Sunday Post #29: R. I. P. Challenge X

R. I. P. XI can hardly believe it, but this year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual R. I. P. Challenge, hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings typically, but this year by Andi and Heather of the Estella Society. I look forward to this challenge more than any other every year, and it think it’s mainly because it’s the perfect marriage of time of year (fall) and subject matter—anything creepy, scary, or as Carl says, “Mystery. Suspense. Thriller. Dark Fantasy. Gothic. Horror. Supernatural.” I plan to go for broke and read four books. Might be ambitious considering I have a book club and school is starting, but I am going to go all in this time and see what happens.

I need to figure out what I am going to read, but my longlist includes the following books, some of which I already have and should read:

                  

It looks like a good list! Some of these books were on my list last year, and were probably there the year before. I really need to read the ones I’ve bought already, but I have to admit, I’m giving several of these books that I don’t own some rather longing looks.

Aside from starting the challenge, there isn’t much news. I have continued working my way through a re-read of both King Lear and A Thousand Acres in preparation for teaching them. I am also listening to the second book in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness, The Shadow of Night. I can’t count it for the R. I. P. Challenge because I started it before the official start date of September 1. I have some other books I pick up from time to time. I’ve also been re-reading the Harry Potter series and am nearly finished with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I really loathe Dolores Umbridge. She’s too realistic a villain. I’ve known crappy teachers like her, and yes, sometimes they go on to be crappy administrators. That book is a really interesting study of what happens when the government interferes with education. I understand the purpose of oversight, but when you have a bunch of people who know nothing about teaching running the show, you’re going to have a disaster. And frankly, this book is too accurate a portrayal of what that looks like in the real world, never mind Hogwarts.

So, are you joining me in the challenge?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #20: Summertime

Sunday PostLooks like summer is starting pretty much all over (at least in the northern hemisphere). I’m beginning to see vacation pics on Facebook, and I’ve been eying my TBR pile, looking for good summertime reads.

I have a bit of a busy summer ahead. I am going to at least four teaching workshops. If anyone tries to tell you teachers don’t work during the summer, don’t you believe it. In addition, I have a new course to plan.

This week, I finished two books. The first I’ve already reviewed: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. The second I have not yet reviewed, but will review and post about tomorrow (so good that it really needs its own post rather than a review rolled into the Sunday Post): We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Both were audio books.

I am still finishing up Walden, though my other books are on a bit of a hiatus, with the exception of I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. I don’t know if other readers do this or not, but I have to have at least one paper book, one e-book, and one audio book going at all times. The paper books I can read in the tub without fear of destroying an expensive device. The e-books I can read pretty much everywhere, including in bed with the lights off, so I don’t disturb my husband. The audio books I can listen to while I do housework or make soap.

I love to read books set in my adopted home state of Massachusetts, so that was one reason why I liked We Were Liars so much, and I admit, seeing Massachusetts as a setting will push a book higher on my list. Here is a partial list of some of my favorite Massachusetts reads.

           

Some I’m looking forward to diving into or finishing:

    

I wonder if other readers are like me and like to read about places they have lived. I also certainly read a lot of books set elsewhere, too.

I added some books to my TBR list this week:

 

I know what you’re thinking: some variation of either “why haven’t you read The Things They Carried?” or “why wasn’t it already on your list”? It sort of was on my list, to address the second question, but now an oversight is corrected in that it’s on my Goodreads to-read list. As to the first question, yeah, I know.

Not at all a bad reading week, and I’m looking forward to more time (I hope) to read this summer. What about you? Have any recommendations or books you’re anxious to read?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #17: Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday PostHappy Mother’s Day to all the moms! I didn’t get breakfast in bed, but I did make pancakes with my new griddle. I have to say that it was much easier. I have always hated making pancakes because you have to make them one or two at a time with a frying pan, but with a griddle, I was able to make them for the whole family in nothing flat.

