Top Ten Tuesday: Blue Books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

May 8: Books With My Favorite Color On the Cover (or In the Title)

I once read that blue was like 80% of people’s favorite color. I do like to be different, but in this case, I opted for honesty. And I decided to go for books with “blue” in the title, though most of them have it on the cover as well.

512dz8v9ul-_ac_us218_1. The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier– This is Chevalier’s first novel. It tells a dual timeline story of Ella, an American woman who moves to France with her husband. She begins to have dreams of medieval scenes involving a blue dress. In the 16th century, Isabelle du Moulin belongs to a Protestant sect that is opposed to the cult of the virgin that is popular in the village where she lives. The virgin, or La Rousse, is frequently depicted as a redhead in a blue dress. I read this a while ago. I remember enjoying it, and I remember aspects of the plot, but not a lot more than that.

513aikrfs5l-_ac_us218_2. Blue Nights by Joan Didion– I read this book and Didion’s other memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, after losing several loved ones. Didion’s frankness about the loss of both her husband and daughter in the space of two years helped me to clarify my own feelings about loss and mortality; how they were similar to hers and how they differed. It’s sad, elegiac, sensitive, and yet surprisingly unsentimental.

 

51f8te9sbwl-_ac_us218_3. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell– This was a favorite of mine in second or third grade. It’s about Karana, a twelve-year-old Native American girl who lives alone on an island off the coast of California for 18 years. It’s loosely based on the story of “The Lost Woman of San Nicolas” who really did live alone from 1835-1853. However, details of her story aren’t known due to the lack of any surviving members of her tribe who spoke her language. What I remember most about this book was how self-reliant Karana was. I imagined that I’d fall to pieces in a similar scenario (I think I still would) but Karana accepts what comes to her, with the knowledge that she’ll deal with it.

51oljzbglkl-_ac_us218_4. Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland– A professor invites a colleague to his home, to see a painting that he claims is a Vermeer. But why would anyone hide away such a beautiful (not to mention valuable) painting? To learn the answer we go back to the history of the painting and learn how it figured into eight different stories. We eventually travel all the way back to the moment that inspired the artist. I remember liking several of these stories more than others. I did like how we essentially ended the book at the painting’s beginning.

41o52y2tk8l-_ac_us218_5. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison– Pecola Breedlove is a young black girl who faces hardships, adversity, racism and sexual violence. Through it all, she dreams of being the opposite of what she is. She dreams of having blond hair and blue eyes. A lot of this book deals with the idea of beauty. Often we all think that by having some ideal physical appearance, our problems would go away. But what happens when that physical ideal is racially different? Is the destructive power of the beauty myth color blind, or does race enhance its destructiveness?

31e7pxfgjdl-_ac_us218_6. Something Blue by Emily Giffin- This is a sequel to Giffin’s Something Borrowed. In Something Borrowed, Darcy’s fiance left her for her best friend. When this book opens we find Darcy alone (for the first time ever), pregnant (not with her ex-fiance’s baby, by the way) and unsure of what to do. She heads off London to stay with her childhood friend, Ethan for a while. But when London doesn’t live up to her expectations, Darcy begins to realize that she’s not who or what she wants to be. So she changes. In Something Borrowed, Darcy stood out as one of the most self-centered characters ever. She’s the same way for much of Something Blue, but she does start to grow up.

517zcqxmvll-_ac_us218_7. The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– This is one of my favorite books and for some reason, I didn’t think of it, when thinking about the topic of Books With the Word “Blue” In the Title, until 7th on the list! But nonetheless, I do love this book about a woman, who is tormented by an overbearing family, who receives a devastating medical diagnosis. She uses it as a way to make some changes in her life, and finally, start actually living it.
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8. Red, White, and Blue by Susan Isaacs– This book opens with an explosion in Wyoming. A white supremacist group claims that they were behind it. Lauren Miller, a Jewish reporter from NYC, sees the story as a potentially big break for her career. Charlie Blair is an FBI agent who is undercover in the group. Most of the book consists of Lauren and Charlie, two people from very different backgrounds and political viewpoints, coming together to take down a hate organization. But we also see how both Lauren and Charlie came to be who they are. The story flashes back to the Lauren and Charlie’s ancestors; the immigrants who came to America for varying reasons, and even touches on the Native Americans they encountered. I read this book several years ago, and as I write about it, I find myself wondering how it would hold up in a time as politically and ideologically polarized as the one we live in now. Despite their differences, Lauren and Charlie are able to find common ground. They share certain values that the book identifies as “American.” They both strongly believe in equality, free speech, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is enough to smooth over their differences. But the book was written in 1998. The US feels more divided now.
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9. Blue Fire by Phyllis A. Whitney– Susan Hohenfeld grew up in South Africa before moving to the US. She brings her new husband, Dirk, to her childhood home, which she remembers fondly. But Susan saw South Africa through a child’s eyes. Upon her return, she sees how apartheid is tearing the country apart. Susan’s father is in prison for diamond smuggling, or so she’s been told. She learns a secret that raises new questions. This book was originally written in 1961, three decades before the end of apartheid. I read this a long time ago. At the time I had less of an understanding of South Africa’s troubled history than I do now (which is not to say I understand it well now!), and I wonder how the racial issues, and the storyline about the diamond trade.

