Why I Read... Historical Fiction

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My experiences with historical fiction began way back with one of the first books I ever read - Meet Samantha by Susan S. Adler. I was six years old, and my grandma had bought it for me at a yard sale. I instantly was enchanted by Samantha's fancy, Victorian life. I devoured all the books about Samantha (and got the doll as a present) and quickly went through all the other American Girls (although there are plenty of new ones now that I know nothing about!). I loved reading about other time periods - they seemed so glamorous and different from what I experienced in my day to day life.

Fast forward three or four years, when I discovered the Dear America series. I was in love with these books. First of all, for the longest time I thought they were real diaries. However, even when I found out that they were not, I was enamored with the beautiful hardcover books with ribbon bookmarks. Every month when book orders came out, I would get the new Dear America book. My teachers knew to tell me immediately if they bought one of the books for the classroom so I could be the first to devour it. I was obsessed. I might still be obsessed - I definitely just looked up a title I had never heard of in my library's catalog that I saw when I was looking for an image. Anyway, suffice it to say that historical fiction was my favorite. I was obsessed.

Then, I went through a little phase. I stopped reading it. Subconsciously, I think I began to see it as sub-par literature, perhaps because there are quite a few romance books that masquerade as historical fiction (not that romance books can't be enjoyable, but they aren't my cup of tea). I didn't read any historical fiction for about five years, with the exception of The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (which everybody read). (Parentheses are my drug).

And for some reason, this summer, I fell in love again. So without further ado:

Why I Read Historical Fiction:

* The romance of the past. I'm not sure why, but there is something so elegant and vintage about reading stories of an era that has passed.
* Learning. After my fourth or fifth major change, my father voiced his concerns about my becoming an "eternal student" (and his perceived obligation to support my eternal student habits). Fortunately, in my sixth year of college, I might actually become employable soon. But I still love learning, and historical fiction books present learning in such a palatable format. Obviously, care must be taken to be sure facts are being presented accurately. However, historical fiction is a great tool for getting the general atmosphere of a place.


* Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. I was swept up by this book. It tells an unfamiliar story of the French Revolution, and you will rollercoaster through several emotions as you read this book, if your experience is anything like mine.
* Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. This is another book that tells a rather unique historical story, the story of Lithuanians imprisoned by the Russian government and forced to work in Siberia for over a decade. This book is very quietly written but shocked me frequently. It is a very powerful story.
* Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Or, quite frankly, anything by Jennifer Donnelly. Her writing is fantastic and she weaves her stories into history seamlessly. So seamlessly, in fact, that I looked up a couple of her characters, wanting to learn more about them, only to discover that they were fictional. (I was very disappointed). Revolution tells two parallel stories - one is of Andi, a troubled girl trying to deal with loss and disillusionment, and one is of Alex, the French Revolution-era writer of a diary Andi discovers. It is a strange but intensely powerful story. 

Want more recommendations? Visit...

Coffee and a Book Chick. She isn't exclusively a historical fiction blogger, but I frequently add historical fiction novels to my TBR because of her reviews. She also gives some background information on authors, which is fabulous. 


  1. I'm totally with you. I have always loved historical fiction (and read all those books you named as a child, too). Anything and everything American history, especially the wars, anything WWII, I had a French Revolution phase, and, of course, absolutely everything Middle Eastern and/or Jewish. I always rock at the history categories in jepoardy because of this genre.

  2. Aww I miss the American Girl books! I haven't been reading enough historical fiction lately. I don't know why, because for a while it was one of my favorite genres. Luckily I'm reading The Solider's Wife this month because it won my monthly poll, so I'll have historical fiction in the mix again :)

    Oh and thanks for reminding me that I still have Between Shades of Grey on my shelf and haven't read it yet! Must get to it soon.

  3. My experience with historical fiction is similar! Samantha was the first American Girl I read (and my favorite). Then I read the Dear America and the Young Princess Diaries, which were similar but were presented as the diaries of 10-13 year princesses: Elizabeth I, Cleopatra, Victoria, etc. Then I dove headlong into historical romances (love them!) But currently I haven't been reading much HF; I've been more into paranormal and contemp YA but this post is inspiring me to go back to my roots.

  4. My first foray into historical fiction was also American Girls. And when I was in 4th and 5th grade, I read as many Dear America books as I could get my hands on. In fact, I ordered a lot of them, as they were $5 or less through Scholastic. I still have all 16 of them sitting on my bookshelf, and from time to time pull them out. They're obviously written for a really young audience, but have fantastic research and so much feeling and detail behind them. As a history major, and an occasional writer of historical fiction, I sort of aspire to be as good as that.

  5. I have more or less always been reading historical fiction. It's a great way of learning about the past, and so enjoyable.

  6. I love historical fiction for all the same reasons you do, and try to steer away from the romances masquerading as historical fiction.

    I've not read Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran, but Cleopatra's Daughter by her is very good.

  7. Oh my, more historical fiction. My girls LOVE the American Girls books. They soak them up faster than I can get them from the library.

    I really want to read a book from this genre! When I can get a handle on my review list, I'm going to grab one. I saw your comment back on mine from yesterday (but I'll reply here because I stopped at your awesome all-caps spoiler warning and didn't scroll down further)...

    I saw your comment and as soon as I can get a handle on the madness that is my review schedule, I'm gonna hunt down your recommendation. I totally trust you. But I'm not gonna lie, that cover is atrocious. If you wouldn't have told me that Tussaud was a great place to start, I would have leaped past it because of the oddity that is that cover! (sadness, I know, but at least I'm honest.)


  8. @Allison - Maybe I should read more, then I could rock the jeopardy questions too! Haha. My favorite used to be Holocaust and the Oregon Trail, but I would say I am definitely in my French Revolution phase now. And I have totally made a list of all the Dear America books and I am going to go back and read all the ones that came out since I was younger. There is definitely a hippie one set in the 70's!

    @Sarah Says Read - Shoot, I knew there was a book I wanted to list as a historical fiction recommendation and The Soldier's Wife was it! I hope you are enjoying it. I loved the writing. You wrote about The Bronze Horseman forever ago and I really want to read that one.

    @Bookworm 1858 - Oooh I remember the princess books too! The only ones I read were Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra. I kind of want to read the Victoria one. Even though they are young books, I really want to go back and read all of that series and the spinoffs. When I was looking them up I saw that there was even a Dear Canada spinoff.

    @Laura - Oooh, what periods do you write? I am planning on going back and reading all the Dear America books that I missed once I grew out of them. I just remember being so enchanted by them and I want to revisit that!

    @Pepca - I couldn't agree more. :)

    @Sam - Good to hear! I have Cleopatra's Daughter sitting in my to-read stack.

    @Asheley - Yeah, she kind of looks like a cat! And it is totally misleading because she is never rich in the book. Hope you enjoy!

  9. Oh the MEMORIES! I LOVED the American Girls books AND the Dear America series! Be still my heart! :P LOVED them so much! I don't read as much as I used to, but Ann Rinaldi is a great HF writer, especially for people growing out of the Dear America age, but not yet old enough for books like Revolution. Rinaldi kind of straddles the MG/YA line. :)

  10. Ashley - Ann Rinaldi sounds super familiar although I can't think of any of her book titles off the top of my head. I'm pretty sure I read her! I have seriously made a list of all the Dear America books and I am going to go through and read them next year because I am a NERD-FACE. I remember thinking they were so romantic and awesome.

  11. My favorite Ann Rinaldi titles were Time Enough for Drums (Revolutionary War), The Last Silk Dress (Civil War) and A Break with Charity (Salem Witch Trials). But, I've liked almost every single one of her books that I've read. :) They make me happy.

    As for the Dear America books- WIN!!
    I LOVED them, SO much! Standing in the Light was always one of my favorites (partly because I owned it and could therefore read it over and over) and I thought Caty's romance with Snow Hunter was SO incredibly perfect and romantic! :) I loved that series so much! :D

  12. I think I read The Last Silk Dress! Haha. I loved Standing in the Light too. The other day for some reason I started thinking about the story and I couldn't remember what the book was, just that I read part of it in a Marie Callendar's (yeah, I was always getting in trouble for reading in socially inappropriate situations) and then when I searched the images I remembered that it was the book I'd been thinking of! That might be one of the first ones I reread. My favorite was Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie because I was OBSESSED with the Oregon Trail.

  13. Oooh! I loved AtWaLP too! I also loved West to a Land of Plenty. :)

  14. Oh I loved that one too! Especially because they were traveling to Idaho, I was always really excited that there was something historical about my state. :)

  15. Love historical fiction as well and the Jennifer Donnelly books are among the best ones out there. Because you enjoyed Dear America series, there is also a Dear Canada series out there, which focuses Canadian historical events.

  16. @Melissa - I noticed when I was searching for Dear America titles that there is also a Dear Canada offshoot! I know next to nothing about Canadian history and would love to know more about it, so I am probably going to have to look into those soon.


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