Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

(Plant-based replica of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture.  I’m sorry to say this is as close as I’ve gotten so far – I need to make it here for a visit one day soon!)

It’s Black History Month – and for a reader, it’s a perfect time to reflect on the contributions of African-American and African Diaspora writers to our literary landscape.  Since I started trying to read more diversely a few years ago, I have encountered so many wonderful works, classic and modern, by black writers and my shelves are richer for it.  And as I firmly believe that there is nothing like a book for a time machine, here are three books to take you back in time for Black History Month.

 Kindred, by Octavia Butler – First of all, no Black History Month time travel post would be complete without the classic time travel novel by a black woman author.  Octavia Butler is one of the most inimitable voices in science fiction and speculative writing, and while these are not my normal genres, Kindred is basically required reading.  Dana, a modern (1970s) black woman in California, finds herself involuntarily wrenched back through time to antebellum Maryland.  The first time, she saves the life of a young white boy, son of the plantation master – only later realizing that the boy is her own ancestor.  Dana’s connection to the boy she saves is inexplicable, and every time he finds himself in trouble, Dana finds herself dragged back through time to save him.  As she goes back and forth between her own time and her ancestors’ lives, the trips become more and more dangerous – for Dana, and for everyone around her.  Kindred is intense, gripping, and heart-wrenching – required reading indeed.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston – Another required reading; everyone should meet the inimitable Janie Crawford.  When the reader meets her, it is in the shadow of a blossoming tree – a fitting setting for Janie, who is herself just beginning to bloom when her grandmother catches her kissing a young man and insists that she get married.  Assuming that love will follow marriage, Janie complies.  But it doesn’t, and Janie is ambitious and hungry, and she wants more than a quiet country life.  So when a stranger pauses by the side of the road, Janie walks off with him.  Joe Starks is as ambitious as Janie, and charismatic.  Together, Janie and Joe stride into Eatonville and bend the town to their will.  Joe quickly rises to become the Mayor and a successful businessman, with Janie by his side.  But again, love doesn’t follow marriage – and when Janie meets Tea Cake, a much younger man, she struggles to understand her suddenly turbulent feelings.

Jam on the Vine, by LaShonda Katrice Barnett – I read this one years ago, but it stayed with me.  Ivoe Williams, precocious daughter of a Muslim cook, steals a newspaper and immediately falls in love with journalism.  Jam on the Vine is the story of Ivoe’s coming of age, from eager young girl to founder of the first black female-owned newspaper, along with her former teacher – turned lover – Ona.  Ivoe and Ona struggle to survive in a brutal world that has no tolerance for black women with powerful voices and the will to use them.  Nurtured by their love for one another, they create a home and life together that sustains them against the buffeting they have to endure from bigoted and hateful people, who want nothing more than to grind them down.  At times, the story can be quite disturbing – Ivoe survives a horrific arrest and attack – but this is ultimately a hopeful story of love and bravery.

I had a hard time choosing just three novels to feature here!  Honorable mentions go to Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan – for something even more fantastical than Kindred – and to Half of a Yellow Sun, by the totally brilliant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I’m sure I’ll pick up even more recommendations shortly, because I have my Black History Month read – Well Read Black Girl – sitting atop my library stack.

Are you reading anything special to commemorate Black History Month?

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Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here is part two of two posts sharing my reads for January, 2020

Country Boy, by Richard Hillyer – One of the greatest delights of my reading life in recent years has been finding Slightly Foxed, and I have enjoyed every reading experience this gem of a publisher has provided me.  Country Boy, a memoir of growing up desperately poor and falling in love with books, was no exception.  Hillyer’s writing about his country neighbors was sensitive and loving, but honest too.

Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: The Just War, by G. Willow Wilson – I am a fan of everything Wilson does, and I anxiously awaited her take on my favorite superhero, Wonder Woman.  As expected, she delivered a wonderful story, with nods to mythology and legend, and clearly Diana Prince is safe in Wilson’s capable hands.

Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey #1), by Dorothy L. Sayers – Wanting to catch up on some of the golden age crime novels I hadn’t yet read, I downloaded the first Peter Wimsey to my kindle and read it on the plane, en route to New Orleans for a business trip.  It was good fun, although I like the Harriet Vane novels, and The Nine Tailors, better.

The Siren Years: A Canadian Diplomat Abroad 1937-1945, by Charles Ritchie – I picked up this recommendation from The Captive Reader, and it was a joy to read.  Ritchie knew everyone, and his insights into war and the nature of diplomacy were as interesting to read as his accounts of country house weekends.  I can’t wait to continue on with his diaries.

Madensky Square, by Eva Ibbotson – I actually had a hard time getting into Madensky Square, and ended up leaving it home in favor of my kindle while I was in New Orleans on business, then picking it up again when I returned.  It was beautifully written, uplifting in parts and heartbreaking in others, and I ended up loving the characters – Frau Susanna, Gernot, Nini, Daniel, little Sigi, the Schumacher family, and all the residents of the Square.  (The people want a book about Nini and Daniel!)

Murder in the White House (Capital Crimes #1), by Margaret Truman – I have had Margaret Truman’s DC mystery series on my list for the longest time.  Truman was the daughter of President Harry S. Truman, so she was well-placed to write about the inner workings of the Washington scene, and she does so in a completely captivating way.  (She also gets her DC details right, obviously, and as longtime readers know, nothing irritates me more than authors who get their facts wrong about my adopted hometown.)  This first installment was a lot of fun.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell – I picked this one up because President Obama loved it.  Of course, as we all know, President Obama is a genius and the rest of us, mostly, are not.  How to Do Nothing went almost completely over my head, except for the parts about birds, which I did understand.  It might have been a case of right book, wrong time – coming at the end of a long, busy and stressful month at work and at home – but I found it a bit opaque.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota, by J. Ryan Stradal – I had loved Stradal’s debut novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, but was pretty underwhelmed by this sophomore effort.  The premise was good – Grandmas brewing beer! – but the characters were wooden and the ending felt clunky and rushed.  I’ll still read Stradal’s next book, but this one was a miss for me.

Whew!  That wraps up a big month of reading.  I had a wonderful month of turning pages, I really did.  The clear highlight from the second half of the month was The Siren Years, which I devoured.  But it’s always fun to visit with Lord Peter Wimsey and Wonder Woman (there’s a sentence I never though I’d write) and to curl up with another Slightly Foxed Edition.  And now – onward to February!  I have a stack of library books to get through, but I’m also enjoying reading from my own shelves more often, so expect another mix of both next month.

What are you reading these days?

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Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here is part one of two posts sharing my reads for January, 2020

New Year’s Day (Old New York #4), by Edith Wharton – I thought it would be fun to re-read Edith Wharton’s novella, New Year’s Day, on actual New Year’s Day… and it was.  I love this melancholy and ruminative story about things that are not what they seem, and I think I may make an annual re-read a tradition.

One Woman’s Year, by Stella Martin Currey – Another fun one to start off the year, I finished up this recent Persephone reprint, which combines commonplace book, diary, recipe collection and humor.  It’s such fun to revisit a slower, more seasonal time in my reading.

Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther, by Elizabeth von Arnim – Loved, loved, loved this novel in letters (one-sided) from the titular heroine, Rose-Marie Schmidt, to the vapid and useless Roger Anstruther.  Rose-Marie is a thoroughly wonderful character, and her letters to Mr Anstruther – who cannot at all appreciate what a gem his pen-pal is – are a delight.  Everything is in here – lovely nature writing, musings on books, elder-sisterly advice… I loved every page.

Great Goddesses, by Nikita Gill – I tore through this collection of poetry updating the Greek myths for modern times, and it was everything I want in a book of poems.  Often sad, always beautiful and thought-provoking, and very relevant.  Gill has another collection of poems and prose poems based on fairy tales, and I expect I will be seeking that out soon.

This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, by Melody Warnick – This came recommended by Anne Bogel on her short-form podcast One Great Book, and I did enjoy it.  Some of Warnick’s lamenting about her struggles to love living in Blacksburg, Virginia – I have a friend there, and it’s actually a beautiful area – did come across as a bit tone-deaf and unaware of her privilege, but I mostly tuned that part out and focused on her practical suggestions (many of which would have come in more handy for me when I was miserable and homesick in Buffalo – I don’t really need help loving northern Virginia).

More to the Story, by Hena Khan – After loving Khan’s first middle-grade book, Amina’s Voice, I was eager to check out her homage to Little Women (with a Pakistani spin).  It was absolutely wonderful.  Jameela and her sisters felt so real – their struggles and heartaches and the love they had for each other, too – and I wanted to gather each one up for a big hug.

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, by Catherine Reid – I’ve been staring at this book on my shelf since my dear friend Susan gave it to me for Christmas 2018, and I finally got around to reading it – and staring wide-eyed at the gorgeous photographs.  It was absolutely stunning, and made me hanker for a return trip to PEI – my grandparents took me there on vacation when I was twelve, and I have never forgotten the beautiful scenery or the breathless excitement of being in “Anne’s house.”

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2020, by Lia Leendertz – I have come to cherish and eagerly look forward to Leendertz’s yearly almanacs, with their gorgeous nature writing and beautiful pen and ink illustrations – not to mention the garden tips, recipes and lore bursting from the pages.  I read 2020’s installment in one gulp, although I expect I will revisit it each month all year long – the new addition of a monthly section on what’s going on in the hedgerow was my favorite part.

Well, that takes us to about January 11th.  I meant to recap my entire month’s reading, but there were sixteen titles and I want to be respectful of your time and attention.  So I’ll do the rest next week and going forward either split each month to come into two parts or do just one omnibus recap at the end of the month as dictated by my reading list.  Anyway!  January got off to a strong start, as you can see – I enjoyed everything I read, to the point of finding it near impossible to pick a highlight.  Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther was definitely one, and The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables was another, but really – the whole month was filled with one readerly delight after another.  In 2020 I have decided to worry less about buzzy new releases or literary trends and just read what makes me happy, and you can see the results – sixteen books (eight here and eight more to come), all of which I enjoyed.

How was your January’s reading?


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The more frenetic and hectic life gets, the more I want to slow down, focus on things that are real and tangible, and live in a more mindful, seasonal way.  In many ways, that’s just not possible – but in many ways, it is, with a little attention.  At any time of year – but never more so than in January – I am devouring books about living seasonally and embracing the changes and delights that each month of the year brings.  Here are three.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden, is a gorgeous tour de force through the seasons.  Holden, the titular Edwardian lady, is an artist and naturalist who records the flora and fauna she observes on her regular tramps through her Warwickshire home all year long (and on one delightful holiday in Scotland and the north of England).  The book is organized in a month-by-month format, so you can follow along with Holden as her favorite fields and hedgerows burst into bloom and then out of it again.  Holden’s artwork is the highlight of the book (although I skipped hastily past the butterfly and moth illustrations, which will not surprise anyone), but her delightful “nature notes” are such fun to read.  I found myself wishing I could go back in time and join her on one of her expeditions.

One Woman’s Year, by Stella Martin Currey, will be irresistable to anyone who – like me – loves a good housewifely diary.  Persephone Books, which recently republished it, describes it as “a mixture of commonplace, diary, short story, recipes – and woodcuts.”  YES, I love all of these things.  As with The Country Diary of an Edwardian LadyOne Woman’s Year is organized into a monthly format.  Each month begins with an essay (or short story – I suspect it’s a mix of fact and fiction) about something on the housewife’s mind, whether that’s choosing books for your children or redecorating your house on a shoestring budget.  The story/essay is followed by features including a recipe of the month (very 1950s recipes, too), the most- and least-liked jobs of the month, and a recommended outing for the children – everything from visiting the Tower of London to exploring the local telephone exchange.  Some of the descriptions – for instance, of Currey, her indulgent husband, and their two sons attempting to plant a new lawn in March – are absolutely hilarious.  And the whole thing, taken together, is a lovely and winding meander through a year.

