Kristin Lavransdatter is actually three novels — The Wreath (1920), The Wife (1921), and The Cross (1922) — compiled into one massive book. I bought the Penguin Classics deluxe edition a few years ago, back when I read Gunnar’s Daughter and had traveled to Norway and was still on a Viking high. To my low-key chagrin, the book was not another thrilling, over-the-top epic about Vikings. On my shelves it sat for the next three years until the 45-hour-long audiobook version was released (about the same amount of time it would take, I’d estimated, to finish a king-sized quilt I’d been working on for months). It was perfect timing.
The trilogy follows its title character from girlhood to old age in fourteenth-century Norway. It’s a period in the Middle Ages when the last vestiges of paganism have given way to Catholicism. As the eldest daughter of Lavrans, a privileged and well-respected landowner, Kristin is well-liked by her community. Lavrans, whose sons all died in infancy, dotes on his girls, especially Kristin. When she reaches a marriageable age, she’s promised to Simon Darre but begs her father to let her spend a year in a convent first. Ironically, it’s there that she becomes a scandalous woman; she meets the love of her life, Erlend Nikolausson and promises herself to him no matter the cost.
I’m usually set to go with my year in review posts on January 1, but I have been BUSY lately. I’m trying my hardest to finish a king-sized quilt in time to enter it into my first ever quilt show (and of course I’m doing everything at the last minute…though in my defense, this thing has been a work in progress since June). My apologies for the late start!
I had a pretty good year in reading in 2017, though I must admit I was more partial to my nonfiction reading. Still, there were definitely some standouts. In an unlikely twist of events, two westerns won my heart in 2017. The first three books listed are my favorites of the year; everything else is listed in alphabetical order:
The Son by Philipp Meyer (2013)
Spanning three generations, The Son is a Texas-sized story about the rise of the McCullough family. The earliest generation battled Comanches and Mexicans to keep their ranch, while the last generation in the book battled environmentalists and fellow oil tycoons to hold on to their vast fortunes. I listened to it on audiobook, which gave me the added delight of listening to Will Patton and Kate Mulgrew narrate some of the story. It’s a gorgeous book.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (2015)
Civilization has long since collapsed, and the world is on the verge of ending again. Essun, a woman with secret abilities that are feared by all, is now just trying to pick up the pieces of her life. Her husband has murdered her son and kidnapped her daughter, so she’s on a quest to find them. It’s a really smart, mesmerizing book to lose yourself in.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles (2016)
Captain Kidd is hired to take a young orphan girl from Wichita Falls to her surviving relatives San Antonio; she was recently rescued from captivity with the Kiowa Indians and doesn’t understand her old life anymore. They’re an odd pair who form a unique bond along the way. It’s a quiet but entertaining book that was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Yesterday, Book Riot released the list for their 2018 Read Harder Challenge. In 2016, I began giving feminist recommendations for each task, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
As usual, some of the tasks were trickier to figure out than others. And like last year, you’ll find that a lot of the titles overlap with multiple tasks, but I listed different titles and authors for all tasks. Happy reading!
Task 1: A book published posthumously
- Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
- The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
- Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
Task 2: A book of true crime
- American Fire by Monica Hesse
- The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
- Mrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca
- Murder in Matera by Helene Stapinski
- The Hot One by Carolyn Murnick
“I Give You My Body . . .”: How I Write Sex Scenes by Diana Gabaldon
Publisher/Year: Dell, 2016
What it is: Diana Gabaldon, the woman behind the Outlander series, gives a master class in writing sex scenes. She includes excerpts from her own novels and then breaks them down, analyzing the reasons why they work so well. She also breaks down different types of sex scenes, running the gamut from the down and dirty to sex scenes that don’t have any sex at all.
Why I read it: I’ve actually never read any of the Outlander books, but even then, I’ve heard about how well she writes sex scenes. I picked this one up because I heard Gabaldon discussing the book on the Authorized: Season 2 podcast on Audible. It just sounded really fascinating. There are tons of writing books out there, but not so much on this particular topic.
What I thought: Gabaldon makes a distinction between writing sex scenes and writing erotica, and this book is not about erotica. She focuses a lot on setting the mood and the scene, and her examples show the subtleties of her style choices. It was an interesting read, and although it’s fairly short, it contains a lot of good advice on writing in general.
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan
Publisher/Year: Courtney Milan, 2014
Narrator: Rosalyn Landor
Length: 10 hours, 54 minutes
Source: Audible Romance Package
What it is: Frederica “Free” Marshall is a headstrong suffragette, journalist, and newspaper publisher. Edward Clark is, by his own admission, a scoundrel who cannot be trusted. Free’s newspaper and entire livelihood is being threatened by a powerful aristocrat, and Edward approaches her to offer his assistance, confessing up front that he’s doing so only to seek revenge on the man who ruined him years before. This is Book 4 in the Brothers Sinister series, but I just jumped straight into this one; the Brothers Sinister are mentioned a couple of times, but it’s not a big part of the story.
Why I listened to it: Hel-lo? Feminist historical romance. That, and it was universally adored by my friends the year it came out. It’s been on my TBR list ever since.
What I thought: I think this might have been my first historical romance novel, and I was hooked. Milan is a talented writer who pays attention to detail and carefully fleshes out her characters’ backgrounds. Free is a feisty feminist and Edward Clark is a rogue with a soft spot, and together, they talk about everything from exclamation points to living with PTSD. Seriously. And yes, there’s well-written sex. *fans self*
I was in Austin this past weekend doing a panel for Nasty Women, but I had the first day of the festival all to myself. One of the big events I’d been dying to attend was the panel with Jeffrey Eugenides and Claire Messud. It’s a six hour drive from South Texas up to Austin, and I used the opportunity to finish listening to Fresh Complaint, a collection of stories written between 1988 to 2017. With the exception of the title story, most of the stories had been previously published in other places.
Early in the panel, Eugenides bemoaned a common description he’d been seeing in reviews of his book: it’s about depressed middle-aged men. “It’s not just about that,” he protested. “There’s a story about two older women, and there’s a story about a Pakistani teenager.”
Yeah. About that.