Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read, so I thought I would make a list of my favorite historical fiction novels. This list will probably grow over time, considering that I haven’t read every book in the world… yet. But here are my favorites that I have read up to this point (including some I read when I was much younger) in no particular order:
Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.
As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength are tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.
It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
3. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
4. Annie, Between the States by L.M. Elliot
Annie Sinclair’s Virginia home is in the battle path of the Civil War. Her brothers, Laurence and Jamie, fight to defend the South, while Annie and her mother tend to wounded soldiers. When she develops a romantic connection with a Union Army lieutenant, Annie’s view of the war broadens. Then an accusation calls her loyalty into question. A nation and a heart divided force Annie to choose her own course.
5. The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline B. Cooney
Deerfield, Massachusetts is one of the most remote, and therefore dangerous, settlements in the English colonies. In 1704 an Indian tribe attacks the town, and Mercy Carter becomes separated from the rest of her family, some of whom do not survive. Mercy and hundreds of other settlers are herded together and ordered by the Indians to start walking. The grueling journey — three hundred miles north to a Kahnawake Indian village in Canada — takes more than 40 days. At first Mercy’s only hope is that the English government in Boston will send ransom for her and the other white settlers. But days turn into months and Mercy, who has become a Kahnawake daughter, thinks less and less of ransom, of Deerfield, and even of her “English” family. She slowly discovers that the “savages” have traditions and family life that soon become her own, and Mercy begins to wonder: If ransom comes, will she take it?
6. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy’s sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.
Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother’s life.
Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.
7. Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch
Sixteen-year-old Margaret Rose Nolan, newly arrived from Ireland, finds work at New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory shortly before the 1911 fire in which 146 employees died.
Sixteen-year-old Rose Nolan and her family are grateful to have finally reached America, the great land of opportunity. Their happiness is shattered when part of their family is forced to return to Ireland. Rose wants to succeed and stays in New York with her younger sister Maureen. The sisters struggle to survive and barely do so by working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Then, just as Rose is forming friendships and settling in, a devastating fire forces her, Maureen, and their friends to fight for their lives. Surrounded by pain, tragedy, and ashes, Rose wonders if there’s anything left for her in this great land of America.
8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.