March 29: 21st Century Books I Think Will Become Classics (Submitted by Lisa of Hopewell)
I really love this topic actually. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and here’s what I’ve come up with.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro -Published in 2005 this book already seems to have achieved a sort of modern classic status. It tackles issues of love, mortality, memory, the lives we value and those we don’t. It’s also a book that you can only say a little about without spoilers.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – 2017 A story that follows a family through several generations. It begins in the early 1900s when Sunja falls for a wealthy stranger, and learns she’s pregnant, just as she learns he’s married. She marries a minister instead and leaves Korea with him for Japan. That decision will reshape her family’s future.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 2015 – I’d be curious to see how future generations respond to this, since it is so polarizing now. I can understand why some people love it (beautiful writing and enduring themes), and why some hate it (the content is…difficult to say the least). It’s about absolutely sickening abuse and it’s aftermath, so if you don’t want to read about that, be warned. But it’s also about love and friendship. It asks which ties us more tightly, trauma or love? They answers are not be very comfortable.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel- Published in 2014 I now think of it as the pre-COVID COVID novel. It’ll be interesting to see how writing about a pandemic fairly accurately several years pre-pandemic plays into this book’s legacy. What I liked about it was that it asks what humanity’s legacy will be: art and beauty or death and destruction. And are those mutually exclusive?
Atonement, Ian McEwan – The film adaptation may have it’s a legacy on it’s own. But this book about family, class, memory, responsibility, and guilt, is it’s own haunting magic trick of a novel.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– 2000- This novel/screenplay/notes/something-or-other is definitely a dizzying example of multiple narrators and texts within texts. It’s even got it’s own set of companion works by the other and others in different forms of media.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– 2001 – I think of this as a sort of valentine to books and libraries. It’s one of my deepest hopes that both will last well into the next century, but this book celebrates what’s lost and forgotten. Even in a best case scenario for books they won’t all be remembered. I love the idea of a Cemetery of Forgotten Books!
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– 2002- This is another book that’s you’re better off the less you know about it going in. But it’s a favorite for it’s twisty, gothic, Victorian-inspired narrative.
I’ve always loved Halloween. As a kid, I was hardly alone in that love. With it’s custom blend of fantasy, make-believe, and candy, it’s a holiday that seems tailor made for the young.
But I took it more seriously than most kids. I started planning costumes months in advance (literally, months- I would come up with costume ideas all year round and then have to wait until Halloween to use them). Then, around mid-September I’d start thinking about the logistics of costumes. For example, the year I tried to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid I was presented with several problems. One was that I would have to walk around in a more modest version of Ariel’s shell bra. Even though the costume had significantly more coverage than the movie version did, my parents didn’t think it wise for me to walk around with no sleeves and a bare midriff on a chilly October evening. That was solved by a flesh colored shirt worn underneath. But then came the challenge of walking around in fins. My tail had an opening at the bottom for my legs, but it wasn’t wide enough for me to take more than mini-steps, so it had to be expanded slightly. Such alterations and decisions required a lot of time and thought.
My Halloween seriousness wasn’t just limited to costumes. I used to plan my trick-or-treating route. I knew what houses had the best candy, and where to go for “filler” items. I knew there was a limited amount of time for trick-or-treating: eventually my mom would say it’s getting late and we should go home. So I wanted to hit the best houses in the shortest amount of time. In between, of course, I’d stop at all the other houses. I wasn’t one to turn up my nose at any candy!
But like all children, I eventually grew up. I didn’t grow out of Halloween though. I’m not much of a party girl, and since my friends in college weren’t big party animals either, we’d rent a bunch of Halloweeny movies, stock up on candy and make it a movie night. It was more fun then it sounds. So I’ve sort of maintained the tradition into adulthood. It’s not as much fun as it was in college, since I don’t usually have a group of friends who can easily come over and join me (one of the advantages of dorm living is that everyone is a few doors away!) and I’m more health conscious so I don’t let myself have quite so much candy.
