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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.

The Muse by Jessie Burton (2016)

museAlternating between 1930s Spain and 1960s London, The Muse is a compelling story with its threads tied together by a painting and its artist. In the months leading up to the Spanish Civil War, teenager Olive Schloss struggles with identity, relationships, and artistry. In 1967 England, Trinidadian writer Odelle faces similar challenges. Early on in Jessie Burton's sophomore novel (after The Miniaturist), it's obvious that a mystery in the plots of the parallel narratives will be resolved; the surprise (and joy) is in how Burton accomplishes it.

This novel is for fans of historical fiction and art-related novels such as The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, and That Summer by Lauren Willig. Plus, check out our book list featuring Art & Artists.

Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis (2015)

deathmrpickwickSome reviewers were suffocated by Stephen Jarvis’ 800+ novel aiming to show it was the illustrator, Richard Seymour, not Dickens who had the original ideas for The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Although I had to renew the book, I enjoyed following Mr. Indelicate and Inscriptino (Scripty), the present day investigators, as they searched 19th century evidence for Mr. Pickwick’s origins.

Death and Mr. Pickwick provides many amusing stories and interesting facts about 19th century publishing. I was amazed at the reported great popularity of The Pickwick Papers as originally published in serial form and then as a novel. As I followed the investigation to the very end, I continued to hope Mr. Dickens and the publishers would show more kindness towards Seymour. After all, Mr. Dickens was no stranger to generosity as seen in his later works e.g. A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities.

Check out reviews in The New York Times and The Atlantic.

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.

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.

Blood on the Water (2014) and Corridors of the Night (2015) by Anne Perry

These two Anne Perry novels feature the Monk family – William, his wife Hester, adopted son Scuff, and street urchin Worm – all working together to solve the current crime.

Ibloodwatern Blood on the Water, Commander William Monk of the River Police is on patrol when the Princess Mary explodes, sending nearly 200 passengers to their death. Soon after Monk begins his investigation, the case is transferred to the Metropolitan Police due to its “international implications.” But Monk and his family cannot leave the case alone: Hester attends the trial of the captured suspect, son Scuff (who spent his young years on the waterfront as an orphan) questions waterfront denizens like Worm to get first-hand information, and Monk continues to follow the case. After a rapid trial and conviction, Monk raises questions of guilt and the river corridorspolice is reassigned the case. Motive, access, and high level involvement are unclear as the Monk family pursues the truth.

In Corridors of the Night, Nurse Hester Monk becomes the protector of two small children who are being used to supply blood to a very ill man undergoing an experimental treatment. The scientist conducting the treatment has little regard for the children or Hester such that Monk and Scuff need to rescue her from what is a near kidnapping.

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.

The Prince by Vito Bruschini (2015)

princeFive hundred years after Machiavelli wrote The Prince, Vito Bruschini appropriately named his novel the same. One might regard this later The Prince as a prequel to Puzo’s Godfather but the characters are not the same. Bruscini gives us Prince Ferdinando Licata, a respected land owner in 1920-1930s Sicily who does not hesitate to use charm and strong strategies to control the peasantry.

With the advent of Mussolini, he has conflicts with local fascists and flees to New York to escape a possible murder charge. In New York, Licata, helped by a few others from his home area of Sicily, becomes powerful and a man to be feared. When other powerful leaders seek his removal, he joins with U.S. intelligence (OSS) in planning the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. Thus he is able to avenge some of the wrongs he received from the fascists and begin building a new basis for power in his area of Sicily. This book shows how violence, terror, and revenge was used to gain a position of power.

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.

Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn (2016)

missbridgertonWith her trademark humor and snappy dialogue, Julia Quinn introduces readers to a new generation of Bridgertons--and launches a new series with Because of Miss Bridgerton. Neighbors Billie Bridgerton and George Rokesby have bickered their entire lives. But when Billie needs rescuing after her impulsive actions land her on the roof of an abandoned farmhouse, something changes... You'll relish the journey in this sparkling, delightful historical romance.

Curious about those other Bridgertons? We own (in print and ebook) the witty novels featuring each of the eight siblings.

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.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (2016)

saltseaTitanic. Lusitania. Wilhelm Gustloff. All major maritime disasters, yet the latter is virtually unknown. Ruta Sepetys changes that in her latest gripping historical novel. Told in short snippets, Salt to the Sea rotates between four narrators attempting to escape various tragedies in 1945 Europe. Powerful and haunting, heartbreaking and hopeful, a must-read for adults and teens.

As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Sepetys sheds light on a little known slice of history, drawing you into the story through the eyes of unforgettable characters.