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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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?”
August 24: Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time
1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I wish I could read this again and not know what was coming. At the same time I’m really glad I read this for the first time when I did, because my high school English class was reading Crime and Punishment at the time. There are a lot of parallels and I appreciated the enriched experience in that way. I think it would hold up well to a reread though. I just wish I could recreate that experience of finding those parallels and getting excited.
2. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– Last year I reread this with a book club and I found myself really jealous of the members who were reading it for the first time and didn’t know what twists and turns lay ahead.
3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie- The first time I read this I tried to read it as a detective and figure out whodunnit as I read. I wasn’t right, but I tried! I think I’d like the experience of reading it as more of a reader and going along with the story without trying to be two steps ahead.
4. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– I remember staying up late into the night with this one, and feeling the thrill of surprise as the story unfolded. Those reading experiences are wonderful and rare.
5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This one had a slowly building sense of dread as I realized what was happening. At the same time I kept hoping that I’d be proven wrong. That sense of building tension without a “reveal” (rather a gradual unfolding) is not something I encounter often.
6. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters -I read this book for the first time while I was on a train. At one point I got to a plot twist and I literally shouted, “Holy crap!” Out loud. It’s a rare book that makes me embarrass myself on public transportation.
7. The Other by Thomas Tryon- There was one twist in this book that I felt was really obvious. Once it was revealed, I felt like I was very smart, I’d figured the book out, and it was going to be disappointing. Little did I know there were other turns ahead! I think the initial twist as a sort of misdirection, so the reader wasn’t on the lookout anymore.
8. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- This one didn’t have any huge surprises in it, but I became so invested in these characters, for better or for worse (and often it was for worse.) I was legitimately worried about them it was a wonderful and stressful experience. I think it would hold up to rereads, though, because I know what’s coming for the characters and I can focus on other things without worrying about them so much. Just a note: I’m always hesitant to recommend this one without including a content warning, because some of the content is very difficult.
9. East of Eden by John Steinbeck -I honestly think I was too young for this the first time I read it. It’s on my to be reread list, and I think I’ll get a lot more out of it a second time, but I wish I was coming to it fresh.
November 24: Thanksgiving/I’m Thankful for… Freebie
For this list I decided to look at the kind of books I’m thankful for. This year I definitely sought out the experience of losing myself in a book for a while. I was thankful when books allowed me to do that. So I decided to list books that I was able to fall into, and forget about reality for a while. They’re not all books that I read this year (nor are they all great literature, by any stretch of the imagination!) but they’re books that gave me the sort of experience that I was grateful for this year. Hope that makes sense!
Harry Potter series- In spite of my ongoing issues with the author, I will always have love in my heart for these books. They created a world that I cared about, and let me live in it with the characters for seven books. When it was done, I felt like I’d grown up with these characters. Oh, and I say that I can put an entire series in one spot on this list! My list my rules!
2. Outlander series- This isn’t perfect either (I think issue with a few themes) but it did create another world that I could live in. Reality disappears when I read about the reality of these characters even if they’re doing something relatively mundane (with the right characters, a chapter on laundry can be fun!) but knowing these guys, excitement and adventure is usually just around the corner.
3. The Dollinganger series by VC Andrews- Full disclosure: I got lost in this series when I was about 12. What was shocking and page turningly compelling then, probably wouldn’t hold up now. But I do remember spending an entire bus ride on a school field trip engrossed in Petals On The Wind (I had just finished Flowers in the Attic and I needed to know what came next!)
4. The Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray- I came for the Victorian era feminism. I stayed- glued to the page- the find out about the worlds in which Gemma found herself. I was invested in these characters, intrigued by the mythological systems that Gemma encounters, and eager to see what a young Victorian girl with little agency in her own life, could do with supernatural realms of power. I read the first two back to back, but The Sweet Far Thing hadn’t come out and that point, so I had to wait to finish.
