Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books with Hands on the Cover

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I actually have two TBRs. I have the one that I keep on my phone through Story Graph and the stack of books I own. When I buy a book off of my digital TBR, I take it off the list. This is the easiest way I’ve found of making my TBR available for my family to browse for gifts–they don’t have to worry about buying me a book I already own. And it means that at the library or when shopping I don’t have to sort through it either.

That does mean however, that there is always wayyyyyy too much to read. So for this cover prompt I decided to see what commonalities I could find between the covers I own. The answer was not that much, but after some sorting I realized that there are a lot of covers with hands. Some are disembodied, some are suggestions (gloves for example), but these are covers that have hands featured in some way.

I wanted to write a short discussion/analysis of what’s on the covers and what they’re achieving because although you maybe shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you can still learn a lot from it!

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende – The cover photo by Marcia Lieberman features a young woman holding a garment of some kind in one hand and the control for a camera in the other. As if this is the moment before a photograph rather than a moment captured in one. She’s the subject of the reader’s gaze but clearly the reader is the subject of hers as well. It’s a creative and arresting image.

Cleopatra Dismounts by Carmen Boullosa – The stylized art deco version of an Egyptian painting really draws attention to the hands with the stiff, geometric angles. This photo was taken by E. O. Hoppé, who was a German-born British photographer starting in the early 1900s. Egyptian revival and costume were becoming more popular in the 1920s, which makes total sense if you think about how Art Deco and Egyptian painting both value a stylized geometric and decorative style. On the cover this is echoed by the golden suns. The archival photo lets the reader know that the story is likely to take place in the past, but that the subject is a living, breathing person in three dimensions.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter – Angela Carter’s novel features what we can only assume to be an aerialist, but with no visible means of support, an almost fluid grace (that reminds me of Elastigirl from The Incredibles), and her position within a decorated frame, we seem to be looking at a circus poster rather than the performer herself. I think this cover adds to what I’m sure will be the magic of the book, and the sharp edges of the performer’s nose, feet, wings, and fingers let us know that the story will not be as light in tone as the effortless pose and fluffy cotton candy pink might suggest.

¡Caramba! by Nina Marie Martinez – In what looks like an old travel poster or postcard, a woman hold a red bird in the palm of her hand. It even matches her fingernails. Because of the way the blue splash is positioned, her hand almost looks like it’s been severed from her body. It adds a little bit of surrealism to the cover and mystery. Especially when coupled with the blue bar that’s been put across someone’s eyes in the bottom corner. From this picture I definitely get a sense that nothing is exactly as it seems.

The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes by Hannele Klemettilä – Interestingly, although the title mentions the kitchen, the cover painting chooses to focus on an important feast, showing that medieval kitchens probably would rarely have been the focus of art or commemoration. This is a reproduction of a page from a medieval Book of Hours, produced in about 1380 for the Duc Jean de Berry. This page illustrates Jesus’s first miracle, turning water to wine at the wedding at Cana. Hands had special status in medieval art (you can learn more from this pdf from a Getty exhibit) and the hands here can be read symbolically, but I won’t go into it or we’ll be here all week. I especially like the hands that mirror each other on the left hand side of the portrait. This picture illustrates the centrality of religion and feast in a lord’s medieval kitchen.

Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Woolridge – The photo on the cover was taken by Lincoln Clarkes in 1988, and it manages to feel much older than that as if a Victorian or Edwardian woman has simply decided to take flight. It’s a not entirely carefree pose, as with one hand she reaches up to grasp her hat. Her look is less joyful and more enigmatic, but her limbs are powerfully stretched. This is a woman who has made a leap–perfect for a book on writing where you are taking a leap into your imagination and then taking another leap onto the page.

Now for the disembodied hands!

