Top 5 Wednesday: Genre Benders



This week’s topic is “Genre Benders: Books that defy genre or are hard to place in a certain category.”

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A school/home for disabled students is a world unto itself with tribes, folk lore, fights, loves and much, much more. Part fiction, part fantasy.  You can read more in my review here. The Gray House by Miriam Petrosyan, currently $3.99 for Kindle.



Sarah Addison Allen is an author who knows how to mix up here genres! Part chick lit, part fantasy, part just plain wonderful. I love all of her books, but this is one of my favorites.    The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, currently $5.99 for Kindle.  Here’s my review from my old blog:  Each [of the author’s books] has a touch of “whimsy”–not really “magic,” not quiet “fantasy,” just some fun little “other worldly” touch. The Sugar Queen lives up to that tradition magnificently! A lady really living in a closet (not metaphorically), a domineering mother, a cute mailman–what’s not to love! If I write more it will spoil the fun!



Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, the Snow Child is a wonderful blend of regular fiction, folk lore and fantasy. I loved it! You can read more in my review here.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey



What if the Underground Railroad was a real train on a real track? Colson Whitehead uses this idea to show us all the solutions to slavery–each in a different state. (You can read more in my review here). This is a book for the ages.  A way more more interesting and compelling book than the other big Civil War era book winning awards this year–Lincoln in the Bardo (another Genre-Bender, you can read my review here).                                                                  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.



Chronicles of Narnia author, C.S. Lewis wrote a masterful book that blends fantasy, religion, and epistolary tales into one compelling story.  Through a series of letters,  Screwtape, a Senior member of the Devil’s staff, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, in the art of deceiving and distracting believers so that they take their eyes off God. Though published in the 1940’s, this book is possibly even more relevant today than at the time of its publication. This is not, in any way, a heavy-handed treatise on why you must believe or anything like that. It is an amazing story of human nature.                                                                                                The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

If you prefer, a superb audio version here.



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Top 5 Wednesday: Non-Horror Books that Scared You



Scary Books in General

I don’t enjoy being scared or frightened. It produces anxiety. Therefore I don’t read many books that give me such emotions. When I do they tend to be nonfiction. At least I understand that fellow human beings endured and sometimes survived seemingly un-survivable events.





An odd book, by an odd man,  that often left me jumping at the slightest sound from outside after dark! The Tracker by Tom Brown, Jr.



What the doctors, nurses and patients endured during Hurricane Katrina was on par with a hospital in any war zone and then some. “And then some,” you say? Yes. This was not a man-made war zone. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.



First let me be clear: I have no sympathy for any Nazis. What happened in the death camps cannot be used as a comparison to anything. It was living hell. Regardless of being a German, a Jewish survivor of the death camps, a displaced person trying to get “home” to whatever was left of “home” to be a woman in the immediate aftermath of the war must still be called “horrific.”  None were safe. That was my one-word review of this book–“horrific”. Scared? Terrified? Just reading it made me terrified–all the more so because women and girls endured it all. Rape is and always will be horrific. All the more horrific when it is regarded as a “weapon” in a soldier’s officially sanctioned arsenal. Sadly, this weapon did not cease to be used in 1945.  After the Reich by Giles MacDonogh. I bought Woman in Berlin after reading this, but can’t bring myself to read it yet. It is a more personal account of the time of the rapes.





Even knowing how little value life holds in some African nations, even having read of the horrors of the Rwandan genocide and of other violence, a few parts of this novel gave me nightmares.  Here’s my short review from my old blog: “Bored middle class Mommy goes to Nigeria–NIGERIA–for a holiday and it changes her life.Her only child needs therapy and a Mommy who can say “no.” Then there’s the whole “in Africa” thing. If he’d said it one more time, I’d have thrown the book away. Instead, I don’t regret finishing it. It tells a very necessary tale–the tale of what it IS like to be a woman on the outside of a very dangerous society and the tale of the illegal immigrant needing–not merely “wanting”–asylum in a safer country. It is also the perfect illustration of a “First World Problem” Little Bee by Chris Cleave.



I read this years ago and it kept me awake nights for a while afterward. Most of the government is dead! But, wait! There’s more! Ebola! And still more! Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders.


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Top 5 Wednesday: Books With Witches


This week’s topic: These can be “witch books” or books that happen to feature witches as characters, whether they are main characters or side characters. 

My dilemma: I’m not into witchcraft, supernatural, spirit worlds, magic, fantasy etc. I’ve read most of the Harry Potter books and seen all but the last 2 movies. That’s about it. And, except for chocolate and Reese’s and Linus in the pumpkin patch I’m not into Halloween at all. I was never a witch for my school Halloween party or for Trick or Treating either. But then I’m so old that Witch costumes were about all girls got–that and nurse or bride outfits. And we only got to Trick or Treat ONCE–on Halloween. Shoot, I wasn’t even big on Bewtiched, unless Maurice or Doctor Bombay was involved.

Now that I’ve identified myself as the October Scrooge, here are my picks.





If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Shakespeare would be richer than Bill Gates and the rest.


Macbeth–the Scottish play. Witches in today’s culture owe much to the Bard’s portrayal of them.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

See what I mean? He wrote all their best lines….until J.K. Rowling came on the scene.


# 2

Let’s get this one out of the way. Most of this week’s posts will be an homage to H.P.


For the record, Molly Weasley is my favorite, followed by Professor McGonogall.



Yes, I know, I know! It’s really about McCarthyism….


…but, it is outstanding.



I re-posted about this wonderful book last Friday for Banned Books Week:


Mrs. Which (how cunning) is one of the trio of women with various strange abilities. And, she looks like a traditional witch.




I read the book as an adult. I never have really enjoyed the movie. Makes me a heretic I know! I was always too spooked by the flying monkeys to enjoy it. I was hiding behind the big red chair! But there’s the Good Witch (Glinda) and the bad witch who gets the house landed on her.

Bonus: The White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.


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Top 5 Wednesday: Books to Read Without the Synopsis




I would allow a synopsis that only gives the time period of the story and the location. No other information. I hope someone will try reading one of these in that way! Get it from the library and cover it with brown paper. Or download it to your kindle and then skip the summary. Try it. You might find a new favorite book!




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Top 5 Wednesday: Classes Based on Books/Characters


  1. Storm Chasing with Dorothy Gale and Assistants



2. Identifying Potential Addicts with Professor W.W. [White Witch] Jadis



3. Ethics in Science with Victor Frankenstein




4. Tomorrow is Another Day: Reinventing Yourself After Disaster  with Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler



5.  How the Other Half Lives with Margaret Hale


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Top 5 Wednesday: Bromances


Love this topic! So fun!


The Bromance in Chief I


President Barrack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. One of history’s great Bromances!


The Bromance in Chief II



President Jed Bartlett and Leo McGarry of The West Wing.

Bromance Abbey



Robert, Earl of Grantham and his butler, Charles Carson, on Lady Mary’s first wedding day. Downton Abbey.


The Dad Bromance



Harry, Bill and Sam–a Bromance unlike any other. Mama Mia! Indeed!

Did you know there’s a sequel in the works?


The Classic 80s TV Bromance



Magnum and Higgins (and “the lads”)–a classic tv Bromance. Magnum, P.I.


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Top 5 Wednesday: Books from Before You Joined

Top5Wed was launched at the end of 2006–or so my Google search tells me. I joined soon after. Therefore I have to dig back a bit to see what I read in 2005 and 2006 to decide on the top 5 books just prior to my joining. Back then I had a normal 20 minute commute so I didn’t listen to audio books. And, I had young children at the time. My reading was also pretty much dependent on what I could find at our very ho-hum, totally underfunded, un-networked public library or at used book stores. A splurge on Amazon or at Borders (a big thing then) was rare.  Happily I kept a reading log back then. Some of these have even been added to my Goodreads lists.



This book, sadly, came right to mind this week. What if Separate But Equal had been real? What if the South HAD won the war? This was an engrossing read back in the late 90s. I imagine it will find new readers of all political views this week. C.S.A. Confederate States of America: A Novel by Howard Means.



William Martin’s Harvard Yard is a sprawling great story about the hunt for a possibly unknown Shakespeare play. It goes back-and-forth in time and draws on the history of Harvard as well as of Shakespeare. It’s a great read–I recall racing home to read it after work and staying up till the wee hours of the morning, not wanting to put it down and go to sleep.  Harvard Yard by William Martin.



Sadly, too, various  books on the war zone countries of Afghanistan and Iraq came to mind this week as well.  How brave would you be? Would you sell people books the regime said were satanic? Would you risk death to do so? This man did. The Bookseller of Kabul.



I’ve written here in childhood memory posts about my horse obsession as a kid. My interest in horses is still very strong, so Seabiscuit caught my attention when it came out. I devoured it! It was so poignant! Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand.



The movie came out last week and a friend went to see it (and loved it), so The Glass Castle came to mind. An amazing book of memoir and family dysfunction. The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls.

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Top 5 Wednesday: Characters’ Fitness Routines I Want


Characters’ Fitness Routines You Want
“This [topic] can be interpreted a bunch of different ways! Fitness comes in many different packages. This can be about characters who are super fast, strong, agile, good at dancing, good at climbing, athletes, or foodies! Whatever it means to you. This is inspired by those routines you see in magazines for actors, but with more of an open mind and less body shaming.”

Okay then….



My fictional fitness idol has to be the Spandex-wearing, donut-slammin’, fried chicken-craving, Lula in the Stephanie Plum series. Lula wears neon mini skirts without a single moment of thought that Just Because They Make it in Her Size….. Nope–not a thought. She is a big-built gal and you got a problem with that? I don’t! Solidly packed Idol material–that’s Lula.

In reality, it should be Ranger‘s fitness regime I aspire to. Babe…






Mma Precious Ramotswe, a “traditionally built,” lady who never encountered a piece of cake she could refuse is another fitness idol of mine. I admire a woman who can do that. It takes a great sense of self. She’s really idol material. Believe me.







Willowdean is the ultimate Idol. The Fat Girl so does too absolutely deserve the guy! You go, girl! So what if Mama was a beauty queen! I loved this book from start to finish. Willowdean is every differently-bodied woman’s Idol. And, she’s only a teenager–she can only get stronger!

You can read more of my thoughts on this great book here.






Silvia Fine –Fran’s mother on the the 90’s hit show, The Nanny. Nosh–smosch. Of course she eats. She got to keep strong. And then there’s Morty–her husband. Like my great uncles after a big dinner, Morty undoes his belt and top slacks button–“Do up your pants,” she tells him before company joins him in the tv room. I love Sylvia–a seafood buffet cannot defeat her. She is an Idol with Flair!


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Marie Barone from another great 90’s show–Everybody Loves Raymond. Her bickering husband Frank, her skinny-you-know-what daughter-in-law, her two adored sons–it all adds up to power eating. And, pasta! Pasta and Braciole! Marie knows food is essential. I like that in an Idol. Plus, she’s pear shaped and has to always wear an untucked shirt to supposedly even-out her shape. Now that is Idol-worthy. “Are you hungry, dear?”


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Top 5 Wednesday: Books Outside the Western World




This week’s topic is “Books That Aren’t Set In/Inspired By The Western World“. Hmmmmm. I had to really do some thinking, but found a few really good ones!



I am a royal-watcher. Royalty IS my celebrity crush, my soap opera, my reality tv show fix. This novel is outstanding. It is a fictionalized account of the current Japanese Empress Michiko, and her courtship by the then Prince, now Emperor Akihito, who is currently in the news for wanting to for officially retire. The Commoner: A Novel by John Burnham Schwartz.



Best-selling travel writer Paul Theroux and I have something in common: We both served in the Peace Corps in Malawi. Theroux famously wrote a short story for Esquire called the Killing of Hastings Banda (the one-time Life President of Malawi) and lives on in Peace Corps history as solely responsible for getting Peace Corps kicked out of that country for many years.

In The Lower River, he tells the story of a Peace Corps volunteer who returns to his PC service “home” and sees all the wrongs that have struck the place. It was very hard to read this. I had to put it away from time to time and go back to it weeks later in order to finish. Why was it so hard? It’s so typical of what happens after foreign aid runs out or the program founders move on. Its why development projects are rarely sustained unless they are started by the citizens themselves–not by folks dropping in as volunteers or missionaries or foreign aid workers. The Lower River by Paul Theroux.





Noor is estranged from her doctor-husband and decides to take their all-American daughter, Lily, back to Tehran to be with her dying father. Culture clashes, sweet family times, coming of age moments, and a frightening look at life in a religious police state make this a very compelling story. The Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan (see my full review here).




Dating and texting in Saudi Arabia? Kind of like the Duggar girls doing a wet t-shirt contest at Spring Break in Cancun! This book is written as a series of exchanges posted to friends in an internet chat room (anyone still use those?). This is a fascinating and not too overly fictionalized account of young adult life for upper class Saudi girls. It was written in Arabic and banned in Saudi Arabia. I enjoyed every minute of it. Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsnea.


factory girls


Ever wonder who the people are making all that stuff we buy from China? Here’s your answer. Factory Girls is the only nonfiction entry this week. It tells the story of girls from rural homes coming into the new manufacturing cities to get factory jobs and have freedom the likes of which Chinese women have never enjoyed before. Very interesting book and it has been it has even been assigned as that “one book” all students are supposed to read before entering some college (sorry, I can’t recall which college or colleges0. It is very interesting reading. Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang. [To check out more assigned pre-college reading, see this post on What the Class of 2020 Was Assigned).




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