Savvy Suggestions: Historical Fiction Edition

One of our absolute favourite things about bookstores is our ability to learn more about the staff through their staff recommendations. Whether it’s Indigo’s staff pick program or our local independent’s staff recommendations wall (or even just having a chat with them!), we just love learning what books booksellers are reading and are in love with.

As publishing professionals (and with physical bookstores closed for the time being), Team Savvy Reader thought it was a good time to replicate that with a series of our own… Introducing Savvy Suggestions! Every couple of months, our team is going to choose books that we absolutely love and tell you why you should read them! Since this week is Historical Fiction Week here at the Savvy Reader, we thought it was high time to finally kick this series off!

Brianna’s Suggestions

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The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman

WARNING: May cause uncontrollable tears

I can’t recommend this book enough. This is an achingly beautiful story of Maggie and Elodie, the daughter Maggie had as a teenager, as they fight for they life they want. I immediately connected with these two strong women in this character-driven story and had a hard time putting it down to work. Plus, it’s set in Quebec, Canada! I highly recommend you read this one immediately, especially because its sequel, The Forgotten Daughter, hits the shelves this fall!

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Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

If you haven’t read the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize winning novel, you need to pick it up immediately! This literary masterpiece tells a story of friendship and betrayal, love and redemption. From the sultry cane fields in Barbados to a remote outpost in the Arctic, this story asks the question: what is true freedom? I was still thinking about this book weeks after reading it. I don’t want to spoil anything but I have never hated a character more than one of the characters in the first part of this story! You’ll know who I’m talking about once you read it.

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The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

This well-crafted novel set in pre-World War II Austria follows the son of a wealthy Jewish family, a Christian girl whose mother is the editor of an anti-Nazi newspaper, and a Dutch resistance member who smuggles children out of Nazi-occupied territories. I find stories about resistance extremely powerful, especially if they’re set in our world in a time where we needed these types of the people the most. I also love reading long novels so this 464-page historical fiction novel was a real treat.

Jesse’s Picks

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Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

If you hadn’t already noticed, we love Esi Edugyan here at the Savvy Reader. Half-Blood Blues is the remarkable story of Sid Griffiths that navigates its way through race, love and loyalty, sacrifices, and jazz. Esi Edugyan‘s writing is some of the most beautiful and accomplished writing we have in Canada, and this is the book that set her up as a literary powerhouse. And, if my recommendation isn’t enough, this novel won or was nominated for every major literary prize in Canada. Do with that knowledge what you will.

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If there is any author on par with Esi Edugyan in my books, it’s Heather O’Neill, and her latest novel might just be one of my favourite novels of all-time. Set in Montreal and New York between the wars, The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a spellbinding story about two orphans whose unusual magnetism and talent allow them to imagine a sensational future. Armed with an unbelievable imagination and a real knack for writing whimsical, beautiful tales, Heather O’Neill is the definition of a must-read author.

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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Everyone knows Emma Donoghue‘s name because of her remarkable novel Room, but I, perhaps shockingly, ended up liking this one even more! In The Wonder, an Irish village is mystified by what appears to be a miracle but may actually be murder. I don’t want to give away too much because, while this isn’t a straightforward thriller, there are enough elements of the story to keep you guessing, and the reveal is a truly heartbreaking moment. In my opinion, historical fiction of this kind is very hard to pull off, but, like the master she is, Emma Donoghue somehow figures it out. This is a truly remarkable book.

Marisol’s Picks

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The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

If you haven’t already picked up Alka Joshi’s The Henna Artist I highly recommend checking it out! Not only is the story so vivid and compelling, following Lakshmi, a seventeen-year-old fleeing an abusive marriage in 1950s Jaipur, I loved that it deviated from the typical European history that comprises so much historical fiction. India is a fascinating country and Joshi’s book takes place at such interesting period of its history, the vividness of the setting took me in right away.

The Thomas Cromwell Trilogy by Hilary Mantel

If you’re a fan of historical fiction who hasn’t had a chance to read Hilary Mantel, I can’t recommend her Wolf Hall trilogy enough! The inspiration behind the BBC mini-series by the same name, Mantel’s acclaimed trilogy follows Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power and the making of a modern nation. Incredibly well-written and thoroughly researched, Hilary Mantel has raised the bar on historical fiction, bringing together drama, fantastic storytelling, and historical fact in a trilogy that only just concluded with the March release of the final book, The Mirror & The Light!

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

An absolute must-read for all fans of historical fiction, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a stunning love story based on the experiences of the Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig Sokolov-an. Forcibly transported to Auschwitz, Ludwig (dubbed Lale in the book) was tasked with tattooing his fellow prisoners, all while using his privileged position to keep them alive. But it isn’t until Gita arrives at the camp that Lale vows to survive in order to marry her. A harrowing tale of hope and courage in the midst of atrocity, this is one historical fiction novel that will haunt you long after you’ve finished reading.

Those are the books we think all historical fiction fans should have on their shelf! What do you think, Savvy Readers? Agree? Disagree? Let us know on Twitter @SavvyReader or in the comments below!

Happy reading,

Jesse

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