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Rachel’s Reads – October 2019

With the release of the Downton Abbey movie, historical fiction has been at the forefront of mainstream media. With the beautiful costumes and historical research taking center stage, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favorite historical fiction novels set across the ages and across the globe.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Set in 1920s Russia, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in a grand hotel across from the Kremlin. As a man of great wit, he must now watch as history unfolds below him. This spellbinding novel opens up emotional discovery and poses the question of what it means to be a man of purpose.

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
This operatic novel is set in 1800s France and tells the story of opera singer Lilliet Berne, who has risen from a circus performer on the American frontier to a legendary soprano. When she is offered the dream of an original role, she finds that the libretto is based on her deepest secret, one that only four people have ever known, and with no knowledge of who betrayed her secret.

The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama
Set during the Japanese invasion of China in the late 1930s, 20-year-old Chinese painter, Stephen, is sent to his family’s summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recuperate after tuberculosis. There he is cared for by Matsu, the housekeeper and master gardener. Over the course of a year, Stephen learns Matsu’s secret and gains physical strength and great spiritual insight. This novel is graceful storytelling about goodness and beauty.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
Set at the end of the 18th century in Jamaica, Lilith is born into slavery on a sugar plantation. At her birth, the other slave women recognize a dark power that they and then Lilith will come to revere and fear. The Night Women, as they call themselves, have been planning a slave revolt, and believe that Lilith is the key. As Lilith grows up, she begins to push at the boundaries of what is expected of her, and in doing so, may become the weak link in the conspiracy.

Doc by Mary Doria Russell
The year is 1878 and Dr. John Henry Holliday has moved out to the Texas frontier hoping that the sunshine and dry air will restore his health. However, with few job prospects, Doc Holliday begins gambling professionally and eventually he and his partner, Mária Katarina Harony, arrive at the saloons of Dodge City where he strikes up an unlikely friendship with Wyatt Earp. In lyrical prose, Mary tells the tale of who Doc Holliday actually was and how he lived. 

Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In this tremendously evocative novel set during the Biafran war, five characters take the main stage and illustrate the drama of the tumultuous decade through war, love, and betrayal.

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
Set in 1800s England, The Fair Fight tells the tale of two women trying to rise above the circumstances of their birth and fight for their own places, and I do mean thatliterally. This novel moves through a brothel, a manor house, and into the world of female street fighters.

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
In this retelling of an Ancient Indian epic saga, the Mahabharata, Chitra gives voices to Panchaali, the fire-born heroine who is married to five royal husbands who have been cheated out of their father’s kingdom. As the hands of fate weave around her, Panchaali evokes emotional responses and the magic of the original story is reignited in this retelling.

The Seamstress by Frances de Pontes Peebles
Set in 1920s and 1930s Brazil, two seamstress sisters’ quiet lives are interrupted when one is abducted by a group of cangaceiros and their paths are forever altered. Abducted Luiza begins to sympathize with her new comrades, while her sister Emília, who married a wealthy and politically powerful husband, must hide her connection to her sister and navigate the treacherous waters of Brazilian high society.

Happy Reading!


Rachel became the publisher of The Independent in March of 2017 and then married her husband Jake in May. Their goldendoodle Einstein joined the family last year. Rachel is an avid reader and loves to share book recommendations. (Don’t miss her column, Rachel’s Reads in the Magazine!) She can always be found with a book nearby, especially while traveling (another of her favorite things).


Bailey Pianalto Photography


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