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Book Recommendations List

It’s Time for Spooky Reading

One of the reasons why we read is to practice life, to look at particular circumstances and wonder what we’d do if we found ourselves in them.

For example, I don’t think I’d ever kidnap a child. But what if someone called me and told me she had kidnapped my daughter, and to get my child back I’d have to kidnap another child to replace her? I’m pretty sure I know what I’d do: the same thing Rachel Klein does in the novel The Chain by Adrian McKinty.

And as the ghosts come out for the approach of Halloween, we get the opportunity to meet some characters, see some settings, and have some experiences we hope never to have in real life. Here are some lists to help you choose your seasonal reading while you still have some reading time before Halloween arrives.


10 Eerie Books for Autumn

48 Books That Scared the Bejesus Out of Readers

“These books are great for joining in on the autumnal fun, without reading anything too scary or gory.”

The Most Terrifying Books: 15 Titles Not for the Faint of Heart

11 of Our Favorite Horror Books

From the folks at Mental Floss: “From genre classics that should be on everyone’s list to a few offbeat entries—including a must-read comic starring a spectacularly creepy ice cream man—here are our favorite horror books you should pick up.”

The 40 Most Popular Horror Novels of the Last 5 Years

Forget Sleep. These 7 Gripping Horror Stories Will Keep You Up All Night Reading

14 Scary Books So Terrifying, Readers Wish They Never Read Them

Take that title seriously.

8 Eerie Reads From the Literary Fiction Shelves

“scary seasonal books [that] fall outside traditional horror or mystery formats.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book News Last Week's Links Publishing Reading Writing

Literary Links

How the Pandemic Has Changed Our Reading Lives

woman sitting & reading in front of book shelves

“Many of the readers who have more reading time are finding that the mental toll of current events is hurting their attention spans, or seeing their genre preferences shift and twist.”

Leah Rachel von Essen “talked to authors, book bloggers, librarians, and general readers to investigate how the anxiety and circumstances of the pandemic have changed our reading habits.”

She made some interesting discoveries, which she explains here. However the COVID quarantine has affected your reading, I bet you’ll find that many other people are having a similar experience.

Ubud writers festival still standing after COVID-19 twists the plot

If it was a book it would be a page-turner: the Australian woman living on a tropical island who founded a literary festival imperilled by terrorist attacks, smouldering volcanoes, the shadow of a massacre and a global pandemic.

Read the story of a writers festival founded in 2003, after the terrorist bombing of a nightclub in Bali.

Craft Capsule: The Art of Literary Criticism

Here’s one of the most useful expositions I’ve ever seen of how and why we read and review what we read.

Gillian Flynn on Paranoia, Conspiracy Theories, and Adding “Showrunner” to Her Resume

As every reader knows, the book is always better than the movie or TV adaptation. But this article intrigued me because it offers a new take on the subject. 

Gillian Flynn, author of Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, worked as writer and executive producer of the science fiction TV series Utopia, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. The series is adapted from Dennis Kelly’s British of the same title. Here’s what Flynn has to say about the process of creating this adaptation:

I approached Utopia the way I’ve approached all adaptations—this has to become my own. I don’t think it serves the original material by trying to be beholden to it. I don’t believe in just remaking something because the original was good. Adapt when you really know that you want to do something different or have it come to life in a different way.

So maybe instead of grousing because the movie differs from the book, we ought to look for and examine those differences. And although I haven’t read the source material for Utopia, I eagerly anticipate watching that series as soon as my husband and I finish the series we’re current bingeing on Acorn TV.

Akwaeke Emezi shuns Women’s prize over request for details of sex as defined ‘by law’

“Author, who became first non-binary trans writer to be nominated for the award in 2019, declines to submit future novels for consideration in protest.”

The controversy over inclusivity in the publishing industry continues to rage.

Hollywood has gobbled up book rights during the pandemic. Here’s why

Cover: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

If you sometimes feel compelled to try to find the silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud, this might be a good item to put at the top of your list.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Author News Last Week's Links Literary Criticism

Literary Links

14 of the Scariest Books Ever Written

Halloween reading season is upon us. Leila Siddiqui, declaring that “as readers, we love the sensation of being scared—it is adrenaline-inducing and addictive,” offers her list of reading material for the season.

THE WOMEN WHO SHAPED THE PAST 100 YEARS OF AMERICAN LITERATURE

This article from Smithsonian Magazine spotlights a show at the National Portrait Gallery that features “such literary giants as Toni Morrison, Anne Sexton, Sandra Cisneros, Ayn Rand, Jhumpa Lahiri, Marianne Moore and Jean Kerr. Collectively, the museum notes in a statement, the women represented have won every major writing prize of the 20th century.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen, 1st Asian American Pulitzer board member, on how his new role transcends literature

Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016 for his first novel, The Sympathizer. Now the Aerol Arnold Chair of English at the University of Southern California, he has been appointed to the Pulitzer Prize Board as the first Asian American in its 103-year history.

