15 immersive historical fiction books about overlooked events

15 immersive historical fiction books about overlooked events

Readers, we just released a delightful episode of What Should I Read Next featuring our first grandmother-granddaughter duo. Rebekah and Beverly might be from different generations, but judging by their taste in books, you’d never know it!

One of their favorite spans of common ground is their mutual love of realistic books that are based around—or simply include—lesser-known historical events. I so enjoyed hearing their favorites when we talked, and after our recording I spotted a plethora of titles on my own shelves that would likely make similarly-minded readers very happy.

Although I certainly enjoy nonfiction about historical events, there’s something special about the way a fictional story illuminates a piece of history. Fictional characters spark our imaginations and immerse us in the setting, inviting us to empathize with their journeys while we learn something new on every page.

Today I’m sharing 15 novels that incorporate real historical events and careful research but focus on the story. And we’re betting these novels focus on events you didn’t learn about in history class!

If you’re looking for even more page-turning untold stories—or inspiration to form your own intergenerational book club— don’t miss WSIRN Episode 273: Realism, redemption, and reading across generations.

15 fiction books about lesser-known historical events

Flight of Dreams

Flight of Dreams

Author:
The 1937 Hindenburg disaster might not qualify as "lesser known," depending on which history courses you've taken. My own history classes glossed right over it, so I was eager to read more about this monumental event. This entertaining, suspenseful tale is told from multiple points of view and is based on the lives of real characters, and the enigmatic setting—aboard the luxurious yet claustrophobic airship—captures your imagination. My husband surprised me by loving this, too. More info →
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Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea

Author:
You know about the Titanic, and maybe even the Lusitania disaster (the subject of Erik Larson's Dead Wake). But you've likely never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff, though the number of lives lost dwarfs the number of people who died in those two better-known disasters at sea. The ship was hugely over capacity when it sunk in the Baltic Sea after being hit by Soviet torpedoes. This is a gripping and page turning YA novel equally beloved by tweens, teens, and grown-ups. More info →
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The Stars Are Fire

The Stars Are Fire

Author:
After a scorching summer and months of no rain, the largest fires in Maine's history swept over its coast, from Bar Harbor to Kittery. In Shreve's claustrophobic domestic suspense we experience this real event through the eyes of Grace Holland, whose marriage is its own sort of natural disaster. Her husband came back from the war a little broken. So did her friend's husbands, yet they don't seem as cruel. When wildfires break out, her husband leaves to help dig a fire break, and Grace and her children flee to the ocean to escape the flames. When her husband doesn't return, Grace thinks she's lost him forever—and she's far from devastated. But then he returns, and the real trouble begins. Dark and a little melodramatic, but oh-so-discussable. More info →
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The Huntress

The Huntress

Author:
The Alice Network author Quinn also takes on the aftermath of WWII in her most recent historical release. Inspired by a true story she stumbled upon in the historical archives (which would totally spoil the big reveal—you're going to have to read the author's note to learn all!), Quinn weaves together three perspectives to tell a gripping story: Jordan is a Boston teenager who works in her father’s Boston antiques store, Ian is a British journalist determined to bring his brother’s killer— known as “the Huntress”—to justice, and Nina is a Russian fighter pilot and the only woman alive who can identify the Huntress. There's no weak link in the story; each thread is fascinating—and when they began to come together I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. A mesmerizing tale of war crimes, coming of age, love and fidelity, and the pursuit of justice, with stirring implications for today. The audio version, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, is fantastic. More info →
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The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding

Author:
Historian-turned-novelist Robson sets her latest historical release in 1947, when times are grim: so many have lost so much, war rationing continues, Britain is in ruins. But in a bleak year, there's a bright spot: Princess Elizabeth's royal wedding captured the hearts of a nation, and was a beacon of hope to a country on its knees. The people insisted on a real celebration, including a beautiful gown. Robson's story shifts among three protagonists and spans 70 years, but the common thread is Elizabeth's gown—and specifically, the women who make it. While Robson has a fine eye for detail, and her behind-the-scenes descriptions of the fine atelier's workroom are riveting, the heartbeat of the story comes from female friendship, secret pasts, and life after loss. While a royal wedding is rarely overlooked, this book illuminates the often-neglected postwar era in a fascinating way. More info →
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The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Books have the power to change lives, and this is wondrously shown in the story of 19-year-old Cussy Carter, an Appalachian woman who joins the Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and delivers books to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky. She's also the last living female with Blue People ancestry, all of whom had a skin condition called methemoglobinemia, which really did turn their skin blue. Inspired by real history and set in 1936, this is a story of hope and heartbreak and how fierce determination can challenge the grasp of poverty and oppression. I learned so much Kentucky history reading this—and I live here! Library lovers will especially appreciate the untold story of the Library Project. More info →
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China Dolls

