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Historical Fiction Favorites

Updated: Jan 13

I've never been a history buff. That was always my least favorite subject in school. For that reason, I used to find myself avoiding novels that were set in any time period other than the present - I just didn't think I'd be interested or able to relate.

I was wrong. Some of the best novels that I've read are historical fiction.

They allow you a glimpse into what the world had been like in a particular time. They can evoke emotions as you learn how different (or similar) things were and allow us to understand the challenges faced by generations before us. Historical fiction keeps the stories alive so that we can empathize and grow.

Side view of shelves of books
Historical Fiction Favorites

I'm sharing just a few of my Historical Fiction Favorites that I've read and enjoyed over the years and hope that you will as well.

Historical Fiction Favorites

Woman in red coat watching two airplanes flying

Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel is a novel that follows the life of Yona - a girl that had been kidnapped at 2 years old and then lived in the forest for 2+ decades with her kidnapper. Yona is raised with love by the Jewish woman, Jerusza, and is educated by her on the forest, survival (including fighting), multiple languages, as well as all religions.

Several years later, Jerusza dies and Yona is all alone. She continues in the forest, eventually meeting others and faced with many decisions. She's able to use all of her years of experience to help people along the way learn to survive the brutal ways of nature and enemies. This was quite heartbreaking to hear war stories and how the Jews were treated, but the story was very well told and gave me a greater appreciation for what happened.

Landscape with wooded mountains

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. The premise behind this story is a group of women ride horseback and deliver books in the hills of Kentucky. The fact that it took place less than a few miles from where I hike yearly was a plus as I could imagine the hardships of the Packhorse Librarians navigating the terrain.

Initially, the prologue and first Chapter felt SO different (focus is on different characters) that I wasn't sure what I should be focusing on. The development of the story with additional characters and interwoven stories made this historical fiction novel quite interesting. I recommend reading the Prologue again after Chapter 18, which is when everything fell into place for me.

I enjoyed reading a book with such strong, smart, and resourceful women. It was wonderful seeing their friendship blossom as well. Jojo Moyes also added a number of key characters that I developed a serious hatred for including Mr. Van Cleve and his weak son, Bennett.

Honey jar on windowsill

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd was an unusual book for me to pick up and fall in love with as it doesn't hit my typical reading categories. But it more than held my interest and was also a great discussion book for our local book club and I've been recommending it since I read it.

Lily is a young (white) girl who escapes a bad situation in the 1960's where she had been in a home with an abusive father. She fled her old life with her caretaker (a black woman named Rosaleen), during a time when mixing different complexions was not common. Their journey takes them to another city where they both learn so much about the strength in women.

They land in a small town in South Carolina and Lily is sure there is a tie to her mother's old past. While there, they are taken in by three sisters and learn how to tend to the bees. Lily also experiences what it's like to be surrounded by love and faith.

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain is a book that had me rattled after reading it. I had no idea that something as ethically wrong and emotionally / physically damaging as the Eugenics Sterilization program was REAL back in the 1960's ... wow. Diane speaks to the program in the Author's Note at the end, so be sure to read past the last chapter.

The novel is told from two different perspectives. JANE - a new welfare worker and IVY - a young 15 year old living and working on a tobacco farm, taking care of her grandma, older sister and nephew.

Jane gets very attached to her families as she learns more about them - a big no no when working cases. She also discovers that many choices have been thrust on the poorer population by their case workers without their full comprehension, putting her in a confusing position.

Silhouette of lighthouse against the night sky

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman takes place in Australia in the 1920's. We meet Tom and Isabel, married after having served in the war and now choosing an isolating job of manning the lighthouse at Janus Rock. They are the only two inhabitants on the island, although not for lack of trying. Isabel has become pregnant several times, but none have resulted in a child.

Then one day they hear a baby cry. There is a boat along the shore with a dead man and infant in it. Isabel sets to comforting the infant and it feels like a dream come true, almost destiny to grow their family. But they argue with the morality of taking the baby on as their own without reporting it.

Tom and Isabel struggle with their decision and the unintended consequences. This book shows the raw emotions and thoughts occurring when presented with a difficult, very unique situation. Every decision could have a very different outcome and even though they make their decision out of love, is it the right one?

Person kayaking against red sky

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was recommended to me years ago by so many people that I had to pick it up. I'll be honest, a few chapters in, I was nervous. While it was a good read, it was slow and I was getting anxious for more.... fortunately, that is exactly what was delivered in the second half of the book ... "more" of everything. More depth, more substance, more storyline to chew on.

It's the late 1960's and this story depicts yet another situation of learning to live on the land, isolated and virtually alone. Kya has taught herself everything that she needs to know in order to survive, but now she's maturing and wants more. She wants companionship.

With romance and mystery, the book gains more interest with each turn of the page.

Woman with hair in bun and sunglasses on

Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is the final historical fiction book that I'll talk about and is one that had me smiling through much of the story. The protagonist - Elizabeth Zott - is a brilliant chemist who says what she thinks. I love it when books show smart women, especially in STEM. I'm torn with feeling that this was a historical fiction as I almost feel like much of this story could still occur in the modern world.

Elizabeth Zott was dealt a few rough hands in life, but she always rolled with the punches in her own way. Her personality is very driven and she's determined to stay true to herself, refusing to succumb to what the people around her want. She meets Calvin Evans and there is definite chemistry in the air.

Years later, Elizabeth loses her job as a chemist and becomes a TV show host for "Supper at 6" - hosting the show as if it were a chemistry lesson. Now a young, single mother, she learns to accept help from her neighbor, Harriet. This book is great at showing how women can build each other up and how positive, strong relationships can be in impacting our lives.

I hope that you have the opportunity to try out a few of these books and enjoy them as much as I did!

More Book Recommendations!

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