Sunday Post #18: Sundays in Spring

Sunday PostI am not sure it gets a whole lot better than Sundays in spring unless it’s Sundays in fall (which is actually my favorite season).

School is winding down. I have one more day of regular classes, then it’s final exams. I only have one final exam this year. I hope not to have any next year. I’m not sure such exams are the best way to assess learning in English classes.

The end of the school year is always so busy right up until final exams, and then it seems to relax. I have had a really good school year—perhaps the best one of my teaching career. I am really happy with some of the things I tried this year, and I think the students did some great work for me. I have wonderful students.

I got up early this morning (for me), and made a batch of Heavenly Honeysuckle soap. I don’t always post my soap pictures here because I have another blog for that, but I really love the colors. Honeysuckle is one of my absolute favorite scents.

It should be ready to cut tomorrow and ready to use in about four weeks.

I didn’t finish any books this week or really write on the blog, but I did keep listening to The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. That’s the only book I’ve made any real progress on this week. I haven’t done a lot of reading, but I did finish watching several episodes of Doctor Who—I’ve had that DVD from Netflix for about a month, so it’s time to send it back already. It’s not the longest I’ve kept a DVD. Though I didn’t do much reading, I did add some more books to my TBR pile.

[amazon_image id=”1594204926″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Last Bookaneer: A Novel[/amazon_image]  [amazon_image id=”0345534182″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Circling the Sun: A Novel[/amazon_image]

I am especially excited for [amazon_link id=”0345534182″ target=”_blank” ]Circling the Sun[/amazon_link]. I really enjoyed The Paris Wife. This new book by Paula McLain looks fascinating.

Sometimes I think my TBR pile is just a lovely collection of pretty covers of books I’ll never get to read. I keep telling myself I will someday.

I’ve been listening to my classical Spotify playlists today. I thought you might enjoy the Spring Classical playlist on this lovely spring day.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Top Ten Things on my Reading Wishlist

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/I totally didn’t do my weekend reading update this weekend. I actually haven’t made much progress in my book, so I think that’s fine. I just had a busy week. I do like this week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday:

Today’s Topic: Top Ten Things On My Reading Wishlist (if you could make authors write about these things you would. Could be a specific type of character, an issue tackled, a time period, a certain plot, etc.)

 

  1. I want a really great gothic ghost story something like [amazon_link id=”0307745317″ target=”_blank” ]The Woman in Black[/amazon_link], but set in Ireland or Scotland, and with a great creep factor, but no ick. Also, bonus if it’s in a castle. I am a big Scooby Doo fan. Also, double bonus if it’s set in the Edwardian era because I love the clothes.
  2. I would love it if someone would do something with Celtic myth. I actually have a little something I’m working on myself, but I would really like to see what someone else would do with stories from the Ulster Cycle or Finn Cycle in Ireland, or the Mabinogion in Wales.
  3. More really good historical fiction about Shakespeare. I have read some that’s not what I’d call good. Bonus points if it explores one of the lost plays or the Dark Lady. Maybe I should cook up something along those lines myself.
  4. I’d like to read a historical fiction book like Diana Gabaldon writes. Historical romances are just not my favorites, but she seems to cross genres in a way that really intrigues me. Also, I like how her books span across time and over the lifetimes of her characters.
  5. A really good multigenerational saga. I know these exist, but I haven’t had as much luck finding them. If you know of one, please share. I mean, I’d like to see hundreds of years pass. I am really interested in genealogy, and it would be interesting to me to read about a family’s history.
  6. Really good derivative works. I mean, tell me the story from Miss Havisham’s point of view, but make it awesome. I have read some metafiction lately that hasn’t been up to scratch. Some of it has been really good, however. Bring on more of the really good.
  7. An Arthurian novel that measures up to [amazon_link id=”0345350499″ target=”_blank” ]The Mists of Avalon[/amazon_link]. That book is probably my favorite Arthurian saga. I love that it’s told through the viewpoint of the women, mainly Morgan Le Fay. I wish someone would come up with a fresh and interesting way to tell that story again.
  8. A really good novel set in Paris that makes me want to keep flipping pages the same way that [amazon_link id=”143918271X” target=”_blank” ]A Moveable Feast[/amazon_link] does. I love that book. By the same token, it can be similar to [amazon_link id=”0345521315″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link]. Bonus points if it’s about artists.
  9. A good book about George Sand’s life. I have been fascinated by her since I was in college. This is yet another topic I have considered exploring myself. I adore her passion.
  10. A good thriller like [amazon_link id=”0307474275″ target=”_blank” ]The Da Vinci Code[/amazon_link] but well written and with characters that are more than cardboard stand-ins or flagrant copies of Indiana Jones.

