Historical Fiction
The Nightingale

The Nightingale

$9.99$1.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)

This book disappointed me, not because it was bad, but because it had the potential to be outstanding. While Hannah does a wonderful job portraying the state of occupied France in World War II, the characters felt like types. Many reviewers praise the sheer originality of the book for its portrayal of French women in WWII, but I kept thinking of Jojo Moyes's stronger novel The Girl You Left Behind. Release date: February 3.

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The Bookseller

The Bookseller

It's Denver, 1962, and Kitty Miller is happily living the single life, co-running a struggling bookstore. But then she begins having dreams that show her an alternate reality: the life she would have had if one single moment had unfolded differently. (Think Sliding Doors.) If you thought The Life Intended's plot was farfetched, you aren't going to like this one. This felt a little gimmicky to me (and the autism thread felt especially heavy-handed), but I did appreciate the numerous literary references. Release date: March 3.

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Outlander

Outlander

Talk about big fat books: This time-travel romance series has 8 books to date, totaling 8,479 pages, and 300+ hours on Audible. If you read the words "time-travel romance" and rolled your eyes, you're not alone: I did the same, until I read the backstory. As she tells it, Gabaldon intended to write a realistic historical novel, but a modern woman kept inserting herself into the story! She decided to leave her for the time being—it's hard enough to write a novel, she'd edit her out later—but would YOU edit out Claire? I didn't think so. From the publisher: "Unrivaled storytelling. Unforgettable characters. Rich historical detail. These are the hallmarks of Diana Gabaldon's work." You could happily lose yourself in this series for a whole summer (but heads up for racy content and graphic torture scenes).

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Backlands

Backlands

Shorr puts a fictional spin on real-life Brazilian folk heroes Lampião and Maria Bonita in this lyrical debut. After enduring 6 years of a loveless in-name-only marriage to a man she couldn’t stand, Maria Bonita leaves to become the wife of Lampião, Brazil’s beloved bandit, whose vigilante justice is indisputably more fair than the official kind. Soon Maria earns renown as the fiercest woman in Brazil, the queen of a band of merry outlaws. A well-paced novel, if not a page-turner: don’t give up when the going is slow in the first two chapters. It gets better. Evocative and moving.

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The Sunne in Splendor

The Sunne in Splendor

Riveting historical fiction by one of the finest historical novelists. Penman takes on fifteenth century England and the War of the Roses, recreating the life of Richard III: England's most controversial and most vilified monarch. The first hundred pages read like a history book (and I don’t mean that as a compliment) and the cast of characters is a bit overwhelming at first, but keep at it. Recommended reading for Outlander fans (but no time travel here).

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These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn so much I decided to move on to another of my mom’s favorites. Again, what was I waiting for? It was a little slow in the beginning, and the purposely bad grammar and diction got on my nerves, but don’t give up—the author knows what she’s doing, and it gets better. The story about a woman in the Old West really works in diary format. Brutally honest, heart-wrenching, engrossing.

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The Power of One

The Power of One

I’ve been meaning to read this forever and finally got to it last month—and I’d completely forgotten that it was one of my mom’s favorites. When I mentioned on the blog I was reading it, many readers chimed in to say it was their favorite book of all time. Some novels just tell a great story: this is one of them. Set in South Africa during the 1930s and 40s, following the struggles of a young boy named Peekay. The breadth of the story is fascinating (boxing, apartheid, horticulture). The beginning reminded me of All the Light You Cannot See, not a bad comparison, but a sad one. A story of resiliency and redemption.

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Centennial

Centennial

$9.99$2.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)

Michener is best known for his sweeping historical sagas: he wrote this epic novel to commemorate America’s bicentennial in 1976. This is the story of the American West, and especially Colorado. It spans 136 million years, covering the prehistoric era, Native Americans, trappers, traders, homesteaders, gold diggers, and cowboys, right on up to 1970s America. Meticulously researched, and so accurate it’s required reading for some history classes. Gripping enough to keep you turning all 1056 pages, more than once.

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The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist

This 2014 release got a ton of end-of-year buzz. The writing was solid but I ultimately found the story—an exploration of love, affluence, and greed—unsatisfying, because the author left some of the most compelling parts of the story unexplored. I wouldn't bother with this one if I had it to do over. I listened to this as an audiobook, and Davina Porter's narration was pitch-perfect.

