May 30: Things That Make Me Instantly NOT Want to Read a Book (what are your immediate turn-offs or dealbreakers when it comes to books?)
Keep in mind that none of these are 100% dealbreakers. I can and have read very good books that fit one/more of these descriptions. But they are generally turn-offs..
It’s a cliché setting in the genre. Scotland and historical romance novels? I’m looking at you…
It’s been compared to a book I didn’t particularly like. One that jumps to mind is the Court of Thorns and Roses series. It’s not really my cup of tea, and I see a lot of new books being compared to it.
It’s a spin off of a series. This one has a lot of exceptions. But often my initial thought when seeing a spin off of a popular series is “someone wanted to make more money…” Though sometimes my bias against these has kept me from checking out things that have turned out to be good. Just a note: I haven’t read A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms and I’ve actually only read the first A Song of Ice and Fire book. It’s just an example.
It’s a genre (or subgenre) that I don’t usually gravitate toward. For example, even though I love fantasy, sword and sorcery usually isn’t my thing. Please note I haven’t read anything by Dylan Doose. I literally googled sword and sorcery and this is what came up. He’s an author with a series that’s actually called Sword and Sorcery. I don’t even know it’s actually a good example of the subgenre.
Some whose tastes I usually share said something negative about it. Actually The Ex Hex may not be the best example, because even though I avoided it for a while due to something someone said, I did eventually end up reading it, and I enjoyed it enough. Not great, but entertaining while you’re reading it IMO. I may check out the sequel at some point.
There’s a major public outcry that it’s not good in some important way. American Dirtmay be very good. I don’t know, I haven’t read it. It does have a high rating and it also got some acclaim. But I remember when it came out there was a lot of criticism that it was an indication that the publishing industry needed to change. There were accusations that it was ill informed at best and racist at worst. All of that can put me off a book. That’s not to say the book should be pulled from the shelves or anything! It just means I’m less likely to want to read it.
It’s a doorstop. One example is Nor Gold. It’s the sequel to The Pirate Captain, a book I enjoyed a lot. But this one has been sitting on my shelves for a while, because at 750 pages it’s hard to bring myself to start it. I sometimes really enjoy long books, but I often procrastinate them for a while in favor of something shorter.
I didn’t enjoy my last read from the author. Jill Mansell is one example. I’ve liked most of her books. But last year, I read Kiss, a book she wrote in 1993, that was reissued more recently. It definitely reads like an early attempt at a genre that the author later mastered, and some parts left me with a bad feeling. Even though I know her more recent work is so much better, it’s been hard to make myself pick it up since then.
May 23: Things That Make Me Instantly Want to Read a Book (these can be auto-buy authors, tropes you love, if an author you love blurbed it, settings, genres, etc.)
1. It was blurbed by on of my favorite authors. But not all blurbs are equal. There are authors whose taste lines up well with mine, but also authors I may like to read, but we don’t share mutual taste.
2. It has an academic setting. I love a school setting whether it’s a realistic school or there’s some sort of fantastical element about it.
3. Regency settings. Doesn’t matter if it’s an authentic novel written during the Regency period, or a historical novel about that period. I also really like genre fiction about the period.
4. Fairy-tale inspired and dark. I love a lighter fairy tale inspired read too, but I especially appreciate it when author’s look at the darker roots of the stories we think we know.
5. Someone’s compared it to a book I love. I’ll often read a book if it’s compared to a favorite. One of the potential dangers with this is that I’ve read a lot of poor imitations of favorite books!
6. I saw a trailer for a movie/tv adaptation that sparked my interest. I don’t usually enjoy books as much after I’ve seen the movie/show because then that’s what’s in my head. But sometimes I will seek out a book based on a great trailer.
7. Someone I admire has recommended it. I admit it. If I’m a big fan of a celeb who features a book on social media or recommends it, I’m more likely to read it.
8. I see it online everywhere. Yes, I’ve been burned by this before. But I’m also picked up some things I never would have otherwise.
9. A great cover. Yes, I know I’m not supposed to judge books this way. But sometimes, it happens. Again, not a reliable indicator that I’ll like the cover, but I may like the book.
10. A bookish setting. Think bookshops, libraries etc.
11. It’s by an auto-buy author. I’ve read books I would otherwise never have picked up because an author I love write it.
