Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My Books of 2018

I read 98 books in 2018, just a few more than usual, almost two per week. I can't stand not having a book going -- as soon as I finish one, I have to have the next one waiting. This year I had many books that I put on hold at my local library. Recommendations came from my daughter, my friend Pat and other friends, and random articles on-line.

Several of my favorite authors had new books in their series this year and none disappointed:  Alexander McCall Smith's A Time of Love and Tartan (44 Scotland Street), The Quiet Side of Passion (Isabel Dalhousie), The Colors of All the Cattle (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency), and The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse (stand-alone), were all enjoyed. How can this man continue to produce so many wonderful readable books? Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs has moved into World War II in To Die But Once. Lucinda Riley's Star Sister series book The Pearl Sister went with CeCe to Australia. This series is fascinating, the stories of seven sisters adopted by a wealthy man. When he dies, they each get clues to trace their backgrounds. Each book is part historical novel about the daughter's ancestors, part modern story of her connecting with her past.

I read very little nonfiction, but two books enriched my year: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot was a wonderful story about the woman whose cancer cells have been used in much medical research and A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa was a first-person narrative of a half-Korean, half-Japanese man who escaped from North Korea after many harrowing years.

Somehow I ended up reading several books set on ships, including Elizabeth Blackwell's On a Cold Dark Sea, about three Titanic survivors who reconnect after 20 years; The Last Cruise by Kate Christenson, a cook, a musician and a farmer's wife on a doomed cruise to Hawaii; Ruta Sepetys's Salt to the Sea, survivors near the end of WWII; The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, a murder mystery set on a small cruise ship; and The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White, set on the Lusitania.

My friend Stephen Alter had two new books this year, both very enjoyable. In the Jungles of the Night is about Jim Corbett, vignettes of three different times in his life rather than a standard biography. The Dalliance of Leopards is the second in a mystery series set in Mussoorie whose hero is spymaster Colonel Afridi.

I particularly enjoy historical novels. Some of the ones I most enjoyed this year:

•Thalassa Ali: A Singular Hostage, A Beggar at the Gate, and Companions of Paradise (1838 young Englishwoman in northwest India and Kabul becomes involved with native man)
•Lauren Belfer:  And After the Fire (Bach manuscript in Berlin, Weimar, and modern New York)
•Rhys Bowen: In Farleigh Field and The Tuscan Child (WWII in England and Italy)
•Camille DeMaio: The Way of Beauty (German and Italian immigrants around Penn Station in the early 20th century)
•Jamie Ford: Love and Other Consolation Prizes (1909 Seattle World's Fair, Chinese boy auctioned off)
•Charles Frazier: Varina (story of the Confederate First Lady)
•Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb: Last Christmas in Paris (WWI letters from a woman to her brother's friend)
•Sally Gunning: The Widow's War (1761 widow fights to control her life and property)
•Ariel Lawhorn: I Was Anastasia (telling the story backwards and forwards)
•Susan Ella MacNeal: Mr. Churchill's Secretary and Princess Elizabeth's Spy (young American woman gets involved in espionage in WWI London)
•Sujata Massey: Widows of Malabar Hill (Parsi woman lawyer in 1921 Bombay gets involved in purdah wives and murder)
•Susan Meissner: As Bright as Heven (family lives in funeral home, goes through 1918 flu epidemic)
•Madeline Miller: Circe (amazing tale of the goddess in her own words)
•Bradford Morrow: The Prague Sonata (possible Beethoven manuscript separated and lost through WWII)
•Paul Gill: The Secret Wife (Tatiana, supposedly murdered with her family [Tsar Nicholas], survived)
•Deanna Raybourn: A Curious Beginning and A Perilous Undertaking (intrepid Victorian woman becomes an explorer and solves mysteries)
•Aimee K. Runyan: Daughters of the Night Sky (Russian women pilots in WWII)
•Natasha Solomons: Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English (Jewish immigrant attempts to become the perfect English gentleman)
•Mark Sullivan: Beneath a Scarlet Sky (amazing story of Italian boy/man in WWII)
•Amor Towles: A Gentleman in Moscow (Russian aristocrat sentenced to life in a hotel after the revolution)

And some modern novels I can recommend:

•Lisa Genova: Every Note Played (concert pianist dying of ALS, ex-wife takes over care) and Inside the O'Briens (Boston cop gets Huntington's Disease, family fallout)
•Jonas Jonasson: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (hilarious tale of a man who was involved in many 20th-century happenings)
•Julie Kibler: Calling Me Home (wonderful story of elderly white woman and her black hairdresser traveling to Cincinnati for a funeral)
•Mary Robinette Kowal: The Calculating Stars (alternate history where a woman wants to become an astronaut in the 1950s)
•Jojo Moyes: Still Me (Louisa moves to NYC, wonderful follow-up to Me Before You)
•Kathleen Rooney: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (writer walks NYC on New Year's Eve 1984, remembering her remarkable life)
•Marcella Serano: Ten Women (ten Chilean women describe their lives)
•Michael Zadoorian: The Leisure Seeker (she has cancer, he has Alzheimer's, and they head west in their camper for a last adventure, to the horror of their children)

If you like to read and want more recommendations, check out my daughter's blog at http://www.anjviola.com. She reads much more than I do and posts her list at the first of every month.