Posts in Book Lists
Summer Reading | 7 Graphic Novels for Literary Snobs

We’ve found that graphic novels are a vastly under appreciated genre amongst fiction lovers, and while we ourselves are relatively new to the party, having just begun really getting into these magical books a year-ish ago, we can’t imagine our reading lives without them now. If graphic novels seem odd or frivolous to you, or you imagine that they couldn’t possibly hold as much weight and drama and characterization as a traditional novel, we have a few recommendations to change your mind. Each of these are so unique, and carry meaty stories with gorgeous artwork, unforgettable characters, and amazingly crafted narratives.

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The Best We Could Do

The first graphic novels to make me cry (and I am decidedly not a crier), this is a memoir where the focus is on one family's immigration story from Vietnam, but it manages to wrap in so much history and culture and personal stories and relationship drama. The way this novel builds its layers and characters manages to bee so elegant and impactful in a way I rarely see done, even in regular fiction let alone a graphic novel, plus I learned a ton about the history of Vietnam in the ‘70’s and the art is stunning.


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This One Summer

One of those rare books that captures the indefinable, and with perfect balance between words and illustration. The story focuses on the friendship of two girls at their annual summer vacation spot as they come of age, and mixes in family drama, the awkwardness of being on the cusp of the teenage years, friendship, growing pains, and the complexity of inner life. Some panels are heart-stopping in their elegant blending of text and art to create something meaningful. I especially love how the concept of memory was handled, but it captured so many hard to define emotions so, so beautifully. It also embodies my favorite moods of bittersweet and nostalgia, and I rarely see this level of layering in a graphic novel, which makes it extra special. We even did a literary dinner party for this one!


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Spinning

Another graphic memoir, this time about the competitive world of ice skating, combined with a coming of age narrative. The tone of this is a little more straightforward and realistic, less dreamy and complex than This One Summer, but it is beautifully illustrated and her story is compelling and real. Plus you’ll learn a lot about competitive ice skating, which is actually super interesting, and if you did any sports as a kid/teen you will absolutely relate.

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Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

Tamaki excels at writing graphic novels that feel so, so intimately human, and Valero-O’Connell created art that says as much or more than Tamaki’s words, bringing life and personality to the entire story. I LOVED this one and sincerely hope they do another book together. It explores toxic relationships, friendships, and general growing up kind of stuff in a way that feels so nuanced and personal somehow, but with a good dose of plot. The atmosphere in this is just beautiful, and the story will give fiction lovers all the characters and drama and depth they could ever want.


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Relish

This was such a detailed, and fun, story of Lucy growing up with foodie parents. Then comes the divorce, and she illustrates how her world is changed by the vastly different directions her parents take (still centered around food and culture). Lucy had a fascinating childhood, incredible travel adventures, and an array of experiences that make you want to reach out to be her friend.


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Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey

Reminiscent of The Best We Could Do, Dare to Disappoint shows a young girl as she tries in vain to follow in the cultural and societal driven requirements of growing up in Turkey. Try as she might, she just can’t do what her big sister does and is constantly the dreamer. As the story goes, you see the internal and external struggles she faces, trying so hard to please her parents, and ultimately, has to find what works for her. This is such a fantastic and relatable story, regardless of geography, that you truly feel for the characters in this story, as they all seem to fight through their own battles.

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Americus

This is such a great YA graphic novel that shows the immense effect of censorship from parents who refuse to, or simply can’t understand their teenagers. The power, then, of standing together, speaking up, and the book community, was raw and exciting to follow in this story. You also get to see snippets of the Harry Potter-esque story that is fought over to ban, which also holds a powerful story of morality. This made me think A LOT about my own mom in relation to her dislike of books we were given to read in school (without having read them herself), along with now being a parent and how I handle the relationship between myself and my children and literature. Loved this one so much.


Do you have a favorite graphic novel??

What's On Our TBR | Summer 2019
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Heading into June behind the scenes here at The Ardent Biblio was a LOT of discussion about what we wanted our summer reading lives to look like this year. We both pulled a healthy pile from our shelves to focus on, and figured we’d share a little about why we’re excited about them!

Michaela

Apparently this is the year of the short classic for me. I’ve been meaning to read The Virgin Suicides for literally years because of it’s reputation for being pure atmospheric nostalgia; basically Michaela catnip. Picnic at Hanging Rock falls into the same category, and since it was compared to The Secret History, I obviously have to read it. Which, while we’re all thinking about classical Greek, enter Song of Achilles, because after loving Circe last year, I pretty much immediately grabbed this one, and it feels like a great summer book to follow up my reading of The Odyssey. I’m also very interested in re-readiing Travels With Charley with Rikki, in doing some armchair travel to 1920’s Paris via A Moveable Feast, and in picking up House of Mirth after loooovinnggggg The Age of Innocence this past winter! I’ll probably pick up a few contemporary novels as well to round things out, and am especially looking forward to Ask Again, Yes and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, both of which all of instagram seem to be reading and raving about lately. Ask Again, Yes promises really well done generational family drama, and On Earth looks like it’s going to be both absolutely heart wrenching and absolutely beautiful. Wish me luck!

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Rikki

Travels With Charley | John Steinbeck - It’s no secret how in love with Steinbeck I am. I’ve been holding onto a few of his books that I REALLY want to read, and this is finally the summer for this cross country adventure!

We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live | Joan Didion - I’ve read some of Didion’s non-fiction, but am looking forward to this collection of her essays and short stories. She has a way of writing in her stream of consciousness that I find myself tailing like a lost puppy.

Collection of Poems | Rainer Marie Rilke’s - With a constant goal to read more poetry, I decided Rilke was were I’d begin this summer, after reading and loving Letters to a Young Poet.

Selected Cronicas | Clarice Lispector - Another collection of essays I’ve had my eyes on. I rarely stumble across her books in real life, so I’m anxiously anticipating a copy I’ve been waiting for and plan to dive into immediately. This collection, from what I’ve read, is a little different, but exactly what I’m looking for in essays and nonfiction right now.

A Year in Provence | Peter Mayle - I’m ready for some armchair travel, some charm, and fun. Much like Under the Tuscan Sun, I’m ready to be whisked away again into a life governed by the seasons and food and countryside.

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What are you excited to read this summer??

Wrap Up | February 2019
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Michaela

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle | Stuart Turton- This was an A+ concept with a C- execution. My IRL book club’s pick this month, and the ONLY book I managed to finish this month because, life, and it was solidly mediocre. Sob. It’s large cast of characters was a burden instead of a boon, and a concept that had so much potential quickly got repetitive and dull. I had to slog my way through most of it, and it’s been a couple weeks since I read it now, and I’m finding that it’s highly forgettable. Never a good thing.

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Rikki

We Were the Mulvaneys | Joyce Carol Oates - I was book shopping with my mom a few years ago, she saw this book and said she loved; so I bought it and planned to read it some day. Well, that day has come, and as everyone told me, this book will tear your heart open again and again and again. It’s beautifully written, I’ll give it that— and you really felt the family, each person, and their individual trials. I hate to think how real their story is for people, but I know it’s true. The ending wrapped up nicely, and honestly, this is a story that can get away with it, in fact, it NEEDS it. I’ll be spending a bit more time unpacking this one.

A Spark of Light | Jodi Picoult - Initially I thought this to be like other stories that open with the hook then take you back to the beginning to fill in the rest of the story before and circling back around. But no, this story literally rewinds; one minute you’re reading a woman is dead, then on the next page, she’s alive and we’re learning about her life. I can’t say I cared at all for this book. The strong political tones on abortion are loud and clear, but she did well at keeping it balanced and mixing it into the actual story. All the same, it left a lot to be desired.

An American Marriage | Tayari Jones - This book had so much hype that when I saw a copy up for grabs at the library, I grabbed it up. It’s an enticing novel with great character development, but I felt like this book was nothing extraordinary. My heart breaks that the concept of the main plot happens to men of all kinds far too often. And you guys, I hated the end! The last page ends with hope, then the epilogue rips it all away through letters, that if you’re looking at it realistically, would never have actually been written.

The Idiot | Elif Batuman - Such a strange tale, I had some trouble seeing through, or understanding, the obscure nonsensical thoughts of Selin. She seemed faceless all the while and you’re hoping to get to a main point or climax, but it doesn’t. Too late I realized it’s more like reading her diary, all from a very intimate first person perspective, an inner dialogue. With that said, I did enjoy this book; literary references and talks of Harvard classes are enjoyable for me. It ended with her summer of teaching in Hungary, and that was probably the most action-packed part of the book, and you finally see Selin gain some personality.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn | Betty Smith - Another book my mom recommended years ago, and I’m so happy I finally read it! I just couldn’t put it down. I don’t always care for coming-of-age stories, but this one is worth it every step of the way. I can’t wait to reread this someday, even more, to pass it on to my daughter. You’ll surely feel your heart break and go back together again, feel alive, and love your babies a little more. What a story!

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller | Italo Calvino - All the promise of a strange, interesting tale held up in this book. I loved it for some time, but found myself growing impatient at the redundancy that inevitably crept in. The stories within the story were an exciting shift, but if you’re anxious to see the plot move along, you’ll be halted at each interlude. I’d love to read this again with more patience, and knowing better what I’m getting into, I think I’d enjoy it even more. Still, a solidly excellent book!

What was the best book YOU read this month?

Wrap Up | January 2019
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Michaela

The Hating Game | Sally Thorne- I wanted to like this more than I did. I read it for a quick brain break, and while I enjoyed the tone, the whole book just almost worked over and over again. The entire thing felt...loose. Plot points and themes felt incomplete (yes, I realize this is fluff, BUT STILL) as if the author knew what she was after, but couldn’t quite get it across. An example would be how the novel tries to deal with objectification, if you’ve read it. The story was cute enough, though painfully (so painfully) predictable.

The Descendants | Kaui Hart Hemmings- This gets five stars from me, but I fully acknowledge that I am not objective about this book. The movie holds a special place in my heart for a lot of personal reasons, and though it took me a long time to read the book, I’m really glad I did. I love the tone, the realness, the flawed characters, and especially the writing. This just hit the spot for me personally. I’m also glad that the movie really stayed quite true to the book!

I Am Jennie | Jennie Ketcham- This was our IRL book club’s pick for the month. I thought the story was raw and interesting, but needed a stronger editorial hand. The middle 200 pages just felt like a whirl of characters and disjointed events coming at you at lightning speed, with almost no service to the narrative. That whole section also felt kind of detached, and lost the structure and emotional investment that I had enjoyed in the beginning. The writing here isn’t terrible, though it is amateurish, but then again it was written to share her story, not to be indicted into the literary cannon. Overall, an interesting peek into an experience very different from my own, but I would really love to see her write this now (it was published in 2012) with a little more distance from the events, because I think it would be easier to distill the important parts of this memoir for a higher impact.

The Raven Boys | Maggie Steifvater- I listened to this one on audio, and it was a total win for me. I have a soft spot for YA fantasy and this one did not disappoint. I’m completely in love with the characters, the story was well paced, atmospheric, and had enough mystery to keep the tension high enough to keep me listening for as long as I possibly could. I LOVED the narrator, too. I even tried to read it in print and switched back to audio because I enjoyed him so much. I’ll definitely continue this series, it’s shaping up to be a solid one.

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Rikki

Stoner | John Williams - I’ve needed to take some time reflecting on this novel before I could formulate a worthy review. This novel is hailed as one of the greatest in American Literature. Well, yes, it’s technically perfect. But the story, which is what is said to be so profound, falls a little wayside for me. Having just finished my Master’s in English Studies, you can imagine that I did love the atmosphere of university life and reading about his love of literature. I can relate, my friend. But, the characters that cause so much strife for Stoner felt forced and unfinished. His neurotic, crazy wife, who ruins his relationship with his daughter…the handicap professor who wants to ruin his career — what and why?! I also have little to no patience for passive characters with no backbone, and while there were redeeming moments, I hated that about Stoner’s character. I was rooting for him though and I’m glad I’ve read this novel. I also picked up his other, Butcher’s Crossing, and look forward to that later in the year.

Between Shades of Gray | Ruta Sepetys - What an incredibly unexplored piece of history. The author’s note at the end, was my favorite piece, where she tells how this story was kept undisclosed until the early ‘90s when the Soviet Union collapsed. And slowly, the stories began to unfold and find light. While a truly heartbreaking account of what it was like for Lithuanians during Stalin’s reign of terror and the overlap of WW2, I appreciated the history lesson, the fictional account of a Lithuanian family, and the redemption and fight to live that takes you through the story. I’m looking forward to her other novel Salt to the Sea.

The Great Alone | Kristin Hannah - This was my first Hannah novel, and it delivered. An emotionally compelling page-turner, that makes your heart ache as the story unfolds through the backwoods of Alaska. There is so much devastation that relentlessly piled up, it was hard to catch my breath, but made me believe in the strength, resilience, and love of the human spirit. The story did lay out in a way one might expect, with some cliche to guide you through, but if you’re looking for an easy prose and something to bring out emotion and keep you up reading, this is a worthwhile book.

Salt to the Sea | Ruta Sepetys - Apparently, this is my month of angst and heartbreak. I didn’t find this story to be as difficult throughout as Between Shades of Gray (from an overall scope of the storyline), but the end ripped my heart out. Another page-turning novel of historical fiction, accounting for the most horrific and heartbreaking maritime disaster in history. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this book. Sepetys does an impeccable job at crafting a voice and story for characters who truly had none, who were lost to the sea and the war.

Lolita | Vladimir Nabokov - For months this book has been following me, everyone I spoke to that has read it, loved it. The urge became unbearable, and I finally broke down and opened the book. There’s no denying the difficulty in reading a novel about a man who is obsessed with a child. But Nabakov is an undeniably gifted man, whose most famous novel contains a prose unlike anything I’ve ever read before. “It’s the writing,” is what I kept being told, and now I know… it’s the writing. There were really only a few truly cringeworthy parts that had me questioning if I wanted to continue reading this, and I’m glad I powered through, because there is so much more involved than a little discomfort from the story. I’m really looking forward to trying his others books too; I hear Mary is excellent.

Seabiscuit | Laura Hillenbrand - Well, it’s not Unbroken, that’s for sure. Unbroken is one of my top five favorites of all time, and I’ve been anxious to read this book, especially with it being her only other in existence. Hillenbrand is a meticulous researcher and writer, there’s no denying that even a little. I also thought this was a worthy and excellent novel, one that I’m so glad is told. Yet, I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped, but am glad I did finally read it.

What was the best book YOU read this month??

Wrap Up | December 2018
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Michaela

War and Peace | Leo Tolstoy - That’s right friends, I FINISHED! I’m still kind of unpacking the novel, but I finished War and Peace, and it was sincerely amazing. It deserves 5 stars for sheer scope alone, but the characters, the playing with micro/macro, the themes, just everything, all combined to make one seriously (giant) powerful read. I also learned arguably too much about 19th century warfare tactics and logistics. Truly though, this book is obviously very long, but it is actually beautifully, compulsively readable, and the characters, their choices, their romances, their lives are the heart and drive of the novel. Andrey was probably my favorite (I love me some angst!), but Pierre and Natasha and all the rest feel just as alive and interesting to me. I will say, if you’re considering reading this, it is WELL worth it to compare translations and choose one that works for you! If you don’t want to commit to the book yet, I highly recommend that you watch the 2016 mini series; it is so, so well done, and you will immediately see why this novel is such an enduring story. This was the most stand out reading experience of my year, and I’m so glad I took the time to read this novel. Anna Karenina (again, but in a different translation) next!

Spinning Silver | Naomi Novik- I honestly didn’t like this one as much as Uprooted. It felt a little messier, was a little harder to follow (some stuff wasn’t really explained??), and I wasn’t as attached to the characters. I did like having so many bad ass ladies running the show, and I thought it was a clever twist on the Rumplestiltskin fairytale. Novik’s writing is also just really enjoyable to read, and she builds atmosphere beautifully. So, still a solid read, but not going on my favorites list. Thanks so much to the publisher for gifting us a copy!


