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13 Historical Fiction Novels Worth Reading


I've read some excellent historical fiction novels recently, so I thought it would be fun to compile a list of recommendations. I ended up with 13 historical novels that are worth reading, in my opinion. Every one of these would be a great selection for book clubs as well. I've included the first paragraph of my review for each book to give you a sense of what the book is about.

This list is presented in no particular order.

1. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd ~ When Sarah Grimke turns 11 years old, her mother gives her a very special birthday gift: her very own slave, 10 year-old Handful. But Sarah is an unusual Southern girl who abhors slavery, even at her young age. She tries to refuse the gift, but her mother forces her to accept it. So she takes Handful as her handmaid, and they form a unique relationship that lasts a lifetime. Read the rest of my review


2. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline ~ On the brink of being kicked out of another foster home, 17-year-old Molly Ayer starts doing community service in the home of 91-year-old Vivian Daly. Her assignment is to help Vivian clean out her attic, but soon it's apparent that Vivian merely wants to look through her old things and remember her past. This past started with a young girl who was uprooted from Ireland to live in New York City with her family, and then soon after, loaded onto a train with other orphans bound for new homes in the Midwest. Read the rest of my review


3. Moloka'i by Alan Brennert ~ At the age of seven, Rachel Kalama is whisked away from her home and her family in Hololulu and sent to the island of Moloka'i. This is the place where those with leprosy are sent to die at the end of the 19th century. This is a heartbreaking story about the loss of family and the loss of life. But it is also an inspiring story about how people persevere over such horrible situations. Read the rest of my review


4. Honolulu by Alan Brennert ~ Growing up in Korea in the early 1900s, Regret longs to escape her future as an uneducated subservient wife and daughter-in-law. She finds a way out of this life by becoming a "picture bride" to a man in far-away Hawai'i. But when she and the other brides arrive in their new home, they quickly learn that their new husbands are not the prosperous, young men they expected. Read the rest of my review


5. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton ~ The story begins with a little girl who is hiding on a ship. It is clear that she has boarded the ship with a woman she calls The Authoress, but after waiting for a very long time, the little girl joins some other children in a game. Soon she is on the dock in Australia, all alone. No one from the ship or the town she has arrived in is there to claim her. The dockmaster and his wife take her in and raise her as their own. They name her Nell because she cannot remember her name. When Nell is 21 years old, her father tells her the truth. This sets the young woman off on a quest to discover who she really is. Read the rest of my review


6. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See ~ Lily is the daughter of a farmer in a remote county of China in the 19th century. As she arrives at the tender age of six, she receives a visit from a diviner and then a matchmaker from another area of the county. It seems her feet, which are so important in this culture, have potential to be what people of this time consider perfect, so she is given the opportunity to be paired with a laotong, or "old same." In her lower status as a farmer's daughter, she would not normally have this opportunity, so she is naturally excited. Read the rest of my review


7. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See ~ Pearl and May are beautiful girls living the high life in Shanghai in 1937. They spend their evenings modeling and partying without a care in the world. But then their father announces that he has lost all their money gambling and has agreed to marry them off to two Chinese-American men to pay his debt. The girls go through with the wedding but refuse to follow the men to America, deciding instead to continue the life they've always known. But when the man who arranged the marriages begins to threaten their family, and the war invades their city, they find themselves on a treacherous journey to a very different life. Read the rest of my review


8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows ~ Juliet is a writer living in London at the end of the second World War. She is struggling to choose a topic for her next novel when a letter arrives in the mail. It's from a man named Dawsey who lives on the island of Guernsey. He found Juliet's name in a book and has written to ask for her help in acquiring books for the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to read and discuss. The two begin corresponding by letter, and soon she is also exchanging letters with several other Guernsey residents. Read the rest of my review


