Literary Ladies or the Women of the Written Word Who Continually Inspire

Though oftentimes there are complaints about the dearth of complex, empowering women in film, literature has long been the champion of heroines. This week’s Broke and the Bookish Top Ten Tuesday post celebrates the heroines that have inspired us as readers. There was also an option to choose women of film and television, but books are where it all started for me so that’s what I’m focusing on.

*As usual, all following links lead to Goodreads*

1. Alanna of Trebond from The Song of the Lioness series: Alanna a.k.a The Lioness a.k.a The Woman Who Rides Like a Man a.k.a. The Lady Knight was and still is my hero. I found this series when I was a pre-teen and it was a really empowering series to read as a young girl. I still go back and re-read these books from time to time because I still connect with them.

2. Hermione Granger from The Harry Potter series: What can I say? Hermione showed a generation of young girls that is was OK to be brainy–better than OK, she made it noble and necessary. But she didn’t stop at book-learning either, Hermione followed her friends into the proverbial fire and often saved them from it too.

3. Anita Blake from the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series: She raises zombies, she executes vampires, and she wields sarcasm like a gun. Better yet, Anita is a character that struggles with her sense of morality and faith in the midst of temptation and fear. I have always appreciated her flaws as a character as much as her strengths, which is the hallmark of a powerful heroine.

4. Skye O’Malley from The O’Malley Saga: Bertrice Small was one of the first romance writers that I gravitated towards, and Skye O’Malley is arguably one of her finest characters. Skye creates an empire and revels in her independence, plus she has some serious seductive powers. Long before hashtags were a thing, Skye O’Malley was winning.

5. Mary Boleyn from The Other Boleyn Girl: The Other Boleyn Girl is one of my favorite historical novels. I’ve always been fascinated by the Tudor era, so I knew about Mary in passing, but Phillipa Gregory brought Mary to life in a vibrant and vulnerable way.

6. Diana Bishop from the All Souls Trilogy: I immediately connected with Diana in The Discovery of Witches because of her passion for archival research, which I was also doing at the time. Diana becomes quite a bit more than an academic throughout the series, but that will always be one of the principle reasons I love her.

7. Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium series: Lisbeth is one of the most bad-ass literary characters I’ve encountered, female or male. She’s troubled yet competent, secretive yet sexually open: the Millennium series is really her story.

8. Claire Randall from the Outlander series: One of Claire’s biggest strengths is her compassion and capacity to love. The time traveling thing is also great, but so many of her actions are defined by her kindness that cannot be mistaken for weakness.

9. Diana Mayo from The Sheik: E.L. James would be nothing without E.M. Hull. The original romance novel, Hull’s book created a whole market (don’t get me wrong it has some serious flaws a la Fifty Shades but is a much better read). Diana Mayo is headstrong and fiercely independent, which makes her an infinitely more interesting character.

10. Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice: Lizzie Bennet has been a role-model for generations in large part because of her flaws–her biting wit, her stubbornness, and her, well, pride. Her flaws are precisely why Elizabeth Bennet is compelling and lovable, which makes for one hell of a heroine.

There you have it! My top ten notable heroines. With the exception of Stieg Larsson, all of these characters were written by women as well. I’m not sure if that says more about female writers or about my personal preferences, but it’s an interesting coincidence nevertheless.

Who were your favorite femmes?

Thanks for popping in!

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Bookish People Problems

Ever feel your eye twitch when someone interrupts you while reading? Or does your gag reflex engage when someone tells you that they’ve seen the movie and that’s the same as reading the book? Then this post is for you!

This week’s Broke and the Bookish Top Ten Tuesday post is all about the book related problems I wrestle with. Maybe you struggle with the same bookish people problems that I do. If so, fear not. This is a safe space. And we can commiserate in the comments.

1. Shelf Space

Every reader out there probably has this problem. So many books to covet but such limited room. Making the tough purchasing decisions can be kind of painful. Choosing a book at a bookstore can be its own poignant agony, and then deciding whether or not to keep said book after reading it is a whole other kind of anxiety for me. I try to only keep the books that I would re-read and am a big believer in used bookstores for the books that I cannot justify keeping. I assuage my guilt of getting rid of a book with a “pay it forward” mentality.

2. Incapable of Finishing a TBR List

Seriously though. TBR posts are very common on Top Ten Tuesday and I have never fully completed one. My to-read list on my Goodreads account is currently stocked at 139 and it continues to grow. I get too sidetracked by other books, or, you know, life events to truly finish all the books I say I’m going to read. Which leads to…

3. Never Enough Time

Closely related to item number two, I sometimes find myself stricken by anxiety at the idea that I will never get to read all the books I’d like to read. Sometimes the idea gives me chest pains. I’m not kidding. I have given myself panic attacks about my inability to read everything I want to read in a lifetime. Priorities have never been so painful!

