Ask a Librarian: 4/18/13

Spring always gets me in the mood for romance, but I often have a hard time finding romantic novels that feel smart, funny, and well-plotted. (I’m bored to death with Janet Evanovich’s series, and Sophie Kinsella’s books make me cringe.) I like some of Jennifer Crusie’s novels (Faking It, Agnes and the Hitman), most of Elizabeth Peters’ books, and paranormal novels with romance and humor mixed in (like Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series). Any ideas?

If you like funny contemporary romances like Jennifer Crusie, I would suggest checking out anything by Victoria Dahl. My personal favorite is Talk Me Down, about a woman who returns to her hometown with a very juicy secret life, and sparks fly with the local sheriff. This is one of three books set in Tumble Creek, Colorado, and the characters pop in and out of the other novels.

I highly suggest Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, starting with Soulless. Alexia Tarabotti is the black sheep of her family, both because she’s half-Italian (the scandal!), and because she’s a preternatural – her touch turns the supernatural into mortals. Werewolf etiquette and the correct cravat for an occasion are given equal weight in this delightful steampunk Victorian paranormal romance.

How do you feel about historical romance? Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books are modern romance classics, and rightfully so. In these Austen-influenced books, the Bridgerton clan (all eight children) all have their own happily ever after in eight books, and there are multiple books about supporting characters as well as the inimitable Smythe-Smith clan. Start with The Duke and I.

I’m always on the look out for new recommendations, and I’d love to hear what you have to say. I generally read fiction, like Salman Rushdie, Hilary Mantel, Zadie Smith, Kei Miller, Jonathan Safron Foer, etc. etc. etc. I’m particularly on the lookout for some non-fiction. Absolutely anything, particularly with an emphasis on women’s history/narrative.

I’ve been meaning to pick up Gail Levin’s Lee Krasner, the biography of one of the great women painters of the 20th century. Krasner’s art is imaginative, original, and unfortunately overshadowed by the legend of her husband, Jackson Pollock. But while Pollock died an early death, Krasner continued her maturation as an artist until her death in 1984.

Fiction-wise, how about The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet? It’s about a young Dutch clerk in 1799 Japan, and the repercussions of his love for a samurai’s daughter, both in Japan and Holland. David Mitchell’s book has come to me highly praised by friends who are into literary fiction, so this sounds like you might like it.

Have you read Girls Like Us? It’s a biography of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon, but it’s also a look at the sixties from another side of the social upheaval that marked the decade, not only as performers, but as women from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Sheila Weller brings in the voices of many contemporaries and confidantes to flesh out not only the womens’ stories but the stories of the generation.

What do you recommend for those of us who love non-fiction, but want to read more fiction? I’m usually non-fiction all the way. I like memoirs by people who have lived through some kind of hardship (war, abuse, homelessness, etc.), feminist criticism, and sociology/culture stuff. When I do read fiction, it’s usually a popular novel that everyone is talking about, and I usually don’t like it. I also like the typical troubled teen girl YA books, but I’m looking for something a little more suitable for someone in their early 20s. Any advice?

It sounds like you’re drawn in more by the characters in your reading, and most best-sellers are story-propelled. Pick up The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, a book set in North Korea that just won the Pulitzer Prize on Monday, about a young man named Jun Do and his journey from orphanage to espionage. 

If you want a novel that explores sociology/culture stuff and examines gender, read Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. I don’t know how to describe it – there’s gender, gender roles, politics, and space exploration. It’s amazing, and it’s often considered the first feminist science fiction novel. You may enjoy more hard science fiction, as many sci-fi authors use the genre to explore contemporary issues.

On a lighter note, if you want a great book about a teen girl (this is the first of a series), track down Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts. It’s partially an epistolary novel from the viewpoint of Jessica Darling as she navigates high school in the year after her best friend moves away. It also introduces the dreamiest boy to ever grace young adult fiction, Marcus Flutie. The series follows Jessica and her friends and family from high school through college and into adulthood. These are comfort reads for me and Jessica’s smart-assedness and self-critical viewpoint are relatable and funny.

I enjoy multi-generational, family sagas, set within historically accurate times, preferably starting 20th century. I have read and loved things like Clara Callan, the first two books of the Century Trilogy, and just finished (and llllooovvved) Life After Life… I think I enjoy most when there are multiple characters and it spans generations because I like plot points that continue to influence long down the line. That makes me think of Middlesex, which I also really enjoyed. I really enjoyed The Birth House, A Good House (one of my all time favs), books like that. I think I’m not so fussed as to what the plot point contains, I just like reading about how single decisions, circumstances, etc influence more widely.

Read House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. Stop what you’re doing and go find a copy. When I was reading this book, I once went in another room at a New Year’s Eve party because I was so impatient to read it. It’s a family saga set in Chile around the revolution, with a touch of magical realism and a family you can’t forget.

It’s a grander scale, but if you enjoy multigenerational sagas, and you do like Ken Follett, try Pillars of The Earth. It follows the building of a cathedral in the Middle Ages, a project that often took generations of workers to complete. It’s more than just families, it’s also a look at the politics and treachery of the time period.

This is a long shot, but have you read much about European monarchies? Decisions made do resonate down family trees and across the continent, and the families are messy, intricate, and wealthy. One book that stood out to me was George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I. Miranda Carter uses the correspondence between the three cousins to help build the story of three cousins born into positions they really weren’t suited for, and how that affected the entire world.

Published by

Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to jessica.werner@gmail.com

10 thoughts on “Ask a Librarian: 4/18/13”

  1. Uuuh this is very intriguing… I’d love to get recommendations too – can I just ask here in the comments? I’m just going to *snicker*

    I really enjoy fiction books that are humorous, fantastical and absurd, with lots of interesting details and great world building, like everything by Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Eoin Colfer and Walter Moers (although he isn’t that well known in the non-German speaking world, I believe), as well as things like Harry Potter, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede and the Howl’s Moving Castle series. I recently started reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde and am liking it so far, too.
    So, um, if you or anyone else has any recommendations, I’d be very thankful :)

  2. For romance? Sarra Manning, I will forever and ever mention her. It’s so fun, the characters are believable instead of annoying caricatures, there’s sexy sex and just yum all around.

    And Gail Carriger’s trilogy is great fun as well, I agree.

  3. Thank you so much! How have I missed The House of Spirits before? This is definitely what I’m looking for! I did a google search and it seems crazy I have never heard of it. Already ordered it from the library. Yay me!

    I would like to read more female written autobiographies. I enjoy the funny ones. I think I’ve read most of the basics, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, all of Chelsea Handler, Kelly Oxford’s is on its way. Any other recommendations along those lines? I think someone told me once that Penny Marshall has an autobiography that is great?

    Thanks!

    Love, love, love this column!

  4. This column is so much fun, I enjoy it every time! My semester (in my library science grad program, go librarians!) is about to end so I’m definitely looking for new books. Obviously as a library science grad student I totally have the capacity to find my own, but if you’re running low on questions or feel like it, I’d love to see what someone else looking at my reading from the outside could come up with!

    My favorite things to read between semesters tends to me something that’s all-consuming and gripping that I can’t put down, which for me is almost always some kind of speculative fiction novel (though no matter what I’m reading, I’m always big on character and strong women). Last year I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in a day, and immediately inhaled every other N.K. Jemisin novel I could find. Sunshine by Robin McKinley is one of my favorite books of all time and I think I read that in just a day or two when I first got it. I also like a lot of young adult fiction – all of Kristin Cashore’s books were definitely can’t-put-it-down reads, and The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson joined my list of “read it in a day” books over Winter break (a list that also includes several Harry Potter novels). I’d love to find a few more books that will suck me in despite my desire to watch ALL THE DR. WHO during my break in May, and I’d welcome suggestions if you have time!

      1. Oh yay, I can’t wait! I’m glad you appreciate my taste in books (at least this kind of book.) And yeah, I chose a terrible time to start watching Dr. Who (four weeks before the end of the semester) but fortunately my classes were kind of center-weighted in terms of assignments, so I’m fitting in a few episodes here and there these days. But if I watch it all in May, then I’ll be done and have to wait for new episodes like everyone else. I’d rather make my first run of Dr. Who last a LITTLE longer!

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