Historical Fiction
The Nightingale

The Nightingale

$9.99$1.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)

This book disappointed me, not because it was bad, but because it had the potential to be outstanding. While Hannah does a wonderful job portraying the state of occupied France in World War II, the characters felt like types. Many reviewers praise the sheer originality of the book for its portrayal of French women in WWII, but I kept thinking of Jojo Moyes's stronger novel The Girl You Left Behind. Release date: February 3.

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The Bookseller

The Bookseller

It's Denver, 1962, and Kitty Miller is happily living the single life, co-running a struggling bookstore. But then she begins having dreams that show her an alternate reality: the life she would have had if one single moment had unfolded differently. (Think Sliding Doors.) If you thought The Life Intended's plot was farfetched, you aren't going to like this one. This felt a little gimmicky to me (and the autism thread felt especially heavy-handed), but I did appreciate the numerous literary references. Release date: March 3.

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Outlander

Outlander

Talk about big fat books: This time-travel romance series has 9 books to date, totaling 9,381 pages, 300+ hours on Audible, and incorporating time travel, the Scottish highlands, romance, drama, and history. As she tells it, Gabaldon intended to write a realistic historical novel, but a modern woman kept inserting herself into the story! She decided to leave her on the page for the time being—it's hard enough to write a novel, she'd edit her out later—but would YOU edit out Claire? I didn't think so. You could happily lose yourself in this series (but heads up for racy content and graphic torture scenes).

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Backlands

Backlands

Shorr puts a fictional spin on real-life Brazilian folk heroes Lampião and Maria Bonita in this lyrical debut. After enduring 6 years of a loveless in-name-only marriage to a man she couldn’t stand, Maria Bonita leaves to become the wife of Lampião, Brazil’s beloved bandit, whose vigilante justice is indisputably more fair than the official kind. Soon Maria earns renown as the fiercest woman in Brazil, the queen of a band of merry outlaws. A well-paced novel, if not a page-turner: don’t give up when the going is slow in the first two chapters. It gets better. Evocative and moving.

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The Sunne in Splendor

The Sunne in Splendor

Riveting historical fiction by one of the finest historical novelists. Penman takes on fifteenth century England and the War of the Roses, recreating the life of Richard III: England's most controversial and most vilified monarch. The first hundred pages read like a history book (and I don’t mean that as a compliment) and the cast of characters is a bit overwhelming at first, but keep at it. Recommended reading for Outlander fans (but no time travel here).

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These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn so much I decided to move on to another of my mom’s favorites. Again, what was I waiting for? It was a little slow in the beginning, and the purposely bad grammar and diction got on my nerves, but don’t give up—the author knows what she’s doing, and it gets better. The story about a woman in the Old West really works in diary format. Brutally honest, heart-wrenching, engrossing.

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The Power of One

The Power of One

I’ve been meaning to read this forever and finally got to it last month—and I’d completely forgotten that it was one of my mom’s favorites. When I mentioned on the blog I was reading it, many readers chimed in to say it was their favorite book of all time. Some novels just tell a great story: this is one of them. Set in South Africa during the 1930s and 40s, following the struggles of a young boy named Peekay. The breadth of the story is fascinating (boxing, apartheid, horticulture). The beginning reminded me of All the Light You Cannot See, not a bad comparison, but a sad one. A story of resiliency and redemption.

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Centennial

Centennial

$9.99$2.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)

Michener is best known for his sweeping historical sagas: he wrote this epic novel to commemorate America’s bicentennial in 1976. This is the story of the American West, and especially Colorado. It spans 136 million years, covering the prehistoric era, Native Americans, trappers, traders, homesteaders, gold diggers, and cowboys, right on up to 1970s America. Meticulously researched, and so accurate it’s required reading for some history classes. Gripping enough to keep you turning all 1056 pages, more than once.

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The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist

This 2014 release got a ton of end-of-year buzz. The writing was solid but I ultimately found the story—an exploration of love, affluence, and greed—unsatisfying, because the author left some of the most compelling parts of the story unexplored. I wouldn't bother with this one if I had it to do over. I listened to this as an audiobook, and Davina Porter's narration was pitch-perfect.

