57 books directly related to Virginia 📚

All 57 Virginia books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

By Richard Preston,

Why this book?

Imagine being on a flight to Kenya—my first of many trips to Africa—and picking up a scientific thriller about a virus discovered near the exact location you are headed. The nonfiction classification makes the read even more terrifying as Preston retells the story of the origins of the hemorrhagic fevers, and how they were discovered in a quarantine facility in the US. It’s a fascinating look at how too often reality is far more frightening than fiction, as it stretched my own imagination and made me wonder what if?

From the list:

The best suspense books that will keep you up at night

Book cover of Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia

Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia

By Kathleen M. Brown,

Why this book?

A path-breaking study of Black and White women in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Virginia, this book shows what can be learned about the origins of slavery in the Chesapeake region from a focus on women--free, enslaved, and indentured alike. Life on early Chesapeake tobacco plantations was very different from the image of “classic,” semi-mythic nineteenth-century cotton plantations familiar to Americans today. Living conditions were crude, especially in the early settlements, and the demands of tobacco cultivation differed greatly from cotton production. Brown shows how all the women in early Virginia were critical to the colony’s  development.

From the list:

The best books about women in early America

Book cover of The Bondwoman's Narrative

The Bondwoman's Narrative

By Hannah Crafts,

Why this book?

Though not published until 2002, after Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. purchased and authenticated the manuscript, the autobiographical novel The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts is widely considered the first book known to have been written by a fugitive enslaved woman. Crafts was the author’s pseudonym, and the novel, estimated to have been written in 1858, parallels the life of Hannah Bond, a woman who is documented to have escaped enslavement on a North Carolina plantation and who, like the novel’s protagonist, eventually settled in New Jersey. The preface and introduction of the published book read…

From the list:

The best books by or about notable enslaved women

Book cover of The Dogs of Babel

The Dogs of Babel

By Carolyn Parkhurst,

Why this book?

You want heartwarming books about man’s best friend? You’ve come to the wrong place. Novels with dogs don’t have to be heart-warming. They can be quite strange, sinister or both.

Here’s a prime example: The Dogs of Babel, which starts as the heartbroken narrator discovers his artsy, Goth wife has fallen from a tree and died. There are plenty of clues that this was not an accident. But there are no witnesses, except for poor Lorelei the dog. What starts out as a heartbreaking account of grief then takes a sharp turn into the bizarre as the narrator tries…

From the list:

The best wild and weird books on dogs

Book cover of Notes on the State of Virginia

Notes on the State of Virginia

By Thomas Jefferson,

Why this book?

Notes can feel unwelcoming to modern readers. There are jarring tangents and, more troublingly, dehumanizing descriptions of black people. But if you page around, you’ll learn a lot about Jefferson and his new nation. Notes also made a stunning impact, elevating America’s international standing and becoming a big controversy during Jefferson's presidential bids (the first campaign book!). It’s still a fascinating book to browse, and as a bonus, the Library of America edition also includes Jefferson’s brief attempt at writing an autobiography.
From the list:

The best books written by American presidents

Book cover of Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade

Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade

By Maurie D. McInnis,

Why this book?

As the domestic slave trade became more expansive alongside the growth of the cotton economy, it attracted the increased ire of antislavery activists in the United States and England alike. Using sketches and paintings of the slave trade made by British artist Eyre Crowe in the 1850s as an entry point, Maurie McInnis explores the landscape of the slave trade in major American cities such as Richmond and New Orleans. In the process, she also opens a fresh window onto the world of transatlantic abolitionism.

From the list:

The best books from the last ten years on the domestic slave trade

Book cover of Murder with Peacocks

Murder with Peacocks

By Donna Andrews,

Why this book?

Zany family members and weddings gone wrong provide page-turning laughs in the first book in the Meg Lanslow series. The heroine is smart, funny, and… a blacksmith. The small-town shenanigans just keep coming in this laugh-out-loud mystery, but the heart comes from the familial relationships. (No peacocks are harmed in the making of this mystery, but they do provide plenty of laughs.)

From the list:

The best funny cozy mystery novels

Book cover of Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

By Rita Mae Brown, Sneaky Pie Brown,

Why this book?