China Dolls

Author:
I always count on Lisa See for sweeping historical fiction stories. This one opens in the late 1930's night club scene in San Francisco and spans major events of WWII, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the horrors of Japanese internment camps. Showgirls Ruby, Helen, and Grace compete for roles and share their pasts. Grace and Helen are from Chinese families and escaped to find new lives in the city. Ruby is Japanese but passes for Chinese, which only her closest friends know. When she's suddenly among the many Japanese Americans under suspicion after Pearl Harbor, Ruby grapples with betrayal and faces an uncertain future. See writes friendship so well, and I appreciated this less-familiar look at the WWII era. More info →
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The Secrets We Kept

The Secrets We Kept

Author:
The story behind this historical thriller could launch its own novel. Author Lara Prescott always loved the book Dr Zhivago, and was stunned—along with the rest of the world—when the CIA declassified documents revealing that it had played a role in the book's covert publication and distribution in Russia during the Cold War. This is Prescott's imagining of what that might have looked like. The story moves between East, where the focus is on Pasternak and his muse/mistress, and West, where readers get to know the female spies of the OSS. The book has the feel of Kate Quinn’s The Huntress, with some of the storytelling flavor of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, or Brit Bennet’s The Mothers. More info →
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As Bright as Heaven

As Bright as Heaven

Author:
The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic isn't nearly as unfamiliar to us as it was a year ago—now that we've seen a pandemic firsthand and witnessed countless charts, graphs, and comparisons to the past. But when Meissner was writing this book, it was little known to contemporary readers. In fact, even many months after it was published, Meissner bemoaned that though 50 million people died of the 1918 influenza, we appeared then to be making little effort to remember. In her novel, Pauline Bright and her husband are newly arrived in Philadelphia with their three daughters; they hope to give their girls a chance at a better life. But shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, the great illness that came to be known as the Spanish flu meets them in their new city, bringing loss and heartache in its wake. But there's also hope, as the family takes in a baby orphaned by the illness. (Please be mindful of whether you're ready to read a pandemic tale before picking this one up!) More info →
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The Last Train to Key West

The Last Train to Key West

Author:
In this standalone novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, three women's lives become entangled over the course of Labor Day weekend, 1935, when the storm of the century slams into Key West. The story is told from three perspectives, that of three different women who seem to share little in common, but whose lives are about to intersect in ways no one could foresee. Helen is a Key West native, poor and pregnant, fleeing her abusive husband. Mirta is Cuban, newly married to a man she barely knows, and just beginning her honeymoon. And Elizabeth, who’s come south on a dangerous search for a long-lost loved one. A captivating novel about a little-known historical event. More info →
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Outrun the Moon

Outrun the Moon

Author:
Lee's compelling novel takes a real historical event as its backdrop: the devastating earthquake that struck San Francisco on April 18, 1906, causing fires and destruction. Mercy Wong is thrilled to gain admittance to St. Clare's school for girls; it's her ticket out of poverty in Chinatown. Though shunned by the wealthy white students, Mercy stays strong and focuses on her studies—until the earthquake destroys everything. While Mercy and her classmates wait for help in a temporary encampment, her "bossy" can-do attitude and entrepreneurial spirit prove helpful. If you love heroines you can root for and evocative writing, this book is for you. More info →
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The Cold Millions

The Cold Millions

Author:
This is a story of two brothers who get mixed up in the labor movement in 1909 in Spokane, Washington. After the heartbreaking loss of their mother, the two young men travel to the nearest big city to find work and make a future for themselves. But their plans are halted when the brothers end up at a labor protest and then in jail. As a result of their circumstances, they get mixed up with activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a real-life labor leader. Hers was not a name I recognized, but so many plot points sent me rushing to Google to discern fact from fiction—and to learn more about the real historical events underpinning the story. I talked about the meaning of the title and a few of my favorite scenes on IGTV, if you need more convincing to add this one to your library holds list. More info →
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The Bird King

The Bird King

I thought this author's name was familiar, and sure enough, it turns out G. Willow Wilson wrote a bunch of recent Ms. Marvel comics. Her most recent release, a historical fiction and fantasy novel, takes place during the Spanish invasion of the Iberian peninsula in 1491, a setting I've never read about. Hassan, the palace mapmaker, has the unique ability to draw places he has never seen, altering reality in the process. When the Spanish forces arrive and see his mapmaking gift as a threat to Christian Spanish rule, his best friend Fatima must step in to help him escape. This takes them on an epic journey outside the palace walls in this tale of freedom, magic, and religion. More info →
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Flygirl

Flygirl

Author:
I've read many WWII historical fiction stories, but few focus on the Women's Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, a group that was created by the U.S. Army to help defeat Germany and Japan. Ida Mae's father was a Black pilot who taught her to fly planes, though her race and gender prevent her from following in his footsteps. Eager to soar, Ida is ready to join WASP as a way to fly and to help her brother who is fighting in the Pacific. But when the new organization denies her entry based on her race, Ida's only choice is to pass as white in order to live her dream. Smith expertly explores identity, family, and legacy while immersing her readers in history in this fantastic YA novel. More info →
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This Lovely City

This Lovely City

Author:
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 recent immigrant Lawrie Matthews who works as a postman by day, 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 a criminal suspect, despite all evidence to the contrary. The local community turns against him in a show of xenophobia and racism, dashing his dreams for the future. With vivid historical detail, Hare combines mystery and romance and provides a decidedly hopeful ending. More info →
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Do you have a favorite book about a lesser-known historical event? Build out our TBR in the comments.

P.S. If you love history, check out these 25 fascinating true stories you didn’t learn about in history class or try 8 novels paired with 8 nonfiction books to illuminate your reading experience.

15 immersive historical fiction books about overlooked events

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159 comments | Comment

159 comments

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  1. Hilary says:

    Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier was pretty popular a few years ago. Chevalier has written a lot of historical fiction during ‘random’ times throughout history. Fiona Davis is another author who writes historical fiction that I love. Her novels are always set in NYC which is fun.
    This is such a great post. I love historical fiction but even I am running out of steam for another WWII story.

  2. Candice says:

    I really liked Molokai. It tells the story of people living on the island that was a leper colony. It was amazing.
    Also Remarkable Creatures (or anything) by Tracy Chevalier.

    • Beth says:

      I loved Book Woman, too. Radium Girls is another astonishing story most people have never heard of. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the writing style in the book Radium Girls, so I didn’t finish it. I was glad it was made into a movie so I could see how it ended!

      • Caity says:

        I was also going to mention Radium girls. Crazy story of how things could just be swept under the table for money!

  3. Anne, you introduced me to THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK a few years ago, and I fell in love with these fierce ladies and their commitment to getting books to the far-reaching corners of Appalachia. That book led me on a research adventure which led to my own Pack Horse Librarian picture book, on submission now. Fingers crossed. Thank you!

  4. Janene says:

    I just finished “The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah. I certainly knew of the dust bowl but I learned so much from this book about all the farmers went through and the struggles of those who migrated to California.

    • Susan says:

      I am reading this book now. It is informative about the Dust Bowl/Depression and worker’s rights. But I am disappointed in the actual writing. I am finding it repetitive and just not literary as I had hoped since it got such rave reviews. What do you think?

      • Linda Halperin says:

        I am baffled that so many people think Four Winds is so fabulous. I have read so many historical novels that are superior in terms of writing and content. Thank you for confirming my thoughts.

      • Janene says:

        I agree. I thought it started well but the second half was repetitive and as you said, not very literary. “The Nightingale” is one of my favorite books ever. This book was no where near that mark for me.

    • Stefanie says:

      The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan is a great readable nonfiction title about the dust bowl if you want to dig deeper into this time period.

  5. Melinda Malaspino says:

    I loved Beneath a Scarlet Sky, set in Milan during the last years of WW2 and based on the true story of Italian resistors.

    • Susan says:

      My Dad and others escaped after two years in an Italian prison camp in W.W.11. Many Italian people helped them stay hidden and fed them on their journey from Udine to Pesaro where they met up with the Americans coming up from the south. This book helped me to understand the different attitudes of the “ordinary” ( for want of a better word) Italians towards these escapees. We will be everlasting grateful for their efforts, which put them in much danger.

    • Krista says:

      Thank you for sharing this! My grandfather was stationed in Trieste during the final years/years following the war, I believe his work was to search for POW/MIA soldiers. My grandmother spoke often of the time there during that time. I look forward to reading this!

  6. Monique says:

    Excellent list, and although I’ve read most there are a few I added to my TBR list. I’m sure it was difficult to choose just 15, but I would not be able to leave off “All the Light We Cannot See” from this list!

  7. Debbie Ball says:

    I’m currently finishing The Kitchen Front regarding rations and cooking challenges during The WW 2 Britain. The story is so well written and displays the courageous action of my Brit ancestors!!!

    • Mary Vehlies says:

      I just finished The Kitchen Front and loved it. I loved reading a WWII book that focused on women on the home front during that time

      • Katelyn says:

        Have you read Jennifer Ryan’s other books? Chilbury Ladies Choir, and The Spies of Shilling Lane. Both very good, focusing on different aspects of women on the British home front.

