2018 booksThroughout my journey of writing a historical fiction, reading within my genre and for research is extremely important to study plot and character development. I also love to read in general and am committed to my book club of 20+ years where I’m introduced to a wide variety of books. 

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Below is a summary of books I have enjoyed and mentioned in various posts. Link to the corresponding post for more details and relevancy. Newer recommendations will be added to the top of the list. All books are linked to Amazon for ease of reading other reviews or to purchase. 

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  • Very productive July – September 2020. A few extraordinary books, some books to keep and a few which didn’t live up to my anticipation for greatness. My full review of all fourteen books here: Book Reviews to Start Your Holiday Lists.
  • What a surreal three months: April – June 2020. While others may have been unable to focus on reading, I found it was a way to escape the news of the day. My full review of all ten books here: Bookmarked: Reviews Q2 2020.
  • Sea Wife by Amity Gaige. OMG!!! I tried hard not to let my personal connection to Amity skew my opinion while I read Sea Wife. She was one of my writing course professors and the leader of my first writers’ retreat two years ago. I say with confidence and without hesitation, I loved this story for the poetic writing and personal connection Amity makes between the reader and the main character, Juliet. Readers who have lived through the self-questioning days of early motherhood and complicated by their own childhood experiences will find themselves standing in Juliet’s shoes – or sitting in her closet. Sea Wife presents an intimate look at a marriage heading toward drowning in a sea of regrets while the young Partlow family sails around Central America. While I felt undertones of Kate Chopin’s classic The Awakening, written over 100 years ago, about a woman’s tragic struggle with self-definition, I appreciated the more modern resolution Juliet finds as she faces and battles her fears. Amity also engages the reader through a unique dual narrative approach, interchanging first person POV from Juliet telling her story with entries from the voyage log book of Juliet’s  husband, Michael, who using the log as much as a diary as a nautical recount of their trip. The juxtaposition, including different fonts, provides a rapid pace to move through the story. I marked many passages throughout the book which to me are more poetry than prose – a true testament to an author who can write both: She is like a fallen scrap of sky. We’re just a hyphen between our parents and our kidsThe night deepened, dark as a well, and time fell into it. And, this gem: A mother is a house. A mother is a house with everyone safe in bed. ***** More information on (Virtual) Author Talk: Authors on (Virtual) Tour, 5/13/20.
  • The first three months of 2020 brought a few life interruptions: travel to and from FL, writer’s conference, prepping for conference, and oh yeah, the start of a pandemic. I still managed to read a variety of books and am thankful to some of the Facebook groups I belong to for recommendations. My full review of all nine books here: Bookmarked: Reviews Q1 2020.
  • I published a poll through some Facebook groups in honor of International Women’s Day 2020 asking for recommendations of books: What is the best book you’ve read about a woman in history, fiction or non-fiction? I tallied 257 titles. I’ve read 8 of the top 10 – have not read Becoming nor Hidden Figures (but love the movie). Which ones have you read?

women history

  • A mark of well-written historical fiction occurs when the reader is compelled to conduct additional research on their own. What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon is a good example of a successful balance between teaching about the Irish uprisings of 1919-1922 and encouraging the reader to learn more about the events and the leaders, including Michael Collins. More information here: Imprisoned by Research Details.
  • I have not read all of these titles but they come highly recommended for a look at time travel / dual time lines, starting with Outlander. A list of ten titles here: 2020 Double Vision.
  • One of the best gifts I ever gave myself was joining a book club in my town, organized by a women’s civic group. Now, over twenty years later, I’ve moved from the town but remain in the club. All my friends offer up a spare bed for me to come and stay. We’ve read A LOT of books over twenty years. For 2019, our top picks and complete run-down, plus a few more titles I read on my own between October – December can be found here: Book Club Reading Round Up: 2019.

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  • If you’re of my late boomer generation, take a walk down memory lane into the world of vinyl records stacked in plastic milk crates and JVC stereo systems to enter the 1970s world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll with Daisy Jones and The Six Full review here: Turn Up the Volume, 12/8/19.
  • Another entertaining evening with my fabulous book club as we discussed Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. An excellent example of a dual timeline approach following the back story of the writing of the Wizard of Oz books and the making of the movie: Somewhere Over the Rainbow, 10/29/19.
  • My all-time favorite books which I paused to recall, reflect upon and name during a Facebook challenge. Finally a Facebook activity I could get behind and have some fun in participating. Ten Books, Ten Days.
  • Lost Roses is the second book in a Martha Hall Kelly’s series tied to the women of the Ferriday family and serves as a prequel to Lilac Girls. Both books focus on women’s relationships with each other and a theme of women helping women. The books can be read in any order and equally enjoyed as great examples of historical fiction. Full review here: Lost Roses: Barbs and Beauty, 8/13/19.
  • Another winner from Lisa See for her most recent release, The Island of Sea Women brings together three of my favorite genres: women’s relationships, historical events and learning about another culture. The book travels through pre-WWII through and after the Korean War with a dual time period approach. Fascinating research into the life of the haenyeo, women divers on Jeju Island who support their community and villages. Full five-star review: The Island of Sea Women, 7/1/19.
  • Eliza Waite is the debut novel by a fellow Wheaton alumnus, Ashley Sweeney. Set in the same opening time period as my WIP, with a MC also named Eliza, I loved this book for so many reasons beyond the personal connections. My full review posted on Amazon: What would you call a coming of age story when the main character is in her late 20’s? Coming alive. Inspired by the writings of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Eliza Waite discovers an interior strength to move forward from tragedy and loss to choose a life where she is the decision maker, an awakened woman, physically and spiritually. Set in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest’s San Juan Islands, Eliza, the widow of the local minister who has also lost her only child, forges her way further north to the even wilder Alaskan Territory as the Yukon goldrush heightens in 1898. In the town of Skagway, an unlikely woman befriends Eliza, becoming her closest friend, the madam of the local bordello, Pearly Brown. Pearly encourages the quiet Eliza who withholds any glimpse into her former life. Ultimately, Eliza’s transformation from a shunned woman of St. Louis to the proprietress of her own bakery and café aligns with the beginnings of the suffragette movement and modern feminism. Ms. Sweeney deftly weaves in quotes from Chopin’s The Awakening at appropriate scenes, as well as recipes from Eliza’s file box, to blend the non-traditional and traditional resulting in a story of inspiration and self-determination proving that the ultimate freedom is the freedom to choose one’s path. From The Awakening: “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it?” Eliza Waite finds her something and someone, all of which is worth the wait. I Love My Village, 2/12/19.
  • Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing is the first fiction piece from a well-respected and best-selling non-fiction naturalist. Ms. Owens created a story set in the 1960s stepped in the nature and marshlands of the NC coastline. I suspect she pulled upon her and her husband’s own experiences of living in the area. I listened to the book on Audible and I do think the story was enhanced with the voice of the narrator who mirrored the innocent young southern girl, Kya, the main character. Themes of prejudice, class stigmas and stereotypes in the South of 60’s were addressed and treated in a realistic manner. I did find many similarities in the book to another recent and hyped release, The Great Alone, but did prefer Where the Crawdads Sing, for its pace of the story and the ending. Parallel Lines, 10/10/18. 
  • I’ve read three of Sally Cabot Gunning’s books: The Widow’s WarBenjamin Franklin’s Bastard and Monticello. By far, my favorite is The Widow’s War, set in pre-revolutionary war New England with the story of a Cape Cod sea captain’s widow, Lyddie Barry. Lyddie battles several wars as she chafes against the laws, written and unwritten, of her times. I had read this novel once on my own, drawn to it with its setting in Satucket, modern day Brewster, on Cape Cod, less than 10 miles from us. Gunning also weaves in scenes from Barnstable Village, the seat of county government, then and now. I re-read The Widow’s War with my book club with a Cape meeting preceded with our own walking tour of Brewster. For anyone interested in a deep dive into the book, there is an organized bus tour available which includes: Narration by trained guide on air conditioned bus (with restrooms), five stops at historic, scenic locations, complimentary refreshments & house tour at historic Hopkins House Bakery, book sales and signing with author Sally Gunning after tour. For more information or for tour tickets, visit the Brewster Historical Society website. The Writer, The Laborer, 9/3/18
  • As Bright As Heaven by Susan Messier, caught my eye in a Facebook group mentioning it covered the Spanish flu epidemic in Philadelphia. Ms. Messier did an incredible job with the details of the flu and seamlessly wove it into her story. She also employed varying POVs with four characters. This is a difficult approach for writers but she maintained consistency swapping between each one, even having the language grow and evolve as the characters did throughout the novel. Part I: Done, 8/1/18.
  • For a detour into pleasure reading of a simple, quaint story, look up An Irish Country Practice: An Irish Country Novel (Irish Country Books). Apparently its author, Patrick Taylor, is a prolific Irish-American writer with over ten books in this genre. It’s a quick, gentle read about general practitioners in the northern countryside around Belfast in the 1960s. If you’ve enjoyed the saccharine series on PBS, “Call the Midwife”, you’ll enjoy Patrick Taylor’s series. Introducing Daniel Breen, 7/12/18.
  • For a different look at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, check out Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been. Similar to treatments presented in the Girl in the Pearl Earring, Strapless, and The Painted Girls, it explores the story behind the story of a piece of art or literature. Benjamin considers the back story of Lewis Carroll and his relationship with a friend’s daughters as an inspiration of the Alice character. It’s an interesting read which can be construed a bit disturbing, but goes a long way in explaining the creative mind of Lewis Carroll. Adventures in Writing, 7/6/18.
  • Before there was the rash of women and girls featured in psychological thrillers, Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, The Woman at the Window (over-worked theme much?) there was  Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. As a psych major, I’ve always had an interest in the inner mind gone mad, triggered by trauma. I don’t think there is a better example than Shutter Island. The twist toward the end of the novel made me sit up and scream OMG, OMG (before OMG was a thing). The movie adaption was well done, too. Of course, cast Leo DiCaprio as the leading man and it’s hard to go wrong. And filming some scenes in the town next to us at a closed mental health hospital didn’t hurt either. If you haven’t seen the movie, read the book. Be prepared to delve into the world of madness. You may or may not come out the other side intact.  Retreat into the Woods, 6/27/18.
  •  The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. Teamwork, perseverance, the build up of Nazi Germany and its propaganda machine, and the Great Depression. It’s a great read despite the length and the tedium of some of the descriptions. Highly recommend for anyone interested in learning about a sport that today is overshadowed by the broadcast coverage of football bowl games ad nauseam and March Madness. A sport where teamwork soars to a whole different level of meaning and importance. Where there is no one star, just perfection in unity. Pulling Together, 6/11/18
  • A great idea for anyone like me who enjoys matching a menu to a book for a book club. Check out The Book Club Cookbook by my former Needham Children’s Museum committee member Judy Gelman. Great idea, Judy! Pulling Together, 6/11/18
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly taps into the WWII genre which has been hot recently, including Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. Lilac Girls offers an interwoven story of three women whom you don’t realize are connected until deep into the book. The most powerful part of the book was finishing it and realizing I truly despised one of the characters. Ms. Kelly could have taken the story and wrapped it with a happy, we’re all friends, atonement conclusion. But, she didn’t. That ability to hold true to a character from start to finish is admirable. Spring’s Eternal Freshness, 5/13/18
  • Dive into the idea of a “New Woman”. Is Offred, the main character in The Handmaid’s Tale from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel and the current Hulu adoption into a TV series, a New Woman? Is she any different than literary characters from the late 19th century when the term was first coined, such as Henry James’ Daisy Miller? Or is she simple a Woman? An educated, independent thinker seeking to define her own role in a new society with her own rules and expectations to suit her own needs? The “New Woman”, 4/30/18
  • Another look at a New Woman, from where I first heard of the term is in Kim van Alkemade in the end notes of her book, Bachelor Girl. A great read for historical fiction fans, and baseball fans, about the single woman who inherited the NY Yankees! The “New Woman”, 4/30/18
  • Two books which delve into the same theme of slavery, secrets, and interracial relationships in nineteenth century Virginia. America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie offers an inside look at the Thomas Jefferson’s presidency and diplomatic posts through the eyes of his daughter, Patsy, including his liaison with Sally Hemings. It’s the “upstairs” story, while The Kitchen House debut novel by Kathleen Grissom, is the “downstairs” story of the women who work in the kitchen house of a tobacco plantation. I enjoyed both books for their research and emotional tugs of all the women portrayed in the books as they faced similar challenges dealing with family relationships, class and demands of running a household. Libraries Lead, 4/15/18
  • Left to Tell  by Immaculee Ilibgazia. This powerful narrative is by a young woman who survived the Rwandan genocide of the mid ’90s hidden in a bathroom for three months with seven other women. It is a raw story that exposes the atrocities of that Holocaust balanced with the incredible level of trust Immaculee placed in her faith. I learned of Left to Tell when it chosen as an all-school read for St. Sebastian’s. How fortunate my boys were that they were able to hear Immaculee share her story in person at the start of their school year. The Gift of Reading, 12/7/17
  • Holes by Louis Sachar (Published by Random House, 2001). Made into a popular Disney movie with Shia LeBeouf, Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight, I enjoyed the book first, even before Peirce and Brendan read it. I don’t recall how or why I picked it up, but I ended up choosing it for an assignment in a Children’s Literature class at Simmons College’s graduate program that I audited the year the book came out. It is a fun, well-crafted, “quest” story with likable heroes (Stanley and Zero) you want to root for throughout the story. For that class assignment, I identified all the steps found in a quest story. My professor gave me an A and asked if she could keep my piece as an example to use in following years of the class. I was honored. Pour me a glass of SPLOOSH! The Gift of Reading,12/7/17
  • Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross (Published by Broadway Books, 2009). No, that is not a typo. I didn’t mean to write Pope John. 2017 has been a year of women focused empowerment. From marches across the country to the installation of “Fearless Girl” on Wall Street to the  launch of the #metoo movement, women are speaking up and speaking out after decades and centuries of silence. Pope Joan posits a revolutionary idea. Could there have been a female Pope in the 13th century? It was a fascinating read steeped in rich detail and history that I believed the myth could be true. Perhaps it was only the silence of those times and the powerful men that ruled the Catholic Church that quelled any speculation that there could be a female Pope. I love that this book was recommended to me by my dear friend, Colleen. I think of her and our discussion we had about the book every time I see Pope Joan on my bookshelf. The Gift of Reading,12/7/17

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