The Nutcracker | E.T.A. Hoffman + The Tale of the Nutcracker | Alexandre Dumas- If you pick this up, you’re in for Christmas magic, the feeling of being a child at this time of year, lush descriptions, and a tale that is a beloved classic. It does differ from the ballet a bit, and is a tad darker (most old fairy tales are), but I see echoes of Beauty and the Beast, of Narnia, and of Sleeping Beauty in this story. It’s a wonderful description of an old fashioned Christmas, a princess story, a battle between good and evil, and a magical trip through a Christmas wonderland packed into 60 short pages. In Dumas’ version, the narrator is telling a group of children the story of the Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, but he adds and embellishes a lot of details, so it’s actually a more lively story to read, while still being faithful to the original. All in all, an evening well spent reading by my Christmas tree, and the perfect story to get me to feel some of that holiday magic.

The Fir Tree” + “The Snow Queen” | Hans Christian Anderson- The Fir Tree was a quick little tale with a clear message that I loved, but was kind of sad. I really really loved The Snow Queen though, it has all the elements I most enjoy in fairytales: a quest, a witch, sassy characters, whimsical details (the flowers that tell their stories, omg) and of course, a happy ending. Such a solid fairytale, and one I really enjoyed.

Mrs. Dalloway | Virginia Woolf- Holy shit guys. After War and Peace, I was looking for quick reads, and while this is a slim little book, it is dense. So dense, so magically, beautifully brilliantly dense. I can’t even describe how much I loved this novel, and I’m shocked it took me so long to pick up Woolf. I can’t wait to read more from her, because I was completely blown away by this novel, and it’s going straight on to my all time favorites list. Hands down one of the best things I’ve read in the last couple years. It’s all the atmospheric nostalgia, and all the genius, and insight, and lyrical prose I could ever want.

The Age of Innocence | Edith Wharton- After Mrs. Dalloway I decided to stay with the same themes, but go with a different style. I picked up this one because it was another short classic on my shelf, and Wharton swept in and swept me off my feet. The Age of Innocence is truly magnificent, and if you like society novels, this is undoubtedly one of the best of the best. Crisp prose builds the glittering, atmospheric world of old New York and its strict society, which is cleverly and fully drawn. As a reader you can truly feel how suffocating and opulent it is, and Wharton’s tone manages to be lovingly satirical. Ultimately though, this is a bittersweet love story. Watching Newland and Ellen fall together and fall apart, is beautiful and excruciating, and you truly feel for them. Ugh and the ending was just. Dead on perfect. So many layers to this one, and just so, so well written and emotional.

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Rikki

A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara - What an incredibly heartbreaking and beautiful story! But like most people who loved this book have said, it’s really ALL ABOUT THE PROSE. Yanagihara knows she’s intelligent, witty, and writes accordingly, and I love that she does (you should watch her interviews if you haven’t already). I’m so anxious to read The People in the Trees, and am wishing on all the stars that she finds another story to write about! A Little Life was beautiful, heartbreaking, albeit a little melodramatic, but the characters were so alive—so real. Their names and stories keep replaying in my mind, I imagined scenes they were in and wondered what would happen next. It’s been hard to know their story has ended, and that’s all there is for them. There are many parts I marked that I want to revisit in time, because I can’t imagine not visiting Jude, Malcolm, Willem, and JB again.

Too Loud A Solitude | Bohumil Hrabal - I stumbled on this book from a fellow bookstagrammer, and I’m thrilled my library had a copy. This book is a gem, and one I’ll need to read again, because I’m not sure I got everything the first time. A beautifully, uniquely written story that is reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451, but also completely different. So good and thought-provoking.

Other People’s Love Affairs | D. Wystan Owen - A collection of intertwining short stories that was charming and wonderful to read. I really enjoyed it, but also found myself losing patience as this book kept getting pushed back due to buddy reads and book club. Overall though, I kept hoping for more from it. The stories were good and in decent prose on the surface, but I really did want more.

The Nutcracker | E.T.A. Hoffman - A worthwhile holiday read that is nothing like what you might expect, but that whisks you off into a fantasy land of good vs evil when your toys come to life. I really enjoyed reading this and bringing it to life with a dinner party.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas | Agatha Christie - What a fun novel to end the year with. I haven’t read an Agatha Christie book since Murder on the Orient Express last year, and before that, I can’t even tell you when, but it’s been ages. This is one of her older novels, and it’s witty, clever, and has the classic language I love. You can really tell a difference between some of her books and this one goes to the top of my favorite Agatha books.

What was the best book YOU read this month??

Wrap Up | November 2018
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Michaela

War and Peace | Leo Tolstoy- The end is drawing closer! I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m still thoroughly enjoying this book, even if it’s taking me forever. I admit that I’m generally a pretty fast reader, and am very used to being able to knock out a book in a day or two. This book has been a little humbling, because not only do I kind of need to be in the right headspace to read it because of it’s density, it’s also much slower going than most books. Because of that, though I’ve really sat with these characters and their journeys in a way I don’t sit with most books, and I appreciate it. This one will definitely stick with me for a long time, I can tell.

Good Omens | Terry Pratchett + Neil Gaiman- While this was irreverent and fun enough, it was 90% dialogue which left no room for any kind of atmosphere or really any kind of actual plot. It’s going on my “meh” list and definitely doesn’t feel like the Gaiman I know and love. We went to book club for this one, which was actually helpful, and had it confirmed from Pratchett readers that the book sounded more like him. I give them credit for how much fun they apparently had writing it together, and try to remember it was written in the 1980’s—long before Gaiman really became himself. I’m looking forward to the TV series, because its style of humor should translate well to the screen.

Rikki

A Piece of the World | Christina Baker Kline - Having enjoyed Orphan Train, I had been looking forward to this book for awhile. It’s a very interesting story to say the least. However, I do wish I’d read this years ago. With the place I’m at right now in my reading life, this book didn’t hold up with the prose. I enjoyed it, but really wanted to love it, nor did I like the ending, which felt very unfinished.

Good Omens | Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman - Well, this book is certainly not representative of the Gaiman I know and love. It’s fun, a little offensive, and humorous, but wasn’t for me at this time. I do think it’ll make a fun tv series, so I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Update: A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara - What more can I say about this book? I love it wholeheartedly. Yanagihara has an incredible talent for writing that is everything I want in every novel I ever read. The entire book is intelligent and clever, and despite the immense difficulty of abuse and heartbreak in this novel, I’d read it again and again. I’m down to the last third of the book and look forward to its conclusion next month.

Wrap Up | October 2018
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Michaela

A War and Peace update! - I am a little over halfway through this monster, and devoted most of my reading time to it this month, so I figured I would give an update instead of a review. Basically, I freaking love it. I can’t focus on any other books because I love it to much. I’m nearly at the halfway point now (about 600 pages in) and I am riveted. It’s hard to explain, but Tolstoy is just so good at the micro and the macro, and has built such amazing characters who you really, really get to know. This book is a behemoth, and so, so worthwhile. There is just so much going on, and it’s all just so good. I wish I had more coherent thoughts, and maybe by the time I finish I can say something worthwhile, but for now, I just love love love it.

Warbreaker | Brandon Sanderson- This was a book club book that I went into with high hopes! Sanderson is a much lauded author in the fantasy genre and I was genuinely excited….until I got 300/676 pages into it and literally could not focus on reading it because I was so ragey at how terrible it is. Poor plot pacing, passive, weak lead characters, and “witty” banter that was downright painful to read it was so strained and trite. Oh and I guessed the “big twist” on like page 50 (yeah, I definitely skimmed the ending). The internet agrees this is an anomaly for Sanderson, and not representative of his other work, so I may try another of his novels later on.

Frankenstein | Mary Shelley- A pretty quick read, and definitely nothing like the commercialized version of the story we all know. I was surprised at how political this book got, and enjoyed how utterly Gothic it was, melodrama and all. I love reading classics like this precisely because they tend to be so different than the version pop culture shows us. I’d highly recommend this one if you enjoy 19th century or Gothic literature, because it’s a great example of both.

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Rikki

Stay With Me | Ayobami Adebayo - This was such a well done story. I was really immersed in the lives of the characters and had to see it through. With that said, this was also a hard one to read and kind of the worst. I can seldom do without some redemptive qualities and this story had pretty much none. Plus, I loathed the ending and that left me utterly disappointed.

This is How It Always Is | Laurie Frankel - Another well done story that was character driven and had me holding on till the end. I had to know what happened. Frankel took a controversial topic in our society and placed it in a work of fiction that was handled beautifully. However, every single thing in this story wrapped up neatly in a bow, every character was intelligent and knew what to say, and the convenience of how certain aspects played out was too much of a coincidence. Again, well done for the topic of a transgender child, but a little too neat for my taste.

Autumn | Karl Ove Knausgaard - I picked this up at the perfect time for me. I was feeling more than contented with my reading life and was ready to settle into something slow and steady, and this collection of short stories fit the bill and the season. But, as this book goes, it’s meant to be read and enjoyed with time to think it all over, and well, I got impatient at the time it took and was ready to be done. I enjoyed it immensely, and though there were a handful of stories I didn’t care for, there were many more I marked for re-reading. I also felt this was much less a collection of "letters to his unborn daughter” as it was a collection of “thoughts on random things in life.”

There There | Tommy Orange - This book was pretty good. Orange does something very different, in a very real way, and I fully appreciated the story. I especially loved the interconnectedness of the characters and thought that while the ending was a tragic wrap up, it ended absolutely perfectly too, as a finale of sorts.

As I Lay Dying | William Faulkner - This was my bedtime story each night and was so perfect to read slowly and soak in Faulkner’s beautiful prose. It took me about 20 pages to realize what was going on and how it was going to unfold, as Faulkner has a very unique way of writing and this is an even more unique, sometimes funny, sometimes morose, story. I also felt reminisce of Steinbeck throughout, in the same layered, impressive descriptive and immersive writing that I love, but not nearly as straightforward.

The Thirteenth Tale | Diane Setterfield - I would have loved this story much more when I was younger. I will say that I enjoyed it quite a bit and loved the unique plot and elements of mystery. Where I think the story took a wrong turn for me is how unbelievably convenient every single thing (read: attempts at mystery and intrigue) that occurs. The plot/mystery could have easily been elaborated on much more.

Where the Crawdads Sing | Delia Owens - Michaela didn’t finish reading this last month and passed it off knowing I’d enjoy it. I see exactly why it wasn’t for her, although I very much loved this book. There is a very mellow, but very good atmosphere, very accurate, albeit unique, character development, and the little plot twist hidden at the end left me chuckling just a bit at how clever, no bullshit the main character is. I thought Owens’ writing was beautiful, I loved the poetry and story development, and if the prose had been a little more thought-provoking, this would have been an all time favorite forever and ever. Still, it was very good. I can’t wait to see what else she writes!

Frankenstein | Mary Shelley - This book is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It constantly blew me away. While I found the story to have some gaping holes and leave some things to be desired, I found every single word to be absolutely beautiful—and for a teenager to write this—I’m speechless. There are a ton of nuances littered throughout, a lot of philosophy, and even some political undertones. I’m just going to crawl into a deep book hangover for the next week.