4. Resisting the Hype

I refused to read Harry Potter for two years after its initial release. The Harry Potter series are some of my all-time favorite books and I resisted them for TWO YEARS because I was annoyed by the hype. I think there is a glitch in my brain that stubbornly denies the appeal of popular opinion until said opinion has moved on. I do this with movies and TV shows as well. It’s a genuine problem.

5. Keeping Up With Trends

Closely tied in with problem number four is a burgeoning curiosity about trends. I want to know what’s going on in the book-world, so that I can resist it, and then scramble to keep up with it. I realize this is nuts. But it’s how I roll.

6. Wandering in Bookstores

I’m a methodical bookstore wanderer. I have to make a circle of the whole dang store. HAVE TO. Lord, help me if there are multiple floors. It’s not that I look at every book or every shelf precisely, but I don’t want to miss anything I might want to read. This isn’t a problem for me when I have leisure time but if I’m with people and I can’t complete the circuit I feel let down. Not to the point that I need to tell my friends that I need to look at the whole store, but close.

7. Airport Bookstores are my Drug of Choice

In the last five years I can count on one hand the times I have walked out of an airport without at least one book. It has become compulsory for me to look at the books in airport bookstores–the little kiosks with touristy junk, Cheetos, and three narrow shelves of books. It’s a drug and I’m all about it.

8. Movie ≠ Book

If you tell me you’re just not a reader, I have to accept that because people are different and differences are great. But if you try to tell me that watching the movie is the same as reading the book, I am trying really hard not to shake you. Movies and books are different creatures: like a house cat and a lion on the Serengeti. They may have some genetic traits in common but they’re wildly different animals. Capiche?

9. Fantasy, Always Fantasy

I have been reading romance novels since I was about twelve. Now I don’t have unrealistic expectations about reality in the bedroom department or even the physicality department (I mean it would be nice if a ruggedly handsome biker with a heart of gold turned out to be my soul mate but I’m not banking on it). Nope, my problem is that in romance novels there is a moment where you’re swept off your feet closely followed by a deep emotionally transparent conversation. I don’t expect that, per se, but fantasizing over it definitely a thing that I do. *Sigh*

10. Just One More Chapter

Every bibliophile has told themselves this potent lie more times than they would like to admit. I haven’t gone to bed before midnight in weeks for this very reason. I can’t truly call this a “problem” because I love doing it, but it does have some ramifications on my intellectual presence the next day.

I realize for many of these bookish problems, I am not alone. Some of them, I might be on my own, but personal quirks aside I think these are fairly typical. Tell me all about your best and worst problems in the comments!

Thanks for popping in!

Prototype Plays With Sci-Fi

Guys! I finally did it! I finally read M.D. Waters’ Prototype!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog–specifically my book posts–you know that I have mentioned Prototype or its predecessor, Archetype, in nearly every Top Ten Tuesday post for the better part of a year. I’m sure that was ever so fun to see the excessive repeats on my lists, but now I have actually read the darn thing and can give you a review.

For reference, here’s what I thought of the first novel in this two-part series, Archetype.

Prototype (Archetype #2)

Image respectfully borrowed from Goodreads.com

Emma Wade’s story picks up with her searching for her parents, both of whom were former members of the resistance. Shortly after making contact with someone who might help her, a worldwide broadcast reveals that not only is Emma’s ex, Declan Burke, alive but offering a pricey reward for her return. With everyone chasing after her, Emma has no choice but to return to resistance headquarters and to her former husband, Noah.

Back in the underground facility, Emma receives a less than warm welcome: no one trusts her or thinks of her as human, and Noah has been raising their daughter with Dr. Sonya. As Emma struggles to regain her sense of belonging, she continues to search for her parents while looking for a way to take down Declan Burke once and for all.

Once again with this series, I feel like I cannot fully describe the plot without giving too much away, and the little subtleties are what make the story enjoyable.

Personally, I much preferred Archetype, which I think is slightly unusual. With books, oftentimes the sequels are able to build upon or surpass the original novel (unlike films where often the sequel is nowhere near as good).

In general, I’m disappointed with Prototype. Not catastrophically so, but I thought this story was going to be more about Emma discovering herself instead of it being a drawn out reunion between her and Nate. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t great or validating for a woman to find satisfaction in family and love, because it is both great and validating. I just felt that the Emma-Nate romance dominated the novel in a way that made Emma’s character arc slightly unsatisfactory.

Also the sci-fi elements were not as fully realized as they could be. I made a similar critique of the first book, but I found the lack of description/exploration of science more problematic in Prototype than I did in Archetype. For goodness sake, the first novel set us up for clones! Prototype minimizes the science and doesn’t really tell you much, which is particularly frustrating as something starts going wrong with the other clones and the explanation is sparse.

