Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Tropes: The Sequel

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

March 8: Books With Your Favorite Trope/Theme (Submitted by Raincheckandread.com and Sara Beth @ Life, Love, Writing)

I did something like this a while back but I figured that doing another could be fun. So here are some tropes/themes I love and some books that use them.

Book within a book where we read both books

Found Families

Magic School – Not just a school where one learns magic, but also a school with magical happenings about.

Gruff older person’s life is changed by a child

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

Dishonest/deceptive protagonist

Secret Societies

Retellings of classic novels/works of literature

See these lists:

Something Halloweeny This Way Comes…

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

I’ve always loved Halloween. As a kid, I was hardly alone in that love. With it’s custom blend of fantasy, make-believe, and candy, it’s a holiday that seems tailor made for the young.

But I took it more seriously than most kids. I started planning costumes months in advance (literally, months- I would come up with costume ideas all year round and then have to wait until Halloween to use them). Then, around mid-September I’d start thinking about the logistics of costumes. For example, the year I tried to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid I was presented with several problems. One was that I would have to walk around in a more modest version of Ariel’s shell bra. Even though the costume had significantly more coverage than the movie version did, my parents didn’t think it wise for me to walk around with no sleeves and a bare midriff on a chilly October evening. That was solved by a flesh colored shirt worn underneath. But then came the challenge of walking around in fins. My tail had an opening at the bottom for my legs, but it wasn’t wide enough for me to take more than mini-steps, so it had to be expanded slightly. Such alterations and decisions required a lot of time and thought.

Not me in my little mermaid costume. I looked much sillier. Less cartoon-y though.
image credit: goat.com.au

My Halloween seriousness wasn’t just limited to costumes. I used to plan my trick-or-treating route. I knew what houses had the best candy, and where to go for “filler” items. I knew there was a limited amount of time for trick-or-treating: eventually my mom would say it’s getting late and we should go home. So I wanted to hit the best houses in the shortest amount of time. In between, of course, I’d stop at all the other houses. I wasn’t one to turn up my nose at any candy!

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

But like all children, I eventually grew up. I didn’t grow out of Halloween though. I’m not much of a party girl, and since my friends in college weren’t big party animals either, we’d rent a bunch of Halloweeny movies, stock up on candy and make it a movie night. It was more fun then it sounds. So I’ve sort of maintained the tradition into adulthood. It’s not as much fun as it was in college, since I don’t usually have a group of friends who can easily come over and join me (one of the advantages of dorm living is that everyone is a few doors away!) and I’m more health conscious so I don’t let myself have quite so much candy.

I do save seasonal films to see, books to read and TV shows to binge. Here’s some recommended Halloween media. Just note that while I like “spooky” and “creepy”: I’m not a fan of horror per se. I don’t like blood and guts. I also (for the most part) left off stuff that’s aimed primarily at kids. There’s some good stuff there, but it’s a whole nother list!

Books

image credit: thehauntedlibrarian.com

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury– This is a very seasonally appropriate book. It feels like fall. Actually I think I’d call the story more “dark fantasy” than “horror.” But I suppose it depends on one’s scare threshold. I have some issues with the florid writing in this one. It’s appropriate in some places, but in others I think it slows things down. Still definitely worth reading though.

We Have Always Live In the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson– It’s hard to go too wrong with Shirley Jackson for Halloween! I think We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the most Halloweeny, but it’s a close race.

The Birds and Other Stories, Don’t Look Now: Selected Stories of Daphne DuMaurier, and Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- A lot (but not all) of DuMaurier’s work is Halloween appropriate. I think you can make the argument that Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel deserve a place on this list as well.

The Other by Thomas Tryon– I didn’t like this one at first but by midpoint it was hard to put down! Some of the twists I saw coming but others took me by surprise. Tryon’s novel Harvest Home is also Halloweeny, but I didn’t like it as much.

The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski- This is a haunted house story meets psychological thriller that takes place over several layers and incorporates different forms of text within a text. I didn’t include music on this list, but the author’s sister is singer-songwriter, Poe, who put out an album called Haunted that contained several songs connected to/about the novel.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl- Like The House of Leaves, this book plays with form. It incorporates photographs, documents, and there’s an app you can download to access bonus content. But more importantly, it tells a creepily compelling story with elements of murder mystery and supernatural.