New + Classic Gothic Novels

If we’re going to talk about Gothic novels, it would help to take a look at what Gothic fiction actually is. Basically, if it involves creepy vibes, death, a little horror, intense emotions, paranormal bits, and even some romance—congratulations, you’ve got yourself a Gothic novel! They tend to move away from logic and reason and more toward emotion and imagination, and that shift tends to lead to some really interesting fiction. We absolutely love this genre for this time of year, because neither of us are much into horror or gore, and these tend to give us the suspense and spooky feels without grossing us out.

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If you’re looking for the classics:

Wuthering Heights| Emily Brontë- People who go into this expecting a romance story or anything along the lines of Jane Austen are going to be sorely disappointed. The book opens with a ghost sawing our narrator’s arm on a jagged piece of broken window…so yeah, Austen would certainly not approve. The dark and twisted romantic connection between wicked, passionate Heathcliff and fiesty, petulant Catherine is set against the infamously bleak landscape of the English moors, making for an extremely atmospheric story. This book is exceptionally intense and dark, but the flawed characters, the elements of the supernatural, and the deeply human connections coalesce into something remarkable, even if it isn’t exactly pleasant.

Rebecca | Daphne Du Maurier- This one, though published in the 30’s, has aged beautifully. It’s got an aging English mansion and all the morose, rainy atmosphere you could possibly want. The story revolves around a young newlywed, a psychologically manipulative housekeeper, marital secrets, mysteries, plenty of death, and the story climaxes spectacularly during a formal masked ball. Intrigued yet? Plus, echoes of Jane Eyre abound. Speaking of which…

Jane Eyre | Charlotte Brontë- A little less sinister than some others on this list, nevertheless this is a truly exceptional example of Gothic literature. Sad childhoods, creepy, creepy secrets, a bit of romance, a remote mansion in the English countryside (sensing a theme here…) and a good dose of melodrama build this novel into it’s shocking conclusion. Jane herself is quite the admirable heroine, fiery and strong under her calm, plain exterior; it's very easy to appreciate why she is so beloved. Well worth reading, and I guarantee you’ll recognize some familiar tropes, because this is the novel that started them!

The Woman in White | Wilkie Collins- A complex page turner, this one features a mysterious woman in white, whispers of insane asylums, ominous letters, star crossed lovers, grand estates, and much more. It's got just enough of a creepy edge to be perfectly Gothic, while having plenty of other action happening to keep the well layered mystery plot moving quickly. 

Frankenstein | Mary Shelley- Our buddy read/readalong this month, and does this one even need an explanation? It has permeated pop culture so thoroughly, just do yourself a favor and read the original! It’s much better than the green monsters printed on Halloween decorations, or the black and white horror show movie you remember, we promise. Plus, Mary Shelley was fascinating. More on her later.

 

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If you want A fresh take on Gothic lit:

The Thirteenth Tale | Diane Setterfield- A reclusive, dying author hires a relatively unknown biographer, Margaret, to tell her life story. Old world glamour, family secrets, and mysterious ties that bind them together abound in this novel. It has some strong flavors of Rebecca, Jane Eyre and The Woman in White, so expect madness, secrets, the threat of the paranormal, and death (of course), but the book remains exceptionally clever and fresh. Oh! And the majority of the story takes place in…you guessed it: a creepy old English mansion!

Bitter Orange | Claire Fuller- I read this one last month and was blown away. A crumbling English mansion in the countryside (yep! again!), a couple who aren’t what they seem, secrets of both the house and of the people, rich, dark atmosphere despite it’s sunny facade, and yes, death, obviously, because we’re talking about Gothic novels! Bitter Orange is like if Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Du Maurier’s Rebecca had an eerily atmospheric, glittering book baby. Plus it was such a clever, clever twist on the unreliable narrator thing. Ultimately, you’re a stunningly written and complex mystery when you pick this one up.

Her Body and Other Parties | Carmen Maria Machado- A short story collection that 100% felt like reading a modern, diverse take on Gothic lit. These stories play with unique formats and blur horror and love into a gorgeously realized collection. Dark, powerful, fresh, and so so good; I absolutely loved it. I will say that it is VERY graphic, so read at your own risk if you're sensitive to that! 

The Secret History | Donna Tartt- Remember the elements that comprise a Gothic novel? The Secret History has them alllllll. Incredible atmosphere? Check. Melodrama and big feelings? Check. Murder? Double Check. Horror? Paranormal bits? Check and check. It’s perfect. I know you guys don’t need to hear me gush about this book ever again, but…it’s a perfect example of a modern Gothic novel, just sayin’!

The Winters | Lisa Gabriele- This one is due to release next week (10/16), but it’s essentially a modern retelling of the infamous Rebecca. All the same elements, but sub the nasty housekeeper for a foul mouthed step daughter with a huge Instagram following, and add in Caribbean cruises, deadly car crashes, and one hell of a twist at the end. All the tension and atmosphere you could ever want, and a brilliant take on an old favorite.

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What are your favorite Gothic novels, old or new?

Wrap Up | September 2018
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Michaela

P.S I Still Love You | Jenny Han - Pretty much everyone has read this series at this point, it seems, and there isn’t much new to say about it. I think it’s warm and cozy and good light fun, but I still think Lara Jean’s voice sounds too juvenile. Shrug. These are cute, but I’m having a hard time feeling motivated to read the third one.

