Historical Fiction

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Do you believe in ghosts? Violet Willoughby does not and she is the daughter of a medium, albeit a fraudulent one. In Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, the year is 1872, London England and Violent is the daughter of a scheming, manipulative and opportunistic mother who wants her to “marry up” no matter what. They rig séances and swindle unsuspecting high society spiritualists. After many faked séances Violet remains a skeptic of ghosts until one fateful night she sees a transparent girl oozing water and lilies and who will not rest until her killer is brought to justice. Violet is the only one who sees the very persistent spirit and soon realizes that it is up to her to solve the mystery behind her death in order to have the spirit be at peace.

Native Son by Richard Wright

Native Son by Richard Wright

Richard Wright’s Native Son is an exceptional example of dynamic, participatory literature. Rather than allowing the reader to effortlessly absorb the words on the page, Wright undermines the passivity and comfort we often expect when reading. Both the content of the novel and Wright’s literary style provoke and disturb, immersing the reader in a dense psychological terrain that is simultaneously intimate and larger-than-life.

Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Native Son follows the life of Bigger Thomas, a young African-American man living in squalor with his mother and siblings. Bigger’s mother holds him accountable for the welfare of the family, but his ability to work towards a stable life seems perpetually hindered. He can’t overcome his poverty because he can’t get a job that pays well, and he can’t get a decent job because of his lack of education and limited social mobility. He is also imprisoned by the sense that, as an African-American man, his mere existence has been criminalized: “There was just the old feeling, the feeling that he had had all his life: he was black and had done wrong.”

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz

It is a year after the death of Sherlock Holmes when Watson again sets pen to paper to record another of his sensational investigations, a series of events so scandalous they could not be related earlier, as told in Anthony Horowitz’ The House of Silk.

When Edmund Carstairs believes he and his family are being threatened by a man in a flat cap, he turns to Holmes for help. It appears that the man has followed him from America seeking revenge. The pursuer’s murder does not solve the puzzle, but instead leads Holmes and Watson ever deeper into a dangerous London underworld of opium dens and worse with links to the most powerful and influential levels of British society. In this dark world, they hear whispers about the House of Silk. But inquiries lead to threats, and they are warned off the investigation in no uncertain terms by those in the highest levels of government. Soon Holmes finds himself in prison, accused of murder.

The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch, translated by Lee Chadeayne

The Hangman’s Daughter

Life in Schongau, Bavaria in 1659 is pretty bleak. The town is rebuilding in the decade after the Great War - orphans abound, jobs are limited, and the townsfolk are quick to accuse each other of misdeeds. Although the rampant witch trials of the town's past have faded to a dim collective memory, it doesn't take much to start rumors of dark deeds swirling again. When a young orphan is found murdered and branded with a “witch’s mark,” a scapegoat is quickly located in Martha Stechlin, the town’s midwife who dabbles in herbs and encourages the orphans’ company. She is quickly taken into custody and it is up to Jacob Kuisl, the town’s hangman, to torture the truth out of her in The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch, translated by Lee Chadeayne.  

Every town at this time has a hangman, who inherits his profession from his father. Although Jacob Kuisl is well-read and financially well-to-do, the townsfolk routinely shun him because hangmen are considered the lowest in the town’s social order. When Martha is jailed, Kuisl suspects that something is not right because he has worked with her for decades and knows her to be an honorable and gentle midwife. He secretly starts researching her case to prove her innocence, while publically fulfilling his job as her torturer.

If you like Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian: This, the first in the splendid series of Jack Aubrey novels, establishes the friendship between Captain Aubrey, R.N., and Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and intelligence agent, against a thrilling backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Details of a life aboard a man-of-war are faultlessly rendered: the conversational idiom of the officers in the ward room and the men on the lower deck, the food, the floggings, the mysteries of the wind and the rigging, and the roar of broadsides as the great ships close in battle.

If you like Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander, here are some suggestions of books dealing with men and the sea, from times gone by.

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
Peter Blood, a physician and English gentleman, turned pirate out of a rankling sense of injustice. Barely escaping the gallows after his arrest for treating wounded rebels, Blood is enslaved on a Barbados plantation. When he escapes, no ship sailing the Spanish Main is safe from Blood and his men.

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
Harvey Cheyne is the over-indulged son of a millionaire. When he falls overboard from an ocean liner her is rescued by a Portuguese fisherman and, initially against his will, joins the crew of the We're Here for a summer. Through the medium of an exciting adventure story, Captain's Courageous (1897) deals with a boy who, like Mowgli in The Jungle Book, is thrown into an entirely alien environment.
 

