It’s here! 2023. So it’s also here – my reviews of books I read in 2022.
I needed dependable reading to start another crappy lockdown year. At least catching the latest virus variant and getting over it so easily like any mild cold was a plus for this January.
So off to a known author from whom I can expect satisfaction:
- “The Gates of Athens”, and “Protector” by Conn Igulden. Books 1 and 2 about Ancient Greece by a successful historical fiction writer. Really 1 book, just broken up (for an author, book sale success of course). I liked them. Easy read, all the right formulae for success: war and fight scenes, sometimes a little complicated (eg, the sea battle scenes were difficult for this land-lubber to follow.) Lots of fiction to keep you interested, like the romances, but well-researched for a time in history that I can learn about.
Then a new author:
- “Deep River Night” by Patrick Lane. Quite different writing style from my usual fare – literary with jarring imagery. Depressing in following the reality of a WW2 veteran returning with his PTSD (not recognized in those times) to an interior BC logging camp town in the late 50s, early 60s. Harshly realistic.
- “Inland” by Tea Obreht. Like the previous, another different, overly different in fact – writing style. I wonder if new young authors are over-trying to be so unique and clever? So clever that the story, which was interesting – Arizona Territory 1890s, drought-stricken, problems for the wife/mother/newspaper owner in small mining town – was not only difficult to follow, but even bordered on silly due to the pretentious style. I did finish the book – I said the storyline was interesting – but be prepared to work for it.
My non-reading world is opening back up again this March – curling and restaurants. More things to distract me from books! But that won’t ever fully happen in my life.
- “Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore. Same historical times as “Inland” – 1880s – but wow, how different the setting and characters. New York City. Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla battle it out for dominance in the emerging technology of electrifying the country. And battle they did in this fictionalized drama following the lawyer for Westinghouse. Funny how I complained about the writing style being overly complicated in the previous, when now I feel a little bored by all the old-fashioned story-telling vs the previous story-building. But again, another good tale to follow about times and people I know little about.
- “Last Hours” by Minette Walters. Black Death, small town England 1348. Awesome and uncomfortable how similar some things still are to our own Pandemic 2020. Well, why shouldn’t they be – people are still people and will react to catastrophe in similar human ways. This is a new author for me; I will look for more.
A first trip out of the country since…you know. Vegas baby, always a great trip but the first time I’ve gone this late in the year. Hot? It’s like saying it’s cold in Quebec in January. Books? Always, everywhere I go.
- “Never” by Ken Follett. I’ve of course read his other historical fiction, but this one is set in the near future and details the plots and events that the fascinating characters deal with to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war. It’s apocalyptic before the apocalypse. Juicy, full, predicably great Follett style but a treat with a fresh theme.
- “Blackwater” by Conn Igulden. Again, out-of-character theme for this historical fiction author (love his many series). But this is a short novella, or long short story? Whatever, it’s a murder-mystery set in present day. Wonderful for an afternoon read or over a few evenings.
More travels coming up, a new tiny travel trailer has been acquired! But back to a book I’ve anticipated:
- “One Kingdom Under Heaven” by Alastair Luft. I met this (fellow local) author at a book signing and I’m ashamed to say, I never read that first book of his that I bought! But I made up for it by reading his next, “Jihadi Bride”, and liked it so much that I grabbed this new one on ebook as soon as I could. Not disappointed, it followed a, by fluke, concurrent timeline of the previous book, “Never”. And the writing style didn’t jar – it almost felt like a book of the same universe. Sometimes too detailed in action scenes, as in directions and minute movements, but satisfying and engaging.
Which brings me to another author I’ve met personally and whose historical fiction of early 20th century small-town professional prairie women (doctors, lawyers) I’ve previously enjoyed, albeit as her original name of Rebekah Lee Jenkins.
