Top Ten Tuesday: Books That I Got Lost In

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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!

  1. 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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Unconventional Ghosts

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 27: Halloween Freebie

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.

4. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– I can’t say much about the nature of the ghost in this book without dropping some big spoilers, so I’ll just say it’s not what you’d expect.

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.

8. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- In Gaiman’s take on The Jungle Book, a living boy is raised by ghosts in a cemetery.

9. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle– In this novel, two ghosts in a cemetery find the love of their lives, after their lives are over.

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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2019

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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December 31: Favorite Books I Read In 2019

81hkqvsgyl._ac_uy218_ml3_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.

81xr45udqkl._ac_uy218_ml3_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.

919qe25jntl._ac_uy218_ml3_81tljs7lr7l._ac_uy218_ml3_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.

81svkiih7kl._ac_uy218_ml3_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.

61azp3snool-_ac_us218_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.

51i6ln7tmul-_ac_us218_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.

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_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… .

91hggynrxrl._ac_uy218_ml3_ 81b4caedtml._ac_uy218_ml3_8.The Girl in the Tower and The Winter of the Witch by Katharine Arden– Once again I couldn’t choose between two contenders from the same author. But in this case both are from the same series. It’s rare that a series will start off well and just get better as it goes, but that’s exactly what happened with Arden’s Winternight trilogy. It started well with The Bear and the Nightingale but then Arden upped her game with the sequels!

81eiilgia0l._ac_uy218_ml3_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.

61ime-a6gql._ac_uy218_ml3_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.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Tropes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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August 20: Favorite Tropes (a trope is a commonly used theme or plot device) (submitted by Andrea @ Books for Muse)

1. Mysterious school

2. Slow burn romance

3. Small towns

4. Missing/Absent parents

5. Family secrets

6. Gothic

7. Neo-Victorian

8. Time Travel / Time Slips

9. Dual Timelines

10. Fairy Tale retellings

Top Ten Tuesday: Cozy Winter Reads

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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:

51lz9ueudjl-_ac_us218_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.

51mxt4oifll-_ac_us218_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.

41d0oywr9zl-_ac_us218_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?

51qgclwqxal-_ac_us218_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.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_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.

 

218weryp6kl-_ac_us218_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.

 

518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_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.

517vbd5d37l-_ac_us218_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.

51zrrxlch9l-_ac_us218_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.

 

51laj9fuhcl-_ac_us218_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.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Sensory Memories

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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)

51hkibf29rl-_ac_us218_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!

 

 

 

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_2. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– I read this during a snowstorm. It was a great read when you’re stuck indoors. Now I always associate the book with winter.

 

 

 

61jbrrzbrel-_ac_us218_3. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss- Similar to the one above, this is a book I’ll probably always associate with summer because I read it during a heat wave when I was more or less stuck indoors because going into heat and humidity was too much.

 

 

41rpsowgql-_ac_us218_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.

51vrprtluql-_ac_us218_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.

 

 

41nym4cur3l-_ac_us218_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.

 

41ryq34ta9l-_ac_us218_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!

 

 

518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_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.

 

51ns2zveahl-_ac_us218_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.

 

 

51pv4ly0mtl-_ac_us218_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!

 

 

Top 10 Tuesday: Books That Surprised Me

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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.

61g8cli07xl-_ac_us218_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.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_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…

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_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.

51hytcoi7l-_ac_us218_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.

51s4merpcjl-_ac_us218_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.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_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.

61ugxeeqibl-_ac_us218_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.

41tynpkim4l-_ac_us218_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.

51nzvigpebl-_ac_us218_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.

518ktztx7ol-_ac_us218_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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Dual Timeline Novels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 20: Books I’ve Decided I’m No Longer Interested In Reading

This topic didn’t really speak to me. My thinking is that if I’m no longer interested in reading them, then why waste time writing about them? So instead I decided to look at one of my favorite fictional genres. I love dual timeline narratives in which the past and the present interact in some way. It could be a literal interaction; such as someone from the present having contact with someone in the past, or it could be more thematic- the present day character learns about some past event that illuminates something that s/he is experiencing. My “rules” for this list are that there isn’t allowed to be any literal time travel. Each character needs to remain physically in his/her own period. Visions of the other period are allowed though. Also, only two primary timelines are allowed. We can learn bits and pieces of what happens in between, but the main narrative focuses on two timelines. Here are ten favorites:

51pv4ly0mtl-_ac_us218_1. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton– I was initially reluctant to read this after having been rather disappointed in Morton’s debut The House at Riverton. But I’m so glad that I gave her another chance because now she’s one of my favorite authors! This story starts off with a little girl, turning up abandoned on a ship from England to Australia in 1913. The only clue as to her identity is a book of fairy tales in her suitcase. Years later, her granddaughter, Cassandra, inherits a cottage in Cornwall, and journeys to England to discover the truth about her grandmother’s origins. She discovers that the key to the puzzle exists before her grandmother’s birth, with a Victorian country house full of family secrets. Friendship,  rivalry, betrayal, romance, and murder all play out in stories within stories. But even though the narrative is intricate (to say the least) it’s not hard to follow. Each chapter heading tells us exactly when and where the bit we’re reading takes place.

51iaiuahol-_ac_us218_2. Mariana by Susanna Kearsley– Susanna Kearsley has written many wonderful novels in this genre. For me, this one is a standout but anything she’s written is a reliable bet. Julia Beckett moves into an old farmhouse, one that she’d wanted to own since childhood. But when she moves in, she begins dreaming of Mariana, a British woman who lived in the house in the 17th century. Mariana loved her neighbor, Richard, a Loyalist, whose politics put him at odds with her uncle. Though their romance ended in tragedy, Mariana and Richard loved each other too much to stay separated. Their love will come full circle in the present day, and Julia will have an important role to play in the resolution.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diana Setterfield– Reclusive author, Vida Winter, has never told anyone the truth about her life story. When she’s old and ill, she hires Margaret Lea to write her biography. Margaret listens in fascination and disbelief as Vida tells her story of gothic weirdness. It’s complete with twins, a ghost, a governess, a fire, and a secret that’s never been shared. Margaret has her own issues with trust and intimacy, and her own past. Through listening to and telling Vida’s tale, she may find some resolution in her own life.

5160vyclkel-_ac_us218_4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel– During a performance of King Lear, Arthur Leander, famous actor, has a heart attack onstage and dies despite the best efforts of an EMT in the audience. The EMT, Jeevan, later learns that on this same night the terrible flu began to spread. There is no cure, hospitals are flooded, and people begin to panic. Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves in his apartment as the world around them falls apart.  Fifteen years later, Kirsten, who as a small child appeared in that fateful production of King Lear, is an actress with the Travelling Symphony. This is a performing arts troupe that travels from one settlement of the ruined world to another. They perform Shakespeare and play music for the small communities of survivors because “survival is insufficient”- people need reminders of what it means to be human. When they arrive at St. Deborah by the Water and encounter a cult and a violent prophet who doesn’t let anyone leave. The book covers twenty years during which the twists of fate that link these disparate characters are revealed.

51lo8bgzurl-_ac_us218_5. The Plague Tales by Ann Benson– In 1348, a Spanish doctor  Alejandro Canches is tasked with keeping the court of Edward III alive during the plague. Nearly 700 years later, in a futuristic 2005 (the book was written in 1995 so 2005 was the future then!) Janie Crowe, a physician comes across a soil sample that contains a microbe that may unleash the bubonic plague on a post-Outbreak world that has already been decimated by disease. As the book progresses, these two separate stories of doctors fighting disease begin to intertwine in interesting ways. This book can be read as a standalone, or as the beginning of a trilogy. It’s followed by The Burning Road and The Physician’s Tale.

51iqjeozjvl-_ac_us218_6. A Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware– Blythe Barton was one married to a Hollywood power player. Then she walked in on him in bed with her sister. One messy divorce later, Blythe takes refuge in Cornwall, where she’s rented a cottage for the summer. She meets Lucas, the owner of the cottage that she’s renting. Jack is a widower, the father of a young son, who is trying to keep his estate going. Blythe wants to help. But she soon begins to have dreams and visions of Lucas’s ancestors. In the 18th century, the estate belonged to a woman, also named Blythe Barton. She was married, against her will, to a man named Christopher, though she loved his brother, Ennis. All three have tragic fates, but observing these historical events gives Blythe the perspective she needs to move on with her own life.

41xgjp2alkl-_ac_us218_7. The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve– In 1873, two women living on the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, were found murdered. A third woman survived by hiding in a sea cave. In the present day, photojournalist Jean goes to the island with her husband, Thomas and their daughter Billie. The plan is for Jean to shoot a photo essay for a magazine about the murders. They take a boat with Thomas’ brother Rich and his girlfriend, Adelaine. As Jean is drawn into the murders that happened so long ago, Thomas and Adelaide are drawn to each other. All of the characters, in both timelines, are heading toward disaster. The book is based on real murders that happened on the island Smuttynose, though the contemporary story is fictional. Actually, the historical story is fictional too since the crimes in the book happen in a way very different from the story that came out in court at the alleged killer’s trial. The book was given an ok film adaptation in 2004. It’s worth a look if you like the story, but it comes as no surprise that the book is better.

51h-9e-csql-_ac_us218_8. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood– Like The Weight of Water, this is based on a real-life murder. In 1843, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery were murdered in Upper Canada. Grace Marks, a maid in the household, and James McDermott, a stableman/handyman, were convicted of the murder. McDermott was hanged and Grace Marks was sentenced to life in prison. That much is historical fact. Atwood’s novel begins after Grace has been incarcerated for some time. A committee that believes in her innocence hopes to have her pardoned and released. Since Grace cannot remember the crimes, they hire Dr. Simon Jordan, a psychologist to evaluate her and determine her sanity. Dr. Jordan meets with Grace and listens as she tells him the story of her life, leading up to the day of the murders. We follow Grace’s story and at times we wonder about the truth of what Grace tells Dr. Jordan. She seems to make an effort to keep his interest. We’re left with a sense of ambiguity. How much of what Grace tells is the truth? If what she tells isn’t the truth, does that mean she’s lying? This was recently made into a netflix miniseries that was also pretty good.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_9. Possession by AS Byatt– In the 19th century, poet Randolph Henry Ash, known for being a devoted husband, had an affair with his fellow poet Christabel LaMotte. At the end of the 20th century, scholar Roland Mitchell discovers evidence of the secret romance and begins to investigate. His quest leads him to LaMotte scholar, Dr. Maud Baily. The two become obsessed with finding out the truth about what happened between Ash and LaMotte, and their own romantic lives begin to become entwined with those of the poets. Both stories are told in parallel and come to echo one another in interesting ways. The book had a film adaptation that wasn’t bad on its own but made some fairly significant changes from the novel.

51ixaf4tmsl-_ac_us218_10. The Eight by Katherine Neville–  In 1790, Mireille, a novice nun at Montglane Abbey is tasked with helping her cousin, Valentine, disperse the pieces of a chess set in order to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. The set was a gift from the Moors to Emperor Charlemagne, and now it’s sought by power-hungry men and women including Napoleon, Robespierre, and Catherine the Great. In 1972 computer expert Cat Velis is sent to Algeria on a special assignment. Before she leaves, she is asked by an antique dealer to find the Montglaine Service, the same chess set that Mireille had tried to protect. It’s rumored to be in Algeria. As Cat tracks down the chess set and learns its history, she discovers the power that it contains.  The author wrote a sequel in 2008 called The Fire but I haven’t read it yet.

51timps1ytl-_ac_us218_11. The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor- Yes I know it’s supposed to be ten but I had trouble deciding between a couple, and I ended up just including an extra book. This is also based on a real incident. In 1917, England was still in the grips of the most devastating war that it had ever seen. Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two cousins in Yorkshire, announced that they’ve photographed fairies in their garden. They release the photographs and become a national sensation. A country torn apart by war seems to have found the magic it desperately needs. Eventually, though, Frances and Elsie feel that they must tell the truth about the pictures. In 2017, Olivia Kavanagh inherits her grandfather’s bookshop and discovers an old manuscript. She becomes immersed in the story it tells, that ties past to present. But when she discovers a photo, she learns that reality and fantasy may be intertwined as well.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Neo-Victorian Novels

This is for That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday. The topic this week is

January 16: Bookish Resolutions/Goals

However, I feel like I covered a lot of that in some of my recent posts, so if anyone wants to know what my 2018 reading might look like check out these posts.

Since I love Victorian novels, I decided that this week I’d do top ten neo-Victorian novels, written in a Victorian style.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_11. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– I remember reading this on a train. I got to a point mid-book where I had to stop reading and look around and see if there was anyone around me who I could tell about what I’d just read. I won’t say much about the plot because it would be a crime to spoil some of the twists and turns in this book.  It features thieves and con artists, an heiress, orphans, and pornographers. There is murder, deception, betrayal, and long-buried secrets (all some of my favorite elements of Victorian fiction) You can look at it as a critique of Victorian moral hypocrisy, a mystery, a love story, or a gothic melodrama. I personally think it’s all of the above.

51yolftykzl-_ac_us218_2. The Quincunx by Charles Palliser– This book is a tale of a family inheritance (as is a lot of Victorian fiction) and the reader is led through a very twisted family tree and numerous plotlines. It’s a big book (about 800 pages) but it doesn’t seem like work. Rather, the reader suspends disbelief as the hero is flung from rags to riches to rags again. Pay attention to the number five as you read this. The title refers to a heraldic symbol in five parts, that appears at important points in the text. The novel itself is in five parts, each dedicated to a different family with which our narrator becomes involved. It’s a neat trick, that for the most part, the author manages to pull off.

51t906lssol-_ac_us218_3. The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox– This book opens with our narrator, Edward Glyver, committing a murder. He later tells us that this murder was practice, just to make sure he could do the deed. His true target is Phoebus Rainsford Daunt. The narrative takes us back in time, and we eventually learn who these characters are and why Glyver wants to kill Daunt. But as we follow Glyver’s twisted logic, we come to realize that he’s an unreliable narrator. Is Daunt really the monster that Glyver makes him out to be? This book is followed up by a sequel (which could be read as a standalone) The Glass of Time, which some say is even better than the first. I think it read more easily, but I was glad that I’d read the first novel because I was able to appreciate certain elements more.

51sdee-q1sl-_ac_us218_4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles- This book explores the relationship between amateur naturalist Charles Smithson, and Sarah Woodruff, an independent woman with whom he falls in love. It follows a lot of the conventions of the Victorian novel (and is set in Victorian England) but it simultaneously critiques those conventions and explodes them. The author inserts himself into the story as an omniscient narrator as well as (briefly) a character. He tells us about what is happening in the character’s world, what will happen to it, and what the character’s future will be. He also offers the reader three possible endings to the story, from which the reader can choose. Because of the innovative form, I don’t know if I’d call this Neo-Victorian. Maybe Post-Modern Victorian or Meta Victorian would be more accurate.

