Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favorite authors. Her books like Hamnet and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox always make their way to my favorite reads of the year. And this brand new, beautifully told, story will also be a favorite of my reading year. Here is my Book Review The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell.
Book Review The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
Like most of O’Farrell’s novels, she weaves real life characters and factual history with fictional persons and events to create a magical story. The setting is Renaissance Italy with the ruling Medici family of Florence. The story of the young duchess Lucrezia de’ Medici will captivate you as O’Farrell shares the young girls remarkable story from conception to adulthood.
Lucrezia is unlike her sisters, less concerned about her looks or who she might marry than she is with nature and art. She never imagines a handsome husband or time at Court. But when her older sister dies unexpectedly, Lucrezia is betrothed to marry the man meant to be her sister’s husband…the ruler of Ferrara.
Not What It Seems
At only 15 years old she is thrust into an unfamiliar world, with a strange and mystifying husband, and his unusual family and courtiers. The marriage is not what it seems. Lucrezia is an outsider and from the beginning fears for what the future holds. Her only friend, a maid she brought from Florence.
Lucrezia sits for a wedding portrait commissioned by her husband, but as the months go by and she does not conceive an heir, all she has given up and indeed her future hang in the balance. How can she protect herself from this man whose personality is unstable and erratic?
Like her other works, O’Farrell’s beautiful writing brings the reader into the Italian Renaissance and the unusual plight of this young women. The story offers the reader brilliant imagery, prose and character development. Another O’Farrell masterpiece. Thanks for reading my Book Review The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell.
*****Five Stars for The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
As you likely know if you have been following all these years, I track my reading year from August to July. Nothing fancy, just keep a little tally in my notebook of all the books I read. This year I read 69 books, (11 fewer than last year) and today I will share with you some of my favorites, once again, for Sixth Annual Reading Round Up 2023.
Over the past year I have written 52 book reviews, pulling into reviews my favorites of the 69 books. Fifty of the 69 were read on my kindle, four were traditional books, while 15 were audible books we listened to on road trips or in the car while home in the USA. Some of my top books of the year were on Audible…a fantastic way to enjoy a book while driving.
So as in the past several years (see our year in review from 2022 and 2021) I’m sharing my most favorites in a Top Fifteen list, and a few honorable mentions too. Some outstanding novels, biographies, historical non-fiction, as well as Booker and Pulitzer winners. Other than the number one slot here, the books are in no particular order.
My Top Fifteen
Here are my favorites from July 2022 to July 2023;
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese One of the best books I have read in several years, Verghese is a brilliant man and writer and I will read anything he writes in the future. My favorite book hands down of this past year. Go Read This Book!
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus – powerful yet sentimental this story of a brilliant woman scientist in the “women stay home” 1950’s will make you life, cry and jump for joy. Soon to be a movie too I hear.
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell – O’Farrell has a magnificent talent to weave real historical characters into fictional historical novels so perfectly you will wonder if the story is biographical. A beautiful read.
To Paradise by Hanya Yanaghihara I believe in my book review of this book I used the phrase mind-boggling. Indeed it was. A spectacular achievement in fiction, difficult to explain, sometimes confounding, absolutely worth the effort. I loved it.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2023, this fantastic story of drug abuse, poverty and abandonment in Appalachian USA is deep and sometimes difficult to read. But read it anyway.
The Whalebone Theater by Joanna Quinn – set in England before and then during WWII, the changes in Quinn’s astonishing cast of characters through the book and the war will keep you turning every page. A deep story of the meaning of family.
Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris – I had never heard the historical fact that the killers of King Charles I in England escaped to New England. This part is true. What Harris does so eloquently in this book is imagine how the manhunt for these killers evolves over more than a decade. I really enjoyed it.
This is Happiness by Niall Williams – Sweet, heartfelt and identifiable. This is a story about that one great love. This is a story about life. It will make you smile, cry and remember your first love and past regrets. An unforgettable and well written story.
Horse by Geraldine Brooks – Brooks has two books in my top 15 this year (see #14) and Horse is her most recent. She uses the human activity centered around a horse – a real horse from the past – to create this fictional story of racism through the centuries.
