3 Short Reviews

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

Barton, Fiona. The Suspect   
Penguin Audio, 2019   
Narrated by Susan Duerden, Fiona Hardingham, Nicholas Guy Smith, Katharine Lee McEwan   
ISBN 9781524779962

cover: The Suspect

When two British girls spending their gap year in Thailand disappear, journalist Kate Waters senses a possible big story. Always looking for the latest big scoop, she doesn’t hesitate to insinuate herself into the investigation as much as possible. In this case she gets as close as she possibly can to the girls’ families to keep up with all the latest developments.

But Kate is dealing with a personal issue while she’s chasing this story. After a period of sporadic, noncommital phone calls, she and her husband now haven’t heard from their son Jake in quite a while. They are surprised to hear that he dropped out of college a while ago. As they novel continues, they discover that Jake may also be in Thailand. Kate’s attempts to follow up on the missing-girls story while also looking for her son raise the question of how closely a journalist can and should get personally involved in her work.

This is the third book—after The Widow (2016) and The Child (2017)—featuring Kate Waters but can be read as a standalone novel. My favorite of the three is The Child, so if you’re not familiar with the Kate Waters series, I’d suggest starting there.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


Saratoga Payback by Stephen Dobyns

Dobyns, Stephen. Saratoga Payback
Dreamscape Media, 2017   
Narrated by George Newbern   ISBN 9781520067070

cover: Saratoga Payback

Published in 2017, this book is the 11th in Dobyns’s Charlie Bradshaw series, though the first since 1998. Much has changed in Charlie’s life. The police have revoked his private investigator’s license, and he’s now trying to get used to life as a retired senior citizen. And he is now married to Janie, whose youngest child, a 14-year-old daughter, is still at home. Charlie and his stepdaughter have a good relationship. 

Still, household repairs just can’t replace investigating, so when a corpse lands on Charlie’s front sidewalk, he has to decide whether to hand the situation off to the local cops or to risk breaking the law by investigating without a license. When the cops show little interest in the case, Charlie begins to sniff around surreptitiously; he reasons that, since the dead man was obviously coming to see Charlie, he has a right to look into how and why the guy was killed in Charlie’s front yard.

Fans of the series will be gratified to learn that Charlie’s friend Victor Plotz and The Queen of Softness are still together. I doubt if anyone who has not read at least some of the previous books in the series will be interested in this one. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell

Campbell, Michele. She Was the Quiet One   
Macmillan Audio, 2018  
Narrated by January LaVoy  
ISBN 1250205166

cover: She Was the Quiet One

This novel might have been better if it were about 1/3 shorter. But the drawn-out story just emphasizes the book’s shortcomings. 

Two orphaned fraternal twin girls are sent by their emotionally cold grandmother to a prestigious New England boarding school for their sophomore year of high school. The twins fit a stereotype: one, Rose, is light; her sister, Bel, is dark. The girls are assigned to different rooms in the same dormitory. The heads of the dormitory, both also teachers at the school, are devastatingly handsome Heath Donovan and his wife, Sarah.

Rose, although feeling alienated among the cliquish student body, flourishes academically at the fiercely competitive school. But Bel gets pulled into the wrong crowd—the bratty, trouble-making, cruel clique of seniors—as soon as she arrives. For an entire semester Rose harps at Bel to get away from those kids, and Bel continues to defend herself and her new friends, accusing Rose of being jealous.

As the twins’ relationship sours, the Donovans have their own problems. Sarah hears rumors about her husband but refuses to believe them. A little of such behavior would be credible, but Sarah gradually becomes so emotionally needy that her thoughts and actions descend into melodrama. At the same time we see Heath become increasingly unstable and unreliable. This process drags on long enough to become quite annoying and to lose, eventually, any semblance of credibility. 

The ending brings about a sense of relief rather than any semblance of closure. In fact, the book ends with a bizarre epilogue, the only purpose of which seems to be to suggest that a sequel may be in the works. If so, I won’t be reading it.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

The first fairytales were feminist critiques of patriarchy. We need to revive their legacy

Melissa Ashley finds the origin of fairytales to “a coterie of 17th century French female writers known as the conteuses, or storytellers.” Fairytales “crystallised as a genre” in this time when women, sometimes as young as 15, were married off—often to men many years older than themselves—to protect family property. Women could not divorce, work, or control their inheritances. The conteuses’ stories “invited women to imagine greater freedom in their lives, to be their own authors of the most fundamental of all human endeavours – to be able to choose whom to love.”

THE LAST UNPROBLEMATIC OLD WHITE MALE AUTHORS (WE THINK)

In this age of #MeToo and disparagement of the Western literary canon as outmoded products from the minds of dead white guys, Dylan Brown argues that “there are, by my count, at least three old white guys (all of whom are alive!) who are still ‘safe’ to read.” Read why he finds the work of these three men “stands the test of time — even in these times. It is, in other words, enlightened despite their era”: Charles Portis (True Grit), Nicholson Baker (A Box of Matches), and Steven Millhauser (Martin Dressler).

WHEN YOU WRITE YOUR WORST FEARS IN YOUR NOVEL—AND THEN THEY COME TRUE

Six days before the publication of her first novel, Amber Cowie’s brother died. When she visited the room he had last inhabited, she sickeningly realized “the space was nearly identical to a scene I had written in my book.” Cowie found help in understanding her situation by examining the lives of writers Lois Duncan, who wrote about her daughter’s murder, and Shirley Jackson, whose last diary entries before her sudden death suggest she felt “a portending sense of loss and mystery.” 

Jackson, Duncan and I created stories that both reflected and predicted the things that scared us the most.

From Iliad to Inspiration: How Homer’s Epic Inspired My Debut Novel

Probably the question writers hear most often is “Where do you get your ideas?” Here Shannon Price describes how Homer’s Iliad, required reading in a required college course, inspired her first novel.

How Literary Translation Can Shift the Tides of Power

Whether it came from a news report, travel blog, film or work of fiction, our understanding of these far-flung countries [China, Japan, Korea] is limited by what gets translated into our language. But who and what determines which voices and whose stories we get to hear? Whose voices are we not hearing?

Jen Wei Ting explains the responsibilities she feels as a translator.

The Disappearance of John M. Ford

When a friend insisted he read The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford, Isaac Butler was dazzled by the book:

The Dragon Waiting is an unfolding cabinet of wonders. Over a decade before George R.R. Martin wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, Ford created an alternate-history retelling of the Wars of the Roses, filled with palace intrigue, dark magic, and more Shakespeare references than are dreamt of in our philosophy. The Dragon Waiting provokes that rare thrill that one gets from the work of Gene Wolfe, or John Crowley, or Ursula Le Guin. A dazzling intellect ensorcells the reader, entertaining with one hand, opening new doors with another.

Yet when Butler tried to buy more of Ford’s works, he found they were out of print and mostly not available even in used copies. He set out to discover how Ford had written such amazing books and why he was so unknown today. Butler’s investigation into Ford and his works makes for fascinating reading. Best of all, his work resulted in an agreement to republish Ford’s work, beginning in 2020.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

America’s First Banned Book Really Ticked Off the Plymouth Puritans

A portrait of Thomas Morton, an English businessman who came to the New World with the Puritans but didn’t share their religious zeal. Morton “had the audacity to erect a maypole in Massachusetts.”

The Rise and Fall of Booth Tarkington

“How a candidate for the Great American Novelist dwindled into America’s most distinguished hack.”

Recently I read The Magnificent Ambersons, one of Booth Tarkington’s two—yes, TWO!—Pulitzer-Prize-winning novels, and just about choked on it. This New Yorker profile tackles the question “How to explain this remarkable career—the meteoric ascent to fame, the impregnable reputation over several decades, and then the pronounced plunge into obscurity?”

