The best novels with characters who assume new names

Who am I?

I was named after my father’s aunt, who moved from Canada to Switzerland in the 1920s to join a travelling church. Family lore remembers she rode a bicycle in the mountains and when she was dying, her sisters sent her maple leaves in the mail to remind her where she started. As a child, I was fascinated by this mysterious other Katie. Why did my father choose her name for me? Would I be like her? Did I get to choose? As a novelist, I love choosing names. Their power is subtle but strong, and when a writer gives a character more than one name, new layers emerge and stories bloom.

I wrote...

The Aerialists

By Katie Munnik,

Book cover of The Aerialists

What is my book about?

The Aerialists is a rich historical novel based on a true story life of a teenaged hot air balloonist who captured the heart of Victorian Cardiff.

Laura is living on the streets of Paris, far from the American Prairies where she was born. When rescued by the entrancing aerialists, Ena and Auguste Gaudron, she finds herself ensconced in the family hot air balloon business and soon learns all about performing from Gaudron’s other balloon girls. The Gaudrons accept an invitation to be part of the Cardiff Great Exhibition, presenting a daring show of balloon ascents and parachute descents. When the newspapers announce the upcoming flight of Mademoiselle Albertina, who will wear the costume—and whose turn will it be to claim the sky for herself?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Alias Grace

Katie Munnik Why did I love this book?

When I was a university student, I lived down the street from the shut doors of the Kingston Penitentiary, where the infamous Victorian murderer Grace Marks lived for 15 years. Atwood’s novel opens those heavy doors and invites readers in to make what we will of Grace’s own telling of her story. Is she—or Atwood—reliable? Whose memories matter when looking at guilt? Using fictional characters to explore the historical record of this terrible case, Atwood creates an immersive and compelling look at women’s culpability, craft, violence, and desire. 

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Alias Grace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the author of The Handmaid's Tale

Now a major NETFLIX series

Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess. Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor.' Grace Marks. Female fiend? Femme fatale? Or weak and unwilling victim? Around the true story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1840s, Margaret Atwood has created an extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery.

'Brilliant... Atwood's prose is searching. So intimate it seems to be written on the skin' Hilary Mantel

'The outstanding novelist of our age' Sunday Times

'A sensuous, perplexing book, at…

Book cover of Swallows and Amazons

Katie Munnik Why did I love this book?

I first read Swallows and Amazons lying on my belly beside a swimming pool while my little brother splashed through his lessons. I was caught by the inventive adventuring, the sailing and camping and the sheer—parentless!—freedom of the Walker and Blackett children. And most of all, I loved Nancy Blackett, whose real name was Ruth but changed it because everyone knows the Amazon pirates are ruthless. I’ve since read it with my own children, and the magic continues, though these days, I have more sympathy with the mother who, looking for some quiet, thought to pack her kids off to camp by themselves on an island. 

I should point out the second assumed name in this story. Ransom really did know children who sailed small boats in the Lake District, and one of the boats really was called Swallow—and the other one was Mavis. Hardly a good name for pirates!

By Arthur Ransome,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Swallows and Amazons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

The ultimate children's classic - long summer days filled with adventure.

John, Susan, Titty and Roger sail their boat, Swallow, to a deserted island for a summer camping trip. Exploring and playing sailors is an adventure in itself but the island holds more excitement in store. Two fierce Amazon pirates, Nancy and Peggy, challenge them to war and a summer of battles and alliances ensues.

'My childhood simply would not have been the same without this book. It created a whole world to explore, one that lasted long in the imagination after the final page had been read' - Marcus…

Book cover of Anil's Ghost

Katie Munnik Why did I love this book?

Ondaatje’s writing is always astonishing. His stories are beautifully crafted from the hard edges of history, changing my perception of the possibilities of historical fiction. In Anil’s Ghost, Ondaatje explores Sri Lanka’s centuries of tradition through the lens of brutal modern civil war and the organized murder campaigns that brought terror to the island. Anil is a foreign-trained forensic pathologist employed by the United Nations as part of a human rights investigation to help identify the nameless victims of the war. Her own name was bought from her older brother—an unused second name passed down from a long-dead grandfather. “Later when she recalled her childhood, it was the hunger of not having that name and the joy of getting it that she remembered most.”

By Michael Ondaatje,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Anil's Ghost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With his first novel since the internationally acclaimed The English Patient, Booker Prize—winning author Michael Ondaatje gives us a work displaying all the richness of imagery and language and the piercing emotional truth that we have come to know as the hallmarks of his writing.

Anil’s Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war. Into this maelstrom steps Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to her homeland as a forensic anthropologist sent…

Book cover of Falling Creatures

Katie Munnik Why did I love this book?

Like Alias Grace, Falling Creatures is a reimagining of a famous Victorian murder, this time set in Cornwall on Bodmin Moor. In 1844, Charlotte Dymond was a pretty, domestic servant, working on a farm on the edge of the moor, and her murder was the news sensation of the day. Stansfield’s central character, the fictional Shilly, shares Charlotte’s name and work and, after her death, plays a significant role in revealing what happened, working alongside the enigmatic detective, Mr. Williams. Stansfield plays skillfully with names and shifts in identity throughout this novel, and I was compelled by the strange balance she creates between early scientific reasoning and the lasting folk traditions of supernatural awareness. Falling Creatures is the first in Stansfield’s Cornish Mysteries series. 

By Katherine Stansfield,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Falling Creatures as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cornwall, 1844. On a lonely moorland farm not far from Jamaica Inn, farmhand Shilly finds love in the arms of Charlotte Dymond. But Charlotte has many secrets, possessing powers that cause both good and ill. When she's found on the moor with her throat cut, Shilly is determined to find out who is responsible, and so is the stranger calling himself Mr Williams who asks for Shilly's help. Mr Williams has secrets too, and Shilly is thrown into the bewildering new world of modern detection.

Book cover of Gentlemen and Players

Katie Munnik Why did I love this book?

Gentlemen and Players is a boarding house story with a dark heart. I picked this one from an aunt’s bookshelf and read it expecting something of the sweetness of Chocolat, but found a far more satisfying story, with twisting questions of identity, class, and revenge. I liked the clever split narrative, which used chess imagery, and the mystery of the Black Pawn, whose identity is deftly concealed until the close of the book. This is a surprising psychological thriller that would make a great book club pick, and I will not forget the rooftop chase nor that bonfire night.

By Joanne Harris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Gentlemen and Players as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Perfect for fans of Ann Cleeves, Susan Hill, Nicci French and Val McDermid, this is an astute and intelligent psychological thriller centring around obsession and rage from international multi-million copy seller Joanne Harris. Fast paced with unexpected twists and turns, it will get right under the skin...

'[A] gripping psychological thriller... Harris is one of our most accomplished novelists and Gentlemen & Players, with its pace, wit and acute observation, shows her at the top of her form' -- DAILY EXPRESS
'[A] delicious black comedy ... the plot is so cleverly constructed, the tension so unflagging, you'd think she'd been…

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Book cover of Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

Bruce Tate

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What is my book about?

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