May 16: Things Getting in the Way of Reading (what’s taking up your time right now?) (lovingly stolenfrom A Cocoon of Books during freebie week)
But really “things that get in the way of reading” includes just about anything else that’s going on in my life at a given time. So I decided to go the other way and do ways I can read and still do (almost) everything I have to do. I do not intend this as bragging! I still suffer from So-Many-Books-So-Little-Time Syndrome plenty!
Audiobooks. I’m an audio book newbie but it’s wonderful how much I can read while talking a walk or doing my grocery shopping! I definitely lean more into audiobooks than podcasts during that time.
Have a collection or stories or an anthology of some kind that you dip into between longer books. I think of it as a brain refresher!
Carry a book (or e-reader) with you wherever you go. You never know when you’ll have a few minutes.
Set aside some time before bed to read. I can’t wind down without reading at the end of the day. It’s like a signal to my body and my brain that we’re done for now.
Always read on your commute. If you take public transportation, read a book. If you drive an audiobook is probably a better bet.
Make sure you have some sort of e-reader app on your phone. That way you can use the time you might otherwise spend scrolling through some kind of social media or playing a game, reading.
Well, that was more like a Top Six Tuesday today! But I’m curious about any hacks anyone else has. How do you find time to read?
How I Got the Rec: Someone in my book club had just started reading this and she talked about it. I really liked the premise: a woman’s husband dies. The police consider it a suspicious death. It truly was a tragic accident, but as the woman is questioned she can’t help but worry: “I really hope the police don’t find out about the three other people I did kill…”
My Opinion: This was a fun, diverting read with a bit of dark humor. However, I felt like given the premise, it could have played up that element more, while also providing a tense thriller. So it was really good enough for me to wish it were better.
How I Got the Rec: Someone on Twitter said that Laura Wood’s books are reminiscent of Eva Ibbotson’s romances.
My Opinion: While it didn’t quite reach the Ibbotson level, it’s still very good. It has an old fashioned feel that’s appropriate for the setting (1920’s Cornwall). She’s got others in different settings (mostly historical) that I definitely want to read. Unfortunately this is the only one my library has though, so I’ll have to shell out some cash at some point.
How I Got The Rec: Someone in my book club, who doesn’t usually give five star ratings, gave this five stars. (I’m counting that as a rec.)
My Opinion: I gave it four stars. It was very good and it felt like what I needed at the time, which was a comfort read. I didn’t consider it on quite a five star level, but I’d say it reached close to four and a half, but I was being stingy and rounded down.
How I Got The Rec: This was another very indirect rec. I was doing a workout video and the instructor said she’d just read a book she couldn’t put down: Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman. The library didn’t have that book, but they had this one by the same author, so I decided to check it out.
My Opinion: Maybe the book that was actually recommended was better. This wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either. It’s the kind of book you read, are entertained, and then forget pretty quickly.
How I Got The Rec: About a year or two ago I saw this recommended everywhere.
My opinion: I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I think it fell victim to overhype, because so many people called it one of the best of all time. It was very good, don’t get me wrong! But I wouldn’t call it a favorite.
How I Got the Rec: I have a friend who is a big fan of this book. She’s mentioned it quite a few times, so when one of my book clubs read it last year I decided to go for it.
My Opinion: I’m glad that my friend told me to suspend any expectations, because if I hadn’t done that, I’d probably have been frustrated. Fortunately, I was able to take it for what it was, and like it a lot.
How I Got the Rec: On a previous Top Ten Tuesday, another blogger (I’m about 95% sure it was Nicole @ BookWyrm Knits) shared a quote from this book. The quote made me want to read the book, and the blogger further recommended it.
My Opinion: I enjoyed it. It was pretty much what I wanted it to be: a quick (it’s a novella), light, low stakes, feel-good fantasy.
May 2: The First 10 Books I Randomly Grabbed from My Shelf (close your eyes and touch/grab/point to 10 random titles and tell us what they are! And tell us what you thought if you’ve read them!)
I did this using my childhood bedroom library at my parents’ house, so there are some older reads on this list. I had to do some reviewing to remember some of the details. If you can’t tell, all of my college books live in this room!
