Hello beautiful book lovers! I hope spring is treating you gently this year! I am back at it, blogging about books and food and life, so I hope you’re still with me on this lovely journey.
As a thank you for sticking with me, I am hosting my very first giveaway! The aesthetic of these old-timey bikes is exactly me: a little vintage-y, the look of an antique, with a sense of whimsy. This type of bike is called a Penny-Farthing, and they invoke a European belle-epoque nostalgia for me. How to make this yours? Sign up for my newsletter and enter your email so I can get in touch with you; I will be drawing a name in two weeks. For an extra chance to win, comment on this post. Tell me the title of the book that you can’t get out of your head! The winner will be announced in two weeks. This is for Canada and continental US only.
I can’t quite put my finger on why these books affected me so much. Each of these novels has somehow found some real estate in my brain and set up camp. I’ll be out doing stuff, and all of a sudden I’ll get a flash of one of these. I think the common denominator is that all of them created an intense emotional reaction in me. And when I remember the book, I have an emotional memory as well.
As an author, this tells me what I need to know: emotional responses are everything. As a reader, sometimes all I can think is: stop playing with my heart! But in all seriousness, each of these books is excellent in its own way. These are up there on my absolute life-long favourites, and come highly recommended.
Except one! Can you guess which one it is?
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson is an excellent writer, this is true, and perhaps one of the few authors I can think of to pull this off, but the brilliance of Life After Life is the concept: In every life, we make mistakes – serious mistakes, and we die. But we come back to relive our lives, this time with instinctual memories of what happened, so we shy away from the dangers and survive. Until the next mistake occurs.
We follow Ursula as she improves her history life after life. As the reader, you live her life over and over again too, holding your breath wondering how she’ll do this time, and fist-pumping when she gets it right. There were some major emotional moments in the books, that made it both difficult to put down and almost dread to pick back up again. Such a rollercoaster.
You can also find some dark, dark humour in there, because: all the death. I found it funny, actually, but not everyone did. I’m not sure what that says about me, but if you like your humour dark, this is the one for you. I absolutely cried, and put this book aside with a sense of satisfaction and grief. Book hangover guaranteed.
Bel Canto, by Ann Pratchett
Set somewhere in South America, a group of politicians and business elites come together to celebrate the birthday of Mr. Hosokawa. The famed opera singer Roxane Cross has been flown in to sing for him. What should be a perfect luxury evening goes horribly wrong when they are overrun by gun-wielding terrorists that take the party hostage.
The terrorists are inept to the point of laughability, but as a result, the entire group settles into a weeks-long hostage situation, and it becomes something very different. As they all figure out how they are going to live together under one roof, unexpected friendships and romances begin to develop, and people learn more about themselves and life than they ever could outside of the unusual, high-pressure situation.
This book is about humanity at its best, and worst. The strength of our spirit, the fragility of our egos, and what happens when we let all that behind us and allow ourselves to really open up to others. This book is so so beautiful. Also devastating. Bring tissues.
The Post-Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver
The Post-Birthday World might not have the huge devastating impact of some of the other books on the list, but the very concept has made me stop and ponder life on many occasions. It is about infidelity, and travels through one woman’s life in a Sliding Doors-type scenario. There is a moment in time when Irena faces a choice: give in to temptation and lean into the desire she feels for a man who is not her husband, or not.
The storyline splits in two, following her path as two very different lives spread out in front of her. The results are not what I expected. One thing I liked very much about Shriver’s take on this is that there was no moral lesson here – she doesn’t condemn Irena for one decision or reward her for another. All decisions have consequences, and sometimes they come at a crossroads in our lives. This is a concept I think about all the time, which is probably why I love this book so much. It indulges my desire to know: what if?
In the end, Post Birthday shows life how it is: a little sad, sometimes disappointing. Mostly it’s important to live life while you can, and maybe don’t worry too much about what others think of you. As an aside, I love the movie Sliding Doors. It might actually be my favourite of all time, I watched it approximately a million times when I was a teen. I rewatched it last summer, and it totally still stands up (which is not true of all movies made in the ‘90s!) If you haven’t seen that one, it is also worth a watch.
We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart
This book came very close to killing me. I think it’s interesting that it’s so popular, even today. There is definitely something to it that makes it linger.
Because it was so horrible! I just couldn’t with this one. There was an overwhelming sense of dread that built up and built up to a boiling point and then gushed over into horror. I actually consider this a horror book. It inspired such a wretched emotional reaction that I needed several weeks to recover.
You probably know the concept, as this book is EVERYWHERE! There is a rich and beautiful family, a private island and a terrible secret. The twist wasn’t exactly shocking, as it had been teased up until the end, but it was very well done that I still reeled from it. I found the ending so dramatically terrible that it upset me. Like, I had to put the book down and out of my sight. So I appreciate Lockhart writing something so amazing that had such an effect on me. But it was also just so awful, I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed it. I mean, go out and read it, everyone else is, but I don’t know if I would recommend it if you want to feel good about life.
Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Shelley is the OG feminist, proving that women think just as well as men do. Actually, that was her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, but her daughter certainly took up the torch. The story behind the creation of Frankenstein is storied, where she, along with Lord Byron and her husband Percy Shelley, had a competition to see who could write the best horror story. The results are in, and Wollstonecraft Shelley won by a landslide. Two centuries later, Frankenstein is so ingrained in our collective subconscious that everybody has at least an impression of this book whether they’ve read it or not.
I’ve read this many times over the years, each time coming away with a different takeaway. For the most part, I empathize with the monster, who is exceptionally eloquent and morally bereft. In a past review of the book, I suggested the alternative title: If Frankenstein Wasn’t Such a Dick, Things Could Have Been Really Different. I believe the true horror was not that Frankenstein created life, but that he abandoned his creation. And then blamed every bad thing that happened in his life on that thing that he did and never took responsibility for. There are consequences, man!
Imagine what the monster could have become if he had received love upon birth? However, perhaps a “freak of nature” would never find acceptance in our society, then or now. On every read, I come away with further deep thoughts, which is why Frankenstein holds as one of my most thought-on books.
I also adored the fact the book is set in Geneva, as I lived there for six years and am completely undone with my love for the area. The book was written when Wollstonecraft Shelley lived on the banks of Lake Geneva, and a part of this is just a love letter to how exceptionally gorgeous it is!
Here’s me in Plainpalais, Geneva, next to the statue of Frankenstein’s monster!
Have you read any of these books? What’s the book that your brain just refuses to let go of? I’m always looking for new recommendations.
And don’t forget to sign up for the Penny Farthing Giveaway!
For more book recommendations, check out: