In this richly emotional novel, Kristina McMorris evokes the depth of a mother’s bond with her child, and the power of personal histories to echo through generations…
Two years have done little to ease veterinarian Audra Hughes’s grief over her husband’s untimely death. Eager for a fresh start, Audra plans to leave Portland for a new job in Philadelphia. Her seven-year-old son, Jack, seems apprehensive about flying–but it’s just the beginning of an anxiety that grows to consume him.
As Jack’s fears continue to surface in recurring and violent nightmares, Audra hardly recognizes the introverted boy he has become. Desperate, she traces snippets of information unearthed in Jack’s dreams, leading her to Sean Malloy, a struggling US Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan. Together they unravel a mystery dating back to World War II, and uncover old family secrets that still have the strength to wound–and perhaps, at last, to heal.
Intricate and beautifully written, The Pieces We Keep illuminates those moments when life asks us to reach beyond what we know and embrace what was once unthinkable. Deftly weaving together past and present, herein lies a story that is at once poignant and thought-provoking, and as unpredictable as the human heart.
I have been a long-time fan of McMorris’ popular war stories, and I was eager to read this multi-period novel set in the present day and during WWII. From the first page I was drawn into this story of family bonds, and the deep pain we feel when we are out of sync with those we love.
In the present day, Audra is a strong and struggling character, and while her obstacles are unique, the reader will identify with her complicated relationships. In the past, Vivian’s love affair with the mysterious Isaak, difficulties in her home, and the war make her happiness nearly impossible, but her passion and determination make a life she could not have imagined. Neither woman, however, can outrun her past, and the years and experiences collide in unpredictable and resonating ways.
McMorris uses language with elegance, and her prose is rich and sensory, captivating the reader and wholly immersing her in the book. Each chapter exposes new truths and ignites new questions, resulting in a fast-paced and satisfying novel of suspense. Fans of historical fiction and time-split novels will absolutely love THE PIECES WE KEEP. As much as I enjoy all of McMorris’ work, this might be my favorite.
For more on the book, please visit Kristina McMorris’ website:
I was recently chatting with some authors, when one confessed how much she loathed Best of Book Lists this time of year. We all chimed in with our shared exhaustion on the topic, and we admitted that our enjoyment of them was in direct correlation with whether or not we made a list. Because of this, I hesitated to create my own list, but I decided to anyway. Here is why.
The thing is, it’s not about who isn’t on the list; it’s about who is. And just because a book isn’t on the list, doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. In fact, on this blog I only recommend historical fiction that I LOVE. So if you’d like to know what I loved for the entire year, scroll through my posts.
My criteria for books on my favorites list is unscientific and simple:
*I read it obsessively.
*I can’t stop thinking about it.
*I can’t stop recommending it.
Without further ado, in no particular order, and with links to my reviews, here are my favorites of the books I read in 2013…
- Bellman & Black, by Diane Setterfield
- The Light in the Ruins, by Chris Bohjalain
- Mrs. Poe, by Lynn Cullen
- Margot, by Jillian Cantor
- The Girl You Left Behind, by Jojo Moyes
- The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy
- The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman
- No One Is Here Except All of Us, by Ramona Ausubel
- Looking for Me, by Beth Hoffman
- The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
If you have not read these novels, I highly recommend them. I’d also love to hear some of your must reads of the year.
*Photo Courtesy of Moonlight Traveler at DeviantArt.com
“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”
Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.
Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.
After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.
Reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno, THE GHOST BRIDE takes the reader from the misty streets of nineteenth-century China to the dream-like landscape of Death, where fate for the living and those who have crossed over can be equally terrifying.
Li Lan is a complex character living in frustrating circumstances, and it is only through her courage and determination that she is able to attempt to change her future. Nothing and no one can be trusted on this journey, and the plot is one seen through veils that must be continually peeled away, but what results is a layered work of historical fantasy that both intrigues and satisfies.
