I’m loving Tracy Chevalier’s stories of American pioneer life. At the Edge of the Orchard starts in the Goodenough’s farm in Ohio’s Black Swamp and comes to an end amidst the sequoias of California’s Sierra Nevada.
En route we meet frontier folk hero John Appleseed and English seed agent William Lobb who brings the giant redwoods and sequioas to the UK.
The Pitmaston Pineapple apple is constant.
Author’s website: At the Edge of the Orchard – Tracy Chevalier
Guardian review: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier – Stephanie Merritt, 6 March 2016
English Quaker Honor Bright travels to America in search of a new life, alongside her sister Grace who is engaged to be married to an older man from their home town of Bridport who’d already set up a farm in one of the Quaker settlements in northern Ohio.
Honor’s journey proves to be harder than she’d expected, physically and emotionally, and her life gets no easier once she reaches Oberlin – slowly but surely she becomes aware of and then involved in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape to freedom across the border in Canada.
Don’t let the sombre subject matter put you off…. there are excellent characters, quilt-lore galore and 1850s Americana.
Author’s webpage: The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier
The Kellaway family migrate from rural Dorsetshire to Georgian Lambeth, finding their feet and making new friends amidst the factories and fields of the south London suburb, as the French revolution raises tensions and rabbles whilst Astley’s circus brings excitement and danger closer to home.
Amazon.co.uk link: Burning Bright – Tracy Chevalier
Set in Lyme Regis at the start of the European fascination with fossils, the Remarkable Creatures of the title are not only the ichthyosaurus and the plesiosaurus, but also Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpott, two women with the eye for finding them. A great read combining history and science, evolution and religion, women and society in the early 19th century.
Amazon.co.uk link: Remarkable Creatures – Tracy Chevalier
Hot on the heels of William Dalrymple’s The Age of Kali, another good read – but of a completely different kind. The Lady and the Unicorn is a historical novel, set in 15th century Paris and Brussels, and tell the imagined story behind the amazing tapestries of the lady and the unicorn that are displayed in the beautiful Musée de Cluny / Musee du Moyenne Age [the Middle Ages] in Paris.
Tracy Chevalier provides insight into the detail included in the tapestries – the significance of the selection of the flora and fauna, and the poses and actions of the ladies and the unicorn – and into how the tapestries were made – from painting the intial images, to the dyes used to colour the wool, to the weaving and finishing. You learn about mediaeval business, society and economics, the power of the guilds and the role of women. The Lady and the Unicorn is a really informative read, lightly yet learnedly done.
Amazon.co.uk link: The Lady and the Unicorn – Tracy Chevalier