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles – I read this for the first time in high school and then I read it again in college because it applied to my senior project. Charles Smithson is a Victorian gentleman who is very much a man of his time. He’s engaged to marry the lovely Ernestina, but he becomes enchanted and fascinated by Sarah Woodruff, who “ruined herself” with a French naval officer. The thing I remember most about this book is the modern (circa 1960’s when the book was written) voice of the narrator, and the ending. Or should I say endings. Because there are three of them.
Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith – I think I was middle-school aged when I read this. It was shortly after I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the first time. I loved it at the time, but I’m not sure how it would hold up today. It’s set in the 1920’s. Two kids from Brooklyn get married, and Annie (age 18) travels with Carl to the midwestern university where he will attend law school. This tells the story of their first year of married life. Even though it’s not technically a sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Annie is the same age as Francie is at the end of that book and in similar circumstances. So, in a way, readers can look at this as Annie’s next chapter.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood– This is another one that I read for the first time in high school and revisited in college. I actually recently read the sequel (The Testaments, which I enjoyed). In the Republic of Gilead (formerly the United States) Offred is a handmaid. Declining birthrates have lead to fertile women–Handmaids–to be forced to conceive and carry children for high powered couples. Assigned to a couple, a Commander and his wife, Offred remembers her old life, and dreams of a different kind of world. Since this book was published (in 1986) and even since I read it, it has only become more relevant. I actually still haven’t seen the TV show. I want to wait until it resembles reality a little less!
Push Not the River by James Conroyd Martin – I think I read this shortly after I graduated from college, when I was living at home again for a year or two. It’s set in Poland in the 1700s. When seventeen year old Anna’s parents die, she’s in the care of her guardian, Aunt Stella. She falls in love with a young man named Jan, but in doing so, she falls afoul of her cousin, Zofia, who orchestrates a series of tragic events that keep Anna and Jan apart. But Anna comes to gain strength and take her place in the building of a nation. This is actually the first in a trilogy, but I don’t think I’ve read the others. I’m sort of interested in them, but I’d definitely need to reread this one before I could think about reading the others.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – I read this for the first time in high school, after I read (and loved) Jane Eyre, and wanted to learn more about the madwoman in the attic. I reread it recently for a book club. Antoinette Cosway is a woman who is basically sold in marriage to Edward Rochester, a wealthy, proud, cruel man who insists on calling her “Bertha.” Living in a new, repressive society, Antoinette starts to slowly lose her mind. Both times I read this, I wanted to like it more than I did. Rhys displays Antoinette’s mental state as sort of fuzzy and hard to follow. I appreciate this on an aesthetic level, but it makes the book a difficult read.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen – I worked at a Barnes and Noble one summer during college. We were allowed to sign out hardcovers without their dust jackets, and I borrowed this one. I liked it so much that I bought my own copy! There’s a sequel now, which I liked, but not quite as much. Claire Waverly is a caterer in Bascom, North Carolina, who prepares dishes made from the magic plants that grow in her garden. Her sister, Sydney, left Bascom as soon as she could. But when Sydney returns, along with her daughter, she upends everything in Claire’s life. This book is sort of reminiscent of Practical Magic, but I actually prefer this one.
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier– I think I read this in high school or college at some point. It was definitely after I’d read Rebecca, and I was excited to have some more Daphne DuMaurier-style Gothic. Philip Ashley was raised by his cousin Ambrose. But when Ambrose travels to Italy, he gets sick and dies. Before his death, Ambrose married a woman named Rachel. Philip is resentful and suspicious of the mysterious Rachel. But when he meets her she’s very different from what he expected. He can’t resist becoming infatuated with her himself. But Rachel brings secrets with her, secrets that may have something to do with Ambrose’s death, and may threaten Philip’s life as well. This was wonderfully ambiguous, and I’d love the give it a reread at some point soon.
Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi – I read this in high school and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I didn’t know until today that it was part of a four book series. I actually read two of the others, but I didn’t realize they were linked because I read them all at different points. Maybe someday I’ll reread them. This one is about Trudi Montag, a dwarf growing up in Germany in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Trudi is sort of a natural gossip. She loves learning secrets about people and this gives her a insight into them. Trudi’s difference makes her a target of discrimination, but also a tremendous understanding of the things that unite people beneath their differences. When the Nazis come to power, Trudi and her father work against them in secret.