I do save seasonal films to see, books to read and TV shows to binge. Here’s some recommended Halloween media. Just note that while I like “spooky” and “creepy”: I’m not a fan of horror per se. I don’t like blood and guts. I also (for the most part) left off stuff that’s aimed primarily at kids. There’s some good stuff there, but it’s a whole nother list!
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury– This is a very seasonally appropriate book. It feels like fall. Actually I think I’d call the story more “dark fantasy” than “horror.” But I suppose it depends on one’s scare threshold. I have some issues with the florid writing in this one. It’s appropriate in some places, but in others I think it slows things down. Still definitely worth reading though.
The Other by Thomas Tryon– I didn’t like this one at first but by midpoint it was hard to put down! Some of the twists I saw coming but others took me by surprise. Tryon’s novel Harvest Home is also Halloweeny, but I didn’t like it as much.
The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski- This is a haunted house story meets psychological thriller that takes place over several layers and incorporates different forms of text within a text. I didn’t include music on this list, but the author’s sister is singer-songwriter, Poe, who put out an album called Haunted that contained several songs connected to/about the novel.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl- Like The House of Leaves, this book plays with form. It incorporates photographs, documents, and there’s an app you can download to access bonus content. But more importantly, it tells a creepily compelling story with elements of murder mystery and supernatural.
Ghost Story by Peter Straub– Just what it sounds like! It has one of my favorite ghost story beginnings: “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” “I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me—the most dreadful thing . . .”
The Haunting of Hill House– This Netflix miniseries is inspired by Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, but it’s not really an adaptation.
The Haunting of Bly Manor- This miniseries was the work of the same team as the above, but deals with a different story and characters. This one is inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but again it’s not an adaptation per se. I didn’t care for the team’s third outing, Midnight Mass (perhaps because it’s doesn’t have a clear literary inspiration?)
Locke and Key– This series is based on a series of graphic novels which I haven’t read. Apparently they’re darker than the Netflix series. In TV form this plays sort of like Narnia meets The Haunting of Hill House. It’s fun, a little creepy, but nothing too intense. I didn’t like the second season as much as I liked the first, but it was still fun.
Being Human (UK) This show about a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf who live together, was a total guilty pleasure for me. I didn’t particularly care for the American version though.
A Discovery of Witches- This is another TV series is based on a book series (also fun) that blends supernatural creatures. The biggies in this one are vampires, witches and demons, but there’s also some other weirdness.
Salem– This is sort of semi-inspired by the idea of the Salem witch hunts, but that’s about all it has in common with reality. There are plenty of witches, demons, and supernatural creatures here.
Sleepy Hollow– The classic legend gets the Tim Burton treatment. It’s just a fun movie.
The Woman in Black – Based on the book listed above. The 2012 film is good, but if you can find the lesser known 1989 film, I like that better. But I only saw that one once, a long time ago.
Poltergeist– I saw this movie for the first time when I was about 9 years old (don’t know how that happened) but needless to say it terrified me. I saw it again a few years ago. I found it less terrifying, but otherwise it holds up pretty well.
Workouts Yes this is sort of an unexpected category, but I saw a few fun Halloween workouts out there, so I figured “why not?”
August 24: Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time
1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I wish I could read this again and not know what was coming. At the same time I’m really glad I read this for the first time when I did, because my high school English class was reading Crime and Punishment at the time. There are a lot of parallels and I appreciated the enriched experience in that way. I think it would hold up well to a reread though. I just wish I could recreate that experience of finding those parallels and getting excited.
2. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– Last year I reread this with a book club and I found myself really jealous of the members who were reading it for the first time and didn’t know what twists and turns lay ahead.
3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie- The first time I read this I tried to read it as a detective and figure out whodunnit as I read. I wasn’t right, but I tried! I think I’d like the experience of reading it as more of a reader and going along with the story without trying to be two steps ahead.
4. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– I remember staying up late into the night with this one, and feeling the thrill of surprise as the story unfolded. Those reading experiences are wonderful and rare.
5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This one had a slowly building sense of dread as I realized what was happening. At the same time I kept hoping that I’d be proven wrong. That sense of building tension without a “reveal” (rather a gradual unfolding) is not something I encounter often.
6. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters -I read this book for the first time while I was on a train. At one point I got to a plot twist and I literally shouted, “Holy crap!” Out loud. It’s a rare book that makes me embarrass myself on public transportation.
7. The Other by Thomas Tryon- There was one twist in this book that I felt was really obvious. Once it was revealed, I felt like I was very smart, I’d figured the book out, and it was going to be disappointing. Little did I know there were other turns ahead! I think the initial twist as a sort of misdirection, so the reader wasn’t on the lookout anymore.
8. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- This one didn’t have any huge surprises in it, but I became so invested in these characters, for better or for worse (and often it was for worse.) I was legitimately worried about them it was a wonderful and stressful experience. I think it would hold up to rereads, though, because I know what’s coming for the characters and I can focus on other things without worrying about them so much. Just a note: I’m always hesitant to recommend this one without including a content warning, because some of the content is very difficult.
9. East of Eden by John Steinbeck -I honestly think I was too young for this the first time I read it. It’s on my to be reread list, and I think I’ll get a lot more out of it a second time, but I wish I was coming to it fresh.
February 18: The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover (submitted by Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse)
For me book hangovers are rare. Even with a great book I’m aware that the next great book is on the horizon! The ones that give me hangovers aren’t always my favorites or even the best ones. But something about them sticks with me and makes it harder than usual to move on. So I decided to just do ten books that left me with lingering effects instead of the last ten. So yes, I might miss one or two, but you’ll get an idea. I also wan’t 100% literal with the term “book hangover”: anything that linger afterward in a strong was qualified for the list.
2. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon– It’s rare when one of my favorite entries in a series comes eight books in, but this one pulled it off, leaving me in a place where I felt emotionally exhausted but satisfied and then ending things with a beautiful reunion.
3. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons- I think my response to this book was based largely on who I was and where I was (in terms of my life) at the time that I read it. I sobbed for like two hours when I finished this! But then I found out that there were two sequels, and while I enjoyed them to differing degrees I didn’t have the same emotional response. That makes me think that it was less about the book itself and more about something it touched off at the time.
4.A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This left me with kind of a numbness. I felt like I’d be through so much with these characters, so how was I supposed to just pick up and move on with my own life?
5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– In a way a book about an endless house that you many never leave seems tailor made to give you a book hangover. But in this case it wasn’t an immediate hangover but rather elements of the book randomly coming back to me at different points.
7. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– Forget Gone Girl, this book had some twists that really threw me in terms of upending everything I thought I knew about the plot and characters. After I read it, I had several “what do you mean, that character is exactly who he claimed to be?!” experiences with books. I kept looking for the trick that wasn’t there!
8. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – I loved Marillier’s world building in this series. I’d even go so far as to say that it (very indirectly!) inspired my own, in Beautiful. But after I finished it was hard to get back to other books and worlds without holding them up to the same standard.
9. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafasi– This book made me aware of how reading a novel can be a politically subversive act. That of course made me wonder about every book I read after it; “what deeply held ideas and institutions am I undermining by reading this book?”
10. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– After I read this I kept looking for read alikes. But after being burned by many books claiming to be a similar experience, I gave up on that quest.
May 28: Favorite Books Released In the Last Ten Years (one book for each year) (submitted by Anne @ Head Full of Books)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2014 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Below we have thirteen questions to creep you out and send shivers up your spine!
The rules are easy.
Answer the 13 questions with classic books in mind.
How you define ‘classic’ is up to you.
How you define ‘scary’ is up to you (it could be content, size of book, genre etc).
Add your link back here when you’re done.
If you’re feeling social, visit other blogs and leave a comment or share your thoughts on twitter, fb, instagram or goodreads using #CCgothicbooktag
Join in if you dare.