  8. Jessica says:

    I enjoyed the story of cussy and her life. A character to remember. The girl who wrote in silk is another one that has fact base fiction. It also is generational and spans some decades.
    A beautiful story.
    Thanks for the adds to my TBR

  9. Holly says:

    Anne,thank you so much for this list. So many of these titles are new to me. I am adding to my library holds list immediately following the typing of this comment. Also, Tuesday’s podcast was a delight!

  10. Janice Hoaglin says:

    I love the historical fiction of Rilla Askew. Set in Oklahoma, her fiction tells of different times in that state’s history. “Fire in Beulah” is set in Tulsa in 1921, and is about the race riots there, and is her best, I think. I also really liked “Harpsong” set during the depression in the 1930’s.
    Another favorite author for historical fiction is Geraldine Brooks. I loved People of the Book, Year of Wonders, and Caleb’s Crossing. I have yet to read The Secret Chord, about the life of King David.

  11. Renae says:

    I just finished The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, and was pleased to find new historical fiction about a period that I haven’t yet read much about. I’m a huge fan of this type of fiction for the many reasons you mentioned, though mostly I’ve read WWII and historical fiction set during the time of slavery. I can definitely vouch for The Huntress, it’s a fantastic read! I’ll be happy to delve into some more of these and am adding them to my Goodreads account now.

  12. Trish Litterski says:

    As always, thanks for your recommendations! Of this list I enjoyed The Secrets We Kept. Years ago I found Triangle by Katherine Weber in my favorite used bookstore. It is a story about a survivor of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire in NYC. After her death (at 106) her granddaughter seeks to unravel the events of the tragic fire. Weber weaves triangle themes throughout (music, DNA, etc.) NYC is a character as well! I was so affected that, after reading it, I sought out the historical landmark near Washington Square Park while on a trip there. Enjoy!

      • Beth says:

        Thanks, Trish and Stephanie, for these recommendations. Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix is another good one on this topic.

    • My next novel, “Fiery Girls”, is about the Triangle fire and the strike that preceded it. It’s releasing March 25th (110th anniversary of the fire) but available on pre-order now. If you’d like more Triangle stories, maybe check it out. 🙂

  13. Liz Snell says:

    Highly recommend The 7 or 8 Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames. Italian immigrant woman. Really engaging, very real feeling story.

  14. Nancy Murphy says:

    I feel that “The Children’s Blizzard” fits into this category. I have tended to romanticize the pioneer life, and this story brought the hardships and realities greater into focus for me. It is a great story of toughness and survival too. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who went before us and made such great sacrifices to support their families.

  15. Tori says:

    I just read In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, and loved it! It’s set during the early 1960s when a dictator cruelly ruled in the Dominican Republic, and follows the Mirabal sisters, called Las Mariposas, who were leaders among those who fought for freedom. Highly recommend!

    • Krista says:

      If you enjoyed this, you must read “To Destroy You is no Loss” (about a family during Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia). I read this in school in high school and it haunts me to this day, but in a strangely positive way, like I know the human spirit can never be stomped out.

      • Adrienne says:

        I read “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung, and the book still haunts me to this day. The book is SO much better than the movie. I visited the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Our tour guide lived through a similar experience. He was 4 years old, he was separated from this parents. Tears were pouring while he told his story.

  16. Tami Spence says:

    Before We Were Yours. Mmmm. I was so transfixed by this story, I had to Google to find out if this was based on actual history, because it seemed way too shocking to be real. Loved several of your choices! The Gown! I’m forgetting the exact title but I loved the book based on Mrs Lincoln’s dressmaker. Also a book about Hitler’s fiancé’s midwife.
    Thanks for your blog! I give you all the credit for all the books I have enjoyed for the last few years!

  17. Stephanie says:

    I recently listened to The Rose Code by Kate Quinn and it was excellent! It is about women who worked as code breakers at a secret location in England during WWII. It fits perfectly in this category.

  18. Kara says:

    The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is on my TBR for March! So glad to see that it is well loved here. This only increases my excitement!

    Also, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a powerful story based on the real life orphan trains of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

  19. Susan says:

    The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys was so interesting that I did a bunch of research on Spain’s civil war and its aftermath when I was done.

    • Beth says:

      Her book Between Shades of Gray is also outstanding. (Not to be confused with that OTHER Shades of Gray book!) It’s about a Lithuanian teenage girl–an artist–and her family who are forced to labor in a Soviet work camp in Siberia in 1941. It was both harrowing and inspiring.

  20. Jennifer Johnson says:

    Thank you for this list! The Longest Night by Andria Williams was riveting and well-written. It’s about the only fatal nuclear accident to happen in America.

  21. Sherry S says:

    Historical fiction – well-done historical fiction, that is – is my favorite genre. I don’t even much care about the setting in time, just love all of it (other than Victorian or Regency, I guess).

  22. Kelley Kuhn says:

    I absolutely loved the Book Woman of Troublesome Creek! I am going to try some of the other books listed here. Thanks!

  23. Janna says:

    I feel so cool that I have read FIVE of these books! 😉

    THE COLD MILLIONS is riveting on audio. Wonderful reading experience. Thank you for the recommendation, Anne!

    I would add WINTER GARDEN by Kristin Hannah. It deals with the effects of WWII on Russian citizens, which I had not heard very much about. It has stayed with me; I remember specific scenes. This is a big deal, because I read it years ago, and usually I can’t tell you specifics about a book I finished yesterday!

  24. Teresa says:

    The Lost Book of Names by Kristin Harmel. Set during WWII it focuses on those who were counterfeiters forging documents for Jewish children to get across borders.

  25. Patti says:

    The Longest Night by Andria Williams is based on the only fatal nuclear accident to occur in the U.S., and it was fantastic. It takes place in a remote town in 1959 and the author does such a great job of making that time and setting come alive. The book centers around a young family whose father is stationed at the nuclear reactor where the incident occurs. I am still waiting on her to write another book because this was incredibly good.

    Also, another book about the 1918 flu pandemic, since you mentioned it, is The Last Town on Earth, about a logging community in the Pacific Northwest that decides to close itself off from the rest of the area to stop the flu from coming in, which is loosely based on real towns that attempted to do this. The wonderful thing is that while it is definitely about the pandemic, WWI is also relevant, as a soldier comes to the city to seek refuge and the young man guarding the town must decide what to do. For anyone who likes books with moral/ethical dilemmas, this is a great one.

  26. Christine says:

    This is a great list! I would also add “Band of Sisters” by Lauren Willig. It is a fictionalized version of a group of Smith College women who go to France during WWI to help the people in the French countryside that had been heavily damaged early in the war. I listened to it on audio, and it was amazing!

  27. These are SUCH great books; I really enjoyed them. I need to add THIS LOVELY CITY and OUTRUN THE MOON, the 2 I haven’t read, to my TBR! I love this topic of lesser-known historical events. When I learned about the Army nurses who were taken prisoner of war in the South Pacific, I made that lesser known historical event the pivotal moment of my 2nd novel, THE GOOD LUCK STONE. Thanks for sharing this great list!

  28. Elizabeth S says:

    The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is a wonderful story based on true events set in Kentucky where women comprised a bookmobile on horseback.

  29. Leslie says:

    This was one of my favorite podcasts to listen to, and I love the book recommendations. A couple of historical fiction books I have read recently that opened my eyes to things I didn’t know about are Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini and With This Pledge by Tamera Alexander.

    With This Pledge is about the Battle of Franklin during the Civil War. I read it last summer, and in the fall we stopped in Franklin, TN, and visited Carnton (where the book takes place). Alexander did an excellent job retelling this story, as I learned from listening to the tour guides tell us about the historical significance of the battle and the location.

  30. Ivy Hendrix says:

    Thank you for this list. This is one of my favorite genres! Salt to the Sea was fascinating as long as you stuck it out past a difficult, slow beginning, I felt.
    I would add This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger to this list.

  31. I’m not sure it allowed, but my last book, Shadows in our Bones, fits this category and has been well received. The story tells of the devastating consequences of a little-known, terrible racial incident in Maine, 1912. The fictionalized stories of Malaga Island residents are traced through historical documentation and interviews with the descendants; descendants affected even today.

  32. Sharron Cathcart says:

    Yay! My favorite genre. Happy to see a few familiar titles. Another I would suggest is ‘Nory Ryan’s Song’ and ‘Maggie’s Door’ by Patricia Reilly Giff about the Irish Potato Famine in 1845 and the subsequent immigration movement.

  33. Aimee says:

    The Weight of Ink (Rachel Kadish) was as though entire chunks of history were completely unknown to me. I thought perhaps my lack of knowledge on the treatment of European Jews was simply because I’m a Christian but I learned that even American Jewish friends were not aware of the extent of the laws and migrations that occurred for several hundred years. It’s a beautifully written book and I recommend it.

  34. Jackie says:

    “A Violet Season” is a well researched piece of historical fiction by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. It’s about the violet growing industry in the Mid-Hudson Valley of NY during the turn of the century. I grew up in this area and I never new how difficult it was to grow flowers commercially! I’m currently reading Kristen Hannah’s new novel “The Four Winds” which is about a family from Texas during the Great Depression/Dust Bowl.

  35. Stephanie Mitchell says:

    I feel like it might be tangential, but The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer is spectacular. It is WWII era, but set on the island of Guernsey which most people know little about.