Howls’s Moving Castle | Diana Wynne Jones - A nostalgic re-read for me, because it’s a childhood favorite and one I repeatedly come back to. I love Howl’s for it’s humor, wonderful characters, and warmth, but I am not an impartial judge at this point— it’s been a staple in my life for too long. I know this is sacrilege to some, but while I love them both, I think I like the movie just a tad more! This was a re-read I desperately needed in my life this month since I was disappointed with so many of the books I read or tried to read, and it helped buoy me up.

Where the Crawdads Sing | Delia Owens - Get out your pitchforks…because I DNF this one. I made it about 200 pages, and while I could see it was well written and was telling it’s story well, I am just not the reader for it. I am not at all drawn to this kind of story, and that’s okay. I passed it over to Rikki, and I’m reasonably sure she is going to absolutely love it. Thanks to Putnam for gifting us a review copy.

Passing for Human | Liana Finck - This is another book (well, graphic memoir) that I am just not the right reader for. It’s doing something very specific, and very trendy with it’s style, but I am just not someone who enjoys it. I also see what the message was supposed to be, but I think it could have been better executed. Thanks to Random House for the complimentary review copy.

Fun Home | Alison Bechdel - And yet another book that was not for me! Hooray! Fun Home falls into the category of “I can see that this is good, but I don’t like it” It’s well executed, it has a clear intention and is well layered, but I did not enjoy reading it. Part of it is that pseudo-grief memoirs, especially when they are wrestling with the death of a parent, are hard for me, but part of it was just…again I am not the right reader for this style.

The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde - Another much needed re-read, because Oscar Wilde never disappoints. This book is full of Wilde’s particular brand of wit and humor while tackling some deeper philosophy and darker themes. It’s cynical and dazzling in equal measure, with gorgeous prose and well constructed ideas. If you’ve never read any Wilde, do yourself a favor and pick him up; he’s nothing short of mesmerizing to read.

There There | Tommy Orange - This book really reminds me of Junot Diaz, except Orange is being a lot more straightforward than Diaz, if that makes sense; there’s less nuance and reading between the lines required. I sincerely enjoyed it though, and it was certainly one of the best books I’ve read recently. I think the use of multiple perspectives is interesting and well done, with the right amount of connection between them. Also the ending was a little shocking, even though I expected it, and the lack of closure ultimately served the story well. Thanks so much to Knopf for gifting us a review copy.

 

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Rikki

The Witch of Blackbird Pond | Elizabeth Speare George - This month’s buddy read with my oldest, I would have so appreciated this book more at a younger age. Nonetheless, still a charming book, especially to share with your children. (side note from Michaela: I read this as a kid and really loved it!).

Cinder | Marissa Meyer - So many people recommended this book as another buddy read for my oldest, and it fit the bill perfectly. I enjoyed it much more than anticipated and he’s in the middle of reading it and liking it as well.

The Kitchen House | Kathleen Grissom - A long awaited read, I loved this book. A fictional, yet realistic look at life for an orphan girl and the servants of a plantation. The story follows the orphan girl through the majority of her life and through the relationships she makes. It’s very well done.

The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde - This book is excellent! It’s full of satire and often crude offbeat humor. For being written in the late 19th century, it’s even more brilliant than one might realize at first!

The Penderwick’s | Jeanne Birdsall - I’ve been meaning to read this book for some time, wondering if my kids would like it as well. It’s a darling story of four sisters on their summer vacation, and I can’t wait to pass it off to my daughter!

White Oleander | Janet Fitch - I loved this book. It’s a beautifully written portrayal of a girl navigating life after her mother murders a former lover. Astrid comes of age and learns to navigate life, learn the not-so-pretty person her mother is, and in certain small ways, I was able to relate to many aspects of her struggles. The book ended as it should have; a closed chapter of her life, not an ending.

GUEST REVIEWER

Nicole | @nicoleviolabooks

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Hello, fellow Ardent Biblio readers! I'm Nicole, a renaissance mama, and a reader with a deep abiding love for YA lit. I also enjoy classics and chick lit (is that still a term?), middle grade, light sci-fi, and I'm trying to venture into fantasy. I take my time with non-fiction and memoir, but I generally blow through fiction. I'm currently a bit burnt-out on historical fiction and I've finally come to terms with the fact that despite studying literature in college and grad school, I'm just not drawn to literary fiction or books with heavier themes. I'm currently writing a YA novel and querying another and also homeschool my kids part-time and cheer for lots of sports games. You can find me online at nicolevbennett.com.


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Daddy-Long-Legs | Jean Webster - This book has been waiting on my Kindle for years, ever since I read one of my favorite books, Dear Mr. Knightly (a retelling of it by Katherine Reay). Well, the original did not disappoint; I thoroughly loved Daddy-Long-Legs! The narrator is quirky and clever, and her humor still holds up over a hundred years after the book was written. Written in an easy, epistolary style (which I always love), this book was simply a delight for me.

The Cafe by the Sea | Jenny Colgan - I'm a big Jenny Colgan fan and loved this story, which, while reminiscent of some of her other books, drew me right in, thanks to its heartwarming story and atmospheric setting on a fictional Scottish island. I loved how she wove strands of Scottish lore and culture into the story, and of course, Jenny Colgan sure knows how to weave in a good romance (or two) as well. I'm ready to take a trip to Scotland and to the fictional Endless Beach now!

