Booklists: Hidden Gems of Historical Fiction
Here’s a booklist you may want to save: historical fiction. This genre brings history to life, by letting readers view it through the eyes of ordinary people. Sometimes there’s a romance or mystery set against a backdrop of an earlier time. Often there’s a mix of historical figures and fictional characters. Beyond the very popular titles, such as Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace (both terrific reads!) here are 10 titles that are worthy of your time.
Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
What you’ll find: A literary mystery set in post-war Barcelona. A bookseller’s son stumbles on a lost masterpiece – then realizes someone has destroyed every copy of the book. As he investigates, a complex web of murder, love, and intrigue emerges.
Title: The Home for Unwanted Girls
Author: Joanna Goodman
What you’ll find: A dark and little-known piece of Canadian history, set in 1950s Quebec. Secrets, suspense, heartbreak, and love, as a mother and daughter, forcibly separated, search for each other.
Title: Song of Batoche
Author: Maia Caron
What you’ll find: The story of Louis Riel and the 1885 Métis resistance, told from a woman’s point of view. A new perspective that raises new question about this epic history.
Title: Code Talker
Author: Joseph Bruchac
What you’ll find: The “Navajo Marines” who fought in World War II – their courage and pride, their amazing, life-saving work, all using a language they were told was useless. A stirring look at a hidden history.
Title: The Given Day
Author: Dennis Lehane
What you’ll find: Immigrants, revolutionaries, crime bosses, the fledgling labour movement, a fascinating array of historical figures – plus the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. Set in the U.S. cities Boston and Tulsa, this book is full of great characters.
Title: A Rising Man
Author: Abir Mukherjee
What you’ll find: A murder mystery set in 1919 India. Colonialism, the seeds of rebellion, the teeming city of Calcutta – and a tangled maze of investigation. A page-turner where the setting becomes a character in the story.
Title: The Alienist
Author: Caleb Carr
What you’ll find: A fast-paced murder mystery rich with historical detail, in a society that is reeling from change. Set in New York City in 1896, this book was wildly popular when it was published in the 1990s, and it remains a great read.
Title: The Invention of Wings
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
What you’ll find: Sarah and Hetty Grimke, real-life sisters who transformed themselves from wealthy slaveowners in the pre-Civil War United States to pioneers of the abolitionist and women’s movements. Moral courage, unconventional and inspirational lives, and some truth about slavery.
Title: In the Skin of a Lion
Author: Michael Ondaatje
What you’ll find: Toronto in the 1920s – a city of immigrants, full of poverty, upheaval, promise, and hope. With beautiful language and multiple story lines, this book is one to read slowly and savour.
Title: The Three Pleasures
Author: Terry Watada
What you’ll find: 1940s Vancouver, where the RCMP are rounding up Japanese-Canadians and seizing their fishing boats. We see this painful history up-close, through the eyes of three members of the community.
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