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie– If you love Agatha Christie, Poirot’s investigation of a deadly Halloween party is a seasonal must.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman- The first in a series, and I’d recommend starting here. It’s good if you want Halloween and witches without being too scary.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters– I’d recommend this to readers who appreciate atmosphere and ambiguity.

Ghost Story by Peter Straub– Just what it sounds like! It has one of my favorite ghost story beginnings: “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” “I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me—the most dreadful thing . . .”

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- This is a ghost story, but in an unexpected way.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill– Another creepy British ghost story (gotta love them!)

TV

image credit: thebrokenanchor.com

The Haunting of Hill House– This Netflix miniseries is inspired by Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, but it’s not really an adaptation.

The Haunting of Bly Manor- This miniseries was the work of the same team as the above, but deals with a different story and characters. This one is inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but again it’s not an adaptation per se. I didn’t care for the team’s third outing, Midnight Mass (perhaps because it’s doesn’t have a clear literary inspiration?)

Locke and Key– This series is based on a series of graphic novels which I haven’t read. Apparently they’re darker than the Netflix series. In TV form this plays sort of like Narnia meets The Haunting of Hill House. It’s fun, a little creepy, but nothing too intense. I didn’t like the second season as much as I liked the first, but it was still fun.

Being Human (UK) This show about a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf who live together, was a total guilty pleasure for me. I didn’t particularly care for the American version though.

A Discovery of Witches- This is another TV series is based on a book series (also fun) that blends supernatural creatures. The biggies in this one are vampires, witches and demons, but there’s also some other weirdness.

Salem– This is sort of semi-inspired by the idea of the Salem witch hunts, but that’s about all it has in common with reality. There are plenty of witches, demons, and supernatural creatures here.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina– When I was a kid I loved the old TV show. I like this one too, in a different way. Literary and musical theatre references abound, which makes it fun for me.

Stranger Things- If you’ve been living under a rock, and missed this supernatural, 80’s set series, Halloween is the perfect time to binge.

Film

image credit: prevention.com

Hocus Pocus– A childhood seasonal favorite. It’s got a few moments that may creep the little ones a bit, but it’s mostly just funny and fun for the whole family.

The Addams Family and The Addams Family Values- Some more Halloween comedy classics!

Practical Magic– If you’re more into romcom and less into scary

The Changeling– A haunted house mystery that’s both sad and creepy.

The Other This is based on Tryon’s novel of the same name, listed above. It’s a pretty good adaptation, but the book is better.

Don’t Look Now– Based on Daphne DuMaurier’s novella of the same name (listed above).

The Others– A very gothic, Halloweeny haunted house story. It’s a favorite of mine in the genre.

Burnt Offerings– Another underrated haunted house

Sleepy Hollow– The classic legend gets the Tim Burton treatment. It’s just a fun movie.

The Woman in Black – Based on the book listed above. The 2012 film is good, but if you can find the lesser known 1989 film, I like that better. But I only saw that one once, a long time ago.

Poltergeist– I saw this movie for the first time when I was about 9 years old (don’t know how that happened) but needless to say it terrified me. I saw it again a few years ago. I found it less terrifying, but otherwise it holds up pretty well.

Workouts Yes this is sort of an unexpected category, but I saw a few fun Halloween workouts out there, so I figured “why not?”

Up To the Beat Fitness – 30 Minute Halloween Dance Party

Lucy Wyndham- Read- Halloween Workout

Were you’re favorites not listed? I could have listed more, but the post was already getting long! Maybe I’ll do an update next year. Let me know what you think!

Wishing everyone a happy and safe Halloween

Top Ten Tuesday: Best MetaFiction

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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July 28: Freebie (This week you get to come up with your own TTT topic!)

I made this list recently and decided to use it here. For the purpose of this list, I’m calling metafiction a “self conscious” novel. These books discuss, and think about themselves as works of fiction, within the context of the novel. So we have lots of books within books, narrative footnotes that continue to story while commenting on it, and other forms withing the novel (diaries, letters, poetry, essays, plays etc).