Renegades | Marissa Meyer - When I find an author I love, I become a loyal reader. Since I loved the Lunar Chronicles so much (it was my first real foray into anything sci-fi), I was drawn to Renegades simply because of who wrote it (that, and its eye-catching cover!). I've never read any superhero stories before but really liked this one. I can't wait for the next book in the series to come out in November! The different super powers in the book were crafted so creatively, and my eight-year old son kept sneaking the book away from me to re-read the cast of characters and their powers in the front of the book. I love the questions about society that this book raises, too. 


What did you read and love this month?

What We're Excited to Read This Fall

There’s about a two week transitional period here in the Pacific Northwest that sees us through the last heat wave of summer and into the inevitable, seemingly abrupt, turn to autumn. It’s a welcome time, as we’re so accustomed to our often mild weather and dressing in layers, plus one can only read so many fun beach novels before craving something different. At least, that’s the case for us. This time of year, as we slide back in to misty mornings, shorter days, and brilliantly colored trees, we find ourselves drawn to atmospheric campus novels, classics, fantasy, and usually a good door stop or two as we cozy in with warm blankets and tea.

After much debate and scouring of shelves, these are some of the many books we’re most looking forward to reading this fall.

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Rikki

There are a few novels that I’ve simply been meaning to read until the weather shifted and the slow, dark prose was well-suited to the overall mood and atmosphere of the season. When you fully immerse yourself into the atmosphere of a novel, matching the weather, the seasonal food, the clothes, etc., can all be felt in a greater context. I’ve started most of these actually, seeing which ones I really wanted to commit to, and well, they all made the cut.

Michaela turned me on to Oscar Wilde a few years ago with The Importance of Being Earnest, and after needing a palate cleanser, I started The Picture of Dorian Gray. I’ve been making my way through this book this past month, and have found myself laughing out loud on so many occasions. It is a hysterical. While also craving something slow and intentional, Karl One Knausgaard’s Autumn was a no-brainer! One of the most charming stories of simple every day things that one may or may not ever reflect on as they go about their day, raise their children, meander through orchards, and watch the sun set.

Needing even more mood, I can’t resist Faulkner, whom I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time. As I Lay Dying is the deeper, make-you-think type of novel I can easily get lost in on a rainy day. A perfect compliment to Faulkner is Leaf Storm by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I’m excited to explore both author’s work.

I’m keeping the rest of my options open for campus novels and moody books, so if you have recommendations, feel free to send them my way! Speaking of recommendations, The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon was recently recommended to us as a “hard to put down campus novel. I’m really looking forward to reading this! The reviews are quite controversial and all over the place, which is all the intrigue I need.

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Michaela

The colder the weather gets, the more I crave fantasy, big tomes, and atmospheric reads. I seek this same mood every year, I know, but I can’t help it! Nothing goes better with a steaming mug of tea than richly drawn worlds and dark atmosphere.

Fantasy

For fantasy this fall I’m kind of running the gamut this season. I’m picking up Diane Setterfield’s (The Thirteenth Tale, anyone?) forthcoming novel Once Upon A River, which is a all myth and fairytale and mystery; you know, the good stuff. I’m also reading the third installment of Becky Chamber’s Wayfarers series, Record of a Spaceborn Few. If her past books are any indication, this one will be a warm cozy hug of a sci-fi novel and I can’t wait to just be wrapped in her magical world building and characters.

I’m also picking up two, big hefty plot-driven fantasy novels: The Lies of Locke Lamora, because I’ve been meaning to read it forever (and it is soooooo delightfully sassy and fun so far!), and Warbreaker for book club, which sounds like it’s basically going to be kickass princesses and magic and gods. Obviously I am here for it, plus Sanderson is another author I’ve been meaning to read.

Atmosphere

I’m mixing up my atmospheric books this year, and instead of going and hiding in The Secret History forever and ever, I’m looking to a few authors I trust to give me that moody ambiance I crave. Lief Enger (of Peace Like A River fame) has a new novel out October 2nd called Virgil Wander, and from what I’ve read of it so far, it is just exquisite. The plot is nearly irrelevant, it’s enough to just bask in Enger’s writing, but it revolves around a man, his life changing accident, and his relationships with the people in his small town.

Speaking of exquisite writing, I just finished reading Claire Fuller’s forthcoming title Bitter Orange, and was so blown away by the level of skill and atmosphere, I was immediately inspired to pick up her previous works Swimming Lessons and Our Endless, Numbered Days. Though the plots are all different, I’m hearing she has that moody undercurrent I love in all her books.

I’m also excited for The Essex Serpent, which has been on my TBR for a while thanks to everyone praising it’s atmospheric Victorian setting, spooky bits, and deep dives into the main character and her relationships. The last two novels I’m anticipating are Home Fire, which I’m sure you’ve seen absolutely everywhere thanks to it winning the women’s prize for fiction and getting long listed for the Man Booker, and Gentlemen and Players, which should fulfill my Secret History cravings quite nicely with it’s campus setting and murder-y vibes.

Doorstopper

Call me crazy, but I am head over heels in love with War and Peace. It’s famously enormous, of course, but whenever I pick it up I always, ALWAYS get sucked into it and end up reading for an hour—or three. I’m currently about 300 pages into it, and you can read a bit about why I decided to read it and how I chose the translation I’m reading right over here.

Also, maybe this will sound silly, but it’s really helped me to watch the mini series as I make my way through this behemoth. I’ve been watching an episode, reading up to where the episode cuts off, and then watching another, then reading, etc. It helps me to know where I’m going in the book and the show is just so deliciously well done; it’s been a great companion to the novel. I’m hoping to finish this one well before the year ends, so wish me luck!

What are you looking forward to reading this fall?