My Top 10 Books of 2013

So Goodreads tells me that I’ve read around 50 books this year. And those are only the ones I bothered to track. If you count my research books, the number is probably closer to 80 (seriously, I counted). The good news for you is that I’m not going to review all of them, just a handful of my favorites.

Please note: These are listed in no particular order. Not all of these books were published in 2013; they are just ones I read this year.


Winter Sea 1. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley – This was the first book I read by this author, who is now in my top five of all time. The Winter Sea is a historical time travel story that follows writer Carrie McClelland as she both writes her next book and uncovers family secrets. But this is no mere fictional tale; it takes on the idea that memories can be passed down through generations. It’s a great semi-gothic, semi-romance, but what really propelled this to the top of my list is Kearsley’s ability to describe what it’s like to be in the “writer’s trance” and feel compelled to write, something every writer will be able to relate to. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.

Demon lover2. The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark – Juliet is the pen name of Carol Goodman (whose book Arcadia Falls could also easily have made this list) and is the first, and in my opinion the best, novel of the Fairwick trilogy. It tells the story of Callie McFay, a professor newly installed at Fairwick College, who experiences startlingly vivid (read: sexy) dreams after moving into an old house in the area. She soon learns that she’s not alone in the house, nor are all the residents of the town as normal as they first appear. Something supernatural this way comes. 🙂

3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Which I reviewed here.

4. Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor – This novella takes place during Taylor’s previous book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (go read it if you haven’t already. It’s amazing!), and tells the story of the first date between Zuzanna and Mik, two of the supporting characters in the Daughter series. This story is sweet and full of whimsy and will leave you with a smile on your face and a renewed belief in magic and the power of love. This is one I plan to read over and over again.

Dark Triumph5. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers – This is the second book in Lafevers’ His Fair Assassin series, a YA trilogy I can’t recommend highly enough. The trilogy is about a convent of assassin nuns who worship the old gods (I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out) set in a fantasy version of medieval Brittany. The first book, Grave Mercy (also wonderful), told the story of Ismae; this is Sybilla’s story, which is much darker and fraught with danger. What has captivated me about this series is the mythology Lafevers has created. I find myself wanting to believe it is real. Why this books are classified as YA is beyond me (probably the main character’s age); they certainly don’t read that way to me and I recommend this series for readers of all ages.


1. Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era: Authenticating the Enemies and Allies of Britain’s Post-Roman King by Frank D. Reno – I read this book during my novel research this year and could have kissed the author – that’s how useful it was. Reno examines Arthurian legend and then lays over it the historical records of the time (such as they are) to try and determine who the historical figures behind the myths were. I used it especially to get the lay of the land in the years leading up to and after what I consider the Arthurian period. To me, this is a resource that is much undervalued in the study of who King Arthur may have been and the world in which he likely lived.

Orange is the new2. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman – I read this book after seeing the Netflix series which is loosely based on Kerman’s experiences and I’m glad I did it in that order. Usually, I’m a book-first kinda gal, but in this case, it was fun connecting the fictional characters to their real-life counterparts. If you’ve seen the series, I’ll offer this word of warning, much of it is fictionalized, so don’t go into the book expecting the same thing. The book is tame by comparison, but it also offers an interesting perspective on our system of institutional justice and the power of the collective female spirit to support and thrive, even in the darkest of circumstances.

3. The English Housewife by Gervase Markham and Michael R. Best – I read this book while doing research for a Tudor-era book that is now on hold indefinitely, but I had to include it on this list. This is an actual instruction manual of all the things an English woman would have been expected to know in the early 17th century. Consider it a Renaissance Redbook. If you are interested in how people lived during that time, how they cured disease or even the elements and courses of a proper feast, this is the book for you. The information on their folk cures was so detailed, it made me want to injure my characters just so I could heal them.

Tudor Housewife4. The Tudor Housewife by Alison Sims – This is an incredibly easy to read compendium of the elements of daily life during Tudor times. Unlike a lot of scholars, Sims makes this time period fun, while enlightening on subjects as varied as washing clothes, education, preserving food and how to brew beer.

5. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas – Mr. Mass is a well-known agent and this book is the result of his years of experience in the publishing industry. Unlike other “how to write” type books, this one goes beyond the basics, showing you how to take your writing to the next level and push yourself further in your creation of a plot with truly high stakes that the reader will care about. Maas doesn’t just want to teach you how to be a writer; he wants to teach you the elements that will make you a best-seller. I found this book very thought provoking and it is one I’ll turn to time and time again when plotting books.


LostAnd as a little teaser for next year, I’ll add that one of my favorite books of 2013 won’t actually be out until March 2014 in the US. It’s The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier, which I was fortunate to review for the Historical Novel Society. An in-depth review will be posted here as soon as the short version is published in Historical Novel Review.

Happy New Year, everyone. May 2014 bring you even bigger blessings and good fortune than this year did. I’m hoping to have lots of big news for you, so please stay tuned and as always, thank you for reading!

What were your favorite books of 2013? What should I add to my TBR pile?

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Book Review: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau (plus comments on The Chalice)

I’m proud to announce that I am now an ebook reviewer for the Historical Novel Society!  Since my other reviews on this site are longer and more impassioned (say it ain’t so!), I wrote this one within the HNS guidelines as a kind of “audition” for the role. Following that review are a few comments on the second book in the series.

The CrownThe Crown is not your average Tudor tale. Sure, all the usual players are there: King Henry VIII, Princess Mary, Thomas Cromwell, even Queen Katherine, but they are on the periphery. This is the story of Joanna Stafford, a noblewoman turned novice at the Dominican priory of Dartford around the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.

Nancy Bilyeau does a masterful job of illustrating a side of Tudor life you don’t often hear much about. What was it like to be Catholic during a time when Henry was growing increasingly antagonistic of the Church? What happened to those whose religious vocations were invalidated thanks to the king’s vendetta? Add in a murder and the search for a precious relic that may or may not save the day, and you’ve got the makings of a great read.

The strongest point of the book for me was the portrayal of daily life, secular, royal and religious. Bilyeau obviously did her research and it shows in the details that make the world come to life. Joanna is an engaging, sympathetic heroine, and those around her, Brothers Edmond and Richard, the Sisters and Geoffrey Scoville are unique, if flawed, characters.The who-done-it of the murder was also well done, and is concluded in a way I never would have guessed.

But it’s not a perfect book. Sometimes Joanna’s reactions seem forced, like we didn’t get enough insight into the way her mind works to understand why she reacted as strongly as she did. I liked the relic idea, but the search for it wasn’t fast paced or life-or-death enough for me to hold my breath about it. (There are some great examples of how to write atmosphere around this plot point, though.)

All in all, this book is highly recommended for fans of Tudor fiction. 4/5 stars.


The ChaliceSince the time I originally wrote this review, I’ve also read the sequel, The Chalice. I liked it slightly more than The Crown, mainly due to the whirlwind of action in the last 1/4 of the book.  Most of the same comments apply, although we do finally get explanation for Joanna’s reactions, which was missing from the first book. They really helped me understand and sympathize with Joanna.

Joanna’s relationships with Edmund and Geoffrey, as well as the use of prophecy (although historically accurate) seemed a little melodramatic to me, and contributed to my wariness during the first half of the book. But once that is dispensed with and we finally get to the action that Joanna must perform, the book picks up speed and is hard to put down. Bilyeau also includes a masterful plot twist explaining Henry VIII’s bizarre reaction to Anne of Cleaves. 4.5/5 stars.

Have you read The Crown or The Chalice? If so, did you like either one? If not, are you interested in them? Why or why not?