I’m not sure if I have any other plans, aside from perhaps making some soap and also doing some reading. Speaking of soap, I’m giving away a bar of the Dead Sea Mud Spa Soap I just made. Head over to my soaping blog to check it out if you’re interested. What are your Mother’s Day plans?

It seems appropriate to start with a list of my favorite literary moms.

  1. Best mom in my book is Molly Weasley. She not only keeps all the unruly Weasleys in line but also adopts Harry, too. And when Bellatrix Lestrange tries to attack Ginny, she famously intervenes, yelling, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” before destroying perhaps the most deranged and evil of Voldemort’s Death Eaters. She’s nurturing and bad-ass.
  2. Hester Prynne devotes herself to Pearl and becomes a model mother even as her entire community is castigating her for having Pearl out of wedlock.
  3. Scarlett O’Hara is devoted to her mother Ellen in Gone With the Wind, but let’s get real—her mother is actually Mammy, and Mammy was the best mother for a headstrong, stubborn person like Scarlett.
  4. Mrs. Quimby from Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. I think it’s in Ramona and Her Mother when Ramona squeezes an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink, and her mother makes Ramona scoop it into a baggie. Ramona has to use that toothpaste until it’s gone, while the rest of the family gets to use a brand new tube. Serves her right!
  5. Marmee from Little Women whose reputation precedes her, as I still need to read this book. I know, right? How did that happen? I’m not sure. I promise to fix it soon. But the authorities say that Marmee is about as perfect as it’s possible to be.

Bookish Updates for the week: I finished listening to Conversion by Katherine Howe and started listening to The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (read by THE Colin Firth). I have also started reading an annotated Walden by Henry David Thoreau, but truthfully, I might have started that last week rather than this week. Memory’s fuzzy. I definitely started
Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving this week, however.

I added the following books to my TBR pile:

And finally, U2 busking in the subway:

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Review: Conversion, Katherine Howe, narrated by Khristine Hvam

My most recent audio book was Conversion by Katherine Howe and read by Khristine Hvam. Conversion alternates between two stories. Colleen Rowley is a high school senior at St. Joan’s Academy in Danvers, Massachusetts. She’s currently in a heated competition for school valedictorian and is stressed about getting into Harvard. Her classmates suddenly develop mysterious ailments—one girl has an apparent seizure, but soon another girl is losing her hair, while others develop tics and coughing fits. What is going on?

The other story is that of Ann Putnam, Jr., one of accusers in the Salem Witch Trials, and a real historical figure who later confessed to being “deluded by Satan” and apologized for her role in the deaths. As she tells the story of her involvement in the trials to Reverend Green, it becomes increasingly clear she’s still disturbed (which might not be historically accurate, but it was fun). What exactly caused the girls of Salem Village to think they were bewitched in 1692? And what was wrong with the girls at St. Joan’s 320 years later?

When Colleen is given an extra credit assignment by her AP US History teacher to read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and write a paper about why Miller changed the details connected to some of the girls—Ann Putnam in particular—she discovers an eerie connection between the events in the Witch Trials and the girls’ illnesses at St. Joan’s that no one else seems to have noticed.

Katherine Howe has written about Salem before, particularly in The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (which happens to be one of my favorite historical fiction novels). In fact, Deliverance Dane, her daughter Mercy, and her descendant Connie Goodwin all make cameo appearances in this novel (which I rather enjoyed). In this case, she was also inspired the the story of a mysterious illness that afflicted students at at high school in Le Roy, New York. The true cause of the “hysteria” in the Witch Trials has been debated, and we will likely never have an answer—just perhaps more plausible theories. In juxtaposing the events in modern-day Danvers (which used to be Salem Village) and Puritan Salem, Howe shows us it’s just possible that the girls were under a great deal of stress and that their treatment as girls and, in some cases, lower class servants, contributed to the deaths of innocent people when the witchcraft accusations began to fly. It’s certainly a plausible explanation and takes into account that perhaps the girls really were faking at first and later became caught up in a shared delusion.

