10 Great historical fiction reads
2020 was another year for some great historical fiction reads. I search for anything French Renaissance or thereabouts, but I don’t limit myself to that period, so you will find other periods in this very personal list. Since our delightful book club members have such diverse tastes, we each read books we like and report on them rather than search for books we can all agree to read, I have discovered some gems. For each novel, you’ll find a quick summary Enjoy, and I hope you find something that appeals to you.
5 Excellent Books I Read This Year
From among the many here is a glimpse of 5 excellent books I read this year. I recommend them all. Four count as historical fiction.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale is less bleak than its precursor. It is a fascinating story on the breakdown of the theocracy of Gilead through the lives of three major characters. It is not a pretty picture of a society falling to pieces, but it leaves room for hope. And of course, so well written.
The Reason for Time by Mary Burns
At a writing retreat I attended before the pandemic closed us in, I met Mary and learned so much about writing from her. So I bought her book. Set in Chicago at the time of the great fair, it is a little gem of historical fiction. The heroine, Maeve Curragh, is a simple working girl caught up in the extraordinary events that shake the city during 10 extraordinary days in July 1919. And Burns’s writing is exquisite.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I did not expect this book to enchant me, since I am off all WWII stories and only read it when I discovered that much of it occurred in St. Malo (in Brittany). It is a wonderful book. The love between the father and daughter is beautiful. Everything about the father’s teaching his blind daughter how to navigate her world is fascinating. The German side of the story is also compelling. The ending is perfect. A lovely book.
Medieval and Renaissance Historical Fiction
The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel
The last in her trilogy with Thomas Cromwell as its principal character, since I hesitate to call him its hero, Mantel takes us through the story of his fall. It is as usual a tour de force, but I will admit that only my fascination with Renaissance history got me through it. In short, I found I did not care enough about Thomas and his clan to care very much as he took himself down the path to his own destruction. Sorry, Hilary.
The Girl Who Tempted Fortune, by Jane Ann McLachlan
This is one of a pair of historical fiction books set in the 14th century Kingdom of Naples. Philippa of Catania is a governess and staunch support to young Joanna of Naples, who becomes queen at 15. As civil war racks the kingdom, Philippa rises to great power and wealth. The companion novel, The Girl Who Would Be Queen, tells the story from the point of view of Joanna’s younger, jealous sister. A fascinating discovery
My Favourite Historical Fiction this Year
If you read nothing else, read this, my favourite book this year. I cannot say higher than that. Historical fiction, naturally.
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
What a marvellous book! Especially for a person who loves books and history, and has experienced the petty politics of the academic world. It is set in 17th century and 21st century England, with some Isreal and Holland thrown in. Kadish handles the double timeline and interweaving of the two stories masterfully. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
A Book I Started This Year That I Didn’t Finish
It is easy to name many books I haven’t liked, but this is a book I started this year that I wanted to finish yet didn’t. I explain why.
The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
I discovered Bruce Holsinger by accident when I took my first MOOG through Coursera, called Plagues Witches and War: the Worlds of Historical Fiction. Both it and he were fascinating. His specializes in the medieval period and his first two books, medieval thrillers both, made me feel as if I were living in the period. The detective, Chaucer, is an entertaining character.
So although a modern novel didn’t appeal, I gave him a chance. But I couldn’t get past the first chapter of The Gifted School. I did not like or care about any of the characters. Actually, I will say it stronger. I disliked the characters and found their issues trivial. Probably if I had given them a greater chance, perhaps I would have discovered they were not, but like so many first impressions, they had no chance to make a second. Still, if he writes another medieval story, I will read it in a minute.
3 Books I Want to Read In 2021
These 3 books I want to read in 2021 first came to my attention because of their titles. So now I know I choose books by their title, then their cover. Unless someone I trust tells me about one.
The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfur
This is the story of the books written, the art made; of the journeys taken, of the love longed for and the lives lost during that fateful year when a great volcanic explosion hides the sun. Six separate lives, connected only by an event many thousands of miles away. Few had heard of Tambora – but none could escape its effects.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
In this historical fiction novel set in France, 1714, a young woman , in a moment of desperation, makes a Faustian bargain. She will live forever but to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue. It is a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art. After nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore who remembers her name. Then, everything changes.
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
In this histoical fiction novel set at the turn of the 20th century, the heroine, Esme, plays under the tables in the Scriptorium where the first oxford English Dictionary is being complied. Over time, she notices words get lost, and sees that words related to women’s experience often go unrecorded. She begins to collect words for another dictionary, The Dictionary of Lost Words.?
What Historical Fiction Are You Reading?
Are you going to read any of these books, do you think? Which ones? What have you read that you would recommend? Share your comments. I am always looking for a good read — especially something historically fictitious.