Good, great and excellent historical fiction (IMHO)

I enjoy good historical fiction if it pulls you right in – to the time period, to the conflict, to the characters. Aside from learning historic facts and geographical details, I love being made to feel as if I am there, experiencing in real time what the protagonist is. Here are a few of my recent reads.

Good, Excellent, Great

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (342 pages, published 2017) – It sounds like this was a big bestseller last year among lovers of historical fiction. I liked it but didn’t love it. It is based on an evil woman in the 1930’s in Memphis who basically stole babies and children and re-sold them. The story is told in mystery-format, with current-day Avery trying to figure out details about the early life of her grandmother who has dementia. Avery’s story is interspersed with that of a young girl named Rill who in the 1930’s endured abduction from her parents. Good…. It is entertaining and a page-turner, though you can kind of figure out what’s going to happen. Happy to lend, I have the hardcover edition.

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton (319 pages, published in 2017) – Written in diary form by a young Quaker woman in the late 1800’s in Philadelphia and its suburbs. Lilli must cope with her mother’s passing and then pregnancy as an unmarried woman. The book describes in great detail the obstacles women faced, especially poor unwed women. This book pulls you in quickly and is a great read until the end when it starts to drag a little bit. Great! Even with the dragging I recommend it for highlighting this under-studied and under-represented viewpoint of our history. Good for book club discussion…. Let me know if you would like to borrow (paperback!) Thanks to Tim & Amy for the gift of this book!

I was glad for the map on the inside cover of The Winter Soldier. Referred to it several times during the book to understand the geography. But please don’t quiz me!

The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason (336 pages, published 2018) – Set in Eastern Europe during World War I and told from the perspective of a medical student who must quickly shed his bougousie upbringing and training and assume the lead of a medical hospital at a front. There are mysteries, there is a love story, there is resolution (as much as there can be in war-torn Europe). You get to learn more about the demise of the Austro – Hungarian Empire, a little bit more about what’s going on in Russia (there are Cossacks!) It is very well written as the author is a medical doctor and he must have spent an extensive time traveling the area about which he writes. Excellent! I loved it. Still thinking about it. Let me know if you would like to borrow!

Books I Read in 2018 (in no particular order)

Last year I got to 39.5 books, check out what I read.

How many books do we have in common? Please respond in the comments!

Less: Not everybody liked this book but I dug it. Won Pulitzer.
Reservoir 13: Eerie book set in remote English village…. Need to find another by this author.
The Power: Women Take Over, Watch Out. Don’t read much sci fi but this was good…
  1. My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley
  2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  3. The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason
  4. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
  5. Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce
  6. The Man I Never Met: A Memoir by Adam Schefter
  7. Exit West by Mohsin Hamed
  8. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
  9. Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood
  10. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
  11. We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
  12. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
  13. Less by Andrew Sean Greer
  14. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolfs
  15. There There by Tommy Orange
  16. The Pisces by Melissa Broder
  17. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  18. The Leavers by Lisa Ko
  19. A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass
  20. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
  21. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
  22. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  23. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  24. Educated by Tara Westover
  25. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  26. The Revenant by Michael Punke
  27. Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
  28. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
  29. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  30. Good Neighbors by Joanne Serling
  31. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  32. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  33. Tiernan’s Wake by Richard T. Rook
  34. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
  35. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  36. Catapult by Emily Fridlund
  37. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  38. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
  39. Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

and then 39 1/2 is Black Klansman which I read half-way and then lent to my 13 year old friend…. finish it when I get it back!

Asymmetry – Worth the Read?

I eagerly started Asymmetry after having read about it on several Best-of-2018 lists. It’s broken into 3 parts, and the author is credited with achieving something magnificent and awe-inspiring.

I have to admit that while I enjoyed the 3 parts – I sure didn’t get the significance of her accomplishment on the first read-through!

I devoured the first section, written about the May-December romance between an older famous writer and the younger editor. Loved the NYC setting and the jaunts to the vacation home. Loved how his idiosyncrasies and age/illness pervaded their relationship.

The second section is written from a totally different perspective & set in a different time & place. Written in flashbacks while the narrator is detained in immigration control, it’s a compelling story about an man trying to return to Iraq to find his brother.

The third & final section is short… I won’t give too much away. It is an interview with a character from the first Section. I honestly didn’t get the connection between all three sections until I read a few reviews (NPR’s and NYT’s).

Bottom Line –  Borrow My Copy, Put on your 2019 List!

Read it for the enjoyment of each section. It’s OK if you don’t get “it” until you look it up & read about it. This is a book you’ll be thinking about it for days maybe weeks afterwards. You’ll be glad you read it, I know I am.


Lisa Halliday Credit Phil Soheili
Lisa Halliday in NYT Review, credit Phil Soheili

How to Begin to Enjoy Elena Ferrante without Reading My Brilliant Friend.

Get a taste of Elena Ferrante by reading The Lost Daughter.

Don’t let the cover freak you out.

If you tried to get into My Brilliant Friend but just couldn’t do it, I highly recommend trying The Lost Daughter. It’s like a small dose of Elena Ferrante that you can delve into without 1,681 pages of extra intricate characters, relationships, families, feuds, and nicknames. 

The Lost Daughter is 140 pages long. It pulled me right in so I’m reading it quickly. That’s right, I haven’t finished yet. But I will soon and it will keep me on track for 52 books this year.

You can borrow it when I’m done! Or get a copy at Words, where I found mine.

UPDATE: I finished it! You really get into the narrator’s mind as she wrestles with the struggles of motherhood and sense of self.