Thursday, March 31, 2022

CHALLENGE: Historical Fiction Reading, March


Still Life by Sarah Winman 
1940s - 1970s, Italy and England but mostly Florence

Enjoyable read about an Englishman who was in Italy during WW2 and 
meets an art historian. After the war he goes back to England and hangs 
out with an odd assortment of characters at a bar. Circumstances take 
him, and a few characters, back to Florence wherethey make a life. The 
art historian hovers around and it takes years for them to reconnect.

The author narrated, which was okay, but I thought a professional 
narrator might have madea difference, for the better, for me.
I liked it; other readers at LT have loved it a lot. 

Matrix by Lauren Groff
review can be found here

1200s England, convent

When We Lost Our Heads - Heather O'Neill
late 19th century Montreal
This one needed its own review post as I really loved it.

Circle by Maggie Shipstead
early 1900s to 1950s America, plus present day 
looking back
review has been posted here

The Raven's Tale by Cat Winters
late 1820s, Virginia and Richmond

Are you a fan of Edgar Allan Poe? This historical fiction is for you. 
Picture tormentedEdgar at seventeen, heading off to university with 
his muse, Lenore, tagging along. 
The writing is lovely and many parts try to match 'The Raven' as that is
obviously going to be a big part of the story. I've read a few of Poe's short
stories, and the Simpsons' Halloween episode 'The Raven' is one of my 
favourites. I've been inspired to buy a kindle book of Poe's work to enjoy. 
It's very fantastical (a raven-type women is following him and can be seen 
by others, and then another muse shows up who wants Edgar to focus on 
hissatirical writing) he's a tormented artist, (his guardian thinks he's a whiny
 teenager, lol) but he could write!

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

TOP TEN TUESDAY: 21st Century Books I Think Will Become Classics


We will know how well we chose our future classics by how many books appear on everyone's lists. How many of my picks are also on your list?  This week's topic of Top Ten Tuesday is 21st Century books I Think Will Become Classics. For more lists and to see future topics, visit That Artsy Reader Girl

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Monday, March 28, 2022

REVIEW: Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead


Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, narrated by Cassandra Campbell and 
Alex McKenna

This is a parallel time line story, so part is in the present, but the majority
 of the book (25 houraudiobook!) is in the past. There's a bit of Les 
Miserables going on here, in that perhaps some character's backstory goes
back too far. Like when you read about the bishop and think he'll be the 
main character and he really has no big part in the story? That's what this 
felt like. I didn't actually mind the long story because when Cassandra 
Campbell narrates, the story moves along so easily. But I'm sure if I was 
reading a paper book I would have wanted a more judicious editor as I 
didn't need to know so much about Marion's mother's background. 

The main story is about Marion Graves, a pilot who flew around the Earth 
in a longitudinal circle and then disappeared. In the present, a young 
troubled actress is set to play Marion in a bio-pic movie.The story goes back
and forth between them. We start with Marion, (after her mother's 
backstory) and her twin Jamie are rescued from a sinking ship in the early 
1900s.  Then the rest is Marion as she grows up, gets obsessed with flying, 
marries an older man who becomes obsessed and controlling with her. 

I liked it, but I'm not sure I got the big picture or theme of the story. Not 
that there needs to be a bigger picture, but for the length of the story I 
wanted a little more. Or for an interesting biography type historical fiction
it could have been a bit shorter, with less of the present day actress. 
However, I think it would make a great movie. The role of a strong 
determined woman, the war times,the mystery of her disappearance - it 
would translate well.

This has been longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2022.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

REVIEW: Matrix by Lauren Groff


Matrix by Lauren Groff

Historical fiction from the 1200s, Marie de France is sent from Eleanor of Aquataine's court to a destitute abbey at seventeen where she spends the rest of her life. Marie is smart and takes over the abbey due to her leadership abilities. She maintains contact with Eleanor who is a powerful ally. Monastary life which is often portrayed as being sent away and locked up actually provided women throughout history with a viable option for a life of learning and leadership away from the patriarchy.

I had a grand-aunt who joined the convent at sixteen, basically as soon as she could get away from her home when her widowed father remarried and began having a second family. She went to university, and taught, and then eventually earned a PhD in Education and taught at Boston College. She wrote books, travelling the world to do research. She had opportunities, despite a vow of poverty, that her sister (my grandmother) who married at eighteen and had seven children, did not. The book also portrays the wonderful community of women that a monestary is, and that was also what I saw visiting my aunt.

Maybe knowing a nun added to my enjoyment of the book. They are just people with jealousies (my aunt was pissed another nun horned in on my baptism, as she wasn't related but showed up) and bad habits (my aunt developed a slight Casino gambling habit in the last years of her life - everyone gave her tokens for Christmas). But they have a mutual goal in their life and they work together towards it, with women-power.

Marie brings her abbey to prominence and wealth by using her nuns to their best abilities, and keeping contact with the Queen. There are plenty of 'close' friendships as one should expect in a house full of women. I quite enjoyed this book and the look at a different time and life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

March 22: Books With an Adjective In the Title

Here's some mysteries on my list of books I want to read (plus a couple of Women's Prize for Fiction longlist books.) What do they have in common? An adjective in the title. I'm 90% sure these are all adjectives. What can I say, I'm a math/science teacher.

For more lists, and future topics, visit That Artsy Reader Girl.

The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Miss Koppel's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart

Entry Island by Peter May

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

The Blood Pit by Kate Ellis

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

REVIEW: When We Lost Our Heads by Heather O'Neill


When We Lost Our Heads by Heather O'Neill

On many levels, I really liked this book. I'm pretty sure it'll be on my best of reads for 2022. 

I went into When We Lost Our Heads with much anticipation of a new Heather O'Neill book. I first read Lullabies for Little Criminals, and I didn't quite get it. I liked it, but it was so outside my experience and comfort zone. Next was The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, and by now, I get her storytelling, and I like being along for the ride. By the time I read The Lonely Hearts Hotel, I moved Heather O'Neill onto my favourite author list.

Two young girls in late 1800s Montreal meet and have a immediate connection. Marie Antoine is the daughter of a sugar baron, and Sadie Arnett is the daugher of social/political climbers and they both live on the Golden Mile. It's a dangerous, passionate friendship between the girls. Dark things happen and the girls are separated, but still obsessed with each other. (The dark thing will come back later in the book - the plotting and twists were exquisite!) In my head I'm thinking that Marie Antoine sounds a lot like Marie Antoinette. 

The main part of the story comes after Sadie returns to Montreal and the girls are reunited. Marie is super rich and powerful and Sadie is a little darker and twisted. I loved that the book was nearly all female characters. You know the Bechdel test?  It's "a measure of the representation of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added."  Well this book passes with flying colours. The males are few and far between - Marie's father Louis and Sadie's brother Phillip are mentioned but not much else. 

I looked up for some information about the book while I was reading it, and found a review which pointed out some connections between the French Revolution and the book. I didn't figure this all out myself, but I had noticed the Marie Antoine part.

Louis Antoine (Louis XVI); Marie Antoine (Marie Antoinette); Sadie Arnett (Marquis de Sade); Mary Robespierre (Maximilien Robespierre); Jeanne-Pauline Marat (Jean-Paul Marat); and George Danton (Georges Danton). 

About this point I really think about the title and notice the cover picture. D'oh! The second half of the book sets up the revolution, with the female factory workers and the agitators. Everything is about the women - gender roles, women workers, contraception and childbirth, and expectations about women are defined continuously, while Marie and Sadie are not living according to expectations. 

So I loved the French Revolution parallels (even though I know so little about French Revolution), I loved the feminism, I loved the writing, and I loved twists and turns that I did not see coming. Let them eat cake indeed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books on My Spring TBR


I love a good TBR list. I'm not always good at finishing them, but the planning is most of the fun. For future lists and other entries, visit That Artsy Reader Girl.

Series Books

An Irish Country Cottage by Patrick Taylor

Lucifer's Harvest by Mel Starr

My Own Books

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

Chasing Painted Horses by Drew Hayden Taylor

Cop Killer by Maj Sjowell

The Raven's Tale by Cat Winters

Women's Prize for Fiction

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

New and Shiny

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Taste by Stanley Tucci

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books With Your Favorite Trope/Theme


Is retelling a trope or theme? It's going to be my theme today. A type of book I quite enjoy is the retelling of a classic story or a extension of the original story. Sometimes the writing of those old books can be a bit, dated? It's writing that doesn't match my brain. But the story is so good! So, reading the story in a new or modern take is something I generally like, and sometimes I like even better than the original. For other takes on this topic, visit That Artsy Reader Girl.

Pride and Prejudice

Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding - The best, simply the best. I loved this long before I ever read P&P and if possible, the movies are even better.

Longbourne by Jo Baker - A retelling of P&P but from the servants point of view. 

next to try: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Jane Eyre

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - An alternate world where books are more real. Thursday Next is trying to stop the ending from Jane Eyre from changing. Like nothing you've every read!

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins - Modern riff with which was a hoot. Lots of fun, lots of suspense and mystery. 

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand - What if Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre were friends at school? And Jane has to go become a governess at Thornfield? And maybe there are ghost hunters working for the king? Yeah, things take a turn, for the better! There are other books in this series about different Janes - Lady Jane Seymour, and Calamity Jane.

