Best Books of 2022

I read 71 books in 2022. That doesn’t count the books I started and didn’t like and gave up on. In my younger years I was much less likely to give up on a book. I wonder what that says about me. Anyway, here are my favorites, in the order I read them:

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

You probably think you don’t want to read a book about a pandemic, having just experienced one yourself. However, you really should try this book about the Great Flu of 1918-19. It’s told from the perspective of Julia Power, a nurse working in an under-staffed Dublin hospital. Women who have the flu and go into labor are kept away from the laboring women who don’t have the flu. These ill women are cared for by Julia, who spends her time away from work caring for her shell-shocked, mute brother. The story only spans a few days and is simply incredible.

Comeuppance Served Cold by Marion Deeds

This mystery-fantasy-alternate history of depression-era Seattle is a lot of fun. I wrote a review of it earlier for the Historical Novels Society.

Pony by R.J. Palacio

In the 1860s, 12-year-old Silas lives with his photographer father and a ghost named Mittenwool. When three dangerous-looking men force his father to leave with them one night, and then one of the ponies returns, without any of the men, Silas decides his father needs rescuing. This is a heart-stopping, fast-paced adventure with emotional depth. Written for the child-reader, but I recommend it to you all.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine

Identical twin sisters, Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, have been fascinated with words their entire lives; they even invented their own twin-language as children. As twins and sisters, they are each other’s best friends, pretty much excluding the world from their own perfect life as two halves of the same person. As adults, they hate each other. The story flashes back and forth to their years growing up, and their love of language, until you discover what happened to split them. Although fascinated by them, I didn’t particularly like either sister; however they are surrounded by likeable characters. This story is utterly engaging, and anyone who loves words should give it a go.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

In the 1600s, in France, in a desperate attempt to thwart a marriage she doesn’t want, Addie LaRue makes a deal with the devil that causes her to live forever–and also causes her to be forgotten by everyone, the moment she is out of eyesight. In modern-day New York City, Addie finally encounters someone who doesn’t forget her. How is it possible? This story is so cleverly written, so magnificently engaging. It’s a best-seller for a reason.

Isla to Island by Alexis Castellanos

This is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever encountered. You don’t so much read the book as experience it. Here is the review I wrote of it for the Historical Novels Society. A children’s graphic novel about being a refugee.

The Rat Catcher: A Love Story by Kim Kelly

A crazy title and a funny, beautiful story about the plague in Australia. Here’s my review of it for the Historical Novels Society.

The Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese who Fled Mao’s Revolution by Helen Zia

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, and I’m glad my book club made me read this one. It reads like fiction, following the lives of four people who were children living in Shanghai in 1949 when the Communists took control of the city and country. Incredibly engaging and informative.

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

On the surface, this is a fantasy story. Neil Narayan and Anita Dayal are two, suburban-Atlanta, Indian-American children whose parents are obsessed with their success. When slacker Neil discovers from Anita that if one steals and eats the gold in jewelry owned by others, they will also steal the abilities of the victims. It’s a crazy but interesting story taken as such, but when you realize that the gold-eating is actually a metaphor, the story becomes so much more. It is about ambition, the meaning of success, being a “model minority” and so much more. One of the most cleverly written stories of the year.

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca

This book got a well-deserved Newbery Honor and a whole lot of other awards. Written in verse, this is the story of Reha, who struggles with her parents, American immigrants from India. They want her to maintain her Indian-ness, but they don’t understand what it is like, growing up in America. Straddling two worlds, she is fully frustrated with her parents. When her mother gets leukemia, the complicated becomes more complex.

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

Lillet Berne isn’t her real name, but it is the name she is most famous for, as a falcon soprano and the most revered opera singer in 19th century Europe. She started out as a Minnesota farm girl, then a circus singing equestrian. Her engrossing story is slowly unfurled as she meets with someone who she might have to kill–or who wants to kill her? I can’t remember, but I do remember that this book is incredible.

