Tag Archives: Recommendations

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read Because Someone Recommended Them to Me

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

This week’s prompt was a little tricky for me because it’s been a while since I’ve received a memorable book recommendation. I can be a bit picky about what I read, so I definitely don’t blame anyone for that. It’s just hard for some folks to figure out my tastes well enough to recommend things I end up loving.

These recommendations were all hits, though! They’re loosely arranged by how old I was when they were first recommended to me.

Title and Author: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1)
by C.S. Lewis

Who Recommended It: My uncle sent this entire seven-book series to me when I was in elementary school. I adored it immediately.

 

Title and Author: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Who Recommended It: I believe my fifth grade teacher recommended it during or after we did a history unit on the Holocaust. Anne’s stories about living in hiding as well as the truth about what happened to her gave this era a personal touch that made it easier for my young mind to grasp the horrors of it all.

 

Title and Author: Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe by Edgar Allan Poe

Who Recommended It: My ninth grade English teacher. She didn’t recommend this specific book, but she did an in-depth unit on his work in general that turned me into a lifelong fan of his stories.

 

Title and Author: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Who Recommended It: A book display at my high school library. I knew nothing about this author or tale, but I thought I’d give it a try. Jane won me over from the beginning.

 

Title and Author: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Who Recommended It: A high school study hall teacher. She had a shelf filled with books for us to read if we’d finished all of our homework. I picked this title out from it and was mesmerized from the first page.

 

Title and Author: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

Who Recommended It: My aunt. She had a large personal library that I was allowed to borrow books from while she was away at college and later graduate school, and I believe this was one of the titles she thought I’d particularly enjoy. Yes, she was completely right.

 

Pile of opened books stacked on top of each other Title and Author: The Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison

Who Recommended It: A librarian at the local public library if my memory is correct. I’d mentioned enjoying Beloved, and she immediately told me to read this next. I’m glad I listened to her!

 

Title and Author: Indian Horse  by Richard Wagamese

Who Recommended It: A coworker. I asked him for recommendations of Canadian books at some point after I moved up here, and this was one of his ideas.

Title and Author: The Stone Angel  by Margaret Laurence

Who Recommended It: The same coworker who recommended Indian Horse. I enjoyed both of these titles.

 

Title and Author: Annabel  by Kathleen Winter

Who Recommended It: A display of new Canadian books at one of the Toronto Public Library branches. I borrowed it with no knowledge of who the author was and had a great time reading it.

Book Recommendations Based on Emojis

I borrowed the idea for this post from Ally Writes Things. Definitely do go check out her post to see which books she recommended. She came up with some very interesting ideas!

The premise was simple:

After tweeting about it, I waited for the responses to roll in and got to work.Whenever possible, I combined emojis in my responses to make things more challenging.

Berthold Gambrel requested a jack-o’-lantern, an alien, and a robot: 🎃👽🤖

 

Attack of the Jack-O’-Lanterns by R.L. Stine might be right up his alley for aliens and jack-o-lanterns. It’s a middle grade Halloween novel about sentient, shape-shifting jack-o’-lanterns who attack earth on the one night a year it wouldn’t be odd to see such creatures walking around.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov is the quintessential robot story. It was about a cop who investigated a murder that may have been committed by a robot.  The 2004 film based on this book starring Will Smith was excellent.

 

A.N. Horton requested a skeptical emoji who was wearing a monocle: 🧐

Skeptical Music: Essays on Modern Poetry by David Bromwich seemed like a good match for this one. I was the sort of student who was really good at interpreting and discussing poetry. This is the sort of skill that can be taught and learned. Poetry is subjective by nature. You can have multiple right answers or end a discussion without finding at of them at all (for now).

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is my second recommendation for this emoji because something about it reminds me of Holden Caulfield. He was completely aware of his intelligence and honestly a little smug about it. I often wonder how differently this character would have been written if we could have met him twenty or thirty years later!

Emer requested an ocean wave: 🌊

The Deep by Rivers Solomon was my automatic response to this one because it was set in the Atlantic Ocean so far away from land that the mermaid-like characters in it barely even knew such a thing existed.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is another fantastic pick if you have any interest at all in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This book was written from the perspective of Mr. Rochester’s first wife many years before the events of Jane Eyre.

Tammy requested aliens, human brains, and strands of DNA: 👽🧠🧬

 

The Alien franchise of novels based on the  films are a nice combination of all of these emojis for reasons I’ll leave up to new readers and viewers to discover for themselves.

Species was a film and later a series of novels about a group of scientists who decided to create an alien-human hybrid after making first contact with what appeared to be a friendly alien species. It also used all three of these emojis in its storytelling.

