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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.)

 

 

Happy Holidays/Looking Forward to 2019

 

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I hope everyone has been enjoying the holiday season.

2018 was a big year: retirement, selling a house and moving, signing two book contracts.

TWO book contracts?! It’s not something I ever thought would happen, but it did.

The first contract was the result of long-term planning. I’d started on a biography of mega-star Dale Evans about ten years ago, then set it aside to work on Angels of the Underground. About a year or so ago, I began working with my agent to draft a proposal for the Evans book, which was picked up by Lyons Press. Right now it has the working title of Queen of the West.

Dale Evans 5

The second contract was a matter of serendipity. A book editor had an idea and approached my agent about having me take on the project. This book is about Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. She was a physician with the Union army during the Civil War and spent some time as a prisoner of the Confederacy. Plus she was a major figure in the women’s rights movement, but other prominent women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton tried to erase her from the movement’s history because of her radical views.

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I love both of these book projects. Through the first half of 2019, there will be more here about Mary Walker and her exploits, as well as about my own writing and publishing journey. Then Walker will gradually be replaced by updates about Dale Evans.

First, though, I will be posting about my favorite books from 2018, both fiction and nonfiction. Look for those entries over the next week or so.

And a reminder for those of you who can’t get enough of narrative nonfiction, I co-administer a great group on Facebook called Nonfiction Fans. Come join us. You can also follow the group on Twitter @nonfictionfans.

 

 

Well I have been & gone & have done it!

voting

For me, this isn’t an unusual occurrence. I vote. I couldn’t wait until I turned eighteen so I could vote. While I was growing up, my mother served as an election judge. For several years our house was a polling place. I majored in political science and history as an undergrad, so I studied elections. As a history professor, I taught about voting rights and elections.

I retired last spring and moved to a new town this summer, which meant I had to register to vote again. I decided to wait until Wisconsin began early voting for this election cycle so I could take care of the registration and voting at the Municipal Building.

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I made sure I had my driver’s license and a couple of documents with my new address on them. I was aware of how easy the process was for me. It was no problem to gather the forms of i.d. required by the state. I had the time to go when the office was open. I know this isn’t the case for many eligible voters across the country.

So I was once again reminded of the long struggle for voting rights in the United States. The 14th and 15th Amendments were supposed to guarantee voting rights for African American men, but Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan violence effectively prevented that until the federal government finally stepped in during the 20th century.

And those amendments ignored women’s voting rights, which weren’t secured until the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. That amendment, too, didn’t guarantee that black women could vote.

Every time I vote, I think of Alice Paul and all the other suffragists who went on hunger strikes in 1917, risking their lives, for the suffrage cause.

Yesterday, I also thought about Susan B. Anthony, who tested the limits of the 14th Amendment, a strategy known as the New Departure. Suffragists argued that the amendment’s gender-neutral citizenship definition automatically conveyed voting rights to women. So in 1872, Anthony and several other women in Rochester, New York went out and voted.* With great enthusiasm she wrote to her political partner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “Well I have been & gone & have done it!”

I keep thinking about the exuberance of Anthony’s words as I remember the risks she and all the other suffragists took. The least we can do to honor them is to go out and vote.

 

*Two weeks later, Anthony was arrested and put on trial for illegal voting. She was quickly found guilty but never paid the fine.

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150 Years of Little Women

One hundred fifty years ago, Louisa May Alcott published a charming, heartfelt story about four sisters growing up in the mid-1800s.

Image result for little women 1868

Alcott was one of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of women who put pen to paper in an attempt to earn a living. In 1855, Nathaniel Hawthorne referred to them as a “damned mob of scribbling women.” He worried about the competition from popular female novelists like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fanny Fern, Catharine Sedgwick, and E.D.E.N. Southworth.

Yet, with the possible exception of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, none of the works of these authors remains as relevant or as well known as Little Women.

Literary scholar Anne Boyd Rioux’s new book explains, in clear and accessible prose, exactly why.

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Published earlier this month by W.W. Norton in advance of the anniversary, it has been widely reviewed and highly praised, and deservedly so. Rioux begins with the history of Little Women, explaining how Alcott came to write it and how readers reacted to it in 1868. (Spoiler alert: it was extremely popular.) In the second part of the book, Rioux discusses the various stage and screen (both large and small) adaptations. It was also dramatized several times on radio.  The third part covers Little Women‘s continuing importance today. Two of my favorite chapters in the book come from this section, where Rioux examines girlhood and character types, then compares the novel to contemporary stories aimed at girls, like Gilmore Girls.

So treat yourself. Reread (or experience for the first time) Alcott’s classic. But don’t forget to pair it with Anne Boyd Rioux’s thoughtful and entertaining analysis of 150 years of Little Women.