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Book Favourites from Library Staff 2022: Historical Fiction

Best historical fiction 22

From the early Tudors to movie sets in Hollywood, from behind enemy lines in World War Two, to a remote village in Norway, the settings and eras evoked in this list of historical fiction will sweep you away. Click on the titles for more catalogue information.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
A must-read according to two of our library staff;  Amy says:
I went into this book with a bit of scepticism, but came out the end flabbergasted. As the title says, you follow the story of Evelyn’s seven marriages. But this book was so much more. It takes place in Hollywood in the 1950s, where all actresses and actors were living alternate realities. This book dealt with many societal issues during that time and is told in an intriguing way. Need more convincing?

Lara says:
I could not put this book down. I was engulfed by Evelyn Hugo’s life story and I just had to know what happened next. I think Reid had the balance just right for keeping the story moving and revealing just enough to make you keep turning the page.
Monique, the journalist interviewing Evelyn, does not know why Evelyn chose her to tell her story to her, but it is an opportunity she cannot turn down, the link between them revealed in the end. Over a couple of weeks Evelyn tells Monique the story of her life, the seven men she married, the things she did to be a successful actress and reach such high levels of fame.
Evelyn did not always do what may be considered the moral thing, and sometimes her actions were simply selfish, but often they were fiercely protective of those she considered family. She can reflect on her life and know that not everything she did was right, but that the things she did to protect her family she would do all over again if she had to.

Elizabeth of York: the last white rose by Alison Weir
After her riveting series on the six wives of Henry VIII, Alison Weir has created a story about Henry’s mother, the political machinations around her marriage with the opportunity to unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster. We are brought into the world of court intrigue and the life of an interesting and determined woman. An academic in her own right, Alison Weir is one of the best historical novelists around.  HH

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks
This novel takes you to Vienna, the birthplace of psychoanalysis and the nearby asylum, the Schloss Seeblick, the setting for a former book, Human Traces. In Snow Country the stories of Anton, a journalist, and Lena, a maid, converge while Faulks adds heaps of interesting historical drama around student insurrection, the building of the Panama Canal, echoes of WWI and more. Engaging characters dealing with the slings and arrows flung at them by fate, on a stage set with the notable events of the twentieth century – the stuff Faulks does so well. JAM

The Reindeer Hunters by Lars Mytting (JAM)
Another middle book in a trilogy, this book follows The Bell in the Lake, but works as a story in its own right as it moves on a couple of decades, introducing us to Jehans Hekne, one of the reindeer hunters of the title. The book is about twins, mythology and the technological advances of the time – we’re in 1903. How does a remote village in Norway cope with change – Pastor Schweigaard has been struggling with this for years – and how will the upcoming world war affect our characters? This is a spell-binding read: a brilliant story, with terrific writing, but as you’ll want to read all three books, start with the first book for optimum reading pleasure. JAM

All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison 
This book takes you to 1930s Suffolk, where Edith is a teenage girl on her parents’ farm, and already people are planning a future for her as farmer’s wife and mother. But when Connie arrives on the scene to interview the locals for a book about old country ways, she challenges the thinking of the family and Edith begins to feel even more restless. The novel contrasts the idyllic countryside at harvest-time with darker echoes of the war that has been, and the rise of fascism, all told through the eyes of a girl unable to choose her own destiny. And the writing is beautiful. JAM

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler 
Spanning a hundred years, Booth describes the family that produced John Wilkes Booth, the young actor who assassinated Abraham Lincloln. We get the odd family circumstances that include a mother’s vision of her son, and a thespian, bigamist father, amid the wider setting of the American Civil War. A top historical read from a master storyteller, this book was long-listed for the Booker Prize. SG

The Rose Code – Kate Quinn
Another brilliant historical novel from Kate Quinn. Set around WWII, with women at the centre of the story. Brilliant, brilliant women. It is likely Osla, Mab, and Beth would never have met and become friends had it not been for their postings at Bletchley Park. They come from different walks of life, they have different strengths, but my god they form a fierce trio and along with the rest of their BP friends they are a formidable group. 
This is a war story not about the front lines, but about the people left in England and the important work they did. Taking lots of inspiration from real codebreakers and events of the war, Quinn weaves a gripping story of secrets, codes, friendships, romances, and betrayals. I was cheering on the BP crew as they spent hours on end decrypting coded German messages, smiling in moments of sweet romance, and crying with them through their heart wrenching grief. I enjoyed the little references to real people who worked at or visited BP in the war, like “The Prof” Alan Turing. 
Woven between the wartime chapters, another story unfolds in 1947, in the lead up to the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Here we catch glimpses of where the trio of women are post-war, back in their separate lives. The two storylines work really well together, with the 1947 parts carefully not revealing too much too soon so the story mostly unfolds through the war years, but eventually all wraps into a reunion in the 1947 time frame with one last code to crack. Lara

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
Of course both of the Kate Quinn novels I read this year made my top 10. At first I was less excited for this because there is a lot of front line action. I loved the spies of The Alice Network, and code cracking in The Rose Code. I wasn’t sure about heading to the front line with a sniper. But not far in I was so invested in Mila and her story. I loved it all. The front line conflict, the relationships in the squadron, the challenge of dealing with her husband who she is long separated from.
Then we get to the goodwill tour in the US and it just gets better and better. As always Quinn crafts such depth of character, drawing on real historic figures who you probably haven't heard of. Mila is a force to be reckoned with and her story is incredible. Lara

21 December 2022

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