Not only is the Mrs. Murphy cozy mystery series written from the point of view of a sleuthing cat, it’s actually (allegedly!) written by a cat—the feline in question being Sneaky Pie Brown, author Rita Mae Brown’s real-life tabby companion, who supposedly makes use of Ms. Brown’s typewriter on the sly. Wish You Were Here is the first in a delightfully long series of cozy mysteries set in the fictional small town of Crozet, Virginia—where murders seem to happen with startling regularity, and where postmistress Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen’s beloved cat, Mrs. Murphy, always seems to be one step ahead…

From the list:

The best books with cats as characters

Book cover of Lie Down in Darkness

Lie Down in Darkness

By William Styron,

Why this book?

I’ve read it twice, and I can only stand back in wonder at how a person could create such a magnificent work of art (his first novel) at age 26. For richness of character development, philosophical weight, and power of language, this is one for the ages. Though the subject matter is heavy, it’s not a difficult read. Yet there are passages where you’ll want to slow down and take in the music of the words.

From the list:

The best non-Faulkner books from the American South

Book cover of Black Notice

Black Notice

By Patricia Cornwell,

Why this book?

You don’t necessarily have to like an author to admire their grasp of the subject matter and few writers have a better slab-side manner than Cornwell. She knows her stuff and you can perhaps forgive her the smartarsery that she can’t resist. But she does go out of her way to give the victims and their families closure. 

From the list:

The best books to read whilst awaiting radiology and/or death

Book cover of Haunted Virginia: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Old Dominion

Haunted Virginia: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Old Dominion

By Jr. Taylor, L. B.,

Why this book?

Before other authors (including me) published books on Virginia’s ghosts and legends, it was L. B. Taylor who’d written many spooky tales that haunted the Old Dominion in a long span of books, including this one. Not just Virginians, but as someone who moved here in 1985, I learned about the state’s many ghosts, monsters, and legends that taught me a new view of the state. No one needs to live in Virginia to enjoy reading this book.

From the list:

The best books on the paranormal to scare up myths and legends from the safety of your armchair

Book cover of Virginia Legends & Lore

Virginia Legends & Lore

By Charles a. Mills,

Why this book?

For centuries, Virginians have told, retold, and embellished terrific stories of their history, some based on truth, others more folklore than reality. As someone who has written her own myths and legends book, it was refreshing to read about them from another author’s viewpoint. Plus, I got to learn some new angles about the lore of Virginia.

From the list:

The best books on the paranormal to scare up myths and legends from the safety of your armchair

Book cover of Virginia Folk Legends

Virginia Folk Legends

By Thomas E. Barden,

Why this book?

This book is a collection of legends and folklore gathered by field workers of the Virginia Writers Project of the WPA that languished for decades in the libraries of the University of Virginia. It took folklorist Thomas E. Barde to put them in a book endorsed by the American Folklore Society. It helped me discover the witch stories told in the past until the 40s in the western part of Virginia, as I researched for the witch chapter of my own book. I enjoyed these tales and believed other armchair folklorists would enjoy them, too. 

From the list:

The best books on the paranormal to scare up myths and legends from the safety of your armchair

Book cover of The Yellow Wife

The Yellow Wife

By Sadeqa Johnson,

Why this book?

This book is a tearjerker that left me on the edge of my seat. The harrowing experiences of the protagonist, Pheby Delores Brown, are vivid and you don’t want to stop until you finish. Personally reliving Pheby’s life is one of the reasons why I enjoyed this book so much. The fear is real.

From the list:

The best historical novels on love and slavery

Book cover of The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage

By Selina Alko (illustrator), Sean Qualls (illustrator),

Why this book?

First of all, isn't that an awesome title? This narrative is a child-appropriate and compelling description of Mildred and Richard Loving and their path to the Supreme Court. The two got married in D.C. in 1958, when interracial marriage was illegal in their home state of Virginia. Returning home after the wedding, they were arrested, jailed, and told to leave the state. They took their case to court arguing that Virginia's ban on interracial marriage violated the Constitution, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. As described in the back matter, the creators of this book themselves have an interracial marriage.…

From the list:

The best children's picture books about how the U.S. Supreme Court works

Book cover of The Homecoming: The Inspiration for the TV Series the Waltons

The Homecoming: The Inspiration for the TV Series the Waltons

By Earl Hamner,

Why this book?

