhood, even after the birth of her son, Kevin. She does most things “right.” She pays attention to him, takes care of him, is involved in his life at school. But something about him strikes her as “off.” He’s manipulative, and often hostile to her, but her husband, Franklin is pretty convinced that they have the perfect son. When Kevin commits a series of horrific crimes as a teenager, Eva is left wondering where the responsibility lies. Was it nature? Did she sense that something was deeply wrong with her son from the beginning? Is that why she was unable to form an attachment with him? Or was it nurture? Did his own mother’s distaste for him turn Kevin into a monster? Eventually she asks Kevin why he did what he did, and his answer is chilling.

41bzvplqikl-_ac_us218_6. Miss Havisham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens– This may surprise some people since Miss Havisham is generally seen as pathetic rather than villainous. And she is a pitiable figure, refusing to change out of her wedding dress, or take the wedding decorations down after her intended leaves her at the alter. But I think that she becomes villainous some years later when she takes in beautiful  young orphan named Estella, and trains the girl from childhood to torment, manipulate and spurn men, as a revenge against the man who broke Miss Havisham’s heart years earlier. Not only is this unfair to men (who are not all responsible for her fiance’s behavior!) but it’s unfair to Estella, who misses out on friendships and healthy relationships due to her early training.

51cfd7bn2hl-_ac_us218_7. The Other Mother in Coraline by Neil Gaiman- As children, we are supposed to see our mothers as safe, nurturing, and loving (though some of the ladies on this list prove that isn’t always the case!). Coraline’s mother isn’t perfect. She’s often busy and inattentive. But she loves her daughter, and tries to help her. When Coraline stumbles upon the Other World, she discovers the Other Mother. She looks like Coraline’s real mother, but with black button eyes. During the course of the story she comes to look less and less like Coraline’s real mother as she grows taller and thinner. She’s unable to create and can only copy the real world and make her own twisted version of it. She wants someone to mother, so she collects children who she loves possessively to the point of destruction. She’s a twisted version of what we usually associate with motherhood.

51f1lrsblyl-_ac_us218_8. Frederick Clegg in The Collector by John Fowles– When Freddie Clegg wins the lottery it’s a chance to do something he’s wanted to do for a long time. He quits his job and buys an isolated house with a big cellar. He’s admired Miranda Grey for a long time, and he wants to be with her, but his social awkwardness keeps him from approaching her. So he kidnaps her instead, so that he can add her to his “collection” of pretty, preserved objects. Hopefully, after being with him for a while, she’ll grow to love him. After all, he’s fixed up the cellar for her nicely, and he treats her with “every respect.” His difficulty relating to others might make Freddie sympathetic in some circumstances. But when he chloroforms Miranda, shoves her into the back of a van, kidnaps her and holds her prisoner in his basement for an extended period of time, our sympathy starts to waver a bit. But the book is insidious in making us feel for Freddie at times anyway.

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_9. Henry Winter in The Secret History by Donna Tartt- Henry is a Classics student at Hampden College in Vermont. He’s a linguistic genius and probably a sociopath. When he’s blackmailed by another member of his social group (for accidentally killing a man, but it was an accident, so that’s OK) Henry’s solution is to kill his blackmailer and get his friends to help him. As the murder, and the response, tear the group apart, Henry’s sanity begins to unravel (though whether he was ever very “ravelled” is up for debate!) but his charm is probably his most disconcerting characteristic.

512sbygkbgl-_ac_us218_10. Zenia in The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood– This  novel is a gender reversed contemporary re-imagining of the fairy tale The Robber Bridegroom, in which the title character lures women promised to him in marriage back to his house, where he eats them. Zenia isn’t a literal “man eater” in this book but she’s already destroyed the lives of three women by stealing their partners, meddling in their careers, and interfering with their lives. But perhaps the most “evil” thing she does is create a dynamic amongst these women, where they’re almost dependent on hating her. Once she is no longer a threat they seem lost.

