Category Archives: Literary fiction

International Women’s Day

iwd-logo-portaiteps    The theme for this year’s annual International Women’s Day on March 8th is “Be Bold for Change,”  and women all over the world will be marking the day with festivals, book club discussions, conferences, concert performances, speaking events, and more. To celebrate women’s accomplishments politically, culturally, and socially, consider reading a book about and by women from around the world.

Here are a few ideas in fiction books; click on the title for my review:

baileys-womens-prize-for-fiction-2017  March 8th also has the distinction of being the day when the Baileys Prize (formerly known as the Orange Prize) longlist is announced.  The annual Prize targets fiction written by women, with past winners including Barbara Kingsolver’s  The Lacuna and Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife  This year’s longlist includes sixteen books  nominated to take the £30,000 award. The shortlist is announced April 3rd and the winner on June 7th.

Here are my predictions for inclusion on this year’s longlist.  Have you read any of them?


Liane Moriarty

With a mix of Sophie Kinsella, Maria Semple, and a little Sherlock Homes (with a nod to the Professor Moriarty), Liane Moriarty always delivers a satisfying story.  She is on the list of authors whose next books I anticipate as soon as the last is read.

Currently, the new HBO series – Big Little Lies – has a cast of well-known women, including Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, telling the tale of murder and ambition, with a sprinkling of self-doubt, and a large dose of bullying.  Thankfully, I forget most of the details of a book after I’ve read it – clearing my synapses for the next round of fiction – yet, watching the story unfold, I am grateful for having read the book first.  The vague flashbacks and inner thoughts in the televised version seem to make more sense.  I remember enough of the action and characters to be familiar but I do not remember the ending.   Like all her books, this one will be a surprise – again.

Happily, I found one of Moriarty’s earlier books on my shelf.  The Last Anniversary has all those familiar qualities  – romance and adventure, women working through issues, and a cliff-hanging mystery.  Two women, Connie and Rose, find a surprise when they accept an invitation to tea at the Munro house.  In addition to the warm marble cake on the table and the bloodstains on the floor, they find a baby girl.  They decide to name her Enigma and raise her as their own in their small town of Scribbly Gum Island.

The story revolves around the Munro Baby mystery and Sophie, a thirty-nine year ex-girlfriend who unexpectedly inherits the house from Connie; Enigma is now a grandmother, and the town mystery has become a tourist attraction.  Secrets are important in Moriarty’s books and every character in this story seems to have one.  Like all her books, The Last Anniversary is a page turner, and just when all the secrets seem to have been revealed, Moriarty adds one more on the last page.

Have you read Moriarty’s books?  Here is a list of my reviews:

I Am Ready to Listen

My Audible credits are piling up, and I decided to use them all before I cancel my subscription.  Although my library is full of books I have yet to hear, I am not discouraged. Short British mysteries, Maggie Smith and Julia Child biographies have kept me company as I walk, but heavy plots requiring attention tend to collect moss – started, stopped, ignored, replaced by a library book in print.  Flanagan’s Road to the Deep North still lingers – waiting to be heard on a long flight with no escape.

Five credits – five books:

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  1. Joanna Kavenna called Ali Smith’s first in a four-part series – Autumn – “a beautiful, poignant symphony of memories, dreams and transient realities…” in her review for The Guardian.  A symphony?  A candidate for an audiobook.
  2. Recently published Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders has a cast of 166 voices, including David Sedaris.
  3. Since I am number 279 on the library wait list, John Grisham’s The Whistler is a good candidate, promising fast-paced thrills.
  4. Melk Wiking’s Little Book of Hygge looked like a quick way to get life-style advice when I skimmed it in the bookstore, especially coupled with Rinzler’s The Buddha Walks into a Bar (already on my iPod).
  5. Finally (possibly because I have been reading articles about challenging the brain to prevent Alzheimer’s lately), the last book is French Short Stories (in French, of course).

Now I am ready to cancel my subscription.  But wait, those clever marketers have offered me a reprieve – 90 days on hold, a pause instead of a stop.  If I have not listened to my last five books by Spring, I may have the courage to really cancel.

Queen Victoria

Without a time machine, historical inaccuracies about personal lives are hard to prove, and the practice of selecting only the best for posterity sometimes shades perception. Jane Austen’s sister conveniently burned the famous author’s diaries; Jacqueline Kennedy famously engineered the Camelot legacy through Theodore White; biographer Julia Baird notes “Victoria’s daughter Beatrice transcribed her mother’s journals and edited out everything that seemed to reflect poorly on her, then burned the originals.”

Until Julian Fellowes created the  movie “Young Victoria” in 2009, most readers thought of Queen Victoria as the short, heavy, frumpy monarch in black who made infrequent appearances.  Although history notes Victoria had nine children, her romantic inclinations and Albert’s courting of the young queen were usually overwhelmed by her later years.  Berated by the royal family for inserting inaccurate scenes to increase the drama – Prince Albert never really took a bullet for Victoria – Fellowes never blinked as he introduced a new look for Victoria and went on to create Downton Abbey the following year.

9781410495877_p0_v1_s192x300A new Masterpiece Theater series on the Public Broadcasting System promises more of the younger queen, and author Daisy Goodwin – creator and writer of the series – offers a glimpse with her new novel Victoria.  Goodwin begins the book with the sixteen year old hoping her uncle, the king, will live to her eighteenth birthday, so she can rule without a regent, most probably her estranged mother.  She gets her wish, becoming queen soon after she comes of age.

Goodwin elaborates on a few vague historical tidbits to provide drama and interest – embellishing the young queen’s infatuation with her prime minister and capitalizing on her accusation of Lady Flora Hastings as a catalyst in her waning popularity.

Though fictional, Goodwin manages to tear away the historical image of a prudish moralistic matron to reveal Victoria as human after all.  Descriptions of her early insecurities about her appearance, her fiercely independent determination, along with happy moments with her little dog and carefree rides on her horse – all transform an icon into flesh and blood.  Amazingly, knowing Victoria and Albert will eventually marry does not detract from the breathless anticipation as Goodwin concludes the novel with Victoria’s proposal.

Goodwin’s Victoria is an easy digestible history lesson, with added spice.  Like her novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter, Goodwin’s Victoria immerses the reader in the world of the heroine, and, if all the facts are not exactly correct – as Julian Fellowes says, “What does it matter?”

Related Articles:


The Top Fiction Books of 2016

Depending on who creates the list and the readers targeted, the “best fiction” of 2016 varies with preferences and inclination.  In comparing lists, I found a few book names appearing in the New York Times “The 10 Best Books of 2016,” the NPR “Ten Best Books of 2016,” and the American Library Association’s Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence longlist for 2017.  The common denominator seems to be tackling a difficult subject, educating the reader, and provoking serious thought.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, a finalist for many literary awards this year, appeared on all three sources.  I have not read it yet; have you?

With a similar theme, Homegoing by Yaa Ghasi appears only on the NPR list, but is on my list of top favorites I read this year.

The remaining choices from my three major sources include books I have yet to read – some currently in progress.  Best fiction of the year named by  NPR, NYT, and ALA include:

  • North Water by Ian McGuire
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith
  • Moonglow by Michael Chabon
  • Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
  • Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
  • The Association of Small Bombs by Karen Majahan
  • War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans

My list of the top books I read this year:

  1. Homegoing by Yaa Ghasi. Read  my review – here
  2. The Many by Wyl Menmuir did not appear on these lists. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, this short novel has a place on my top fiction for the year. Read my review – here.
  3. What Is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi. On the Washington Post Notable List of Books – “A series of loosely connected, magically tinged tales about personal and social justice. Built around the idea of keys, locks and magic doors…including mythology and fairy tales, and smartphones…”  My review – here
  4. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amore Towles- from Bloomberg: “the story of a Russian count sentenced by the Bolsheviks to house arrest in the Metropole Hotel for writing a poem deemed to be counter-revolutionary. The book explores what it means to find meaning in life when deprived of what you have valued most. The Count has been displaced—from his home, from his possessions, from the life he led—and within the confines of the hotel he adapts and, in a way, thrives. Given the political shocks of 2016, the Count’s story seems more topical than ever.”  Read my review – here

Maybe I’ll find another before December ends.  I could use a good book to get me through my Grinchy days ahead.

What is your nomination for the best book you read in 2016?  images-2