2015 Another Year of Reading

a year of reading40 books in 2015 – not as many as 2014, but still a decent number.

As with 2014, some were superb, others I did not finish. Most were historical fiction; a few were non-fiction. I read several in my capacity as book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and the Washington Independent Review of Books, and a few for feature articles in HNS.

I suspect I’m a ‘hard marker’. Here’s the rating system I used last year: LR = light, enjoyable read; GR = good, several caveats; ER = excellent, few caveats; OR = outstanding; DNF = did not finish; NMT = not my type.

The following are from January 2015 to May. I’ve included links to blog posts and reviews where appropriate. I’ll share the balance in a few days.

Jan Penelope Fitzgerald Hermione Lee DNF Biography – far too much detail
Firebird Susanna Kearsley GR Loved The Winter Sea, but I think Kearsley needs to try a new theme
Sisters of Heart and Snow Margaret Dilloway GR HNS feature; the tale of a female samurai; too much present day not enough history
Writing Historical Fiction Marina Oliver GR Much of the advice is very basic
Historical Fiction Writing Myfanwy Cook GR Lots of good advice, research ideas and useful reference sites
Feb The Glory of Life Michael Kumpfmuller GR WIRO book review; last years of Franz Kafka; rich in detail, light on drama
The Heroes Welcome Louisa Young ER HNS Review; A novel about the effects of WWI; highly recommended
Mar The Foundling’s War Michel Deon GR A look at WWII France; present tense and omniscient narrator detract from story
Hell and Good Company Richard Rhodes ER HNS review; non-fiction on Spanish Civil War
All the Light We Cannot See – Pulitzer prize 2015 Anthony Doerr OR A five star IMHO; could not put this WWII novel down
The Wild Girl Kate Forsyth GR A story about the brothers Grimm; pacing slow in parts
Apr The Sandcastle Girls Chris Bojalian GR Book club; blending of past and present did not work for me
The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent Susan Elia MacNeal LR Set during WWII; light mystery
Writing Historical Fiction Katharine McMahon ER A short, straight forward read with some excellent advice
The Historical Novel – post 1 and post 2 Jerome de Groot ER Have read this twice; Traces the roots and impact of historical fiction
Write Away Elizabeth George ER A second read of this book on the craft of writing
The Dinner Herman Koch NMT Book club; not one sympathetic character
The Stranger Harlan Corben LR Audiobook – tense mystery
May Cairo Olen Steinhauer LR Complicated mystery set in Cairo
Pompeii Robert Harris OR Superb story of Pompeii’s destruction
The First Five Pages (a second reading) Noah Lukeman ER Great practical advice for writers
Scent of Triumph Jan Moran NMT Book review; far too melodramatic
The Secret Life of Violet Grant Beatriz Williams ER Great voice; strong blend of present day and past
Personal Lee Child LR Audiobook; good mystery for a long drive

Two outstanding reads, seven excellent ones.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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28 Responses

  1. I always enjoy your list, Mary, and take away books to add to my TBR stock. I’ve adopted your scale for evaluating the books I read. My reading this past year ranged across many genres. A couple that I rated OR are “The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zavin and “Dear Life,” a collection of stories by Alice Monroe.

  2. I have just discovered ‘A Year of Reading’ is it a list we compile or is there a website? I read Kate Forsythe’s list and also your list and it has inspired me to keep a list of the books I read this year.

    1. Hi Elise … not a specific program and interesting to know that Kate is doing the same thing. Since I write, review books and read a lot within my genre, I decided to start tracking three years ago. It’s always interesting to look back at them at the end of the year. I’m sure some people use sites like Goodreads to do the same thing. Many thanks for your comment.

  3. Interesting. Pompeii great as one knew the explosive ending but had to wait patiently until it came. In my view Harris manages to be consistently good. His latest another Cicero book … not sure I can take on a third at present, however good. Apart from Richard Flanagan’s prize winning book about war with Japan I had a disappointing year in 2015 of fiction reading. Two of my favourite authors produced books detailing evil which overstepped my fine line requirement for positive reading memories from books I read. I have read far more non-fiction with greater delight, as I did prior to starting writing in 2010. 2016 has started well with the complete short stories of J G Ballard written in his prime. I like his scene setting in the future which has similarities to my own writing. Calvin has recommended a book about life in Berlin in 1946. I have started and if it is any good I will add details and an addition to this post in due course. Lets see what turns up in 2016, although my reading pile is far to high already.

      1. As you can see from the promptness of this promised addition I could not put Calvin’s recommended book down and have read in two days. The Spring of Kasper Meier – by Ben Fergusson, I see is also relevant to this blog being a Winner of the Historical Writers’ Association 2015 Debut Crown Award. As a reader I found the story well crafted, with many excellent long and short descriptive set pieces, which kept boiling all the way through as to Kasper’s eventual fate. Overall a pretty grim read about Berlin in 1946 tackling difficult human relationships. I have yet to decide whether the subtle overall punchline is credible as semi fiction. Adopting your coding to me the book is an OR and for a change the cover promotional text is spot on – “A gripping mystery set in a surreal and terrifying post-war Berlin where nothing is quite what it seems.”

  4. Are you kidding? I would kill to have read 40 books in one year. I think I might have read maybe 5. One of my new year’s resolutions is to turn the damn TV off and read.


  5. I love your rating system. I’m always stumped to communicate the difference between wonderful historical fiction, and, say, a great mystery with an animal narrator. Both rate the same number of stars under my current rating system but . . .

    1. Thanks, Debbie. You’re welcome to borrow it! That’s one of the problems with sites like Goodreads. As far as I’m concerned a scale of 1 to 5 stars isn’t good enough. And I don’t always have time to do a more nuanced review. For example, there’s nothing wrong with what I call a ‘light read’ – but 4 stars for a light read doesn’t compare to 4 stars for a more ‘significant’ novel. Similarly, ‘not my type’ or ‘did not finish’ might well be just the kind of thing someone else loves to read.

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