She Writes: Historical Novels

This month's collection of titles for our “She Writes” series focuses on historical novels. Had it with 2020? Transport yourself to a different time and place with historical fiction all written by women! Below you'll find available formats, but we also have a curated list with additional titles in OverDrive that you can checkout here. Find last month's post on nonfiction science here.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Library Collection: Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook and audiobook
“When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent nation of Biafra, a bloody, crippling three-year civil war followed. That period in African history is captured with haunting intimacy in this artful page-turner from Nigerian novelist Adichie. Adichie tells her profoundly gripping story primarily through the eyes and lives of Ugwu, a 13-year-old peasant houseboy who survives conscription into the raggedy Biafran army, and twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, who are from a wealthy and well-connected family…It's a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing.”–Publishers Weekly

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Library Collection: Print and Large Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook and audiobook
“Henry VIII's challenge to the church's power with his desire to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn set off a tidal wave of religious, political and societal turmoil that reverberated throughout 16th-century Europe. Mantel boldly attempts to capture the sweeping internecine machinations of the times from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, the lowborn man who became one of Henry's closest advisers. Cromwell's actual beginnings are historically ambiguous, and Mantel admirably fills in the blanks, portraying Cromwell as an oft-beaten son who fled his father's home, fought for the French, studied law and was fluent in French, Latin and Italian. Mixing fiction with fact, Mantel captures the atmosphere of the times and brings to life the important players: Henry VIII; his wife, Katherine of Aragon; the bewitching Boleyn sisters; and the difficult Thomas More, who opposes the king.”–Publishers Weekly

Beloved by Toni Morrison
Library Collection: Print and Large Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook and audiobook
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe's new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Library Collection: Print, Large Print, and CD audiobook
OverDrive and Libby: eBook and audiobook
“An absorbing saga of 20th-century Korean experience, seen through the fate of four generations. Lee built her debut novel around families of Korean-Americans living in New York. In her second novel, she traces the Korean diaspora back to the time of Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910. ‘History has failed us,' she writes in the opening line of the current epic, “but no matter”…An old-fashioned epic whose simple, captivating storytelling delivers both wisdom and truth.”–Kirkus

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Library Collection: Print, Large Print, and CD audiobook
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
“Based on a true story, Morris’s debut fictionalizes the romance between two concentration camp prisoners during WWII. In 1942, Lale, a Slovakian Jew, is given the position of tattooist, tasked with numbering the arm of every new inmate who enters Auschwitz-Birkenau. He uses his position to procure black market items, which he trades away in return for favors. One day, he tattoos the arm of a young woman named Gita and promptly falls in love with her…This is a perfect novel for book clubs and readers of historical fiction.”–Publishers Weekly

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Library Collection: Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook and audiobook
“This sometimes painful novel by Ghanaian author Gyasi…traces, through the stories of two main families in alternating chapters proceeding chronologically, the history of Ghanaian and American civilization from the eighteenth century to the present, in Africa (where one branch of the family initially stays) and America (where the other goes). It opens with the horrors wrought by British enslavement of the Africans, especially the women, and goes through each stage efficiently. The author has done her research, and though the book occasionally reads like a historical overview (each element–the beginning of cocoa cultivation in Ghana, the Fugitive Slave Act, and, later, the convict-lease system in America–feels summarized rather than dealt with dramatically), it has power and beauty, thanks to Gyasi's commanding style.”–Booklist

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Library Collection: Print and Large Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook and audiobook
“Working in the sticky heat of the Barbados sugar plantation where he was born, 11-year-old field slave Washington Black is terrified when he's made manservant to his master's offbeat brother. But naturalist/explorer Wilde, or ‘Titch,' eagerly introduces Wash to a brave new world and protects him when a bounty is placed on his head, as they flee north along America's Atlantic coast to the chilly Arctic. But in their world, can friendship last?”–Library Journal

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Library Collection: Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook and audiobook
“Following in Mary Renault’s footsteps and adding some surefooted steps of her own, Miller debuts with a novel that combines the poetic drama of The Iliad with a 21st-century understanding of war, sex, sexual politics, and Trojan War heroism…Miller offers a complex study of Briseis, the trophy beauty who inspires a rift between Achilles and Agamemnon; evokes Iphigenia’s sacrifice at Aulis in one quick, brutal image; and probes relationships Homer only hinted at. With language both evocative of her predecessors and fresh, and through familiar scenes that explore new territory, this first-time novelist masterfully brings to life an imaginative yet informed vision of ancient Greece featuring divinely human gods and larger-than-life mortals.”–Publishers Weekly

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Library Collection: Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook and audiobook
“With sensuous prose, a dreamlike style infused with breathtakingly beautiful images and keen insight into human nature, Roy's debut novel charts fresh territory in the genre of magical, prismatic literature. Set in Kerala, India, during the late 1960s when Communism rattled the age-old caste system, the story begins with the funeral of young Sophie Mol, the cousin of the novel's protagonists, Rahel and her fraternal twin brother, Estha. In a circuitous and suspenseful narrative, Roy reveals the family tensions that led to the twins' behavior on the fateful night that Sophie drowned. Beneath the drama of a family tragedy lies a background of local politics, social taboos and the tide of history–all of which come together in a slip of fate, after which a family is irreparably shattered.”–Publishers Weekly

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Library Collection: Print and CD audiobook
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
“Wecker's first novel is a magical tale of two mythical creatures–a golem from a Polish shtetl and a jinni from the Syrian Desert–struggling to fit in among New York's turn-of-the-19th-century immigrants…Wecker deftly layers their story over those of the people they encounter, including a Jewish baker and his wife, a Maronite coffee shop owner and his wife, a doctor turned ice cream vendor, and an apostate social worker.”–Publishers Weekly

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Library Collection: Print, Large Print, and CD audiobook
OverDrive and Libby: eBook and audiobook
“Featuring a time line split between a woman desperately seeking her cousin in 1947 postwar France and the doings of the ‘Alice Network' of female spies during World War I, this fast-paced story offers courageous heroines, villains you love to hate, and dramatic life-or-death stakes.”–Library Journal

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Library Collection: Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
“Mystery writer See, author of The Interior (1999) and Dragon Bones (2003), takes readers to nineteenth-century China to explore a complex friendship between two women. Lily is the daughter of a farmer in Puwei Village, and Snow Flower is the daughter of a respectable family from Tongkou, and though the two girls have very different backgrounds, Madame Wang pairs the two as ‘laotong,' or ‘old sames,' a bond that will last them a lifetime…See's writing is intricate and graceful, and her attention to detail never wavers, making for a lush, involving reading experience.”–Booklist

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
Library Collection: Print and CD audiobook
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
A debut of extraordinary distinction: Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family. In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Library Collection: Print, Large Print, and CD audiobook
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
“With two brothers killed in WWI and a debt-ridden father who followed them to the grave soon afterward, 27-year-old spinster Frances Wray knows that she and her mother must take in lodgers (euphemistically described as ‘paying guests') to maintain their large house in a genteel section of London. In the postwar social landscape of England in 1922, the rise of a new middle class and the dwindling of the old servant class are disrupting longtime patterns of life. The disruptions occasioned by the advent of their tenants, the lower-class couple Leonard and Lilian Barber, are minor at first. But as Frances observes the tensions in the Barbers’ marriage and develops a sexual attraction for the beautiful Lily, who soon reciprocates her love, a fraught and dangerous situation develops.”–Publishers Weekly

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
Library Collection: Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
“Rue is among other formerly enslaved people who are learning to balance the choices of true freedom, post-Civil War. They remain on their plantation with no master, and a burned-down big house. Rue inherits the calling of being a midwife and a healer, taught to her by her beloved mother, May Belle. Atakora's debut floats between Rue's freedom time and her slavery time, revealing Rue's reminiscences of her mother's last days, her friendship with the master's daughter, and all the secrets she learned and developed before the war.”–Booklist

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Library Collection: Print, Large Print, and CD audiobook
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
“Richardson (Liar's Bench) takes readers to 1930s Troublesome Creek, KY, where Cussy Mary Carter works as a Kentucky Pack Horse Librarian. Under Roosevelt's WPA (Works Progress Administration), the Pack Horse Librarian initiative put unmarried women to work delivering books to remote locations in an effort to boost both literacy and female employment. Cussy Mary is not only a Pack Horse Librarian, she's a Blue. She's assumed to be the last of her kind–a group of blue-skinned folks regularly shunned, persecuted, and sometimes killed by white locals. Cussy Mary's work to spread literacy through the hills meets with her family's battles against poverty and racial animus, as a doctor sets out to ‘cure' her of her blue skin.”–Library Journal

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
Library Collection: Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
“In Cold War-blasted 1986, African American intelligence officer Marie Mitchell battles the FBI's white, male establishment, then her own misgivings when asked to join a task force aimed at toppling real-life Thomas Sankara, the left-leaning, shining-star president of Burkina Faso. Wilkinson's debut sounds like a thriller and reads like literary fiction.”–Library Journal

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Library Collection: Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
“Massey, author of the Rei Shimura mysteries and the stand-alone The Sleeping Dictionary (2013), debuts a new series featuring a female lawyer in India. In partnership with her father, Perveen Mistry mainly processes paperwork, since in 1920s Bombay, women are disallowed from presenting in court. Her chance to meet actual clients finally arrives when she questions the disposition of an inheritance to three Muslim widows living in full purdah (seclusion), which prohibits their talking to men. Each widow has signed over her only ongoing source of income to charity. Perveen is determined to ask them why, and inadvertently sets off a chain of violence and recrimination. In addition to getting an unusual perspective on women's rights and relationships, readers are treated to a full view of historical downtown Bombay–the shops and offices, the docks and old fort, and the huge variety of conveyances, characters, and religions–in an unforgettable olio that provides the perfect backdrop to the plot and subplots.–Booklist

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Library Collection: Print
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
“Sepetys delivers another knockout historical novel, after Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy, that offers insight into the ugly realities of WWII and culminates with a forgotten event, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Set in East Prussia during the brutal winter of 1945, in the waning days of the conflict, and tautly narrated by four strong, distinct voices, the narrative highlights the plight of refugees as Germany tries to evacuate soldiers and civilians…Sepetys excels in shining light on lost chapters of history, and this visceral novel proves a memorable testament to strength and resilience in the face of war and cruelty.”–Publishers Weekly

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
Library Collection: Print, Large Print, and CD audiobook
OverDrive and Libby: eBook
“Horan's second novel (following Loving Frank) again mines the true story of a remarkable woman of history to impressive effect. This time, instead of Mameh Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright, the central couple is Fanny Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson. The novel charts their relationship from their first meeting in France, where Fanny takes her two daughters after leaving her irresponsible, cheating husband, Sam, and the death of her son, Hervey…This beautifully written novel, neatly balanced between its two protagonists, makes them come alive with grace, humor, and understanding.”–Publishers Weekly

Categories: Authors & Books, Featured, Homepage, and Library News.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.