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10 historical fiction books that will immerse you in eras long past
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CHARLESTON, S.C. - No one knows books and gives better recommendations than librarians. That's one of our favorite things to do, and we spend a lot of time researching and reading new books and old ones to keep our recommendations fresh.
But it's 2020 and we've spent the year wrestling with a pandemic and public health concerns. That means having those conversations has been a lot more difficult. But it's not impossible! And that's why CCPL's librarians have been digging through our resources to build list upon list of recommendations you can pick up from your local branch or download with your smartphone, tablet, or ereader.
This week, we're heading back in time to explore some historical fiction - along with some romance, nonfiction, and even a little time traveling! - with Adult Services Librarian Sarah Edwards from the Mount Pleasant Library. But why is Sarah such a fan of historical fiction?
"My background is in history education and house museums, so I enjoy historical fiction - usually romantic novels, but especially the Regency period as Tessa Dare conceives of it or more recent history by Marie Benedict - mainly for fun reading. I have been giving modern romance more attention lately and enjoying that," she said.
"For nonfiction or more serious fiction I often read books about the American South and slavery, and this list is not exhaustive. Both Ward and Edugyan write beautifully about hard and horrific things. If you like audiobooks, I absolutely recommend listening to The Water Dancer instead of reading it. Joe Morton’s narration brings the book to life and I would sit in the car after reaching my destination because I did not want to turn the book off."
But Edwards says she also like to take a break when life gets a bit too heavy and worrisome and turn to some of her childhood favorites like the Romana Quimby books. She says a few chapters of those serve as an amazing pick-me-up!
Let's dive into this list!
“She smiled a soft, troubled smile and I felt the whole world slipping away, and I wanted to slip with it, to go wherever she was going… I had existed whole years without her, but that was all it had been. An existence. A book with no words.”
Tom Hazard has just moved back to London, his old home, to settle down and become a high school history teacher. And on his first day at school, he meets a captivating French teacher at his school who seems fascinated by him. But Tom has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he's been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history—performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.
Unfortunately for Tom, the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: Never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society's watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can't have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.
How to Stop Time tells a love story across the ages—and for the ages—about a man lost in time, the woman who could save him, and the lifetimes it can take to learn how to live. It is a bighearted, wildly original novel about losing and finding yourself, the inevitability of change, and how with enough time to learn, we just might find happiness.
Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:
- Nude pics are by invitation only
- If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice
- Protect your heart
Only there aren't any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night... and disappears.
Rhi thought she'd buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won't fumble their second chance, but she's wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that's too high a risk...
Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.
So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.
This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.
Two people. Ten chances. One unforgettable love story.
Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.
Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be.
What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.
No one's ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she's thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond's big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes.
In a sleepy seaside town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her large, painfully empty house nearly a year after her husband’s death in a car crash. Everyone in town, even her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and Evvie doesn’t correct them.
Meanwhile, in New York City, Dean Tenney, former Major League pitcher and Andy’s childhood best friend, is wrestling with what miserable athletes living out their worst nightmares call the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and, even worse, he can’t figure out why. As the media storm heats up, an invitation from Andy to stay in Maine seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button on Dean’s future.
When he moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken—and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. To move forward, Evvie and Dean will have to reckon with their pasts—the friendships they’ve damaged, the secrets they’ve kept—but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance—up until the last out.
A joyful, hilarious, and hope-filled debut, Evvie Drake Starts Over will have you cheering for the two most unlikely comebacks of the year—and will leave you wanting more from Linda Holmes.
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn't lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won't acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.
His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister's lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children's father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can't put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she's high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.
When the children's father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Eleven-year-old George Washington Black—or Wash—a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is initially terrified when he is chosen as the manservant of his master's brother. To his surprise, however, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning, and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.
But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, they must abandon everything and flee together. Over the course of their travels, what brings Wash and Christopher together will tear them apart, propelling Wash ever farther across the globe in search of his true self. Spanning the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, London to Morocco, Washington Black is a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, and of a world destroyed and made whole again.
Unexpected lovers find themselves together in Spindle Cove with A Week to be Wicked—the second book in Tessa Dare's utterly delectable historical romance series. This Regency Era delight finds a restless British lord desperate to escape the quaint and too quiet small seaside resort he's trapped in...and he gets much more than he expected when he eagerly agrees to escort a beautiful, brilliant, socially awkward lady scientist to Scotland. Concerning Tessa Dare and her irresistible romances, bestselling author Julia Quinn is spot on when she says, "Prepare to fall in love!" And anyone who loves the novels of Lisa Kleypas, Christina Dodd, and Liz Carlyle is going to adore having A Week to be Wicked.
Clara Kelley is not who they think she is. She's not the experienced Irish maid who was hired to work in one of Pittsburgh's grandest households. She's a poor farmer's daughter with nowhere to go and nothing in her pockets. But the other woman with the same name has vanished, and pretending to be her just might get Clara some money to send back home.
If she can keep up the ruse, that is. Serving as a lady's maid in the household of Andrew Carnegie requires skills she doesn't have, answering to an icy mistress who rules her sons and her domain with an iron fist. What Clara does have is a resolve as strong as the steel Pittsburgh is becoming famous for, coupled with an uncanny understanding of business, and Andrew begins to rely on her. But Clara can't let her guard down, not even when Andrew becomes something more than an employer. Revealing her past might ruin her future — and her family's.
With captivating insight and heart, Carnegie's Maid tells the story of one brilliant woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie's transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world's first true philanthropist.
The Ramona Quimby audio collection by Beverly Cleary
In this special edition of Newbery Honor Book Ramona Quimby, Age 8, the timeless classic now features a special foreword written by actress, producer, and author Amy Poehler, as well as an exclusive interview with Beverly Cleary herself.
Ramona likes that she's old enough to be counted on, but must everything depend on her? Mrs. Quimby has gone back to work so that Mr. Quimby can return to school, and Ramona is expected to be good for Mrs. Kemp while her parents are away, to be brave enough to ride the school bus by herself, and to put up with being teased by Danny the Yard Ape. In Ramona's world, being eight isn't easy, but it's never dull!