This is probably an unusual choice given my four other choices. However, sometimes a book that has no violence, no sex, no blasphemy, and no drugs or alcohol,(although there are two elderly bootlegger sisters) is just what is needed to cleanse the soul. A book about family love, a touch of humour, and creative characters will leave the reader with a warm glow. Of course, this book was the inspiration for The Waltons TV series. The Homecoming is based on true events when Earl Hamner was 15 years old.

From the list:

The best books inspired by true events or based on actual facts that are more bizarre than fiction

Book cover of The House Girl

The House Girl

By Tara Conklin,

Why this book?

Lu Ann Bell was a painter in the 1850s who became well known for painting servants. It was actually her housemaid that did the paintings. I liked how the story depicts a lawyer in 2004 that tries to help the housemaids' descendants get what is rightfully hers.

Our history is full of talented people that were taken advantage of because of their status or race. I loved the fact that there are still people today that are trying to right the wrongs of yesterday.

From the list:

The best historical fiction books written about lesser-known characters

Book cover of In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life

In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life

By James Deetz,

Why this book?

Originally published in 1977, this book has inspired four, maybe five, generations of archaeologists and enthusiasts of early American history. It is a model for how to write elegant stories based on groundbreaking research. And it has yet to be surpassed. I count myself a "granddaughter" of Jim Deetz, a founding figure of historical archaeology – that hybrid of history and archaeology focused on the "modern" world, from the invention of the printing press to the present. If you are curious about what everyday life was like in colonial America for regular people, start here. In Small Things offers a…

From the list:

The best (and most surprising) books by archaeologists for people who don't dig

Book cover of My Life in Middlemarch: A Memoir

My Life in Middlemarch: A Memoir

By Rebecca Mead,

Why this book?

What do the writers you are drawn to reveal about you? Why at certain points in our lives do we become “attached” to certain authors? The process of attachment is mysterious. As we age (and change) some things remain constant. Our attachment to a particular author may have begun in our youth, but evolved as we have. To reconnect with a favorite author can put us in touch with our younger self in unexpected ways. Mead shows how much Middlemarch has “spoken” to her throughout her life. This book is perhaps more in harmony with my own than any on…

From the list:

The best offbeat memoirs

Book cover of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

By Annette Gordon-Reed,

Why this book?

Gordon-Reed is a masterful historian and nowhere is that more evident than in this exceptional, prizewinning book that explores the complexities of freedom and slavery during the early Republic. She traces the stories of several generations of this family, including the stories of Sally Hemings and her brother James, who together lived with Jefferson in Paris during the 1780s, a place where they might have obtained their freedom, albeit likely at the cost of never returning to the rest of their family in Virginia. But some of the most fascinating and surprising elements of the book touch on many other…
From the list:

The best books on the surprising world of the early American Republic

Book cover of The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon

The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon

By Mary V. Thompson,

Why this book?

Mount Vernon research historian Mary V. Thompson has written what will become the definitive book on slavery at George Washington's home. The book puts you in the place of an enslaved person, what their daily life was like. Throughout his life Washington struggled with slavery, he wanted it to end. Finally in his will, he freed his slaves. Sending a message to the country that slavery must end. There were those who were angered by this action, documented in the book. One contemporary said it was “the…worst act of his public life.” There were former slaves that thought differently. Over…

From the list:

The most transformative history books with a fresh look into the past

Book cover of American Slavery, American Freedom

American Slavery, American Freedom

By Edmund S. Morgan,

Why this book?

This is a classic of American history from one of our greatest historians. Morgan was a master of both the art and the craft of history, and that skill is on full display in this account of the Virginia Colony from its early seventeenth-century founding, through a series of Native American/colonial wars, to the rise and solidification of American chattel slavery. Morgan insightfully probes the question of how a nation founded on liberty could give rise to the extremes of slavery and freedom.

From the list:

The best books on seventeenth-century America

Book cover of The Known World

The Known World

By Edward P. Jones,

Why this book?

