The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – A dual timeline novel involving an eighteenth century poisoner and a modern historian who stumbles upon evidence of the crimes. Sounds like fun.
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge – I read a book years ago about some of the first female doctors and it sparked a bit of an interest in the subject. This novel is about one of the first Black female doctors in the United States.
Matrix by Lauren Groff – I’ve liked a lot of Groff’s past work. This looks like a bit of a change of pace for her.
January 11: Most Recent Additions to My Book Collection
State of Terror by Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton – This was a holiday gift from my aunt. I like Louise Penny and I’m definitely curious to see how Hillary writes fiction.
Murder Is Easy and The Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie – I discovered a new used bookstore and I picked up a few Agatha Christie books there. I want to try to read more of her work in 2022.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen- This was another purchase from the used bookstore. I thought it looked interesting and different, and I saw it won the Pulitzer, so I decided to give it a try.
A Dance With Fate by Juliet Marillier- This was another holiday gift from my Aussie book buddy. I still need to read the first in the series though!
Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown – My book club had a holiday book swap where we all brought out old books in and traded for new ones. I got this one. The girl who brought it to the swap said it was good.
The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak- This is another one I got at the book swap. It’s about the 13th century poet, Rumi in a dual narrative with a contemporary story.
The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden- I’m a fan of Godden and I haven’t read this one yet. I found a copy and a used bookshop over the summer, and I remembered hearing good things about it. So now it’s on my list (and my shelf).
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton- I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, but I’ve been putting it off because it’s long (864 pages). This year one of my goals is to read books that I’ve been procrastinating.
Thornyhold by Mary Stewart- I’ve liked Mary Stewart for a long time. For a while I thought I’d read all her books. Then I learned that she’d written a lot more books than I’d originally thought! So now I’m trying to ration the ones that I haven’t read.
Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie– This is sort of representative of several Christie books that are sitting on my shelf. At some point I’ll read my way through Christie’s body of work. It’ll just take a long time, she was nothing if not prolific!
The Visitors by Sally Beauman– I bought this at a library sale years ago. I keep meaning to pick it up, and getting sidetracked by other books. 2022 will be the year I’ll read it!
I’m posting it a bit late today, but here is The Official List:
1. Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl-This is a book that requires a bit of explanation. Beatrice’s boyfriend died, just before their high school graduation. The death was a presumed suicide. A year later, she reunites with her high school friends, and they spend an evening out. On their way home they have a car accident. They soon learn that they are in “Neverworld Wake” following the accident; a kind of limbo in which they will relive the day of the accident again and again. Only one of them will survive the accident and they must have a unanimous vote on who that will be. It soon becomes clear that in order to make this decision, they must learn the truth about Beatrice’s boyfriend’s death the year before. They began to investigate from inside “the wake.” But they quickly realize that they’re all hiding something about the night he died… This book combines Sci-fi/Fantasy with an Agatha Christie-eque murder mystery. It’s a mash up that works surprisingly well.
2. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro- Klara is an Artificial Friend (AF). She’s solar powered and therefore sees the sun as a deity. She watches from her place in the store as customers come in to browse. Eventually she’s chosen an moves to her new home. She movies in with teenage Josie, who lives an isolated life, and suffers from a mysterious illness. It’s hard to explain this book, since it’s sort of a fable. It’s about humanity and friendship and faith.
3. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow I’m actually not sure how to explain this one, because I think it’s the kind of book that’s better the less you know going in to it. Suffice it to say that it’s a fun hybrid of genres including adventure, fantasy and historical fiction. Also, it’s about Doors (yes, I used a capital “D” on purpose.)
4. The Betsy -Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace I’d heard these discussed and cited as being very important to people’s childhood reading, but somehow I’d missed them as a child. I got a treasury of the first four books at a used bookstore and was utterly charmed. It follows the childhood of Betsy Ray and her friends in Minnesota at the turn of the twentieth century. I found these books to be very comforting and reassuring. Yes, things are sometimes hard for Betsy and her friends, but we know with a child’s innocence, that they’ll make it through their struggles. Is it totally realistic? No. But I think just reading about happiness can be very reassuring.
5. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce – This was another book that I’d heard of as being a very important childhood read for a lot of people. So when I saw a copy I grabbed it. It’s a slow strange story about a boy named Tom who is shipped off to stay with his aunt and uncle when his brother gets sick. He’s sure he’ll have a terrible summer. But one night he hears the clock chime an unexpected thirteen times. He’s transported to a garden where he meets a girl named Hattie. He returns to the garden every night, but as the summer ends and he has to return home, he starts to look for a way to his secret place.
6. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay – I came to this somewhat knowledgeable about what to expect thanks to having already seen the film and the miniseries. But in spite of prior knowledge about the content, I still found this book compelling. It’s a slim and rather slow moving novel about the disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher on a St. Valentine’s Day picnic in 1900 Australia. It creates a strong sense of atmosphere that manages to be gothic in spite of the sun drenched setting.
7. The Tiger Catcher by Paullina Simons– I’d had this on my TBR for a while. The author is one I’ve liked in the past and often pay attention too, but I’m about 50/50 on her books. This one had some not so great reviews, but it exceeded my expectations, which was nice. It’s about Julian, a handsome young man who falls in love with a mysterious woman named Josephine. But when he learns that she’s not what she seems, she vanishes from his life forever. Desperate to get her back, Julian takes a leap into the unknown… It’s the first in a trilogy, and I look forward to reading the rest in 2022.
8. Weather by Jenny Offill – This is a perfect read for those days when it feels like humanity, and the world itself, is headed straight downhill. The main character, Lizzie, is a librarian who takes on a side gig answering letters that come in to a doom-laden podcast called “Hell and High Water.” She tries to inject a note of hope into her answers, but it’s hard, especially when she spends her days answering people who write into the podcast, who tend to be rather pessimistic, to say the least. I saw this book as being subtly, and unexpectedly, optimistic. It has a wry sense of humor about itself. I also really like the title, the more I think about it. “Weather” can be a meteorological event or condition, but it can also be a verb that means both “to wear away by long exposure” and “to endure and come through safely.” I think it’s up to the reader to decide which definition is the most relevant to the book. It’s a quick read, but I found it an unexpected surprise.
9. Killers of the Flowers Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann– I’m not usually a true crime buff, but my book club read it this year and I found myself unexpectedly drawn into it. It takes place in Oklahoma in the 1920’s. The Osage Nation was extremely wealthy due to oil found on their land. Then they start to be killed off. People who investigated the murders were also killed. As the death toll rose, J Edgar Hoover hired a former Texas rancher to solve the mystery. The story that emerges has “stranger than fiction” qualities, but is still utterly believable.
December 21: Books I Hope Santa Brings/Bookish Wishes (This was so popular when I did it in June that we’re doing it again for the holidays! List the top 10 books you’d love to own and include a link to your wishlist so that Santa can grant your wish. Make sure you link your wishlist to your mailing address [here’s how to do it on Amazon] or include the email address associated with your ereader in the list description so people know how to get the book to you. After you post, jump around the Linky and grant a wish or two if you’d like. You can make your identity known or be someone’s secret Santa! Please don’t feel obligated to send anything to anyone! If you would rather not include your wish list, just share the books you hope you find under your tree on Christmas morning.)
I’m just sharing books I want. In many cases I’d like a physical copy for the reasons specified.
Fallen Angel by Kim Wilkins– This is also published under the title Angel of Ruin. I’ve seen this recommended very highly from Kate Forsyth, who is a pretty trusted source for me. But it doesn’t appear to be in print. I’ve got my Aussie book buddy on the lookout for a copy (the author is Australian) but if she can’t find it, I may have to just get a used copy from Amazon.
3. Heavens to Betsy/Betsy In Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace– This is volume two of the Betsy Tacy Treasury. I picked up volume one in a used bookshop in 2021 and found it wonderfully comforting. I somehow missed these when I was a child. It’s set in a time and place I’m never been, but it’s amazing that some of the games, performances, and plans reminded me very much of my own childhood. I look forward to spending more time with these characters in 2022.
4. The Dorothy Dunnett Companion by Elspeth Morrison – I’ve been trying to read though Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles series for several years now. It’s slow going because while they’re entertaining and interesting, the main character speaks several languages and regularly makes references that many readers won’t understand. Plus we’re not in his had much, so his plans are often a mystery until late in the game. I think having a guide would help me as I go.
6. The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody– This is the seventh and final book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles and I really want to read it. It’s hard to find in the US and I feel bad asking my Aussie book buddy for it since it’s 1068 pages so it’s a monster to ship across the entire planet. I may have to go for the ebook on this one.
7. The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two Sided Love Story by Theodora Goss– This is one where I want a physical copy. It’s a love story from both perspectives. The story is based on an Arthurian tale. It has illustrations and accordion binding (held in a cardboard sleeve) so that you can read one view from one side and then turn it around and read the other one that way. It’s something I’d love to have both for the story (I’m a fan of Goss as a writer, and it sounds interesting) and for the format.
8. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd– I think I want my next Persephone read to be this one. It’s about a woman who’s shwrecked on a desert island for several years before returning to England, in the midst of WWII and rationing. I think it’s probably an appropriate pandemic read. Our daily lives suddenly have all kinds of rules and regulations that didn’t exist only a few years ago. It’s almost as if we left the world we knew and were dropped somewhere totally unfamiliar. Like most Persephone reads, I would like this as a physical book.
9. Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love Edited by Anne Fadiman – I’m a fan of Anne Fadiman, and I have a very complicated relationship with rereading books (What if I don’t like something as much the second time around? Plus there are all those books out there that I haven’t read at all yet…) so I’d love to see how some other readers and writers handle this dilemma (after all there are books I’d like to reread at some point!)
December 14: Books on My Winter 2021 To-read List (or summer if you’re in the southern hemisphere)
But since I’m trying not to make new TBRs until I’ve read through my old ones, I decided to look at books I got as gifts this time of year. Just so you know, my birthday was a few weeks ago, so some of these may have been birthday presents, which tend to blend in with the winter holidays for me.
1. There’s No Such Thing As A Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein by Susan Sussman – Like many non-Christian children I felt left out of the holiday season as a kid. This is a book that my parents gave me for Chanukah as a child. It looks at how children of all different backgrounds can help each other celebrate what’s special to them. As Sandy’s grandfather explains to her: “We honor our friends, when we share what is special in our lives with them.” As a child and an adult, I’ve been so fortunate to be able to celebrate my own traditions and background with others, and to help others celebrate theirs.
2. Sweet Valley Twins and Friends Super Chiller: The Christmas Ghost by Francine Pascal– For some reason when I read this as a kid it terrified me. I’d seen various incarnations of A Christmas Carol (Mickey’s Christmas Carol, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol, etc. ) and been relatively OK with them, but for some reasons the ghosts in this contemporary retelling really freaked me out. I think it had something to do with the contemporary suburban setting seeming a bit too familiar. Also I usually didn’t see those movies around the holiday season. I’d gotten this as part of a set for a birthday present, so I started reading it just as the holiday season was starting up. So that also felt very immediate.
3. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis– I got a box set of these as a gift one year in my childhood. I can’t remember who gave them to me, so if you happen to be reading this now, I’m sorry, but I did love the books, so thank you so much for giving them to me! I remember reading this over the school vacation one winter. Though in retrospect, it’s unlikely I could have read them all in a ten-ish day period as a kid… But however long it took me to read them, it’s a happy memory!
4. Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen– My cousin gave me this when I was about twelve or thirteen after finding out that I liked acting and theater. Even though I didn’t become an actor, it taught me more about what acting actually is than anything else I’ve read. Interestingly, I think it also made me a better writer. Some of the exercises that Hagen suggests for actors getting to know their characters also apply to writers who want to understand their characters better. Over the years I’ve thought a lot about how similar acting and writing are in some ways. I think this book underscores my point.
6. The Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody– I’m putting these on here as being representative of all the wonderful books gifted to me over the years by my Aussie book buddy. She’s given me so many others too though, for various birthdays and holidays. But I do think I got the first of this series around this time of year.
7. Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne’s House of Dreams by LM Montgomery– I think this may have been a birthday gift from a friend of mine. It was the first time I “met” Anne Shirley, who has become a lifelong friend (or “kindred spirit” as Anne would say). I couldn’t find a link to the actual edition she gave me. While it’s a beautiful, illustrated, hardcover volume, it includes Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea and Anne’s House of Dreams, which always struck me as odd. Why not just include the first 3 books in the series? I’m still glad to have it though, because as I said, it’s beautiful, it’s survived many years, and was my first introduction to Anne and LM Montgomery.
8. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – I’m counting these as one since someone gave me both of them at the same time. Each one is a lovely illustrated edition (linked). Both of them remain favorites to this day. They’re beautiful, sad and ultimately hopeful. I’ve since sought out some of Burnett’s work for older readers too.
9. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume – Just a note that I really don’t like this cover. It implies that God and Margaret have a texting relationship, which they don’t. I’m fine with elements of the book (like references to technology) being updated, but don’t make the whole book look like something it’s not! But I did like the book. I got it sometime before puberty, and it lead to some elevated expectations that were dashed (menstruation turned out to be way less fun than this book implied!) but I still have fond memories of it.
10. The Dancing Floor by Barbara Michaels – Michaels was one of the first “grown up” authors that I started reading regularly. I was probably somewhere in the 11-14 age range, and I told my grandmother that I wanted this as a gift. I was very proud to reveal that I’d graduated to adult reading.
Writers and readers alike love a writer character in fiction. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Emily Starr from the Emily series by LM Montgomery – Yes, I know Anne is a writer too. But I give Emily the edge here, because it’s more a part of her than it is of Anne.
2. Jo March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – You didn’t really think I could make a list of fictional writers and leave her off, did you? Later in the series her writing takes a backseat to other aspects of life, but we do learn in Jo’s Boys that she never really stopped.
3. Angelica “Angel” Deverell from Angel by Elizabeth Taylor – Angel is the daughter of an Edwardian shop owner, whose shlocky best sellers make her famous. She lives almost entirely in her own imagination, which might be her downfall.
4. Paul Sheldon from Misery by Stephen King – Paul Sheldon goes from writing for a living to writing for his life. I wish I could take credit for that blurb, but I read it somewhere else. Can’t remember where. But he’s a romance author who wants to go “literary.” But when he’s held hostage by an angry fan he takes refuge in the fictional worlds he creates. That ability always resonated with me.
5. Vida Winter from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– Reclusive author, Vida Winter, wrote a collection of stories famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale. She always kept her life a secret. But as an old woman she hires a biographer to tell the story of her life. In that way, this is sort of about two writers: Vida and her biographer, Margaret.
6. Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – This book also features two writers. One is the narrator who tells the story, and hones her skill through her journal. The second is her father a famous writer of one novel, who now suffers from severe writers block.
8. Possession by AS Byatt– Again we have more than one writer here, as two academics research two Victorian poets. The novel is made of a variety of different written forms including poetry, letters, and journal entries.
9. Edith Pope in Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner – Edith is a romance author whose life takes on too much drama. She stays at a hotel to get away from everything for a while. While she’s there, she writes letters to her lover describing her companions at the hotel.
10) Briony Tallis from Atonement by Ian McEwan – This starts with a thirteen year old Briony Tallis writing a play. It ends with an elderly Briony writing a novel. To say more would involve spoilers!
November 30: Bookish Memories (Share stories of your reading life as a child, events you’ve gone to, books that made an impression on you, noteworthy experiences with books, authors you’ve met, etc. Reminisce with me!)
Here are a bunch. Some are good, some are bad, some are ugly!
The Baby Sitters Club series by Anne M Martin– When I was about 9, Anne Martin did a book signing in a store near my house. I made plans with my friend to get our books signed. The morning of the event I woke up with little itchy red patches on my skin. I kept quiet about having the chicken pox until after the event, because I knew my mom would make me stay home if I said anything. (I have since become more cognizant of public health concerns.)
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit– When I was a kid, my family took a trip to Disneyworld. My little brother was really into trains at the time and my parents thought he might like taking one. We had this tiny sleeper car that was more like a small closet than anything else. In Georgia, a freight train in front of us derailed and we were stuck on the tracks for most of the day while they cleared everything away. It made a long, cramped trip even longer and more cramped. I read this book while we waited. Even though I liked the book a lot, I’ll probably always associate it with bored and uncomfortable, which are unfortunate associations to have with a book I like!
The Kids of the Polk Street School series by Patricia Reilly Giff- These were some of the first books I remember reading independently. I remember my dad would occasionally pick up a copy of one for me on a trip to the bookstore. Since I had trouble finishing books before starting new ones, he wouldn’t give me the book until I finished what I was reading first. But I knew where he hid them, so I snuck peaks!
Stand Before Your God: An American Schoolboy in England by Paul Watkins– Every year my high school had an “enthusiastic reader” breakfast where an author attended to talk about their books. Each English teacher selected a student from each class to attend. For obvious reasons, I was usually one of them. My freshman year, Paul Watkins came to talk about his novels, and his recent memoir. All the enthusiastic readers got a signed copy of the memoir. I wasn’t super excited by the title, but when he read a portion of it aloud at the breakfast, I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. The book itself was humorous, but his delivery really made it. The whole book wasn’t as funny as the part he read, but it was still a good read.
Do You Want to Know A Secret? by Mary Jane Clark– This was another author who came to an enthusiastic reader breakfast when I was in high school. We all got copies of this book and then she raffled off a hardcover copy of her second book, Do You Promise Not To Tell, and I won. Other than that, the thing I remember most is that she showed us a page of her notes for this book, and they were a mess! Her point was that you don’t need to be organized to write a book, which was encouraging news for me!
The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon– When I was about thirteen my cousins and I went to Florida to spend some time with our grandmother one summer. I forget why I picked this up. It may have belonged to my grandmother. Regardless for the next 24-48 hours I couldn’t put it down. My grandmother took us places, and I read. My cousins played in the pool, and I read. I don’t think that it’s the kind of book that holds up as an adult, so I don’t really want to reread it. I watched the film version a few years ago, and it was trashy fun, but it definitely suggests that the book was pretty silly too.
