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Historical Fiction

  • Pillars of the Earth

    The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  At 900 pages, you better be on a long beach vacation.  Many contributors listed it as an all-time favorite.  Others didn't like it.  "I tried so hard to read it, as a guy I was trying to impress said it was his favorite book of all time.  I got horribly bored and gave up on it.  (and on the guy)."  For whatever it's worth, it was popular enough that they made a big, popular miniseries out of it.

  • Portrait of an Unknown Woman

    Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett. "I am into historical fictions so skip this if you are not, but it is about Sir Thomas Moore and his family and it is very engaging. Decidedly low-brow."

  • Red Pyramid

    The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1) by Rick Riordan. "The first book in the new series by Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson fame . I've always been fascinated with ancient Egypt, so this one is a great fit." This is technically a children's book.

  • River of No Return

    The River of No Return by Bee Ridgeway.  From Amazon: “’You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.’” Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Nick Falcott, soldier and aristocrat, wakes up in a hospital bed in modern London. The Guild, an entity that controls time travel, showers him with life's advantages. But Nick yearns for home and for one brown-eyed girl, lost now down the centuries. Then the Guild asks him to break its own rule. It needs Nick to go back to 1815 to fight the Guild’s enemies and to find something called the Talisman.  In 1815, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather, an earl who could play with time. On his deathbed he whispers in her ear: ‘Pretend!’ Pretend what? When Nick returns home as if from the dead, older than he should be and battle scarred, Julia begins to suspect that her very life depends upon the secrets Grandfather never told her. Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught up in an adventure that stretches up and down the river of time. As their knowledge of the Guild and their feelings for each other grow, the fate of the future itself is hanging in the balance.”

  • Sarah's Key

    Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay. Historical fiction about the roundup of thousands of Jewish families in Paris, deported and and ultimately transported to Auschwitz."Easy, interesting read for the beach."  "I read it in a day and understand why it's so popular but suggest reading with managed expectations. It's about a horrifying bit of French history. Sarah's story was poignant, evocative and sad. That said, it is not a very elegantly written book, and I had little sympathy for Julia (doormat!). It also ultimately devolved into a rather silly romance. With all that, I still think it's a good read."

  • Saving Italy

    Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis by Robert M. Edsel. “From the author of “The Monuments Men” (one of the worst cinematic interpretations of a book ever!), this book follows the same plot, but focuses on the plundering, hiding, seeking and retrieving of famous works in Italy.  Fascinating reading for history and/or art buffs – or just people who like well-written stories of heroism and romance.”

  • Second Mrs. Hockaday

    The Second Mrs. Hockaday.  By Susan Rivers.  "A debuty epistolary novel about seventeen-year-old Placida, who meets the much older Gryffth Hockaday, a Major in the Confederate Army, while he's on leave. They marry quickly and he takes her back to his farm.  When he is called back to duty, he leaves Placida in charge of his young son, slaves and the farm.  He returns two years later to find out that Placida stands accused of a terrible crime.  What happened in his absence?  You'll turn the pages to find the answer."

  • Secret History of the Pink Carnation

    Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. "It’s billed as historical fiction, but I think it would be better categorized as historical romance/farcical caper. I flew right through it and enjoyed it. It’s one a few similar books by this author."

  • Secret Life of Violet Grant

    Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams.  Beatriz writes the BEST beach books.  A Hundred Summers was on the list last year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  This is her latest novel, another romantic, page-turning saga set against vivid historical backdrops.  Secret Life has interwoven narratives – that of young Vivian Schuyler in 1964 Manhattan, and of her aunt, Violet Schuyler Grant in 1914 Berlin - an aunt Vivian never knew she had until she receives a mysterious parcel and begins to unravel a secret family history.

  • Shadowland

    The Shadowland by Elizabeth Kostova. "This is a novel that goes back and forth between present day and the period  in Bulgaria during the Communist regime that came to power after WWII.  It's part mystery and part history and tells the story of a talented violinist and his family and what they face during this challenging period.  People may be familiar with the author, who also wrote The Historian.  I appreciated the good writing, the strong story, and learning about Bulgaria - a country I don't know much about."
  • Ship of Brides

    Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes. From Amazon: “1946. World War II has ended and all over the world, young women are beginning to fulfill the promises made to the men they wed in wartime. In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other war brides on an extraordinary voyage to England—aboard HMS Victoria, which still carries not just arms and aircraft but a thousand naval officers. Rules are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier’s captain down to the lowliest young deckhand. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined despite the Navy’s ironclad sanctions. And for Frances Mackenzie, the complicated young woman whose past comes back to haunt her far from home, the journey will change her life in ways she never could have predicted—forever.”

  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

    Snow Flower & The Secret Fanby Lisa See. “China. 19thc. Friendship. Historical novel with a bit of suspense. Engrossing read.”

  • Song Yet Sung

    Song Yet Sungby James McBride. "A beautiful writer – also the author of Miracle at St. Anna’s. This book is about the Underground Railroad on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (Harriet Tubman’s route, btw) and tells the story of whites and blacks living there during the 1850’s against the backdrop of the gorgeous forests and waterways that make the area unique. It provides some of the contentious history of slavery in Maryland within an interesting fictional story.

  • Suite Francaise

    Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: Several people mentioned this book to me in person, plus I got the following reviews: "Beautifully written tale about life during WWII. The book is wonderful, but three times as good once you read the appendix." … "Loved this book. Story is so interesting as is the story of the author."

  • Tale for the Time Being

    A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki  “My favorite book from this year! It's historical fiction meets contemporary and is delightful and thought provoking.  It made me think that we all need a Buddhist nun grandmother in our lives.”  “Some strong themes (terrible bullying, attempted suicide) but my husband and I both liked it very much.”

  • Tears of Autumn: A Paul Christopher Novel

    Tears of Autumn: A Paul Christopher Novel (and other titles) by Charles McCarry.  First published in 1975.  "I am rereading the titles of this author, thankfully back in print. He is a former spook who wrote a series about Paul Christopher, a tactiturn poet/spy. Beautiful writing. McCarry gets the political machinations just right. Tears of Autumn is a plausible explanation of the Kennedy assassination."

  • Telex from Cuba

    Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner. “This came out in 2008 but is very interesting given the current situation in Cuba. It's a fictional story about American businessmen and their families living in Cuba in the '50's and the high lifestyle that they led just before the Castro regime took over.  Told mostly from the children's perspective. A little Mad Men "Cuban Style". Really, really enjoyed this.”

  • Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. “Mitchell can take spit globules, gout, puss, blood letting, beatings, anal exploratories, overall bad hygiene, and organized rape and turn it into poetry. I'll admit that the idea of a historical novel set in a 1799 Dutch trading post off the coast of Japan didn't readily appeal to me. And the dialect of the first section (something like garbled cockney that Mitchell calls ‘bygonese’ in an interview in the back of the book) was a little difficult to process at first. Give it time and let yourself absorb Mitchell's deliberate language and vivid imagery. You are in the hands of a master storyteller. A Thousand Autumns pulls in elements of romance, action, political thriller and high seas adventure. His characters are varied and complex - even minor characters have multi-dimensions that add depth to the story. By the end of the book I was fully invested, cheering and mourning the various outcomes of each character's fate.”

  • Toss of a Lemon

    The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan “My favorite beach read from last summer. I loved it. Definitely good to have the family tree to refer to throughout as the characters get plentiful. I’m a huge Rushdie fan and while she is not quite in his league, she has a hint of his lyricism. It’s just a beautiful story of incredible strength and pure sorrow.”

  • Transatlantic

    Transatlantic by Colum McCann. "Interwoven stories over generations from Frederick Douglas to George Mitchell's involvement in the Good Friday Peace Accord."