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler – what a tale of both fact and fiction of the infamous John Wilkes Booth and his family. The trials and tribulations of this family make a great story, long before anyone shoots Lincoln. Extreme poverty to wealth and prosperity are combined with unfathomable loss of of children and property, alcoholism and rivalry, illegitimate accusations, polygamy, ego, and family love and regret. This was a perfect Audible on a long road trip last summer.
The Night Ship by Jess Kidd – The real life wreck of the Dutch East Indies flagship Batavia in 1629 is the basis for this fictional novel. Wrecked near Beacon Island, the horrifying experience of the survivors of the Batavia is one of the most barbaric ever recorded. Kidd brilliantly chronicles the events in both fact and myth through the eyes of two small children in The Night Ship.
The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead – A very long saga of a book about a female pilot in the early days of pilots and airplanes. Yes it is long…but I loved it. At first I thought it was about a real person; the character is fictional but comes to life under Shipstead’s genius
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – This is Brooks second appearance this year in my top 15. Loosely based on Eyram Derbyshire, a real village that had to quarantine itself during the black plague. Brooks creates a fictional village in 1666. When an infected bolt of fabric makes its way to the isolated village from London, the protagonist Anna’s life will change forever.
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron – Young Daniel and his father run an antique bookstore in Barcelona during a time when Spain and the city are reeling from war. Daniel has lost his mother, and in his grief he finds solace in a mysterious book but the search for the author will nearly kill him.
Local Author – The Whiskey Creek Water Company by Jan Walker – Walker, who lives in my local town, presented one of my favorites this year in a sweet and simple book about a tiny fictional village in the Pacific Northwest during the prohibition.
Humor – Guncle by Steven Rowley – Gay Uncle Patrick (Gup) also known to his niece and nephew as Guncle, finds his world turned upside down when a family tragedy back home in Connecticut has him caring for his niece and nephew all summer in Palm Springs. I fell in love with the characters and this family story.
Favorite Author – Delicious by Ruth Reichl- I have been a Reichl fan for years. Celebrated memoir author, food writer and former editor of Gourmet Magazine, her first novel is for foodies as well as anyone who has lost someone they love.
Two of my favorite things to do in the world are travel and read…and for the same reason. Both take you to unknown places, where you meet new people and encounter different ways of life. Both open your eyes to alternative ways of life, educate you and present new ways to think and see the world and beyond. Get out there and explore…books are the perfect way for ANYONE to do that. Just. Go. Read!
Thanks for reading this week’s Reading Wednesday post Sixth Annual Reading Round Up 2023.
Some of Maggie O’Farrell’s work becomes favorites such as Hamnet and The Marriage Portrait…both top my favorites lists. Clearly it’s her historic fiction that I prefer. But on my husband’s recommendation I set out to read This Must Be The Place. I liked it but can’t say I loved it. Here is my book review This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell.
O’Farrell introduces us to a plethora of characters, each connected in some way to our protagonist Daniel Sullivan. We meet Daniel as a man living in a reclusive part of Ireland with his somewhat eccentric wife and three children. But as the story unfolds we will learn details about each of their lives and why they are “hiding” in a remote location.
Daniel has led somewhat of a bizarre life, makes a living as a linguist, despises his father back in Brooklyn, has lost track of college friends and never sees his two grown children in California.
When Daniel stumbles upon Claudette and her young son Ari, he doesn’t at first realize who she is. But as they get to know each other Daniel realizes Claudette is the former bombshell movie star who dropped off the face of the earth at the height of her film career.
Somehow these two unlikely characters fall in love and get married. But while Claudette is reclusive Daniel knows all of her secrets, but Claudette will learn she hardly knows any of Daniels…including information about past loves, abortions, alcoholism and a mysterious death.
Can this couple survive the twists and turns life throws at them? With the help of family who loves them, maybe they can.
A unique and complicated story, but in my opinion not O’Farrell’s best.
***Three stars for This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell
Nell Young has spent her life loving maps. Raised by her father after the tragic death of her mother, Nell’s world revolves around cartography...until a mysterious map falls into her hands and her whole world turns upside down. Here is my Book Review The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd.
Part mystery, part fantasy, part family saga, The Cartographers is a fun whodunit read with some unusual twists and turns.
Nell Young’s father is a world renown legend in the field of Cartography. But when Nell finds a hidden map in a box labeled “junk”, Nell and her father have an irreconcilable falling out. What is it about this plain and simple gas station road map?