All of Our Good—and All of Our Evil—Lies in Wait in the Archives

“The more time I spend in archives, the more I realize how important they are,” writes Sara Sligar. Here she explains why archives are such “good fodder for fiction” and discusses some of her “favorite novels about archives and documents: thrilling reads that turn seemingly dreary record-keeping into nail-biting suspense.” Her list includes, among others, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Possession by A.S. Byatt, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

THE CURRENT STATE AND FUTURE OF GOODREADS

Steph Coelho discusses the history and still-growing popularity among readers of Goodreads. Despite its popularity, Coelho writes, the site hasn’t changed much since its inception in December 2006. Here she looks at “what’s not working according to Goodreads users” and “what people love about Goodreads.” She discusses the issue of what the future holds for Goodreads with Goodreads CEO Veronica Moss and, if you’re more dissatisfied than satisfied with Goodreads, offers some current alternatives for keeping track of your reading.

But, she writes, “I wouldn’t recommend abandoning the platform anytime soon. I’m excited to see what’s on the horizon.”

My friend, my self

“Female friendship is central to much recent fiction and film. What can it say about the role of relationships in identity?”

Susan Bright examines the role of female friendships, with a focus on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s TV comedy drama Fleabag:

What makes both these examples of friendship resonate is their intimacy and vulnerability, not only between the two women, but within the main characters themselves. These women are flawed but honest. Their fallibility, loneliness and insecurity might not make them likeable, but they are totally relatable. In short, seeing ourselves reflected in fiction makes us feel less alone. And so it seems that the most compelling stories are not really about friendship at all, but about self-awareness, self-deception, loneliness and self-confidence (or its lack). These stories focus on female friendship to show that there can be competitiveness and jealousy, transgression and guilt, but also genuine love; the relationships between women can be acutely observant and thought-provoking guides to deep emotions of the self.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

5 Domestic Thrillers: Terror at Home

Related Post:

The characters in “you can’t go home again” novels discover that going back home can often be a mistake because the secrets, lies, and betrayals they had hoped to leave behind are still there waiting to suck them back in. 

The characters in domestic thrillers often share backgrounds similar to their counterparts in “you can’t go home again” novels. But instead of venturing back home, they have tried to construct a fortress in a different home to protect their families by shutting out past events. 

But even characters who don’t have significant pasts to hide discover that, no matter how hard they try, they can’t always protect those they love from trouble, because sometimes trouble enters the seeming stability of home through the front door (or the back door, or a window. . .).

fancy scroll

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Jackson, Joshilyn. Never Have I Ever  
Harper Audio, 2019  
Narrated by Joshilyn Jackson  
ISBN 9780062933546

Recommended

cover: Never Have I Ever

This is the novel that prompted me to make this list. It’s the story of Amy Whey, who has built the perfect life: a loving husband, a burbling baby boy, a young teenage stepdaughter with whom she shares a loving relationship, a best friend named Charlotte, and a close-knit neighborhood social network. 

Then one night, just as the monthly book group gathering is about to start, Amy’s doorbell rings. A sultry, fashionably dressed woman offers wine and asks to join the book group. She’s just moved into the empty house on the cul-de-sac, she explains. Her name is Angelica Roux: “Just call me Roux.”

Roux makes sure all the wine glasses stay full and engages the group in “never have I ever,” a party game that involves the spilling of secrets. Everyone else sees the drunken game as harmless fun—except for Amy. She realizes that Roux’s questions are aimed at her. When the two women are alone together, Roux warns that if Amy doesn’t give her what she wants, Roux will make her pay. 

Who exactly is this woman, and what soes she know? More importan, what’s her endgame?

When Roux’s teenage son, driving a red sports car, begins to hit on Amy’s stepdaughter, Amy comes to rue the day she opened her front door to this intruder. For, Amy realizes, Roux’s threats apply not only to herself, but also to those she loves—her family, her friends, the entire life she’s built for herself. The only way to protect it all is to beat Roux at her own dangerous game of digging up past secrets and answering threats with even bigger counter-threats.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


The Wife by Alafair Burke

Burke, Alafair. The Wife   
HarperAudio, 2018  
Narrated by Xe Sands

Recommended

cover: The Wife

Angela met Jason Powell while catering a party in East Hampton. She assumed their romance would be just a summer fling, like most other affairs between locals and the wealthy summer visitors. But the relationship blossomed, and they were married a year later.

The marriage to Jason, a well-known economics professor at NYU, allowed Angela a new start. She and her son moved to Manhattan, and the three of them built a happy life together. But six years later, Jason’s best-selling book brings them media attention. When a college intern accuses Jason of inappropriate behavior, another woman, Kerry Lynch, steps up with her own allegation. Jason insists he’s innocent, and Angela believes him. But when Kerry Lynch disappears, Angela must rethink her position. 

But this is not just a case of a woman having to decide whether to stand by her man, because Angela has her own reasons for needing to avoid the spotlight. The strength of this novel lies in the way Angela weighs her moral options as her situation changes.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

Kubica, Mary. Every Last Lie  
Harlequin Audio, © 2017

cover: Every Last Lie

Clara Solberg, holding her four-day-old infant in her arms when she answers the door bell, can’t believe what the police are telling her: her husband, Nick, has been killed in a car crash, though their four-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat, is unhurt.

As Clara faces the first few days of a life without Nick, paranoia threatens to overwhelm her. She can’t believe the investigators’ conclusion that Nick simply took a dangerous curve too fast. Another car must have been chasing Nick. Who? And why? There must be some explanation for what happened. Random accidents don’t simply happen and shatter one’s world, do they?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Finn, A.J. The Woman in the Window  
HarperCollins Audio, 2018  
Narrated by Ann Marie Lee  
ISBN 9780062678430

cover: The Woman in the Window

Anna Fox is a child psychologist recovering from a personal trauma. She drinks heavily and suffers from agoraphobia so crippling that she can’t even step outside her front door. One day she looks out her window and sees a confrontation taking place in the window across the courtyard. When the teenaged boy who lives in that house visits her to bring a gift, she begins to sympathize with him.

So she begins to monitor what goes on inside the house across the way. As long as she stays inside her own house, nothing can harm her. Right?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Jewell, Lisa. Then She Was Gone  
Dreamscape Media, 2018  
Narrated by Helen Duff  
ISBN 9781520098289

Every book I’ve written has been about family, in one form or another. . . . family forms the skeleton of every story I want to tell. And the backbone of every family is, as we all know, the mother.

Lisa Jewell
cover: Then She Was Gone

In this novel Lisa Jewell puts her own spin on the standard missing child trope. Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together 10 years after the disappearance of her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie. In those 10 years Laurel and her husband have divorced and Laurel has grown distant from her other daughter.

What Jewell does so well is flesh out the characters so that readers become engaged in their lives. Jewell is also adept at creating plot points that go beyond the standard bare-bones formulas to produce surprising but credible events. It’s impossible to say much more about this novel without spoiling it, so sit back and appreciate how Lisa Jewell pulls off this domestic thriller. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

In the rush to harvest body parts, death investigations have been upended

Maybe I just read too many crime novels and watch too many cop shows. Or maybe I’m just gruesome by nature. Yet I often think of exactly this problem when I’m reading a novel or watching a show. A medical examiner needs time to conduct a full investigation (autopsy and lab tests) to determine manner of death (natural causes, accident, suicide, homicide), yet time is of the essence if the dead person is an organ, bone, and/or tissue donor. So who takes precedence, the medical examiner or the transplant team?

