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Six Historical Fiction Favorites

Historical Fiction Favorites

These were just a few of my favorite historical fiction reads during the first year I started the Bossy Bookworm blog, and I gave five of these books four stars and rated one of them five stars.

But I could make ten lists of my historical fiction loves from over the years (and I just might)! I do love historical fiction, and my World War II focus has been pushing out all others in my book club for a decade. If you share that obsession, you might like the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Great Stories about Brave Women During World War II.

Do you have any historical fiction favorite reads that I should add to my outrageously unmanageable to-read list?

 

01 Apeirogon: A Novel by Colum McCann

Apeirogon builds to show how individuals on opposite sides of the Israel-Palestine wall are at heart the same.

The first part of the story felt a little slow for me, but I'm so very glad I stuck with this beautiful, powerful, illuminating, and heart-wrenching book.

Apeirogon is structured into 1,001 short segments (this sounds overwhelming, but the book doesn't feel that way) in varied points of view surrounding a Palestinian and an Israeli family on two especially fateful days in their lives.

Through the scenes here, we see that those on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and opposite sides of the wall) are at heart the same in their pain, their desires, and their love. The story is 480 pages, and ultimately that felt like an appropriate length for settling into the points of view and experiences that are built over a lifetime.

The subject matter is weighty and emotional, and McCann manages to make the story both personal and political, which perfectly suits the subject matter. This is a wonderful book, and I love McCann's thoughtful writing.

For my full review of this book, please see Apeirogon. McCann is also the author of Thirteen Ways of Looking, Let the Great World Spin, and other books.

 

02 The Light After the War by Anita Abriel

Vera and Edith are such a complementary WWII partnership, and I loved spending time with these strong young friends.

I’m dying to know how closely Anita Abriel’s book traces the inspiring events from her mother’s incredible experiences before, during, and after World War II.

The author offers a vivid account of the fear and dread—intermixed with sparks of hope—that sustained Vera and Edith in Hungary and Germany during the war; in Naples as they adjusted to post-war floods of food, fashion, and joy; as they found themselves in more settled situations; and during the evolutions of their careers and love lives.

Abriel introduces an enormous shift that shakes things up enormously for both young women before the book’s end. I was completely engrossed.

For my full review, please see The Light After the War.


 

03 The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

This story imagines a wife for Jesus, questions gender roles, and offers adventure.

This was a fascinating story from the point of view of an imagined wife for Jesus, including an exploration of gender roles, a reimagined faith, the frustrations of societal expectations for women, great adventure, strong female loyalty and friendship, love, and lots of fantastic details of life at the time.

Much of the fever pitch of support and hatred for Jesus occurs when the main character of Ana is off having other experiences (and often-dangerous adventures). This is an intriguing structure for the story: Jesus as a supporting cast member.

Jesus's role in Ana's story is as a faithful man who disagrees with the politics of the faith at the time. He primarily serves as a character who cares for, understands, and supports the woman he loves.

For my full review of this book, please see The Book of Longings.


 

04 Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

The backdrop for the story of a few summer months in the life of an extended family is Atlantic City just before WWII, with its giant hotels, piers, and general hubbub.

This lovely debut from Rachel Beanland starts off with some rough events, and frankly I had a little bit of a time coping with them because I’d already become attached to the characters.

There’s an undercurrent of concern about Hitler and his increasingly punitive behavior toward Jewish families’ businesses and emigration in Germany in Florence Adler Swims Forever.

I loved watching the book’s events unfold—even if I could predict some of them. Anything that was wrapped up a little too neatly didn’t bother me at all; I was all in and satisfied.

Beanland based some of the basic events of her debut novel on her ancestors’ experiences. I found that aspect particularly fascinating.

For my full review of this book, please see Florence Adler Swims Forever.


 

05 Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera

Although the three interconnected women faced sometimes staggeringly tragic challenges, Spera injects moments of joy and wonderful details of 1924 life in South Carolina.

I worried during the first chapter that Gertrude was going to feel like a caricature of a backwoods Southern woman. But she and the other characters were developed fully. Their sparks of joy are often related to their relationships to each other.

You can see where one of the storylines is going before the character involved understands it, and it might make your blood boil to see the evil situation go on unchecked.

But the details of cooking, strong women's determination to survive, race relations, and life in 1924 South Carolina were wonderful, and I still think about this book although I read it almost a year ago (technically, at the end of last year).

For my full review, please see Call Your Daughter Home.

 

06 The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Donoghue immersed me so fully in this world that everything else fell away for me.

Set in Ireland in 1918, The Pull of the Stars follows a nurse, Julia; a doctor, Kathleen; and a young volunteer, Bridie, over the course of three tumultuous days as the fiery, complex, capable women work desperately to help the patients at their understaffed hospital who are about to give birth while suffering from the devastating new influenza.

I was hooked by the moment-by-moment health and emotional crises; the women's determined, sometimes desperately creative attempts to preserve lives; and their occasional triumphs.

The rest of the world fell away for me as I was reading, and I couldn't wait to get back to this book.

The author of the disturbing, fascinating story Room knows how to craft a tale of survival and of finding hope in the most dire situations.

For my full review, please see The Pull of the Stars.