Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Books To Read If Your Book Club Likes X.
Title links take you to Goodreads. I have included review links for any books I’ve reviewed; they are at the end of the book description.
Adult Book Clubs
A Desperate Fortune (Susanna Kearsley) In 18th-century France and Italy, Jacobite exile Mary Dundas finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and intrigue. In the 21st century, amateur cryptologist Sara Thomas tries to decode Mary’s journal — and the perplexing relationships of her host’s friends. Offering both strong historical writing and a glimpse into the world of someone with Asperger’s syndrome, A Desperate Fortune is a great choice for a book club.
A Morbid Taste for Bones (Ellis Peters) The 12-century monks of Shrewsbury Abbey travel into the hills of Wales to bring back the bones of St. Winifrid for their abbey, but meet with strong opposition from the Welsh villagers. When a Welshman is found dead near Winifred’s grave, it’s up to Welsh-born Brother Cadfael to bring the killer to justice. Peters brings 12th-century England and Wales to brilliant life, and her Brother Cadfael, a former Crusader — worldly, observant, and above all compassionate — is the perfect detective for the era.
O Jerusalem (Laurie R. King) Forced to flee England by an unknown enemy, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes travel to the Holy Land to take on a “little problem” for Holmes’ brother Mycroft. Even disguised as Bedouins, Palestine in the immediate aftermath of World War I is not safe; they must deal with political intrigue, espionage, and murder to uncover a diabolical terrorist plot aimed at the very heart of Jerusalem. Evocative and suspenseful, with complicated, layered characters and a strong female protagonist whose first-person narration is pitch-perfect.
The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey) Inspector Grant, flat on his back and bored by a long hospital stay, becomes intrigued by a portrait of Richard III and engages an young American researcher to help him investigate the very cold case of the murder of the Princes in the Tower. If you’re not familiar with Richard III beyond Shakespeare’s eponymous play and the little you may have learned in history class, Tey’s conclusions will probably surprise you. (Caveat: Tey’s assertions are not widely accepted, so before you accept them as truth, it’s worth looking into more recent scholarship on the subject.)
Roots (Alex Haley) Just as powerful and sweeping as the landmark television miniseries based upon it, Haley’s novel follows an African-American family from its progenitor, an African-born slave named Kunta Kinte) through generations of slavery and early “freedom” to the 20th-century. Well-researched and based on Haley’s own family, the novel is both a family saga and an exposition of the (at the time) largely ignored history of African-Americans and our nation in general. With the resurgence of blatant, outspoken racism in America, and the 2016 remake of the the epic 1977 miniseries, Roots is probably just as timely now as it was in the ’70s. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read it since the late 1970s, but it made a very strong impression.)
The River of No Return (Bee Ridgeway) Nick Falcott inadvertently traveled nearly 300 years into the future instead of meeting his expected death on a Napoleonic battlefield. Met by a member of the mysterious “Guild,”, he is trained to live in the 21st century and told he can never return…until the Guild returns and sends him back into his former life in a desperate attempt to counter an organization even more secret than the Guild — and save both the future and the past. What makes The River of Time interesting for historical fiction lovers is the character of Nick: a nobleman of 1815, who has absorbed the vastly different attitudes and worldview of a 21st-century American, and must now somehow fit himself back into a more constricted life and a narrower and far more patriarchal way of thinking. Meanwhile, the girl he left behind is learning to challenge the assumptions on which her own view of reality has been constructed. What makes the book particularly fun for a book club, on the other hand, are all the literary and pop-culture references scattered throughout — veiled allusions, passing mentions, and even entire scenes or scenarios quoted or deftly re-written. I know I didn’t catch them all, but several heads (and pairs of eyes) are likely to spot far more of them. (You can read my full review here.)
MG and YA Book Clubs
The Green Glass Sea (Ellen Klages) (MG) Dewey moves to the hidden town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, to with her scientist father. It’s 1943, and the physicists of the Manhattan Project are developing what will become the first atomic bomb. Dewey is a fresh and engaging heroine, and the book offers a compelling exploration of a town that did not officially exist, the pressures on the scientists and their families, and the secret project that would change not only the course of a war, but the entire world.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare) (YA) When Barbados-born Kit arrives in Puritan Connecticut, she is completely unprepared for the austerity of its villages, the severity of its winters, and the narrowmindedness of many of its people. Kit struggles to adjust and to subdue her own rebellious nature while remaining true to herself. But her friendships with a local Quaker woman and a young seaman are disrupted by accusations of witchcraft, and Kit finds herself on trial. Beautifully written, the novel won the Newbery Medal in 1959, and remains a classic of YA literature.
The Sherwood Ring (Pope) (MG/YA) Lonely orphan Peggy finds a connection to her family through the ghosts she meets at her uncle’s estate. But why is her uncle so distant, and why does he hate and fear Pat, Peggy’s only friend, a British scholar researching the Colonial history of the area? While the “contemporary” sections are a bit dated (1960s, at a guess), the ghosts and their stories are fascinating, and provide an adventurous and often humorous introduction to the human side of the Revolutionary War.
Constance (Patricia Clapp) A fictional coming-of-age story based on the real life of Constance Hopkins, who arrived in the New World on the Mayflower. The author doesn’t minimize the hardships the Plymouth colonists suffered, but there is joy and hope here, too, as well as a little romance. I loved this when I was in school, and read it to my 6th-graders in my first year of teaching. (They loved it — even the boys.)