I used to quiz my great grandparents and my grandmparents about what their life was like many years ago. My one great grandmother told me outrageous stories of what it was like living in the Roaring Twenties.  Another grandparent told me stories of theur experiences during WWII.  I used to sit their listening to their stories with unwavering attention.  Perhaps this is why I have always loved reading historical fiction books as they are set in times and places of an eras long ago.  It allows me to step in their shoes, if just for a little while, and live in a time that is much different from my own. 

Below is a sampling of some historical fiction books that is definately worthy of your time.  Enjoy!

Tamar by Mal Peet 

From the beginning, Mal Peet’s book, Tamar, had my undivided attention. Tamar won the Carnegie Medal in 2005 and after reading the book, I can see why it won. It is novel that will appeal to both teenagers and adults alike. Peet says it is work of fiction but much of the plot is rooted in history. Set during WWII, the book had it all – love, hate, passion and betrayal.

In this book, Tamar is multiple things – a river, a spy and a girl.  This book interweaves two story lines though years apart together seemlessly.   One story begins with the suicide of Tamar’s grandfather who leaves behind a mystery in the form of codes and clues with the rest of his WWII memorabilia.  As she works out the clues, which takes her along the twisty river of Tamar, she discovers a mind blowing secret about her family tree. Did she really know him at all?

The other story starts with two spies, Tamar and Dart, who parachute into Nazi occupied territory to provide supprt to the Dutch Resistence movement. The war in Holland began in 1940 and by war’s end about 40,000 people lost their lives in Holland despite resistence groups that were formed.  In the final phases of the war, the Dutch suffered from severe food shortages, and during the last months before liberation they were near famine. Tamar’s assignment is to unite all the seperate resistance movements into one.  Dart’s main job is to run the wireless to send and recieve encrypted messages.  The names these men are using are not their real names.  Both of the names are code names just in case they are captured.  This is not Tamar’s first assignment in the area.  During his first assignment, he met a woman named Marijke and they fell in love despite what was going on around them. The affair picks up again when once again the farm is the place where they are assigned to hide. While they are basking in their love, they fail to notice that Dart is becioming obsessively jealous. His jealously eventually effects the dynamics of everything to come. The detailed plot allowed me to paint a vivid picture of that time in my head. I knew there was a twist toward the end of the book and I had an inkling that the betrayal was big but it still blew my mind away when I figured out what was going on.

Incantation – Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman in her book Incantation weaves a tale of life and love fused together with historical elements. At one time, the land of opportunity for Jews, from the 8th to the 12th century, was Spain but when the Spanish Inquisition began, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain drove out all the Jews from their lands thus putting an end to the largest Jewish settlements in Europe.  Those that stayed and didn’t covert to Christianity were forced to live in ghettos, and were mocked and mistreated. Jewishness itself became a thing to be shunned.  

Estrella thought she knew who she was but it turns out that there were secrets, secrets that needed to be kept in order to survive. The first time she realized that her life as she knew it was going to change when she witnessed the burning of Jewish books in the town square.  When her neighbors are arrested, Estrella or Esther which is her real name learns about her family heritage. What a dismaying thought the idea of having to hide your true self from others due to the fear of being ostracized or worse by others.  She always thought she was of the Catholic faith but it turns out her family was Jewish and had converted to the Catholism still secretly practicing Judaism. They had a term for those types of people, Marrano, which is truly horrid insult, which means “filthy-pig-person”. 

Jealously makes people do horrible things and it is because of jealousy the secret about Estrella’s family comes out. Estrella and Catalina have been best friends since they were little but secretly Catalina is very jealous of Estrella.  When the boy who Catalina is so sure is going to marry falls for Estrella, the ball is set into motion. It was the final straw.  She betrays Estrella and her family by meeting with officials and tells them all about Estrella’s grandfather’s secret worshiping and the magic he performs.  She even went on to say that she heard the grandfather call the grandmother Sarah instead of the name she was known by.  The soldiers came and nearly destroyed everything in the house taking the grandfather away.  At the trial he refused to talk and that is when they arrested Estrella’s mother.  Her whole family was lost, broken. 

This book tells an important lesson about hatred, intolerance and betrayal.  Fans of historical fiction will like this book and since it is a work of fiction a happy ending is possible.  It is important to know that as the smoke of hatred clears, good things and love can happen even at the most inopportune time.

Silent Echoes – Carla Jablonski

If you are a fan of Libba Bray’s Great and Terrible Beauty then you will like this one. Summarizing briefly: You got two girls living in two different time periods that can communicate with each other. Lucy, a girl who lives in 1884 is a con artist conducting “séances” but things get interesting when she actually hears a “spirit” begging for help. This “spirit” turns out to be Lindsay a girl living in present day NY. The two start communicating and Lucy raises to fame as a medium and Lindsay’s life spirals out of control as she gets hospitalized for hearing voices. See where this is going now…..the two girls realize they are really hearing each other’s voices every time they occupy the same physical location, they begin to see possibilities that will change both of their lives forever.

Queen’s Soprano – Carol Dines       

 It was the cover of the book that first got my attention.  The girl on the front cover of the book was wearing a beautiful gown o fit for royalty. Little did I know at the time that this book was the fictionalized account of Angelica Voglia who became the Queen Christina’s soprano during the time of Pope Innocent XI. All Angelica wants to do is sing but the Pope has forbidden women to sing in public. She had the natural gift of singing that was able to bring people to their knees.  People would come from all over to stand beneath her window in hopes of hearing her voice.  She had many suitors, all arranged by her mother, but the one that caught her fancy was the handsome but poor (for the moment) French artist, Jean Théoden.  Jean courts Angelica secretly, drawing pictures for her and sending messages to her via the servant girl that works for the family.  Her mother has other ideas though and plans to sell her daughter to the highest bidder in hopes that it would elevate her family to a higher income class. Angelica’s determined to sing and realizes that her only hope to sing before an audience and escape a forced marriage arranged by her controlling mother is to flee to Queen Christina’s court, where she will become the Queen’s Soprano. Dines tells Angelica’s story beautifully.  The characters are all richly developed. I was really able to sense Angelica’s determination to reach her goals despite the odds stacked against her.  Of course there is more to the story but you have to read it to find out the rest. One thing I will say is that the rest of the book is filled with romance, death, betrayal, intrigue and action. The book will keep you interested until the very end.  If you are a historical fiction fan then you should add this to your pile of books to read. Definitely recommend!!

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