Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Wishes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

June 22: Bookish Wishes (My birthday is today, so celebrate with me by granting the wishes of your friends! This is a popular thing to do on Twitter, but today we’re blog hopping. List the top 10 books you’d love to own and include a link to a wishlist so that people 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 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. Don’t feel obligated to send anything!)

I feel a little uncomfortable linking to my wish list, but here are the next ten books I want/plan to buy:

  1. The Dorothy Dunnett Companion by Elsbeth Morrison– I started reading Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles series a few years ago. I enjoyed the first two books, but they’re slow going because the main character speaks several languages and makes references to things that the reader may or may not be able to understand. That can make them hard to follow. But many fans recommend this companion as a helpful guide to the series.

2. The Tiger Catcher by Paullina Simons– I keep meaning to get this one, and something always takes priority. I won the second book in Simons’ End of Forever saga in a goodreads giveaway last year. But it seems like the kind of trilogy that you really have to read in order. I keep meaning to get the first book for that reason. I can only hope that after I read the first one, I’ll still want to read the second, since it’s been sitting on my shelf forever.

3. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay – I’m a fan of the film adaptation of this book, but I still haven’t read the book itself. I also recently saw the miniseries that came out in 2018 (also based on the book). It wasn’t as haunting as the film, but now I’m interested in how both of these adaptations relate to the source material.

4. Lace by Shirley Conran– I was recently with a group of older women who were talking about how this book was such a guilty pleasure in the early 80’s. I looked it up, and discovered this article, and now I’m sort of on a mission to read all of the books that it discusses!

5. The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski– This has been on my wish list for a while along with a number of other Persephone titles, but I recently read a really interesting blog post about (that I’d love link, but I can’t find it!) and that shot it to the top of my list.

6. Sung in Shadow by Tanith Lee- This is another book that I learned about in a rather oblique way. I was looking up information about Lee’s SILVER trilogy, which went unfinished due to Lee’s death in 2015. In 2009 she wrote an essay about her intentions for the books, In that, she mentions this one, another book that she’s written, not in the SILVER series. Since I enjoyed the SILVER books I’d like to get to this at some point.

7. Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions and Heretics by Jason Porath- This one has been on my wishlist for a while. The biggest issue here is that it’s a beautiful, illustrated coffee table volume. I want a physical copy, but I need to make space for it. I’m in the process of clearing out my apartment of the old so I can bring in the new (not just this book, but others as well) so it’ll have to wait until I have some room for it.

8. Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis – I really like Ellis’ first book, How To Be A Heroine: Or What I’ve Learned From Reading Too Much. Her second venture is a look at the work of Anne Bronte. We all know that I’m a Bronte aficionado, so I’ll definitely have to get to this one soon!

9. Fallen Angel by Kim Wilkins– I think I heard about this one from author Kate Forsyth‘s social media. I’m a fan of Forsyth, and when an author I admire recommends a book, I pay attention. This one sounds really good, but it’s not easy to find!

10. Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson– This is the first in series. It was recommended to be a while ago, and I haven’t gotten to it yet (same old story…) I do want to make it a priority though, because it looks like the kind of thing I’ve been in the mood for lately.

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#WyrdandWonder Challenge (Part III)

My next set of prompts for May’s Wyrd and Wonder Challenge

May 20Fantasy creature on the cover

(bonus points if it isn’t a dragon)

Well, the most recent fantasy book I read with fantasy creature on the cover, was Crown of Crystal Flame, by CL Wilson. It’s the final book in Wilson’s Tarien Soul series and it has a Tarien (sort of like a giant cat with wings) on the cover in the background. The first book in the series, Lord of the Fading Lands shows a Tarien a bit more clearly.
May 21Fantasy in translation

Fridays are all about celebrating fantasy from around the world – this week focuses on books that weren’t originally written in English

The one that leaps immediately to mind is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, because it’s a favorite (well really the whole Cemetery of Forgotten Books series counts) The fantasy elements are stronger elsewhere in the series, but as I said, this one is my favorite, and it has those elements as well, to a lesser extent. It was originally written in Spanish.
Another book that, well, let’s say it made a strong impression on me was Troll: A Love Story by Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo.
Actually I’m a big fan of magical realism, which I suppose is a subgenre of fantasy. It has strong associations with Latin America, so a lot of the books are in translation from Spanish. Some favorites are Like Water For Chocolate, Eva Luna, and The House of the Spirits.
I suppose many classic fairy tale collections count as well. The Brother’s Grimm and ETA Hoffman were originally in German. Hans Christian Anderson was Danish. Charles Perrault was French. They all originally wrote in their native languages.
May 22Get in the sea

Seaborne fantasy, mermaid tales, the lady in the lake – make it watery for World Maritime Day
…or if you’re feeling bitter, what fantasy would you consign to the depths and why?


I really enjoyed Carolyn Turgen’s Mermaid. It’s based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid (which is very different from Disney’s version!) and follows the point of view of both the mermaid and the princess who the mermaid’s beloved marries.
May 23Book rainbow

book spines arranged in the colours of the rainbow

Some of the colors didn’t photograph as well as I would have liked, but I didn’t have a chance to play with the lighting.
May 24On the shelf

how long has that been on your shelf / TBR?? a book / books you really should have read by now

I think these have been on my shelf for the longest:
White As Snow by Tanith Lee
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
The Blue Girl by Charles DeLint

Hopefully I can get to them soon!
May 25Chosen one #TropeTuesday

Double-edged prophecies, irresistible destiny, a plot stick you just can’t dodge – let’s end the month on a classic

Well, this month these are the books I’ve read that use that trope:
Crown of Crystal Flame by CL Wilson– This is the final book in the Tarien Soul series and the heroine, Elysetta, has every characteristic of a “chosen one.” She has a mysterious past, she was found in the woods as a baby, she has a supernatural/fantastic origin story, and she is destined to either save, or destroy, the fey.
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness-This is the second book in the All Souls series and I think that Diana has some “chosen one” characteristics too. She knows she’s a witch but she didn’t have any sense of connection to her heritage before the first book in the series. In this book, she starts her magic training, and it turns out she’s a “weaver,” a rare kind of witch that can make up spells. It’s been hinted that she might save supernatural creatures from extinction. She’s also married to a vampire, and there are prophesies about their offspring.
May 26All the feels

We all love an emotional rollercoaster – a book that gave your feelings a full on work out

I’m often an emotional wreck as I read, so this might be a long-ish list with major spoilers. Be warned…

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- The end when Bod leaves the graveyard, and the ghosts who raised him, and goes out to pursue his future as a living person.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– I’m counting this as a fantasy, even though you could make the argument for it being sci-fi. Really just the whole thing once we learned what the characters were and their inevitable fate.
Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon- A lot of books in the Outlander series have given me all the feels on a semi regular basis, but this one totally destroyed me when Jamie sends Claire back through the stones, to the future (they both think forever), and goes off to die (they think) at the battle of Culloden…
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling– This was another series where I got emotional at many different points (the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban, the end of The Goblet of Fire, the end of The Half Blood Prince…) but if I had to pick one part of the series, it would be this book. When people we love die in battle, when Harry goes into the forest, Dobby, Snape, and really everything!
The Keeping Place by Isobelle Carmody- Once again, the Obernewtyn series has given me all the feels at several points. But this one features the Misfits getting betrayed by people they thought were allies. Many important and beloved characters are murdered in an ambush I didn’t see coming. My friend, who recommended the series warned me that we’d lose some people in this one, so I was semi-prepared, but the scope and depth of the betrayal was what destroyed me.

#WyrdandWonder Challenge Catch Up

I’m trying to do this year’s Wyrd and Wonder Challenge celebrating the fantasy genre. Since I can’t do a prompt a day (I keep forgetting) I’ll try to do them once a week or so.

