Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Best Contemporary Historical Fiction for Adult Readers

In bookstores and on amazon.com we have so many categories. Romance, mystery, historical titles, contemporary ones, etc. But as of right now, there is no separate category for recent historical fiction. So I am creating one, right here on this little blog.

After half a year of searching, sorting, reading and interviewing, I have put together a list of 17 great titles – eight adult books and eleven books for teens/kids. The books I have picked to be on this list are ones that are based in historical periods covering anywhere between the 1960s and the 1990s; the events that are still so fresh in our human memory, we might see them clearer, maybe in better detail.

[I will be updating this list continuously as I come across more great stuff. Incidentally, if you are an author or an agent or an editor working with a recent historical feel free to send me some ARCs!]

I have tried to define “recent history” here: https://katiaraina.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/contemporary-history/

Like anything in literature, my list is partly subjective, and most of the titles here are the ones that have touched me, the ones that made me smile or tear up, or grit my teeth in anger. Still, I did try to include the most influential/buzz-inducing/major-award-winning books regardless of whether or not I was able to fall in love with them the way I had wanted.

I will be posting the YA/Middle-grade list next week. In the meantime . . .


1. “All About Lulu,” By Jonathan Evison, Soft Skull Press, 2008

Based in Santa Monica, California, and a little Seattle, from the 1970s to the 1990s) I have read and re-read this amazing book which is part coming-of-age, part love story, part philosophy. God, I loved him – the narrator, though throughout much of the story I wanted to yell, do you HAVE TO be such a loser?

Here is my interview with the author:


2. “In the Time of the Butterflies,” by Julia Alvarez, Plume, 1995

Based in the Dominican Republic, 1960s. The story of the mythical butterfly sisters, “las mariposas” and their resistance to the monstrous Trujillo dictatorship. Reading it, I remember thinking, how similar the life under dictatorship is ANYWHERE. China, Argentina, Siberia . . . People start to wear a certain brand of fear that I could recognize as I read. An amazing story of the human spirit.

3. “Matterhorn” by Carl Marlantes, El Leon Literary Arts, 2010

Okay, I will admit I was not actually able to get through this Vietnam War epic, but this speaks more to my reading taste than to the quality of the story that had the literary world buzzing. (I could not get through Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” either. I am just not a big reader of war novels for grownups, the ones with soldiers and lieutenants, chains of command all smeared in blood and dirt.) I have made a decision to include “Matterhorn” on this list, because thousands of other people (including best-selling authors and critics) not only read the book but spoke of its authenticity, its vividness, its truth and beauty and brilliance and pain.

Plus, a nice bonus is the amazing 35-year journey to publication this book has made, and the fact that it’s been picked up by a small publisher and was able to make such a splash — I love and wholeheartedly support that!

4. “The Lotus Eaters,” by Tatjana Soli, St. Martin’s Press, 2010

Another Vietnam war novel that generated much buzz, including starred reviews galore. Another book I did not fall in love with, but am compelled to include because of its influence. This story about war, love and obsession, is told from the point of view of an American photojournalist covering the war, who can’t seem to bring herself to leave Vietnam even after the U.S. troops pull out in 1975. [There are two other point-of-view characters, but I’ll let you discover them on your own ;)]

5. “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead Books, 2003

6. “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead Books, 2007

Two brilliant and sweeping stories set in recent Afghanistan, in turn beautiful and horrifying, uplifting and heartbreaking; both books are impossible to put down. And once you read them, they are impossible to forget.

7. “The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett, Amy Einhorn Books (a debut book from a then brand new imprint!)/Putnam, 2009

Here are some notes I jotted down in my all-purpose journal as I read this amazing page-turner:

“The tension is giving me stomach cramps. The book has me scared out of my breath. It almost gets too much, and as I read, sometimes I have to put it away at the most tense moments. The three Southern narrators — two black maids and a white aspiring journalist/novelist — three brave 1960s women — are real. Their dilemma has no right answer, and maybe that’s why their story is so scary and feels so true.”

8. “How I Paid for College,” by Marc Acito, Broadway Books, 2004

The main character is graduating high school, but I can’t call this young adult, because of all the group sex and freakish language. I think it’s a perfect read for brave/intelligent graduating high school seniors (and up). This was one of the most amazing and original books I have ever read. One of those cry/laugh/call-out-in-shock-as-you-read titles, which happens to be set in 1983, in a  “bedroom” New Jersey community.


September 19, 2010 - Posted by | Book Impressions, Contemporary History, Lists | ,


  1. I’m reading A Thousand Splendid Suns. The others I haven’t heard of or are wish list items. Keep them coming.

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | September 21, 2010 | Reply

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