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

The North may have won the Civil War, but you’d hardly know it from the way the southern town of Old Ox is run. On a homestead outside of town, George Walker decides to start farming his land, as a way of mourning his son Caleb who died in the war. Having never held with slavery, George hires two brothers, former slaves, and pays them a living wage, infuriating the townsfolk and the brothers’ former owner. This is the time and place and some of the characters, but a whole lot goes on in this heart-breaking story of family, of love and hate, of justice and injustice. An impressive debut novel.

Jaguars and Other Game by Brynn Barineau

This is a sort of female three musketeers story that takes place in Rio de Janeiro in 1808. Whip-wielding Maria, her dagger-throwing sister Isabel, and their sword-savvy friend Victoria must solve a murder mystery to free the wrongly accused Mateo. Did you know that the royal family of Portugal fled to Rio to avoid the threat of Napoleon? Mad Queen Maria, the Prince Regent and the horrible Princess Carlotta are some of the colorful characters here, as is this historical version of Rio. A great romp of a story that taught me all sorts of stuff.

What were your favorite reads of the past year? I’d love to hear!

Aging Ambition

When I was young I was ambitious. I wanted to write books and modestly support myself with the success of those books. (No fame, please. I am/was incredibly shy.)

After I was married with children and only working part time, my ambition was to write books and have them published. Perhaps earn about what I made in my part-time job. As the years wore on, I decided that just finishing a book and self-publishing it would be enough.

Now that my children are grown and I’m nearing retirement, I’m rethinking even that modest ambition.

My mother was a writer. She wrote seven novels when I was growing up, though none of them got published. She and my sister published Finding the Way together when she was in her fifties, I think. When she retired, I talked to her about how lucky she was to have the time to work on her writing. And you know what? She no longer felt like writing. She did volunteer work. Took care of grandkids. And read more. No writing? I couldn’t understand.

Here I am, heading toward that same place in my life and feeling much the same way. I now understand. Writing is SO HARD with almost no value. Volunteering has great value. Spending time with friends and family has value. Reading more will be a constant goal in my life.

I have two half-finished novels, Outlandish and The Little MERmaid. The characters in these stories are so real to me. I hate the idea that their lives are paused…. I feel like their stories should be finished. But then I sit down to write and wonder why….

I have three revised and ready-to-publish novels that have never been picked up by an agent or publisher, though I tried for years to find one. I could self-publish them. It’s a lot of work. And what for? Money and fame were never my goals. It has become hard to remember why I wanted to be a writer. It now seems so self-indulgent.

What are your own ambitions and how have they changed over the years?

2022 Newbery Winners

I live-streamed today’s award ceremony. I’m that kind of nerd!

Congratulations to author Donna Barba Higuera for winning this year’s Newbery Medal for her novel The Last Cuentista.

And congratulations to the Newbery Honor authors:

Rajani LaRocca for Red, White and Whole

Darcie Little Badger for A Snake Falls to Earth

Kyle Lukoff for Too Bright to See

Andrea Wang for Watercress, which also won illustrator Jason Chin this year’s Caldecott Award.

I’ve spent the last few months reading what I thought were Newbery contenders, but I haven’t read any of these. I’m excited to do so now!

Newbery Award 2022: the Contenders

One of my book clubs reads Newbery Award contenders in December and January, so we can be well informed when the American Library Association announces the award winner in late January. There are so many great children’s books being published every year. This picture includes the ones I’m reading.

I didn’t get Joseph Bruchac’s Rez Dogs in the first picture, but I’m starting that one today.

I’ll let you know which I think should win before the announcement is made.

Do you have a favorite children’s book published in 2021?

July Sales Event

During July, the e-book of Syncopation is 99 cents at Smashwords and Amazon.

This sale is a part of Smashwords’ July sales celebration.

Smashwords is where I first published Syncopation as an e-book. I love Smashwords! They make self-publishing easy and affordable and work with international book sellers such as Apple books, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc. When you buy from one of those retailers, you are purchasing my Smashwords edition. (All sites feature the $0.99 discount in July.)

Syncopation is also available at amazon, and per contract the price has been dropped to $0.99, so that I’m not selling cheaper anywhere else.

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Syncopation and let me know what you think.

Happy July!

Cover Reveal / Book Available

Thanks to Jenny Q of Historical Fiction Book Covers for this lovely cover:

Book Cover for Wilde Wagers

Wilde Wagers is now available in print or as an ebook at your favorite book seller. You can ask local bookstores and libraries to order copies if it isn’t on the shelf. A list of popular online shops is on this page.

Here’s the story:

Wagering is all the rage in late Victorian England. Oscar Wilde bets that actress Olivia Snow can fool a group of country bumpkins into believing she is Genevieve Lamb, the wealthy beauty of the recent Season. The weekend will prove a challenge for the old-fashioned actress and Genevieve’s handsome and old-fashioned brother, Philip, because the manor is filled with all sorts of ridiculous and eccentric characters, as well as one slightly murderous criminal. While Olivia pretends to be Genevieve, Genevieve wagers on her own performance–as Olivia Snow. She and Oscar Wilde go out on the town, a decision that will have both wishing they’d stayed at home and played cribbage. These two charades take unexpected turns during a wild weekend of kidnapping, cucumber sandwiches, bee stings, and love. This Oscar Wilde-esque romance-mystery-comedy will keep you guessing–and craving teacake.

Best Books of 2020

During the strange and tragic year that was 2020, I was lucky to stumble across many excellent books. Here are a few, in the order that I read them. I’ve included codes for intended audience: MG=books for children; YA=books for teenagers; A=books for grown-ups.

Where possible, the links send you to the authors’ pages, so you can buy their books as they recommend.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (A)

I read this at the beginning of the year and barely remember it, but the feeling remains: a sparkly, romantic adventure in a druidic, magical world. Best click the link above to read what it is about.

Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (MG / YA)

Stuck at home while all her friends leave for spring break, 12-year-old Amelia makes friends with Casey–the first time she’s ever had a boy friend (boyfriend?). They are both artists and have some adventures. The story is real-life pain and joy, told in lovely prose.

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk (MG / YA)

I was super-lucky to get a copy of this to review for the Historical Novels Society. Lauren Wolk is one of my favorite new authors. Echo Mountain is an incredibly emotional and engaging story, with complicated, real characters and a plot that is difficult to summarize. Read my review or visit the author’s page (links above.)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (A)

A Japanese teenager decides to kill herself–right after she documents the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. An American novelist living off the coast of Washington state finds some debris washed up on the coast and believes it might have been swept to her by the 2011 tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people. A journal that she finds and reads might have been written by the Japanese teenager…. This story moves between stories and time and space and dream in a marvelous, magical way.

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali (A)

In 1950s Tehran, a young man and woman meet in a stationery shop and fall in love. On the eve of their wedding, they are separated and will not meet again for sixty years. The story moves between past and present, slowly uncovering what happened that night and why, visiting their memories, their loves, and the lives they lived apart. It is a beautiful love story, and I enjoyed learning about Iranian history and culture.

Strangers and Pilgrims / The Hedgeway / Mechant Loup all by Vivienne Tuffnell (A)

Strangers and Pilgrims is about a small group of people who are feeling lost and meet in a retreat where things don’t go as they thought they would. The Hedgeway is about a couple who inherit an old house that is haunted, sort of. Mechant Loup is a collection of “modern fables for sensible grown-ups.” I’m incredibly fortunate to have discovered Tuffnell in 2020. Her prose or … story telling style or … something makes me feel more solid, more comfortable, more like everything will be OK. It’s hard to explain and so far I’ve been unsuccessful in figuring out how she does it. Read her and see what you think.

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier (A)

This story haunted me– I couldn’t get it out of my head. An alcoholic woman and a quiet, apple-obsessed man raise apples and children in a swamp in Ohio in the 1830s. Their story is depressing, violent and enthralling. The book follows two of their children who manage to get away. Chevalier is another of my favorite authors.

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams (A)

I got lucky again and was sent this book to review for the Historical Novels Society. Williams took the Amelia Earhart story, mixed it up with a bunch of fiction, and produced the story of aviatrix Irene Foster who disappears while flying around the world. A young journalist searches for the truth about Foster and Foster’s mentor, pilot Sam Mallory. Great characters and an exciting story.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (A)

Harold Fry sets off one morning to mail a letter at the post box on the corner and just keeps walking. He recently learned that a friend he knew decades ago is dying. If he walks to her, perhaps she’ll live until he gets there. The story of Harold is uncovered as he makes his way across England. This is not a fast-paced thriller but the solid, character-driven story of a man trying to understand himself and make peace with life. Wow, that summary is awful, but I’m getting tired of writing this blog post. Trust me, it’s a spectacular book.

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (MG / YA)

Mary Lambert lives on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 1800s. She is deaf, and so are many of the other residents; everyone uses sign language, and Mary doesn’t see deafness as “different.” But an ambitious young scientist does, and when he arrives in their community, trying to understand why so many of the residents are deaf, the story takes a turn I never saw coming. A nail-biting story with a great heroine and fascinating historical detail. Probably in the running for the 2021 Newbery Award.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews (A)

In a small, South American, Mennonite community, a series of horrible crimes were committed. Afterward, eight women of the community gather in secret to decide what to do. If I tell you what happened, it will misrepresent the story. As the title indicates, this is the story of women talking. Women of faith in danger of losing their faith. Illiterate women with no knowledge of the world. They are funny, philosophical, ignorant, in pain and lost, angry and hurt, kind and loving. It is a staggering fictional conversation, based on a real-life event.

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (MG / YA)

This is my vote for the 2021 Newbery Award. (Note: I have no vote.) The narrator of this story is Della, a tough, ten-year-old girl entering foster care with her older sister. She unveils their story little by little, carefully, warning us that “some parts are hard, so I’ll leave them for later.” The hard parts are sexual abuse and suicide. Many will flinch at a book for ten-year-olds about this topic. But, there are ten-year-olds who experience sexual abuse and need this book. The story is handled appropriately: not vague and not graphic. Della is the most magnificent of characters. Fighting Words is true to life: sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, always engaging. I’m getting goosebumps just remembering everything. I hope it wins.

Well, that’s my list. I hope you give a few of these books a try and let me know what you think.

A Win!

My short story fairy tale “The Young King” won the McMillan Memorial Library “Imagine Your Short Story” contest this year. (Something good happened in 2020!)young king

“The Young King” is a story one character tells another in my novel The Steppe Sisters: a steampunk Cinderella. Details in “The Young King” are key to things happening in the rest of the book, as every story-within-a-story should be.

I may be self-publishing some of my novels in the next few years, if I can find the time. I’m super busy right now with online teaching.

If you choose to read “The Young King” at the contest site, I hope you enjoy it. If you are an agent or publisher, The Steppe Sisters is finished and ready to be published! Contact me at elizabethcfelt at gmail.com

Best Books of 2019

I read slightly more than eighty books last year. Here are the ones I enjoyed the most and recommend to you. (A) are adult books and (MG) are middle grade books, intended for children grades 3-7. Of course, I recommend them to everyone.

Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, and Pardonable Lies, all by Jacqueline Winspear (A)
In 2019, I discovered the Maisie Dobbs historical mystery series. I’ve only read the first three because the waiting list at my library is long. Maisie was raised in poverty in London, but becomes the protegee of famed detective/psychologist Maurice Blanche. She leaves her training to work as a nurse in WWI. The first book begins with her first case after returning from the war. She is broken in ways that become clear little by little. I love the way she solves cases. Part mystery, part history, part psychology, part mysticism, all enjoyment.

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard (MG)
Robinson lives with her grandfather, who has taught her about cars and baseball and being more like Jackie Robinson (her namesake). Still, spunky Robbie can’t seem to avoid getting into fights at school. With her grandfather’s memory becoming more and more faulty, Robbie must make some difficult decisions. A beautiful story about family and being true to yourself.

Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (A)
This is the sequel to Russell’s novel, Sparrow, in which a party of scientists are sent by the Catholic church to a planet with two sentient species. See my review of Sparrow here.
This follow-up is brilliant. Although it could probably be read on its own, I recommend reading them in order. Character development and world building are superb. They are fast-paced, exciting reads, and Russell delivers philosophical questions that force a reader to think deeply.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen (A)
World War II may be dragging Americans and the world to battle, but for wealthy New Yorkers Madeline, Ellis and Hank, life is one big, drunken party. When Ellis offends his father and gets his money cut off, he drags his wife and friend to Scotland to find the Loch Ness monster, something his father failed at years before. Their time in Scotland is nothing like they expect, and Maddie finds herself left at an isolated inn. What they learn about themselves and each other makes for a riveting read. Plus, it takes place in Scotland, and 2019 was My Year of Loving Scotland.

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (A)
When Willa’s magazine goes under and her husband is let go from the university where he’s taught for years, the two middle-aged, did-everything-right people find themselves without anywhere to live. Fortunately, they inherit an aunt’s house– but the roof leaks, the foundation is cracked, they have no money, and then their adult children show up, needing help. In a parallel, historical story, we learn about another family who lived in/near the house: an honest science teacher, his social-climbing family, and a renegade female scientist. Being the same age as Willa, I felt her pain and confusion in so many ways. The historical story, based on actual people and places is fascinating. This book takes a hard look at the reality of America today, but it isn’t hopeless. Parts are funny, and the characters are incredibly interesting.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (A)
This science fiction novel is told by a relatively inexpensive “murder bot” hired by people and companies for protection, especially when exploring other planets, etc. The bot spends most of its down time watching entertainment channels, so it has an interesting take on human emotions and intelligence. This is a fast-paced thriller that is funny and surprising. I just discovered that there are more to The Murderbot Diaries series and will be downloading them soon!

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (A)
Chevalier is one of the best historical novelists writing today. She can make things to which you never gave a second thought fascinating and exciting. In this novel, it is canvas embroidery (needlepoint) and bells rung by pulling a cord, as done in Winchester Cathedral. I reviewed this book for the Historical Novels Society. You can read that review here.

Lady of the Seven Suns by Tinney Heath (A)
Giacoma dei Settesoli, the lady of the title, was a noblewoman who lived in Rome in the thirteen century and was a follower of Saint Francis of Assisi. This novel tells her story, as well as shedding light and insight on the lives of her family, St. Francis, Clare of Assisi, thirteenth century Rome, and the delightful (and probably imaginary) servants of Giacoma’s household. The story is rich in detail and life; it is inspirational, educational, and gratifying.

The Overstory by Richard Powers (A)
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began this long novel. The early chapters appeared to be short stories, unrelated, except that each of them featured a tree—in some of the stories the trees were important, in others, barely mentioned. In the middle section, the characters from the stories come together, in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s, when activists sat in trees and peacefully (and some times violently) battled lumber companies to protect forests. The final section shows the characters today. This is a poor summary of an incredible story. I learned SO much about trees and life and the world. The Overstory is an incredibly important book that I wish everyone could read. I realize the length will turn off some—but I hope many of you will give it a chance. It changed my life because it changed how I see the world.

In the Footsteps of Sheep by Debbie Zawinski (A)
A friend gave me this book shortly after I returned from my Scotland vacation. The author decided to take a “journey around Scotland spinning and knitting the fleece of the Scottish sheep breeds in their native haunts.” She kept a diary, took pictures, and gathered fleece from remote areas in Scotland and its islands. In the rain and the cold, Zawinski camps, walks, boats and makes somewhat dangerous decisions to get her fleece. A fun, interesting, educational travel story—with knitting patterns.

The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (MG)
Caitlin Breen is the new kid in a small school in rural Vermont. On the first day, her classmates are shocked to discover that Paulie Fink is no longer at their school. Caitlin hears many stories about Paulie and eventually the students decide to have a reality-show-type competition to find “The Next Great Paulie Fink,” with Caitlin as judge. During the school year, their teacher explains Plato’s allegory of the cave, and the book makes much of this philosophical conundrum. Brilliantly constructed, this is a winner.

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman (MG)
Viji’s father has always beat her mother, but when he hits Viji, the eleven-year-old girl runs away with Rukku, her older, mentally-challenged sister. They take a bus to the city of Chennai, in India, and find a “home” on a crumbling bridge with two boys, who teach them how to survive while living on the streets. The story is told in the second person, Viji talking to Rukku. An exciting, heart-breaking, important story.