Coming Soon to My Bookshelf

This may be the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered a book. (And the whole “pre-order” thing still confuses me. If you put something in your cart, pay for it, and arrange for it to be shipped, haven’t you, in fact, ordered it?)

I wanted to make sure I was among the very first to get a copy of Pamela Toler’s latest:

The cover alone makes me want to read it. The image is stunning and the title is strong. This book is about women–not girls or wives or daughters. And the “Unexpected History” points out that women have been left out of so much history.

In about two weeks this will be added to my bookshelf. I hope you consider adding it to yours. You can find it on Amazon, Beacon Press, IndieBound, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Advertisements

Into the Research Rabbit Hole with Samuel J. May, Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Advocate

Today launches the first in a series of occasional posts about something most writers of history are familiar with: falling down the research rabbit hole.

Image result for down the research rabbit hole

While I’ve gotten better at making sure it doesn’t become a bottomless pit, I always look forward to these jaunts that reveal something intriguing about my main subject. Today I’ve been working on a chapter of my book about Dr. Mary Walker, a 19th-century reformer and the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Image result for dr. mary edwards walker

One of the many people she interacted with was a Unitarian minister named Samuel J. May. An 1820 graduate of the Harvard Divinity School, May fully embraced the new Unitarian theology, which emphasized the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. He was committed to putting this ideology into action and actively participated in a variety of antebellum reforms, including temperance, education, labor, and abolition. In 1830, May met William Lloyd Garrison and went on to serve as a lecturer for the New England Anti-Slavery Society. May eventually accepted a position at the Unitarian Church of the Messiah in Syracuse, New York, about forty miles south of Mary Walker’s hometown of Oswego. There, May’s abolition work expanded to assisting the underground railroad.

Image result for Samuel J. May

The Reverend Samuel May began promoting women’s rights with his November 1845 sermon, The Rights and Condition of Women, which was subsequently printed and widely circulated. Beginning with quotes from Genesis (“In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him, male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam.”) and Galatians (“There is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”), he called for gender equality and women’s suffrage.

Image result for Samuel J. May the rights and condition of women

Exactly how and why Mary Walker and Samuel May knew each other will be explained in my book. And for those of you who think the surname May sounds familiar, the reforming reverend’s other claim to fame is that he was the uncle of Louisa May Alcott.

 

 

What I Read in 2018, Part 3

Happy 2019 everyone! I wish you all good things in the new year.

Image result for 2019

To finish up reviewing my 2018 year in reading, I turn to my favorite nonfiction books. Remember, these are books I read in 2018, though they may not have been published that year. Mostly absent from this list are the books I read for discussions on Nonfiction Fans on Facebook. (If you read a lot of narrative nonfiction, please join us over there. It’s a great group.) I have to learn to keep better track of those books.

Most of the nonfiction listed below is historical and most are written by women. Here they are, in the order in which I read them:

Gay writes beautifully about difficult topics.

A page-turning historical mystery.

A first-rate historical biography.

I hate cold weather but can’t get enough of stories about polar exploration. And in case you’ve missed Shapiro’s book, it’s now out in paperback.

A fascinating story, though I wish it had been more tightly edited.

The historical story of Barbara Follett was particularly interesting.

Reading this is the best way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women.

This is a beautiful book. Anyone who loves books and libraries will want to read it.

A highly readable account of the history of Jamestown.

Another fascinating book for book lovers, this one focuses on the history of paper.

Now, on to more books.

 

What I Read in 2018, Part 2

I read twelve books in 2018 that I really liked. Female authors are heavily represented in this list. I know I said in the last post that one male author would make an appearance on this list, but I decided at the last minute to add a few more books, so there are actually two and a half men. The half is because of Charles Todd, who is actually a mother/son writing team.

So here they are, in kind of an eclectic arrangement.

The two novels that had the most interesting structures to go along with their stories were

I loved the way Louisa Hall got into the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

and

I know everyone was talking about this book last year. I avoided it for a while because of all the hype, worried that it wouldn’t live up to it. I liked it, especially Saunders’s style.

Two other works of historical fiction I really liked were

A lovely take on the civil rights movement.

Transcription: A Novel by [Atkinson, Kate]

Nice World War II spy drama, though the twist didn’t quite work for me.

My two favorite family stories were

Stunning characters.

and

I have to admit I picked up Lee’s book for its brilliant cover, but I stayed for the story.

The rest of my favorites were the latest installments in mystery series that I follow.

Paretsky is still at the top of her game.

The most chilling title of the year.

The Maisie Dobbs series keeps getting better because of Winspear’s excellent work with character development.

Ian Rutledge is still a favorite character.

I never not want to know what Peter Ash is up to.

Ah, that little village.

Up next, nonfiction of 2018.

 

 

What I Read in 2018, Part I

2018 proved to be an interesting year for reading. For me, it was not a year of lots of totally amazing books, but I did read lots of good books. My 2018 books are the ones I read in 2018, though they may not have been published that year.

Today’s post is about the novels I rated with 5 stars on GoodReads. That means I found them exceptional and continued to think about them long after I finished reading.

Image result for 5 stars

A few observations about these 5-star novels. First, all the authors are women. This isn’t unusual for me. Many years ago I began making a conscious effort to read more women, and now it’s a rare thing for me to pick up a book by a man. I haven’t been doing all that great with racial diversity, though I’m trying to be more conscious of that, too.

Second, all but one of the 5-star novels is a work of historical fiction. This also isn’t unusual. I love historical fiction, and it’s always my go-to choice for reading.

Third–and this is unusual–I gave 5 stars to only four novels this year. Most years I’ve struggled to keep it to a manageable ten, but there was a real dearth of novels I truly adored this year. But as you’ll see in the next post, I liked many novels.

So, what are those four great books? Here they are, in the order in which I read them.

Image result for an american marriage

New York Times bestseller, Oprah’s book club–Tayari Jones’s stellar novel deserves every accolade it garnered. Brilliant characters, expert plotting. A lovely, haunting novel about the possibilities and limits of love and marriage.

I don’t know why it took me so long to find this book. Maybe I noticed it because of this year’s big anniversary of the publication of Little Women. Kelly McNees did a wonderful job of re-imagining a part of Louisa May Alcott’s life without turning the historical Alcott into an ahistorical character. I’m very, very picky about historical fiction that features a recognizable historical person, and McNees hit all the right notes.

White Houses by Amy Bloom

Ironically, Kelly McNees also published a novel this year about Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, called Undiscovered Country. I haven’t read it yet because I want to put a lot of distance between that and Amy Bloom’s incredible novel that delves into the same relationship. I didn’t want this book to end. After all the nonfiction accounts I’ve read of Roosevelt, Bloom’s fictional version makes her come alive.

I had no intention of reading this novel. All the hype made me suspicious, and I’m not a big fan of dual timeline plots. But it was on the new book shelf at the library, so I figured I might as well give it a try. It is marvelous story about the far-reaching consequences of the AIDS crisis, and it’s sad and a bit sentimental without being sappy or mawkish.

Next up, a longer list of novels that I liked. (One male author makes an appearance.)