Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Historical Fiction

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Darya Kraplak

Photo by Darya Kraplak. See more of Darya's work at

I'm a raving historical fiction fan, which is surprising because history lessons at school were dreary and uninspiring, primarily focused on having us memorize and regurgitate dates and names of treaties (which I promptly forgot after every test). But something obviously sparked my curiosity because it is one of my favorite genres and boasts some outstanding and highly successful writers, including Pulitzer prize winners Toni Morrison, Geraldine Brooks, and James Michener, as well as Ken Follett, Philippa Gregory and Anita Diamant.

My particular historical obsession is with the Tudors, the English royal family that reigned throughout the sixteenth century. Over the years I've read countless books on Henry VIII, his six wives, Elizabeth I, her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, and various other courtiers of that time, but when I came across the Shardlake series by CJ Samson, it gave me a whole new window into that period. Matthew Shardlake is a London-based lawyer who also happens to be a hunchback. Though ridiculed for his deformity and unlucky in love, he is liberal-minded, wise, and quick-witted, traits which quickly endear him to the reader. In the first book of the series, Dissolution, Shardlake is sought out by Henry VIII's Chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell, and sent to investigate a politically-motivated murder. The plot weaves into the dissolution of the Catholic Church, and is sprinkled with detail of medieval life, beliefs, and legal practices, which attest to Samson's PhD in history and career as an attorney. The series currently includes seven books, each one developing Shardlake's life and unfolding more Tudor history as he solves another mysterious murder. I have read all seven of them and loved every single one.

We're staying with the Tudors for our second recommendation from Poetry Editor Juli Anna Herndon: "I recently picked up a copy of Dylan Meconis's new graphic novel, Queen of the Sea, which has quickly become one of my most-recommended books to all kinds of readers. While written with older children and teenagers in mind, the story satisfied me as an adult reader as well. Queen of the Sea follows Margaret, an orphan girl raised in a convent on an isolated island off the coast of loosely fictionalized sixteenth-century England. When a mysterious new resident arrives on Margaret's beloved island, she discovers the secrets of the new woman's past, the convent's unsavory purpose, and her own origins. At once a political thriller, a rollicking adventure, and a charming, pastoral depiction of Renaissance convent life, Queen of the Sea loosely extrapolates upon events in the lives of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart in an entirely unique creation. I loved this book, finishing it in one sitting, which rarely happens for me. I loved the deft integration of disparate elements: monastic life, espionage, myths, daring adventure, ancient pagan peoples, and female camaraderie. The island setting almost becomes a character itself, among many other unforgettable characters, and Meconis's fictionalization of history is skillful and never feels forced: this story is both familiar and yet daringly inventive with historical facts. In addition, the illustrations are expressive and luscious. Queen of the Sea is a true crossover gem."

Finally we head back over the Atlantic for Photo Editor and Blog Editor Meredith Porretta's tale of female empowerment: "I'm fascinated with New York and the history of immigrants from all over the globe who arrive there hoping to reclaim some of the security taken from them in the name of the development of their home countries. This is why I had to download the novel Dominicana within minutes of learning of it. Set in the 1960s, the story follows Ana, an innocent 11-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic as she receives a marriage proposal from 35-year-old Juan, who has already emigrated to New York. He promises her a life of prosperity in exchange for her hand, as well as the land she grew up on. Against her will, Ana is ripped from her sweet, loving family and thrown into the gritty, cold reality of New York and 1960s housewifery. Her stoicism mixed with fear and the survival instinct guide the reader through her journey as she faces abuse, racism, sexism, infidelity, and the ultimate test, motherhood. While Ana navigates the rapid swirl of change in her own life and the lives of her loved ones, the assassination of Malcolm X and the growth of the civil rights movement provide a strong undercurrent to her story. We see the impact of those historic events unfold in front of her and, strengthened by the romance and passion of the movement, Ana finds her voice and attempts to build the kind of life she deserves. Based on the true story of author Angie Cruz's mother, as well as other immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Dominicana gives visibility to the struggle thousands of people endured to find a new life while bringing their culture to America, enriching and diversifying the population."

If you're into historical fiction too we'd love to hear some of the titles that you've enjoyed. Share with us in the comments or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.

Nerys Copelovitz is a British born marketing writer and mother of three who now lives in Israel. Her writing on parenting and living in a hot spot can be found in the Times of Israel, Grown and Flown, Scary Mommy and Kveller. When not sweating over a hot keyboard, or stove, she likes to read and swim, though not in tandem.

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