So here we go:

DayPrompt
May 1We’re going on an adventure

what will you be reading this Wyrd and Wonder? (in theory. Until we tempt you with other recommendations)

For the first week in May I read Shadow of Night (second in the All Souls Trilogy) by Deborah Harkness
Now I’m reading The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
On my immediate TBR (as in, these are sitting on my shelf)
Crown of Crystal Flame by CL Wilson (last in the Tarien Soul series)
White As Snow by Tanith Lee
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (I think this counts as fantasy, since time travel isn’t real)
The Blue Girl by Charles DeLint
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

we’ll see how many I actually get through!
May 2Pop this in your book bag of holding

What one fantasy book have you read since last Wyrd and Wonder that you want to put on the rest of the party’s radar?

Well since I’ve never participated in Wyrd and Wonder before, this should be pretty easy. It’s not though: so. many. choices! I did recently really enjoy Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl. It’s set in a sort of limbo between life and death, where the main character, Beatrice, and her friends have to relive the day of their death over and over until they can vote on who will be the only survivor of the group.
May 3#MapMonday

I’m sharing the map of Florin and Guilder in The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Why? Because, even through I prefer the film, I think the book is sometimes unfairly overshadowed by it.


May 4I never knew my father #TropeTuesday

This year, Tuesdays are all about fantasy tropes we love (to hate) #TropeTuesday
In honour of Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You) we’ll kick off with orphans, foundlings and other secret heirs to the throne / a grand inheritance / the magic in their blood


I’m going with the Tarien Soul series for this one, since the final book is on my TBR for the month. The heroine, Elysetta, has a loving adoptive father, but she’s never met her biological father, so I’m counting it. The reader knows who her biological family is, and what happened to them, but so far in the series, Elysetta hasn’t met them. I expect that will (or, at least, it may) change in the conclusion.
May 5I can do this all day

Underdogs or victory (in battle) against the odds (in honour of Cinco de Mayo)

In Ashling, the third book in Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn series, there is going to be a rebellion against the totalitarian Council. The Misfits of Obernewtyn can help the rebels with their unique powers and abilities. But in order to do so, they must first convince the rebels to overcome their prejudice against Misfits, and accept their help. To do so, they participate in a sort of test of their abilities, called BattleGames.
May 6Fly my pretties

A book featuring any flying animal character or on the cover is fair game today, but bonus points if it’s a pegasus (our 2021 Wyrd and Wonder mythical mascot)

Does this have to book a book I’ve read? If not, I’ll go with Pegasus by Robin McKinley (which is on my TBR)
May 7Fantasy from around the world

Fridays are all about celebrating fantasy from around the world – this week focuses on fantasy settings inspired by non-European cultures

Most recently, I really enjoyed Gods of Jade and Shadow, which was set in Mexico and played with some Mayan mythology. I read Akata Witch and Akata Warrior fairly recently too, and those are an interesting look at some west African magic.
May 8Currently reading

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
May 9Spine poetry OR Mother’s Day

spine poetry (combine book titles into a poem)
or celebrate fantasy mums (mother figures, female mentors etc) for international Mother’s Day


For this one, I’ll give a shout out to October Daye (of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire) who is mother to a daughter she hasn’t seen in years. The absence wasn’t her fault. She’d been turned into a fish. But her daughter doesn’t know that.
May 10Mixed feelings

Maybe it didn’t meet your expectations, maybe you loved some bits but not others, maybe it made you both incredibly happy and very sad… but tell us why!

I found Mary Robinette Kowel’s Glamourist Histories good enough that I wished they were better. They’re regency romance a la Jane Austen, but with fantasy thrown in. The main characters are Glamourists who work with a sort of art form known as glamour. This takes a physical toll on the worker, but it was very hard to understand how glamour actually worked. So the parts that dealt with that weren’t clear, and it felt like it was a big part of the series that I wasn’t completely getting. But I enjoyed it in spite of that issue.
May 11Reluctant hero(ine) #TropeTuesday

Since I’m currently in the middle of the All Souls series (read the first two books, and am currently watching season 2 of the show) I’ll go with this one. In the first book, A Discovery of Witches, the heroine, Diana, is pulled into a struggle between creatures (witches, vampires and daemons). She knows she’s a witch, but she’s not happy about it, and keeps distance from her magical heritage. Except in this book she realizes she can’t do that anymore.

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Recent Bookshelf Additions

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

January 21: The Ten Most Recent Additions to My Bookshelf

I decided to be pretty literal about this and go with the physical books placed on my actual shelf most recently.

