Erica's Staff Picks History
Trust Erica's taste? Here's what she's picked in the past!

Erica Melnichok Recommends:

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran

With Madame Tussaud, Moran proves once again that she can deliver what I treasure most in historical fiction. From Ancient Egypt to Revolutionary France, I’ll follow her anywhere! Her heroines are richly developed, strong characters. Her depictions of the personal lifestyles and political intrigues are engrossing and transport you to another time and place through well researched detail and evocative narrative.

978-0-307-58865-4 | $25.00/$28.95C | Crown | HC | April


The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

It can be hard to know where to turn after the final pages of the Stieg Larsson trilogy. I say leave chilly Scandinavia behind and embrace the oppressive African heat presented in The Informationist. Stevens’ protagonist, Vanessa Munroe, incorporates the physical acuity of Jason Bourne with the analytical mind and deceptively petite frame of Lisbeth Salander. Who could ask for more in a heart pounding thriller?

978-0-307-71709-2 | $23.00/$25.95C | Crown | HC | March

The Bells by Richard Harvell

Your heart will break for vulnerable Moses as he yearns for and struggles to find his place in the world, so have that tissue ready. The Bells is a sensual love story of the unlikely places family is to be found, with a cast of lively and endearing characters. The journey and direction of Moses�s life will haunt you through to the last page, which you hope will never come. My experience in reading The Bells was very similar to that of Sarah Dunant�s Sacred Hearts. Her novel sparked my brief, somewhat odd obsession with nuns and I sought further reading about young aristocratic girls forced into convents in Italy. With The Bells, I wanted to learn more about the castrati; those young boys in Italy victimized in order to preserve their voices. That is what I value most in historical fiction, to be so moved and engaged with obscure historical details that I yearn to learn more.

978-0-307-59052-7 | $24.00 | Crown | HC | September
978-0-307-35823-3 | $32.00C | Penguin Random House Canada | HC | September

A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

Vintage clothing is not only about style and grace for Phoebe Swift. These pieces contain fragments of the past and boundless stories of pleasure and heartbreak. She has just opened a vintage dress shop in a small town outside of London while she still copes with the recent loss of her best friend. Amid cupcake �50s prom dresses and the allure of designer threads, Wolff has spun a romantic tale of hidden secrets held within gorgeous fabrics and ornaments of style. Battling with ghosts from the past and the possibilities offered by two suitors further complicates Phoebe�s emotional turmoil. As she befriends an elderly French woman who wishes to sell her elegant dresses and suits, Phoebe is swept up in this woman�s poignant tale of a particular little blue coat from her childhood in Avignon during the 1940s, which she cannot bear to part with despite the heartbreaking memories it evokes. I was drawn to this novel for its contemporary British tone and turn of phrase bringing to mind the novels of Penny Vincenzi. As I learned from the novel, vintage clothing is multifaceted and rich in both its texture and the emotion it can evoke in women. I would say the same is true of this delightfully beautiful novel of love and loss, happiness and forgiveness.

978-0-553-80783-7 | $25.00 | Bantam | HC | June 2010

Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland

A romantic book for tweenage readers who love Anne of Green Gables and Mr. Darcy?! That was all I needed to hear before delving into this charming tale of twelve-year-old Polly Madassa, who decides to play matchmaker (ála Austen’s Emma) in her small beach town, often with disastrous and comical results. The language is hilariously overwrought and the chapter titles adorable, as in “In Which My Family Is Introduced and My Bosom Friend Gives Me Distressing News.” I happily embraced my “30 going on 13” persona and dug right into this delicious read. I loved every minute of this book and can only imagine how excitedly my tweenage self would also have devoured it. This is coming from the girl whose mother indulgently brought her to Prince Edward Island at the height of her Anne of Green Gables obsession, no less.

978-1-60684-025-2 | $15.99/$19.99C | EgmontUSA | HC | December 2009

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

The fact that I am an Austenite, while not “a truth universally acknowledged,” is certainly known in certain circles of society, albeit friends, family, and coworkers. And yet, despite taking an entire class devoted to Austen, I was not familiar with her epistolary novella Lady Susan. The original Lady Susan was written during the same period in which Austen produced Elinor and Marianne. Like Lady Susan it focused on the economic and romantic plights of two heroines displaced when the family home passes to an unworthy heir, but while Elinor and Marianne was revised and happily expanded to become Sense and Sensibility, Lady Susan was abandoned. Until now. Thirteen of the letters from that novel are incorporated in Lady Vernon and Her Daughter. The authors have invoked Austen’s distinctive style and voice, transporting me immediately and merrily into the world of Austen-esque trials and tribulations, culminating with a perfect Austen ending: Lady Susan and her daughter both marry men who not only bring them happiness, but property and money as well.

978-0-307-46166-7 | $24.99/$29.99C | Crown | HC | October 2009

The Natural Laws of Good Luck: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage by Ellen Graf

Marriage today comes in many variations. In my late twenties and a newlywed myself, I’m a bit “traditional.” But what if I were divorced, facing middle age, and searching for love? What would a marriage look like to me then? For Ellen Graf, she took a chance and married a Chinese businessman, with a past of his own. He moved from China to her upstate New York farmhouse and so began their “unconventional” marriage. Despite the language barrier, a host of cultural misunderstandings and financial crises, Ellen and Zhong-Hua were able to face these challenges and their new life together with humor, patience, and love. Ellen now eats rock fungus and Zhong-Hua learned how to drive, albeit often following his own rules! At times, The Natural Laws of Good Luck can read like the funniest of humor memoirs, but at its heart is a story of acceptance, love and renewal at midlife by taking a brave leap into the unknown. Rather inspiring, really, no matter what “type” of marriage you may have yourself.

978-1-59030-691-8 | $22.95/$26.95C | Shambhala/Trumpeter | HC | August 2009

North Korea Kidnapped My Daughter by Sakie Yokota

This summer, CNN�s Anderson Cooper ran a story that was both shocking in its immediacy and haunting with its heart-wrenching tale. Four years ago, North Korea admitted to a program of abducting Japanese citizens in the hopes of training them as spies during the Cold War. Sakie Yokota lost her thirteen-year-old daughter, Megumi, in 1977 to this insidious scheme. This is the story of one woman�s personal struggle to find the daughter who was so cruelly taken from her and her transformation from happy housewife to political activist and crusader. In August 2006, Sakie met with President Bush to further talks about demanding sanctions on North Korea. The documentary, Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story is available and also a quick search on YouTube will allow you to explore more coverage of this astonishing emotional and political quagmire. This riveting true story of every parent�s worst nightmare will captivate and horrify you.

978-1-934287-44-6 | $16.95/$18.95C | TR | Vertical | January 2009

Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg

The subject of mental illness makes many people uncomfortable. It is difficult to understand, wrenching to witness, and frightening to experience. Greenberg’s powerful memoir of his daughter’s psychotic break at the age of fifteen intimately reveals the life altering experience for himself and his family. The brilliantly crafted descriptions from inside a psych ward offer insight into the tumultuous journey his daughter must endure, through diagnosis of her bipolar disorder and her eventual adaptation to a life forever changed by mental illness. Every relationship is affected and strained. But through this painful, sometimes surreal experience, Greenberg is able to illicit occasional glints of humor and light. It is a testament to how, with the love of family, and an enduring spirit, one is able to put the pieces back together and move forward.

978-1-59051-191-6 | $22.00 / NCR | HC | Other Press | September 2008

Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West by Shannon McKenna Schmidt & Joni Rendon

Literary-minded travelers rejoice! As I really can’t see myself ever jumping out of a plane like they did in the movie, “The Bucket List,” this book instantly became my bibliophile “bucket list.” Numerous destinations based on the wanderings and residences of my favorite authors as well as their most memorable settings and characters are presented here alongside practical travel information, fascinating facts, literary gossip, and great reading suggestions. My first literary-minded trip centered around Anne of Green Gables when my mother brought me to Prince Edward Island. I spent a semester of college in Jane Austen’s Bath, and even visited her home at Chawton in Hampshire. Next on my “bucket list” is Louisa May Alcott’s historic home in Concord, MA, where she wrote and set Little Women. Whatever your bibliophile “bucket list” includes, you are sure to find them here in Novel Destinations. Makes a great companion book for reading groups!

978-1-4262-0277-3 | $25.00/$28.00C | HC | National Geographic | May 2008

Sitting Practice by Caroline Adderson

What do you do when the unthinkable happens? When your life is suddenly, irrevocably altered from the one you thought was all planned out? Ross and Iliana go from happy newlyweds to car crash victims in the blink of an eye. With Iliana now paralyzed and Ross stricken with guilt, we are with them as they cycle through anger, grief, and resentment until they are ultimately, slowly able to adjust to their altered lives with grace and even humor. An emotionally riveting novel that at times left me teary eyed, but was also able to make me smile. I kept trying to imagine myself in the same situation, but always from the safe distance of my as-yet-tragedy-free world. One can never know. This U.S. debut of the Canadian sensation, praised by Margaret Atwood, will stay with you long after the last page. Perfect for book groups!

978-1-59030-558-4 (1-59030-558-2) | $21.95 | HC | Trumpeter | March 2008

De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage

How does your life change when war breaks out all around you? In the very city of your childhood? With bombs falling and violence erupting on every street corner, best friends Bassam and George must find a way to survive the war-torn streets of Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war. The physical and emotional effects of war are conveyed through this compelling story of the choices available and how these young men find themselves on two very different paths to survival. Particularly poignant considering current events, and illuminating for those of us who are largely ignorant of the costs of war when it is at your front door.

978-1-58195-223-0 (1-58195-223-6) | $23.95 | Steerforth | HC | August 2007

The Dud Avacado by Elaine Dundy

Looking for a deliciously witty and laugh out loud book to add to your summer reading list? The Dud Avocado is the sparkling tale of the many misadventures of a literary single girl spending her post collegiate days finding herself in Paris. Pre-Fielding and Bushnell days, this young woman’s exploits of searching for love, happiness, and direction is a modern feminist classic, first published and beloved in 1958. The descriptions of early 20th century Paris will captivate you while Sally Jay’s wildly sarcastic voice will entertain you. A book to be passed along to every woman you know!

978-1-59017-232-2 (1-59017-232-9) | $14.95 | TR | New York Review Books | July 2007


The Goldfish Went on Vacation: A Memoir of Loss (and Learning to Tell the Truth about It) by Patty Dann

What could be more difficult than learning your husband has only one year to live? Try explaining illness and death to your four-year-old son. Dann�s account of her family�s personal loss is at times quirky, poignant, heartbreaking, and inspiring. How do you explain death to a small child? The goldfish may go on vacation, but when a child loses a parent, honesty is important and professional guidance and support can be crucial. This book will touch your heart. And in addition to its moving story, it includes an afterword from the child psychologist who worked with Dann�s young son along with an extensive list of further resources.

978-1-59030-428-0 (1-59030-428-4) | $18.00 | Shambhala | HC | January 2007

Dark Angels: A Novel by Karleen Koen

This is the most enthralling piece of historical fiction I have ever read. I have often thought of myself as born into the wrong century. But would I have been able to survive the political scheming and romantic drama experienced by Alice Verney, a lady in waiting, during England’s Restoration period? Rich with period detail and a flow of events so captivating that you will find yourself thoroughly caught up in the drama and mysteries surrounding the scandalous court of Charles II. Alice’s pursuit of her own political and personal ambitions amongst the tangle of court intrigue will amaze and sadden you as the tables are turned against her. Will she find contentment with the turn of events? As a reader, you will find contentment elusive at the end of this novel, as you most assuredly will want it to never end!

0-307-33991-2 | $25.95 | Crown | HC | September 2006

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