Whether it’s set in the earliest days of Britain or amid the ravages of World War II, a good historical fiction book blends historical accuracy and storytelling into a neat package. Readers of this genre like knowing they are learning something and at the same time getting a great story.
For those just joining me, I’m Alicia, the branch manager of the Waldo Community Library. This year, I’m on the American Library Association ’s national committee to pick the best genre books of 2010 for the award called The Reading List , and each month I’ll be blogging a different genre. Last month, I chose horror .
It took me a while to decide which of my seven genres to focus on for this installment of The Continuing Chronicles of the Genre-Reading Librarian. After debating for a while, I decided on historical fiction.
Here’s the best 2010 has got to offer in the realm where historical fact and imagination meet. Got a historical fiction read of your own to share? Post it in the comments.
Watermark  by Vanitha Sankaran – Auda, the mute daughter of a papermaker, struggles to find a life for herself in medieval France. Raised by her father to love the art of papermaking, she dreams of a time when she can practice her art. Because she is a mute albino, she has a particularly difficult time blending in during an era of inquisitions and witch hunts, especially when her papermaking leads her in dangerous directions.
Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance  by Sara Poole – When Francesca Giordano’s father, the poisoner for the Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia , is murdered, she applies for the position herself. Having studied under her father, she is skilled in both detecting poisons and creating undetectable poison. Navigating the deadly world of 15th century Rome, she and Borgia plot to kill Pope Innocent VIII  before he can set the Inquisitor loose on the Jews of Europe. This historical novel had a little bit of everything – a bit of a mystery, a bit of romance and lots of historical detail that made this debut a fun and engaging read.
Invisible Bridge  by Julie Orringer – When Andras Levi gets a scholarship to study architecture in Paris, he falls in love with Klara, another expatriate Hungarian Jew. As World War II breaks out, the two must return to Hungry or face arrest and possibly death. While in Hungry the couple tries to keep themselves and their loved ones safe in a time when racism and brutality are rampant. This is a beautifully written literary historical novel that will appeal to literary fiction and historical fiction lovers alike.
New York: The Novel  by Edward Rutherfurd – Following the events that shaped the destiny of the fictional Masters clan allows Rutherfurd to tell the story of New York, from its time as a Dutch settlement to the beloved modern city of today. From the very beginning pages until the last page of this saga is finished, we are drawn into the world of the Masters family as we follow them and the families they impact through the centuries. Freedoms are won and lost, fortunes are made and just as quickly vanish, and wars are fought in this epic tale. The smooth retelling of history, well-developed characters and a fast pace make the novel a winner.
My Name is Mary Sutter  by Robin Oliveira – Mary Sutter’s mother is an extraordinary midwife who has passed on the love of healing to her daughter. But Mary’s dream is even bigger. She wants to become a doctor and has aggressively pursued any opportunity to further her knowledge and training. Unfortunately, in the days before the Civil War, she is told she will never be accepted to medical school. When the war explodes into violence, she throws herself into receiving the training she needs by caring for the untold numbers of wounded. Filled with rich historical detail, this is also the story of one woman’s quest to fulfill her dream.
Postmistress  by Sarah Blake – A radio reporter, a doctor’s wife and a postmistress lead ordinary, uneventful lives until World War II begins and they find themselves making choices they never thought they would have to make. Reporter Frankie Bard travels to war-torn Europe to cover the news and in the process meets Emma Fitch’s husband, who has traveled to England to offer his medical services to the war effort. Iris James, the eponymous Postmistress, does her best to protect the people in her small town in a time when lives are changed forever. What this novel does so well is to provide a glimpse at the big and small ways lives were changed forever during this war.
The Queen's Governess  by Karen Harper – Kat, a lady-in-waiting for Anne Boleyn, is trusted enough to eventually become the governess for Queen Elizabeth. As she watches from the sidelines she is dismayed by the corruption and political maneuvering that threatens the lives of the woman ruler she has come to love. This is based on the life of Catherine "Kat" Ashley  and covers the death of Anne Boleyn on through Kat's death.
The Burning Land  by Bernard Cornwell – This bloody war tale is sure to delight anyone who is interested in the Saxon time period. In this fifth installment of the Saxon Stories , Uhtred breaks his vow of fealty to Alfred the Great  and is forced to battle his way north on his way to reclaim his ancestral home. This ongoing series is a favorite of mine but don’t worry, you don’t have to read the whole series to enjoy this book.
About the Genre-Reading Librarian
Alicia Ahlvers  is branch manager at the Kansas City Public Library's Waldo Community Library and has been with the library for 15 years. She is active in the American Library Association and has served on both the Notable Books Council Award committee and The Reading List book award committee. She also works evenings and weekends for UMKC Miller Nichols Library.