Reading list

9 Jan
15 January 2018
My dear friend Jonnie Martin reads cerebral books. If she recommends a book to me I know it will be not only well-written but a lot of work to read. She calls then “chewy” reads.
Books are an escape for me and while I love to read, I do not read enough. There are too many distractions out there. When I do read, I do not like it to be too much work, so my reading list for 2017 is more pedestrian than Jonnie’s. I am not, however, a reader of graphic novels nor bodice-rippers. (Although the Outlander series remains one of my all-time favorites and I anxiously await Book #9).
I averaged 2.3 books per month in 2017 and a total of some 12,000 pages according to That number does not include the various travel books and guides I consumed for trip planning and execution, and I read hundreds if not thousands of pages in these books. Nor does it include books I disliked and did not read to completion. I have no tolerance for being bored by a book and will delete it from my Kindle if the first 50-to-100 pages do not satisfy me.
It is fun to look back and see what attracted my attention. My favorite genre is historical fiction and this was my year of WWII novels. I am drawn to books about WWII whether fiction or non-fiction. Something about that era entrances me and the “unknown” stories that have come to light in the past decade-or-so amaze me.
My favorite book of that period was a work of historical fiction, “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” by Mark Sullivan. It is the story of an unsung civilian hero. Set in Italy under Nazi occupation one would almost believe this was the stuff of an over-active imagination, a story filled with betrayal, love, crime, death, family, faith, encounters with historical characters, and so much pure luck. I dislike calling it fiction as it is based on a true story corroborated by the protagonist and historical research done by Sullivan. Do yourself a favor and read it before the movie comes out.
Other WWII-era books I read:
“The Paris Architect” by Charles Belfoure– Malcolm Gladwell recommended this book which interested me. It is a good story, although some of the dialogue is a bit contrived. A wealthy industrialist hires an architect, who has little empathy for Jews, to construct foolproof hiding places where Jews can be safe during searches. It is a moving and dramatic tale of heroism during the occupation of Paris. 
“The Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly – Another story inspired by a real person, a woman this time. The Lilac Girls tells the intersecting stories of a New York socialite, a Nazi doctor, and a Polish teenager. It is a story of WWII horrors but also of altruism and justice.
“The Orphan’s Tale” by Pam Jenoff – A Dutch runaway, a traveling circus, high wire artists, and a boxcar full of infants. Jews were sometimes hidden as performers in circuses. Yeah, I didn’t know that either. While not specifically a true story, but is based on true elements cobbled together in a story that is ultimately about chances taken, bravery, and human bonds.
“The Women in the Castle” by Jessica Shattuck – This is another tale of intertwined lives and strong women in post-war Germany. The three protagonists come from different walks of life but have survived the war. Their efforts to find a way forward result in saving one another. This book comes from a very different viewpoint given its post-war setting in Germany and female perspective.
“The Girl from Venice” – I have not read a Martin Cruz Smith book in years. I am so happy I found this one. The story is set in the waning days of WWII. This thriller/mystery/romance/historical fiction work features vivid characters and a seldom-described culture of fisherman in the Venetian Lagoon. Gripping.
“In Farleigh Field” by Rhys Bowen – With a dead paratrooper, MI5, the aristocracy, spies, traitors, and Bletchley Park, this mystery moves along briskly demanding little from the reader but delivering a good read.
I am not sure where my reading will go in 2018. I am in love with downloading samples from Amazon, where I can read a few pages and see if I like the book rather than spending $11.99 only to discard the book after 50 pages. Right now I have eight samples to read so we’ll see how many make it to purchase.
What are you reading? What was your favorite book of 2017?

24 Responses to “Reading list”

  1. Maarja February 17, 2018 at 10:57 #

    I just finished “The Girl From Venice” after your recommendation and I loved it! I had it on my iPad as we went unexpectedly to Provence where we just bought a little house so it was great to have along. I really love reading things from that era so it was perfect!


  2. Leah Armstrong February 16, 2018 at 07:25 #

    Perfect timing! I was just thinking about books and what to read next. I also have a thing for WWII books. I just finished Lilac Girls and really enjoyed it. Thanks for posting this!
    Ciao, Leah

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laurel February 16, 2018 at 07:34 #

      Thanks, Leah! I also just read “A Hero of France” and could hardly put it down! You might like it, too.


  3. Patricia Lewis January 16, 2018 at 12:02 #

    Inlove getting recommendations for good books, particularly the chewy ones, and I share your interest in WWII novels. Just finished The Paris Architect. Couldn’t put it down. Several of the other books you mentioned are on hold for me at the library. Thanks.


  4. Kathleen January 13, 2018 at 11:14 #

    HI Laurel! We love the same genre. Will be sure to include your books on my reading list. Have you read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laurel January 13, 2018 at 12:52 #

      I read it a couple of years ago. So many of that genre over the years. One I really enjoyed was “Night Sky” many many years ago.


  5. S Bravenec January 9, 2018 at 21:59 #

    Thanks for the recommendations! I’ve added a couple to my holds list at the library… my preferred approach so I don’t spend too much on books : ). I know they are not new, but here are a couple that you might enjoy given your delight in WWII historical fiction/based on real accounts: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – fantastic interweaving of two teens (one German who’s an orphan, one French who’s blind) and how their paths converge in unexpected ways toward the conclusion. Well drawn characters, detailed information about various aspects of the war and the interpersonal conflicts that arise, with a bit of intrigue thrown in too. Could not put it down, and neither could my avid reader hubby. Another one to try is A Woman in Berlin. It’s supposedly a diary of an anonymous woman released 50 years after her death, and tells about the time after the fall of Berlin during occupation by the Russian Army. Gripping, heartbreaking, complex, and vivid telling of a very human story in the aftermath of war.