51o77whsaml._ac_sr250230_1.Mariana by Monica Dickens– This is my latest addition to my slowly growing Persephone collection. I think I’m going to start it for the upcoming Persephone Readathon.

 

 

 

97801437861602.The Blue Rose By Kate Forsyth– My friend got me this for the holidays this year. She knows that I’m a big fan of Kate Forsyth, and this is her latest. I’m looking forward to starting it soon.

 

 

 

 

71j3hkayifl._ac_uy218_ml3_3. White As Snow by Tanith Lee- I found this in a secondhand store recently and I was excited because it’s been on my TBR for a while: it’s a combination of a Snow White retelling and Persephone/Demeter/Hades story. Lee is a really underappreciated writer IMO.

 

 

818e2qmhlhl._ac_uy218_ml3_4. A Beggar’s Kingdom by Paullina Simons– I won this in a goodreads giveaway, but then I realized that it’s the sequel toThe Tiger Catcher. Since I don’t have that one yet, I want to wait until I do, before I read the second one.

 

 

41nnbvwgaal-_ac_us218_5. The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra M Gilbert and Susan Gubar– This was another secondhand find. I used it a bit for several classes in college because it has some amazing criticism regarding female 19th century writers. I’d love to revisit it at several points as I read things now. It’s not really a book you read cover to cover in one sitting. It’s more a book you refer to and read a chapter here and there.

 

91aqq9rnmll._ac_uy218_ml3_6. The Visitors by Sally Beauman– Another secondhand shop find. I don’t know anything about this one. I just picked it up because it looked interesting. Hopefully it is.

 

 

 

81o0w3k8oyl._ac_uy218_ml3_7. Panchinko by Min Jin Lee- I actually read this one already. It was about a Korean family living in Japan in the 20th century. It was really interesting in that it dealt with a historical time and place that I knew almost nothing about.

 

 

 

91cvrgq3trl._ac_uy218_ml3_8. Sapphire Skies by Belinda Alexandra– I got this from a secondhand shop too (they have paperbacks for $1 so I always figure, even if it turns out to be bad, what do I have to lose?) and it looked interesting so I decided to give it a shot.

 

 

51sfno9ygsl._ac_ul320_ml3_9. Lyrebird by Cecilia Ahern– This one was from a library sale. I got it because I’d enjoyed some of Ahern’s other work, and I enjoyed this one too. I featured it for #WhattoReadWed on my instagram.

 

 

81fviyckszl._ac_uy218_ml3_10. The Group by Mary McCarthy– I keep hearing about this book and reading about it. It’s been on my TBR for a while, so I decided to go for it.

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 11: Hidden Gems (which books haven’t been talked about as much or haven’t been marketed as strongly that you think deserve some recognition?)

51rkzkhzekl-_ac_us218_1. A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin– Our narrator is an intelligent, good-looking young college student. He’s dating Dorothy, a wealthy young woman with a problem. She’s pregnant. If/when her dad finds out about the baby, he’ll cut her off penniless. Thereby eliminating any use she might be of to our narrator. But that’s easily solved. He can get rid of Dorothy and try to marry money again in a year or two. She’s got two sisters after all! We spend the first portion of the book seeing through the eyes of a sociopath, and the latter portion we see from the perspective of his potential victims. I’m usually pretty good at spotting an author’s tricks. About 2/3 of the way through I was sure that I knew exactly where this was going and I was totally wrong! Ira Levin is well known for some of his other books like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. This is his debut and it definitely teases his future ability as a storyteller.