When Nell’s father is murdered in his office in the New York Public Library, Nell will begin a mad hunt to solve the mystery of this nondescript map. Along with her former boyfriend and a cast of characters from her father’s youth, Nell will discover long held secrets, dangerous knowledge and powerful people behind this seemingly useless map.
A mix of science and magic, The Cartographers is a perfect read for fans of The Night Circus, The Buried Giant or Anansi Boys. Thanks for reading my Book Review The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd.
Maggie O’Farrell wrote the phenomenal Hamnet, my favorite book of 2021. And I am on pins and needles for her new book, The Marriage Portrait, due out this fall. I have read two other O’Farrell works, Instruction for a Heat Wave and I Am I Am I Am, neither as good as Hamnet, but this one…ah this one was really good. Here is my book review The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell.
Not unlike another story I read a couple years ago, The Women They Could Not Silence, O’Farrell takes us back in history to a dark time when husbands, fathers and even brothers could commit women to asylum’s…often for absurd reasons.
This is the basis of the plot of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. When Iris Lockhart learns she has an aunt she never knew existed, who is being released from Claudstone Hospital after being locked away for 61 years.
Iris begins to unravel the story of Esme Lennox, sister to her grandmother Kitty – a grandmother who has never mentioned Esme and has always claimed to be an only child.
The author takes the reader back and forth between the viewpoint of multiple characters (Esme, Iris and Kitty) and through the past and the present day as she magically weaves the plot and the sad story.
I didn’t love the ending…it kinda leaves you hanging. But nonetheless I really enjoyed this book. I hope you enjoyed reading my book review The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
O’Farrell is a master at character development. In this novel she creates some interesting characters in two parallel storylines across a fifty year time period. Of course you know these stories will interject at some point, but even when they do you will be taken aback. It is a story of three strong-willed women and their connection.
Lexie – wants so much more than the provincial life laid out for her in the country home of her parents post WWII. She plots her escape thanks to the love of her life Innes. But Innes has his own secrets that will, after his death, haunt Lexie forever.
Margot – Innes daughter will do anything she can to ruin Lexie’s life. She is Lexie’s nemesis but as the story unfolds we realize that their connection will be greater than either could ever have imagined.
Elina – present day a new mother struggling with her near death experience giving birth to her son, tries to navigate motherhood, while dealing with her husband Ted’s memory issues. Ted refuses to admit he is ill, and Ted’s parents – especially his mother – is secretive and aloof. What memories is she trying to suppress from Ted?
The revelations will come to light in a painful way, but Elina will be the hero as she helps her husband grasp his new reality, recover from the shock and repair the fractured family through her never-ending love.
The Hand That a First Held Mine
Not her best work but a superb story nonetheless, in true O’Farrell fashion. I enjoyed the plot and the outcome. Thanks for reading my book review The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell.
****Four stars for The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell.
Oh boy. I loved this engaging story for so many reasons. I had never heard of Robert Harris but he has several best sellers under his belt. And the exceptional storytelling of Act of Oblivion clearly shows why. Here is my book review Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris.
I read a lot of historical novels that are part fiction and part fact. I love an author who can seamlessly combine the two. Robert Harris is one of those. I had never heard of the historical fact of the killers of King Charles I in England escaping to New England. This part is true. What Harris does so eloquently is imagine how the manhunt for these killers evolves over more than a decade.
General Edward Whalley and his son-in-law Colonel William Goff sail to the new world after being involved in a brazen execution of the King…essentially ending the English Civil War between the parliamentarians and the royalists.
While more than fifty men have been imprisoned or hung for their role in the King’s death, only two have escaped. Long time foe of these men, Richard Nayler will not sleep until he sees them dead, blaming them singularly for the death of his wife.
Through the help of clergy and faithful in the colonies Goff and Whalley manage to stay hidden for more than a decade, but their life is lonely, cold, boring, humiliating. And most of all, they miss their wives and children back in England.
How will Harris imagine the end to this years long manhunt? Through unprecedented storytelling, and realistic and heartfelt character development, Act of Oblivion unfolds like a symphony. Fans of Ken Follett,Maggie O’Farrell and Hilary Mantel will love this action packed historical novel.
Thanks for reading my book review Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris.
*****Five stars for Act of Oblivion byt Robert Harris.
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