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey – This cover has a lot going on. The image of the hand echoes the title in a really beautiful way. You’ve got the disembodied hand with this interesting multicolored aura and an all seeing eye. It’s not on the palm like we might expect from a hamsa, this makes it feel more unexpected and fresh, and of course it allows the hand to be partially closed to cross the fingers in a lie. In this book we might expect an unreliable narrator, some play with genre, and a little irreverence. And we learn all that from a fairly simple but striking graphic.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – You might be wondering, if this hand is attached to a body, why did I put this hand here? It’s because of the way the photograph has been disassembled and surreally reassembled. There are actually three hands on the cover and they don’t appear where you’d expect them to be. The left gloved hand is almost in the center, and the high contrast means your eye is drawn to it right away. It shows a hint of this person’s identity but also shows that something is fractured or fracturing. It’s super intriguing to me, especially the way part of the image is flipped.

True Biz by Sara Nović – The attention to the hand on this cover makes total sense when you know that it’s about sign language in the deaf community. I really like the patterns and different colors on the fingers echoing the different colors of the letters, as the hand is really representing those different letters in the alphabet. It draws attention to the meaning of each hand position and each gesture. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from the fact that it’s the right hand on the left side of the cover. I didn’t expect that and only discovered it when I made the same shape with my hands.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – A dark vignette reveals an empty pair of white kid gloves, photographed by Jeff Cottenden. The emptiness really suggests a kind of absence or loss, even as the gloves seem to be embracing each other. The gloves also hint that this is a historical novel as gloves haven’t been in vogue for some time. It’s a fairly simple image but it’s very evocative.

Do any of these covers catch your eye? Do you have a favorite cover that features a hand? Have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments!

Reading Challenge #18: A Book You’ve Read Before that Never Fails to Make You Smile

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Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

How it fulfills the challenge: The Night Circus is one of those books that uses its imaginative and fantastical powers to charm and delight. The circus Morgenstern creates is one that I would love to experience. It’s a book that made me happy the first time I read it, and it didn’t let me down the second time.

Genre: fantasy/historical fiction

Quick Description: The circus is merely a venue for two opponents to exhibit their skills. But more than just the two of them are involved in the complicated game, and their own attraction for each other could lead to disaster.

Opening Line: The Circus arrives without warning.

The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.

Highlights: My absolute favorite part of this book both on my first and second reading is the nature of the magic both contestants perform and the illusions they create for the circus. The circus has to be one of the most enchanting settings I’ve ever seen. If it were real, I would definitely be someone you would see wandering around with a red scarf.

Low points: The ending of this book is definitely where it falls flat. The end comes quickly and is vaguely unsatisfying. Not only that, you’re removed from what little action there is and so the suspense and intrigue just isn’t there. Plot is definitely not the point of this book.

My Goodreads Rating: 5 stars (I kept my rating of this book the same because myenjoyment of it overshadowed my issues with it. It still feels magical)

 

(photo from Goodreads)

 

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 2016 Releases I’m Really Excited About

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is all about what 2016 releases we really meant to get to, but weren’t able to read for whatever reason. My reading is almost always at least a year (if not a century) behind, so I actually like waiting for the best-of-the-year lists to come out, and a lot of times I build up my to-read list from these compiled lists by people who do actually read the books when they come out. In particular, I really like NPR’s list because it’s super fun and visual and easy to sort through (I am a huge nerd about good indexing and cross indexing), not to mention the blurbs are written by people like librarians and NPR staffers instead of publishing houses. I like the different perspectives. So here are ten books that I mostly haven’t mentioned yet, but that I can’t wait to read whether that’s this year or years down the road when they happen to find me.

