Historical novels that use real people, eras and achievements as a springboard can sometimes become overworked lessons of the history on which they’re treading. Other times, they can be inspired, original works that remind us of both the importance of history and the timeless concerns of our own humanity. Thankfully, The Architect’s Apprentice is the latter.
So much can happen in one day. And when it comes to Eddie Joyce’s first novel, so much is remembered in one day: Small Mercies is the story of the Amedolas, an Irish-Italian family living on Staten Island. The story is set in the current day, but it stretches back through generations with a particular emphasis on September 11, 2001, the day they lost Bobby—he was a firefighter, but he was also a son, brother, father and husband.
“When you stopped trying to be one perfect person, you could be many.” A small-town Tennessee girl flourishes into a classic, yet never cliché, femme fatale in Rebecca Scherm’s provocative coming-of-age debut, Unbecoming.
It’s easy to forget that by the time he was 41, F. Scott Fitzgerald was washed up. His books were out of print, magazines weren’t interested in his stories and his monthly royalties were down to pocket change. In 1937, he went to Hollywood, where he struggled to make a living writing screenplays, barely staying one step ahead of his creditors. It is these lean years that Stewart O’Nan examines in his brilliant biographical novel West of Sunset.
If the mark of a great author is not merely how much she incites the imaginations of readers but the extent to which she inspires fellow writers, then there can be no doubt that Jane Austen is the greatest author of them all. Just when you think the market for Austen spinoffs has reached capacity, a new book comes onto the scene that turns the genre on its head. Such is the case with First Impressions, Charlie Lovett’s delightful new novel.
“Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam, we’ve all been there.” So says war correspondent Michael Herr on the persistent reality of a war curiously prone to re-examination. In The Lotus and the Storm, by Vietnamese-American author Lan Cao, this revisiting takes the form of a dialogue of sorts between a daughter and a father, lotuses swept to America’s shores by the storm of the American intervention.
Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred-Year House is an appealing mixture: part archival mystery, part ghost story, part historical novel, starring a house with as much personality as Manderley or Hill House. Told in reverse chronology, it unfolds as a kind of bookish scavenger hunt, uncovering clues and putting pieces of the fictional puzzle in place.
Author Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won awards for her short fiction from the Chicago Tribune and Atlantic Monthly, among others. Her outstanding debut novel, Steal the North, is almost guaranteed to add to Bergstrom’s award collection. Narrated from multiple perspectives, the novel is a heartbreaking tale of family secrets, unrequited love and the unbreakable bond of family.
Jean Zimmerman’s new novel, Savage Girl, is the ideal historical fiction narrative: The history is accurate, and the story nicely fits into the facts.
The novel opens with Hugo Delegate, son of an outrageously wealthy captain of industry, found next to the mutilated body of one of his friends. Because he can’t, or perhaps, will not, explain why he was found at such a gruesome scene, he is taken into custody and asked to tell his side of the story.
Taking a page straight out of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Margaret Hawkins begins her third novel with the preparation for a dinner party. Each year, Lydia invites a group of friends over for a midwinter meal, where they devour food, sip wine and share secrets. Except this year, Lydia has the biggest secret of all. She has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and with only a few weeks to live, she has to share the devastating news so that she can properly say goodbye.