Our Five Favourite Reads
Welcome to The Writers’ Dozen Top 5 Reads Blog Hop. The Writers’ dozen have been my go-to group for all things writing. We write across a diverse range of genres including crime, women’s fiction, rural romance, romantic comedy, chic lit, historical fiction, literary fiction, YA and short stories. This year we are doing some blog hops so readers can see what we’re all about, starting with our Top 5 Reads (so far) for 2018.
My selections are as follows and then click on the links to see what my writing buddies faves.
We’d love to hear about what books you’ve been enjoying so don’t forget to leave your comments and recommendations.
It’s so hard to choose only five favourite books but after much agonizing here is my selection. They are all books with the trifecta of beautiful writing, memorable characters and an engaging story. Since I am currently working on a novel which is historical fiction, no surprise, four of the five are ‘HF’.
Number 1. is the latest novel by one of my favourite authors, Sebastian Faulks. (author of Charlotte Gray, Birdsong and Human Traces).
In where my heart used to beat Faulks returns to familiar themes of memory, love, the futility of war, and the fragile random nature of human connection. The novel traces the life and loves of psychiatrist, Robert Hendricks, starting when he is in his late fifties and beginning the painful process of self-examination, a process that he has avoided for much of his life. The narrative moves seamlessly across time and continents, from Hendrick’s ‘present’ in the eighties, back to the First and Second World Wars, from an island off France, to wartime Italy, to his childhood in rural Devon and periods of his life spent in Paris, London and New York.
Faulkes is a writer who makes you want to linger on the page and savour his words like a fine wine. His characters are always complex and flawed, forgiving of others failings while less understanding of their own. where my heart used to beat is a novel that deals with deep questions and big subjects and while the story is infused with a sense of sadness and lost opportunity it is a pleasure to read. In examining one man’s life it is also an excavation of the human condition, a study of love and loss, memory and connection, and the competing tug of duty and desire.
Number 2. is a Young Adult Fantasy Novel, Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon. This was recommended by an agent on her own blog and it is so beautifully written that it made me sigh. It has classic written all over it and reads like a lyrical fairytale that will be loved by children, teens and adults alike. It is the story of a cursed village where each year the most recently born baby must be left in the woods to appease a ‘wicked witch’. Yet the witch named Xan is not the real villain for each year she collects the abandoned baby and takes it to another village to be adopted and loved, feeding the baby starlight on their journey to the other side of the forest. All goes according to plan until one year Xan accidentally feeds a baby on moonlight infusing the child with the full magic of the moon.
With characters such as a dragon with prematurely stunted growth, a swamp monster and a madwoman who controls a flock of vengeful paper birds with her thoughts it has all the hallmarks of inventive and imaginative fantasy. However it also has deeper layers, depicting a society that allows itself to be subjugated and controlled, where evil practices are able to flourish because no one has the courage to question them. Full of gentle wisdom, wry humour and a cracking story of adventure to boot, I absolutely loved this book, (pun alert)… to the moon and back.
Number 3. On my list is a book by Australian author Natasha Lester which I have been meaning to read for far too long. I can happily report that it was worth the wait. Set in nineteen-twenties New York it is the story of Evelyn Lockhart (Evie) who dares to follow the impossible dream of becoming not just a doctor, but an obstetrician. Disowned by her own family for spurning marriage for the sake of such a shocking ambition, Evie becomes a showgirl in Ziegfried’s Follies in order to pay her way. Evie faces many trials and tribulations, the greatest of which are the obstacles put in her pathway by the men who feel a woman’s place is to bear babies and not to deliver them.
It is easy to forget that antibiotics were not around in the twenties, death in childbirth was still common and women doctors a rarity. Works of historical fiction such as A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald as well as being a cracking read, also help to remind us how far women and medicine have come. There is a love story woven through the narrative but what is more appealing is that Evie does not define herself in terms of a man. Courageous, big-hearted and resilient with a fierce intelligence, Evie is one of those characters that inspires admiration, while her quick wit and vulnerability make her easy to love.
Number 4. Another novel centred on a wartime romance, The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith.
Best known for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, McCall Smith has a knack for writing everyday people, quirky characters and stories that glow with wry humour and gentle wisdom. Val Eliot is a land army girl working on a farm near an air base. Her task of delivering eggs to the base brings her in contact with American pilot, Mike, whose squadron adopt her dog, Peter Woodhouse, as their mascot. Romance blossoms between Val and Mike and is put to the test through the tribulations of war but it is the unlikely friendship between Mike and a German soldier that endures beyond the conflict and through the course of the characters’ subsequent lives.
Unlike many novels with a war time setting, McCall Smith shines a light on the good qualities it brings out in people rather than dwell on the horror and evil. I love his lilting style and light touch. The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse celebrates the bonds of family, friendship and community as much as it does romantic love. At times poignant and ultimately gently uplifting, reading this book is like wrapping yourself in a novelistic version of a cosy blanket with a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows on top.
Number 5 is what I call a Door stop read, one of those big fat sweeping epic novels that you can let yourself get lost in. I treat myself to one as a vacation-read every year when I have time to immerse myself in the world of the novel without too many stops and starts. Since my own work in progress is set in the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I, I was particularly interested in reading Follett’s latest offering.
A Column of Fire follows the interweaving fortunes of three leading families from Kingsbridge; the Willards, the Fitzgeralds and the earls of Shiring. It begins in 1558, a few years before the start of Elizabeth’s reign and ends in 1606, a few years after her death. He skillfully blends the lives of fictional characters with real historical figures and events, no mean feat, and one that takes a lot of meticulous research. I love novels like this that use the story tellers art to bring dramatic events and tumultuous historical times to life. Criss-crossing from England to Spain, the Netherlands, and France, taking to the high seas and briefly landing in Hispaniola it vividly evokes each setting and time.
For me there is a dual pleasure in reading historical fiction, firstly to be able to imagine how things might have been, and secondly as a comparison to current issues and times. Religious tensions between Protestant and Catholic dominated the period and provide the key tensions throughout the book. In an era of terrorism and conflict driven by zealotry and intolerance, Follett’s latest work has a particular resonance for our own times.
If you would like to check out the Top 5 of my writing buddies, please click on the links below to their blogs.