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Be Transported with Historical Fiction

A recommended reading list by Cathy Marie Buchanan, whose new novel is Daughter of Black Lake.

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.


Book Cover A Student of Weather

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.


Book Cover The Stone Diaries

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.


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.


Book Cover Away

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.


Book Cover Sylvanus Now

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.


Book Cover Washington Black

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.


Book Cover The Lost Garden

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.   


Book Cover The Innocents

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.


Book Cover Daughter of Black Lake

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.

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