As a read, Prototype is quick and light, which would make it ideal for a future beach read or perhaps a more seasonally appropriate mountain-retreat read. I give M.D. Waters’ Prototype 2 Book Bubbles: Nearly Burst Bubble. I’m glad I read the book more for closure reasons than story satisfaction, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Waters in the future, but it wasn’t my favorite thing that I’ve read recently.

Thanks for popping in!

What My Book Club Would Read (If I Had One)

Part of the reason I love The Broke and the Bookish weekly Top Ten Tuesday meme is because I adore getting book recommendations from other readers. And book clubs are another great source for challenging or unexpected reads. This week’s TTT topic is about the top ten books you would have in your book club line up, if you had a book club that is.

I do participate in two book clubs through Goodreads–Bookworm Bitches and The Life of a Book Addict–but I use these online book clubs primarily to keep up with what’s new and exciting in the book world. I rarely read the books when I’m supposed to, but I also enjoy the list challenges these groups have on the discussion boards (i.e. I’m participating in the A-Z title challenge right now).

But if I were in charge of my own book club, here’s what it might look like…

*As usual, all links and pictures are sourced from Goodreads*

Don't Breathe a Word

1. Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

All of the books on this list will be books I haven’t read yet, because that’s what I think book clubs are all about–new and exciting reads. Don’t Breathe a Word has elements of a thriller and the paranormal, which I think would appeal to a diverse group of readers and lead to an engaging discussion.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

2. Popular by Maya Van Wagenen

I think every book club should try to tackle at least one work of non-fiction. This memoir follows Maya as she tries to survive high school by following a 1950’s popularity guide written by a former teen model. There’s a lot to be said about the perils of high school, beauty standards, and the modern woman even without reading this book, so I think it would be a rich read for a book club.

Damned (Damned #1)

3. Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

Palahniuk is one of those modern authors that you should read at least once just to have an opinion. His novels are often odd and slightly dark but manage to reveal much about humanity in the midst of his own ridiculous scenarios. In Damned, a thirteen year old girl finds herself in hell. Without knowing how long her stay will be, she decides to make the best of her situation.

Havisham

4. Havisham by Ronald Frame

This novel is supposed to be a prequel of sorts to Dickens’ Great Expectations as it explores the trauma that creates the tattered, Gothic figure of Miss Havisham. I think these classic-adjacent novels that have become increasingly popular are great reads for a book club since you get to look at parallels between the two books.

Cloud Atlas

5. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

This book’s premise seems complex and I think that’s what makes it a good book club read. Others might catch details you missed or connect threads in an intriguing way. Some books are just better to read with group effort, and I suspect Cloud Atlas would be one of those books.

Gone with the Wind

6. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Book clubs are also great for tackling classics; as much for motivational reasons as discussion reasons. I’ve always wanted to read this dense classic and think a book club would be a great place to make it happen.

Man in the Empty Suit

7. Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

A man with the ability to time travel spends his birthday every year with various versions of himself. When his forty-year old self turns up at the party dead, the younger versions implore the thirty-nine year old man to figure out what happens before it’s too late for all of them.

Fangirl

8. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I wanted to include at least one YA novel on this list because I think book clubs should cover a little bit of everything. I liked Attachments and would like to read more of Rowell. Fangirl would be a light and fun addition to a book club roster.

Bad Feminist: Essays

9. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This is a collection of essays that covers everything from politics to pop culture to, yes, feminism. It would be another chance to really have some personal and deep discussions with a group of friends, which is what would make it a great book club selection.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

10. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

A mysterious bookstore owned by a mysterious man; let’s face it, if you’re in a book club, you’re up for reading a book about books. This particular novel sounds quirky and enjoyable, particularly if you’re a book lover.

There you have it: my reading list for my hypothetical book club. What do you think?

Thanks for popping in!

Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit

For this week’s Broke and the Bookish meme, I decided to revive an older topic and do my Top Ten Tuesday on books that get me in the Halloween spirit.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love this time of year and thoroughly enjoy planning costumes. So whether you like to scare yourself silly or are just in it for the candy, hopefully this list will have something for you.

*Links lead to it and pictures come from it: Goodreads*

Macbeth

1. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

The original creepy witches. “Double, double toil and trouble/ Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” Plus murder, political intrigue, and insanity. Halloween sounds like a great time to brush up on The Bard.

The Monkey's Paw

2. The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs

An eerie short story about the perils of making wishes that will create the perfect spooky atmosphere for a Halloween party. It was originally published in 1902 but don’t be afraid to break it out and read it to your youngsters if they’re looking for a good scary story.

