The best novels for her side of history

Sally Cabot Gunning Author Of Painting the Light
By Sally Cabot Gunning

The Books I Picked & Why

Circling the Sun

By Paula McLain

Book cover of Circling the Sun

Why this book?

Circling the Sun tells the story of real-life Beryl Markham, one of the earliest female aviators, and her life in Africa, where she intersects with other real-life characters like writer Isaak Dinesen and fellow pilot and adventurer Denys Finch-Hatton, played by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in the stunning movie Out of Africa. I loved this book because of the boldness of the main character, the beautiful writing, the engaging storyline, and the fact that it stayed true to the historical record without bogging down in it. Reading McLain inspired me in writing my own historical fiction, teaching me to keep it moving, keep it real, and keep it fun. 

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By Maggie O'Farrell

Book cover of Hamnet

Why this book?

The facts: Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet, sometimes spelled Hamlet, who died. That’s it. That’s all we know. And yet Maggie O’Farrell has taken that slim fact and turned it into a heartrending novel of a parent’s grief, seen from both sides. Hamnet’s mother grieves in one way. Hamnet father’s grieves in another. Hamnet’s mother can’t reconcile herself to her husband’s silent, absent form of grief until she tracks him down in London and sees his play. Don’t miss this one.

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Stormy Weather

By Paulette Jiles

Book cover of Stormy Weather

Why this book?

For me, the most important thing in writing historical fiction is to discover a character that the reader can fall in love with and root for. Jiles’s Jeanine is just that character. Growing up in dustbowl Texas with the weight of her crumbling world on her shoulders, Jeanine projects the necessary courage and wit to survive and get what she’s after. One thing she’s after is Ross Everett, and in Jeanine he’s met his equal in cleverness, determination, and sass. All Jiles’s characters shine, but in Jeanine she’s found a treasure. 

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The Postmistress

By Sarah Blake

Book cover of The Postmistress

Why this book?

There are a lot of World War II books out there, and in truth, I was growing tired of them until I read Sarah Blake’s. Partially located on my home turf of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the brush against our local history pre-World War II fascinated me. But Blake doesn’t stay local; she leaves the postmistress to do—or not doher job and flies off to London with a female war correspondent. How their stories cleverly intertwine is part of my fascination with this tale. Blake has a habit of dropping unforgettable characters on my doorstep, where they tease and tantalize long after I’ve turned the last page. 

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The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

By Marie Benedict

Book cover of The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

Why this book?

Marie Benedict is an author after my own heart – she decided to solve the historical mystery of Agatha Christie’s eleven-day disappearance, for which no explanation was ever given. When I wrote my own book I decided to solve another old mystery: who was the mother of Franklin’s illegitimate son, a boy he convinced his common-law wife to raise as her own? Benedict does an excellent job of capturing the fascinating Christie and presenting a plausible tale grounded in historical fact, a must for all good writers of historical fiction. In addition, much is learned about Mrs. Christie – did you know she was the first woman to stand-up surf? Such fun facts are always a boon to a historically based novel, and Franklin was most generous with his. 

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