10 Books to Recommend

A Writer of History is NOT a book blog – however, I have written reviews from time to time on books I’ve chosen to read or books selected by one of my book clubs. Below are ten to recommend with links to each more detailed review.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – I powered through this novel in two and a half very satisfying days. The story is “based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.”

Educated by Tara Westover – Book club unanimously endorsed Tara Westover’s well-received novel of growing up in a survivalist Mormon home in the hills of Idaho.The words used to describe it included: compelling, horrifying, unbelievable, shocking, inspiring, and head shaking.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan – author Patti Callahan has written a poignant and clear-eyed story about these two well-known writers and I had the pleasure of reading the novel for an article published by the Historical Novel Society.

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin – This compelling look at two famous women – actor Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion – entertains and informs while transporting readers to the magical kingdom of the movie industry. Highly recommended.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng – the verdict at book club was resoundingly in favour of this powerful novel of memory and forgetting, war and peace, love and hate, which was nominated for the Man Booker prize.

The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George On every dimension – superb writing, feeling immersed in time and place, characters both heroic and human, authenticity, and compelling plot – The Splendor Before the Dark is a winner.

My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie Beginning in 1777 with a victory against the British at Saratoga, My Dear Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton through the eyes of his wife Eliza. Superb historical fiction.

Mary – Tudor Princess by Tony Riches – I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Mary Tudor, sister to Henry VIII. The history is fascinating and Tony’s superb writing brings Mary’s character to life with a strong and sympathetic voice.

The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson – This work of non-fiction “chronicles a glorious English summer a century ago when the world was on the cusp of irrevocable change … That summer of 1911 a new king was crowned and the aristocracy was at play, bounding from one house party to the next. But perfection was not for all. Cracks in the social fabric were showing.”

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – In the two years since reading The Alice Network, I’ve recommended it to dozens of people. Why? Because it grabbed me from the very start and wouldn’t let go. And what special ingredients does it have? Flawed, heroic, and intriguing characters – check. Tension that builds and builds – check. A superb sense of history and setting – check. Strong writing – check. An immersive experience – check. A flawless weaving of two timelines – check. What more could you ask for?

I hope some of these add to your reading piles! If you have feedback on any of them, please add your voice to the comments.

FOR MORE 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 Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Garden of Evening Mists

My Toronto book club discussed Tan Twan Eng’s THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS last week. The verdict was resoundingly in favour of this powerful novel of memory and forgetting, war and peace, love and hate. Although there were points of criticism, most felt the writing style – particularly the descriptive portions, and there are a lot of those – is evocative and beautifully done. The novel is atmospheric and restrained. No one was surprised that it had been nominated for the Man Booker prize.

There was some debate about the main character, Judge Teoh Mun Ling, whose story drives the novel. Some found her persona rather flat while others appreciated her reserve, her passion and the strength she portrays. We see her during WWII and the occupation of Malaysia (then Malaya) by the Japanese when she was a prisoner of war, during the communist insurgency that followed and later in life when she confronts and records her past.

Memories I had locked away have begun to break free, like shards of ice fracturing off an arctic shelf. In sleep, these broken floes drift toward the morning light of remembrance.

Nakamura Aritomo – the other main character – intrigued our reading group. A former gardener to the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, he’s austere, dedicated, enigmatic, passionate, and a master at designing and building gardens that reflect the landscape and deceive the eye. He’s also a master tattooist, a skill that ultimately becomes an unexpected twist in the story.

In terms of criticism, some thought the story moved too slowly and that the multiple time periods and large group of characters were confusing. One of our members felt the book should have been edited down at least 50 pages, if not more. Two people chose not to finish the novel. And there was considerable discussion of the rather flat voice of the narrator – Mun Ling.

Everyone agreed that we’d learned a lot about WWII in that part of the world along with the hardship and brutality suffered during Japanese occupation and appreciated the opportunity to read a novel set in such a different part of the world.

As for me, I’m giving it 4 stars on the Goodreads scale. I believe it’s a novel that deserves to be read slowly and I suspect that I would get even more from the story if I were to read it a second time.

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.

Books Books Books

What do all these books have in common? And no, the answer isn’t that I’ve read them all 🙂

five-novels

  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Tightrope by Simon Mawer
  • The Ten Thousand Things: A Novel by John Spurling
  • Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
  • Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  • The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
  • Day by A.L. Kennedy
  • The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
  • Restless by William Boyd
  • An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer
  • March by Geraldine Brooks
  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones
  • Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
  • On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanigan
  • The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
  • Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
  • The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck
  • The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
  • In America by Susan Sontag
  • Pure by Andrew Miller

Yes, you’re right. All are historical fiction (although a few weave in present day portions). And yes, all have won major literary prizes including the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction, the Pulitzer prize, the Man Booker prize, the National Book Award and the Costa Book Award.

What can they tell us about successful historical fiction? I’ll be working on that – just as soon as I finish the last round of edits on my current manuscript.

In the meantime, if you’ve read one, two or more of them, let me know why you think they were chosen for awards and what makes them successful.

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, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. 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.