So I make mistakes sometimes… Yes my friends I am far from perfect and sometimes it can be incredibly frustrating especially when I do incredibly stupid stuff. I don’t think … Continue reading When People Screw Up…
In my last post I shared with you 11 of my favorite classic novels. This was a list made up of novels published 1960 and before and was in honor of the Great American Read program I saw on PBS. It seemed only natural to then give you my favorite modern novels and then non-fiction, memoirs etc. On one hand this list was much easier to put together and another it was harder. I don’t read a lot of modern novels and I find even fewer that I love so it was easy to narrow it down but even coming up with 11 was difficult! But these are 11 pretty good books that I really enjoyed and I hope you will enjoy them as well.
I am going to give an honorable mention to A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman which I loved!
11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)-
I first read the Kite Runner when the Iraq War was in full swing and 9/11 was still fresh and it had a tremendous impact on me. I was completely absorbed in the story of 2 Afghani boys, one Pahstun and one Hazara, and how an act of violence draws them apart. It was devastating and yet powerful at the same time. I wept throughout but thought it was a very rewarding experience. The only reason I have it so low is because I haven’t reread it in a long time and rewatching the movie last year it wasn’t as good as I remembered it so maybe the book might not hold up? Have any of you reread it and what was your experience? Either way it wasn’t just dark and depressing at the time but an empowering character journey.
10. The Martian by Andy Weir (2012)-
My review of the movie is here
Enjoying The Martian will depend a lot on if you find Mark Watney charming, and I did. He was smart, scrappy and very funny. Plus, his actions felt authentic to what a person with his skillset would do stranded on mars. It was so entertaining to see him come up with one solution after another and have good times and bad times. When he is finally rescued I wanted to cheer out loud. It was very rewarding. The movie is really good too but the book is the best.
9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)-
My comparison between the book and movie is here
I know the internet has decreed this to be the worst book to ever exist but this is my list and I loved this book. I LOVED following Wade as he put the pieces together to solve Halliday’s puzzles. The steps are way harder than in the movie and the pop culture references aren’t just there for fun but part of the mystery that Wade puts together. Wade is a very positive character and see’s the good in those around him and I appreciate that. The Oasis is a brilliant creation and more of a cautionary tale from Halliday himself than in the movie. For Wade it was never about the Oasis but about changing his life when he won the big prize. Everything else was just part of the puzzle.
8. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella (2015)-
As someone who has a podcast on Hallmark it is probably no surprise that I love a good romantic novel, and one of the best ‘chick lit’ writers is Sophie Kinsella. She does such a good job combining important topics of the day with witty dialogue and likable romantic heroines we can all relate with. Finding Audrey was her first teen oriented book and I LOVED it. It was so funny and yet truthful at the same time. Audrey’s struggles with severe social anxiety felt true to me and the family dynamic was easy to relate to and hilarious. It’s perhaps too flight and fluffy to get higher on my list but it was such a hoot to read.
Typically when I hear a book has won the Pulitzer Prize it is a sign I will hate it. I just don’t tend to like the winners and find them cynical and a real chore to get through. However, Gilead is an exception. It’s a beautiful book about a priest who is writing to his 4 year old son about his life and giving him some advice to live by. It in many ways reminds me of Willa Cather’s writing in its humanism and heart. All of the plot happens within the mind of our writer and it explores a man of God and his ability to love, forgive and grow old with grace. He has regrets and his dying wish is that his son will remember him fondly. Beautiful.
6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)-
My review of the recent movie adaptation is here.
What’s interesting about this book is I didn’t really enjoy it as a child but then we read it for book club about 5 years ago and I fell in love with it. Some people probably love all the world building of Camazotz and the other planets but I love Meg’s internal journey. This is what the movie got so wrong. Meg doesn’t need anyone to tell her how to be a good person. She learns for herself the value of the human soul and she decides to save Charles Wallace because she loves him that much. She loves her Dad that much and it is this love that is the true message of the book. Love allows Meg to be brave against It but it allows her to do the even harder task of forgiving her Dad.
5. Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972)-
To listen to my podcast on Watership Down movie click here
I read this novel first in high school and couldn’t get into it much but as an adult I like it very much. It’s not just about bunnies people! It’s about interesting characters that are trying to find a home and where they belong. I love Fiver. He’s such a sincere character and you feel for the group with all their personalities. I love Hazel, Bigwig, Bluebell, and Holly. They are all great and I love the societies they meet along the way of their journey. The mythology and lore of the rabbits all works and is easy to relate with even if it is rabbits- maybe because it is rabbits LOL
4. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson (2012)-
This is such a dishy novel. It’s honestly one of the best romances I’ve ever read with Marianne and Phillip’s relationship growing in a natural and believable way. The chemistry is palpable and it draws the reader in. I think men and women will like this book because it has some scenes of kidnapping and revenge mixed in with all the romance. It also has some fantastic kissing scenes and the romantic tension is so well done. So fun!