Angels and Insects by AS Byatt – I read this in college as part of my senior project. It’s actually two novellas, “Morpha Eugenia,” which was made into a movie, and “Conjugal Angel.” I remember “Morphia Eugenia” somewhat, It’s about a Victorian naturalist who gets involved with a weird family. I remember “Conjugal Angel” very little, but I looked it up, and it’s about a widow who remarried, but can’t get over the loss of her first husband. so she engages mediums to try to make contact with him.
Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier – This is the third in Marillier’s Sevenwaters series, which is a longtime favorite. It concludes the first trilogy of the series. The second trilogy came later, and while it’s enjoyable, it’s not quite as good, in my opinion. Fianne is the daughter of a family that is bound to preserve the magic of the land (which is covered a lot in the first two books of the series. Her grandmother, a wicked sorceress who did some bad things in earlier books, has resurfaced with the intention of destroying everything that her family has sought to save. Fianne has the potential to stop her, but only if she fights the darkest parts of herself. I definitely recommend this series, but it should be read in order.
April 25: Favorite Audiobook Narrators (or, if you don’t listen to audiobooks, name people—celebrities or otherwise—who might make you reconsider.)
But since I’m an audiobook newbie, I’ll do the top few audiobooks I’ve listened to so far.
Something Fresh by PG Wodehouse – Because this book was primarily humorous, it’s important that the author had the ability to time his delivery so that it came across comically. But it was done in a very sly, deadpan kind of way. Also I don’t know if it would have been as successful without a very British sounding narrator.
In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss – This book had a lot of fantasy/fairy-tale-esque short stories, and the narrator had a very “let me tell you a story, once upon a time…” tone to her voice. Sorry if that’s not clear, it’s the only way I can think of to describe it!
Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson – This was just a fun book (a sort of Bachelorette-style competition amongst witches) and the narrator know exactly what is was and was content to be just that.
A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood – This is set in the 1920s in Cornwall, and the narrator had a very old timey way of speaking. Her voice changed for each character, but not in an overdone, obvious way.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark – I think this book avoided to potential pitfalls. One was that the narrator would do an imitation of Maggie Smith’s distinctive way of speaking in the film adaptation of this book. The other was that the narrator would do a bad Scottish accent for the characters. Fortunately, it steered clear of both traps.
And a few that didn’t quite work for me:
A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie – I would have been alright with this, but the narrator didn’t say when a new chapter began, which made things run together and get confusing. I also don’t know that Christie is the best author to listen to on audio because I find it a little harder to keep track of the many characters in that format. The book itself was good though.
Rivals: American Royals 3 by Kristin McGee – In this book I can’t tell if I didn’t like the narration or the book itself (or both). I liked the first two books in the series, but here it seemed like the characters went around in circles. Maybe that’s what made the narrator use the same forms of expression and intonation repeatedly.
The Darling Buds of May by HE Bates – I enjoyed the first season of the series The Larkins, which is an adaptation of this book, so I was looking forward to the book. I liked the narrator of the audiobook, whose voice suited the story… Unfortunately I didn’t like the book at all! The characters who seemed so loveable in the show seemed pretty awful in the book.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald – In this case, the big problem was the fact that the narrator used a very annoying voice for the titular princess. Whenever the character had any dialogue I cringed! That definitely interfered with my enjoyment of the book.
April 18: Non-book Freebie (choose your own topic that’s not related to books! This could be hobbies, TV shows/movies, bands/singers, food items/recipes, top ten things about you, your top ten favorite things, places you’ve visited, favorite fashion designers, etc. Take this time to let your readers get to know you a little!)
Since the world went absolutely crazy a few years ago, I’ve needed some comfort series. I’ve definitely turned to old favorites (Friends, Frasier, As Time Goes By, Gilmore Girls, to name a few) but I’ve also found some newer shows that feel like a hug. These are shows from the last five years(ish) I’ve added where they can be watched now.
When Samantha inherits a mansion in upstate New York, she and her husband, Jay move in and start to plan a B&B. Of course, they don’t know the house is haunted by a close-knit but lovable community of ghosts. When Sam falls down the stairs and is in a coma, she wakes up able to see and her all the inhabitants of her new house.