51va-sxea5l._ac_uy218_1.The Princess Bride by William Goldman – The author frames the story as an abridged  retelling of an older book with the boring parts taken out. He frequently alludes to these parts throughout the text.  In the film adaptation this was handled by having frame story in which a grandfather reads his grandson the novel. We see this in the book as well, but it’s less prevalent.

“He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”

 

71jfo2zkzvl._ac_uy218_2.If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino– This one opens with “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.” Throughout the text the fictional reader and real reader’s relationship is discussed and addressed, blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. There are also several books within  the book that we read (at least in part).

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice — they won’t hear you otherwise — “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything: just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

810pcxbl3l._ac_uy218_3. House of Leaves by Mark Danielwski– This books is has text arranged in strange ways that mirrors the events of the story. It contains lots of footnotes (which also have footnotes themselves) that reference works that don’t really exist. There are several narrators some of whom directly address the reader. It claims to be an unpublished manuscript of a lost documentary film, annotated by a tattoo artists. There’s also an appendix of letters from the tattoo artist’s (insane) mother.

“This much I’m certain of: it doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish [the book] and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It won’t matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how. You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place”

 

81oy308r7ql._ac_uy218_4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles– This novel looks at the 19th century novel as seen through a late 20th century perspective. We read the story that takes place in 1867, and the narration that calls one’s attention to the fact that the 1867 plot line is in fact, fictional. This was handled in the film adaptation by having a second timeline in which we see the 1867 story line being made into a film.

“You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for loved ones; for vanity, for pride, for curiosity, for amusement: as skilled furniture makers enjoy making furniture, as drunkards like drinking, as judges like judging, as Sicilians like emptying a shotgun into an enemy’s back. I could fill a book with reasons, and they would all be true, though not true of all. Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world. It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.”

 

71scqfzfhel._ac_uy218_5.  Atonement by Ian McEwan– Minor spoiler alert: The book turns out to have been “written” by one of the characters in the novel. The reasons that the character has for doing this involve much bigger spoilers. Interestingly the film adaptation didn’t try to do anything fancy with a secondary timeline. The “reveal” is simply there at the end.

“How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.”

 

51xunct3xjl._ac_uy218_6. The Keep by Jennifer Egan– In the first chapter, this shifts from a story about two estranged cousins a Gothic castle to being about a man named Ray who is writing the story as a part of a prison’s creative writing program. The two stories unfold, switching back and forth, as the storylines reflect  back on one another.

Being somewhere but not completely: that was home for Danny, and it sure as hell was easier to land than a decent apartment. All he needed was a cell phone, or I-access, or both at once, or even just a plan to leave wherever he was and go someplace else really really soon. Being in one place and thinking about another place could make him feel at home.”

81qh7u4anel._ac_uy218_7. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne– I remember reading this in college with a big, “WTF!?” expression on my face the whole time! It claims to be the memoirs of a country gentleman, but it’s really one digression after another, and sometimes the digressions have digressions of their own! We also get some sermons, essays, drawings and more mixed in there. I tend to think of metafiction as being postmodern, so it’s amazing that this book was written in the 18th century!

“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading;—take them out of this book for instance,—you might as well take the book along with them;”

 

813yvojs9pl._ac_uy218_8.The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood– This book includes a story within a novel within a novel. Iris is publishing a book written by her sister, Laura. Her book is about Alex Thomas, an author pulp sci-fi, who has a complicated relationship with two sisters (who may be counterparts for Iris and Laura). It also contains one of Alex’s stories, The Blind Assassin. Got that?

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

a150ni9rjrl._ac_uy218_9.Possession by AS Byatt- This novel follows two academics as they follow a paper trail, researching the love affair between two fictional 19th century poets. It incorporates fictional diary entries, letters, and poems. These devices are ultimately used to question the authority of textual narratives.

“Think of this – that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.”

 

71vksxqmbul._ac_uy218_10. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz– Susan is editing the new manuscript by best selling mystery author Alan Conway, known for writing in the tradition of authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. We read the manuscript along with her. But there seems to be a chapter missing. Specifically, the last one where we learn whodunnit! Susan figures that it’s a mistake and she’ll talk to Alan on Monday and get the missing pages. But then she learns that Alan has just died and the missing pages are nowhere to be found. As she starts looking for the rest of the book, Susan discovers that the missing portion of the manuscript may reveal more than just the murderer in the novel: it may also contain information about who was responsible for Alan’s own death. In this case not only the manuscript, but the title itself if a clue as to whodunnit.

“I had chosen to play the detective—and if there is one thing that unites all the detectives I’ve ever read about, it’s their inherent loneliness. The suspects know each other. They may well be family or friends. But the detective is always the outsider. He asks the necessary questions but he doesn’t actually form a relationship with anyone. He doesn’t trust them, and they in turn are afraid of him. It’s a relationship based entirely on deception and it’s one that, ultimately, goes nowhere. Once the killer has been identified, the detective leaves and is never seen again. In fact, everyone is glad to see the back of him.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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February 18: The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover (submitted by Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse)

For me book hangovers are rare. Even with a great book I’m aware that the next great book is on the horizon! The ones that give me hangovers aren’t always my favorites or even the best ones. But something about them sticks with me and makes it harder than usual to move on.  So I decided to just do ten books that left me with lingering effects instead of the last ten. So yes, I might miss one or two, but you’ll get an idea. I also wan’t 100% literal with the term “book hangover”: anything that linger afterward in a strong was qualified for the list.

81nembjjg8l._ac_uy218_ml3_1.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling– This shouldn’t be a surprise. By the time I finished this one I felt like I’d been on a long journey, and left several old friends behind.

91tal5fv30l._ac_uy218_ml3_2. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon– It’s rare when one of my favorite entries in a series comes eight books in, but this one pulled it off, leaving me in a place where I felt emotionally exhausted but satisfied and then ending things with a beautiful reunion.

51omzinvtpl-_ac_us218_3. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons- I think my response to this book was based largely on who I was and where I was (in terms of my life) at the time that I read it. I sobbed for like two hours when I finished this! But then I found out that there were two sequels, and while I enjoyed them to differing degrees I didn’t have the same emotional response. That makes me think that it was less about the book itself and more about something it touched off at the time.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_4.A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This left me with kind of a numbness. I felt like I’d be through so much with these characters, so how was I supposed to just pick up and move on with my own life?

418rxncl2rl-_ac_us218_5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– In a way a book about an endless house that you many never leave seems tailor made to give you a book hangover. But in this case it wasn’t an immediate hangover but rather elements of the book randomly coming back to me at different points.

911-t2bi6l._ac_uy218_ml3_6.The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– This book created a world that seemed so vivid with such twists and turns that I was surprised to finish it and realize that it was only a book.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_17. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– Forget Gone Girl, this book had some twists that really threw me in terms of upending everything I thought I knew about the plot and characters. After I read it, I had several “what do you mean, that character is exactly who he claimed to be?!” experiences with books. I kept looking for the trick that wasn’t there!

 

41duzypmsll._ac_uy218_ml3_8. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – I loved Marillier’s world building in this series. I’d even go so far as to say that it (very indirectly!) inspired my own,  in Beautiful. But after I finished it was hard to get back to other books and worlds without holding them up to the same standard.

51vrv0hceml-_ac_us218_9. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafasi– This book made me aware of how reading a novel can be a politically subversive act. That of course made me wonder about every book I read after it; “what deeply held ideas and institutions am I undermining by reading this book?”

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_10. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– After I read this I kept looking for read alikes. But after being burned by many books claiming to be a similar experience, I gave up on that quest.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Being Worth the Effort

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

September 5Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Being Worth the Effort

These are all books that I considered putting down at one point (though in several chases they were assigned for school, but if they hadn’t been I may have considered it!) but I ended up being glad that I didn’t.

