Tag: watership down

My Top 11 Favorite Modern Novels

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!

kite runner

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.

the martian

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.

Ready-Player-One-cover-by-Ernest-Cline

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.

finding audrey

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.

7. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)-

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.

wrinkle in time

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.

watership down

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

edenbrooke

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!

the giver

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.

chosen

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.

book thief

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!

Dense Reads

I am a part of a new book club with some friends I met online.  The most recent selection is called Dune by Frank Herbert. It is a science fiction tomb that I did not care for.  Let’s just say I called it the “Phantom Menace of books”.  It was so long and the characters never shut up.  Far too much explaining about things I didn’t care about (a lot of carrying on about spices and trade) and no recognizable villain. I didn’t get that far in it because I kept falling asleep so I might be able to use it as a good insomnia cure.

dune-cover-by-john-schoenherrBut I went to book club hoping to find out why a member of the club had selected it and why she liked it.  Her explanation was very interesting.  She said she liked that it was dense without being old English like a classic.  Meaning something that was full of details and every time you went to it you got more about the world and characters.  She also liked that it was thoughtful without being philosophical which evidently she hates.  Anyway, it made me think about my own reading and what ‘dense’ books I like.  One’s I could read 1,000 times and I’d still get new details and information. I can’t think of that many.  Most books I like are pretty straight forward in plot and story.  Not sure what that says about me but there you go.

Here are some that came to mind.

1.  Wrinkle in Time-  a book I didn’t like as a little girl but I read it fairly recently and loved it.  It is very rich in detail and not sure what it all means.

wrinkle2.  The Chosen/My Name is Asher Lev- this book isn’t dense in a way but the characters are so complex every time I read it I feel differently about them.  When I read it in college I thought Danny’s father was a beast not fit to raise children.  Later he didn’t make any sense to me and then I began to feel sympathy for him.  So in the sense of its characters it is very dense.

the chosen

3. Middlemarch- You guys know North and South is my favorite book but it is a pretty straight forward romance.  Middlemarch is much more complex. Dorothea Casaband is a layered character that is tough to understand.  On one hand she is foolish and marries Mr Casaband despite outward signs of his miserly ways.  She’s so hopeful of a thoughtful intellectual man buried deep inside. Then her interactions with Will Ladislaw seem so different than what she was looking for with Mr Casaband.  It seems like she feels sorry for Will who has married a stupid woman but didn’t know any better. It’s the motivations of the characters and their behavior to one another which is very compelx in Middlemarch.

Middlemarch

4. Great Expectations- My favorite Dickens (aside from Christmas Carol) and one of my favorite books because it is so different.  You’ve got Pip all of the sudden given a chance to improve his life but from who? He assumes it is the bizarre Miss Havisham and her daughter Estella who sit in a mansion with a decades old wedding that never happened.  When I read it I learn more about the characters.  Why Pip does what he does.  What Dickens is trying to say in his strange story?

great expectations

5. Autobiography of Malcolm X- This book may surprise you being on this list but it is one of the best autobiography’s I’ve ever read.  Malcolm X is such a layered character and while I haven’t read it in a long time it is one I could read 100 times and get a new impression of him each time.  He was a man who of many public personas that he was willing to abandon when he had  change of heart.  Especially for someone in the public eye that kind of change is remarkable.

malcolm

6. Howard’s End- Another book with rich characters.  I love the different class bubbles each of the families are in and how that colors their view of the world.  The Wilcox’s, Schlegals and Basts are characters I never quite figure out.  They have positive traits but fall sway to human weakness easily.  The mere premise is interesting too.  What is it that Mrs Wilcox see’s in Margaret?  Why does she give her Howard’s End?  What was she trying to accomplish or did she just get along with her?   It’s a rare movie about class that doesn’t tell you who is right or wrong but gives you the story and you decide.

howard

7.  Watership Down- Another book that grew on me. Our troop of rabbits including Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig flee their home and come in contact with several societies including a communist like state and a totalitarian regime.  On the surface it is an adventure story with the rabbits narrowly escaping death many times.  But it is also a piece of social commentary on the flaws of various forms of government and how power corrupts absolutely.

watership down

8.  The Book Thief- Do I need to praise The Book Thief more on this blog?  It is so rich.  Everything from the narrator, to the complex characters, to the number of characters, to the setting in Nazi Germany to the book within a book, to the messages on politics, writing and family are astonishing.  I love this book!

book thief2

9. Little Dorrit- A lesser known Dickens book that I really liked.  It’s very melancholy but with Dickens family living in a debtors prison it has a closeness to the story that you don’t quite get in any of his other books.  The society that develops within the prison and William’s inability to adapt to free life is very interesting.  Little Dorrit is devoted to her father but in a way also imprisoned by him.  She could be such a cliche of a character but she isn’t because she consistently thinks of others before herself almost too a fault.  The big reveal at the end and the house collapsing is so great.  It’s a book that says a lot about human group theory and our desire to do the right thing in the eyes of other people even if it hurts us in the end.

little dorrit

10. The Bible/Book of Mormon-  I know this seems like an obvious one but it is absolutely the richest read in my opinion.  What else could I read every day of my life and get new insight and inspiration from every day?  But it’s not just the counsel that is rich.  The stories are deep as well.  There are lots of miracles that aren’t explained, characters whose motivations are complex like David.  And of course Christ spoke in parables which are extremely layered and dense.  By design we are supposed to work to understand the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan.

book-of-mormonWhat dense books do you like?  It’s interesting how few of these books have been made into great movies- really only 3, Malcolm X, Watership Down, and Howard’s End.  Like the versions of Wrinkle in Time and The Chosen these kind of dense books end up feeling muddled, long and convoluted as a movie, which makes sense given they are such dense books!