31vqaqjxh5l-_ac_us218_2. Passion by IU Tarchetti– This was made into a film called Passione D’amore in 1981 and was adapted as a Tony-winning musical in 1995, but it’s still not very well known. Giorgio is a young soldier, having an affair with Clara, a slightly older, slightly married, woman. When he’s transferred to a provincial military outpost, he meets Colonel Ricci, his new commanding officer. The Colonel lives with his sick cousin Fosca. When the Colonel mentions that Fosca is an avid reader, Giorgio lends her some books. But when he meets Fosca he’s taken aback by her illness, her ugliness, and her lack of polite social skills. Still, he tries to be kind to her when their paths cross. As Fosca falls for Giorgio, she makes no effort to hide her feelings. And when she finds out about Clara she makes her opinion known. The strength of her overtures deeply unsettles Giogio who is thrown into the depths of emotions, love as well as hate, with an intensity that he’s never before experienced. I think one reason this doesn’t have mainstream popularity is that the reader doesn’t have an obvious person to root for. Giorgio is a perfectly nice guy, but he’s most comfortable on surfaces. He’s all for polite chatter and interactions. Fosca forces him beyond that, pushing him (and the reader) into uncomfortable territory. Yet that’s also the reason that it’s hard for a reader to identify with Fosca. She makes Giorgio, and us, uncomfortable.

51tsapquwul-_ac_us218_3. Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson– Susanna is a dressmaker in Vienna circa 1911. She watches over her neighbors and keeps a journal. We meet the people in her life. There’s Herr Egger, a fellow with a nasty habit. Nini is Susannah’s dress model, who moonlight’s as an anarchist. Then there are the Schumakers and their six daughters, Sigi the piano prodigy next door, Susannah’s lover, an aristocratic field marshall, and her friend Alice, the only person who knows that Susannah has secrets of her own… Eva Ibbotson is best known for her middle-grade fantasy and YA romance novels, which are lovely. While this has romantic elements it’s more a slice of life than her other work and seems aimed at a slightly older readership. I wish that Ibbotson wrote more for this audience.

5196005bwql-_ac_us218_4. Watch By Moonlight by Kate Hawks- Many of us have read Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman,” in which an innkeepers daughter “had watched for her love in the moonlight.” The poem is notable for its strong rhythm and vivid narrative. In this book, Hawks expands and retells the poem’s narrative. We meet Bess Whateley, who works in her parents’ public house, and falls in love with Jason Quick, a thief who steals to buy his father out of indentured servitude. He is now pursued by the King’s 54th Regiment. In the poem, the title character is presented as a romantic hero. He is here too, but as we learn about his character and his background we see him become more three dimensional. Is he romantic? Yes. but he’s also a criminal. He’s doing bad things for a good reason, which makes him very human and flawed. If you’re not familiar with the poem I’d suggest going into the story fresh. Hawks includes bits and pieces throughout the novel, and it’s included in its entirety at the end. I knew the poem, so the ending took on an inevitability for me as I read the book.

51zjlwr-kl-_ac_us218_5. Time and Chance by Alan Brennert– One night, Richard Cochrane, an actor, flubs his lines during a production of Brigadoon. Following the performance, he learns that his mother died, and he goes back to his New Hampshire town.  Going home has made him reflective. He thinks about the decisions he made, and what he gave up to pursue his acting career.  Thirteen years ago, Richard broke up with his girlfriend and left town in pursuit of his dreams. But now that he’s back, Richard encounters the man he might have been: the Richard who put aside his dreams of an acting career, got a steady job at an insurance company, married his girlfriend and had a family. Both Richards are unhappy and on some level both regret the choices that brought them to this point. So they decide to switch places so each can see if he’s happier if he’d decided differently. Yes, this is a fantasy, in which a man meets a parallel version of himself, but I think most people can relate to in some way. We all have decision points in our lives that leave us wondering “what might have been” if we’d chosen a different path.

51boj2l7mll-_ac_us218_6. The Ear, The Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer– Zimbabwe, 2174. General Amadeus Marsika’s three children disappear from their yard one day. They quickly learn that their world is one of contrasts. Wealthy people, like their family, live in vast estates staffed by robots. The poor live in a neighborhood called The Cow’s Guts where they search for plastic in a toxic waste dump. Here, the Marsika children are taken, prisoner. They escape only to encounter new dangers. Meanwhile, they are pursued by three very unusual detectives, knowns as The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm, who seem to always be a few moments too late to rescue the kids. This stands apart from so many other YA dystopias with its blend of high tech futuristic setting and African tribal folklore. While there are parallels to other fantasy tales, such as The Wizard of Oz, this has enough to make it unique and provocative.