Sometimes I think it’s good advice to just write the book you want to read. Don’t tell anyone my ideas.

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Top Ten Books for People Who Like X

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

Oooh, I haven’t participated in Top Ten Tuesday in a while, and even though it’s technically Thursday, this one looks like too much fun to pass up. This week’s theme is Top Ten Books for People Who like ______. I’ve been unpacking my books, and I’ve been thinking about the connections among my different reads. My husband made the remark today that we have a lot of good books, and we really shouldn’t need to go to the bookstore in a while given how many great books we have. He’s right.

  1. If you like the Harry Potter books, you should try Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series: The Eyre AffairLost in a Good BookThe Well of Lost PlotsSomething RottenThursday Next: First Among SequelsOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and joining the ranks in October, The Woman Who Died A Lot. Jasper Fforde’s series is hilarious bookish fun, and even has a few references to the Harry Potter series.
  2. If you like Emily Brontë’s classic Wuthering Heights, you will enjoy Sharyn McCrumb’s historical fiction retelling of the infamous Tom Dooley case, The Ballad of Tom Dooley. McCrumb herself has described the novel as Wuthering Heights in the Appalachians, and it’s true. The story’s characters greatly resemble their counterparts in Wuthering Heights in many ways. I loved it.
  3. If you liked A Moveable Feast or The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, try Paula McLain’s excellent novel The Paris Wife for Hadley’s side of the story. One of the best books I read last year. Highly recommended.
  4. If you liked Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, you will enjoy an updated retelling of the story, The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey. I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would.
  5. If you liked Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, try Jennifer Donnelly’s Tea Rose series, beginning with The Tea RoseThe Winter Rose and The Wild Rose round out the series, but the first one is the best one.
  6. If you liked Moby Dick, or even if you only sort of liked it because it got bogged down in cetology, but you liked the good parts, you will love Ahab’s Wife. Oh.My.Gosh. One of my favorite books ever. Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel introduces the amazing persona of Una, wife of Captain Ahab, from one line in which Ahab mentions her in Moby Dick, and she’s one of the most incredible fictional people you’ll ever meet. I love her. She is one of my fictional best friends.
  7. If you liked Twilight, but you wished you could read about grown-ups, and you wanted less purple prose and better writing, try Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches, the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. The second book, Shadow of Night, comes out in about a week. You will like Matthew much better than Edward. Trust me.
  8. If you liked Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen, and you are a little unsure of all those Austen sequels, try out Syrie James’s fictionalized what-if? novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen that wonders aloud whether or not Aunt Jane had a real romance that inspired her great books.
  9. If you liked Suzanne Collins’s thrilling Hunger Games series, you will enjoy Veronica Roth’s Divergent and its sequel Insurgent. Not sure when the next book in the trilogy comes out, but I can’t wait. Her books are amazing. They will remind you of The Hunger Games without feeling anything at all like a ripoff.
  10. If you liked Great Expectations and The Turn of the Screw, you will love John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer. The book makes several allusions to both novels, but it also contains four complete short stories within the text of the novel (written by the protagonist’s grandmother), and it’s set in a creepy house with a secret.

Bonus: If you like Victorian novels period, and you want to read a love letter to the Victorian novel, or if you like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, try Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.

Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments. Just because my husband says we have a load of good books doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for more.

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A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast: The Restored EditionThe trouble with posthumous publication is that you never know for sure if the book is the final result of the author’s intention because he or she wasn’t around during the final stages of editing. A Moveable Feast is Ernest Hemingway’s posthumous memoir of his early writing life and first marriage to Hadley Richardson in Paris in the 1920’s. Originally edited by his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, it was published in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s death. In 1979, Hemingway’s papers were opened to the public in the JFK Library and Boston, and critics began to question whether A Moveable Feast as the author intended it had been the version that was published.

