Any chance you’re making summer travel plans? International, local, or just with a lemonade in the backyard, you’ll need something to read, right? Here are books I’ve read over the last nine months and would highly recommend to keep your brain engaged and traveling, even if you don’t set foot outside your hometown.
The Admiral’s Wife by M.K. Tod – This book is just really good historical fiction, a page turner I could not put down. I learned about an era and culture I knew almost nothing about (early 20th century Hong Kong), and it was woven so well with the modern day story. The author did a wonderful job with the plot, the history, the emotions, the family dynamics, and the nuance. (Not to mention that I did a presentation with Mary this winter, and she’s such a lovely person!)
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray – Wow! Fascinating book about a fascinating woman. Makes me want to make a beeline for the Morgan Library in New York. Really enjoyed this and learned a lot. This one was also set in the early 20th century, a new era for me to explore. Not to mention I’m always fascinated by coauthorship. (I went on a Marie Benedict spree this spring, reading everything by her. In particular, I really enjoyed Her Hidden Genius too.)
Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall – A fascinating book based on recent women’s history. I was captivated from the first page. I probably would take off a 1/2 or 1/4 star as at times the novel got slightly preachy, but it’s a minor quibble balanced by the fact that the author did show all the many facets and sides of the highly contentious issue of abortion. An important and beautiful book.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See – Adding to the chorus of five-star reviews on Goodreads. I cannot believe I hadn’t read this book before (it was originally published in 2005). A compelling tale of what it was like to be a girl and then woman in 19th century China and the barbaric practice of footbinding. Although of course I’ve heard about foot binding, to read about the feelings and reactions of someone actually getting their foot bound was a real eyeopener. Also the entire subplot of hidden women’s writing was absolutely fascinating. The author did some incredible on-the-ground research and interviews. If I could give it six stars I would!
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – In The Four Winds, you truly experience the Dust Bowl – the dust, sickness, poverty, and harsh conditions. Not to mention how it wasn’t a whole lot better in California, where the “Okies” went, and was the original reason for unions. Excellent. (Kristin Hannah also wrote The Nightingale, arguably one of the best women’s historical fiction novels every written, in my opinion – but not just my opinion: it has almost 1 million 4- and 5- star reviews on Goodreads.)
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams – I loved this book. Simply gorgeous – story and writing. I learned so much about the history of the English language as well as the history of the Oxford English Dictionary and lost women’s history. A must read for all bibliophiles and lexophiles.
The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray – Wow this book really blew me away. A triple timeline of the French Revolution, WWI, and WWII, all related in ways to the Marquis de Lafayette and his chateau in the French countryside. It was long but I loved every minute and did not want it to end, all the more remarkable for the truth in which it is based.
The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson – I initially went back and forth on this book. It started out slow and I didn’t like the initial whiny-ness of Becky, though later I understood much more of what was going on and grew to really like the character. But once I got about 50 pages in, I was hooked. Yes a dual narrative and yes another book about WWII but definitely a unique angle I had never heard of before, about both the war in Cornwall as well as how the war affected Northern Africa and the people there. Great twists and in the end I found it a page turner.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn – An excellent, unput-downable women’s historical thriller (with none of the gore I tend to dislike). Fascinating details about Bletchley Park and its female code-breakers, with a touch of royalty. I read it in just a few days. (Kate Quinn also wrote The Alice Network, another one of the best-in-class of women’s historical fiction.)
The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli – This book was excellent. Told from the point of view of four narrators 1) Da Vinci, 2) the lady with an ermine, 3) a German art conservator during WWII, and 4) an American soldier on assignment with the Monuments Men, it is a fascinating portrayal of two little-known parts of history. While I know of course about da Vinci, I knew almost nothing of his time spent in Milan, and while I have seen The Monuments Men movie (thank you, George Clooney), to see how the art patrimony was ripped apart during the war was incredible to read about. Heartbreaking, beautiful. Could not put down.
May this be the summer I dare dream of returning to Europe??
Header image credit: Thought Catalog, Pexels