Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2019

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

December 31: Favorite Books I Read In 2019

81hkqvsgyl._ac_uy218_ml3_1.The Starless Sea by Erin Morganstern– About eight years ago I read Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus, and loved it. It was one of those rare books that you can get lost in as you read. Since then I’ve had my eye out for her follow up and it was finally released. The Starless Sea isn’t an easy read, but its one to savor . Once again Morgenstern has created a novel that lets the reader live in it. Yes there is a (confusing at times) plot and characters, but much likeThe Night Circus,  it’s the setting that will stand out in my memory. This book is a vivid, dreamlike, haunting experience. I reviewed it a little in this post.

81xr45udqkl._ac_uy218_ml3_2. Educated by Tara Westover– Tara Westover was 17 the first time she sat in a classroom. Raised by fundamentalist parents on a mountain in Idaho, Westover was taught to distrust established schools, hospitals and government. She was ostensibly homeschooled, but in reality that stopped once she’d learned to read, write, and do basic math. She was encouraged to try to educate herself enough to get into college by her older brother, and brave enough to take the leap when another older brother became abusive enough to be a serious threat to her safety. But Bringham Young University, and later Harvard and Cambridge, were a world away from the life she’d lived under the thumb of a mentally ill father. Trying to adjust to the change, finding a way to relate to her family, and construct her reality as an adult was where Westover’s education was truly tested. This book is shocking, haunting and thought provoking.

919qe25jntl._ac_uy218_ml3_81tljs7lr7l._ac_uy218_ml3_3. Circe and  The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller– I discussed my response to these books a bit in this post. I’m not usually a fan of Greek mythology and Classics, but  Madeline Miller’s writing is vivid and compelling,  and the the characters are so human (even when technically they aren’t!) that its hard not to become invested. I loved both of these books and couldn’t decide which to put on my “best” list.

81svkiih7kl._ac_uy218_ml3_4. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware– Harriet ‘Hal’ Westaway has been living hand to mouth since her mother’s death three years ago. She’s barely getting by when she gets a letter from a lawyer saying that her grandmother has recently died and left her money. Hal knows it’s a mistake: her grandmother died years ago. But she’s also desperate. She heads to Mrs. Westway’s Cornwall mansion to try to claim the inheritance. But when she arrives she discovers a family that may be more closely connected to her than she realizes. The estate comes with a lot of secrets, that might give Hal the family she’s always wanted, or might get her killed. This books was reminiscent of Agatha Christie and Daphne DuMaurier. It’s perfect for a cold winter night.

61azp3snool-_ac_us218_5. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar– This book is historical fiction with fantasy gorgeously brushing the edges. When shipping merchant, Jonah Hancock learns that one of his ship’s was sold in exchange for a mermaid, he finds himself thrust into a new life. He travels from London’s seedy underbelly to the finest drawing rooms of high society. His new life brings him to Angelica Neal, a courtesan, who finds that her destiny is entwined with Jonah’s and his mermaid.

51i6ln7tmul-_ac_us218_6. The Library Book by Susan Orlean– In the book, Orlean explores a 1986 fire that almost destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library, and may have been the result of arson. In the process, she also explores the city’s history, the library’s history and the importance of libraries in general. Reading this book gives an appreciation for libraries as community centers, educational institutions and one of the most uniquely democratic endeavors in the world. People often wonder if libraries still serve a purpose, or if they will one day be obsolete. Orlean’s book makes the case that they serve a vital and irreplaceable function every day.

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_7.Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield- About ten years ago I read Diane Setterfield’s debut The Thirteenth Taleand was entranced. Once Upon A Riveris just as compelling but in it’s own way. Set in a pub by the Thames in the late 19th century, this book opens on a winter’s night when a badly injured, soaking wet man staggers into the pub, holding a little girl who appears to be dead. A local nurse saves his life and quickly realizes that the little girl is not dead (anymore?) but the girl is silent and the man can’t remember how they came to be in this situation and has no idea who the girl is. One local family thinks that she’s the daughter who was kidnapped years earlier. Another thinks she’s the long lost daughter of their prodigal son. A middle aged woman is inexplicably convinced that the 4 year old child is her sister… .

91hggynrxrl._ac_uy218_ml3_ 81b4caedtml._ac_uy218_ml3_8.The Girl in the Tower and The Winter of the Witch by Katharine Arden– Once again I couldn’t choose between two contenders from the same author. But in this case both are from the same series. It’s rare that a series will start off well and just get better as it goes, but that’s exactly what happened with Arden’s Winternight trilogy. It started well with The Bear and the Nightingale but then Arden upped her game with the sequels!