Top Ten Tuesday: TV Shows Based on Books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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.

2. Pillars of the Earth– This novel was initially adapted as an eight-episode miniseries. Then the sequel, World Without End, was given a miniseries as well. Now that there’s a third book, A Column of Fire, let’s see if Starz continues doing adaptations. It’s worth noting that each book is set a few hundred years apart, but all deal with events in and around Kingsbridge cathedral.

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.

10. The White Queen is a 10 episode adaptation of the first three novels in Phillippa Gregory’s Cousin’s War series (The White Queen, The Red Queen, The Kingmaker’s Daughter).  The White Princess is an eight-episode follow up that adapts the later two novels in the series; the titular novel and The King’s Curse. Starz has announced that it will make a third entry in the series called The Spanish Princess that will adapt parts of The King’s Curse not depicted in The White Princess, as well as the novel The Constant Princess. Of course, when multiple novels are being adapted like this, there’s considerable streamlining!

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Plan To Finish Someday

For That Arsty Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

June 25: Series I’ve Given Up On/Don’t Plan to Finish (Submitted by A Book and a Cup). (Feel free to switch this to Series I’d Like to Finish Someday)

I decided to series I do plan to finish because it’s more fun. There are a lot of series I’ve given up on when the characters became caricatures of themselves and the plots became ridiculous. But who cares about those? Also, I’m doing only series that are currently complete, not series that are still being written. Basically, all the books in the series need to be out to make it onto this list.

1. The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

First book: The Game of Kings

I’ve read the first two books in this series

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This series features a really compelling hero, who is often a mystery both to characters an to readers. Set in 16th century Europe (the first book is set in England and Scotland, the second is set in France), the series follows the adventures of Frances Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish nobleman, who is a sought-after military leader, spy, and diplomat.  But Lymond’s motivations and goals are often a mystery to the reader, at least initially, and only become clear over time. He’s also a well-educated polyglot who enjoys making references to obscure sources, which can make some of his dialogue rather tough. Even though the books present a vivid historical background and a compelling character, they can be rather dense reading. I’m slowly making my way through the six book series.

2. The Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody

First book: Obernewtyn

I’ve read the first six in this series of seven books. (In the US the 6th book is split in two, so there are eight books total)

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Elspeth Geordie is a young girl living in a world that has long since been destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. Elspeth must keep her mental powers a secret from the Council, the governing body in this new world, as well as the Herder Faction, a religious authority.  It’s a brutal world, and Elspeth finds herself sent to Obernewtyn, a place where people investigate Misfits and look for a “cure” for their mental abilities. Or so it’s said. When Elspeth discovers what’s really happening at Obernewtyn, she and her friends begin a rebellion to create a safe place for themselves in a hostile world. But as time goes on, they realize that the fate of their world is still being shaped, and they may be able to save it or destroy it forever. Carmody began writing this series at the age of 14 and finished the first book when she was in college. Like the Harry Potter series, the books become darker and more complex as the characters become adults. They’re hard to find in the US, and the later books in the series of quite large. My friend in Australia is usually the one who gets these to me. But the last volume is 1120 pages, which is a monster to ship!

3. The Jacobite Chronicles- By Julia Brannan

First book: Mask of Duplicity

I’ve read the first book in this six book series.

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Beth Cunningham is living a pretty happy life in the English countryside until her father dies. Her brother, Richard, who has been away in the military for most of her life, returns home, to find that his inheritance isn’t nearly as large as he’d assumed. He wants a military commission, and the only way he can afford it is to marry Beth off well. Richard reconciles with some extended family, that disowned their father when he married Beth’s mother and drags Beth to London, where she is launched into society. Here she encounters a band of Jacobite rebels (with whom she sympathizes) and the mysterious Sir Anthony Peters, an effeminate nobleman, who is hiding something that Beth may find very interesting. Since the series is known as “The Jacobite Chronicles” I imagine that Beth’s Jacobite sympathies will be explored more in the future books and that the rebels she encounters will take center stage at some point. But it seems like this was setting up some interesting characters and storylines.