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2020, by Lia Leendertz, is the third of Leendertz’s monthly almanacs.  The first one was published in 2018; I’ve bought them each year, and they just keep getting better.  (Do check out the past years’ guides, as well.  While some things – like tide tables and dates for holidays and equinoxes and such – change from year to year, the garden task lists, monthly recipes, songs and legends are all evergreen.)  Each year’s almanac is a little different from the others’ the 2020 guide has a strong focus on the moon and also includes a new section on “what’s going on in the hedgerow” that was a delight to read for each month.  I read the 2019 guide month-by-month all year long, but blew through the 2020 guide in one gulp; either method works, and I’m sure I will be coming back to the 2020 almanac to test out the monthly recipes and gardening tips all year long.  I love slow, seasonal, nature-focused books and the Almanac series is a gorgeous addition.

Do you like reading about the changes of seasons?

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In a year that saw travel, adventure, some drama, and months on end of work craziness, I’m kind of amazed that I managed to read anything at all, let alone that I read so many wonderful books.  In times of stress and overwhelm, I turn to classics and old friends – nothing new there.  And the result is that I do find myself turning the pages of many, many fantastic books.  2019 was no exception.  And while this is always a hard post to write (I! Hate! Decisions!) here’s my very best of the best.

Doctor Thorne (Barsetshire #3), by Anthony Trollope – I have been slowly making my way through Trollope’s Barsetshire and liking each installment in the series better than the last.  I adored Doctor Thorne – laughed a LOT, cried a little, and enjoyed every single page.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot #4), by Agatha Christie – For some reason, I’d been thinking I had not read Roger Ackroyd before, but after figuring out the identity of the murderer, I now think maybe I did?  Either way, it was riveting and absolutely great.

Edith Wharton, by Hermione Lee – It took me a long time to get through this doorstopper of a biography of the enigmatic queen of American letters.  Lee’s exhaustive research was beyond impressive.  And fascinating.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski – This might be the most important book I read this year.  Life seems to get harder and harder, and I am feeling the effects of all that stress piling up on my shoulders.  The Nagoski sisters are full of tea and sympathy and tried and true scientific strategies for coping.  I’m already thinking of a reread.

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf – For the longest time I have been someone who wanted to like Virginia Woolf.  I tried.  A LOT.  Mrs. Dalloway finally broke the barrier for me.  I was enthralled.

The Eagle of the Ninth (Roman Britain #1), by Rosemary Sutcliff – Ostensibly a book for younger readers, Sutcliff’s first installment in her Roman Britain series was exciting, heart-wrenching, and completely page-turning.  My reading experience was enhanced by the gorgeous Slightly Foxed Cubs edition I had, but really – there’s everything to love about this book.


The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden – I can’t resist a nature diary, especially a richly illustrated one, and Holden had been on my list for so long.  It was gorgeous and luminous and everything I was looking for.

Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables #3), by L. M. Montgomery – It seems like cheating to include Anne on here, but anytime the fabulous Miss Shirley puts in an appearance, she’s a highlight.  Anne of the Island is my favorite, and probably most frequently reread, of the series.

I Was A Stranger, by General Sir John Hackett – One of the last books I read in 2019 was also one of the best.  Hackett, then a Brigadier General with the British Forces in World War II, was parachuted into the Netherlands shortly before the disastrous Battle of Arnhem.  I Was A Stranger is his memoir of several months he spent recuperating from his wounds and being hidden behind enemy lines by a family of mild-mannered ladies.  It’s a beautifully written, contemplative, tense and exciting book and a testament to Hackett’s gratitude to Aunt Ann, Aunt Cor, and Aunt Mien, who took unimaginable personal risks to shelter a stranger who became one of the family.

Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell – It’s hard, but I think this is my book of the year.  I loved everything about Wives and Daughters and already am thinking of rereading it.  For years I had an unfair prejudice against Gaskell and I’m so glad I’ve rid myself of that nonsense.

2019 was many things, not all of them great, but it was a WONDERFUL year in reading.  Old friends, new-to-me classics, rediscovered favorites, and lots of happy, cozy moments spent turning pages.  What more can you ask for?

