Fiction

Searching for Family Histories

In these novels, curiosity is sparked by the discovery of family heirlooms, inspiring the characters to seek out the histories of the items and the family members associated with them. Curated by Bonita Bignar. 

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The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick 

Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden.

But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam’s death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam’s possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he’s never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife’s secret life before they met–a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places.

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters with big hearts and irresistible flaws, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a curiously charming debut and a joyous celebration of life’s infinite possibilities.


The Fortunate Ones by Ellen Mansky

One very special work of art—a Chaim Soutine painting—will connect the lives and fates of two different women, generations apart, in this enthralling and transporting debut novel that moves from World War II Vienna to contemporary Los Angeles

It is 1939 in Vienna, and as the specter of war darkens Europe, Rose Zimmer’s parents are desperate. Unable to get out of Austria, they manage to secure passage for their young daughter on a kindertransport, and send her to live with strangers in England.

Six years later, the war finally over, a grief-stricken Rose attempts to build a life for herself. Alone in London, devastated, she cannot help but try to search out one piece of her childhood: the Chaim Soutine painting her mother had cherished.

Many years later, the painting finds its way to America. In modern-day Los Angeles, Lizzie Goldstein has returned home for her father’s funeral. Newly single and unsure of her path, she also carries a burden of guilt that cannot be displaced. Years ago, as a teenager, Lizzie threw a party at her father’s house with unexpected but far-reaching consequences. The Soutine painting that she loved and had provided lasting comfort to her after her own mother had died was stolen, and has never been recovered.

This painting will bring Lizzie and Rose together and ignite an unexpected friendship, eventually revealing long-held secrets that hold painful truths. Spanning decades and unfolding in crystalline, atmospheric prose, The Fortunate Ones is a haunting story of longing, devastation, and forgiveness, and a deep examination of the bonds and desires that map our private histories.


The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds

A summery romance set in Nantucket that follows seventeen-year-old Abby Schoenberg as she uncovers a secret about her grandmother’s life during WWII.

Seventeen-year-old Abby Schoenberg isn’t exactly looking forward to the summer before her senior year. She’s just broken up with her first boyfriend and her friends are all off in different, exciting directions for the next three months. Abby needs a plan–an adventure of her own. Enter: the letters.

They show up one rainy day along with the rest of Abby’s recently deceased grandmother’s possessions. And these aren’t any old letters; they’re love letters. Love letters from a mystery man named Edward. Love letters from a mansion on Nantucket. Abby doesn’t know much about her grandmother’s past. She knows she was born in Germany and moved to the US when she was five, fleeing the Holocaust. But the details are either hazy or nonexistent; and these letters depict a life that is a bit different than the quiet one Abby knows about.

And so, Abby heads to Nantucket for the summer to learn more about her grandmother and the secrets she kept. But when she meets Edward’s handsome grandson, who wants to stop her from investigating, things get complicated. As Abby and Noah grow closer, the mysteries in their families deepen, and they discover that they both have to accept the burdens of their pasts if they want the kinds of futures they’ve always imagined.


The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

A mystery about a Black classical musician whose family heirloom violin is stolen on the eve of the most prestigious classical music competition in the world.

Ray McMillian loves playing the violin more than anything, and nothing will stop him from pursuing his dream of becoming a professional musician. Not his mother, who thinks he should get a real job, not the fact that he can’t afford a high-caliber violin, not the racism inherent in the classical music world. And when he makes the startling discovery that his great-grandfather’s fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, his star begins to rise. Then with the international Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—fast approaching, his prized family heirloom is stolen. Ray is determined to get it back. But now his family and the descendants of the man who once enslaved Ray’s great-grandfather are each claiming that the violin belongs to them. With the odds stacked against him and the pressure mounting, will Ray ever see his beloved violin again?


The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When a woman arrives with a small wooden carving at the gallery Nicola works at, she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird—the mythical creature from an old Russian fable.

Compelled to know more, Nicola follows a young girl named Anna into the past who leads her on a quest through the glittering backdrops of the Jacobites and Russian courts, unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption.


Three Fates by Nora Roberts

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts comes an unforgettable tale of luck and love in which the fortunes of three siblings depend on a simple twist of fate.

When the RMS Lusitania sank in 1915, one survivor became a changed man, giving up his life as a petty thief. But the man still kept the small silver statue he lifted, saving it as a reminder of his past and a family heirloom for future generations. A century later, that priceless heirloom—one of a long-separated set of three—has been stolen again.

Malachi, Gideon, and Rebecca Sullivan are determined to recover their great-great-grandfather’s treasure, reunite the Three Fates, and make their fortune. Their quest will take them from their home in Ireland to Helsinki, Prague, and New York, where they will meet a brilliant scholar who will aid them in their hunt—and an ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to acquire the Fates….


The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

My real name, no one remembers. The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?


The Wedding Veil by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Four women. One family heirloom. A secret connection that will change their lives—and history as they know it.

Present Day: Julia Baxter’s wedding veil, bequeathed to her great-grandmother by a mysterious woman on a train in the 1930s, has passed through generations of her family as a symbol of a happy marriage. But on the morning of her wedding day, something tells her that even the veil’s good luck isn’t enough to make her marriage last forever. Overwhelmed and panicked, she escapes to the Virgin Islands to clear her head. Meanwhile, her grandmother Babs is also feeling shaken. Still grieving the death of her beloved husband, she decides to move out of the house they once shared and into a retirement community. Though she hopes it’s a new beginning, she does not expect to run into an old flame, dredging up the same complicated emotions she felt a lifetime ago.

1914: Socialite Edith Vanderbilt is struggling to manage the luxurious Biltmore Estate after the untimely death of her cherished husband. With 250 rooms to oversee and an entire village dependent on her family to stay afloat, Edith is determined to uphold the Vanderbilt legacy—and prepare her free-spirited daughter Cornelia to inherit it—in spite of her family’s deteriorating financial situation. But Cornelia has dreams of her own. Asheville, North Carolina has always been her safe haven away from the prying eyes of the press, but as she explores more of the rapidly changing world around her, she’s torn between upholding tradition and pursuing the exciting future that lies beyond Biltmore’s gilded gates.

In the vein of Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman and Jennifer Robson’s The GownThe Wedding Veil brings to vivid life a group of remarkable women forging their own paths—and explores the mystery of a national heirloom lost to time.

*All summaries courtesy of the publisher unless otherwise noted.

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