4. The Tairen Soul Series by CL Wilson

I’ve read the first two in this five-book series.

First book: Lord of the Fading Lands

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A thousand years ago, Faerie king Rain Tairen Soul’s wife was killed. In his grief, he destroyed half the world. Now his people are dying out and an old enemy is rising. Ellie is a woodcutter’s daughter. At twenty-four years old, she’s entering spinster territory, when her path crosses Rain. Ellie is Rain’s soul mate, the first true mate of a Tairen Soul in history. Ellie is drawn to Rain, but she has some secrets of her own. The first book in the series is very much a Cinderella story, that sets the stage for numerous conflicts that begin to develop in the later books. Or at least, in the second book. I haven’t read farther than that yet!

5. Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal

First book: Shades of Milk and Honey

I’ve read the first four of this five-book series

51mmrr0hqcl-_ac_us218_If Jane Austen had written fantasy, it might have looked something like this. Jane Ellsworth envies her sister Melody’s beauty and Melody envies Jane’s ability to manipulate magical glamour. Mr. Vincent is a highly accomplished glamour artist, who has been hired to create murals in a nearby mansion. He’s brusque, mysterious and brilliant, with no interest in social niceties. When Jane discovers a secret that may destroy the Ellsworth’s and other local families, she finds herself torn between keeping it, and avoiding the trouble that she knows it will cause, or telling the truth for the sake of the greater good. As the series continues we see the family grow in a variety of situations both magical and nonmagical. The fantasy aspect of these books is pretty light most of the time.

6. William Marshal Series by Elizabeth Chadwick

First book: A Place Beyond Courage

I’ve read the first in this four book series.

51immr0h0gl-_ac_us218_William Marshal was an obscure knight who saved Elinor of Aquitaine, tutored her son, Henry, heir to the throne, and was eventually responsible in part for the Magna Carta. His descendants include George Washington and Winston Churchill. Of course, I don’t know much about him, since the first book of this historical fiction series focuses on his father, John FitzGilbert. John was also a knight of some renown, who backed a woman’s claim to the throne over the king, which forced him to take a gamble that he may not be willing to lose. We really only meet William as a child in this book, but it was an interesting read, and I’m very curious as to how William sees his father’s actions.

7. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

First book: Justine

I’ve read the first of this four book series.

41lrxakb1ql-_ac_us218_Set in Egypt between WWI and WWII, the plot of the first book in this series is hard to describe. An unnamed narrator tells this story of his various friends and acquaintances. The plot essentially deals with the narrator’s affair with the mysterious Justine. Justine is a Jewish woman, married to Nessim, the son of a wealthy Coptic Christian family. However, her religious background keeps her from being truly accepted in her surroundings. This has writing that’s sometimes very beautiful and evocative, but at other times seems a bit too flowery. It’s also difficult because the story isn’t linear. In a way, this seemed hazy and impressionistic. It’s more about atmosphere than plot. Yet something about the ending suggested to me that there’s more to this plot and these characters than meets the eye in the first book.

8. MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

First book: Oryx and Crake

I’ve read the first book in this trilogy

510o1wih4jl-_ac_us218_Snowman (once called Jimmy) is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the only person left alive.  Humanity has been decimated by a plague. He mourns the loss of Crake, his best friend, and Oryx, who both Snowman/Jimmy and Crake loved. We eventually do learn what caused the plague, and it’s frighteningly easy to imagine this actually happening in our lifetimes. It’s compelling enough that I want to read more of the series, but I think I need to reread the first book because I don’t remember too much about it.

9. Asian Saga by James Clavell

First book: Shogun

I’ve read the first in this six-book series

51vjdahwfal-_ac_us218_Technically these books can be read as stand-alone, but when taken together, they all deal with the experiences of Europeans in Asia.  Thematically, they’re united by the ways that East and West impact one another when they meet. Shogun is set in feudal Japan in the year 1600, but other books take place elsewhere at different time periods. I read Shogun a long time ago. As I understand it, some of it isn’t completely accurate historically, but it’s still a good story that depicts the meeting of two very different cultures.

