After several months of lukewarm reading, I may finally be breaking through to the other side of my gigantic reading slump. To celebrate, I thought I would share some recommendations from a genre that doesn’t always get a lot of love – historical fiction! I’ve tried to pick books from different times in history, with varying levels of complexity and characters, so hopefully there will be something mixed in that will appeal to you.
The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton
This novel follows a young woman called Nella shortly after she marries a wealthy merchant she barely knows in late 17th century Amsterdam. Her husband is cold and her sister in law, who lives with them, hates her, and she can’t figure out why. Not long after settling in to her new home, she begins receiving miniatures for her dollhouse – ones that she never ordered, and which eerily reflect her home and the people around her. This book is a page-turning, character-driven novel with little mysteries being revealed all the way through the book, with descriptions of Amsterdam so beautiful you’ll wish you could book a weekend away in 1682.
The Boston Girl, Anita Diamant
The narrator of this book is 85-year-old Addie, who is asked by her granddaughter how she became the woman she is today. The novel is a coming-of-age retrospective as Addie relives her upbringing in a Jewish immigrant household in Boston, her friends, education, and personal strifes in a way that is relatable and wise. There is a huge emphasis on the role of family and chosen family and how they shape you as a person, and brings to light the plight of immigrants in America in the early 20th century.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
Although I think at this point almost everyone has heard of The Book Thief, for those of you who don’t know this is a novel set in Nazi occupied Germany, following Liesel, a 9-year-old girl, and the books that she steals, narrated by death. This book has a winning combination of stunning narrative voice, believable characters, tension, heartbreak, and poignancy that has made is resonate with so many people all over the world.
The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
This book is a retelling of the story of Achilles and Patroclus and the Trojan War, following the boys from childhood into lovers, and finally into battle. Miller brilliantly takes a story set thousands of years ago with characters from Greek mythology and makes it to tangible and heartbreaking, with beautiful prose and wonderfully flawed characters, and writes romance so beautifully it would sway any cynic.
The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry
The Essex Serpent follows Cora, a budding naturalist and science enthusiast, who when her controlling husband dies moves her and her somewhat odd son to Essex, on the hunt for the mysterious Essex Serpent which has said to have surfaced. Cora strikes up an unlikely but intense friendship with a Vicar, Will, and despite their completely opposite views on almost everything are drawn together in a town shaken by the supernatural. It’s a gripping but character focused story that somehow manages to be cosy and creepy all at once.
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, Barbara Comyns
This is a very short but very impactful book, following a woman who rushes into an unfortunate marriage and straddles the poverty line in bohemian 1930s London, with a messy flat and an odd collection of pets. The novel follows her through babies, affairs, hunger and illness, with a very honest and straight-forward narrator, giving a unique perspective on life in the UK between the wars.