6 Sweeping Novels to Savor Like Fine Wine

April 13 2022
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It usually happens around the three-quarter mark. Maybe fifty to seventy-five pages left. You know the feeling: the story is engrossing, the characters are now fully formed figures, and the stakes are real. That’s right, the book you’re reading is nearly finished, but you’re not ready for it to be over.

It’s the sad reality of reading. Some books are so sweeping, so all-absorbing, that you simply can’t help but want to slow down—to relish every last page before a work’s ultimate (hopefully, compelling) conclusion. To celebrate those books, the ones that make us dread turning that final page, we’ve compiled a list of exceptional novels you can’t help but savor. Please enjoy responsibly.

A Ballad of Love and Glory
by Reyna Grande

There’s no part of war to take pleasure in, but in Reyna Grande’s A BALLAD OF LOVE AND GLORY, the conflict that brings together two lovers makes for one sweeping saga to savor. The year is 1846 and the conflict at hand is the Mexican-American War. Following the murder of her husband by Texas Rangers seeking “retribution,” Ximena Salomé, a Mexican healer turned army nurse, is out to honor his memory and defend her country, healing soldiers on the frontlines. Meanwhile, on the other side of the fight, Irish immigrant John Riley, has joined the Yankee army in an attempt to escape the famine destroying his homeland. When the two cross paths on the battlefield, sparks fly and a forbidden romance follows. Readers will be captivated by Grande’s description of this largely forgotten war and unable to escape the propulsion of Ximena and John’s attraction. A BALLAD OF LOVE AND GLORY will leave you wanting more and may see you rereading its final chapters again and again.

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A Ballad of Love and Glory
Reyna Grande

A Long Petal of the Sea meets Cold Mountain in this sweeping historical saga following a Mexican army nurse and an Irish soldier who must fight, at first for their survival and then for their love, amidst the atrocity of the Mexican-American War—from the author of the “timely and riveting” (People) Across a Hundred Mountains and The Distance Between Us.

A forgotten war. An unforgettable romance.

The year is 1846. After the controversial annexation of Texas, the US Army marches south to provoke war with México over the disputed Río Grande boundary.​

Ximena Salomé is a gifted Mexican healer who dreams of building a family with the man she loves on the coveted land she calls home. But when Texas Rangers storm her ranch and shoot her husband dead, her dreams are burned to ashes. Vowing to honor her husband’s memory and defend her country, Ximena uses her healing skills as an army nurse on the frontlines of the ravaging war.

Meanwhile, John Riley, an Irish immigrant in the Yankee army desperate to help his family escape the famine devastating his homeland, is sickened by the unjust war and the unspeakable atrocities against his countrymen by nativist officers. In a bold act of defiance, he swims across the Río Grande and joins the Mexican Army—a desertion punishable by execution. He forms the St. Patrick’s Battalion, a band of Irish soldiers willing to fight to the death for México’s freedom.

When Ximena and John meet, a dangerous attraction blooms between them. As the war intensifies, so does their passion. Swept up by forces with the power to change history, they fight not only for the fate of a nation but for their future together.

Heartbreaking and lyrical, Reyna Grande’s spellbinding saga, inspired by true events and historical figures, brings these two unforgettable characters to life and illuminates a largely forgotten moment in history that impacts the US-México border to this day.

Will Ximena and John survive the chaos of this bitter war, or will their love be devoured along with the land they strive to defend?

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Damnation Spring
by Ash Davidson

Speaking of battle, few fights are more noble than those in defense of your family—a concept intricately explored in Ash Davidson’s DAMNATION SPRING. Set on the California Coast during the late 1970s, the Gundersens are witnessing a devolution to their sacred way of life in the logging town they call home. Rich, a “tree-topper,” and his wife Colleen, are doing all they can to protect their livelihood and provide a better life for their son, Chub, but while trying to protect the timber industry that has sustained his family for generations (and also taken the life of his father and grandfather in the line of duty), the Gundersens suddenly find themselves in opposition to the town’s logging company. Colleen, suffering a miscarriage she believes is caused by the company’s use of herbicides, has convinced her husband to make a stand—putting their life and status in the community in serious jeopardy. Following their fight to preserve the place they’ve called home for decades, you can’t help but get sucked into their cause, relishing their resistance, and rooting for them every step of the way.

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Damnation Spring
Ash Davidson

An epic, immersive debut, Damnation Spring is the deeply human story of a Pacific Northwest logging town wrenched in two by a mystery that threatens to derail its way of life.