10. War at Home series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 

First Book: Goodbye, Picadilly 

I’ve read the first two of this five book series.

51r2dchl-zl-_ac_us218_This series depicts WWI from the point of view of a wealthy (but not aristocratic) British family and their servants. Each book covers one year of the war. Yes, there’s a Downton Abbey vibe at times, but I found the characters compelling. Very little seems to take place on the battlefield. Rather it looks at how the war affected the people who stayed home. It looks at how they deal with loss and worry, and how they try to pursue a future in a world that rapidly looks like it might never be the same again.

 

International Women’s Day Reads

March 8th is International Women’s Day. Women have done amazing things throughout history (often with no credit) and continue to do amazing things every day. Here are some books that I’d suggest to female (or any) readers who want to explore, celebrate, and understand womanhood.

1.

How to Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis and The Heroine’s Bookshelf are two books that look at how female protagonists have been portrayed in literature, and how these depictions have influenced the authors.

51-74n0euhl-_ac_us218_2. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf- In this extended essay Woolf asserts that there have been female literary geniuses throughout history and that the reason that so many go unknown is that women have traditionally not been educated and encouraged to write, as men have. They’ve been pushed in other directions. Even when they did produce great literature it was often anonymous or under pseudonyms, so their work could be judged on its own merits. “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman,” she says. Contemporary female writes still face sexism which doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. But enough of us “have money and a room of [her] own,” (what Woolf saw as the necessities if a woman is to write fiction) so that women are a very real force in publishing.

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood– Atwood’s feminist dystopia is frighteningly close to reality, unfortunately. But then Atwood has said that when writing her tale Gilead (once the United States) she set a rule for herself: “I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time.” She makes a strong case for why a woman’s ability to control and make decisions about her own body cannot be separated from discussions of feminism, or humanity for that matter.

51avlw-rakl-_ac_us218_4. Americanah by Chimiamanda Ngozi Adichie- Obviously the lens of my own experience is limited. It’s limited by various factors: education, economics, race, gender and a million others. Everyone has those limits to some extent. Adichie’s work helps us step outside those limitations for a little while. It can help us understand what the world may be like for someone different. In this case, I’m very different from Ifemelu, the female protagonist in this novel. But it allowed me to see some of the struggles that an immigrant woman of color faces in the US, in contrast to her native Nigeria. It also shows what life is like for a Nigerian woman in her home country. Ifemelu’s race and nationality influence how she is perceived in both countries. Through allowing me to see how Ifemelu’s race and gender affect her life, this book helped me see how my own life has been shaped by those factors in a very different way.

51bven7uisl-_ac_us218_5. The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess by Leonard Shalin– This is the only book in this post written by a man, but it may be of interest to anyone interested in gender issues. During pre-literate times, feminine values were dominant. Goddesses were worshiped and a lot of societies had a matriarchal structure. This changed with the rise of alphabetic literacy, which reconfigured the human brain. The act of learning to read exercises the left hemisphere of the brain, making it dominant over the right, which is more holistic and visual. The left brain is linked to masculine values and the right to feminine. As Western culture became more literate there was an insistence on a male deity and a rise in misogyny. Interestingly if you look at major witchhunts in the last millennium, they tend to happen within about a hundred years of a printing press being introduced to that part of the word. Does this explain why the past 2000 years have seen so much subjugation of women? That’s up to the reader to decide. It’s definitely an interesting thesis.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Dual Timeline Novels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 20: Books I’ve Decided I’m No Longer Interested In Reading

