While I enjoyed all of my reading in 2016 there were a few books that stood out as my favorites. Here they are in the order read. (Covers link to Goodreads)
- Title: Love, Alice
- Author: Barbara Davis
- Genre: Women’s Fiction
- Pages: 432
- Published: December 2016 – Berkley
- Source: Publisher
Description: A year ago, Dovie Larkin’s life was shattered when her fiancé committed suicide just weeks before their wedding. Now, plagued by guilt, she has become a fixture at the cemetery where William is buried, visiting his grave daily, waiting for answers she knows will never come.
Then one day, she sees an old woman whose grief mirrors her own. Fascinated, she watches the woman leave a letter on a nearby grave. Dovie ignores her conscience and reads the letter—a mother’s plea for forgiveness to her dead daughter—and immediately needs to know the rest of the story.
As she delves deeper, a collection of letters from the cemetery’s lost and found begins to unravel a decades-old mystery involving one of Charleston’s wealthiest families. But even as Dovie seeks to answer questions about another woman’s past—questions filled with deception, betrayal, and heartbreaking loss—she starts to discover the keys to love, forgiveness, and finally embracing the future… (publisher)
My take: Love, Alice is a story of acceptance, forgiveness, and moving forward. Barbara Davis’s story involves two women: Dovie, whose fiancé committed suicide not long before their wedding date and Alice, an unwed girl forced to give up her infant after giving birth. Both grappled with questions of why as they tried to move on with their lives. Although they would never meet their stories would become entwined.
I was completely absorbed by this book. The loss experienced by Alice is heartbreaking. Her story involves the Magdalene Laundries (click link for info). Hard to believe places like that were still in operation in the 1990s. Alice was young and, although still feeling the aftereffects of tuberculosis, had some strength of mind and body to carry on when she left the asylum. Her motivation was clear – she would find her baby.
Dovie would realize she had to face the truth about William – the things she’d chosen to ignore in the past – in order to move forward.
As bleak as it may sound I found the novel uplifting. I credit Davis’s gift of storytelling. Love, Alice is a wonderful book. Recommended to fans of the author and women’s fiction. It would be a great book club selection. Included are a readers guide and recipes.
- Title: A Lowcountry Christmas
- Series: Lowcountry Summer #5
- Author: Mary Alice Monroe
- Genre: Fiction; Christmas
- Pages: 384
- Published: October 2016 – Gallery Books
- Source: Publisher; Tandem Literary
Description: As far as ten-year-old Miller McClellan is concerned, it’s the worst Christmas ever. His father’s shrimp boat is docked, his mother is working two jobs, and with finances strained, Miller is told they can’t afford the dog he desperately wants. “Your brother’s return from war is our family’s gift,” his parents tell him. But when Taylor returns with PTSD, family tensions darken the holidays.
Heartbreak and financial stress threaten to destroy the spirit of the season until the miraculous gift of a service dog leads Taylor, his family, and their community on a healing journey to discover the true meaning of Christmas. (publisher)
My take: A Lowcountry Christmas is the first of Mary Alice Monroe’s books I’ve read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone looking for a special Christmas book to read this year. It’s the fifth book in a series but I can say, not having read the previous books, it can stand alone.
The McClellan family has welcomed home their son, a veteran with PTSD, and are all getting used to a new normal. On top of that, finances are strained which adds tension to the relationships between parents and children, spouses, and siblings. I loved how Monroe took her characters through their challenges and brought them to a satisfying result: mainly the true meaning of Christmas and what matters most.
A Lowcountry Christmas is truly lovely and I can see it becoming an annual read for me. I can think of a few people on my gift list who will love it. Highly recommended!
About the author:
Known for her intimate portrayals of women’s lives, Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels, including The Summer Girls, The Summer Wind, The Summer’s End, Last Light Over Carolina, Time is a River, Sweetgrass, Skyward, The Beach House, Beach House Memories, Swimming Lessons, The Four Seasons, and The Book Club. Her books have received numerous awards, including the 2008 South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing, the 2014 South Carolina Award for Literary Excellence, the 2015 SW Florida Author of Distinction Award, the RT Lifetime Achievement Award, and the International Book Award for Green Fiction.
An active conservationist, Monroe draws themes for her novels from nature and the parallels with human nature, thus drawing attention to various endangered species and the human connection to the natural world. Mary Alice is involved with several environmental groups and is on the board of the South Carolina Aquarium, the Leatherback Trust, and Charleston Volunteers for Literacy. She lives in the lowcountry of South Carolina. Visit her at MaryAliceMonroe.com and at Facebook.com/MaryAliceMonroe.
- Title: Good Taste: Simple, Delicious Recipes for Family and Friends
- Author: Jane Green
- Genre: Cookbook
- Pages: 192
- Published: October 2016 – NAL
- Source: Publisher
Description: A lush and gorgeous guide to all things food and entertaining from Jane Green, New York Times bestselling author of Jemima J, The Beach House, and Falling.
Jane Green’s life has always revolved around her kitchen…
… from inviting over friends for an impromptu brunch; to wowing guests with delicious new recipes; to making sure her ever-on-the-move family makes time to sit down together. For Jane, food is enjoyable because of the people surrounding it and the pleasures of hosting and nourishing those she cares about, body and soul.
Now, Jane opens wide the doors of her stunning home to share tips on entertaining, ideas for making any gathering a cozy yet classy affair, and some of her favorite dishes, ranging from tempting hors d’oeuvres like Sweet Corn and Chili Soup, to mouthwatering one-pot mains like Slow-Braised Onion Chicken, to sinfully satisfying desserts like Warm Chocolate and Banana Cake.
This book is Jane’s perfect recipe for making a wonderful life complete with friends, loving family, and moments filled with good food, good times, and, of course, Good Taste. (publisher)
My take: At first glance Good Taste has a rather unassuming cover – until you take a closer look at the photo which shows the author readying a dining table for an outdoor meal. It looks quite inviting and lovely.
And that’s exactly how I felt about the cookbook – welcomed by author Jane Green to take a look at her favorite recipes and give them a try. She personalized each one with an anecdote about the family or friends a recipe bring to mind. I loved that.
The book is divided into Beginnings (starters and soups), Middles (main courses), and Endings (desserts). Gorgeous color photos accompany each recipe which is something I really appreciate. I’m not an accomplished cook by any stretch of the imagination so I like to have a clear goal in mind of what my finished product should look like 🙂
There are several recipes I can’t wait to try including: Tomato Tart Tatin; Slow-Braised Onion Chicken; and Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle. The photos of all three are gorgeous and what I really love is that after reading each recipe I feel confident I’ll be able to make them.
Good Taste would make a wonderful gift for the cook in your life this holiday season.
- Title: The Velvet Hours
- Author: Alyson Richman
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Pages: 384
- Published: September 2016 – Berkley
- Source: Publisher; Tandem Literary
Description: As Paris teeters on the edge of the German occupation, a young French woman closes the door to her late grandmother’s treasure-filled apartment, unsure if she’ll ever return.
An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path.
Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Alyson Richman brings to life Solange, the young woman forced to leave her fabled grandmother’s legacy behind to save all that she loved.
My take: In 2010 a Paris apartment that had been closed for seventy years was opened to reveal a time capsule of sorts. Found inside were objets d’art from the Belle Epoch and earlier eras as well as many other valuable items. The Velvet Hours is the imagined story of the woman who owned the apartment and her granddaughter.
Alyson Richman’s story of Marthe de Florian and Solange Beaugiron captured me from the start. The descriptions of, well, everything was gorgeous and gave me the feeling I was sitting in the room with the characters.
Solange didn’t know she had a grandmother until she was nineteen and her father took her to meet Marthe. Upon their introduction they met a few days each week and Marthe told Solange about her life. It’s a remarkable story about a remarkable time and involves art, books and romance. I loved it all. Equally intriguing but less developed than Marthe’s story was the story of a book passed down on Solange’s mother’s side of the family. I’d love to read more about it in a separate novel.
Until The Velvet Hours I’d never read one of Alyson Richman’s novels. I was happy to discover she has six other books that are now on my to-be-read list. I can easily recommend The Velvet Hours to fans of the author and historical fiction.
Note: You can search online for Marthe de Florian and you’ll find photos of her apartment as well as the portrait highlighted in the novel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alyson Richman is the internationally bestselling author of the The Garden of Letters, The Lost Wife, The Last Van Gogh, The Rhythm of Memory (previously published as Swedish Tango) and The Mask Carver’s Son. Her novels have been translated into eighteen languages and are known for their rich historical and artistic detail. She lives in Long Island, New York, with her husband and two children.
