Ultimate List of Best Historical Fiction Books
What are the best historical fiction books you have ever read? Best Historical Fiction books depend on which time period you love the most. We included our ultimate list of must read historical fiction novels below divided by era and listed chronologically. This way, you can jump right to the era or time period you are most excited to read about.
Would you rather read by genre or location? No worries, we have you covered with this list of historical fiction novels as well. You can read through the whole list or click on your favorite time period or location!
Historical Fiction Books By Time Period
Best Historical Fiction Books of 2021 // Biblical Times // Ancient Greece // Renaissance // Best Regency Romance Novels // Books About Slavery // Civil War // Gilded Age // Progressive Era // WWI // Jazz Age // Depression Era //Books Set in WWII // 1960 // 1970 // 1980
Historical Fiction Books by Genre
Female Spies // Circus // France // Cornwall // Italy // Korea // Historical Fantasy // Historical Fiction about Royalty // Set in NYC // Middle Grade // Teens
Best Historical Fiction Books of 2021
The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honoree
Wow. This is one of the best books I’ve listened to this year, and yes, I recommend it on audio for a few reasons.
First, the different narrators help tell this dual timeline story. Through one narrator, we learn about Ailey’s life as an African American woman in the 20th century. The other narrator tells the story of the female ancestors of Ailey’s going all the way back to her Indigenous, black, and white relatives from two centuries earlier.
Though Ailey and her ancestors, the weight of what it means to be black woman in America means. The sacrifices, injustices, struggles, and harrasments endured by Ailey and her kin in the present day and the past are explored with a depth so real, I forgot it was a fictional story at times.
The second reason this book is great on audio? It’s LONG. It clocks in at over 800 pages or almost 30hrs of audiobook time. The narrators sucked me in and those 30 hrs flew by.
I will say, this book made me consider my White Privilege in a way no non-fiction book could have. It’s a heavy story, but very worth the read.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Nella is the owner of a shop that used to be a renowned apothecary to treat women but, after her mother died and Nella faced unspeakable loss, her shop is now is the bringer of death to men who have wronged the women in their lives.
In present day, Caroline is spending her 10th wedding anniversary alone in London after discovering her husband is a lying, cheater. When she finds a vial while mudlarking, she cannot resist the pull. What is the story behind this vial? Thank you to Harper Collins for my copy of this book.
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
October 2021 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
Once again, Amor Towles writes an incredible, character driven-story that had me marveling at his writing ability.
The story is all about Emmett and his 8-year-old brother, Billy, and their quest to get to California to start a new life following the death of their father. Along for the ride are the scheming Duchess and his sidekick.
Their journey intertwines in this fast-moving character study of the 4 boys. It was a touch too long, but still a wonderful story from a gifted writer.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
I don’t know how to begin to describe this book. This is NOTHING like All The Light We Cannot See and yet, I absolutely loved it. It is part historical fiction, part sci-fi and absolutely amazing.
The book is set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, Five hundred years later in a library in Idaho and in a spaceship traveling to a new planet sometime in the near future. Even while trying to describe this book, it does not seem to go together and yet, the story of Cloud Cuckoo Land (a story within the Novel) acts as the glue that brings the characters together. The end result is an amazing book with a very powerful message.
This is not an easy read but is well worth it.
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Best Historical Fiction Set in Biblical Times
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
The story of Dinah is one that is briefly told in the Old Testament. But in this story, we hear her voice. Dinah is the daughter of Jacob. This book is the fictional account of her life and I had never read anything like it.
The imagining of how a women would live in biblical times is not something I had ever read before this book. It is captivating from the first page.
Naamah by Sarah Blake
This is one of the most imaginative stories I’ve ever read. A retelling of the story of Noah’s ark from the perspective of his wife Naamah. The writing was poetic and almost psychedelic in quality.
Naamah is questioning her faith, her choices, and what it means to be a woman. The dreams, hallucinations, and visits to the future were used in novel ways during the Ark’s journey. This story had me rethinking the classic biblical tale.
Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
I do not know why I hesitated to read this book. But I am glad that I waited so I could appreciate every nuance that this book has to offer.
This book is the story of Ana. A women ahead of her time, Ana is a scribe and can speak many languages. She is also the fictional wife of Jesus Christ and sister to Judas.
The writing and the story telling of this book are beautiful and epic. It is a must read for any historical fiction lover.
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Historical Fiction Books Set in Ancient Greece
The Odyssey by Homer
There is a reason this book is one of my favorites of all time. I just find this classic tale to be so entertaining.
I’m constantly pickup up something new and reading it along with A Thousand Ships and The Lost Sisterhood gave me so much to think about.
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
I absolutely loved this take on the traditional greek stories surrounding the Trojan War. They are all told by the women in the mythology which is certainly a perspective that doesn’t get much play.
Penelope’s chapters in particular had me laughing out loud. I can’t recommend this one more to greek mythology lovers.
Circe by Madeline Miller
The Odyssey is one of my all-time favorite books and I think I read Du’Laires Book of Greek Myths more than any other book when I was in middle school. Which means I ADORED Circe!
Circe, the nymph who is but a footnote in Du’Laires and gets overshadowed in The Odyssey was a fascinating goddess I can’t believe I knew so little about. I’m desperate to read Madeline Miller’s first book – The Song of Achilles now
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Best Renaissance Era Historical Fiction Books
The Confessions of Catherine De Medici by C.W. Gortner
Catherine De Medici came from one of the greatest dynasties of the Renaissance era. Originally from Italy, she became the Queen of France around the same time that Henry VIII was in power.
She was also rumored to be a master at the art of poison. This historical fiction biography explores her life and her influence over France and Europe.
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
The White Queen is one of my favorite Philippa Gregory novels, revolving around Elizabeth Woodville and her relationship with the King of England. I love the magical elements of this book as Elizabeth and her mother were said to be witches.
It’s really a wonderful story. I learned so much about the tumultuous history of Britain. Also of note, Elizabeth was the mother of the boys in the tower which this book covers as well.
The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis
After finishing my binge-watching of Netflix’s The Medici: Masters of Florence, I was on the hunt to read a good historical fiction set in Renaissance Italy. I can not believe how few books were written about this time period. How is that possible? Luckily, I did stumble upon this tale of badass warrior duchess Caterina Sforza.
The Medici family makes an appearance in the book which was a pleasant surprise, but really Caterina’s life story is compelling on its own. She was a fierce woman who skillfully navigated the tumultuous political climate of the time. She went up against Pope Borgia and other leaders and defied them all. Her story is told through the eyes of her lady’s maid, and half-sister, who made an interesting storyteller. I wish that it had been told from Caterina’s point of view though. I would have loved a fictional look inside her calculating mind.
Best Regency Romance Novels
The Duke and I (Bridgertons #1) by Julia Quinn
I watched the show and LOVED it so much. I previously read some of the others in the series but I really wanted to read this first book and I have to say that it was my favorite. There is something about Daphne and Simon that I adore. This book is a perfect historical romance.
To Have and To Hoax by Martha Waters
I loved this hilarious read. Lady Violet Grey and her husband Lord James Audrey fell in love and got married in a whirlwind romance. Five years later, they barely speak because of “the Argument”. When Lady Grey receives a letter that says her husband is unconscious after being thrown from a horse, she rushes to his side only to find him awake and drinking in a tavern. She decides to teach him a lesson.
The story is a quick-moving battle of wills that will have you simultaneously rooting for them and wanting to smack some sense into them. It’s perfect for fans of Jane Austen.
Romancing The Duke by Tessa Dare
Tessa Dare’s stories are some of my favorite romances. She always finds ways to inject humor into her books. This particular book is the first in a series in which a man dies and leaves a castle to each of our heroines, who are known spinsters.
In this story, Izzy wants to be a writer so retreats to her castle to write her novels. Meanwhile, Randsom shows up to the castle he still believes is rightfully his. Hilarity and romance ensue. I loved this one.
My Lady’s Choosing: an Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
What is so great about this book is that it can go anywhere you want it to. Choose your adventure…and choose your own man. It’s exactly like those books we all loved as children, except with VERY adult content.😉
You can pick as many or as few stories that you want. Personally, I found my happy ending with a Scottish man who was clearly modeled after Jamie Frasier!
If you love Bridgerton, we have a list of Books Like Bridgerton
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Historical Fiction Books About Slavery
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.
Robert Jones Jr’s book is a powerful, emotional and lyrically written story about the love of two black men who are slaves and what happens when an older slave tries to admonish that love. Each chapter is centered on a new character and parts of this story recreate a mythical past in which the King is a woman and same-sex love is honored. The plot is character driven, and emotionally wrenching. At times I felt like some of the plot was lost in the lyrical language. Thank you to Putnam and Libro for my copies of this book. 3.5 stars
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I absolutely loved this book and it was one of the first reviews we ever did on the blog. I love the way this book examined the underground railroad with a touch of magical realism.
The story is about Cora and Caesar, two run-away slaves in the south who run away to the underground railroad which, in this book, is an actual railroad.
Each stop along the way is reminiscent of a different place in history and it is interlaced with actual ads placed for runaway slaves. This book is profound and beautiful and a must read.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
When I started this book, I was unsure how I felt about the writing. The prose is lyrical and poetic but I wasn’t sure where the story was going.
I felt it winding a lot rather than developing. As the story progressed, I became invested in Hiram and wanted to see where the story went. The element of magic reminded me a little bit of the Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Have you read this book? What did you think?
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Civil War Historical Fiction Books
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Strange, but probably one of the most imaginative novels I have ever experienced. It’s about the night that Abraham Lincoln buried this son and takes place entirely in the cemetery.
I listened via Audible which was great because they used 166 voices including David Sedaris, Lena Dunham, Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, Kat Dennings and Don Cheadle among others.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
I picked this book up in Charleston when I was there for a visit in October of 2018. I wanted to pick up a book about the city. When I found out that our hotel was next to the Grimke sister’s home, I knew this was the book for me.
This book tells the story of Sarah Grimke, one of the first female abolitionists, and her slave, Handful. It was also my pick for our January reading challenge.
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
I listened to this one and loved how the southern accent enhanced this story. The story follows -you guessed it- the second Mrs. Hockaday as she navigates her life as a new bride running her husband’s plantation while he is off fighting in the Civil War.
The story starts with Mrs. Hockaday in jail for killing and concealing the death of her child, who is conceived while her husband is gone. Spanning two generations and told in journals and letters, this story was compelling.
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Gilded Age Historical Fiction Books
The Heiress Gets a Duke by Harper St. George
Like most of the rest of the world, I binged Netflix’s Bridgertons on Christmas Day. The regency romantic drama ended and I needed more! I immediately turned to this book to fill my need for a historical fiction romance. It takes place in the Gilded Age when a Duke needs to marry an American heiress to get her dowry to help restore his estates to their former glory.
Are you a fan of Bridgertons? Check out this post of books just like it!
The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
Chanel Cleeton is back with a prequel to the Perez family stories. This time, she examines their ancestor, Marina during the 1896 war between Spain and the US on Cuban soil.
Evangelina Cisneros, dubbed The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by the New York newspapers, and journalist Grace Harrington’s stories are also the focus of this tale.
Cleeton’s vivid imagery and captivating stories make learning about Cuba’s tragic history compelling and help give context to the Cuba we know today.
Our Kind of People by Carol Wallace
This is a family drama set in gilded age NYC. The family loses and then regains their fortune in transit speculation when their girls are becoming debutantes.
There are love stories but it’s really about how society was changing at the time with the old money vs. the newly rich. The author wrote a non-fiction book that was used for reference with Downton so she knows her stuff. I loved it! This book made me remember how much I love to read historical fiction books set in this era.
For more Gilded Age books, check out this list!
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Historical Fiction Books Set in the Progressive Era
Seven Days in May by Kim Izzo
Like the movie Titanic, the characters are made up; however, the events surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania are true. The story is centered around two sisters who go aboard the ship and a third who works with the government receiving messages intercepted from Germany.
I think of this book in my head as a movie that is somewhere between The Hunt For Red October and the Titanic. This book would be a fantastic movie!!!! It moved quickly, kept me on my toes and had a love story as well.
American Princess by Stephanie Marie Thornton
We all know I love a good Royal Read but I don’t usually get to read a book about American royalty. We may not have an actual royal family, but dynasties like the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Kennedys, and Roosevelts serve as good replacements. This story is about Alice Roosevelt, daughter of our 26th president, Teddy Roosevelt.
This historical fiction novel covers her life from the moment her father became President to her second breast cancer surgery. And what a doozy of a life she led! I couldn’t help wondering how her antics would have been perceived had she lived in today’s society. I read it in a few days and adored it! 4 stars.
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
Goodwin’s debut novel about Cora Cash, an American Heiress on the hunt for a titled husband and a big estate. But once she gets everything she wished for, she needs to decide if it’s what she wants after all.
When I first saw Downton Abbey, I had to look to see if this was the same Cora from the show. I thought for a brief moment that this book must have been a sort of prequel to the show.
I was incorrect, but it is certainly the perfect book for Downton fans today. You can clearly see that Goodwin would go on to great things with this fantastic debut.
If you love Downton Abbey, we have a list of books like Downton Abbey
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Historical Fiction Books Set in WWI
Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig
Thanks to William Morrow for my review copy. All opinions are my own. This is an incredible novel about the women of Smith College who went to help French war victims on the war front. The band of 15 women in this novel is based on the 18 real-life heroes of Smith College.
These ladies started from scratch to help those ravaged by war only to have the war come back and destroy the lands around them again. But they never faltered in their quest to help the war-torn villages of women and children impacted by the war. The book gives a well-rounded feeling of what these women needed to do to save the lands and the people. 5 stars.
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
I don’t know what took me so long to listen to this story. It was absolutely captivating and could not stop listening.
This dramatic story about 5 families before and during WWI was incredible. The way Follett wove all their stories together was dynamic and mesmerizing. The story was a little more battle and politics focused than most WWI stories I have read, but I loved learning new historical information.
This is a story that would be EXCELLENT for the men in your life too. Now if only I could get my husband to read.
Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly
Martha Hall Kelly wrote a prequel to the bestselling Lilac Girls and it features Caroline’s mother, Eliza! Set against the backdrop of WWI, this story once again features three narrators. This time the characters are American Eliza, Russian aristocrat Sofya, and Varinka a Russian peasant.
It spans across New York, Paris, St. Petersburg, and the Russian countryside. I knew little of Russia during WWI going into this book, so I was startled at just how much destruction and turmoil took place during that time period. If you are a historical fiction lover, this is the book you’ll want to read this spring break! This book has some character overlap with Lilac Girls but it is a stand-alone novel.
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Historical Fiction Books Set in the Jazz Age
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
This book is an award winner and the writing is undeniably wonderful. The story itself has elements of magic that added to the difficult subject matter. The story deals with drugs, violence, and poverty- all of which are completely relevant in today’s society.
The characters did not develop throughout the story as much as I would have liked but, when added with the wonderful writing, this book is a worthwhile read.
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
This masterful work by Kate Atkinson is family drama, historical fiction and magical realism all rolled into one fantastic book.
Ursula Todd is born one night in 1910 and dies before taking her first breath. She is born again on the same snowy night in 1910 as so the story continues. Ursula lives her lives over and over hoping that she can get it right and change her story.
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer
I ordered the Age of Light after I found out about it in our Winter 2019 releases post. It’s a historical fiction novel about real-life photographer and model, Lee Miller. I had never heard about Miller prior to this book, though I was familiar with her lover – Man Ray.
She made some life choices that I can’t say I agree with, but I found her to be a strong, feminist woman ahead of her time. This book will be on my best reads of the year list, but be warned – there are some erotic scenes in the novel
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Depression Era Historical Fiction Novels
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
I just finished this book and it is so much more than I could have hoped for in a book. It is rare that a book comes along that fills in all the nooks and crannies in my heart and this book did just that.
It is the story of four orphan children who find themselves traveling in a canoe down the Mississippi. The summary of this book does not do justice to the words within the pages. This is one of our favorite books of 2019
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
The story starts in 1922 when Cora must accompany 15 year old Louise Brooks from Wichita Kansas to New York City. Louise will become a famous silent film star but is headed to a prestigious school of dance.
The five weeks that the women spend together will change them both.
Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris
When a mother is faced with an impossible choice, she does the only thing that she can think of and puts up a sign “2 Children for Sale”. When Ellis, a struggling reporter, sees the sign, he takes a picture.
Although he never meant for anyone to publish the photo, it becomes news and unleashes events that Ellis could never have anticipated. Lillian, an aspiring reporter who works at the paper, feels guilty about her role in the release of the photograph. Together, Ellis and Lillian work together to try and put a family back together.
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Best World War II Historical Fiction Books
The Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War II by Madeline Martin
Wow, did I love this book. Grace has always wanted to live in London and finds herself working at a bookshop as WWII looms on the horizon. Grace’s new found love of books, the store and the friends who have become family, become the glue that holds her together during air-raids, blitzes and nights spent in darkness.
Love books about books? Check out our post here.
The Paris Apartment by Kelly Bowen
Oh how I loved this book.
The Paris Apartment by Kelly Bowen. Part historical fiction, part mystery and part love story, this book was so well-written and the story was delivered perfectly.
In 2017 Aurelia inherits an apartment in Paris when her grandmother dies. She is not prepared for what she finds inside the apartment that she never new existed. Now she must get the help of an art restorer to discovery the history and the mystery surrounding the apartment and its contents.
in 1942 Estelle is living in Paris under Nazi occupation. When the Germans come to take away her beloved friends, Estelle does everything she can to help them.
The Queen of Paris by Pamela Binnings Ewen
Thanks to Black Stone Publishing for my review copy. I had such mixed feelings reading this book, in a good way. I hated Chanel who is a ruthless, shrewd woman who will do whatever she needs to in order to succeed, even becoming a nazi spy. I felt no sympathy for her, only disgust… and yet
The writing drew me in. I don’t agree with Chanel’s choices, but I was intrigued by her life during the war and all she did to try to save her own skin. It was fascinating to read about regardless of my personal feelings about the heroine of the story. She’s not written to be liked, but rather to be examined.