This topic didn’t really speak to me. My thinking is that if I’m no longer interested in reading them, then why waste time writing about them? So instead I decided to look at one of my favorite fictional genres. I love dual timeline narratives in which the past and the present interact in some way. It could be a literal interaction; such as someone from the present having contact with someone in the past, or it could be more thematic- the present day character learns about some past event that illuminates something that s/he is experiencing. My “rules” for this list are that there isn’t allowed to be any literal time travel. Each character needs to remain physically in his/her own period. Visions of the other period are allowed though. Also, only two primary timelines are allowed. We can learn bits and pieces of what happens in between, but the main narrative focuses on two timelines. Here are ten favorites:

51pv4ly0mtl-_ac_us218_1. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton– I was initially reluctant to read this after having been rather disappointed in Morton’s debut The House at Riverton. But I’m so glad that I gave her another chance because now she’s one of my favorite authors! This story starts off with a little girl, turning up abandoned on a ship from England to Australia in 1913. The only clue as to her identity is a book of fairy tales in her suitcase. Years later, her granddaughter, Cassandra, inherits a cottage in Cornwall, and journeys to England to discover the truth about her grandmother’s origins. She discovers that the key to the puzzle exists before her grandmother’s birth, with a Victorian country house full of family secrets. Friendship,  rivalry, betrayal, romance, and murder all play out in stories within stories. But even though the narrative is intricate (to say the least) it’s not hard to follow. Each chapter heading tells us exactly when and where the bit we’re reading takes place.

51iaiuahol-_ac_us218_2. Mariana by Susanna Kearsley– Susanna Kearsley has written many wonderful novels in this genre. For me, this one is a standout but anything she’s written is a reliable bet. Julia Beckett moves into an old farmhouse, one that she’d wanted to own since childhood. But when she moves in, she begins dreaming of Mariana, a British woman who lived in the house in the 17th century. Mariana loved her neighbor, Richard, a Loyalist, whose politics put him at odds with her uncle. Though their romance ended in tragedy, Mariana and Richard loved each other too much to stay separated. Their love will come full circle in the present day, and Julia will have an important role to play in the resolution.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diana Setterfield– Reclusive author, Vida Winter, has never told anyone the truth about her life story. When she’s old and ill, she hires Margaret Lea to write her biography. Margaret listens in fascination and disbelief as Vida tells her story of gothic weirdness. It’s complete with twins, a ghost, a governess, a fire, and a secret that’s never been shared. Margaret has her own issues with trust and intimacy, and her own past. Through listening to and telling Vida’s tale, she may find some resolution in her own life.

5160vyclkel-_ac_us218_4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel– During a performance of King Lear, Arthur Leander, famous actor, has a heart attack onstage and dies despite the best efforts of an EMT in the audience. The EMT, Jeevan, later learns that on this same night the terrible flu began to spread. There is no cure, hospitals are flooded, and people begin to panic. Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves in his apartment as the world around them falls apart.  Fifteen years later, Kirsten, who as a small child appeared in that fateful production of King Lear, is an actress with the Travelling Symphony. This is a performing arts troupe that travels from one settlement of the ruined world to another. They perform Shakespeare and play music for the small communities of survivors because “survival is insufficient”- people need reminders of what it means to be human. When they arrive at St. Deborah by the Water and encounter a cult and a violent prophet who doesn’t let anyone leave. The book covers twenty years during which the twists of fate that link these disparate characters are revealed.

51lo8bgzurl-_ac_us218_5. The Plague Tales by Ann Benson– In 1348, a Spanish doctor  Alejandro Canches is tasked with keeping the court of Edward III alive during the plague. Nearly 700 years later, in a futuristic 2005 (the book was written in 1995 so 2005 was the future then!) Janie Crowe, a physician comes across a soil sample that contains a microbe that may unleash the bubonic plague on a post-Outbreak world that has already been decimated by disease. As the book progresses, these two separate stories of doctors fighting disease begin to intertwine in interesting ways. This book can be read as a standalone, or as the beginning of a trilogy. It’s followed by The Burning Road and The Physician’s Tale.

