Historical Fiction

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

For the past month I have enthusiastically embraced each commute and school pick-up queue because it gives me the opportunity to listen to Lisa See’s amazing novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, narrated by the talented Jodi Long. See’s saga transports the listener to 19th-century rural China, tracing the relationship between Lily, from a peasant family, and Snow Flower, from a wealthier family in a neighboring village.

            Upon preparation for binding Lily’s feet at the age of six, a matchmaker takes notice of their exquisite shape. Because of the promise of perfectly beautiful bound feet – in a culture and time where the ideal female foot was three inches long – the matchmaker senses that Lily could make an excellent marriage with a family whose social standing is much higher. To facilitate this, the matchmaker makes a laotong (“old sames”) match between Lily and Snow Flower, a girl from a neighboring village whose upbringing educated her as to all of the etiquette and cultural things that Lily would be expected to know as a married lady of a more wealthy house.
 

The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Dateline: Hampstead, London, 1851

Twenty-something drawing master William Hartright was passing a pleasant evening en route to his next assignment as a live-in tutor for two young ladies at Limmeridge House when he was accosted by a young woman oddly garbed all in white who begged for his help. She refused to tell him her name, from whence she came or to where she was going. Being a gentleman, he escorted her, as was her design, to the nearest cab stand. Along the way, they chatted—The Woman in White, oddly intense and excitable, and he, curious to find out what he could about this very determined lady in distress.
 
What he did discover was that she knew the family who had hired him but, warm as her feelings seemed to be to the Fairlies, she was sufficiently troubled by another horror to bolt into the procured cab and race off towards her unstated destination. A few minutes later, Mr. Hartright saw another carriage driving recklessly and pulling up short near a policeman. The men in the carriage shouted to the officer—had he seen a woman in white? She had just escaped from their private insane asylum.

Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire, by Ruth Downie

Gaius Petrius Ruso has just arrived for duty in the Britain, a far backwater of the Roman Empire. He’s been assigned to the Valeria Victrix Legion as Medicus, serving the legion and the natives living in the town surrounding the barracks. When the only other doctor on staff is poisoned by a plate of oysters at the local bar/bordello, Ruso works on alone. Tramping the town in an exhausted stupor, he encounters an odious merchant beating an unconscious slave girl—who clearly has a badly broken arm.

Ruso wants to forget he ever saw the girl. He doesn’t have the money to buy her. He has no use for her. But it’s clear that if she stays as she is, she’ll die. So Ruso does buy her, with the plan to heal her and put her to work.  But pretty and clever Tilla has other plans. As a point of honor, she wants to die, and there’s very little Ruso can do about it as she has no plans to tell him.

If you like The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

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.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory is about: "Two sisters competing for the greatest prize: the love of a king. When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family's ambitious plots as the king's interest begins to wane and she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. Then Mary knows that she must defy her family and her king, and take her fate into her own hands." (Book Summary).

If you like The Other Boleyn Girl and historical fiction about royalty that explores the details of court life, you may enjoy these selections:

The Creation of Eve
by Lynn Cullen
Renaissance portraitist Sofonisba Anguissola joins the Spanish court of Felipe II after a scandal in her native Italy and becomes embroiled in a love triangle involving the royal couple and the king's illegitimate half-brother, Don Juan. (catalog summary)


 

Crowner Royal
by Bernard Knight
It is April 1196. At the command of King Richard and his Chief Justiciar Hubert Walter, county coroner Sir John de Wolfe -- along with his officer Gwyn of Polruan and clerk Thomas de Peyne -- has left Exeter for London where he is to become the first Coroner of the Verge. Thrust into the intrigues of the closed world of the Royal Court, John quickly finds himself embroiled in a case of theft, blackmail, espionage, and murder. (catalog summary)
 

The Silver Touch by Rosalind Laker

This book started to take form when an 18th-century silver spoon washed up on the beach near author Rosalind Laker’s home. It bore the proud mark of a London silversmith—a woman silversmith by the name of Hester Bateman. Fired with curiosity, Ms. Laker researched the fascinating Bateman family. During the Georgian period, the Batemans rose from potential ruin to being leading craftsmen who were known to have that elusive Silver Touch that marks a master workman.

In creating her book—which is equal parts romance and historical novel—the author took the bones of what was known about Hester Bateman and fleshed them out into a passionate story that is rooted in the solid, workaday world of the English craftsmen. 
 