41cqtfv5hpl-_ac_us218_1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky- This was a book that I read with my AP Lit class in high school. I read it again in a 19th Century Novel class in college. It’s not easy going because a lot of what occurs takes place in the mind of Raskolnikov, the main character. Raskolnikov is an impoverished ex student living in St. Petersberg. He believes that there are some people who are a drain on society, who take advantage of the little guys, and who the world is ultimately better without. Surely we’d all be better off if these people would be put to death…. After a lot of deliberation, he kills Alyona Ivanovna, a greedy pawnbroker. In the process he also ends up killing her sister, Lizaveta, who happened to witness the crime. Once he makes his escape, Raskolnikov can’t get a moment’s peace. He worries obsessively over the details of the murder. Raskolnikov isn’t what you’d call psychologically sound. So spending a lot of time in his head can get confusing, and occasionally frustrating. But it’s worth it overall, to watch this feverish, tortured man, do the inexcusable, while truly believing it to be the best thing for society overall. It’s interesting to see him begin to realize the horror of what he’s done and wonder if redemption is possible.

418rxncl2rl-_ac_us218_2. The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– At first it feels like there’s too much happening here. We begin with the story of Johnny Truant, a tattoo artist who confesses to being “an unreliable narrator”. He’s looking for an apartment and his friend tells him about the apartment of Zampano, a recently deceased old man. In Zampano’s apartment, Truant finds a manuscript called “The Navidson Record” which is an academic study of a documentary film, which may or may not actually exist. So we have Zampano’s study of the film, Truant’s autobiographical asides, a transcript of part of the film, interviews with people involved in “The Navidson Record” and masses of footnotes. We also get some narration from Truant’s mother through a self contained set of letters. It gets overwhelming! But as we read, we discover that there are small cues to keep the narratives straight, and that eventually they all come together to create a whole.

61eiooixctl-_ac_us218_3. Middlemarch by George Eliot– I read this for a college class and initially it seemed like a huge chore. We had what seemed to be endless descriptions of this town. The subtitle of the book is “A Study of Provincial Life” and for the first few chapters it seemed more like an academic study than a novel. Fortunately, as time went on, we become more involved in the lives of the town people. To a large extent, the focus is on the life of Dorothea Brooks, and the career of Tertius Lydgate and how the two intersect. But significant attention is also given to the courtship of two townspeople, and one man’s disgrace. I was surprised to go from dreading reading about dry facts, to slowly becoming involved in the lives of these characters.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_4. Possession by AS Byatt– Byatt says that she wrote it in response to author John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman:

Fowles has said that the nineteenth-century narrator was assuming the omniscience of a god. I think rather the opposite is the case—this kind of fictive narrator can creep closer to the feelings and inner life of characters—as well as providing a Greek chorus—than any first-person mimicry. In ‘Possession’ I used this kind of narrator deliberately three times in the historical narrative—always to tell what the historians and biographers of my fiction never discovered, always to heighten the reader’s imaginative entry into the world of the text

The novel portrays two present day academics, Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey, who investigate the life and relationship of two Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash (based on Robert Browning and Alfred, Lord Tennyson) and Christabelle LaMotte (based on Christina Rosetti). They follow a trail of clues hidden in letters and journals,  to find out about the true nature of the Ash-LaMotte relationship, before rival colleagues do. The extensive diaries, poetry, and letters of the main characters are presented in the book as is the fictional poetry of Ash and LaMotte. All of this, and the academic way that Roland and Maud think, can initially make this feel dense and inapproachable. It takes some patience and getting used to.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_5. A  Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This isn’t a book that hard to read because anything about the text itself is difficult. Rather it’s hard because it’s is so sad, and deals with so many difficult and taboo subjects. Four friends graduate an elite college and begin their lives in NYC. Willem is a kind hearted aspiring actor. JB is a painter of Hatian descent.  Malcom is an architect from a biracial family, who still lives at home. Jude is a lawyer of unknown ethnicity. Though the narration is omniscient and we meet all the characters, the bulk of the focus falls on Jude. We’re first told of an “accident” when he was a child that wasn’t really an accident, but left him permanently disabled and in a lot of pain. Then we learn that the orphaned Jude has a tendency to cut himself. We also learn that he hates sex, and that he doesn’t believe that he deserves any of the devoted friends and family that he has. It’s some time before we learn the truth of Jude’s life before he met his friends at college. When we do learn about it, it’s more horrific than anything we imagined. Some reviewers called the book “melodrama” or even “torture porn”. But it doesn’t embrace the elements to shock the reader, but rather to access an emotional truth. When Jude finally tells a loved one the truth, this person tells him that it wasn’t his fault. He was a child. He was the victim of people who preyed on his innocence and desperation, and that none of what he experienced has made him unworthy of love. Jude struggles to believe that, and to live a good life- one that he has earned through his own hard work. He loves other people and he tries to let them love him in return. For most of us these things aren’t a struggle at all. But for Jude they are a constant battle. But there’s tremendous beauty in that effort.