Which classic book has scared you the most? I think that The Shining by Stephen King was a pleasant surprise to me. I’d seen the film prior to reading the book, so I thought that I had an idea of what to expect, but it was an entirely different ballgame. The film basically takes on a similar premise (a couple and their young child act as caretakers of an isolated, haunted hotel in winter) and the same character names but little else. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film by any means, but it’s a separate thing. Stephen King agrees. In the film, the bulk of the horror is internal stemming from the character Jack Torrance. I’ve actually see arguments that it all took place in the character’s head. In the book, you can’t make that argument. Once I realized that this was going to be a different experience I was along for the ride. The internal and external horror in the book is difficult to separate. Jack Torrance, is an alcoholic with a history of anger issues, who is trying to stay sober for the sake of his wife, Wendy and son, Danny. The evil in the hotel draws the evil inside Jack to the surface, and it comes to possess him, using his internal weaknesses as weapons. At the same time, Jack’s son, Danny has psychic abilities that cause the supernatural activity to become more powerful. Echoes from the hotel’s violent past, make for a dangerous threat in the present when he is around. His ability make him stronger because the hotel can’t posses him, but it also makes him a target for harm. I liked that the film made all of the horror internal. That was an interesting story as well. But the book is how the internal weaknesses and in Danny’s case, gifts, are weaponized by external forces, and how the lines between internal and external blur. It’s a different story.
Scariest moment in a book? In The Haunting of Hill House when Eleanor and Theodora are in the bedroom and someone (or something…) is trying to open the door. They’re holding hands, and then Eleanor comes to realize that it’s not Theodora whose hand she’s holding… Something about the idea of being in a frightening situation, reaching out for support and realizing that the person you reached out to, thinking it meant safety, may be the very thing you feared gets to me!
Classic villain that you love to hate? I think Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca is great. You wouldn’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be a threatening villain, but her idealization of and obsession with Rebecca; combined with the unnamed narrator’s insecurity and inferiority complex, makes her powerful enough to almost drive the narrator to suicide.
Creepiest setting in a book? I think the marshes in The Woman in Black are pretty creepy. It’s a lonely, isolated place and Eel Marsh House is at the mercy of the constantly changing weather. Because the landscape is flat and wet, and there aren’t any distinguishing characteristics like trees to break things up, it feels endless and becomes hard to tell where the sky ends and the begins. This atmosphere makes it a perfect place for the supernatural because boundaries between land and water and earth and sky are already blurred. It’s easy to imagine the boundary between life and death being similarly distorted.
Best scary cover ever? I actually haven’t even read this book yet, but this cover of Shirley Jackson’s The Bird’s Nest creeps me out. How did the girl’s head get in the nest? Was it cut off and put in there? Or did it grow put of there? Why is there an egg on her eye, and what is coming out of the egg?
Book you’re too scared to read? I’m pretty brave! I haven’t encountered a book as an adult that was too scary to read/finish. As a child on the other hand? It’s a long and fairly embarrassing list!
Spookiest creature in a book? I’ll go with Mr. Hyde from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There’s good and bad in everyone. I think in many ways the scariest thing is the evil that we’re all capable of. In this book that happens to be synthesized into a separate being. But the creepiest thing is that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. Jekyll is presented to the reader as imperfect but a fundamentally decent human being. But everything that Hyde does, including murder, is something that Jekyll has the capability of doing. If he didn’t, Hyde wouldn’t be able to do it either. I think that’s a scary thought!
