March 25, 2020

Historical Fiction Starter Pack

NoveList and LibraryReads have teamed up to present a series of webinars providing basic background info on genre fiction, from horror to romance. I recently partnered with Michael Santangelo from BookOps NYPL-Brooklyn to present the Historical Fiction webinar, and I'm delighted to share the Starter Pack we created. It's a quick way to get in-the-know on what's popular in this genre currently. All five books are well-reviewed, will appeal to a wide variety of readers, and are either stand-alone titles or the first in a series. Let's get historical!

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Royal watching never goes out of vogue, but even so, the lasting appeal of the Tudors (on-screen as well as in books like this one) is impressive. Mantel's sweeping, atmospheric novel of court intrigue is praised for its wealth of rich period detail as well as it's surprisingly humanizing portrait of Thomas Cromwell as the impulsive Henry VIII's hard-pressed advisor. This is a modern must-read for historical and literary fiction fans at large.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead paints a portrait of 1960 Jim-Crow South with gritty, stylish intensity. African American teens consigned to a boy's reformatory (Nickel Academy) struggle to survive — and expose — its disturbing realities of starvation, torture, and sexual abuse. The young protagonists of this dramatic, sobering, own voices story epitomize courage despite the atrocities of oppression they face.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Abandoned by her older lover, Sunja finds herself pregnant and alone in early 20th-century Korea. A humble minister's proposal provides a lifeline and a new (married) life in Japan. The echoes of Sunja's shame and betrayal echo through four generations, each grappling with issues of identity and belonging. Lee brings to life a large cast of culturally diverse characters with moving, melancholic authenticity.

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
Benedict imbues Austrian-born Hedwig Keisler (better known as silver screen icon Hedy Lamarr) with ferocious intelligence and resolve in a story that moves from pre-WWII Austria and Germany to America -- where she lends her scientific acumen toward designing weapons to fight Nazi Germany. This is the woman-powered Hollywood glamour/WWII historical mashup you didn't know you needed. 

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
Rue, like her mother (Miss May Belle) before her, acts as a midwife, herb woman, and occasional purveyor of curses within their community of emancipated slaves. Atakora's impressive, heartwrenching debut novel uses descriptive prose and dialect-filled dialogue to illuminate the lives of emancipated blacks (as well as their experiences while enslaved).

For more title suggestions, trends, and information, please watch the Crash Course in Historical Fiction.

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Kimberly Burton is a Readers' Advisory Librarian for NoveList. 


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