Regular readers of my blog might recall that back in May I announced I’d once again participate in the Big Book Summer Challenge hosted by my friend Sue who blogs at Book By Book. Her annual challenge runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day (this year May 25 – Sept 7) and the goal is to read one or more books that are 400 pages or longer.
Looking at the reading I’ve done over the summer, it turns out I read four 400+ pages novels. The shortest was 409 pages and the longest 976 pages for a total of 2,265.
The qualifying books were all novels. They are:
Home Before Dark
By Riley Sager
Suspenseful haunted house tale in the haunted family/haunted life tradition. It riffs on The Amityville Horror which I felt compelled to read again after finishing this novel. The protagonist is the daughter of a writer who wrote a famous book about the haunted house his family fled and her search for what really happened.
By Alma Katsu
Another suspenseful story with a haunting, but this time the haunting is aboard ships: The Titanic and her sister ship, The Britannic. I enjoyed the mythological and supernatural elements, as well as the historical aspects and social commentary. The action centers around a character who survived the sinking of both ships.
All the Devils Are Here
By Louise Penny
This is book 16 in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series. Instead of Three Pines or even greater Quebec, all of the action of this novel is set in Paris. I loved it, which was a relief since I didn’t really like book 15. The mystery is intriguing, the action exciting (archive research!), and relationships in the Gamache family are deepened.
By Kathleen Winsor
Historical romance set in 1660s England originally published in 1944. My parents read this novel when I was still a cheese in the window. They liked it and the main character so much that I was almost named Amber. More below.
The primary novel I wanted to get to for this challenge was Forever Amber. I’m so glad I followed through and read it. The first 700 pages or so zoomed by, but then I started getting a little antsy and wondered if I should take a break and put it down for a few days. You know, read a short book for a change of scenery.
I resisted that impulse because my track record for getting back to a book I set aside for a few days is dismal. Part of the issue with this novel may have been that it was more exciting to read about Amber’s struggles and precarious situations than the story was after she’d “made it” into proximity with the highest levels of English aristocracy. This is a personal preference issue. I’m just not into palace intrigue and rich people behaving badly.
Amber climbs the rungs toward her ideal of success by marriage and/or strategic alliances with a few of London’s less desirables from a variety of classes. The result is a fascinating peek behind a wide variety of scenes in 1660s England, from Newgate prison all the way up to the royal palace. The descriptive scenes of Amber nursing someone through bubonic plague will stay with me for a long time. Kathleen Winsor is known to have done a ton of research to get the details right.
The novel was banned in over a half-dozen states after it came out in 1944, due primarily to the sex and mentions of abortions. There is a lot of sex in the novel, and although the details are left off the page, I can see why girls and young women still relish reading this novel. Or at least parts of it. I’ve heard from more than one reader who said her copy flops open to the juiciest bits.
Just about everyone in 1660s London seems to have been having coitus with just about everyone else. Sometimes I felt the need to shower after a reading session and not because I was hot and bothered. Rather, I was thinking more about bodily cleanliness standards, lack of condoms, venereal disease, and the like.
Forever Amber is often compared to Gone with the Wind and I can understand why. Both feature a sweeping historical backdrop and a bold, tough, and young woman protagonist. Amber St. Clare and Scarlett O’Hara are women of action. Both pursue one man, struggle to achieve better social positioning after catastrophe, and don’t care who gets in their way. Their love interests also share a few similarities, most notably they’re both blockade runners. Slavery and the American plantation system are also central to both novels.
This was Kathleen Winsor’s first novel and it was a huge best-seller. A movie adaptation came out in 1947 (which I want to watch). She was catapulted into the limelight and her next book, Star Money (1950), is about a writer who becomes a best-selling novelist. Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Seldom has the nature of modern woman — lovely, ruthless, and mislet — been analyzed with more brilliant perception and complete truth. Kathleen Winsor presents a merciles [sic] picture of Shireen Delaney — what she wanted, how she got it, and what it did to her. Here is a novel memorable for its emotional intensity, its outspoken honesty, its incisive characterizations, and above all its magic story-telling skill.Goodreads link
I’m going to keep my eye out for this one when this pandemic is over and it’s safe to browse used bookstores again.
Did you read any big books this summer? If you participated in Sue’s challenge and wrote a wrap-up post, feel free to leave a link in the comments.
Forever Amber was one of those novels that everyone, in my school seemed to be reading all those years ago. Now I understand why it was so popular 🙂
Great review! Now I know why my parents used to say “Forever Amber” in a hushed aside at dinner parties.
I don’t know the others but I do want to read Forever Amber someday — I love a big, sweeping historical epic though the 1600s is not my usual time period. I didn’t realize it was published in 1944, scandalous! I do love the mid-century.
I also participated in the Big Book Summer challenge and finished ten books, though one was audio and two were ebooks. My favorites were Imperial Palace by Arnold Bennett, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Here’s a link if you’re interested in the details.
I’m happy to have finished them but it has rather put me behind my goal of 100 books this year, now I have to read 10 books a month to catch up.
Congratulations on another bountiful Big Book Summer, Chris! Looks like it was a good one for you 🙂 I had a Louise Penny on audio I meant to get to but I didn’t – maybe this fall for the RIP XV Challenge!
Thanks for participating again – glad you enjoyed it!
Book By Book
[…] This’ll be my fourth year in a row participating in Sue’s challenge. Last year I managed to read four books over four hundred pages (here’s my wrap-up post for 2020). […]