Odd Thomas (Odd Thomas, #1)

3. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

Not that you couldn’t enjoy the Odd Thomas series any time of the year, but considering that originally Halloween is supposed to be when the veil between the spirit world and our world is at its thinnest, now might be a good time to read about a man who sees ghosts and solves crimes.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

4. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown by Charles M Schulz

If the scary stuff isn’t your style, I suggest reading and/or watching this Peanuts classic. The story of The Great Pumpkin is one of my all time favorite Peanuts moments and always gives me a case of the warm fuzzies.

The Witches

5. The Witches by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is a natural choice for a children’s story with dark twists and turns. The Witches is just the right amount of scary, especially if your household has some young readers.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

6. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Another solid tale of witchcraft. This particular novel flashes back and forth between past and present day to explore the rich history of witches in New England. I got sucked into this book a few years ago and really enjoyed the mood and tone Howe so expertly conveys.

The Night Circus

7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I know I mentioned this in last week’s TTT, but I think this book has a strong sense of atmosphere that can only be enhanced by cool autumn nights and a hot beverage while reading.

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)

8. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I finished this book within the last year and was captivated by Zafon’s magical realism. The winding streets of Barcelona and the mysterious, supernatural feel of the book would make for a great Halloween read.

Narcissus in Chains (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #10)

9. Narcissus in Chains by Laurell K. Hamilton

If you’re not reading the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series then you should absolutely start from the beginning (which is the book Guilty Pleasures). But if you’re already involved in the series, might I suggest re-reading Narcissus in Chains. It’s a novel that focuses on the shifting part of Hamilton’s world and it’s as dark and compelling as ever.

Bellman & Black

10. Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

I’m not quite finished with this one yet, but I can say it has been a great October read. Setterfield has a way of telling stories that are not explicitly creepy but evoke elements of the macabre and unusual. Definitely worth the read!

I hope these spooky-themed reads get you in the right state of mind for Halloween.

Thanks for popping in!

Book Before Movie? Or Movie Before Book?

Most lovers of literature have a firm stance on adaptations: read the book before seeing the movie.

There are many justifiable (and accurate) reasons for this philosophy:

A) 99.9% of the time the book is better than the movie in detail, plot, and character development. Hardcore fact of life.

B) Most readers want to imagine the world and visualize the characters their own way without Hollywood interfering and (often) whitewashing.

C) The joy and elation that being able to discuss and prove point A provides.

The reaction every bibliophile has when they’ve been betrayed.

I’m sure there are other reasons for readers out there (and I’d love to hear them in the comments below) but these three seem to form the trifecta of reader angst.

And I fully understand the pain. My go-to example is The Goblet of Fire (2005). Goblet of Fire is one of my favorite Harry Potter books. The rich details of the tournament itself, the expansion upon the wizarding world to include other schools, the Quidditch Cup, and of course the dramatic final chapters where Voldermort does indeed return. Such a pivotal book in the series and I’ve always felt the movie grossly mishandled the original material.

Every reader out there has one of these movies that completely botched their favorite books. We as readers tell our tales of woe as if they were harrowing events that we have not fully recovered from.

Just a tiny example: In the book, the first event of the Tri-Wizard Cup has the students facing off against dragons in order to gain tournament points and collect the valuable clue for the next round, which is a golden egg. Harry pulls off this amazing dive on his broom from a great height, swooping down and pulling out of the dive at the last possible moment, garnering serious points and proving himself equal to if not better than Viktor Krum, a fellow competitor and professional Seeker. It’s a riveting scene in the book.

In the movie, the dragon breaks free of its chains and chases Harry all around Hogwarts, destroying many a turret and collapsing a few roofs, before Harry manages to outfly the dragon and gain the egg. There is so much wrong with this scene in the movie: the whole point of Harry diving and swooping was to gain the egg quickly for points and for the parallel between Krum. You get none of that in the movie. You get some CGI porn that shows how cool the animators thought their dragon looked. Never mind that it should have created story problems like why is no one trying to save this kid from a dragon on the loose? or how does Hogwarts handle their severely busted castle while they have guests no less? Nope, movie doesn’t even hint at these problems that to my mind are quite serious.

That, my friends, is a small, contained rant about one scene translation from book to movie. I have more where that came from.

But you get my point. The intense feeling of violation and betrayal from a bad adaptation lingers and spoils any enjoyment of what might otherwise be a fun movie.

After many years of horrifying disappointment I have often subscribed to a theory that might be somewhat controversial: go see the movie before reading the book. Hear me out.

A) I’m fully aware that the book will be better, so the movie gives me an inkling whether or not I’d like to further explore more fertile territory.

B) I’d like to think that my imagination is a more powerful beast than the movie mill that is Hollywood. Ergo, though I sometimes visualize a character as they are cast, if I think the person doesn’t fit with the book description, I can still imagine the character how I see fit.

C) I manage to lose the righteous indignation of having read the book and can enjoy the movie as a separate entity. When I read the book later, I can heartily debate the differences but I am no longer angry. My appreciation for both mediums is left in tact.

D) Though there are certainly spoilers in the movie, many more twists and turns await me in the book. The higher level of detail helps retain the level of suspense. Plus the way books are being adapted these days, so many drastic changes are made there is no guarantee that the movie you’ve seen accurately reflects the book’s ending (which, again, angst). Case in point: The Giver (2014) and Fight Club (1999).

This is how I manage not to have an aneurysm at the theater. I swear I’ve been a happier creature since adopting this method. Not convinced? OK let’s try some anecdotal evidence.

Prepare yourselves: I saw Pride and Prejudice before I read the book. And it was the Keira Knightly, Matthew Macfayden 2005 version, not the Colin Firth 1995 mini-series. And I loved it. I was in high school when the movie came out and I saw it with a group of girlfriends. I went through the whole range of emotions. Loathing Mr. Darcy for his pretensions and superiority while rooting for Lizzy’s wit and determination. Then gradually and somewhat unwillingly falling in love with Mr. Darcy and wanting to scream at Lizzy to just go for it already.

Whatever your feelings on that particular rendition of Pride and Prejudice, that movie primed me for reading the book in a way that teenage-me had not been ready for. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have a strong reluctance to read anything that is over-hyped or books I “should” read. That movie said, “yes, it’s required reading but you’re going to love it.” And I fell so deeply in love with Austen’s book. The movie didn’t ruin it. It gave me the nudge I needed.

I promise all of these examples won’t be Keira Knightly based, but this film bears mentioning for the sake of my argument and just because I love it. Atonement (2007). I saw the movie with a group of friends who were all sighing over Ian McEwan as a writer and I thought, how good can this guy be? The movie itself blew me away. Beautiful, emotionally trying, and well acted. Atonement the movie made me need to read Atonement the book.

And yes, the book is better. That’s not shocking. But knowing the big secret from the film only made the rest of the book more poignant for me, so seeing the movie first made the read a more provocative one. I cried just as hard at the conclusion of the book as I did at the film. It also bears mentioning that Atonement is one of the most stunningly realized adaptations I have ever seen. Now I’m the one sighing over Ian McEwan.

For my final proof, I submit George R. R. Martin. I’m a big “Game of Thrones” fan. Both book and tv show, and I’ll tell you now that I’m deliberately behind on reading the books because I cannot stand being ahead of the TV series. Part of the logic behind this is that Martin’s giant books cannot be written fast enough to keep abreast of the show for long. The other half of the logic here is that when the show inevitably makes some stylistic changes, I have a tantrum to rival Prince Joffrey.

“Game of Thrones” is an undeniable behemoth in the world of television right now. The production values are great, the acting is stellar, and the twists are about as good/bad as a well-timed knife to the back, of which there are many in the series. I love the show. But I have never hated it so much as when they made certain deviations in season three. I got mad because I had read A Storm of Swords (book three) just before watching season three and could not enjoy the bulk of that season because I was too busy picking it apart to enjoy it.

That’s the crux of the problem of reading the book first: I’m looking for the movie or show to fail. I may say I’m excited about it and make a few jokes about how I hope they don’t screw it up, but I will always nitpick the movie to death if I’ve read the book first.

I love both mediums. Movies and books have been my safe havens and welcome escapes since childhood. They’re both good for different reasons, I know that on an intellectual level. But when it comes to the emotional level of knee-jerk reactions I had better have seen the movie first or the litany of comparisons to the book will tear the film to shreds.

Maybe a few of you will be convinced to try watching the movie first. I know, it feels weird, don’t panic! But if not, I understand. Some wounds are too deep to traverse and movies can cut just as painfully as paper pages, though in different ways.

Do you dare to watch the movie first? Or is that a hell no scenario?

Thanks for popping in!

The Blind Assassin

Another library find, Margaret Atwood’s 2001 Booker Prize winner, The Blind Assassin. What initially drew me to this book was its cover. The vintage appeal, the oval face and softly muted colors of the classic prints I have so admired in antique stores since childhood. Then the all important flip to the first page which reads, “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” Consider me sold.

The Blind Assassin

Image respectfully borrowed from Goodreads.

The Bind Assassin is largely told from the perspective of Iris Chase, now in her eighties, as she recounts her past with her sister, Laura, who very much dominates her thoughts. The once great Chase fortune has been diminished and what remains is Laura’s legacy after Iris posthumously published Laura’s writings. The mystery and scandal around the Chase family pulls the reader forward through the twists and turns of the story.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the setting of the novel, Port Ticonderoga, Canada, because the location seemed so innocuous for all the mystery swirling around the Chase family. The setting is vividly brought to life in both the past and present, and the societal divide between the previous century and the new millennium as described by Iris is fascinating.

