Year of Historical Reading – July update

As you may remember, I declared 2020 my Year of Historical Reading.  For July’s reading, I rededicated myself to getting through my unread shelves, particularly my historical nonfiction books.  I have over 80 nonfiction books, many purchased at historical sites, that I want to read.  Since these take a little longer to read, I think it is likely to affect my total number of books read but that’s ok!  It is not a competition!

Here are my books for July, and I have indicated if they were pulled from my unread shelves, purchased, or borrowed from the library.  **All links will take you to, an Amazon alternative, and are affiliate links.

Historical Fiction

Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith (own)

I purchased this book last year while we were in Jackson, WY at the charming Valley Bookstore.  I was looking for a book about women in Jackson’s history, and this delightful little book was perfect!  Written as an epistolary novel, it tells the story of a young, female botanist who is asked to accompany a scientific expedition into the newly formed and still wild Yellowstone National Park.  The lead scientist doesn’t realize that she is female when he invites her so this sets up quite a conundrum from the very beginning.  I loved the descriptions of the other-wordly terrain of the park, having seen it for myself last year.  When you are there, it does feel like you are on a different planet at times!  You wouldn’t think that a quiet story about botanists would be fascinating, but as the story builds and builds, I couldn’t put it down!  Now I want to go back to Yellowstone, and look for the field camp near the Lake Hotel.

Before the Crown by Flora Harding (egalley)

I got this book from NetGalley as an advance reader copy (ARC), and it comes out on Kindle in September and in print next year.  If you’re a fan of the Netflix TV series, The Crown, you will want to pre-order this book, which is basically a prequel to the show!  I was captivated by this historical fiction imagining of Princess Elizabeth’s courtship with her future husband, Prince Philip.  Beginning a few years before their wedding and ending as Princess Elizabeth is walking down the aisle at Westminster, this book gives you a peek inside what seems like a fairy tale story, with the reality of the situation anything but a fairy tale.  Can you imagine your future marriage possibilities being determined by what is most politically expedient?  Much like The Crown, this book made me empathize with Princess Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and the current royals.  While their life is glamorous, it is also full of obligation and duty.  This book is a fun, light-hearted romp that will take your mind off of the seriousness of our current life.        

Virginia Mysteries by Steven K. Smith (8 books) (own)

(Summer of the Woods, Mystery on Church Hill, Ghosts of Belle Isle, Secret of the Staircase, Midnight at the Mansion, Shadows at Jamestown, Spies at Mount Vernon, and Escape from Monticello

This middle-grade series of 8 books is perfect for reluctant history readers in grades 3-6.  I had read several of these with my boys already, and in preparation for an upcoming Travel with Books video, I wanted to reread the entire series.  Written with nonstop action and funny sibling squabbles that kids will like, these books introduce history in a way that is accessible and interesting.  By including a current mystery element to the historical sites, even kids who aren’t fans of learning about “boring” history will fly through the books!  Bonus for those who live near Virginia or DC – all of the sites are easily visited and many have been reviewed on The History Mom! **Edited to add that while not technically historical fiction, I am counting these books as such since the main plots are centered around historical sites/events.

Historical Nonfiction

Historians on Hamilton by Renee C. Romano and Claire Bond Potter (own)

With Hamilton the Musical releasing on Disney+ on July 3rd, I knew I wanted to read this compilation of essays from leading historians.  While some of the essays are highly critical of the musical, I particularly enjoyed those historians who recognize that while not historically perfect, the musical is a gateway to get kids and adults interested in American history!  Some of the essays were so critical that they were tough to read, but I really enjoyed others about how the musical has revolutionized teaching and how we think about the Founding Fathers.  They were human, with struggles, personal interests, and relationships – just like us today.  I recommend this book only for those who are able to take any criticism (founded or unfounded) about the musical!  *Bonus tip – read my review on historical sites related to Hamilton here!

499 Facts about Hip-Hop Hamilton and the Rest of America’s Founding Fathers by Stephen Spignesi (own)

This book was written to introduce teen readers to our nation’s Founding Fathers.  While a bit irreverent and funny, the book does a good job at presenting historical facts in a way that will keep teens’ attention.  I learned many factoids about the Founding Fathers, including Hamilton, and about the nation’s founding documents.  There were a couple of typos and errors that hopefully have been fixed in subsequent editions of the book.  This would be a good book to hand to your teen before they take US History in the fall.

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe (library)

I really wanted to love this book!  I thought the cover and title were so clever, and I always want to support female historians.  However, I was not a huge fan of the book, which is trying to be different from the usual male-dominated historical biographies.  She is not a fan of these big tomes but I tend to like the methodical way that they take you through a historical figure’s life.  This book was written in an informal tone and was pretty critical of George Washington, which is fine but can be repetitive.  I would have liked more information on his wartime work and on his relationship with Martha as well.  This would be a good book for teens, who may like the shorter chapters and the cheeky way that she writes about our Founding Fathers.

1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart (own)

This book had been on my unread shelves for 9 years!!  I am most interested in the Civil War historical time period, and I am drawn to books that delve deeper into the backstory of the war, particularly outside of the battles.  This book does a good job at walking through the first year of the war and setting up how war became inevitable.  The book is written as a narrative nonfiction so it is not dry or boring.  If you’re interested in learning more about the beginnings of the war, I recommend this book!

April 1865: The Month that Saved America by Jay Winik (own)

I thought this book would be a good bookend to the 1861 book mentioned above.  This book is almost 20 years old, which you can see in some of the outdated conclusions and ways of discussing the Confederate leaders.  I did like the dramatic writing, which made the book quite interesting and almost like a page turner!  I especially liked his chapter about the fall of Richmond in 1865, with his descriptive writing making it seem like I was there in the middle of the action.  If you want more details about the last month of the war, including Lincoln’s assassination, this narrative nonfiction book is a great place to start.  

Stats for July:

100% historical fiction and nonfiction 

13 of 125+ unread books 

1 library book

1 egalley

If you enjoy following along on my Year of Historical Reading, be sure to friend The History Mom on Goodreads and to follow me on Instagram, where I post the books I am reading in real time.  You can also visit my shop on, an Amazon alternative that supports independent bookstores.  This link is an affiliate link where I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

What was your favorite book from your July reads?  Comment below!

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