Readers' Favorite

July 27, 2021

5 Books of Historical Fiction to Read

by Susan Roberts

Historical Fiction

I always enjoy reading historical fiction and learning about the strong women that we never learned about in school.  Here are reviews of five different historical fiction novels that I really enjoyed.

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The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan
June 2021; Graydon House; 978-1525811531
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); WWII fiction

"After a moment, he exhaled unevenly,  and then he whispered, 'I need to believe that there is some hidden depth of grace within these men who torture us, because if there isn't, all hope is lost.  And it's not just lost for us...but for humanity, because even once all this is over, this evil  could emerge from the souls of men again and again and again.'"
(loc 238)

I have read other books about the extermination of the Warsaw ghetto by the Nazis during WWII but this novel gives a different view of it from two teenagers - one inside the ghetto and one outside who both fight against what is happening to the Jewish people.  The main character is inspired by a real person who saved thousands of children from certain death.  Even though I knew the basic story, this book was still a real page-turner as I followed the lives of these two young people and hoped for a good outcome for both of them.

In the spring of 1942, fourteen-year-old Elzbieta is becoming aware of what is going on behind the walls of the ghetto.  Up until then, her main concerns were the city curfew and the Germans who patrolled the streets.  When she becomes friends with Sara, a nurse who lived upstairs from the apartment that she shared with her parents, she became part of a network of people who worked with the children in the ghetto to try to help them escape.  On one of her trips, she meets Roman.  He lives with his parents, younger brother, and a new baby.  He and his brother are constantly trying to get food for his mother so that she can nurse the baby.  When tragedy strikes his family and all is lost, Roman becomes part of the resistance group in the ghetto who plan to fight to take control from the Germans.  Elzbieta and Roman become friends and there is a real possibility of love but his fervor for the rebellion in the ghetto puts Elzbieta and her family in danger and they need to flee.  Will they be able to find each other again during the war or will the war and the fighting after the war with the Russian troops keep them apart forever?

This was a well-written and well-researched novel that was set during turbulent years in Warsaw.  The two main characters were well written and I was cheering them both on throughout the story.  Yes, there were tears as I read this novel but there was also a strong hope for peace and love for these two.  If you enjoy WWII fiction, you definitely don't want to miss The Warsaw Orphan.

Buy The Warsaw Orphan at Amazon

Along a Storied Trail by Ann H. Gabhart 

Along a Storied Trail
June 2021; Revell; 978-0800739997
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); historical fiction

"Family did matter.  Tansy wasn't against marrying and having her fair share of children, but she was glad enough to put it off for awhile.  Longer than most people around her thought was sensible....A person should marry with the intention of staying married forever but that could still be  long time even if you waited awhile for forever to start."
(p 9)

Tansy is 20 and past the age that her family and friends in her Kentucky mountain area think she should be married and having babies but Tansy is happy with her life.  She's a horseback librarian.  Not only does she love books but she also loves sharing books with people who wouldn't have had a chance to read unless she delivered books to them.  Plus her father has left home to find work and the money she makes helps to feed her family.  Perdita is an ornery old woman who has never married.  No one knew her age but she was at least in her 80s.  When her house burns down, she goes to live with Tansy's family along with a young pregnant girl she took in.  Tansy is interested in two men - one is an author who has come to town to write a travel book and listen to some of the old stories and the other is a friend from childhood who has just returned from planting trees with the Civilian Conservation Corps.  One man can take her out of the mountains to see places she has never seen.  If she marries her old friend, she will remain in the hills of Kentucky.  Should she choose a life that is similar to those that she's read about or stay at home and help to take care of the people she knows and loves?

This is a well-written interesting book. I've read several books recently about the horseback librarians and there are some similarities in the books.  Along a Storied Trail gives us more of an insight into life through a young woman's eyes who loves her home and the people she is surrounded with.  This is a story about love - both love of family and love of setting along with a look at love and marriage.

Buy Along a Storied Trail at Amazon

The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea 

The Metal Heart
June 2021; Harper Perennial; 978-0063075498
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); WWII fiction

In the dark days of World War II, an unlikely romance blossoms between a Scottish woman and an Italian prisoner of war in this haunting novel with the emotional complexity of The Boat Runner and All the Light We Cannot See—a powerful and atmospheric story of love, jealousy, and conscience that illuminates the beauty of the human spirit.

I read a lot of WWII fiction and am always amazed to read about the results of the war in areas that I've never read about.  This novel is based on the real events of a chapel being built on a remote Scottish Island by Italian prisoners of war.

Dorothy and Constance are twin sisters and live alone on a small island.  They are dealing with their parents' deaths and have no desire to go back to the mainland and back into the small society there.  After the Allies win  back North Africa, there are many Italian soldiers taken captive.  500 of these prisoners were sent to a small island in Scotland to help build barriers to keep the German navy away from Great Britain.  The town is divided by the plan - they've been worried about an invasion for over three years and are fearful of the prisoners and don't want them there.  Dorothy and Constance don't see them as the enemy but see them as wounded soldiers who need nursing and they both decide to help.  Dorothy finds herself falling in love with one of the men who was more of a painter and poet than a soldier.   Constance isn't happy with the relationship because it threatens the bond between the two sisters plus she is worried about her sister's potential heartbreak when the war is over.  What will be the fate of the sisters and Dorothy's love at the end of the war?

The Metal Heart is so much more than a love story between two people.  It's also a love story about the beautiful islands.  The author's descriptions of the beauty of the island make me want to book a trip to Scotland.  This is a story of love and war, the bond between sisters, and finding happiness in the midst of war.  This emotional and heartbreaking story is one I won't forget.

NOTE:  This novel is based on a chapel built in lamb Holm by Italian prisoners of war during WWII. If you'd like more information on the real chapel, check out this link

Buy The Metal Heart at Amazon

Gift of Diamonds by Roberta Seret

Gift of Diamonds
November 2020; Wayzgoose Press; 978-1938757860
ebook, print (334 pages); coming of age

"I escaped Romania in the middle of the night, by bike, on February 2, 1965.  It was the moment when the country was locked in a communist prison.  I was seventeen years old then."
(p 1)

I enjoy reading historical fiction especially when it is based on situations that really occurred.  I also like learning about history that was never taught in school.  Gift of Diamonds is based in Romania and begins with the communist takeover and the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Mica is 17 and living with her parents while training to become an actress.  Her parents were always worried about the changes in Romania and made sure that she learned to speak English so that she could escape to America if things got bad in her country.  Both of her parents are part of the resistance working against the communists.  When Mica returns home after starring in Romeo and Juliet, her parents are gone and the house has been ransacked probably by the secret police.  She remembers her father's instructions and digs up some diamonds buried in the basement and flees Romania on her bicycle to find freedom in Budapest and hopefully get a visa to travel to the United States.  After time spent in the American embassy, she finally gets her visa and arrives in NYC to stay with the uncle who sponsored her.  Is her uncle more interested in his niece or in the diamonds that she is carrying?  Once she gets settled in America, she works relentlessly to get her parents out of Romania and to safety in the US.

Mica was a very well-written character.  She was brave beyond her years but also had a naive side.  She was a character that I rooted for to be successful in her goal to get to freedom in the United States.  I knew very little about the communist takeover of Romania and found the information very interesting.  I always enjoy historical fiction that teaches me something new.

I look forward to reading the next two books in the trilogy and find out what happened to the rest of Mica's friends.  Are they still in Romania or have they escaped to freedom?  Will the four friends ever meet again?  I can't wait to find out!

Buy Gift of Diamonds at Amazon

Note: This is a trilogy but all three books can be read as standalones and they are all available now at Amazon.

Book 1 Gift of Diamonds is Mica's story
Book 2 Love Odyssey is Anya's story.
Book 3 Treasure Seekers is Marina and Christina's story.

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friedland 

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel
May 2021; Berkley;  978-0593199725
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); humor

"It's not the changes so much this time.  It's that it all seems to be ending. You think kids want to come with their parents and take fox-trot lessons?  Trips to Europe, that's what kids want.  Twenty-two countries in three days.  It feels like it's all slipping away."
  Max Kellerman in Dirty Dancing

The first quote in the book was from Dirty Dancing and I knew I was hooked!  Like Dirty Dancing, this novel is about a hotel in the Catskills that had been popular in the 1960s but was losing its luster and its clientele.

It's a fantastic read with three generations of the two families that started the hotel and now have to decide whether to sell it or try to keep it open.  This book is funny and poignant - full of laughter and sadness and lots of memories of an earlier time.

The Goldman and Weingold family opened the Golden Hotel in 1960.  Benny Goldman and Amos Weingold had been friends since childhood and were as close as brothers their entire lives.  The hotel was the best in the Catskills with families coming back year after year for a family-orientated vacation with talent shows, great entertainment (can we say Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld?), and lots and lots of food.  They both had families and now there are three generations trying to make a decision whether to sell the hotel to a casino.  Their buildings have gotten shabby and their pool was closed and their capacity was down to less than 50%.  When they all meet to discuss the offer, there are a lot of memories from the early days of the hotel as well as some fireworks between the two families and between the generations.  It's a normal family reunion with two families who love and envy each other.  Long-buried secrets come to light as well as financial scandals.  The older members want to keep the hotel like it was in the past and the younger group wants to modernize and update it. Can they pull together and make a decision that is best for all of them?

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel is a poignant look at the past with a lot of humor.  The characters were all well written and lots of fun to meet.  The funniest parts were between the generations - one of the younger girls wanted to advertise the hotel on Instagram where she was an influencer and the older members of the family had no idea what she was talking about. I especially enjoyed a lot of the conversation with the older group who had so many wonderful memories of the hotel when it was the most popular place in the Catskills for family summer vacations.

This book has it all -- some suspense - do they sell nor not? Some romance and new understanding between the generations. if you want to read about a great family making tough decisions - you don't want to miss this book.

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina with her husband of over 50 years.  She grew up in Michigan but now calls North Carolina home. Since her travel plans had to be canceled for this year, she is starting to make plans for travel in 2021. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and historical fiction. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter.

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