  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson–Starts on the brink of WWI in a small English town–a book about manners and how they’re affected by the chaos of war. Sounds like a great read. (in the Book Club Ideas Section)
  • Umami by Laia Jufresa–I love reading translated books (part of the enjoyment being thinking about how the book is different in the native language–pure speculation), and this debut novel about loss and connection in Mexico City seems like a great read. (in the Staff Picks Section).
  • Patience by Daniel Clowes–Graphic novels are so interesting and moving, and I like the change of pace from regular novels every now and again. This book is supposed to be a love story, but also involves time travel. Can you really ask for more than that? (in the For Art Lovers section)
  • Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung–A boarding school story set in Australia with a young woman who struggles to find a place for herself and her heritage, a YA with plenty of nuance–my favorite kind. (in the Tales From Around the World section)
  • The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th Century Bookseller’s Obsession With A Lost Masterpiece by Laura Cumming–a nonfiction book about a man obsessed  with a work of art. (in the Seriously Great Writing section)
  • The Glass Universe: How The Ladies Of The Harvard Observatory Took The Measure Of The Stars by David Sobel–A group of female astrologists, long relegated to the sidelines are brought to the forefront. This books talks about the women themselves as well as their contributions to science. (in the It’s All Geek to Me section)
  • The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg–A spin on the 1,001 Nights, and that’s all I have to know to be interested in this graphic novel. (in the Ladies First section)
  • The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer–A nonfiction book about brave librarians who risk everything to save books…um yes please. (in the Identity & Culture section)
  • The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman–YA historical fiction that takes the historical part seriously but isn’t afraid to throw a few demons in. (in the Rather Long section)
  • The Book of Magic: From Antiquity to Enlightenment ed. by Brian Copenhaver–I love reading about magic and how the perception of it has changed over time. This book looks like something of an undertaking, but a good one. (in the Eye-Opening Reads section)

 

How do you find new books for your TBR lists? Was there a book you missed this year that you really were looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: 7 Great Books My Mom Recommended

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is all about book recommendations. I’ve read lots of great books that people suggest to me, so I wasn’t sure how to narrow down this topic until I thought about the one person with whom I exchange more book recommendations with than anyone else. My mom definitely encouraged my love of reading from a very young age. She loved to read and she loved to read to me. We read the first half of the Harry Potter books together (and pronounced ‘Hermione’ incorrectly the entire time), and ever since I was a teenager we’ve been trading books back and forth.

I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out things my mom would enjoy reading and vice versa. But here are 7 recent/memorable books that my mom recommended to me that I really enjoyed:

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury–My mom has always had a soft spot for this science fiction writer, so when it came up on a summer reading list in high school she suggested I pick it. I don’t think any other book has informed my ideas about censorship as much as this one.
  • Trinity by Leon Uris–I actually haven’t read all the Uris books my mom has told me  I should read, but this one was worth all the effort. His books are not easy reads–they’re long and dense–but they yield great rewards in scope and sheer epic-ness. This one is about Irish revolution. There were several unclaimed copies of it at our library book sale and I couldn’t believe it–I think because it was written in the 1970s people just don’t know anything about it.
  • Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon–So far I’ve only read the first book in this series, but it’s hard not to get swept up into the setting and the characters, so I’ll definitely be heading back for more.
  • Karma Gone Bad by Jenny Feldon–My mom has always loved reading about East and South Asia and their cultures, and this is a memoir she recommended recently to me. We both enjoyed it, even though we felt that Feldon should have gotten over her culture shock a little more quickly and just enjoyed her experience the best she could. Both my mom and I have always wanted to travel, and while we’ve gotten to do more than some people neither of us has left the North American continent yet, so it’s hard to see other people get amazing opportunities and then fail to appreciate them. Still, the book is engaging and offers a different perspective.
  • Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones–This book took my mom by surprise, as it wasn’t anything like she’d thought it would be. We both enjoyed this adventure across western China in the name of archaeology. The main character was interesting and complex and the story was really interesting and unique.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden–This book is a far less recent one, but it was so captivating that I purchased it recently so that I could read it again.
  • The Incarnations of Immortality Series by Piers Anthony–I can’t remember if I’ve talked about these books before, but they are amazing works of science fiction that play with western ideas of religion and turn cosmology and theology on their heads. Briefly, the series starts with a man who kills Death and thus has to take up his mantle–and indeed all immortal positions (like war and fate) are filled by mortals whose stories all diverge and intertwine.