I’d recommend this story if you are looking to uncover the more sinister side of the renowned icon. 3 stars.
We have a complete list of Books Becoming Movies in 2023 and Beyond
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1960s Historical Fiction Books
Where the Crawdads Sing Deluxe Edition by Dehlia Owens
September 2018 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
I will admit when I saw the description of this book, I was not sold. A trusted individual, who has never steered me wrong in the past, gave me an advanced copy so, I took the leap. And wow, am I glad I did. I read this book and then recommended it to everyone I knew. This book has that spark, that special something that makes it extra. It is no surprise that we chose this as our favorite of 2018.
We have an entire post dedicated to this book and how to host a book club around it!
For more books like these, check out our list of 13 books like Where the Crawdads Sing
Nickel Boys by Coleson Whitehead
The 213 pages of this book will haunt me for a long time. Mr. Whitehead brings characters to life and holy crap can this man write. There is a reason he has won the Pulitzer Prize two times. I have had this book since the day it was released and needed to find the courage to read it. I’m so glad I did.
Elwood Curtis is a black boy who lives in Florida in the 1960’s. When he is unfairly sentenced to a crime, he is sentenced to live at the Nickel Boy Academy. This horror show is disguised as a school and based on a real school that existed for 111 years.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
I was blown away by the Cruz’s latest novel which explores her Dominican roots. 15-year-old Ana dreams of moving to America, envisioning a life of glamour, wealth, and freedom. She accepts the hand of a husband twice her age to fulfill her dreams but is in for quite an awakening when she makes it to the Bronx.
Her immigrant story was filled with strength and courage as over the course of a year-and-a-half meek Ana is molded into a strong woman. Miserable in her life, Ana is forced to choose between duty to her family and her dreams
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Best Historical Fiction Books set in the 1970
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Another Kristin Hannah story, another NYT best seller – and for good reason! I liked this story about the Alaskan wilderness.
Hannah does a great job of exploring new concepts in her books but this was about 100 pages too long for me. There was lots of hunting and towards the end, some of the dramatic moments just felt like a bit too much.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I started reading this book but when my audiobook library hold came in I changed over to the audiobook version. HOLY COW. The audiobook is EVEN BETTER. Seriously, I think this might have been my favorite audiobook of all time. I expect it to sweep the Audies this year for sure. The book is laid out in chronological order about the making of a band in the 70s, but the story is told in interview style from a dozen sources.
The audio version has a different narrator for each character and the performances the actors give are stupendous. I was overcome with emotion numerous times while I was listening. The story itself about the rise and fall of one of the hottest bands was so utterly fabulous – it’s pure sex, drugs and rock n’ roll in all the best ways. There is a Spotify playlist that goes with it – scroll down for all the details.
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
Jonathan Frazen is back with this incredible book about a pastor and his family as they navigate who they are in the midsts of the tumultuous 70s.
As each character questions their relationship with their family, with god, and with their community at large, they also turn inward and try to remain true to themselves.
The depth of the characters is meticulous, the plot had me flipping the pages (which at 500 or so is saying something.) I can’t recommend this story enough. It’s truly wonderful.
Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais
The story examines the relationship between a black woman and a white girl in apartheid South Africa in 1976. This novel is a brutally honest and emotionally compelling story, unlike anything I have ever read.
This book begins just before the 1976 Soweto uprising in which thousands of black students marched in protest of the apartheid government. Though the protest was peaceful, police open fired killing a hundred children.
This historical fiction book led to the most amazing discussions with our bookclub. It is powerful and poignant and one of Jackie’s all time favorite books.
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Historical Fiction Set in the 1980s
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
June 2021 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
Nina Riva is having her annual summer party which is famous for its epic scale and exclusivity. But this year, the party will end with devastation.
Nina and her siblings are famous children of one of the biggest rock stars of all time and they each have their secrets. Perfect for a list of books about music, right?
I have loved the last two books by Taylor Jenkins Reid so much that I often recommend them to friends for their universal appeal. I had high hopes for this book but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
I enjoyed the book but I felt that it was a little drawn out at times. Still, I loved Nina’s character and her ability to surf puts her on our list of books about women in sports!
Shoulder Season by Christina Clancy
This story revolves around Sherri, an ordinary girl who decides to audition to be a playboy bunny at the Playboy Resort in Wisconsin.
I was expecting a fun, light read, but instead, I was a jumble of nerves as I watched Sherri lose herself and then figure out who she really is.
When Sherri hit rock bottom, I called Jackie asking if it would all turn out ok. It does but in a real-life kind of way.
American Pop by Snowden Wright
A family saga told about 3 generations of soft-drinks heirs that had heart and glamour. I loved learning about the rise and fall of the Panola Cola company and the dynasty it produced. It’s hard to choose a favorite Forster but it was probably Harold’s tale that I liked the most, followed closely by Ramsey. I loved the made-up family interacting with real-world figures. I just really enjoyed this read. It would be great for the beach
Best Historical Fiction Books About Female Spies
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This is a remarkable story of two sisters who live in France. It details how they survive the Second World War under Nazi Occupation. The sisters are separated by time and have completely different experiences in the war.
This book is one of the books that should be read in a lifetime. It is a total tear-jerker and one of those books about WWII that are basically essential reading!
Code Name Hélène: A Novel by Ariel Lawson
I LOVED this book so much. It is so beautifully written, amazingly researched and absolutely enthralling. This book is based on the life of Nancy Wake who is a nurse and journalist who becomes a Special Operations Executive during WWII.
She was an amazing woman and I had never heard of her before this book. I am so thankful to @librofm for my copy of this book. It is one of my favorite books of 2020 and for me, this is the perfect historical fiction. It has wonderful characters, a fabulous story, romance, adventure, and the terrifying reality of life during WWII.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
July 2017 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
This historical fiction takes place during the First World War and after the Second World War as the story of two woman come together. One is a female ex-spy another is a pregnant single woman, and they are joined by a shady ex-con as they embark on a quest.
This was such a good book to listen to and although the subject matter was serious, there were moments when I was laughing out loud. There was just the right amount of humor to make this a very readable book.
If you love to read about female spies, we have a list of 22 Female Spy Books
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Historical Fiction Books Set at the Circus
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
I read this book long before we started the blog and I I still recommend this book to everyone as a must-read .
It is the middle of the Great Depression and Jacob finds himself orphaned just shy of earning his Vetrinary degree. He finds himself a job with a circus caring for a menagerie.
Here he meets Marlena, the beautiful star of the show and an untrainable elephant named Rosie.
I loved everything about this book from the romance and tension, to the beauty of the animals and their relationship with the people around them.
The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff
Noa has been cast out after becoming pregnant by a Nazi Soldier. She is forced to give up her baby as well and now finds herself living at a railway station and cleaning to earn her stay. When she finds a boxcar filled with Jewish infants being transported to a concentration camp, Noa grabs a baby and runs.
She finds safety with a German circus and must learn to become a trapeze artist to remain hidden in plain sight. This is a powerful story about love and friendship and a beautiful read from books about WWII.
Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Coralie Sardien spends her days in a Coney Island freak show called the Museum of Extraordinary Things. There, appears as the mermaid in the museum run by her father. She is one of many attractions in the show.
One night, Coralie meets Eddie Cohen who has run away from his Orthodox community. What follows is a love story during tumultuous times in New York history. This historical fiction is a must read book.
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Best Historical Fiction Books Set in France
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is a beautiful book that takes place in occupied France during the Second World War. It is the story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths cross as they try to survive the war.
When their stories converge it becomes a story that you will not soon forget. This winner of the Pulitzer Prize is obviously well-written but it is also a beautiful and readable book.
The Queen’s Fortune by Allison Pataki
Thanks to Ballantine Books for my review copy. All opinions are my own. The Queen’s Fortune had everything I love in a historical fiction novel – royalty, drama, a touch of romance, a strong female protagonist, and action. This book starts out all action and it doesn’t let up! I devoured the story of Napoleon, his former lover, and the dynasty that he helped her create with her eventual husband, who happened to be his #1 frenemy. They didn’t know what frenemies we’re back then but Napoleon and Bernadotte were the OGs.
Z – A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Zelda Fitzgerald gets her moment in the sun in this fictionalized biography of her life. Zelda, often belittled by her husband, was actually the muse behind his stories.
He drew inspiration from her diary and her life for characters like Daisy in The Great Gatsby. Yet, their marriage kept Zelda from reaching her own greatest potential. A fascinating character study of the woman behind the man.
For more books like these, check out our list of books set in France and Paris.
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Historical Fiction Books Set in Cornwall
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
A young girl is abandoned on a ship headed to Australia. When she arrives, the only thing in her possession is a suitcase with some clothes and a book of fairy tales. The dock master and his wife adopt Nell and tell her the story of her arrival in Australia on her 21st birthday. She goes back to England on a quest to find her lost identity.
Unsuccessful, her granddaughter later takes up the search and tried to assemble the pieces of her grandmother’s mystery and unlock the secrets of her past.
For more books like these, check out our list of Kate Morton Books Ranked.
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley
I read this book in only a few days because I loved it so much. This is another book that I read this month that is perfect for fans of Outlander.
