A Year of Reading

For 6 years, I’ve chronicled the books I’ve read offering a summary and my own rating scheme to identify favourite reads, non-fiction read for research purposes, light reads, and so on. This year’s reading was a little muddled — I’m not even sure I can find them all — so I thought I would take a different approach and highlight a few books that stand out and why.

The group includes two non-fiction, four novels about the Kennedy family and a wide range of time periods.

Indian in the Cabinet by Jody Wilson-Raybould ~~ Jody Wilson-Raybould was Canada’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice for almost four years and a member of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. Being a woman in this role is impressive enough, being an indigenous woman is uniquely impressive. This memoir offers great insights into the indigenous experience as well as their hopes for a new sovereign relationship between our First Nations people and the Government of Canada. It is very critical of the way politics runs in today’s Canadian government.

Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad ~~ a powerful and inspiring memoir of a young woman who was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 22, battled cancer for three years, and then had to find her way back to a life without cancer. Suleika Jaouad inspired many with her blog Life Interrupted and her columns in the New York Times.

Red Widow by Alma Katsu ~~ I attended Alma Katsu’s workshop on conflict at the 2021 Historical Novel Society Conference – titled Upping the Ante. Impressed by Alma’s ideas, I read her recent novel Red Widow to see conflict in action. Trust me, she knows what she’s talking about. It’s a novel I frequently recommend.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn ~~ I’m a fan of the women who worked at Bletchley Park during WWII. Kate Quinn’s latest dual-timeline novel is a wonderful page-turner.

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict ~~ I discovered Marie Benedict’s novels with The Other Einstein. Benedict has a knack for writing about the lives of unique women of history. Who knew that Albert Einstein’s wife – Mitza Maric – was an incredibly clever scientist and mathematician in her own right and whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated?

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray ~~ The true story of Belle da Costa Greene, J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian who helps him build a world-class library of rare manuscripts, books and artwork. Belle does all this while passing for white. And it’s seamlessly written by two authors!

Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell ~~ I stepped way back in time to read of fifteen-year-old Emma of Normandy who crosses the English Channel in 1002 to wed the much older King Athelred of England, whom she meets for the first time at the church door. Fascinating story, and guess what? It’s book one of a trilogy.

One of the panels I moderated during the June HNS conference was on writing about the Kennedy family and the challenges of doing so. I decided to read all the novels these panelists featured: The Summer I met Jack by Michelle Gable; Jackie and Maria by Gill Paul; The Editor by Steven Rowley; The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Mahon. I can enthusiastically recommend each one of them.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See ~~ Lisa See was guest of honour at the 2021 HNS conference. Since I’d only read her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I decided to read her latest. Powerful prose and a unique story about Korea.

Drake: Tudor Corsair by Tony Riches; Essex: Tudor Rebel by Tony Riches ~~ Tony Riches has made the Tudors his specialty. These two novels are from his new Elizabethan series about the men who served the Queen in unique ways.

The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson ~~ another wonderful dual-timeline novel by Jane Johnson. This one is set in Cornwall which makes it special as I’ve been to several of the places mentioned. And it features a foul-mouthed parrot!

Birds Eye View by Elinor Florence ~~ the heroine of this story joins the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as an aerial photographic interpreter, someone who spies on the enemy from the sky, watching the war unfold through her magnifying glass. The author does a wonderful job of explaining the technology involved in this little known aspect of WWII in a way that is easily understood and of presenting a great story featuring women who served in the war.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available for pre-order on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

2020- a Strange Year of Reading

This was the year of DNF. After the middle of March, I would find a book, read five to ten chapters and then say, “Nope. Not that one.” I tried historical fiction, my favourite genre, but that didn’t work. I tried beach reads, but that didn’t work either. I was able to lose myself in a few non-fiction selections like Samantha Power’s compelling memoir The Education of an Idealist and The Girl with Seven Names by Lee Hyeon-Seo, a memoir of a woman who escaped North Korea. If you think Covid is bad, try living in North Korea. I checked best selling lists and couldn’t even generate enough enthusiasm to get past the descriptions.

My reading mojo returned when I selected several books for a novel that’s brewing inside my head. In total, I’ve read 33 books give or take. See below for comments on the first bunch.

I apologize to all of the authors whose novels I did not finish. I hope 2021 will be a better reading year and that I’ll get back to each and every one of them.

As in prior years, I’ve used the following rating scheme: LR = light, enjoyable read; GR = good, several caveats; ER = excellent, few caveats; OR = outstanding; DNF = did not finish; NMT = not my type.

  • Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay – ER – A page-turner about toxic friendships between women, about obsession and what we can lose in the name of love
  • I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie – ER – A family-owned camp, a murder, and the unravelling that occurs after the parents’ will is read.
  • Scholars of Mayhem by Daniel Guiet and Timothy Smith – ER – Non-Fiction: The true story of an SOE team that commanded a ghostly army of 10,000 French Resistance fighters.
  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan – ER – Fiction based on a true story of a young Italian man’s courage and resilience as a WWII spy. See interview featuring Mark Sullivan.
  • The Old Success by Martha Grimes – DNF – Murder mystery set on the Cornish coast.
  • Ladies Night by Mary Kay Andrews – DNF – A woman discovers her husband is cheating on her and ends up in therapy.
  • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins – DNF – I wasn’t up for the gritty nature of this story about a Mexican woman and her child on the run from a drug cartel.
  • The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis – GR – An interesting look at the early part of the 20th century and an iconic building, although I found the back and forth timelines somewhat choppy.
  • High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews – LR – A satisfying story of old friendships, secrets, betrayal and a long-unsolved murder.
  • The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand – LR – Best friends with perfect marriages and beautiful kids form a backdrop for a rumor that almost destroys everything.
  • The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power – ER – A compelling memoir of Samantha Power’s journey from immigrant to war correspondent to presidential Cabinet official and ultimately US Ambassador to the UN.
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison – ER – I’ve never read Toni Morrison and a friend recommended that I start with this novel. Superb prose, compelling characters and deep insights into the Black experience in America.
  • The Lost Girls of Devon by Barbara O’Neal – DNF – Four generations of women grappling with family betrayals and long-buried secrets.
  • 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand – ER – Explores the agony and romance of a one-weekend-per-year affair. A page turner full of emotion.
  • The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson – DNF – In 1936, a lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian.
  • The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes – DNF – Depression-era America. This story also explores the Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and the women who made it a success. Apparently, the release of these two novels at about the same time caused a lot of controversy.
  • There There by Tommy Orange – DNF – A book club read and a story of twelve characters from Native communities who are all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Too much angst to read during lockdown.

More to follow in another post.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

A Year of Reading 2018

I read 33 books this year not as many as previous years – although I feel as if some are missing! I’m delighted to share them with you. Below is the rating scheme I developed in 2014 – the first year I posted a list. Part way through 2018, I took a break from historical fiction 🙂

LR = light, enjoyable read; GR = good, several caveats; ER = excellent, few caveats; OR = outstanding; DNF = did not finish; NMT = not my type.

Title Author Comment
Jan My Dear Hamilton (brief review) Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie OR Fascinating portrayals of the men and women who played pivotal roles during the revolution and the founding of America.
Born a Crime (book club) Trevor Noah ER Humour – pain – emotion – and unique stories of growing up bi-racial in South Africa make this an outstanding read.
The Tuscan Child Rhys Bowen NMT There was so much the author could have done with this story.
Small Great Things (book club) Jodi Picoult ER This was a can’t-turn-the-pages-fast-enough book for me.
Only Time Will Tell Jeffrey Archer ER The first of Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles and I’m sure to read more.
Feb Mary – Tudor Princess (review) Tony Riches ER Full of excellent period detail, this novel will transport you to 16th century England and France with intrigues, wars and upheavals.
The Woman in the Window A.J. Finn OR My husband read this and said I HAD to read it. And he was right.
Trumpocracy David Frum ER An alarming, clear-eyed, and well-articulated view of what’s going on in the US.
Mar March Geraldine Brooks GR Not as compelling as her other novels.
Full Disclosure Beverley McLachlin GR Debut novel from Canada’s former chief justice.
Apr Citizens of London Lynne Olson OR A fascinating look at US involvement in WWII; superb non-fiction
All is not Forgotten Wendy Walker ER Suspense, family drama, unexpected plot twists and a unique storyline.
The Wife (musing on titles) Alastair Burke GR The pacing and cliff-hanging chapter endings are well done and the twist at the end is quite the surprise.
May Off Season Anne Rivers Siddons GR At times disjointed and with too many digressions.
The Litigators John Grisham GR Novel doesn’t get going for a long time.
The Fire By Night Teresa Messineo DNF Full of inner monologue and backstory and lengthy descriptions.
Dreams of Falling Karen White ER A plot that slowly simmers its way to a surprising and satisfying ending
Jun Simple Truth (guest post by the author) Carol Bodensteiner ER Great dialogue, pacing, and engaging characters.
News of the World Paulette Jiles GR Took a while for me to ‘get into it’

Quite a mix of genres, time periods and impressions. I’ll post the rest on Thursday.

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. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.