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Stardust by Neil Gaiman (1999)

In Stardust young Tristran Thorn grows up in the Village of Wall which lies on the edge of Fairie land. The villagers only enter the land beyond their walled town once every nine years when they mix with magical folk at a temporary market. Following his heart, Tristran embarks on a journey into Fairie which reveals his gifts and subjects him to great challenges. Gaiman's fantasy is entertaining, at times amusing, and very engrossing.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2012)

Enlightening. Educational. Moving. Resilience. Cold. These are just a few of the words members of the GenLit Book Group used to describe Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Horrifying yet heartwarming, the book traces 15-year-old Lina’s journey during a little-known part of history.

In 1941 Lithuania, Stalin and the Soviet secret police started deporting men, women, and children he considered a threat. Teachers, musicians, artists, doctors, lawyers, and servicemen were exiled for alleged anti-Soviet activities.

Lina and her family were forcibly removed from their home and transferred to a Siberian labor camp. Their experiences represent those of the hundreds of thousands deported from 1941 to 1953. Sepetys writes a bleak, moving tale of historical fiction; she drew inspiration from her own family’s history.
Definitely worth the read, but have a tissue handy!

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin (2013)

Melanie Benjamin mixes history and conjecture into an epic story of love, triumph, heartbreak, and betrayal. In The Aviator’s Wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh is portrayed as a strong woman, accomplished in her own right, who stood behind her hero husband even when he didn't act like much of a hero. Through tragedy and scandal, she held her head high as she silently grieved.

This excellent piece of historical fiction makes the reader want to delve further into the biographies, histories, and actual literary works of one of the most famous couples of the twentieth century.

Lorna Raver's rich mature voice reminds listeners of the audio version that this story is told from Anne's perspective in her later years as Charles is dying. The story begins and ends in 1974. Flashbacks have Anne recalling her life with Charles with the wisdom of having already lived through it.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)

If you enjoy historical fiction, especially the Tudor period featuring King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, you may enjoy this richly detailed and complex winner of the UK’s 2009 Man Booker Prize. Wolf Hall is centered on the improbable rise of Thomas Cromwell, from an angry, violent, and abused blacksmith’s son, to the right-hand man of the king. The writing style takes a little getting used to, but once you become familiar with Mantel’s quirks, the tale is a spellbinding look into the highest levels of power and politics, as well as the mundane details of ordinary life in early 16th century England.

The second book of the planned trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies (2012), is currently available (and also won the prestigious Man Booker Prize).

 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009)

I finally see what all the fuss has been about. The Help is an excellent book. Stockett pulls you into another world, long ago and far away. The story unfolds through the eyes of three very different woman and the reader grows to love and root for each one of them. They are good women caught in a cultural trap that seems to have no escape. Working together and risking their lives, they manage to make a small difference.

When you finish the book don't forget to watch the movie!

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (2012)

In England, sixteen-year-old Laurel witnesses a shocking crime during a summer house party. Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful actress living in London. As the family gathers at the ancestral house for her mother’s 90th birthday, Laurel tries to discover what really happened so many years ago.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton goes back and forth from the present to WWII London following the life of her mother and two other people. A VERY satisfying ending. I cannot stop thinking about it.

For other books where the past impacts the present, check out our bibliography.
 
 

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (2009)

This is the kind of book you can't stop thinking about once you finish it. It's about war, political unrest, struggling to survive, family, and mostly about love. Well-developed characters struggle through the many changes in 20th century Poland. The author skillfully goes back and forth from World War II era to 1992. Eventually, the reader is surprised by the melding of these two worlds.

Lots of tears. Lots of triumphs of the human spirit. I can't wait to read more from Pasulka. Check out A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True today.

In January, our multicultural celebrations will feature Eastern Europe. Check out the programs to learn more about the countries and cultures in this region.

The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks (2005)

The Widow of the South is based on the true story of an unlikely hero from the Civil War era. Carrie McGavock eventually becomes known as the Widow of the South after her house is appropriated for use as a hospital by the Confederate army just prior to the devastating Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, where 9,200 men were killed or terribly wounded in less than a day.

The prose is a bit meandering and I was not always clear where the author was going, but toward the end the story comes together when Carrie makes her courageous stand for the fallen and their families.

A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd (2011)

Bess Crawford is a nursing sister in France during World War I, but she finds time during leave in England to become immersed with the secretive Ellis family and to take it upon herself to help solve a murder or two when she isn't tracking down a child who looks suspiciously like the long-deceased Ellis daughter.

Read A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd today.

Cain at Gettysburg by Ralph Peters (2012)

As we look forward to celebrating the 4th of July in 2013, we also remember the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. Mr. Peters writes about this battle even though it has been covered in numerous sources in the past 150 years. One would think there is nothing left to say, but Peters gives another look at history while telling individual solders’ stories to let one know how it must have been to be there.

Friendships develop among unlikely soldier types and examples of traumatic stress and great cruelty are described. General Meade’s value in leading the Union army to victory is brought out even though he shows surprise as well as discomfort in being given the command; then, he is later criticized for not finishing off Lee’s Army. Cain at Gettysburg is another good read for all civil war aficionados.

For further reading on the Civil War, check out our list Civil War in Fact and Fiction.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (2008)

What a charming story written by Mary Ann Shaffer! Written as a series of letters written between the characters, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is set in 1944 in London and the island Guernsey at the end of WWII. The characters survived the war under diverse circumstances, creating a story about characters you really care about.

If you enjoy reading about life during WWII here is a list of novels set in during this time period.

Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani (2012)

Equal of the Sun is a fascinating tale that will truly transport you to another time and place… an aspect of historical fiction that I especially enjoy. Author Anita Amirrezvani transports us to 16th century Iran for a story which is both political intrigue and a moving portrait.

The novel is based for the most part on the life of Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, who assumes control of late-16th-century Iran after the sudden death of her father, the Shah. Despite the chaos, Pari manages to bring peace to the kingdom with the aid of Javaher, a eunuch and trusted political adviser.

I think you will enjoy reading about the incredible history of the Iranians. Check out our list of other Novels Based on Real People.

For more about the book visit the author’s website.

 

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson (2012)

Settle in and get swept away in this lush globetrotting tale set in 1942. As British fighter pilot Dominic Benson is recovering in a hospital, he is mesmerized by talented singer Saba Tarcan. The daughter of a Turkish engineer and a Welsh mother, Saba defied her family to audition for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). Her duties for ENSA are supplemented by a few side jobs for the British secret service

Their paths continue to cross as they travel to Cairo, Alexandria, and Istanbul to serve their country. With an engaging cast of characters and richly described settings, this is one historical novel you don’t want to miss. Read Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson for a different perspective of World War II.

For one performer’s experiences of serving with ENSA, read this article from the BBC: here.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James (2011)

P. D. James helps the reader by beginning with an introduction to the Bennetts of Longbourg, the family of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. For those of us who struggled through that earlier work, this introduction was essential. I enjoyed this mystery about this family set in the early 19th century with strong values of duty, honor and family integrity (as well as some outright scoundrels).

Unlike James’ other novels, there is no keen detective work; the reader must seek the solution from testimony (some incomplete or misleading) at inquest, trial and later statements made by the players. I was surprised to learn who the real killer was and like one of the principals (Darcy), very happy to see the troublemaker off to America.

Pick up a copy of Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James today.

 
 

The Mysterium by P.C. Doherty (2012)

History, mixed with sinister mystery and, well plotted too, is like a jewel in the crown. Hugh Corbett in the King Edward's I service is forcibly retained to solve a series of brutal murders. The streets of Medieval London reek with bloody minded gangs and high born assassins. You do not have to read the other books in the series to appreciate The Mysterium, but you may want to after reading this.

Read The Mysterium by P.C. Doherty.