PRAISE FOR THE VELVET HOURS:
“Alyson Richman’s writing sings in her evocative new novel set in Paris at the dawn of World War II. The Velvet Hours is a beautiful and compelling portrait of two women facing their unknown past and an unimaginable future as their world begins to crumble.”
— Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale
“Alyson Richman deftly weaves fact and fiction to create an enthralling tale of love and sacrifice in The Velvet Hours. Richman slips flawlessly between time periods, her sense of place in depicting Paris in the 1880’s and 1940’s spot on. The reader navigates the streets of the City of Light alongside Solange and Marthe, two carefully crafted and worthy heroines. The author does a superb job of creating a Paris apartment full of exquisite treasures and a priceless painting, a world of light and shadow, beauty and darkness. Ultimately, this is a carefully wrought story of love, of what the heart chooses to give up, and what it chooses to keep. Highly recommended to readers who enjoyed Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale.”
—Karen White, New York Times bestselling author
“A masterful mix of the glamour of the Belle Epoque and the shadows of impending war as the stories of two generations twist and twine together in delightful, heart-wrenching, and sometimes unexpected ways.”
— Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author
“Staggeringly evocative, romantic, heartrending, sensual, and beautifully written.”
—John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author
“Tragedy and hope, love and loss, and the strength to endure are examined through Richman’s graceful writing and powerful characters.”
“If you love graceful, mellifluous writing, you should read this book.”
—Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author
- Title: Flight Patterns
- Author: Karen White
- Genre: Women’s Fiction
- Pages: 416
- Published: May 2016 – NAL
- Source: Publisher
Description: Georgia Chambers has spent her life sifting through other people’s pasts while trying to forget her own. But then her work as an expert of fine china—especially of Limoges—requires her to return to the one place she swore she’d never revisit…
It’s been thirteen years since Georgia left her family home on the coast of Florida, and nothing much has changed, except that there are fewer oysters and more tourists. She finds solace seeing her grandfather still toiling away in the apiary where she spent much of her childhood, but encountering her estranged mother and sister leaves her rattled.
Seeing them after all this time makes Georgia realize that something has been missing—and unless she finds a way to heal these rifts, she will forever be living vicariously through other people’s remnants. To embrace her own life—mistakes and all—she will have to find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and the secrets she was forced to keep… (publisher)
My take: Flight Patterns is a novel about a family with secrets, long-held hurts, and an unsolved mystery or two. Two sisters, Georgia and Maisy, have been estranged for over ten years but are brought back together when Georgia is sent by her New Orleans auction gallery to research a china pattern for a man from New York.
I enjoyed all aspects of the Limoges research Georgia did and how it worked into finding her way back home. I also loved the storyline about the beekeeping her grandfather did. Each chapter begins with a short passage from his beekeeping journals and corresponded with what transpired in that chapter.
The setting of Apalachicola, Florida with its humidity and flora and fauna added a lot to the novel. Flight Patterns is full of interesting characters – some quirkier than others, some stranger than others, and some who know just when to impart their quiet wisdom.
Quotes I marked while reading:
“Sometimes all we need to do to forgive our parents is to understand their childhoods.”
“If you want things to change, you have to stop waiting for someone else to make the first move.”
Flight Patterns is a novel about learning to forgive and how that will impact a person’s life. I really liked it.
- Title: Lies and Other Acts of Love: A Novel
- Author: Kristy Woodson Harvey
- Genre: Women’s Fiction
- Pages: 352
- Published: April 5, 2016 – Berkley
- Source: Publisher/NetGalley
Description: After sixty years of marriage and five daughters, Lynn “Lovey” White knows that all of us, from time to time, need to use our little white lies.
Her granddaughter, Annabelle, on the other hand, is as truthful as they come. She always does the right thing—that is, until she dumps her hedge fund manager fiancé and marries a musician she has known for three days. After all, her grandparents, who fell in love at first sight, have shared a lifetime of happiness, even through her grandfather’s declining health.
But when Annabelle’s world starts to collapse around her, she discovers that nothing about her picture-perfect family is as it seems. And Lovey has to decide whether one more lie will make or break the ones she loves . . . (publisher)
My take: Sometimes, when I start reading a book, I find a novel that gives me the feeling I’m going to hate leaving the characters behind when I turn the final page. Lies and Other Acts of Love is that kind of novel. I loved it. It’s my kind of book in that it’s about a family of mostly women – like the one I came from. I love reading about the dynamics of that kind of family because it’s always a good story. In this case, we get the story of the matriarch, Lovey, who is 87 years old. We also get her granddaughter Annabelle’s story. She’s just out of college and the world is her oyster.
