55 Best Historical Fiction Books That Will Transport You to a Different Era
Travel back in time for mystery, romance, drama and more with the best historical fiction books ever written. No time machine required!
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Historical flights of fancy
Who needs a time machine when you can pick up an incredible work of historical fiction (or a time travel book)? Historical fiction, at its core, is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past. Sound general? That’s because the best thing about historical fiction books is how creative and diverse they can be. From historical mysteries to period romances to epic dramas to fantasies, historical fiction books can cover a wide range of stories, perspectives and events. Plus, you’ll learn some (real) facts from reading them along the way, so it’s a win-win!
The books on this list were hand-picked for a number of reasons. Some of these historical novels are classics and rank among the best books of all time, while others are more recent, critically acclaimed award winners. Some were chosen by Reader’s Digest book editors for their lasting appeal—look for the Reader’s Digest Editor’s Choice seal on those. Still others are brand-new works written by authors who previously knocked it out of the park or are audience favorites, according to Amazon and Goodreads.
Whatever topic you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it here. Just keep in mind that authors can take quite a bit of creative license, so you’ll want to double-check the facts and turn to a trusted source, like these nonfiction books and Holocaust books, for heavier topics. With that in mind, get ready to get swept away to another time and place. Happy reading!
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1. A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande
Setting: 1840s, Mexico
Set during the Mexican-American War, this 2022 novel explores themes of colonialism, war and star-crossed love. Ximena Salomé, who is an army nurse, and John Riley, an Irish immigrant who deserts the Yankee army to fight on the Mexican side, find themselves swept up in passion and danger as the war intensifies around them. This sweeping novel has been lauded for its historical accuracy and for bringing an overlooked period in history to light with compelling characters and a deeply romantic love story. If you love to read about love, these enemies-to-lovers books will thrill you.
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2. The Circus Train by Amita Parikh
Setting: 1930s, Europe
Every moment is full of magic at the World of Wonders, Europe’s finest traveling circus, and Amita Parikh’s novel brings that magic to life on every page. One of the best historical fiction books of 2022, the story follows Lena Papadopoulos, a young woman struggling to find her place in the circus in a world that does not accept her disability. Fascinated by science and medicine, she clashes with her father, Theo, the master illusionist. When they rescue an orphaned boy named Alexandre, a friendship blossoms, and he joins the circus as Theo’s apprentice. This luminous and spellbinding story takes place over two decades as World War II escalates around Lena and Alexandre. It’s a tale of courage, passion, friendship and determination that will stay with readers long after the final page.
3. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Setting: 1700s, Ghana
This novel, set in 18th-century Ghana and originally published in 2016, follows two half sisters who’ve never met. One marries an Englishman and lives a luxurious life in the Cape Coast Castle, and the other ends up being sold into slavery from that very same castle. The book focuses on the theme of legacy as it follows eight generations of the half sisters’ descendants in places as varied as Africa’s Gold Coast, Mississippi and Harlem during the Jazz Age. Just how moving is Yaa Gyasi’s seminal work? Homegoing was named one of Oprah’s Best Books of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book, and it also won the prestigious PEN/Hemingway Award. Sounds like one of the best historical fiction books to us! Here are more of the best books by Black authors you won’t want to miss.
4. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Setting: 1930s, Texas Panhandle
This 2021 bestselling novel, which has nearly 60,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, looks at a crumbling marriage against the backdrop of the Great Depression. Elsa Wolcott and Rafe Martinelli’s marriage is dying, along with all of the crops on their Great Plains farm. Every day is a constant battle, but Elsa is determined not to give up. This Reader’s Digest editor’s pick shows the resilience, hope and hardship among the everyday realities during the Great Depression while spinning a deeply immersive, character-driven story. It’s one of the best new fiction books of the past few years, and you won’t be able to put it down.
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5. My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Setting: 1500s, Turkey
Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk deftly mixes historical fiction, mystery, and art in this fascinating novel, which was first published in 1998. In the story, the Ottoman sultan has commissioned several talented artists to secretly contribute to a book celebrating his reign, and when one artist goes missing, the rest are accused of being involved in his murder. This IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner is both entertaining and informative, and when it came out, it earned high praise from numerous publications, including the New York Times Book Review, the Chicago Tribune and the New Yorker.
