And so begins another installment of Posts Where I Write About the Books I’m Reading.
Books Tangential to Classic Books That I Love
- Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker
This is a retelling of Jane Eyre (best book ever–BBE) from the perspective of Edward Fairfax Rochester. Written in autobiographical form, it does a nice job of humanizing and fleshing out the character who we (meaning me) already know and love. Shoemaker’s writing follows Charlotte Bronte’s style closely enough that the two books feel related. This book delighted me, partially because I love anything adding to the story and mystique of the BBE, and partially because it was written so well. Mr. Rochester intimately tells the story of his childhood, his education, and the periods of his life which are essentially unknowable gaps in Jane’s telling of her story. Shoemaker has created a delicious backstory which both softens Mr. Rochester’s stormy character, and reveals his morals and motivations regarding his prickly life choices. I didn’t want it to end. Also, the ending was lovely.
- Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase
A dark and moody tale of a family living in a creepy, ill-fated English country home, this novel excels in establishing a dark and foreboding tone in the vein of Daphne du Maurier books. The way the book jumps around in time and features people’s lives turning on the hinge of tragedy (in a crumbling English country home) was distinctly Kate Morton (did she stop writing books? whyyyy?) The last third of the book didn’t maintain the same mysterious mood for me. It kind of lost its luster for me when it simply became a story about people’s weird choices.
Another War Book
- The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
A tale of female spies in Northern France during WWI, this book also skip-hops into the late 1940’s just after WWII’s end. I love a story about brave women, scared women, regular women who make mistakes, resilient women, tough women–which this book has. The villain, however, (beyond just THE GERMANS) struck me as too evil, in the sense that he was basically one-dimensional. Also, every single woman in this book uses/abuses/is abused because of her sexuality. This reiteration was likely an intentional choice by Quinn, but it struck me as being overused to the point of being predictable. But maybe that’s how wartime is for a great many women, what do I know. It was an intriguing story, but it fell a little flat for me. I may need to take a little break from war stories.
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
I am probably the last person on earth to read this book, but I’m glad I finally did. You probably already know about this wildly popular novel, but here’s the premise: a grumpy old man in Sweden, through a series of hilarious encounters, interacts and befriends several of his neighbors. Ove’s life unfolds in flashback sections, which describe just how he became the lovable curmudgeon he is. It’s a book that will make you laugh and renew your faith in humanity.
- Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander
Alexander is a neurosurgeon who, because of his intricate scientific knowledge of the human brain, can’t seem to reconcile God or an afterlife with his daily experience. But when he develops a deadly brain infection that nearly kills him, he describes what happens to his SPIRIT while his non-functioning brain sits encased in his unresponsive body for a week’s time. And it’s quite a story, guys. People’s stories about the afterlife have different elements, but one similarity, a common denominator for all, seems to be the overwhelming feeling of peace and love they experience in this spiritual state. I was moved by the clarity and richness of Alexander’s description, particularly as he went from being a non-believer in life after death, to a scientist who is basically devoting his life to recognizing the importance of understanding that we are beings who exist beyond what our brains tell us to do. He calls the human brain more of a filter than a thinking organism, because he experienced that our brains wouldn’t be able to process the vast amount of light and understanding that exist beyond our human experience. This was a fascinating read.
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
This book was deeply depressing to me. Green really knows how to write teenage characters, and he’s good at tragedy and human relationships. But I had a hard time getting past the drunkenness, porn- and tobacco-use, and sailor-esque speech of the teens at the Culver Creek boarding school in Alabama. And I’m not really prudish (a function of being a once-English major made to read ALL MANNER OF EVERYTHING). There was just such a sense of unmoored purposeless-ness in these poor kids’ lives. It was heartbreaking. Maybe that was the point. I had a hard time stomaching this one.
- The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
I’m two-thirds of the way through this book about humans caught in a literal fairy-world, which is a low-key frightening place. There is a great deal of political and family intrigue in this tale told by a mortal girl named Jude. The ruling class of fairies hates her (for various reasons), and she learns to defend herself from her dangerous enemies and advocate for herself from forces who seek to oppress and even destroy her. It is essentially a story about the importance of choice or agency, as the fairies try to control her thoughts and actions through magic. Jude values independence and her free will over power, wealth, or any other enticement. This is a richly-imagined and enormously creative book.
Whodunit Set in Vintage England
- The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
I’m only thirty pages into this story of two ten-year-old girls who set out to solve the mystery of their missing neighbor during a heat wave in 1976, but already I’m hooked. I haven’t read enough to really detail the arc of the story, but the writing thus far is perfect. It’s charming, in a way that books about possible murders shouldn’t be charming, but nevertheless are.
What else should I add to my gigantic stack of to-be-read books?