In the Chinese calendar, 2019 is The Year of the Pig which isn’t the best metaphor to think about my reading pile from the past three months. My list and recommendations are far from slovenly. Perhaps a better idiom choice, as I write from the start of mud season in New Hampshire, would be I’ve been as happy as a pig in mud reading most of the ten books pictured. Each book falls into one of three categories: NCL Book Club selection, research for my WIP and pleasure reading choice of my own.
Following are my recommendations and reviews for each title. I hope one will spark your interest and you’ll pick it up, or hit PLAY on an audible book. From left to right and top to bottom.
Man Proposes by Eliot H. Robinson. Read for Research, hardcover. Pure coincidence that one of my grandfather’s novels is first. If you want to read this one, I suggest you borrow a copy from me or one of my brothers. There is a $28 paperback copy available on Amazon, but I would not recommend anyone spend $28 on this sappy romance novel. Sorry grandfather, but Danielle Steele-esque is not one of my favorite go-to genres. Add on the dense style of writing in 1916 where one sentence can comprise an entire paragraph and I felt like a member of the younger generation seeking instant gratification for the chapter to end. Instead I had to plow through the 359 pages since family myth holds this book of his was partially auto-biographical. The main character is a Harvard educated lawyer (like my grandfather) who is sent to Newport to investigate a pending divorce case. There are enough nuggets of ideas, however, that I’ve been able to adapt and adopt into my WIP loosely based on his wife, my grandmother. RATING **
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Read for Book Club, Audible. When I started Eleanor which was read with a British accent (book is set in Glasgow Scotland), I feared it would be a re-hash of Bridget Jones which I did not enjoy as a whiny, unlikeable character. As the book unfolded, Ms. Honeyman gave us a character that you want to reach out and hug tight. Eleanor is not completely fine, even though she tells us repeatedly she is, which is of course the irony of the book. She is a deeply damaged soul and a loner who makes you laugh without her having any intention of wanting to make you laugh. The Mommy Dearest character is pure evil. The voiceover in the Audible version sends chills down your spine. I’m sure if I had read the words, it would have been the same. I could consider this a research book as well for Honeyman’s expertise in character development. RATING *****
Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. Read for Book Club, Kindle, Re-Read for Pleasure, Audible. I didn’t plan this visual very well. My two 5-starred reviews are showing up one after the other. I loved Scarlet Sky when I read it last fall with my book club. Although it is another WWII historical fiction which has been one of the hottest topics for recent publishing, I devoured the story of Pino Lella, a 17-year old boy who becomes a man in Milan at the height of the War. This is not a coming of age story. This is the remarkable true story of love, loss, patriotism, espionage, faith, sympathy and familial ties. Knowing the story and Jim’s interests in books, I chose Scarlet Sky as our drive to and from Florida book on tape. Fair warning – it is 524 pages. We needed the entire drive down and back to finish it. Jim was equally amazed with the story, and we’ve already sent a copy to his brother for his birthday. RATING *****
The Farm by Joanne Ramos. Read for Pleasure, hardcover. Facebook may be under fire these days for jeopardizing our privacy, but for now, I’ll continue to use it for maintaining and making connections with friends, my writing community and reading groups I’ve joined. One page I discovered and recommend is #ReadingwithRobin. Robin Kall Homonoff has a dream job if you ask me, talk show host, influencer and author event producer. Through following her page, I entered a giveaway for an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of The Farm which is set for release on May 7th, hmm, the week before Mother’s Day. Coincidence? I think not. The Farm is the satirical name given to a maternity lodge (?) where surrogates, or hosts, reside while awaiting the birth of their client’s baby. The chapters alternate in POV and plot line between four main characters: two hosts, the manager of “the farm” and the aunt of one of the hosts. If you liked The Handmaid’s Tale, I think you’ll be even more intrigued with The Farm, it’s closer to reality than the fiction of Handmaid’s. I’ll be interested to see the formal release and how Robin promotes the book around Mother’s Day. I have the same marketing strategy on my list, tying my publication date to a significant event. RATING ****
