I spend a lot of time defending chick lit against negative high-brow bibliophiles. I’ve started many a post about how strongly I feel about the importance and enjoyment of this genre. You’d think with how often I defend it that I would also favor the genre against all others. It doesn’t, however, quite take the top spot. That belongs to another genre that I also frequently defend and one that critics despise almost as much as chit lit: historical fiction. Why is the best kind of reading criticized the most??
I’ll never be able to answer that question, but I can tell you that, when done right, historical fiction novels have me flying through them at lightning speed. Usually, I lean toward war-related reads when perusing this genre, but — as you know — I’ve been slightly obsessed with learning about Russia and the Cold War lately. So after Red Sparrow failed to live up to my impossibly high expectations, I figured I needed to draw back into a genre that rarely lets me down, so that I could get my Cold War fix.
I came across Our Woman in Moscow a few months ago in a Buzzfeed books newsletter discussing new novels that were sure to make a splash. It seemed to have everything I was looking for: historical fiction, a Cold-War era timeline and World War II, and an intriguing plot. I didn’t realize I’d also get some badass female characters written with City of Girls-like characterization. I cannot sugarcoat it: This book made a giant splash, and I absolutely devoured it.
Do you ever feel like a book has it all? Hardly ever. It’s a challenge to find a book that engages you; perfectly utilizes a plethora of literary devices; has poetic writing without seeming over the top or losing you; tells a really good story; and has powerful themes. When you do come across this rare occurrence, you have to pause and think, “Wow. I loved every part of that book.”
Well, I guess you could say 2021 is off to a great start because I’ve already found a book that has everything. And I finished it only 16 days into the year. That greatness came in the form of Marcus Zusak’s historical fiction novel, The Book Thief, which Kyle had — for good reason — been recommending to me for awhile.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also tell you that this novel somehow made me both laugh and cry. I don’t know how Zusak accomplished so much in 500 pages, but I’m sure glad he did.
I know I know. It’s a very odd title, but does it grab your attention and reel you in? Of course, and that’s why it’s a great title. That’s what great books deserve, and that’s exactly what Shaffer’s novel is.
I read this novel at the beginning of the pandemic (apologies for the delay!), and it easily earned four flames. It was moving, funny, heartbreaking and heartwarming, and just a great story. It’s also a movie on Netflix that came out in 2018. Many people have recommended this book to me, including my friend Danielle, who I watched this movie with virtually (#coronavirus). After indulging in this adventure yet again — as well as Michiel Huisman who dreamily plays Dawsey Adam — I decided to take the movie and book toe to toe.
Some books can’t escape you. It’s not just your inner circle reading them; rather, it seems every bibliophile on the planet has picked up a copy at some point. You can’t explain why you haven’t done so yourself, but you know one day you will. And that day will be a good one.
The Nightingale has been that book for me the past few years. I’ve had multiple friends and family members rave about this historical fiction favorite, and one of them compared it to All the Light We Cannot See, a fellow World War II novel I adore. Surely I’d have the same feelings toward this one.
It’s had a far greater reach though. I’ve seen many subway riders reading it, and once I asked one of them what they thought about it.
“Oh I cried on here yesterday reading it.”
I owe my cousin, Julie, who sent me her copy of The Nightingale, among other books I can’t wait to read. Thanks to her, I could no longer be distracted by other novels. It was time to dive into this instant classic, and I’m so happy I did.
Schools mandate history classes with the justification that they help prevent mistakes that became the downfalls of previous generations and eras. Don’t adults owe society the same proactive mindset as the prominent decision-makers? In a world as politically charged as ours in 2018, history couldn’t be more important, and fiction gives it the most interesting depiction. Literature not only reminds us of past tragedy but also of how to build from the rubble.
I’ve read a lot of World War II fiction, and that’s because this time period gives us some of the most intriguing, confusing, emotional, and heartbreaking stories of human existence. The hatred that was spread and also the love and kindness that were borne from this pain are incredibly relevant today. Books like Jessica Shattuck’s 2017 smash, The Women in the Castle, are of course tragic, beautiful, and complete page-turners, but they are also critical if we ever want to better our society and avoid repeating our darkest days.
Everybody loves a good plot twist, myself included. In my review of Rich People Problems, in fact, I praised author Kevin Kwan for his ability to keep you guessing with one curveball after the next, which ensured the book was never dull (among other wonderful qualities). In retrospect, clues had been leading up to these revelations since book one, and nothing felt out of place.
I can’t quite say the same thing about Michael Ondaatje’s 2018 hit, Warlight. What saddens me about this conclusion is that I loved this book up to the ending. Ondaatje’s writing is beautiful and poetic, and it evokes the exact sadness and curiosity the characters feel. Ondaatje paints a mystery yearning to be told. But when he finally reveals the secrets, he does so with a twist too far out of left field that leaves you with a bad impression. Warlight, though exquisite, couldn’t quite close the deal, which is why I can’t quite give it more than three flames.
As a book blogger, you’d think that I thrive on book reviews. Quite the opposite. I know this sounds backward (and doesn’t exactly promote Big Little Literature), but I try to avoid spoilers and/or getting my hopes up when possible. But I struggled to stay away from one book in particular this year. Manhattan Beach hit me like a bang. From the mind of a best seller, this historical fiction novel made a huge impact on the reading scene in 2017. New Yorkeven included it on its anticipation index multiple times before it was released (probably because it took 13 years to finish), and I’ve seen it on many best-of-2017 lists so far. Let’s just say, it made some big conversation.
Of course, I made sure I put it on my library holds as soon as it was released. My favorite genre, a bad-ass author, and praise all over. I came home beaming the day I got it. I can’t say the smile stayed on my face for the book’s entirety. So here’s the truth from my red lips: A top contender for the best of 2017 didn’t make my list.