This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is a freebie, and as such, I decided to go deep into the TTT archive and come up with something close to my heart. You, my lovely followers, will know that I’m not always on top of the hottest books. Sure, I read Children of Blood and Bone the month it was published, but it took me a year to get to The Hate U Give and I just read the hugely popular The Perks of Being a Wallflower last month (it was published in 1999). I love reading older books, ones that may have been hyped years ago and faded into oblivion. I love finding gems that flew under the radar. And I love books that folks seem to have forgotten all about.
So, from the archives of my own personal library, I bring you the follow awesome books from years ago that should be loved and remembered. And, if you haven’t read them, you absolutely must.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten- pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes the boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging holes: five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.
When I was in fourth grade, this book was the best. Everyone was reading it. I think in the local school district, this one is/was taught in school because the last time I went to a library book sale, there were about 50 copies going for $0.25 each.
The thing about Holes is – it’s such a unique contemporary book. First of all, our main character Stanley Yelnats is a juvenile delinquent. Sure, this is played down a lot because it’s a middle grade book, but this is a middle grade prison break novel. Second, there’s this whole old time love story, and the setting is so different in the dusty bowl of Camp Greenlake. As a middle grade novel, it’s a really easy read, but it’s a memorable story. And honestly? The film version isn’t that bad!
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now humankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price. Until something goes wrong. . . .
Y’all know how I feel about Jurassic Park.
Okay, first, there’s dinosaurs. For a 28-year-old woman, I get really excited about dinosaur books. They are such an underused option in novels these days – dinosaur stories are pretty exclusively relegated to the 10-year-old boy’s book section. Dinosaurs are cool to adults, too! Pfft.
Second, this is an awesome survival story, mixed with scientific theory and thriller elements. It’s just a really good read. I recommend this one to anyone in a heartbeat. Because the 90s film and resulting movie series has been so successful, people seem to have forgotten about the book that started it all. Let me tell you this – the book has all the same characters and awesome bits, but the book is a lot different. And just as good.
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
When a world renowned scientist is found brutally murdered in a Swiss research facility, a Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, is summoned to identify the mysterious symbol seared onto the dead man’s chest. His baffling conclusion: it is the work of the Illuminati, a secret brotherhood presumed extinct for nearly four hundred years – reborn to continue their bitter vendetta against their sworn enemy, the Catholic church.
In Rome, the college of cardinals assembles to elect a new pope. Yet somewhere within the walls of the Vatican, an unstoppable bomb of terrifying power relentlessly counts down to oblivion. While the minutes tick away, Langdon joins forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to decipher the labyrinthine trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome to the long-forgotten Illuminati lair – a secret refuge wherein lies the only hope for the Vatican.
But with each revelation comes another twist, another turn in the plot, which leaves Langdon and Vetra reeling and at the mercy of a seemingly invisible enemy…
Dan Brown’s The da Vinci Code blew up, but in my opinion, Angels & Demons is a lot better. And I say that about both the books version and the film version. The Illuminati and their riddles make for such an interesting enemy. A lot of people started reading this series with The da Vinci Code, then went straight on to The Lost Symbol and Inferno. All these books standalone, but if you’re a fan of Robert Langdon and you don’t go back and read book one, you’re missing out. I really enjoyed Inferno, but Angels and Demons is still the best.
Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Guided by the poet Virgil, Dante plunges to the very depths of Hell and embarks on his arduous journey towards God. Together they descend through the twenty-four circles of the underworld and encounter the tormented souls of the damned – from heretics and pagans to gluttons, criminals and seducers – who tell of their sad fates and predict events still to come in Dante’s life. In this first part of his Divine Comedy, Dante fused satire and humour with intellect and soaring passion to create an immortal Christian allegory of mankind’s search for self-knowledge and spiritual enlightenment.
Going back to a much older classic but with the same themes of life, love, religion, and corruption… I adore Inferno. The rest of the Divine Comedy I could take or leave, but Inferno is so deep and twisted and interesting. Besides, you really can’t help rooting for Dante to get to his Beatrice throughout his journey through the abyss.
Although, a word of warning, since Inferno was originally written in Latin, the translation makes a huge difference in how enjoyable this prose novel is. I’ve read three different editions, and the Mark Musa translation is by far my favorite. I just wish I could find it in a nicer copy – the one I have is from my freshman year of college and all written in.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood–the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers–Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah–the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah’s story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women’s society.
