“Summer reading” means something different to everyone – some of us prefer a light, breezy, not-too-serious paperback book for our long, lazy beach days while others crave a more weighty, sweeping, and epic tale spanning decades or even centuries. This blog post is heavy on the historic fiction, but each of the three books cover completely different time periods, which is variety enough for fans of this genre.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Set in Texas in 1870, this National Book Award finalist is the story of Civil War veteran and widower Captain Jefferson Kidd. He travels throughout northern Texas performing live readings of the news of the world to small communities. He navigates the dangerous, rough terrain alone by covered wagon until he is asked to complete an impossibly dangerous task: return 10-year old orphan Johanna to her extended family. She has been living with the Kiowa tribe after they murdered her entire family four years earlier. Even though Johanna has completely assimilated into their world, the Kiowa determine she is a threat to their tribe so they want her returned. Capt Kidd reluctantly accepts the challenge and what unfolds is an exciting and, at times frightening 400-mile adventure across the unsettled territory and brutal terrain. Captain Kidd faces many difficult choices along the way and as he gets to know Johanna, his burden becomes far greater than he imagined. This book would make an excellent book club choice due to the many themes including returned captives, the tumultuous political climate, and tensions between the Indians and the whites (Note: News of the World has been made into a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks in the role as Captain Kidd.)
Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan Henry
For me, no book has been more highly anticipated in 2021 than this one! Set in Savannah, Georgia, and using a dual timeline of 1838 and the present day, Patti Callahan tells the story of the sinking of the steamship Pulaski, also known as the Titanic of the South. Modern-day Everly Winthrop is a history professor who’s grown up in Savannah and is asked to curate an ambitious new collection for the local museum based on recently discovered artifacts. The research leads Everly to the discovery of artifacts that help her piece together the story of the large Longstreet family who boarded the Pulaski. Everly’s dedication to the project leads to major discoveries about the heartbreaking journey through a tragedy that tore many families apart. Dual timelines can be tricky to follow, but Callahan executes it with ease. Interestingly, a few weeks into Callahan’s exhaustive research for the book, she stumbled onto some shocking news: the Endurance Exploration Group and Blue Water Ventures announced they had located the Pulaski 30 miles off the coast of Wilmington, NC. Callahan didn’t know anyone was even searching for the ship. I highly recommend Surviving Savannah.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
An epic, sweeping novel set in the Depression and Dust Bowl years, Kristin Hannah’s latest blockbuster is a historic fiction novel that will keep you turning pages. The main character Elsa is an outcast in her own family and she leaves them to start a new life just before economic devastation wreaks havoc. What unfolds is a story of perseverance and determination unlike any other. I knew very little about the Dust Bowl and how it impacted this part of the country, but The Four Winds stirred me to do my own research and educate myself on what it was like to try and survive during these difficult times. Kristin Hannah is a masterful storyteller and anyone who’s read The Nightingale or The Great Alone can attest to her story-telling ability. I highly recommend this captivating, heartbreaking tale that’s ultimately hopeful.
Angels – Devotions and Art to Encourage, Refresh and Inspire by Anne Neilson
Rarely do I purchase art books (a.k.a. coffee table books), so it was a fabulous surprise to receive Angels from a friend. I must say, it’s an absolute treasure of a book. Nielson is well known for her series of angel paintings and this gorgeous book is a collection of selected paintings, combined with forty brief devotions covering themes such as joy, wisdom, hope, and rest. Not only is it beautiful to look at, but the writing is inspiring and uplifting at a time we all need encouragement! This book would make an excellent gift for a special friend or a treat for yourself.