A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler (2018)

Alva Smith's family's declining fortunes have ruled out marrying for love. With the help of friend Consuelo Yznaga, Alva settles on rich William Vanderbilt and they soon marry. The Vanderbilts are happy for the union because the Smith's standing in society is long-established and could help elevate the Vanderbilt name.

A Well-Behaved Woman chronicles Alva's life over thirty-five years, from newlywed and mother as she navigates upper-class hierarchy in New York, through her efforts to find a good marriage match for her daughter, ultimately showing how Alva finds love and happiness for herself. A fascinating novel by Therese Anne Fowler that had me intrigued and researching the Vanderbilt family.



Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis (2018)

not_our_kindIn 1947, an accident between two cabs brings Eleanor Moskowitz into the world of Patricia Bellamy and her family. Eleanor, who is Jewish, has just left a position at a prestigious school in Manhattan. Patricia offers her a job teaching her daughter, Margaux, who had polio, thus has trouble walking, and is very reluctant to go back to school—hence the tutor.

Margaux takes an immediate shine to Eleanor, but in the upper class New York society, Eleanor is encouraged to keep her religion a secret. Things get even more complicated when Eleanor falls for Patricia's older brother, Tom, and Patricia's husband, Wynn, becomes increasingly angry about Eleanor's presence. Told through the eyes of Eleanor and Patricia, Not Our Kind explores the two women's very different lives in a time of change. Check out this debut from Kitty Zeldis.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

allthelightSet in WWII, this book alternates between the life of a young German orphan (soon to be soldier) named Werner, who is a whiz with electronics, and Marie-Laure, a young, blind French girl who is forced to leave her home in Paris when the Germans invade. Their lives intersect in a seaside town called San-Malo as the Allies are about to bomb the city and repeatedly flashes back in time showing how they came to this moment.

All the Light We Cannot See has very short chapters, so it has the feel of being fast paced, but the novel is also very detailed with tactile and audio descriptions of how Marie senses the world around her. Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel depicts the horrors of WWII from a unique point of view revealing both the evil within men and also the heroism, too.

If you enjoyed this novel, check out related book lists: Novels of WWII and WWII and the Women in the Resistance.

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare (2017)

indexAll Emma Gladstone wants is to be paid for the wedding dress she was commissioned to create, and all the Duke of Ashbury wants is an heir for his title. In a match of wits, they come to a deal—Emma and the Duke will marry, but she only has to live with him until she can produce an heir.

Tessa Dare’s The Duchess Deal is a fun, playful romp that goes by far too quickly. For readers who love fast-paced banter, well-developed characters, and sensuously steamy situations (and book 2 of the Girl Meets Duke series—The Governess Game—is available now). Readers of Nalini Singh will definitely enjoy this as well.

The Necklace by Claire McMillan (2017)

The NecklaceWhen Nell's Aunt Loulou passes away, Nell heads to the Quincy estate in Cleveland from her home in Oregon. Nell's mother (now deceased) and father moved out west years ago, because they found being around the wealthy Quincy family too stifling. At the reading of the will, Nell is named executor of the estate and is bequeathed a necklace that is unaccounted for. Then, in cleaning out Loulou's bedroom, Nell finds a necklace containing a giant sapphire with nine other jewels. Feeling that this is the necklace mentioned in the will, Nell goes about finding out its history, but other family members attempt to control what happens to it.

Told in alternating chapters, the reader follows the contemporary story of Nell and her relatives, along with the 1920s tale of brothers Ethan and Ambrose Quincy and the woman they both loved, May. The Necklace by Claire McMillan is an engaging story filled with details of old wealth and of times gone by. Give to readers who enjoy Lauren Willig's standalone novels.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017)

manhattanbeachJennifer Egan’s epic novel Manhattan Beach is set in the Brooklyn Naval Yards during World War II. This coming-of-age novel features Anna Kerrigan as a fiercely independent young woman who longs to serve the war effort as a diver, an occupation reserved solely for men in 1940s America. Anna’s underwater training takes her deep into the murky waters of New York Harbor, while her quest to uncover the mystery that has torn her family apart leads her into the dark underworld of organized crime.

Manhattan Beach was long-listed for the National Book Award in 2017. I recommend giving this one a listen — the audiobook narration by Vincent Piazza of Boardwalk Empire adds the perfect touch of noir to this historic novel.

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (2017)

scribeofsienaIn the present day, neurosurgeon Beatrice travels to Siena after her brother, a medieval historian, dies. Somehow, Beatrice travels in time to medieval Siena during the plague (around 1350). As you read The Scribe of Siena, you’ll feel that you were there too—the writing and descriptions are so vivid. Check out Melodie Winawer’s captivating debut novel today. For fans of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (2016)

Short chapters alternate among three young evacuees in East Prussia during the winter of 1945. A fourth voice also fits into the storyline. Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred are aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff when it is hit by a Russian torpedo and quickly sinks. The story leads up to this moment when life-changing decisions are made. We get to know, love, and understand the differing life circumstances that have brought these characters together from all over Eastern Europe at a crucial time in the war.

Ruta Sepetys has a talent for drawing tears from her readers and little known stories from history. Between Shades of Gray exposed the tragic story of the Lithuanian prisoners in Siberia with the same drama and sensitivity that she tells this story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The epilogue in Salt to the Sea adds another poignant note to this moment in historical fiction.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline (2017)

An interesting fictional memoir of the subject of the famous Andrew Wyeth painting: Christina's World. Christina Olson lived her whole life on her family's ancestral farm in Maine. Determined, hardworking, and stubborn, Christina never gave in to her crippling disease as it progressed throughout her lifetime. Andrew "Andy" Wyeth used the Olson house as his studio for many summers, befriending and immortalizing Christina.

In A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline (who wrote Orphan Train) makes readers wonder if the real Christina Olson was as endearing as this well-developed character. For more behind the scenes information, check out the Museum of Modern Art and Mental Floss.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers (2017)

In 1863, sixteen-year-old Placidia agrees to marry Gryffth Hockaday after knowing him for a very short time. He is a soldier on leave, so while he goes back to fight for the Confederacy, she travels to his South Carolina farm to look after it and be a mother to his young son, Charles. Being alone and isolated, living with only the slaves and no other family leaves Placidia vulnerable. When Gryffth comes home after the war is over, he finds that she has been accused of having a child while he was gone and then murdering the baby. Placidia finds herself arrested, in jail, without her husband's support. What really happened while Gryffth was gone? The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers is a perfect read for those who enjoy historical fiction (especially Sandra Dallas) that highlights the everyday lives of women.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (2017)

In 1938, Marianne von Lingenfels makes a promise to watch over the families of German resistors. As the war comes to an end, she finds herself taking in Benita and her son, Martin, and Ania and her two sons, Anselm and Wolfgang, at the family's run-down castle. The three women struggle to survive on their own as they come to terms with the enormous toll the war has taken on them. Taking place over almost sixty years, the novel explores the lives of everyday Germans during the war, a view that hasn't really been explored at length in popular fiction.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck is an absorbing read that would be great for discussion. For people who enjoyed Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly and other female-centered World War II fiction.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood (2013)

In Ann Hood’s novel, a clever storyline follows two women's lives some fifty years apart against a backdrop of significant events in American history: the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and its aftermath, and the 1960 presidential election and inauguration of JFK. At one point in The Obituary Writer, their two storylines merge into one. Vivien and Claire are not contemporaries, yet they share certain struggles and dreams. Can one woman's regrets bring closure and happiness to another woman? With the women's movement and all the changes of the 20th century, did individual women's lives change that much? Even in the 21st century, do women continue to feel trapped in traditional roles?

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (2009)

As the first in a new series by Alan Bradley, this mystery has promise. Flavia is delightful, charming, intelligent, and an almost too clever eleven-year-old chemist who deftly solves a murder in her English village in the early 1950s. The reader wants to scream at her older sisters, her silent father, and the authorities to get out of the way and let Flavia solve the crime in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Transatlantic by Colum McCann (2013)

transatlanticI appreciate good historical fiction, especially those stories that connect people and events across time. Colum McCann has done his research and given us some great historical framework before the reader figures out that Transatlantic is really about three generations of women who have left their mark on history, in particular that of Ireland. Great insights into women who carry many personal burdens, yet persevere. Great insights into human nature in general.

Sunflowers by Sheramy Bundrick (2009)

sunflowersThe relationship of the eccentric painter Vincent van Gogh and a young prostitute Rachel begins in the French city of Arles where van Gogh has escaped from Paris to explore a new movement in painting. His never ending search for the perfect model leads him to Rachel and their love for each other grows more intense and tormented as van Gogh struggles with the demons in his soul and mind.

The letters between van Gogh and his brother in Paris reveal many of the known truths of this deeply gifted artist and his life story. A recent trip to the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was a fascinating comparison of the book, Vincent's artwork, and his love for a young prostitute looking for her own escape.

Check out Sunflowers by Sheramy Bundrick today.