(First published on Paper Lantern Writers blog, September 2020)
Since I began teaching in 1997, autumn meant back to school and September. Even as the school year’s opening day creeped into mid-August, September meant autumn. The school library displayed books like Fall Leaves Fall!, For the Love of Autumn, Awesome Autumn, and Fletcher and the Falling Leaves. The student art posted in the hallway was full of colorful leaves and pumpkins. No one knows what season it is better than teachers.
Recently, though, autumn seems to have become the gateway to Christmas. Stores have Halloween costumes and decorations on one aisle, and illuminated Christmas trees on the next. Thanksgiving is just a blip on the calendar. It still horrifies me to see Christmas this early. In the future, will school libraries put out autumn, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas books on the first day of school in August? I prefer the old order, where each of those events had their own month.
This year has been decidedly odd. I’m retired now, so no decorated school hallways. I’m sticking close to home because of the virus so I haven’t seen Christmas decorations yet. This year on September 1, a meme popped up in my Facebook feed that said something like “Welcome to Pumpkin Spice Time!” I was shocked. It felt too soon. Summer is still very much here!
This year we’ve had to deal with the coronavirus and political drama, as well as record high temperatures and wildfires in my home state of California. All of these will change the world. Tasks, attitudes, and events that used to be normal on a daily basis are no longer so.
One of the events affected by the pandemic has been the launch of my new novel, The Aloha Spirit. I had such a fabulous launch event planned in my neighborhood, and I was looking forward to book signings. I even had a trip to Hawaii planned for this month, and hoped to do some bookstore events while there. And I’m not alone. Many authors are releasing new books this year and have to rely on social media or Zoom events to get the word out. On September 3 alone, 600 new books were published. So for my autumn reading, I could list dozens of new books to watch for, but will restrain myself to my very favorite historical fiction releases from my own publisher, She Writes Press. (My own novel isn’t listed–don’t forget about it!)
Estelle by Linda Henley
This is a dual timeline novel, between Estelle, cousin and sister-in-law to Edgar Degas, and Anne Gautier, a young artist in 1970, who finds connections between her ancestors and Degas while renovating the New Orleans house she has inherited. Excellent read!
Answer Creek by Ashley Sweeney
The Donner Party story told from the POV of Nineteen-year-old Ada Weeks. Just when you think you’ve read it all, a new perspective arrives!
Beyond the Ghetto Gates by Michelle Cameron
Set during the turbulent days of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Italian campaign (1796–97), Beyond the Ghetto Gates is both a cautionary tale for our present moment, with its rising tide of anti-Semitism, and a story of hope—a reminder of a time in history when men and women of conflicting faiths were able to reconcile their prejudices in the face of a rapidly changing world.
Talland House by Maggie Humm
Set between 1900 and 1919 in picturesque Cornwall and war-blasted London, Talland House takes Lily Briscoe from the pages of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and tells her story outside the confines of Woolf’s novel—as a student in 1900, as a young woman becoming a professional artist, her loves and friendships, mourning her dead mother, and solving the mystery of her friend Mrs. Ramsay’s sudden death.
Coming Soon (preorder now):
The Lines Between Us by Rebecca D’Harlingue (release date September 8, 2020)
In 1661 Madrid, Ana is still grieving the loss of her husband when her niece, sixteen-year-old Juliana, suddenly vanishes. Ana frantically searches the girl’s room and comes across a diary. Journeying to southern Spain in the hope of finding her, Ana immerses herself in her niece’s private thoughts. After a futile search in Seville, she comes to Juliana’s final entries, and, discovering the horrifying reason for the girl’s flight, abandons her search.
In 1992 Missouri, in her deceased mother’s home, Rachel finds a packet of letters, and a diary written by a woman named Juliana. Rachel’s reserved mother has never mentioned these items, but Rachel recognizes the names Ana and Juliana: her mother uttered them on her deathbed. She soon becomes immersed in Juliana’s diary, which recounts the young woman’s journey to Mexico City and her life in a convent. As she learns the truth about Juliana’s tragic family history, Rachel seeks to understand her connection to the writings—hoping that in finding those answers, she will somehow heal the wounds caused by her mother’s lifelong reticence.
Prospects of a Woman by Wendy Voorsanger (release date October 20, 2020)
Elisabeth Parker comes to California from Massachusetts in 1849 with her new husband, Nate, to reunite with her father, who’s struck gold on the American River. But she soon realizes her husband is not the man she thought—and neither is her father, who abandons them shortly after they arrive. As Nate struggles with his sexuality, Elisabeth is forced to confront her preconceived notions of family, love, and opportunity. She finds comfort in corresponding with her childhood friend back home, writer Louisa May Alcott, and spending time in the company of a mysterious Californio. Armed with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance, she sets out to determine her role in building the West, even as she comes to terms with the sacrifices she must make to achieve independence and happiness. A gripping and illuminating window into life in the Old West, Prospects of a Woman is the story of one woman’s passionate quest to carve out a place for herself in the liberal and bewildering society that emerged during the California gold rush frenzy.
The Green Lace Corset by Jill G. Hall (release date October 13, 2020)
Anne McFarland, a modern-day, thirty-something San Francisco artist in search of spiritual guidance, buys a corset in a Flagstaff resale boutique—a purchase that results in her having to make a decision that will change her life forever. One hundred and thirty-five years earlier, in 1885, naïve Sally Sue Sullivan, a young woman from the Midwest, is kidnapped on a train by a handsome but dangerous bank robber. Held prisoner on a homestead in Northern Arizona’s Wild West, Sally Sue discovers her own spunk and grit as she plots her escape.
Ultimately, both Anne and Sally Sue face their fears and find the strength to journey down their designated paths and learn the true meaning of love and family . . . with a little push from the same green lace corset.
How to Make a Life by Florence Reiss Kraut (release date October 13, 2020)
When Ida and her daughter Bessie flee a catastrophic pogrom in Ukraine for America in 1905, they believe their emigration will ensure that their children and grandchildren will be safe from harm. But choices and decisions made by one generation have ripple effects on those who come later—and in the decades that follow, family secrets, betrayals, and mistakes made in the name of love threaten the survival of the family: Bessie and Abe Weissman’s children struggle with the shattering effects of daughter Ruby’s mental illness, of Jenny’s love affair with her brother-in-law, of the disappearance of Ruby’s daughter as she flees her mother’s legacy, and of the accidental deaths of Irene’s husband and granddaughter.
A sweeping saga that follows three generations from the tenements of Brooklyn through WWII, from Woodstock to India, and from Spain to Israel, How to Make a Life is the story of a family who must learn to accept each other’s differences—or risk cutting ties with the very people who anchor their place in the world.
Linda Ulleseit is a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers and the author of The Aloha Spirit, Under the Almond Trees, and the Flying Horse Trilogy.
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