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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Ten Fictional Crushes

cap on yellow

Some time back, I discussed some historical crushes, and I have previously discussed my ten fictional best friends. Why not share my ten fictional crushes? Since this weeks’ Top Ten Tuesday is a “pick your own” topic, this weeks seems like the perfect time. Don’t necessarily view these in a particular order.

  1. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. If you have read the [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] series, I don’t need to say any more. You know exactly what I’m talking about. My husband is a redhead, and let’s just say my crush on Jamie may have contributed to my interest in red-headed men.
  2. Severus Snape. OK, I admit this one is weird. He’s mean. He’s given to pettiness. That comment he makes about Hermione’s teeth in [amazon_link id=”0439139600″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire[/amazon_link] is pretty much unforgivable. I just really love his characterization. When I discovered in [amazon_link id=”0545139708″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows[/amazon_link] that he had carried a torch for Lily Evans Potter for most of his life, I was sold. In fact, my favorite chapter in the whole book series is “The Prince’s Tale” in [amazon_link id=”0545139708″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows[/amazon_link]. Plus, Alan Rickman.
  3. Faramir. Yeah, Aragorn was never my cup of tea, but Faramir is a really cool guy, and I was glad when Eowyn woke up to that fact and ditched her awkward crush on Aragorn for true love with Faramir. He’s noble and brave. Pippin thought so highly of him that he named his son after him, you know.
  4. Father Ralph de Briccasart. Just like Meggie. Sigh. Richard Chamberlain in that miniseries probably contributes as much to my Father Ralph crush as Alan Rickman’s portrayal does to my Snape crush.
  5. Rhett Butler. So bad. So smooth. And yet so in love with Scarlett (for whatever reason!). Honestly, Margaret Mitchell had to have been thinking about Clark Gable when she wrote the novel because he’s just perfect for the part. I remember when I read the book the first time, even though I hadn’t seen the movie, I knew Clark Gable played the role in it, and I thought even then that she had to have been thinking about Gable. I have to say, that first time, I pictured Scarlett as a redhead, even though she’s described as having dark hair, but now Vivian Leigh just is Scarlett.
  6. Captain Frederick Wentworth. Come on. You’ve read that letter, haven’t you? If you have, you need no further explanation. Plus, he’s a keeper. Even though he was rejected, he was still in love with Anne, and he gave her a second chance. I can’t imagine they were anything but perfectly happy together.
  7. Louis de Pointe du Lac. Lestat was a bit stuck on himself for my taste, and favorite book in the Vampire Chronicles has always been [amazon_link id=”0345409647″ target=”_blank” ]Interview with the Vampire[/amazon_link].
  8. Speaking of which, Edward Cullen. Yeah, I know. This one is really wrong. I don’t like this about myself, but there it is.
  9. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Naturally. I actually have a mug at work labeled Mrs. Darcy. I had a travel mug with the same label, but it broke, and a friend bought me a new Mrs. Darcy mug for Christmas. That is a good friend.
  10. This last is a bit of a cheat, but Nate from the book I’m currently writing, which is as yet untitled. I see him as a sort of amalgamation of Jeff Buckley and Jack White. He’s kind of dreamy. He is based on the Irish hero Naoise from the Legend of Deirdre.

photo credit: Darwin Bell

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Musing Mondays: Young Adult

Musing MondaysWhy do you think that the Young Adult genre is so popular with even the adult readers? Do you read YA books, yourself?

I think YA is popular for several reasons. First of all, it’s in the midst of some kind of renaissance, perhaps ushered in by writers like Lois Lowry and Laurie Halse Anderson. There is simply a lot of really good YA fiction out there right now. I think one of the reasons it is popular with adult readers is that we were all young adults once, and I think good fiction, whether the protagonist is a little girl like Scout Finch or an elderly man like Jacob Jankowski, is always appealing. Therefore, I don’t see why a teen protagonist shouldn’t appeal to an adult. I also think the [amazon_link id=”0545162076″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link] series, the [amazon_link id=”031613290X” target=”_blank” ]Twilight[/amazon_link] series, and the [amazon_link id=”0545265355″ target=”_blank” ]Hunger Games[/amazon_link] series had massive appeal for fans of all ages. Perhaps one reason for the popularity of YA is that these books prompted readers to pick up other YA fiction.