3. The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)-
To read my review of The Giver movie click here.
I am not normally a fan of dystopian literature. Most of it is so cynical and depressing for me and I find the arcs of the protagonists to be very predictable and dull. The Giver is an exception. I love reading about Jonas and his progression into realizing what a full life looks like. As The Giver gives him memories his mind is opened to both pain and pleasure and it is both devastating and hope-filled. I love how with each revelation he sees the world in a new way until he can’t take the faceless obedience any more and revolts. The ending is ambiguously perfect. It might sound strange but I find The Giver very inspirational reading.
2. The Chosen by Chaim Potok (1967)-
What’s special about The Chosen is I have read it in each era of my life and it is always meant something different to me each time. In my teens it was about teenage rebellion against traditional parenting. In my 20s it was about how warped and twisted parents could be towards their kids. In my 30s it was about how devastating it is when family members leave their faith. I went from despising characters to empathizing with them and I think that’s how you can tell it is a truly great novel. You don’t have to be Jewish to relate to Danny and Rueben’s struggles. You just have to be human who has a family and traditions that they believe in. It’s so moving and beautifully written.
1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2006)-
This is not a surprise to any of my regular readers as I have raved about this book for years. I love everything about this book. I love all the characters. I love how rich and deep it is with small characters getting a whole story that I care about. I love its themes of family, politics, propaganda, literature and the power of words. There are so many scenes that are inspiring and devastating sometimes at the same time. I love Liesel, Max, Rudy and Hans so much. Rosa and Elsa should be one note characters but they are full of texture and layers. Death as the narrator is completely brilliant as it keeps things personal yet with a certain level of detachment. It is also completely refreshing to have it set in Germany and from a German perspective. I love that there are books within the book and sections I am still pondering after reading it 7 times. Like what is he trying to say with the Word Shaker? I have some ideas but every time I read it I get a little closer to figuring it out. I just think it is completely brilliant.
So there you have it. My top 11 modern novels. What do you think? Let me know what your favorites are. Next up I will do non-fiction and memoirs so get ready!
When people see how much I love movies they sometimes assume that I don’t also like to read. This is probably because in my experience many men choose movies over reading but I think both are essential to be a full complete person. I love movies but there is something about the experience of living in stories that only books can give you. Movies give you a 2 hour story but a book can delight you for weeks depending on its size.
Recently I enjoyed watching the kickoff program for The Great American Read. This is a 2 hour show on PBS that has compiled a list of the 100 best books of all time. Some are questionable such as 50 Shades of Grey and an embarrassing number I haven’t read but watching the show inspired me to do more reading and to tell you my lovely readers about the books that I love.
To start off I thought it would be fun to share My Top 11 Favorite Classic Novels. Classic is obviously a relative term but for the sake of my list I started at 1960 as the end point (the year To Kill a Mockingbird was written). Some of these books are helped by nostalgia but they are all excellent on their own. It is also interesting that 8 of the novels are written by women. So here goes:
11. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1872)-
There was always a high chance I would love Middlemarch because it is my Mother’s favorite novel. Still I put off reading it for many years because its length intimidated me. However, if you can brave it Middlemarch treats you to a beautiful story about a woman named Dorothea who is trying desperately to do the right thing over what is convenient and easy. She marries out of a desire for intellectual enlightenment and then is sorely disappointed when it proves cold and distant. Then she meets Will Ladislaw and the 2 become friends. Everything is kept honorable but the connection Eliot has with her characters is beautiful and gives you hope for the goodness that lies within all of us.
“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
10. My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918)-
Like Eliot, Willa Cather is a novelist who always seems to find the humanity in her characters. It’s like she is writing about her dear friends not just people in a book. In My Antonia she captures the beauty and burdens of life on the American Prairie for orphan Jim and immigrant girl Antonia. We see them as children and then read as they grow up and life doesn’t turn out the way they think it will.
“Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”
9. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)-
Where Middlemarch is beloved by my Mother, Sherlock Holmes is beloved by my Father. I’m not sure why he loves him so much but he always has. What appeals to me about the character is how Sherlock uses his brain as his super power. He’s unpredictable and intense but in the end always comes up with what is just and true- and usually staring the victims/police in the face the whole time! This first book has 12 of his stories including A Scandal in Bohemia, The Red-Headed League, and the Man with the Twisted Lip. So fun!
“As a rule, the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify.”
