The best historical fiction to hear forgotten voices of resistance

The Books I Picked & Why

The Women of the Copper Country

By Mary Doria Russell

Book cover of The Women of the Copper Country

Why this book?

This book blasted a crater in my chest when I read it last year. A complete surprise, as who among us has heard of the Copper Country Strike of 1913-14? Yet it was the first unionized strike in the region, and had a complicated effect on Michigan, the mining industry, and the lives of those who stood up to the rich mine owners. This book gives us such intimate details of the cost of standing up for one’s dignity and safe working conditions that it felt as important as today’s news. From the woman at the heart of the novel to the network of labor unions she pulled together, to the tragedies experienced by this small town, I loved it and cherished the inspiration for today’s fights.


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The Weight of Ink

By Rachel Kadish

Book cover of The Weight of Ink

Why this book?

Talk about your complex characters…this is a dual timeline historical fiction, with one story following a Jewish girl in 1660s London and the other following a prickly older woman in the modern-day city. Ester struggles to find her own agency against her family’s expectations and society’s strictures, while Helen fights to retain hers against colleagues in academia wanting her to retire and itching to steal her research turf, which includes a certain 1660s London neighborhood… With themes of desire, ambition, friendship, and dignity, this novel won its way into my heart with its characters’ burning desire to be seen and make a difference in the world.


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Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

By Jacqueline Winspear

Book cover of Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

Why this book?

This is a historical mystery, but so much more than a whodunit. It’s fourth in the series, but can be read alone if you don’t mind spoiling the earlier books a bit. It’s a stand-out to me because it’s about raising one’s voice against inhumanity, even when it seems commonplace, or necessary.

Maisie is an intuitive detective and as such, has to fight against conventional police interference, client skepticism, and male smugness. But what she’s fighting for is the right outcome for everyone concerned, including the victim of the crime. This novel focuses on an artist ex-soldier of WWI who was using his voice to criticize the powers within government. I just love how Maisie deliberately wields her compassion in order to see the full picture of a case.


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Vera

By Carol Edgarian

Book cover of Vera

Why this book?

More tumultuous times! This book takes us deep into the roaring corruption of seedy San Francisco as the 1906 earthquake approaches, tears apart neatly balanced lives, and leaves everyone to fashion new modes of being with the scraps. I loved the details of the young woman protagonist making hard choices to keep those she loves close to her, even if she doesn’t understand them, and let go of those she loved, even as she learns from the experience.

Just a beautiful, thrilling adventure rife with diverse characters, historical detail, and larger than life personalities.


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Out Front the Following Sea

By Leah Angstman

Book cover of Out Front the Following Sea

Why this book?

Pre-revolution America is not usually my era for historical fiction but when I tell you that this novel grabs you with visceral detail, I mean it. Smells, textures, glares—everything is so vividly told! The resistance in this novel is really simple survival, as the whole New England village seems to have it in for our heroine Ruth. But she stubbornly holds out, trying to forge a path forward for herself. We get treated to some local politics, some ship lore, run-ins with Indigenous Nations (some good, some bad) and local brigands, and always anchored in Ruth’s evolving notions of right and wrong. The ending was also delicious. Think Last of the Mohicans meets Cold Mountain, but with a surprise for our heroine.


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