    • Janice Hoaglin says:

      That is another favorite. I just finished The Girl From the Channel Islands by Jenny LeCoat. It is very different that the Guernsey Literary, but still quite good, about a very brave woman living there during WWII.

  36. Kelsey says:

    May I suggest Island of the World by Michael O’Brien. It deals with Croatia, WW2, political prisoners, and more. It has taken the place for my favorite book of all time (gasp).

  37. Laura says:

    A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner which includes the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911. Very good read with a little known historical event tied into the story. I’m reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek and I’m really enjoying it so far. Thank you for all the great suggestions!

  38. Andrea says:

    Apparently this is the genre I read most because I’ve read more than a few titles on this list! I loved Salt to the Sea and also anything by Ariel Lawhon (especially I Was Anastasia). I also recommend Above All Things by Tanis Rideout about George Mallory’s attempt to climb Everest (told through his perspective and his wife’s). It was a serendipitous library find a couple years ago. It’s described as The Paris Wife meets Into Thin Air and I think that’s pretty accurate!

  39. Emmeline says:

    I recently read Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. I didn’t know about that history of the deportment of many to work camps in Siberia. It led me to look into it more.

  40. Daina Janitis says:

    I’m suggesting “Water Darling” by Evan Ramspott. It’s fiercely poetic and engrossing, bringing alive the Oklahoma of 1921 as a young woman searches for the charlatan who left her- and brings rain to the dusty state. The brooding climax is one we prepare for as the “love” stories develop- the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. As a Canadian, I appreciated learning about this horrible event through a humane novelist’s words.

  41. Libby says:

    Thanks for the great list, Anne! In this genre I LOVED Ship of Brides by JoJo Moyes. It’s about war brides from Australia who married British soldiers who were stationed in Australia for training or leave, then after the war were ferried at British government’s expense to England to reunite with their husbands. It’s based on Moyes’ grandmother’s experience, which I found really neat.
    I also loved A Well Behaved Woman, which is a fictionalized version of Alva Vanderbilt’s life. She grew up in modest circumstances, then ended up marrying into one of the richest families in the world. Incidentally, I got this for my own grandmother as a Christmas present, and she loved it also!

  42. Erin says:

    I have my signed copy of The Cold Millions sitting on my desk, waiting to be read! I loved Beautiful Ruins years ago, long before Spokane was on my radar, and lo and behold, now I live here. I can’t wait to dig into it!

    • Mariah Hanley says:

      Born and raised in Spokane! I also have it on my TBR and we have signed copies from Auntie’s. I’m usually a Seattleite but living in Spokane because of Covid.

  43. Monica Wilson says:

    A book I read years ago that has stuck with me for its creativity and historical sense of place is Jack Finney’s “Time and Again”. It is a time travel book with the main character going back to 1882, New York City, a time of sweat shops and tragic fires. The novel is illustrated with sketches and photos to help you get the feel of NYC in the 19th century. Highly recommended!

    • Adrienne says:

      Oh, I love this book! It introduced me to the time travel genre, which is a favorite. Have you read the sequel, ‘From Time to Time’? It’s also very good. Jack Finney also wrote a few collections of short stories about time travel that are fun, quick reads.

      • Monica Wilson says:

        Hi Adrienne! I am glad to hear that someone else knows about this book. No, I didn’t know there was a sequel until today, although it has been so long since I read “Time and Again” that I should reread that before going to the sequel. Thank you for letting me know about the short stories too!

        • adrienne says:

          Hi Monica! I think there was a long time lag after he wrote ‘Time and Again’ before ‘From Time to Time’ was released – about 20 years or so. The titles of the short story collections are ‘About Time’, ‘The Third Level’, and ‘Three by Finney’. The last is three novellas. I love them all! Suprisingly (to me anyway), Jack Finney also wrote the book on which the movie ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ was based. Totally different type of book…..

  44. Mariah Hanley says:

    This is my favorite niche of historical fiction.

    My #1 recommendation is Molokai by Alan Brennert. This is probably my all time favorite book. It’s about a young woman who is sent to the leper colony on Molokai and covers her life from about 1895-1960. Daughter of Molokai is the sequel. Brennert’s other books are also really good!

    I’d also suggest The Four Winds- while I knew some about the dust bowl, I didn’t know very much.

    Island of Sea Women is about the women divers in South Korea. Went down a Google rabbit hole on that one.

    Any of Jamie Ford’s books, but particularly Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It’s about the Japanese internment from Seattle. I live in Seattle and walk by the hotel that’s a main part of the story a lot (when I’m going to work, that is). I also really, really liked his book Songs of Willow Frost.

    Half of a Yellow Sun is a recommendation I got from here and it would also be a great fit for this list. It’s about the Biafran War. I still think about the characters sometimes.

