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.)

 

 

Part III: Best Books I Read in 2016

Mothers and daughters. That’s the theme for today’s pair of recommendations.

4 Auguste Reading to Her Daughter impressionism mothers children Mary Cassatt (Mary Cassatt)

The 5-star is:

Image result for the wonder by emma donoghue

Ever since reading Slammerkin I’ve eagerly awaited each new book by Donoghue. I haven’t liked them all, but she always comes up with interesting plots. The Wonder is set in 19th century Ireland where a little girl named Anna O’Donnell seems to be surviving without eating. Lib Wright, a trained nurse from England, is brought in to determine if this is a miraculous event or a clever fraud. Donoghue’s careful portrayal of Lib’s growing closeness to Anna, interlaced with an array of artfully concealed secrets, serves as a meditation on the bond between mothers and daughters.

Very close to 5 stars:

For me, this slender novel narrowly missed 5 stars because I was left wanting a bit more plot. Maybe that’s a testament to Strout’s finely drawn characters. Lucy Barton is in the hospital, her estranged mother comes for a visit, and the family stories flow. It is a marvelous book about mother-daughter love and the power of shaping a story about it.

Tomorrow, the last of my 5-star novels from 2016. Then a few more posts about several other books I liked a lot.

 

The Elegance of Marilynne Robinson’s Lila

lila

Lila is every bit as stunning as Gilead and Home, all part of a trilogy examining religious faith and theology in small town America. (Each book can be read as a stand-alone.) It reminds me of Orfeo–both novels illuminate their subject matter through elegant, precise language with a keen sense of what matters to their characters.

Lila, as many readers will know from the previous books, is the young woman who appears in Gilead, Iowa, circulating at its margins, until she connects with a local minister, John Ames. John has been a widower for decades but he falls for the quiet, mysterious Lila, and the two marry. This is Lila’s story–where she came from, how she survived until she reached Gilead, and what she plans to do when she outlives her husband. Its beauty is quiet and powerful. Robinson is a master.