51j8xsssd0l-_ac_us218_5. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber– The heroine of this novel is Sugar, a Victorian prostitute with a love of books and hopes for a better life. She becomes involved with William Rackham, a wealthy perfumer. His patronage of Sugar brings her into his world, where she meets his “hysterical” wife Agnes and his daughter Sophie who is left mostly in the care of others. Faber explores the notion of morality a lot, emphasizing that the line between “good” citizens and those who they look down upon is subjective.  There is sex in this book (unsurprising given Sugar’s occupation) but the description of sex, and really almost anything physical, has a clinical tone to it, and our peaks into Victorian bedrooms don’t leave out the chamber pots. So while there is an emphasis on physical acts and processes that most Victorian writers wouldn’t touch directly, it seems like a warning against thinking that Victorians were too prim and proper to get dirty.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_6. Possession by AS Byatt– This novel features a dual timeline. Two academics in the late 20th century uncover a secret love affair between two Victorian poets. We read a great deal of the work of these two fictional poets. The male poet’s work is reminiscent of Robert Browning, while the female poet’s work recalls Emily Dickenson. The two scholars engage in a sort of competitive romance that contrasts their era’s expectations of romance and sex with that of their subjects. I wouldn’t recommend this book to the casual reader because it’s demanding. You have like Victorian style poetry,  and read excerpts of fictional biographies and scholarly journals.  All of this is important to the overall story and characters, but it does make it a rather dense read. Though I suppose the same could be said of many Victorian novels.

41likqxjkrl-_ac_us218_7. The Prestige by Christopher Priest– Many readers may be familiar with the 2006 film adaptation of this novel. While the adaptation was good, I think that the novel will still hold several surprises for readers. It brings us to the music halls of Victorian London, where two magicians each have a seemingly impossible illusion. They compete to learn the other’s secrets. But what begins as professional rivalry turns into an obsession with consequences that their descendants will feel for generations.  The novel plays with a lot of conventions of the Victorian sensation novel; family curses, multiple narrators, doppelgangers, and seances. But, while for the most part, it’s a Wilkie Collins style thriller, it occasionally ventures into HG Wells territory.

61n06chw1ol-_ac_us218_8. The American Boy by Andrew Taylor– Thomas Shield, a London teacher, becomes tutor to a young American boy named Edgar Allen Poe and his friend, Charles Frant. While the book tries to present the young Poe as the catalyst for the novel’s events, really the focus of the novel is on Shield and his love for Frant’s mother, which causes him to become involved with the mystery of her late husband’s death.  Actually, the novel recalls more of Wilkie Collins’ work stylistically than anything that Poe ever wrote. But while I felt like it was somewhat mistitled (the original title was apparently An Unpardonable Crime, which fits better), it’s a historical mystery that’s entertaining enough so that it didn’t bother me too much.

51h-9e-csql-_ac_us218_9. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood– In 1843, Grace Marks was convicted of the murders of her employer and his housekeeper/mistress. Some believe that she’s innocent. Others don’t. But was the 16-year-old Grace old enough to be held responsible for her actions? Did she understand what she was doing? Was she sane? Grace herself claims to have no memory of the murders. A group that believes that Grace is innocent hire Dr. Simon Jordan to try to find out the truth about what happened. Dr. Jordan works in the new field of psychology and is very much in the same position as the reader, as Grace tells him her story. But is Grace telling him the truth? Is she an innocent victim or a femme fatale? And are those two archetypes really the only options for Grace? This is based on a real murder case. Atwood maintains ambiguity throughout. Recently a well done Netflix miniseries, based on the novel was released.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_10. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– Vida Winter is a famous author who is most famous for her collection of twelve short stories. Over the past sixty years, she has created several life stories that she claims have been hers. Now, near the end of her life, she hires biographer Margaret Lea to tell her true story. It’s a story of gothic strangeness, of a governess, a ghost, an abandoned baby,  a house fire and a truly bizarre family. As Margaret tries to verify its truth, she doesn’t realize that Vida’s final story is ongoing and that she’s got an important role to play. This book has two timelines; one is the story that Vida is telling, and one is a contemporary timeline in which Vida tells her story to Margaret. However, stylistically the book is very Victorian. As a heroine, Margaret recalls Jane Eyre in that she seems sensible and repressed, but there is a lot going on beneath the surface. The Yorkshire setting recalls the Brontes, and thematically there’s a bit of The Turn of the Screw in there as well.  It also featured a twist that made me put the book down and go “wow”.