A Year of Reading 2019 – Part 1

38 books in 2019! This is the sixth year I’ve created these summaries. As in previous years, I’ve used the following scheme in these brief notes on the books I’ve read.

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 American Duchess: A Novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt Karen Harper ER Karen Harper chose an excellent time and subject to write about. So much happened in Consuelo’s life, it could have been two books!
Jan The Governor’s Wife Michael Harvey GR Enjoyable, fast read. Set in Chicago with lots of twists and nefarious, scheming characters who are rotten to the core.
Jan Before We Were Yours Lisa Wingate ER  I powered through the novel in two and a half very satisfying days. See blog for more. 
Jan Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty GR Not quite as compelling as Big Little Lies or The Husband’s Secret. But an intriguing premise.
Jan Educated Tara Westover OR At book club the words used to describe it included: compelling, horrifying, unbelievable, shocking, inspiring, and head shaking. See blog for more.
Feb Becoming Michelle Obama OR Wonderful. I know that doesn’t constitute a review, but I found Michelle Obama’s memoir hard to put down for many reasons.
Feb Love and Ruin Paula McLain ER Martha Gelhorn is such an interesting woman and McLain makes her and her relationship with Hemingway come alive. Definitely a page-turner.
Mar The Great Alone Kristin Hannah ER I powered through the pages and marvelled at Kristin Hannah’s storytelling talent.
Mar The Blue Nancy Bilyeau ER Industrial espionage in the porcelain trade of the 18th century.
Mar American Princess Stephanie Marie Thornton (see blog for author interview) ER A superbly told story of Alice Roosevelt the high-spirited, independent-minded woman who took America by storm when her father, Teddy Roosevelt became president.
Mar The Huntress Kate Quinn (see blog for a discussion of writing this novel) ER Wonderful characters + a fast-paced story = a superb read. Kate Quinn does it again!
Apr Careless Love Peter Robinson GR An excellent ‘read’ in audiobook format. Kept my husband and I intrigued on a two-day drive.
Apr The Expatriates Janice Y.K. Lee GR Janice Y.K. Lee’s writing is quite wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Hong Kong, a city where I lived for three years.
May Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens ER Two timelines – one deserves 5 stars, the other comes in at 3. See blog for more.
May No Hero’s Welcome Jeffrey K Walker (see author guest post) ER A superbly told story of an Irish family’s struggles during and after World War One; wonderful characters.
June The Founding Cynthia Harrod-Eagles DNF Searching around for a new author – unfortunately, this did not grab me.
June Mistress of Rome Kate Quinn ER After reading The Alice Network and The Huntress, I went searching for more Kate Quinn.
Jun Madame Fourcade’s Secret War Lynne Olson ER Non-fiction; A fascinating story of the courageous woman who led France’s largest WWII spy network.
Jun The Devlin Diary Christi Phillips GR 3.5 on my scale; lots to enjoy about this story & the time period of 1672 London in the court of Charles II
Jun Beartown Fredrik Backman ER Excellent .. powerfully told story. Characters leap off the page.
Jun Wench Dolen Perkins-Valdez ER An enthralling story of enslaved mistresses. The author truly swept me away into that time and place.

I’ll post Part 2 next Tuesday. I hope your 2019 reading has been equally rewarding. Recommendations welcome!

Previous years: 2018 part 2, 2018 part 1, 2017 (part 1 and part 2), 2016 (part 1 and part 2)

A Year of Reading 2015 – Part 1 and Part 2

A Year of Reading 2014 – Part 1 and Part 2

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.

 

American Princess by Stephanie Thornton

While researching for one of my own novels, I came across a fascinating journal written by Alice Roosevelt during a lengthy trip to Asia. Now there’s an idea for a novel, I thought.

Stephanie Thornton must have had a similar experience! She’s here today talking about her upcoming novel American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt. Alice is an intriguing, forceful, and beautiful woman … exactly what a writer wants for their heroine.

~~~

The goal of any good book is to transport its reader into another world, be it Middle Earth, Green Gables, or down the rabbit hole. When it comes to historical fiction, a book becomes a time machine (I prefer a TARDIS) that whisks its reader into the past to watch a bloody gladiatorial fight in the Colosseum, dance a brisk galliard with King Henry VIII (just don’t marry him!), or slog through the muddy trenches of Verdun.

In American Princess, I hope to make the not-so-distant 20thcentury come alive, as seen through the keen eyes of Theodore Roosevelt’s wildchild daughter, Alice Roosevelt.

My favorite revision of any novel is when I add in all the fun little historical details that really transform an era from shades of gray into vivid Technicolor. (I wait until nearly my last revision to add most of those, once the story is set and I’m fairly certain scenes aren’t going to get slashed.) For example, many people know that Theodore Roosevelt once quipped, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.” He said that to his writer friend Owen Wister—who actually dedicated a western novel to the president—after Alice burst in and interrupted their conversation for the umpteenth time that day. For added fun in that scene, I pulled in mention of her younger brothers pounding on stilts down the hallway outside the White House’s presidential study (the Oval Office hadn’t been built yet) and included one of the Roosevelt family dogs, a yappy little terrier named Skip.

Source: Alice in Asia – the 1905 Taft Mission to Asia

One of my favorite distractions while writing is researching exactly what life would have been like for my characters. For turn-of-the-century America, that often meant looking up menus and digging through grainy black-and-white pictures in online archives so I could add verisimilitude to every scene. When Alice complains of her debut’s flat lemon punch or writes home about the gold filigreed fingernail sheaths she received from China’s Empress Dowager Cixi (which she later turned into a brooch), it’s because those were real things she experienced!

I was also fortunate to visit Alice’s childhood home at Sagamore Hill, to hear from National Park rangers about how the energetic family used the main hall’s fireplace as a spot to store their tennis rackets and how the children used to play hide-and-seek in the massive bathtub upstairs, which they aptly dubbed the Sarcophagus. In addition, the Library of Congress also allowed me to peruse many of Alice’s letters and diaries, plus one of Theodore Roosevelt’s famed doodle letters to his daughter. (They actually let me hold them with my bare hands!) It’s my hope that walking where Alice walked and seeing what she would have seen, plus reading her actual words has helped me capture what it was like to be her so I could pass that on to my readers.

A brief excerpt:

I ran an admiring hand over the car’s sleek twelve-horsepower wagonette body, rimmed by cherry-red wheels that begged to race. The speed gauge inside went all the way to a jaw-dropping fifty miles an hour, which promised an exciting caper from the train’s plodding pace. Plus, a news story covering my driving escapades might put to rest Father and Mother’s hysterics over those same papers reporting my five recent engagements. (Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s assertion that my suitors were as numerous as Penelope’s wooers from The Odyssey made me want to retch; I didn’t even know one of the men the papers claimed as my fiancé, and others speculated I might end up with cousin Franklin. I’d sooner have had all my fingernails pulled off and fed to me.)

Many thanks, Stephanie. I’m sure readers will be thrilled with American Princess.

American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt by Stephanie Thornton … releasing March 2019

Alice may be the president’s daughter, but she’s nobody’s darling. As bold as her signature color Alice Blue, the gum-chewing, cigarette-smoking, poker-playing First Daughter discovers that the only way for a woman to stand out in Washington is to make waves–oceans of them. With the canny sophistication of the savviest politician on the Hill, Alice uses her celebrity to her advantage, testing the limits of her power and the seductive thrill of political entanglements.

But Washington, DC is rife with heartaches and betrayals, and when Alice falls hard for a smooth-talking congressman it will take everything this rebel has to emerge triumphant and claim her place as an American icon. As Alice soldiers through the devastation of two world wars and brazens out a cutting feud with her famous Roosevelt cousins, it’s no wonder everyone in the capital refers to her as the Other Washington Monument–and Alice intends to outlast them all.

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.