It’s weird that a series set in a war zone can be comforting, but this one manages it! Sixteen year old Erin and her friends live in Northern Ireland in the 1990’s (more about that here). They attend an all girls (well, one boy…) Catholic school, have weird families, and find themselves in absurd situations in a chaotic world.
This show saved my sanity during the first lockdown of 2020. I feel like most people know the once wealthy, now penniless Rose family, residing in a roadside motel in Schitt’s Creek, surrounded by wacky neighbors. Over the show’s five seasons they come to feel like family and friends.
Eleanor is not a very good person. But when she dies, she finds herself in The Good Place, due to some sort of error. Over the first season (there’s a twist at the end of season one) we watch as Eleanor tries to learn to be good. It’s a sitcom that actually discusses moral philosophy, and how to live a good life. Some heavy ideas for a sitcom, but it works!
I was skeptical about this one at first, because I’m not a big soccer (football) fan, but this won me over in spite of that. Ted is an American football coach, hired to coach a British soccer (I’m just calling it soccer here to distinguish it from American football) team, despite having no knowledge of the sport. But he manages to win people over anyway. And as it turns out, I’m one of those people!
The Kims are a Korean-Canadian family who run a Toronto convenience store, and deal with customers, friends, neighbors, the world, and each other. It’s actually based on an off-Broadway play of the same name. What I like about this show is that these people have undeniable issues, but you can feel a strong love and support for each other in spite of that.
I wrote a whole post on this show here. Basically it took the books series (which I loved as a kid) and gave it contemporary relevance while still keeping what was good about the original series. It’s smart, entertaining, sweet, but never saccharine. A hard balance but the show pulled it off. So, of course Netflix cancelled it after two seasons!
I often have an attitude like I’m too old and mature for the high school stuff, but then a smart, funny show like this comes along and makes me rethink things, as several shows on this list prove. Never Have I Ever is one such show. It’s about Devi, a fifteen year old girl living in California. When her father dies during her freshman year of high school, Devi has a traumatic reaction, making her first year as a high school student absolutely terrible. So sophomore year, Devi decides that things will be different…
The romance genre is comforting because a happy ending is baked right in. So you know that whatever trials and tribulations the eight Bridgeton siblings face in finding love, everything will somehow come out right. For characters who haven’t yet gotten to their HEA, it just means the story’s not over yet. (Side note: I know they’re doing a Queen Charlotte prequel series and I’m not sure how comforting that will be, because we know from Bridgerton, and history, that Charlotte and her beloved don’t ride happily off into the sunset together…)
What’s your comfort series? Is there anything else recent I need to see?
April 11: Titles with Animals In Them and/or Covers with Animals On Them (submitted by Rachel @ Sunny Side)
I decided to do books featuring animals as main characters instead. This list covers children’s and adult’s books.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame– I can’t remember if I read this as a child, but if I did, I imagine I was alternately bored and confused by it. That’s why I’m glad I (re)read it recently. It’s a quiet, gentle, meditative. A lot of what happens with the characters happens internally. Conflict is resolved via discussion, and learning from mistakes. Much of the “plot” involves the character’s relationships with one another and the natural world. That’s some of the stuff that I think would lose younger readers. I’m actually really glad I read this at a point where I could appreciate subtext.
Animal Farm by George Orwell – We’re used to recognizing this as a classic, but I do wonder if the first readers thought they were starting a children’s book with anthropomorphized animals, were surprised to end up with a satire and allegory of idealism and the overthrow of tyrannical rule turned to totalitarianism. Yes, Orwell’s most direct target was likely Stalinist Russia, but really it’s applicable in many other settings.
The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo – I read this for the first time as an adult when I taught it to my class. But I found myself just as enchanted and delighted as my students were. It’s a beautiful story of a mouse, a rat (they’re the animals that qualify it for this list), a princess, and a serving girl. It also involves soup, a spool of thread, a dungeon, adventures and quests. It’s sort of an old fashioned, picaresque, fairy tale that’s meant to be read aloud.
Flush by Virginia Woolf – I think this book is really underrated in Woolf’s oeuvre. It’s a “biography ” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel, Flush. Flush isn’t anthropomorphized: his thoughts and feelings, to the extent that we are privy to them, are pure dog. It features beautiful descriptive writing, dog’s eye view observations of the world, as well as some outside observations of humanity. And yes, we also learn a tiny bit about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s life (from Flush’s perspective, of course).
Stuart Little by EB White – Yes, Charotte’s Web is awesome and also features some great animal characters. But I decided to represent EB White with this one instead. Because Charlotte gets so much attention, and Stuart deserves a bit too. It also poses a questions I never got a good answer to, even as a kid: how do two human parents have a biological child who is a mouse? Well, technically he’s a boy who looks like a mouse and is the size of a mouse. So for all intents and purposes, he’s a mouse, albeit an unusually intelligent one, who can talk. But the animal cast also features a bird and a cat.
Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne – True, Pooh isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. But he’s creative and helpful to his friends, who also represent some pretty awesome animals! I was actually reading something in another book recently that criticized some of the gender roles in this in a way I hadn’t previously considered: all the animals in the Hundred Acre Wood are male, except for Kanga, and Kanga is defined solely based on motherhood. But in spite of that rather troubling fact, I can’t help but love the humor and friendship among the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis – I mean, obviously Aslan is great, but I also have a lot of fondness for the Beavers. And does Tumnus count as an animal for the purposes of this list? Oh, why not! He’s half goat after all, and this is my list. I also feel like there are some other animal characters in this book that I’m not remembering. Can anyone help me out?
Curious George by Margret and H.A Rey – I was obsessed with Curious George as a kid, so obviously I couldn’t leave this off my list! George is an orphaned monkey, living in “the big city” with the Man with the Yellow Hat. And no, we never learn exactly which city, or what the Man’s name is, but that’s not important. What’s important is the fun and adventures George has, as well as the trouble he gets into.
Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel – I loved these as a kid, of course, but the internet has really highlighted just how beautiful the friendship between these two really is. As a kid I just kind of thought “ok, they’re friends, that’s nice.” But looking back at them with new eyes as an adult made me appreciate the the sort of gentle, warm, acceptance they have of one another.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis – Cyril (bulldog) and Princess Arjumand (cat) manage to cause all sorts of threats to the time-space continuum in this one. Also I’m not sure if the Bishop’s bird stump counts as an animal here. Does it have to be real animals? Oh well, if we can count Tumnus, let’s count the bird stump too! But the animal characters here really do feel like actual characters, rather than just narrative devices (the bird stump is the obvious exception to this).
April 4: Indie/Self-Published Books (submitted by Nicole @ BookWyrm Knits)
I officially love this topic! There is so much amazing work out there aside from the traditionally published stuff we see most widely, and I love giving it a platform like this. One of my goals this year is to read more indie work. For the record, I’m considering “indie” as anything outside of traditional publishing. So that can encompass self-publishing, hybrid, small press, etc.
A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash – This book begins with the death of Rachel Rowan, a witch and cruel, abusive parent to Philippa, Vic, and Liam. When the Rowan children return to their hometown, Grimsby, to take care of business following Rachel’s death, they discover that pretty much the whole town a good reason to want their her dead. Each of the Rowan children has a magical gift. Vic, the middle child and the narrator, can feel what others are feeling (which is often more of a curse than a gift). Philippa, the oldest can enchant men and charm them into doing whatever she wants. Liam, the youngest, can tell the history of an object just by touching it. They team up to find out the truth about what happened to their mother, and reconcile themselves with each other and their pasts. This is sort of a contemporary murder mystery with some fantasy around the edges. Yes, the Rowans have magic, but that’s sort of secondary to the rest of the plot. That mix works for it, because the author doesn’t lean too far into any one genre. She lets the characters tell the story.
The Witches of Crannock Dale by Thomas M. Kane – In this book (which is the first in a series) we meet Mara, a bright eleven year old girl whose life changes when her favorite aunt is accused of witchcraft. Determined to prove her innocence and save her, Mara stumbles onto a larger puzzle that could have implications for her town, her family, and even her life. The character of Mara is a pleasure to get to know. She’s very smart, and a strategic thinker, but just as we’re a little too impressed with her cunning, something will happen to remind the reader (and Mara herself) that she’s still a child. Mara’s family also had great dynamics. So many books about bright, resourceful children have parents who are absent in some way. But Mara’s parents are an active part of her life and her story. Through her adventures, Mara comes to recognize that they’re people, flawed in some ways and admirable in others. The rest of the series is still on my TBR. The author has referred to this as “low fantasy.” meaning that it’s not a real world, but there’s not really much in the way of magic here. The emphasis is on espionage and adventure.