Readers drawn to the paranormal and historical will be fascinated by THE GHOST BRIDE.
“For the first five years of her life, Alma Whittaker was indeed a mere passenger of the world–as we are all passengers in such early youth–and so her story was not yet noble, nor was it particularly interesting, beyond the fact that this homely toddler passed her days without illness or incident, surrounded by a degree of wealth nearly unknown in the America of that time…” Elizabeth Gilbert, THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS
In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.
Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.
THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS is 500 pages and, because I was enthralled by Alma Whittaker and her indomitable spirit of exploration, I read it in five nights.
It is a rare thing for an author to create such a cast of dynamic and unique characters as Gilbert has done in this novel. I adored Alma’s crotchety father, her sturdy mother, her feisty nursemaid, prim sister, wild friend, endearing love, eccentric guide, and even the mongrel, Roger, who bites Alma when she tries to feed him–and that is just a sampling of who one meets on the pages. The novel is rendered in a narrative voice full of cheekiness and authority, and the vast wealth of knowledge contained in its pages is extraordinary.
Not since Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN has an epic family saga of this magnitude so completely captivated and fascinated me. Bold, detailed, and dense as a Tahitian jungle, yet somehow far more accessible, THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS is a masterpiece. Unless you are a lady who sips tea with her pinky finger in the air, you simply must read THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS.
“I have heard it said, by those that cannot possibly know, that in the final moments of a man’s existence he sees his whole life pass before his eyes. If that were so, a cynic might assume William Bellman’s last moments to have been spent contemplating anew the lengthy series of calculations, contracts and business deals that made up his existence….What he unearthed, after it had lain buried some forty years in the archaeology of his mind, was a rook.”
Diane Setterfield, Bellman and Black
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Thirteenth Tale comes a dark and mesmerizing ghost story guaranteed to haunt you to your very core.
As a boy, William Bellman commits one small, cruel act: killing a bird with his slingshot. Little does he know the unforeseen and terrible consequences of the deed, which is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to be a man blessed by fortune—until tragedy strikes and the stranger in black comes. Then he starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, William enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.
And Bellman & Black is born.
Do you enjoy dark, gothic, historic tales?
Do you enjoy novels that span a lifetime?
Are you preoccupied with, fascinated by, or frightened of black birds?
My answer to all of these questions is YES, and if you too have strange fascinations and phobias, I highly recommend BELLMAN AND BLACK.
Setterfield’s first novel, THE THIRTEENTH TALE, was a marvelously creepy and Poe-like book, and BELLMAN AND BLACK continues in that tradition. However, this second novel is even more meticulously crafted, entrancing, and unsettling than Setterfield’s first.
Framed in small writings on the nature and legend of rooks, each section of BELLMAN AND BLACK represents the nature of men. At the novel’s inception, we meet William Bellman, a young boy who kills a rook with a slingshot. Without understanding why, he and the boys in his company are forever haunted by the incident.
William grows up and achieves a high degree of success in business, but comes to understand that all is not in his control. The empires he creates are stained and shadowed, and while he does not understand why, William senses that all debts will be settled in the end.
There are no shocking climactic moments in BELLMAN AND BLACK, but rather a deepening sense of understanding and awe of the extreme powerlessness we all face, or will one day face, the conquering of pride, and the notion that something exists outside of humanity with far more weight than we can ever hope to hold.
As a book that begs to be pondered and discussed, BELLMAN AND BLACK would make an excellent book club selection. Fans of gothic historical novels will be enthralled by BELLMAN AND BLACK.