Conversion is a highly enjoyable book that has a lot to say about the stress teenagers are under in today’s competition for grades and college spots and also the ways in which we discount teens’ voices. I should think that teenagers would find a lot to relate to, and at the same time, they would learn some interesting things about American history and literature.

The narrator, Khristine Hvam, did an excellent job not only capturing the voices of the teenaged girls, but also the old New England cadence of Ann Putnam’s speech. She was perfect for the novel, and she’s one of the better book narrators I’ve heard. I am really glad I listened to the audio book with the exception of one reason: the Author’s Note was not included in the reading, and it has some interesting information for readers. I had to track it down so I could read it.

I really liked this interview at Bustle and this other review at the Nerdy Book Club.

Rating: ★★★★★
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

(P. S.: Some of the novel is set in the past, but as the focus is more on the present, I have decided not to count it for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.)

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Sunday Post #16: Belle Époque

Sunday PostMy school year is rapidly drawing to a close. In fact, I just have about two weeks of teaching time left! I am really hoping we have a strong finish to the end of the year. We are working on projects in both classes, and the students seem excited about the projects. Of course, the exciting thing is more time for reading. I’m definitely looking forward to some great books this summer.

Spring finally arrived for good (I hope) when calendar changed to May. We had such a snowy winter. I hope it doesn’t mean we are in for a really hot summer. I would love it if it stayed temperate and never got into the 90’s.

Today is my grandfather’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday, Papa!

Dana and PapaThis week, I finished reading The Annotated Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and edited by Janet Gezari. I took some pictures of the inside of the book that I forgot to post in my review.

Wuthering Heights
This one has a facsimile of Emily Brontë’s poem in her handwriting.

I mentioned in the review that Byron was perhaps an inspiration for Catherine’s most famous speech.

ByronAnd also that Percy Shelley’s Epipsychidion was a source.

ShelleyThis week, I finally dove into one of my two Belle Époque books, I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. I am already enjoying that one quite a bit. It’s about Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas. A few years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and see Mary Cassatt’s painting. I took this picture, which is not as good as what you can see online, but I took it, which is evidence I was in front of it.

Mary CassattIf I have one favorite type of painting, it would definitely be Impressionism. So far, this book is really reminding me in the best ways of Susan Vreeland’s books. If you like art and haven’t read her short story collection, Life Studies, do check it out. One of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. There is simply nothing like looking at these paintings in person. I was actually told off for getting too close to a Van Gogh, but it’s only when you get close that you can see the brushstrokes and the paintings really become real, not just just pictures.

I have to say that if I could go visit any era in Paris, it would definitely be Belle Époque. Who wouldn’t want to see that flowering of art? At least I can read about it in these wonderful books.

I’m also still reading, or rather listening to, Katherine Howe’s novel, Conversion. I have about three hours left to go. This one is really good. I hope that Katherine Howe plans to write more YA novels. I do love that her characters Connie Goodwin and Deliverance and Mercy Dane have cameos in this novel.

I added a couple of new books to my TBR pile. Some time back, I started a course on historical fiction on Coursera taught by Bruce Holsinger, but I didn’t have time to finish it. I just found out he’s published two novels about John Gower (and Chaucer). Literary thrillers. Of course I want to check that out!

  

Wrapping this up because Wolf Hall is coming on, and I can’t miss it. I thought this link was interesting this week. Some great world books on that list.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #15: Wuthering, Wuthering Heights

