A Year of Reading – Part 2

Following on from Tuesday’s post, here’s the second list of books read during 2016.

read-in-2016

Here’s the rating system I used in 2014 and 2015: LR = light, enjoyable read; GR = good, several caveats; ER = excellent, few caveats; OR = outstanding; DNF = did not finish; NF=Non-Fiction; NMT = not my type.

Jun Windmill Point Jim Stempel ER Highly recommended; tells the story of Cold Harbour and the final months of the American Civil War
Elihu Washburne Michael Hill NF Research: Diary and letters of America’s Minister to France during 1870s siege and commune
My Adventures in the Commune Ernest Alfred Vizetelly NF Research: Vizetelly was a journalist living in Paris during the 1871 Commune
Grace Note: In Hildegard’s Shadow P.J. Parsons ER A novel based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen
Jul A Most Extraordinary Pursuit Juliana Gray (Beatriz Williams) LR Excellent; strong female character, witty dialogue, romance, and many twists and turns
Katherine Anya Seton ER 14th century story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt; A favourite of so many readers, I decided to reread it.
The Private Lives of the Impressionists Sue Roe NF More research on 19th century France
The Hotel on Place Vendome Tilar Mazzeo NF A interesting look at the history of Hotel Ritz in Paris and its role during WWII
Aug Belgravia Julien Fellowes GR Julien Fellowes wrote Downton Abbey – need I say more?
The Mapmakers Children Sarah McCoy GR Dual timeline mystery of the underground railway; one timeline is much better than the other
The Lake House Kate Morton ER Another dual timeline mystery; excellent except for the ending
Clementine Sonia Parnell NF Excellent account of the life of Clementine Churchill; reads like a story
Sept The Other Daughter Lauren Willig LR Very enjoyable; after her mother’s death a woman discovers that her father is still very much alive
In the Skin of a Lion Michael Ondaatje GR Beautiful writing but a very unusual story
Oct Under the Sugar Sun Jennifer Hallock LR A schoolmarm, a sugar baron, a soldier – set in the Philippine-American war; predictable
The Shadow Queen Rebecca Dean NMT The most disappointing aspect of this novel is that it ends just as the relationship between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII begins
Nov Madame Presidentess Nicole Evelina NMT The life of Victoria Woodhull; too much detail and melodrama for my taste
Dec Christmas Bells Jennifer Chiaverini DNF Dual timeline story based on Longfellow’s poem Christmas Bells; IMHO the story was slow and the present day timeline did not work
Alvar The Kingmaker Annie Whitehead GR 10th century England in the turmoil of changing kings; not quite finished

You might be interested in previous lists from 2014 and 2015:

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 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.

The Mapmaker’s Children – A Dual-time Mystery

Shortly after Time and Regret released, I had the good fortune to write a post for mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig‘s blog. The post was called 8 Tips on Writing Dual-Time Mysteries. Let’s see how author Sarah McCoy’s novel The Mapmaker’s Children, which I’ve recently read, stacks up.

Are you telling two stories or one? Each timeline must enhance the other. For me, this is an area where The Mapmaker’s Children disappoints. One storyline deals with Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist, John Brown while the present day story centres on Eden, a woman desperate to conceive a child. The link between the two stories is the house Eden and her husband Jack live in and the head of a porcelain doll she discovers in the root cellar. Unfortunately, Eden’s struggles offer little connection with Sarah’s and the two stories do not enhance one another.

Both timelines have to engage the readers. I found the Sarah Brown story very engaging. The history of that time is rich and the story combines danger and uncertainty with strong emotions and a family torn apart by war and abolitionist sentiments. In comparison, the present-day story seemed simplistic and predictable.

Readers must care deeply about both protagonists. Sarah Brown’s plight engaged my emotions; Eden came across as unreasonable and full of self-pity.

Each protagonist must have a distinct voice. McCoy does a good job of creating distinctive voices for her two protagonist. Eden’s is clearly modern while Sarah Brown’s voice invokes a past time by using different language and sentence structure.

Readers must be clear about which era they’re in at any point in the novel. Beyond distinctive voices, the author makes the timeline clear to the reader by adding the protagonist’s name to each chapter heading. And beyond that, the action and historical references keep the timelines clearly delineated.

Plotting a dual-time mystery is even more complicated than a regular mystery. Because of what occurs in Sarah Brown’s timeline, as readers we know a good deal about the mystery Eden is struggling to solve. Unfortunately, this takes away from the suspense of the story.

Avoid jumping back and forth too frequently. The author handles the balance between the two timelines well.

The rules of excellent historical fiction still apply. Sarah McCoy bring the past to life with a great piece of historical fiction embedded in The Mapmaker’s Children. I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Brown’s part of the story and learned a lot about the underground railroad. In my opinion, the author could have written a brilliant novel solely concerned with the historical piece of the story.

If you’ve read The Mapmaker’s Children, what are your thoughts? If you’ve read other dual-time mysteries that you feel hold up agains these criteria, I’d love to hear about them.

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.