The novel is broken up into fifteen parts, each containing an unspecified number of chapters. Each part focuses on a different aspect of the story and they alternate one after the other. For example, Iris’ present and her flashbacks would be in one section and Laura’s novel and news clippings from the past would be in another section.

One of the best parts of this book is that you get the feeling of being a detective. Which details are relevant? Which sister is telling the truth? Atwood teases her readers with little clues that are expertly wrought. As fact and fiction blur you cannot help but get caught up in the mystery.

Even when you feel you have pinned down a detail or plot point, Atwood is a compelling enough writer to make you believe you haven’t fully figured it out. That small nugget of ‘what if’ propels you through The Blind Assassin.

Atwood truly is an amazing storyteller whose poetic musings make any of her novels more impactful. One of my favorite lines was a random bit that felt like an incantation, “I was sand, I was snow–written on, rewritten, smoothed over.” Gives me chills. The whole novel is littered with this gorgeous debris of language that made me pause to contemplate a sentence. As a reader, that’s one of the most powerful sensations–the urge to stop and contemplate rather than forge ahead.

My one complaint, if any, is that at times the story felt a bit slow. Especially in the beginning, when Iris flashes back to the early points of childhood. But as you churn through the pages, you get the sense that every detail is connected, which further builds the tension.

One of my favorite novels of all time is John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany. In many ways I think Irving and Atwood’s novels are kindred spirits. Both have a narrator whose life is defined by a small, strange family member or friend that they feel compelled to help. These narrators are the survivors who must write down their trials. The subjects–Owen and Laura–are both lit from within by their conceptions of religion, and no one truly understands them until it is too late. These are large-scale comparisons but if you are a fan of A Prayer For Owen Meany, I would highly recommend Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. And vice versa if you haven’t read the John Irving novel.

I find myself being deliberately vague with this review when describing the plot because I do not want to spoil the mystery in any way. I will say that a discerning reader will quickly pick up on the subtext Atwood weaves throughout The Blind Assassin, and the ending was slightly disappointing because I thought Atwood would round things off more. Still a great read though.

I’d give Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin 4 book bubbles.

Thanks for popping in!

A Night’s Hard Reading

As you might have guessed, I love to read. But that doesn’t mean that every book is an easy read. This week’s Broke and the Bookish Top Ten Tuesday post is about the books that were hard to get through.

All of the books on this list were books I finished reading, because I could make a whole other list of books that were too terrible to complete.

There are a variety of things that could make a book hard to read, so I made a general list instead of a specific one i.e. it was hard to read because of length or bad writing. And hard to read does not always mean that the book in question was bad. My first book on this list is a great case-in-point, so let’s get started.

*Pictures and links from Goodreads*

The Year of Magical Thinking

1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

This is one of the hardest books I have read in recent memory. Not because of bad writing. Not because of length or complexity. No, this book was hard to read because it forced me to face my own grief. And that is challenging. For my full review, click here. Didion is an amazing writer, and while this book was hard for me, it was undeniably worth the read.

The American Heiress

2. The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Now, this book was hard to read for technical reasons. The main character, Cora Cash, was so vapid that she deflected any sympathy I was ready to give. Such a difficult character to connect with. I wanted to throw my book across the room more than once.

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1)

3. Storm Front by Jim Butcher

There’s nothing I love more than deep-rooted misogyny draped in the veil of chivalry. Harry Dresden wants to see himself as a noble, chivalrous man, yet at the end of the day cannot help but see women only as pretty things to be saved, pitied, or screwed. So, yes, I found this book to be challenging for all the wrong (or right?) reasons.

Bridget Jones's Diary (Bridget Jones, #1)

4. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Just one of my problems is the punctuation on Jones’s. I know this is a book beloved by many people, but I thought this was a painful read. A character repeatedly being embarrassed is not a fun experience for me. And the obsessive weight watching and counting of cigarettes made me wince instead of encouraging laughter.

The Three Musketeers

5. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

I am still slogging through this book, but I am determined to finish the damn thing. This book is a hard read for an interesting set of reasons. A) I’m stubborn and thought reading the unabridged text would be a lark and B) I may have seen too many Musketeer movies. Since I am so familiar with the story courtesy of film, the unabridged text feels even more lengthy. It’s fabulously well written and is witty and full of action. But’s it’s been a hard read nevertheless.

