Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This week, the theme is “Ten Books Set Outside the US” and we’re happy to be participating!
Well, this one was a little bit difficult! How exactly do you define “outside of the US?” Certainly I read many, many books that don’t even take place in this universe, let alone this country! But I decided that, for the most part, I would leave off any sort of fantasy/science fiction that clearly takes place off-world or in any sort of other realm entirely. I’ve also left off any works that take place only partially in this world but primarily in others (sorry, His Dark Materials).
The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley
This is the second TTT I’ve done in a row that this book has earned a spot on! This book is the tale of 16 year old Maggie who, in 1993, finds her life completely uprooted and transplanted to a small town in Ireland. The magic is in Foley’s deft and capable writing as she navigates Maggie through isolation, grief, and first love. This book is a special treat for those who love a strong current of music in their reads, especially 90’s music.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Okay, so the majority of this book does take place in the aftermath of human societies and countries. But it’s by a Canadian author, it starts out in Toronto before everything goes to hell, and the majority of the characters were Canadian when Canada and countries were still a thing. So it counts. This story is really just a beautiful elegy to humanity and what is left, what is worth holding onto when history has closed the book on human civilization? A literary post-apocalyptic treat.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Three things do I love: historical fiction, London, and Tudors. This is not a particularly easy read, but it is a gorgeously written account of the rise of Thomas Cromwell. I can understand if this does not seem particularly thrilling for non-history nerds, but Mantel makes following Cromwell from his lowly beginnings to his place as counsel for Henry VIII captivating. Even more fun is witnessing the storied rivalry between Cromwell and Cardinal Wolsey. Well, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
One of the best middle grade novels I’ve ever read. Complex, gripping, haunting, and gratifying. It’s a horror story, but it’s not. It’s a fairy tale, but it’s not. It’s a gothic, feminist, psychological thriller with one very beautiful tale of sisterhood. It’s the story of a family dealing with the ramifications of loss in post-WWI Britain. It’s a gem.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
This book takes place both in both future-Oxford and past-Oxford. Kivrin is a mid-21st century historian on a research mission to 14th century Oxford. Unfortunately, things go awry and Kivrin lands in Oxford the very year the Black Death arrives in England. At the same time, plague seems to have broken out in “present day” Oxford as well. How? It’s simultaneously historical fiction and science fiction with a good dose of medical thriller thrown in. The details of 14th century Oxford are so lovingly rendered and the characters are unforgettable.
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
One of the few YA books I read when I was an actual YA. I remember my friends passing this one around in our group like, “Now it’s your turn to laugh out loud and be endlessly entertained.” This is a British contemporary that is often likened to a YA Bridget Jones, but Georgia Nicolson is funnier. It’s just light-hearted, silly fun, and an absolutely perfect sunshine read.
Shadow of the Moon by M. M. Kaye
All right, so this is an historical fiction epic from the 1970s about 19th century India (specifically the Sepoy Rebellion). It takes its time setting up the scene, the characters, and the plot, going back to the main character’s grandparents to flesh out all of the incredible detail needed in telling a story so grand. The novel avoids the trappings of glorifying British imperialism and treats the rebellion, India, and its people with respect and without condescension. If sweeping generational sagas are your thing you cannot pass this one by.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Narrator Iris, at the end of her life, guides readers through her family’s history as the barons of a small Canadian town. Living in the shadow of her Sylvia Plath-like sister’s literary legacy and tragic death has cast a long shadow. This is the story within a story within a story. Part literary fiction, part generational saga, part pulp sci-fi comic, and part romantic tragedy. This one left my heart aching for days.
And All the Stars by Andrea K. Host.
This one is an indie, Aussie survival-against-aliens gem. Madeleine has to navigate a newly apocalyptic Sydney with the help of a fellow band of teen survivors. I love survival stories. I love alien stories. And this one is truly done better than most. There isn’t just the adrenaline associated with this sort of read, but an awesome examination of what it means to be human. There’s also, yes, a tremendously touching and well executed romance that is just the right amount of bittersweet. This is a thrilling and deep alien apocalypse story. A standout in the genre.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman’s paranormal take on The Jungle Book is stunning. A baby’s family is brutally murdered and he finds himself in the care of a pair of ghosts and raised with the help of other denizens (vampires and werewolves among them) of the local cemetery. It’s actually a classic coming of age tale, and many adventures and heartbreaks are to be had along the way. The bittersweet ending had me teary. This is probably my favorite of the books I had to read for my Children’s Resources class last fall. Actually, I had to listen to the audiobook and I am so grateful for that. Narrated by Gaiman himself, it’s simply outstanding.