 

If you like Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier: Based on local history and family stories passed down by the author's great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded soldier Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war and back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. Inman's odyssey through the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada's struggle to revive her father's farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman and Ada confront the vastly transformed world they've been delivered." (Book description)

If you like Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, you might like these titles:

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles
The Colleys are farmers in the Missouri Ozarks. Although Southerners, the family tries to remain neutral, a fact ignored by the Union militia who confiscate their livestock and arrest their daughter, Adair, on charges of "enemy collaboration." Yet as Adair soon discovers, fate can be a double-edged sword. (Catalog summary)
 


 

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
With ravishing beauty & unsettling intelligence, Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Hana, the exhausted nurse; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burned man who lies in an upstairs room & whose memories of passion, betrayal, & rescue illuminates this book like flashes of heat lightening. (Catalog summary)

 

The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

In the early 15th-century Venice of The Fallen Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, no one is safe from the political ambitions of the ruling family--not even Giuliette, beautiful cousin of the Duke. She becomes a pawn in the schemes of her aunt and uncle who are regents for the simpleton Duke Marco. Meanwhile, Venice faces external threats from the Ottomans, the Byzantines and the German emperor. It is Atilo il Mauro's job as head of the Assassini to protect Venice and enforce the will of its ruling family while trying not to be destroyed by that family's internal power struggles.

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Nothing came easy to John Henry “Doc” Holliday, not even his birth. Born with a cleft lip and palate, his odds for survival in 1851 were slim, and would have been slimmer still without the intervention of his amazing mother, Alice Holliday. Alice devoted herself to John Henry's care around the clock, feeding him with an eyedropper for eight weeks. His uncle, a noted surgeon, then repaired the cleft palate in an astounding surgery that the family kept secret to protect “family honor.” John Henry overcame his speech impediments with this mother’s therapy techniques and became proficient in the piano and several classical languages.

Tragically, Alice died a slow, agonizing death from tuberculosis when John Henry was 15 years old. John Henry also contracted tuberculosis as a young man and therefore knew exactly what kind of death was eventually promised him. Newly graduated as a Doctor of Dental Surgery, John Henry left Georgia and headed west in search of a dry climate where he could more successfully battle the disease slowly eating away at his lungs.  He ended up in Dodge City, Kansas, a wild frontier town, teetering eternally between chaos and burgeoning civility, and the main setting for Mary Doria Russell's new novel, Doc.

If you like Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand: "On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared--Lt. Louis Zamperini. Captured by the Japanese and driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor." (Book Description)

If you like Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, you may enjoy these nonfiction titles:

An American Plague: the True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy
If surviving the first 20 years of a new nationhood weren't challenge enough, the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, centering in Philadelphia, was a crisis of monumental proportions. Murphy chronicles this frightening time with solid research and a flair for weaving facts into fascinating stories, beginning with the fever's emergence on August 3, when a young French sailor died in Richard Denny's boardinghouse on North Water Street. As church bells rang more and more often, it became horrifyingly clear that the de facto capital was being ravaged by an unknown killer. Largely unsung heroes emerged, most notably the Free African Society, whose members were mistakenly assumed to be immune and volunteered en masse to perform nursing and custodial care for the dying. Black-and-white reproductions of period art, coupled with chapter headings that face full-page copies of newspaper articles of the time, help bring this dreadful episode to life.--catalog summary
 

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why: True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death by Laurence Gonzales
After her plane crashes, a seventeen-year-old girl spends eleven days walking through the Peruvian jungle. Against all odds, with no food, shelter, or equipment, she gets out. A better-equipped group of adult survivors of the same crash sits down and dies. What makes the difference? ... Deep Survival takes us from the tops of snowy mountains and the depths of oceans to the workings of the brain that control our behavior. Through close analysis of case studies, Laurence Gonzales describes the "stages of survival" and reveals the essence of a survivor: "truths that apply not only to surviving in the wild but also to surviving life-threatening illness, relationships, the death of a loved one, running a business during uncertain times, even war. Fascinating for any reader, and absolutely essential for anyone who takes a hike in the woods, this book will change the way we understand ourselves and the great outdoors.--catalog summary

Bold Sons of Erin by Owen Parry

Bold Sons of Erin cover

You have to love living in Fredericksburg! I enjoy walking my dogs through the forest paths of the Fredericksburg Battlefields, but you have to be out of the park by sundown because the park police lock the gate.  One evening I was hurrying down the darkening path before sunset when I heard footsteps behind me.  When I turned around to see who was walking behind me, I saw a Confederate soldier coming out of the shadows of the path.  I was being followed by a ghost and I don’t even believe in ghosts!  I made a mental note to talk to my Supervisor at the library about getting some time off for my mental health.  As I came to the edge of the woods and climbed up the hill into the clearing with a little extra daylight I could see that there were Confederate soldiers milling around everywhere.  I had to be smack dab in the middle of a re-enactment.  Whew! That was relief - scratch the request for a mental health day!

If you love mysteries and the Civil War, then you might enjoy Owen Parry books.  The main character is Major Abel Jones, who is an unassuming tiny man who walks with a limp and uses a cane.  He is a Welsh immigrant to America who serves in the United States army, but previously served in the British army in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Now he is a secret investigator for President Lincoln.  In Bold Sons of Erin, Major Abel is sent by Lincoln to investigate the sudden death of General Stone.  The book begins with Abel arranging to dig up the grave of General Stone.  When it is opened, he finds the body of a young girl who has been stabbed to death buried in the grave of the General.