Epistolary novels tell stories through a series of documents, such as letters, diaries, and newspaper clippings. These novels take us back to a time when correspondence wasn’t instant. Curated by Bonita Bignar.
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
book on CD
“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb?
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.
Love, Rosie (previously published as Rosie Dunne) by Cecelia Ahern
book / book
book in Large Print
book on CD
Rosie and Alex are destined for one another, and everyone seems to know it but them. Best friends since childhood, their relationship gets closer by the day, until Alex gets the news that his family is leaving Dublin and moving to Boston. At 17, Rosie and Alex have just started to see each other in a more romantic light. Devastated, the two make plans for Rosie to apply to colleges in the U.S.
She gets into Boston University, Alex gets into Harvard, and everything is falling into place, when on the eve of her departure, Rosie gets news that will change their lives forever: She’s pregnant by a boy she’d gone out with while on the rebound from Alex.
Her dreams for college, Alex, and a glamorous career dashed, Rosie stays in Dublin to become a single mother, while Alex pursues a medical career and a new love in Boston. But destiny is a funny thing, and in this novel, structured as a series of clever e-mails, letters, notes, and a trail of missed opportunities, Alex and Rosie find out that fate isn’t done with them yet.
Sometimes you have to look at life in a whole new way…
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.
March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.
June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
A page-turning novel that is also an exploration of the great philosophical concepts of Western thought, Sophie’s World has fired the imagination of readers all over the world, with more than twenty million copies in print.
One day fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen comes home from school to find in her mailbox two notes, with one question on each: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?” From that irresistible beginning, Sophie becomes obsessed with questions that take her far beyond what she knows of her Norwegian village. Through those letters, she enrolls in a kind of correspondence course, covering Socrates to Sartre, with a mysterious philosopher, while receiving letters addressed to another girl. Who is Hilde? And why does her mail keep turning up? To unravel this riddle, Sophie must use the philosophy she is learning–but the truth turns out to be far more complicated than she could have imagined.
This Light Between Us by Andrew Xia Fukuda
A story of World War II about the unlikeliest of pen pals–a Japanese American boy and a French Jewish girl–as they fight to maintain hope in a time of war.
In 1935, ten-year-old Alex Maki from Bainbridge Island, Washington is disgusted when he’s forced to become pen pals with Charlie Levy of Paris, France–a girl. He thought she was a boy. In spite of Alex’s reluctance, their letters continue to fly across the Atlantic–and along with them the shared hopes and dreams of friendship. Until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the growing Nazi persecution of Jews force them to confront the darkest aspects of human nature.
From the desolation of an internment camp on the plains of Manzanar to the horrors of Auschwitz and the devastation of European battlefields, the only thing they can hold onto are the memories of their letters. But nothing can dispel the light between them.
The Lost Manuscript by Cathy Bonidan
The Lost Manuscript is a charming epistolary novel about the love of books and magical ability they have to bring people together.
When Anne-Lise Briard books a room at the Beau Rivage Hotel for her vacation on the Brittany coast, she has no idea this trip will start her on the path to unearthing a mystery. In search of something to read, she opens up her bedside table drawer in her hotel room, and inside she finds an abandoned manuscript. Halfway through the pages, an address is written. She sends pages to the address, in hopes of potentially hearing a response from the unknown author. But not before she reads the story and falls in love with it. The response, which she receives a few days later, astonishes her…
Not only does the author write back, but he confesses that he lost the manuscript 30 years prior on a flight to Montreal. And then he reveals something even more shocking—that he was not the author of the second half of the book.
Anne-Lise can’t rest until she discovers who this second mystery author is, and in doing so tracks down every person who has held this manuscript in their hands. Through the letters exchanged by the people whose lives the manuscript has touched, she discovers long-lost love stories and intimate secrets. Romances blossom and new friends are made. Everyone’s lives are made better by this book—and isn’t that the point of reading? And finally, with a plot twist you don’t see coming, she uncovers the astonishing identity of the author who finished the story.
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel set in the fictional island of Nollop situated off the coast of South Carolina and home to the inventor of the pangram The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog. Now deceased, the islanders have erected a monument to honor their hero, but one day a tile with the letter z falls from the statue. The leaders interpret the falling tile as a message from beyond the grave and the letter is banned from use. On an island where the residents pride themselves on their love of language, this is seen as a tragedy. They are still reeling from the shock, when another tile falls and then another…. Mark Dunn takes us on a journey against time through the eyes of Ella Minnow Pea and her family as they race to find another phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet to save them from being unable to communicate. Eventually, the only letters remaining are LMNOP, when Ella finally discovers the phrase that will save their language.
Lady Vernon and Her Daughter: A Jane Austen Novel by Jane Rubino
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Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan was written during the same period as another novella called Elinor and Marianne—which was later revised and expanded to become Sense and Sensibility. Unfortunately for readers, Lady Susan did not enjoy the same treatment by its author and was left abandoned and forgotten by all but the most diligent Austen scholars. Until now.
In Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway have taken Austen’s original novella and transformed it into a vivid and richly developed novel of love lost and found—and the complex relationships between women, men, and money in Regency England.
Lady Vernon and her daughter, Frederica, are left penniless and without a home after the death of Sir Frederick Vernon, Susan’s husband. Frederick’s brother and heir, Charles Vernon, like so many others of his time, has forgotten his promises to look after the women, and despite their fervent hopes to the contrary, does nothing to financially support Lady Vernon and Frederica.
When the ladies, left without another option, bravely arrive at Charles’s home to confront him about his treatment of his family, they are faced with Charles’s indifference, his wife Catherine’s distrustful animosity, and a flood of rumors that threaten to undo them all. Will Lady Vernon and Frederica find love and happiness—and financial security—or will their hopes be dashed with their lost fortune?
With wit and warmth reminiscent of Austen’s greatest works, Lady Vernon and Her Daughter brings to vivid life a time and place where a woman’s security is at the mercy of an entail, where love is hindered by misunderstanding, where marriage can never be entirely isolated from money, yet where romance somehow carries the day.
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
large print book
Set again in the Alaskan landscape that she brought to stunningly vivid life in The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey’s second novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret.
Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska’s hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its huge reserves of gold to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.
For Forrester, the decision to accept this mission is even more difficult, as he is only recently married to Sophie, the wife he had perhaps never expected to find. Sophie is pregnant with their first child, and does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband embarks upon the journey of a lifetime. She has genuine cause to worry about her pregnancy, and it is with deep uncertainty about what their future holds that she and her husband part.
A story shot through with a darker but potent strand of the magic that illuminated The Snow Child, and with the sweep and insight that characterizes Rose Tremain’s The Colour, this novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Eowyn Ivey singles her out as a major literary talent.
Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.
But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…
Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?
Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…
*All summaries courtesy of the publisher unless otherwise noted.