Not cheerful and upbeat, but really, really good.

Not cheerful and upbeat, but really, really good.

The details on this ongoing project, and the factors I’m taking to heart.

Readers told me 3 books they loved, 1 book they hated, and what they’re reading right now. In turn, I’m recommending 3 books for each reader. (Or more, if I can’t help myself.)

This week we’re choosing books for Jeannie, whose books are:

Love: The House of Mirth, Rebecca, The Remains of the Day
Hate: Death Comes to Pemberley
Recently: The Fault in Our Stars

Jeannie describes her choices by saying her favorite books “don’t have to be cheerful and upbeat but they have to be SO GOOD.” I agree, which is fortunate because I still haven’t read The House of Mirth. (It’s on the list!) I felt like I was operating with a handicap here because of that.

My first impressions of Jeannie’s selections were that she adores substantial literary fiction and Gothic novels, but isn’t afraid to try modern popular stuff (like John Green) or an updated twist on a classic (like Death Comes to Pemberley).

For the first time, I asked you all on Facebook what books YOU would recommend. If your suggestions matched mine, I knew we had a winner. And you suggested books I’d never thought of, but which seemed like perfect matches. I’ll definitely be doing that again.

My picks: 

My first impressions, confirmed by readers: A Room With a View, My Cousin Rachel, Tess of the D’Urbevilles
Classic: Kristin Lavransdatter
Gothic novels: The Thirteenth Tale, A Long Fatal Love Chase
Modern: The Likeness, The Distant Hours, Angle of Repose 

Jeannie’s list of favorites immediately brought three read-this-next selections to mind: A Room With a ViewMy Cousin Rachel, and Tess of the D’Urbevilles. These were great picks, but strikeouts all the same: Jeannie chimed in on Facebook and said she’d already read them! I was glad to know I was on the right track. Kristin Lavransdatter holds its own as a classic, but it’s less read than the heavy hitters I first turned to. Given Jeannie’s taste in books, I think it’s a likely winner.

Given Jeannie’s love for Rebecca, I’m recommending the neo-Gothic novel The Thirteenth Tale. Disclaimer: I haven’t read it yet. But I can see it from where I sit in my office, and it’s been heartily recommended by fellow book lovers with similar taste to my own (and to Jeannie’s). Either we’ll love it together, or we’ll rip it apart—together.

Anyone who loves Rebecca should also give Kate Morton a try. Jeannie says she’s already read—and loved—The Forgotten Garden.  I recommend she read The Distant Hours next. This is a spoiler-free zone, so I can’t say why, but trust me—read it next!

I’m going out on a limb with The Likeness. It’s a modern psychological thriller, an Irish detective novel with blood and guts and f-bombs galore. Don’t read it if you’re not up for that—but if you are, prepare yourself for a gripping read, like Kate Morton or Rebecca circa 2014 Dublin.   

Another novel I haven’t yet completed but very much want to is Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase. Alcott fans who know her only from Little Women and Eight Cousins may not recognize her in this darker piece, which was originally intended for magazine serialization. It reads more like something we can imagine Jo March (or perhaps adolescent Anne Shirley?) writing, not Louisa May Alcott!

Finally, I’m recommending Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, for its complexity, its human drama, and its emotional pull—even if it’s not cheerful or upbeat. I have Stegner on the brain (I’ve read three of his books in a row) and I want to recommend a classic (or future classic; this one is a shoo-in) that I’m not 99% sure Jeannie’s already it. This fits the bill.

Please share YOUR recommendations for books that aren’t necessarily cheerful or upbeat, but are really, really good in comments. Thank you!

View all the literary matchmaking posts here.

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27 comments | Comment


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  1. Adriana says:

    Anne, Jeannie and I are close blog-friends and I didn’t know she was to be one of your participants! How exciting! (Hi, Jeannie!) I often read books she suggests so I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re on the same — er — page. 🙂

    DuMaurier: Became obsessed after reading Rebecca at age 16 and read as many of her titles as I had access to then. The House on the Strand comes to mind as one I couldn’t put down.

    Classics: The Pearl by John Steinbeck (It’s short). Crime & Punishment by Dostoevsky (Not for the faint of heart, yet one of the most satisfying endings ever.)

    P.S. I agree with your take on A Long Fatal Love Chase. Jo March, yes. L M Montgomery, hard to believe.

    • Anne says:

      I haven’t read The House on the Strand—thanks for the input on that one! And I’ve read most of Steinbeck but never The Pearl.

      And goodness, I didn’t mean to imply that A Long Fatal Love Chase was reminiscent of L. M. Montgomery. But I can totally see fictional Anne Shirley herself whipping up just such a story in her early writing years, with the aim of procuring buckets of tears from her young friends, before she grew up a little and finally turned to writing about people like those she knew and cared about. 🙂

    • Jeannie says:

      I think I’ve read The House on the Strand, Adriana — that’s the time-travel one, right? It’s really good, and so is My Cousin Rachel, which some people mentioned on FB: the plot twists in that one keep you turning pages.

      Thanks for the other ideas too: I haven’t read Crime & Punishment or The Pearl.

  2. Helena says:

    I think this is the first time I have commented, but just had to because of the title! My favourite not cheerful nor upbeat novel is Wally Lambs She’s Come Undone. Read it at a pivotal time for me and a good 18 years later it’s still as good as it ever was.
    I also second Crime & Punishment, it’s a great, great story.

    • Jeannie says:

      Wally Lamb is great; I’ve actually read all his novels except the new one and his smaller Christmas-themed one. I heard him speak at the Festival of Faith & Writing in 2010, and he will be here in my city (Kingston, Ontario) later in Sept. for WritersFest.

  3. melyssa says:

    You won’t tear apart The Thirteenth Tale. It’s fantastic.
    And as far as DuMaurier goes, Jamaica Inn is one of my favorite classics (maybe THE favorite classic).

  4. Mary Jane says:

    I second the recommendation of Kristin Lavransdatter – excellent choice! I would suggest reading the Tiina Nunnally translation. She uses modern English without losing the tone or sense of the original, and it’s stylistically very well done. I’ve also read that several key scenes were left out of some earlier translations, scenes that are important for understanding certain characters, and Nunnally’s translation includes those scenes.

    Happy reading!

  5. Arenda says:

    For a great read w/o the happy ending, I’d recommend Gone with the Wind. It’s absorbing right from the first page, and so, so good.

    This makes me want to read Kristin Lavransdatter! It’s been popping up all over the blogosphere and has me intrigued. And as for the polarizing The Thirteenth Tale, if you can handle melodrama you’ll enjoy it; otherwise, beware. 🙂 Definitely not a favourite for me.

  6. Jeannie says:

    Hi Anne – thanks so much for all of your suggestions! Serendipitously (is that a word?), I had already taken The Distant Hours out of the library this week before you mentioned it. I’m already totally hooked! I’ll put Kristin Lavransdatter, The Thirteenth Tale, The Likeness, and A Long Fatal Love Chase on my list right away. And as for Angle of Repose, I read Crossing to Safety earlier this year (because you’d recommended it here) and I’d love to read more of that author’s wonderful writing.

  7. MelissaJoy says:

    I adore DuMaurier. Another commenter suggested Steinbeck so I am going to add another one of his to the mix. Have you read East of Eden. A masterpiece! Lilith by MacDonald, as well, especially in the wake of East of Eden.

      • MelissaJoy says:

        CS Lewis is (embarrassingly) an afterthought in my reading. When I was a younger reader I didn’t have a lot of heft in my reading queue and Mere Christianity overwhelmed my brain and it’s been a slow journey back to the brilliance of Lewis. I appreciate the suggestion especially since it’s on the heels of Lilith.

        • Faith R says:

          When I was little my dad read to is every night and on long car trips. We read all of Tolkein, McDonald & Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia then “Out of the Silent Planet” Sci-Fi/fantasy series then we read “Till We Have Faces” and that had been my favorite of all of Lewis’ books, even though he is more well known for the Narnia series and his nonfiction work.
          Have you read McDonald’s shorter stuff? (the Light Princess, The Wise Woman, The Princess and the Goblin) A lot of it is free now and easily available in digital format. Quick and easy reading but really enjoyable.

          • MelissaJoy says:

            What a beautiful story of reading! My mom read The Princess and the Goblin to me when I was younger but I haven’t read the others you mentioned.

  8. Ashley says:

    I haven’t read all the books recommended here (though I do love Rebecca and Wally Lamb) or listed for reference, but “not cheerful…but really good” makes me think of Margaret Atwood. The Handmaids Tale is a classic, but I loved Year of the Flood as well.

  9. Ana says:

    I can’t believe this is the first I’m hearing of My Cousin Rachel (I guess our library didn’t have it (or most of her others I just realized…what a rabbit hole I just fell into…) when I read Rebecca and got obsessed with De Maurier). So thanks for that suggestion!!

  10. Traditional: The Parade’s End tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford. I don’t usually do this, but I *highly* recommend watching the (free on A-Prime and/or Netflix, I think) short TV series first. It explains the plot — about a modern hero whose wife treats him abominably in the years around WW1 — but once you read the novels, you really do get an appreciation of the writer/directors hewing strongly to the books. Since the novels go back and forth between more traditional writing and the then-modern stream-of-consciousness (which can last for a chapter or so), it’s useful to have a visual reference before reading. (These are delicious novels.) Oh, and the BBC version stars Benedict Cumberbatch, which is an automatic win, naturally!!

    Modern: Any of the Oxford Time Travel novels by Connie Willis. In a not-so-distant future, time travel is possible but still an academic activity rather than a tourist/gov’t operative one. The Doomsday Book is a good starter (about a modern Oxford student who goes back in time to report various facts about the Black Death and gets stuck there). To Say Nothing of the Dog was so good that I bought the “3 Men in a Boat” Victorian that it references intensely. But the big one to read is Blackout/All Clear, about a group of students who go back to the time of the London Blitz — so good I read it twice. The novel was so long it was split into two, so you must read Blackout first to know anything about All Clear. Connie Willis is such an amazing author that you end up reading everything in one swoop and then plunging into a depression because… you’ve read all of her books and have to wait for the next one.

  11. Tanya says:

    “The Thirteenth Tale” and “A Long Fatal Love Chase” are both fantastic! The first one is has a few dark twists, and the last twist was amazing! It’s also a great read for book lovers-you connect well with the narrator. And Louisa May Alcott has been my favorite author since elementary school. One day in a local bookstore I came across “A Long Fatal Love Chase” and couldn’t wait to see this side of my favorite author. While it is a darker novel, you can see Alcott all throughout in her word usage, and it’s a thrilling novel!

  12. Lisa Runge says:

    I clicked over to this post from your Friday links, and let me just say that as a big fan of WSIRN, this works so much better as a podcast. Way to take an idea and perfect it!

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