This novel takes for its premise the little-known fact that freed slaves in the South sometimes themselves owned slaves. While slavery was and is primarily a white institution, Jones wants to focus on larger questions of human trafficking, human dignity, and the broad culpability of slavery. But what I find most interesting about this novel is that it brings the question of slavery into a modern context, where it exists not just as a historical fact but as a contemporary plague that haunts us today. The multiple characters—White and Black—force us to question what each of us would do if…
From the list:

The best novels about slavery from both sides

Book cover of As Brave as You

As Brave as You

By Jason Reynolds,

Why this book?

Two African American brothers spend their summer in rural Virginia while their parents navigate a rough patch in their marriage. Genie, 11, and Ernie, 13, get to know their blind grandfather who has a special room filled with plants and songbirds. I identified with Genie, a worrier who likes to pose questions in his notebook. As the two brothers respond differently to their grandfather’s announcement that a brave man learns to shoot a gun at 14, Reynolds is also asking readers to consider what it means to be brave and how we should define family. I loved the themes and…

From the list:

The best books about bothersome brothers and sisters

Book cover of Flight and Rebellion: Slave Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Virginia

Flight and Rebellion: Slave Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Virginia

By Gerald W. Mullin,

Why this book?

A classic, this book was one of the first to challenge prevailing white attitudes about the assimilation and acculturation of Africans and African Americans to life under slavery. Mullin describes how greater levels of assimilation translated into more effective means of protest.

From the list:

The best books about social justice (that you may not ever have heard about)

Book cover of Thomas Harriot: A Life in Science

Thomas Harriot: A Life in Science

By Robyn Arianrhod,

Why this book?

For me, this book was an adventure. I felt as if I was on an expedition to Virginia with Harriot teaching me astronomy and navigation. There I was, infatuated with rainbows and imagining myself scrutinizing scientific wonders of elliptical planetary motion, atomic theory of matter, and how cannonballs could be stacked to fill space. I found myself with Harriot back in 1591 searching for a sphere-packing formula, an old problem questioning the most stable way to stack cannonballs on ships. Thomas Harriot is a fast-moving biography packed with the world- and mind-changing curiosities.

From the list:

The best books of narrative merit in mathematics and science

Book cover of The Dandelion Seed

The Dandelion Seed

By Joseph Anthony, Cris Arbo (illustrator),

Why this book?

Through this book we get to follow the quiet adventures of a single dandelion seed as floats along the world. I love the variety of the settings in this book, and the subtle pace of rhythm in the text. Because of its calming text and illustrations, it’s a great book before bedtime.

From the list:

The best books for young nature lovers

Book cover of The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part I: The Witnesses

The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part I: The Witnesses

By Sharon Ewell Foster,

Why this book?

Until I read The Resurrection of Nat Turner, I considered myself a pacifist. I ended this novel and its sequel rooting for violent resistance and for Nat Turner, the man who led the most famous slave rebellion in American history, a man who was responsible for the deaths of women and children. In a culture of violence and unequivocal evil, turning the other cheek cannot be the only recourse. Foster left me forever changed.

From the list:

The best novels about the human toll of American slavery

Book cover of The Confessions of Nat Turner

The Confessions of Nat Turner

By William Styron,

Why this book?

A great and controversial novel—aren’t great novels always controversial?The Confessions of Nat Turner takes as its starting point the mind of a slave, Nat Turner, as he awaits his execution for leading a failed slave rebellion in 1831. Even when it was published in 1967, the novel inspired a strong backlash from the African-American community, who were upset, in part, because of the portrayal of a Black man lusting after a White woman. Written by a Southern White, the novel is a powerful story, powerfully told, one that remains as relevant today as it did when it was…

From the list:

The best novels about slavery from both sides

Book cover of Intimate Reconstructions: Children in Postemancipation Virginia

Intimate Reconstructions: Children in Postemancipation Virginia

By Catherine A. Jones,

Why this book?

This inspired, award-winning study looks at how black and white households were reshaped in Virginia after the Civil War. It’s full of captivating stories: Black parents trying to wrest their children away from former enslavers; once-privileged White families having to send their boys or girls into the job market to compensate for the loss of enslaved laborers; or officials coping with masses of orphaned children. It also shows the different ways that adults used ideas of childhood for political ends, as well as how children themselves fared in the aftermath of war.

