The best novels when you want some mystery with your history

Who am I?

I grew up in historic old houses. They were haunted too. (Think things that went bump in the night and were rife with the unexplained.) My imagination didn’t stand a chance and caught on fire. Later, I chose history as a career path with research as the job—which is really just solving mysteries. My fiction writing naturally extended from these beginnings and remains heavily influenced by the past. A bonus to the mix is the Celtic storytelling DNA coursing through my veins. I read and write stories that blend the mysterious with the historic and am especially inspired by all things gothic. I'm the author of The Spinster’s Fortune and Campbell’s Boy (out November 2022).


I wrote...

The Spinster's Fortune

By Mary Kendall,

Book cover of The Spinster's Fortune

What is my book about?

In 1929, penniless spinster, Blanche, lives out her days in a home for the indigent but rumors abound of the fortune hidden in her crumbling house in Georgetown, Washington, DC. A distant niece, Margaret, is tapped as executor and becomes embroiled in the hunt for recovering monies.

As Margaret discovers caches in unlikely spots throughout the house, family mysteries begin to unravel. She questions whether Aunt Blanche is an insane fool or a daring genius while wrangling with her own hidden truths. Pressed towards a convergence of their pasts and presents, the two women must ultimately face down a fateful discovery in order to rectify their lives. The Spinster’s Fortune, a historical mystery, takes the reader on a strange journey through tangled family webs.

The books I picked & why

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Once Upon a River

By Diane Setterfield,

Book cover of Once Upon a River

Why this book?

This novel is, in a word, stunning. Its central theme is the Thames River with its complex mysteries. The various plotlines filter out from that theme in clever ways. It is rich with folklore, superstitions, and a fair amount of the supernatural. A heavy vein of the mysterious is woven throughout until the very end. The fascinating characters are not easily forgotten.

Once Upon a River

By Diane Setterfield,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Once Upon a River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the instant #1 New York Times bestselling author of the “eerie and fascinating” (USA TODAY) The Thirteenth Tale comes a “swift and entrancing, profound and beautiful” (Madeline Miller, internationally bestselling author of Circe) novel about how we explain the world to ourselves, ourselves to others, and the meaning of our lives in a universe that remains impenetrably mysterious.

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his…


Vera

By Carol Edgarian,

Book cover of Vera

Why this book?

I have read other novels featuring the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco but this one really captures it for me and drops me right into that time and place. Setting becomes an important character to the novel in fact. There is also exquisite use of language (many great lines such as this about death: "The silence when someone is no longer walking this world...") The unique and compelling characters will stay with me. It is a wonderful novel.

Vera

By Carol Edgarian,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Vera as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestselling author Carol Edgarian delivers “an all-encompassing and enthralling” (Oprah Daily) novel featuring an unforgettable heroine coming of age in the aftermath of catastrophe, and her quest for love and reinvention.

Meet Vera Johnson, fifteen-year-old illegitimate daughter of Rose, notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello. Vera has grown up straddling two worlds—the madam’s alluring sphere, replete with tickets to the opera, surly henchmen, and scant morality, and the quiet domestic life of the family paid to raise her.

On the morning of the great quake, Vera’s worlds collide. As the city burns and looters vie…


Parting the Veil

By Paulette Kennedy,

Book cover of Parting the Veil

Why this book?

This book was so much fun. It rolls in so many nuances from historic gothic reads while adding its own special takes in clever ways. It brought back fond memories of so many other writers and books for me as I was reading it. It is clearly influenced by many of the greats. But it also stands on its own two feet with rich and layered language and detail. The twist near the end is crafty and pulls it all together. Paulette Kennedy knows what she is doing!

Parting the Veil

By Paulette Kennedy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Parting the Veil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Some houses hold secrets that are meant to be kept forever...

When Eliza Sullivan inherits an estate from a recently deceased aunt, she leaves behind a grievous and guilt-ridden past in New Orleans for rural England and a fresh start. Eliza arrives at her new home and finds herself falling for the mysterious lord of Havenwood, Malcolm Winfield. Despite the sinister rumors that surround him, Eliza is drawn to his melancholy charm and his crumbling, once-beautiful mansion. With enough love, she thinks, both man and manor could be repaired.

Not long into their marriage, Eliza fears that she should have…


The Cicada Tree

By Robert Gwaltney,

Book cover of The Cicada Tree

Why this book?

Let’s start with the gorgeous cover…combined with the title, it reeled me right in. What is it about this book? It’s the language: the author’s use of language is so mesmerizing and even astonishing. It makes the reader just fall right into the story and not want to leave. It’s the characterization. One example: the author has created exactly what it feels like to be in a little girl’s head as she faces down mean girls. It’s the intricate play of different themes and plotlines. The book ends up being a mash-up of mystery, fantasy, and historical fiction with a Southern gothic underlay. The final showdown scene has all the elements rolled together with a supernatural twist. It’s a stunner. By the end of the novel, it is finally understood exactly what “that Mayfield shine” is all about. 

The Cicada Tree

By Robert Gwaltney,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Cicada Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WHEN AN ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD, WHISKY DRINKING, PIANO PRODIGY ENCOUNTERS A WEALTHY FAMILY POSSESSING SUPERNATURAL BEAUTY, HER ENSUING OBSESSION UNLEASHES FAMILY SECRETS AND A CATACLYSMIC PLAGUE OF CICADAS. The summer of 1956, a brood of cicadas descends upon Providence, Georgia, a natural event with supernatural repercussions, unhinging the life of Analeise Newell, an eleven-year-old piano prodigy. Amidst this emergence, dark obsessions are stirred, uncanny gifts provoked, and secrets unearthed.
During a visit to Mistletoe, a plantation owned by the wealthy Mayfield family, Analeise encounters Cordelia Mayfield and her daughter Marlissa, both of whom possess an otherworldly beauty, a lineal trait regarded as…


Hour of the Witch

By Chris Bohjalian,

Book cover of Hour of the Witch

Why this book?

Sometimes historical fiction can be less than riveting…this novel is the opposite of that. Completely riveting. I was spellbound by the entire read, everything about it—the plot, the setting, the time period, the historical events but especially the characterization of the protagonist, Mary Deerfield. The framework behind it all is impeccable research that seamlessly dovetails into exquisite descriptions and language. Just go read it…you’ll see. (Side note: a special treat was character names such as Peregine, Rebeckah, Zebulon, and Valentine sprinkled in with more traditional ones.)

Hour of the Witch

By Chris Bohjalian,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Hour of the Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • From the acclaimed author of The Flight Attendant: “Historical fiction at its best…. The book is a thriller in structure, and a real page-turner, the ending both unexpected and satisfying” (Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of the Outlander series, The Washington Post).

A young Puritan woman—faithful, resourceful, but afraid of the demons that dog her soul—plots her escape from a violent marriage in this riveting and propulsive novel of historical suspense.

Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But…


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