Classic book that haunts you to this day? I think that in some ways We Have Always Lived in the Castle haunts me more than The Haunting of Hill House. We have these sisters who have been isolated by their town after Constance, the older sister, was acquitted for the murder of their whole family. Merricat, the younger sister, likes this state of affairs, which is threatened when an estranged cousin, Charles, turns up. I suppose that I like that the threats in this book come from so many different sources: there’s the hostile townspeople who think that Constance got away with murder; Charles, who forms a close relationship with the naive Constance, and may be trying to take advantage of her; and Merricat herself, who will lash out dangerously when she thinks her life with her sister is threatened. It’s disturbing because ultimately it has “happy” ending, at least from Merricat’s point of view. She sets fire to the house, which dives Charles away, and she and Constance live out their days happily (at least according to Merricat, who is an unreliable narrator) in the burned out carcass of their family home. They become fairy tale witches in a “castle” overlooking a town that fears them.
Favourite cliffhanger or unexpected twist? I’m not sure I’d call it “scary” per se though there are certainly some very creepy/atmospheric moments, but I read Fingersmith on a crowded train and when I came to the end of the first portion of the book, I literally yelled out “Holy crap!” It was a bit embarrassing but this twist totally reset my perception of the characters and the plot.
Classic book you really, really disliked? I’m not sure you’d call it a “classic,” but I’m not a fan of Anne Rice. Interview With A Vampire did nothing for me. But then I’m not a huge fan of vampires in general.
Character death that disturbed/upset you the most? I’ll go with Miles in The Turn of the Screw. The narrative is ambiguous so what happens to him could be one of several (disturbing) possibilities. Either he has somehow been manipulated and attacked by the ghost of an employee at his uncle’s estate; or his governess is insane and the ghosts are her delusions, and she kills him in some way and blames it on the supernatural in her mind. In either scenario, he’s a child who is at the mercy of an adult he trusts.
List your top 5 Gothic/scary/horror classic reads.
But really most of the books in this post are good!
Share your scariest/creepiest quote, poem or meme.
“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
I think this quote disturbs me because what it expresses is so true. Most people who cause harm and destruction, do so because they have been hurt deeply themselves. Frankenstein’s monster is a character who does a lot of damage but does it because he’s never been nurtured or loved. The idea that all of that violence could have been turned in a positive direction and potentially made the world a better place, is both heartbreaking and frightening. Once we start to see villains as people who have suffered, our sympathies are engaged, and depending on the villainous actions, this can be disturbing too. We don’t want to feel sympathy for monsters because we want them to feel “other” in a fundamental way. Once we feel bad for them, we start to understand their actions, which makes us feel really uncomfortable.
September 25: Books By My Favorite Authors That I Still Haven’t Read
There are a lot of books by favorites by authors that I still haven’t read, because when I love an author I’m usually able to read their books faster than they can write them (go figure!) So I can end up saving books to hold me over until the author’s next release. That said, these are the titles that come to mind:
1. The Haunting of Maddy Claire by Simone St. James- I discovered Simone St. James last spring and I quickly devoured her other 5 titles; all gothic mystery romances. Most are historical. This looks like it’s in that vein but I’m trying to hold off on reading it! If I do cave in and go for it, October seems like a good time to read it.
2. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth– I love Kate Forsyth’s fairy tale inspired historical fiction like Bitter Greens,The Wild Girl, and The Beast’s Garden. This Sleeping Beauty inspired story is set among the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists and poets. I haven’t read it for several reasons. First is because it’s not available in the US at the moment, but I have an Aussie friend who can hook me up if I really want. My other reason is just to have something to read in a desperate moment before her next book comes out.
3. Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier– I love Juliet Marillier’s historical fantasy novels. This is the third in her Blackthorn and Grim trilogy. I want to see how everything is resolved. However, Marillier’s next book isn’t due until summer 2019 so I feel like I should hold off until close to then.
8. A Question of Trust by Penny Vincenzi– I think that this is one of the few Vincenzi novels that I haven’t read yet, but it’s hard to say for sure because her books are often released with different titles and covers in the US and the UK.
RECENTLY WATCHED: The last book you finished reading.
The last book I finished was The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. It was interesting. Apparently, it was a big deal when it was released in the late 1950’s. It’s about five women who work for a Manhattan publishing company. They’re all in their early 20’s. The story follows their lives over the course of about five years, through hook-ups, break-ups, promotions, let-downs, and breakdowns. They ultimately end up in very different places from where they started. It was interesting (though horrifying) the way these women took harassment and assault from lecherous bosses as par for the course. It’s also interesting to see the various ways that the life of a single, career focused woman has changed and stayed the same over the last 60 years.
TOP PICKS: A book that has been recommended to you based on books you have previously read.
By Light We Knew Our Names by Anne Valente comes up on Goodreads based on my “read” shelf. This is the description: “From ghosts to pink dolphins to a fight club of young women who practice beneath the Alaskan aurora borealis, By Light We Knew Our Names examines the beauty and heartbreak of the world we live in. Across thirteen stories, this collection explores the thin border between magic and grief.”
POPULAR ON NETFLIX: Books that everyone knows about. (2 you’ve read and 2 you haven’t read or have no interest in reading.)
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness- I was disappointed in this. I’m not usually a fan of vampires, but it was recommended based on several books I’ve liked, it has some great reviews, and it’s the subject of a TV adaptation… But I didn’t like the characters. I didn’t care about them. I actually found both main characters to be drama queens/kings, but I didn’t want to use the same book for two posts.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– I thought that this was an insightful, intelligent, and occasionally beautiful look at race and identity in the western world. Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love, in military-ruled Nigeria. Ifemelu has an opportunity to study in America. Obinze initially plans to join her but instead ends up and undocumented worker in London. They undergo very different experiences before reuniting in a newly democratic Nigeria.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante– I was really excited to read this because I’d heard wonderful things about it. I stopped about halfway through because it just felt like words on a page. Nothing was having any impact on my thoughts or feelings. It’s rare for me to stop reading something in the middle, and I was surprised that I had that reaction to such a popular book.
The Wise Woman by Phillippa Gregory– Alys is an orphan who joins a convent mostly to escape her foster mother. When Henry VIII’s men burn the convent, Alys escapes but is haunted by the dying screams of the other nuns. She ends up working in a castle as a scribe, and she falls obsessively in love with the lord’s son. But he’s already married, so she plots to take over as the lady of the manor in any way she can. Granted her life is pretty dramatic from the start, but Alys embraces the drama and delights in it. I don’t really recommend this book, but it certainly features a drama queen!
Since this book is a parody of the Gothic Romance genre, it sort of makes sense that the cover illustration would be cartoons. Several characters are rather cartoons send-ups of a “type”.
WATCH IT AGAIN: A book or series that you want to re-read.
The Quincunx by Charles Palliser- I loved this neo-Victorian mystery/romance/saga. It had a very complex plot though and I only recall the broad outlines of what happened. I’d like to reread it and refresh my memory.
DOCUMENTARIES: A non-fiction book you’d recommend to everyone.
I’m always hesitant to recommend a book to “everyone” because for me at least, book recommendations are personal. That said, I did recently recommend Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi on this blog, so I’ll repeat that.
ACTION AND ADVENTURE: An action packed book.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters- This book can fall into several different genres, but the sheer amount and nature of the twists and turns that it took certainly made it feel action packed! The second half of the novel had one “WTF!” revelation after another.
NEW RELEASES: A book that just came out or will be coming out soon that you can’t wait to read.
As always, there are a number of books that I’m excited to read ASAP, but The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock comes to mind first. I’m trying to moderate my expectations because I’ve been disappointed before, but this combination of historical fiction and magical realism seems to be just my kind of weird.
March 13: Books That Surprised Me (in a good or bad way)
For this one, I initially interpreted it as being for books that I liked but didn’t think I would, or books that I thought I would love and didn’t. But then I thought it might be fun to look at books whose plots surprised me in some way.
1. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone– I remember being terrified of this book as a kid. Grover tells the reader that there’s a monster at the end of the book, and to stop reading before you get there. So I would always slam the book shut before the end (hey, if Grover’s giving advice, I’m going to listen!). One day my mom sort of insisted that we keep reading. I was absolutely petrified, wondering why she refused to listen to Grover’s warnings. I still remember the utter surprise when the monster was revealed.
2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– This actually has several twists and turns that I wasn’t anticipating. But the one I’m thinking of here comes about midway through the book. It made me rethink pretty much everything that I’d read until that point. I mean, I was reading it on a train and I literally shouted “Holy Crap!” when this happened. But even if you somehow manage to see that one coming, the plot twists yet again…
3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- This twist was a triumph of misdirection. I was focused on the happenings in the English country house and the crazy antics of the family. But all the time there was something else happening in the background, that I didn’t notice until it was pointed out. It gave me that feeling like the hairs in on the back of my neck were standing up. I think it’s sort of what Freud called “uncanny.” He used the term to refer to the sense of something familiar and intimate that has been distorted or changed somehow to become threatening, or tempting, or unknown.
4. Atonement by Ian McEwan– I’m really glad that I read this book before I saw the movie. While the twist in the movie is an additional scene added on, in the book, it’s revealed through the narration at the closing. It seemed more surprising that way, but less like a “trick.” One thing I liked about this ending was that the story can stand on its own, without it. It’s not one of those things where the entire narrative hinges on a twist. But it does add an additional layer to things.
5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– I’m a big fan of this title actually because there’s a clue in it, regarding the whodunnit. It’s about people who come to an island party and are murdered one by one. It’s only when there are none left that the twist is revealed and we learn who the killer is. We get to know each of the characters before they’re murdered. We learn that they all have secrets and that there might be someone out there who wants any one of them dead. Learning that backstory is entertaining in itself. But once the bodies start piling up, we see these characters in a stressful situation, and that reveals even more about them.
6. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– This twist was one I sort of saw coming because I knew that there was something off with the Max/Rebecca marriage. But I liked the ambiguity regarding the execution. It complicates things for the reader because we’re not 100% sure what we want to see happen next. The Hitchcock film (which I’m a big fan of) left fewer moral gray areas for the protagonists. That was most likely intended to make audiences sympathize with them, but I like being a little unsure of what I wanted to see happen, and what would feel like justice.
7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This is another one that I’m very glad that I read before seeing the film. On film, the important information is revealed in the title cards at the very beginning, and a character explains it explicitly in the first 10-15 minutes. But in the book, it’s a slow, gradual realization. There’s no big “reveal.” Rather it starts off as a suspicion that leaves the reader hoping that s/he is wrong about what’s going on. There’s a sense of dread that builds as s/he realizes that s/he’s not.
8. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– The action of this book takes place as a sort of extended flashback. The unnamed narrator is spending the winter in Starkfield where he sees a figure limping around town, and inquires about this “ruin of a man.” We learn that the man is the title character, that he had a bitter, suspicious, hypochondriac of a wife and that he fell in love with her cousin, Mattie. This dilemma is eventually resolved in a way that gives all three characters what they wanted but in such a way that they no longer want it.
9. The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve- This book ties into Shreve’s other novel The Weight of Water in an interesting way, that the casual reader of either book may not guess. But it’s easy to read one and fully appreciate it without reading the other. This book is about two lovers who meet at a literary festival. Then the novel moves backward in time, showing us a time that they met previously, and then it moves backward again, showing us their initial meeting. From there we see how they became sort of cursed to meet at different points in life (rather than spend it together) and to primarily discuss the last time they met each time they see one another.
10. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– This book is about a woman who finds a letter for her husband, that instructs her to open it only upon his death. It reveals something that has the potential to destroy their family and their lives. Except she finds it and opens it while her husband is very much alive. The first surprise is the nature of her husband’s revelation. I think that I was expecting him to tell her about an affair or something. But what he confesses in the letter doesn’t just affect their lives, but the lives of several other people too. It left me asking myself what I would do in that situation and unsure of the answer. Then, once everything is resolved at the end, the author gives some information that reframes everything that’s happened.