I read Paula McLain’s wonderful novel The Paris Wife last year, and I had determined at that time that I needed to read Hemingway’s memoir, which was McLain’s inspiration for her novel about the Hemingways as told from Hadley’s point of view. Hemingway begins his memoir after he and Hadley have already moved to Paris. He quickly befriends the other expatriate writers and artists in France, including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach (owner of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore), Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, among others. The book is really more of a series of vignettes rather than a straight narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, but it does provide an interesting insight into the expatriate writer’s life in the 1920’s, as well as some interesting insight into the other writers he encounters.

The writer who comes off the best in Hemingway’s memoir is Ezra Pound. Hemingway describes Pound as the most generous writer he has ever known, which is interesting because Pound’s reputation now has probably sustained the most damage after his support of Mussolini and Hitler, his World War II criticism of America and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his ultimate mental breakdown. One has the sense that Hemingway was attempting to rescue Pound’s reputation and point out that he was a good and generous man to young Hemingway, whatever his politics later became.

Scott Fitzgerald comes off much worse. Hemingway’s Fitzgerald is drunk, tedious, insecure, and silly. Hemingway doesn’t share much about Fitzgerald that casts him in a positive light, and curiously missing from the narrative is how Fitzgerald helped Hemingway edit The Sun Also Rises to make it much better book. He sharply criticizes Zelda for interfering with Scott’s ability to produce work, which is a criticism I feel is probably warranted. I do think Hemingway was probably telling the truth (mainly, as Huck would say) about Fitzgerald, but only half of the truth.

Hadley, Bumby, and Ernest Hemingway

The two standout characters in the memoir, at least to me, are Hemingway’s wife Hadley and their son Bumby (Jack Hemingway). One can’t read The Paris Wife without being angry at Hemingway for leaving Hadley for Pauline Pfeiffer, especially when Hadley loved Hemingway so much. However, in reading this memoir, I understood him a little better. He felt genuine remorse for what he had done to Hadley, and he accepted the blame, leaving some of the blame also to Pauline: “For the girl to deceive her friend was a terrible thing but it was my fault and blindness that this did not repel me” (219). Hadley, he explains, married again to “a much finer man than I ever was or ever could be” and Hemingway knew she was happy and ascribed none of the blame for their breakup to Hadley, even describing her as the heroine of A Moveable Feast and saying with confidence that Hadley wouldn’t mind the fictionalization of their time in Paris. What makes me sad is that Hadley died in 1979, so she perhaps never read the lengthy apology to her in this memoir as Mary Welsh cut it when she edited the book for publication. I think it might have made a difference to Hadley to know how Hemingway felt about what happened. He did truly love her, and one has the sense after reading A Moveable Feast that whatever happened in his love life after they divorced, he never really stopped loving Hadley.

Bumby comes across as good-natured and precocious, and I wondered if he were truly like that as a child or if Hemingway was ascribing those qualities to him as a proud father. The vignette added in this edition in which Bumby orders a beer at a café and somewhat scandalizes Scott Fitzgerald in so doing is funny and poignant. Bumby makes rather astute observations about Fitzgerald, self-control, and prostitutes that are far beyond his years to the point of being difficult to believe.

One has the sense that Hemingway chose to focus his memoir on this time in Paris because, despite the fact that he had yet to establish himself as the famous writer and persona he would later become, it was the happiest time in his life.

I haven’t read the edition edited by Mary Welsh, so all I really have to compare this memoir to is Paula McLain’s novel and the Wikipedia entry about the memoir with a list of the changes. This edition was edited by Hemingway’s grandson Seán Hemingway, son of Hemingway’s third son Gregory, with a foreword by Patrick Hemingway, Hemingway’s second and only surviving son. Seán Hemingway describes his restored edition as the original manuscript as the author intended it to be published and criticizes Mary Welsh’s editing as “changes that I strongly doubt would have been attempted by the editor had she required the author’s approval” (4) and even goes so far as to say that the “extensive edits Mary Hemingway made to this text seem to have served her own personal relationship with the writer as his fourth and final wife, rather than the interests of the book or of the author” (9), particularly with regard to his account of his breakup with Hadley and remarriage to Pauline. Seán Hemingway closes his introduction by saying,

For my grandfather, who was just starting out in those early years, Paris was simply the best place to work in the world, and it remained for him the city that he loved most. While you will not find goatherds piping their flocks through the streets of Paris anymore, if you visit the places on the Left Bank that Ernest Hemingway wrote about, or the Ritz Bar or Luxembourg Gardens, as I did with my wife recently, you can get a sense of how it must have been. You do not have to go to Paris to do this though; simply read A Moveable Feast, and it will take you there. (13)

Rating: ★★★★★

 

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Top Ten Historical Novels

Top Ten TuesdayHistorical fiction is my favorite genre, and I’m not sure I could pick an adequate top ten. There are so many great books that fit into this genre. You can find my list below with the following caveats: I simply haven’t had a chance to read a lot of great historical fiction that’s out there yet, so this list is necessarily limited to just those books I have experience with, and also I have decided not to include classics that were set during their own contemporary times but are history now (e.g. [amazon_link id=”0486284735″ target=”_blank” ]Pride and Prejudice[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”1441408223″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link]). Also, these are in no particular order (aside from the order in which they occurred to me) because I couldn’t begin to rank them. Finally, I selected these particular books out of all the historical fiction I have read and loved because they so perfectly evoke their time settings that they bring the historical eras in which they are set alive (with historical accuracy) and simply couldn’t take place any other time.

  1. [amazon_link id=”034549038X” target=”_blank” ]The Dante Club[/amazon_link] by Matthew Pearl: Not only is this book a solid thriller with fun connections to Dante’s [amazon_link id=”0812967216″ target=”_blank” ]Inferno[/amazon_link] and the Fireside Poets, but it is also a great snapshot into life in Boston right after the Civil War. In terms of period detail and engaging reads, you could do worse than Matthew Pearl for sure.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0780748433″ target=”_blank” ]Catherine, Called Birdy[/amazon_link] by Karen Cushman: This is a middle grades/early YA novel set in 1290 in England. Catherine is the daughter of a knight, and Cushman captures the Middle Ages (particularly, the lives of a family in a small manor house) in exquisite detail.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0152164502″ target=”_blank” ]The Coffin Quilt[/amazon_link] by Ann Rinaldi: The subject of this YA novel is the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. Told from the viewpoint of Fanny McCoy, the novel touches on all the major events of the feud and is simply one of the most well-written YA novels I’ve ever read.
  4. [amazon_link id=”0345521307″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link] by Paula McLain: This novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage and time in Paris perfectly captures the lives of the American artist expatriates living in France during the 1920’s. It’s a gorgeous novel.
  5. [amazon_link id=”1565125606″ target=”_blank” ]Water for Elephants[/amazon_link] by Sara Gruen: This isn’t just great historical fiction. It really captures an era and a subculture that I’ve not seen captured as well in any other novel. Superb read.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0765356155″ target=”_blank” ]Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell[/amazon_link] by Susanna Clarke: While also classified as fantasy, this novel also explores England during the Napoleonic Wars, including brushes with Mad King George and Lord Byron as well as the Duke of Wellington. The footnotes are a great touch. I loved this novel.
  7. [amazon_link id=”039331507X” target=”_blank” ]Nothing Like the Sun[/amazon_link] by Anthony Burgess: I don’t think I’ve read another historical fiction book about Shakespeare that touches this one. Burgess’s characters speak like Elizabethans, and the events described are both believable and fun homages to Shakespeare’s plays. The premise behind the book is that Shakespeare’s tangled love life majorly influenced all of his work.
  8. [amazon_link id=”B000FC10KC” target=”_blank” ]Ahab’s Wife[/amazon_link] by Sena Jeter Naslund: Oh, how I love Una Spenser. She is my fictional BFF. She is amazing. I need to read this one again. As you might have guessed, this book takes the passage in [amazon_link id=”B003GCTQ7M” target=”_blank” ]Moby Dick[/amazon_link] in which Captain Ahab mentions he has a young wife at home and creates her character and her life (and it’s a fascinating life that, in my opinion, puts that of her husband to shame).
  9. [amazon_link id=”0061577073″ target=”_blank” ]The Poisonwood Bible[/amazon_link] by Barbara Kingsolver: This novel about Christian missionaries in the Belgian Congo right as the country declares its independence from Belgium is a fascinating snapshot into the Congo of the 1960’s as well as the lives of Christian missionaries and also serves as an allegory for America’s own role in colonialism.
  10. [amazon_link id=”0061990477″ target=”_blank” ]The Thorn Birds[/amazon_link] by Colleen McCullough: When I read this novel, I couldn’t put it down. I haven’t read a lot of books set in Australia, but this novel seems to so perfectly capture the times and setting. Meggie is an engaging heroine, and who doesn’t love Father Ralph de Bricassart?

Because I read a ton of historical fiction, I need to include some honorable mentions:

  • [amazon_link id=”0547550294″ target=”_blank” ]The Witch of Blackbird Pond[/amazon_link] by Elizabeth George Speare: This YA novel is set in Colonial Massachusetts and is a great vehicle for middle schoolers (or even their older siblings and parents) to learn about that time period in history. I can’t think of too many books that do as good a job with this era.
  • [amazon_link id=”0312378025″ target=”_blank” ]The Tea Rose[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly: This book is a fun read, but has a few lapses in terms of credibility (at least for this reader). Set in Whitechapel as Jack the Ripper ravages London, this novel is the story of Fiona, daughter of one of the Ripper’s victims, who makes her way to New York and builds a tea empire from scratch.
  • [amazon_link id=”B001NLKT2E” target=”_blank” ]The Commoner[/amazon_link] by John Burnham Schwartz: This story of a commoner’s marriage into the Japanese imperial family makes for a great read, too, though Schwartz takes some liberties to make his character’s ending happier than that of the real model for his heroine.
  • [amazon_link id=”0060515139″ target=”_blank” ]A Plague of Doves[/amazon_link] by Louise Erdrich: Some of this novel is contemporary, which is one reason I didn’t include it above, but it is one of the finest novels I’ve read and concerns the repercussions of a murder and hate crime that sent ripples through a community for generations.
  • [amazon_link id=”B003WUYROK” target=”_blank” ]The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane[/amazon_link] by Katherine Howe: Also partly set in contemporary times, this novel concerns Connie Goodwin’s attempts to learn more about her ancestors’ grimoire and secret powers.
  • [amazon_link id=”0399157913″ target=”_blank” ]The Help[/amazon_link] by Kathryn Stockett: While this book certainly evoked Mississippi of the 1960’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, it did not seem as realistic to me as some of the books I included in my top ten.
  • [amazon_link id=”0307588661″ target=”_blank” ]Madame Tussaud[/amazon_link] by Michelle Moran: This novel, set during the French Revolution, was an excellent read and shone a spotlight on a historical figure who hasn’t perhaps received as much attention as she was due.
  • [amazon_link id=”0143034901″ target=”_blank” ]The Shadow of the Wind[/amazon_link] by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Barcelona’s book world during the 1930’s and 1940’s, though to me, the plot did not have to be set during era or in that place.
  • [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb: Again, because this novel is set partly in contemporary times, I excluded it from the list above, but the historical fiction parts were my favorite. This novel is the story of how a song learned on the crossing from Scotland to America in the eighteenth century was passed down in a family and survived to the present day.
  • [amazon_link id=”039306915X” target=”_blank” ]Emily’s Ghost[/amazon_link] by Denise Giardina: The story of Emily Brontë and one of the better historical fiction novels about the Brontë family.
  • Pretty much anything by Jude Morgan. Love him. And Syrie James. And Tracy Chevalier. I mean, this was really a hard topic for me to narrow down.

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Top Ten Book Club Books

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is the top ten books that would make great book club picks. Some of these books I have actually read with a book club; others I haven’t, but I think they might make for good discussion.

  1. [amazon_link id=”0385341008″ target=”_blank” ]The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society[/amazon_link], Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer: It’s a book about book clubs! What could be better to read with a book club?
  2. [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link], Alan Brennert: This might be because I just chose it for my book club, but I think it would be great for discussion, especially because it’s a good story, but it has some flaws.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0345521307″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link], Paula McLain: I think this one would be great for literary book clubs who want to learn more about Hemingway and his circle.
  4. [amazon_link id=”1451648502″ target=”_blank” ]The Kitchen Daughter[/amazon_link], Jael McHenry: It might be fun to bring the dishes described in the book to the meeting. I also think discussing adult Asperger’s would make for an interesting evening.
  5. [amazon_link id=”1594484465″ target=”_blank” ]The Little Stranger[/amazon_link], Sarah Waters: I picked this mostly because I would like to talk about the ending and see what everyone else thinks happened at the end.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0399157913″ target=”_blank” ]The Help[/amazon_link], Kathryn Stockett: I liked this one a lot and see it being a good book to talk about when you’re done with it. I could even see a good discussion about whether it’s another in the long line of “white people solve racism” books/movies.
  7. [amazon_link id=”1613821395″ target=”_blank” ]The Woman in White[/amazon_link], Wilkie Collins: Marian and Count Fosco are great characters. So was Frederick Fairlie. He’s hysterical, in fact. I think it might be interesting to talk about how Collins popularized some of those tropes we consider clichés.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0142001805″ target=”_blank” ]The Eyre Affair[/amazon_link], Jasper Fforde: There is so much bookish fun in this one. I think book nerds would really like reading and talking about it.
  9. [amazon_link id=”B005K5XQRY” target=”_blank” ]The Lace Reader[/amazon_link], Brunonia Barry: I am not sure it would appeal to everyone in the group, but it has a classic unreliable narrator, and those always make for juicy discussion. Plus you could try to brew up some “Difficul-tea” and try out lace reading (if you can figure it out).
  10. [amazon_link id=”0385338015″ target=”_blank” ]Madame Bovary’s Ovaries[/amazon_link], David P. Barash and Nanelle R. Barash: The premise of this book is that you can explain the behavior of some characters in great literature through evolutionary psychology. It’s an interesting read. It’s sure to generate some discussion; I can’t imagine you’d get a whole group to agree on whether or not the authors are right. It serves the dual purpose of making you interested in the literature they discuss, too. The Goodreads reviews on it are all over the place.

Honorable mentions: [amazon_link id=”0812979303″ target=”_blank” ]Reading Lolita in Tehran[/amazon_link], Azar Nafisi; [amazon_link id=”0679751521″ target=”_blank” ]Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil[/amazon_link], John Berendt (only left out of top ten because everyone’s surely read it by now); and [amazon_link id=”014029628X” target=”_blank” ]Girl in Hyacinth Blue[/amazon_link], Susan Vreeland.

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Readers Who Don’t Read Historical Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction. I enjoy learning when I’m reading, and I have always been fascinated by history. My historical fiction reading habits may have formed when I was in middle school and started reading the Sunfire historical romances. But I recognize that not everyone really likes historical fiction. If I could recommend ten books I think might change your mind if you count yourself among those who don’t like it, I think it would be the following books:

  1. [amazon_link id=”0441020674″ target=”_blank” ]Those Across the River[/amazon_link], Christopher Buehlman: If you think you prefer horror or even just creepy stories, this historical fiction novel about werewolves in a small Georgia town might just prompt you to give historical fiction a chance. Just because it’s set in the past doesn’t mean it’s all petticoats. Review.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link], Diana Gabaldon: This first book in the Outlander series has a bit of romance and sci-fi as well as some war drama as it begins as World War II ends and moves back in time to just before the second Jacobite Rebellion. Notoriously hard to classify, Diana Gabaldon’s books take you squarely back to another time and keep you turning the pages, too. Review.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0765356155″ target=”_blank” ]Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell[/amazon_link], Susanna Clarke: This alternative history fantasy novel set during the Napoleonic Wars pits two great magicians against one another. It’s a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Neil Gaiman, and a little bit J.K. Rowling. Review.
  4. [amazon_link id=”034549038X” target=”_blank” ]The Dante Club[/amazon_link], Matthew Pearl: This one is part murder mystery set against the backdrop of post-Civil War Boston, where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is translating the first American edition of Dante’s Inferno. He and his fellow poets Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, John Greenleaf Whittier, and their publisher J. T. Fields, gather to look over Longfellow’s latest cantos and offer him feedback. Meanwhile, a series of murders mimicking the punishments in Dante’s hell strike fear into the heart of the city, and only the poets know Inferno well enough to commit such crimes… Review.
  5. [amazon_link id=”0345419642″ target=”_blank” ]The Vampire Lestat[/amazon_link], Anne Rice: Anne Rice will make you interested in eighteenth and nineteenth century Paris and New Orleans. I have always thought Rice wrote better when she was writing about the past.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0345521307″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link], Paula McLain: This book will interest folks who normally only go for literary fiction. First, it’s about Hemingway’s time in Paris and is told from the point of view of Hadley Richardson, his first wife. Second, it’s quite literary and beautifully written itself. Review.
  7. [amazon_link id=”1565125606″ target=”_blank” ]Water for Elephants[/amazon_link], Sara Gruen: Set in a Depression-era circus, this book has a little of everything: action, forbidden romance, and running away to the circus! Review.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0684801469″ target=”_blank” ]A Farewell to Arms[/amazon_link], Ernest Hemingway: Given that this book was written in the 1920’s about WWI, I guess it qualifies as historical fiction, although it does feel like cheating to include it because I wouldn’t include a book set in the 1990’s on this list. Ah well. At any rate, it’s a great novel, well written, with some of the most beautiful passages in American literature. And it’s Hemingway writing on war. Review.
  9. [amazon_link id=”B000FC10KC” target=”_blank” ]Ahab’s Wife[/amazon_link], Sena Jeter Naslund: Not only does this one give you the perspective of Captain Ahab’s wife Una, but you also learn quite a bit about nineteenth century New England. The book is gorgeous. One of my favorites of all time. Review.
  10. [amazon_link id=”0061577073″ target=”_blank” ]The Poisonwood Bible[/amazon_link], Barbara Kingsolver: This book is for those who love literary fiction, symbolism, and allegory and think it can’t be found in historical fiction. This is a beautiful book, another one of my favorites, and so important in terms thinking about Africa and America’s own role in colonial history. Review.

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Top Ten Books of 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday—how appropriate! What are my top ten books of 2011. Note: Not all of these books were published in 2011, but I read all of them in 2011.

  1. [amazon_link id=”0385737645″ target=”_blank” ]Revolution[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly (review): This part-contemporary YA novel/part time-travel story awakened an interest in the French Revolution that I previously did not have (I know, right?). I loved the musical aspect and had a lot of fun discussing this book with students who chose to read it for their summer reading selection. I wish Amadé Malherbeau were real!
  2. [amazon_link id=”1565125606″ target=”_blank” ]Water for Elephants[/amazon_link] by Sara Gruen (review): Jacob Jankowski is my BFF. I loved this story more than I thought I would. I didn’t think I’d like the circus aspect at all, but I found it fascinating.
  3. [amazon_link id=”1439156816″ target=”_blank” ]On Writing[/amazon_link] by Stephen King (review): This book is the best, most practical book about writing I’ve ever read, and its advice has already proven invaluable.
  4. [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb (review): I love the idea of handing a song down from generation to generation, and as a family historian, I found that aspect of the novel particularly appealing. Sharyn McCrumb writers about her own ancestors in this novel.
  5. [amazon_link id=”0345521307″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link] by Paula McLain (review): Stories about the Lost Generation are interesting. I loved this take on what happened in Paris told more from Hadley Hemingway’s point of view than Ernest Hemingway’s (for a change).
  6. [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link] by Ransom Riggs (review): This book was comical and completely engaging. I can’t wait for the sequel. I giggle every time I think of the Welsh teenagers trying to rap.
  7. [amazon_link id=”1400031702″ target=”_blank” ]The Secret History[/amazon_link] by Donna Tartt (review): I will never turn my back on a Classics major again. They are scary people.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0316068209″ target=”_blank” ]The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian[/amazon_link] by Sherman Alexie (review): I laughed all the way through this while still feeling empathy for Junior. Alexie is a gifted storyteller.
  9. [amazon_link id=”0312343698″ target=”_blank” ]Passion[/amazon_link] by Jude Morgan (review): I loved this novel of the lives of the Romantic poets Byron, Shelley, and Keats told through the eyes of the women who loved them. Mary Shelley comes across as fascinating and sympathetic, and Caroline Lamb was downright engaging.
  10. [amazon_link id=”B0043RSJQS” target=”_blank” ]The Kitchen Daughter[/amazon_link] by Jael McHenry (review): As the mother of two children on the autism spectrum, this novel about an adult with Asperger’s was fascinating. I also liked the cooking aspect and learned a truly good recipe for brownies.

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Musing Mondays—October 17, 2011

Musing MondaysIt’s Monday! That means it’s time for another Monday Musing. This week’s question is Do you judge a book by its cover?

All. The. Time. I know the adage well, but the truth is that publishers spend a lot of money paying people to design book covers. You know who I think does a consistently good job? Source Books. Just take a look at some of their covers. Sometimes judging a book by its cover has led me astray. Check out this gorgeous cover for [amazon_link id=”0345455932″ target=”_blank” ]Blackbird House[/amazon_link]:

[amazon_image id=”0345455932″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Blackbird House: A Novel (Ballantine Reader’s Circle)[/amazon_image]

And yet I didn’t care for the book.

I think it’s human nature to check out the package and be attracted to it before we get to know the contents. We do that with potential mates as well as books, so judging a book by its cover is nothing new.

Some covers I just love? The Ruben Toledo drawings for Penguin classics. My favorites are [amazon_link id=”0143106155″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link]:

[amazon_image id=”0143106155″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Jane Eyre: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)[/amazon_image]

and [amazon_link id=”0143105442″ target=”_blank” ]The Scarlet Letter[/amazon_link]:

[amazon_image id=”0143105442″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Scarlet Letter: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)[/amazon_image]

But I love [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link], too:

[amazon_image id=”0143105434″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Wuthering Heights: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)[/amazon_image]

Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the cover of [amazon_link id=”B000QRIGLW” target=”_blank” ]Twilight[/amazon_link] has been influential:

[amazon_image id=”B000QRIGLW” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)[/amazon_image]

[amazon_link id=”B00136YCIG” target=”_blank” ]This[/amazon_link] is probably one of the most iconic covers of all time, and it has such an interesting background, too.

[amazon_image id=”0743273567″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_image]

Scribner has a reissue edition, which is pretty, by the way, but not as iconic as the Cugat original.

Here are some books I’ve read, bought, or received recently that I think have pretty covers:

[amazon_image id=”0312558171″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Ballad Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0345524969″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0385534639″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”1594744769″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0345521307″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Paris Wife: A Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0553807226″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Peach Keeper: A Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”B004SYA7PM” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Revolution [Deckle Edge] (text only) by J. Donnelly[/amazon_image]

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WWW Wednesdays

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading [amazon_link id=”B003A7I2PU” target=”_blank” ]The Dream of Perpetual Motion[/amazon_link], and frankly, I’m not liking it much. It has a few interesting moments (so far), but I am not finding the characters interesting or likable. The plot is weird. I am still reading it for two reasons 1) I have had it on my Kindle for a long time, and I bought it, so I feel compelled to read it; 2) I can’t get any new books right now, and the ones on my to-read list that I’m itching to read most are books I don’t have.

I recently finished [amazon_link id=”0553807226″ target=”_blank” ]The Peach Keeper[/amazon_link] by Sarah Addison Allen (review) and [amazon_link id=”0345521307″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link] by Paula McLain (review), both of which were amazing books. It could be that The Dream of Perpetual Motion is suffering by comparison.

The next books I really want to read are Jennifer Donnelly’s [amazon_link id=”0312378025″ target=”_blank” ]The Tea Rose[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”1401307469″ target=”_blank” ]The Winter Rose[/amazon_link], and [amazon_link id=”1401301045″ target=”_blank” ]The Wild Rose[/amazon_link]. The Wild Rose hasn’t been released yet, but I scored a copy at NetGalley, and I would like to read the other two first, as I understand it’s a sort of generational saga. I loved Jennifer Donnelly’s [amazon_link id=”B003F3PN0Q” target=”_blank” ]Revolution[/amazon_link] (review). It’s the best book I’ve read this year.

Yesterday’s post about websites and apps proved lucrative for me because I learned about NetGalley and PaperBackSwap from the post by The Broke and the Bookish. I know—where have I been and all of that. You can see my PaperBackSwap profile here, and feel free to friend me. I’m going to check out the posts by some of the other participants and see what other great book websites and apps I might have been missing out on.

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