The Great Snake by Jennifer Mugrage – Beta-reading can be iffy. Sometimes the books are a pleasure to read, sometimes not. Fortunately, when blogger Jennifer Mugrage asked me to read this one, I was in for a treat. I’m going to try not to give away any spoilers here: Klee is a child growing up in ancient North America. When Klee learns that her family has lied to her, she seeks out her birth father. He turns out to be a charismatic but violent man who wants Klee to help him found a city dedicated to a snake god. Because of her recent upheaval, Klee doesn’t trust the family that raised her, so she decides to throw her lot in with her birth father, and begins a dangerous journey. This is actually book three in a trilogy, but I haven’t read the first two books (though I definitely plan to). It stands alone though.
The Van Helsing Paradox by Evelyn Chartres – After being orphaned in the early twentieth century, and becoming a ward of the Church, Clara Gray is made a member of the Tower, a group of hunters who take on demonic threats. In this book we see Clara’s training and adventures through WWI and the 1920s, as she becomes a gun wielding flapper who is sort of a fusion of Indiana Jones (who has a literary cameo here), Sherlock Holmes, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is also the first in a series. I haven’t read the others yet, but I plan to. Clara is a bit of a static character (at least so far) and her adventures are more one after another than any kind of a plot structure, but the book should just be taken as fun–which it is.
Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner – In Belfast in 1968, the paths of three characters cross. Jamie is a wealthy young man who has lost his father under mysterious circumstances. Casey is a member of the IRA who was recently released from prison and is trying to find his bearings in neighborhood that may not be new, but certainly feels like it is after a long time away. Pamela is an American who has just traveled to Ireland looking for a man she fell in love with when she was younger. The lives of these characters intertwine and clash in this series starter. I really liked this book, but I think I let too much time pass since I read it, so I’ll need to give it a reread before reading the next book (which is sitting on my shelf, where it has been waiting for me for several years…).
Tsura by Heather Anastasiu – I really don’t like this cover: it makes the book look like a YA paranormal romance, which it’s not. It’s actually a WWII romantic drama. Tsura is a Roma, trying to survive in Romania in 1944. Though she is love with Andrei, a Jewish man, a dangerous situation forces her into a marriage of convenience with Mihai, a man she loathes. The setting, and the main character set this apart from a lot of WWII novels which tend to be set in England, France, and Germany. This is the first in a duology, and you really need to read both. If you just read one you’re only getting the first half of the story.
The Pirate Captain: Chronicles of A Legend: Nor Silver by Kerry Lynne – Catherine Mackenzie lost her home and family following the battle of Culloden. Wanted for war crimes, she runs away to London, where she escapes on the first ship she can find. Her luck continues to be bad when she’s kidnapped by pirates due to a case of mistaken identity. She finds herself drawn into a vendetta between Captain Nathanael Blackthorne (who may as well be played by Johnny Depp dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow!) and the men who forced him into piracy. This is also the first in a series. I haven’t finished this series either, but the second book kindly provides a summary of the first one, so I don’t think I’ll need to do a full reread before I can move on. Of course, book two is 750+ pages, so it’s kind of intimating to dive into!
Tress by Larissa Brown– Since losing her hand in an accident, Tess has dreamed of escaping her own life and into a gruesome fairy tale where she must free a woodsman from a curse. That’s pretty much the only way I can explain the plot of this one, where fantasy blurs with reality, and that fantasy may not be fantasy at all. This described as “a novella that’s part fairytale, part psychological horror, with a dash of fated love.” I would call it more of a “gothic fairy tale” actually. It’s definitely a dark, sad fairy tale, as opposed to a Disney fairy tale though! Unlike many indie/self-published books, this is a stand alone novella, which is really suited to the material. I was glad the author didn’t try to draw it out into something more.