9. The Help by Kathryn Stockett ~ When Skeeter graduates from college in the early 1960's, she returns home to Jackson, Mississippi. Her friends are all married and having children, while she is a single aspiring writer. Her sorrow over the loss of her childhood maid, who left town while Skeeter was in college, and her desire to become a professional writer propel Skeeter to a project that will affect the lives of most of the women in her town. Read the rest of my review


10. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford ~ As Henry Lee walks past the Panama Hotel, a landmark that has been boarded up for decades, he is pulled into the excitement of the crowd that has gathered to see what has been found locked away in the basement all these years. It turns out that the belongings of many Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II were stored in the basement and never reclaimed after the war. This discovery takes Henry back to his childhood in the 1940s, and his loving friendship with Keiko, a Japanese girl who was lost to him during the war. Read the rest of my review


11. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay ~ Sarah's Key: A Novel by Tatiana de Rosnay alternates between two characters who are experiencing the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup in France in very different ways. First is Sarah, a Jewish child living in France during World War II, who is arrested along with her parents during the roundup. To save her younger brother, she locks him in a hidden cupboard, taking the key with her, figuring she'll be back shortly to let him out. Second is Julia Jarmond, a journalist living in France in 2002, who stumbles upon Sarah's story while writing an article about the 60th anniversary of the roundup. She becomes determined to find out what happened to Sarah, and how their lives are connected. Read the rest of my review


12. Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill ~ Aminata Diallo was born in Bayo, an African village, in the mid-1700's. There she lived with her loving parents until she was 11 years old. Then her whole world shattered. She was taken away, forced to walk for days across the land, loaded onto a ship, and sold into slavery in America. In 1802, she is in London writing her life story at the request of Abolitionists who feel she can help their cause. Read the rest of my review


13. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak ~ Death is pretty busy in Germany during World War II. But one child he encounters, as he takes her little brother's soul away, has a bigger effect on him than all the others. In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak tells the story of this girl, Liesel Meminger, from the perspective of Death himself. From her brother's death, to her childhood living with a foster family in Germany during the war, Death narrates the story of this girl who just cannot resist her desire for books. Read the rest of my review


Also, be sure to check out some of the historical fiction recommendations shared on my Facebook page and Twitter.

Comments

  1. I've read The Book Thief, Sarah's Key, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and The Forgotten Garden. Majority of the rest are on my TBR list. Nice compilation!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! Those are all good ones!

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  2. I love Lisa See - have you read Dreams of Joy, the sequel to Shanghai Girls? It's just as good :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have not read that one yet. I need to take time to do that!

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  3. I've read Guernsey, Shanghai Girls, and Snow Flower. Have you read See's latest- China Dolls? It's still about Chinese women but now they're in the U.S. during WWII- really good.

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    Replies
    1. I haven't read that one yet. I will definitely check it out!

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  4. We have similar taste ... I totally agree, The Invention of Wings, Orphan Train, The Forgotten Garden, The Help, Guernsey, The Book Thief. The others are on my TBR shelf and I'm adding the Alan Brennert's to my wishlist. Have you read The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick and My Notorious Life by Kate Manning? ... absolutely brilliant!

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    Replies
    1. I haven't read those two, but will definitely add them to my TBR list!

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  5. I love your list. I have read eight of these books.

    I loved The Forgotten Garden...one of my favorite books ever.

    The Invention of Wings, The Orphan Train, and The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet are awesome too.

    Thanks for sharing this great list.

    Elizabeth

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    Replies
    1. The Forgotten Garden is one of my all-time favorites.

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  6. What a great list, Julie! You've got a lot of my favorites on this list. I have Orphan Train on my Kindle but haven't gotten to it yet. Lisa See is also on my TBR list - haven't read one of hers yet.

    Thanks for the inspiration! I came here from the Throwback Thursday link - I must have missed it while we were on vacation last summer!

    Sue

    Book By Book

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    Replies
    1. I think you'd like Orphan Train and pretty much anything by Lisa See! Definitely try them out! Thanks for stopping by!

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