The Metamorphosis

6. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Some books you just cannot get past the content even if it is well written. This is a story about a man who becomes a huge cockroach. I can’t. I just can’t. Even thinking about the man-bug thing makes me want to heave. I finished it because it was required reading in high school, but it scarred me for life.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wicked Years #1)

7. Wicked by Gregory MaGuire

Again, I realize I’m one of the few here, but I struggled with this book. I think a large part of it is that I wanted to like the book so badly that my expectations were sky-high. I read the book way before seeing the musical, so the stage show was not a factor. A ton of my friends were reading MaGuire in high school and were singing his praises. So this book was a hard and disappointing read because of author hype.

The Sound and the Fury

8. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Another book that I actually enjoyed finding its way onto the hard list. This Faulkner classic lands itself of this list because of the POV of Benjy Compton, a character with an unspecified mental health issue whose chapters are written with past and present blended together. I read this book in high school as well and if it were not for an enterprising former student who had colored the sections in primary colors and left me a key in my copy of the book, I would have been in big trouble while reading The Sound and the Fury.

Peace Like a River

9. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

There is a giant blank spot in my brain when it comes to this book. I have a vague sense of anger and frustration left behind, which leads me to believe that I have repressed the reading experience altogether. I do remember that it took me forever to read because I was not enjoying myself.

Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

10. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

I read this book for the first time in high school and I struggled with it because of my own vanity. I felt attacked by Thoreau’s dismissal of clothing and other superficial elements of society, and so I clammed up and made this essay hard to read. I didn’t want to be told that I was a bad person because I cared about the way I dressed. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that is not entirely Thoreau’s point, but there are certainly elements of judgement in there for people who think about their image too much. I’ve reread it since and have found plenty to connect with, but I will always remember the difficulty of that first read as a fifteen year old.

Clearly, books can be hard to read for many different reasons. Which books have kept you on the struggle bus?

Thanks for popping in!

My Fall TBR List

Happy first day of autumn! Or by the time this post gets published it will be the second day of autumn! Woo!

In the spirit of fall, here are my Top Ten To-Be-Read Books for Fall courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly Top Ten Tuesday meme. Let’s see what I can only hope to complete this fall!

*All links lead to Goodreads and pictures are borrowed from that site as well*

The Psycho Ex Game: A Novel

1. The Psycho Ex Game by Merrill Markoe and Andy Prieboy

I found this at my library, so this is a guaranteed read on my TBR because it will eventually be due. Two successful singles in the entertainment business strike up a friendship that evolves through email into a competition over who has the most psychotic ex. As they connect, they find themselves wondering who would be the crazy one if they were to take their friendship to the next level. I love novels that use emails or letters, so this sounds like fun.

Why Girls Are Weird

2. Why Girls are Weird by Pamela Ribon

Another library find. Bored librarian, Anna, starts fabricating stories about a fabulous life on her blog and gains serious followers, including a guy who would be interested in Anna if she didn’t already have a (fake) boyfriend. Her blogging life and her real life are set to collide, which will force Anna to figure out who she wants to be. The premise interests me for obvious reasons.

Nightmares!

3. Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

Little bit of a life brag: my roommates and I went to a Barnes & Noble this weekend to meet Jason Segel and get our books signed. This is a middle-grade level book but it looks like a lot of fun and I’m curious to see what Segel and Miller do with their premise of what happens when your nightmares start slipping into reality. It’s also supposed to be a trilogy, so that could be intriguing as well. P.S. Jason Segel is also a really nice guy in real life.

Prototype: A Novel

4. Prototype by M.D. Waters

I recently read the first part of this two book series, Archetype (click here for review). I really just want to know what happens to Emma Wade. And these covers are so freaking cool!

Bellman & Black

5. Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

The lovely Lauren at Books, Tea & Me suggested that we read this book together since we’d both like to read more from Diane Setterfield. Lauren, I hope you were serious, because I have put a hold on this at the library and am planning to dive in when my library stack thins down a bit in the coming weeks. This book looks like an interesting take on the business of death, but that’s an assumption based on the mysterious back jacket. We shall see.

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

6. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I’ve been making a concentrated effort over the last year to read more non-fiction. Sometimes the phrase non-fiction immediately causes eyes to glaze over and shudders of boredom to rack the spines of readers. But I’m finding that this is largely unnecessary. Good non-fiction is out there, people! And it has the same wonderful, life changing magic of good fiction. I’m hoping The Happiness Project is one of the good ones.

The House Girl

7. The House Girl by Tara Conklin

I have this book on my Kindle right now just waiting for me to open and enjoy. One of last year’s literary hits, I just never got around to reading. So I’m hoping to play a bit of catch-up this fall. I also enjoy books that switch between connected narratives in the past and present, so this sounds like my kind of book.

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1)

8. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Another book that is currently awaiting my leisure on my Kindle. I’ve heard/seen a lot of love for this book out there in the blogoshpere so I’m a little afraid of falling prey to the raging hype monster.

