The best historical novels to drop you into another time and place

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Gainesville, Florida, and read every history of the area I could get my hands on, all the while imagining who lived there and what their lives were like. I got three degrees from the University of Florida and applied the skills learned there to Sand Mansions. The novel covers the years 1876 to 1905, a time in which a get-rich-quick frontier mentality slowly gave way to a more stable approach to community building. Sand Mansions won a prize for Best Adult Fiction from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.


I wrote...

Sand Mansions

By Norman Gilliland,

Book cover of Sand Mansions

What is my book about?

In 1876, brash young fugitive Nathaniel Larrabee takes a series of wrong turns on his way from Missouri to the gold fields of the Dakota Territory and finds himself in a North Florida town every bit as wild and bountiful as the frontier he was seeking.

It’s a strange place where his struggle to make a living takes him through a gauntlet of historic events—a corrupt presidential election, a devastating yellow fever epidemic, the depredations of a notorious Black outland and his Irish priest accomplice, catastrophic freezes, boom ,and bust. With the dawn of a new century, a surprising turn of events threatens Larrabee’s livelihood and forces him at last to confront his unquiet past.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Northwest Passage

Norman Gilliland Why did I love this book?

When I was 11 years old, there was a TV show called Northwest Passage, which was an eye-opener for me because it took place at a time when the American frontier was somewhere in New York State. At the end of each episode the image of a book appeared, and I pestered my parents to get me a copy. A few days before my birthday, I caught sight of the book in a bag on my dad’s dresser. I was thrilled. I loved the adventures of Rogers’ Rangers as they fought their way through an endless forest during the French and Indian War and searched for the fabled shortcut to the Orient. In school, my book report on Northwest Passage was so long and enthusiastic that the teacher called time on me.

By Kenneth Roberts,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Northwest Passage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This classic novel follows the career of Major Rogers, whose incredible exploits during the French and Indian Wars are told through Langdon Towne, an artist and Harvard student who flees trouble to join the army.


Book cover of War and Peace

Norman Gilliland Why did I love this book?

When I was in junior high school, I was smitten with a girl named Vicki. On one of the three dates I managed to land with her, she got into a conversation with someone about Anna Karenina. I decided to read it as a way to get to know her better. I was hooked. I listed all the main characters on 4 x 6 cards so I could keep track of them. I was so taken with the complex world that Tolstoy created that I dove into War and Peace and its story of lives lost or rebuilt during the Napoleonic wars. I went on to read two different translations of the book, which inspired me to take eight courses of college Russian.

By Leo Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude (translator), Louise Maude , Henry Gifford (editor)

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked War and Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'If life could write, it would write like Tolstoy.' Isaac Babel

Tolstoy's epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in
a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed. The prodigious…


Book cover of Gone With the Wind

Norman Gilliland Why did I love this book?

I read this book not long after my first reading of War and Peace and found that the two have a lot in common. Like War and Peace, GWTW follows a heroine from her giddy teens, through the sobering rigors of war, and into rebuilding her life after the war. And in both books, even the minor characters are vivid and well-rounded. Today, we may take issue with some of the politics in Mitchell’s book, but the novel is an accurate evocation of the politics of the time and place she’s describing. We don’t have to get nostalgic about those times, but neither should we forget them.

By Margaret Mitchell,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Gone With the Wind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story of the tempestuous romance between Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara is set amid the drama of the Civil War.


Book cover of A Land Remembered

Norman Gilliland Why did I love this book?

With its 19th-century Florida setting, this novel is the one most closely related to my own book and the only one of my five recommendations that I read after writing it. A Land Remembered is a book about trying to make a living in an unpredictable environment. Although there is a genre called the Cracker Western, Reconstruction-era Florida has long been overlooked as a setting for historical novels. What with its carpetbaggers, cattle drives, and orange and phosphate booms, it offers plenty of fertile ground.

By Patrick D. Smith,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Land Remembered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Land Remembered has been ranked #1 Best Florida Book eight times in annual polls conducted by Florida Monthly Magazine.

In this best-selling novel, Patrick Smith tells the story of three generations of the MacIveys, a Florida family who battle the hardships of the frontier to rise from a dirt-poor Cracker life to the wealth and standing of real estate tycoons. The story opens in 1858, when Tobias MacIvey arrives in the Florida wilderness to start a new life with his wife and infant son, and ends two generations later in 1968 with Solomon MacIvey, who realizes that the land…


Book cover of Panther in the Sky

Norman Gilliland Why did I love this book?

I was quite taken with Thom’s meticulous evocation of the great Tecumseh, an American much of whose life is unknown but whose formidable effort to form a Native American confederacy came at a time when the British and Americans were engaged in the War of 1812. With convincing detail, Thom gives us a Native American perspective on those turbulent times and shows us a Tecumseh who was not only a warrior but also a political strategist and a diplomat.

By James Alexander Thom,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Panther in the Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rich, colorful and bursting with excitement, this remarkable story turns James Alexander Thom's power and passion for American history to the epic story of Tecumseh's life and give us a heart-thumping novel of one man's magnificent destiny—to unite his people in the struggle to save their land and their way of life from the relentless press of the white settlers.

“Oh, what a man this will be, with such a sign as that!”

In 1768, when Turtle Mother gave birth to a strong baby boy in the heart of the Shawnee nation, a green-yellow shooting star streaked across the heavens.…


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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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