A few weeks ago I asked what kind of genre people tended toward on Instagram. More often than not, I heard “historical fiction!” As a historian by training, that’s certainly my go to as well. I have been enjoying a few reads recently, however, that are only part historical fiction. They are also part something else – fantasy, spirituality, etc. It’s been a comfortable foray into other genres that aren’t necessarily my norm.
This month’s Church of Marvels book is purely historical fiction, but it seems part fantasy as you work to figure out who’s who and how their lives changed so drastically in such a short time!
Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
Leslie Parry tells a story of 1890s New York City away from the glitz, glam, and limelight we’re used to in her latest work. Sylvan, night soiler (someone who cleans the privies of tenements) is shocked one night to discover a newborn girl. Told to leave the baby behind, he refuses and takes her home. He yearns to find out who she belongs to and/or why she’s there.
Across the river, Alphie wakes up in a woman’s asylum but has no idea why she’s there. She knows it’s her evil mother-in-law’s doing. After connecting with a woman who’s lost her tongue (literally) in the asylum, she slowly starts to piece together the events that led to her lock up. Of course as her story unfolds, we learn her secrets as well.
And then on Coney Island. Odile, the daughter of a famous circus family, seeks to find her twin sister after receiving a cryptic letter from her telling her to stay and not worry.
Amidst opium dens, slum fights, gambling, stories of passing, and love (new and old), you get a whole new glimpse of late 19th century NYC. With each chapter, you’ll find yourself wondering more furiously how it all pieces together! Church of Marvels great read whether your summer plans are near or far!
Save Me The Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl’s latest memoir Save Me the Plums follows her time as editor-in-chief at Gourmet from 1999-2009. Reichl came to the magazine straight from her days in disguise as the undercover restaurant reviewer for The New York Times. In Garlic and Sapphires, her previous book, she describes this earlier period. She begins this new job relatively unprepared for the task of managing a large staff and the duties of an editor.
She learns quickly, however. Her book is a fantastic peek into a decade that saw immense changes in the way Americans both ate and cooked – and especially in how they consumed food writing and recipes. At this time personal blogs and online recipe aggregators began to push out traditional publications like Gourmet. Reichl shows too, however, the ways in which Conde Nast was completely unprepared to move with the times.
This is also a book about Reichl’s New York and the amazing characters that populate it. From celebrity chefs to old family friends, Reichl crafts a portrait of a city filled with talented people and even better food.
Reichl is a lyrical writer with a gift for describing food (as, well, you would expect from a restaurant reviewer!). This fact alone makes this book a must for any food-lover. Whether or not you ever read Gourmet, the description of a bygone golden era of magazines is absolutely fascinating, especially as told by an outsider.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Helen Hoang returns from last year’s excellent debut, The Kiss Quotient, with another best-selling novel. Like her first book, The Bride Test tackles the immigrant experience and autism, all in the confines of a romance novel.
The set up is simple, though perhaps a tiny bit far fetched (suspend that disbelief, you will be rewarded!). Khai Diep is an accounting genius, but after a major loss in his life, he’s convinced himself that he has no feelings whatsoever. And of course he isn’t interested in pursuing a relationship because he feels he cannot offer love.
His mother, on the other hand, suspects otherwise. She decides to put it to the test by inviting Esme Tran to come to America from Vietnam in a quasi-arranged marriage. Esme has many reasons for wanting to come, even if the marriage never happens. The biggest reason being her intense desire to break out of her life of menial work. She also seeks to search for her father, an American who never knew of her birth.
These two richly drawn characters are thrown into living with each other with little preparation. Esme struggles to adapt to life in America but embraces it – and Khai. They’re drawn together almost instantly. Esme learns how to work with Khai’s autistic traits (sensory overload, for one). He begins to understand what it is to be in a relationship. Together – and with the help of their families – they craft an unexpected love story.
This is a great example of the new trends in romance writing. Hoang brings her own experiences as the autistic daughter of Vietnamese immigrants to the table to write an extremely likeable novel. It’ll have you turning the pages until late into the night!