“In all the realms of artistic productions in this country, it’s really in literature that Asian Americans have been the most prolific and successful,” said Nguyen.

What Is the Purpose of Literary Criticism?

In this partial transcript of a podcast discussion, Rumaan Alam talks with Charles Finch, author of the Charles Lenox mystery novels and the literary novel The Last Enchantments

A key part of the conversation is Finch’s notion of the purpose of literary criticism. He describes his job as a critic this way:

For me, books evoke a feeling first, and then you have to try to feel lucidly in words. When I read Ali Smith’s most recent book, it stirred up all these interesting and strange feelings in me. Then, as a critic, I had to go back and look at where I put an exclamation point in the margin, and I have to try to cobble together something lucid and intelligent and rational about that. That’s the art of criticism to me: trying to explain emotions, which, in a way, all art forms are trying to do through different means.

You’ll find a link for listening to the complete discussion if you’d like to hear more.

Thriller vs. Horror: Your Guide

With Halloween coming up, there’s a lot of discussion in literary places about thrillers and horror books. But what’s the difference between the two genres? Anna Gooding-Call offers some advice on telling them apart.

Thrillers, she says, usually build incrementally toward a climax. “Thrillers tend to be rooted in reality, albeit a reality filled with psycho killers and murderous butlers. Plot is important in a thriller, as is a good, strong villain.” But what you don’t usually find in a thriller is a ghost.

But while a thriller “builds toward a scream,” she writes, “horror is all about the background moan”: “The goal of horror is to evoke existential terror, disgust, or revulsion.” Horror characteristically features “lots of supernatural goings-on and big metaphorical statements about society.”

Gooding-Call lists a few examples of each to illustrate the difference.

With His New Mystery Novel, John Banville Kills Off a Pen Name

Here’s an interesting look at one reason why a writer might choose to publish under a pen name.

Charles McGrath describes Irish novelist John Banville as a perfectionist who typically takes “four or five painful years” to complete a novel. When, in 2005, Banville found himself writing a mystery novel, he was surprised at how quickly he was able to complete it. That novel, Christine Falls, was published under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Banville didn’t try to hide his identity as the book’s author but used a pen name to indicate that “John Banville had a dark other half who was up to something different.”

The author has published ten more books as Benjamin Black, but when his most recent novel, Snow, a mystery, is published in the U.S. next month, its author will be named on the cover as John Banville.

“What happened, Banville says, is that in rereading some of the Black books, he decided they were better than he remembered.” When he realized that he liked the Black books, he decided he no longer needed “this rascal.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: Ghosts!

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we start with The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, an appropriate choice for the Halloween season because it features ghosts.

Or does it? 

The most salient feature of James’s novella is its ambiguity. Are the ghosts the governess sees real, or are they the product of some psychological projection such as fear, prurience, desire, or repressed sexuality? About 10 years after the book’s publication James wrote that he purposely made the story so ambiguous because a shadowy picture of evil allows readers to fill in the picture with the details that frighten them the most.

Because the ghost story is pregnant with possibilities, it has a long literary history.

The American literary ghosts I love most aren’t psychological shadows—they are solid enough to slam doors. But they’re not horror movie monsters either. They’re conflicted beings with messages more complicated than the expected “avenge me” spiel; they want us to think about what it means to be a human in the world.

Amy Shearn

Here are six ghost stories that illustrate the variety of ways authors have chosen to present their ghosts. The final one is English rather than American, but it’s such a giant of the ghost-story canon that I couldn’t leave it out.

1. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James clearly follows the ghost story’s gothic origins in its use of a building where ghosts prowl. When Carly Kirk sets out to explore the disappearance of her aunt while working at the Sun Down Motel 35 years earlier, she comes up against a classic struggle of good vs. evil when two ghosts face off in a confrontation of apocalyptic proportions.

2. Sometimes a ghost gets to narrate its own story, as does Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. After being murdered at age 14, she watches from her own personal version of heaven as the police investigate the crime and as her family and friends adjust to life without her. (This book is nowhere near as ghastly as the short description might make it sound. It’s done with great sensitivity and insight.) 

3. A ghost as narrator also appears, although only sporadically, in Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake. Based on the unsolved murder of a Black woman in the 1960s in Baltimore, Lippman creates a picture of the seething social and racial tensions in the city at that time. The murdered woman is not the central figure in the story, but her ghost appears periodically to help explain the zeitgeist of the era.

4. A ghostly narrator introduces The Better Liar by Tanen Jones with this dramatic statement: “Like most of the dead, I want to be remembered.” Leslie hasn’t seen her younger sister, Robin, since Robin ran away from home 10 years earlier, at age 16. But the women’s father has stipulated in his will that the two women must appear together, in person, at his attorney’s office to receive their inheritance. Leslie, who really needs the money, sets out in search of Robin, whom she finds in a rooming house, dead from a drug overdose. But Leslie really needs that inheritance money . . .