    • Laurel January 10, 2018 at 05:16 #

      I loved “All the Light We Cannot See!” I read it when it came out. I believe there is going to be a movie. I will add “A Woman in Berlin” to my list. Thanks!


  6. Marcia January 9, 2018 at 19:48 #

    I just finished Beneath a Scarlet Sky and whoa… was incredible. I’ve read most of the other books on the list but will add a couple from the list. Thank you!!!!!!!!


  7. mvaden1948 January 9, 2018 at 17:23 #

    Needless to say over the past two years I have read more than my share. I discovered a couple of authors who are new to me…that CBS Sunday Morning program is responsible for me spending too much money. After all it was their feature on a company called Untours that was responsible for my first visit to our beloved Venice.
    But this last summer they interviewed Louise Penny. I spent several months reading her Chief Inspector Gamache series…all 13 of them. Although set in Quebec they remind me of Guido Brunetti. I have also read the Enzo Chronicles by Peter May. The first on the series is “Extraordinary People”. Currently I’m reading my favorite author Isabel Allende’s “In the Midst of Winter”. I recently saw an interview with her in which she said she wished she had read “An Orphan’s Tale” before she wrote her book. There are so many wonderful books out there and even more really bad ones. That’s the reason I’m glad Nook let’s me have free samples… anywhere from 10 to 50 pages. I think the editor is responsible for how many pages you get. I look for the author’s writing style as much as anything and often enjoy the “chewy” ones. And I must admit to occasionally reading a “cozy cat” mystery… where the cats outwits the bad guys and saves the human. I didn’t even know that was a genre you could search.
    I did read “The Girl From Venice”.
    Happy reading.
    On another note from one cat lover too another…see the documentary film Kedi which is all about the cats in Istanbul and is beautifully filmed I got it from Netflix, loved it so much I had Diavolo get it for me for my birthday.


    • Laurel January 10, 2018 at 05:20 #

      That Diablo is quite a shopper. 🙂

      I love Donna Leon’s Brunetti series. It is great fun to see in my mind all the locales in Venice. Similarly, I read John Sandford’s Davenport series set in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul (my hometown). I will have to download samples of the authors you mention.Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • mvaden1948 January 11, 2018 at 06:11 #

        I really think you would enjoy Louise Penny especially. When asked what she was looking for when she created Chief Inspector Gamache she said she had an image of the man she would like to marry. The first book is “Still Life”. They don’t have to be read in order but I did and I’m glad. Happy reading.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Chloe January 9, 2018 at 17:11 #

    I love to read and will be sure to look up some of the books that you have recommended. I too, like historical novels and just finished Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts. He is one of my favorites and his novels are about the various wars that we had with France and England. He wrote in the 30’s and maybe the 40’s. Kindle has been my life saver. I still send books to France, but not nearly what i at one time sent. Now i simply put them on my Kindle. A fantastic devise for travel. No, I don’t miss feeling a book in my hands. My Kindle is in something that looks like a book so it is easier to handle. My first Kindle gave up the ghost last year and one of our grandsons immediately bought me another one. He’s the kind of grandson one wants.


    • Laurel January 10, 2018 at 05:22 #

      I adopted the Kindle as soon as it came out and have not looked back. It is a traveler’s dream machine. I suspect I would have about 12 pounds of books when we travel if I did not have a Kindle. Ugh! Sometimes I use my Kindle Fire, sometimes an iPad, and occasionally my phone as a platform. I will look into “Northwest Passage.” Thanks!


      • Chloe January 10, 2018 at 06:14 #

        You may want to start with one that is not so lengthy. There are several. Try your library.


  9. Grier January 9, 2018 at 16:48 #

    Great post, Laurel. I am an avid reader and I particularly like books written in the early to mid 20th century. I read 97 books in 2017 and some of my favorites were Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville West, Final Edition by E F Benson, Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple, The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, and Passing On by Penelope Lively. This year, I’m joining some book bloggers who proposed reading A Century of Books, one book published in each year of the 20th century (some are doing the last 100 years, 1918 to 2017).


    • Laurel January 10, 2018 at 05:24 #

      Interesting list, Grier. I will have to explore these books. I think you would like my friend Jonnie’s selections. You should follow her blog. I am in awe of 97 books in a tear! Brava!


  10. jonnietootling January 9, 2018 at 16:38 #

    I have to laugh . . . when I first started reading your blog today I recalled a comment one of the women from our Femmes group once made: that if I recommended a book or a movie, she was sure to avoid it, because it was going to be “too chewy.” I have no idea how she felt about books or movies that I pan. I readily admit that I am a harder sell than most readers but when I find a book I love, it is often quite stunning. I am sure your book selections are a lot more accessible and with heart — with a lot of heart — because you are just that kind of wonderful person. Yay, you!


    • Laurel January 10, 2018 at 05:27 #

      Hahaha! I am not in avoidance but I know I am in for a lot of work when I take up one of your suggestions. Do you remember “The Sea” by John Banville? I had a love/hate relationship with that recommendation of yours! I just saw it’s now a movie available on Amazon so I may force myself to watch it.



  1. My year in books | Girovaga - January 3, 2020

    […] According to Goodreads, I read 32 books and almost 16,000 pages in 2019, about equal to 2018 but up significantly from 2017 when I last wrote about my year’s reading. […]


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