51zm4jpmtfl-_ac_us218_10. The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang- This is the first of Lang’s Fairy Books series, which features almost every color of the rainbow. Because this is the first volume in Lang’s series, it contains some of the best-known tales from the Brother’s Grimm, Charles Perrault, The Arabian Nights, and more.  Word of advice: if you’re buying a physical copy of any of Lang’s collections, pay attention to the publisher. They vary greatly in terms of quality. Some have illustrations, some don’t. Some have large print, some have small print, and some even omit certain tales. Make sure you know what you’re getting and that you’re getting what you want.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Made Me Laugh Out Loud

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week I decided to focus on ten novels that have made me laugh, giggle, or snort out loud (you might think twice about reading them in public!)

51hq1svllxl-_ac_us218_1. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen- This spoof of gothic novels got me into an embarrassing situation on a train. It was a long trip, people were listening to music, reading quietly, doing work…. I was reading this book. I was at the part where our heroine, Catherine, is staying at a grand old house that she’s sure is full of secrets. She discovers a piece of paper one night with writing on it. But it’s too dark to read (this was pre-electricity, remember). So she must wait until sunrise to read it. She’s sure that the paper is someone’s plea for help, or someone’s confession of murder. She builds it up in her mind until, finally the sun rises and she realizes the hidden paper is actually… a laundry list. That gives you an idea of the tone here. Actually it’s ironic that Catherine is so sure that she’ll discover some sensational evil about her new friends that she is initially blind to everyday cruelty, snobbery, and nastiness.

“To be disgraced in the eye of the world, to wear the appearance of infamy while her heart is all purity, her actions all innocence, and the misconduct of another the true source of her debasement, is one of those circumstances which peculiarly belong to the heroine’s life, and her fortitude under it what particularly dignifies her character. Catherine had fortitude too; she suffered, but no mumur passed her lips.”

51mlugh65hl-_ac_us218_2. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons– This is also a spoof of so many British writers: Jane Austen, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy and even a bit of DH Lawrence. Flora Poste is orphaned, with only a hundred pounds a year to live on. She doesn’t want to *gasp* get a job! So she moves in with her distant relatives the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex.  The mother Judith stays in bed moaning about her son, Seth. Seth is addicted to “talkies” and spends most of his time on the farm impregnating the serving girl. Amos, the father, is a hellfire and brimstone preacher. And then of course there is Aunt Ada Doom who stays room and only comes down to be seen by the family twice a year. But she has good reason. She “saw something nasty in the woodshed…”

“The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.”

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_3. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– I’m sure this modern take on Pride and Prejudice is known to many. Those who don’t know the book probably know the film. Regardless it’s funny. A lot of reviewers tend to say people relate to Bridget because she’s “everywoman” I disagree. She’s too ridiculous for that. But most of us have a little bit of Bridget in us. It’s the part that will eat an entire pint of ice cream for breakfast, or sing loudly into a hairbrush while bouncing around the room. Bridget is very forthright about that stuff in her diary, and we laugh because we recognize hints of our own silliness. That allows us to invest in her, even when she’s not using the best judgement. 

It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting “Cathy” and banging your head against a tree.

51yazpjjl8l-_ac_us218_4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman– I guarantee that the film adaptation of this is familiar to most people. While the movie was great, the book is worth a read too. Unlike the film the frame story isn’t an old man reading the book to his grandson. Rather it’s frame involves the writer, abridging a novel by “S. Morgenstern”, which supposedly is a great story but far too long winded. So he gives us the “good parts” and summarizes the not so good parts. That adds a layer of satire that’s absent from the film.

“See?” Fezzik pointed then. Far down, at the very bottom of the mountain path, the man in black could be seen running. “Inigo is beaten.”
“Inconceivable!” exploded the Sicilian.
Fezzik never dared disagree with the hunchback. “I’m so stupid,” Fezzik nodded. “Inigo has not lost to the man in black, he has defeated him. And to prove it he has put on all the man in black’s clothes and masks and hoods and boots and gained eighty pounds.”

51yltwfpdgl-_ac_us218_5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving– A quick warning: this also made me cry. But the Christmas pageant scene still makes me giggle. The story itself is about a friendship between John, a boy from a wealthy family, and Owen, an unusually short working class boy with a damaged larynx. As kids they play some pretty hilarious pranks, and when Owen is cast as the baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant (they’d used a doll in previous years but he was so small that it seemed like perfect casting) things go horribly awry. Owen has a sarcastic sense of humor and goes on verbal rants at times that made me chuckle. For all those reasons this book goes on the list, even though it deals with some more serious themes.

“No touching Baby Jesus.”
“But we’re his parents!” proclaimed Mary Beth, who was being generous to include poor Joseph under this appellation.
“Mary Beth,” Barb Wiggin said, “if you touch the Baby Jesus, I’m putting you in a cow costume.”

51rqr9-0jel-_ac_us218_6. Storm Front by Jim Butcher– The protagonist of this series, Harry Dresden,  is a professional wizard, and he narrates the books with a dry sense of humor that makes it really great. Business is pretty bad for a Chicago wizard, and Harry spends most of his time working for the police. He helps them solve crimes when those crimes involve things that most people would like to pretend don’t exist (ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and curses). When he encounters a grisly double murder, he suspects black magic may be involved, which means that he’s the only one who can handle the case. Harry’s tone in all the books is wisecracking, sarcastic, and dry, which works really well against the backdrop of all the craziness he encounters.

“Have you ever been approached by a grim-looking man, carrying a naked sword with a blade about ten miles long in his hand, in the middle of the night, beneath the stars on the shores of Lake Michigan? If you have, seek professional help. If you have not, then believe you me, it can scare the bejeezus out of you.”

51zs47eoayl-_ac_us218_7. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion- I found the sequel to the book really tired and borderline offensive, which was a shame because this book was sweet and funny.  Don Tillman is a professor of genetics who isn’t good with social cues and norms and isn’t able to express emotion well. The book never actually says that he has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, but it’s strongly implied that he has Asperger’s. When a friend tells him he’d make a good husband, he decides to embark on The Wife Project. He makes a list of qualities he’d want in a potential wife. Rosie, a woman looking for DNA samples so that she can find her father, has none of those qualities. Don is a man who lives by lists, rules and logic. Which may prevent him from seeing that Rosie would be perfect for him.

“But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact.
‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.”

51g2gffpw8l-_ac_us218_8. Watermelon by Marion Keyes– On the day Claire gives birth to their first child, her husband tells her he’s leaving her for another woman.  So she decides to take her daughter and go back to the bosom of her madcap family in Dublin. While home with her four sisters, her soap opera addicted mother and bewildered father, Claire starts to build a new life, and even find new love. So when her ex waltzes back in, he’s in for a surprise. This book doesn’t really have any surprises. It’s exactly like what it claims to be: sweet, refreshing but nothing too substantial.

“I knew it, I just knew it! The person who had the job of writing my life’s dialogue used to work on a very low budget soap opera.”

 

51l7cslhhyl-_ac_us218_9. After All These Years by Susan Isaacs- Rosie Meyers have a pretty nice life.  Wealthy husband, big house, enjoyable job, grown children and nice friends. When her husband, Richie, leaves her for another woman just days after their big 25th anniversary party, she’s devastated. But she’s still genuinely shocked to come downstairs for a midnight snack and find Richie’s body in the kitchen with a knife sticking out if it. As far as the police are concerned, she has a perfect motive. So she goes on the lam to find the real killer. Since Rosie is a suburban school teacher, she’s in some pretty unfamiliar territory, and her fish out of water situations are humorous. Her attitude and witty comments add to the fun.

That summer, I went through all the scorned-first-wife stages. Hysteria. Paralysis. Denial: Of course Richie will give up a worldly, successful, fertile, size-six financial whiz-bang for a suburban high school English teacher. Despair: spending my nights zonked on the Xanax I’d conned my gynecologist into prescribing, regretting it was not general anesthesia.

41b2mraamwl-_ac_us218_10. Name Dropping by Jane Heller– Nancy Stern is a preschool teacher. When another woman with the same name moves into her apartment building, there’s a bit of confusion. The new Nancy Stern interviews celebrities, lives in the penthouse, and has a long line of boyfriends. Preschool Nancy gets her mail, deliveries and phone calls on a regular basis, and she feels pretty pathetic next to the Glamorous Nancy. One day Preschool Nancy gets a call intended for Glam Nancy  about a blind date, and in a moment of madness she accepts. She hits it off with the date and is debating when and how to tell him the truth, when Glam Nancy is found dead in her apartment, the victim of murder. However, it soon becomes clear that the wrong Nancy may have been killed. So preschool Nancy finds herself caught up with jewel thieves, murderers, and romance. This isn’t great literature but it’s a lot of fun in an I Love Lucy kind of way.

The other Nancy Stern, I mused after I hung up. A Nancy Stern who’s chummy with ambassadors and movie stars, apparently. A Nancy Stern who travels, shops, dines fine. A Nancy Stern who, according to the American Express lady, lives in 24A, on the rarified penthouse floor of the building, not in 6J, on my thoroughly average floor. A Nancy Stern who, I’d be willing to bet, doesn’t regularly get vomited upon by four-year-olds.