Once Upon a Broken Sky by MT DeSantis – This novella is a tease of the author’s upcoming novel Grimmfay, which will publish in November 2023. It definitely made me look forward to the book! In it we meet Zelandra. Once a prisoner, Zelandra now performs as part of Grimmfay, an enchanted circus run by the mysterious “Master.” She is admired and beloved by audiences everywhere, and in exchange for this, the Master asks a favor now and then. Case in point: he’s recently told Zelandra to bring two children into the circus. Hansten and Grenna are excited to visit Grimmfay and enthralled by Zelandra’s performance. But Hansten soon comes to understand that his life and his sister’s may depend on leaving Grimmfay while they still can… This is compared to The Night Circus and the Lunar Chronicles. I would say that those comp titles give a pretty good idea of what to expect here.
Beautiful: A Tale of Beauties and Beasts by Fran Laniado – You’d think maybe I’d be above this, but no, I’m not. Here’s the synopsis: Eimear is Faerie. She left the land of her birth to find a place where she felt like she could belong. She finds herself in the World, a strange place, where she is the only magical being, and she begins to build a life for herself. But when she encounters Finn, supernaturally beautiful but thoughtless and selfish, she gets angry. In a fit of rage, she casts a spell on Finn. It’s a spell that she can’t undo, even when she discovers that she’s ruined Finn’s life. Finn is wealthy, arrogant, and cruel. He didn’t think twice about insulting Eimear until it was too late. Now, exiled from the only home he’s ever known, he is forced to make his own way, for the first time ever. He does have support- if he wants it. Eimear wants to assuage her guilt by helping him. In an isolated place, thrown together initially out of desperation and need, Eimear and Finn find a way to live together. That alliance eventually blossoms into friendship, and even love. But before they can have their happily ever after, Eimear must go on a perilous journey that will force her to confront everything that she ran away from when she left Faerie.
I decided to tweak this a little to do a post on authors for “fans of Author X”
I first encountered Angela Carter in college, where I read her The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories for a class. Since then I’ve read several of her books, and she wowed me almost every time. Her writing was energetic but dreamlike. I know that’s a weird way to describe something, but it’s the best I can do! Sadly, Carter is no longer with us, but her influence in found on a number of contemporary writers. Carter wrote a fusion of literary fiction, fantasy, horror and historical fiction with different elements present in different degrees in different books (confusing enough for you!?) Most of these authors also fuse genres to different extents. Other deal with many of the same themes Carter did in her work. I’m recommending a few books by each
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace -Atwood also mixes up genre fiction and literary fiction. Also, like Angela Carter, she’s based some of her fiction on historical crime (Alias Grace in Atwood’s case and Carter’s Lizzie Borden stories) and fairy tales (The Robber Bride) and incorporates feminism throughout her work.
Joyce Carol Oates:The Accursed, The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares, The Hazards of Time Travel, Blonde – Oates has written about 500 books in many different genres, so I had to limit this to only a few examples. Oates mixes literary elements with other genres including Gothic horror and romance, which frequently influences Carter’s fiction as well. Like Carter, she’s also used real people/events to inspire fiction (Blonde).
Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go, Klara and the Sun – Ishiguro’s mix of literary fiction and sci-fi is what initially made me make this comparison. But I actually think that Ishiguro’s tendency toward fable in his writing is also very similar to some of what Carter has done.
Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Live in the Castle, various short fiction – Unlike most of the other writers on this list, Jackson predates Carter, so perhaps she was an influence on Carter’s work. The Gothic influence can be felt here quite strongly. But there’s also a sort of dark sense of humor (particularly in We Have Always Lived in the Castle and some of her short fiction) that strikes me as similar.
Catherynne M. Valente: The Glass Town Game, The Orphan’s Tales, Comfort Me with Apples – Valente is another very prolific author who weaves a love of fantasy, myth, and Gothic in with feminist, subversive fiction. Like Carter she takes her inspiration from real life as well as the cultural lexicon.
Kelly Link– Get in Trouble, Pretty Monsters – Link wrote the introduction for the 75th anniversary edition of Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Full disclosure here: I’ve only read Get In Trouble from Link so far, but I definitely see Carter’s influence in Link’s dark playful treatment of fantastic subjects. I want to read Pretty Monsters next because the title strikes me as have something very Angela Carter about it… Plus the cover sort of reminds me of the cover of the 75th anniversary edition of The Bloody Chamber (linked above)!