Somerset County Library System of New Jersey | Connect, Explore, Share, Discover

Eclipse glasses? Our branches have a few left, but we are saving them for the Big Event on Monday.

Historical Fiction

Home/SCLSNJ Recommended Reads/Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction

Some of the librarians at the Bridgewater Library decided to read some great non-fiction this month that fell into the category of science and nature writing. Maybe you’ll find something in this list that will interest you too.

Achebe, Chinua – Things Fall Apart

Blurbed by Kay

The main character of this novel, set in 1900’s Africa, is Okonkwo, an arrogant leader in a tribal village in Nigeria, who lives by his ancient tribal rituals. He has an unyielding need to be seen as a strong leader and a successful man. The book presents the beliefs, rituals and daily life of the tribesmen and women. Their lives are difficult and full of superstitions, as they follow the tribal laws of their leaders without question.

Okonkwo is beset with problems as he attempts to follow the laws of the elders. Through his own selfishness he fails –hurting his status as a leader of his tribe. As colonization starts to take place in his area of Africa, Okonkwo can not accept the white man’s laws or the religious changes they bring. Tragic events unfold as daily life changes and tribal society sees “things fall apart”.

Dick, Phlip K. – The Man In The High Castle

Alternate History

Blurbed by Chris

The year is 1962, fourteen years after the Axis won World War II. The Japanese and the Germans have divided the conquered United States into three parts; one each for the victorious parties, and one between them for the remains of the once-great country. The Cold War has begun between the two superpowers, eyeing each other over the ocean and the aforementioned North American buffer zone. And through it all, the world is obsessed with two books: one, the I Ching, consulted daily to fortell the future; and the other, a wildly popular — and widely banned — historical fiction novel with the crazy premise that the Allies instead won the war. The book starts off slowly, but all of the seemingly disconnected stories start to converge on each other. There are lies within lies, and secrets within secrets. The language has changed as a result of the occupation, losing articles and occasional verbs (the book takes place mostly in the Pacific Japanese-owned states, and the language patterns reflect that). As the lies and lives start to intersect, the book speeds up. There is political intrigue, confusion, and inner truth to be found.

Guthrie, Jr, A.B. – The Big Sky and The Way West

Blurbed by Brendan

These were two books that I really enjoyed reading when I was young and I’d recommend them as among the best historical fiction you’ll find anywhere. The Big Sky is the story of the fur trappers who were the first white men to see the great American West. Its sequel, The Way West tells the story of life on the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon.

Guthrie’s characters Jim Deakins, Dick Summers and, especially, the young Boone Caudill, are real and believable. They learn to be strong and competent but they are facing a vast wilderness. There is so much adventure; the stories flow smoothly and are beautifully told. The dialogue is gritty and adds to the realism. After reading these books, you’ll feel as if you’ve personally experienced life on the frontier.

Mitchell, David – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Blurbed by Morris

Plot: At the turn of the 19th century the tiny man-made island of Dejima in the Nagasaki Harbor was Japan’s only trading post with the Western world. This outpost was controlled by the Dutch East India Company with which the young Jacob de Zoet accepts a five-year position as a clerk hoping to save up enough money to return to the Netherlands and marry his fiancée Anna. The naive Jacob is thrust into a foreign world of unscrupulous trading and charged with making sense of the accounting on the island in light of the increasingly corrupt dealings. Along the way he meets and falls in love with the mysterious, scarred midwife Orito Aibagawa who has been granted permission to study on the island under the Dutch physician Lucas Marinus after delivering and bringing back to life the Magistrate’s stillborn child. When Orito’s father dies deeply in debt her stepmother sells her into the service of the Mount Shiranui Shrine where she discovers a horrifying secret. Orito’s first love Uzaemon, Jacob’s confidant and translator, attempts to rescue her when the shrine’s nefarious intentions are revealed, meanwhile Jacob becomes the de-facto leader when British forces arrive and attempt to wrestle control of the Dejima away from the Dutch.

Appeal Factors: I choose to read this book because I’d previously read Mitchell’s charming, semi-autobiographical bildungsroman Black Swan Green. I haven’t read much, if any, historical fiction, so I thought I’d stick to an author whose works I’ve read and enjoyed. Thankfully, it paid off as The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is an epic and wonderful novel filled with mystery, romance, and adventure. This book is about a lot of things. It’s about religion, it’s about trading, it’s about sailing, it’s about language barriers and culture clashes, but at it’s heart this book is about romance, unfulfilled romance, and its myriad consequences. Perhaps Motörhead said it best in their song, “The Chase is Better than the Catch.” The most interesting aspect of the book, at least for me, is the setting. Japan circa the turn of the 19th century is a time and place I knew nothing about and as far as I can tell it’s not a setting that’s been utilized much in fiction, at least not in English-language fiction. Though he’s fiddled with the historical timeline slightly and the characters themselves are the product of his imagination, Mitchell has faithfully rendered the time period as accurately as possible and it’s evident that a tremendous amount of research went into writing this book. I would highly recommend this book to any fan of literate historical fiction.

Moran, Michele – Cleopatra’s Daughter

Blurbed by Carolyn

A fictional account of the life of Cleopatra’s daughter Selene (and sons) after Egypt was conquered by Octavian.

The story begins when Selene is ten years old and is told from her perspective. After her parents deaths, Selene and her two brothers are taken captive by Octavian and are brought to Rome. Although a work of fiction, the author has researched this time period in history to provide accurate descriptions of the people and events of that time. Even people who are not fans of historical fiction or non-fiction histories will find this book an interesting read.

Poole, Sara – Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance

Blurbed by Yvonne

What do you do if you’ve apprenticed to your father, who was recently murdered, and don’t want to be cast out on the streets? Simple, you murder your father’s replacement so you can have his job. If you are trying to get the job as Rodrigo Borgia’s new poisoner this is probably the best “get yourself noticed” technique available and Francesca Giordano does indeed get the job.

This book is all told in first person by Francesca who affords an interesting view of Vatican and Roman politics. This is a turbulent time in the papal and Roman history and her job gives her a front seat to the action. She is a likeable, strong and clever heroine, blinded only by her desire to get revenge for her father’s death.

The first in a series, the reader will be able to see the evolution of Borgia’s dynasty and how his infamy (and that of his children) comes to be.

Rose, M.J. – The Reincarnationist

Blurbed by Yvonne

This novel is part historical fiction, part thriller and part paranormal adventure. Josh, a news photographer, is injured during a terrorist attack and since he’s regained consciousness his reality hasn’t been the same. He’s living multiple lives. He’s experiencing a past life in Ancient Rome, one in 19th century New York City and he still has to deal with his life in the present. When objects and locations from his “memories” confirm that he is remembering past lives the role he plays in the present will help right wrongs of the past.

This is a very Dan Brown-ish adventure with a bit of the paranormal. There are lost art works, secret societies and the fast pacing of The DaVinci Code with the added bonus of a cliff-hanger ending.

Weir, Alison – Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Blurbed by Jane

According to the author’s notes at the end of the book, this story was told as historical fiction rather than a biography since there were gaps in the actual history that needed to be filled in. The story revolves around Eleanor of Aquitaine, 1151-1204, and in particular her 37-year marriage to King Henry II. Both of them are very strong-willed. Although the marriage starts out with a strong physical attraction, it suffers from power struggles, betrayals, and rivalries.

The book is well-written and carefully researched. Due to the detailed descriptions of the many conflicts and arranged marriages and other alliances involved in the building of empires, the book is lengthy and, at times, slow moving. At other times, the pace is faster.

I would recommend it to someone interested in medieval European history. It is also the story of an extraordinary woman, her marriages, and her children and has appeal as a fictionalized biography.

Wood, Brian and Riccardo Burchielli – DMZ

Alternate History

Blurbed by Chris

Twenty Minutes into the Future, the citizens of the Midwest rise up and form the Free States Of America and start a second civil war. The USA is pushed back to the Northeast, and Manhattan is now the titular DMZ, too big for the FSA to take over, but too difficult for the USA to defend.

By | 2017-05-08T20:10:31+00:00 August 30th, 2010|SCLSNJ Recommended Reads|
Connect with SCLSNJ through social networks: