The Bossy Bookworm
Six More Four-Star (and Up) Historical Fiction Reads I Loved in the Past Year
Six More Four-Star (and Up) Bossy Historical Fiction Reads
Historical fiction is one of my very favorite genres, and I loved my historical fiction reads in 2022. I posted last month about Six Four-Star Historical Fiction Reads I Loved Last Year, but I had six more favorites to share...and here they are!
And four historical fiction books were on my overall favorites list for last year: The Last Bookshop in London, Wingwalkers, The Rose Code, and Our Woman in Moscow.
You might want to check out all the titles on My Very Favorite Bossy 2022 Reads for my very favorite reads from the past year.
If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think! I'd also love to hear: what are some of your favorite historical fiction reads?
You can click here for other historical fiction books I've reviewed on Bossy Bookworm.
01 Horse by Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks's Horse digs into issues of race across three timelines, linked by a special bond between an enslaved man and a horse in 1850s Kentucky.
In Horse, Geraldine Brooks links three periods in time: 1850 Kentucky, where an enslaved groom and a foal forge a bond and an itinerant painter captures their likenesses; 1954 New York City, in which a gallery owner becomes obsessed with the mid-nineteenth-century painting; and 2019 Washington, DC, when two historians are linked by their interest in a record-breaking stallion from the past.
Horse takes place primarily in the 1850s timeline, as we see Jarrett grow up enslaved and dedicated to his horse Darley (later renamed Lexington in a change of control--of both horse and man). Jarrett builds a complex sense of self, linked to the horse and enjoying moments of autonomy related to training and care, yet ultimately trapped without any say in his present or future and subject to all manner of cruelties, both careless and intentional.
But Brooks also builds rich stories in each of the other interconnected timelines, as we see privileged Martha Jackson dive into the art world and, decades later, the fraught attraction between Jess and Theo.
Horse is, on the surface, about the deep bond between Jarrett and Lexington. But issues of race and their inextricable involvement in our nation's history are really the bedrock for the book.
Based on the true story of the thoroughbred Lexington, Horse delves into fascinating, complicated aspects of science, art, and race as it spans decades.
For my full review, check out Horse.
02 Revelations by Mary Sharratt
Sharratt offers vivid historical fiction details of the everyday life of Margery of Kempe, a mother of fourteen whose radiant visions led her to stun medieval British society with her vow of celibacy and ambitious pilgrimage halfway around the world.
In Revelations, Sharratt offers an immersive historical fiction novel that includes thoroughly researched, fascinating details of medieval life. The story is built upon the framework of facts from the lives of Julian of Norwich and what is known of the life of our main protagonist, Margery Kempe.
Our main protagonist puzzles and angers those around her by challenging the limitations of what women might do or say in the year 1400, and the Church is particularly galled and upset by the audacity of such a woman to have blindingly beautiful visions of Christ and to speak of Jesus's love.
Sharratt injects an undercurrent of what feels like modern feminism in her first-person story. I underlined many, many meaningful passages in Revelations, and I found exploring this time through Margery's imagined point of view to be fascinating, particularly the everyday details of life at the time.
For my full review, check out Revelations.
03 The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid's novel offers a dual timeline, immersive Old Hollywood detail, a forbidden love, and revelations and long-held secrets that seem destined to shake up everything for our modern-day main protagonist.
Evelyn Hugo is a reclusive, extremely famous Old Hollywood movie star, and she's finally ready to tell the story of her life--all the heartbreak, career maneuvering, mistakes, joys, victories, the sordid details of her many marriages, and the story of her one true love.
She plucks Monique Grant, a promising young magazine writer, out of relative obscurity for the writing job, offering incredibly lucrative terms and making demands about having the biography released only after her death.
Monique can't figure out why she's been trusted to tell Evelyn's story, nor does she understand the multiple allusions Evelyn makes regarding her certainty that Monique will come to hate her by the end of her roller coaster of a tale.
