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 Biography Continuum

I’ve recently read two biographies – one on Clementine Churchill and another on Wallis Simpson. Actually the second is labelled fictional biography which brings me to the point of today’s post: the biography continuum.

In a post called Three Flavours of Historical Fiction, I suggested a taxonomy for historical fiction to illustrate the varying ways novels adhere to historical fact, present historical characters, and present historical detail. And what can be said about biographies of historical figures?

historical-biography-continuum

 

The facts, the facts: Some biographies – the one on Penelope Fitzgerald is an example – adhere so strictly to fact that the reader can discover the name of an individual’s favourite stuffed animal or their preferred brand of tea and likely both. No doubt I’m doing an injustice to Hermione Lee, however, the detail in this biography was so dense and, to my mind, irrelevant, I did not read past Penelope Fitzgerald’s early life. Alternatively, Patton: Blood, Guts and Prayer by Michael Keane weaves facts drawn from biographies, family papers, speeches, and Patton’s personal diaries to illustrate the complexities of this famous soldier while building a compelling picture of dedication and leadership.

Story elements: Some biographers incorporate a sense of story to the biography, captivating readers with a more selective approach to their subject’s biography and creating a story arc (to borrow a concept from fiction) that includes tension, conflict and rich character development. Sonia Purnell might be offended but I’ve put her biography of Clementine Churchill in this category. One aspect Purnell is particularly adept at is creating dialogue using actual words from the extensive correspondence between Clementine and Winston as well as friends and other family members.

Fictional biography: With fictional biography, authors more freely imagine aspects of their subject’s life to weave a novel from the facts. We might think of the facts as the background and the story as the foreground. The Shadow Queen by Rebecca Dean includes so much detail of Wallis Simpson’s life, I actually thought I was reading a biography for the first several chapters. Alternatively, when reading Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, I had no doubt I was in the grip of fiction.

I enjoy biographies and have been totally engrossed by many over the years. What are your thoughts and preferences?

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.