“I suppose you heard about the loss of my Juvenilia? I went up to Paris last week to see what was left and found that Hadley had made the job complet[e] by including all carbons, duplicates, etc… You, naturally, would say, “Good” etc. But don’t say it to me. I aint yet reached that mood. I worked 3 years on the damn stuff.” Hemingway to Ezra Pound, 23 January 1923, THE LETTERS OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY, 1923-1925
The Cambridge University Press, in collaboration with many, including editors Sandra Spanier, Albert J. Defazio III, and Robert W. Trogdon, has just released the second volume of Hemingway Letters, dating from the years 1923-1925. I am in the middle of reading the letters of literary legend (and personal obsession) Ernest Hemingway, and I’m reminded of the feeling of growing intimacy with the writer I had reading his papers at the JFK Museum in Boston.
Uncensored, vivid, humorous, vicious, touching, and fascinating, Volume Two of the Hemingway Letters gives fans of the author and those interested in the life of one living so much in history an unprecedented glimpse into the mind of a literary genius. From silly “screeds” to war buddies, to daring letters meant to goad his mother, Hemingway’s volatile and powerful personality comes through with clarity on the pages.
Footnotes for the letters assist both every day readers and scholars in understanding the context of each of them, and are invaluable and concise. Fans of the “Lost Generation” will thrill over references to John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, to name a few. Those who read and loved THE PARIS WIFE will be interested to learn about the beginning of the end of Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley, from his point of view.
I look forward to future releases of the letters chronically the evolution of Ernest Hemingway. I highly recommend this volume for history and Hemingway fans.
“As one whose life has felt the shadow of breast cancer through two friends’ illnesses this year, it is an honor to be included in Penguin’s READ PINK campaign. It is my greatest hope that this contribution may be a part of raising awareness and finding a cure.” ~Erika Robuck”
Penguin Group (USA) LLC presents READ PINK®—its fourth year dedicated to the fight against breast cancer—with a $25,000 donation to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation® (BCRF)
I am honored my novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, was chosen for this initiative with fellow authors Nora Roberts, Jodi Thomas, Carly Phillips, JoAnn Ross, Karen Rose, Catherine Anderson, Kate Jacobs, LuAnn McLane, Liane Moriarty, Alyson Richman, Sarah Jio, Penelope Lively, and spokesperson Karen White. Books bearing the READ PINK® seal can be found at participating retailers and online.
About READ PINK®
The Read Pink program was created by Penguin Group (USA) to promote public awareness of breast cancer, breast cancer research and to support and recognize the contributions of BCRF and its commitment to lead the fight against breast cancer – all in connection with the books you love. As one of the largest English-language trade book publishers in the world, we are committed to our readers who have shared in this struggle. Each year, Penguin’s Read Pink donation has sponsored 500 hours of research time.
Readers are invited to join Penguin Group (USA) and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation® in spreading the word about The Breast Cancer Research Foundation® by selecting a copy of these special editions.
“Outside the open window, Cristina heard her mother and father speaking with Francesca on the terrace. Francesca was telling them about the visit from the two soldiers….Beside her, Alessia chirped happily that her grandfather and grandmother were back and raced downstairs. And so Cristina submerged her ears beneath the water and the world grew a little quieter; her hair fanned out atop the plane and she ran her fingers through it and was reminded of a goddess in a Renaissance painting. Her mind wandered far from the villa and the ruins and her unshakable sense that her world was about to change.” Chris Bohjalian, THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS
From the New York Times best-selling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.
1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once was their sanctuary becomes their prison.
1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.
Many of my fellow bloggers have long been recommending Bohjalian’s work to me, and for reasons I cannot explain, this is the first of his novels I have read. It most certainly will not be my last.
Bohjalian is a writer of the highest caliber. His faraway historical settings are transportive and intoxicating, and his characters are realistic and flawed. THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS is one of those rare gems whose compelling plot is conveyed with richly readable and evocative prose.
I was entranced by life at the Villa Chimera before and during the war, and the losses of the family are felt acutely in the depiction of the ruins in the “present” of the book, 1955. The narratives run parallel for most of the novel, until the past catches up to the present in the form of a truly terrifying and vicious serial killer. (Note that the book is quite graphic.) Readers will stay up long after their bedtimes to reach the conclusion of this excellent work of literary suspense.
I give THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS my highest recommendation.
“Mrs. Poe smiled at me over the rim of her cup, her eyes a remarkable clear violet within the familial frame of dark lashes. Her skin, I noticed, was nearly as translucent and white as the cup itself. One could just make out the tracery of blue veins beneath it, giving one the odd sense that another creature altogether lurked just inside her flesh.” Lynn Cullen, MRS. POE
From the Publisher:
“New York, 1985. Mr. Poe’s “The Raven” is all the literary rage-the success of which a struggling poet like Frances Osgood can only dream. As a mother trying to support two children after her husband’s betrayal, Frances jumps at the opportunity to meet the mysterious Poe, if only to help her career. Although not a fan of his writing, Frances is overwhelmed by his magnetic presence-and the surprising revelation that he admires her work. What follows is a flirtation, then a seduction, then an illicit love affair. But when Edgar’s frail wife Virginia-a cousin half his age-insists on befriending Frances as well, the relationship becomes as dark and deceiving, as full of twists and turns, as one of Poe’s tales…and maybe, as Frances fears, every bit as deadly.
Closely based on Poe’s life and writings, and rich with authentic historical detail, MRS. POE is a novel of romantic obsession as passionate and enduring as its brilliant subject.”
Having lived just outside of Baltimore my entire life and being a fan of Poe’s macabre and romantic tales, I was thrilled to receive an early copy of MRS. POE for possible endorsement. From the first page, I was spellbound by the dark and captivating story of the famous writer, his sickly wife, and his troubled mistress.
Frances Osgood is the best kind of heroine: sympathetic, flawed, industrious, and conflicted. Her husband dallies with other women, leaving her to support their young children while desperately trying to preserve her reputation in society. Frances does not plan or wish to fall in love with E. A. Poe, but the spark of their shared creative processes as writers and the frightening attention of Poe’s child-bride are magnetic forces they can not control.
Like a story from the master himself, MRS. POE has suspicious characters, dark settings, and startling twists. By honoring Poe’s memory through style and theme, MRS. POE represents the best in historical fiction, and would no doubt be a novel in which Poe himself would approve.
If you enjoy gothic tales of fascination, creativity, and suspense, you will love MRS. POE.
Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces—behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe—detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.
From the moment I saw the haunting cover of this novel, I knew I had to read it. The small Jewish girl hiding in plain sight says so much about the work of gifted architect, Lucien Bernard, the flawed protagonist of Charles Belfoure’s THE PARIS ARCHITECT.
Lucian is fairly despicable at the start of the novel. He no longer loves his wife, he has a mistress, and he does not care about the Jews being plagued by the Nazis in occupied France. He only cares about surviving by making as much money as possible, and growing his professional reputation.
His base need for a salary involves him as an architect working for enemies in the war. On one hand, he creates ingenius hiding spaces in apartments for Jews; on the other, he designs modern factories for Germans. It is all the same to him, as long as he gets paid, until he makes a personal connection with a Jew that ends disastrously.
I asked myself many times in the reading of this novel how I could care about such a heartless protagonist, but the riveting story, my curiosity about his innovation, and my wish to see his growth compelled me forward. I’m so glad it did.
This is not an easy book to read. Belfoure is unflinching in his portrayal of the animal nature of man, and of traitors, spies, and Nazis. The darkness is balanced, however, with a growing sense of hope and redemption throughout the narrative.
Booklist compares Belfoure’s writing to Ken Follett, and that is an excellent comparison in tension, intrigue, detail, and character. If you enjoy fast paced, graphic, and fascinating historical fiction, I recommend you read THE PARIS ARCHITECT.
Charles Belfoure and I will be at the Baltimore Book Festival on Sunday, September 29th, at the George Peabody Library. I hope you’ll stop by and pick up a copy of THE PARIS ARCHITECT.