This article from the Los Angeles Times also has a local angle for me. If you click through to the article, you’ll see that the photo of a corpse at the top is from the Pierce County medical examiner’s office in Tacoma, Washington—my home town. The reason for this is probably that Melissa Baker, a former investigator in the Pierce County medical examiner’s office, filed a whistleblower complaint in 2015. She is quoted in this article:

“One of my biggest concerns … was the mere fact that someone could potentially get away with murder because evidence has been bungled, lost or not collected,” she said.

While most of this article focuses on Los Angeles County and California law, many of the issues it brings up are informative for anyone interested in what happens after someone dies. I found the graphic labeled “How much is a body worth?” particularly eye-opening.

ADAPTING ADULT BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS

Adapting books for young readers can mean a variety of different things. It can mean adding pictures, changing slurs to slightly less harsh words, or cutting out passages that may seem a little boring to young readers. There are many great books adapted for young readers that come out of this process, and it is a helpful way to introduce kids to new historical and contemporary figures that don’t have as many books for all reading levels as, for example, Abraham Lincoln.

Here’s an interesting article about adapting nonfiction texts for younger (say middle-grade) readers. Such adaptations can contribute to providing children with diverse life stories and new paths of encouragement—for example, Life in Motion, the memoir of pioneering dancer Misty Copeland. “Being able to choose a book with a picture or drawing on the front that looks like yourself is still a privilege, and should not be taken for granted.”

American Gothic: The Woman Who Escaped the Asylum

This excerpt from Nightmare Factories: The Asylum in the American Imagination by Troy Rondinone focuses on two images of Woman that pervaded the 19th century: the woman in white, the angel of the house; and the woman in black, representing woman’s roles as caretaker and moral guardian of society. “Both images are archetypes, two sides of a rubric of femininity that simultaneously empowered and smothered the 19th-century female.”

In “a culture that demanded that women know and accept their place . . . the asylum became a tool of discipline in the gothic world of sentimental fiction.”

What Greta Gerwig Saw in ‘Little Women’: ‘Those Are My Girls’

Cover: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women will debut on Christmas Day 2019. In this article Amanda Hess writes that Gerwig’s treatment is “less an update than it is an excavation” of a novel that portrays the March sisters as “posed unnaturally in the conventional narratives of their time.” 

‘A Walk in the Woods’ vs. A Walk in the Woods: On Reading as a Substitute for Experience

Jacob Lambert learns a lesson:

Reading is an incredible thing, but it’s a poor substitute for life. I’m amazed, and embarrassed, that I’ve had to learn such an obvious lesson. Yes, adulthood is tiring, children will suck you dry, and it’s easy to stay inside. But I remember now: though I packed The Grapes of Wrath on that long-ago, six-week drive, I read almost none of it. And I didn’t miss it at all.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

“Monsters, villains, and antiheroes are largely just like us”

Monsters, villains, and antiheroes are largely just like us—with one key difference. They have the power to fulfill self-interests because they live beyond the dictates of morality. They care little for how their actions affect others, so nothing is forbidden. For them, it’s not a matter of “Should I do this?” but “Can I do this?” And whether that means seeking vengeance or stealing the crown or setting fire to an entire city, these characters can and do act on their desires, regardless of the consequences. Their depravity—their freedom—allows us readers to explore the darker side of our own natures in a safe way. Because even though we might fantasize about eviscerating our enemies, we don’t actually want to.

Shelby Mahurin

Literary Links

Learning to Write Mysteries the Mystic River Way

Angie Kim’s recently published debut novel Miracle Creek is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Dennis Lehane’s 2001 book Mystic River is a novel I still remember well even after all these years. Coming across this article, in which Angie Kim explains teaching herself how to structure the novel she wanted to write by rereading Mystic River multiple times, felt like a reunion with two old friends.