I do read YA. As a matter of fact, I am on my third YA book this month. I don’t read it exclusively or even a lot when compared with my normal reading habits, but I have never felt any shame in reading it, and I have enjoyed reading it since I was a young adult myself.

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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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Last Austen: Reading Update, 12/12/10

Independent Study

I re-started Mansfield Park last night. It’s the only one of Jane Austen’s complete novels (not counting Sanditon or Lady Susan) that I haven’t read. I’m not sure I’ll be enough of a completist to read Sanditon or Lady Susan. I do want to try to finish Mansfield Park by the end of the year because it’s the last thing I need to do for the Everything Austen Challenge. It would be nice to say I completed every challenge I attempted this year, which I will be able to do if I finish Mansfield Park. Plus it’s just something I want to be able to say I did—read all of Jane Austen’s novels, that is. I’ve read the first four chapters, and it’s definitely not grabbing me the way her other novels have, but I knew going in that this novel was not as popular or well-liked, and I expected it. Fanny Price is a little bit of a Cinderella, isn’t she? I like Edmund though. Nice guy.

My husband watched Twilight today. It was fun. I have to say that there is a certain species of teenage girl—the kind that felt awkward and gawky and completely unworthy of being noticed by a cute boy—that Stephenie Meyer captures well in her series. Yes, I know Bella Swan is not the best role model ever, but she is recognizable.

Yikes. It’s snowing here in Atlanta, and I’m going to have to drive in it to pick up my daughter. Hope the other Atlanta drivers chill out and stay home. What are you reading on this cold, wintry day?

photo credit: eflon

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Booking Through Thursday: When Series Jump the Shark

Booking Through ThursdayThis week’s Booking Through Thursday prompt concerns series books: “If you read series, do you ever find a series ‘jumping the shark?’ How do you feel about that? And, do you keep reading anyway?”

I have found that if the early books in a series grab me, I am much more forgiving of later lapses. I really loved Anne Rice’s first two Vampire Chronicles books, Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. I didn’t like Queen of the Damned so much, but I understood its importance in terms of the Rice vampire mythos. I did enjoy The Tale of the Body Thief. As the series continued, I liked each book less and less. I didn’t like The Vampire Armand much, I never finished Blood and Gold, Pandora was only OK, and Memnoch the Devil remains the only book I’ve ever thrown across the room. Still, I kept trying for a while, you know? Because I liked some of the earlier books so much. I read Merrick and I tried Blackwood Farm. Finally I had to admit to myself that I just didn’t like the books anymore, and that trying to recapture what I felt about the first couple was pointless: she had clearly moved in a different direction, and it wasn’t one I was going to enjoy.

I had a sort of similar reaction to Stephenie Meyer’s books. I know it’s not cool anymore to admit you’ve read them, but I’ll cop to it. I will even admit to enjoying the first book a lot. The second less so. The third even less. The last one was frankly really awful and extremely weird. Vampire babies, vampire Bella is somehow more remarkable than everyone else (Mary Sue much?), weenie pedophile Jacob, weird abusive sex. Nope. Totally jumped the shark. And I can say honestly that if Meyer has plans to extend the saga with a fifth book, I won’t read it. Breaking Dawn was a shark-jumping moment if ever there was one.

In both cases, I kept up with books in series, despite declining quality, because I had truly liked the first or first couple of books. It is hard not to feel a little betrayed by the books. It’s hard too not to feel a little angry with the author who had previous given you so much pleasure. However, I am clearly forgiving past the point of rationality, especially as illustrated in Rice’s case, and I will read an entire series if the payoff in the first two or so books was good. I have read all of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next and Nursery Crime books published to date, and I loved them all. My favorite series, Harry Potter, just got better and better.

