2015 A Year of Reading – Part 2

Books read 2015On January 6th, I posted 24 of the 40 books read during 2015. So today I’m including the balance using the same rating system: LR = light, enjoyable read; GR = good, several caveats; ER = excellent, few caveats; OR = outstanding; DNF = did not finish; NMT = not my type.

In the process of writing this post, I’ve discovered two additional books read this year. You’ll see them listed at the end.

June The Dream Lover Elizabeth Berg GR Novel about George Sand; back and forth timeline was confusing; events felt repetitive
Mademoiselle Chanel C.W. Gortner ER Coco Chanel in all her glories and contradictions; not quite as compelling as The Queen’s Vow or The Last Queen
Will Poole’s Island Tim Weed ER In 17th century New England, a young man meets a visionary native; Excellent historical fiction
July Death of a Century Daniel Robinson NMT Read for an HNS feature; poorly written
Aug The Ashford Affair Lauren Willig ER A woman uncovers a family mystery; well written page turner
Claude & Camille Stephanie Cowell ER Claude Monet and his first wife Camille; great historical detail of impressionist era
Children of War Martin Walker LR Mystery set in Dordogne; lots of twists and turns; read as audiobook
The Children Act Ian McEwan ER McEwan is a superb writer; this is a poignant tale that is hard to put down
Sept H is For Hawk Helen MacDonald NMT Book club read; memoir; way too much detail on goshawks
Elizabeth I Margaret George OR Elizabeth I in her later years; superb characters and history; the second half is particularly compelling
Oct The Muralist B.A. Shapiro GR Art and intrigue at the beginnings of WWII; distracting dual time structure and multiple voices
Nov Mr. Churchill’s Secretary Susan Elia MacNeal LR Whodunit set in WWI England
Power Play Danielle Steele NMT I’m sure there are fans of Danielle Steele but I’m not one of them; trite and simplistic
The Golden Child Penelope Fitzgerald DNF Quirky people employed at a British museum
Dec Circling the Sun Paula McLain ER Based on the life of Beryl Clutterbuck the first woman to fly across the Atlantic; well written; rich characters & setting
The Secret Chord Geraldine Brooks OR The life of the biblical King David as told by his prophet Natan; historically captivating
Oops– forgot these Purity Jonathan Franzen DNF Annoying characters and thin plot; guess I’m not a Franzen fan
The Lover’s Path Kris Waldherr LR Novella told like a fable

2016 is off to the races with Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay, At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Blakewell which I began in late November, and Paris Reborn by Stephane Kirkland.

Wishing everyone a great year of reading.

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.

Elizabeth I by Margaret George

Elizabeth I by Margaret GeorgeSo many historical fiction authors choose younger men and women to write about, those on the ascendancy of great historical change and their own place in it. In Elizabeth I, Margaret George has chosen to show us a woman at the end of her career—and what a career it was—a woman whose beauty has faded though her wits and passion remain sharp.

The story begins in 1588 when the Spanish Armada is about to launch its first foray against Protestant England. Elizabeth is fifty-five years old and has reigned since 1558. Many of her advisors served her father and her great love, Robert Dudley, is still alive, although married to her cousin Lettice, who has been banished from court in consequence.

George brings the story alive alternating between the voices of Elizabeth I and Lettice, Countess of Essex and of Leicester. Robert Devereux, the second Earl of Essex and son of Lettice becomes the throbbing heart of the story, winning Elizabeth’s affection despite the wide gap in their ages, leveraging that affection for many honours and influential positions, risking it repeatedly through ineptitude and hubris, and ultimately betraying his sovereign with an uprising against the government.

Elizabeth I is a fascinating tale with all the attributes of favourite historical fiction: feeling immersed in time and place, superb writing, characters both heroic and human, authentic and education, and a dramatic arc of historical events. Margaret George’s writing style is indeed superb, weaving facts seamlessly into the story and rarely providing too much detail. And drama? With plenty of drama in the later years of Elizabeth I’s reign to choose from, George keeps our attention focused on Devereux, avoiding tangential, and potentially confusing, episodes.

What affected me most is the view of Elizabeth as a woman striving to live up to her father’s legacy, deeply affected by the death of her mother, strong in her faith, devoted to her people, and passionate about her duty to protect England for future generations. She is a woman who has loved more than once and yet remained unmarried. She is a woman who inspires friendship and loyalty and cares a great deal for those friends and long-serving advisors. Occasionally she allows her heart to rule her head, however, for the most part, she is wise and ultimately willing to make the difficult decisions that serve England’s best interests. Definitely heroic and human.

I enjoyed the episodes featuring William Shakespeare and loved the bits about growing old. Here’s one I noted:

I found myself alert to what others denoted as signs of aging. Sleeping during the day. Walking into a room and forgetting what one has come in there to get. Reminiscing about the golden days of yore and how things have deteriorated since then—the manners of the young, the workmanship of craftsmen, the morals of women. Even if I agreed, I did not voice it.

Elizabeth I is a novel to savour well into the night. It is no wonder Margaret George is one of the top historical fiction authors.

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.