For generations, Rich Gundersen’s family has chopped a livelihood out of the redwood forest along California’s rugged coast. Now Rich and his wife, Colleen, are raising their own young son near Damnation Grove, a swath of ancient redwoods on which Rich’s employer, Sanderson Timber Co., plans to make a killing. In 1977, with most of the forest cleared or protected, a grove like Damnation—and beyond it 24-7 Ridge—is a logger’s dream.

It’s dangerous work. Rich has already lived decades longer than his father, killed on the job. Rich wants better for his son, Chub, so when the opportunity arises to buy 24-7 Ridge—costing them all the savings they’ve squirreled away for their growing family—he grabs it, unbeknownst to Colleen. Because the reality is their family isn’t growing; Colleen has lost several pregnancies. And she isn’t alone. As a midwife, Colleen has seen it with her own eyes.

For decades, the herbicides the logging company uses were considered harmless. But Colleen is no longer so sure. What if these miscarriages aren’t isolated strokes of bad luck? As mudslides take out clear-cut hillsides and salmon vanish from creeks, her search for answers threatens to unravel not just Rich’s plans for the 24-7, but their marriage too, dividing a town that lives and dies on timber along the way.

Told from the perspectives of Rich, Colleen, and Chub, in prose as clear as a spring-fed creek, this intimate, compassionate portrait of a community clinging to a vanishing way of life amid the perils of environmental degradation makes Damnation Spring an essential novel for our time.

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Cloud Cuckoo Land
by Anthony Doerr

This next author needs no introduction, but just in case you’ve been in a coma for the last five plus years, Anthony Doerr is something of a revelation. Author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, his latest novel, CLOUD CUCKOO LAND, is equally as captivating and includes a series of storylines centered on young characters looking to survive in the face of violence and destruction. In Doerr’s signature style, readers will become entranced by the interconnectedness of the book’s layered plot following characters across different timelines and different, elaborate settings as they seek freedom in the pages of a powerful book. There’s Anna living in Constantinople as it sits on the verge of an impending siege, and Zeno, a librarian striving to bring to life a play adaptation—both characters relying on the same book, the story of Aethon, to bring hope and light into the dark and dangerous situations threatening the two in their respective timelines. Filled with rich and imaginative stories, CLOUD CUCKOO LAND offers a redemptive tale about our collective hopes and fears, and strong desire to be with our characters long after the plot has reached its conclusion.

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Cloud Cuckoo Land
Anthony Doerr

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of All the Light We Cannot See, perhaps the most bestselling and beloved literary fiction of our time, comes a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring novel about children on the cusp of adulthood in a broken world, who find resilience, hope, and story.

The heroes of Cloud Cuckoo Land are trying to figure out the world around them: Anna and Omeir, on opposite sides of the formidable city walls during the 1453 siege of Constantinople; teenage idealist Seymour in an attack on a public library in present day Idaho; and Konstance, on an interstellar ship bound for an exoplanet, decades from now. Like Marie-Laure and Werner in All the Light We Cannot See, Anna, Omeir, Seymour, and Konstance are dreamers and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope in the midst of peril.

An ancient text—the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky—provides solace and mystery to these unforgettable characters. Doerr has created a tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness—with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us and those who will be here after we’re gone.

Dedicated to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come,” Cloud Cuckoo Land is a hauntingly beautiful and redemptive novel about stewardship—of the book, of the Earth, of the human heart.

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The Magician
by Colm Toibin

When reading the works of literary fiction master Colm Tóibín, there is always much to savor in the pages at hand. THE MAGICIAN is no different. Much like THE MASTER in which Tóibín provided a fictional portrait of Henry James, THE MAGICIAN explores the life and career of Thomas Mann—including his parents and the lives of his six children. Following Thomas from a young age, readers learn of his conversative upbringing and the many feelings and emotions he’s forced to hide, like his pursuit of artistic endeavors and his desires for other men. In fact, it's those two drivers that lead to Mann’s publication of DEATH IN VENICE for which he wins the Nobel Prize in literature. Set against the backdrop of both world wars, Mann’s own politics are explored in his quite condemnation of the Nazi uprising in addition to that of his children, who lead an anti-Nazi movement, while also taking part in their own, often overlapping, sexual dalliance. In contrast to THE MASTER, THE MAGICIAN spans nearly all of Mann’s life, work, and “magical” ability to dampen his sexual impulses. Rich, lyrical, and always compelling, Colm Tóibín again succeeds in producing a novel that readers will take pleasure in returning to.