One of these days, I’m going to try to finish Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The first four books were rewarding. I never finished the fifth, and haven’t touched the others. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sort of Pavlovian reaction to one of her book covers.

If you look at it from a behaviorist perspective, I have clearly been rewarded by enough series books to have learned to stick it out. However, it seems to take me a long time to stop expecting that reward. And you know, sometimes, I just have to finish a series to know what happens. Lately I have been telling myself life is too short to read bad books. And I have been sticking to that axiom, for the most part. A series is a commitment. It’s more than slogging through a few hundred pages. It’s a relationship with an author and her characters. And like many relationships, it can be hard to let go and figure out when breaking up might be the healthiest thing.

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HarperTeen’s Appeal to Twilight Fans

The Wall Street Journal blog Speakeasy reports that the covers of the new HarperTeen editions of classics Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Romeo and Juliet are designed to appeal to the Twilight audience. It’s easy to see why:

The books resemble Twilight right down to the fonts, as the WSJ blog notes. My husband was aghast, but I say, hey, if it gets Twilight fans to pick up these books, I’m all for it. I do think it’s a little misleading, though. These books are not exactly Twilight. They’re so much better, but not as easy a read.

Amazon is selling the books for $8.99 each, or you can purchase all three for $26.97 (as of this writing). If you’re interested, click on the books or the links above.

What do you think of the new covers?

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Criticism of the Twilight Series

My husband sent me a couple of articles on the Twilight series written by Kellen Rice for PSA:

  • ‘Twilight’ Sucks… And Not In A Good Way
  • Twilight: A Follow-Up and a Promise

The articles are actually well-written critiques of the books, and I agree with many of Rice’s points about both the writing and the characters in the books.  Rice should have expected the teenage girls to freak out over any criticism of the books they love, and I felt her second article — an answer to those critics designed to belittle them for their taste in reading — really could have remained unwritten.  It’s hard not to respond to the critics, but it would have been wiser, in my estimation.  One of the commenters she responded to in her second article insisted (albeit ungrammatically) that the main problem Rice seemed to have is that she forgot it was “This is a BOOK a FICTIONOUS BOOK” and another said, “YOU JUST THINK TOO MUCH JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE !”  Yeah, I was cringing, too, but I think what these two commenters meant to say and couldn’t articulate for who knows what reasons, is that they understand the books are not a role-model for conducting relationships, that they don’t take them seriously, and that they understand they’re literary junk food.  I, too, cringe at Bella’s “I’m-so-not-worthy-of-Edward” attitude.  For reasons my own daughter can’t articulate, she thinks Edward is a jerk, and she is right.  She is a fan of Jacob, who is a bit more realistic despite being a werewolf, and Bella’s relationship with him was slightly more healthy.  I think what these readers were trying to say to Rice is that yes, we understand these stories are not models for our lives.  We like them anyway because they’re like cookies or chocolate.  I don’t think we really need to worry that an entire generation of girls is going to idolize the men in their lives or accept abuse at rates any more alarming than they currently do.  Rice’s comparison to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (also not the most well-written read) are somewhat alarmist and, I believe, baseless.  Harriet Beecher Stowe and Stephenie Meyer wrote for different purposes and audiences entirely.  I can’t fathom the notion that Meyer is hoping to turn a generation of girls into Bella Swan in the same way that Stowe was hoping to examine the evils of slavery.

I had a student in my class who wouldn’t read.  I pointed her to these books, and now she does.  If you need to use cake as a lure, then I say why not let them eat cake?  Will it always lead to Nabokov, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, and the like?  Certainly not.  But reading nothing at all won’t lead there either, whereas reading a little, even if it light, fun fluff, might lead somewhere.  And if nothing else, that purple prose is good for vocabulary development.  I think what Rice didn’t understand in her criticism is despite the fact that lots of impressionable teens are fans of the books, they fully understand it might not be a good idea to live the books.  After all, despite fears by the Christian right, we don’t have an entire generation of readers thinking they’re wizards and abandoning Christianity for Wicca.

I think Rice needs to let the criticism of her opinion roll off her back and rest assured that she is right about a great deal, but she missed the big picture: sometimes folks like to read junk food books like romance novels, horror, pop fiction, and the like, and it’s okay.  Even if it’s a steady diet, in my opinion.  Because, as the commenter so astutely noted, we understand they are just fictionous books.

Update, 1/9/09: I appreciate some of you do not like the books.  This is not really an “I Hate Twilight” Vent Forum.  I see legitimate reasons not to like the book, but you know what, I enjoyed it anyway, and so do a lot of other folks.  You don’t have to, and that’s really fine.  What I am seeing is people who do not regularly read this blog chiming in on this one topic alone, and keeping up with the comments is proving onerous.  I suggest you all start a forum where you can vent (or join one — I’ve seen one personally, and I would bet there are more).  I am closing comments on this post.  Thanks for visiting.

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Eclipse

EclipseLast night, I finished reading Stephenie Meyer’s Eclipse, the third book in her Twilight Saga.  It has been as entertaining as the other books in the series.  Meyer has a gift for writing page-turners, and this story should leave readers anxious for Breaking Dawn.  I will not make the wild claim that these books are more than fun diversions, but I know I enjoyed reading them.  Of the three, I would have to say that Twilight is my favorite.

As I said in my review of New Moon, Bella’s self-deprecation can be annoying.  She doesn’t put herself down as much when she compares herself with Jacob, but she seems to feel so strongly that she isn’t good enough for Edward, and as much as he tries to protest, I don’t see that changing.  I wonder how she can be happy with someone when she feels she is inferior to him?  I hope Meyer can resolve this particular problem in the next book.

If you have read the other two Twilight books, you don’t need a recommendation from me to pick up the third; however, I think this book is less able to stand on its own than the other two.  I do think one could read either Twilight or New Moon without reading the rest of the saga, but this book ties in elements from both previous books that only make sense in context.  I think that’s fine — by the third book in a series, an author can expect some loyalty; J.K. Rowling waited until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix before she gave up the pretext of thinking readers might not have read the other books first, and she certainly could have dropped that pretext earlier.

If you are looking for Literature (yes, with a capital “L”), you probably don’t want to read Meyer’s books, but if you’re looking for fun, page-turning reads about vampires and werewolves, I think you’ll enjoy her books.  It is certainly easy to see why she has become so popular with young adult readers.

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New Moon

This evening, I finished reading New Moon, the second novel in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga.  I enjoyed it.

The novel picks up following Bella’s recovery from certain events at the end of the previous book.  Bella has just turned 18, and she is unhappy because her beloved Edward, a vampire, will never be older than 17.  The prospect of growing old while he remains perpetually youthful is distasteful to Bella.  The Cullens, Edward’s family throw Bella a birthday party, and an accident makes Edward decide Bella is not safe with the Cullens.  When Edward leaves Bella, she makes friends with the enigmatic Jacob Black, only to discover that he, too, harbors a dark secret.  Will he help her forget Edward and heal the hole left by Edward’s absence?  Or will Edward return to challenge his rival?

Meyer has the gift for creating a plot that will engage the reader — a real page-turner.  To me, a good test is whether I can keep from turning ahead to see what the future holds — something I consider cheating.  And I have to cheat with Meyer’s books.  Her characters are believable and likable.  If her vampires are a bit too perfect, well, it’s because they’re supposed to be.

I do wish Bella, Meyer’s main character, had a bit more self-confidence.  I think the Cullens treat her like a pet, and it’s somewhat demeaning.  She feels unworthy of their attention, so it’s a vicious cycle.  I like Jacob Black, who Meyer introduced in the first book, but fleshed out in this second book.  Meyer’s allusions to Romeo and Juliet, woven throughout the text, worked well.

I can definitely see why these books are so popular with teens.  I really enjoyed going to Stephenie Meyer’s book signing in September, and if she comes back to sign copies of Breaking Dawn, I will be there!

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