Next week, my book superlatives – one of my favorite posts of the year!

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Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for December, 2019

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2), by Alison Weir – I really enjoyed the second installment in Alison Weir’s historical fiction series about the six queens of Henry VIII.  Anne Boleyn has always fascinated me, and Weir did her justice – providing a sympathetic, yet realistic, portrayal and imagining scenes that rang true.  Anne Boleyn was quite a bit pacier than the series opener, Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, and by the end I found myself holding my breath and frantically flipping pages.  It made for good reading on a rainy late fall weekend.

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019, by Lia Leendertz – Thanks are due to Instagram for introducing me to Lia Leendertz and her beautiful almanacs.  I blazed through the 2018 edition – the first in the series – back at the beginning of the year and then savored 2019’s, month by month, all year long.  The recipes, garden tips, and lore are delightful reading and I’ve had such fun dipping in and out of this as the seasons have changed over the course of the past twelve months.

Not That It Matters, by A.A. Milne – It’s hard to find any Milne in my library, other than the Winnie-the-Pooh books (which I own, anyway), so I jumped at the chance to read this book of essays.  It was diverting and enjoyable, as expected.  Not every essay was a winner for me, but many were – and a handful made me laugh out loud.

A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Gamache #2), by Louise Penny – I enjoyed my second visit to the village of Three Pines, Quebec – but I think I actually preferred the first novel.  I’d saved Fatal Grace for December, because it takes place around the holidays – the victim is electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, while watching a curling tournament, surrounded by the entire population of the town just after Christmas.  V. mysterious!  I actually guessed who the killer was, which I never mind – makes me feel like a smarty – but my one complaint was the author’s insistence on describing everyone’s body type, which I found distracting and unnecessary.  Especially the victim’s daughter, a young girl, who was repeatedly described as grotesquely obese.  It seemed unkind, and took away from my enjoyment of the book, which was in all other respects a lot of fun.

Olive Kitteridge (Olive Kitteridge #1), by Elizabeth Strout – This one has been on my TBR for way too long, and now that there is a sequel, I really wanted to get to it.  Strout’s writing is so evocative, and I just loved Olive.  (Her son Christopher was another matter.)  As with any story collection, there were hits and misses for me – any story featuring Olive at its center was better than a story in which she was just peripheral.

Twelve Days of Christmas: A Correspondence, by John Julius Norwich – This was ten absolutely rollicking, delightful minutes.  Edward and Emily are a newly engaged couple and Edward gets the inspired idea to send his betrothed the gifts from the classic Christmas carol.  Emily is delighted by the partridge in the pear tree and by the two turtle doves, but things quickly go downhill after that.  I laughed until I cried.

A Christmas Book, by Elizabeth Goudge – Saw this one on Instagram and quickly added it to my library holds queue, and it came in with plenty of time to read over the Christmas season.  I liked it, but didn’t love it – mainly because the book was made up largely of extracts of Christmas scenes from other books that Goudge wrote, and the scenes suffered from my lack of familiarity with all the characters and their backstories.  The trademark Goudge descriptive writing was wonderful, though.

The Santa Klaus Murder, by Mavis Doriel Hay – Finally, I got around to one of the BL Crime Classics holiday mysteries I had heaped up on my shelf!  I really enjoyed this.  It was a fun Christmas murder mystery, and I guessed the killer’s identity, which always makes me feel smart.  My only complaint is that the synopsis on the back cover gave away a fairly substantial twist and allowed me to eliminate a major suspect before I even opened the book, which seems like it could have been better though out.

Home For the Holidays (Mother-Daughter Book Club #5), by Heather Vogel Frederick – I’d been saving the fifth installment in my re-read of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series for December, and it was such fun to visit with the girls and the moms over the holidays.  As always, it also made me want to revisit the classics that the book club reads – the Betsy-Tacy books, in this case.

Noel Streatfeild’s Christmas Stories, by Noel Streatfeild – This was a fast, fun read and really lovely.  I’ve never read any Noel Streatfeild before (I know, what is wrong with me?) and this slim little volume was a perfect companion for my commute on December 23.  I enjoyed each story, but I think “The Chain” was my favorite.

A Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book, by Philip Rhys Evans – After I unwrapped this wonderful, fun book on Christmas morning 2018, I decided that I should make it a tradition to read it every Christmas Day, and this was the second annual reading.  I laughed my way through it, as I did in 2018 as well.

A Christmas Party, by Georgette Heyer – My first Georgette Heyer was a fun murder mystery!  Grumpy old family patriarch Nathaniel Herriard is found stabbed to death on Christmas Eve in a locked bedroom.  There’s no shortage of motives among Herriard’s unwilling Christmas guests, but who had the opportunity, and how did they get in and out of the locked bedroom?  Again, I guessed the killer – which I love – and while I didn’t figure out the exact solution to the locked room mystery, I spotted the trail of clues that ultimately led to the answer.  So fun!

I Was A Stranger, by General Sir John Hackett – It was time to take a break from Christmas reading, so I piled up a big stack of books – some from my own shelves, and some new books from Christmas morning – to read over New Year’s week (provided I found any time…) and this was the first.  I’ve had this incredible World War II memoir on my TBR for ages, and it was one of the best things I read all year.

A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year, ed. Jane McMorland Hunter – Finally!  I’ve been reading this in spurts all year long – well, since February, anyway.  The idea was to dip in each day and read the poem for that day; there were stretches where I did just that, and other stretches where I got behind and then caught up in a big gulp.  I love nature poetry, and this was a lovely book to spend the year with.

Quite a finish to 2019 reading!  It was a wonderful year – lots of classics, poetry, well-drawn characters, beautiful writing, really the whole picture.  The highlight this month had to be I Was A Stranger – a great way to finish off an excellent year of bookishness.  And now onward!  I have plans for more classics, more poetry, and more happy and contented bookworm moments in 2020.

How was your last month of 2019 reading?

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So the sun is setting on this decade and rising on a new one, with all the mixed feelings that brings – optimism, hope, maybe some trepidation, and the expected amounts of nostalgia for the past ten years.  A lot happened in my life in the 2010-2019 decade.  I had two babies, traveled to Europe twice, moved five times, changed jobs three times – and read consistently throughout it all.  And read a lot of really good books – books that engaged me, that made me laugh and cry (sometimes on the same page), books with characters that became friends, books I’d read a dozen times or more and books I read for the first time.  And while this seems like an impossible undertaking, I’m going to do my best to give you the best of the best here: one for each year.

2010: A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle.  This was a light year of reading for me.  With two years under my belt at my first law firm, I was starting to do more complicated work and was focused on climbing the career ladder.  But I did read a bit, and the highlight has to have been reading Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence as Steve and I actually traveled through Provence.

2011: As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis de Voto, by Julia Child and Avis de Voto. I read a lot of good books in 2011, but the one that stands out as my book of the year has to be As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis de Voto, because it was reading that book at around the same time that led Katie and me to begin a snail mail correspondence that lasted for several years (and continues as an online-and-in-person-when-we-can friendship to this day).

2012: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. My reading numbers took a big jump in 2012, which is surprising because that was the year I became a mother.  In many ways, it was a hard year – between pregnancy complications and an early delivery, I really needed a lot of comfort reading, but when I look back on my book choices, I read mostly contemporary literary fiction (which I like, but which isn’t all that comforting).  One book that stayed with me was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (I also read Bring Up the Bodies in 2012, and rated both five stars on Goodreads).  Wolf Hall was a wonderful reading experience, but brings back additional associations for me, because that was the book I was in the midst of reading when we finally got the coveted NICU discharge.  I remember returning from the mothers’ lounge, Wolf Hall in one hand and a container of pumped milk in the other, to see Steve smilingly announce that the doctor had just signed Peanut’s discharge papers.

