Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Historical Fiction Book Recommendations

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Historical fiction is probably my favorite genre. I love every flavor of it: realistic historical fiction, historical fantasy, historical horror, dual timelines, family sagas. I even read history nonfiction.

Today, I'm going to recommend some realistic historical fiction. These are fiction stories set in the past with no magical elements. Here are 10 that I've read and obsessed over in the last few years.

🔮  Historical Fiction Book Recommendations  💀

Out Of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys

It's 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.

Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

Why I recommend it: I'm in love with the characters. When you're examining the underbelly of a city, you're going to uncover some dark things. The author shows the good and the bad side of her characters, especially the prostitutes. The women at the brothel become a family to Josie. They're just as dysfunctional as any family. The women don't love being prostitutes, but they're strong and funny and are doing whatever it takes to survive. I was completely invested in their lives.

Buy it on Amazon

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.

Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.

Why I recommend it: It's a beautifully written story about stories. It's a love letter to books and libraries. It shows how stories are passed down through generations and give us the courage to keep moving when we're under siege.

Buy it on Amazon

The Animals At Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

August 1939.

Thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s collection of mammals. Once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, however, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for.

Protecting her charges from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is work enough, but when some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone—or something—is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.

As the disasters mount, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but clearly haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumors of ghosts and curses?

Why I recommend it: If you love gothic books or Victorian sensation novels, then you need to read this one! It's got the vibes of a classic, but it's written in modern times and set during WWII. It has everything you'd expect from a Victorian sensation classic: unexpected deaths, madness, forbidden romance, plot twists, untrustworthy servants, arrogant men, potential ghosts, bad weather, a creepy atmosphere. It's a mash-up of all the greatest hits. Actually, this book is like a museum for other books. As you wander through it, you see bits of Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Woman In White, etc.

Buy it on Amazon

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

In June 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the work farm where he has just served a year for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother and head west where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future.

Why I recommend it: It's about a group of young men who are trying to figure out what to do with their new freedom. What would you do if you had no responsibilities? Where would you go if you could go anywhere? It reminds me of the adventure stories I read as a young teen. The characters are gallivanting around the US and making bad choices. It's fun and full of humor and plot twists. If you like your characters morally gray and fatally flawed, then this is a book for you.

Home by Toni Morrison

Frank Money is an angry, self-loathing veteran of the Korean War who, after traumatic experiences on the front lines, finds himself back in racist America with more than just physical scars. His home may seem alien to him, but he is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from and that he's hated all his life. As Frank revisits his memories from childhood and the war that have left him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he had thought he could never possess again.

Why I recommend it: This is a small book that feels huge. Every sentence is necessary. There's no filler. My copy is only 150 pages, but I feel like I know these characters. I badly wanted them to overcome their problems. I was scared and frustrated by their ignorance. They're so real that you love them and hate them at the same time.

Buy it on Amazon

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle's dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast's booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery.

One thread of Homegoing follows Effia's descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day.

Why I recommend it: It’s a collection of linked short stories that start in 1700s Ghana and follow a family up until modern times. Each story focuses on a generation of the family. The writing is stunning. There are scenes that will stick with me forever, especially the ones set in prisons and mines. They’re very visceral. I like that the book doesn’t solely focus on well-known bits of history. I read a lot of history, but there were a few moments where I went, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” Then I had to do some Googling.

Buy it on Amazon

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Why I recommend it: I never thought I’d be obsessed with the love life of fictional celebrities, but here we are. Evelyn Hugo is one of my favorite protagonists. She’s confident, cunning, and will do anything to get what she wants. This novel is beautifully written and full of twists and surprises.

Buy it on Amazon

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her.

But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life's lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world—until the unthinkable happens.

Why I recommend it: The beginning of the novel is brilliant. The plot and the nature writing are so stunning that I didn’t want to stop reading. Disappointingly, I fell out of love as the book went on because it gets pretentious and far-fetched. I can't stop thinking about it, though! I enjoyed it overall. Best first chapters ever. If you are a wannabe writer, you need to read this one.

Buy it on Amazon

The Avenue Of The Giants by Marc Dugain

The Avenue of the Giants follows Al Kenner as he progresses from antisocial adolescent to full-fledged serial killer in the turbulent ‘60s and ‘70s. A giant at over 7 feet tall with an IQ higher than Einstein’s, Al was never ordinary. His life is tainted by his parents’ divorce and his mother’s abusive behavior, and it takes a chilling turn on the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Al spends 5 years in a psychiatric hospital, and although he convinces the staff that he is of sound mind, he continues to harbor vicious impulses. Al leads a double life, befriending the Santa Cruz Police Chief and contemplating marrying his daughter, all the while committing a series of brutal murders. Delving into the mind of this complex killer, Marc Dugain powerfully evokes an America torn between the pacifism of the hippie movement and the violence of Vietnam.

Why I recommend it: I debated including this one on the list because I only gave it a 3-star rating. It was originally written in French, and the English version has some confusing translation issues. Despite the issues, this book will live in my mind forever. It's based on a true story and completely terrifying! It shows how well (and how easily) a serial killer can hide his crimes.

Buy it on Amazon

The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, she doesn’t believe that her mother killed herself three years ago. And since her father is about to be executed for his crimes, Molly is convinced that her mother will return to her soon. Finally, the hole in her heart will stop hurting.

Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with serious girl problems and the most embarrassing seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly and Pepper are tasked with finding Ava’s murderer, they realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

Why I recommend it: Are you up for a historical mystery? For a book about arson and murder, it's surprisingly funny. I read most of this novel in one night because the mystery is compelling. I couldn't sleep until I found out what happened to Ava!

Buy it on Amazon

Recommend your favorite historical fiction books!


  1. The only one I've read from this list is Evelyn Hugo, and I loved that it was such a departure from TJR's other books.

  2. I hadn't considered Crawdads as HF, but almost all of my HF are action novels set in wars of old. It was a great read, though!

  3. You've got two of my all time favorites on here: Homegoing, Where the Crawdads Sing; and Out of the Easy. Great list!

  4. Cloud Cuckoo Land sounds so good! I love books that revisit the same themes over long periods of time.

    My post: https://lydiaschoch.com/top-ten-tuesday-xenofiction/

  5. Some of my favorite historical fiction: Alice Hoffman, "The Dove Keepers", Steven Pressfield, "Gates of Fire" and Robert Harris, "Pompeii" and Michael Shaara, "Killer Angels". (all the but the last one is sent truly in the ancient world--~2000 years ago.

  6. I love historical fiction also, I have some of these on my wishlist! The Phillipa Gregory Tudor novels are some of my favorite historical fiction reads.

  7. I love all of TJR's historical fiction books. I also want to read Out of Easy.

  8. Historical fiction is a fave among my people today. I didn't realize The Arsonist was HF.

  9. Historical fiction is my favorite genre. I thank you for your selections suggestions. I will be looking further into these.

  10. I've had The Seven Husbands on my TBR for some time now; guess I need to bump it up!

  11. Oh I'm just starting Evelyn Hugo now...!!

  12. I have been enjoying historical fiction quite a bit this year. I've read a couple on your list and loved them

  13. I have only read Crawdads from your list, and felt kind of like you did about the book. Cloud Cuckoo Land and Seven Husbands as well Lincoln Highway - well, they are on my TBR ..and I need to get to them soon.
    Here is my TTT

  14. I've read a few of these! I still need to read Evelyn Hugo.

  15. My favorite historical fiction book is The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth. Its about the life of a real women by the name of Dortchen Wild who help the brother Grimm collect fairly tales.

  16. I don't read much historical fiction, but I do have a few MG reads that I've really enjoyed!