 

Did your mom/parent ever recommend a book to you that you ended up loving? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Historical Periods

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature brought to you by the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is a rewind–we’re supposed to pick a past topic that we wanted to do but couldn’t (or from a time when we weren’t yet blogging). A while back there was a topic about historical periods you like to read about. I’ve picked five of my favorite eras and a couple books set in each one (or written in them), one I have read and one I haven’t. These are in no particular, and certainly not chronological, order.

All book links will take you to Goodreads.

WWII

I think I’ve made my interest in this period pretty clear with blog posts like this one about my recommended books set in this time. I’m not as interested in the movement of armies as in the lives of civilians and of course the atrocities of the Holocaust. As despairing as this period can be, the amazing hope and courage displayed by extraordinary individuals can be uplifting not in spite of but because of the circumstances.

read: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr–I think I’ve said previously that this book lives up to all the hype surrounding it. It’s totally immersive and the characters are so engaging.

want to read: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky–This book has been sitting on my shelf for a while. It was written on the eve of French occupation by a Jewish woman who later died in Auschwitz.

The Victorian Era

If I had been required to specialize in a particular era in college, it would have been this one. I find the Victorians, who were at an unprecedented moment in history in terms of the awakening of science, industry, and social movements to be completely fascinating. I love the books and plays written in and about this era.

read: To Marry an English Lord: Or How Anglomania Really Got Started by Gail MacColl and Alice Wallace–All about the American heiresses who crossed an ocean for titles and prestige (and the mothers who pushed them to go), this nonfiction book was really fun.

want to read: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The French Revolution

Combined with the period leading up to it, the French Revolution captivates me. Another unprecedented time in history, it’s a story about excess, philosophy, and the power of the mob. It’s also a time that produced some really interesting personalities from Marie Antoinette to Ben Franklin across the ocean.

read: Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber–If you’re interested in fashion, you’ll love this book, otherwise there are many other great nonfiction books about this time period.

want to read: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser–This book has been on my TBR for years, but one day I will finally read it.

The Regency Period

Maybe it’s all due to Jane Austen, but I love this period right after the French revolution when people wore high-waisted gowns and cared about who was dancing with whom.

read (and currently rereading): Emma by Jane Austen–I don’t think this book needs much introduction, but it’s my favorite Austen novel, so it needed to be here.

want to read: Belgravia by Julian Fellowes–I’m not sure if this book should be here or in the Victorian era, since it’s technically set in both, but it starts in the regency so we’re gonna go with it. It’s also here because Julian Fellowes wrote Downton Abbey (which is a show I love but I have not seen the final season so don’t say anything–I just don’t want it to end yet), and because I never have new books on here and this one was recently published.

The Renaissance

Here I’m specifically referring to the Italian Renaissance, which occurred earlier than the English one (though that one is also in my top ten). I love the romance, mystery, and magic of this time period.

read: The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie–This book gets a lot of flack, either for not being similar enough to Rushdie’s other works or for having rather flat depictions of women, but both times I read it I was swept up by the power of storytelling.

want to read: The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen–Renaissance? Check. Art? Check. Female protagonist? Check.

 

Do you have a book you enjoyed (or want to read) from one of these time periods? Did I miss your favorite historical era? Let me know in the comments.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite 2016 Reads Set Outside of the US

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Just realized this post did not go through last week! My apologies.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

This is an awesome topic because, speaking as an American, so much of the content we consume is U.S.A. centric, and features mainly white, male characters. So this is a breath of fresh air.

To keep this list current, I’m only including books I’ve read this year, that I *enjoyed,* that had no part of them set within the US, and that weren’t totally alternate fantasy universes (which was more difficult than it sounds). Without further ado, here’s my list:

  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik–This almost violates the principles I just set forth above, but while it’s clearly a fantasy world (*cough* dragons *cough*), there’s enough basis in reality that I felt I could include it. It’s set in England, during the Napoleonic Wars.
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr–This book is absolutely fantastic! It lives up to all the hype and really deserves to be a bestseller. Set during World War II in France and Germany.
  • Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres–This immersive book brings you deep into another culture and time, with a village full of interesting and very human characters. Set in a small village of Anatolia during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, as well as Greece.
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante–Not only a book set in another place, but translated from another language, and by a female author–can’t get much better than that! They’re set in mid-century Naples and the surrounding area.
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier–The classic romantic thriller is set in England and France in the early twentieth century.

This list was way harder than it should have been, considering I’ve read 61 books so far this year. But there were a few more that I read and didn’t love (and so didn’t want to talk about , but instead forget as soon as humanly possible) that did fit, and there were a few fantasy books that it didn’t seem fair to include.

Have you read anything this year set in another country that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Women Writers Reading Challenge #57: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

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Kate Forsyth’s book is an interesting look into the history of fairy tales themselves. The book focuses on Charlotte-Rose de la Force who is the author of the first written account of Rapunzel in Louis XIV’s France. She is told the story by a fellow nun, when she is forced into exile at an abbey. The book weaves between the “historical” account of Rapunzel’s life, Charlotte’s life, and the witch’s life, and a more interesting bunch of women you couldn’t meet anywhere.

Part fairy tale adaptation and part historical fiction, Forsyth takes the reader back when being a woman was (even more) dangerous. There’s a little magic, a little romance, and a little tragedy, so there’s something for everyone. I will say the romance gets a little…steamy, which I wasn’t expecting. It probably is not super safe for planes, which is where I read it, but luckily I had an entire aisle to myself.

This book was quite a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it to those interested in women writers of old, who love fairy tales, or need something to read (carefully) on an airplane.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #56: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

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I’ve had this book on my radar for quite some time. On an Amazon wish list to be exact, and it fell into obscurity. But when I suddenly rediscovered this book, I knew I had to read it. For what could be better than taking two interesting, fantastical creatures from different worlds and putting them together in turn of the century New York, a place alien enough to support them both?

The Golem is a creature of earth, created by humans, a part of Jewish mythology, while the Jinni is a creature of fire, born into being like so many others of his kind in the Arabian sands. They couldn’t be more different from each other in their limitations and strengths, their ideas and ethics. And yet they become the unlikeliest of friends, bound together by the mutual secret of their otherness.

I found this book to be engrossing and entertaining. Helene Wecker’s writing is transportive, and I really cared for both of the main characters, who were charming and challenging. I really loved this book, which mixed the everyday and the magical so deftly. If you’re interested in either of these cultures and like magic, this book is a real treat.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #49: Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison

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The only image in my mind that goes with “Rasputin” is from the animated movie, Anastasia, which features him as a (mostly) undead man read: zombie, with a talking bat and a creepy reliquary he sold his soul to. That is the beginning and the end of my knowledge of him–the “holy” man that brought down the last Tsar of Russia and ended an empire. But facts make the picture a little more complicated. For who could imagine the undead man with two daughters? Though Kathryn Harrison’s book is fiction, it’s based on an absurdly interesting fact–that the daughter of Rasputin ended up as a lion tamer. The book reimagines this legendary story with a heroine with a gift for storytelling and a devotion to her father’s memory. He becomes a much more complex person through her eyes. The book is enchanting, told with lots of imagery and plenty of stories so that you are constantly bewitched by the narrative. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the world of Anastasia and the Romanovs and who is not quite convinced by the image of a zombie Rasputin.

Has there been a figure from history who has grown more complicated in your eyes based on research or even based on different fictions?

Women Writers Reading Challenge #42: And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

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This historical fiction was highly enjoyable, filled with interesting characters and not a little intrigue. As Tasha Alexander comments at the back of the book, Lady Emily enjoys an interesting place in society. As a widow, she’s as free from outside influence as she could possibly be. Since she hardly knew her husband, she doesn’t really mourn him as she adjusts to her new status. She begins to further her own knowledge through the study of Homer and then mysterious things start to happen…

It’s definitely a page-turner. It’s a pretty quick read, but it’s really well executed for being a first novel. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction with interesting heroines.