Reader name: Larry
Hometown: Acton, MA
Favorite genres: historical fiction, history
Favorite books: Caleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks); Sarah’s Key (Tatiana de Rosnay); Those Who Save Us (Jenna Blum); Truman (David McCullough); Mayflower (Nathaniel Philbrick)
Ah, historical fiction. There are so many wonderful choices! Chief among any list of recommendations should be the four historical novels written by Hilary Mantel—with a particular emphasis on Wolf Hall, a portrait of Thomas Cromwell. Both this novel and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, won the Booker Prize. Read these books and be fully immersed in Henry VIII’s court.
Another good bet is The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, a novel set in France and Hungary during the 1930s and ’40s. Though a 600-plus-page story of the Holocaust may sound like difficult reading, Orringer’s old-fashioned epic is beautifully written and a powerful tale. We also loved The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean, a story of trauma, love and hope set during the 1941 siege of Leningrad. In the story, a museum docent takes refuge in the Hermitage and creates a “memory palace” in her mind.
Finally, readers interested in American history should not miss two recent books about our third president. Master of the Mountain by Henry Wiencek confronts Jefferson’s relationship with slavery and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power is an elegant biography by Jon Meacham. BookPage reviewer Roger Bishop wrote that it is “surely one of the best single volumes about him written in our time.”
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Reader name: Lydia
Hometown: Beloit, WI
Favorite genres: historical fiction, horror
Favorite author: Nikki Giovanni,Toni Morrison, Stephen King
Favorite books: The Heretic's Daughter, Little Bee, Wicked, The Color Purple, Kindred
Here are BookPage’s suggestions for Lydia’s next great read . . .
Our first recommendation for Lydia is Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon, a vivid novel about two passionate teen lovers from Harlem whose lives are upended when one goes to prison on a charge for murdering his father. This story addresses the trials that afflict the poor, but it's also about the promise of love. As reviewer Arlene McKanic wrote in January 2005, "Upstate, for all its sorrow, is a book worth reading."
Lydia's love of Little Bee led us to suggest White Teeth by Zadie Smith, a staff favorite here at BookPage. Smith's brilliantly satirical story spans 25 years and focuses on two multicultural families in London. BookPage columnist Julie Hale recommended White Teeth for book clubs back in 2001, commenting that Smith "takes race, politics and history into account in a novel that has earned her comparisons to everyone from Charles Dickens to Salman Rushdie."
Finally, to satisfy this reader's love of horror, I'll direct her to The Collector by John Fowles, a creepy classic that will appeal to fans of Stephen King. The Collector was published in 1963 and is an abduction story told in a particularly chilling fashion: The abductor (a man who becomes obsessed with a beautiful student) first tells his story of hiding a woman in the cellar of a country house. In the second section, the woman's journal explores the psychological effects of being kept prisoner. Consider yourself warned, though: If you read The Collector, you'll have to make lighthearted fun plans immediately afterward, to shake off the creepy story.
What books do you think Lydia should read, based on her list of favorites?
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