81eiilgia0l._ac_uy218_ml3_9.I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’ Farrell– In seventeen essays O’Farrell recounts her life via near death experiences. These experiences range from the dramatic (a plane that almost crashed) to the more mundane (a stressful medical test) but each one prompted O’Farrell to reflect and evaluate her life. Naturally an eight year old O’Farrell in the hospital with Encephalitis perceives things very differently from a thirty-something O’Farrell experiencing a risky childbirth. While the subject matter is rather heavy, this book never feels it. O’Farrell’s writing is occasionally witty, often perceptive, and always beautiful.

61ime-a6gql._ac_uy218_ml3_10. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– Set in Nigeria, this book tells the story of 15 year old Kambili and her older brother Jaja. Kambili and Jaja are wealthy and privileged. Their father is an important person in their local community, known for his generosity. But with his family, he is a religious fanatic and a tyrant. As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent outside the city to stay with their aunt. Aunty Ifeoma is a progressive university professor whose home is a relaxed place of laughter and lightness. In her home, Kambili and Jaja experience life without their father’s oppressive presence for the first time. When they return to his house nothing can be the same again.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of the 2010s

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

December 10: Freebie

It’s a little late, but it’s still Tuesday!

I’ve been seeing a lot of “best of the decade” lists lately, so I figured that this week I’d share my top books of the last ten years.

91dwjhs08ml._ac_uy218_ml3_Room by Emma Donoghue (2010) I think that the first thing that really struck me about this book was the perspective: five year old Jack, a boy who has never left the small room where he and his mother are held captive, makes a unique voice. He doesn’t know anything different so he doesn’t fully understand how messed up his reality is. His mother keeps it that way for his own protection: why tell him about a world he may never see? But when he and his mother escape, his perspective changes. Donoghue’s mastery of Jack’s voice comes across as we begin to understand how Jack’s minuscule reality and limited experience has shaped the way he thinks, and how that grows as Jack’s world expands.

818ezr7u2al._ac_uy218_ml3_The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern(2011) I was actually torn between this book and Morgensern’s 2019 offering The Starless Sea, which I read recently and loved. However I went with this book because I think that it’s more accessible to casual readers than The Starless Sea, which is more dense. I also think that the vivid, descriptive, magical setting of The Night Circus lays a groundwork which The Starless Sea builds upon.  It’s a setting that dominates the plot and characterization.

51avlw-rakl-_ac_us218_Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (2013) In some ways it feels like this book, about being an African immigrant in America was written 100 years ago. It feels like racial tensions in America in the past decade have erupted in a way that make the Obama era seem like a distant dream. But that’s how it feels to me, as a white, native born citizen. In other words, I’m in a very privileged position in my country in many ways, and therefore I don’t experience it in the same way that someone who has a different position experiences it.  I think that this book made me aware of some of the ways that make privilege impacts my perception of events that might help answer the “how did we get here?” question.

81v5wp2zeql._ac_uy218_All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) This novel set during WWII features two endearing protagonists; a blind French girl who must flee Nazi occupied Paris and a German boy who uses his skills building and fixing radios to help the Nazis find the Resistance. Even though these characters are from different countries and on different sides of the war, their stories are intrinsically interwoven.  When their paths cross it feels almost inevitable.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_A Little Life by Hanya Yanaghiara (2015)- This is a story of friendship over many years and the families that we create. It’s also a story of trauma, and it asks whether recovery is even possible. When we meet Jude, he his is a young college grad with several close friends, a good job, and a traumatic past. As we come to know him and his friends, we see him grow into a successful attorney who maintains his friendships and develops new relationships. But he’s still haunted by his past. His struggle to overcome it, and doubts about whether that’s possible, are the bulk of this novel. It’s a struggle that isn’t always pretty. At time’s its downright brutal, but the struggle is still beautiful. The novel itself is long and at times difficult but I think one of the reasons it appeals to me is that it recalls a 19th century Bildungsroman.

81vn8opa4zl._ac_uy218_M Train by Patti Smith (2015)- I’ve seen Smith’s other memoir, Just Kids, on many similar lists. But I actually prefer this one. It’s less linear and more internal. We spend time not just in Smith’s life, but also in her dreams. Just Kids is a memoir of Smith’s youth in the 60’s and 70’s. M Train is a memoir of her life over the past decade or so. While Just Kids gives background that’s important to understanding the woman in M Train, I feel that this is the more mature work.

81tljs7lr7l._ac_uy218_ml3_Circe by Madeline Miller (2018)- I was actually torn between this and Miller’s other book Song of Achilles for this list, because they’re both beautiful works. But I went with this one because it feels somehow larger. Not larger as a physical book (they’re about the same size) but as a story and as a depiction of Miller’s world. But I highly recommend both books.

