Many of you may know Kristin Hannah through her WWII historical fiction novel, The Nightingale, which was a huge hit when it was released a few years ago. It was the first of her novels that I’d read, despite her deep catalog. I found her storytelling to be powerful yet heart-wrenching, and though I loved it, I wasn’t exactly rushing to read another book that would wreck me. Yet, here I am.
In 1974, Ernt Allbright is adrift. After returning home from Vietnam, where he was a POW, he has become increasingly volatile and can’t hold down a job. He decides to pack up his small family — his wife Cora, and their teenage daughter Leni — and explore the wild frontier; they will become homesteaders in Alaska. Leni finds herself in a one-room schoolhouse with only one other person her age, a boy named Matthew.
When The Map of Salt and Stars was released last May, there was a lot of buzz around it. It’s captivating cover meant it was all over bookstagram. But, aside from judging the book by its cover, the “what” of the story sounded captivating as well. Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar weaves together two coming-of-age stories to create her novel.
Like many girls, I grew up with Anne Shirley. I adored her big imagination and found it amusing to watch her get into and out of trouble. Just as important to the story are Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the brother-sister duo who give Anne a home at Green Gables. In her latest novel, Marilla of Green Gables, Sarah McCoy explores what life was like for the Cuthberts before Anne arrived.
The young Marilla — idealistic and eager to please — reminded me a lot of precocious Anne, which is not what I expected. Still, we’re all young once, and I thought Saray McCoy did a wonderful job showing Marilla’s transformation from a clever, spirited teenager to the woman we came to know in L.M. Montgomery’s novels. Though for some reason the story felt more modern to me, I thought she captured Avonlea beautifully; I found myself wishing I were there yet again.
When Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing was selected for Reese Withersoon’s book club, it became an instant must-read. Equal parts coming-of-age story, mystery, legal drama and love story, I can see why! I came by it through my first HealthTea Book Crate, in which I received a signed copy, and I was excited that it was selected as one of my recent book club reads.
Kya Clark lives in Barkley Cove, North Carolina, and has watched her family leave her one-by-one, until — at the age of 10 — she is left quite alone. As she grows up, Kya chooses to stay close to home, preferring to get her supplies from a small store on the docks, where she can also fill up her boat with gas, rather than venturing into town. This fierce independence earns her the nickname Marsh Girl.
Whereas years past have seemed to be filled with WWII-centric historical fiction, I don’t think I’ve read a single book about it this year — until The Alice Network. Kate Quinn’s novel was a recent book club selection, and I was excited about it because I also happened to have a newly-purchased used copy at home. Unfortunately, I waited too long to start the 500-page monster and was still 100 pages short when it came time for our book club meeting. Still, despite some spoilers during our discussion, I couldn’t wait to finish the story. (Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here!)
The Alice Network follows two storylines — one during WWI (the mid- to late-1910s) and the other just after WWII ends. Both feature uncertain women who find themselves, their strength and their courage over the course of the story. Eve Gardiner is a stuttering typist when she’s recruited to become a spy, part of the so-called “Alice Network,” and go undercover as a waitress in German-occupied France. Charlotte St. Clair, more often called Charlie, is an American who travels to Europe after WWII to take care of a “problem” and find her missing cousin.
I have never read a Kate Morton novel, but I have heard amazing things — and a lot of buzz about her latest novel, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. So, I was naturally quite excited when I was granted my NetGalley request to read it early. It’s the story of an English love affair and a mysterious murder that begins in the 1860s and ripples into the present.
It all starts when Elodie, a modern archivist, stumbles upon a satchel with a notebook and old photograph inside. Elodie diligently researches their past, whisking us across time as the story develops. Chapters are told from multiple points-of-view, and it’s not always immediately clear at the outset whose we’re seeing or where we are in time and place. It’s a method that works well, getting us to the end without giving all the twists and turns away beforehand.
My book club recently selected Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a book that was selected in one of my other book clubs last year. It’s a book that’s gotten a lot of attention and praise since its release, and though it has an appealing premise, I’ve not felt compelled to read it — until now. I didn’t read it last time, but I knew I couldn’t neglect it again. I dove right in and didn’t look back.
Gyasi’s sweeping novel is about two half-sisters separated at birth and their descendants. Effia and Esi are born in different villages in eighteenth century Ghana. They share the same mother but have different fathers and very different upbringings. Effia marries an Englishman and lives her life in a castle on the African country’s coast. Esi, however, is sold into slavery, passing through the castle’s dungeons on her way to America. Each chapter following their own focuses on an immediate descendent for generation after generation.
Lisa See’s historical fiction novel The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a family saga that begins in a remote mountain village in China in the late 1980s. Life there revolves around tradition and tea farming, until a stranger arrives, bringing a glimpse into the modern world — and a proposal that will transform all of their lives.
Interspersed with Li-Yan’s story, as she struggles against the traditions of her village and family but fully embraces the rituals and importance of tea in their culture, is the story of a young girl growing up in Los Angeles, searching for a key to her past. The story is full of heart, and the plot full of coincidence. Some of the village’s traditions were a bit hard to stomach, but I think Li-Yan’s personal rebellion against them made her more relatable, at least to me.
I first learned of V.S Alexander’s historical fiction novel The Taster on Facebook when my library included a picture of it as part of their “New Book Tuesday” post a few weeks ago. The title caught my eye (no surprise there), and after reading the blurb describing a woman who finds herself in service to Hitler as his food taster, I requested a copy.
In 1943, Magda Ritter is a young German woman, expected to work in support of the Reich or do her part to produce healthy German babies. Her parents send her out of Berlin to safety, where she must apply for a role in the civil service. Because of her loyal aunt and uncle’s connections, she is given a position of privilege working at Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat. Magda comes to learn she will be one of fifteen women who must taste his food before he is served, ensuring he won’t die of poison – though she could if she isn’t vigilant.
Do you ever choose a book based on your location or season? I’m not generally one to choose a book based on the time of year, though I’ll admit it can be quite nice to read a book about Christmas in December, and sometimes it feels like a disconnect to read about snow in the heat of summer. David Guterson’s novel Snow Falling on Cedars was a recent book club pick, and it was added to the list quite honestly because it had a title that sounded like it would make for a nice winter read.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story – which was published nearly 25 years ago now – Snow Falling on Cedars revolves around a murder case on a fictional island in Puget Sound. In 1954, a Japanese American man named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with the murder of fellow salmon fisherman Carl Heine, who drowned under suspicious circumstances. The island was never exactly an inclusive paradise, but many families on the island were Japanese and were for the most part accepted – at least until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Needless to say, with the war less than a decade out, the murder case renews racial tensions on the island.