The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
OH, this book. If you know me in person, I’ve probably told you you must read it. If you’ve read here for any length of time, you’ve come across a post or two singing its praises. This is hands down my favorite middle-grade novel of all time (and that’s saying something!). My book club, The Dead Authors Society, read it earlier this year. It was (roughly) my thirtieth time through. (You’ve read that correctly. I first read about Milo’s adventures as a sixth grader, then during my student teaching days, then with scores of kids in various classrooms, then with my own children. It’s been ten years since I’ve visited The Lands Beyond, and everything I’ve ever said or thought about this book holds true. It’s witty, clever, insightful, timely [fifty-plus years after it first published], and pretty much perfect.)
When Milo, a boy who “doesn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes but always” receives a strange package (“for Milo, who has plenty of time”), he assembles it to find a tollbooth that ushers him into The Lands Beyond, where the Kingdom of Wisdom is falling apart. Feuding brothers King Azaz, the Unabridged (ruler of Dictionopolis), and the Mathemagician (ruler of Digitopolis), have banished princesses Rhyme and Reason. It’s Milo’s job to bring them back, restoring order to Wisdom. Every page is magic! If you haven’t yet, please, please read this book. Here’s a picture of my beloved copy.
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
I’ve been meaning to read this trilogy for the last twenty years (that’s no exaggeration). When a book club friend suggested it for our list this year, I was all in. The trilogy is the key reason why Undset won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928, which was given for her “powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages.”
Set in fourteenth century Norway, the books (The Wreath, The Wife, and the Cross) tell the story of Kristin’s girlhood, her marriage to the dashing-but-not-so-decent Erlend, their tumultuous relationship, and the eight sons they share. There are all sorts of interesting medieval daily life details, like wearing eating utensils on a belt at your waist or putting a knife or axe under a baby’s crib to keep it healthy. The characters are fabulous and complex and wonderfully human. A complicated storyline involves Simon, the man Kristin was betrothed to when she met Erlend, who eventually marries her younger sister (though he still carries a torch for Kristin). Truly, an epic saga spanning generations and covering treasonous plots, love, loyalty, faith, and fate. Since reading, I’ve heard all sorts of people say this series is on their best of the best list. I absolutely understand why.
Kristin Lavransdatter reminded me of one of my all-time favorites, Katherine by Anya Seton.
The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston
This book is so charming and clever and fun! Florence Day, a failed romance novelist, finally finds success ghostwriting for a bestselling romance author. The only problem is she can’t finish the last book in her contract. She’s stuck because after a disappointing breakup she no longer believes in love.
Florence meets her new handsome editor, Ben, but he is unsympathetic about extending her deadline again. Then Florence gets a call. Her dad, a mortician, has died unexpectedly. She needs to go home, a place she hasn’t been for years because she’s been avoiding a few things, and well, she sees ghosts. And the next ghost she happens to see is none other than Ben.
This was a great read that was light in tone but had some powerful things to say about love and loss. I loved the writing and publishing bits and pieces peppered in. Also, a ghostwriter who sees ghosts? Too fun.
What have you been reading lately?
I love reading what everyone is reading. Just finished “Dear Abby” ,Re-read The six books of Caroline An american Girl and now reading “Middlemarch. This will keep me busy for a long time . It has over 800 pages.
Caroline Rose says
Someone at my book club brought up Middlemarch just this week.
Melissa Kowalewski says
Hi there – right now I am reading Waco Rising by Kevin Cook. It’s about – you guessed it – David Koresh.
Okay. I’m intrigued.
I finished a three part biography from Susan Branch. I just finished Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. I am now reading Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore.. I enjoy reading what I am reading.
The top name should read Marilyn
I loved Angela’s Ashes!
Patricia @AVikingInLA says
The Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy had been on my TBR list for years before I actually read it too. I loved it for all the same reasons as you. I’m always so glad to see others read it!
It’s so fun to meet others who have read and loved it, too.