Friday Fiction: What Are Y’all Reading?

I recently combed through our Borders store a second time looking for going-out-of-business bargains and walked away with another stack of books. This time, most of the books were for my family; however, I did add to my To Be Read pile – which currently resembles Jack’s beanstalk to the clouds.

In the queue are several non-fiction books (primarily on writing and language) and fiction selections as well.

For today’s Friday Fiction, I’m sharing what’s coming up on my list and asking what y’all have been reading.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This book was recommended by mystery writer Jayne Ormerod. I had seen this title several times and it piqued my curiosity, but not enough until Jayne gave it a 5 out of 5 rating.

From the back cover: “January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.”

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. Two good friends have recommended this book, and one finally loaned me her copy (which I’ve now had for months!). I’ve probably put off reading it because it sounds like a tearjerker, and this mama isn’t sure she wants to go down that road. But the plot does sound compelling and with the recommendations . . .

From the back cover: “This stunning novel begins on a winter night in 1964, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down syndrome. For motives he tells himself are good, he makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever. He asks his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child as her own.”

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. My mother-in-law passed this one off to me. She has read quite a few historical novels and is good at spotting an excellent one.

From the Amazon.com book description: “In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls.”

The Cat, the Lady and the Liar by Leann Sweeney. Mystery author Leann Sweeney lives in my town! But although that’s how I heard about her, I’m not reading her books for that reason. She’s a great storyteller. This one is the third in her Cats in Trouble series. I have also read her Yellow Rose Mysteries, which were a lot of fun. If you like cozy mysteries, pick up one of Leann’s novels and give it a shot.

From the back cover: “When cat quilter Jillian Hart tracks down the owner of a gorgeous stray cat, the trail leads her to none other than fabulously wealthy, undeniably quirky Ritaestelle Longworth. The gossips in town are questioning Ritaestelle’s sanity, and the high-society grande dame isn’t helping matters with her wild accusations that someone is drugging her to keep her away from her beloved cat. Before Jillian can get to the bottom of Ritaestelle’s charges, a body turns up in the lake behind her house – and her cat Chablis discovers Ritaestelle standing nearby. Can Jillian’s three wise cats aid her in solving a mystery with roots that are decades old?”

Rainwater by Sandra Brown. This bestselling author was the keynote speaker at the DFW Writers’ Conference held last spring by the DFW Writers’ Workshop. As part of her presentation, she described her two latest books, and this title sounded fascinating. I have only read one other novel from her– a romance from some years ago. I’m curious to see how her writing has evolved and to simply delve into the story.

From Publishers Weekly: “Bestseller Brown brings Depression-era Texas to vivid life in this poignant short novel. At the recommendation of Dr. Murdy Kincaid, Ella Barron, a hardworking woman whose husband deserted her, accepts David Rainwater, a relative of the doctor’s, as a lodger at the boarding house she runs in the small town of Gilead, Texas. As the local community contends with a government program to shoot livestock and the opposition of racist Conrad Ellis, a greedy meatpacker, to poor families butchering the meat, Ella grows closer to David. Meanwhile, David becomes a special guardian angel to Solly, Ella’s nine-year-old autistic son. Dr. Kincaid has gently suggested Ella put Solly in an institution, but she refuses to do so. Brown skillfully charts the progress of Ella and David’s quiet romance, while a contemporary frame adds a neat twist to this heartwarming but never cloying historical.”

Which of these titles have you read or want to read? So what’s up next on your reading list? Do you have recommendations for must-reads?

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Friday Fiction: It’s a Classic!

Don’t know what to read?  Pick up a “classic.”

There is a reason that some books survive the weathering of time and become classics.  While we may not enjoy every read in that section of our library or bookstore, plenty of gems await those brave enough to read a work crafted by someone who lived 100 years or more before you spoke your first word.

Yes, the language is sometimes stilted or contains linguistic quirks of the day.  You may also need a little historical information to provide context to the story (e.g., knowing about the Napoleonic Wars helps when reading War and Peace).  It isn’t always as easy as picking up a contemporary work of fiction and breezing through it over a Starbucks’ coffee mug on the weekend.  But a classic is often worth the effort.  Classics, after all, are considered the best of the best. 

Several years ago, Penguin Classics came out with its 100 Classic Books You Must Read Before You Die List.  Several others have compiled lists of recommended reads in the classic literature area.  Library Booklists has a wonderful page linking to several of these.  As for myself, here are a few I think just about everyone should pick up at one time or another:

1984 by George Orwell – Orwell expertly wrote this dystopian novel in which the totalitarian government has eyes and ears in the form of the Brotherhood and one man’s love affair comes at great personal cost.  Because of this novel, I still shiver when I hear the words “Room 101.”

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – This is the sprawling tale (as Tolstoy is wont to write) of Anna Karenina, a woman whose marriage is unsatisfying and whose affair has consequences.  This novel also covers the politics of the day, while keeping readers engaged with the personal life of the protagonist.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Certainly one of my favorites of all time, this is a story of murder, love, choices, and consequences. Enough said.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra – Perhaps the most romantic character in literature, Don Quixote is half-mad and full of charm.  An ardent believer of chivalry, he is in pursuit of adventure and Dulcinea – the object of his affection.  So many quotable lines are in this book; I wish I had highlighted them all.

Dracula by Bram Stoker – The vampire book that started it all!  Stoker’s rendition has a creepiness all its own, and the vampire on these pages is quite different from the Dracula portrayed in films – far more menacing, I think.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – The best of the Brontë sisters is perhaps this novel in which Jane Eyre becomes the governess to Adéle, whose guardian is the enigmatic Mr. Rochester.  Jane and Rochester fall in love, but Rochester has a secret that threatens their happiness.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – Emma desires more than the boring life she leads with husband Charles Bovary, and she gets it.  Two love affairs and her fluctuating financial status give her life an up-and-down experience that has an impact on the people around her as well.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – It’s a toss-up for which Jane Austen book one should read, but this may be the most beloved.  Austen’s writing is always witty and enlightening, and the story of the Bennett daughters and proud Mr. Darcy is engaging throughout.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – The scarlet letter is an “A”, and if you don’t know why, you need to find out.  Hester Prynne’s pregnancy brings her shame and punishment in mid-17th century Boston, and the identity of the baby’s father overshadows her and the town.

What would be on your list of must-read classics?  Do you have any goals to read classic literature?  What classics have you not read yet but want to?