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The Help

The Help

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan graduates from Old Miss in the 1960s and returns home to Jackson, looking for a topic to write about. She decides to tell the story of the Help. Skeeter was raised by a kindly black maid, as were many of her friends. Now they’re having babies and hiring black maids of their own. Skeeter interviews the maids of Jackson to find out what it’s really like to be a black woman who leaves her own babies at home so she can earn a living raising white women’s babies.

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The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper

Nearly all of Morton’s novels are beloved, but in my opinion, The Secret Keeper is her finest. When she was 16, Laurel witnessed a violent crime involving her mother, Dorothy. The family hushed it up, and Laurel hasn’t spoken of it since. Now, fifty years later, Dorothy is dying, and Laurel is determined to unravel the secret while there’s still time. As Laurel pursues her clues, the story flips back and forth in time between today and the years before and during World War II, including the London Blitz, which Morton recreates so vividly you can almost hear the bombs dropping. Filled with twists and turns that will keep you guessing to the end. More info →
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The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden

If the Brothers Grimm wrote The Secret Garden, this is what it would have been like. This sprawling family saga gets a little unwieldy at times, but I can't say I minded much. History, fairy tale, family drama, and Gothic mystery rolled into one.

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The Second Mrs. Hockaday

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

Booklist (starred review) calls this "With language evocative of the South ('craggy as a shagbark stump') and taut, almost unbearable suspense, dramatized by characters readers will swear they know, this galvanizing historical portrait of courage, determination, and abiding love mesmerizes and shocks."

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Secrets of a Charmed Life

Secrets of a Charmed Life

I've heard good things about Susan Meissner's historical fiction for years, but I must admit, it was the cover that convinced me to give her latest work a try: it was popping up all over the MMD Reading Challenge pinterest board for this category at the beginning of the year! Now that I've read it, I have a difficult time connecting the stylishly dressed woman on the cover to any characters in the novel, but since the teenage protagonist dreams of becoming a fashion designer it's not too far off. The story takes place during the London Blitz, which is probably why it reminded me so strongly of Kate Morton's <a href="https://modernmrsdarcy.com/books/the-secret-keeper/" target="_blank" >The Secret Keeper</a>. Enjoyable and moving.

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A Piece of the World: A Novel

A Piece of the World: A Novel

The author's working title (and desired title) for this work was Christina's World, named after the Andrew Wyeth painting so many of us fell in love with the first time we laid eyes on it. In this biographical novel, Kline upends the narrative, telling the story from the perspective of the portrait's subject, "middle-aged" spinster Christina Olson. This isn't a book that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. It IS probing, thought-provoking, and extremely discussable.

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The Truth According to Us

The Truth According to Us

I loved this historical novel from the bestselling co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. From the publisher: "Annie Barrows once again evokes the charm and eccentricity of a small town filled with extraordinary characters. Her new novel brings to life an inquisitive young girl, her beloved aunt, and the alluring visitor who changes the course of their destiny forever."

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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Taylor Jenkins Reid branches out with a new historical novel about a Hollywood starlet fashioned in the image of Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth.

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Life After Life: A Novel

Life After Life: A Novel

I began this book knowing nothing about it, and it took me a while to get my bearings. Atkinson's creative (and sometimes, mind-bending) structure shows clearly how tiny choices in her protagonist's life (and the lives of those around her) lead to vastly different outcomes. Vastly. Ursula Todd dies before taking her first breath, while another Ursula Todd is born with a piercing wail. The rest of the book follows Ursula's unique life cycle from death to life and back again, as WWII approaches. Bonus: Atkinson's novel is packed with literary references that serious literary types will appreciate.

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Half-Blood Blues

Half-Blood Blues

A finalist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. Edugyan's historical fiction story spans WWII Paris and 1952 Berlin, but the vivid depiction of salons, cafés, and jazz clubs lands this novel on the Paris list. The Hot Time Swingers are about to make it big when the Nazis forbid them to play. Hieronymus Falk, their star trumpet player, is arrested and never heard from again. Falk was Black, a German citizen, and considered a musical genius at the age of 20. Years later, Falk's band members take a journey from Berlin to Paris, revealing the intricacies of the events leading up to Falk's arrest.

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Edenbrooke
This Lovely City

This Lovely City

In 1948, the Empire Windrush arrived in Essex, London, carrying 492 Jamaican immigrants who were recruited by the British government to help rebuild the economy after WWII. In her debut novel, Louise Hare tells a fictional story about young love, prejudice, and home. Recent immigrant Lawrie Matthews works as a postman by day and a jazz musician by night. In between, he makes time to woo the girl next door. When Lawrie discovers something terrible on his way to work one day, he becomes the number one suspect, despite all evidence to the contrary. The community turns against him in a show of xenophobia and racism; his hopes seem all but dashed. His friends want to help but fear getting wrapped up in danger themselves, leaving it up to Lawrie's love interest to step in. Hare writes a mystery wrapped in a romance, with vibrant historical detail.

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Frederica

Frederica

$10.49$0.99Audiobook: 3.99 (Whispersync)

From Jessica Howard: "I like to say that Georgette Heyer is like Jane Austen, but funnier. She wrote more than sixty books in a variety of genres, but my favorite are her Regency romances. They’re clever, wordy, vivid depictions of 19th century life in the British upper class. Frederica is one of Heyer’s best heroines - resourceful, funny, and intelligent. And the way she and her cast of hilariously demanding younger siblings take down the bored Marquis of Alverstoke? Priceless. Watching him transform from a top-lofty dilettante into someone who cares deeply about Frederica and her family is irresistible."

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Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard

$10.61$1.99Audiobook: 7.49 (Whispersync)

In this timely coming-of-age story, set in 1963, a nine-year-old girl runs away from her Mississippi home, finds an unlikely friend, and sets out on a road trip that will change her life. Crandall writes gently but powerfully about what family really means, and how the most unlikely people can come to mean the most of us, despite race, class, or creed.

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Longbourn

Longbourn

Pride and Prejudice meets Downton Abbey: this is Austen's classic story, retold from the servant's perspective. You'll love it or you'll hate it. (But hey, polarizing books make for great discussion.) Book club discussion highlight: what Baker did with Mr. Wickham. (Shudder.)

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A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery

A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery

Raybourn writes historical fiction with a twist; she's best known for her Lady Julia Grey mysteries. This is her first novel in a new Victorian series featuring the badass but well-bred Veronica Speedwell. I heard the author speak about her source material for this new series in Raleigh, and I was intrigued: her heroine travels the world hunting beautiful butterfly specimens and the occasional romantic dalliance. When her guardian dies, the orphaned Veronica expects to embark on a grand scientific adventure. But Veronica quickly realizes that with her guardian's death, she is no longer safe—and she begins to unravel the mystery of why she poses a threat to dangerous men. An easy, enjoyable read.

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Voyager

Voyager

$7.99$4.99

I devoured all the Outlander books this fall. I hate picking favorites, but this might just be my most-loved of the eight so far, if only because at page 1 I couldn’t understand how Gabaldon could possibly resume her story where book 2 ended and take it in any direction at all that made me not hate her. It works. I’m impressed.

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Girl Waits with Gun

Girl Waits with Gun

Stewart is best known for her science writing: she's written six nonfiction books with unusual takes on the natural world. (See: The Drunken Botanist.) This book is a departure for her, and a successful one: readers buzzed about it all fall and it hit many best-of-2015 round-ups. This novel is based on the true story of Constance Kopp, one of the first female sheriffs in America. I tend to shy away from biographical fiction because the narrators often ring false to me, but I loved the way Stewart brought her leading lady's story to life.

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Drums of Autumn
The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House

I was warned this beautiful and heartbreaking story would suck me right in and it certainly did. The year is 1791, and an orphaned Irish girl is brought to a Virginia plantation as an indentured servant and makes her home among the slaves. The story is told alternately by the orphan Lavinia and 17-year-old Belle, the half-white illegitimate daughter of the plantation owner, who becomes Lavinia's de facto mother figure. The story keeps a brisk pace, propelled forward by rape, corruption, lynching, and occasionally, love. Whether you've already read it or are thinking about it, don't miss Kathleen Grissom talking about how this story came to be on episode 78 of What Should I Read Next.

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Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley

This mystery is set on the grounds of Pemberley, five years or so after the marriages of Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane. The plot revolves around Wickham this time. Book club highlight: how James paints the Darcys marriage, 5 years later.

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