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Be Transported with Historical Fiction

Book Cover Daughter of Black Lake

Some books take us to another time and place. We smell woodsmoke and feel homespun against our skin. We hear the clang clang clang of a blacksmith at work in his forge. The world of the book appears as vividly to the reader as does her own reality. It’s what I strive for in my own work, including my latest novel, Daughter of Black Lake.

For my list, I’ve chosen historically set fiction where an author has shown mastery in transporting us to another time and place.

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Elizabeth Hay’s A Student of Weather tells the story of two prairie sisters in love with the same man. Though I read the novel two decades ago, I can still call up the 1930s dust bowl of the sisters’ childhood and the blizzard from which the sisters’ love interest appeared.

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Carol Shield’s The Stone Diaries is the fictional century-long biography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, a seemingly ordinary woman. Shields deftly uses recipes, letters, newspaper clippings, even overheard snippets of conversation to nail the manner of the day.

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Book Cover Alias Grace

Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace fictionalizes the real-life murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper in 1843, ostensibly by the two household servants, Grace Marks and James McDermott, convicted of the crime. Atwood’s mastery in writing about the day’s household routines, chores and cookery deftly slipped me into the world of Grace Marks.

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In Jane Urquhart’s Away, Ester O’Malley traces the 140-year history of her family, from the harsh Irish coast during the potato famine to the barely hospitable Canadian Shield. With Urquhart’s rich depiction of 19th-century pioneer life in Ontario settlements, I found myself deeply immersed in the setting.

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At its heart, Donna Morrisey’s Sylvanus Now is the love story between the title character, a cod jigger, and the beautiful Adelaide. Born in a Newfoundland outport, Morrissey skillfully conjures life there—the lyricism of the dialect, the feral beauty of the place, the strength of the men and women born of its landscape.

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In Esi Edugen’s Washington Black, young George Washington Black narrates his escape from slavery in Barbados and subsequent fraught travels. As both a scientist and an artist, he is ideally suited to expressively impart his experience of the world.

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Set in 1941, Helen Humphreys’ The Lost Garden follows Gwen Davis as she leaves her horticultural duties in London to supervise a band of girls who will grow vegetables on a country estate for the war effort. I felt I was right there, alongside Gwen, particularly as she navigates the evocative, overgrown garden of the book’s title.   

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Michael Crummey’s The Innocents is the coming-of-age story of a pair of orphans living alone in a remote, isolated cove in northern Newfoundland. Like for Alias Grace, Crummey’s intimate knowledge of the daily and seasonal routines and chores transported me to Orphan’s Bay 100 years ago.

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About Daughter of Black Lake:

When a remote, ancient settlement is threatened, it is up to one girl to save her family and her community

It’s the season of Fallow, the first century AD. In a misty northern bog surrounded by woodlands and wheat fields, lies a settlement far beyond the reach of the Roman invaders, who are still hundreds of miles to the southeast. Here, life is simple, or so it seems to the tightly knit community. Sow. Reap. Honour Mother Earth, who will provide at harvest time.

A girl named Devout comes of age. She flirts sweetly with the young man who has tilled the earth alongside her all her life, envisioning a future of love and abundance. Seventeen years later, however, the settlement is a changed place. Famine has brought struggle, and outsiders, with their military might and foreign ways, have arrived at the doorstep. For Devout’s young daughter, life is more troubled than her mother ever anticipated. But this girl has an extraordinary gift. As worlds collide and peril threatens, it will be up to her to save her family and her community. Immersing readers in a lost world of pagan traditions, Daughter of Black Lake is a transporting story of love, family, survival and the sublime power of the natural world.

October 15, 2020

Books mentioned in this post

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Daughter of Black Lake

A Novel

by Cathy Marie Buchanan
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Hardcover
tagged: historical, ancient world

By the bestselling author of The Painted Girls

When a remote, ancient settlement is threatened, it is up to one girl to save her family and her community

It’s the season of Fallow, the first century AD. In a misty northern bog surrounded by woodlands and wheat fields, lies a settlement far beyond the reach of the Roman invaders, who are still hun …

rated!
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A Student of Weather

by Elizabeth Hay
edition: Paperback
tagged: literary, historical, siblings

From some accidents of love and weather we never quite recover. At the worst of the Prairie dust bowl of the 1930s, a young man appears out of a blizzard and forever alters the lives of two sisters. There is the beautiful, fastidious Lucinda, and the tricky and tenacious Norma Joyce, at first a strange, self-possessed child, later a woman who learn …

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The Stone Diaries

by Carol Shields, introduction by Penelope Lively
edition: Paperback
also available: Audiobook (CD)
tagged: contemporary women, marriage & divorce, 20th century

The Stone Diaries is the story of one woman's life; a truly sensuous novel that reflects and illuminates the unsettled decades of our century.

Born in 1905, Daisy Goodwill drifts through the chapters of childhood, marriage, widowhood, remarriage, motherhood and old age. Bewildered by her inability to understand her own role, Daisy attempts to find a …

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Alias Grace

A Novel

by Margaret Atwood
edition: Paperback
tagged: historical, literary

Around the true story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 19th century, Margaret Atwood has created an extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty, and mystery. In 1843, Grace Marks was convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. …

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Sylvanus Now

by Donna Morrissey
edition: Paperback
also available: Paperback Paperback
tagged: family life, 20th century, sea stories

The time is the 1950s, and the place is Canada’s Atlantic coast at the edge of the great Newfoundland fishing banks. Sylvanus Now is a young fisherman of great charm and strength. His youthful desires are simple: he wants a suit to lure a girl—the fine-boned beauty Adelaide—and he knows exactly how much fish he has to catch to pay for it. Ade …

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Washington Black

A Novel

by Esi Edugyan
edition: Hardcover
also available: eBook Audiobook Paperback
tagged: literary

Winner of the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize

A dazzling, original novel of slavery and freedom, from the author of the international bestseller Half-Blood Blues

When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave …

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Lost Garden

by Helen Humphreys
edition: eBook
tagged: literary

In spring 1941, when London is under attack, Gwen Davis escapes the city for Devon, where she will instruct young girls in growing crops for the Home Front. There, she meets two people who will change her life forever: Raley, a Canadian officer awaiting posting to the Front with his men; and Jane, a frail but free spirit whose fiancé is missing in …

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Lost Garden

by Helen Humphreys
edition: eBook
tagged: literary

In spring 1941, when London is under attack, Gwen Davis escapes the city for Devon, where she will instruct young girls in growing crops for the Home Front. There, she meets two people who will change her life forever: Raley, a Canadian officer awaiting posting to the Front with his men; and Jane, a frail but free spirit whose fiancé is missing in …

rated!
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The Innocents

by Michael Crummey
edition: Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged: non-classifiable, literary, coming of age

*FINALIST FOR THE 2019 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
*FINALIST FOR THE 2019 GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD
*FINALIST FOR THE 2019 ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE
*WINNER OF THE 2020 THOMAS RADDALL ATLANTIC FICTION AWARD
*NATIONAL BESTSELLER
*NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019 BY The Globe and Mail • CBC • Toronto Star • Maclean's
Crummey's …

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