8. Howard’s End by E.M. Forster (1910)
I love novels that have a sense of humanity for all its characters and that is what I get with Howard’s End. What I love the most about Forster’s writing is he doesn’t have villains. In a lesser hand the rich capitalist Wilcox’s would be the greedy villains but that isn’t the case. They are operating within their upbringing and doing what they think is right. When Mr Wilcox gives advice to the struggling clerk Leonard Bast he isn’t trying to be underhanded but is genuinely passing on knowledge without thinking of its ramifications. The Schlegal sisters are of an intellectual class that have the money to think about such things without having the burden of leadership. Every character has clear motivations and a story that feels real and moving and Howard’s End feels like a sanctuary we all yearn for and seek out.
“Life is indeed dangerous, but not in the way morality would have us believe. It is indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle. It is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence is romantic beauty.”
7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)-
Little Women was the first big novel I recall reading and being proud I had finished it. I loved the story of each of the 4 girls. I loved the romance both scorned and returned. I cried my eyes out at poor Beth. As an adult, I can see the pulpy nature of especially the follow up book but I still love it. Just like most, I relate to Jo who wants to make a difference in the world and be independent and free. But I also relate to the selfish Amy, insecure Meg and shy Beth. I have all of those sides in me. And it always made sense to me that Jo refused Laurie. They were not only very different but she needed to go out and see the world and not get married in some stuffy house. With Professor Bhaer she got someone who was experienced and she had lived a little bit more. She needed a thoughtful yet adventurous spirit and that’s what she got in the Professor!
“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.”
6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)-
I have always loved a great romance and what makes Jane Eyre so great is it is about 2 troubled souls who find each other and just when all seems to be lost it all works out. As readers we start with Jane as a young girl being treated terribly by the Reed family and then being sent to Lowood School where she is beaten but finally finds a friend in Helen and Miss Temple (so sad with Helen). Then she is grown up and it is time to go to Thornfield Hall and meet Mr Rochester. These 2 have such chemistry because they both have been battered and bruised by the world. I love the dialogue between them and how it builds slowly over time. And then when his secret is revealed Jane’s morals must send her away and it is devastating. Then we get the contrast between those morals and the missionary whom she has no chemistry with at all. It’s a fantastic love story.
“I have for the first time found what I can truly love–I have found you… I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you–and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.”
5. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (1908)-
Much like Jo March, Anne Shirley was a literary hero for me as a child. I was not a child that loved fantasy stories with mysticism and lore but I did like to daydream and Anne is the ultimate daydreamer. You could say that daydreaming rescued Anne. I love the way she see’s everything through her own world and is confident enough to voice that world out loud. She doesn’t care what the locals call the pond. To her it is the Lake of Shining Waters. There is something so appealing about this kind of hope and dream. The rest of the characters are so lovely and it has such heart. It made me constantly search for kindred spirits and hope for a love I might want to occasionally break a slate over his head!
“Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it… Yet.”
4. A Christmas Carol (1843)-
We all know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge (you can read my Scrooge Month reviews here) but I fear our familiarity with the text causes us to forget how great a story it truly is. I love stories of redemption and Scrooge coming to know Christ through Christmas is one of the greats. Like so many Scrooge has become bitter because of the disappointments and tragedies of life. He has decided to separate himself from Christ and his fellow mankind because he doesn’t want to get hurt. This is the lesson he learns from his ghostly visitors and from the frail but faithful Tiny Tim.
“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused”
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)-
If someone asked me for a novel that might help them become a better person I would give them To Kill a Mockingbird. Told from the innocent perspective of a young girl observing her father, we learn in the novel what it means to have integrity and to fight for lost causes. Atticus knows representing Tom is a futile endeavor but he does it anyway. He see’s the value in the mockingbird which is ordinary and worthless to others. To Kill a Mockingbird gives us hope that good people like Atticus will always do what is right and will love no matter what. Boo Radley in contrast is the quiet one who saves Scout when nobody else can. It’s just beautiful and perfect.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)-
I could easily put Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion on this list but when it comes down to it Pride and Prejudice is my favorite from Jane Austen. As a teen I got caught up in the romance of this book. Will Darcy forgive Lizzie after she so hotly rebuked him? Will they survive the shame of Lydia’s carelessness? Will Bingley and Jane ever get together? It was all very compelling stuff! But as an adult I appreciate the novel on a deeper level. Austen really doesn’t have much romance in her books but she has characters that have to make choices and that are brave for their time. Lizzie could even be considered reckless considering the financial state of her family for refusing Mr Collins let alone Darcy. This is what makes her story compelling and their final union so satisfying. It is also full of witty satire that still holds up and is funny over 200 years later.
“I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.”
1. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855)-
Elizabeth Gaskell is my favorite author and I try to read her books each year. When I do I am always struck by how modern her characters feel. If they were to sub out more modern language the characters choices would feel right at home in a contemporary novel. In North and South she creates 2 fantastic characters in Margaret Hale and John Thornton. Margaret has been forced to move the Northern city of Milton where she meets the proud self-made Thornton. He is strong-willed like her but not a gentleman in her eyes. Then she and him get mixed up in the woes of the factory workers at his mill and the tension begins to mount. There is such chemistry between Margaret and Thornton from the first moment they meet, but it is not just a romance but an exploration of these 2 characters and how they let go of their pride to love. It will be too long for some folks but I adore it and find it endlessly re-readable.
“He knew how she would love. He had not loved her without gaining that instinctive knowledge of what capabilities were in her. Her soul would walk in glorious sunlight if any man was worthy, by his power of loving, to win back her love.”
So that is my list! What do you think of it? Let me know! I will be putting out a couple more book lists so let me know what you would like to see.
Hello friends! I hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend. Summer has begun in earnest here in Utah with lots of sun and high temperatures. I thought it would … Continue reading Happy Beginning of Summer
Little Women has always held a special place in my heart. It was the first big novel I ever remember reading. I was 9 or 10, and I cried my … Continue reading Little Women PBS 2018 Adaptation Review
I am very excited because today is a special anniversary for this blog. I have officially been blogging on smilingldsgirl.com for 10 years! I can hardly believe it. It seems like it was just yesterday that I was quitting my job and trying to figure out what to do next. It was such a strange, surreal time for me, and I needed an outlet to express my feelings. A blog seemed like the perfect solution and it has been such a blessing in my life.
I have been able to work through very tough times (I have even vented on occasion). I have shared the joyous times. I have gone through phases and diets and started my separate movie blog http://54disneyreviews.com and then my youtube channel. My time may be more divided now than it was originally, but I still love and value this blog. It gives me an outlet to share my heart and just talk about the silly things that come into my brain (that is what I promised in the header after all: my silly thoughts on life!).
I feel like you have all gotten to know the real me on this blog. You know my tastes, beliefs, opinions, interests, weaknesses, strengths and even my politics on occasion. I am so grateful for every last comment and like and for anyone who has taken the time to read my silly thoughts. There is nothing that brightens my day more than when I write something and it touches someone or makes them smile.
Thank you so much for the last 10 years and let’s have 10 more! Sure love you all!
This month for book club we are reading a novel called Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta and once again like most fantasy novels I am struggling. My whole life I have never enjoyed fantasy novels or movies as much as most people do. Some are so good they have won me over as an adult- Lord of the Rings and Wrinkle in Time come to mind, but most I find deadly dull. And it’s so strange because most people get lost in all the imagination and creative world building where I am just dying. It makes me wonder why?
Even as a little girl I preferred books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women over Lord of the Rings or Redwall. The only genre I dislike more than fantasy are dystopians which sometimes are an off-shoot of fantasy. One exception is The Giver because that is really about a person and his coming to understand who he is and what it means to be human.
I remember a few years ago everyone was super into Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and I found it very slow and stretched out. It seemed to me a simple fairytale had been expanded well beyond where it should have been. Maybe my problem with fantasy is that I’m not the most imaginative reader in the world. So where other people are envisioning Hogwarts or Middle Earth I’m waiting for the story to start. Movies are better because we can forgo all that nonsense by seeing the images and get right to the story and characters (but honestly many fantasy movies are tough for me to get through such as The Hobbit movies KMN).
I like the Lord of the Rings movies because they have a clear moral goal of destroying the ring and the characters are compelling. I like half of the Harry Potter movies (3, 4, 5 and 7) and the rest bore me. I like Time Bandits because it’s funny and weird. I like fairytales because they are usually romantic and have good music (which brings up a good point that women in fantasy are usually pretty lame and the romance is weak). Most fantasy stories have really bland characters that don’t interest me and so no matter how cool the world building is or fun the dragons are I can’t engage.
People act like I am really missing out on Game of Thrones because I chose to not watch it for its content but I know I would not like it. I know it even kills off its characters rather mercilessly which I would not enjoy as I get very attached to characters. Last year I read the first Dark Tower novel and I enjoyed that because the Man in Black and the Gunslinger were pretty engaging characters. I have been meaning to read more of them. The movie was terrible and turned them into total caricatures with a script that was very sloppy. I also was very disappointed in the recent movie version of A Wrinkle in Time that took a character driven story and made it muddled and preachy.
The last fantasy movie I can think of that I really loved is 2015’s Song of the Sea. This is a beautiful movie about a young boy grieving his mother who goes on a quest with magic and the lore of the selkie to help save his sister. It’s perfect! (Watch my review here) I also love both book and movie of Watership Down but that’s more of an allegory than fantasy in my opinion.
It’s just a strange thing when something that seemingly has so much excitement and creativity is so dull for me. What do you think about fantasy novels and movies? What am I missing? Do any of you feel that way?