81xr45udqkl._ac_uy218_ml3_Educated by Tara Westover (2018)- Tara Westover was the daughter of mentally ill survivalists who was homeschooled (a process which ended once she learned to read and write) and later pushed herself to get into Brigham Young University, Harvard, and Cambridge. But her educational success doesn’t give her what she needs to understand her upbringing. Even after she earns her PHD, her understanding of her abusive childhood depended on learning to trust herself and her memory. I appreciated the fact that this book complicated the notion of “hard work = success.” Westover depicts success, and education, as a process rather than a fait accompli.

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield (2018) I was really excited to read this because I loved Setterfield’s previous novel The Thirteenth Tale. This was one of the rare highly anticipated novels that lives up to expectations. I think one of the reasons that it works for me is that it doesn’t try to give easy answers. It opens with a mystery and offers several possible conclusions but doesn’t tie itself down to any of them.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Owned

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

ttt-new

August 27: Books I’ve Read That I’d Like In My Personal Library (perhaps you checked it out, borrowed it from a friend, received it for review, etc. and want to own it yourself.) (Submitted by Annemieke @ A Dance with Books)

Most of these I got from the library originally

51i6ln7tmul-_ac_us218_1. The Library Book by Susan Orlean– I got this (rather fittingly) from the library. But it’s a beautiful book physically. I want my own copy.

71pwec3g0ol._ac_ul436_2. Flush by Virginia Woolf– I read this as an ebook, and I still own it that way, but I really liked it and I want a physical copy.

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_3. Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield- I’d like to read this one again at some point.

51wn17e1xil-_ac_us218_4. Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– This is a novel in letters so it’s easy to pick up anywhere and just read one. They’re really funny so I’d like to have it on hand to read bits and pieces from time to time.

81gmo9l38hl._ac_uy218_

5. Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson- Some of these lesser known stories and essays are better than others,  but I’d like to have them on hand, especially since some of them highlight Jackson’s humorous side, which we don’t often get to see.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_6. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This book was beautiful but difficult to read. I’d like to revisit it at some point,  knowing the plot, so that I can appreciate some of the other elements.

51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_7. Crush by Richard Siken– I’m rather fussy about poetry but Siken’s work is vivid and compelling enough for me to want to revisit it often.

81vn8opa4zl._ac_uy218_

8. M Train by Patti Smith– I have Smith’s other book, Just Kids, but I actually like this one much better.

81v5wp2zeql._ac_uy218_

9. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr– I read a book dealing with similar subject matter shortly after this and as a result they’re sort of blended in my mind. But I remember this one was vastly superior so I’d like to reread it and have it clearer in my memory.

61zj9bc2qwl-_ac_us218_

10. Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak– This is a childhood favorite that I’ve been trying to find forever. I may just order it from Amazon at some point.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorites of the Last Ten Years

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

ttt-new

May 28: Favorite Books Released In the Last Ten Years (one book for each year) (submitted by Anne @ Head Full of Books)

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_2019 (so far…) Once Upon A River By Diane Setterfield– Set in a pub in a village along the Thames in the late 19th century, this novel opens on a winter’s night. A man, badly hurt and soaking wet, staggers in holding a little girl who appears dead. A local nurse saves the man and realizes that the girl isn’t dead (anymore?), but the man has no memory of how he came across the girl or who she is. When she regains consciousness the child is unable to talk. A local family believe that she’s the baby that was kidnapped from them two years ago. Another family thinks that she’s the lost daughter of their prodigal son. A woman well into middle age believes that the 4 year old child is her sister. The story winds its way from one character to the next, and each character’s back story becomes like a tributary.

617j4awgzul-_ac_us218_2018 Idaho by Emily Ruskovich- Ann and Wade are a married couple living in Idaho. As Wade’s memory fades with early onset dementia, Ann begins to piece together the fate of Wade’s first wife, Jenny (now in prison) and their two daughters  (one dead and one missing). The novel moves from one characters point of view to another in a nonlinear fashion. There’s a sense of strangeness to the events and characters of this novel, but there’s a familiarity as well. We’re never actually told what happened to Wade’s family, but we’re given enough pieces to put it together. If you like things laid out clearly, you probably won’t like this. But if you like a bit of ambiguity and gorgeous prose, you might like this.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_2017 A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- Four young men meet in college and become friends. When they graduate, they move to NYC and begin their lives. Willem, an aspiring actor, is kind to his core. JB is a bright, witty, and occasionally cruel painter, Malcolm becomes an architect at a prominent firm. But the nexus of the group is Jude, withdrawn, intelligent, with a dark, unspeakable childhood of trauma behind him. Over the years, their friendships deepen and change as they face different challenges. But Jude himself is their greatest challenge. We do eventually learn what happened to Jude, and it’s ugly. Very ugly. Like hard to read about. But there’s something beautiful about Jude’s struggle to overcome it, and his friend’s struggle to help him.  Much like Jude’s like the experience of reading this is tragic, traumatic, and sometimes brutal. But it’s also beautiful.

51muf7bj-ll-_ac_us218_2016 The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss– When some unexpected excitement comes to an inn one evening, the innkeeper faces it like a veteran. But then he goes back to his regular life, and tells his story. Kvothe’s childhood was spent in a troupe of travelling players. When he encounters an Arcanist (sort of a scientist/wizard) he’s tutored and develops into a powerful Arcanist in his own right. When the world of his childhood is overturned, Kvothe just barely escapes and becomes a beggar before fate brings him to University. He makes several friends and several enemies before discovering the reason that his was killed. This is a pretty epic novel that covers the first 1/3 of Kvothe’s life and is the first in a planned trilogy.  I haven’t read the second book yet, because I’m waiting for a release date for the third book before I invest more time in the series.

41oplfqimil-_ac_us218_2015 The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters– Dr. Faraday is called to Hundred’s Hall, the home of the Ayers family. As a child his mother worked there as a maid. But now, its owners (a mother and her two adult children) are struggling to keep up with modern society. He treats the young maid, but he strikes up a friendship with Caroline Ayers, the daughter of the house. He also begins to treat her brother, Roderick, who is still recovering from wounds he sustained during WWII. He comes to understand the family’s dire financial straits. The stress of the attempts to reconcile these straits coincide with some disastrous events that may or may not be supernatural in origin and lead to tragedy. But  what’s great about this novel is that it remains ambiguous, hovering on the edges psychological and supernatural without fulling diving into either category.

51jx4jtbmpl2014 Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth– Forsyth’s Rapunzel retelling is a wonderful braid of narratives that overlap. Charlotte Rose de la Force is banished from Versailles after a number of scandalous love affairs. She goes to a convent where a nun tells her a story of a young girl who was  sold by her parents for a handful of lettuce after her father is caught stealing from the courtesan Selena Leonelli. Margherita is the price he pays for his crimes. She grows up locked away in a tower. The combined stories of these three women tell the traditional Rapunzel story as well as the story of the women who wrote it. The novel is both a historical fiction account of real women and a fairy tale retelling.

41-kxlbhnl-_ac_us218_2013 The Other by Thomas Tryon– Holland and Niles Perry are thirteen year old identical twins. They live in a small New England town with their parents, and when their father dies in a tragic accident, the extended family gather, while their mother stays in her bedroom, heartbroken. This allows the boys to roam free. Holland, always a bit of a prankster, grows more sinister with his games. This book offers several twists on the ghost story genre as well as the evil twin/doppelganger trope. One seems fairly obvious from the beginning but that twist plays out early on, and there several other surprises in store.

51eksizfwl-_ac_us218_2012 Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– Major Pettigrew is a rather cranky widower living in Edgecombe St. Mary, an English country village where nothing much changes (which is how he likes it!). When he strikes up a friendship with Jasmine Ali, a widowed Pakistani shopkeeper, they bond unexpectedly over their love of books and the loss of their respective spouses. As their friendship develops into something more, they and the village must decide what elements of culture and tradition are worth preserving and what should change with the times. It’s a gentle story about the ways people are different and the things that they have in common.

41oyve54sgl-_ac_us218_2011 Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier– Catrin, a young scribe, takes refuge from a mysterious danger in Whistling Tor, a crumbling fortress that belongs to Anluan, chieftain living under a curse. Retained to sort through some family documents, Catrin and Anluan form a surprising connection. But if they are to have a future together, Catrin must unravel the mysteries of Anluan’s family curse. This Beauty and the Beast variation incorporates elements of mystery, fantasy and romance.

81l67wbztml._ac_ul436_2010 The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton– In 1913, a little girl is discovered alone on a ship headed to Australia. She has nothing but a small suitcase with a book: a single volume of fairy tales. She is taken in and raised by a couple, but when they tell her the truth on her twenty first birthday, Nell goes to England to try to trace her real identity. The quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor, a Cornwall mansion that is home to the doomed Mountrachet family. But it’s not until many years later when Nell’s granddaughter Cassandra discovers the garden of the book’s title that the mystery can finally be solved. This book combines several elements I love: dual timelines, Gothic drama, and fairy tales.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Winter 2018-2019 TBR

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

December 18: Winter 2018-2019 TBR

This week it’s just the top eight:

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_1. Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield- I loved Setterfield’s debut novel The Thirteenth Tale. I was disappointed in her sophomore effort, Bellman and Black, but I’ve heard good things about this one, so fingers crossed!

