Top Ten Tuesday: Books With an Adjective In the Title

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Previous Top Ten Tuesday Topics


Woohoo! I managed to complete a couple of reviews last week, alongside my TTT! Only perhaps 4 more to catch up on, and both Jane Eyre and Elif Shafak’s Island of the Missing Trees are likely to be finished in the next week or so too – and I am loving both of them! Jane Eyre, like Oliver Twist, is one of those books I feel I’ve read because it is so iconic and so

Anyway, this week’s topic requires novels with adjectives in the title. And as a grammar nerd and geek – who is loving the greater focus on teaching grammar in our new curriculum at school – I love these sorts of topics. It gives me a chance to reformulate a definition of an adjective as a word or phrase used to modify a noun in a sentence – and we have had TTTs focussed on colours before, so I will arbitrarily decide to exclude those from the forthcoming list.

And I do love these sorts of lists: they bring together a range of novels from a variety of genres and written for a variety of audiences, books which would not normally be considered together. This week, we have young adult novels – actually quite a lot of YA novels – alongside literary fiction, fantasy and espionage.


Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr

Constantinople, 1453:
An orphaned seamstress and a cursed boy with a love for animals risk everything on opposite sides of a city wall to protect the people they love.

Idaho, 2020:

An impoverished, idealistic kid seeks revenge on a world that’s crumbling around him. Can he go through with it when a gentle old man stands between him and his plans?

Unknown, Sometime in the Future:

With her tiny community in peril, Konstance is the last hope for the human race. To find a way forward, she must look to the oldest stories of all for guidance.

What The Adjective Adds:

“Cloud Cuckoo” emphasises the absurdity and the fantastical nature of the land sought by the various protagonists, whether that be that land where tortoises carry honey cakes on their backs, or a distant habitable planet.


Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

Young Sophie Hatter from the land of Ingary catches the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste and is put under a spell…

Deciding she has nothing more to lose, Sophie makes her way to the moving castle that hovers on the hills above her town, Market Chipping. But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl, whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the souls of young girls…

There Sophie meets Michael, Howl’s apprentice, and Calcifer the fire demon, with whom she agrees a pact.

What The Adjective Adds:

“Moving” emphasises the mercurial nature of Howl himself, as well as the literal migrations of one of the facets and faces of the castle itself. Howl is never quite what he appears to be, flitting from love affair to love affair, a coward who uses cowardice to be brave, a man with as many names and identities as he needs.


Under the Whispering Door, T. J. Klune

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own sparsely-attended funeral, Wallace is outraged. But he begins to suspect she’s right, and he is in fact dead. Then when Hugo, owner of a most peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace reluctantly accepts the truth.

Yet even in death, he refuses to abandon his life – even though Wallace spent all of it working, correcting colleagues and hectoring employees. He’d had no time for frivolities like fun and friends. But as Wallace drinks tea with Hugo and talks to his customers, he wonders if he was missing something.

What The Adjective Adds:

“Whispering” draws the reader’s attention to the barrier between this world and the next: whilst we can tell that there is something beyond, because we can hear it, we remain separated from it because we cannot make out the words or comprehend their content. Which is deeply disturbing in its own right. The adjective also creates personification on the door – as the whispers emanating from the other side, or is the door itself speaking to and calling us?


Dead Lions, Mick Herron

Not an obvious target for assassination, Dickie Bow was a talented streetwalker back in the day. Good at following people, bringing home their secrets. Dickie was in Berlin with Jackson Lamb. Now Lamb’s got his phone, on it the last secret Dickie ever told, and reason to believe an old-time Moscow-style op is being run in the Intelligence Service’s back-yard.

Once a spook, always a spook, and Dickie was one of their own. To unearth Dickie’s dying secret Jackson Lamb and his crew of no-hopers is about to go live.

What The Adjective Adds:

At one level, “dead” is a literal description of the corpse of Dickie Bow, the discovery of which is the inciting incident of the novel: he is found dead on a bus. It is also, possibly a metaphor for the spooks of Slough House, the rejects of MI5 whose careers have been terminated.

And, of course, the adjective takes us to the proverb in Ecclesiastes

But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.


Iron Council, China Mieville

It is a time of revolts and revolutions, conflict and intrigue. New Crobuzon is being ripped apart from without and within. War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh and rioting on the streets at home are pushing the teeming metropolis to the brink. In the midst of this turmoil, a mysterious masked figure spurs strange rebellion, while treachery and violence incubate in unexpected places.

In desperation, a small group of renegades escapes from the city and crosses strange and alien continents in the search for a lost hope, an undying legend.

In the blood and violence of New Crobuzon’s most dangerous hour, there are whispers. It is the time of the Iron Council.

What The Adjective Adds:

The “iron” is obviously literal, as the renegade council it describes is housed on a train eternally moving on iron tracks, lifting those that it has passed over to be rushed to the front to be relaid for the train to pass over again. It also conveys the unbending, impermeable nature of that council, resolute and determined to return to New Crobuzon and bring revolution with it.


Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

When glamorous socialite Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging to be rescued from a mysterious doom, it’s clear something is desperately amiss. Catalina claims that her husband is poisoning her and her visions of restless ghosts seem remarkable.

Noemí heads immediately to High Place, a remote mansion in the Mexican countryside, determined to discover what is so affecting her cousin. She’s tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch; and not of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

What The Adjective Adds:

As well as identifying the setting, “Mexican” highlights the exotic, the post-colonial tensions, the passion of southern America.


Small Pleasures, Clare Chambers

Jean Swinney is a journalist on a local paper, trapped in a life of duty and disappointment from which there is no likelihood of escape.

When a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud.

As the investigation turns her quiet life inside out, Jean is suddenly given an unexpected chance at friendship, love and – possibly – happiness.

But there will, inevitably, be a price to pay.

What The Adjective Adds:

Jean Swinney’s life contains few pleasures and passions, trapped in the role of carer for her irascible mother, in a dead-end job amongst the men’s world of journalism. The “small” in the title emphasises that modesty and self-control which epitomise the novel. As Chambers ennumerates them:

the first cigarette of the day; a glass of sherry before Sunday lunch; a bar of chocolate parcelled out to last a week; a newly published library book, still pristine and untouched by other hands; the first hyacinths of spring; a neatly folded pile of ironing, smelling of summer; the garden under snow; an impulsive purchase of stationery for her drawer


Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan

Ava, newly arrived in Hong Kong from Dublin, spends her days teaching English to rich children.

Julian is a banker. A banker who likes to spend money on Ava, to have sex and discuss fluctuating currencies with her. But when she asks whether he loves her, he cannot say more than ‘I like you a great deal’.

Enter Edith, a lawyer. Refreshingly enthusiastic and unapologetically earnest, Edith takes Ava to the theatre when Julian leaves Hong Kong for work. Quickly, she becomes something Ava looks forward to.

What The Adjective Adds:

The “exciting” here is perhaps the antithesis on Small Pleasures: it offers to whirl us into a frenzy of energy and passion, the sort of whirlwind of romance, sexual awakening, new vistas in new countries, new sexualities offered by the blurb. But, perhaps, it is being deployed ironically by Dolan as Ava never struck me a terribly excited by the times she was living in!


On Midnight Beach, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Donegal, 1976

When a dolphin takes up residence in Carrig Cove, Emer and her best friend, Fee, feel like they have an instant connection with it. Then Dog Cullen and his sidekick, Kit, turn up, and the four friends begin to sneak out at midnight to go down to the beach, daring each other to swim closer and closer to the creature . . .

But the fame and fortune the dolphin brings to their small village builds resentment amongst their neighbours across the bay, and the summer days get longer and hotter . . . There is something wild and intense in the air. Love feels fierce, old hatreds fester, and suddenly everything feels worth fighting for.

What The Adjective Adds:

“Midnight” brings with it a plethora of connotations: the witching hour, perhaps, although that is often later than midnight and closer to 3 or 4 am; a turning point where one day ends and a new one begins, which is entirely appropriate for a coming-of-age novel; a time of romance and of rebellion, of intimacy, on a beach no longer crowded by locals or tourists.


The Deathless Girls, Kiran Millwood Hargraves

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

What The Adjective Adds:

“Deathless” is an intriguing choice of adjective for a novel exploring the putative lives of the brides of Dracula where undead might have been a more apt, more likely adjective – certainly the one used by van Helsing in Dracula of the eponymous Count. Unlike that word, “deathless” does not carry the same connotations of the abhorrent and unnatural: it suggests, perhaps a more natural eternal life – and Hargrave does here rehabilitate and make sympathetic those undead voracious brides from Stoker’s masculine novel.


And there we go, ten novels with adjectives in the title. Many thanks to Nicole @ How to Train a Book Dragon for submitting the theme and I hope that you comment below with your thoughts on these novels, all of which I really loved – albeit for different reasons!


Upcoming Top Ten Tuesday Themes

March 29: 21st Century Books I Think Will Become Classics (Submitted by Lisa of Hopewell)
April 5: Freebie (come up with your own topic!)
April 12: Authors I Haven’t Read, But Want To (Submitted by Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse)
April 19: Bookish Merchandise I’d Love to Own
April 26: Books with [___] On the Cover (Pick a thing (a color, an item, a place, an animal, a scripty font, a sexy person, etc.) and share covers that have that thing on the cover.)

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