51iqjeozjvl-_ac_us218_6. A Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware– Blythe Barton was one married to a Hollywood power player. Then she walked in on him in bed with her sister. One messy divorce later, Blythe takes refuge in Cornwall, where she’s rented a cottage for the summer. She meets Lucas, the owner of the cottage that she’s renting. Jack is a widower, the father of a young son, who is trying to keep his estate going. Blythe wants to help. But she soon begins to have dreams and visions of Lucas’s ancestors. In the 18th century, the estate belonged to a woman, also named Blythe Barton. She was married, against her will, to a man named Christopher, though she loved his brother, Ennis. All three have tragic fates, but observing these historical events gives Blythe the perspective she needs to move on with her own life.

41xgjp2alkl-_ac_us218_7. The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve– In 1873, two women living on the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, were found murdered. A third woman survived by hiding in a sea cave. In the present day, photojournalist Jean goes to the island with her husband, Thomas and their daughter Billie. The plan is for Jean to shoot a photo essay for a magazine about the murders. They take a boat with Thomas’ brother Rich and his girlfriend, Adelaine. As Jean is drawn into the murders that happened so long ago, Thomas and Adelaide are drawn to each other. All of the characters, in both timelines, are heading toward disaster. The book is based on real murders that happened on the island Smuttynose, though the contemporary story is fictional. Actually, the historical story is fictional too since the crimes in the book happen in a way very different from the story that came out in court at the alleged killer’s trial. The book was given an ok film adaptation in 2004. It’s worth a look if you like the story, but it comes as no surprise that the book is better.

51h-9e-csql-_ac_us218_8. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood– Like The Weight of Water, this is based on a real-life murder. In 1843, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery were murdered in Upper Canada. Grace Marks, a maid in the household, and James McDermott, a stableman/handyman, were convicted of the murder. McDermott was hanged and Grace Marks was sentenced to life in prison. That much is historical fact. Atwood’s novel begins after Grace has been incarcerated for some time. A committee that believes in her innocence hopes to have her pardoned and released. Since Grace cannot remember the crimes, they hire Dr. Simon Jordan, a psychologist to evaluate her and determine her sanity. Dr. Jordan meets with Grace and listens as she tells him the story of her life, leading up to the day of the murders. We follow Grace’s story and at times we wonder about the truth of what Grace tells Dr. Jordan. She seems to make an effort to keep his interest. We’re left with a sense of ambiguity. How much of what Grace tells is the truth? If what she tells isn’t the truth, does that mean she’s lying? This was recently made into a netflix miniseries that was also pretty good.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_9. Possession by AS Byatt– In the 19th century, poet Randolph Henry Ash, known for being a devoted husband, had an affair with his fellow poet Christabel LaMotte. At the end of the 20th century, scholar Roland Mitchell discovers evidence of the secret romance and begins to investigate. His quest leads him to LaMotte scholar, Dr. Maud Baily. The two become obsessed with finding out the truth about what happened between Ash and LaMotte, and their own romantic lives begin to become entwined with those of the poets. Both stories are told in parallel and come to echo one another in interesting ways. The book had a film adaptation that wasn’t bad on its own but made some fairly significant changes from the novel.

51ixaf4tmsl-_ac_us218_10. The Eight by Katherine Neville–  In 1790, Mireille, a novice nun at Montglane Abbey is tasked with helping her cousin, Valentine, disperse the pieces of a chess set in order to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. The set was a gift from the Moors to Emperor Charlemagne, and now it’s sought by power-hungry men and women including Napoleon, Robespierre, and Catherine the Great. In 1972 computer expert Cat Velis is sent to Algeria on a special assignment. Before she leaves, she is asked by an antique dealer to find the Montglaine Service, the same chess set that Mireille had tried to protect. It’s rumored to be in Algeria. As Cat tracks down the chess set and learns its history, she discovers the power that it contains.  The author wrote a sequel in 2008 called The Fire but I haven’t read it yet.

51timps1ytl-_ac_us218_11. The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor- Yes I know it’s supposed to be ten but I had trouble deciding between a couple, and I ended up just including an extra book. This is also based on a real incident. In 1917, England was still in the grips of the most devastating war that it had ever seen. Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two cousins in Yorkshire, announced that they’ve photographed fairies in their garden. They release the photographs and become a national sensation. A country torn apart by war seems to have found the magic it desperately needs. Eventually, though, Frances and Elsie feel that they must tell the truth about the pictures. In 2017, Olivia Kavanagh inherits her grandfather’s bookshop and discovers an old manuscript. She becomes immersed in the story it tells, that ties past to present. But when she discovers a photo, she learns that reality and fantasy may be intertwined as well.

 

 

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

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Neo-Victorian Novels

This is for That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday. The topic this week is

January 16: Bookish Resolutions/Goals

However, I feel like I covered a lot of that in some of my recent posts, so if anyone wants to know what my 2018 reading might look like check out these posts.

Since I love Victorian novels, I decided that this week I’d do top ten neo-Victorian novels, written in a Victorian style.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_11. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– I remember reading this on a train. I got to a point mid-book where I had to stop reading and look around and see if there was anyone around me who I could tell about what I’d just read. I won’t say much about the plot because it would be a crime to spoil some of the twists and turns in this book.  It features thieves and con artists, an heiress, orphans, and pornographers. There is murder, deception, betrayal, and long-buried secrets (all some of my favorite elements of Victorian fiction) You can look at it as a critique of Victorian moral hypocrisy, a mystery, a love story, or a gothic melodrama. I personally think it’s all of the above.

51yolftykzl-_ac_us218_2. The Quincunx by Charles Palliser– This book is a tale of a family inheritance (as is a lot of Victorian fiction) and the reader is led through a very twisted family tree and numerous plotlines. It’s a big book (about 800 pages) but it doesn’t seem like work. Rather, the reader suspends disbelief as the hero is flung from rags to riches to rags again. Pay attention to the number five as you read this. The title refers to a heraldic symbol in five parts, that appears at important points in the text. The novel itself is in five parts, each dedicated to a different family with which our narrator becomes involved. It’s a neat trick, that for the most part, the author manages to pull off.

51t906lssol-_ac_us218_3. The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox– This book opens with our narrator, Edward Glyver, committing a murder. He later tells us that this murder was practice, just to make sure he could do the deed. His true target is Phoebus Rainsford Daunt. The narrative takes us back in time, and we eventually learn who these characters are and why Glyver wants to kill Daunt. But as we follow Glyver’s twisted logic, we come to realize that he’s an unreliable narrator. Is Daunt really the monster that Glyver makes him out to be? This book is followed up by a sequel (which could be read as a standalone) The Glass of Time, which some say is even better than the first. I think it read more easily, but I was glad that I’d read the first novel because I was able to appreciate certain elements more.

51sdee-q1sl-_ac_us218_4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles- This book explores the relationship between amateur naturalist Charles Smithson, and Sarah Woodruff, an independent woman with whom he falls in love. It follows a lot of the conventions of the Victorian novel (and is set in Victorian England) but it simultaneously critiques those conventions and explodes them. The author inserts himself into the story as an omniscient narrator as well as (briefly) a character. He tells us about what is happening in the character’s world, what will happen to it, and what the character’s future will be. He also offers the reader three possible endings to the story, from which the reader can choose. Because of the innovative form, I don’t know if I’d call this Neo-Victorian. Maybe Post-Modern Victorian or Meta Victorian would be more accurate.

