In 1896, after her family has fallen on hard times, Isabella goes into service as a maid. When an opportunity arises to interview for a cook position at Buckingham Palace, Isabella jumps at the chance, even though it's under false pretenses. After getting the job, Isabella finds that she has a gift for cooking and becomes a trusted member of Queen Victoria's household. However, the memory of her privileged upbringing and the fear of losing her job are never far from her mind. When love possibly comes her way, will Isabella choose a career over being a wife?
Here is a ghost story unlike any you've read before... in 1941, Frankie and her siblings have been left by their widowed father to live in a Chicago orphanage. They are left trying to make a way for themselves amidst poverty and injustice in a world left crumbled by the Great Depression and now on fire with war.
We follow Frankie's coming-of-age story through the eyes of a girl who died in 1918, whose spirit is left lingering the streets of Chicago, unsure how to move on. Glimpses of her past are pieced together as she remembers what happened to her and realizes that coming to terms with the truth is the only way to be set free.
Laura Ruby has weaved together a haunting and heartwarming blend of historical fantasy and mystery, full of rich characters whose stories reveal profound truths about the vast possibilities of human nature. Check out Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All (2019) today.
I highly recommend The German Girl (2016). It is the fascinating story of two very different girls growing up in different times. In 1939, Hannah Rosenthal is wealthy and originally from Berlin. In 2014, Anna is from New York.
Hannah's story features her and her parents' escape from Germany before the war begins. She is not of "pure" German blood and they escape by securing passage on a luxury transatlantic ocean liner, called the St. Louis. Her family plans to make a new life for themselves in Havana, Cuba.
Anna receives a birthday gift from a mysterious unknown relative, her Great Aunt Hannah, in Cuba. So Anna and her mother travel to Cuba to meet this relative and find out the truth of her past.
Author Armando Lucas Correa weaves the two stories together so well that I could not put the book down. It is inspired by the true story of the passengers of the St. Louis and what became of them during the Holocaust. (Spoiler alert: read the article from the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum—but not if you want to be surprised by the book).
In Ariel Lawhon's latest gripping historical novel, she delves into the life of socialite spy Nancy Wake. Code Name Hélène (2020) is richly detailed. The chapters alternate between her early life and her life as an agent.
This New Zealand native left home at 16. She moved to Europe and worked as a journalist. Nancy eventually married a Frenchman. When France falls to Germany during World War II, she starts working for the Resistance. She is quite a dynamic leader with good instincts and quick reactions. I was truly disappointed when this ended.
Visit Overdrive to read the ebook or listen to the audiobook of Code Name Hélène. Learn more about the real-life heroism of Nancy Wake by reading this History.com article. For more novels featuring women in the resistance, check out our book list.
If you grew up on fairy tales and want to rediscover that magic as an adult, then the Winternight trilogy (start with The Bear and the Nightingale, 2017) is for you. Katherine Arden brings to life Russian folklore and spirits you away to the forests of medieval Russia in this lyrical tale.
Vasya is born into a time when the old beliefs are being threatened by the introduction of modern religion, but she is one of the few who can still see and talk to the household and forest spirits. Struggling to keep the old traditions alive to protect her family, Vasya is drawn into an age-old battle between the frost-king and his brother. The action continues from the frozen forests to the capital, Moscow, and through the fantastical Midnight Lands, home to the mythical witch Baba Yaga.
Beautifully written with a strong female lead and a captivating portrayal of 14th century Russia, the Winternight trilogy (book 2: The Girl in the Tower, 2018 and book 3: The Winter of the Witch, 2019) interweaves historical moments with old world fantasy to create a wonderful epic fairy tale. This trilogy would appeal to readers of Neil Gaiman and Kiersten White.
A hauntingly beautiful book dealing with the aftermath of the Great War. Set in 1921 with flashbacks to the war years, The Poppy Wife follows the story of war widow, Edie and her brother-in-law Harry, the only surviving brother of three. Edie's husband, Francis, was an avid photographer during the war, faithfully documenting his wartime experience. But when Edie is sent a photo of him with no note attached, 3 years after he was reported missing in action, she latches on to the possibility that he may still be alive somewhere in France and recruits his brother Harry to help look for any sign of him.
Harry's job is as a photographer, taking photos of graves or places of import for bereaved families who are in need of closure. It takes him back to all the places he was stationed throughout the war, villages that have been wiped out or are struggling to rebuild, locals attempting to come to terms with all their loss, and widows searching for any information about their lost husbands. The Poppy Wife (2019) delivers vivid imagery and raw emotion as it follows both Edie and Harry's travels across France.
Caroline Scott is an historian specializing in WWI and The Poppy Wife is an expertly rendered portrayal of the postwar period. Her writing is beautifully atmospheric and the characters are well-drawn, evoking strong emotions.
In 1932 England, Violet is considered a surplus woman, a 38-year-old doomed to spinsterhood after the Great War. She doesn't accept her fate and tries to live her life despite her mother's constant harping. She leaves home and moves to Winchester to work as a typist.
While attending church services, Violet discovers a group of women who embroider seat cushions and kneelers. She joins this group of broderers, learning the stitches and the meaning behind the designs. She meets Arthur, who rings bells at the cathedral.
A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (2019) features a strong female character with an unapologetic approach to life. She defies convention and charts her own course. While there is a feeling of despondency, the reader learns that not all women accepted their fate. Violet builds a meaningful life. Chevalier provides a great sense of place with her setting in a small English village.
In the 1950s, we meet four characters whose lives will be intertwined for the next 50 years. Charles is from a wealthy Boston family and the son of a Harvard professor. Lily's parents are killed when she is a teenager and their absence leaves a void inside her for the rest of her life. James grows up poor in Chicago, the son of an alcoholic. Nan is the daughter of a southern minister, and sees firsthand the inner workings of being part of a family where faith and helping others is an integral part of life.
When Charles and James decide to take jobs as the co-pastors of the Third Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village, the men, along with their wives, Lily and Nan, must live their lives amid the turmoil of the 1960s. They find their beliefs challenged by their circumstances and the other individuals in the quartet. In The Dearly Beloved (2019) by Cara Wall, the reader is immersed in the four characters' lives as revealed through moving, emotional writing.
The novel begins with Grace Kelly in Cannes, being pursued by James, a British photographer. She ducks into a perfume boutique where Sophie gives her refuge. Over the next 30 years, James and Sophie form a friendship and mutual admiration, though life sometimes pulls them in opposite directions. Meanwhile, Grace meets and becomes engaged to Prince Rainier, returning to Monaco for the wedding. Grace has never forgotten Sophie and orders the perfume for her wedding from the boutique. The publicity causes business to pick up.
In Meet Me in Monaco: A Novel of Grace Kelly's Royal Wedding (2019), Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb have written an amusing and delightful novel with a light romance amidst the wedding of the century.
It's impossible to do justice to The Water Dancer (2019) in a book review. The story is powerful and haunting and the characters are expertly and thoughtfully portrayed throughout. The time period and settings are drawn so vividly that I felt I was living the horrors of slavery on a Virginia plantation and experiencing the terrifying dangers of the flight to freedom. Ta-Nehisi Coates' writing is brilliantly inspiring and lyrical.
I couldn't help but become emotionally invested in the life of the main character, Hiram Walker, a highly intelligent young slave whose white father is the owner of the plantation, and whose mother was a slave who was sold away when Hiram was 9 years old.
I typically like fast-paced novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book with its slow, deliberate pacing and elegant, detailed descriptions along the way. Magical realism is another element that Coates uses as an intriguing aspect of the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman is a fascinating character as well. I was motivated to learn more about her life after reading this book. I highly recommend this incredible heartbreaking, yet hopeful novel!
The Nichols/Foley/Levin/Whalen families have always spent summers on Nantucket with Grandma Nichols, their controlling matriarch. The summer of 1969 is a year of change, not only for our nation, but for this family. Many of its members are caught up in the history-making events of the time. Kate Nicholas Foley Levin started drinking heavily when her son Tiger was drafted into the Vietnam War. Oldest daughter Blair's husband is a professor working with NASA on the Apollo launch, while Blair, pregnant with twins, is bedridden. College student Kirby gets a job on Martha's Vineyard at the hotel where Ted Kennedy has a room the night of the Chappaquiddick incident. Youngest granddaughter Jessie stays with Grandma and uncovers family secrets.
After WWII, Maeve and Danny's father buys a large house in Pennsylvania, which appalls their mother who believes it's too big of an expense. After a couple of years, their mother disappears and the children are never told why. Their father finds a new wife, with two daughters of her own, who move into the house. Their new stepmother is never kind to Maeve and Danny and, years later, when their father dies, she throws them out of the house. The stepmother has put her name on everything the father owned—the only thing she can't claim is a trust fund that was set aside for his children's education. Maeve decides to use up as much of the trust fund as possible to keep her stepmother from getting any of it and informs Danny that he will be a doctor, although he wants to be a real estate investor like his father.
Over the years, the siblings visit their old house, sitting outside in their car, never allowed inside. The house binds Maeve and Danny together, even when their lives start to separate, and they always remain dependent on each other. The Dutch House (2019) is an interesting story about what families do to each other and learning to forgive. Ann Patchett's detailed writing will keep you turning pages and thinking about the novel long after it is over.
In London after World War II, Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge operate The Right Sort Marriage Bureau, which is a matchmaking service. When one of their clients, Tillie, is murdered, and Dickie, the man they set Tillie up with, is arrested for the crime, Iris and Gwen take it upon themselves to find the killer because they know Dickie is innocent. They also know the scandal of the crime could ruin their business. Luckily, Iris worked undercover during the war, and those skills come in handy, as can having a partner like Gwen, who also can think fast on her feet.
The Right Sort of Man (2019) is a breezy, cozy mystery with colorful characters. Allison Montclair's debut is excellent for people who enjoy Jacqueline Winspear, Susan Elia MacNeal, and Alexander McCall Smith.
Set in 1940s Singapore, How We Disappeared grapples with the tragic history of 'comfort women' in World War II. These young local girls were taken from their families at gunpoint and subjected to years of brutal rape by the occupying Japanese forces. If they managed to survive the war and return home, instead of being welcomed back with open arms, they were often shunned by their family and neighbors.
We follow the story of Wang Di, who was taken from her village by the Japanese army in 1942. Almost 60 years later, she is now an old woman, but has kept her painful past a secret for all this time. Her husband has just passed away and she is struggling with her new lonely life and her overwhelming memories. At the same time, Kevin, a 12 year old struggling at school and home, loses his grandmother. In her last delirious hours, she whispers a confession to him, a secret about her son that she has kept since the war. Kevin is determined to unravel this mystery in the hope that it will help with his father's depression.
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (2019) interweaves several different narratives to create a suspenseful story that also focuses on the beauty of friendship and human relationships.
Arrowood and Barnett investigate cases in the shadow of Holmes and Watson but never seem to live up to their high standards—and certainly do not attract the high-level clients of the latter pair.
In The Murder Pit, the former pair represent an untruthful couple who say they want to rescue their recently married, mentally deficient daughter from her aggressive in-laws. A murder occurs and the victim's body is not easily found, but the A & B pair sleuth on through covert and sometimes violent occurrences to resolve the matter.