Pachinko by Min Jee Lee. Read for Book Club, Kindle. I was away in FLA for our meeting to discuss Pachinko and I missed what I’m sure was an insightful conversation like all of our meetings. Another 500+ page book which had a few unnecessary sections which if cut would have made the book flow better. There were extraneous characters brought in and then disappeared quickly. They did not move the plot forward as my writing professor would say. And yet, it was nominated as a National Book Finalist. Go figure. I always enjoy learning about new cultures and the setting which takes you from Korea to Japan prior and during WWII was interesting. I was hoping there would have been a deeper examination of life in Japan during the war, but there isn’t. The main character, Sunja and her family go to live on a farm sheltered from the war with the exception of her brother-in-law being injured by the atomic bomb drop in Hiroshima. RATING ***
A Well Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. Read for Research, hardcover. I’m glad I was able to borrow this one from my local library. I wouldn’t have wanted to waste even one of my Audible credits on it. I had posted a question in my Facebook Historical Fiction Lovers group for recommendations about life at the turn of the century. While the accuracy and detail helped me a bit with scenes to be set in Newport and the shallow characters found there, I was disappointed the book ended right when life was getting interesting for Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont. I would have been much more interested in how she went on to become involved in the suffragette movement than the intricacies of marrying her daughter off to British nobility and staging the ultimate parties in Newport and on Fifth Avenue. RATING **
News of the World by Paulette Jiles. Read for Book Club, hardcover. Another National Book Award Finalist and in my opinion, more deserving as reflected in the great discussion we had about this gentle story of a man and young girl traversing the Republic of Texas in the late 1800s. Jiles created a seamless story where the friendship between the two main characters is believable and not in any way perverted. The bonus was learning about the politics of the wild west of Texas before statehood and the occupation the main character, Captain Jefferson Kidd, who reads the newspaper aloud in small towns to an illiterate population. RATING ****
Eliza Waite by Ashley Sweeney. Read for Pleasure and Research, paperback. Previously reviewed in February: I Love My Village. I can’t wait to meet Ashley at our shared Wheaton reunion in May. RATING ****
The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Read for Research, paperback. I had a copy of this controversial novel on my shelf from last year meaning to read it for research. When I noticed how well Ashley had referenced it in Eliza Waite as a pivotal read for women in the 1890s, I knew my character Eliza would need to read it as well as a New Woman. Chopin uses one phrase which she brings in within the first few pages of the book and then repeats it at the end, The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude. This phrase sums up the book. Edna Pointellier, the wife of a wealthy New Orleans businessman contemplates her life and its meaning with tragic consequences. RATING ****
The Scarlet Plague by Jack London. Read for Research, Kindle. What book might my Eliza be reading in 1912? Who would have thought it would be a short story first published in The London Times as a serial by Jack London, author of the White Fang and Call of the Wild? Eliza is surprised as well. But as a doctor, she finds the storyline intriguing. A plague has nearly destroyed the world’s population. The Scarlet Plague exemplifies a versatility for London as a writer to compose such divergent themes. Even more interesting, London wrote the story in 1912, just six years before the Spanish influenza epidemic took the lives of 30 million people world-wide. Did London have a presentiment* this would happen? RATING ***
*Bonus point for me – I used the WORD for March 24th from my WORD OF THE DAY calendar!
Next up on my TBR pile (To Be Read) is another ARC I received from Reading with Robin. I do recommend you follow her for the chance at giveaways and information on upcoming events. I’ve already purchased my ticket to attend the one she is producing in Boston with Martha Hall Kelley for Kelley’s launch of Lost Roses, her prequel to Lilac Girls. More on Lilac Girls, here: Spring’s Eternal Freshness. I’m sure Lost Roses will be another interesting and well-researched novel from Kelley.
I haven’t started Cape May yet, but Robin, you had me at enclosing the martini glass bookmark. Stay tuned for my late June/early July post for a review.
Thank you for reading this post. I invite you to follow my blog and join me on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction. More information in the Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow.