Few things are better than sinking into a lush, well-wrought historical novel. From 16th-century England to 1960s America, we've rounded up 15 of our recent favorites.
Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre
There's a price to be paid for beauty in this debut based on real events in King Charles I's early 17th-century court. The beautiful but aging Venetia Stanley is terrified that her looks are slipping away and turns to potions and creams to keep her youthful glow. But as the ladies of the court come to discover, beauty can be toxic.
At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
The Water for Elephants author travels to Scotland during the height of World War II in her latest novel. Naive and kind-hearted Maddie sets out to join her rich husband and his friend in their search for the Loch Ness Monster and falls in love with the Scottish countryside. However, soon it dawns on Maddie how ridiculous her husband and his quest are, and things take a dark turn.
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
Ladies, let's get ready to rumble! We've been waiting for this book to land in our office since last fall, and it did not disappoint. Although, as a novel based on real events in women's bare-knuckle boxing in late 18th-century England, how could it?
The Tutor by Andrea Chapin
If you're a Shakespeare lover like me, The Tutor is right up your twisty London alley. The novel follows the relationship between the widow Katharine de L’Isle and William Shakespeare—a relationship that brings the Bard's writing to new heights.
The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak
Shafak, a Turkish native, explores the beautifully lush world of the Ottoman Empire in her latest novel. Arriving in court as a young boy, Jahan gradually finds himself in the inner-circle of the Sultan's premier architect, helping to build some of the most magnificent buildings ever seen. However, jealousy threatens to dismantle the two architects' accomplishments.
Into the Savage Country by Shannon Burke
In 1826, the American West was a rugged landscape filled with potential as well as danger. William Wyeth, a young man set on earning his fortune in fur-trapping, sees this firsthand as he delves deep into the territory, finding love, friendship and of course, encountering near-death experiences.
Driving the King by Ravi Howard
In a fictional account of the life of Nat King Cole's driver, Howard explores the tumultuous landscape of 1960s America. After saving Cole, his childhood friend, from an attacker during a performance in Montgomery, Alabama, Nat Weary is rewarded with a 10-year jail sentence. But upon his release, Cole offers him a job as his driver and a chance to travel through the changing country.
Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
When you live in an isolated village in 1717 Finland, you really have to be able to rely upon your neighbors. Unfortunately for newly settled Maija and her family, one of these neighbors is discovered dead, a devastating winter is unfurling and things just get weirder from there.
Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan
England in the 1930s was not a hospitable place for a woman pregnant out of wedlock. When Alice finds herself in this predicament, her mortified parents ship her off to lonely Fiercombe Manor, where she will wait out her pregnancy and then give the child up for adoption. But there's something strange going on at the manor, and its secret history has disturbing implications.
The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister
Accused of murdering her husband (onstage, no less), the Amazing Arden, a famed magician in the early 1900s, must convince a young policeman that she is innocent. Or is her plea just smoke and mirrors? If you enjoyed Water for Elephants or The Night Circus, this book's for you.
The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday
Daniel Torday blends two coming-of-age stories in this powerful debut novel about truth and memory. As a teen, Eli Goldstein adored his Uncle Poxl, a Czech Jew who served in the British Royal Air Force during World War II and lived to write a best-selling memoir. But as Poxl's story unfolds, it gradually becomes clear that the past may not be as straightforward as he presents it. Torday excels at depicting the struggles of everyday people facing devastating airstrikes, and Poxl's unusual perspective makes the novel feel fresh.
West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan
Travel back to the golden age of Hollywood with a washed-up F. Scott Fitzgerald in this poignant novel from O'Nan. His former literary fame and fortune shattered, Fitzgerald heads to Hollywood to try his luck at screenwriting. There he rubs elbows with silver screen queens and kings, even as he spirals deeper into despair and the alcoholism that will eventually kill him.
Citizens Creek by Lalita Tademy
The lives of a slave named Cow Tom and his granddaughter Rose unfold in this novel set in the 1800s American West. Cow Tom has an uncanny talent for mastering languages and is sold as a translator to the Creek tribe at a young age. Inspired by the strength of her grandfather, Rose is determined to keep her family together and thrive despite living in a hostile, violent world.
Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar
Parmar explores a world of literary stars in her second novel. The Bloomsbury Group was a set of thinking elite in early 20th-century London, with Vanessa and her sister, Virginia Woolf, among the founding members. Basing her novel off of Vanessa's letters and diaries from the time, Parmar offers up a fascinating fictional account of these privileged, clever and troubled bohemians' lives.
Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell
Although they seemingly have few things in common, a white woman named Hazel and a black woman named Vida are linked by the devastating deaths of their young children. As they grow closer through this tragedy in pre-Civil Rights era Mississippi, Hazel's eyes are opened to harsh realities about society.
It's a big week, a really big week, for new paperback releases:
By Donna Tartt
Back Bay • $20 • ISBN 9780316055444
Finally available in paperback, Donna Tartt’s third novel is a big book in every way: size (784 pages), awards (Pulitzer Prize, Carnegie Medal), sales (#1 bestseller) and rankings (BookPage #1 Book of 2013). If you haven’t yet immersed yourself in this epic story about a New York teen and a mysterious painting, prepare to be mesmerized.
All Fall Down
By Jennifer Weiner
Washington Square • $16 • ISBN 9781451617795
Jennifer Weiner, who is ever-popular with readers (and the target of continuing wrath from literary curmudgeon Jonathan Franzen) delivers a timely and heartbreaking tale about a suburban mom who appears to have it all but is secretly struggling with an addiction to prescription painkillers.
David and Goliath
By Malcolm Gladwell
Back Bay • $18 • ISBN 9780316204378
The author of a string of nonfiction bestsellers (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) Malcolm Gladwell uses the biblical story of the ancient underdog as the launching point for a broader examination of how overcoming obstacles in life can ultimately lead to greater success. This paperback edition includes a new afterword about Konrad Kellen, a U.S. intelligence analyst who concluded early on that American forces in Vietnam were unlikely to prevail against the underdog Viet Cong.
By Rachel Pastan
Riverhead • $16 • ISBN 9781594632921
In this smart and suspenseful take on Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, the curator at an art museum on Cape Cod finds that her new job is a nightmare—and it doesn't help when she learns that the previous curator died under suspicious circumstances.
I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You
By Courtney Maum
Touchstone • $16 • ISBN 9781476764559
In a debut novel that's been a hit with readers and critics, Courtney Maum considers the difficulties of holding a marriage together after an episode of infidelity.
No Book but the World
By Leah Hager Cohen
Riverhead • $16 • ISBN 9781594633423
This keenly observed novel from the author of the acclaimed The Grief of Others tells the story of two adult siblings raised as free spirits by their parents, who ran an experimental school in upstate New York. With her brother Fred now jailed on a murder charge, Ava must confront the memories and missteps of their childhood.
Maybe we're excited about baseball season because opening day feels like a better beginning of spring than the actual equinox on March 20 (I mean, it was snowing in NYC). Maybe it's because our local minor-league team, the Nashville Sounds, is getting a brand-new stadium. Whatever the reason, we're excited. Our April issue includes a selection of stellar nonfiction baseball books, but every year we also enjoy a steady stream of baseball novels.
Leslie Dana Kirby has just published her debut novel, The Perfect Game, a psychological suspense that explores the murder of the wife of a professional baseball superstar. In this guest blog post, she digs into baseball as an interesting background for books:
Ahhh, spring. Longer days, warmer weather for reading good books poolside . . . and opening day of baseball season.
As a resident of Phoenix, I have already been enjoying a month of baseball as rabid fans stream in from all over the country to attend spring training games. And as the official opening date of the professional baseball season was April 5, this is a great time of year to crack open some books with baseball themes.
As a kid, I really enjoyed In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, a charming book about Shirley Temple Wong, a young girl who immigrates to Brooklyn from China. As she struggles to assimilate, she finds herself inspired by Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson, who is proving that minorities can live their dreams in the United States.
While I was reading about Shirley Temple Wong, my older brother fell in love with Ball Four, an expose by pitcher Jim Bouton, which peeled back the curtain on professional baseball. When it was first published in 1970, it created a firestorm of controversy and was banned by some libraries. By 1999, it was being hailed by the New York Public Library and Time magazine as one of the most important works of nonfiction of the 20th century.
My first novel, The Perfect Game, is set against the backdrop of professional baseball. My protagonist, Lauren Rose, is devastated when her older sister and only sibling, Liz, is murdered. It’s a tragedy that is compounded by the fact that Liz was married to professional baseball pitcher Jake Wakefield. Jake’s fame quickly attracts a national spotlight to the murder and the ensuing investigation.
Why does baseball create an interesting setting for books? Perhaps it is because the topic takes many of us back to lazy summer days of enjoying peanuts and cracker jacks. Others relish the opportunity to get a glimpse into the glitzy and glamorous lives of professional baseball players. And the truly hardcore fans might be looking for a way to combine their love of the game with the joy of reading.