Kim writes that she also studied novels by Kate Atkinson, Laura Lippman, Tana French, and Chris Bohjalian: “I loved how [these novels] used the mystery frame to immediately pull their readers into the narrative and propel them forward, but how they forced us to slow way down as we went deep into the psyche of the narrators.” She wanted to create in her novel the same degree of immersiveness she found in those models. Her success in doing so is what makes Miracle Creek such a powerful novel.

HOW TO DETERMINE THE READING LEVEL OF A BOOK

For parents wondering how to choose books appropriate for their children, Katherine Willoughby takes a look at “all of the various ways educators, librarians, and book publishers level and categorize books for young readers.”

WHY FICTION IS THE PERFECT TROJAN HORSE TO DISCUSS ETHICAL DILEMMAS

Kira Peikoff explains one of the benefits of reading fiction:

we need fictional outlets like television, movies, and books. Far from being superficial add-ons to life, they help us to live life. Storytelling is the oldest form of virtual reality. Through the safe haven of fiction, as we watch characters go through their own turmoil, we may encounter our own deepest fears and flaws, our highest hopes and strongest convictions. We may find inspiration, learn profound lessons, and gain the strength to overcome our own conflicts. In rare cases, we may even find ourselves rethinking our entire perspective.

‘All crime writers are asking is for a little respect’

Bert Wright, writing for The Irish Times, tackles the question of why crime fiction is so often spoken of as inferior to literary fiction. “All crime writers are asking is for a little respect but too often it is not forthcoming.”

“Whatever the truth of the matter, crime fiction is on an irresistible roll and no amount of splenetic wind-baggery can make the slightest dent in crime fiction’s hard-earned self-esteem.”

CAROLYN KEENE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE REAL NANCY DREW AUTHOR

You may have heard that Carolyn Keene was the original Nancy Drew author and that Harriet Stratemeyer Adams later wrote additional novels published under Keene’s name. But Annika Barranti Klein explains that the real story isn’t quite that simple. Read the complex story of who really wrote and published all the novels in this popular series.

 The Talented Patricia Highsmith’s Private Diaries Are Going Public

Now this news is worth waiting for: Liveright Publishing plans to publish hundreds of pages from Patricia Highsmith’s personal diaries as a single volume in 2021. This article describes Highsmith as:

a literary figure whose sharply observed psychological thrillers, including “Strangers on a Train” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” became cultural touchstones. She was a secretive, often prickly woman who remained a cipher even to her friends and lovers, and a trailblazer who wrote one of the first mainstream novels depicting two women in love. But she could be blinded by her own bigotry and espoused racist and anti-Semitic views.

The diaries—“56 spiral-bound notebooks, totaling some 8,000 pages”—were discovered after Highsmith’s death in 1995, tucked behind sheets and towels in a linen closet of her house in Switzerland.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 Degrees of Separation: 1 Woman and 6 Others

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 begin with a classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

1. Another book with the name Alice in the title is Lisa Genova’s first novel, Still Alice. Previous fiction about Alzheimer’s disease had explored the condition from the perspective of relatives and/or caregivers, but in this 2007 novel Genova portrays the condition from the point of view of the patient.

2. A woman’s name also appears in the title of Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace. This novel is based on an 1843 case in which Grace Marks was convicted of murdering her employer and his housekeeper/mistress but had no memory of the event. The novel explores the experience of Doctor Simon Jordan, an emerging specialist in the growing field of mental illness, who tries to help Grace remember what happened.

3. Elizabeth Strout chose a woman’s name as the title of her novel Olive Kitteridge, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Through a collection of several vignettes the novel portrays Olive, a retired school teacher, as others in her small town in Maine see her. Strout returns to her titular character in Olive, Again, published on October 15, 2019.

4. Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey sports a woman’s name in the title. Like Still Alice, this novel, winner of the 2014 Costa Book Award for First Novel, portrays a character suffering from dementia. That character, Maud, may forget why she came into the room, but she’s certain that her friend Elizabeth is missing. Could her scattered memories hold the answer to a 70-year-old unsolved mystery?

5. Elizabeth Is Missing is from my shelf of books to-be-read that present fictional portrayals of older women. Another book on that shelf, and one that also contains a woman’s name in the title, is Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. As 84-year-old Florence lies on the floor waiting to be rescued after a fall, she thinks about her past life with her long-time friend Elsie. The dust jacket copy promises a tale of love and friendship couched within a mystery.

6. This chain ends with another novel from that same TBR shelf, What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr. This novel apparently is an edgier thriller than the previous two. When Rose finds herself in an Alzheimer’s unit in a nursing home with no memory of how she got there, she executes a plan to find out who wants to put her away and why.

From a couple of Alices through Grace, Olive, Elizabeth, Elsie, and Rose, we’ve gone through a sequence of novels that all feature a woman’s name in the title. This was so much fun I hope I get to do it again some time.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers

Joe Pinsker looks at the question of “why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t.” Here’s no surprise: “a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.”

How Reese Witherspoon became the new high priestess of book clubs

“Since Reese’s Book Club launched in 2017 in partnership with the actress’s media company, Hello Sunshine, it has become an industry phenomenon with the power to catapult titles to the top of the bestseller lists.” According to the article, “Reese really picks the books.”

The Loser-Spy Novelist for Our Times

James Parker, a staff writer for The Atlantic, praises English novelist Mick Herron on the publication of his latest novel, Joe Country. “Mick Herron writes about the broken spies sworn to protect today’s broken England,” the article’s subtitle proclaims.

“Like John le Carré—with whom he has been much compared—Herron is obsessed with that area of human experience, that area of the human brain, where paranoia overlaps with an essential, feral vigilance.”

Read Editor Carmen Maria Machado’s Intro to The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

cover: he Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

Here’s another look at the age-old, ever-recurring question of the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction.

This omnivorous selection of stories chosen by series editor John Joseph Adams and World Fantasy Award finalist Machado is a display of the most boundary-pushing, genre-blurring, stylistically singular science fiction and fantasy stories published in the last year. By sending us to alternate universes and chronicling ordinary magic, introducing us to mythical beasts and talking animals, and engaging with a wide spectrum of emotion from tenderness to fear, each of these stories challenge the way we see our place in the cosmos.

Orphans and their quests

Harvard Ph.D. candidate Manvir Singh discusses what he calls the sympathetic plot, which pervades world literature and controls how we respond to stories. One common trope of the sympathetic plot is the story of orphans, “parentless protagonists [that] are everywhere.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books I Wish I Could Read for the First Time Again

Recently I came across the article 14 Books You Wish You Could Read for the First Time Again. Off the Shelf editors asked members of their Facebook group which books they wish they could read again for the first time and published some of the responses.

I agree with these titles from the article:

  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King  
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver  
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman  
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Examining the Off the Shelf list made me consider exactly what qualities make me want to reread a book. Often it’s the enjoyment of seeing how a writer makes a particular story work—the mechanics of getting plot and character to mesh to produce a satisfying whole. Sometimes it’s the experience of spending time with characters who feel like real people, and other times it’s seeing how characters react to situations that we hope we’ll never have to face in real life. Usually it’s the emotional realization that, although we are all individuals, we all share a common humanity. 

Many times rereading a book is more pleasurable because I already know, in general terms, what’s going to happen and who I’m going to meet along the way. Yet there are still some books that I wish I could read again with fresh eyes.

For that reason, here, in no particular order, are a few books I would add to this list:

  • All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren  
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara  
  • “The Lottery” (short story) by Shirley Jackson 
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell  
  • Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz  
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra  
  • Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy  
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney  
  • Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson  
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd  
  • We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates  
  • Mystic River by Dennis Lehane  
  • L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy 

How About You?

What makes you want to reread a book? And what books do you wish you could read for the first time again?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown