By Anderson McKean, Page & Palette Bookstore
As we wade through these uncertain times, each of us is constantly learning and growing, overcoming challenges, and embarking on new endeavors. While there is a sea of “self-help books” aiming to help us navigate those waters, I prefer to read about compelling characters who are charting new territory or weathering a storm. This article features books about new beginnings, inspiring stories of people boldly pursuing a new opportunity, starting over after an unexpected loss, or simply looking to begin anew.
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
In her highly anticipated debut, Charlotte McConaghy shares the emotional, powerful story of Franny Stone, a broken woman who is fiercely determined to follow the last flock of Arctic terns on their final migration. Crisp, evocative prose fills your pores with the sounds and smells of the sea. The descriptions are raw and tender, beautifully capturing the range of emotions experienced by Franny and her fascinating crew mates—fear and loneliness, grief and regret. McConaghy lays bare the migration we all experience when tragedy strikes, and the will required to navigate our way back to forgiveness.
Greenwood by Michael Christie
A beautifully written, multi-generational family saga covering four generations of the Greenwood family. It is about how we find our place in the world when faced with unbearable loneliness and intense tenderness. Filled with complex, nuanced characters, and eloquent, insightful prose, Greenwood offers an intricately woven plot that you simply get lost in. And the trees…throughout the entire novel they provide analogies for what makes us a family—the roots, the branches, and the weathering that occurs over centuries. Spanning 130 years, it is breathtaking in scope and magnificent in achievement.
The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate
A compelling novel from Lisa Wingate, the bestselling author of the unforgettable Before We Were Yours. Inspired by historical events, the novel is based on actual “Lost Friends” advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, as newly freed slaves desperately searched for loved ones who had been sold away, never to be heard from again. Wingate knits together the post-war journey of three young women in search of their lost family with a modern-day teacher who rediscovers their story and its connection to her students. A brilliant premise resulting in a fascinating novel that I could not put down.
Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
Based on the thrilling real-life story of socialite spy Nancy Wake, Code Name Hélène is told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy used during World War II. This remarkable woman was one of the most powerful leaders in the French Resistance, known for her ferocious wit, her signature red lipstick, and her ability to summon weapons straight from the Allied Forces. Both a spy thriller and a love story, Code Name Hélène is a riveting WWII novel.
Author Q&A Ariel Lawhon
Ariel Lawhon is a critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction. She is the author of The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress, Flight of Dreams, and I Was Anastasia and recently released Code Name Hélène, the illuminating story of Nancy Wake, one of the most decorated women in World War II. Lawhon lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, four sons, and black Lab. Ms. Lawhon sat down with PORTICO to talk about Code Name Hélène.
Q: I have read and loved each of your books. While preparing for this interview, I found it interesting that Code Name Hélène was the most difficult of your novels to write. What was it about this character that both compelled you and stretched you as a writer?
A: Thank you! Honestly, I think every novel feels like the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. There is this really lonely place during the writing process where I’ve started, but am months and months away from finishing and the entire project feels impossible. That said, this novel did have the additional challenge of being set smack dab in the middle of a war. I’d never written war scenes before and I felt a responsibility to get them right. And—like all of my other novels—Code Name Hélène has a non-linear timeline. So it was a challenge to line everything up properly. There was quite a bit of scene-juggling during the editing process.
Q: Nancy Wake played a key role in WWII, yet there are surprisingly few novels written about her. How did you discover her? What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research?
A: To the best of my knowledge, there are only three novels that feature Nancy Wake, and all of them were published this year. When I stumbled onto the idea in 2015, it felt as though I was the only person writing about her. And honestly, I could spend the rest of my career exploring her adventures. She was such a remarkable woman! She left Australia at the age of sixteen, traveled the world by herself, ended up in Paris and bluffed her way into a reporting job, then went on to become a courier for the French Resistance, then a spy for the English, and finally became a military leader. This was a woman who went from interviewing Hitler shortly after he became Chancellor to killing a Nazi with her bare hands. I couldn’t have invented a character this interesting if I’d tried. Thankfully, she really existed and all I had to do was make her come alive in print.
Q: What are you currently reading?
A: I am reading my way through Louise Penny’s Three Pines series. I’ve fallen madly in love with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Having grown up reading Agatha Christie, I really love a good mystery. And I’m also reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
Q: What are you working on?
A: I am working on another historical novel about a real woman named Martha Ballard. She was a midwife in Maine during the late 1700s and was both the aunt of Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross) and the grandmother of one of the first female physicians in America. The amazing thing about her life, however, is that she kept a diary for thirty years during a time when many women couldn’t read or write. That diary records all the secrets and traumas and betrayals that happened in her village during those three decades.