As is often the case for me with stories structured around dual timelines, I felt more invested in one time period than the other--in this case, I was entranced by the immersive Old Hollywood era of the book more so than in the modern bookends of Monique's documentation of Evelyn's stories.
Jenkins Reid focuses much of the page time here on the fascinating dynamics of Evelyn's romantic and professional relationships, which were without question my favorite aspect of the book. This was a fast, captivating read.
Check out my full review of this book here.
04 Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Garmus's debut is witty and smart, heartbreaking, infuriating, and lovely. Lessons in Chemistry explores deep issues, conflict, and dark times, yet offers hope and joy.
Has anyone heard of this book? I KID. No other book seemed to come up in conversation as frequently last year with my fellow book lovers as this one.
Elizabeth Zott has worked hard in her scientific pursuits, often as the only female in the room, either dismissed or harassed because of her gender.
Now Zott is a chemist in 1960s California on an otherwise all-male staff at Hastings Research Institute.
After twists and turns, momentous changes, and several years, Elizabeth is a single mother who becomes...the star of a hit televised cooking show. But she's not only demonstrating recipes. She's using science to inspire the upending of the status quo for her largely female audience.
Females are overshadowed, abused, and generally wronged throughout the book, a reflection of realistic, historic treatment. But there is some eventual revenge that I found deeply satisfying.
This cover style says "light fiction" to me, but this book addresses deeper issues--of what it means to be a family, of secrets and vulnerability, of constricting gender roles, of loss and love, and of the powerful shattering of expectations.
Garmus's characters test themselves and others, shy away from connection, dive into love, question the meaning of life, embrace or eschew religion, and cleave together in heartbreakingly beautiful, unexpected ways. I loved this.
For my full review, check out Lessons in Chemistry.
05 The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
The Diamond Eye is historical fiction about a real World War II figure, an unassuming Russian woman who fought the Nazis and earned the nickname Lady Death.
Kate Quinn tells the World War II tale of a quiet bookworm who becomes history's deadliest female sniper. (Check, check, and check!)
In 1937, history student Ludmila Pavlichenko takes shooting lessons in order to teach her son a skill his absent father might otherwise have taken on--and she finds that she's got a knack for the skill.
After Hitler's invasion of Russia and the Ukraine, Mila, along with so many others, enlists to fight alongside countrymen and -women and fight back the Nazis. Surmounting challenge after challenge, Mila ultimately becomes a sniper trainer and a lethal hunter of Nazis.
Quinn shapes Mila's story by sharing scenes of love and terrible loss, as well as immersive Russian landscape descriptions. She weaves in interesting aspects of the time such as the contrast between active female roles in the Russian military and the more peripheral positions women could hold in the United States military at the time.
Kate Quinn is a master of historical fiction and is the author of the fantastic titles The Huntress, The Rose Code, and The Alice Network.
Click here for my full review of The Diamond Eye.
06 The Fire and the Ore by Olivia Hawker
Hawker offers irresistible details of daily life and historical elements that add vivid layers to this story of Utah Territory, Mormonism, and strong women in the mid-nineteenth century.
In The Fire and the Ore, Olivia Hawker tells a tale of the interconnected lives of three women in Utah Territory in 1857 and of the burgeoning Mormon faith in that place at that time. The story is inspired in part by Hawker's own ancestors' experiences.
Much of the story is set on the unforgiving trail west to Utah (and if you're looking for a reason to feel thankful for comforts like shelter, clothing, and food, this section should do the trick).
Tamar, Jane, and Tabitha become linked by complicated connections to one man. When the US Army invades Utah and challenges Mormon leaders late in the book, the women must flee into the desert to survive. While carving out an existence in the stark landscape, they take stock of where their lives might lead them--whether banded together or seeking their own individual luck.
The author's note explains the historical events at play and illuminates the ways in which Hawker's historical fiction explores aspects of real-life religious beliefs, plural marriage, governmental involvement, community resistance, and more.
Click here for my full review of The Fire and the Ore.