5. Intensity by Dean Koontz- I can’t remember what first made me pick this book up. I think someone might have recommended it. But I remember starting it on a Friday and not putting it down for the rest of the weekend.
6. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton- I picked this up with relatively low expectations (the only Morton book that I had read prior was The House at Riverton, which I thought was just OK) but I was pleasantly surprised. The story spoke to a lot of my literary tastes (multiple timelines, fairy tales, historical fiction) and just cast a spell on me. I’m glad I gave Morton another chance because now she’s an automatic read for me.
7. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- I started getting into this late one night, and couldn’t put it down until the next morning. It was a literal all nighter. I distinctly remember coming upon a plot revelation at around 1am and wishing I could talk to someone about it!
8. Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie- In this case, I don’t know why I found this book so compelling. It retold a story that I find interesting but not usually riveting. But this book was glued to my face for some reason. I read it at work during my lunch break. I also enjoyed the second and third in the author’s Camelot trilogy, Grail Prince and Prince of Dreams, but not quite as much as this one.
9. The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons- This is another one that I suspect would not hold up well to a reread, but teenage Fran was unable to put the book down (or stop crying when it was over!) I ordered the rest of the trilogy and read it ASAP.
10. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel- I read this my freshman year of high school and was briefly interested in studying human evolution because of it. The subject still interests me, but not as something to study. Unfortunately the quality of the books in the series diminished with each one (second was good, third was OK, fourth and fifth were not good. I didn’t even bother with #6)
11. The Pact by Jodi Picoult- For some reason everyone in my high school was reading this book, so I picked it up. In retrospect, I think some of the themes wouldn’t hold up well, but at the time, I recall it being a page turner. Though I see it’s subtitled “A Love Story” and I don’t recall it being that at all…
I think sometimes the experience of not being able to put a book down depends on the right book finding you at the right time. In these cases, these books found me in the right mood/frame of mind to read them compulsively. Some hold up better than others, and some I’d rather remember well, than revisit. Regardless, I am very thankful when I’m able to disappear into a book world, like I did with these.
These aren’t the kind of ghost stories that you’re used to. These ghosts all have something a bit different, a bit unconventional about them. But if you’re up for something different this spooky season, check them out!
1. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella– When Lara’s great aunt Sadie turns up and asks a favor, Lara’s in for a rough ride. Great aunt Sadie has been dead for a while, but she has some definite ideas about how Lara should live her life!
2. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger– When their aunt Elspeth dies, she leaves twins Julia and Valentina her apartment in London: there’s just one stipulation. They have to live in it together for a year before selling it, and their parents can’t come inside. Elspeth’s ghost is there too of course!
3. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– Rebecca is dead from the very first page of this one, and she stays dead throughout. But her specter haunts everyone from her housekeeper to her husband, to his new wife.
5. Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan– Artist Eben Adams is fascinated when he meets Jennie, a young girl who chats about things that happened long before her time. But the next time he meets Jennie, she’s aged several years. He comes to realize that Jennie is a spirit outside of her own time, and she’s come looking for him. This also has a film version.
6. The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams– Again, talking much about the nature of the ghost in this book would involve spoilers, but I do appreciate the ambiguity of the haunting here.
7. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz- The title character in this book is a short order cook who communicates with the dead. This is actually the beginning of a series but I only read the first book, since I felt it worked well as a stand alone and didn’t want to ruin that. There’s also a film adaptation.
10. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders- In 1862, a year in the civil war, Abraham Lincoln lost his eleven year old son, Willie. Newspapers reported that the distraught president returned to the crypt to see his son’s body. From this seed of historical fact, Saunders creates a novel of voices from the Georgetown graveyard, where a struggle breaks out over young Willie’s soul.
1.The Starless Sea by Erin Morganstern– About eight years ago I read Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus, and loved it. It was one of those rare books that you can get lost in as you read. Since then I’ve had my eye out for her follow up and it was finally released. The Starless Sea isn’t an easy read, but its one to savor . Once again Morgenstern has created a novel that lets the reader live in it. Yes there is a (confusing at times) plot and characters, but much likeThe Night Circus, it’s the setting that will stand out in my memory. This book is a vivid, dreamlike, haunting experience. I reviewed it a little in this post.
2. Educated by Tara Westover– Tara Westover was 17 the first time she sat in a classroom. Raised by fundamentalist parents on a mountain in Idaho, Westover was taught to distrust established schools, hospitals and government. She was ostensibly homeschooled, but in reality that stopped once she’d learned to read, write, and do basic math. She was encouraged to try to educate herself enough to get into college by her older brother, and brave enough to take the leap when another older brother became abusive enough to be a serious threat to her safety. But Bringham Young University, and later Harvard and Cambridge, were a world away from the life she’d lived under the thumb of a mentally ill father. Trying to adjust to the change, finding a way to relate to her family, and construct her reality as an adult was where Westover’s education was truly tested. This book is shocking, haunting and thought provoking.
3. Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller– I discussed my response to these books a bit in this post. I’m not usually a fan of Greek mythology and Classics, but Madeline Miller’s writing is vivid and compelling, and the the characters are so human (even when technically they aren’t!) that its hard not to become invested. I loved both of these books and couldn’t decide which to put on my “best” list.
4. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware– Harriet ‘Hal’ Westaway has been living hand to mouth since her mother’s death three years ago. She’s barely getting by when she gets a letter from a lawyer saying that her grandmother has recently died and left her money. Hal knows it’s a mistake: her grandmother died years ago. But she’s also desperate. She heads to Mrs. Westway’s Cornwall mansion to try to claim the inheritance. But when she arrives she discovers a family that may be more closely connected to her than she realizes. The estate comes with a lot of secrets, that might give Hal the family she’s always wanted, or might get her killed. This books was reminiscent of Agatha Christie and Daphne DuMaurier. It’s perfect for a cold winter night.
5. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar– This book is historical fiction with fantasy gorgeously brushing the edges. When shipping merchant, Jonah Hancock learns that one of his ship’s was sold in exchange for a mermaid, he finds himself thrust into a new life. He travels from London’s seedy underbelly to the finest drawing rooms of high society. His new life brings him to Angelica Neal, a courtesan, who finds that her destiny is entwined with Jonah’s and his mermaid.
6. The Library Book by Susan Orlean– In the book, Orlean explores a 1986 fire that almost destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library, and may have been the result of arson. In the process, she also explores the city’s history, the library’s history and the importance of libraries in general. Reading this book gives an appreciation for libraries as community centers, educational institutions and one of the most uniquely democratic endeavors in the world. People often wonder if libraries still serve a purpose, or if they will one day be obsolete. Orlean’s book makes the case that they serve a vital and irreplaceable function every day.
7.Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield- About ten years ago I read Diane Setterfield’s debut The Thirteenth Taleand was entranced. Once Upon A Riveris just as compelling but in it’s own way. Set in a pub by the Thames in the late 19th century, this book opens on a winter’s night when a badly injured, soaking wet man staggers into the pub, holding a little girl who appears to be dead. A local nurse saves his life and quickly realizes that the little girl is not dead (anymore?) but the girl is silent and the man can’t remember how they came to be in this situation and has no idea who the girl is. One local family thinks that she’s the daughter who was kidnapped years earlier. Another thinks she’s the long lost daughter of their prodigal son. A middle aged woman is inexplicably convinced that the 4 year old child is her sister… .
9.I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’ Farrell– In seventeen essays O’Farrell recounts her life via near death experiences. These experiences range from the dramatic (a plane that almost crashed) to the more mundane (a stressful medical test) but each one prompted O’Farrell to reflect and evaluate her life. Naturally an eight year old O’Farrell in the hospital with Encephalitis perceives things very differently from a thirty-something O’Farrell experiencing a risky childbirth. While the subject matter is rather heavy, this book never feels it. O’Farrell’s writing is occasionally witty, often perceptive, and always beautiful.
10. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– Set in Nigeria, this book tells the story of 15 year old Kambili and her older brother Jaja. Kambili and Jaja are wealthy and privileged. Their father is an important person in their local community, known for his generosity. But with his family, he is a religious fanatic and a tyrant. As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent outside the city to stay with their aunt. Aunty Ifeoma is a progressive university professor whose home is a relaxed place of laughter and lightness. In her home, Kambili and Jaja experience life without their father’s oppressive presence for the first time. When they return to his house nothing can be the same again.
December 4: Cozy/Wintry Reads (Make this prompt suit your current season if needs be.)
There’s nothing I love more than curling up under a blanket with a good book and some hot cocoa while the snow is falling outside. Here are my favorite cozy winter reads:
1. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie- Hercule Poirot is on a train that is trapped by an avalanche, just before a passenger is found murdered. Poirot is on the case and the thirteen other passengers in the car are his only suspects. The only problem is that they all have both an excellent motive and an airtight alibi. Just an FYI, the recent film changes some elements of the ending, so even if you’ve seen that, you may still be surprised.
2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden- Vasilisa grows up in a home in the Russian wilderness that’s snowed in each winter. She spends the season with her siblings listening to their nurse’s fairy tales. When her mother dies, her father brings a new wife home from Moscow. Vasilisa’s stepmother is religious and won’t allow the family to honor the household spirits as they always have. Though the family acquiesces to her wishes, Vasilisa suspects that this decision will have grave consequences in this re-imagined Russian fairy tale.
3. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey- A childless couple in Alaska in 1920 indulge in a bit of silliness on the night of the first snowfall. They build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone but Jack and Mabel start to catch glimpses of a little girl, running through the trees. This child seems to survive alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Is she their snow child come to life or are her origins more mundane? Jack and Mabel come to love this girl, whom they call Faina as if she were their own. But will they be able to care for her as they would a normal child?
4. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin– This is kind of a love it or hate it book (though don’t judge it on it’s bizarre film adaptation!). In New York City at the turn of the 20th century, Peter Lake attempts to rob a mansion that he thinks is empty one cold, winter night. It’s not empty. Beverley Penn, the daughter of the house is there, dying of consumption. They fall into a love so powerful that Peter, an uneducated thief will embark on a quest to stop time, bring back the dead and cure disease. It’s full of symbolism and beautiful writing, but some readers will find it overlong and indulgent.
5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- I read this one snowy day, and I’ll always associate it with winter for that reason. Vida Winter (is the name a coincidence?!) is a reclusive author who has made up stories about her life, but hidden the truth of it. Now that she’s old and sick she hires biographer Margaret Lea to tell her true story. It’s a tale of gothic strangeness, and a ghost, a governess, twins, a topiary garden and a house fire.
6. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– The title character of this slim novel is a farmer burdened by a barren farm an a hypochondriac wife, Zeenia. When Zeenia’s cousin, Mattie visits, Ethan falls in love with the warm girl who is everything that his wife is not. But his attempts to escape with Mattie may doom them all to a cold life on Ethan’s unproductive land.
7. The Woman in the Window by AJ Flinn- Anna Fox is an agoraphobic who spends her days in her Harlem townhouse drinking wine, watching old movies and spying on her neighbors. When she witnesses a murder in one of the their houses, the police don’t believe her (she’s a drunk with a history of psychological issues). We learn more about the chilly roots of those issues, and the mysterious events of that happened in her neighbors house, as we read.
8. Still Life by Louise Penny– There’s been a murder in the tiny town of Three Pines, a rural village just south of Montreal. When Inspector Gamache and his team arrive, everyone assumes that middle aged artist Jane Neal was killed in a tragic hunting accident. But Inspector Gamache soon discovers that Three Pines is hiding some dark secrets. While the village seems cozy and the food is described as yummy, the murders would probably keep me from wanting to move to Three Pines.
9. The Loop by Nicholas Evans- In Hope, Montana, a Rocky Mountain ranching town, a pack of wolves has emerged and reawakened a tension that existed a century ago between humans and wolves. Helen Ross is an environmentalist who is sent to Hope to protect the wolves. Her mission brings her into conflict with Buck Calder, a brutal but charismatic rancher, as well as his son, Luke, with whom Helen begins an affair.
10. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick– In 1907 Wisconsin, 58 year old Ralph is waiting for his mail order bride to appear. He put out a classified ad, and is expecting his new wife at the station, but with Catherine Land gets off the train she’s not at all what he expected. She has plans to slowly poison Ralph and leave Wisconsin as a wealthy widow. But on Ralph’s snow bound estate, he reveals to Catherine that he’s a man with secrets and plans of his own.
July 24: Books with Sensory Reading Memories (These are the books that are linked to very specific memories for you: where you were, what time of year it was, who you were with, what you were eating, what you were feeling, what you were seeing, etc. Ideas include books you read while on vacation, books that you read while you were eating, books you read at work/at a family or social event/on the train or plane, books you’ve buddy read with loved ones, books you read during an emotional time in your life, books you read by the fire, etc.) (Submitted by Jessica @ A Cocoon of Books)
1. A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett– I read this book in high school when I was at home, sick. Even though I enjoyed the book, when I think about it, I remember a sore throat and an earache!
4. The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer– I read this one when I was in the hospital due to cellulitis from an infected spider bite. I was in the hospital for 2-3 days because the initial antibiotic that they gave for the infection didn’t work, so they had to use another one. Whenever I think about this book, I think about wanting to rip an IV tube from my arm and scream in pain and frustration. But the book itself was OK if memory serves me correctly.
5. Road to Paradise by Paullina Simons– It makes sense that I’d read a book about a road trip while traveling. But in this case, I was traveling by plane, not car. It was a long trip and I was squished between two rather large people. I didn’t particularly enjoy the book either.
6. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit– This is another book that I’ll always associate with travel and being cramped in uncomfortable spaces. I read this on a train when I was about ten. My family was going to Disneyworld, but there was a freight train on the track in front of us that derailed and we were stuck on the tracks somewhere in Georgia for an entire day waiting for them to clear the tracks so we could go. While I was waiting I read this.
7. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle- Oddly this is a book that I associate with the sensation of dried, callused skin on the bottom of a foot. I think the reason for that is simply that at one point in the book, a character is described as having feet like that, and I really hate that feeling!
8. The Woman in the Window by AJ Flinn– This is a recent one that I read when I had insomnia one night. I think the insomnia was twofold: partially because I’d had a late nap that day, and partially because I wanted to know whodunnit! Nonetheless, I do associate it with the somewhat frustrating sensation of wanting to sleep and not being able to.
9. These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer– This is another book I read while traveling. I remember I had to sleep in a really hard bed, and I was reading this because I wasn’t able to sleep because I couldn’t get comfortable. All I remember about the actual content of the book is that the heroine is disguised as a boy for the first portion.
10. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton– I remember that I started reading this after a horrible week at work. I don’t remember what happened that week that made it so bad, but by Friday afternoon I was screaming for something to take me away. Fortunately, I started reading this book, because it did just that!
March 13: Books That Surprised Me (in a good or bad way)
For this one, I initially interpreted it as being for books that I liked but didn’t think I would, or books that I thought I would love and didn’t. But then I thought it might be fun to look at books whose plots surprised me in some way.
1. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone– I remember being terrified of this book as a kid. Grover tells the reader that there’s a monster at the end of the book, and to stop reading before you get there. So I would always slam the book shut before the end (hey, if Grover’s giving advice, I’m going to listen!). One day my mom sort of insisted that we keep reading. I was absolutely petrified, wondering why she refused to listen to Grover’s warnings. I still remember the utter surprise when the monster was revealed.
