Treasures From My Dusty Book Shelf
It's no secret that I love books, especially historical fiction. I have always enjoyed escaping to another time and place and immersing myself in a new culture. When I was in middle school, my best friend and I often ventured into the woods to find a cozy reading nook under a tree or against a fallen log. We sometimes read for hours, pausing only to share the latest gossip about a particularly cute boy, gaze up at the clouds, or discuss a topic related to the books in our laps. We were unusually contemplative tweens who spent an inordinate amount of time pondering the world's troubles and searching for stories that would provide a much-needed respite from middle school drama.
One early spring day in sixth or seventh grade, we went into the woods armed with Gone with the Wind and The Last of the Mohicans. I honestly can't remember which book was mine because I ended up reading both novels multiple times. However, I do remember thinking there was no better way to pass a Sunday afternoon than to spend it in a desolate patch of woods with your best friend, swapping stories about the Civil War and the French and Indian War. (Yes, Melissa and I were strange!) We continued our love of reading throughout high school and often asked our school librarian, Ms. Schmid, for book recommendations. She never steered us in the wrong direction, introducing us to the historical romance novels of Kathleen Woodiwiss and the suspense novels of Mary Higgins Clark. We also read Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon, and the entire John Jakes Civil War trilogy. Who could forget North and South with George Hazard and Orry Main?
Reading has always been a huge part of my life, and I expect that will never change. The bookcases in my house are filled, and finding space for new titles is becoming quite a challenge. I've had to donate several books in the last few years—mostly my husband's—so the ones left on my shelves are very special to me. As I was cleaning last weekend, I stumbled across a few of my favorites and thought the world needed a reminder that these lovely stories are on a dusty bookshelf in a library or used bookstore somewhere waiting to be experienced. They're all historical fiction, and they're all masterpieces. They transported me back in time and showed me the world through a different lens. That's what I love most about good books—they open our minds and broaden our world view. Who doesn't need more of that?
Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
When Nina Revskaya puts her remarkable jewelry collection up for auction, the former Bolshoi Ballet star finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland, and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed her life half a century earlier. It was in Russia that she discovered the magic of dance and fell in love, and where, faced with Stalinist aggression, a terrible discovery incited a deadly act of betrayal—and an ingenious escape to the West.
Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But now Drew Brooks, an inquisitive associate at a Boston auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor who believes Nina's jewels hold the key to unlocking his past, begin to unravel her story—setting in motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.
In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor
In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden tells of a bittersweet romance set against the backdrop of the greatest industrial disaster in American history: the construction and subsequent collapse in 1889 of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania dam. It was a tragedy that cost 2,200 lives, implicated some of the most illustrious financiers of the day—Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon—whose carelessness contributed to the disaster and irreparably changed the lives of those who survived it.
This is the story of these men and of the families who lived in the shadow of the dam: the daughter of the lawyer who filed the charter for an exclusive club on the shore of the artificially created lake; the Quaker steel mill owner who tried to stop the dam's construction; a librarian, escaping to a bustling mountain city from a loveless life in Boston; a young man determined to expose and undermine the greed and carelessness that shaped the last years of the nineteenth century. A cautionary tale for our new century, In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden is a story of youthful promise and devastating loss, of power and its misuse, and of greed and the philanthropy that is too often a guilty by-product of it.
Pasadena by David Ebershoff
Pasadena, David Ebershoff’s sweeping, richly imagined novel, is set against the backdrop of Southern California during the first half of the twentieth century and charts its rapid transformation from frontier to suburb. At the story’s center is Linda Stamp, a fishergirl born in 1903 on a coastal onion farm in San Diego’s North County, and the three men who upend her life and vie for her affection: her pragmatic farming brother, Edmund; Captain Willis Poore, a Pasadena rancher with a heroic military past; and Bruder, the mysterious young man Linda’s father brings home from World War I.
Pasadena spans Linda’s adventurous and romantic life, weaving the tales of her Mexican mother and her German-born father with those of the rural Pacific Coast of her youth and of the small, affluent city, Pasadena, that becomes her home. When Linda’s father returns from the war to the fishing hamlet of Baden-Baden-by-the-Sea with the darkly handsome Bruder, she glimpses love and a world beyond her own. Linda follows Bruder to the seemingly greener pastures of Pasadena, where he is the foreman of a flourishing orange ranch, the homestead and inheritance of the charming bachelor Willis Poore. As Willis begins to woo her with the promise of money and stature, Linda is torn between the two men, unable to differentiate truth from appearance. Linda’s fateful decision alters the course of many lives and harbingers a sea change just on the horizon, for Pasadena and its inhabitants.
Infused with the rich sense of place for which Ebershoff’s work is known, Pasadena remembers a Southern California whose farms edged the Pacific, where citrus dominated the economy, and where America’s tycoons wintered in a vital city’s grand hotels. Recalling the California character of self-invention that informs the work of John Steinbeck and Joan Didion, Pasadena is a novel of passion and history about a woman and a place in perpetual transformation.
Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
From the acclaimed author of Floating in My Mother’s Palm and Children and Fire, a stunning story about ordinary people living in extraordinary times—“epic, daring, magnificent, the product of a defining and mesmerizing vision” (Los Angeles Times).
Trudi Montag is a Zwerg—a dwarf—short, undesirable, different, the voice of anyone who has ever tried to fit in. Eventually she learns that being different is a secret that all humans share—from her mother who flees into madness, to her friend Georg whose parents pretend he's a girl, to the Jews Trudy harbors in her cellar.
Ursula Hegi brings us a timeless and unforgettable story in Trudi and a small town, weaving together a profound tapestry of emotional power, humanity, and truth.
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants. Her debut novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash, is being released by She Writes Press in September 2021. Visit www.tammypasterick.com to learn more.