 

 

515y9hgrwzl-_ac_us218_2. The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye– I loved Faye’s Jane Steele. Her follow up, a historical mystery set amidst racial tensions in the 1920’s sounds really compelling.

 

 

 

41narWytvkL._AC_US218_3. I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella– Sophie Kinsella is pretty reliable for a fluffy read to distract you from reality. And sometimes that’s very necessary so I’m glad that she has a new one out!

 

 

 

51sOOMroi9L._AC_US218_4. The Familiars by Stacy Halls– This sounds like a compelling historical mystery set against the backdrop of the Pendle Hill Witch Trials of 1612.

 

 

 

51HxcBeCBKL._AC_US218_5. Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young– The blurb for this describes it as Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale. I found that description compelling enough to make me curious.

 

 

 

41q9vrZpraL._AC_US218_6. Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick- This historical novel was compared to the work of  Kate Morton, Philippa Gregory and Barbara Erskine. That’s enough to catch my interest!

 

 

 

51SnHkgfUEL._AC_US218_7. The Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert- I really liked Brennert’s Moloka’i and I’m intrigued by a follow up. Hopefully it’ll be a worthy successor rather than a rehash.

 

 

 

41eOX0cBT8L._AC_US218_8. Milkman by Anna Burns– This one recently won the Man Booker Prize and has been getting a lot of attention and it sounds interesting.

 

 

 

 

What recent or future releases do you plan to read this winter?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall 2018 TBR

ttt-new

For ThatArtsyReaderGirl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 18: Books On My Fall 2018 TBR

51pyv4pffgl-_ac_us218_

1. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingslover (October 16) I loved Kingslover’s The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer. This new novel features dual timelines (a favorite device for me) and it sounds promising.

61im-9b5r3l-_ac_us218_

2. The Labyrinth of Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (September 18) I loved Zafon’s introduction to the Cemetary of Forgotten books in The Shadow of the Wind. The follow-ups (The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven) weren’t as good but were still compelling. This is supposed to be the conclusion that ties together the themes of the series. I hope that it lives up to the first book, but I may need to reread them all to refresh my memory!

91mr5h6-xil-_ac_us218_3. Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (September 18) The fourth novel in Galbraith’s (AKA JK Rowling) Comoran Strike series is really highly anticipated (by me at least!) because the last one left off on a sort of cliffhanger regarding the personal relationships of the two primary characters.

51e4ptxpx8l-_ac_us218_4. The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (October 9) Kate Morton is a favorite of mine based on several of her past novels (The Forgotten Garden, The Distant HoursThe Secret Keeper). I’ve heard good things about this one, so I’m looking forward to it.

51i6ln7tmul-_ac_us218_5. The Library Book by Susan Orlean (October 16) I loved The Orchid Thief and I love libraries. This book delves into the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library (one of the most devastating library fires in American history) and in the process explore the idea of libraries and the crucial role that they play in society.

514bydpfbhl-_ac_us218_6. When We Caught Fire by Anne Godberson (October 2) Anne Godberson’s Luxe series was a major guilty pleasure for me. I also enjoyed her Bright Young Things trilogy. I’m looking forward to this standalone novel set around Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871.

5172ejdutll-_ac_us218_

7. The Winters by Lisa Gabriele (October 16) I was a bit skeptical about this retelling of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca (one of my favorite novels) but revisiting a classic with a fresh eye can sometimes pay off. You could actually argue that DuMaurier did that same thing with Jane Eyre in Rebecca! So really I owe it to this book to give it a chance.

51ecxjihxpl-_ac_us218_8. Daughters of the Lake by Wendy Webb (November 1) I’ve never read anything by Webb before, but I’ve seen her work recommended for fans of Kate Morton, Susanna Kearsley, and Simone St. James. In other words, me! Reviewers also call her “Queen of the Northern Gothic,” which also sounds promising.

51pku74twl-_ac_us218_9. The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox (October 2) This one seems like a perfect October read featuring the Salem Witch Trials, ghosts, and a Gothic setting.

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_10. Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield (December 4) I loved Diane Setterfield’s first novel, The Thirteenth Tale. I was less fond of her follow up Bellman and Black, but the early reviews for this one are positive so I’m hopeful!