March 25, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - Historical Fiction

Part One

A few weeks ago, Joy asked for some recommendations for historical fiction titles. I always struggle with this category, not quite sure if my definition of "historical fiction" is accurate. So, I searched the Internet and came up with the following:

Historical fiction is a sub-genre of fiction that often portrays fictional accounts or dramatization of historical figures or events. Writers of stories in this genre, while penning fiction, nominally attempt to capture the spirit, manners, and social conditions of the persons or time(s) presented in the story, with due attention paid to period detail and fidelity. Historical fiction is found in books, magazines, art, television, movies, games, theater, and other media.

Historical fiction presents readers with a story that takes place during a notable period in history, and usually during a significant event in that period. Historical fiction often presents actual events from the point of view of people living in that time period.

In some historical fiction, famous events appear from points of view not recorded in history, showing historical figures dealing with actual events while depicting them in a way that is not recorded in history. Other times, the historical event complements a story's narrative, occurring in the background while characters deal with events (personal or otherwise) wholly unrelated to recorded history. Sometimes, the names of people and places have been in some way altered. As this is fiction, artistic license is permitted in regard to presentation and subject matter, so long as it does not deviate in significant ways from established history. If events should deviate significantly, the story may then fall into the genre of alternate history, which is known for speculating on what could have happened if a significant historical event had gone differently. On a similar note, events occurring in historical fiction must adhere to the laws of physics. Stories that extend into the magical or fantastic are often considered a historical fantasy.(Wikipedia)

So there you go. And now for 13 of my favorite works of historical fiction.

A Thread of Grace
by Mary Doria Russell

Snow Falling on Cedars
by David Guterson

Sarum: The Novel of England
by Edward Rutherfurd

The Samurai's Garden
by Gail Tsukiyama

Pope Joan
by Donna Woolfolk Cross

The Poisonwood Bible
by Barbara Kingsolver

Losing Julia
by Jonathan Hull

Follow the River
by James Alexander Thom

Falling Angels
by Tracy Chevalier

by Ian McEwan

Click on the titles for plot summaries and purchasing information.

Come back next Thursday and I'll share another thirteen of my favorites in this genre.


  1. Wow, someone else who's read Giants in the Earth. I grew up in SD, and we read it in high school. Now that I've moved to the South, no one has heard of it. All these many years later that book stick in my mind. I need to find a copy and reread it.

  2. Oh! This is great, Les! :) I didn't read Pope Joan with a book group I belonged to because I didn't like the title or the cover. It's my understanding that I really missed out - apparently you think so, too! Well, within the last couple of months I picked it up at a book sale, so it has made its way onto my TBR shelf. I read a few others on your list and agree with one - These is My Words. I look forward to more. :)

  3. Haven't read all of these, but the ones I have read I've really enjoyed. Sarum is one I read a long time ago and hope to re-read this year.

  4. I always think that I don't read historical fiction but how very silly of me. Of course I do - the Maisie Dobbs series and the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series are the ones that come quickly to mind.

  5. Great list! I've read a lot of these. I'm currently reading Giants in the Earth. I just started and it's going a little slow but I hope to get into it more.

  6. Loved the Poisonwood Bible, one of my all-time favorites. Great list and I'll be back to check out next weeks!

  7. Holy smokes! I've only read one of these - The Poisonwood Bible. It's one of my top 10 favorite books. After looking at your list, I figure I need to quit messing around with other projects and read more. And to think I was going to do some spring cleaning the next few days.

  8. Anonymous6:02 AM

    I'm the author of Pope Joan, writing to say that I'm very glad you enjoyed my novel. In my opinion, Joan is an inspirational woman, one of the great lost mystery-legends of history. A movie version of my novel finished filming last November and is now in post-production. You, or anyone else interested, can get more information at Anyone who adds her name to the "Update" list on the home page will receive an email once a month directly from me with "insider" news about the movie.

    At that same URL, book groups can make a request for me to "join the conversation" by speakerphone on the night the group discusses my novel. I make the phone call from my end--protects my privacy, and it's tax-deductible for me--so there's no expense to the group. I chat 2-3 times a week, every week, with groups all over the country, and it's really a lot of fun--a chance for readers to ask questions of "the horse's mouth", so to speak.

    Thanks again for the recommendation!


  9. I remember reading Giants In The Earth but it must've been more than 15 years back. And I don't remember anything else...time for a re-read! Because I do remember liking it.

  10. Great list, Lesley! I never read enough historical fiction, although I do like it very much.

    From your list, I have read These is My Words, Atonement and Clan of the Cave Bear. I enjoyed each of them.

    I want to try The Poisonwood Bible again someday--I didn't make it very far into it during my first attempt. It just wasn't the right time for it, I think. Pope Joan is another one I've been meaning to read, but I keep pushing it farther back in my TBR pile. I'm not sure why as the subject matter really interests me.

  11. Anonymous9:50 AM

    Dear Lesley;

    I wishlisted the books I didn't already own or have read on your historical list. I respect your opinion that much.

    I couldn't get through "Atonement" either as a book or movie. Odd, as I know so many loved it.


  12. Fun list! I've read quite a few of those and enjoyed them very much, well except for Atonement. :P
    I've been meaning to read Pope Joan for ages, I really should one of these day.