The woman silversmith begins life as Hester Needham, an orphan of twelve years who is taken in by her uncle and his shrewish wife. For half a dozen years, the pretty girl waits tables at their London tavern. She is careful not to entangle her heart until the day she meets handsome John Bateman. An apprentice goldsmith, he has many months to run on his contract before he can be a free man and do as he pleases.

The Weaver's Tale: A Medieval Mystery

Wracked with sickness on a frozen day in 1473, Roger the Chapman collapses on the road in the city of Bristol. Strong as he usually was, he had overestimated his ability to lug his pack of goods the many miles in such gruesome weather. Most of the townspeople want to leave him to die—just such a one might be a plague-bearer—but a weaver’s widow and her young daughter decide to shelter him anyway in Kate Sedley’s The Weaver’s Tale.

Margaret Walker and her daughter Lillis were already regarded with suspicion by their neighbors because of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Margaret’s father. The town feels guilty for the part it played in the affair, and they have taken to bullying the Walker women. The bullying is bad now, but it seems to be getting worse—perhaps fatally so. Roger agrees to stay in the Walker cottage for several weeks until winter has passed. He can help them with their chores and perhaps, too, help in solving the mystery surrounding the weaver’s death.

The Testimony of Two Men by Taylor Caldwell

Enter a brilliant surgeon who says exactly what he thinks, no matter whom it offends. He’s almost always right on his controversial diagnoses and drives his fellow doctors mad with his insistence that things be done the right way. He drinks too much sometimes, has few friends, and never, ever suffers fools. But this is not Dr. Gregory House. This is Dr. Jonathan Ferrier, a beleaguered genius who, though acquitted of his pretty wife’s grisly death, is still held accountable for it by many of Hambledon’s citizens in Taylor Caldwell’s A Testimony of Two Men.

Hambledon, Pennsylvania, in 1901 is a small town full of fine, upstanding people and a veritable matrix of malice. Dr. Ferrier has had enough of the place and is packing his bags to light out for the territories—or a big city, or anywhere, really, as long as it isn’t Hambledon. Enter Dr. Robert Morgan, as well-meaning and wet-behind-the-ears as any of House’s famous team. He’s the chosen man, the replacement who’s to buy out Dr. Ferrier’s practice. Is it because he, too, is a budding genius who has impressed Ferrier with his surgical wizardry and diagnostic discoveries? No, in Dr. Ferrier’s words, it is simply because he is the least likely of the candidates to do harm.

The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry

Charlotte Ellison lives a outwardly beatific and genuinely boring existence at her home in the London suburbs. To her mind, her most vexing problems are her father’s refusal to allow her to read his newspapers—a common enough attitude in Victorian England—and her unresolved, unadmitted crush on her brother-in-law Dominic. Anne Perry’s Cater Street Hangman portrays Charlotte’s extremely circumscribed position as one that might have yawningly gone on for years, filled with good works and a suitable marriage, were it not for the gruesome murders of young girls in the environs of her Cater Street home.

The Great Stink by Clare Clark

Clare Clark's The Great Stink brings to life the literal dank and dismal underbelly of Victorian London.

During the summer of 1858 a heat wave gripped London. The water level in the Thames sank from the accompanying drought. Raw sewage flowed into the Thames, spilled over the banks, and caused a stench that filled the city. The powerful machinery of the House of Commons ground to a halt as a hot, fetid miasma enveloped the chambers. Curtains soaked in a solution of chloride of lime did nothing to block the foul air. The Great Stink had arrived.

An outbreak of cholera rapidly followed. Members of Parliament, sick and dizzy from the heat and smell, finally passed legislation to fund a new sanitary sewage system for the city of London. The newly formed Metropolitan Board of Works got busy. Engineers and surveyors were hired. Massive contracts for bricks and supplies and construction were awarded. The potential for profits - and corruption - was enormous.

If you like "Shalimar" by Rebecca Ryman

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.

Shalimar by Rebecca Ryman is a historical novel, set in India. If you want some titles that are either set in India (modern, or historical) or just have the same "feel" of a good story, you might try the following titles:

The Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleverly.
In the 1920s, a serial killer targets the wives of Britons attached to the military Bengal Greys near Calcutta. Disguised as accidents, the murders go undetected until the latest, the purported suicide of a young wife, finally attracts the attention of investigator Joseph Sandilands.
(from Library Journal)

The Case of the Missing Servant : From the Files of Vish Puri, India's "Most Private Investigator" by Tarquin Hall.
Portly, persistent, and unmistakably Punjabi, (Vish Puri) cuts a determined swath through modern India's swindlers, cheats, and murderers. (description)