PositiveThe Historical Novel SocietyAround the turn of the 20th century, an eleven-year-old red-headed orphan arrives in a small town, and her irrepressible curiosity and outspokenness shake things up. There are echoes of Anne of Green Gables in Andersen’s first historical novel, which is both a spirited romance and a complex coming-of-age story, but it aims to comment primarily on how societal pressures stifle women – with mixed results ... As a feminist romance, the story offers conflicting messages. Hattie is a multifaceted, resilient character who credibly works through personal pain and emerges even stronger. Yet a subplot about her beloved career goes unaddressed, and part of the conclusion is disconcerting for many reasons. Descriptions overemphasize the brawny physicality of both Jake and Moses, and for a sensitive friend, Jake can be inexcusably clueless; he doesn’t feel like Hattie’s intellectual equal. To the author’s credit, though, the story holds nothing back, however awkward the situation. This blatantly honest approach is admirable, and the strong plot keeps the pages turning despite the inconsistencies. By turns, it will have you grinning, cringing, shaking your head in sorrow, and swelling with pride at Hattie’s courage.
PositiveBooklistBrooks evokes rural Montana’s magnificent beauty ... Danger and mystery enhance the plot when gangsters seek to reclaim an expensive watch Huck had pulled off a dead man found in a local creek. The cast and their interactions are wonderful, and tangents on their personal stories deepen the characterizations and historical backdrop. Brooks has created an entrancing tale about the challenges of pursuing one’s dreams and life on American frontiers, old and new.
PositiveBooklist... a witty, unapologetically feminist story of women’s suffering, courage, and endurance, which demands that we reconsider our concept of heroism ... The telling is nonlinear, but the varied stories flow naturally together, ensuring that readers won’t lose their way. Haynes’ freshly modern version of an ancient tale is perfect for our times.
RaveBooklistThis wide-ranging saga ticks all the boxes for deeply satisfying historical fiction. Elsa is an achingly real character whose sense of self-worth slowly emerges through trying circumstances, and her shifting relationship with her rebellious daughter, Loreda, is particularly moving. Hannah brings the impact of the environmental devastation on the Great Plains down to a personal level with ample period-appropriate details and reactions, showing how people’s love for their land made them reluctant to leave. The storytelling is propulsive, and the contemporary relevance of the novel’s themes—among them, how outsiders are unfairly blamed for economic inequalities—provides additional depth in this rich, rewarding read about family ties, perseverance, and women’s friendships and fortitude.
RaveBooklistHunt celebrates the majesty and depth in a life that may superficially seem undistinguished. Zorrie Underwood is a farmer in central Indiana, and as she and readers survey her 70-or-so years, her joys and sorrows are deeply observed and felt. With compassion and realism, Hunt recounts Zorrie’s story straightforwardly, with setting-appropriate dialogue and an eye for sensory details. A beautifully written ode to the rural Midwest.
PositiveBooklist... Pike adeptly balances brutal power struggles and Celtic mysticism ... This book doesn’t stand alone, but ongoing readers will relish the escape into Pike’s fully developed milieu while seeing its connections to Arthurian legend grow more prominent as, among other aspects, Lailoken serves as a historical model for Merlin.
PositiveBooklistSensitive depictions of generational and coming-of-age conflicts intertwine with whimsy as Maguire touchingly shows how people invoke stories to help elucidate their complicated world.
PositiveHistorical Novel SocietyThe premise of Strauss’s newest literary novel is grandiose and rather wacky ... The tale succeeds in entertaining, and Lucille steals the show, of course. Most moving are the scenes where she finds her comedic niche via the character of Lucy Ricardo ... Strauss also offers insight into celebrity culture ... It’s best for people who value emotional over historical truth, but all the same, it should spur interest in Lucille Ball and her accomplishments.
Stephen P. Kiernan
RaveBooklistKiernan...movingly charts a couple’s relationship alongside the development of WWII’s Manhattan Project ... Kiernan recreates the zeitgeist of America leading up to the atomic bomb on a national and personal level: the eager anticipation of wartime’s end, the grimly fascinating science, and the growing sense of guilt and dread. Simultaneously tender and hard-hitting, this riveting story offers much to reflect upon.
PositiveBooklistPerennial book-club favorite Hegi’s ...compassionately observant new novel takes place on Nordstrand island in North Frisia, Germany, where the line between fact and centuries-old myth can feel as blurred as that between sea and sky. The offbeat characters enhance the quasi-dreamlike effect, but the scenarios they face are starkly real ... . The plot ambles along while threading together the stories of the women, who have the heaviest burdens to bear. Their emotional hardships are satisfyingly leavened by softer moments of romantic and familial love.
PositiveBooklistThe lens through which a story is told makes all the difference ... revelatory ... written in crisp, elegant prose ... Though slowly paced, the novel offers ample conflict as Georgie faces difficult choices. The bleak atmosphere aptly suits the wartime backdrop, and Miller deftly presents a portrait of Georgie, a young woman calibrating her place in the world, and her shifting relationship with the man she adores.
RaveBooklistA richly animated work, McPhee’s enthralling new novel glides through American history, from early-twentieth-century Billings, Montana, to a Prohibition-era Adirondacks lakeside retreat and beyond, alongside fabulous characters ... The frequent mentions of hereditary artifacts feel overdone at times. Overall, however, McPhee elevates the generational saga into a dazzling, artfully detailed presentation of self-determination, women’s responsibilities and freedoms, and how people craft family legacies.
RaveHistorical Novel Society... deserves all the attention it’s been getting ... Bennett draws her characters with empathy while making their flaws very plain; the story depicts a variety of relationships especially well and packs a punch with its emotional realness. The story movingly explores contemporary issues of race and gender identity and the costs incurred when abandoning one’s earlier life for a new, different persona. The dialogue feels pitch-perfect, and the story moves with engrossing momentum as the mystery builds about whether Stella’s carefully built lies will unravel. This is an outstanding work of fiction, a thought-provoking literary saga that everyone should read.
Sue Monk Kidd
PositiveBooklist...a daring what-if ... The daughter of Herod Antipas’ head scribe, Ana, narrates her engrossing, briskly paced story in an appealing voice ... Kidd describes a first-century world full of political and religious tensions, which feels simultaneously ancient and freshly awake with spiritual possibility. Ana’s feminist beliefs and pursuits may stretch credulity at times, but the message about the importance of kindness and the power of women’s voices should resonate strongly with today’s readers.
RaveBooklist... magnificent ... Lawhon carries us into the heart of the French resistance ... Nancy’s fighting spirit shines through her propulsive narrative, and her comrades-in-arms are well-rendered secondary characters. Her journey to becoming a fierce, powerful leader is as emotionally stirring as her growing bond with Henri. Even long after the last page is turned, this astonishing story of Wake’s accomplishments will hold readers in its grip.
Sharon Kay Penman
PositiveBooklistPenman is justifiably renowned for her medieval epics...Working on a large canvas, she illustrates the era’s political movements and the personalities of its movers and shakers with equal dexterity ... Among many well-crafted characters, several quickly stand out ...From fierce battle maneuvers to the emotional corridors of an unexpected love story, readers will feel intimately drawn into the characters’ dramatic lives in Penman’s splendid historical novel ... Historical saga fans will pounce on best-selling and always thrilling Penman’s latest, which offers a particularly alluring setting.
PositiveBooklistMay’s illiteracy and social isolation complicate her dangerous quest to unearth answers. Her spunky humor and determination to assert her own value, even in a dead-end occupation at society’s nadir, make her a captivating heroine. Recommend this debut, an original melding of mystery and alternate history, to admirers of Karen Maitland’s folklore-infused medieval thrillers and Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River.
PositiveBooklistPhillips crafts a believable late-Elizabethan backdrop laced with intrigue and juxtaposes it with a deep dive into the emotions of an intelligent man in exile from country, family, even a sense of hope. Evoked in exquisite language full of subtle shadings and theatrical references, the plot grows suspenseful, and readers will appreciate how it lets them grasp on their own where it leads.
Katy Simpson Smith
RaveBooklistStrikingly original in its construction and settings ... a robustly earthy, strangely entrancing portrait of the Eternal City as the protagonists cope with the yearnings and frailties of the flesh.
MixedBooklistThe taut story line is full of surreal visuals and elaborate illusions, from Berlin’s Weisse Maus cabaret, reborn as a Gestapo club, to the purported Jewish cultural center at Theresienstadt. The toxic atmosphere distorts everyone’s nature, and if that’s not disturbing enough, there are too many superficially depicted, sex-obsessed female characters who enjoy physical abuse. Inventive, intense, and repellent in equal measure.
Isabel Allende, Trans. by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson
PositiveHistorical Novel SocietyAllende’s fluidly written saga conveys her deep familiarity with the events she depicts, and her intent to illustrate their human impact in a moving way ... prompts readers to reflect on the timely themes of cultural adaptation and political refugees’ shared experiences across eras and continents ... Incidents from the Dalmaus’ lives are sometimes recited rather than shown, which can be distancing, but Allende’s storytelling abilities are undeniable.
RaveBooklist... eclectic ... MacLaughlin daringly fashions a new artistic work that transforms female characters from Ovid’s Metamorphoses into the heroes (or anti-heroes) of their own stories. While they take a feminist slant, the 34 accounts in this multivoiced mosaic, which range from a couple of pages to much longer, creatively diverge in approach and style. Some stories dazzle with their poetic eloquence, while others, written in slangy contemporary English, offer short, punchy lines and timeless themes ... The free mingling of ancient characters with elements of workaday modern life won’t please everyone, but open-minded readers should applaud the virtuosity and find much worth discovering in these memorable reinterpretations.
PositiveBooklistClinch gives us a full-fledged late-Georgian London, with its shadowy lanes and increasing commercial growth, and his female characters, namely Belle and Scrooge’s sister, Fan, are convincingly developed. This smoothly written, insightful tale should prompt people to reread its inspiration with fresh eyes.
RaveBooklistFitch’s transporting sequel to The Revolution of Marina M. (2017) is even better than the first book. Ceaselessly entertaining through its lengthy page count ... Marina narrates her dramatic life with striking visual detail ... Awash with emotion and poetic imagery that aptly reflect Marina’s changing circumstances, Fitch’s tale channels the woman’s vibrant spirit throughout. Historical-fiction fans should devour this.
PositiveBooklistWith expertly described settings spanning late-ninth-century Norway, Iceland, and the Orkney Islands, this satisfying finale to Hartsuyker’s Golden Wolf trilogy expands into the next generation ... The number of characters and subplots threaten to affect the novel’s cohesion initially, but Hartsuyker’s smart storytelling soon takes over as the threads overlap and come together in a fitting conclusion.
PositiveBooklistA beautifully melancholic tone permeates this finely written debut novel ... Erik’s story looks beyond the \'tortured genius\' stereotype to something more nuanced and real, while both Louise and painter Suzanne Valadon, Erik’s one-time companion, personify different aspects of being a woman alone. The bleakness of the themes of loneliness, family separation, and thwarted expectations sits in counterpoise to several couples’ deep love and the creativity that produces innovative art.
Ludmila Ulitskaya, Trans. by Polly Gannon
PositiveBooklistAlthough the novel’s early pages promise the revelation of family secrets, and the narrative delivers, it is primarily concerned with evoking people’s quotidian joys and sorrows. The story sojourns through the realms of music, science, and politics as Ulitskaya gives full rein to her characters’ thoughts—particularly Jacob’s, with his great thirst for knowledge—but the plot remains strong. Ideal for devotees of Russian literature and epic tales.
PositiveBooklistSarah is a talented writer all-too-aware of women’s social inferiority ... While the patchwork approach means the narrative isn’t exactly smooth, it proves unyielding and compelling in its timely themes, with many depictions of how white men’s seething resentment erupts into racist violence and how Southern codes of honor and toxic values, particularly slavery, corroded individual lives and the national character.
PositiveBooklist\"The settings are colorfully rendered, and the fast-paced action is occasionally disorienting as scenes alternate between Pericles’ quasi-Greek world, a gritty Jacobean London, and Angelica’s traumatic life. Considerable attention is paid to the viewpoints of Pericles’ abandoned wife and daughter. Playful yet unsettling, Haddon’s tale offers timeless themes and should particularly interest aficionados of myths and legends.\
John Burnham Schwartz
PositiveBooklistSchwartz again demonstrates his adroitness at illustrating the troubled lives of high-profile twentieth-century women ... A perceptive exploration of identity, motherhood, and how one woman valiantly tried to shed the heavy mantle of her father’s infamous legacy.
PositiveBooklist[Elliot Grant] is a convincing creation, but readers may be uneasy that considerable emotional weight and suspense hinge on a historical character’s fictional relationship and its repercussions. Still, Orringer is a beautiful prose stylist who captures depth of meaning about complex human issues, and she addresses head-on the moral dilemma of making value judgments on individual lives. Ultimately Orringer crafts a vivid portrait of wartime Marseille, its innate sophistication darkened by Nazi oppression, and of Fry’s heroic real-life accomplishments.
PositiveBooklistCarr’s intricately woven debut evokes the history of nineteenth-century Chicago while showcasing important but little-known historical figures and fictional people from different walks of life ... While their personalities are colorfully rendered, the depictions of Native Americans aren’t terribly nuanced. More eclectic than Micheneresque, the novel nonetheless offers a strong sense of place. Ambition, injustice, and opportunity all play roles as Chicago expands outward and upward. Over time, the disparate stories, which span the entire century, intersect in delightfully unexpected ways.
PositiveBooklistExciting ... he shipboard action is exhilarating, and intrigue beckons on land, too, with intertwining subplots about a British diplomat’s unresolved murder, a mystery involving Townsend’s late Cuban mother, and his growing affections for an innkeeper’s daughter. The story eventually leads him straight into the dark, cruel heart of the Cuban economy. This is an involving reading experience for maritime fans and landlubbers alike. One hopes Townsend’s adventures will continue in future books.
RaveBooklistProudly uncategorizable, Serpell’s excellent first novel traverses a shifting genre landscape while delving into Zambia’s tumultuous history in intimate detail ... From the Shiwa Ng’andu estate to the Kalingalinga compound, the deeply human, ethnically diverse characters fall in love, grieve, betray one another, and make shocking choices. In this smartly composed epic, magical realism and science fiction interweave with authentic history, and the \'colour bar,\' the importance of female education, and the consequences of technological change figure strongly. It’s also a unique immigration story showing how people from elsewhere are enfolded into the country’s fabric. While a bit too lengthy, Serpell’s novel is absorbing, occasionally strange, and entrenched in Zambian culture—in all, an unforgettable original.
PositiveBooklistAn impressive historical novel sure to harness WWII-fiction fans’ attention. Each subplot in its triple-stranded structure thrums with tension that intensifies as they braid together ... The secondary characters, from Nina’s anti-Stalinist father to Jordan’s pilot boyfriend, feel three-dimensional, and the coldhearted Huntress is a complex villain. Laced with Russian folklore allusions and deliciously witty banter, Quinn’s tale refreshingly avoids contrived situations while portraying three touching, unpredictable love stories; the suspenseful quest for justice; and the courage involved in confronting one’s greatest fears.
RaveBooklistIncisive ... Mallon demonstrates great skill in animating a large cast of prominent personalities ... Readers will find some nods to today’s political dramas ... Witty conversation ensues as scenes shift between meetings, speeches, elegant dinners, and other domestic and international gatherings, while the depiction of flooded New Orleans is starkly sobering ... Mallon’s latest fictional portrayal of the American political scene is impressively detailed and enticingly readable.
RaveBooklistBest-selling Weir’s impressive novel shows why Jane deserves renewed attention. Without any dull moments, Weir illustrates Jane’s unlikely journey from country knight’s daughter to queen of England ... From the richly appointed decor to the religious tenor of the time, the historical ambience is first-rate. With her standout novel in the crowded Tudor-fiction field, Weir keeps the tension high, breathing new life into a familiar tale and making us wish for a different ending.
Lars Petter Sveen, Trans. Guy Puzey
PositiveBooklistBoth historical fiction and allegory, the book is insightful in both contexts ... the stories’ consistent message speaks to the insidiousness of evil and self-doubt. While reflecting individuals’ long-ago struggles for faith, autonomy, and survival, Sveen’s linked stories also have significant modern relevance that reaches a powerful crescendo by the book’s end.
RaveBooklistCarey...presents a creative epic that follows a poor orphan’s rise to become the famous Madame Tussaud. Born in 1761, and nicknamed \'Little\' for her petite size, Marie Grosholtz becomes the unpaid apprentice of her late mother’s odd, nervous employer, Dr. Curtius...Their skills with wax attract attention, leading to their unusual museum and Marie’s invitation to tutor Princess Elisabeth at Versailles ... The oddball characters and gothic eccentricities evoke Tim Burton’s work but without any fantastical elements; the reality is sufficiently strange on its own ... The unique perspective, witty narrative voice, and clever illustrations make for an irresistible read.
RaveBooklistMoving from Edinburgh in 1894 to the far-flung Andaman Islands in 1906, and smoothly landing in various European cities in between, Boyd’s affecting novel follows a young Scotsman’s ardent pursuit of a woman and its treacherous consequences ... Boyd beautifully paints the settings and the moods they evoke while sending readers on Brodie’s adventurous, troublesome, and transformative journey.
PositiveBooklistCathy is proud of her illustrious African heritage, and her witty voice and down-to-earth honesty enliven her lengthy tale ... Bird’s meaty epic provides abundant, intimate details about Cathy’s life as a Buffalo Soldier ... An admiring novel about a groundbreaking, mentally tough woman.
PositiveBooklistPike’s narrative blends court intrigue, romantic interludes, and gritty violence into a literary brew worth savoring to the dramatic finale. The elements of Celtic mysticism will appeal to fantasy fans looking for a Mists of Avalon–type experience, while the setting remains grounded in sixth-century Scotland’s political realities. Enthusiastically recommended for readers of female-centered historical sagas and those enamored of Arthurian tales.
PositiveBooklist OnlineThe Sea Queenis Svanhild Eysteinsdotter, a strong-willed woman with a difficult path ahead. In ninth-century Norway, six years after the events in The Half-Drowned King, Svanhild, married to the raider Solvi, loves her seafaring life but knows her intellectual son’s needs must come first ... Through her multifaceted characters, Hartsuyker adeptly evokes female alliances, the complications of love and passion, and vengeance both terrible and triumphant as she effectively juggles many subplots and settings, from Norway’s harsh, picturesque coast to sulfurous Iceland and Dublin’s muddy harbor.
Frances De Pontes Peebles
PositiveHistorical Novel SocietyA soaring fusion of emotion, intense drama, and the compelling rhythms of Brazilian music, The Air You Breathe belongs to the special category of historical novels that chronicle entire lives – and it does so in enthralling fashion ... an intoxicating performance itself, not to be missed by anyone wanting to be wrapped up in a well-told story.
Imogen Hermes Gowar
RaveBooklist\"Leisurely told and leavened with a knowing wit, Gowar’s debut brims with colorful period vernacular and delicious phrasings: one woman is \'built like an armchair, more upholstered than clothed;\' another has a \'mouth like low tide.\' Concerned with the issue of women’s freedom, Gowar offers a panoramic view of Georgian society, from its coffeehouses and street life to class distinctions and multicultural populace. Recommended for fans of Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist (2014), this is a sumptuous historical feast.\
RaveBooklist Online\"The third in a projected quartet, following Secessia (2015), Wascom’s latest literary saga is his strongest yet ... Wascom’s writing burns with a raw, elemental power. The story encompasses the era’s white privilege and anti-immigrant stances, letting readers make the contemporary connections, while pondering what it means to be American.\
Maria Dahvana Headley
RaveBooklistHeadley’s...fourth novel is a stunner: a darkly electric reinterpretation of Beowulf that upends its Old English framework to comment on the nature of heroes and how we \'other\' those different from ourselves. It deftly interweaves a host of contemporary themes, from racial tensions to veterans’ reintegration, political corruption, and female power ... A strange tale told with sharp poetic imagery and mythic fervor, Headley’s novel prompts examination of how people create or become monsters.
RaveBooklistMagnificent characters with complex psychologies, including adventurous entrepreneurs and several courageous women, populate this generational tale of the Sephardic diaspora ... The story glides effortlessly between viewpoints and vibrant settings ranging from Lisbon to Tangier, the Caribbean, and Mexico City. With prose as clear as the star-strewn night sky, Morris’ novel explores people’s hidden connections.
PositiveBooklistSome passages in Powers’ second novel...unfold with a fable’s tragic inevitability, while specificity of setting and character, both strikingly described and original, will brand them into the reader’s consciousness ... Beautifully formed sentences express unsettling truths about humanity, yet tendrils of hope emerge.
RaveBooklist\"Miller beautifully voices the experiences of the legendary sorceress Circe ... With poetic eloquence and fine dramatic pacing, Miller smoothly knits together the classic stories of the Minotaur, the monster Scylla, the witch Medea (Circe’s niece), events from Homer’s Odyssey, and more, all reimagined from a strong-minded woman’s viewpoint ... This immersive blend of literary fiction and mythological fantasy demonstrates that the Greek myths are still very relevant today.\
PositiveBooklist\"Frazier crafts haunting scenes of her and her children’s flight from Richmond via wagon through the devastated South and her morphine-hazed, funereal view of her husband’s rain-soaked inauguration. Intelligent, outspoken, and clear-sighted but yoked to an intransigent man, the real Varina sometimes feels elusive ... In her conversations with James, she proclaims \'the right side won\' yet seems unable to fully grasp slavery’s ramifications. This powerful realization of its time also has significant meaning for ours.\
MixedBooklistThe suspense hinges on the reader’s unfamiliarity with the real history, and John Boyne’s The House of Special Purpose (2013), also about Anastasia, handles the dual-chronology structure more smoothly. However, Anna’s narrative, involving institutionalizations, glamorous excursions, legal battles, and meetings with people who want to support, exploit, or debunk her, compels with its many contrasts. Recommended mainly for readers unacquainted with this twentieth-century mystery or anyone interested in Anna Anderson’s troubled life.
RaveBooklistHartsuyker’s terrific historical epic, first in a projected trilogy, beautifully evokes the period and the mind-set of its warring peoples ... Posing thoughtful questions about the nature of honor and heroism, and devoting significant attention to women’s lives, the novel takes a fresh approach to the Viking-adventure genre. Hartsuyker also shows how the glorious deeds in skaldic songs can differ from their subjects’ lived experiences. The multifaceted characters are believable products of their era yet relatable to modern readers; the rugged beauty of Norway’s farmlands and coastal landscapes likewise comes alive. The language is clear and eloquent, and the action scenes will have the blood humming in your veins. This is how tales from the old sagas should be told.
RaveBooklistGut-wrenching and undeniably relevant to today’s world ... In this multiple-perspective novel, Shamsie peers deeply into her characters’ innermost selves, delineating the complicated emotions, idealistic principles, and vulnerabilities that drive them. Scenes showing Parvaiz’s mindset as he is indoctrinated into ISIS are daring and incredibly disturbing. In accessible, unwavering prose and without any heavy-handedness, Shamsie addresses an impressive mix of contemporary issues, from Muslim profiling to cultural assimilation and identity to the nuances of international relations. This shattering work leaves a lasting emotional impression.
PositiveBooklistThe setting has an otherworldly feel at times, which heightens the sense of the tale’s ancientness. Sensual and violent, often simultaneously, Vann’s novel evokes the primal force of women’s power.