21mg6dwqdwl-_ac_us218_7. Lionors: King Arthur’s Uncrowned Queen by Barbara Ferry Johnson- Keep in mind, I read this as a teen and loved it, I but I haven’t read it since. I don’t know how well it holds up.  Lionors is mentioned in several literary sources as King Arthur’s mistress and the mother of his illegitimate son, but in this book, she takes center stage. Lionors, daughter of the Earl of Santam, meets Arthur, the ward of Sir Ecktor. They fall in love and plan to marry. But when it turns out that Arthur is actually the son of Uther Pendragon, and is now King, it becomes clear that he must marry elsewhere to secure the peace of the kingdom. However, he returns to Lionors whenever he can. She hears about what’s going on in Camelot, but her life is at her manor. The book is managing something tricky. The narrator is removed from the action for the most part, but she has stakes in it nonetheless. Aside from her visits from Arthur, and the child she has with him (here it’s a daughter), Lionors is connected to the events of Camelot via visitors for the most part and she struggles to have a purpose beyond the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: “You will be a queen, but you will die uncrowned and unknown…”

61nsx83i0fl-_ac_us218_8. Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee- In 4B there are no limits to pleasure. People are encouraged to eat, drink, have sex with multiple partners, and take drugs. If they get bored they can always commit suicide and be brought back in a new body. Really the only thing that’s forbidden is murder. When our protagonist becomes bored and jaded we follow her in and out of various bodies and circumstances, until she breaks that one rule. She’s faced with a choice. Either she undergoes personality dissolution, in which all her memory will be wiped, or she is given a single, permanent body, and banished from 4B. The unnamed protagonist opts for banishment and finds herself in a desert, where she must make a life for herself. For the first time, she discovers that some sacrifices may be worthwhile, and that being human means making choices.

41erf8g69dl-_ac_us218_9. All This and Heaven Too by Rachel Fields– This book is a fictionalization of the life of Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, the author’s great aunt by marriage. In the mid 19th century, Henriette was the most notorious woman in France. Hired as the governess to the children of the Duc and Duchesse de Praslin, she quickly came to see the problems that existed in her employer’s marriage. She and the Duc formed a close (platonic) relationship based largely on their mutual interest in the children- an interest which the Duchesse didn’t share. However, the Duchesse was aware of the closeness that existed between her husband and the governess and felt threatened. She dismissed Henriette without a letter of recommendation, and then met a tragic end. The gossip surrounding the relationship between Henriette and the Duc, as well as the circumstances surrounding Henriette’s dismissal, meant that both fell under suspicion of murder. Forced to defend herself in a trial, Henriette soon becomes hated by a nation, making life there impossible. So she flees to America where she starts anew like so many others. In 1940 this was made into a film starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. However, despite the film’s popularity, the literary source material has fallen by the wayside. The film focuses on the first half of the story, ending with Henriette’s departure for America. However, the book follows her to her new life. While it’s less dramatic than the first half (with accusations of adultery and murder!) it’s interesting to see what became of this remarkable woman.

51polcsfrl-_ac_us218_10. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor– When this came out in 1944 it caused quite a stir, but it seems like few people know it now. If I had to compare it to another book, I’d compare it to Gone With the Wind. Amber is a very Scarlett-like heroine. But Scarlett O’Hara was born with a silver spoon, whereas Amber St. Clare is pregnant, abandoned, and penniless when we first meet her. Amber navigates the streets of 17th century London, through the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of 1666, eventually rising to be the favorite mistress of King Charles II. But she keeps her heart true to the only man she’s ever loved; a man who she can never have.  Several historical figures appear as characters in the book, such as Charles II, Nell Gwyn, Barbara Palmer, George Villiers, and more. It was banned as pornographic is fourteen states, was condemned by the Catholic Church for indecency and was banned in Australia.  What’s remarkable is that there’s really nothing explicit. Yes, Amber has a number of affairs, but for the most part, they take place behind closed doors.  It sold about three million copies worldwide and was made into a film in 1947, but if I mention to a historical fiction fan, chances are that they won’t know what I’m talking about.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Lesser Known Romances

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday;

February 13: Love Freebie (Romances, swoons, OTPs, kisses, sexy scenes, etc.)

I feel like a lot of my favorite romances are pretty well known.  I love Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and Jane and Mr. Rochester (why do 19th-century male characters never go by their first names?) as much as the next girl.  But this week, I decided to share a few favorites that might not turn up on everyone else’s list.

51bumg7jwll-_ac_us218_1. The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson– Eva Ibbotson was primarily known for her children’s books. However, she wrote five romances intended for older readers (the others A Company of Swans, The Secret Countess, A Song For Summer, and Magic Flutes are also worth reading). They’ve since been re-released for a YA audience. They’re flawed in that they depict relationships with gender roles that are somewhat old-fashioned. But they’re usually sweet enough and fun enough so that it doesn’t bother me too much. I have a fondness for this one. It’s about a Jewish family in Austria. They get out of the country when Hitler invades and make it to England. But they’re separated from their twenty-year-old daughter, Ruth who wasn’t able to get the proper paperwork. Quinton Somerville, a friend of the family, offers to help Ruth. He’s got the papers to get to England, and she can come with him, as his wife. Once they’re safely in England they can get the marriage annulled. Ruth takes him up on his offer, but neither of them counts on falling in love…

51eksizfwl-_ac_us218_2. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– I forgot why I picked up this book in the first place. Novels about cranky old men aren’t automatic reads for me. But something attracted me to this book and I’m glad it did! Major Ernest Pettigrew is a retired Englishman who is the embodiment of duty, pride, and traditional values. Major Pettigrew is a widower who is trying to keep his son from selling off the family heirlooms when he finds an unexpected ally in his neighbor, Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. Their cross-cultural romance shocks everyone, themselves most of all. But it also reminds us that while people may seem like opposites, they can still find strong common ground; enough to build the foundation of a relationship. And it proves that falling in love at 70 is just as sweet as it is at 17.

51guog1xvl-_ac_us160_3. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee– I can’t remember how I first came across this book. But its a provocative futuristic sci-fi love story. Jane is living a life of luxury on an Earth that’s barely recognizable to the reader. But she’s not happy. Robots have replaced humans as laborers but when a new line comes out they’re also used as performing artists and the wealthy use them as sexual partners. When Jane meets Silver, a robot minstrel, his song convinces her that there’s something more to him than just metal and programming. Something almost human. She gives up everything and she and Silver run away together. As their relationship grows, Silver becomes more and more human. Is that just a clever illusion created by his programming? Is Jane needy and mentally unstable? Or has she seen in Silver something that no one else can?  If Silver is truly capable of loving Jane, he’s in terrible danger, because he’s more than anyone expected. If he has all of the advantages of a robot but can truly feel and love like a human, then actual humans can’t complete.

51l6zlabawl-_ac_us218_4. The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– I feel like this book has been getting more attention lately which I’m glad about. But it’s still largely unknown, so I feel like it can go on this list. Valancy is a twenty-nine-year-old “spinster” who lives under the overbearing thumb of her mother and her aunt. When she gets devastating news from the doctor, Valancy is motivated to do some living while she still has the chance! She becomes friends with Barney, a handsome free spirit whom her family does not approve of! She confides to Barney that she doesn’t have long to live, and proposes marriage. After all, he won’t have to live with her for long, and it’ll make her happy before she dies. After they marry, Barney and Valancy are happier than they’d ever dreamed. But Valancy’s fate hangs over their heads. Colleen McCollough wrote a novel in 1987 called The Ladies of Missalonghi, with a very similar plot set in the Blue Mountains of Australia. The similarities prompted accusations of plagiarism. Having read both, I think they’re just two novels that have similar plotlines.  I prefer The Blue Castle though.

51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_5. Precious Bane by Mary Webb– This is a fairly new discovery for me. Prue Sarn’s “precious bane” is her cleft pallet. It sets her apart from the other girls in her Shropshire community for better and for worse. It isolates her from her peers, but that isolation is also the source of inner strength. Prue’s brother, Gideon, is determined to lift the family out of poverty. He devotes everything he has to make money, which is the very thing that may ultimately destroy him. In a way money is his “precious bane”. It promises a better life but ultimately destroys life and love. Meanwhile, Prue has fallen in love with Kester Woodseaves, a weaver with a gentle spirit. Like Prue, he’s an outsider, due to his gentle nature rather than anything external. Will his good heart allow him to see the beauty in Prue?