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The Help

The Help

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan graduates from Old Miss in the 1960s and returns home to Jackson, looking for a topic to write about. She decides to tell the story of the Help. Skeeter was raised by a kindly black maid, as were many of her friends. Now they’re having babies and hiring black maids of their own. Skeeter interviews the maids of Jackson to find out what it’s really like to be a black woman who leaves her own babies at home so she can earn a living raising white women’s babies.

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The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper

Any Morton novel would make a great summer read, but The Secret Keeper is her finest. When she was 16, Laurel witnessed a violent crime involving her mother, Dorothy. The family hushed it up, and Laurel hasn't spoken of it since. Now, fifty years later, Dorothy is dying, and Laurel is determined to unravel the secret while there's still time. As Laurel pursues her clues, the story flips back and forth in time between today and the years before and during World War II, including the London Blitz, which Morton recreates so vividly you can almost hear the bombs dropping. Filled with twists and turns that will keep you guessing to the end.

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Longbourn

Longbourn

Pride and Prejudice meets Downton Abbey: this is Austen's classic story, retold from the servant's perspective. You'll love it or you'll hate it. (But hey, polarizing books make for great discussion.) Book club discussion highlight: what Baker did with Mr. Wickham. (Shudder.)

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A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery

A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery

Raybourn writes historical fiction with a twist; she's best known for her Lady Julia Grey mysteries. This is her first novel in a new Victorian series featuring the badass but well-bred Veronica Speedwell. I heard the author speak about her source material for this new series in Raleigh, and I was intrigued: her heroine travels the world hunting beautiful butterfly specimens and the occasional romantic dalliance. When her guardian dies, the orphaned Veronica expects to embark on a grand scientific adventure. But Veronica quickly realizes that with her guardian's death, she is no longer safe—and she begins to unravel the mystery of why she poses a threat to dangerous men. An easy, enjoyable read.

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Voyager

Voyager

$7.99$4.99

I devoured all the Outlander books this fall. I hate picking favorites, but this might just be my most-loved of the eight so far, if only because at page 1 I couldn’t understand how Gabaldon could possibly resume her story where book 2 ended and take it in any direction at all that made me not hate her. It works. I’m impressed.

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Girl Waits with Gun

Girl Waits with Gun

Stewart is best known for her science writing: she's written six nonfiction books with unusual takes on the natural world. (See: The Drunken Botanist.) This book is a departure for her, and a successful one: readers buzzed about it all fall and it hit many best-of-2015 round-ups. This novel is based on the true story of Constance Kopp, one of the first female sheriffs in America. I tend to shy away from biographical fiction because the narrators often ring false to me, but I loved the way Stewart brought her leading lady's story to life.

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Drums of Autumn
The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House

I was warned this beautiful and heartbreaking story would suck me right in and it certainly did. The year is 1791, and an orphaned Irish girl is brought to a Virginia plantation as an indentured servant and makes her home among the slaves. The story is told alternately by the orphan Lavinia and 17-year-old Belle, the half-white illegitimate daughter of the plantation owner, who becomes Lavinia's de facto mother figure. The story keeps a brisk pace, propelled forward by rape, corruption, lynching, and occasionally, love. Whether you've already read it or are thinking about it, don't miss Kathleen Grissom talking about how this story came to be on episode 78 of What Should I Read Next.

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Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley

This mystery is set on the grounds of Pemberley, five years or so after the marriages of Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane. The plot revolves around Wickham this time. Book club highlight: how James paints the Darcys marriage, 5 years later.

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Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

$9.99$1.99Audiobook: 3.99 (Whispersync)

When I got together with a bunch of writers recently we all talked about how much we loved Susan Meissner. Her most recent novel, published November 2015, begins in modern-day times when a distinctive green velvet hat is mistakenly dropped off for resale at a vintage clothing shop. The hat is instantly recognizable as one that Scarlett O'Hara wore in Gone with the Wind; it disappeared during filming and hasn't been seen since. Of course the hat has a long, strange history, and Meissner takes us back in time to 1938 Hollywood, where two young friends are trying to make it in Tinseltown, each in their own way. This isn't my favorite Meissner novel, but it's a solid one, and Gone with the Wind fans won't want to miss it.

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The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife

This is the fictionalized account of Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson. The setting—mostly Jazz-Age Paris—is dreamy; the marriage, less so. We all know how this ends: badly. And yet, towards the end of his life Hemingway said, “I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her.” Book club highlight: Hemingway, that dirty dog.

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Along the Infinite Sea

Along the Infinite Sea

This was my first Williams novel about the sprawling Schuyler clan but it won't be my last. The author tracks the same characters through her loosely connected novels, which provides an interesting layer of interest but doesn't require the reader to read them in order. In this novel, Williams hones in on Pepper Schuyler, the spunky iconoclast who delights in rocking the boat and doesn't mind making her own path, which is how she ends up holed up in Palm Beach, restoring a very fancy, very expensive vintage Mercedes. The car brings another strong woman into her life: the mysterious Annabelle, who pays a fortune for the car because it's the one that carried her family to safety when they fled Nazi Germany thirty years prior. The sale is just the beginning of their relationship, and as the story unfolds we find out just what happened to Annabelle during WWII, and how Pepper is going to extricate herself from her own current mess.

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Zelda: a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda: a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

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An intimate look at the life Zelda Fitzgerald may have lived with Scott Fitzgerald and the rest of the Lost Generation. Though she’s often known as nothing more than Fitzgerald’s crazy wife (thanks largely to Hemingway), this fascinating and heartbreaking novel casts Zelda in a more sympathetic light. Book club highlight: what is truth, and what is fiction?

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Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

$12.99$2.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)

Because Cleave tackles heavy-hitting subjects, this is the first of his novels I've had the guts to try. I knew I had to read this when my husband (who beat me to it) couldn't stop sharing Cleave's well-turned sentences aloud. There have been so many WWII novels of late; this tale of four young, warm, wise-cracking friends in wartime England is a standout in the genre. Through their characters, Cleave throws issues of wartime morality, race, and class into sharp relief. This is for you if you love a great story and admire a beautifully-rendered, wry turn of phrase. Think of this as the witty but no less devastating companion to All the Light We Cannot See. Publication date May 3 2016.

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The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: A Novel

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: A Novel

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When his wife’s beloved brother goes missing in World War I, a Nova Scotian artist seizes the opportunity to join the Canadian forces as a cartographer, serving safely behind the lines in London. But when he gets to Europe, he’s instead sent directly into battle—and that’s just the beginning of his dangerous and confusing circumstances. A thought-provoking debut.

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Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House

Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House

$11.99$1.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)

This thrilling novel is a dream come true for fans of The Kitchen House but it stands just fine on its own. Jamie Pyke is a man with a dangerous secret. He's been living far from his plantation home in the relative safety of Philadelphia, but when the son of a dear friend is captured by slave traders and sold down to Virginia, he risks everything to set off in pursuit of him. Grissom's rich characters practically leap off the page. Pair with The Gilded Years for a fascinating combo. Published April 5 2016.

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Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall

A hefty, believable, meticulously researched fictional take on Tudor England in the Cromwell era. Cromwell is one of the more mysterious characters of history, and Mantel does a solid job of filling in the blanks. The readers with great taste I rely on for recommendations are split on this one: some love it, some hate it. Either way, this 2009 Man Booker Prize winner is widely praised for its inventiveness. I picked a beautiful red copy up at a library book sale a few years ago and its been mocking me from my shelves ever since: I'm hoping to knock it off this summer.

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The Gilded Years

The Gilded Years

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The publisher calls this Passing meets The House of Mirth. Tanabe's new historical novel is based on the fascinating true story of Anita Hemmings, the first black women to graduate from Vassar College, who passed as white to gain admittance. Set in turn-of-the-century New York, Anita's life becomes a lot more exciting—and a lot more dangerous—when her new assigned roommate belongs to one of New York City's most prominent families, and drags Anita into a new and glamorous world. But nothing means more to Anita than Vassar: she must keep her secret or she'll be expelled. As she desperately tries to straddle two worlds, she edges ever closer to losing not only her education, but the people she loves most. Publication date June 7 2016.

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The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours

This Gothic mystery is slow to build but those who persevere will be rewarded. The plot flips back and forth between World War II and the 1990s, but not in the way you'd expect. The setting is a crumbling old castle, which contributes to the story's creepy (but not quite scary) feel. Some readers think this is Morton's best work.

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A Fall of Marigolds

A Fall of Marigolds

This has been on my TBR for a while, because so many historical fiction fans recommended this to me as Meissner's best novel. The action goes back and forth in time between two women, a century apart, who are linked by a beautiful scarf and by their unlikely survival in two devastating tragedies in New York City. Meissner's tone makes this an easy, enjoyable read despite the tough subject matter—I read this in a day.

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The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden

If the Brothers Grimm wrote The Secret Garden, this is what it would have been like. This sprawling family saga gets a little unwieldy at times, but I can't say I minded much. History, fairy tale, family drama, and Gothic mystery rolled into one.

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