An ereader tucked inside of a hardback novel. The novel is sitting on a wooden surface, possibly a table or floor.

I had such a good time putting this post together. Thank you to everyone who participated.

Which books would you recommend for these emojis?

If you’re not on Twitter or missed my tweets about this, leave one ore more emojis below if you’d like to participate. I’m happy to write another post on this topic in the future.

Happy reading, everyone!

Autumn Worlds I’d Like to Visit

I’ve written about the winterspring, and summer worlds I’d like to visit, so today I’ll wrap up this series by talking about the autumn worlds I’d spend some time exploring if I could.

Some of these settings weren’t necessarily the safest places to visit, but I’m going to use my authority as the author of this post to decide I’d somehow be protected while I was there.  Let’s say I had a protection spell on me to ward off anyone or anything that had bad intentions.

Hill House

Anyone who has read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson or seen the Netflix series based on it knows why I needed that protection spell. This property was filled with malevolent spirits!

The architecture of the house would be what I’d like to see, though. I’ve loved old, stately homes for as long as I can remember, especially the ones that were built during or close to the nineteenth century.

Unlike the clean, sleek styles of most modern architecture, large homes from this era are filled with small details that are easy to miss. There might be carvings around a door frame or a gothic-like spire reaching for the heavens.

Yes, meeting the friendly ghosts would be cool, too, but discovering all of the hidden details of this mansion would be even more interesting.

St. Cloud’s Orphanage

This orphanage was where the main character of The Cider House Rules by John Irving was born and raised in the first half of the twentieth century. Life was hard for many folks then, but it was especially rough for children who didn’t have parents.

There was never enough money, time, or attention to go around…and yet the doctor who ran this orphanage did an excellent job of looking after the children in his care given the standards of his time.

He was passionate about finding homes for his charges as soon as he possibly could. When a home couldn’t be found for a child, he made their lives as comfortable as he could. I’d love to take a tour of this orphanage and see how things were run in that fictional universe a century ago.

Hundreds Hall

If you haven’t already noticed the pattern in this post, that is about to change. Hundreds Hall was the crumbling mansion that the main character in The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters visited in order to provide medical care for the people who lived there. Click here to read my review of the film based on it.

The cool thing about Hundreds Hall was that people were still living there. Yes, it was in need of a lot of repair work, but anyone who visited there would have heat, water, and even some basic food if they went into the kitchen and asked nicely for a snack.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have access to those things while on a ghost hunt than go somewhere that doesn’t have them. My goal while visiting this estate would not only involve admiring the architecture but hopefully catching a glimpse of the ghost that may have lived there, too.

Somehow seeing one ghost who may or may not even exist is a million more times exciting than seeing dozens of them hanging around everywhere like one would at Hill House.

Plumfield

There’s something about this boys school in Little Men by Louisa May Alcott that appeals to me quite a bit. Despite being set in a time and place when women and LGBT+ people had far fewer rights than we tend to have today, it would also probably be the safest place on this list for me to visit.

My fingers would be crossed that Jo would be an accepting host. I’d like to think we could bond over our shared love of writing and literature.

It would be amazing to see what life was really like in her home. Her school was not always the most structured learning environment, but her students did have a great deal of fun between – and sometimes right dab in the middle of – their chores and lessons.

So many of my favourite memories of this book happened during the autumn, so I can’t help but to think of it as an autumn story.

If there were a way to tell her about the future without disrupting the natural unfolding of historical events, I’d also love to give Jo a glimpse of what life was like nearly 200 years after her time.

What autumn worlds would you like to visit?

What to Read If You Liked The Clan of the Cave Bear

I’ve decided to start another series on this blog. Just like with the interviews with people who love speculative fiction that I’ll begin publishing here next week, Hopeful Science Fictionfilm reviews, Questions from the Search Engines, and Blogging Advice, this series won’t be updated on a specific schedule. Once I’ve come up with several similar titles to recommend to people who enjoyed a certain book, that post will be added to the queue.

The Clan of the Cave Bear is a prehistoric novel written by Jean M. Auel in 1980 about an orphaned human girl named Ayla who was raised by Neanderthals. It has four sequels about Ayla’s life as an adult.

Part of the reason why I picked this specific tale to start this series off with is because I’ve been getting a spike of visitors coming to this site looking for information about Auel, her characters, and whether there is going to be a TV show or movie made about  the Earth’s Children books.

No, it doesn’t look like there’s anything in the works. I’ll be the first to shout it from the rooftops if that ever changes! In the meantime, why not talk about something I enjoyed quite a bit?

