I'm madly trying to read as many books by authors at the conference as I can. I love it! Before I decided to go to this thing, I didn't think historical fiction was my genre. I thought I wrote a hist-fic, and then I would do something else. As I read these books and work on my pitch, I realize more and more that I've found my calling.
Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross (a conference author)
In medieval times, Joan disguised herself as a man to become educated and rose to become the pope.
Writers keep asking, “What’s a high concept idea?” This is the best example I’ve ever seen. A female pope? And the story is true, though many people deny it. I couldn’t get a hold of this book fast enough.
The history was fascinating, to say the least. Cross spent seven years researching it… can you imagine? A character can only be as intelligent as the author if you want to show-not-tell, and Joan was brilliant. The discussion of religion was intriguing. The action keeps you on your toes. The romance was wonderful. I can’t say enough good things about this book!
Helen of Troy by Margaret George (a conference author)
People have obsessed over the story of Troy for millennia. This is a retelling of the timeless legend from Helen’s point of view.
This was impressive. George took every single tale ever told about the Trojan war and fit them together like puzzle pieces. She was true to the characters and stories even when I didn’t think it would be possible. The Illiad was my favorite book in high school, so the fact that I enjoyed this book is a big compliment.
Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt (a conference author)
This is the true story of a family with the powers of healing who struggle to cope with the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt.
It was magical, tense, and wonderfully unpredictable. It didn’t play out at all like I thought it would. This was a time period I’m not familiar with, and I was fascinated with the history. For example, I didn’t know the Catholic religion was so entrenched in magic, or that the tension between Protestants and Catholics caused this kind of conflict. I liked the characters, too.
Beauty by Susan Wilson
In a modern-day retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Alex comes to a mansion to paint the portrait of a man deformed by Acromegaly. Despite his appearance, she falls hopelessly in love with him.
I adored this book. I need to make peace with the fact that I’m a romantic. I always wanted to do a modern day re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, but now there’s no need; this was almost exactly the way I planned on writing it (except she did it better). A lot could have been done to improve this book, but for the most part, I was thrilled this novel exists and I want it to be more widespread.
You might think I’d be bummed that someone “wrote it first,” but I’m not. It’s the words that are important. It’s like people are hearing what I have to say without me having to do any work.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
It’s a literary classic, National Bestseller, written for adults, and it’s about… bunnies. I don’t know about you, but that’s all I needed to know to read it.
This book was an exciting surprise. It reads like a fantasy novel, of all things – there are quests, legends, heroes, prophets – but I liked it anyway. My husband went nuts over it and it’s his new favorite book. Every evening, he said, “Will you read to me about the bunnies?” and we’d laugh.
The Illumination by Kevin Brokemeier
A phenomenon inexplicably causes people’s pain to glow with white light. Cuts, bruises, cancer, all shine from their bodies.
Once you read this book, you’ll never forget it. Brokemeier explores the beauty of pain – not of healing, like I thought he would, but pain itself. Pain is an essential part of our existence. It makes us human and unites us in our experiences. The writing itself is reason enough to read it; you can pick any random line in the book and be captivated by it.