Cover of The Grand Sophy
Chalk up another benefit to having a Kindle: the ability to keep a list of what books I’ve read in the previous year with no effort on my part! Now, if only all books were available on a Kindle. Alas, they aren’t which means I’m going to have to search my mind for the physical books I read this year so my list is complete.
This isn’t a list of best books published this year. I think I’ve read one, maybe two, books that were published this year. This isn’t even going to be a top ten list. Narrowing down my favorite books is a Sophie’s choice. Instead, I’ll make up categories!
Author I Should Have Discovered Years Ago
I’m pretty sure I found Heyer through the Austenprose blog, or possibly from the twitter feed of the Editrix of Austen Blog. However it came about, Heyer’s books made winter 2010 a complete joy. They also illustrated how easy it was to run up a credit card bill through the search and buy feature on the Kindle, but that’s another post.
Heyer’s books are set in Regency England and all follow a pretty general plot. There is a plucky heroine who is usually a poor relation or wealthy with financial difficulties. There is a handsome hero that dresses well and is an expert horseman and is grumpy for one reason or another, probably because poor relations are always asking for money. Or possibly he’s engaged to a girl that isn’t really right for him and he’s too dense to notice. Until he meets the plucky heroine. There’s a cad to muddy the waters and possibly a young kid to give a bit of comic relief. You know how it’s all going to turn out when you start reading on page one but the fun of it all is the journey, not the destination.
Heyer stories are filled with historical details which, depending on who you ask, was either her greatest asset as a writer or her biggest weakness. Personally, I love the historical detail though after reading many of her books in succession, it gets a bit repetitive. Her characters are more modern than the times they live in, a result of being written in the 20th century instead of the time of the novels’ plots. This historical detail, along with the modern sensibilities, make reading Heyer a good primer for a reader that would like to read Austen but has struggled with her writing style.
The absolute best part of discovering a prolific author like Heyer is the sheer number of novels you have to choose from. Besides Regency romances (Heyer is considered the creator of historical romances, btw), Heyer also wrote thrillers, mysteries and historical novels about Waterloo and William the Conqueror. My top Heyer recommendations: The Grand Sophy, Faro’s Daughter, Frederica, The Reluctant Widow, Talisman Ring.
Yes, I Can Read Popular Fiction and Enjoy It
The Millenium Series by Steig Larsson (★★★☆☆)
Sometimes I feel like I’m out on a little pop culture island of my own. I have zero interest in the housewives, football wives, bachelors or bachelorettes or biggest losers. I refuse to read Twilight no matter how many of my 40-year-old friends gush about how wonderful it is. I like sci-fi shows and westerns; historical fiction and classics. Most of the time, I could care less that I’m not a part of the maddening crowd. Sometimes, though, I get pulled into the vortex of the media frenzy and I have to see what all the fuss was about. This year, I was pulled into the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo vortex.
I must have enjoyed it; I remember reading them one right after the other. Long term, though, not much of an impression has stayed with me besides the idea that the main character was an alter-ego of the author. Everyone else grew and developed; he stayed the same. He was, in my opinion, the least interesting character of the series. Luckily, the Lisabeth Salander character’s greatness makes up for the dullness of Mikael Blomqvist. Would I recommend the series? Yes, but with tempering the expectations of greatness. It’s an entertaining, but forgettable, read.
Goal That I’ve Set for Myself and Will Probably Never Finish
1001 Books to Read Before You Die
This is all Lindsey’s fault. She had to pull out this damn book at book club last summer. I love ridiculously hard goals that I will never realistically achieve so there is a built-in excuse to fail challenges. In fact, that could be the subtitle for my life story.
I have made some progress. I created a blog page dedicated to the challenge. I’ve read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, A Room with a View by EM Forster, Eugenie Grande by Balzac, Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and, just this week, three Edgar Allan Poe stories! There are quite a few on the list that I want to read. All is not lost. I’m going to keep plugging along.
Favorite Books of the Year
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (★★★★★)
I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not having an emotional reaction to the story. I don’t want to spoil any part of this book so I will just say that you won’t regret reading this book.
The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs, Book 7)
by Jacqueline Winspear (★★★★☆)
I’m not typically a fan of series. I find the stories to be a bit samey and the characters develop at a glacial pace, if at all. Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs series is the exception. Each mystery is unique and Maisie grows with each installment. As interesting from a historical perspective as the mysteries are, what has kept me reading the series is the character of Maisie Dobbs and her growth as a character.
The series is set in England between the wars, but not just before World War II which seems to be the fertile ground of so much pre-war historical fiction. Winspear starts her series in 1929 and has progressed a little more than two years in seven books. Usually, that glacial pace would annoy me but I want to experience as much of the decade before World War II with Maisie as I can.
The Mapping of Love and Death saw Maisie losing someone very close to, and starting a relationship with an unlikely character and ends with the opportunity for great change in her professional life. The next installment comes out in March. I can hardly wait!
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (★★★★☆)Review
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (★★★★☆) Review. One note I didn’t make in my review: The first two books are much stronger than the final book, Mockingjay. Katniss spends more time in the infirmary and feeling sorry for herself than she does taking action. But, the ending redeems the loss of focus of the majority of the book.
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus (★★★★)
It’s the 1870’s and the height of the Indian Wars in the west. The Cheyenne chief makes a bold trade proposal to President Grant – 1000 white women to the Indians for 1000 horses. The Cheyenne is a matriarchal society – children are considered part of their mother’s tribe – so logically to the Cheyenne the children of these unions would be welcomed into US society and enable the People to assimilate easily. Initially outraged, the government changes their mind and starts recruiting women out of prisons, insane asylums and desperate volunteers.
The story is fictional but inspired by an actual trade proposal by the Cheyenne in the 1850’s. Fergus paints a vivid picture of Indian life on the plains and how different their society was from ours.
This might be the first year in six or seven that I didn’t re-read Pride and Prejudice. I did re-read Emma, though. Excellent book but no P&P.
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (★★★★★)
Just a fun, quick read.
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte (★★★★☆)
It takes a while for this to get going but when it does it’s worth it. Not as dark and brooding as her sisters’ Charlotte and Emily.
A Room with a View by EM Forster (★★★☆☆)
Eh. Watch the movie.
Eugenie Grandet by Balzac (★★☆☆☆)
This one was a real struggle. Great characterizations, though.
Note to self for next year: Do a better job of tracking what I read and write more reviews!