5. C.J. Tudor uses three types of ghosts in The Other People. Driving home through rush-hour traffic one night, Gabe sees his daughter, Izzy, looking out the back window of the car in front of him. She mouths the word “Daddy,” but Gabe loses the car in the traffic. He never sees Izzy again. Gabe quits his job, buys a camper, and spends the next three years driving up and down the same stretch of highway where he last saw his daughter. Haunted by the vision of his missing daughter, Gabe himself haunts the highway and the rest areas along his route. Meanwhile, Fran and her young daughter are on the run along the same highway. Fran’s daughter, Alice, periodically falls into sessions of deep sleep during which she sees a vision of a young girl in a while dress. This is one truly haunted novel, perfect for Halloween season.

6. Sometimes what haunts a story is not some other-worldly presence, but a palpable absence. Such is the case in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, in which a second wife feels compelled to live up to the reputation of her predecessor. 

After many different types of ghosts, we’re back again to a novel chillingly haunted by the ghost of possibility. Perhaps that’s why The Turn of the Screw and Rebecca are two of the best known ghost stories in Western literature.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book News

For Banned Books Week, I read the country’s 10 most challenged books. The gay penguins did not corrupt me. – The Washington Post

Every September, I look over the new list and sigh, “How could anyone object to these great-looking books?” This year, instead of just sighing, I read all the books. The experience introduced me to some great new titles and, by implication, the anxieties of too many censorial Americans.

Source: For Banned Books Week, I read the country’s 10 most challenged books. The gay penguins did not corrupt me. – The Washington Post

Ron Charles, Washington Post book critic, on Banned Books Week.

Categories
Book Recommendations Reading

Star Wars Reads Begins Today!

This October marks the ninth year of Star Wars Reads, a month-long celebration of Star Wars and reading.

Source: Star Wars Reads Begins Today!

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Discussion

How I Use Goodreads

2020 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2020 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2020 by clicking on either link above.


I occasionally come across articles criticizing Goodreads. The latest one is “Why Goodreads is bad for books.” I’m always surprised at the vehemence with which some people criticize Goodreads. Sure, the platform is owned by one of the biggest retailers on the planet and therefore doesn’t have much incentive to improve. But as I read this article, I suddenly realized why I don’t feel a great deal of animosity toward Goodreads: I use the features I find helpful and ignore the rest. 

I don’t rely on Goodreads as my main way of keeping track of the books I read. Whenever I click on “my books,” I get a list that doesn’t in any way correspond to the order in which I’ve read these books. I’m sure there’s a way to filter and rearrange the display of my books, but I’ve never bothered to figure it out because I have a database program that includes all the books I’ve read since about mid-1991. That’s where I keep the record of books I’ve read and when I read them. This program easily generates my annual list of titles read.

But I still enter every book I read on Goodreads for other reasons. Here’s a look at the functions of Goodreads that I use and how I use them.

Annual Book Challenge

It took me a few years to develop a feel for what’s a reasonable expectation of how many books I can comfortably read in a year, but now I’ve become good at it. I enjoy setting my number at the beginning of each year and then following my progress as the year wears on.

(Right now I’ve completed 82% of this year’s challenge and am 2 books ahead of schedule, so yay for me.)

Reading Stats

I also enjoy looking at the stats in my challenge report.

(As of right now, I’ve read almost exactly the same number of pages that I read in all of last year. Thank you, 1Q84.)

Negative Reviews

I have a no-spoiler review policy on this blog and generally try to avoid negative reviews here. However, I do think that sometimes we can learn from reading a bad book just as we can learn from reading a good one. When I just can’t resist pointing out what I think is poor writing, I put it on Goodreads because their review platform will hide passages marked as spoilers (meaning that readers have to click to read the spoiler). 

Book Cover Images

I get all my book cover images from Goodreads. I like that it offers cover art for all formats so I can choose the proper illustration for hardcover, paperback, audio, or ebooks.

And About the Star Rating System

The rating scale of one to five stars gets a lot of criticism, and I generally agree. On a scale of one to five, the midpoint is 2.5, which means that’s the rating an overall mediocre book should receive. Yet there is no 2.5 rating. So do we round down to two stars or up to three stars?

I don’t use star ratings on all the books I record on Goodreads, but when I do use them I often suffer the rounding-down or rounding-up dilemma. In general, I prefer to give verbal evaluations rather than just number ratings to the books I read.

How about you?

Do you use Goodreads? If you do, how do you like it? What features do you especially like or dislike?

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book News Fiction Oddities

9+ Tolkien-Inspired Recipes to Enjoy on Hobbit Day

Celebrate Hobbit Day with a feast fit for the Shire and these Tolkien inspired recipes for your second breakfast and more.