51j8xsssd0l-_ac_us218_5. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber– The heroine of this novel is Sugar, a Victorian prostitute with a love of books and hopes for a better life. She becomes involved with William Rackham, a wealthy perfumer. His patronage of Sugar brings her into his world, where she meets his “hysterical” wife Agnes and his daughter Sophie who is left mostly in the care of others. Faber explores the notion of morality a lot, emphasizing that the line between “good” citizens and those who they look down upon is subjective.  There is sex in this book (unsurprising given Sugar’s occupation) but the description of sex, and really almost anything physical, has a clinical tone to it, and our peaks into Victorian bedrooms don’t leave out the chamber pots. So while there is an emphasis on physical acts and processes that most Victorian writers wouldn’t touch directly, it seems like a warning against thinking that Victorians were too prim and proper to get dirty.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_6. Possession by AS Byatt– This novel features a dual timeline. Two academics in the late 20th century uncover a secret love affair between two Victorian poets. We read a great deal of the work of these two fictional poets. The male poet’s work is reminiscent of Robert Browning, while the female poet’s work recalls Emily Dickenson. The two scholars engage in a sort of competitive romance that contrasts their era’s expectations of romance and sex with that of their subjects. I wouldn’t recommend this book to the casual reader because it’s demanding. You have like Victorian style poetry,  and read excerpts of fictional biographies and scholarly journals.  All of this is important to the overall story and characters, but it does make it a rather dense read. Though I suppose the same could be said of many Victorian novels.

41likqxjkrl-_ac_us218_7. The Prestige by Christopher Priest– Many readers may be familiar with the 2006 film adaptation of this novel. While the adaptation was good, I think that the novel will still hold several surprises for readers. It brings us to the music halls of Victorian London, where two magicians each have a seemingly impossible illusion. They compete to learn the other’s secrets. But what begins as professional rivalry turns into an obsession with consequences that their descendants will feel for generations.  The novel plays with a lot of conventions of the Victorian sensation novel; family curses, multiple narrators, doppelgangers, and seances. But, while for the most part, it’s a Wilkie Collins style thriller, it occasionally ventures into HG Wells territory.

61n06chw1ol-_ac_us218_8. The American Boy by Andrew Taylor– Thomas Shield, a London teacher, becomes tutor to a young American boy named Edgar Allen Poe and his friend, Charles Frant. While the book tries to present the young Poe as the catalyst for the novel’s events, really the focus of the novel is on Shield and his love for Frant’s mother, which causes him to become involved with the mystery of her late husband’s death.  Actually, the novel recalls more of Wilkie Collins’ work stylistically than anything that Poe ever wrote. But while I felt like it was somewhat mistitled (the original title was apparently An Unpardonable Crime, which fits better), it’s a historical mystery that’s entertaining enough so that it didn’t bother me too much.

51h-9e-csql-_ac_us218_9. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood– In 1843, Grace Marks was convicted of the murders of her employer and his housekeeper/mistress. Some believe that she’s innocent. Others don’t. But was the 16-year-old Grace old enough to be held responsible for her actions? Did she understand what she was doing? Was she sane? Grace herself claims to have no memory of the murders. A group that believes that Grace is innocent hire Dr. Simon Jordan to try to find out the truth about what happened. Dr. Jordan works in the new field of psychology and is very much in the same position as the reader, as Grace tells him her story. But is Grace telling him the truth? Is she an innocent victim or a femme fatale? And are those two archetypes really the only options for Grace? This is based on a real murder case. Atwood maintains ambiguity throughout. Recently a well done Netflix miniseries, based on the novel was released.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_10. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– Vida Winter is a famous author who is most famous for her collection of twelve short stories. Over the past sixty years, she has created several life stories that she claims have been hers. Now, near the end of her life, she hires biographer Margaret Lea to tell her true story. It’s a story of gothic strangeness, of a governess, a ghost, an abandoned baby,  a house fire and a truly bizarre family. As Margaret tries to verify its truth, she doesn’t realize that Vida’s final story is ongoing and that she’s got an important role to play. This book has two timelines; one is the story that Vida is telling, and one is a contemporary timeline in which Vida tells her story to Margaret. However, stylistically the book is very Victorian. As a heroine, Margaret recalls Jane Eyre in that she seems sensible and repressed, but there is a lot going on beneath the surface. The Yorkshire setting recalls the Brontes, and thematically there’s a bit of The Turn of the Screw in there as well.  It also featured a twist that made me put the book down and go “wow”.