Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, friends! I hope you are all reading some awesome books. And if you aren’t, well, I hope that I can recommend you some great books in today’s Book Recommendations post!
On the third Monday of every month, I share some Book Recommendations that pertain to a theme! I’ll tell you all a little bit about the book, what I liked about them (because I always only recommend books I have read and liked!), and give you all the links so you can add them to your list of books to read.
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In my last recap post, I mentioned how I was going to share with you ‘books for your discoursing heart’ and ‘books that will make you laugh’. And whilst I’ll be posting them in September and October respectively, I really wanted to share some historical fiction books that I really liked, but, with a twist.
I was never a fan of historical fiction, until I read the Author’s Note for Salt to the Sea. It was Sepetys’s words and plea in her Author’s Note that made me realize how much I don’t know about history and how much I take it for granted. History as we know it isn’t necessarily a sum of everything that has ever happened; history as we know it is dictated by its writers, its tellers, and our nations. It’s not just the dominant narratives that I don’t know much about, but it’s the invisible narratives that are lost in the dominant ones and thus lost to human knowledge. When I think about how some stories can be lost, simply because they are not taught in school or ever shared and thus passed on, it makes me sad. (So, shoutout to all your history majors and historians! Your work is important.)
And so, today, I wanted to share books that aren’t just historical fiction, but are stories that, I think, need to be told and listened to. If you think about it, as readers, we are the bearers of history, of ourselves and others. We carry stories with us, and as book reviewers, we have the power to ensure that these invisible stories are heard and passed to others.
THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID
I’ve loved all of Reid’s books, but this was probably her most affecting and the most powerful. She moves away from her contemporary stories, and instead tells a story that blends historical with contemporary. And it is outstanding.
- A famous Cuban classical actress tells her story, set in the time of Old Hollywood and her rise to fame, to a biracial rookie journalist.
- It examines her life, and how how she had to adhere to white standards of beauty, in a time where domestic violence was legal, in a time where being anything but heterosexual was a crime, in a time when female sexuality was both exploited and condemned.
- I asked myself: who was the love of her life? The answer was someone I did not expect.
- This book is incredibly emotional, powerful, political, and I loved it deeply.
Trigger/content warnings (highlight to read): [biphobia, homophobia, physical abuse, death]
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo in Goodreads
UNDER A PAINTED SKY BY STACEY LEE
I really love Lee’s writing, but this one is my favourite of hers so far. Best of all, after reading this, you’ll feel like you’ve been on a grand adventure, or at least, I certainly did.
- Set in the era of the California Gold Rush, this book follows Samantha, a Chinese-American girl, and Annamae, a Black runaway slave, and their perilous journey across the Oregon Trail.
- This book explores plenty of themes relevant to its time period: racism, sexism, slavery, and anti-blackness, all of which are unpacked with sensitivity and a critical eye.
- Integrates Chinese culture and superstition into the narrative without being shoehorned, which is refreshing and lovely.
- It’s also about friendship, love, and determination. You will love this.
Trigger/content warnings (highlight to read): [death, death of parent, slavery, anti-blackness, racism]
SALT TO THE SEA BY RUTA SEPETYS
This is probably the book that ignited my appreciation for historical fiction. It’s such a tragic, sad, but important narrative.
- This book centers its story on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the biggest maritime disaster in history. 9400 people lost their lives.
- It follows four teenagers; a Polish girl, a Prussian man, a Lithuanian girl, and a Nazi (note: the Nazi is not a good guy and that is clear in the story), and how their lives converge together at the Wilhelm Gustloff.
- Portrays the horrors and terrors of war, the loss of lives, the refugees and displacement, and the unspeakable wrongs in wartime.
- If you decide to pick this up, I highly recommend the audiobook. Also, be sure to read Sepetys’s Author’s Note – it is heartbreaking but so important and sobering.
Trigger/content warnings (highlight to read): [war, rape, Nazis, death]
Salt To The Sea in Goodreads
FREEDOM SWIMMER BY WAI CHIM
This book has less than 100 ratings and less than 30 reviews. INJUSTICE. If there’s any book I’d like you to pick up after this post, it is this one. Important, brilliant, emotional, and a very needed story. I loved Freedom Swimmer so much.
- Set in the Cultural Revolution of China, and follows two boys: a former Red Guard and an orphan boy from a poor village.
- Explores a plethora of ideas and themes, such as famine and poverty, freedom, the power of ideology, bravery, and friendship.
- The story is actually based on the author’s father’s life – let that sink in, read the story, and be amazed by how powerful the story is.
- I didn’t know much about the Cultural Revolution, beyond what I learned in Asian Studies, but this book captures a time period and narrative that we don’t often hear about. It was sobering.
Trigger/content warnings (highlight to read): [death of parent, torture, physical violence]
Freedom Swimmer in Goodreads
I hope that you have discovered a new book that you’d love to read from this post! In pursuit of reading more diverse books, I think it’s also really important to understand the histories that shape the identities, politics, and social contexts of today. I also love how historical fiction, if it’s well-researched, is a reflection of a piece of time and history that actually happened. The amazing things we read about in these books happened to real people – which can be sad, inspiring, or just really eye-opening – and it’s just such a powerful realization. I’m really glad I started reading historical fiction; it’s not a genre I read often, but I really love it.
However, I do recognize that this list that I’ve presented lacks the diversity that I often aim for. Looking at my list, I’ve mostly read historical fiction by or about East-Asian individuals or by white authors. And though there’s nothing wrong or bad about the two, I really would love to read more historical fiction about that explore a variety of histories from different parts of the world or about different identities.
- Do you like to read historical fiction? What is your favourite historical fiction book?
- Do you have any book recommendations about histories not covered in this post?
- Why do you read historical fiction? What sort of feelings do the stories give you, or why do you like to read them?