Source: 9+ Tolkien-Inspired Recipes to Enjoy on Hobbit Day

Happy Hobbit Day, a celebration of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ birthdays.

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Author News Book News Last Week's Links Reading Writing

Literary Links

J.K. Rowling’s ‘Troubled Blood’ is her most ambitious Robert Galbraith novel yet — and likely the most divisive

cover: Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

I have liked J.K. Rowling’s mystery novels featuring Cormoran Strike—published under the pen name Robert Galbraith—very much. But Rowling herself has been criticized recently for transphobic remarks she made earlier this year. (This article contains a link to a related article.)

The fifth novel in the Cormoran Strike series, Troubled Blood, has recently been published. “In her new book, Rowling has created a creepy serial killer who dresses in women’s clothes to more easily reel in his female victims,” writes Bill Sheehan in this article in The Washington Post. Further:

A question quickly arises: Is the creation of such a character a legitimate aesthetic choice or is it an affront to the LGBTQ community? While I don’t pretend to know the author’s motivations, I lean toward the former interpretation. Many others will no doubt passionately disagree.

Sheehan’s appreciative review of the book is quite short, yet it has reopened the discussion about whether authors can or should be separated from their works. He ends the piece with “Let the arguments begin.”

And begin they have. There are already 734 comments. Read on.

The Era of Pandemic Literature Is Upon Us, and It’s Starting With Regina Porter’s ‘Daily Cleanse’

After six months, we’re far enough into the COVID-19 health crisis to begin to see what kind of literature will emerge from it. Adrienne Westenfeld, an assistant editor at Esquire, leads the way:

When truth is stranger than fiction, writers of fiction often make sense of reality on the page; yet in the unprecedented age of the coronavirus pandemic, many writers have reported feeling paralyzed by incessant despair, leaving them unable to create. But Regina Porter, the acclaimed author of 2019’s The Travelers, wasn’t paralyzed—instead, Porter found herself “compelled” to start a new novel at the height of the pandemic. In “Daily Cleanse,” a story adapted from that forthcoming novel-in-progress, tentatively titled The Rich People Have Gone Away, Porter introduces Theo Harper, a privileged New Yorker struggling to keep secrets from his pregnant wife, Darla, as life in the city grinds to a devastating halt due to the coronavirus. “Daily Cleanse” is at once an unsparing look into the discomforts of intimacy and a deeply felt portrait of a transformed city, one where, Porte

In this interview, “Porter spoke with Esquire about accessing her creativity against all odds, creating morally complicated characters, and employing fiction to investigate questions about race.”

Essay collection ‘Seismic’ reflects on Seattle’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature — and the power of storytelling

Nearly three years ago, Seattle’s literary reputation was solidified on the world stage with its designation as a UNESCO City of Literature. On Sept. 15, “Seismic — Seattle, City of Literature,” a collection of essays from Seattle-area writers like Timothy Egan, Claudia Castro Luna, Charles Johnson and more will be released — a series of reflections on what this status means for Seattle, and how art, literature and stories can be forces for change.

The Seattle Times offers the collection’s introductory chapter by editor Kristen Millares Young and the essay by Ken Workman (Duwamish, great-great-great-great-grandson of Chief Si’ahl), which Young describes as “canonical.”

Why Goodreads is bad for books

I use Goodreads, but only for a few particular aspects of my life. But I see a lot of references to how unhappy people are with Goodreads. Sarah Manavis fills in some of the blanks for me here; I don’t have most of the problems because I don’t use the features that people find problematic. But from her descriptions, I can tell that if I did use Goodreads for those purposes, I’d probably be unsatisfied with the platform’s functionality, too.

I found particularly interesting her description of The StoryGraph, a new service under development and scheduled for formal launch early next year.

What Made Black and Blue Pens Standard? A Colorful Look at Ink

set of 24 colored pens

When I was a kid, ballpoint pens—which we didn’t get to use in school until 4th grade—came only in blue, black, or red. By the time I started college, green ballpoints were available, which the rebel in me promptly adopted as my main writing implement.

In this article Yashvi Peeti delves into the history of ink and the psychology of color to help us choose among all the writing implements and colors now available.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Awards & Prizes Book News

A Literary Guide to the 2020 Emmy Awards | Los Angeles Public Library

Every September, the Primetime Emmy Awards are handed out, celebrating the best that television had to offer from the previous season. Usually, this event entails the red carpet, designer dresses, flashing lights, and giant crowds. Well, this year is going to be a little bit different. This year’s virtual ceremony will combine pre-recorded and live video of host Jimmy Kimmel and the nominees. And of those nominees, a whopping 12 shows were adapted from books.

Source: A Literary Guide to the 2020 Emmy Awards | Los Angeles Public Library