As I described in Blog #8, Back in Time, I enjoy books that that transport me to times past or that have historical backgrounds. This is especially true when they have a connection to my own life, whether as a life event I’ve experienced, or an interest or fascination I’ve held. Stories that pull at some personal thread engage me more deeply than might otherwise be true.
As a lifelong lover and supporter of libraries, I couldn’t help but enjoy Romalyn Tilghman’s To the Stars Through Difficulties, with its rich history of the construction of the Carnegie Libraries in Kansas in the early 20th century. But this book is so much more. Set-in modern-day Kansas, it is a story about a group of women struggling to overcome adversity and find themselves and their connection to each other. With wonderful characters, emotional depth, a little romance, and a wonderful twist that I didn’t see coming, this was a very enjoyable and heartfelt read.
Growing up in the South in the sixties, segregation and forced integration were part of the fabric of my childhood. Eileen Harrison Sanchez’s debut novel, Freedom Lessons, took me back to those tumultuous times and the feelings of outrage and sadness that I have carried with me throughout my life. The story is told from the perspective of three main characters – a white teacher, a black teacher, and a black high school student. I was pulled quickly into all of their stories and couldn’t put the book down, reading it in two evenings.
As a fan of Grace Kelly, I enjoyed the backdrop of the historical events surrounding her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco and the tragedy of her death in the novel, Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. I was completely captivated by the characters of Sophie Duval, a French perfumer who befriends Grace Kelly, and James Henderson, a British press photographer covering the events. I quickly became invested in both their individual and joint stories, making it hard to say goodbye to them at the end of the book. It was a wonderful tale of hope, perseverance, and love.
When I travel back in time in a novel, there is not a more desirable destination than my beloved San Francisco Bay Area. I love imagining myself here in an earlier time, so Rebecca Roseburg’s book, The Secret Life of Mrs. London was pure bliss for me. From Wolf House, through my home county of Marin and into The City to Tadich Grill (where I had lunch recently!) I enjoyed Rosenburg’s depiction of place during the early 1900s. Equally engaging for me was the superb storytelling that takes the reader inside the Londons’ bohemian world and tumultuous relationship – and kept me up late reading. It was very fun to read!
Jessica Levine’s novel, Nothing Forgotten, alternates between Italy and France in 1979 and California 25 years later. The protagonist, Anna, is contacted by her Italian lover from 1979 after he sees the obituary for her expatriate aunt. I was the same age as Anna in 1979, had just read Michener’s The Drifters, and longed for European travel – so I enjoyed Levine’s attention to the description of setting as well as her ability to evoke strong emotion in her reader. I found myself feeling sad, angry, and frustrated with the character’s choices, while also feeling empathy for the context and time period in which those choices were made. Nothing Forgotten is a vibrant story about how the decisions we make can forever change the course of our lives – and how seeing our younger self through the eyes of another can bring us back when we have lost our way.
Susan Wiggs’ book, Map of the Heart, is set in in both modern-day Massachusetts (a state I visited regularly over the ten years my son was living there) and WWII France. I don’t always like dual timelines, often finding myself rushing through one time period to get back to the one I enjoy more. But I found myself equally engaged in both storylines in this novel. I loved the twists and connections that were revealed along the way as well as the relational aspects of the characters. The protagonist’s and her daughter’s emotional struggles, with the ensuing healing and growth, were especially gratifying.
Do you enjoy historical settings or references in novels? Do you find they pull at some thread in your life? What is your favorite example of this?