2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– This actually has several twists and turns that I wasn’t anticipating. But the one I’m thinking of here comes about midway through the book. It made me rethink pretty much everything that I’d read until that point. I mean, I was reading it on a train and I literally shouted “Holy Crap!” when this happened. But even if you somehow manage to see that one coming, the plot twists yet again…
3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- This twist was a triumph of misdirection. I was focused on the happenings in the English country house and the crazy antics of the family. But all the time there was something else happening in the background, that I didn’t notice until it was pointed out. It gave me that feeling like the hairs in on the back of my neck were standing up. I think it’s sort of what Freud called “uncanny.” He used the term to refer to the sense of something familiar and intimate that has been distorted or changed somehow to become threatening, or tempting, or unknown.
4. Atonement by Ian McEwan– I’m really glad that I read this book before I saw the movie. While the twist in the movie is an additional scene added on, in the book, it’s revealed through the narration at the closing. It seemed more surprising that way, but less like a “trick.” One thing I liked about this ending was that the story can stand on its own, without it. It’s not one of those things where the entire narrative hinges on a twist. But it does add an additional layer to things.
5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– I’m a big fan of this title actually because there’s a clue in it, regarding the whodunnit. It’s about people who come to an island party and are murdered one by one. It’s only when there are none left that the twist is revealed and we learn who the killer is. We get to know each of the characters before they’re murdered. We learn that they all have secrets and that there might be someone out there who wants any one of them dead. Learning that backstory is entertaining in itself. But once the bodies start piling up, we see these characters in a stressful situation, and that reveals even more about them.
6. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– This twist was one I sort of saw coming because I knew that there was something off with the Max/Rebecca marriage. But I liked the ambiguity regarding the execution. It complicates things for the reader because we’re not 100% sure what we want to see happen next. The Hitchcock film (which I’m a big fan of) left fewer moral gray areas for the protagonists. That was most likely intended to make audiences sympathize with them, but I like being a little unsure of what I wanted to see happen, and what would feel like justice.
7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This is another one that I’m very glad that I read before seeing the film. On film, the important information is revealed in the title cards at the very beginning, and a character explains it explicitly in the first 10-15 minutes. But in the book, it’s a slow, gradual realization. There’s no big “reveal.” Rather it starts off as a suspicion that leaves the reader hoping that s/he is wrong about what’s going on. There’s a sense of dread that builds as s/he realizes that s/he’s not.
8. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– The action of this book takes place as a sort of extended flashback. The unnamed narrator is spending the winter in Starkfield where he sees a figure limping around town, and inquires about this “ruin of a man.” We learn that the man is the title character, that he had a bitter, suspicious, hypochondriac of a wife and that he fell in love with her cousin, Mattie. This dilemma is eventually resolved in a way that gives all three characters what they wanted but in such a way that they no longer want it.
9. The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve- This book ties into Shreve’s other novel The Weight of Water in an interesting way, that the casual reader of either book may not guess. But it’s easy to read one and fully appreciate it without reading the other. This book is about two lovers who meet at a literary festival. Then the novel moves backward in time, showing us a time that they met previously, and then it moves backward again, showing us their initial meeting. From there we see how they became sort of cursed to meet at different points in life (rather than spend it together) and to primarily discuss the last time they met each time they see one another.
10. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– This book is about a woman who finds a letter for her husband, that instructs her to open it only upon his death. It reveals something that has the potential to destroy their family and their lives. Except she finds it and opens it while her husband is very much alive. The first surprise is the nature of her husband’s revelation. I think that I was expecting him to tell her about an affair or something. But what he confesses in the letter doesn’t just affect their lives, but the lives of several other people too. It left me asking myself what I would do in that situation and unsure of the answer. Then, once everything is resolved at the end, the author gives some information that reframes everything that’s happened.