After Eva’s sister dies, she heads back to Cornwall England to find peace and rest. What she discovers is more than she expects when she finds herself inexplicably back in time. As her heart begins to feel again, can she find a way to heal her broken heart and find love?
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
When the heroine meets Max de Winter while working as a lady’s maid, she is swept off her feet and accepts his surprise marriage proposal. After a quick honeymoon, they move back to his estate, Manderlay.
I was frustrated by the Second Mrs. de Winter’s helplessness and naivete. Note that this heroine does not have a first name or a maiden name in the book. The story does an amazing job of casting an eerie feeling on the reader throughout the entire book. This is one book that you will not soon forget.
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Historical Fiction Books Set in Italy
The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer
A perfect summer read about a neurosurgeon who is transported back to Siena in the time of the plague. The narrative makes me feel like I am in Italy.
Depicted as Outlander meets Girl with a Pearl Earring, at its heart, it is a love story. I could not put it down and finished it as a perfect start to the summer reading season.
Juliet: A Novel by Anna Fortier
I ADORE this story and have read it numerous times. What if Shakespeare’s Juliet was real and was actually a curse? Alternating between the “real” Juliet’s story and her modern-day descendant’s story, the book proves that love transcends time.
I can’t put my finger on why this story makes my top 10, but it’s a comfort read that I go to whenever I need a pick me up. I re-read it again and again! It has a little bit of everything – romance, a mystery, a contemporary and historical element. It’s such a unique and amazing tale.
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Best Historical Fiction Books Set in Korea
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This book is an epic tale of a family through the generations. I absolutely adored the first half of the book. I felt like I knew each of the characters so well as I rooted for them and loved them.
Even though the book was close to 500 pages, I felt like the second half of the book was rushed. This is a rare occasion in which I wish there was more to the book, particularly the ending. I wanted to know more and to feel like I knew the characters as I did at the beginning. From Korea to Japan, this is an epic historical fiction novel.
Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
I read the Island of Sea Woman by Lisa See and was captivated from the first page. Lisa See’s last novel The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane was absolutely brilliant and I felt the same way about this book.
This historical fiction tells the story of a friendship between two women on the Korean Island, Jeju. There, woman work as a diving collective to provide for their families and the men look after the children. It was so interesting to read a story where some gender norms are completely reversed and others, like feeding woman and children last, were still perpetuated.
Beyond the incredible history of this small island is the story of a remarkable friendship between Mi-ja and Young-sook from over decades. Lisa See has done it again with this remarkable book.
The Mermaid From Jeju by Sumi Hahn
Goh Junja comes from a family haenyeo (sea divers) and urges her mother to allow her to make the trip to trade the abalone they catch. When she returns, he sees her mother take her last breath after a diving accident.
This story takes place in the aftermath of WWII when the political aftermath is felt in Korea as Japan withdraws and US troops take over. This is one of the best historical fiction I have read in a while.
Best Historical Fantasy Books
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
How do we love Outlander? We cannot count the ways. The ninth book in the series, Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone, will be released on November 23, 2021.
This epic story begins in 1945 when Claire Randall and her husband take a second honeymoon to the Scottish Highlands to celebrate being reunited after the war. When Claire touches one of the standing stones, she is transported to 1743.
This is when the real story begins. In order to stay safe as an English women in Scotland, she must depend on Jamie Frasier for protection. Amazing history, magical realism, romance and witches overflow in this iconic epic saga.
Love this book? We have a list of books like Outlander!
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Every word captivated me from beginning to end and I couldn’t put it down. The story was magical- both literally and figuratively and the descriptions are so vivid.
The stage has been set for a magical competition between the pupils of two very powerful magicians. The stage: the night circus. The pupils, a man and a woman, are unsure of the rules, unsure how to win or when the competition will end. As the competition continues, the opponents fall in love- a situation that only complicates their predicament.
This is magic in a way that I never imagined it before. The story has twists and surprises that left me wondering how I didn’t see what was right there all along. Not only can you find this book in our list of the Best Romance Novels of all Time, but you can also find it on our list of The Ultimate List of YA Fantasy Books. And now, you can find books just like it in our post of Books Like the Night Circus.
His Magesty’s Service (Temeraire) by Naomi Novik
I cannot believe that I had not heard of this epic series by Naomi Novik. I love her most recent books and stumbled upon this series after hearing someone talk about it.
Captain Laurence is serving in the British Navy when his ship captures a French ship with a dragon egg. Knowing that the dragon must receive its master immediately, Capt. Laurence becomes that master. Suddenly, Laurence and the dragon, Temeraire, find themselves in the Aerial Corps trying to defeat Napoleon and his army. This epic historical fantasy series is a must read.