The Clan of the Cave Bear is one of those stories that I’ve returned to over and over again. The plot is an intriguing blend of adventure, romance, mystery, and even a touch bit of the paranormal genre at times.

Life wasn’t exactly easy for hunter-gatherers 30,000 years ago, so there were also plenty of subplots about gathering food, making weapons, preserving medicinal herbs, and doing everything else necessary to survive the cold, long winters of an ice age.

I’ve spent years on the lookout for books that are comparable to this one and its sequels. The following list is the cream of the crop of everything I’ve read so far about Neanderthals and how they might have interacted with Homo sapiens tens of thousands of years ago or in modern times.

The Inheritors by William Golding

This was the first well-written book I discovered when I went to the library as a young teen in hopes of finding more storytellers like Jean M. Auel who had clearly done their research about life in the prehistoric era.

It was fascinating to see how Mr. Golding imagined Neanderthals might have behaved as their culture began to bump up against a stronger one. The Neanderthals in this world were caring, but they had trouble competing in a world where a more intelligent and dangerous type of human was beginning to move into their territory.  I’d argue that this twist says just as much about him and the era he lived in as it does about one of the possible reasons why this species might have gone extinct.

Ember from the Sun by Mark Canter 

I read this title soon after finding The Inheritors, and it’s something I’ve been recommending to likeminded readers for many years now. It’s by far the most science-fiction oriented part of this list because of how much time the narrator spent setting up the storyline and explaining why the things he imagined could possibly happen with the use of science instead of magic to explain them.

In short, the main character was a scientist who found the body of a frozen Neanderthal woman that was so well-preserved he actually found a viable embryo in her womb. (Yes, there was a somewhat-scientific reason why this was possible in this universe, but I can’t tell you specifics about that scene without revealing an important part of the plot).

He implanted that embryo into a human volunteer, named the resulting baby Ember, and raised her as his own. As she grew up, she began to explore her unusual past. She had many of the same questions that people who are transracially adopted have about their identity, and those questions lead to some very interesting developments in the plot that I still mull over to this day.

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The title of this one gives away its subject matter. We know that eventually all of the Neanderthals died out (or interbred with a much larger group of humans until their genes almost completely disappeared). There are so many things that bones can’t tell us about an individual or their culture, however!

What was the life of the last obvious Neanderthal like? How were they different from us? I can tell you almost nothing about this protagonist other than the fact that I found her delightful. Everything else I want to say would wander too close to spoiler territory because of how long it took the author to explain some of her character’s most enduring traits.

There is a film by the same name that is currently in the works. I can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be based on this book. Either way, I’m tentatively hoping to review it when it comes out!

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

One of the things I wish had been different about the Earth’s Children books was how far they eventually strayed away from describing all of the hard work that people needed to do in order to survive in such harsh climates. This novel always stayed true to its setting in that way. Life as a hunter-gatherer is never something that should be romanticized even if there are certain parts of it I wish I could incorporate into my own urban lifestyle!

I also loved the friendships the characters in this tale developed with Neanderthals. They worked together to survive in an unforgiving climate. As much as I respected Mr. Golding’s take on this topic, I’d like to think that the past was a cooperative place.

The Neanderthal Parallex trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer

In Hominids, the first book of this series, humans from our Earth meet a modern-day Neanderthal from a parallel universe where their species survived and humans died out tens of thousands of years ago.

The cultural differences between Neanderthals and humans were vast. To give one of the least surprising examples, all of the Neanderthals in this universe are bisexual and have two spouses, one man and one woman. It was fascinating to see how these two worlds collided once the characters realized just how many assumptions they made about life didn’t fit the other society in any way.

I can’t believe no one has turned this into a TV series yet. Robert J. Sawyer has written dozens of worthwhile books, but this world in particular really needs to be shared with a wider audience. It was so thought provoking.

Respond

If any of you have recommendations for other prehistoric tales or a request for a book I should feature next in this series, do speak up. I’m always open to suggestions.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Semiosis

Last June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Since then I’ve talked about Woman on the Edge of Time and The Lovely Bones. Today I’m back with another suggestion.

If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Semiosis

Sue Burke’s Semiosis is a 2018 hard science fiction novel about colonists from Earth who travel to a distant planet in hope of making it their permanent home. The storyline followed the original group of explorers as well as their descendants for several generations. They knew almost nothing about the planet they named Pax  before they arrived there, so preparing in advance for what they were about to experience wasn’t easy.

Nearly every chapter in this book showed how the most recent generation in this timeline adapted to the many challenges they faced while attempting to survive on a planet where RNA, not DNA, was the building block of life. Generally, one chapter was assigned to each new generation as they came of age and began making decisions for their community.