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The Magician
Colm Toibin

From one of today’s most brilliant and beloved novelists, a dazzling, epic family saga set across a half-century spanning World War I, the rise of Hitler, World War II, and the Cold War.

Colm Tóibín’s magnificent new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles.

In a stunning marriage of research and imagination, Tóibín explores the heart and mind of a writer whose gift is unparalleled and whose life is driven by a need to belong and the anguish of illicit desire. The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived—the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile. This is a man and a family fiercely engaged by the world, profoundly flawed, and unforgettable. As People magazine said about The Master, “It’s a delicate, mysterious process, this act of creation, fraught with psychological tension, and Tóibín captures it beautifully.”

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Call Upon the Water
by Stella Tillyard

CALL UPON THE WATER is Stella Tillyard’s fascinating novel about a calculated engineer in the seventeenth century as his career begins in Great Britain and continues in the New World upon arriving in America. Jan Brunt, of the Netherlands, is in Great Britain to leverage his engineering prowess to drain an area of wetlands. He’s more than capable of the work at hand, but is less equipped to handle Eliza, a local, as she seeks to undermine his work in service to her community and current way of life. When Jan ultimately leaves for new opportunities in the American colonies (where colonists are eager to take advantage of his expertise), he is stunned to receive a note recalling his efforts in the British wetlands, on the project known as the Great Level. He’s even more surprised to find Eliza has followed him to America to, once again, challenge his work in the natural landscape for her own benefits. Haunting, tragic, and all together irresistible, CALL UPON THE WATER examines the relationships between one man, nature, and an opposing female force. You’ll devour this novel, savoring every last word as unforgettable characters operate in various contexts of chaos.

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Call Upon the Water
Stella Tillyard

This “story of passion, possession, and a painful education in love” (Sarah Dunant, author of In the Name of the Family), spanning several decades in 17th-century Great Britain and America, evocatively explores the power of nature versus man and man versus woman by “a lovely writer [who] can take your breath away” (The New York Times Book Review).

I am an engineer and a measured man of the world. I prefer to weigh everything in the balance, to calculate and to plan. Yet my own heart is going faster than I can now count.

In 1649, Jan Brunt arrives in Great Britain from the Netherlands to work on draining and developing an expanse of marshy wetlands known as the Great Level. It is here in this wild country that he meets Eliza, a local woman whose love overturns his ordered vision. Determined to help her strive beyond her situation, Jan is heedless of her devotion to her home and way of life. When she uses the education Jan has given her to sabotage his work, Eliza is brutally punished, and Jan flees to the New World.

In the American colonies, profiteers are hungry for viable land to develop, and Jan’s skills as an engineer are highly prized. His prosperous new life is rattled, however, on a spring morning when a boy delivers a note that prompts him to remember the Great Level, and confront all that was lost there. Eliza has made it to the New World and is once again using the education Jan gave her to bend the landscape—this time to find her own place of freedom.

Perfect for fans of Hilary Mantel and Geraldine Brooks, Call Upon the Water is “a haunting book with characters who stay with the reader as their lives unfold like a sea mist” (Philippa Gregory, New York Times bestselling author).

Note: This book was published in the UK under the title The Great Level.

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Palm Trees in the Snow
by Luz Gabás

Sometimes there’s nothing sweeter than a novel that lives and breathes family drama. PALM TREES IN THE SNOW is Luz Gabás’s exploration into one family history of self-serving secrets and the destruction left in their wake. Clarence of Rabaltué thinks she knows the story of her seemingly virtuous family. Her father and uncle once cultivated cocoa plantations in Africa to create success and yet no family member has returned to the continent since. It is only when Clarence, living in Spain, stumbles upon a collection of letters that she begins to realize her family’s work on an African island isn’t all that she was told. Making the same voyage her father and uncle once made, Clarence travels to the island to uncover the secrets that have seemingly been buried deep in the African soil—one such mystery alluding to a secret story of love and longing. Within these painful secrets Clarence, once appalled, sees an opportunity to unlock her own passions. Constructed upon multi-generational family dynamics, PALM TREES IN THE SNOW is a sweeping history that confounds and compels, leaving readers to revel in its intricacies long after finishing the last page.

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Palm Trees in the Snow
Luz Gabás

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Photo credit: iStock / liravega

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