  45. Nancy says:

    I didn’t realize that this was a favorite genre of mine, but I’m
    intrigued by every book on the list, and I have only read a few. Oh, my huge TBR list!

  46. Sandy Keleman says:

    The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian is about the Armenian genocide, an event I was completely unaware of until I read this book.

  47. Linda Rodgers says:

    I listened to The Stars are Fire. I was amazed that I’d never heard of that natural catastrophe. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

  48. Sandy says:

    The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian is about the Armenian genocide, an event I was completely unaware of until I read this book.

  49. Joanne Adams says:

    This is a type of book that I love and I have a read a few of the books on the list. Thank you for everyone’s great suggestions. My TBR just expanded:)

  50. Loved The Cold Millions…and I second In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, that someone mentioned above. Also: The Murmur of Bees by Sophia Segovia (Spanish Influenza), Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (if the death of famous people’s sons count as historical events…Shakespeare and Abe Lincoln, respectively), and Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks (John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry)

  51. Deena Schendel says:

    The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan. Johnmstown PA at a private retreat of society’s elite a lake high above the working class town below. Epic flood. Clara Barton founder of the Red Cross. Amazing story

  52. Brittany says:

    Thank you so much for this list! I love to read about history and I added quite a few of these to my “to-read” list. I’m especially interested in The Gown after watching season upon season of The Crown. The last place we were able to visit before everything shut down was England. I’ve been fascinated with their history over the last year!

  53. Debbi says:

    I recently read The Flight of Dreams. I learned so much about the Hindenburg. The author used the real names of the people on the airship and what their jobs were. The real fictional part was how it might have blown up and crashed. It was a 4 star read for me.

  54. Julie says:

    The Giver of Stars by: Jojo Moyes was a fabulous book. Another historical fiction story about the WPA Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky. Very interesting and inspirational. The characters are rich and vibrant. The plot deals with friendship, marriage, love, abuse, and segregation. Set in the 1930’s when women are wanting more than staying home and tending house. I listened to the book and the narrator was great.

  55. Ashley says:

    Last summer I read the book Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie about the Nigerian civil war in the 60s. It was something I knew next to nothing about and I learned a ton (I googled so much!).

    Another one is The German Girl about a ship carrying Jewish refugees trying during World War II that tried to land in Cuba. It was also a part of history I knew nothing about. Really interesting story.

  56. Tina L says:

    Our book club just finished reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. It tells the story of the Grimke sisters, early abolitionists and suffragettes.

  57. Cindy Vander Zanden says:

    “The Mercies” by Kiran Millwood Hargrove. Story of the Vardo Storm and the 1621 Witch trials in Norway. Sooo good.

  58. Kim says:

    This is my all time favorite – Historical Fiction where I learn something new about history! Sign me up please! I love anything by Lisa See or Ruta Sepetys for this category. I’ve read 7 of these, so I definitely have some more reading to do.
    Here are a few others not mentioned yet that I read that taught me something new about history:
    A Night Divided – tells the story of what life was like in Germany when the Berlin wall was built and how it instantly divided some families. Middle grade novel.
    The Indigo Girl – the story of a teenage girl who teachers herself how to produce indigo dye to keep her family’s South Carolina farm going after her father leaves . The story behind the indigo dyeing process was fascinating.
    Dreamland Burning – current day story and historical story of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. I knew nothing about Black Wall Street or the Black community of Greenwood where over 1200 homes were burned by whites over a rumor involving a white woman and a black man.
    The Kitchen House – This is a dual story of a black slave and white indentured servant. The story of how a child became an indentured servant and then was treated by both slaves and their master was well told.
    Memoirs of a Geisha – The Geisha tradition in Japan was new to me and this book really brought the struggles and realities of that to life.
    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Tells the story of 2 girls’ friendship in China and about the secret communications used by women on fans. I’d heard about foot bindings, but never knew how gruesome and debilitating they were for women until reading this book.

  59. Kayleigh says:

    The Flight Girls was wonderful, as it talked about the women pilots in WWII. It was a wonderful way to read about WWII, from those who were left at home.

  60. Barb says:

    The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism – a story about the largest man made explosion before Hiroshima.
    The Childrens Blizzard by David Laskin – 1888 blizzard hits after a warm day and 500 people die,

  61. Amanda says:

    Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris is about the generations of descendants of Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492, migrate to Portugal and New Mexico and end up in modern-day New Mexico and don’t know they are Jewish. Novel is told in two voices/timelines – 1492 and present day. There is also a parallel storyline about astronomy, so I learned a lot from this book.