Anne of Green Gables

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy - Loved this back story of Marilla as a young girl

Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson - This was the story of Anne before Green Gables. LM Montgomery gave lots of clues and hints of Anne's life before the Cuthberts. I remember bawling while reading this just because I knew what Anne would end up as and feeling so awful for her early life. Knowing the happy ending coming made it bearable.

Sherlock Holmes

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas - Here we have the female version of Sherlock Holmes which is very, very well done. 

I know there are other versions, like Laurie K King's Mary Russell series, but I only read the first one of that series. Also, many different movie/television adaptations. I particularly liked the Benedict Cumberbatch version, and House.

Charles Dickens

Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon - Also a female version of the original, this is a YA version that was quite well done.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett  - Not a particular book, but Charles Dickens and Victorian London made for a fun YA read.


When She Woke by Hilary Jordan  based on The Scarlet Letter - A hundred percent better than The Scarlet Letter, but I've never been a fan of the Puritans. This is a futuristic version.

to try: Rook by Sharon Cameron based on The Scarlet Pimpernell - I'm excited to read this retelling because I love The Scarlet Pimpernell. I only read the Scarlet Pimpernell when I was looking at the library for The Scarlet Letter and picked the 'wrong' book. Best mistake ever

If you have any more suggestions for retellings, let me know!

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I Enjoyed, but Have Never Mentioned On My Blog in 2021


I was pretty negligent last year with my blog, so here's a list of books that I really enjoyed but never mentioned at all last year. I didn't even do a 'best of 2021' list but if I had, these would be some of the novels I would have talked about.

Mexican Gothic - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Nice creepy, gothic book. It's not clear what is going on for quite a while, but there are interesting characters and relationships as you wait to figure out. 

The Child by Fiona Barton

The Child is part of a series that includes The Widow, and The Suspect and main character is a reporter. I read these three books out of order, but they are mostly stand-alones. There is a baby skeleton found during a renovation, and who is the baby?

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey; Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

I read Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes, based on a real story about women who carried books in Kentucky as a form of bookmobiles. Real early feminism, providing isolated families with books and the information women might need to survive. So, with that background, Upright Women Wanted was also about women providing books to isolated families. But, this one is in the future so we get a futuristic take on this idea. Still, women helping women, and both books also have LGBTQ characters. Both were good. I couldn't believe I read two books that were the same but so different!

Because of You by Dawn French

Dawn French is a British actress known for The Vicar of Dibley is also an author. I read her book A Tiny Bit Marvelous and found it quite amusing. Because of You is a bit more serious, but was very good. A baby is stolen from a hospital and both stories - the stolen and the stolee, are told and it was heartbreaking.

The Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Great mystery described as an homage to Agatha Christie, it is actually two books in one. A sequel to The Magpie Murders, both books star a literary agent whose author turns up dead, and as she tries to figure it out, it turns out the clues are left in the last manuscript left by the author. So, we read the beginning, then we read the manuscript which is a full mystery book, and then the original story wraps up.

The Searcher by Tana French

My memory of this book is doing a puzzle over March Break last year, and nonstop listening to this book. This is one of Tana French's stand-alone books, and it was really good. An American detective has retired to the Irish countryside to get away, but gets caught up in a mystery. Terrific characters and story telling, but then, I'm a huge fan of Tana French.

Piranesi by Susannah Clarke

Probably my top fiction book from last year, just for the world-building that happened, and the immersion into the unknown place, and trying to figure it out. A book like none I've read that kept me very engaged and interested,

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Can't go wrong with a Liane Moriarty. She's become my Maeve Binchy of the 2020s. (That's a big compliment). Apples Never Fall follows a tennis family from Australia. The mom goes missing and her husband is suspected, and their adult children are divided on if he was involved. In true Moriarty fashion, their lives are all messy, with secrets that will inevitably come out. 

The Wheel on the School by Meindert deJong

I must have bought this book many years ago, knowing that it was a Newbery Medal winning book from 1954. It ended up being delightful! A group of six children in a small village in Holland wonder why storks don't nest there anymore. In their quest to bring back the storks, by putting a wheel on the roof, the entire village gets caught up in their plan. A little bit of adventure, a little bit of history, and working together to achieve a goal. Wonderful.

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

Book number 17 in the Three Pines series was one of the better ones to me. The pandemic is now a part of the story, and the idea of eugenics from an outspoken professor gets our gang of police officer providing security to a lecture. It's mostly the same ole Three Pines characters and opining by Gamauche, but something about this one was better than average. I was hoping they'd left his idiot son-in-law in France, but no such luck. The narrator, Robert Bathurst does his usual excellent job.