Tag Archives: historical fiction


I received a free Kindle copy of this book for the purposes of giving my honest review.

Set in 1880 in Tombstone Arizona, Blood and Silver tells a story of something that could have happened during the area’s silver rush. Carissa arrives in the silver boom-town with her mother, her mother’s boss, and her mother’s coworkers, and conflict immediately ensues when a murder occurs in her new home. She makes many friends, several unlikely for anyone else without Carissa’s wit and charm, who help her try to get her mother off Laudeman and away from her abusive and dangerous situation. She meets several dangerous challenges along the way.

Blood and Silver is a well-written and easy-to-read, enjoyable story, which seemed to be essentially told from Carissa’s point of view. However, there was some “head-hopping” though I didn’t interpret the point-of-view as intending to be omniscient. The book is characterized as Young Adult, but I’m not sure it fits that genre. The heroine is the correct age; however, it read to me more like a middle-grade novel with the subject matter regarding prostitution seeming inappropriate for that age group. Since I’m an adult, it really doesn’t matter, though.

Vali’s research on the state of Tombstone at that time period is well done; I feel like I could go there and retrace the story. Her passion for and interest in history shines through in that Vali took a real place with real time-appropriate conditions and set a fictional story into that setting flawlessly.

I read this book in a couple of sittings in a couple of hours, so on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a nine.

Source: Benson, Vali. (2020) Blood and Silver. Tellwell Talent.


Before We Were Yours is another title that came to me via my fellow-historical-fiction-loving aunt. It’s a multi-period novel involving main characters Avery Stafford in the present and May/Rill around 1939. The mystery of the story is how they (and other characters) are related.

This book started off strong and pulled me right in. The Rill/May character seemed to me to have a more unique voice, but since hers was a child viewpoint, this might be expected. Avery’s sections seemed a bit too Nicolas Sparksesque, romance novely for my taste, and that part of the story was predictable.

For a two-character point-of-view story to keep me reading each one, they both need to be compelling, and they were. I was a bit disappointed when one character’s chapter ended, but it was okay because I was left on such a cliffhanger at the end of the other character’s chapter, so I was glad to know what happened. In this case, having the two characters did add some mystery to the story and allowed the author to weave in more subplots, but I did find Rill/May’s story more compelling.

Instead of saying, “present day,” I think it would’ve been better for the author to name a year, such as 2002 or whenever she wrote it because the cell phone and communication descriptions seem archaic for 2017 (the year it was published).

The story in this novel is fiction based on real stories of survivors and victims of the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society that stole children or obtained them via other illegal or unethical methods, passed them off as orphans, and essentially sold them to the wealthy.

The theme covered how where we come from and where we grow up affects our lives and something that happens in one person’s life can forever alter ensuring generations. It is also about truth and how it should come out no matter what (at least the author seems to think so) as well as being your true self and not just what others expect of you.

I read this book in six days, so on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a nine.

Source: Wingate, Lisa. (2017.) Before We Were Yours. Ballantine Books.

SOME LUCK by Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley is a fellow Iowan and I’d always meant to read her books but hadn’t had the chance. While browsing cheap books at the online book outlet store, I stumbled across Some Luck and ordered it.

Right away I could tell Some Luck was going to be different from other books I’d read as early in the book, Smiley includes a chapter told from an infant’s point of view. The book is also different in that each chapter is one year; I wondered if this may have signified there would be more telling than showing, but it didn’t. The book still tells an engaging story, even if it is in one-year chunks.

Some Luck is about a family and their lives from 1920 through 1953; it is told through several characters’ points of view, including those that span the whole book and some who just show up for one or two scenes (mimicking life). The main character, however, seems to be the patriarch (or who eventually becomes the patriarch), Walter Langdon. The book gives a good picture of how farming evolved during the second quarter of the twentieth century, taking the reader through the Great Depression and World War II, among other historic events, along with life in Iowa and the Midwest. I recognized most of the places mentioned, which always adds a little enjoyment to my reading. As it does in living life, the historical events occurred as a backdrop and didn’t take center stage, which I believe is how most people experience these events.

To me, the book’s theme was life and going through its different stages – infanthood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and being grandparents; the whole circle of life. Smiley does a good job of letting the reader into the characters’ heads, witnessing their innermost thoughts and intimate moments. There is not really a plot in this book that I could discern, per se – there’s nothing that the main character overtly “wants” and is prevented from getting – there’s just the ebbs and flows and ups and downs of life in rural Iowa from 1920 to 1953.

Some Luck is classic historical fiction written in an original and literary way. I read it in one month and three weeks, so on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a six and a half.

Source: Smiley, Jane. (2015 Reprint). Some Luck. Anchor.

QUEEN OF AMERICA by Luis Alberto Urrea

When Luis Alberto Urrea was appearing as a keynote speaker at a conference for an organization I volunteer with (mwcqc.org) in June of 2017, I read his The Humminbird’s Daughter. I enjoyed it so read the sequel, Queen of America.

Since it had been several months since I read the first book in the series, I greatly appreciated the Prologue which reminded me of what happened in the first book and brought me up-to-date in a natural way.

The story starts in 1900, picking up where the previous book left off and following the rest of Teresita’s life in America. It’s one answer to the question, what if a person could perform miracles but they were still a human being with faults, desires, and tendencies impacted by the culture in the place where she lives? How might that person’s life evolve?

My favorite parts of this book were the detailed, poetic descriptions. The story is presented from an omniscient point of view of those closest to Teresita. It shows the joys and sorrows of aging from many different characters’ perspectives.

It took me a while to get into the story, starting off slow much in the same way that The Hummingbird’s Daugther did for me. I read it in just under two months, so on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a four.

Source: Urrea, Luis Alberto. (2012). Queen of America. Back Bay Books.

LINES by Geralyn Hesslau Macgrady

Photo from Amazon

Geralyn Heslau Macgrady, winner of the Soon to Be Famous (TM) Illinois Author Project, was a co-panelist with me and some other authors/publishers at the Galena (IL) Lit Fest in January 2016. Due to my love of historical fiction and Chicago, I purchased Geralyn’s novel, Lines, set in 1871 prior, during, and after the great fire.

Lines is a story of love, loss, and how humans often are required to surrender to unforeseen circumstances, particularly in the last quarter of the 19th century, where family obligations were different, especially the tradition of marrying your brother’s widow. The main character, Livia Haa, whose family works in the tobacco business, tries to find her own way and place in the world but is forced to choose a path she hadn’t foreseen because of the great fire tragedy. A sinister con man with misplaced vengeful urges, suspense, and diverging loyalties also play a part in the plot.

I enjoyed the story and was able to feel for Livia and those for whom she cared. It was an easy read and put me in Chicago in 1871. I read this book quickly, so on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it an eight.

Source: Magrady, Geralyn Hesslu. (2015). Lines.

THE SHELL SEEKERS by Rosamunde Pilcher

I usually don’t purchase fiction books at mass retailers, but since I’m researching the Mississippi River mussel shell button industry in the early 1900s, the word, “shell,” caught my eye. Of course, the story has little to do with shells themselves, but the back of the book description intrigued me, so I bought it.

The Shell Seekers is about three generations of one family, but it is mostly told from Penelope Kelling’s point-of-view and tells the story of her relationship with the other generations. It is essentially Penelope’s life story, flipping back and forth between the present (1984) and her childhood, growing up. It shows how she was shaped by her famous artist father and relatively progressive mother and how that impacted her relationships with her three children.

The story reminded me that parents can have lives children don’t know about and that children can be selfish. It is a story about friendship, love, lost chances, and choices. The historical facts were subtly woven through the book, giving a good sense of what life was like in World War II London (as far as I know, anyway). It showed the strange dynamics present in all families, how they have different values, attitudes, and ways of doing things.

Readers who enjoy stories involving art, generations, and families will enjoy this book. It was a good story, well written, that made me think. I read this book in two days less than a month, so on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a seven and a half.

Source: Pilcher, Rosamunde. (2015). The Shell Seekers. St. Martin’s Griffin; Reissue edition.


My aunt, who shares my love of historical fiction, loaned me The Widow of the South because she thought I would enjoy it. I did.

To me, this novel is essentially a clean romance with a twist. It basically tells the story of Carrie McGavock’s emotional love affair with Zachariah Cashwell, a soldier recovering from injuries he sustained in Carrie’s house, which was turned into a hospital, during a civil war battle. Carrie, married and suffering from the losses of her children, finds solace in Cashwell. They essentially find themselves soul mates who teach each other how to live again. It’s also about how Carrie, who has lost so much, finds her purpose in life and becomes a comfort for others.

The story is based on real events during the civil war and the battle at Franklin, Tennessee. It is told from the point-of-view of multiple characters, including a sort of omniscient narrator, but mostly Carrie and Zachariah. All the characters had distinct voices.

On the issue of slavery, the story addresses what is not normally taught in history classes (or at least I don’t recall it during my history classes). The issue of slavery was not so black and white (pun not intended) with slaves choosing to stay with their master families out of loyalty and a feeling of being a part of the family but also because they had nowhere else to go after being freed. Some of them felt trapped and it was simply what they were used to. The story showed how some slave owners failed to see their slaves as human beings, not just in the way you’d expect (as property), but sometimes when they made a mistake and fell from some sort of pedestal.

This book was different from the other civil war era books I read, which is one of the main reasons why I liked it. It took me a little less than three weeks to read it, so on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a seven.

Source: Hicks, Robert. (2006). The Widow of the South. Grand Central Publishing.

HAMMON FAlls by Dave Hoing and Roger Hileman

Photo from Amazon

Dave and Roger were co-presenters at an author event I attended in early November 2016, at the West Liberty, Iowa, public library. I traded my book, Taming the Twisted, for their title, Hammon Falls.

Hammon Falls follows three generations through the years 1893 through 2008. The characters include Will; his grandmother, Margaret; his grandfather, Orville/Luka; his father, George; and his mother, Cora. Though there was a learning curve to get the characters straight in my head, it was short. I loved how these characters’ stories were intertwined, going between them and back and forth in time. Generally, I don’t like stories that switch points-of-view but it worked well for me in Hammon Falls. The story shows how our families’ lives are tangled, for better for worse, and sheds a light on how family members relate to each other and how choices affect one another. There are no “good” or “bad” guys/gals; they all have different perspectives and experiences that give them redemption and faults. In other words, they are human.

By the end of the book, I was satisfied that all of the questions and loose ends were tied up, except for one. I never learned how Will met his wife or what happened to her. Perhaps there’s a sequel coming? I also enjoyed the local connection of the story’s setting; though Hammon Falls and Waterton are fictional towns, they are similar to two real towns in Iowa.

Though fiction, I think Hammon Falls depicts how a family could have evolved through history. I read this one quickly, so on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it an eight and a half.

Source: Hileman, Roger & Hoing, Dave. (2010). Hammon Falls. All Thins That Matter Press.

UPDATE: Apparently how Will met his wife and what happened to her is mentioned the book and I obviously missed it. I still wonder if there might be a story there, though, that could be sequel fodder… 🙂


Photo from Amazon

Full disclosure: This book was published by MWC Press, with which I’m affiliated as president of the board of directors of Midwest Writing Center. This is, however, an honest review (i.e. I really did like it.)

Clouds Over Bishop Hill is not historical fiction in the strictest sense (it takes place in 2008); however, the story revolves around a historical item, specifically a 1915 painting by Bishop Hill, Illinois, artist Olaf Krans. Bishop Hill is a former Swedish communal society in approximately north central Illinois. It is a real place with museums and interesting spots anyone can visit. Olaf Krans was a real artist who lived there and painted portraits of Bishop Hill’s early residents. Clouds Over Bishop Hill centers on one such fictional painting (or rather, the apparent absence of it).

The story starts with feet running with a murder college graduate, Shelley Anderson, stumbles upon on her way home to Bishop Hill for the summer. In addition to the murder mystery, there’s also a mystery around where and how a particular Olaf Krans painting came to be based on the foggy dreams of one of the town’s elders. It is a fast-paced story with the characters encountering greed, deception, murder, and some romance, too. The main character, Shelley Anderson, embarks on a character arc that leaves her changed and more grateful for her hometown.

Clouds Over Bishop Hill will appeal especially to those familiar with Olaf Krans paintings and/or Bishop Hill, Illinois, but it is also a good cozy mystery read in general. There are murder and suspense, but nothing gory or gross. The ending is satisfying but leaves room for a sequel. I read this book relatively quickly, so on the can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it an eight.

Source: Davidsaver, Mary. (2016) Clouds Over Bishop Hill. MWC Press: Davenport, Iowa.


Photo from Amazon

I purchased The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett as recommended by two men in the Veteran’s writing workshop I led. It is not the usual type of historical fiction I read, but they said it was good and they recommended it as instructive for setting up detailed scenes as well as working in historical facts.

Compared to other novels I usually read, I consider The Pillars of the Earth an epic, taking place from 1123 through 1174 in England over 983 pages. I did think it was very well written; it drew me in and was full of romance, suspense, and action as well as historical detail. As the group members indicated, the author did an excellent job of creating twelfth century England; I easily imagined the landscape, towns, and different places. I also enjoyed learning about the evolution of church and cathedral architecture.

The story is told from the point of view of several characters and it’s not clear until well into the book that the main characters are Aliena and Jack. The length of the book allowed me to get to know all of the characters intimately as well as care for them and want to find out what happened to them. However, it also took me a long time to really get into the story, though obviously it was interesting enough and grabbed me enough to motivate me to keep reading. I generally enjoy stories told from just one character’s point of view and I’ve been known to skip sections told from a character’s point-of-view about which I don’t care, but I found myself caring about all of the characters enough in this book to read all of the sections.

Though this isn’t the type of book I normally read, I am glad I did. It was a fascinating tale about characters I came to know and care about. And I did learn one way to weave historical facts through a story. It took me over two months to read this book, partly because of the length and partly because it took me some time to get hooked enough to keep going back to it, so, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give the first half to two-thirds a six and the last half to one-third a seven and a half.

Source: Follett, Ken. (1989). The Pillars of the Earth. Signet: New York City.