  62. Katie says:

    Here are some books I have read that would also fit this category:
    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
    The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
    The Island of Sea Woman by Lisa See
    Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

  63. Aimee Sterk says:

    I loved Wild Swans by Jung Chang. The story of three generations of Chinese women though now that I think of it, its a memoir, not fiction. The history of China and women in China is amazing in Wild Swans–an area and time I knew nothing about though my great aunt was a missionary in China and was thrown out during the Cultural Revolution.

  64. Thank you for this amazing list. I’d like to recommend RADIUM GIRLS and THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM about family life during WWII in Hiroshima and then the horror that happens on August 6th to the 12 year old girl’s (my mother’s) family.

  65. Colleen says:

    Both of these go back a way, but I loved Mary Doria Russell’s A Thread of Grace and Sena Jeter Naslund’s Four Spirits, which is recent history. I love the many suggestions. I think I could make a 2-year reading list from your and other suggestions.

  66. Katelyn says:

    Have you read Jennifer Ryan’s other books? Chilbury Ladies Choir, and The Spies of Shilling Lane. Both very good, focusing on different aspects of women on the British home front.

  67. Beth says:

    The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen is based on the true story of a woman freed from slavery in Richmond, Virginia and educated in Philadelphia who returned to Richmond at the onset of the Civil War to spy on the Confederates. She posed as an illiterate slave in Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s household and, while cleaning his office, read letters and other papers containing battle plans and (with her photographic memory) relayed them to Union leaders. It could be argued that her spy work was instrumental in ending the war, but until I attended a lecture on Civil War female spies, I had never heard of her–or of her mentor Elizabeth Van Lew. Elizabeth, the daughter of a wealthy slaveholder, freed Mary after her (Elizabeth’s) father died, paid for her education, and invited her back to Richmond to work with her in the elaborate spy ring she operated during the war. Elizabeth avoided suspicion about her abolitionist and espionage activities by feigning mental illness– and was affectionately known by her neighbors as “Crazy Bet”!

  68. Beth says:

    A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers
    by Hazel Gaynor is based on actual events and experiences in late 19th/early 20th century London.

  69. Maureen Lorraine Hayman says:

    Our book club’s most recent book was Keith Ross Lechie’s Coppermine set in 1917 Northern Canada about the true disappearance of 2 missionaries and the NW police search and capture of 2 Inuit hunters and their return to Edmonton to stand trial; had a lot of journalists at the trial; has some romance interests and surprise ending

  70. Karen Davies says:

    I would recommend The Moor’s Account by Leila Lalami – about a Spanish expedition in 1527 to what is now Florida.
    Also The Walled Orchard by Tom Holt – about a playwright from ancient Greece.

  71. Molly says:

    I love Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It’s about two children caught up in the events leading up to and the round up Japanese to be placed in the internment camps during WWII.

  72. Mary Spencer says:

    My favorite genre- my TBR just exploded 🙂
    A couple to recommend:
    ‘Hannah’s War’ by Jan Eliasberg. Tells the story of Austrian physicist Dr. Hannah Weiss, working to create the hydrogen bomb in the US and suspected of being a German spy. There’s a LOT of WWII fiction out there, so I appreciated this book about a scientist as a new view into the time period.
    ‘The Summer Country’ by Lauren Willig. Goes back and forth between 1854 and 1812 in Barbados, covering slavery on the sugar plantations and the 1816 slave uprising.

  73. Susan E Doherty says:

    This has to be my favorite genre. I’ve read (and loved) a few on this list-especially loved the Anita Shreve book-what courage these characters possess! I always think that these books would make great movies. Examples would be UNBROKEN, THE BOYS IN THE BOAT, and THE PERFECT STORM. I think that Reese Witherspoon is doing something with WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

  74. Dawn says:

    I am currently reading and listening to the 2nd in The Lost Queen saga by Signe Pike. It is a fictionalized historical account of Merlin’s (Lailoken) twin sister Languoreth, who is the lost queen referred to in the series. It is based on over 10 years of research by the author, and she does a phenominal job.

  75. Jillian Lare says:

    Bookmarking this post so I can read through all of the comments and update my list…

    Some of my favorites that would fit this list:
    The Chaperone – Laura Moriarty
    The Seamstress – Sara Tuval Bernstein
    The Worst Hard Time – Timothy Egan
    One Thousand White Women – Jim Fergus
    The Promise – Ann Weisgarber

  76. Elizabeth says:

    This list explains why my idea of heaven is a huge library with comfy chairs, coffee and/or tea, and snacks. I could not possibly live long enough to read all the great suggestions here! My favorite would be Edith Pargeter’s The Heaven Tree trilogy, set in medieval England along the border with Wales, and in Wales itself. Beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring . . . she’s probably better known for her Brother Cadfael stories as Ellis Peters, but I love this story even more.

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