If you love historical fantasy, we have a list of Historical Fantasy Books you will want to read!
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Best Historical Fiction Books About Royalty
The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner
If you are into Historical Fiction, this is a great one for your list. I had no idea that the Tsarina was such a force.
I loved listing to the inner workings of the royal marriage market and how Russian aristocracy behaved. I’m more of an anglophile in general, but I really liked expanding my horizons.
The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock
I knew a little about Princess Margaret from what I gleaned from
Another Woman’s Husband by Gill Paul
I had only a vague understanding of who Wallis Simpson was going into this novel, and boy was she a pistol. Cold, calculating, and selfish, I loved to hate her. It was so interesting to see her machinations from another point of view. She was ruthless in her pursuit of what she wanted. Gill Paul also wove in a mystery set in London at the time of Princess Diana’s death which I found to be well-done too. This is a great historical fiction book about the more recent parts of the British Monarchy.
For more Royal Reads, check out our Ultimate List
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Historical Fiction Books Set in New York City
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murphy
This fictionalized version of Belle de Costa Greene was wonderful, I’m so glad it was a GMA pick!
Greene was J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian and later the librarian for his heir. She was also a black woman passing as white. She had to keep her roots hidden in order to hold her job, but I’m glad her real truth is being told now.
For more books set in libraries, check out this list.
Montauk by Nicola Harrison
I was expecting a lighthearted read, but this book had more soul than I was expecting! Set in 1938 in Montauk among the glamorous world of Manhattan’s summering elite, it was full of secrets and romance. It’s sort of like a historical fiction version of an Elin Hildebrandt book with romance and personal growth as our heroine discovers true love in a sleepy beach town.
I shed a few tears at the ending – which took me completely by surprise by the way! There is a short, not-so graphic rape scene – so if that’s a trigger for you, steer clear. Otherwise, I applaud this debut and recommend it for your beach bag!
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Middle Grade Historical Fiction Books
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is a book that is narrated by Death. He tells the story of Liesel, a young girl in Nazi Germany in 1939. Liesel is living with her foster parents an learning to read from stolen books.
She also shares these books with the Jewish man who is hiding in her basement. This book is brilliant, powerful, poignant and unforgettable. while technically a YA book, this book is literary fiction at its finest.
Echo by Pam Ryan Munoz
I listened to this with my kids and WOW. We were all completely blown away by this story. It’s three tales woven together in one with a magical harmonica at the center.
I can’t recommend the audiobook version enough. Music plays throughout the story and adds such depth to the tale. This is perfect for a family road trip.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
I read this book in a few hours and immediately ordered the sequel The War I Finally Won. Ada is a 10 year old girl who lives in a one-room world gazing at the world from one window. She was born with a club foot and teaches herself to walk in secret. When the children who lived in London were evacuated to go to the country at the start of WW2, Ada escapes her abusive mother and leaves London with her little brother.
There is so much depth to this book. It is a Newbury Honor book and the Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award for middle grade. This middle grade historical fiction is a story of love and survival in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
Do not be fooled that it is written for middle grade. It is emotionally crafted and brilliantly written.
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Best YA Historical Fiction Books
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Some YA books are incredibly appealing to adult readers. The latest Reese’s Book Club pick is the story of a ladies maid turned advice columnist. Jo Kuan must hide her true identity because of the blatant racist and sexism that was so prevalent.
This is a white and sometimes heartbreaking YA historicaI fiction book that will have you rooting for Jo.
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
This book was such an unexpected beauty for me. Books about the Holocaust are most often inherently extremely heavy. I love the way this book takes the story of Briar Rose (AKA Sleeping Beauty) and turns it into a story about the Holocaust.
It does not trivialize the atrocities of that time but rather, it makes the subject more approachable to a younger audience. Beautifully written and well done.
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
I listened to the audible version of this book and I was hysterical. It is a twist on the historical tale of Lady Jane Grey the 9 days Queen.
Instead of Catholics and Protestants, this book gave us people who could transform into animals and those who could not. It was ridiculous but funny and the authors cleverly wove in historical details and sayings attributing them to the characters.
Lovely War by Julie Berry
This book’s premise had me a little skeptical, Greek Gods telling a love story set in WWI? I didn’t think it was up my alley. I must have had it recommended to me almost a dozen times now, and now I’m the one recommending it. I
t was two, sort of three, love stories in one book, but it touched on racism, PTSD, and the sacrifices of war. It was so well handled that I was sad to see it end
Thanks for sharing your list, I admire your taste in books and I use your lists for books that I want to read.
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