Th experiences of the first generation were promising. The land was covered in vegetation, much of which their scans showed was safe and nutritious for humans. They quickly began attempting to build shelters and adjust to the many differences that came with living in such an alien environment.

Plot-Based, Not Character-Based

As you might have already guessed, this was a plot-based novel. Since each section more or less introduced an entirely new cast of characters (based on how many members of the previous generation had managed to live to see old age), there wasn’t a great deal of time for any one character to steal the spotlight.

I normally have a strong preference for character-based stories, so I did need some time to adjust to the fact that I would only have a short amount of time with any of the fascinating people I met as one generation was slowly replaced by the next.

Given how long it took the original group of immigrants to realize that many of their assumptions about what life on a distant plant would be like were completely wrong, it made sense for the whole adventure to unfold slowly over the courses of multiple lifetimes as new generations built on the knowledge their parents and grandparents had painstakingly put together. No individual human could ever live long enough to gather all of the clues they did over such a long period of time.

However, I would have liked to see more continuity between the generations. I understood why the lifespans were shorter for humans, especially in the beginning, but I spent so little time with the many characters that I didn’t feel like I bonded with any of them. They were there in one scene and then sometimes gone in the next.

Persistence

There are many details about the plot that I can’t share with you without giving away huge spoilers. Needless to say, the characters in this book were surprised over and over again by what life was really like on their new home in just about every way you can imagine. The food obviously didn’t taste anything like food does on Earth. Calibrating what was and wasn’t dangerous on this planet was hard for them, too, as well due to how little they knew about life on it ahead of it.

All of their previous training was useful, but it couldn’t have possibly prepared them for everything they were about to experience. They had no way to contact Earth, leave Pax, or receive any additional supplies, so they had to figure out ways to keep going no matter what happened to them.

The first generation had some really rough experiences due to a string of bad luck and not having the right types of supplies at critical moments. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. There were conversations about ordinary things like unpacking the ship or how to decide when to switch from the food they brought with them to scavenging for a fresh dinner. I especially loved the characters’ contagious excitement at finally getting to explore the land without having any idea what they might find there.

Mixing those moments of grief in with all of the other emotions they experienced was a nice touch. It reminded me a lot of what happens in real life when someone is dealing with a difficult problem but also still has to do totally mundane things like sweep their floor, plan dinner, or take their pet for a walk. Life is hard sometimes, but it still goes on.

This feeling returned once they realized there was an intelligent life form on that planet that all of their previous scans of it had failed to pick up. I couldn’t stop reading once I reached this section, and it only got better from there.

The Big Picture

There are two reasons why I’m recommending this as a hopeful science fiction read.

Number one, we’ve all had days that were so frustrating or painful they felt like they’d never end.

This book could describe a day like that and then zoom out and see how that experience mattered (or didn’t matter) in the longterm. There were questions asked early on that didn’t receive answers until decades or even generations later.

There’s something comforting in seeing that pattern play out over and over again. What doesn’t make sense to us now might make sense years from now. Alternatively, it might fade away and not be meaningful at all after enough time has passed.

Number two, things did improve for the characters over time. The tragedies they experienced were real, but so was the hope they found as they adjusted to the challenges they faced and figured out how to look after themselves long after all of their Earth supplies had run out.

What hopeful science fiction stories have you been reading recently?

Hopeful Science Fiction: The Lovely Bones

This past June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Last month I reviewed Woman on the Edge of Time as my first selection for this list. Today I’m back with a review of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure… Read More

Summer Worlds I’d Like to Visit

Last January I blogged about the winter worlds I wish I could visit. Now that we’re well into the month of August and temperates are soaring, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this topic from a summery perspective. One of the differences between this list and the one I did for winter… Read More

What to Read When It’s Hot Outside

Last winter I shared a list of books that I’d recommend checking out when it’s cold outside. All of them were set during the winter because sometimes I like to match the settings in the stories I read to what the weather in Ontario is like at that a particular time of the year. Now… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Woman on the Edge of Time

Last month, I blogged about my desire to step back from the dystopian genre and read hopeful science fiction instead. The rules were simple. I didn’t require a story to start out in a hopeful or happy place, but I did want to read scifi that ended that way. Since then, I’ve started to compile… Read More

My Favourite Canadian Books

Happy belated Canada Day! One of the most interesting parts of moving to Canada was getting to read some of the amazing books that have been written by Canadian authors over the years. From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a lot of Canadian literature that isn’t necessarily that well-known in the United States.… Read More