Last year, I made a post about my favorite reads of 2009 where I picked my top ten reads out of the 64 books I had read. And here we are again, another year (that flew by) of fabulous reads, and only a few of not-so-fabulous reads of this year. At the time of composing this draft, I have read 58 books in 2010 (see my entire review list here). I attempted to slow down this year so that I could focus on prioritizing family and summer fun, which has made this a great year just for that fact alone, and I will continue that trend for 2011 as I embark on expanding my horizons with more cooking, more gardening, more genealogy research, more swimming, etc. And something that I have been dying to do, is to read the books I have been accumulating for my personal pleasure, as opposed to reading according to a publisher's request for review. I have managed to sneak in a few reads in 2010 that were not strictly 'for review' books, but for 2011 I hope to dig into my Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt collection as well as some more of Georgette Heyer's regency reads. After reading last year's best of 2009 post, how do I feel about the choices of books I picked last year? I still feel those were all great picks and those selected do still resonate with me over a year later, as I am sure the following selections will also. The following selections were all books that I read in 2010 and were sent to me for review, either from the publisher or the author, at my request. (Please click the book covers or the linked titles to go directly to my previously posted review.)
This year, I read both popular and a little more obscure titles. One of those obscure ones from a debut author was Matthew Flaming's The Kingdom of Ohio (Putnam). It was released on 12/31/2009 so even though it was a 2009 published work there was no way I could have included it in my 2009 list since it was released on the last day of the year. It would have been on the list if it was released just a bit earlier though, because this was an amazing debut, and a fantastic storyline that had me hooked from page one! I cannot wait for this author's second novel, though rumor is it will be an entirely different theme, I am sure his writing will again suck me in. This work itself has some minor issues with it, but the fact that it is a novel that I still think about ten months later proves it is something that is worth a second look. The creativity and the suspense of the book was really something that packed its own punch, as the author really had me believing that there was indeed a lost kingdom of Ohio. And look at that great cover! Classic, elegant and creative, just as the words were on the inside.
I just recently read Désirée: The Story of Napoleon's First Love (Sourcebooks) by Annemarie Selinko, so it is indeed fresh in my mind. This is a reissue for 2010, but it was a moving story that many others over the years have agreed with me on its worth. Désirée became a Queen of Sweden, but how she got there was an extraordinary story of the young girl who first fell in love with Napoleon Bonaparte. The story of the love, and respect, between these two was heartwarming to witness through this novel. This will always be a book that I will not hesitate to recommend as it features much of France's pivotal events after the Revolution. This book was made into a film starring Marlon Brando in 1954 which I am hoping to find somewhere.
Before the beautiful bookstore of Legacy Books shut its doors, I had the opportunity to meet author Leila Meacham when she was promoting her book, Roses (Grand Central Publishing). That book was such a page turner for me, as the fictitious setting of a cotton industry town was close by and the plot was intriguing, inspiring and felt like it was written just to my tastes. I love novels that reach for saga status, and this was one that came mighty close, as some compared Roses to Gone With The Wind (which the author hadn't even read!). Leila Meacham is also the classiest Southern lady I have ever met, and I am so glad that I have had that chance. The paperback releases 1/3/2011.
The Kitchen House
(Touchstone) by Kathleen Grissom was one of those heartbreaking stories, as opposed to heartwarming. But it was an incredible story that shocks and saddens the reader s you wish you could do something to make the world a better place. The story starts with a young orphaned girl, Lavinia, who becomes like a family member to a group of slaves on a sprawling southern estate. We become further involved in the slave's stories and their many struggles, while the white people were mingling in and out of their personal lives in tragic and heroic ways. I gushed over the book in my review, but summed it up with "This is a must read. Absolute must read for those interested in America, how it was born, and who we are and why we should be thankful for the mere fact we are here today, and not back then." Kathleen Grissom is a superb storyteller, who is now working on a story about a Crow Native woman who married a fur trader in 1872.
Next up, another slice of Americana with My Name is Mary Sutter
(Viking) by Robin Oliveira's story of a headstrong but compassionate nurse during the horrific times of war. It had always been Mary's calling to be a nurse, and yet back in those days women working in any field other than as a homemaker was frowned upon. Doctors refused to apprentice her, yet she still persevered, long enough to help the wounded and the dying as much as she could. Along the way, there are chances for romance, but Mary is focused and resolute and quite a character to admire. We watch her struggle with her emotions and her duties as a nurse, but we are on the edge of our seat during the ride. It was quite poignant and very well-written, that I knew I was going to include this work as a favorite of 2010 even as I was still reading it. The paperback release is March 29, 2011 so if you have missed this one, be sure to put the paperback on your wish list!
Another book that is yet to be released in paperback (May 2011) and you need to put on your wishlist is an endearing novel regarding one of my favorite classic authors, Louisa May Alcott, titled The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (Putnam) by Kelly O'Connor McNees. This short and sweet novel is a must for any Alcott fan, though it may leave you wanting more once it is finished. The debut novel was also selected for Oprah's 2010 Summer Reading List. The author portrayed Louisa just as I had always imagined her: a headstrong, smart and utterly compassionate person. Her desire for independence can be the one thing that stands in her way of eternal happiness, and the single decision that she makes during this summer can be the one decision that she regrets for the rest of her life. I was completely immersed in this story and has me hoping and wishing that the author will again write another story on Louisa May Alcott.
On the top of my favorite topics to read about is the Tudor courts as I just cannot seem to get enough of the many players of the time period. There are always new Tudor novels cropping up, and we were treated to a new one in 2010 by D.L. Bogdan called Secrets of The Tudor Court
(Kensington). This is not to be confused with another author's Tudor series of Kate Emerson's who I also enjoy reading. Bogdan's work featured the prominent member of the Tudor court, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Most Tudor fans would recognize this name, as he was the man who helped propel two of his nieces to becoming Queens of England. But what of Norfolk himself, and his own immediate family? Thomas Howard's son, Henry Howard, was another prominent member of the Tudor court and well-known for his poetic abilities, but was a bit full of himself and eventually executed. Bogdan's story is focused, though, on Mary Howard, the daughter of Thomas Howard, and it is through her eyes that we poke through the typical characterizations of Norfolk and we read of an abusive and twisted man. Mary's story is indeed fraught with the intrigues of the Tudor court, and her entire life seemed to be a hardship just to survive within her father's presence. I enjoyed this different look on the man that lived to a ripe old age of 80 in the Tudor courts, which is a rarity (though he came thisclose to getting his own head lopped off), and I was touched by the author's portrayal of Mary Howard. Thomas Howard outlived many of his younger family members, and I cannot wait to read Bogdan's upcoming novel which will contain even more background to his personal story.
One of those books that make you feel more aware and sensitive of other cultures and beliefs is Mitchell James Kaplan's By Fire, By Water (Other Press). This impressive debut novel tackles the Spanish Inquisition while representing several sides and stories to the horrors it created. It opened my eyes about the Jewish people who were abused during the Inquisition, but it surprised me and taught me more about the politics behind the Inquisition as well. The characters (both fictional and real) that Kaplan uses to portray this story were perfectly written as brave voices of the victims of the Inquisition; even the ones whose job was to perpetrate the crimes against the Jews were somehow made intriguing through Kaplan's vision of a story that stays with you long after reading it. The combination of the subject matter, various themes (reform vs. fanaticism) and the characters' individual plights together made this a riveting story for me. Have you read any of these books I chose as my personal favorites of 2010? Would you agree or disagree with the choices? What are some of your own favorites of 2010?