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February 12, 2018

Our Reader-Recommended List of Historical Fiction Titles

Posted by tom

Lee, one of our readers, wrote to us that “a friend of mine is going into the hospital next week for some testing that may lead to heart surgery. Yesterday, when I saw her at our monthly Book Club meeting, she asked me if I could gather a list of great historical fiction titles, which is her favorite genre.” Our readers weighed in with their own suggestions, all of which you can see in our special blog post. We hope Lee's friend finds at least a few titles here that appeals to her!


Lory: BENEATH A SCARLET SKY by Mark Sullivan

Nancy K: CARNEGIE’S MAID by Marie Benedict

Dawn: I would suggest the Outlander series. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and I am an evangelist for this series! The television show is excellent, and accurate to the books as well. (Not to mention the eye candy that is men in kilts...and those Scottish accents!!!)


  • The Kingsbridge Trilogy and The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett
  • THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn
  • BENEATH A SCARLET SKY by Mark Sullivan
  • THE SCRIBE OF SIENA by Melodie Winawer
  • THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE by Jessica Shattuck
  • LILAC GIRLS by Martha Hall Kelly
  • THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS and SISI: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki
  • THE SECRET CHORD by Geraldine Brooks
  • ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline
  • MISCHLING by Affinity Konar
  • PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee


  • EPITAPH by Mary Doria Russell
  • NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles
  • THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR by Helen Simonson
  • THE WIDOW’S WAR by Sally Cabot Gunning
  • THE FIRES OF AUTUMN by Irene Nemirovsky
  • YEAR OF WONDERS by Geraldine Brooks

Donna: This is my first time writing you, but I have two authors who have given me hours and hours of pleasurable reading in the past with their excellent writing.

The first is John Jakes, who had a series of eight books beginning with THE REBEL and following through to THE AMERICANS. There are more after that, but not with the same Kent Family Chronicles, such as LOVE AND WAR and CHARLESTON. “North and South," based on his trilogy of novels, is one of our favorite miniseries to watch.

The other author I only learned about 15 years ago, and she is from my own backyard, so to speak. I live in Canandaigua, NY, 30 miles from Rochester, and Miriam Grace Monfredo lives there and writes about the history surrounding women's rights and slavery and how her hometown of Seneca Falls was right in the middle of all of it. Seneca Falls and Waterloo, home of the first Memorial Day, are 25 miles from me. I have read all nine of her books (SENECA FALLS INHERITANCE is the first, and CHILDREN OF CAIN is the last). Since her husband died a couple of years ago, she has had more time to devote to a two-volume work of historical fiction that should be coming out within the year, I hope. I heard her describe it last year at a nearby senior living center.

Harriet: Sharon Kay Penman (THE SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR, LIONHEART, A KING’S RANSOM). All of her historical fiction titles are first rate. It does help if you know some history of Great Britain during Henry II’s reign. Also, PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Geraldine Brooks.

David: A great historical fiction read is THE WOMAN WHO LOVED JOHN WILKES BOOTH by Pamela Redford Russell. Highly recommended.

Noreen: ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN by Jim Fergus and SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys

Linda: THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHT by Graham Moore (I tell every reader I know about it) and THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown (another terrific one).

Susan: I cannot recommend more highly the series of books by CJ Sansom. The Matthew Shardlake books start with DISSOLUTION, and then there are four more. He is a hunchback lawyer in Henry VIII's time, and his first case is the dissolving of a monastery. Great writing and storyline.

I also highly recommend Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series. Set in King Alfred's time in the late 900s, the lead character is an Englishman raised by the Danes and is a mass of contradictions.

There is also the Outlander series, KATHERINE by Anya Seton, and Philippa Gregory.

Mary: How about Pam Jenoff’s books? Most are set in World War II, but a couple are World War I or between the wars.


  • MARCH by Geraldine Brooks
  • LADY MACBETH by Susan Fraser King
  • VANESSA AND HER SISTER by Priya Parmar
  • THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr
  • THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker
  • LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry
  • LOVING FRANK by Nancy Horan
  • ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline
  • RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles
  • THE PAINTED GIRLS by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  • SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys
  • NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles
  • TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney
  • THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah
  • THE WOMAN AT THE LIGHT by Joanna Brady
  • CIRCLING THE SUN by Paula McLain
  • ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr
  • EUPHORIA by Lily King
  • BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jess Walter
  • PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Geraldine Brooks
  • THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO by Steven Galloway

Beth: My favorite historical fiction is THE GOOD GERMAN by Joseph Kanon. If you've seen the movie, don't worry. It's nothing like the movie; it's much better.

Gail: HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi

Nonfiction that reads like fiction:

  • HERO OF THE EMPIRE: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill  by Candice Millard
  • RED NOTICE: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder

Cathy: I love anything by Susanna Kearsley. My favorite is THE WINTER SEA. Also, Lisa See, whose fabulous stories are set in China (SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN, PEONY IN LOVE, SHANGHAI GIRLS, DREAMS OF JOY, THE INTERIOR and ON GOLD MOUNTAIN, to name a few.

Rosanne: I loved BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate.

Karen: Some historical fiction that comes to mind include CIRCLING THE SUN by Paula McLain, SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE by Susan Meissner, FLIGHT OF DREAMS by Ariel Lawhon, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME by Hazel Gaynor, THE SECRET WIFE by Gill Paul, and BENEATH A SCARLET SKY by Mark Sullivan. There are so many written about World War II.

Bonnie: I think A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles is #1 on my list. LILAC GIRLS by Martha Hall Kelly is also a good book, but is not an easy one. Others are THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE by Diane Ackerman, LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders, and THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead.

Paula: The Bregden Chronicles by Ginny Dye. There are 12 in the series so far. It’s southern history and a family saga.

Hedy: I love INTO THE WILDERNESS by Sara Donati. It's very well researched. Although part of a series, the first one can stand alone. I have read them all, as well as on audio.

Barbara: WHITE CHRYSANTHEMUM by Mary Lynn Bracht was an excellent read.


  • THE ADDRESS and THE DOLLHOUSE by Fiona Davis
  • THE ORPHAN'S TALE by Pam Jenoff
  • The Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal
  • THE ROYAL NANNY by Karen Harper
  • THE QUEEN'S GOVERNESS by Karen Harper
  • THE RINGMASTER'S WIFE by Kristy Cambron
  • THE ROAD WE TRAVELED by Jane Kirkpatrick


  • A PIECE OF THE WORLD by Christina Baker Kline
  • VICTORIA by Daisy Goodwin
  • BENEATH A SCARLET SKY by Mark Sullman
  • PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee