Five Historical Fiction Novels You Need To Read


It was a neighbor who first recommended me a historical fiction novel about World War II. In fact, she whipped the book out of her purse and insisted I take it home to read. Previous to our conversation, I steered clear of war novels claiming they were too heavy and scary for me. But, I fell in love with Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner.


And as soon as I finished it, I headed out to find myself another historical fiction novel to read. I quickly and easily settled into All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr). One evening as I drove home from work I realized one thing: I love historical fiction. I always have and I always will. So today, I highlight five of my favorites while name-dropping a dozen extra recommendations.


About Lesser Known American History

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I didn’t know anything about the orphan crisis after the Irish immigration to the US. I didn’t know there was an orphan crisis for any immigrant in the early-1900s. But there was and Orphan Train piqued my interest with its harrowing story, little bit of love, and whole lot of interesting cast of characters.

Also try: Orphan #8 (Kim van Alkemade), Flight of the Sparrow (Amy Belding Brown) or America’s First Daughter (Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie)


About WWII

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The wordsmithing of Anthony Doerr is unmatched. His ability to weave together a literary tapestry of disctinct characters and a litany of plot lines with grace and gorgeous language is out of this world. This is five hundred and fifty pages of devastating beauty -a look at WWII that you won’t expect and can’t forget. Don’t be disheartened as the opening of this novel trumps along slowly. Upon reaching page eighty-five, the plot will soar off into the sunset dragging you wildly behind.

Also try: The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah), The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) or the recently released Everyone Brave is Forgiven (Chris Cleave)


About the Civil Rights Era

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

Romantic comedy meets segregation meets a modern take on a blast from the past This debut novel had me in its grips from the moment I hit chapter two. The contrast between today’s white-black relationship and yester year’s condemnation of transracial love was rich, plentiful, and left me in tears more times than once. Prepare for a bit of joyous heartbreak and characters you wish wouldn’t go as the novel comes to a close.

Also try: The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), Whistling Past the Graveyard (Susan Crandall) or The House Girl (Tara Conklin)


About Immigration to America (and Life in the Middle East)

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I learned about the middle east as school required, but didn’t take an interest much beyond that (in comparison for my love for the rich art history of Europe). But when Hosseini released this novel in my senior year of high school, I couldn’t wait to read. The politics and culture of the middle east fascinated me, only to be out shined by Hosseini’s experience with learning what it means to live in America.

Also try: Life of Pi (Yann Martel), Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) or The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street (Susan Jane Gilman)


About Art and History

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

Art history and English were two classes that brought life to my soul in high school. Their union in The DaVinci Code was divine and one of my first sublime reading experiences. My advice: find two things you’re passionate about, then do everything you can to find them comingling (bonus points if reading is involved). Brown weaves mystery, history, art, and suspense together in The DaVinci Code and, while this wouldn’t be a typical comparison, I believe the excitement runs in the realm of Gone Girl.

Also try: Girl with a Pearl Earring (Tracy Chevalier), The Birth of Venus (Sarah Dunant), or Girl in Hyacinth Blue (Susan Vreeland)


To Read Next

The Silver Suitcase by Terrie Todd

Amazon told me I needed to give this one a go and, being a sucker for beautiful cover art, I decided to follow their lead.


And now that your To Read list has expanded by twenty, what recommendations would you add to list (and, for extra credit, why)?