Books·Gift Guide

12 books for the historical fiction fan on your holiday shopping list

If you’re looking for a gift for a historical fiction lover, try one (or more) of these books!

If you're looking for a gift for a historical fiction lover, try one (or more) of these books!

Letters Across the Sea by Genevieve Graham

Letters Across the Sea is a historical fiction novel by Genevieve Graham. (Janice Bay, Simon & Schuster Canada)

Letters Across the Sea tells the story of a Protestant girl and her Jewish friend who are growing up in Toronto during the Depression and the rise of Nazism, which would eventually lead to the Second World War. Six years after the Depression has eased, with a new war approaching, a series of letters forces journalist Molly Ryan to face the events from her past. 

Genevieve Graham is a Canadian historical fiction writer. Her other books include At the Mountain's Edge, Tides of Honour, Come From Away and The Forgotten Home Child. She grew up in Toronto and now lives in Nova Scotia.

Genevieve Graham is a bestselling author of Canadian historical fiction. She talks about the real life inspiration behind her new book, The Forgotten Home Child.

Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson

Our Darkest Night is a novel by Jennifer Robson. (Natalie Brown/Tangerine Photo, HarperCollins Canada)

In Our Darkest Night, Nazi Germany has occupied most of Nina Mazin's homeland in Italy. Her only hope to survive the Holocaust as an Italian Jew is to leave her family behind in Venice and pose as the wife of Christian farmer, Niccolò Gerardi. As Nina and Niccolò become closer, they both fear every day that they will be torn apart. 

Jennifer Robson is a Toronto-based historical fiction writer. Her other books include Goodnight From London, Moonlight Over Paris, After the War is Over, Somewhere in France, Fall of Poppies and The Gown.

Novelist Myriam Chancy talks to Eleanor Wachtel about her new book, What Storm, What Thunder. Multilayered and lyrical, it features a variety of inter-connected characters, each with a moving story.

What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J.A. Chancy

What Storm, What Thunder is a novel by Myriam J. A. Chancy. (HarperCollins Canada)

What Storm, What Thunder delves into the lives of characters affected by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. As markets and businesses begin to close down after a long, sweltering day, an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude hits the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. What Storm, What Thunder is a fictional account of the survivors and victims of the tragedy as they share stories of heartbreak, trauma and resilience. 

Miriam J.A. Chancy is the author of four novels and four books of literary criticism. Her novel The Loneliness of Angels won the Guyana Prize for Literature Caribbean Award in 2011 and was shortlisted for the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize in Caribbean Literature for fiction. Chancy was raised in Haiti and Canada and now resides in the U.S.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's novel Mexican Gothic follows an heiress's investigation into her cousin's hasty marriage and mysterious illness.

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Velvet Was the Night is a novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. (Del Ray, Martin Dee)

Set in Mexico City in the 1970s, Velvet Was the Night follows a secretary named Maite who loves escaping into stories about passion and danger, while ignoring the student protests and political unrest that consume the city. When her next-door neighbour Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite searches for her and uncovers her secret life as a student radical and dissident. Elvis, an eccentric criminal, is also looking for Leonora at the request of his boss. As the two come closer to discovering the reason behind Leonora's disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that now threatens to consume their lives.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Canadian writer born and raised in Mexico. She's the author of the novels Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Signal to Noise, Certain Dark Things and The Beautiful Ones. She has previously won the Goodreads Readers Choice Award and the Copper Cylinder Award.

Earlier this winter, Shelagh Rogers spoke with Kim Thúy as part of an event in support of a virtual e-book club supported by 600 libraries across the country. Kim’s novel Vi was the featured book for One eRead Canada. Here is part of that conversation with Kim Thúy.

Em by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman

Em is a novel by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman. (Random House Canada, Carl Lessard)

Em follows the story of a young boy named Louis, the child of an American soldier, who takes care of an abandoned baby. Louis calls the baby em Hồng, em meaning "little sister," or "beloved." Although Louis lives on the streets of Saigon and holds the baby in a cardboard box, em Hồng's life opens a realm of possibilities. The novel is inspired by historical events, including Operation Babylift, which evacuated thousands of biracial orphans from Saigon in April 1975. 

Em was on the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist

Born in Saigon, Kim Thúy left Vietnam in a boat at 10 years old and settled with her family in Quebec. Her other novels include Vi, Man and Ru. Ru won the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2002. It also won Canada Reads 2015, when it was championed by Cameron Bailey. 

In his first novel in a decade, celebrated author Guy Vanderhaeghe zooms in on a small town in Saskatchewan in the lead up to the Second World War. August into Winter follows two brothers, veterans racked with their own guilt and trauma, who are enlisted to chase down a murder suspect after the town's only constable is killed. The three-time Governor General's Award winner speaks with Piya Chattopadhyay about how times of crisis can expose the worst in us – but also provide an opportunity for immense kindness and humanity.

August into Winter by Guy Vanderhaeghe

August into Winter is a novel by Guy Vanderhaeghe. (McClelland & Stewart)

The first novel in nearly a decade from Guy Vanderhaeghe, August into Winter takes place in 1939 in a world right before a global war. After Constable Hotchkiss confronts the spoiled, narcissistic Ernie Sickert about the disturbing pranks in their small Prairie town, Ernie commits an act of unspeakable violence. What follows is a course of events that will change many lives forever. 

August into Winter was on the shortlist for the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

Vanderhaeghe is a novelist, short story writer and playwright. His debut short story collection, Man Descending, published in 1982, earned him the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and later Faber Prize in Britain. He would go on to win two more Governor General's Literary Awards: in 1996, for the novel The Englishman's Boy, and in 2015, for the short story collection Daddy Lenin and Other Stories.

John MacLachlan Gray on his crime novel, which is based on a real-life murder in Vancouver that was never solved.

Tenderness by Alison MacLeod

Tenderness is a novel by Alison MacLeod. (Penguin Canada, Kate MacLeod)

On the shores of the Mediterranean in 1928, a dying author living in exile rushes to finish his final novel in Tenderness. Lady Chatterley's Lover is a sexually bold love story that defies class distinctions. The author, D.H. Lawrence, knows his book will be censored, so he publishes it privately and dies bereft. Decades later, Jackie Kennedy, a known admirer of the author's work, fights for the uncensored publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover in the U.S.

Alison MacLeod grew up in Halifax and Montreal, but has lived in Brighton, England for over three decades. Her other books include the novelsThe Changeling, The Wave Theory of Angels and Unexploded. She's also the author of two collections of stories, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction and All the Beloved Ghosts.

Vile Spirits by John MacLachlan Gray

Vile Spirits is a novel by John MacLachlan Gray. (Douglas & McIntyre, Brian K. Smith)

Vile Spirits is a follow-up to John MacLachlan Gray's mystery novel, The White Angel. In Vile Spirits, alcohol is legal in Vancouver following the failed experiment of prohibition. When politician Attorney General Gordon Cunning is found dead with an empty martini glass at his side, quickly followed by the death of the wife of a prominent bureaucrat, suspicions are raised. Is it a coincidence that they were both drinking the same brand of "tonic" or is this a carryover of American prohibition, where deliberately tainted alcohol is killing thousands?

MacLachlan Gray is a writer, playwright, composer and theatre director who lives in Vancouver. He has created many productions, most notably Billy Bishop Goes to War. He's the author of several fiction and nonfiction books, including The White Angel. MacLachlan Gray is an officer of the Order of Canada.

Author Gary Barwin on the inspiration for his first novel.

No Man's Land by John Vigna

No Man's Land is a novel by John Vigna. (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Set in the late 1890s in British Columbia wilderness, No Man's Land follows the story of a 14-year-old girl who finds herself raised by a group of misfits who rescued her as an infant on a bloody battlefield. The girl, Davey, tries to find some sense of peace in this harrowing place, but what she finds instead is an unforgiving world teeming with murderers and thieves.

John Vigna is also the author of Bull Head. He is an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia's school of creative writing.

Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted by Gary Barwin

Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted is a novel by Gary Barwin. (Random House Canada, George Qua-Enoo)

In Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted, a poor, nerdy Jewish man named Motl's life is completely upended due to the Second World War. Friends and neighbours are being killed, and Motl dreams of having enough strength and bravery to stop the Nazis. Motl believes a Jew's greatest revenge against Hitler would be to procreate — which isn't easy since Motl lost that ability during the First World War. So Motl ends up on a quest, one stranger than he ever dreamed.

Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, visual and multidisciplinary artist and the author of several books of poetry, fiction and books for children. His first novel, 2016's Yiddish for Pirates, won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour as well as a Canadian Jewish Literary Award. It was also a finalist for both the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. He lives in Hamilton, Ont.

The Canadian-born American novelist talks about magic and science and her new book about the real-life witch trial of the mother of 17th century astronomer Johannes Kepler.

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Rivka Galchen is the author of Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch. (Sandy Tait, Harper Perennial)

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch takes place in a small German town in 1618, where an elderly widow is accused of witchcraft. In the German duchy of Württemberg, fear is palpable — the plague is spreading, and The Thirty Years' War has begun. So when a woman named Ursula Reinbold accuses widow Katharina of offering her a witchy drink that has made her ill, Katharina is in trouble.

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch was on the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize shortlist

Rivka Galchen is a Canadian American writer. She is also the author of the novel Atmospheric Disturbances. She lives in New York City.

Inspired by a story about his great-grandmother, the British writer's evocative new novel, which is longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, explores themes of belonging, oppression and the pursuit of freedom as it alternates between 1929 India and 1999 Britain.

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

China Room is a novel by Sunjeev Sahota. (Knopf Canada)

Sunjeev Sahota's new novel, China Room, is inspired by the life of his great-grandmother. In rural India in 1929, three teenage girls are married to three brothers — but none of the brides know which one is her husband. Sequestered in a small room on the farm, known as the china room, they are expected to be silent, dutiful and bear sons, while their spouses' identities remain shrouded in mystery. 

China Room was longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize.

Sahota is a British novelist, whose books include Ours are the Streets and The Year of the Runaways. The latter was shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize and won a European Union Prize for Literature in 2017.

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