The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (2010)

kitchenhouseSeven-year-old Lavinia, orphaned on her ship bound journey to America, becomes the indentured servant of the Captain and his family. She is to live in the kitchen house of the captain's tobacco plantation under the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter.  It is here that she calls home and develops deep relationships with her adopted family. The slaves all take Lavinia under their watch and teach her the ways of the slave quarters, kitchen house, and the big house, but she is treated differently because of her white skin.

As Lavinia matures into a young woman, her role on the plantation changes and she finds herself caring for the mistress of the big house who has fallen to the addictions of opium. Lavinia is trapped between these two different worlds and her loyalties, love and life are all endangered. Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House tugs on your heartstrings as Lavinia makes life choices and her world and its surroundings are forever changed.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (2015)

circlingsunAfter her acclaimed novel The Paris Wife, Paula McLain tackles yet another adventurous woman of the early twentieth century: Beryl Markham. Markham had an unconventional upbringing in Kenya after her mother's return to England. Her father loved her, but was caught up in his own business and personal concerns. She learned to survive on her own with the help of friends in the local Kipsigis tribe. Markham struggled to maintain her personal relationships and marriages. She was most comfortable around horses and wide open spaces. She finally realized her true calling flying above her beloved African landscapes.

Check out Circling the Sun today.

The Crook Factory by Dan Simmons (1999)

crookfactoryDid you know that Ernest Hemingway was a spy during WWII while he was in Cuba? This novel imagines just what Papa was up to between the fishing and the drinking in the early days after Pearl Harbor. Dan SimmonsThe Crook Factory is a fun but not fast paced novel of suspense.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)

godinruinsAfter reading – and very much enjoying – Life After Life, the idea of more Todd family adventures was appealing. Kate Atkinson calls A God in Ruins a companion novel to Life After Life, not a sequel. She takes one of the alternate realities of Ursula's adored younger brother Ted, and develops the storyline after his miraculous recovery from a plane crash as a bomber pilot in World War II. The novel alternates between Ted's wartime experiences and his civilian life as father and grandfather. Curious readers of Life After Life will also be treated to an excerpt from Aunt Izzie's The Adventures of Augustus, the character she modeled after Teddy. Atkinson continues to test the reader's concepts of time and fiction with this engaging novel.

Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale (2015)

paradiseskyThis is a good addition to the genre of humorous tall tale westerns. Something of a cross between Little Big Man and The Sisters Brothers, Joe R. Lansdale’s Paradise Sky is the story of Nat Love, a black man, set shortly after the end of the Civil War who must flee his Texas home and takes off to the Wild West. As a story of a black man in 19th century America, there are, of course, sad moments, but Nat's darkly ironic tone make for a read that hits many emotions from laugh out loud to frown in sadness or exasperation.

What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen (2014)

whattheladywantsIn this historical novel (and great Chicago book), Renee Rosen tells a fictionalized story about Marshall Field from the perspective of his mistress Delia Spencer. What the Lady Wants includes some history of the late nineteenth century, including the Great Chicago Fire and the World’s Fair, plus shows how people lived at that time.

Do you enjoy fictionalized history? Check out other Novels Based on Real People.

Come Hell or Highball by Maia Chance (2015)

hellorhighballThis book hits all the right notes of humor, setting, and character. In 1923, Lola Woodby, a New York society matron in her early 30s, is now a penniless widow with a dog, a Swedish cook, and a serious addiction to cinnamon buns and highballs. Talking like George Raft, if George Raft were actually talking in 1923, Lola and cook Berta go about wheedling their way into high society weekends, speakeasies, and shady businesses in order to retrieve a missing reel of film, and make the dough to pay the rent on their seedy apartment. I look forward to Lola's next adventure.

Check out Maia Chance’s Come Hell or Highball today.

Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme (2014)

missingreelsCeinwen Reilly is a transplant to the Big Apple where her minimum wage job at a vintage clothing shop funds her classic movie habit and her propensity for dressing like a 1920s film star. When she gets wind of a long missing silent movie directed by a mysterious, long forgotten German director and starring her elderly downstairs neighbor, Ceinwin becomes determined to track down the missing reels.

If you love old movies and romances with Englishmen named Matthew, this is the book for you. If not, many of the allusions to old movies might leave you bewildered. Interested? Find a copy of Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme today.

A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith (2014)

starmrsblakeIn April Smith’s latest novel, Mrs. Blake takes advantage of a Canadian program to send mothers who had lost their sons in the recent war to go to France and see their son’s graves. A Star for Mrs. Blake is a quietly effective novel about a mother coming to terms with the loss of her son in WWI, her own past, and re-thinking all the patriotic trappings that come with any war.

Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale (2015)

paradiseskyIn east Texas, shortly after the end of the Civil War, young Willie inadvertently looks at the hind end of a white woman which causes the lynching of his father. On the run and changing his name to Nat Love, he experiences ranching, buffalo soldiering and Deadwood, South Dakota, in its heyday.

As a story of a black man shortly after the end of the Civil War, there are, of course, sad moments, but Nat's darkly ironic tone make for a read that hits many emotions from laugh out loud to frown in sadness or exasperation. Joe R. Lansdale’s Paradise Sky is a welcome addition to the genre of humorous tall tale western in the tradition of Little Big Man and The Sisters Brothers.

The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally (2013)

daughtersmarsIn Thomas Keneally’s The Daughters of Mars, two Australian sisters go first to Gallipoli and later France as nurses during the Great War. They are, as they themselves would say, reserved and non-demonstrative girls who have never been close. The title, meaning women who go to war, is accurate. These women are not in battle, but still see and experience harrowing events. A theme running throughout the book is that any event has at least two outcomes and, especially in war, who will live or who will die or is not preordained. And life, in the larger sense, is like that too. How can someone survive the war then die of flu? How can someone who is a jeweler lose his sight but someone who is an artist lose their non-dominant arm? How can someone survive a horrible shipwreck and die in a simple car accident?

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen (2015)

watersedgeMaddie, Ellis, and Hank are part of the idle rich in World War II Philadelphia. Life is just one big party until Ellis falls out of his father's graces and embarks on a journey to find the Loch Ness monster. Maddie learns the truth about her husband, the war, and life itself in a small village in the Scottish Highlands. There she meets two women and a man who change her path. Sara Gruen's vivid descriptions and characters will transport the reader to a different time and place in At the Water’s Edge.

Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe (2015)

manatthehelmIn the early 1970s, a woman from a wealthy background suddenly finds herself divorced and living in a small English village, where divorced women are suspect (it would seem for good reason). The book is told in the first person by ten-year-old Lizzie (looking back as an adult) and has quite a funny tone and wonderfully set pieces. Nina Stibbe’s Man at the Helm is very funny, but sad too.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

jonathanstrangeSusanna Clarke writes a historical fantasy novel full of curious characters and thousands of rich details that are woven together masterfully. Set in the age of Napoleon, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell follows two English gentlemen determined to bring magic back to England. While old Mr. Norrell wishes to hoard the magic for himself and is overly cautious, Jonathan Strange daringly forges ahead producing new and exciting magic despite the risks. Many of the scenes are comical, but there is an ominous cloud of dark magic which hangs over the entire story creating a feeling of foreboding and suspense. (The book was made into a BBC miniseries in 2015.)

The High Divide by Lin Enger (2014)

highdivideUlysses Pope embarks on a journey that will lead him far away from home for an indefinite period of time. He may not even come back. But the only explanation for his departure that he gives his family is vague and left to be discovered in a note inside a locked trunk. Set in the late 1800s, The High Divide follows the members of the Pope family as they travel across the Great Plains—the father’s departure prompting first his young sons, and then his wife to go on their own quests.

The story unfolds as three different narrators (Ulysses, his wife Gretta, and his older son Eli) give accounts of their adventures—each searching inwardly and outwardly for answers, and encountering many colorful, and sometimes dangerous, individuals along the way. The High Divide is sure to be an entertaining read for lovers of fiction set in this era, as Lin Enger has created authentic voices for his characters and woven some intriguing historical personages and events into his tale.