The best historical fiction novels for nerdy teacher-librarians

Cate Carlyle Author Of #NotReadyToDie
By Cate Carlyle

Who am I?

I am an author of short stories, young adult novels, romance, even a reference book, but I will read any genre and any age group. As a librarian, researcher, book reviewer, and former school teacher, I have a long-standing love for historical fiction. When an author gets the details right, and you feel transported in time and place to WWII, or the 18th century, or Victorian England…there is nothing sweeter. Witnessing humankind overcoming huge obstacles, facing the most that human nature can take, and coming out on top? Definitely literary therapy! So put down the cell phone, pour a hot cuppa, and let these favourites of mine transport you.


I wrote...

#NotReadyToDie

By Cate Carlyle,

Book cover of #NotReadyToDie

What is my book about?

#NotReadyToDie offers a unique glimpse into an unimaginably horrific school day from the perspective of the students trapped inside and told in real-time. The suspenseful story focuses on the students, their relationships, how they cope with unimaginable stress, and their impressive strength. 

The books I picked & why

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The Winemaker's Wife

By Kristin Harmel,

Book cover of The Winemaker's Wife

Why this book?

True confession time…after reading The Winemaker’s Wife I hightailed it to the library and took out all of Kristin Harmel’s historical fiction titles (Book of Lost Names!!). Yes, they are that good! In The Winemaker’s Wife, Harmel transports her readers to 1940, a time when WWII and the Nazi regime threatened the lives and livelihoods of a particular Champagne House in France. She expertly taps into all of the five senses in her tale of love and betrayal, of the unyielding power of the human spirit in the face of adversity, and of a Resistance movement hidden beneath the casks and caves of the winery. A riveting, read-in-one-sitting book!


The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak,

Book cover of The Book Thief

Why this book?

I don’t believe in age recommendations for books, and some of my favourite adult reads are designated as young adult books, including The Book Thief. Narrated by “Death”, the book tells the tale of Liesel, a young book lover who “borrows”/rescues books from Nazi book burnings during WWII. Liesel is a foster child living outside of Munich who shares her love of books and the solace that comes from reading with everyone she encounters, including the Jewish man hidden in the basement. The box office movie version of The Book Thief is a decent rendering as well if you like to follow the book with the movie!


The Good Earth

By Pearl S. Buck,

Book cover of The Good Earth

Why this book?

There is a reason why The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize, is a regular on best books lists and was featured in Oprah’s Book Club. I have reread this story so many times over the years. It is a heart-wrenching tale of a farmer and his wife struggling to survive in 1920s China. The story follows the birth of their children, the extremes of both wealth and destitution, and the fragility of farm life. Ultimately their children turn their backs on the land that sustained the family for so long. It is a timeless tale of family relationships, severe hardship, love, loss, and the will to survive. A true classic. (If you like to watch the movie after reading the book, the 1937 film won a few Academy Awards as well).


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

By Jamie Ford,

Book cover of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Why this book?

Jamie Ford, the great-grandson of Chinese immigrants to the United States, nailed every detail in his debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHe crafted a gripping love story set against the backdrop of the shameful time in history during WWII when Japanese Americans were imprisoned in internment camps in Seattle. The story begins in modern-day when Henry (Chinese) finds artifacts from his youth at an abandoned hotel and relives the friendship and love he had for young Keiko (Japanese) when they were both school-aged children in the 1940s, despite all the racial barriers that existed at the time. A modern-day Romeo and Juliet if you will. This one will definitely tug at the heartstrings. 


Snow Falling on Cedars

By David Guterson,

Book cover of Snow Falling on Cedars

Why this book?

While Snow Falling on Cedars also flashes back to Japanese internment camps on the West Coast during WWII, this fictional story centers around a suspicious drowning of a white man in 1954 and the trial of the accused Japanese American. Ishmael Chambers, a one-armed war veteran himself, runs the local newspaper and follows the trial closely as he has a close connection to the players. Ishmael not only grew up with the drowning victim and the accused, but he was also the high school sweetheart of Hatsue, the accused’s wife. A love he never got over. (If you are an Ethan Hawke fan the 1999 movie is also well done, but more of a courtroom thriller than the book.)


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japanese Americans, family secrets, and China?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Japanese Americans, family secrets, and China.

Japanese Americans Explore 29 books about Japanese Americans
Family Secrets Explore 83 books about family secrets
China Explore 400 books about China

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Alone in Berlin, Anne Frank, and A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience if you like this list.