The best books about little-known Civil War era history

The Books I Picked & Why

Cold Mountain

By Charles Frazier

Book cover of Cold Mountain

Why this book?

My own novel, The Abolitionist’s Daughter, has been compared to Frazier’s finely wrought best seller. Not for the trek of the wounded, disillusioned Confederate soldier back to his home in the Blue Ridge, but for the intrepid efforts of two women to survive in a world absent of men at war. Like The Abolitionist’s Daughter, Cold Mountain focuses on the deep inner strength and resilience of women left to till the land and make a life for themselves. In doing so, they discover the shared grief and immense strength in each other. Their unforeseen love stories enhance who they become as women, rather than define them. Cold Mountain is described as “hugely powerful, majestically lovely, and keenly moving.”

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The Kitchen House

By Kathleen Grissom

Book cover of The Kitchen House

Why this book?

In this bestseller, Grissom offers an intricate view of little-known history. I am intrigued by stories that open a window onto aspects of life in history that, for one reason or another, are unfamiliar. Grissom’s story of an Irish indentured servant struggling to bridge the gap between race and class is just such a revelation. These issues remain timeless and powerful.

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The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd

Book cover of The Invention of Wings

Why this book?

This riveting novel, inspired by the true stories of the Grimke sisters, women who dedicated themselves to the Abolitionist fervor, specifically Sarah, also fleshes out through fiction the full-bodied reality of the role of women in 1800 culture and the plight of slaves. This is an exquisitely written novel that offers an unswerving view of a terrible aspect of American history, whose repercussions haunt us still. It is a view seen through “women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.”

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After Alice Fell

By Kim Taylor Blakemore

Book cover of After Alice Fell

Why this book?

This riveting American Gothic novel, set in 1865, follows a widowed Civil War Army nurse home to New Hampshire after her bloody stint of tending the wounded and sick, only to find that her beloved, but unstable, sister is dead in a fall from the roof of the asylum. The cause is ruled a suicide, but she is not convinced and determines to find the truth at all costs. The period is synchronic with that of The Abolitionist’s Daughter and the depth of research fascinated me. Blakemore’s writing and extensive attention to sensual detail is exceptional. Since I have my own yet-to-be-titled historical mystery due for release in the Spring of 2022, I loved delving into this twisting page-turner with a woman of determination in an equivalent period of history.

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News of the World

By Paulette Jiles

Book cover of News of the World

Why this book?

Though this National Book Award finalist is focused neither on the Civil War itself nor slavery, I devoured this book, engrossed in its depth and complexity. Set in the Westward Movement in the aftermath of the war’s devastation, Jiles's exquisite writing deals with parallel underlying themes to my own writing: the sometimes intricate conflict between morality and legality, as well as the deep and long-lasting effects of trauma. An intriguing story that explores complex issues that are timeless.

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