The Notebook (The Notebook, #1)

9. The Notebook by Nicholos Sparks

This book has been on my TBR list for so freaking long. I just need to bite the bullet and read about Allie and Noah. I have no idea why it has taken me this long. Perhaps some perverse belief that I don’t want the book to interfere with my love of the movie, which is a very rare thought process for a book lover. But I am committing here and now to reading this book before winter.

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

10. Still Writing: the Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro

My friend and roommate, Marissa, has loaned this book to me because she loves it and thinks it would resonate with me. So I will be reading this book this fall because A) I hope she is right B) book enthusiasts recommendations should be taken seriously and C) I do not want to be one of those terrible friends that accepts a physical book to read and never cracks the damn thing open and hoards it in their room for months. The struggle is real.

Well there you have it! My fall TBR list for 2014. Let’s see how many of these I can actually knock off!

Have you read any of these (hopefully) wonderful books?

One Book is Never Enough

Greetings! This week’s Broke and the Bookish Top Ten Tuesday post is all about the authors whom you’ve read one book from but that you NEED to read more of. Trust me, that was the least tangled way of explaining this week’s topic that I tried.

But we all have these authors that we LOVED a book from but just haven’t gotten around to sampling their other work. Some of these I’m actually quite abashed to have on this list because these authors have written some of my favorite books. So in no particular order here are the authors I need to show more love to…

*Links lead to author’s page on Goodreads and the photos were politely borrowed from that site as well*

1. Ian McEawn

Atonement is one of my favorite books. It is also one of the most stunning book-to-film adaptations I have ever seen. I don’t know why I haven’t gobbled more of his lyrical prose.

Next Attempt: Sweet Tooth

 

2. Emily Giffin

I received Giffin’s latest novel, The One & Only in my very first PopSugar Must Have box and fell madly in love with that book. It was the perfect amount of romance in my chick lit and I loved how the story revolved around college football. I never would have picked that novel up in the store and can’t thank PopSugar enough. I wish they’d send me more books.

Next Attempt: Something Borrowed. 

 

3. John Green

I am late to the John Green party, but not as late as I usually am with book trends, so that’s a plus. I enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars but also fell prey to the raging hype monster and didn’t love it as much as I expected to. Which is why I’d like to read more Green so that I can get a better sense of his style.

Next Attempt: An Abundance of Katherines

 

4. Chuck Klosterman

One of the best non-fiction culture writers of our generation and I’ve only read one of his books. I truly enjoyed I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains. Klosterman is a writer who rambles and will convince you that every step off the path was worthwhile. I’m also a fan of his prolific use of semi-colons. So I’d like to read more.

Next Attempt: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.

 

5. Michael Crichton

There is a good reason why this man’s books get turned into movies with regularity. Crichton has a very cinematic style, which appeals to me as a reader because I tend to picture any book I read as a movie projecting inside my imagination. Reading Jurassic Park after years of only knowing the movie was such a great experience. I like both stories independently of each other and that is rare for me.

Next Attempt: The Lost World.

 

6. Rainbow Rowell

I picked up Rowell’s Attachments as an e-book this spring, which is highly unusual because I do not often use my Kindle. Charming, quick little read that had me curious about Rowell’s other novels. And the book bloggers just adore her, so I’d better give her a second go.

Next Attempt: Fangirl.

 

7. Nick Hornby

I don’t know what I expected Mr. Hornby to look like but this photo wasn’t it. One of my best friends in college, Autumn, adores Nick Hornby and had been trying to get me to read his work for years. I finally read About a Boy last year and enjoyed it, so now I have to keep going!

Next Attempt: High Fidelity.

 

8. John Irving

A Prayer For Owen Meany is one of my favorite books. Hands down. And it has been that way since high school. I’m certain I have purchased other Irving books out of the intense love I have for that one novel, but I have yet to crack open these other books. Maybe out of fear that they won’t be as magnificent. I don’t know.

Next Attempt: The World According to Garp.

 

9. Alice Sebold

Way back when I first started doing TTT posts, I believe Alice Sebold made it to my authors I’d love to meet list. I was actually lucky enough to meet her and get my copy of The Lovely Bones signed. Nearly lost me mind over that one because The Lovely Bones was a book that crawled underneath my skin and lingered. Yes, that is an accurate if odd description of how it felt to read that book. I was in the seventh grade when I read the story of Susie Salmon and I still adore this book. Must read more.

Next Attempt: The Almost Moon.

 

10. Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve read Palahniuk’s most mainstream novel, Fight Club. If Palahniuk is taught in college, it’s probably Fight Club. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’d just like to know what lies beyond that thing we’re not supposed to talk about.

Next Attempt: Damned.

 

Writing this post has gotten me excited about these authors again. I’ll have to take these under consideration when I head to the library next time!