Fall is here. The holidays are around the corner, which means it’s time to start thinking about gift lists. For me, books are a favorite to give and receive. I hope you find a few to add to your lists among the books I read these past few months (reviews below). Other book recommendations, including some bookish gift pairing ideas are included on my other page: Book Recommendations.

For this recent quarterly round-up I plowed through more titles than ever. With my manuscript in the hands of beta readers for four weeks and a commitment to walk two-miles a day, I found extra time for reading. Time spent on the beach in July-September helped, too. Overall, I’m pleased with the variety of genres and voices I read this quarter. From contemporary Nigeria to the late 1880s United States pioneer days, I’ve traveled far and wide with a remarkable cast of characters. A few notes:

  • For further reference, each book is linked to Amazon to read other reviews.
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Lose Yourself into Extraordinary Books

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Just me and Sam Hell hanging out on a perfect September beach day

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni. How do I insert a LOVE, LOVE, LOVE emoji here? Please Mr. Dugoni, let Sam “Hell” Hill have a happy ending – that’s the thought which ran through my head with every page I turned. Sam is one of the most relatable characters I’ve encountered in a long time. He is real. His parents are real. His friends are real. His enemies are real. And, every emotional tug on your heart reading his story is real. Hit the link to this one NOW. Buy it, borrow it, do whatever you need to get your hands on a copy and read it! I wish there was a way to loan Kindle books to folks outside my Amazon account. At least I was able to “send” it to my son. I think he’ll enjoy it, too.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare. Adunni, the main character in Girl with the Louding Voice, comes alive with her dreams and desires. Seeking to improve her position, living as a slave in a wealthy Nigerian household, Adunni finds her strength to fight from a neighboring woman and a fellow household servant. I absolutely love the title and the premise of a young woman striving to find and use her “louding” voice. The backdrop of contemporary day Nigeria also educates on the country’s economic and political hierarchies and the class differences which are no different than other countries.

The River by Starlight by Ellen Notbohm. It’s a good thing I spaced this one out from Sam Hell by a few weeks or my husband would have to pick me up and pour the quivering mess of my body into a chair. The River by Starlight is another story that punches you with every emotion like a boxer going ten rounds. It left me bruised, yet wanting more. Put me back in the ring for another round. My full review is listed on GoodReads and Amazon (search for J.R. Daly).

Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon. Naomi May and John Lowry, I fell in love with you as you fell in love with each other along the Overland Trail to California in 1853. Amy Harmon is a master story-teller and she came through again for me with this beautiful story of a mindful woman and her strong, quiet man. I listened on Audible which placed me deeper into the setting. Each step along the sidewalk felt like I’d been transplanted onto the dusty trail. For another example of Amy Harmon’s storytelling expertise, I recommend What the Wind Knows. More info on this post: Imprisoned by Research Details.

Books for Keeps

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Cowboy for Keeps by Laura Drake. Lorelei and Reese landed in my mailbox at an opportune moment. For the past few years, I’ve stuck with my preferred genres of historical fiction, memoirs, and lately, two lengthy non-fictions. An escape to Unforgiven, New Mexico came complete with a romance between characters you rooted for from the start. A perfect paperback beach read. My full review is listed on GoodReads and Amazon (search for J.R. Daly).

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Read with my book club after the outcry for racial justice emerged in June. We chose this YA title in an effort to educate ourselves and discuss the lives and challenges people of color face everyday. Overall, we enjoyed a thoughtful discussion of Black Lives Matter and how important this type of book is for a wider audience to read.

For more information on my book club meeting, check out
Women Celebrating Women

Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina. Another summer book club choice (the weather cooperated in July and August for outdoor meetings). Madame Presidentess was the fictional choice as we gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification. To learn more about the seventy-year struggle to secure a woman’s right to vote, we also read The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss as a non-fiction choice. More info on that selection here: Authors on (Virtual) Tour. The “Madame” presents the real-life presidential candidate of the Equal Rights Party in 1872, Victoria Claflin Woodhull. She was an incredible woman whose story is another one hidden in the shadows of history. A suffragist, faith healer, orator, financial advisor to titans of business like Cornelius Vanderbilt, and co-owner with her sister of the first woman-led brokerage firm, Victoria embodies the nature of the relentless women who strove to prove women are capable of much more than the femme fatale stereotype.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. The winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction lives up to its accolades by telling the story of a boys’ juvenile reformatory in the backwoods of Tallahassee, FL. Based on an actual center, Whithead brings to life the struggles of the boys sent there to be reformed. Yet, can reformation happen when abusive powers control your destinies? In the vein of Home for Unwanted Girls and Before We Were Yours, Nickel Boys reminds us how much the most vulnerable children who live among us need the most protection. If you’re into podcasts, I also recommend a new one out from Seth Meyers, Late Night Lit. In the debut session, producer Sarah Jenks-Daly interviews Colson Whitehead. (Yes, Daly, as in my niece. Proud aunt moment.)

Which ones have you read?
Do prizes affect your reading choices?

As an aside, my vote for the Pulitzer would have gone to The Dutch House by Ann Patchett for the incredible craft of character development, right down to the “house” itself. For an extra special reading of Dutch House, treat yourself to the Audible version narrated by Tom Hanks. Perfection. Right down to the way he reads, “Chapter Nine.”

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Lisa See is one of my favorite authors. I think I’ve become a groupie. Shangahi Girls is the fourth historical novel of hers I’ve read. While Island of Sea Women and Snowflower and the Secret Fan are still my favorites, Shanghai Girls also embues Asian culture with a powerful theme of sisters’ relationships. The details and authenticity Lisa includes in her research takes you from the streets of Shanghai to Angel Island CA to Chinatown in LA for a powerful, moving story. For more info on my book club’s Skype call with Lisa to discuss Island of Sea Women, check out my post here: The Island of Sea Women.

Another summer treat –
new hammock under the trees.

Summer Longing by Jamie Brenner. Ahhh, summertime. A new hammock and a slight breeze to sway me away into a story of mother-daughter relationships in Provincetown, MA. Set in a town at the end of Cape Cod, I put aside a minor annoyance that the author continued to describe the lush hydrangeas flowers in bloom. Yes, they are beautiful and nearly every Cape yard has them thanks to our sandy soil, but they don’t bloom in their glory until the second week of July, not June. Despite that minor error, Summer Longing was another quick, escapist read. Perfect for swaying in a hammock.

The Wright Sister by Patty Dann. An easy, quick, enjoyable, imagined life of Katharine Wright, sister of Orville and Wilbur. Dann presents a series of diary entries and letters to tell Katharine’s story and her possible involvement in her brothers’ world-changing invention. One of the most interesting topics was Orville’s dismay about the use of aviation for destructive uses during WWI.

I Was Hoping to Get Lost in the Story, But Didn’t

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate. The premise of Lisa Wingate’s newest promises a great adventure which pulls at the heartstrings. The “book” contains newspaper clippings of former slaves who placed notices seeking the whereabouts of family members who had been sold, run away or disappeared before and after Emancipation. For my novel’s research, I read similar notices in The Boston Pilot of Irish families searching for those who walked off gangplanks into Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and were lost into the big cities and small towns of the United States. I wanted to love this book as much as I loved Before We Were Yours by Wingate, but found one of the dual story lines a bit unbelievable. I just wasn’t buying it that three teenage girls could successfully travel from Louisiana to Texas and back in the 1870s with only a few skirmishes.

The Gown by Jennifer Robson. Fashion, royalty, love intrigues, ingenues. The Gown had the makings (pun intended) to be a great story of the design and creation of Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding dress. Robson used a dual narrative and timeline, however, which detracted from the story and felt forced. I think it could have stood on its own with a focus on the historical aspect only, perhaps weaving in parallels between the main character, Ann Hughes, and the young, then Princess, Elizabeth.

The Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams. Listened to this one on Audible. Very slow-moving story of Josephine Marcus Earp, eventual wife of the famous gunslinger Wyatt. Set in the 1870s, eighteen-year-old Josie leaves the comfort and security of her family in San Francisco to head to the wild west of Tombstone AZ. Almost a DNF for me it moved so slow without a clear character arc and without developing a bond nor sympathy for the Josie character.

Happy Reading.

I hope you’ve put a few down on your gift lists. Let me know which ones made it in the Comment box below.


I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and updates on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information on my About page. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too. On my Facebook page, I also post deals I find on Kindle specials ($1.99, $2.99, etc.) for books I recommend. A great way to add to your e-library with minimal costs.

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6 thoughts on “Book Reviews to Start Your Holiday Lists

  1. Thanks for another great list of recs Janis 🙂 Can I personally recommend that you check out Refugee by Alan Gratz? That made my top 5 list for the year, hands down. I think it may have been one of the most touching books I’ve read in a long time. Also, A Burning by Megha Majumdar was a fantastic read- I learned a lot I didn’t know about India, and the writing style is exceptional, she writes the way an Indian person would speak, so as you’re reading it feels like you can actually hear the narrator saying it aloud.

    Liked by 1 person

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