From the list:

The best books on childhood in Civil War Era America

Book cover of Justice Hill

Justice Hill

By John Macleod,

Why this book?

First, let me disclose that I know the author, and that Macleod’s blurb endorsing my writing appears on the back of my third book and a blurb from me shows up on the back of Justice Hill. So, let’s be clear: this is not payback. Justice Hill is simply a great book. It features two everyday heroes; lifelong friends who face conflict. The way they handle their friendship—and their burdens—became, to me at least, lessons in both forgiveness and resilience. Heroes don’t have to save the world; they can save each other.

From the list:

The best books for heroes that we can relate to

Book cover of Outfoxed

Outfoxed

By Rita Mae Brown,

Why this book?

A “murder light” story, unique setting, and cast of crazy characters are the hallmarks of a classic cozy mystery, and Outfoxed certainly delivers! The setting serves up a whopping dose of southern charm and fox hunting tradition, while also providing a stage for a fierce rivalry between a native son Virginian and an upstart Yankee for the coveted position of joint-Master of the Hunt. When a murder is committed during the Opening Day Hunt, everyone is shocked to realize the murderer has to be an insider. That’s when the Master of the Jefferson Hunt of Virginia, “Sister” Jane Arnold, swings…

From the list:

The best equestrian-themed books to satisfy your horse story cravings

Book cover of Dunmore's New World: The Extraordinary Life of a Royal Governor in Revolutionary America

Dunmore's New World: The Extraordinary Life of a Royal Governor in Revolutionary America

By James Corbett David,

Why this book?

With a broader focus than the 1774 campaign into the Ohio Valley known as Dunmore’s War, James David’s book gave me a vivid picture of the late colonial North American and British landscape in which Dunmore lived and moved and had his being. An engaging read as well as an indispensable resource for a historical fiction writer.

From the list:

The best books on Dunmore’s War (1774 Ohio frontier)

Book cover of A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf

A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf

By Virginia Woolf,

Why this book?

This book became a kind of hymnal for me during the writing of Love and Fury. It was Virginia Woolf who in 1929 resurrected Mary Wollstonecraft’s reputation and legacy, buried for a century because a tell-all memoir written by her widower, William Godwin, scandalized the world. It seemed natural to turn to Woolf, who found inspiration in Wollstonecraft’s “experiments in living”. I read a section of the diary every day before I started to write. Woolf’s profound creative visions, her anguish, and passions, her voice, helped me locate Wollstonecraft and my own voice in hers. 

From the list:

The best books if you’re writing a novel of Wollstonecraft’s life

Book cover of Idyll

Idyll

By James Derry,

Why this book?

This is one of the very few books that made me yelp out loud in surprise when the twist happened, and I will forever recommend it because of how unique it was. The feel is reflective of The Road with the main part of the story showing a pained journey through a dangerous landscape. It also feels post-apocalyptic as these survivors struggle to cross the abandoned world that’s been overtaken by nature. The author wrote in a unique language that makes Idyll feel otherworldly but familiar too. All this blends together for really great world-building. I don’t want to give…

From the list:

The best books with science fiction and fantasy world-building

Book cover of The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption

The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption

By Jim Gorant,

Why this book?

The arrest of NFL player Michael Vick for operating a dog-fighting ring drew attention mostly for the ramifications Vick faced. The Lost Dogs spotlights the fate of the fifty-one pit bulls left traumatized by Vicks’ brutal operation: how, thanks to a combination of therapy and new doting humans, they regained an indomitable sense of trust.

From the list:

The best books that make you want to hug an animal

Book cover of Miracle Creek

Miracle Creek

By Angie Kim,

Why this book?

The best books—legal thrillers or otherwise—transport you to an entirely different world. Miracle Creek does that as well as any book I’ve read in recent years. By the time I was finished, I not only felt like I’d gotten a masterclass in trial procedure, and was floored by the reveal, but I actually thought I’d learned something important about the immigrant experience as well as the difficulties all parents face in wanting to protect their children. 

From the list:

The best books to read after you’ve binged Law & Order

Book cover of Moments of Being

Moments of Being

By Virginia Woolf,

Why this book?

Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite writers, not that I write like her, (I wish I had more of her style, for sure) but for her courage and creative will that stretched her work beyond the boundaries of what existed at the time. Along the way, you can pick out the raw material of her life that she transmuted into fiction. What great fortune to hear directly from Virginia about her philosophy of life and her vision of art.

From the list:

The best books with iconoclastic women

Book cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot,

Why this book?

There is a wonderful world of science writing out there, and this book is a great entry into that world. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is part science journalism, science history, and biography. Skloot introduced the world to Henrietta Lacks, a previously unknown woman whose cells have been responsible for some of the leading research and advances in medicine. In introducing the story of Lacks, Skloot, with obvious affection for both Lacks and her descendants, poses a number of important questions regarding race, ethics, and medical research.

From the list:

The best non-fiction books written by women

Book cover of Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705-1865

Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705-1865

By Philip J. Schwarz,

Why this book?

Philip J. Schwarz’s Twice Condemned adeptly analyzes the history of enslaved African Americans' relationship with the criminal courts of the Old Dominion from roughly 1700 to the end of the Civil War.  Based on over four thousand trials from the colonial, early national, and antebellum periods, no other book does such a comprehensive job of analyzing the prevalence, longevity, and variety of behavior attributed to slave convicts. This book also provides a detailed picture of how one slave society evolved, and along the way, it uncovers previously unexamined aspects of slave culture, and of slave owners' attitudes toward the…

From the list:

The best books on crime and punishment in the Antebellum South

Book cover of Every Dead Thing: A Charlie Parker Thriller

Every Dead Thing: A Charlie Parker Thriller

By John Connolly,

Why this book?

Supernatural Thrillers: Every Dead Thing by John Connolly is the first novel in Connolly’s Charlie Parker series (it contains Parker’s origin story). If you like your thrillers with a blood-curdling slice of the supernatural, run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore and pick up this novel. Haunted by his dead wife and daughter, Parker is an ex-cop turned private detective. And the cases Parker works—Good Lord!—best sleep with the lights on. Though John Connolly’s an Irish lad, his Parker novels take place along the East Coast (Parker lives in Portland, Maine). You’ll realize how literary and poetic Connolly’s prose is…

From the list:

The best books in various thriller subgenres

Book cover of Gloriana: or The Unfulfill'd Queen

Gloriana: or The Unfulfill'd Queen

By Michael Moorcock,

Why this book?

Moorcock might be best known for his sword-and-sorcery Elric novels, but he's also a writer of considerable daring and style. Gloriana tells of a Queen of Albion whose empire stretches from the great continent of Virginia to far Hindustan, and then on to Cathay beyond. Half-familiar figures and place names vie with pagan myths and strange ceremonies inside a palace so vast and rambling that every kind of wonder, and the darkest of secrets, have room to hide. The settings and the language are glorious, and the characters, and their schemes and machinations, come vibrantly alive. This is a vivid…

From the list:

The best alternative alternate history novels

Book cover of Writing a Woman's Life

Writing a Woman's Life

By Carolyn G. Heilbrun,

Why this book?

In Writing a Woman’s Life, the critic Carolyn G. Heilbrun (and witty detective writer Amanda Cross), argues that there are four ways to write a woman’s life. The woman may tell it herself in an autobiography; she may tell it in fiction; a biographer might write her biography in her place; and most exciting and perplexing: the woman may “write” her own life before actually living it, unconsciously, as the author herself did. All resist the conventional expectations about women’s destinies.

The book shows how much we don’t know about women’s lives and how important it is to discover…

From the list:

The best books to read about how women's friendships shape the stories of their lives

Book cover of The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler's U-Boats

The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler's U-Boats

By William Geroux,

Why this book?

As I was finishing Dutch Children, my own DNA began pointing to the watermen, boatbuilders, and seafarers of Middlesex and Mathews counties, Virginia, on the Chesapeake Bay. The Mathews Men took me deep within a story of the war that I had not much known and which would soon turn personal. These were the Merchant Mariners who carried the people and supplies of war through treacherous seas of German submarines, and lost beneath the waves the highest percentage of members of all military branches. Geroux’s fine telling of the lives of these men and their families prepared me for…

From the list:

The best books about some human undercurrents of the World Wars, and a father’s war revealed

Book cover of The Lady and the Lionheart

The Lady and the Lionheart

By Joanne Bischof,

Why this book?

This book grabbed my heart and is still holding on. I have never read a hero more committed to what is right and willing to pursue it at all costs, in spite of his imperfections. His compassion and level of sacrifice are unmatched. Both he and the heroine are wounded, yet in different ways. Her journey to trust is one that touched me deeply. Bischof knows how to write the heart and paint the power of redemption. 

From the list:

The best inspirational Western romance novels with rugged heroes and fiery heroines

Book cover of A Barefoot Tide

A Barefoot Tide

By Grace Greene,

Why this book?

Grace Greene writes the ultimate “beach read”—endearing characters, descriptions that put you right there at oceanside, and a poignant blend of emotion and humor. I love how Lilliane, the heroine, discovers courage she never thought she had. A temporary job as a live-in caregiver begins merely as a way to earn money for much-needed home repairs. But her stay in Emerald Isle, NC, becomes a life-changer, not only for her but for the elderly gentleman who soon becomes both friend and mentor. It’s a book about stepping out of your comfort zone and opening your heart to new possibilities no…

From the list:

The best Christian novels about true-to-life women dealing with the messy side of life and love

Book cover of In The Game

In The Game

By Nikki Baker,

Why this book?

Nikki Baker is the first African-American writer of lesbian mysteries and her character Virginia Kelly—who works as a financial analyst in Chicago—is the first African-American lesbian sleuth. This makes it important, but what makes the book outstanding is the writing, especially the voice of the protagonist. The plots are slick and entertaining, but it is Virginia’s internal musings and interpersonal relationships that make this—and the other 3 books in the series—a clear 5-star winner. 

From the list:

The best mystery novels featuring lesbian detectives

Book cover of Looking for Hope

Looking for Hope

By Mbinguni,

Why this book?

I’ve always been an avid reader despite not having peer-aged characters who resembled or represented me when I was a child. Fast forward to when my children were little: suddenly, there existed a plethora of African-American children’s literature. With pure delight, I indulged my little ones in magnificent books featuring characters that reflected them. Want to know a secret? I read those books for myself as well as for them. Recently, when finding a young African American girl at the center of Looking for Hope, I felt a delightful connection with my inner child. Make no mistakes. The young…

From the list:

The best books beautifully portraying the strength & vulnerabilities of African-American historical heroines

Book cover of Banners at Shenandoah: A Story of Sheridan's Fighting Cavalry

Banners at Shenandoah: A Story of Sheridan's Fighting Cavalry

By Bruce Catton,

Why this book?

Catton was one of the Civil War’s great historians, best known for bringing the stories of individual soldiers into otherwise sweeping accounts of the American Iliad. Amid this work, he also wrote this little-known short novel, published in 1955, which today probably would be filed in the “young adult” section of your favorite bookstore. It tells the tale of Bob Hayden, a Michigan boy who lies about his age to join a volunteer company and rises to manhood while serving in Virginia with Gen. “Fighting Phil” Sheridan.

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The best novels to immerse yourself in the American Civil War

Book cover of Black Wings Has My Angel

Black Wings Has My Angel

By Elliott Chaze,

Why this book?

In a tough prostitute named Virginia, escaped convict Timothy Sunblade finds the perfect partner to help execute the perfect crime. The extraordinary relationship between these two makes the book memorable. Sunblade is clear-eyed, thoughtful, disillusioned, sensitive, brutish, self-assured at times, and wavering at others. Virginia is wise, world-weary, sure of herself and what she wants, sometimes crazed like a caged animal, but always strong.

Chaze's atmospheric detail adds depth and presence to the story. The characters' arc is one of darkening fate and inevitable tragedy. Watching their slow descent is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. The characters…

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The best books from the golden age of American crime and noir

Book cover of Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee

Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee

By John William Jones,

Why this book?