- “In the Company of Men” by new pen name of Carolyn Finch. Well, I’m glad of the author name change, because the almost-too-much romance of her previous books has been let loose full-force in this first in a series. I feel warned. Very interesting story-line (murder mystery) BUT so much corny sap that I could barely finish it (although I did; I needed to find out the mystery!) Unfortunately, the romance was predictable from the first hint, and I stopped counting how many times “she bit her lip.” The women in this novel need chapstick. Now, if you’re a romance fan, don’t hate me, but I’m not. Sorry Carolyn, I prefer Rebekah.
Time for a literary post-apocalyptic one, Yay!
- “After the Flood” by Kassandra Montag. Ahh! Back to excellent story-telling with multi-dimensional characters. Survivors of huge world-wide global-warming floods sail the now-ocean world trying to set up new lives on remaining mountain-top land masses. Awesome vision and world-building, even better psychology of relationships. So dark yet uplifting as struggles are met and not always overcome. Loved this book.
Holiday time! I try to pick up books by local authors when I’m out-of-town and (of course) visit local bookstores. Lucked out with this novel,
- “The County Murders” by J.D. Carpenter. Found this book in “the county” of Prince Edward while camping near Sandbanks provincial park. (Ontario, Canada) (“Camping” means parking the new toy trailer and doing wine tours.) It’s a murder mystery, present-day, but the local geography and characters are the best part of this book. Transplanted Torontonians buying up farmland to turn into wineries. Mohawks. Drunkards and mentally-ill homeless. Realtors. Cops and truckers. All mixed up with the intriguing story-line. So fun to read while recognizing the locales in the descriptions. I may buy more of this author.
- “Never So Alone” by another local author I’ve met, Barry Finlay. A novella prequel-type for his FBI agent series. Meh. Well-written. I liked the setting (rural Manitoba, unexpectedly.) Better for me on TV, this stuff. On to more of my favourite kind of read, historical fiction.
- Yay, back to another ancient Greece book by Conn Igulden, “Lion”. It picks up from the first two I read earlier this year. This one sports a better (fictional) plot to go with the historically accurate personages and events. Follows Pericles from his warrior youth up to his fame as a leader in the “golden age of Greece”. A good read, as usual from this author.
- I seem in some sort of reading loop – back again to an author I’ve both read and know : Susan A. Jennnings. Book 2 in a series that can be read each as a standalone in my humble opinion, “The Heart of Sophie’s War”. WW1 nurse on the front lines in France. Very gripping. If you want your romance but more realistically and historically, this is a series and an author for you. I was so involved in the times and flavours that I found myself craving a cuppa’ while reading.
Although busy with family duties more than usual this month, the reading kept pace.
- “Victim Zero”, by Joshua Guess, one of the freebie downloads I get offered on one of the too-many email subscriptions I have. Forgettable. First of an apocalytic series (that I won’t follow up with.) If you like this stuff, there are better authors out there (see “After the Flood, above), so I quickly moved on.
- “The Turn of Midnight”, follow-up to Minette Walters “The Last Hours”. The story continued and didn’t disappoint. Coming out of the plague days of 1348-1349 rural England, both characters and plot are deep and satisfying. Even a comfortable ending for such a dark (I mean, the plague!) plot. Something I appreciate, a good ending. I may even try out other works by this author – although I discovered her via these historical fiction books, she is better known for suspense and crime writing, a genre I don’t normally seek out.
- Speaking of different genres, I tried out “Fire in the Stars” by an author I met at the bookstore signing, Barbara Fradkin. Very good. Newfoundland, so interesting settings. Modern. Ok, but I crave more exotic, as in historical fiction.
- So back I go, to “Anvil of God”, by J. Boyce Gleason. France, or what would become France among the Frankish kingdoms, of 8th century Europe. Fascinating times as rising Christianity mingles with earlier pagan religions. The historically accurate times blend well with the fictional details this author invokes. Good reading, and luckily looks like a series I can continue to follow.
- So follow book 1 I did – Book 2 “Wheel of the Fates” : it’s one of those annoying and satisfying type of series where book 1 simply ends and book 2 picks right up as if it was all one book after all. Satisfying when book 1 ended and I had book 2 lined up. Annoying when book 2 ended and book 3 isn’t out yet. I’m so tempted to read the real historical facts while I wait but that would provide all the spoilers. Luckily though, (unluckily?) I know quite a bit about the historical Charlemagne, whose birth dramatically ends book 2.
Time to get out of early medieval France.
- How about a local author writing about modern political intrigue in my own Ottawa area? Randall Denley with “Spiked” – a murder mystery. Not my usual, but as I say, I like to bounce around, even if it’s a bumpy ride. This one was not a favourite, but recommended for a side trip.
- I’m still on the side roads with an old paperback Harlen Coben book I found at a swap lending library in the neighbourhood. An author that I hear is very popular, and I think I tried before, so what the hey, an investigative ‘modern’ timeline. (‘Modern’ for the 1990s. It was fun to read about the ‘new’ cell phone technology.) A twisty-turny plot. Like the previous, I prefer such stories on the screen. Deep, absorbing reading? – no. Okay for a break.
- To my delight, one of my favourite authors had just released a new novel. I quickly snapped up “Act of Oblivion” by Robert Harris on ebook, no reading blurbs or intros needed. Come on, it’s Robert Harris! And as usual, a great read. In case you care, (but you shouldn’t, it’s Robert Harris), it’s about hunting down the now-criminal ‘regicides’ of post-Purtian England. Regicide – the killing of King Charles 1 in the mid-1600s, during the time of Oliver Cromwell’s Republic. This book is unbelievably wonderful for historical accuracy. The more I learn about history, the more I realize I don’t know. Thank goodness for writers like this.
- Another fantastic historical fiction, this time “China” by Edward Rutherford. If you’ve never read this author, and you want full, lush, detailed characters, their lives entwined into the times, I envy you: because you have such an author to discover! This one, set in mid-1800s China, follows highborn and low, Chinese and British, through Opium wars and dynasty difficulties. Enjoy.
- I’ll take a break from the grand scale historical novel trend I’ve been on, and open my Kindle to check out the buildup of freebie Bookbub deals I download far too often. An unknown author this time, Phil M. Williams, and his novel of family trauma, lies, and consequences, “Redemption”. Not the same great literary writing I like, but fast-paced and a story – contemporary, family drama – that kept my interest to the end. A nice break just before Christmas season.
I’ll be taking my little Kindle along on a pre-Christmas holiday cruise down south. A cruise – something I’ve never done before! So just light reading is planned.
- “The Chalet” by Adriane Leigh fits the bill. Fast, easy, not too many characters, plot was of a psychological interest. Who’s the good guy, who’s bad, who’s got the reality problems? Snowy mountain settings. Fun until the ending, which I may have mentioned before (many times?) is a deciding factor in my evaluation. This one fizzled. But still an OK read.
- “Veteran Affairs” by Joseph Hirsch. Talk about different. An Iraq war veteran, now a nurse with his own problems, at a VA hospital dealing with veterans from WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. The story morphs seamlessly into a paranormal joyride through the worst memories of such a cast. With heavy graphic sex scenes tossed in to ensure the story maintains maximum shock value. Not something I would normally recommend to many, but yes, books are not (to me) just for cozy comfy rides and this one took me to realms I seldom visit.
- “Take Your Breath Away” by Linwood Barclay ends an unusual (for me) reading December, and an overall satisfying reading year. A mystery, murder, twists, kept guessing till the end, etc. What anyone would call a page-turner, it was OK if you like that genre. Which I’ve decided I enjoy, once in awhile, especially if the author is good, which this one is. I look forward to getting back to my other worlds of historical or science fiction.
And 2022 is over, just like that. What a year. My “to read” pile is large and looming, so bring on 2023. I dare it to be better. Fingers crossed. And don’t forget to add my BOOKS to your own list 😉