Top Ten Tuesday: Small Town Novels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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This week’s topic was:

August 11: Books I Loved but Never Reviewed

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

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

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Freebie

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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This week’s topic was:

October 29: Halloween Freebie

So I decided to do short stories that are perfect for the season

41yn-xblul-_ac_us218_1. Don’t Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier- This story features a lot of creepiness in under 50 pages. There’s a slow building sense of dread as a married couple, who have recently lost their daughter go on vacation in Venice and try to start anew. We have the sense early on that their misfortune isn’t over yet and we turn out to be very right. Then Venetian setting is gloomy and Gothic and the bereaved parents make sympathetic protagonists. There are several threats ranging from a serial killer to some weird psychic sisters, but the most dangerous threat may be what the protagonists can’t (or won’t) allow themselves to see.

1973 Film Adaptation 

61l1afcvhtl-_ac_us218_2. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter- Angela Carter is known for her feminist take on classic fairy tales. In this story she takes on one of the creepiest fairy tales out there: Bluebeard is sort of deliciously Gothic to begin with: a girl marries a man who gives her the keys to all the rooms in his grand house, and tells her not to open one door. Of course she opens it, and she finds something very disturbing in there. This story has a creepy setting (a vast, decadent mansion/castle), a nasty villain, and lots of blood.

810xurhlstl._ac_uy218_ml3_3. The Grown-Up by Gillian Flynn– This is the rare short story that was published as a stand alone. And it does stand on its own. We have a character who poses as a psychic is out to make a quick buck off a family who thinks they’re being haunted. She discovers that they are (in a sense) right, and that she may never be free of them. In some ways this is an homage to the Victorian ghost story, but Flynn gives it a contemporary twist.

 

5100vzgkz-l-_ac_us218_4. The Landlady by Roald Dahl- You can see some of the creepy villains from Dahl’s children’s stories in the title character of this short story. She’s less over the top than some of the stuff that Dahl writes for younger readers but she still makes your skin crawl in a really primal way. I read somewhere that this was Dahl’s attempt to write a ghost story but it didn’t quite come out that way. IMO that’s fine, because it’s plenty creepy as it is!

Tales of the Unexpected episode based on The Landlady from 1979

31562177._uy630_sr1200630_5. The Bus by Shirley Jackson- I almost went with “The Lottery” which is Jackson’s best known short story but I find this one more “halloweenish” (and yes, I made that word up). It’s about an older woman who gets off the bus at the wrong stop and ends up somewhere somewhat familiar but very twisted. Another story that I almost chose was “The Summer People” but that also didn’t seem quite right for Halloween. But many of Jackson’s stories are thematically suitable.

91vzvuoe0gl._ac_uy218_ml3_6. The Truth is A Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman– This story was originally published as part of a collection and later performed before a sold out crowd at the Sydney Opera House in 2010 where Gaiman read the tale live as illustrator, Eddie Campbell’s, artwork was presented on large screens and accompanied by live music composed for the story and performed by the FourPlay String Quartet. But even if you just read the story as a story, its unsettling in its portrayal of greed and revenge. Fortunately the story is available with Campbell’s beautiful artwork.

81pnhm5odl._ac_uy218_ml3_7. The Horla by Guy de Maupassant– I read this in a college French class (it’s available in English though!) and I was really unsettled by it. It’s written as journal entries of a character who sees a boat and waves at it. The boat in question has recently arrived from Brazil and the man realizes that his wave may have inadvertently been taken as an invitation by something on that boat. As the narrator becomes obsessed with this thing that may have invaded his home, his body and his life, we begin to doubt his sanity. The fact that Maupassant was committed to a mental hospital about a week after finishing it, makes it even creepier.

1947 radio production read by Peter Lorre

 

61iuhxe9kds._ac_uy218_ml3_8. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates- This story is really creepy in a way you don’t expect. Oates said it was inspired in part by serial killer Charles Schmid, who preyed on teen girls. But the focus isn’t really on the presumptive bad guy, Arthur Friend. Rather it’s on Connie, a rebellious, self absorbed teen who knows Arthur from a local restaurant. He seems nice enough when he shows up unexpectedly at her house one day, with his friend Ellie.  In only a few pages Oates takes us from Connie’s initial flattery at Friend’s attention, to her growing unease and outright fear as she comes to believe that she has no choice but to do what Friend tells her. As a reader, we can see how Friend preys on Connie’s naivete and vanity. It’s a reminder that the most frightening monsters often comes disguised as friends (pun intended) and the most harrowing journeys often take place in a single location in only a few minutes time.

1985 Film Smooth Talk based on the story

2014 short film Dawn based on the story

Wishing a HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Owned

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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: Upcoming Film Adaptations That I’m Excited For

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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May 14: Page to Screen Freebie (Books that became movies/TV shows, movies that became books, great adaptations, bad ones, books you need to read before watching their movie/TV show, movies you loved based on books you hated or vice versa, books you want to read because you saw the movie or vice versa, etc.)

This week I’m highlighting some film adaptations pf books that I’m eager to see.

  1. Where’d You Go Bernadette? Based on the novel by Maria Semple

2. We Have Always Live in the Castle based on the novel by Shirley Jackson

3. The Spanish Princess (limited series) based on the novel The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

4. His Dark Materials based on the novels by Phillip Pullman

5. The Chaperone based on the novel by Laura Moriarty

6. Ophelia based on the novel by Lisa Klein

7. Ladies in Black based on the novel by Madeline St. John

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in A Single Location

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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April 23: (First Ten) Books I Reviewed (These do not have to be formal reviews. A small sentence on a retailer site or Goodreads counts, too! Submitted by Rissi @ Finding Wonderland)

Since I can’t think of where to begin with that (I’ve written some form of book reviews for years!) I decided to make up my own topic: books set in a single location. While some of these have an opening and/or closing scene in another location all of them have about 70-80% of the narrative set in one space.  Some books, like Room, don’t apply because they’re only 50% in one space and then the story moves elsewhere. Others, like Jane Eyre or The Shining, are set largely in one place but important events to the story and the characters happen elsewhere, during the action of the story.

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1. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett- While there are flashbacks to other places at other times, the bulk of the action in this novel takes place while the characters are held hostage in home of the Vice President of an unnamed South American country.

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_2. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– About 85% of this book takes place in the attic of Foxworth Hall. About 10% takes place elsewhere in Foxworth Hall. I think only the first chapter or two takes place in another location.

51sslc2wctl-_ac_us218_3. Misery by Stephen King– This novel is set entirely (save for the epilogue) in an isolated farmhouse where the main character, novelist Paul Sheldon, is being held hostage by Annie Wilkes, a woman who rescued him from a car wreck somewhere in the Colorado Rockies.

51lz9ueudjl-_ac_us218_4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie–  In this case all the action takes place on a train. The train itself moves (until it’s stopped by a snowdrift somewhere in Croatia) but no one gets on or off.

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5. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson– In this case we learn things about the characters, and their lives prior to their arrival at Hill House, and their motivations for being there, but the action of the story itself takes place in the house.

51mny8nb9il-_ac_us218_6. The Ruins by Scott Smith- I’d estimate the first 20% of this book is set elsewhere in Mexico, leading up to the four protagonists arriving at the titular ruins. But from the moment they arrive there, they’re trapped.

518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_7. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn– In this case, the protagonist, Anna Fox, is  an agoraphobic who is unable to leave her Harlem townhouse. We learn about how she developed her condition via a flashback but a few steps outside of the door is as far as we see her travel during the action of the plot.

41oieugca5l-_ac_us218_8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– The action of this novel is set almost entirely in a mental hospital. Once again, we learn (in some cases) how the characters ended up there, but that information is conveyed via flashback and conversation.

Does anyone have any other novels set predominately in one location?

 

 

 

Gothic Book Tag

In honor of Halloween I decided to do the Classic Club’s Gothic Book Tag

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Warning: Spoilers Abound

Below we have thirteen questions to creep you out and send shivers up your spine!

The rules are easy.

  1. Answer the 13 questions with classic books in mind.
  2. How you define ‘classic’ is up to you.
  3. How you define ‘scary’ is up to you (it could be content, size of book, genre etc).
  4. Add your link back here when you’re done.
  5. If you’re feeling social, visit other blogs and leave a comment or share your thoughts on twitter, fb, instagram or goodreads using #CCgothicbooktag
  6. 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!

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.  

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Shining by Stephen King

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Novellas and Short Stories

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

July 17: Favorite Novellas/Short Stories

515izn3gadl-_ac_us218_1. The Story of An Hour by Kate Chopin– Like Chopin’s famous novel The Awakening, this short story is an early exploration of how confining marriage could be for a woman at the turn of the century. It begins when Mrs. Mallard is informed of her husband’s death and follows her through the next hour, as she absorbs what that means for her life now.

 

51ugyhie53l-_ac_us218_2. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson– This is probably one of the more famous examples from the genre and for good reason. The more you think about what happens and the reasons for it, the more disturbing the implications become.  All the residents of a small town gather one summer morning to draw lots. Eventually, the residents are narrowed down more and more, until one is selected. What eventually becomes of the “winner” of this lottery will unsettle you.

41iob1yraol-_ac_us218_3. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway– I’m not usually a Hemingway fan at all, but I feel like in this case, his spare, economical style served the material well. A man and a woman are waiting at a train station. We follow their conversation over several pages and eventually we can put two and two together and understand where they’re going and why. Without any narrative commentary, the reader still gets a sense of the emotional distance between these people, and the tension comes from what they’re not saying.

61g-wucnurl-_ac_us218_4. The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield- This poignant story deals with a wealthy family preparing for a garden party. When they receive the news that their neighbor has died, the daughter Laura wants to call off the party. She’s overruled by the rest of the family. But when Laura is sent to bring some flowers to the dead man’s grieving family, she’s forever changed by what she encounters. To me, it’s a perfect example of what makes the short story special. It covers what is really a tiny piece of the character’s life (only a few hours), but also a time that will change her in a profound way.

61l1afcvhtl-_ac_us218_5. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter- The title story in Carter’s collection of retold fairy tales, this story explores the classic fairy tale, Bluebeard, in which a girl marries an older man and is taken to his castle, where she’s given the keys to all the rooms and is told that she can’t open one room. Of course, she does open it and discovers the bloody corpses of her husband’s previous wives. Carter’s retelling explores themes that are prevalent throughout her work, but most particularly her fairy tale retellings. These themes include sexuality and maternal instinct.

31g7ovvubul-_ac_us218_6. Shopgirl by Steve Martin– This novella by Steve Martin (yes, that Steven Martin) focuses on Mirabelle, a department store salesgirl in her late 20s who becomes involved with an older man. But it’s not the typical older man/younger woman misogynistic fantasy that you’d expect from an older male author. The focus of the novel remains on largely on Mirabelle throughout; her loneliness, her frustrations, and the reasons that she becomes involved in this relationship. It’s funny and poignant at the same time.

51ktieauzl-_ac_us218_7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer–  Margaret Johnson, a wealthy woman from North Carolina, travels to Florence with her daughter Clara in 1953. Margaret’s husband, Roy, stays home to work. In Florence, Clara meets Fabrizio Nacarelli, a young man with whom she falls in love. Clara isn’t quite as she first appears, which may be a barrier to her future with Fabrizio.  Margaret hates the thought of her daughter suffering the pain of love gone wrong. But she is not able to express her concerns to Fabrizio or his family due to the language barrier.  Or so she thinks. As Clara and Fabrizio’s relationship progresses Margaret realizes that while she’s afraid of what will happen if Clara’s secret is discovered, her fear may be overruled by her hope for Clara’s happiness. These dual maternal instincts tear at her, as she tries to figure out what is in her daughter’s best interests.

51q4ceca-kl-_ac_us218_8. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan– In 1962, Florence and Edward fall in love and get married.  Both are virgins. While Edward is nervous about his wedding night, he is nonetheless looking forward to marriage. Florence, on the other hand, is terrified by the little she knows is involved in sexual intimacy. Because they’re both young and unsure, they navigate this tension in a clumsy way. But the words they don’t say, and the gestures they fail to make, may ultimately be what determines the fate of their marriage and the course of their lives. The narration runs parallel to the conflict. What isn’t explicitly said about the characters is implied. And those are the things that may make all the difference. This book caused some controversy in 2007 when it was nominated for the Booker Prize. At less than 40,000 words, it’s technically a novella, but it was allowed onto the shortlist of novels by the panel.

41srw9zyjrl-_ac_us218_9. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin– Omelas is a utopian city where all the residents live in peace and prosperity. As our unnamed narrator describes it, it seems too good to be true. In order to convince the reader that it is true, the narrator begins to speak of the price that is paid for the city’s happiness. It’s a price that’s initially horrifying to the residents once they learn of it. But most make their peace with it, knowing that it’s for the greater good. But some people aren’t able to accept it and end up leaving Omelas. The unasked question for the reader is, of course, “which would you be?” Would you live in paradise knowing that somewhere, an unseen injustice takes place all the time to keep you there? Or would you leave?

5100vzgkz-l-_ac_us218_10.  The Landlady by Roald Dahl– Billy Weaver is a young man traveling from London to Bath on business. He stops overnight at a bed and breakfast. The landlady is an older woman whom Billy initially suspects might be a little senile.  When he goes to sign the guestbook he sees that two of the previous lodgers have names that seem familiar to him but he can’t quite place. The landlady gives him some tea and they chat a bit. Nothing that happens seems ominous but the feeling that something is “off” pervades the story. When the truth about the B&B is revealed the reader will go back and look through the story trying to spot the clues.

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Book Titles

For The Broke and The Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

October 24: Top Ten Unique Book Titles: For this one I decided to go with titles that stood out and were very appropriate for the story they told. Oh, and actually there are only 9 this time!

41uffqdrfll-_ac_us218_1. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver– I liked that this almost seemed like a phone message or a note. It’s a conversation that happens many times in the book. But it’s not enough, and it’s not the conversation that needs to happen. We’re ultimately left wondering if things would have been different if that needed conversation had happened.

 

51s4merpcjl-_ac_us218_2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– The title here comes from a framed nursery rhyme in the bedrooms of the eight guests of Mr. Owen, on a remote island off the coast of England. As the guests start to die off, we’re left wondering whodunit, and making guesses by process of elimination. It’s only when there are no suspects left that the true killer is revealed.

 

51avlw-rakl-_ac_us218_3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– This book about the experience of Ifemelu, a Nigerian, who moves to the US to study. The title refers to a word that is used in Nigeria, meaning someone who pretends to have been Americanized or has been Americanized. It’s a word that deals with American identity from the outside; what a foreign culture perceives “Americanization” to be.  And the novel itself deals with Ifemelu’s discovery of what it means to be a person of color in the United States, and how race goes from something that wasn’t on her radar in Nigeria, to being a construct that she has to navigate on a constant basis.

51e1m-kbfkl-_ac_us218_4. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan– Goon squads were originally groups of thugs would beat up workers who tried to unionize. Later the word “goon” came to refer to any violent thug. This novel is really interconnected short stories that shift back and forth in time from the 1960s to the near future, as the characters are sent in different directions by life. So what is the “goon” here? Time? Life? Yes, to both I think.  The characters in the book that find happiness, do so in ways that were unintended, and the happiness is usually limited; an illustration of the goonish nature of things.

5180ubrqqzl-_ac_us218_5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson– Merricat Blackwood and her sister Constance live in their family’s house with their uncle Julian, following the murder of their entire family, for which Constance was acquitted six years earlier. They’re the beginning of a local legend; the mysterious, slightly witchy sisters living forever in their “castle”. The secret they keep is about the true nature of the Blackwood family’s murder.

 

6. Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan– This book deals with a group of American tourists travelling from China to Myanmar. The story is told by the tour guide, Bibi Chen, who dies before the trip takes place and watches over the group as they travel. They’re kidnapped by the Karen people who believe that a teenage member of the tour group is their savior. The book is as absurd as the actions of the title suggests. It deals with the notion that well intentioned deeds can be so misguided that they might cause harm and vice versa.

41oieugca5l-_ac_us218_7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– This title also comes from a nursery rhyme.  We’re told that the narrator’s grandmother recited it to him. “One flew East, One flew West, One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.” The novel is set in a mental hospital in the early 1960’s; a time  when the Civil Rights movement was gaining traction, and changes were being made to the practice of psychiatry and psychology. There was a movement toward less institutional facilities, but the characters in the book are in a very traditional hospital. The “one” in the title who “flew over the cuckoo’s nest” is the one that doesn’t do pick a clear direction like the other two. The suggestion that the patients at the hospital are those who flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and were called crazy for not conforming.

51sb1fc4xl-_ac_us218_8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer- This published in 2005. In some ways the US was still recovering from the horrors of 9/11. The nine year old protagonist, who lost his father in the World Trade Center, uses the words “extremely” and “incredibly” quite a bit in his narration. The words can certainly be seen as a witness’ description of the attacks, but the absence of a loved one to whom you felt close is also “loud”.

51rvjiougpl-_ac_us218_9. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray– This title references a line in the book, but as a phrases it pretty much sums up the themes of the the book (which begins a trilogy). The main character, Gemma Doyle is a Victorian girl sent to boarding school, where she happens upon a secret society. Her daily life is structured and dictated but the secret society offers her power that Victorian England doesn’t. That power has the potential to be both great and terrible depending on who is using it and for what purpose.

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBR

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday: 

September 19Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List

I decided to list  books on my TBR with a sort of “autumnal” feeling to them.

41hn3x56n9l-_ac_us218_1. Autumn by Ali Smith– This is the first in a quartet of of stand alone books that are described as “separate, yet interconnected and cyclical”. I’m going to try to read them during the seasons for which they are intended! I’m also intrigued because this book is said to be about the platonic relationship between a man and a woman at very different points in their lives. I think that’s a topic that’s often unexplored.

 

41hv3ouqj9l-_ac_us218_2. The Break by Marian Keyes– Mostly I just want to read this because I tend to like Marian Keyes. This book is about a man and woman in a generally happy marriage. So the woman is surprised when her husband announces that he wants to take a six month “break” and go to southeast Asia. Mid-life crisis? Perhaps. But a break isn’t a break up. But will these two reunite and be the same people left?

 

51bkzcrevpl-_ac_us218_3. Tanglewood and Brine by Deidre Sullivan- This is described as thirteen “dark, feminist retellings of traditional fairy tales”. Um, yes, please!

 

 

 

613s3rdz4l-_ac_us218_4. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell– This is said to be a ghost story inspired by Susan Hill and Shirley Jackson. I love both of those authors and consider both to be very good fall reading. Hopefully this will be too!

 

 

 

 

61keae7jdll-_ac_sr160218_5. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman– I’m a fan of Hoffman in general, and her Practical Magic, is a seasonal fall fave. So naturally I’m excited to check out this prequel!

 

 

 

51bn3helxpl-_ac_us218_6. The Revolution of Marina M by Janet Fitch– I love Janet Fitch, and I love historical fiction. I don’t know how Fitch will do with the genre, but I’m excited to see. Even though this takes place in Russia (which I tend to associate with winter rather than fall, though I’m sure they have fall too…) it’s being released in early November.

 

 

41ilzuecpol-_ac_us218_7. Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner- Several things in early reviews of this debut novel from the creator of Mad Men, make me think it’ll be a good fall read. The novel about a privileged Manhattan family and a dangerous young man, has been compared to Patricia Highsmith (even though I called The Talented Mr. Ripley a Summer book in a previous list, I consider her an “Autumn writer” in general), Evelyn Waugh,  and Muriel Spark, who are all writers I tend to associate with autumn. It’s also described as a “classic noir” which I tend to think of as an autumn genre (if such a thing exists)

51qc4pa9qol-_ac_us218_8. Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America by  Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding– By the time this book comes out it’ll be about a year since the 2016 election. I’m holding off on Hilary Clinton’s What Happened, because I think it’s still too raw to read the intelligent, reflective, well considered words of the woman who should have been president. But even though I have a self protective instinct to bury my head in the sand, we do live in the real world and we can’t hide from it all the time. This book looks at how women in such a divided country can unite and support one another. It features contributions from 23 leading feminist writers from all walks of life. 

61me9em-swl-_ac_us218_9. Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer– With a few notable exceptions, murder, especially serial murder, is generally considered a man’s game. We’re often fed a narrative that women are the victims of serial killers rather than being serial killers themselves. Statistics do show that most serial killers are male, but there are notable exceptions and they’re often relegated to easy explanations: hormones, witchcraft, femme fatale, black widow, a man made her do it…. It’s sort of interesting how even with something like murder, we try to place people into categories with which we’re comfortable.

51jqyyajdol-_ac_us218_10.Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdich- I consider Erdich to be another “autumnal author” and this is dystopia, which is a genre I associate with fall (death/endings I suppose). In this book, evolution has reversed itself, which is a concept that I find interesting.

Top Ten Tuesday: American Classics

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from Top Ten Tuesday, but there’s no reason why I have to do the same. Dwell in Possibility had the idea of doing the Top Ten American Classics in honor of the 4th of July, and I liked the idea.

  1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith– I related to Francie, the heroine of this coming of age story the first time I read it, and it’s definitely stayed with me over the years. It’s easy to say that it’s a sentimental novel about the days of youth, but those days we often remember as being “carefree” were really anything but. Smith doesn’t diminish the dramas of the schoolyard or the family crises with which Francie copes. 51fm3ylbgvl-_ac_us218_
  2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin- This is easy to see as an early feminist novel, in which the heroine struggles against the expectations of her family and New Orleans society. But you could also look at Edna as a narcissist who destroys her own life and that of those around her. I remember getting into an argument about this in my high school English class.51mlrlxawfl-_ac_us218_
  3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– Yes this book is racist. The characters are racist. I don’t excuse that, but I feel like there is a lot to enjoy in spite of it. Scarlett O’Hara is an interesting character precisely because she isn’t likable. She’s selfish, spoiled, entitled, and stubborn. In another book she might be a villain. But here, we find ourselves rooting for her, in spite of her actions.51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_
  4. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison– On one level, this is the coming of age story of Milkman Dead. On another level it’s about Milkman’s family, and a century’s worth of secrets, ghosts, and angst. On still another level, it’s about the universal search for lost identity.413unpgvwyl-_ac_us218_
  5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck– This novel, described by the author as his magnum opus, tells the stories of two families. It’s about the relationships between fathers and sons and siblings (the biblical story of Genesis- particularly Cain and Abel is a recurring allusion). It’s also about choice and humanity. It’s on my list of books to reread at some point because I suspect that by reading it at different points in my life I’ll get more out of it.51yjn5lr6l-_ac_us218_
  6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner– The title of this novel is taken from Macbeth’s soliloquy: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more: it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.” So right away Faulkner tells us that we are reading “a tale told by an idiot”. At first it seems like that’s a reference to Benjamin (Benjy) Compson, the intellectually disabled son of the Compson family, who narrates the first section of this novel. But it could also refer to the points of view of Quinton and Jason Compson, who narrate the second and third sections of the novel. Both display their own kinds of idiocy.  But the significant reference might lie in an earlier part of the soliloquy that the title alludes to: “all our yesterdays have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death.” As a whole this novel is really about the “way to dusty death” of the Compson family.51uoptbnrgl-_ac_us218_
  7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– From the time we’re children we’re taught to follow directions and stay in the lines. The people who don’t do that are often segregated from society. Randale McMurphy enters a ward of such people at a mental hospital, where he defies the stern hand of Nurse Ratched, the dictator-like nurse who runs the ward. It’s easy to sympathize with the fun loving McMurphy at the expense of Nurse Ratched, but when we remember that we’re getting the story from a very unreliable narrator (a schizophrenic in a mental ward) it takes on different (and perhaps darker) tones.51bcb3mckel-_ac_us218_
  8.  The Turn of the Screw by Henry James– this gothic, ghost story is notable because it’s hard to determine the exact nature of the evil the story hints at. An unnamed narrator is hired to be a governess to two orphaned children. One of the children, has recently been expelled from school for unknown reasons. The narrator fears that it might have something to do with the two figures that she sees around the state, or her predecessor, Miss Jessel. Through subtle hints, James makes us question our narrator’s sanity. Are the ghostly figures that she sees just her imagination? It’s arguably more frightening if the narrator is losing her mind than if the ghosts were real.  51zs71vreul-_ac_us218_
  9. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson– I love Shirley Jackson. A lot of people only read “The Lottery” in school, but this short novel of Merricat Blackwood and her sister Constance, expands on some themes that the story touches on, and is chilling in its own way. After most of the Blackwood family dies after being poisoned, Merricat, Constance, and their uncle, Julian live in the family home. Constance was acquitted for the murder of her family but the court of public opinion holds her very much guilty. We do learn what eventually happened to the Blackwood family, and the revelation is both macabre and darkly humorous. 5180ubrqqzl-_ac_us218_
  10. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates– this is a fictionalized novel that imagines the inner life of Marilyn Monroe. But throughout the book Marilyn Monroe’s identity is constructed by external forces. I think that this book is largely about the American obsession with fame. It’s about the destruction that an identity can undergo when it’s defined from the outside. We may not consider it a classic now, but I suspect we will someday. And since Monroe is a classic American icon, I think this belongs on this list. 51qypwi7ffl-_ac_us218_