Nine Historical Fiction Books for 2020



2019 was a rough reading year for me. I started off strong with reading or listening to five books a month. But as the excitement of the new year dulled into the gray haze of winter, I found myself lost in a world of fertility treatments and doctor’s appointments and infertility Bible studies. I was drowning in grief over this physical and emotional battle and though reading had historically been a healthy form of escape for me, I quickly realized that it was turning into a destructive distraction. I didn’t want to get lost in a multi-colored world when I’d have to pull myself out of it to face the cold reality of barrenness.


So, I resolved early in the year to read as I could and let my audacious 60 book yearly goal go. Consequently, I’ll likely close out the year with only 30-ish books read. But, that’s not discouraging to me. It was what my soul needed at the time and I was happy to oblige for a healthier outlook on life.


In God’s kindness, I’m closing out 2019 with a new light on the horizon: a six-month bump growing and nurturing our son, whom we’ll welcome in March. My heart is beating wildly again for the smell of book pages and the sound of a cracked-open book spine.


Despite the reading hiatus, I still managed to read several historical fiction books this year. I’ve divided them up for you into a few categories: favorites of 2019, to read for 2020, and honorable mentions.


My Three Favorite Historical Fiction Books of 2019


1. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa See


Set in a remote village, this entrancing novel places us in 1988 rural China. Li-yan and her family have been tea farmers for centuries and wrapped themselves in a veil of rituals and traditions. But modernity comes knocking when a strange visitor enters their lives and invites Li-yan into a whole new world.


This book wandered onto my “to-read” list after I browsed through the Goodreads Best Books of the Year in 2018. I was only mildly interested in it but decided to read it when it came up next on my queue. I was hooked from the first few pages. See’s writing is lyrical without losing the reader. She’s masterful at showing, not telling, and introduces the reader to a strange place with outrageous rituals. This book is worth a read if nothing but for See’s gorgeous writing style.


Sensitivities:

Sex: There are a few sex scenes that are border-line explicit. I skipped over the few paragraphs where they’re described.

Violence: Mild

Language: None

Potential triggers: child loss


2. America’s First Daughter - Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie


The road to revolution is a rocky, lonely one. Patsy Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, saw this as her father fought for the radical experiment of our country. After her mother died and her father resolved to never marry again, Patsy took up the mantle of her father’s protector and helper from his time in Paris as an ambassador to the highest ranking office in the land.


The book recounts her life from childhood to her final days, highlighting the big moments and giving us a fictionalized perspective of her thoughts. The book is not shy with touching on her dad’s unusual and controversial relationship with Sally Hemings, as well as his contradictory views on slavery.


I left this book admiring Patsy for everything she did for her dad and deeply grateful for all that our founding fathers did. The book had its slow moments, but I found the whole thing deeply interesting.


Sensitivities:

Sex: None explicit

Violence: Mild

Language: None explicit

Potential triggers: Alcohol abuse, domestic violence, brief mention of child loss


3. News of the World - Paulette Jiles


The rough and tumble landscape of post-Civil War Texas sets the stage for a blossoming relationship between two unlikely souls. Native Americans kidnapped orphan Johanna as a baby and raised her, but when she’s re-captured by Texas law enforcement, traveling news reader Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is tasked with bringing her back home. The pair must learn to trust one another while they traverse the dangerous, wild Texas hill country.


I picked up this gem after Kristin Hannah recommended it. I admittedly found it fascinating because I’ve developed a deep admiration for the Texas hill country having lived in this giant state all of my life. Reading about the dangerous cities and rough lifestyles of its inhabitants intrigued me as a Texas citizen, but the relationship between Johanna and Kidd was touching and I found myself rooting for the two of them through every adventure.


Sensitivities:

Sex: None explicit

Violence: Mild

Language: None explicit

Potential triggers: None


Three Must-Reads for 2020

These are the books I can't wait to crack open in 2020.


1. Pachinko - Min Jin Lee


Set in the early 1900s, Sonja finds herself pregnant with a married man’s child. Though her lover promises to take care of her, Sonja refuses his hand and instead marries a minister. The book shows how her decision profoundly ripples through generations, taking its readers through Japan’s streets, universities, and underground criminal world. I have only heard raving reviews for this beautiful book and feel like I’m way behind for not reading it yet!




2. The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell - Robert Dugoni


This expansive novel sounds fascinating, inspiring, and beautiful. Following the life of Sam Hell, who was born in the 1950s with a rare ocular abnormality, the book tells how Sam learns to be different. He encounters two people in particular--Ernie Cantwell, the only African American kid in his class, and Mickie Kennedy, who breaks all the stereotypes of being a girl. I’m excited to read this book primarily because of the perseverance it sounds like Sam learns.



3. My Dear Hamilton - Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie


Written by the same authors as America’s First Daughter, this book is an intriguing look at Alexander Hamilton’s wife, Eliza. In the midst of revolution, the two wed, despite his bastard birth, and create a life together with two children. But Eliza’s romantic dreams with her husband are dashed as she’s thrown into the center of America’s first sex scandal. She finds the courage to fight for her marriage in the midst of a very public embarrassment, even remaining loyal to him after his death.


I’m always a sucker for stories of women in impossible situations. Bonus points if they’re set in early American history. I so loved America’s First Daughter and am hoping this book delivers just as beautifully as Dyer and Kamoie's first.


Three Honorable Mentions

These were books I read this year that fell on the “meh” scale for me. Not terrible but definitely not a favorite read. Perhaps you’ll find them intriguing enough to pick up, though!


1. Women in the Castle - Jessica Shattuck


In the aftermath of WWII, three German widows attempt to pick up the pieces of their lives. Set in a Bavarian castle, this book weaves together these women’s stories as they process the devastation from the war. One woman, whose husband failed in an assassination attempt on Hitler, goes on a mission to find and rescue as many children from her husband’s friends as possible. But all of the women must wrestle and reconcile with their actions in the war and decide how—and if—they can move on.


2. The Clockmaker's Daughter - Kate Morton


This several-hundred page novel jumps the reader all across the time spectrum, from modern day to WWII, to tell the story of a beautiful, old house. Twenty-something Elodie is preparing to get married in only a few weeks, but when she discovers a picture of a beautiful woman and a familiar-looking house, she sets on a course that changes her entire life, uncovering family secrets and tragic, untold tales.




3. A Piece of the World - Christina Baker Kline


Based off of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World, this book tells the story of Christina Olson, a woman with a degenerative cripple and inspiration for one of Wyeth’s famous paintings. A friend of Wyeth for over 20 years, she hosted the young artist in her family’s large farmhouse and allowed him to spend most of his days upstairs painting. Little is known of Christina, but this book gives us a fictional glimpse of her quiet, hardworking life on a farm.