The documents for this important collection, first published in 1874, were originally intended for an official biography of Lee. When that book was abandoned, Jones published all of the documents along with accompanying observations and anecdotes. Lee’s wife approved of the project. One historian said this collection “became a source book for all future Lee biographers.” The hagiography here in some of Jones’s anecdotes actually exceeds that of Douglas Southall Freeman, but it’s still an essential book for serious students of Robert E. Lee. Jones knew Lee personally and had access to all of his private papers.

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The best books to understand Robert E. Lee

Book cover of The Windflower

The Windflower

By Laura London,

Why this book?

Set during the War of 1812 this is a great pirate romance. It tells the story of innocent, sheltered Merry Wilding, an American living in Virginia with her maiden aunt. Merry has a talent for drawing faces from memory, a talent her brother, an American spy will use to his benefit, exposing her to pirates and worse. On her way to England with her aunt, she is kidnapped. Taken to a pirate ship, Merry meets the English pirate, Devon, who remembers her from a night long ago. 

The writing is superb, the characters courageous, heartwarming, and very special; the descriptions…

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The best pirate sea stories

Book cover of Encounters with Ancient Beijing: Its Legacy in Trees, Stone and Water

Encounters with Ancient Beijing: Its Legacy in Trees, Stone and Water

By Virginia Anami,

Why this book?

American turned-Japanese-citizen and wife of a Japanese ambassador, Virginia Stibbs Anami thoroughly researched and expertly photographed hundreds of ancient spots in and around Beijing between 1983-2003 and assembled a perfectly conceived jigsaw puzzle of a book. Finagling her way into places normally forbidden to foreigners and to Chinese as well, Anami writes with a beautiful economy, whether of a temple with an ancient tree over 1,000 years old, an equally old stone stele with a fascinating story behind its inscriptions, or the remains of a long-forgotten waterway or channel, even revisiting the same spots over the decades to see if…

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The best books about old Beijing

Book cover of The Raven Boys: The Raven Cycle, Book 1

The Raven Boys: The Raven Cycle, Book 1

By Maggie Stiefvater,

Why this book?

This is by far one of my favorite YA series due to its strong characterizations and amazing world-building. Stiefvater takes a prep school in a small Virginia town and populates it with psychics, restless spirits, secret societies, menacing professors, and a professional assassin. The titular “Raven Boys” are three students pulled into the town’s supernatural intrigue either by design or necessity. Needless to say, this four-book series provides us with plenty of mysterious places, but Book 1 introduces us to one of the best: the boys’ off-campus home located in a long-abandoned warehouse. The old building is primarily uninhabitable, but…

From the list:

The best books for young readers with hidden places, secret lairs, and haunted hideouts

Book cover of Black Tickets: Stories

Black Tickets: Stories

By Jayne Anne Phillips,

Why this book?

West Virginia’s Jayne Anne Phillips made a noisy arrival on the literary scene with her triumphant collection of short stories, Black Tickets. One of the first of the “dirty realists,” Phillips paints the backroads and forgotten lives of rural West Virginia during a time when that state, and many like it, were on no one’s radar. As one of her characters says, “This ain’t the South…this is the goddam past.” Phillips captures the loneliness and the disconnected lives of young women and men in a way few books have done.  

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The best books for a melancholy day

Book cover of Shadow Horse

Shadow Horse

By Alison Hart,

Why this book?

Shadow Horse, part of the Shadow Horse series starts immediately with action and tragedy, a young female teen is arrested for the assault of her grandfather’s employer. This in part seems to be in retaliation for the strange and mysterious death of her beloved horse, Whirlwind. Her life spirals downward with her grandfather’s sudden stroke and her court-ordered sentence of house arrest. She is relocated to a foster family on an animal and horse rescue farm for supervision. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it not only explores the extraordinarily complex relationships with horses and owners, but the problems…

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The best animal adventure books for young adults and animal lovers to experience the wild side

Book cover of The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

By Sven Birkerts,

Why this book?

“One of the first discoveries I made when I began to return in a reflective way to earlier parts of my life was that there was often very little connection between events that by rights ought to be capitalized—important trips, moves, friendships, deaths—and the experiences that had in fact left the most vivid deposit in memory,” Birkerts writes in this little book that packs a punch. Focusing on Coming-of-Age Stories, Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters, Trauma and Memory, Birkerts deconstructs well-loved texts to teach us how their writers chose to manage time.

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