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Originally published February 14, 2010 at 7:00 PM | Page modified February 19, 2010 at 5:14 PM

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Lit Life

Historical novels — reader faves, Part I

Seattle Times book editor Mary Ann Gwinn asked readers in her Lit Life column to recommend historical novels and received so many responses she's reporting the results in installments. This week: historical fiction based in the U.S. Next week: historical fiction with an international setting.

Seattle Times book editor

Lit life |

Maybe you remember this scene in the first Harry Potter book. Harry is mailed an offer of acceptance to Hogwarts, the wizard academy. After his negligent guardians destroy it another one arrives, then another — soon the house is piled with mountains of letters for Harry.

This scene came to mind after I asked readers last week to recommend historical novels. I received so many raves, I'm reporting the results in installments. This week: historical fiction based in the U.S. Next week: historical fiction with an international setting.

The list, alphabetically by author:

"Cloudsplitter" by Russell Banks. This fictional take on the life of abolitionist John Brown is "the most convincing historical fiction I have ever read," said Jim Strange.

"A Sudden Country" by Karen Fisher. A San Juan Islands-based author's story of settlers in the 19th century Northwest. "Gripping and gorgeously written," said Sara Glerum.

"Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Jamie Ford. A novel of Seattle during the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This classic tale of Puritans in 17th-century Boston has "my vote as the best American novel. And it is set many years before it was written," said Brian Templeton.

"Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan. A fictional rendering of the true tragic story of a woman's affair with Frank Lloyd Wright, by a Whidbey Island-based author.

"The Color of Lightning" by Paulette Jiles. A freed slave's family is abducted by the Comanches in 1860s Texas, and he sets out to find them. "Mesmerizing," wrote reader Ruth Quinet.

"The Heretic's Daughter" by Kathleen Kent. Written from the point of view of a young girl whose mother is hanged as a witch in Salem, this novel is "a very effective retelling of a story that seems to stay true to the facts," said Mike Miller.

"The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver's Mexico and U.S. based novel chronicles activists from Depression-era riots to the Red Scares of the 1950s.


"Thick as Thieves" by Neil Low. A tale of "greed, sex and corruption" in 1940s Seattle, written by a Seattle Police captain.

"Jarrettsville" by Cornelia Nixon. Set in Maryland after the Civil War, "Jarrettsville" is the story of a romance between an abolitionist's son and the sister of a rebel sympathizer.

"When Wolf Comes" by John Anthony Pappas. The tale of a young Boston Irishman sold as a slave to the Makahs in the early 19th century.

"New York" by Edward Rutherfurd. A sweeping saga of New York City from its settlement by the Dutch to the 21st century.

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. This novel of black and white women in 1960s Mississippi was nominated by several readers. How can this be history? I lived through this.

"The Cave of Storms" by Patricia Weenolsen. Another novel of the Salem witch-trial era, it follows a young girl and her brother who flee into the wilderness and are captured by American Indians. "Well-researched and very well-written," said Melissa Overdorf.

Next week: historical fiction set "abroad."

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's Arts Channel at

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