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


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.


Double Trouble #HNS2019

Beatriz Williams and Kate Quinn were obviously having a blast at their session Double Trouble at #HNS2019. The topic was all about crafting the dual timeline historical novel and having written two of them — Time and Regret and the as yet unpublished The Admiral’s Wife — I wanted to hear their advice. They ran the session like a conversation which worked extremely well.

According to Beatriz and Kate, dual timeline novels are hot, and I wonder whether this is because they can appeal to both fans of contemporary and fans of historical novels. But let’s hear from the experts!

BW: a dual timeline story is a dialogue between past and present and as such it connects us to the past

KQ: Kate’s editor suggested writing a dual timeline novel, apparently saying that it had the advantage of getting your books shelved in two spots which will broaden your reach. Kate said that historical fiction is a more difficult sell in the market and that dual timeline makes the ‘sell’ easier.

BW: historical fiction doesn’t feel relevant to many readers; with the present being so challenging (!) and dynamic, many people have less respect for the past. It’s very important to create HF stories that are relevant to readers. Dual timeline has been around for a long time and is a respected structure for a novel.

KQ: there are many varieties of dual timeline. For example, you can position the same character at different points in his/her life. The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams follows that model. The contrast between a character at time A and time B creates tension, interest, questions, and drama.

BW: you can show how the time — the era and its events — affected the character. And the points of inflection in a character’s life. Stories like these are a bit more demanding of the reader. In terms of technique – you can write one narrative at a time or go back and forth between the narratives.

Both: Beatriz prefers to write one narrative at a time in order to feel immersed in the era. Kate said she wrote The Alice Network going back and forth between the narratives. Both said there is no ‘right way’ to do it and you can/should make connections between the timelines as you switch.

BW: every book has its own personality.

KQ: there are various devices to link the timelines. Characters, objects/artifacts, locations, dead bodies, antiques can all serve as links between timelines. Kate mentioned that old letters from the past are a bit overdone as a technique.

On the topic of pitfalls and problems:

BW: you need to ‘get into’ each character with enough depth and detail to give them the richness they deserve and make them come alive.

KQ: in The Huntress, three main characters gave variety in time, setting and character. In the process, this created much more research, challenges with language and slang, and a huge requirement for fact checking.

BW: you need to create difference as well as consistency of voice. She finds this challenge easier if she writes one timeline at a time. Recommends that you create variation in your characters in terms of ages, gender, backgrounds, experiences. As a writer, you need to slip into the being of your character, which in turn will help your readers do the same.

KQ: likes to write ‘fish-out-of-water stories’. For example, a night witch with a Nazi hunter. This technique creates conflict, tension, dissonance. Kate recommends 2000 to 5000 words before switching timelines. She also recommends creating some parallels in points of inflection for each timeline. These become the beats of the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Kate and Beatriz and will take their advice into my next dual timeline! By the way, I’ve read both The Summer Wives and The Huntress – highly recommended and superbly crafted.

If you want more information about dual timeline novels, Susanna Kearsley did a session on them at the 2017 conference. I wrote about it in Weaving the Twin-Stranded Story.

Other posts about #HNS2019: Tips on Writing a Series,  The State of Historical Fiction and When You Don’t Quite Fit.


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.