10 historical fiction novels for your summer reading list
Flights and accommodation booked? Maps and guides downloaded? Whether on holiday or at home this summer, find yourself a good historical book and travel back to another time and place. Here are ten (relative) newcomers to the historical fiction bookshelves:
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war.
Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York.
Bury what we cannot take by Kirstin Chen
The day nine-year-old San San and her twelve-year-old brother, Ah Liam, discover their grandmother taking a hammer to a framed portrait of Chairman Mao is the day that forever changes their lives.
Now they must flee their home on Drum Wave Islet, just a few hundred meters across the channel from mainland China. But when their mother goes to procure visas for Hong Kong, the government will only issue on the condition she leave behind one of her children as proof of the family’s intention to return.
Against the backdrop of early Maoist China, this captivating and emotional tale follows a family as they grapple with their agonizing decision, its far-reaching consequences, and their hope for redemption.
Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
In 1937, Martha Gellhorn travels to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War, and finds herself unexpectedly falling in love with Ernest Hemingway, a man already on his way to being a legend. In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the backdrops of Madrid, Finland, China, and especially Cuba, their relationship and professional careers ignite.
But when Hemingway publishes the biggest literary success of his career, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the suffocating demands of a domestic lifestyle, or risk losing her husband by forging her way as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that will force her to break his heart, and her own.
Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt
Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as "one of the very few magical women that exist." But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? Beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.
Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja's salvation is just the beginning of her story.
Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.
A Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith
A witty and urbane bachelor of the Gilded Age embarks on a high-risk scheme to marry into a fortune; the young writer Henry James, soon to make his mark on the world, turns himself into his craft with harrowing social consequences; an aristocratic British officer during the American Revolution carries on a courtship that leads to murder; and, in Newport's earliest days, a tragically orphaned Quaker girl imagines a way forward for herself and the slave girl she has inherited.
These intersecting worlds are weaved into a brilliant tapestry, charting a votage across the ages into the maze of the human heart.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln's beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy's body. From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm - called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo - and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie's soul.
The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has laid eyes on. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.
Where will their ambitions lead? And will they escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?
Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell
In the heart of Elizabethan England, young Richard Shakespeare dreams of a glittering career in the London playhouses, dominated by his older brother, William. But as a penniless actor with a silver tongue, Richard’s onetime gratitude begins to sour, as does his family loyalty.
So it is that Richard falls under suspicion when a priceless manuscript goes missing, forcing him into a high-stakes game of duplicity and betrayal, and through the darkest alleyways of the city.
In this richly portrayed tour de force, Fools and Mortals takes you among the streets and palaces, scandals and rivalries, and lets you stand side-by-side with the men and women of Bernard Cornwell’s masterful Elizabethan London.
The Throne of Caesar by Steven Saylor
Julius Caesar has been appointed Dictator for life by the Roman Senate. Having pardoned his remaining enemies and rewarded his friends, Caesar is now preparing to leave Rome with his army to fight the Parthian Empire.
Gordianus the Finder, after decades of investigating crimes and murders involving the powerful, has finally retired. But on the morning of March 10th, he's summoned to meet with Cicero and Caesar himself. Both have the same request - keep your ear to the ground, ask around, and find out if there are any conspiracies against Caesar's life.
Gordianus must dust off his old skills and see what conspiracy he can uncover. Because the Ides of March are approaching...
Hopefully there’s something for everyone to enjoy. What’s on your booklist for this summer? Or have you read a new historical fiction book you’d like to recommend?