I think one of the reasons I like historical fiction so much is that it takes me to a specific time and place – usually, one I am vaguely or reasonably familiar with – and makes it more real. Yes, it’s fiction, so it’s not really real, but it gives me characters and locations and tiny details that are hard to grasp or connect with, especially when talking about something as vast and complicated as war or murder.
SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt
I’m a bit of true crime fanatic. I listen to a lot of podcasts about murder and this marvelous and creepy book is about Lizzie Borden and the murder of her father and stepfather, Andrew and Abby Borden. The story centers around the day of and after the murder and is told by Lizzie Borden herself, her sister, the family’s maid and the acquaintance of an uncle. Lizzie is portrayed as creepy, awful and crazy in a way that was fun to read while the other characters help fill in the details of Lizzie’s life and the relationship she had with her family. The writing style took a bit for me to get used to, but by the end of the book, I was hooked. Amazon || Goodreads
THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver
This incredible books tell the story of a missionary family, the Prices, who leave Georgia in 1959 for the village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo. The family includes Nathan, the father, his wife, Orleanna, and the couple’s four daughters. On the flight over, they’re restricted to 44 lbs of luggage per person so they wear their belongings, piling on layers and slipping housewares into their pockets. In the Congo, Nathan wants to hold his first baptism but the river is infested with crocodiles. And that’s how it goes, mostly. Misfortune and tragedy and, in the background, independence for the Congo. The narrative is split, with the four daughters and Orleanna narrating the story, all with their own distinct voice. Amazon || Goodreads
THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn
This book is partly about badass lady spies during World War I, but it’s also about the aftermath of war. It’s told both in 1947 and in 1915 and is the story of two women. Eve Gardiner wants desperately to join the fight against Germany during World War I and finally gets her chance when she is sent to France and trained by the “Queen of Spies.” And then there’s Charlie St. Clair, a pregnant, unmarried college girl searching for her missing cousin who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Their lives collide in 1947 as Eve helps Charlie search for her cousin and they travel around France on a search that includes heartbreak and also, revenge. Amazon || Goodreads
THE RED TENT by Anita Diamant
In college, I took an incredible class about women in the Bible. The Red Tent was mentioned in that class, and I, curious, read it after the semester ended. It’s the story of Dinah, who is mentioned only briefly in Genesis as being “defiled” by a prince. The story is told in her voice and starts with her mothers – Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah, the four wives of Jacob. She talks about the love she received from these women and then, about her experience with the prince and the aftermath of her supposed defiling. The red tent is the tent women are sequestered to during menstruation and childbirth, and, for the women of Jacob’s tribe, it is a place of female companionship and support. Amazon || Goodreads
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr
This Pulitzer-award winning book is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose lives eventually collide in occupied France during World War II. It starts in 1934 when Marie-Laure LeBlanc begins to lose her sight. Her father works at the Museum of Natural History and with his daughter, they walk, working to increase her independence. Then, there’s Werner Pfennig, orphaned along with his sister in a home for children. There, he fixes a radio and listens to a science-based broadcast from France. And it goes from there, with puzzle boxes, a blue diamond and the ravages of war. It is a beautiful, complex & heartbreaking story. Amazon || Goodreads
TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD by Eowyn Ivey
Set in the 1880s in the Alaskan frontier, this book tells the story of Col. Allen Forrester, assigned the mission of navigating the Wolverine River with a small group of men. His wife, Sophie, is left behind in Vancouver, Washington, and is young and independent. The story is told through letters, diaries, military reports, newspaper articles and other correspondence, both between the characters of the 1880s storyline and modern persons who come to find their story much later. It’s a love story, a heartbreaking story of loss, a story about exploring new places, about an expanding nation, about mischief and culture. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and one I’ve been recommending to almost everyone. Amazon || Goodreads
THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah
Oh look, it’s another historical fiction book set during World War II that I love. Weird. Let’s just blame the Army for that one and move on. The Nightingale is about two sisters in France during World War II and their survival during the German occupation. Vianne is the older of the two, with a job as a teacher, a husband and young daughter, while her sister Isabelle is younger and more rebellious and active in her resistance against the Nazis. The characters are not real, but their actions are based on actual historical figures, including Andrée de Jongh, a Belgian woman who helped 118 people escape over the Pyrenees on foot during the war. Amazon || Goodreads
What’s your take on historical fiction? Is there a period of time you find yourself gravitating to, or do you prefer to remain firmly planted in the present?