The slow pace of baseball play also allows time for reflection between plays. For baseball fans, that allows times for thinking about the possible implications of a hit or a fly ball. For authors, this allows time to discuss the reaction of the players or the spectators in between the action.
Additionally, baseball allows for reflection on individual performance more than most sports. For example, in my book, Jake pitches a perfect game, a tremendous achievement for a baseball pitcher. While other athletes might excel in a game, it isn’t really feasible for players in other sports, such as quarterbacks or basketball point guards, to accomplish a “perfect” outing.
Overall, I think for most of us, baseball represents the quintessential experience of long, relaxing days spent rooting on our favorite teams. So in between pitches in the next game of your favorite MLB team, consider reading some of these other popular books that feature the all-American sport:
I hope that one of these, or some other baseball book that you pick up this summer, might be a grand slam for you!
Thanks, Leslie! Readers, The Perfect Game is now available from Poisoned Pen Press.
Our DIY project this month comes from our April Top Pick in Lifestyles—Brit Morin's Homemakers! If you're anything like me, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that this project for custom-etched glassware is easily affordable and easily done.
I know what you’re thinking. Etching glassware sounds like it could result in someone losing an eye. But the truth is, etching is super simple, takes only a few minutes, and can yield totally chic and customizable results. It’s basically a way of frosting small-scale pieces of glass. For this project, I used contact paper to create custom designs or stencils. It’s much more durable than painter’s tape and allows for more creativity in terms of shapes and patterns. You can also use vinyl letters to etch labels into your jars and canisters for flour, sugar, rice and so on.
Glass Etching Cream
STEP 1: Cut your contact paper into small shapes to create a pattern. I went with our signature triangle pattern on a glass carafe.
STEP 2: Wash and dry your glass carafe or pitcher to start out with a clean surface. Peel off the backing of your contact paper and attach each piece to the glass. Be sure to press firmly so that you get a clean edge when you start etching.
STEP 3: Use a paintbrush to apply a heavy layer of etching cream all over your carafe. Dab it on evenly, but don’t brush too firmly, as that tends to thin out the cream. The thicker the layer of etching cream the better.
STEP 4: Let the etching cream sit for 30 minutes, then rinse it off with water. Be sure to clean your sink thoroughly after this rinse, as the etching cream is toxic.
STEP 5: Peel off your contact paper pattern and wipe with a damp towel or rag to remove any remaining traces of etching cream. Fill up with your favorite beverage and marvel at your handiwork.
I created a striped carafe, labeled a pitcher with the word PUNCH, and decorated a large Mason jar with the same triangle pattern. It’s a great way to turn a bunch of mismatched glassware into a custom collection.
Hannah Nordhaus explores her family's history and its fabled connection to a restless spirit in American Ghost. Our reviewer writes that while she focuses on history, "inevitably, Nordhaus’ journey really is a search for self, and we are privileged to be able to accompany her." (Read the full review here.)
We asked Nordhaus to tell us about three books she's enjoyed reading lately.
I discovered Mary Doria Russell’s books recently, and frankly, I’m furious that I haven’t been reading her longer. Russell is most famous for The Sparrow, a science-fiction tale of alien first contact that is so much more than that. She knows how to tell a story in striking language, and she also knows how to make us think. Epitaph is a follow-up to her 2011 novel, Doc, which traced the paths of the true-life Western icons Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp through the duo’s time in Dodge City, Kansas. Epitaph takes up where Doc left off, following their trail—and that of Wyatt Earp’s common-law, Jewish wife, Josephine Marcus—to Tombstone, Arizona, in the days leading up to the famous OK Corral shootout. Yes, there are guns and cowboys and horses aplenty, but this is no stock shoot-em-up Western; it’s a majestically wrought, intricately detailed, thoughtful, surprising and provocative examination of memory, heroism, character and mythology in the 19th-century West.
I recently stumbled upon Kent Haruf’s most celebrated novel on the remainder table at my local bookstore, which just seems wrong. He’s the iconic writer of the Colorado plains and my state’s finest literary product—and yet I had never read his work. A few weeks later, I learned that Haruf had died. I fished the book from the stack on my bedside table and read it through. And then I read it again. Every word matters in that book; Haruf’s language is taut and carefully considered, the story so lovely, the characters so human and flawed all at once, that you want to hold them close long after the book has ended. In Haruf’s hands, the flat and seemingly unexceptional lives of his characters are, like the furrowed grasslands in which they live, transformed into something wondrous. I live at the intersection of mountains and Haruf’s immense and exacting prairie. It extends far beyond what the eye can see. Now, when I look east, I look to Haruf.
I’ve recently developed a fixation on the Spanish Inquisition, and I decided it was time, finally, to read that era’s most famous piece of literature. The critic Harold Bloom has called Don Quixote the first modern novel—and it’s modern all right. One might even describe it as postmodern: The book is ironic, intertextual, meta-fictional and deeply weird. There’s tilting at windmills, yes, and blood-drenched beatings, burning books, horse-on-pony sexual assault, serial vomiting, cruelty, burlesque and all manner of lunacy. I have used the word “quixotic” often in my writing; only now do I realize that I have been using it wrong. Don Quixote may be lovable, mostly, but he’s no impractical idealist; in my opinion, he’s downright demented.
Thank you, Hannah! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Casie Zalud)
The list of books to look forward to this fall just got a little bit longer: Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks will publish a novel based on the life of King David, The Secret Chord, on September 22 with Viking.
The novel will be narrated by Nathan, the biblical prophet Brooks has described as "the keeper of the king's conscience." Though it is impossible to call a choice of subject for a Brooks novel predictable—all four of her previous books have had vastly different settings—the theme of faith is a recurring one for the author. As she told BookPage in 2005, "I'm intrigued by people who have strong beliefs, because I don't."
David is an Old Testament figure who appears in Judiasm, Islam and Christianity, and it's a safe bet that Brooks—who has studied Arabic and worked as a Middle East correspondant for the Wall Street Journal in the 1990s—will draw from all three traditions for her portrayal of the legendary king. And of course, he's a popular subject in art, film and literature, from Dryden to Faulkner.
Will you read it?
RELATED CONTENT: More on 2015 releases here.
Looking for an exciting, yet traditional recipe for your family's Easter feast this weekend? Try this savory Italian Easter bread, or la tagliata di Pasqua, from our April Top Pick in cookbooks, Nonna's House.
ADELINA ORAZZO (Italian Easter breads vary from region to region, town to town, and even family to family. Some are savory, like this one; others are sweet. On Easter morning, we serve this bread on a festive platter with slices of soppressata, ricotta salata, fennel, and hard-boiled eggs.
1. Whisk the milk, sugar, and yeast in a small bowl and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the butter, 2 eggs, and salt until uniform. Stir in the flour until a soft dough forms. Lightly dust a work surface with flour, turn the dough out onto it, and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Gather the dough into a ball.
2. Lightly butter a large bowl, set the dough in it, and turn over to coat in the butter. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1½ hours.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Flatten the dough; add the salumi, Pecorino Romano, and Grano Padano, and knead lightly until well incorporated. Divide the dough into two equal pieces; roll each piece into a 14-inch-long strand. Pinch these two strands together at one end, then twist them together six times lengthwise to make a single coiled strand. Form the strand into a circle and pinch the ends to seal.
4. Lightly butter a large rimmed baking sheet. Transfer the coiled ring to it. Press the hard-boiled eggs at three equidistant spots around the coil, using the natural indentations caused by the crossing of the strands.
There are few forces in this world like a true Southern grandmother. Nickole Brown has written a lyric biography of her own in her second collection, Fanny Says. Brown blends descriptions of the immensely wise, brazen and sailor-mouthed Fanny with ruminations on both the power of memory and the Kentucky culture that influenced them both. The editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson, the fabric of Brown's poems share threads of his deeply honest and personal reporting, but Fanny Says proves that she's a literary heavyweight in a class of her own.
Don’t carry a purse but a pocketbook, and underneath
don’t wear a bra and panties
but a push-up Frederick’s of Hollywood brassiere
and a pair of bloomers—nylon, always white, pulled up
as far as bloomers can possibly go.
For your shoes, two options: should you need to go shopping
or get your pressure checked, lace up a pair of white Keds.
Otherwise, it’s house shoes, dust-pink slippers
curled from the dryer into tiny, warm cups for your feet.
What are you reading this week?
It's one of the most special times of the (literary) year, readers! And no fooling—we're officially kicking off National Poetry Month, which celebrates poets and poetry all April long. This year's striking poster is by the very talented Roz Chast, a 2014 National Book Award Finalist for her graphic memoir, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, and features text by former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand.
Check out our poetry feature from our April print edition for the scoop on three new collections to get you into the spirit of things, and look out for more web-exclusive Poetry Month posts, interviews and features coming soon.
So, how many poetry fans do we have out there? How are you planning to celebrate, and which collections are you looking forward to reading?