Tuesday, November 1, 2016

11 Picks For Book Clubs (or Bookworms) Who Like Thought-Provoking Historical Fiction

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is about book club recommendations -- books to read if your book club likes ____. I've never been in a book club, though I suspect I would really enjoy one, but I do know that an optimal book club selection would inspire lively discussion. The books below are all historical fiction novels that I enjoyed, and they all got me thinking -- about everything from missionaries to women's rights to murder. And I know they are all rife with far more talking points than I've listed, though I read many of them a while back and my memory is absolutely pitiful. Just take my word for it that these are thought-provoking novels -- and good ones at that (many are 5-star reads in my book!).

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Conversation topics: finding joy in difficult times, ethics, compassion

From my review: ...it's not just a novel of leprosy patients being ripped away from their families and sent to a primitive camp on a desolate part of Molokai. It is all that and more, but through the plot -- which at times is heart-wrenching -- comes the theme of finding joy, fulfillment, friendship, love and community despite all odds.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Conversation topics: the link between women's identities and child-rearing, isolation, thoughts on the characters' controversial actions, living with guilt

From my review: "The Light Between Oceans," M.L. Stedman's debut novel, is about the decisions we make and how we deal with the effects of our choices. It's about the meaning of family and parenthood, love and marriage, morality and guilt. Stedman's post-WWI story is well-written with some quotable quotes and, though not at all cheesy or overly sentimental, its themes that may inspire readers to do some introspection.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Conversation topics: Western influence in Africa, dysfunctional families, religion, does anyone ever deserve to die?

From my review: "The Poisonwood Bible" centers around a dark time in Africa's history, a period that seems to have been meticulously researched by Kingsolver. I love novels that can teach me something, and this book certainly fits the bill. I read "The Poisonwood Bible" with a reading buddy from Goodreads and it was wonderful to be able to share my thoughts and gain insight from her perceptions and viewpoints. This is the kind of complex novel that will likely mean something a little different to every reader, which would make it an excellent book club pick.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Conversation topics: treatment of orphans and the foster care system both now and in the '30s, Americans' views toward immigrants, surviving terrible things

From my review: "Orphan Train" was a fast and well-written read giving voice to a fascinating and forgotten part of our country's history. It was also timely, considering the Syrian refugee crisis and the talk of building a wall along the Mexican border, to be reminded of the extreme prejudice that once existed against immigrants from countries we now consider to be our friends, like Ireland and Italy. "Orphan Train" is a must-read for any historical fiction fan.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

Conversation topics: WWI, what would you do to survive?, love and family, overcoming grief

From my review: "The Girl You Left Behind" is historical fiction and it's romance, but it's also something more -- poignant and thoughtful, tragic and sweet. (And I also learned a thing or two; for instance, did you know there's an industry devoted to recovering war-looted artwork?)

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

Conversation topics: how have things changed for women in the last 70 years?, marriage, identity

From my review: I don't really consider myself a modern-day feminist, but "The Atomic Weight of Love" sure made me grateful for the feminists of the past who fought to change so many of the issues that plague Meridian in the novel. She remains trapped in an unhealthy marriage because of social taboo, her husband controls their finances and makes all the family's decisions. When Meridian has a medical emergency, the doctor refuses to tell Meridian what's going on, preferring instead to communicate with the man of the house -- something I as a 21st century reader find shocking and distressing. All this is despite Meridian's top-notch intelligence, and every time I read a book that portrays such realistic historical gender disparity it's a fresh reminder of how lucky I am to be a woman in 2016.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

("Homegoing" isn't strictly historical fiction, but since only a small part takes place in present day -- and it was soooo good --  I'm lumping it in for the sake of the post.)

Conversation topics: identity, family, race relations historically and in present-day America, how one event can change so very much

From my review: So many important issues are covered in "Homegoing" -- but so organically, tucked so neatly into Gyasi's enthralling stories, that I barely noticed I was getting a lesson on African history and culture, on U.S. history, on slavery, on the very troubled history of race relations in America, and it's all so very relevant considering what's going on in our country these days. Gyasi's novel has many other themes running through it too, and the one that interested me the most was identity. What shapes an identity? Your gender, your skin color, the way you talk, your beliefs, the way you're perceived by your community? What happens when your identity doesn't fit neatly into a box? What happens when who you know you are is different from the way society sees you?

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Conversation topics:
 historical treatment of women, ethical questions, loneliness and isolation, putting one foot in front of the other in the face of horrific circumstances

From my review: I enjoyed "Burial Rites" for so many reasons: a unique inspired-by-true-events plot; stunningly beautiful writing; a vividly depicted setting; a glimpse into Icelandic culture, history and language; and a flawed but mesmerizing main character whom I grew quite attached to.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Conversation topics: how would Beryl's life have been different if she'd been born 50 or 80 years later?, how many grains of salt should we take with based-in-fact fiction?, pioneering women

From my review: While we in the 21st century laud Beryl's accomplishments, pioneering spirit, forthrightness and perseverance, and we hardly bat an eyelash at women having extramarital affairs and getting divorces, things were not always easy for her in 1920s Kenya -- not to mention the far more rigid 1920s England. At a time when women were still considered weak of mind, body and will, and in need of a man's guidance and protection, Beryl pushed the boundaries and was often rewarded with gossip, scorn and isolation.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

Conversation topics: treatment of Native Americans, historical expectations for women, grief, love, how the setting of a novel can sometimes be a character all its own

From my review: "To the Bright Edge of the World" is a somewhat quiet and understated character- and setting-driven novel, but I was just as captivated reading it as I was some of my favorite action-packed edge-of-your-seat page-turners this year. If you like the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, if you like historical fiction, if you like adventure novels, if you like strong female characters, then I highly recommend this enchanting book!

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

(Most everyone has probably already read this, but I couldn't keep myself from including it!)

Conversation topics: WWII atrocities, how would life be different if you lost one of your senses; which one would you rather lose if you had to choose?, courage and bravery, greed

From my review: "All the Light We Cannot See" is historical fiction at its best. Doerr masterfully packs unforgettable characters, rich descriptions and beautiful writing into a gripping and unique WWII story. I was impressed with the perfect balance he achieves between light, heartfelt, interesting moments and scenes that vividly bring home the sickening horrors of war.


  1. This is a definite list for contemporary historical fiction, I think.


  2. I loved that you provided some things to consider for each book. I think Moloka'i sound fascinating, I'm definitely going to look it up.

    My TTT.

    1. Moloka'i is one of my all-time favorite books! I think you'll like it.

  3. I adore historical fiction, and I love how broad the genre is - it's really just about the setting, since a historical fiction novel can also be a murder mystery, or a romance, or even a fantasy novel, as long as it takes place at some point in the past, whether it's the 1990s or prehistory. There's usually something for everyone!

    1. I agree completely! I also love that no matter what type of historical novel I'm reading or the time period in which it takes place, I always end up learning something new!

  4. This is a wonderful list! I love reading historical fiction and am so happy to see Hannah Kent and Eowyn Ivey here. I see some new-to-me titles I will have to check out!

    1. Thanks, Michelle! I only recently discovered Eowyn Ivey when I read her new release, "To the Bright Edge of the World." Now I'm excited to read "The Snow Child"!

  5. This is a great book club list. I love historical fiction and am so glad to see The Poisonwood Bible and The Atomic Weight of Love on your list!

    1. Thanks so much, Susie! I'm hoping a few people will be inspired to read "The Atomic Weight of Love" after seeing it here -- it deserves to be better-known!

  6. Great list - I have Burial Rites waiting to be read but haven't found time. I need to bump it up the list - I didn't realise it was based on a true story - very interesting.
    Lynn :D

    1. Definitely do move it up your queue! I'd been meaning to read it for ages and finally got to it this year -- and I absolutely loved it. It's stark and gorgeous and sad and amazing!

  7. My book groups both love historical fiction but we've only read and discussed two books on your list (The Light Between Oceans and The Girl You Left Behind). I'll have to suggest some of the others on your list. They sound fantastic!

    1. I hope you do! I love all the books on this list, but I think my favorite (and an awesome book club pick) would be "Molokai"!


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