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_6. Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith– A lot of readers compare this book to the (brilliant) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though it was actually a fictionalized account of the first year of the author’s own marriage. Nonetheless, the heroine, Annie Brown, has a lot in common with Francie, the heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Annie and Carl get married in the 1920’s just before Carl starts law school in the midwest. Annie leaves her Brooklyn home to go with him. Their families oppose the marriage, but they’re young, in love, a bit naive, and optimistic. They face challenges from poverty to more personal conflicts. This isn’t really a plot-driven book. It’s far more character driven. It’s hard not to root for Carl and Annie as they begin to build a foundation for their lives together.

51ktieauzl-_ac_us218_7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer– I first encountered this novella after seeing the exquisite musical that was inspired by it. It’s a beautiful book as well. Margaret Johnson is an unhappily married, wealthy, Southern woman traveling in Florence with her daughter, Clara in the 1950s. When Clara falls in love with Fabrizio, a young Italian (and he with her), Margaret finds herself torn between two equally strong impulses: to protect her daughter and spare her the pain of lost love or to hope that Clara might be luckier in love than Margaret was. The story is about the courage that it takes to fall in love and the bravery in hoping (in the face of experience) that it might last forever.

31vqaqjxh5l-_ac_us218_8. Passion by IU Tarchetti– This is probably an odd choice. It’s another book that I discovered thanks to my obsession with musical theater. Sondheim’s musical of the same name won a Tony in 1994 but is still one of his less popular works, though it’s one of my favorites. The story is about Giorgio, a handsome, young, Italian soldier. He is having an affair with the lovely (but married) Clara in Milan when he is transferred to a remote base in Parma. There he is invited to dine at his commander’s residence, and he meets the commander’s cousin, Fosca. Fosca is terminally ill, highly strung, and unattractive. She is also madly in love with Giorgio. Though he tries to avoid her at first, Giorgio eventually realizes that Fosca is offering him something that Clara cannot: a pure, true, love that requires his total surrender, yet gives him everything that she has in return.

51x5chc9f7l-_ac_us218_9. Katherine by Anya Seton– Though this book is a novel, it is based on a real-life love story. During the fourteenth century, John of Gaunt, son of a king, fell in love with the already married Katherine Swynford. Even after Katherine is widowed, she and John are prevented from marrying due to politics. However, their affair survives decades of struggle, war, politics, adultery, murder, and danger. I can see where some contemporary readers might see John and Katherine’s romance as one-sided or not very romantic. However I think that is holding a couple in the middle ages to modern expectations. In a time and a place where royal used and discarded mistresses on a regular basis, John maintained his love for Katherine over the course a lifetime, even when casting her aside would have been more politically expedient. He regarded Katherine as his wife and his partner. The descendants of John and Katherine’s children, the Beauforts, include much of the British royal family. For fans of medieval literature this book has appearances from Geoffrey Chaucer (who was Katherine’s brother in law), and includes the writings of Julian of Norwich who also appears as a character in the book.

51lsl4lfqql-_ac_us218_10. Remembrance by Jude Deveraux– Hayden Lane is a bestselling romance author with a problem: she’s fallen in love with the hero she wrote in one of her books.  When a psychic tells her that her obsession may be due to something that happened in a past life, Helen decides to see a hypnotist, who transports her to Edwardian England where she encounters a previous incarnation. But she must go back even further, to the Elizabethan era, before she learns how her earliest incarnation, Callie, was in love with a man named Talis, and how they unintentionally betrayed each other and cursed their future selves. In order to set things right, Hayden will have to figure out a way to break the curse and change history. Some elements of the plot are a bit farfetched (even if you believe in reincarnation, the curses can be hard to buy into!) but it kept me reading. Unlike many romance novels, this doesn’t have a traditional “happily ever after”, though the ending is decidedly hopeful.