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates– My sophomore year of college, Oates came to my school’s campus to give a talk and see a performance of a one act play that she’d written. Another girl and I had the opportunity to interview her for the school paper. I had a number of questions planned, but I pretty much forgot how to talk when I met her! The other girl definitely did the bulk of the interviewing. But she signed my copy of this book.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson – Shortly after I read this book, I saw that my library was having a discussion group about it, so I decided to go. I was the only one there under 80. I may be exaggerating slightly, but only slightly! Whenever I shared a thought, idea, or perspective, they dismissed it as “a Young Person’s opinion.” I don’t think they intended to be condescending, but it definitely came off that way.
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth– Several years ago, I saw on social media that Aussie author Kate Forsyth had some events scheduled in the US. I’d read this book not long before, and loved it, so I messaged her asking if she had anything in my area. She said that she’d had an event scheduled but it was canceled. She said she’d still be in the area if I wanted her to do something. I invited her to come to my writing group. She was so kind about sharing her experiences and advice with writing and publishing, and answering questions.
On Friday, the theatre world lost Stephen Sondheim at the age of 91. During his long life, Sondheim was a lyricist and composer, who revolutionized musical theatre as an artform. His impossibly clever lyrics, combined with ingeniously innovative music, against the backdrop of stories with sources ranging from literature, film, art, and drama.
I have two favorite Sondheim musicals. Fortunately for theatre geeks like me, both had productions filmed live on Broadway, and are available on DVD and streaming.
Of the two, Into The Woods is the most well-known. It’s a mash up of fairytale characters and plots in an original story. The first act is funny and clever, though it embraces the darker, more subversive tones of fairy tales. The second act explores the purpose behind these stories, the ways that people use narrative to cope through hard times.
My other favorite, Passion, is definitely one of his more polarizing works. It’s a one act musical that tells a dark tale of obsessive love, based on the novel by IU Tarchetti. It introduces three main characters, all hard to like in their own ways. As their lives intertwine, we invest more strongly than we realize and we become almost uncomfortable with some of the feelings evoked.
I think the best send-off I can give Sondheim is in his own words, from Into the Woods:
“Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood. Do not let it grieve you. No one leaves for good.”
Katherine Langrish– Langrish is a fantasy and nonfiction author who tweets lots of interesting articles and links to her blogs about fairy tales and folklore. [twitter][blog]
Thomas Kane- Kane is another fantasy author who has been incredibly supportive of the #WritingCommunity on twitter. I first encountered him on a writing forum and he’s been an amazing resource in terms of writing and publishing. [twitter][blog]
Anne Lamott– Anne Lamott is a novelist and writing guru who shares writing and life advice on twitter. She’s not shy about sharing her opinions, but I feel like she’s usually coming from a good place. [twitter][facebook]
Terri Windling- Windling is a fantasy author, as well as an editor, artist folklorist and fairy tale historian. I love her blog, which is an amazing source of information. On twitter she shares interesting tidbits from her life in an English village, where she lives with her husband and dog. [twitter][blog]
Alexandra Silber– Silber is an actor/singer/blogger/author of historical fiction and memoir. She shares her thoughts and opinions on her blog and social media accounts. She tends to be very candid and vulnerable in a way that I admire but could never emulate! [twitter][blog][instagram]
Catherynne M. Valente– Valente’s work is mostly fantasy though the subgenres vary pretty widely. She tweets about just about everything, from random, thoughts to interesting anecdotes, to what she’s watching, reading, and thinking. [twitter][instagram]
Stephen King- Love his work or hate it (I tend to be sort of 50/50) I do like to see his opinions, and jokes and thoughts on twitter. I think he seems to love stories so passionately – his own and other people’s – he genuinely seems to enjoy discussing them and sharing them with others. [twitter]
Katherine Harbour– Harbour is a YA fantasy author, who actually isn’t on social media very much, but I’m including her on this list, because it’s a highlight for me when she is! She shares her favorite reads and thoughts about writing and stories on her blog, which I have permanently bookmarked! [twitter][blog]
Neil Gaiman– Gaiman is a fantasy author whose work ranges from short fiction to epic novels for audiences ranging from children to adults and everyone in between. Truthfully, I don’t always love his literary work, but I do sometimes. And I do enjoy following him on social media where he shares what he’s up to, and info about various adaptations of his work for film/tv/theatre/whatever. [blog] [twitter]