2013: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple. This was a year of upheaval – our first full year of parenthood, and we pulled up stakes and moved from northern Virginia to Buffalo, New York.  The move was a huge adjustment for the whole family, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really struggle with it.  (You could probably have guessed that if you didn’t already know, because we moved back to Virginia just three years later.)  I took refuge in my beloved classics, re-reading old favorites like the entire Anne of Green Gables series and Jane Eyre and delving into Middlemarch for the first time (which I have since re-read).  But the book that has stayed with me was one that was everywhere in 2013 – Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.  I’ve read it multiple times since that first reading and it both makes me laugh and wrings out my heart.

2014: Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters. I had a lot going on in 2014 (seems to be the theme of the decade – more each year).  I started a new job, got pregnant with Nugget, and we moved to what we thought was our forever house.  With all of these changes, it’s no wonder I struggled through a reading slump for much of the fall.  But one very good thing came out of my 2014 reading: I met Amelia Peabody for the first time, in Elizabeth Peters’ The Crocodile on the Sandbank.  In addition to being a wonderful character, Amelia gave me another connection with my bookworm grandmama – I fell in love with Peters’ books independently, only to learn afterwards, from my mother, that Grandmama was a devoted Amelia Peabody fan.

2015: Dead Wake, by Erik Larson. It was hard to pick a book of the year for 2015; there were several candidates vying for the top spot.  All the Light We Cannot See, which was lyrical and gorgeous?  Station Eleven, which kept me company in several doctor’s office waiting rooms as my second pregnancy wound to a close?  Lumberjanes, Vol. I, which taught me that I could enjoy comics?  All solid candidates, but there was one book that held my attention and actually kept me riveted even through the fog of days with a newborn and a toddler: Erik Larson’s Dead Wake.

2016: To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey. More upheaval!  After three years of trying to carve out a life and a place for ourselves in Buffalo, Steve and I decided it was time to go home, so we pulled up stakes again – moving first into temporary housing in January, and then back to Alexandria in July.  The move was a relief, but spending almost a full year without my books (they went into storage while we sorted out the final move, and then it took me awhile to get through my unpacking) was a total bummer.  I read some fabulous books, including my first Trollope (The Warden) and my first Persephone (Greenbanks) but nothing kept me riveted quite like Eowyn Ivey’s sophomore novel, To the Bright Edge of the World.

2017: Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope. Finally, after what felt like years of a nomadic existence, we stayed in one place all year long.  Work was hard and stressful in many ways, and I turned to books – as always – to keep me sane.  I read some great ones this year, but the best by far – not even a question – was Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope.  It was funny and entertaining, and the pages flew by; not something you expect from a Victorian doorstopper.  The best part, though, was reading it at the same time as my friend Susan, and discussing it.  There’s nothing like a like-minded friend to give even more spice to your reading life.

2018: Period Piece, by Gwen Raverat. I had a wonderful 2018 in books – revising old friends like Bernadette Fox, Catherine Morland and Anne Shirley, and exploring genre novels outside my comfort zone.  This is another one where it’s just hard to pick a “winner” – there were so many winners, which means the real winner is me.  North and South helped me through the loss of a beloved family member.  And 84, Charing Cross Road was a serious contender for my top spot, because books about books always hold a special place in my heart.  But ultimately I think the best reading experience of the year was also one of the first – a January book – Period Piece, by Gwen Raverat.

2019: Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Bringing us to the year just ended!  I’ve churned through 124 books so far in 2019, which was high even for me – and there are still five days left in the year, so plenty of time for more.  Read through a lot of life ups and downs again, and turned to books for comfort whenever things just seemed to be getting really complicated – which did happen.  I read more classics than usual in the past year, which is how you can tell that I’ve been overwhelmed; that’s my comfort reading.  And it’s between two classics that I’ve had to struggle to name a book of the year.  I loved everything about the experience of reading The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff, and I see myself revisiting her Roman Britain again and again.  But ultimately I think my book of the year has been Wives and Daughters, which cemented Elizabeth Gaskell as my favorite Victorian writer.

It was HARD to name just one top book to represent each year of the past decade!  But that’s a good problem to have.  I loved looking back on a decade’s worth of reading.  There were a few duds in there, but there were many, many more wonderful books.  Reading is a comfort to me in the hard times, and a joy always.

What were your books of the decade?

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