Best Books of 2018

Books are my inspiration and my solace. No matter how busy I am, I make time to read. It is how I relax and stay sane. Below are the best of the books I read this past year. Intended audience key: MG: for middle grade readers (children ages 8-13), A: for adults.

2018 was the year I discovered N.K. Jemisin (A).

I was blown away by her Broken Earth trilogy (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky), which takes place in a fantasy-earth world where magic controls geology–to a certain extent. Creative and brilliant. You can read here what I wrote about that series in the summer. I also enjoyed Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods. In this world, gods and godlings mix regularly with mortals. The politics of the humans and the gods are elaborate and deadly. Incredible world building. The most appealing thing to me about Jemisin is her use of women and people of color as central, complex characters.

The rest of the books are listed in the order in which I read them:

Unless by Carol Shields (A)

Rita Winter is a mostly happy, forty-something successful Canadian writer whose teenage daughter drops out of university in order to sit in silence on an Ontario street with the sign “goodness,” for reasons nobody understands. Shields’ ability to develop characters, imagine relationships and make a reader care about people is amazing.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead and Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran (A)

Claire DeWitt is a private investigator who obsessively follows the advice of a book she found as a teenager. Something mysterious happened to young Claire and that is slowly revealed as background to the actual mysteries. In the first book Claire is hired to discover what happened to a missing district attorney who may or may not have died during Hurricane Katrina. In the second book, Claire investigates the death of her ex-boyfriend in San Francisco. These mystery novels are strange and dark and, for me, entirely engaging. I eagerly await the next installment.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (A)

In 19th century Ireland, a young girl survives for months without eating. Some call it a miracle, but the church needs “proof.” A skeptical nurse is hired to watch over the child and see if she is eating. Soon the nurse realizes that her watchful eyes could be preventing the secret delivery of food which will eventually cause the girl to die. I found this story fascinating on so many levels: the character development, the religious politics, the plight of women in male-dominated societies, and the discovery that there are many actual historical references to young-girl-not-eating “miracles.”

The Knowledge by Martha Grimes (A)

For years I’ve been a fan of Grimes’ Richard Jury mysteries and this one I found especially good. A murder occurs outside an invitation-only elite gallery/bar, and the alleged culprit immediately escapes to Africa, but he is followed by a young girl who is part of an underground-network of pickpockets, cab drivers, and people watchers. There is a lot going on, and I won’t spoil it. If you haven’t read any Richard Jury novels, I’d suggest reading them all, in order, as part of the fun is catching up with the side characters that are Richard’s friends.

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley (A)

I’ve never met a Kearsley novel that I didn’t whole-heartedly love. This is my new favorite. As usual, there are two parallel stories. A modern day tale of a Canadian archivist who is hired to make a museum of an old Long Island house, allegedly haunted by someone murdered during the French and Indian War. The historical story follows the origin of the ghost story. In the 1700s a family is forced to billet an enemy Canadian solider, and a relationship develops between the soldier and the family’s daughter. But, of course, there is much, much more going on. Kearsley is a master at bringing history to life, at creating complicated and emotional relationships: both romantic and familial, at weaving suspense between past and present, and by being a little bit spooky. A clever and satisfying story.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (MG)

Many people think this may win the 2018 Newbery Award, and I won’t be surprised if it does. I’ll admit the story started slow for me, but then I got caught up in it and couldn’t put it down. Candice finds a clue in her grandmother’s house that could lead to finding a large amount of money for the small South Carolina town where she is currently living. Unfortunately, chasing after this fortune ruined her grandmother’s career and reputation. In a parallel story, we follow the historical injustice that happened in that town and created the inheritance. This is an impressive puzzle-mystery that children will really get into, and it also covers important topics like racial injustice, segregation, divorce, bullying and more. That makes it seem heavy, which it isn’t. It’s a fun read with humor and great characters.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (A)

This is a collection of essays written by Ann Patchett for magazines and newspapers, for speeches given at commencements and conferences. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I love Ann Patchett, so I gave this collection a try. Every story rang true for me. Interesting and engaging and wise. The title comes from one essay– not all the writing is about marriage. Many of the essays involve advice to writers or observations about writing, but Patchett covers many other topics as well.

Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (MG)

This children’s novel takes place in the middle ages and follows the adventures of a hunchback boy who is hired to carry a bag for a pilgrim. They have adventures as they travel and the reader comes to realize there is something unusual about the boy (who doesn’t eat and can talk to animals) and the pilgrim (who is more a thief than a religious person). I cared a great deal for Boy and found this story a lot of fun.

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (MG)

Kate DiCamillo’s writing always draws me in. There is something about her style I find appealing: it’s simple and yet deeply true, personal and heartfelt. This story follows Louisiana, a character from DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale. Louisiana has been raised by her crazy, odd-ball grandmother who, at the beginning of this book, wakes Louisiana in the middle of the night to “run away,” leaving behind all the girl’s adored pets and new friends. An empty gas tank and a toothache cause them to end up in Richford, Georgia, where Louisiana learns much and finds what she needs.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (MG)

Amal’s dreams of becoming a teacher are dashed one day when she doesn’t give up her pomegranate to the richest man in her Pakistani village. He calls in her father’s debts and Amal ends up a servant in the Khan’s household. This is an engaging story with an intelligent and strong protagonist. It took turns both expected and surprising. A well-needed story explaining the indentured servitude that occurs to many young women around the world.

Circe by Madeline Miller (A)

Circe is a daughter of Helios, Titan and god of the sun, and the nymph Perse. My knowledge of Greek mythology and Homer’s The Odyssey is rather mediocre. It was great fun to see the cast of characters I knew (the minotaur, Icarus, Jason) and and did not know (Aeetes, Hera, Scylla) pass through Circe’s story. The writing is beautiful and the character and world development perfect. Great fun.

I’d love to hear what your favorite books are of the past year.

Happy New Year!

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Exciting News: Twice

!ADiscoveredDiamond[1][1]News #1: A month or two ago I mentioned that Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo was named a “diamond” and that a review on the Discovering Diamonds website would be forthcoming. The review is up, and it is lovely.

Syncopation_EcoverNews #2: Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo is now available as an e-book on amazonUS and amazonUK.

If you have already read Syncopation, consider writing a review of it on amazon: all reviews are welcome, whether you loved it or hated it. After all, no book is for everyone, and shoppers should know if it is a good match for them or not.

 

 

A Book Series You Must Read!

broken earth books

I’m not waiting until my “best books of the year” post to tell you about a series I just finished, N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. This is one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read–and I read a lot of fantasy! The first book in the series, The Fifth Season, won the Hugo Award in 2016. The second book, The Obelisk Gate, won the Hugo Award in 2017, and the final book of the trilogy, The Stone Sky, is a finalist for the 2018 Hugo Award (announced in August).

I don’t want to spoil your reading experience by telling you a lot about these books; instead, I’m going to focus on why you should read them.

1. Strong female characters. The main characters in this series are female. The side characters are female. The only-meet-them-once characters are female. Yes, there are male characters, and they are interesting characters, but this is a story about women. The experience of reading this is the inverse of nearly every fantasy novel I’ve ever read.

Talk about whole new worlds!

I fear that by explaining this, you men won’t want to read the series, but you should! You should read it and allow the experience to open your eyes to what it is like to be a female reader of fantasy!

Did I mention that nearly all the characters are black too? Kaboom!

There are excellent reasons, in terms of world building, that this story is populated by people of color and that women are the movers and shakers–read it to find out why!

2. World Building. Another reason to read this series. The development of the setting is phenomenal! This is sort of our world…maybe… not really. Something really bad happened to the Earth (which you don’t discover until the end of the first book), so there are problems with volcanoes and earthquakes and tsunamis, etc. The fifth season refers to a time on the planet when eruptions and earthquakes and other natural disasters damage the air and land so severely that the human race is nearly wiped out–again and again. These “seasons” happen periodically. Here is a poem from The Fifth Season that explains the phenomenon:

Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall;

Death is the fifth and master of all.

Did that give you goosebumps? I got them the first time I read it.

3. Symbolism/Metaphor/Literary-ness. There is depth to this story. The plot is exciting and engaging, and you can read and enjoy it just for that. But there is so much more going on. I don’t want to spoil any of this for you, so I won’t explain all the incredible layers of meaning in these books. This is one of those stories that you think about for days, weeks, months after you finish. You can savor this story, over and over, and marvel at all the things N.K. Jemisin accomplished.

That’s it. I hope you are curious and eager to get these books. Let me know, below, if you’ve read them, or if my blog convinces you to read them, and if you love them as much as I do.

Discovering Diamonds

!ADiscoveredDiamond[1][1]I’m pleased to announce that Syncopation has been selected as a Diamond by the reviewers at the Discovering Diamonds blog. It will be featured on the site May 18th.

Discovering Diamonds is a book review site for historical fiction, bringing attention to well written books published by small presses or self published. The reviewers read many independently published books, and most are not designated a Diamond. I’m stunned and honored that Syncopation is receiving this accolade.

Discovering Diamonds is a wonderful resource for readers of historical fiction who would like to find new books, especially exceptional books overlooked by mainstream publishers. I encourage you to visit the site, to find and read some of the other Diamonds they have discovered.

Happy Reading!

Things that Make Me Happy: Part 1

There are a lot of things going on in the world right now that make me unhappy. To combat those problems, I’ve started volunteering and donating more, but that doesn’t do a lot to combat depression. However, I do find great joy in some peculiar little things, and I thought I’d start sharing them with you.

Hanging Wet Laundry Outside to Dry

clothes

I enjoy this on so many levels:

Pro-Environment! I’m using solar and wind power to dry my clothes. It is free. It is healthy. It is good for the planet.

Fresh Scent! I love how clothes smell when they have dried outside.

Stain Remover! Sunlight is an environmentally-friendly, chemical-free stain remover, mostly for food-based stains like tomato. (My mom told me this, so it must be true.)

Kills Germs! Sunlight kills germs. (I read this on the internet, so probably not true.)

Offend Conservative Neighbors! I don’t know for sure that my neighbors hate seeing laundry hanging in the open one yard over, but I suspect they cringe whenever they see me walk outside with my laundry basket and clothespins. Because drying clothes outside is free, only poor people and tree-hugging liberals do it in America. I imagine my neighbors find me a blight on the community. When we bought the house, they told me they were grateful a white family had bought it, as they’d seen some not white people looking at the house. Ha! Take that racist *expletive* neighbors!

Oops. I left my happy place, thinking about my neighbors.

Coffee. Coffee also makes me happy. Look for a blog post in the next bit about coffee. Do you have peculiar little things that make you happy? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.