Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Top 10 Books I'd Give to Reader Who Have Never Read Historical Fiction

Top Ten Books I'd Give To Readers Who Have Never Read "X"
(Feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish)

So for my "X", I decided to tackle historical fiction.  For people who have been with TheGnomingLibrarian for a bit, I'm not a huge fan of the genre.  Or at least, I'm usually not.  I love history.  I spent four years studying history in college.  Sometimes history gets lost in historical fiction... but there are instances where the people are written so well that the history is just a setting, a backdrop, and that's when I enjoy it.

That being said, here are 10 historical fiction titles I would give to new readers of the genre:

1) Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
There are hundreds of books written about WWII, many of them dealing with the Holocaust, but few have shown the fear and hopelessness of the work camps in Siberia.  Young Lina has torn from her home, separated from her father, and forced to endure the torture of a camp far from everything she knew and loved in Lithuania.  It is her struggle, her courage, and her fierceness despite the overwhelming conditions of Soviet work camps in WWII that make this a heartbreaking and hope filled story.  And it's just excellently written.  Ruta Sepetys rocks!

2) Pirates by Celia Rees
I'm a sucker for pirates, and I'm not really sure why.  They're usually cut-throat criminals who disregard order and law.  And I'm all about order and law.  But there's something to be said about the freedom of the seas, the camaraderie of ship life, and the thirst for adventure.  That's what sends Nancy Kingston to the high seas.  Trapped in a society that offers her no opportunities, and betrothed to a ruthless slave owner, Nancy and her friend Minerva are looking for something more.  Strong female characters, sword fights, and tons of fun!

3) Crispin : Cross of Lead by Avi
Medieval times is always a good time...because I'm so glad I live in the 21st century.  A young boy running for his life after being wrongly accused of a crime finds an unexpected friend and an unexpected home.  Avi does an amazing job with character development and has created a story that is heartfelt and exciting.  It's also appealing to both girls and boys, teens and adults which is pretty awesome.

4) Changeling by Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory is known for her adult historical fiction novels, but Changeling is a great introduction to her work.  Set in the backdrop of fifteenth century Italy, Luca has been recruited by a secret society to travel the countryside to investigate mysterious happenings.  A little bit mystery, a little bit intrigue, a little bit scary, and a lotta bit fun.  If you like bumps in the night with a little romance thrown in, then this might just be the pick for you.

5) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Another story set in WWII, but way on the other side of Europe.  "Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun." (Goodreads description) Doesn't that sound exciting?!  This is one of my all time favorites.  Another story of courage, strong female characters, and the sadness of war, but told in alternating viewpoints.  The audiobook is amazing.  Do yourself a favor and listen to it!

6) Flygirl by Sherrie L. Smith
Apparently I read a lot of WWII books...so to keep the trend going, Sherrie L. Smith's book about women airforce pilots takes the war to the homefront.  Ida Mae Jones loves the sky, but there isn't a lot of opportunity for young women to become pilots.  Especially young black women.  Is chasing her dream worth denying who she really is?  Another strong female character, but it's also a story of

7) Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
Author Mal Peet puts the Cuban Missile Crisis in the context of two teenagers falling in love.  In many ways, the two parallel beautifully: the discovery of missiles in Cuba and the discovery of new love; the climax of nuclear threats and the (sorry about this...) climax of teenage lust;  and finally, the disarming of aggression and the disarming of a relationship.  Mal Peet is a fantastic author who knows how to spin a tale.

8) Black Duck by Janet Tyler Lisle
If you're more a fan of the Prohibition era, Black Duck by Janet Tyler Lisle is an excellent selection.  It's a coming of age story set in the 1920s.  A young man finds himself in the middle of two rival mob gangs.  There are dead bodies, lawlessness, and the power of friendship.  Lisle does an excellent job creating characters that you care about and builds suspense to keep you reading.  A definite must read.

9) Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Because I love Ruta Sepetys, and I think if you're going to read historical fiction, you should read historical fiction that is written really well.  Josie Moraine is a tough egg.  You have to be when you start living by yourself at twelve.  Every morning she trudges across town to clean for the local madam, during the day she works at a bookstore, and by night she loses herself in books.  Anything to stay away from her mother, a prostitute who as a tendency to fall in with the wrong crowd.  Josie wants more than what the Easy has to offer her. Sepetys introduces an endearing cast of characters, the seedy-underside of a historical city, the captures and troubles of wealth, and the dream for something more.  This story is beautifully written and captivating from page one.

10) Boxer & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
I've been a fan of Gene Luen Yang for quite some time. He introduces the reader to Chinese culture in an accessible way, telling history through beautiful artwork and folklore. In Boxer, we see the rise of western religion in rural China with the introduction of missionaries into the countryside and the inevitable backlash from local resistance.  Then we also get to see the flip side, in Saints. A young girl, a convert, is looking for a way to belong in late 19th century China, and she finds it with the ghost of a saint and the acceptance of a foreign faith.

What's on your list?

Happy reading!


  1. I love historical fiction and I don't think I've read any of them! Out of the Easy looks particularly interesting and good to know that the audio of Code Named Verity is so good. I think I will plan on listening to it!

  2. I love Ruta Sepetys! I haven't read Changeling by Philippa Gregory or Code Name Verity but I'll have to read both of them. I really liked Witch Child by Celia Rees and I'm pretty sure I read something by Avi when I was a kid, but I can't remember for the life of me what it was. Great list!


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