The best historical fiction novels that immerse you in the struggle for freedom

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always loved history—in both fiction and nonfiction forms. The events from history that tend to stick with me the most are stories of individuals or groups who face enormous odds in their quest to live a life of freedom. History is full of oppression, tyranny, and tragedy, but it’s also full of individuals and groups that have stood against evil, even when it’s dangerous or difficult or unlikely to succeed. Immersing myself in those stories is one of the ways I honor those who have struggled and sacrificed.

I wrote...

A Waltz with Traitors

By A.L. Sowards,

Book cover of A Waltz with Traitors

What is my book about?

Trapped in Russia, Filip and the Czechoslovak Legion are determined to win a new country for their people. When Nadia, an aristocratic refugee, stumbles across his path, he offers her the only protection he can: a sham marriage. Neither expects real love, not when the legion has to take over the longest railroad in the world—and then hold it against Bolshevik counterattacks, partisan sabotage, Allied intrigue, and a set of brutal Siberian winters. At risk is the future of Czechoslovakia, the fate of Russia—and their hearts.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

A.L. Sowards Why did I love this book?

From the moment Xeones uttered his first line, “I had always wondered what it felt like to die,” I was hooked.

Ancient Sparta is brought to life through the characters of this book. We see their motivations, their training, their society, and what, in essence, makes them Spartans. Xeones isn’t a native Spartan, but his admiration for their society and his devotion to his comrades-in-arms makes him the ideal choice to tell their story.

This book had so many things I like in a good novel: history, life-like characters with great arcs, action, and quotable lines.

By Steven Pressfield,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Gates of Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the Sunday Times bestseller Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield tells the breathtaking story of the legendary Spartans: the men and women who helped shaped our history and have themselves become as immortal as their gods.

'Breathtakingly brilliant . . . this is a work of rare genius. Savour it!' DAVID GEMMELL

'A tale worthy of Homer, a timeless epic of man and war, exquisitely researched and boldy written. Pressfield has created a new classic' STEPHEN COONTS

'A really impressive book - imaginatively framed, historically detailed and a really gripping narrative' ***** Reader review

'Beautifully written and a great joy…

Book cover of I Must Betray You

A.L. Sowards Why did I love this book?

Romania in 1989 is bleak: citizens are impoverished and can trust no one.

Anyone could be an informer, either by choice, or by blackmail, and Cristian Florescu is soon trapped. He doesn’t want to inform on anyone, but he doesn’t feel like he has a choice.

Cristian is instantly likeable—though he faces difficult choices, he wants to do the right thing. His relationships with his family members are well-crafted, as is his light romance with Liliana.

I enjoyed this glimpse into Romanian life at the end of the Cold War, when things were awful, but hope was on the horizon—a hope and a future that Cristian is able to play a role in winning for himself and for his people.

By Ruta Sepetys,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked I Must Betray You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

A #1 New York Times and National Bestseller!
A gut-wrenching, startling historical thriller about communist Romania and the citizen spy network that devastated a nation, from the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray.

Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.
Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s…

Book cover of Beneath a Scarlet Sky

A.L. Sowards Why did I love this book?

Humans are capable of such evil, and also of so much good, and it’s all there in this fictionalized account of Pino Lella’s WWII experiences.

I was captivated first by the grit and growth of this Italian teenager as he leads refugees over the mountains into Switzerland. Then I was fascinated by Pino’s enlistment and assignment to drive a car for one of the most powerful Nazis in Italy.

But Pino isn’t a Nazi, and he and his uncle see his new assignment as an opportunity to glean information for the Allies. His experiences are bittersweet—a poignant reminder that the struggle for freedom is often messy and imperfect.

By Mark Sullivan,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Beneath a Scarlet Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon to be a major television event from Pascal Pictures, starring Tom Holland.

Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, the USA Today and #1 Amazon Charts bestseller Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the triumphant, epic tale of one young man's incredible courage and resilience during one of history's darkest hours.

Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He's a normal Italian teenager-obsessed with music, food, and girls-but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape…

Book cover of A Night Divided

A.L. Sowards Why did I love this book?

When the Berlin Wall goes up, Gerta’s family is divided.

Her father and one brother are in the west. Gerta, her mother, and her brother Fritz are in the east. Four years later, the Statsi has their eye on Gerta’s family, Fritz is due to be drafted, and then Gerta catches sight of her father on the other side of the wall, signaling something about digging.

If they’re ever going to be free, they must do something daring, and do it soon. Though written for young readers, the excellent pacing, realistic characters, and powerful themes about freedom and family make this book a great read for all ages. 

By Jennifer A. Nielsen,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Night Divided as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

A stunning thriller from NYT bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen about a girl who must escape to freedom after the Berlin Wall divides her family between east and west.

A Night Divided joins the Scholastic Gold line, which features award-winning and beloved novels. Includes exclusive bonus content!With the rise of the Berlin Wall, Gerta finds her family suddenly divided. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall,…

Book cover of The Things We Cannot Say

A.L. Sowards Why did I love this book?

In this dual timeline book, readers follow the story of Alina during WWII and her granddaughter Alice during contemporary times.

I loved that both Alina and Alice grew as the story progressed. Alina and Tomasz sacrificed to help others and do the right thing, even when the cost was high. The book included beautiful, complicated relationships, lots of emotion, an element of mystery, and an authentic historical backdrop.

I enjoyed both the WWII and the contemporary timelines.

By Kelly Rimmer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Things We Cannot Say as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If you were moved by The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris or The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, this book is for you. A searing page-turner of hope, family secrets and a love to defy all odds from bestselling Kelly Rimmer, inspired by the author's family history.

'Fans of The Nightingale and Lilac Girls will adore The Things We Cannot Say' Pam Jenoff

'Simply amazing book, so moving I couldn't put it down. A book that will remain in my heart for many years to come *****' A reader

'Captivating. I am in awe of this story *****'…

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Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."

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