When people ask me “what type of books do you like to read?” I have a hard time answering. It’s not an easy question for me when my reading interests can’t fit in any one genre. I’m more likely to answer with what I’m leaning towards at the moment. Lately, I’ve been reading more on the speculative side of fiction, and that could be because of the Boswell Books & Beer Book Club I facilitate. But, I will say I do enjoy historical fiction. I love hearing about history’s untold stories; escaping into another time and experiencing what life was like through the character’s eyes. And a well told historical novel will transport you there like a time machine! And if you’re like me, they will leave you googling past events to see what parts of the book are real. Like all genres, there are many subgenres within historical fiction. One of my favorite historical fiction authors is Sarah Waters, who gets me to thinking about lesbian historical fiction. I haven’t read much, but I do have a few favorites I’d like to share.
Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht - I should point out book two, Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery, will be released in paperback June 16th. Set in Argentina in 1966, CIA operative Vera Kelly has been betrayed and is now stuck in a country thrown into political chaos. This is the kind of cool, slow-burn spy novel that’s perfect for those humid summer nights.
Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thomson is a stunning and intimate novel that makes you wonder if perhaps he traveled back in time to witness the extraordinary and very real relationship between Suzanne Malherbe and Lucie Schowob, who are well known in the art world as Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore and befriended the likes of Dali and other avant garde artists. They decide to move to their home away from home in the Channel Islands because of the looming threat of Hitler. Soon they are faced with Nazis occupying their picturesque island, forcing the two women to rebel against the occupation.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a contemporary novel, but with so many flashbacks to Old Hollywood, I feel like this could qualify. Ok, I really want it to qualify! After seven husbands and fifty years in the spotlight, Evelyn Hugo has decided to tell her story. The big question being: Who was the love of Evelyn Hugo’s life? There’s scandal, extravagance, leading men, lavender marriages and overbearing studio bosses. This novel will leave you utterly absorbed and wishing Evelyn Hugo was a real-life film star.
And of course I must recommend a novel by Sarah Waters! The Paying Guests is set in the aftermath of World War I, Frances Wray and her mother must rent out rooms in their house due to accumulated losses and mounting debts. Newlyweds Leonard & Lilian Barber are the Wrays’ first tenants. It’s a big adjustment for the Wrays, who have to come to terms with having “paying guests” in their Champion Hill home. Along the way, Frances & Lillian get to know each other, and what begins as a friendship blossoms into something more. Then one day a catastrophe strikes which upends their existence and that of everyone they know. Sexy, gripping, and suspenseful, Sarah Waters is in top form.
There are a couple more books that came out earlier this year, which I am looking forward to reading and adding to my subgenre collection.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. It is set in 1617 Norway. A sudden storm wipes out the men in the village, including every male member of Maren’s family. Three years later, a stranger arrives with his young wife, Ursa in tow. This stranger believes witchcraft was the cause of that storm. Ursa’s eyes are opened to a new way of life when she sees something in the village and independent women living there. Emily Barton of The New York Times Book Review calls The Mercies “among the best novels I’ve read in years. In addition to its beautiful writing, its subject matter is both enduring and timely."
And The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey is about a young woman tasked with safeguarding a natural history collection as it is spirited out of London during World War II. She discovers her new manor home is a place of secrets and terror instead of protection. If you’re in the mood for a gothic read also, I’m told it’s perfect for fans of Sarah Perry.