Lovey is the kind of grandmother most women would love to have. She’s a strong woman who has weathered more than anyone would ever suspect. She took her own mother’s advice to heart and then imparted similar words of wisdom to Annabelle. Both women would discover that you find out how strong you really are by living life and sometimes you have to tell a few lies.
There were parts of the novel that felt like a fairytale. If it was a movie it would be filmed with a filter that would soften all the rough edges and yet tell the pertinent details. Other parts are in precise focus. There are lovely characters, some quirky ones and some you’d just as soon toss in the trash bin. They all made for a good story about life, love and family – one I won’t soon forget. I’m looking forward to what Kristy Woodson Harvey writes next.
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- Title: Jane Steele
- Author: Lyndsay Faye
- Genre: Historical Fiction; Mystery
- Pages: 422
- Published: March 2016 – G.P. Putnam’s Sons
- Source: Publisher
Description: Reader, I murdered him. So begins Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele.
A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until she escapes to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement. Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess for the nine-year-old ward in his care.
Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents – the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose connection with Mr. Thornfield appears far more complicated and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him – body, soul, and secrets – without revealing her own murderous past?
Inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic, Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies. (book flap)
My take: Well, Readers, I loved it! Jane Steele is way outside of my normal reading zone but I was intrigued when offered a copy for review so I accepted. I’m so glad I did because it was such a fun read. It’s filled with drama, adventure, class differences, love and mystery culminating in an exciting denouement that seemed only fitting for Jane’s story.
There are references, subtle and pointed, to Jane Eyre (Jane Steele’s favorite book) that will hopefully make fans of the Brontë novel smile. It has been decades since I read it but now I’m tempted to do a reread. Thank you, Lyndsay Faye!
I appreciated the author’s historical afterward which points the reader to other books that helped to inform Jane Steele’s plot lines. Recommended to fans of Victorian novels, historical mysteries, Jane Eyre, and a good adventure. I’d also recommend Jane Steele to book clubs who want to shake things up a bit 🙂
Note: In addition to reading this book I used an Audible credit so I could keep listening when I couldn’t sit and read. Narrator Susie Riddell’s performance is perfection. Highly recommended!
More Praise for JANE STEELE:
“Let’s be honest here. When I was sent an advanced readers’ copy of Jane Steele, which was billed as an historical crime novel with a Jane-Eyre-style heroine who becomes a serial killer, I thought someone was pulling my leg. I decided to read ten pages, just to annoy myself as I’m often inclined to do. Also, to show what a good sport I am. I was hooked by page five and read my way through at a merry clip.
I loved this book! The language rings true, the period details are correct. Jane Steele is a joy, both plucky and rueful in her assessment of her dark deeds.
The plotting is solid and the pacing sublime. If this were a series, this would be the perfect introduction. As a stand-alone, I give it an A+”
“Lyndsay Faye pulls off the most elusive feat of historical fiction: to give us a book that reads as though it was unearthed from a perfectly preserved antique chest.
Sneakily charming and wildly well written, like Faye’s other novels Jane Steele demands attention.”
—Matthew Pearl, New York Times-bestselling author of The Dante Club and The Last Bookaneer
“Jane Steele is lethal good fun! In Jane, Lyndsay Faye has created a heroine unwilling to suffer tyrants or fools.
The result is a darkly humorous, elegantly crafted story of an ‘accidental’ vigilante. A delicious read.”
—Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist
“From the gasp-inducing moment Jane Steele utters the words ‘reader, I murdered him,’ you know you are in for a rollicking romp of an adventure that recasts the Jane Eyre story in an entirely new light.
But mixed in with the verve and vivacity is a story of real heart, exemplary, near-forgotten history, and an utterly unforgettable heroine.
Brava to Lyndsay Faye for what’s already one of my favorite thrillers of the year.”
—Sarah Weinman, editor of Women Crime Writers:Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s
“Enchanting. Jane Steele is beautifully rendered and utterly captivating, from the first cry of
‘reader, I murdered him’ to its final pages. Lyndsay Faye is a masterful storyteller, and this is her finest tale yet.’
—Maria Konnikova, New York Times-bestselling author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes