The best historical fiction novels for nerdy teacher-librarians

Cate Carlyle Author Of #NotReadyToDie
By Cate Carlyle

The Books I Picked & Why

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!

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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!

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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).

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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. 

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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.)

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