  13. Wow, Lesley, I loved so many of these books myself. Namely: Snow Falling On Cedars, Follow The River, and Atonement. HATED The Poisonwood Bible, my God, what a depressing book! But, I've always heard great things about Pope Joan which I really need to read some day.

  14. Oh I've read some of these and they are indeed faves, Poisonwood Bible in particular!

    Can't wait to see the next set of 13. You know I'm always looking out for a good historical novel :)

  15. Wonderful summary of HF and recommendations! I'm a historical fiction junkie. LOL!

  16. Oh, I see you also have Follow The River on your list. Great read! Highly recommended!

  17. Melanie - I had never heard of Giants in the Earth until we moved to Nebraska from California. I was taking a Great Plains Lit. class at UNL and this was one of our assigned readings. I loved it! Felt like a grown-up's version of the Little House on the Prairie books. BTW, I didn't care for the sequel (Peder Victorious, I think) at all!

    Joy - Yay! I'm glad you liked the list. I'll have another one up this coming Thursday.

    I've read Pope Joan twice and loved it just as much the second time around. You're in for a treat!

    I want to re-read These Is My Words and then read the two follow-up books right when I finish. I need more hours in my day!!

    SuziQ - Oh, Sarum was such a good story. I read it before my daughter and I went to London for two weeks. It was such a thrill to see Salisbury Cathedral, Bath and Stonehenge, especially after reading the book. I'd like to read London one of these days.

    Nan - Of course you do! :) I'd forgot to mention those books. I've read the first in each of those series.

    Amy - I hope Giants picks up for you. I thought it was so good. And, it made me especially thankful that I moved to the Midwest in 1992 and not 1892!!

    Staci - I'd love to re-read The Poisonwood Bible one of these days. I loved the way Kingsolver was able to distinguish all the voices of the women in her story. Didn't care for the last chapters, as I thought she got a bit preachy, but boy, some of the images are still vivid in my mind.

    Booklogged - Oh, you have so many great books to choose from on this list! But I understand the compelling urge to spring clean. I've been doing just that this past week or so. Took lots to the Goodwill and have a pile of clothes to go to a consignment store next week. I can actually see the floor in my closets! :)

    Donna - Thank you for your lovely comment! As I mentioned in another response, I've read your book a couple of times and loved it just as much the second time around. I bought several copies for gifts the year it made my Top Ten list and everyone said they loved it as much as I did.

    I believe you had either a phone-in discussion or an email chat with a Yahoo book group I used to belong to (OnThePorchSwing). Unfortunately, I was out of town during your visit, but I remember everyone in the group loved hearing from you.

    I'm thrilled to hear that the movie is in post-production. It's definitely one I want to see on the big screen!

    Thanks again for visiting my blog.

    Bybee - Yep, it's been about that long since I read Giants in the Earth, too.

    Literary Feline - Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the list. And glad to see another fan of Atonement. We're in the minority, I think. ;) And, yes, I think you'd really enjoy Pope Joan. I rarely re-read books, always afraid they won't be as good the second time around, but Pope Joan was just as fabulous when I re-read it. I would even read it a third time!

    Gayla - You are so sweet. I hope you enjoy everything you get on the list. I know you'll let me know. :) Regarding Atonement, I think you are in the majority rather than the minority. I thought it was an amazing story, but so many others hated it or couldn't even finish.

    Nat - I think you'd enjoy a re-read of Pope Joan. But maybe you should give Atonement another chance. ;)

    Bellezza - Yay! Another fan of Atonement. I loved, loved, loved that book! Yep, Poisonwood was depressing, but I thought Kingsolver did a masterful job with the voices of each character. Yes! Read Pope Joan. Get a copy and put it on the top of your stack! Then you'll be ready to watch the movie when it comes out. Don't wait!

    Iliana - Isn't funny how mixed the reactions are to so many of these books. People either loved or hated The Poisonwood Bible and Atonement. These would be great books for a discussion, as there'd be a nice mix of opinions.

    Teddy Rose - Glad you enjoyed the list. Pop back over next Thursday for more.

    Bybee - Have your read anything else by Thom? I've thought about reading his other book. I believe it's a sequel to Follow the River, but I'm not positive. Boy, was that a page-turner!

  18. My first and only Tracy Chevalier
    novel was Burning Bright and I hated it. I haven't forgiven her for making William Blake boring. When I get over that, I think I may read something else by her.

  19. Oh -- I also wanted to say that I love this list and plan to read some of the books from it.

  20. Katya - I haven't read Burning Bright and probably won't. I loved Falling Angels -- even more so than Girl With A Pearl Earring. I need to read it again!

    Glad you enjoyed the list. I need to get cracking on the second list!

  21. Terrific list! I loved Giants in the Earth, and the sequel, Peder Victorious when I was in high school!

  22. Robin - Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the list. You know, I had high hopes for Peder Victorious, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as Giants in the Earth.

  23. What a great list of books, Lesley. I've read and loved The Poisonwood Bible, Clan of the Cave Bear, Atonement and Snow Falling on Cedars. Wonderful books. I'll have to add some of these other books to my wish list :)

  24. Wendy - Glad you enjoyed this list! I agree with you on the four you mentioned. They really were great books. All worthy of second reads. When, though??!! ;)


I may not answer your comments in a timely fashion, but I always answer. Check back soon!