Six Historical Fiction Books I Loved in the Past Year
01 The Huntress by Kate Quinn
I'm in for World War II-set books with tough, brave female protagonists, and I loved this book.
Nina Markova always wanted to fly, and when Nazis begin to wreak havoc on the Soviet Union, she joins the Night Witches, an all-female regiment of night bombers pushing back the Germans. That is, until Nina becomes stranded behind enemy lines.
I thought the character-driven post-WWII story was wonderful, with compelling and lush detail about tough female pilots; life in the Siberian wild; Boston; antiques and photography; and the patient, persistent, creative detective work by Ian, Tony, and Nina.
The reader is able to see events unfolding while the characters remain unaware, but watching the pieces shift and click into place is immensely satisfying.
Kate Quinn is also the author of the wonderful Alice Network.
02 A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
Fowler manages to capture truly wonderful details in A Well-Behaved Woman, both in the surroundings and the rigid views of the period about women, marriage, sex, politics, public and private behavior—and of course "society," which almost serves as a main character in this book, it so constantly shaped behavior, views, marriage and divorce decisions, and everything else.
But Fowler did an excellent job of delving into the all-consuming obsessions the desperate young Alva likely had with appearances and others’ opinions in order to grasp and keep hold of her position as a Vanderbilt. As she grows as a person, in her perspective on the world, and in her role and responsibilities within it, Alva questions being a slave to society, money, and expectations.
Fowler strikes a realistic balance between what feels frivolous and what is Ava's meaningful growth, including her important role in the women’s suffrage movement. I loved it!
Fowler also wrote A Good Neighborhood, which I had some issues with, although the topics at its heart are enormously important.
For my full review of A Well-Behaved Woman, click here.
03 The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino
Well well well! A lady’s maid in love with the lady, racy scenes, angst, wonderful details of a life in service to a wealthy family in 1830s New York, immigrant challenges, Irish gangs, people pretending to be different than they are, shifted expectations, true friendship—I loved this debut from Guadagnino!
In this upstairs/downstairs novel, set in nineteenth century New York, Mary Ballard is a lady’s maid to high society's wealthy and respected Charlotte Walden. But on her own time, Mary is Irish exile Maire O’Farren, and she keeps mixed company as part of a secret society of rabble-rousers.
Meanwhile, privileged Charlotte has her own secrets, and when both women's true situations begin to be revealed and to unravel, Mary finds that she and her brother are in jeopardy.
With powerful looks at the widespread nineteenth century prejudice against the Irish and other immigrant groups, as well as introducing a heart-wrenching unrequited love of one woman for another--an attraction that was forbidden at the time.
04 The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker
The Ragged Edge of Night centers around a World War II-era friar-turned-husband, Anton Starzmann, during the dark days of the war. When his school is shut down by the Nazis, he weds a widow who seeks a husband to help her raise her three children.
With details of quiet life in the German countryside set against a background of unpredictable violence and destruction; tragedy; and gloriously stubborn, subversive resistance to the Reich.
The wise asides in what felt like another point of view drew me out of the story, but generally I was all in on this one. Anton is searching for redemption after horrific events surrounding his students and school. His wife Elisabeth fears his involvement in the resistance that plans to assassinate Hitler. When the SS realizes what's going on, Anton's bravery and Elisabeth's dedication to this quiet, steady man are both tested.
Hawker also wrote One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, which was mentioned in the Greedy Reading List Six Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West.
05 Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird
Bird's Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen is based on the story of an actual female Buffalo Soldier, Cathy Williams, with many liberties taken for the sake of shaping a story.
I was happy to suspend my disbelief at the many conveniently outlandish circumstances or coincidences—which led key characters to cross unlikely paths, caused characters to avoid making important discoveries until the timing was more convenient to the arc of the tale, or set events essential to a resolution in a magical otherworld to allow imagined outcomes.
Bird does an excellent job of keeping up the tension and making clear the high stakes of Williams’s enormous secret and the destruction that would befall her if it came out.
She explores in fascinating detail the hardscrabble life of a newly freed black person—and the often desperate circumstances of women (especially black women) without men to protect them at the time. The major and minor love stories are sweet if tragic on multiple levels.
06 All the Forgivenesses by Elizabeth Hardinger
Oh, I loved this story! I was so sad when I finished it. Bertie! I would very happily read a full Little House in the Prairie-length series about Bertie and her life.
Bertie is tough on herself and lives a hardscrabble farming life in the early twentieth century Midwest. She broke my heart over and over by feeling as though she didn’t deserve happiness and by never realizing the value of the important and continual sacrifices she willingly made for her family.
Hardinger offers up many crisp and varied details of the time, she captures Bertie’s speech patterns, and, most importantly, she transports the reader into the gruff but hopeful mindset of a young woman forced to grow up too quickly--a woman who for years feels she must push away any hopes for a life that is easier or full of joy. And all of this is set against the backdrop of Bertie's endless daily and bone-wearying tasks of plucking chickens, caring for siblings, carting water, and all the rest. When the promise of a better life started to glimmer at the edges of her vision, I almost cheered.
I was given a copy of this book by Kensington Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
What are some of your favorite historical fiction books you've read lately?
You might also like to take a look at the Greedy Reading Lists Six Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West, Six Historical Fiction Books I Loved This Year, and Six Captivating Nordic Stories.
You can also search by category under the Bossy Book Reviews menu to find other historical fiction books you might like.