51zpob-ijil-_ac_us218_6. Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett- Frances Crawford of Lymond is a Scottish nobleman accused of deceit, treachery, treason, rape, and murder. He’s only guilty of a few of those things. He returns to Scotland in 1547 after several years in exile for reasons that won’t be revealed for some time. His own brother has vowed to kill him. But for rather complicated reasons, Lymond, accused of treason, may be the only person who can save his country from an English invasion.  I think the series is definitely worth reading (based on the first two books) but they’re not easy reads. We don’t really get inside the character’s thoughts much, so it’s often a while before we understand what’s going on and why.  The main character is a brilliantly educated polygot who often makes references that I don’t get right away. So it takes some effort to get into. Another author would have told us early on what’s happening, what Lymond is accused of and what accusations were false, where he’s been for the past few years and why he’d return to Scotland. In that case, the action of the book, would be front and center. The fact that Dunnett leaves the character’s motives so unknown makes this an interesting, sometimes confusing take on the historical fiction genre.

 

51j8xsssd0l-_ac_us218_7. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber -In 1870’s London, Sugar is a prostitute in a brothel. Like many in her profession, she longs for a better life. William Rackham is a well-to-do businessman takes Sugar on as a mistress, and she’s draws herself into his life; his mentally fragile wife, Agnes; their deceitful housekeeper Clara, their mysterious daughter Sophie…. The characters aren’t easy to classify. Is Sugar a bad woman scheming to manipulate a wealthy man and get his money? Or is she a woman who was dealt a bad had, doing what she can to make her way in a world that’s not very kind?  At times the author suggests the answer to this question, but never outright answers it. But it’s not an easy read. At 922 pages it’s a long haul and we really see the ugly side of Victorian London, in a way that Dickens spared us.

51yxivihhl-_ac_us218_8. The Magus by John Fowles– Nicholas is an Oxford grad who takes a job as a teacher at a school on a remote Greek island. Over the summer, he becomes bored, depressed and lonely. Then he meets Maurice Conchis, a wealthy recluse who lives on the island.  Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis’ psychological games. At first he sees these games as a sort of a joke. But as they grow more elaborate and intense, Nicholas reaches a point where he isn’t able to tell what’s real and what isn’t. The reader can’t tell either and it gets kind of trippy. Several portions of the book have a “what the heck was that?” quality to them. But that ambiguity is also what makes it interesting.

51656aeukhl-_ac_us218_9. East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood– Lady Isabel Carlyle leaves her husband an babies to elope with Frances Levison. She bears Levison’s illegitmate child before she realizes that he has no intention of marrying her. He deserts Isabel, who is then disfigured in a train accident, and her child is killed (because apparently bad things really do happen in threes!) Lady Isabel gets a job as a governess in the household of her former husband and his new wife. This allows her to be close to the children she abandoned. But the pressure of keeping up the facade becomes too much for her. I read this because I was interested in Victorian “sensation” novels. I enjoyed it, in spite of, and at times because of, its rather implausible plot. But it’s also tough going at times because of the various shifting and double identities.

414n0roja3l-_ac_us218_10. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard– This play shifts between modern day Sidley Park and the same locations in the early 19th century. In the past, Thomasina, the daughter of the house, and Septimus Hodge, her tutor. The present day story concerns Hannah and Bernard, two academic researchers investigating a scandal caused by Lord Byron when he stayed at Sidley Park. The two story lines interweave math, physics, literature, philosophy,  architecture, and philosophy. I was assigned to read this in the summer before I started college before my freshman seminar. It made me very nervous about not being smart enough for college, because I felt like a lot of it went right over my head! But when we started to go through it in class and analyze it, I realized how clever, funny, and enjoyable this really was.