I’ve only read two books by Anita Diamant, but I whole heartedly recommend both of them. I actually recommended The Boston Girl in my Beachside Reads (For the Non-Beachside Reader) TTT a few weeks ago! I loved The Boston Girl, but I like The Red Tent so much better. Like, enough better that it’s one of my top ten favorite books of all time. It’s a retelling – the story of Dinah’s life in the context of her biblical brothers’ and father’s life. I was raised in an extremely religious household and when I read this in high school, I was so afraid my father was going to sweep in and take this away from me, calling it blasphemous.
For the record, I actually think it is quite good. It is more of a feminist book, but I just love the mothers and the scenes in the red tent. It gave me a sense of belonging and being okay when I was a girl, and as an adult I’m proud of the themes and the way the women weave themselves through an unrelenting patriarchy and are strong and brave and kind within it all.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel–a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors.
I don’t really think that The Book Thief is in any danger of being forgotten, because I see this book pop up on TTT lists all the time. It’s a “favorite”, a “book that made me cry” and a “book with an amazing protagonist”. The movie, as well, is really really good. And this is one of those remarkable novels that can be read from the age of 13 to 90 and be enjoyable (although I do think those on the MG end of the spectrum may miss out on some of the context and subtleties).
Additionally, I really love that this whole amazing, touching, beautiful book is told from the POV of Death. The personification of Death can be a very difficult character to write and not be cheesy – The Book Thief is one of those examples of perfection.
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him.
I don’t think Sabriel was even quite popular when I read it in high school, but I have always been fascinated by the dark YA fantasy world. It’s funny – dark YA fantasy is very much in right now with authors like V.E. Schwab and Leah Bardugo, but the Abhorsen trilogy hasn’t made a come back. It really should – I think that readers of these authors would really enjoy the world of dark magic and necromancy that’s brimming from these books.
I read Clariel earlier this year and was blown away to discover an ace protagonist as well? And not the type where you feel like the author is trying to make the book diverse – it simply fit the character. I think if these Abhosen books had been published two or three years ago, they’d be big. So the book blogging community really needs to rediscover these.
Alanna by Tamora Pierce
From now on I’m Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I’ll be a knight.
And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page.
But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies.
Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s first adventure begins – one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and the magical destiny that will make her a legend in her land.
Anything, anything, anything by Tamora Pierce! Every time I find another fan of her work, we get to jump up and down together and get really excited because she’s not mainstream, not like Sarah J. Maas or anyone like that. Pierce has been writing books since I was a kids and came out with another new one this year, and I am in love with Tortall. She’s got two massive fantasy worlds, but there’s a lot more adventure in Tortall and Alanna was the one that started it all.
So, yes, it’s a little cheesy and the early books are definitely written as MG, but you have to read them because they’re a gateway to her current YA books and all of the are so fantastic. Her world are begging to be an HBO series and it could go on for ages, or with spinoffs, between Beka, Alanna, Daine, Kel, Numair, and Ally. And that’s just the series in Tortall.
Oh, and if someone wants to fight me about how girls-dressing-up-as-boys-to-do-boy-things is belittling of their femininity and soooo overdone… this book was first published in 1983. Tamora Pierce practically invented breaking-out-of-gender-roles in YA fantasy.
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five and sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.”
If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.
Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine.
This book just makes me laugh, okay?
It’s somewhere between MG and YA and I think I’ve only seen the series talked about once or twice in the book blogging world over the last 18 months and it’s so much fun. Really. It’s a light read with djinn and old English magic, and something pretty different to what’s the popular trend in YA fantasy right now. And there’s comedy. Why are all books so serious? I love me a book that makes me laugh!
The Bartimaeus trilogy is definitely something you either love or hate. A lot of people are bored – the most common reason I’ve seen is protagonist!hate and that the magical system didn’t work for them – but the people it clicks with really enjoy it.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina–a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.
I’m not sure if this is a heartwarming book, or a heartbreaking book. I guess it’s a little of both?
The Secret Life of Bees is an incredible story about race and poverty and hope and mothers and sisters and dreams for a better tomorrow. I love reading the old classics, and it’s sort of incredible when you read a book that has so much meaning and spirit that you just know it’s going to be a classic down the road. You just know. The Secret Life of Bees is one of those books.
What do you all think? I get attached to old favorites of all shapes and sizes, and I love sharing them with people (even though sometimes people don’t end up loving them! We all have different tastes). I wanted to do this TTT specifically because I think it’s awesome to remember books that haven’t come out in the last year, or aren’t part of hugely popular ongoing series.