Sunday PostWhat has been happening this week? It’s been crazy busy. I haven’t had a ton of time to read, so I sat down and read most of today (with the exception of doing a little bit of work and washing the dishes). I have been spending most of the day wandering the moors, reading The Annotated Wuthering Heights. What a great addition to my library. I am truly enjoying it. Each time I read Wuthering Heights, I notice something I didn’t pick up on last time, and this time, it’s how horrible Nelly Dean is. I mean, I have often thought of her as mostly a reliable narrator, and because of her, I have really disliked Catherine. Heathcliff is just plain hard to like, no matter what. As soon as you start feeling sympathy for him, he goes off and kills lapwings for no reason or hangs a dog. Perhaps because I’m reading an annotated version, I am noticing so many more things than I ever have before. All the birds, for one thing; I’m sure I noticed that before, but even though the annotations don’t discuss the birds in a great amount of detail, I think my antennae are up, so to speak, and I’m noticing the symbolism more than I usually do. And there are birds just everywhere in this book. Another thing I am seeing are the close connections to the Romantic poets. The annotations help there, and I am really pleased I chose to read this one for the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. Hope I can finish it in time! Even if I don’t, I definitely want to finish reading this lovely annotated version. I realize a lot of people hate this book, but I think if you peel it apart and and see what makes it work, it is genius. I am especially enjoying the nuances I am noticing in Nelly’s character this time around.

I finished reading Pleasantville by Attica Locke and wrote a review for the TLC Book Tour this week as well. A good read. I am also still working away on Katherine Howe’s Conversion on audio. The reader for that one is really good. I recommended it to a bunch of my students this week when I saw it was one of their choices for a summer read.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was top ten favorite authors of all time. You know, I am actually liking the idea of saving these for my Sunday Post instead of doing them on Tuesday. I just have less time to write during the work week. To qualify as a favorite author, I decided that I needed to love multiple books by the same author. So I didn’t count authors who have only written one novel. I also didn’t count authors if I had read only one of their works (even if I loved it). So here is my list:

  1. William Shakespeare
  2. Jane Austen
  3. J. K. Rowling
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien
  5. Diana Gabaldon
  6. Ernest Hemingway
  7. Sharyn McCrumb
  8. Jasper Fforde
  9. Neil Gaiman
  10. Judy Blume

Who would be on your list?

Authors whose work I love, but whom I didn’t count because of my self-imposed rules are Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and Emily Brontë.

Some links I enjoyed this week:

Here’s a bonus for you:

For the record, I have always believed it really was Catherine’s ghost who disturbed Lockwood early in the novel.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #13: Not Much Reading Going On

Sunday PostI have not had a lot of time to read over the last two weeks with some extra work, and I’m hoping it changes in week ahead. I did finish the first volume of John Lewis’s memoir March, and I immediately purchased the second volume. It was weird. I ordered the book from Amazon on a Friday night, and I received the book the following Sunday. I have never had that happen. Since when do carriers deliver on Sunday? I must have missed that memo. I am not complaining—just surprised. I don’t know. Maybe I am a bit worried about carriers and days off. Still, if they are delivering on Sunday, they must get some other day off, right?

I am still reading the other books I started prior to or near the beginning of the month: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser, Pleasantville by Attica Locke, The Annotated Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I have to admit I’ve put aside the Marie Antoinette bio for the most part because the other two books are more pressing for me to finish. Pleasantville is part of a TLC Book Tour stop here on April 17. I am trying to finish The Annotated Wuthering Heights for a challenge.

I like to listen to audio books while I clean house or make soap, so I started Katherine Howe’s Conversion, which I think is her first, and perhaps at this point, her only YA book. I am liking it so far. As someone who has visited Salem and lives in Massachusetts, I can appreciate the research that Howe always does with her books. I did notice she made Channel 7 the ABC affiliate in her book, but Channel 5 is actually Boston’s ABC affiliate. I wonder if she was made to change that because of legal concerns. Otherwise, I haven’t noticed any wrong notes. The book’s narrator, Khristine Hvam, nails an early American Massachusetts accent (at least based on what I understand it sounded like). I love Katherine Howe, not just as a writer, but as a person. She is so kind and personable to her fans. I am glad to see her returning to “witches” again. I will read practically anything with a Salem Witch Trials connection (practically, I said—I imagine there are some books I’d avoid). As a teacher at a New England prep school, there is much about St. Joan’s that I recognize, too.

Last week was the first week I’ve missed the Sunday Post meme since I started doing it. Truthfully, I didn’t have much to report at that point. Still, I am a little bummed I forgot to post. I am hoping some things settle down so I have more reading time. I always, always say that we make time for things that are important, and when people ask me how I find time to read, I say that I make time because it’s important. I have not been making much time lately.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

Top Ten Bookish Memories

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

What a fun topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday! My best bookish memories:

  1. Reading the Harry Potter series to my oldest daughter. When she was young, we had this horrendous commute and only one car. We had to wait for her stepdad to get off work, and we would sit in the car and read. I will probably always associate the Harry Potter series with that closeness we shared.
  2. Going to the library with my best friend Darcy. We would walk there and get hot chocolate out of the machine. I used to love to bike over to the library, too. It was so close to my grandmother’s house. Unfortunately, it’s since been closed.
  3. Winning a trip to Salem, MA in a contest connected with Brunonia Barry’s The Map of True Places. We loved it. We never could have imagined two years later, we’d be living in Massachusetts (though not in Salem).
  4. Meeting Matthew Pearl and winning a signed manuscript page from The Dante Club.
  5. Meeting Katherine Howe. She told me that my husband is crazy. Which is true.
  6. Meeting Jasper Fforde. What a charmer! He said one of my favorite things ever about interpreting literature and reading being a creative act. I loved it. When he signed my book, he also stamped it and tucked a postcard inside it. It was a nice touch.
  7. Reading Tolkien for the first time in college and finishing The Fellowship of the Ring around midnight. I was so desperate to find out what happened next that I took a chance and went downstairs to my friend Kari’s dorm room to borrow The Two Towers after midnight. She was awake, and thankfully, she was amused.
  8. Sharing my favorite book Wuthering Heights with students who loved it, too. One of them told me that she only had room for three books in her suitcase for college, and she packed Wuthering Heights.
  9. Reading The Catcher in the Rye with my first class of freshmen at the Weber School. They were the class of 2008, so they are mostly finished with college now, which blows my mind. They just really loved the book. They wanted to keep reading whenever we read together.
  10. Reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? with my son. He loved those books in preschool. They were both such delightful books, and sharing them with my son was so special.

What are your favorite bookish memories?

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The House of Velvet and Glass, Katherine Howe

The House of Velvet and GlassKatherine Howe’s debut novel, [amazon asin=B003WUYROK&text=The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane], concerned a setting near her home in Marblehead and the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Howe returns once again to Massachusetts of an earlier era, this time pre-WWI Boston. Sibyl Allston, daughter of a wealthy Salem sailor and a society gal, has lost her mother and younger sister in the sinking of Titanic. Her mother introduced her to the spiritualist gatherings at the home of the medium Mrs. Dee, and Sibyl continues to go in a desperate attempt to contact her mother and sister from beyond the grave. Discouraged by her inability to connect, she accepts a scrying glass from Mrs. Dee, and at first, she finds her attempts to use it unsuccessful, too. Her brother, sent home from Harvard in disgrace after he is caught in flagrante delicto with an actress in his rooms, brings his flamboyant girlfriend Dovie home, where she and Sibyl become unlikely friends. Dovie takes Sibyl to an opium den, where Sibyl is able to use her scrying glass for the first time. At first, she sees snatches of images she doesn’t understand, but once she realizes what she is able to see, Sibyl becomes desperate to know if what she sees in the scrying glass can be changed. The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to her seventeen-year-old father’s sailing voyage to Shanghai and friendship with a young Chinese scholar and her mother and sister’s voyage on Titanic.

This book took me a while to get into, but about halfway into the book, the pace started picking up. Throughout, the descriptions are gorgeous, and I admired Howe’s ability to capture the early twentieth century well on many occasions. I liked the characters, and the setting was intriguing. The book has interesting things to say about all the what-ifs we wonder about in life, and also what our legacies might be if different choices are made. The old Calvinist thinking of early Massachusetts settlers is a surprising theme of the novel, as well. How much of our lives do we really have control over, and if we try to change events, can we really? Or is so much of what happens to us determined by Fate or God, or whatever you want to call the force of Predestination, that things will happen certain ways whether we try to intervene or not? The book does make one think about one’s place in the grand scheme of things.

Downton Abbey fans might like this book set in the same era in America. I think readers who enjoyed Howe’s first book will like this second one as well, though it is different from the first. Historical fiction fans who enjoy WWI-era novels will like it, too. Be patient with the first half, especially with the flashbacks that might not seem as if they are connected to the main narrative, as you will be rewarded once the book begins to coalesce during the second half. Enjoyable read!

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Historical Novels

Top Ten TuesdayHistorical fiction is my favorite genre, and I’m not sure I could pick an adequate top ten. There are so many great books that fit into this genre. You can find my list below with the following caveats: I simply haven’t had a chance to read a lot of great historical fiction that’s out there yet, so this list is necessarily limited to just those books I have experience with, and also I have decided not to include classics that were set during their own contemporary times but are history now (e.g. [amazon_link id=”0486284735″ target=”_blank” ]Pride and Prejudice[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”1441408223″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link]). Also, these are in no particular order (aside from the order in which they occurred to me) because I couldn’t begin to rank them. Finally, I selected these particular books out of all the historical fiction I have read and loved because they so perfectly evoke their time settings that they bring the historical eras in which they are set alive (with historical accuracy) and simply couldn’t take place any other time.

  1. [amazon_link id=”034549038X” target=”_blank” ]The Dante Club[/amazon_link] by Matthew Pearl: Not only is this book a solid thriller with fun connections to Dante’s [amazon_link id=”0812967216″ target=”_blank” ]Inferno[/amazon_link] and the Fireside Poets, but it is also a great snapshot into life in Boston right after the Civil War. In terms of period detail and engaging reads, you could do worse than Matthew Pearl for sure.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0780748433″ target=”_blank” ]Catherine, Called Birdy[/amazon_link] by Karen Cushman: This is a middle grades/early YA novel set in 1290 in England. Catherine is the daughter of a knight, and Cushman captures the Middle Ages (particularly, the lives of a family in a small manor house) in exquisite detail.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0152164502″ target=”_blank” ]The Coffin Quilt[/amazon_link] by Ann Rinaldi: The subject of this YA novel is the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. Told from the viewpoint of Fanny McCoy, the novel touches on all the major events of the feud and is simply one of the most well-written YA novels I’ve ever read.
  4. [amazon_link id=”0345521307″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link] by Paula McLain: This novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage and time in Paris perfectly captures the lives of the American artist expatriates living in France during the 1920’s. It’s a gorgeous novel.
  5. [amazon_link id=”1565125606″ target=”_blank” ]Water for Elephants[/amazon_link] by Sara Gruen: This isn’t just great historical fiction. It really captures an era and a subculture that I’ve not seen captured as well in any other novel. Superb read.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0765356155″ target=”_blank” ]Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell[/amazon_link] by Susanna Clarke: While also classified as fantasy, this novel also explores England during the Napoleonic Wars, including brushes with Mad King George and Lord Byron as well as the Duke of Wellington. The footnotes are a great touch. I loved this novel.
  7. [amazon_link id=”039331507X” target=”_blank” ]Nothing Like the Sun[/amazon_link] by Anthony Burgess: I don’t think I’ve read another historical fiction book about Shakespeare that touches this one. Burgess’s characters speak like Elizabethans, and the events described are both believable and fun homages to Shakespeare’s plays. The premise behind the book is that Shakespeare’s tangled love life majorly influenced all of his work.
  8. [amazon_link id=”B000FC10KC” target=”_blank” ]Ahab’s Wife[/amazon_link] by Sena Jeter Naslund: Oh, how I love Una Spenser. She is my fictional BFF. She is amazing. I need to read this one again. As you might have guessed, this book takes the passage in [amazon_link id=”B003GCTQ7M” target=”_blank” ]Moby Dick[/amazon_link] in which Captain Ahab mentions he has a young wife at home and creates her character and her life (and it’s a fascinating life that, in my opinion, puts that of her husband to shame).
  9. [amazon_link id=”0061577073″ target=”_blank” ]The Poisonwood Bible[/amazon_link] by Barbara Kingsolver: This novel about Christian missionaries in the Belgian Congo right as the country declares its independence from Belgium is a fascinating snapshot into the Congo of the 1960’s as well as the lives of Christian missionaries and also serves as an allegory for America’s own role in colonialism.
  10. [amazon_link id=”0061990477″ target=”_blank” ]The Thorn Birds[/amazon_link] by Colleen McCullough: When I read this novel, I couldn’t put it down. I haven’t read a lot of books set in Australia, but this novel seems to so perfectly capture the times and setting. Meggie is an engaging heroine, and who doesn’t love Father Ralph de Bricassart?

Because I read a ton of historical fiction, I need to include some honorable mentions:

  • [amazon_link id=”0547550294″ target=”_blank” ]The Witch of Blackbird Pond[/amazon_link] by Elizabeth George Speare: This YA novel is set in Colonial Massachusetts and is a great vehicle for middle schoolers (or even their older siblings and parents) to learn about that time period in history. I can’t think of too many books that do as good a job with this era.
  • [amazon_link id=”0312378025″ target=”_blank” ]The Tea Rose[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly: This book is a fun read, but has a few lapses in terms of credibility (at least for this reader). Set in Whitechapel as Jack the Ripper ravages London, this novel is the story of Fiona, daughter of one of the Ripper’s victims, who makes her way to New York and builds a tea empire from scratch.
  • [amazon_link id=”B001NLKT2E” target=”_blank” ]The Commoner[/amazon_link] by John Burnham Schwartz: This story of a commoner’s marriage into the Japanese imperial family makes for a great read, too, though Schwartz takes some liberties to make his character’s ending happier than that of the real model for his heroine.
  • [amazon_link id=”0060515139″ target=”_blank” ]A Plague of Doves[/amazon_link] by Louise Erdrich: Some of this novel is contemporary, which is one reason I didn’t include it above, but it is one of the finest novels I’ve read and concerns the repercussions of a murder and hate crime that sent ripples through a community for generations.
  • [amazon_link id=”B003WUYROK” target=”_blank” ]The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane[/amazon_link] by Katherine Howe: Also partly set in contemporary times, this novel concerns Connie Goodwin’s attempts to learn more about her ancestors’ grimoire and secret powers.
  • [amazon_link id=”0399157913″ target=”_blank” ]The Help[/amazon_link] by Kathryn Stockett: While this book certainly evoked Mississippi of the 1960’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, it did not seem as realistic to me as some of the books I included in my top ten.
  • [amazon_link id=”0307588661″ target=”_blank” ]Madame Tussaud[/amazon_link] by Michelle Moran: This novel, set during the French Revolution, was an excellent read and shone a spotlight on a historical figure who hasn’t perhaps received as much attention as she was due.
  • [amazon_link id=”0143034901″ target=”_blank” ]The Shadow of the Wind[/amazon_link] by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Barcelona’s book world during the 1930’s and 1940’s, though to me, the plot did not have to be set during era or in that place.
  • [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb: Again, because this novel is set partly in contemporary times, I excluded it from the list above, but the historical fiction parts were my favorite. This novel is the story of how a song learned on the crossing from Scotland to America in the eighteenth century was passed down in a family and survived to the present day.
  • [amazon_link id=”039306915X” target=”_blank” ]Emily’s Ghost[/amazon_link] by Denise Giardina: The story of Emily Brontë and one of the better historical fiction novels about the Brontë family.
  • Pretty much anything by Jude Morgan. Love him. And Syrie James. And Tracy Chevalier. I mean, this was really a hard topic for me to narrow down.

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