Lawrence Hill, Someone Knows My Name: A beautifully written fictional account of the life of an African woman during the colonial era: her abduction by slave traders as a child, her harrowing journey to South Carolina and its indigo plantations, her escape to New York and relocation to Canada, and her eventual return to Africa and work with British abolitionists. I learned many new things about British involvement in both the slave trade and the abolition movement. The colonial timeframe is a nice change from the standard Civil War setting.
Vanora Bennett, Portrait of an Unknown Woman: Although I haven't finished this one yet, I'm finding it an engaging account of the interaction between the painter Hans Holbein and the family of Sir Thomas More, with an intriguing twist on the story of the Princes in the Tower. The depiction of sixteenth century life and thought is quite detailed and accurate.
Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Française: The interrelated stories of a vast cast of characters caught up in the German Occupation of France. Beautifully executed characters detailed from a wryly ironic perspective; the author explores human weakness and the heroic self-sacrifice in ways that makes both extremes sympathetic.
Alice McDermott, After This: A lyrical account of the inner lives of the members of an Irish Catholic American family during the Vietnam War era. McDermott captures the dynamics of the large Irish Catholic family so perfectly as she charts the course of the various Keane siblings during a turbulent era.
R. J. Knecht, Renaissance Patron and Warrior: The Reign of Francis I: A thorough account of the life and times of François I, who ruled for thirty-three years as the Renaissance blossomed in France. The author shies from a strictly chronological approach and organizes the material thematically within loose boundary dates. Well chosen photographs and artwork support the text, which introduces many major figures the sixteenth-century Europe. If you've always wondered when or why something happened in Renaissance France, this is the book to start with.
The other books I've loved this year I've already blogged about: Catherine Delors's Mistress of the Revolution, C.W. Gortner's The Last Queen, Michelle Moran's Nefertiti. If I can remember others (why do I always go blank when someone asks me for book suggestions?) I'll add them to the list.
Happy book browsing. I hope you find lots to like this season at your neighborhood bookstore!