Friday Favorites

Friday Favorites – Historical Fiction Books

I’ve really missed doing Friday Favorites, and since no one was currently hosting it, Cait @ Functionally Fictional decided to jump into the gap. Each week, she provides a prompt, and I get to talk about my favorite books that fit the topic. Feel free to join in – the more the merrier!

I’ve always enjoyed reading historical fiction. It’s a way to make history more understandable and relatable on a personal level, in a manner that history books can’t, almost like speaking to someone who has lived through an experience. Here are some of my favorite historical fiction books:

  1. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi — when a woman runs from an abusive marriage and escapes to Jaipur in the 1950s, she becomes a talented and in-demand henna artist to the upper class women. She strives to create an independent life where she is the one in control, only to be confronted by her husband with her younger sister that she wasn’t aware of, which threatens everything she built. This was a fascinating read that offered a view into the rich life and culture of the times.
  2. Ten Years Gone by Jonathan Dunsky — in 1949 Tel Aviv, former detective Adam Lapid is struggling to rebuild his life after losing everything he cared about in the Holocaust. Now, he’s haunted by the trauma of his past, and spends his days taking cases the police won’t. And when he’s approached by a woman searching for her infant son who disappeared ten years ago, he can’t turn her down, even though the case will unearth a double murder that’s gone unsolved for ten years and will put his life in jeopardy. The author has done immense research, and seeing him post pics of Tel Aviv at the time this novel takes place is incredible, especially compared to what it looks like now.
  3. Emperor’s Sword by Alex Gough — Silus is a Roman scout deep behind enemy lines in Caledonia (current day Britain) when he’s discovered by a local chief and his son. When he panics and beheads the chief, fleeing with the chief’s head, he unknowingly sets of a chain of events that will change the course of his life forever. He’s inducted into the Arcani, an elite faction of assassins and spies, and directed to return to the wilds of Caledonia and risk his life for his Caesar. This is an incredibly researched story of life under Roman rule, and various areas of the Empire are explored in the series, not only locations, but also daily life and how the internal workings functioned.
  4. The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell — Uhtred, captured by the Danish as a child and raised by them to the point where he identifies as such, is torn between his two identities. He’s English by birth, but doesn’t have anything in common with them any longer, until King Alfred defeats the Danes and Uhtred is forced to switch sides and work with Alfred. It’s a fascinating story of the history of the England we know today and how it became a unified nation, and if you’ve watched the Netflix series, you already know how exciting this series is (but I promise, the books are better).
  5. The Memory Keeper of Kyiv by Erin Litteken — This is told in 2 timelines, Katya as a young woman in 1929, facing the rule of Stalin as he tightens his hold on Ukraine and collectivizing the farms, and 70 years later, as a young widow discovers her grandmother’s journal that explains a story she’s held inside all this time. It’s the story of the Holodomor, a man-made famine that isn’t well known, but resulted in a huge loss of life in Ukraine as the result of genocidal policies of Stalin. It was released just as Russia began their war against Ukraine, and was an incredible book. 
  6. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler — Dana, a Black woman is suddenly wrenched back from California in 1976 to antebellum Maryland, where she saves a white boy who is drowning, and immediately faces a shotgun aimed at her. These episodes keep occurring, and she finally is forced to put the pieces together about how these relate to her and her history. While this is technically science fiction, it also includes a lot of elements of historical fiction, and it provides a nuanced discussion of family and history and the reckoning that occurs with the legacy of slavery.
  7. The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper — When her father died and her family went broke, Amara was sold into slavery and eventually wound up in a brothel in Pompeii. She’s smart and resourceful, finds comfort in the women she works with, and never gives up hope that she’ll be able to free herself from the hateful and cruel man she’s enslaved to. I love the incredibly vivid and detailed glimpse we’re given into the daily life of Pompeii, and this series is absolutely fabulous.
  8. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman — In 70 C.E., there were 900 Jews who held out for months against the Romans on Masada, a mountaintop in the middle of the Judean desert. When defeat became obvious, the Jews would rather commit suicide than submit to Roman defeat, although two women and five children survived. This story is told through the eyes of four very different women who made their way to Masada, had secrets of their own, yet all worked together and interacted daily. It’s even more meaningful after seeing the ruins of Masada, which still exists today.
  9. Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia — 1970s Mexico is a dangerous place, even for Maite, a secretary who spends her time dreaming about the romance she reads in serial comic books and ignoring protests and activism. Her beautiful neighbor Leonora disappears, and Maite finds herself searching for Leonora, getting mixed up with radicals and dissidents. Elvis, a goon, focuses more on his work than anything else, and is assigned to find Leonora, and the two of them uncover more than either one expected. I loved this noir story, and learning about what was happening in Mexico, which I knew basically nothing about. There was so much going on, and Moreno-Garcia’s writing is just *chef’s kiss*.
  10. Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang — Daiyu, kidnapped from her home in China and sent across the sea to America against her will, is forced to adopt a number of identities to survive. Yet she also faces challenges in the form of anti-Chinese racism that was common in America at that time, and has to work to integrate aspects of all of her identities to discover who she really is. Learning more about the Chinese experience in 19th century America was incredibly eye opening, especially since I didn’t know much about it, and this is based on a real event, making it an even more powerful story than it already was. 
  11. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon — Claire, a WWII nurse, visits standing stones in Scotland and is thrown back in time 200 years, right in the midst of Scottish-English conflict. She is taken in by a group of Scottish rebels, and develops a connection to one man that changes her life. I mean, if you haven’t heard of this book, I don’t know what to tell you, but I love this series.

What are some of your favorite historical fiction books?

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