6. War Trash by Ha Jin
Setting: 1950s, Korea
This compelling novel, published in 2005, explores the often-overlooked experience of Chinese soldiers held in U.S. POW camps during the Korean War. It follows clerical officer Yu Yuan as he is taken prisoner by the United States and acts as an intermediary between his fellow prisoners and the American guards. The New York Times Book Review called this Pen/Faulkner Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist “nearly perfect.” For a different take on history, these amazing memoirs will give you a new perspective.
7. Property by Valerie Martin
Setting: 1820s, Louisiana
Valerie Martin’s 2004 historical novel explores the horrors of slavery from the perspective of a slave owner. Manon Gaudet is the mistress of a Louisiana sugar plantation in 1828, where she chafes under the orders of her husband and becomes obsessed with her slave Sarah, who also has a bitter relationship with Manon’s husband. Toni Morrison called the novel a “fresh, unsentimental look at what slave-owning does to (and for) one’s interior life.” If you’re always looking for something new to read apart from historical fiction books, these book subscription boxes will satisfy even the most avid readers.
8. The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
Setting: 1700s–present day, Scotland
Do you love reading historical fiction books but can’t find the time to dedicate an afternoon to an entire novel? If so, you’ll want to pick up Alice Munro’s 2006 collection of short stories, The View from Castle Rock. A mix of historical and autobiographical fiction, the stories are fictionalized accounts of Munro’s life and family history. If this isn’t enough to convince you to give the book a try, maybe Munro’s 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature (not to mention her slew of other awards) will do the trick.
9. Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Setting: 1900s, New York
E.L. Doctorow completely redefined historical fiction with his 1975 novel, Ragtime, which mixes both very real and very fictional characters into the landscape of early 20th-century New York. In addition to the well-off (and well-crafted) family at the center of the book, you’ll meet the likes of Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, Sigmund Freud and more. This winner of the National Book Critics Circle Awards, which was also selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best fiction books of all time and was adapted into a movie, is sure to engage your intellect while thoroughly entertaining you.
10. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
Setting: 1940s, Louisiana
Ernest J. Gaines’s classic 1994 novel follows the story of Grant Wiggins, who returns to Jim Crow–era Louisiana to visit Jefferson, a man wrongly convicted of a crime who ends up on death row. Wiggins’s discussions with Jefferson—which cover a wide range of topics, including race, discrimination, dignity, justice and the human condition—make the book worthy of its critical acclaim. The novel won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was described by the Chicago Tribune as “a book that will be read, discussed and taught beyond the rest of our lives.” You may also want to pick up some of these books on racism to better understand how these issues affect America.
11. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Setting: 1960s, Nigeria
While you may know contemporary author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for her 2013 novel, Americanah, or her 2014 nonfiction book, We Should All Be Feminists, her 2007 historical fiction work, Half of a Yellow Sun, is just as evocative and engaging. A recipient of the Women’s Prize for Fiction “Winner of Winners” award, this novel is set during the Biafran War of the 1960s, as Biafra attempts to create an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria, and follows five compelling main characters you’ll be completely invested in.
12. Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce
Setting: 1940s, England
Set during World War II, this heartwarming and uplifting historical fiction book zeroes in on Emmeline Lake, a young female wartime advice columnist who must make a difficult decision between fulfilling her duty and supporting her friends. This 2021 novel (by the author of the international bestseller Dear Mrs. Bird) is perfect for those looking for a wartime story without major violence or gruesomeness. It just might be the perfect beach read for your next escape.
13. Thebes at War by Naguib Mahfouz
Setting: Ancient Egypt
Hailed as “the single most important writer in modern Arabic literature” by Newsday, Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz recreates ancient Egypt’s triumphant defeat of Asiatic foreigners in northern Egypt in his novel Thebes at War. Originally published in Arabic in 1944, it was translated into English in 2003 and became an international success, known as one of the best historical fiction books ever written. The book is filled not just with facts but also exciting action scenes, intense victories and excruciating defeats to make for a thrilling and page-turning read.
14. Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann
Setting: Ancient Egypt
Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann considered this retelling of the biblical story of Joseph to be his magnum opus. In it, he expounds on the story told in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, during which Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers yet eventually rises to prominence. This historical novel, which was originally published in 1933 and took Mann 16 years to complete, transports readers to ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Palestine as it follows the rise and fall of Joseph through four different parts.
15. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Setting: Pre–Civil War, United States
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Best Book of the Year title by the New York Times Book Review and Wall Street Journal, and countless other awards, Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novel is an exciting and provocative read. The book follows Cora and Caesar, two slaves who run away from their Georgia plantation using a not-quite-historically-accurate version of the underground railroad. As it changes between time period, location and character perspective, The Underground Railroad takes readers on a wild ride. If you’re looking for something that sticks a bit more to the facts, try this list of the best biographies.
16. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Setting: 1940s, France
There’s a reason that Anthony Doerr’s 2014 World War II novel, All the Light We Cannot See, spent more than two-and-a-half years on the New York Times Best Seller list (in addition to winning a Pulitzer and being a finalist for the National Book Award). The story, which centers around the connection between a blind French girl and German boy and their journey through occupied France during World War II, is the perfect combination of fanciful and thrilling.
17. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Setting: 1520s, England
Hilary Mantel’s reimagining of England in the 1520s and the lives of King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell is so creative and enthralling, it’s no surprise that this 2009 historical fiction novel won both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. The themes of power, jealousy, religion and lust make this a page-turner for any avid Tudor fan—or anyone who loves reading about the royal family and its scandals.
18. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Setting: Pre–Civil War and the 1970s, United States
Talk about a historical novel with a twist. Octavia E. Butler’s 1979 book Kindred tells the time-traveling story of Dana, a modern Black woman who is pulled from her home in California into the antebellum South, where she is a slave on the plantation of her ancestors. This book combines drama, suspense and important lessons on the history of racism and discrimination in our country and belongs on any list of the best historical fiction books.
19. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Setting: 1940s, Germany
Perhaps no book explains the power and importance of storytelling better than the 2005 novel The Book Thief. Markus Zusak crafts a story set in Nazi Germany that follows Liesel Meminger, a girl who steals books to share with her foster father, her neighbors and the Jewish man hidden in her basement. It was translated into 63 languages, with more than 16 million copies sold, and there’s no mystery as to why this story of perseverance, humanity and literature became an international bestseller among historical fiction books.
20. The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore
Setting: 1920s, Louisiana
How far can one socialite fall? That is the question that plagues main character Mirielle West in author Amanda Skenandore’s 2021 novel. The life of a silent film star’s wife is turned upside down when she’s sent to Carville Lepers Home in Louisiana after a doctor suspects her of having the incurable disease. Stuck in what is more of a prison than a patient care center, Mirielle must redefine her purpose and make life worth fighting for. Based on the true story of America’s only leper colony, this novel is a page-turner. If you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, check out the best books for you, based on your zodiac sign to narrow things down.
21. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Setting: Ancient Israel
The Red Tent, first published in 1997, takes us back to biblical times as Anita Diamant reinvents the biblical story of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, who is just briefly hinted at in the Book of Genesis. This look at the world of ancient motherhood is not only passionate but also essential in offering a new view of biblical women’s lives.
22. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Setting: Ancient Rome
This novel, originally published in 1934, is written in the form of an autobiography from the perspective of the Roman emperor Claudius. The book spans a large breath of time, recounting the early years of the Roman Empire, from Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C. up to Caligula’s assassination in A.D. 41. If you’re absolutely hooked by the end, we’ve got some good news for you: Graves continued the saga in the sequel Claudius the God, which covers the remaining period of the historic figure’s life.
23. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Setting: 1840s, Canada
While Margaret Atwood may have become a household name thanks to her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, her historical fiction books, including 1996’s Alias Grace, should not be overlooked. Set in 1843 and based on the real life of Grace Marks, this book follows Grace after she is convicted of murdering her employer and his housekeeper, who was also his mistress. The issue? Grace claims she has no memory of that day. This historical thriller won the Canadian Giller Prize, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and is one of the best books by a female author—and one you won’t be able to get out of your head.
24. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Setting: 1940s–1950s, Japan
There’s a reason why Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, first published in 1997, was nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read. Both entertaining and extremely heartfelt, this novel follows the life of fictional geisha Nitta Sayuri and her story after being sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house in Kyoto, Japan; it’s set before, during and after World War II. After you’re done reading, make sure to check out the 2005 film based on the novel, which won three Academy Awards.
25. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Setting: 1600s, Holland
This 1999 novel, inspired by the famous 17th-century Johannes Vermeer painting of the same name, is for art and history lovers alike. In this fantastical rendering, Tracy Chevalier invents the story of the relationship between the painter, the model and the painting itself. With universal themes of restraint, love and womanhood, it’s easy to see how it became an instant No. 1 New York Times bestseller.
26. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Setting: 1870s, Ohio
Another Pulitzer Prize–winning classic that deserves its rightful spot on our list of the absolute best historical fiction books, Toni Morrison’s 1987 bestseller tells the story of Sethe, an escaped slave living in post–Civil War Ohio with her daughter, her mother-in-law and the spirit of her unnamed child, who calls herself Beloved. This masterfully poetic work conjures the pain and brutality of slavery in such a way that all modern audiences can see the institution’s continuing effect on all of our lives. These Black poets also bring the realities of race and racism into their work.
27. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Setting: 1900s, Japan
This 2017 National Book Award finalist by Korean American author Min Jin Lee tells the story of four generations of a poor immigrant Korean family as they attempt to make a life for themselves in 20th-century Japan. The historical epic is perfect for anyone interested in character-driven novels about family, stereotypes and the power to overcome.
28. Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood
Setting: 1940s, New York
Historical fiction books and mysteries are a match made in heaven, and author Stephen Spotswood’s 2020 novel, Fortune Favors the Dead, proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt. After Willowjean “Will” Parker and Lillian Pentecost become an unlikely detective duo, the two are faced with the case of Abigail Collins, who was murdered in the very same spot her husband had shot himself years before. Full of paranormal hijinks, the story features messages from the dead, vengeful spirits and a doomed romance. If you love all things spooky, you’ll also want to peruse this list of the best horror books of all time.
29. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Setting: 1920s–1950s, Russia
Amor Towles’s 2016 novel, set in Moscow during the Stalin era, tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who is sentenced to house arrest in a grand hotel by the Bolshevik tribunal. While Russian history unfolds outside his very hotel window, Rostov embarks on his own journey of emotional discovery from within the confines of the hotel walls. This elegant and finely constructed novel is sure to pull you away from the current realities of the world and take you to an era of both violence and refinement.
30. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Setting: 1940s, Italy
While you’ve most likely heard of the 1996 film version of The English Patient, which racked up nine Academy Awards, the book by Michael Ondaatje is also highly decorated. Winner of the Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Award and the Golden Man Booker, this 1992 novel tells the story of four unlikely characters brought together during the Italian Campaign of World War II. Secrets, romance and mystery abound.
31. Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein
Setting: 1940s, Trinidad
Kevin Jared Hosein takes readers to 1940s Trinidad in his forthcoming historical fiction novel, Hungry Ghosts, which begins as British colonialism and American occupation are drawing to a close. The story follows two families: the wealthy Changoors, who own Changoor farm, and their employees, the Saroop family, living in grinding poverty in the barracks below. When Dalton Changoor goes missing, the lives of the two families become intertwined in this fascinating and lyrical tale of class, religion, generational trauma and family. This much-anticipated book from a talented new Caribbean voice is due to drop on Feb. 7, 2023. For even more amazing reads, check out these wonderful Kindle Unlimited books.
32. Atonement by Ian McEwan
Setting: 1930s–1940s, England
At its core, Atonement is a story about a mistake and its aftermath. The 2001 novel centers around young Briony Tallis and the effects of an accusation she makes against Robbie Turner, the Tallis family’s housekeeper and a close friend of Cecilia, Briony’s older sister. Atonement is divided into three parts and a postscript, spanning from 1935 England to World War II–era England and France to present-day England. The 2007 movie adaptation features Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and a young Saoirse Ronan as Briony. Chances are, you’ll find yourself shedding a few tears while you read this one. These other sad books will also tug at your heartstrings.
33. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Setting: 1960s, Mississippi
The Help centers on the lives of Aibileen and Minny, two Black maids, and Skeeter, a white recent college graduate who is deemed a social failure, as they separately and jointly navigate the tense social sphere of Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s. When these three unlikely companions team up to write a tell-all tale about what it’s truly like to work as a Black maid in the Jim Crow South, things change forever. This 2009 novel became an instant classic among historical fiction books, and despite controversy over the portrayal of the characters in relation to the author herself, it is still a book from which much can be learned.
34. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Setting: Ancient Israel
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings comes this creative 2020 novel about the imagined marriage of Jesus Christ. Ana is an ambitious and forward-thinking woman hailing from a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee. When she meets broad-minded 18-year-old Jesus, her life changes forever—and so does his. Critics say this feminist tale is painstakingly researched and expertly crafted, and readers love it too.
35. A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver
Setting: 1940s, England
From mystery to murder, action to romance, Edgar-nominated author Ashley Weaver’s first novel in the Electra McDonnell series of historical fiction books offers something for everyone. The 2021 psychological thriller follows Electra, a young woman who breaks into houses of upper-crust London to keep her family business alive in war-torn England. After getting caught during one such heist by a government official, the two form an unlikely pair to solve a mystery in order to stop Allied plans from falling into the wrong hands.
36. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Setting: 1660s, England
This 2001 novel, set in England in 1666, has some surprising ties to our current realities. The story follows the spread of a plague from London to an isolated village. Anna Frith, a handmaid, becomes an unlikely healer and heroine in this story of perseverance and the human spirit. What happens when a year of horrors becomes one’s year of wonders? This imaginative and utterly compelling addition to our best historical fiction books list, which was inspired by the true story of a village named Eyam, was chosen as both a New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book.
37. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Setting: 1920s, France
A New York Times bestseller, The Paris Wife chronicles the love affair between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and is told from the latter’s perspective. After a whirlwind courtship and engagement in Chicago, the two set sail for Paris in the 1920s. But as the Jazz Age heats up and Ernest pours himself into his work, their relationship goes through many ups and downs. A tale of love, betrayal and romance, this 2011 book is as fresh and relevant as ever.
38. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Setting: Mid- to late-1800s, Georgia
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Margaret Mitchell’s classic 1936 novel on a list of historical fiction books. This Pulitzer Prize–winning tale of romance, survival and the human spirit hardly needs an introduction. But a word of warning: Gone with the Wind‘s depiction of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era in the American South isn’t particularly accurate and is highly whitewashed, which is why it’s also on this list of beloved books that didn’t age well.
39. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Setting: 1960s, Congo
Barbara Kingsolver expertly weaves a story about the Prices, a missionary family who relocate from the U.S. state of Georgia to the village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo in 1959. But when they arrive, they realize that the village is not what they were expecting. Set against the tumultuous historical backdrop of the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister and the CIA coup to install his replacement, this 1998 novel tells the sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hopeful tale of three generations living in postcolonial Africa.
40. The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Setting: Early 1900s, New York
Belle da Costa Greene is hired by the esteemed J.P. Morgan as his personal librarian. Because of this role, Belle quickly becomes a fixture in the New York society scene and is viewed as a beacon of art, literature and all things splendid. But what seems like a dream job is a constant threat for Belle, who’s hiding a big secret in 1906 America: She’s a Black woman who passes for white. This 2021 New York Times bestseller touches on themes of race, legacy and hope, with messages that still resonate in modern-day America. Stay apprised of all the best new books by joining one of these online book clubs.
41. The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
Setting: 1800s, Saint Thomas
Alice Hoffman mixes history with romance in her 2015 novel, The Marriage of Opposites, a retelling of the story of the woman who gave birth to Camille Pissarro, the Father of Impressionism. Rachel is a rebellious and strong female character growing up in a Jewish refugee community on Saint Thomas in the early 1800s. After being married off to an old widower who dies suddenly, Rachel meets Frédérick, her late husband’s much younger nephew. The rest, as they say, is history—or, perhaps better yet, one of the most compelling historical fiction books you’ll read this year.
42. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
Setting: Middle Ages, England
This 19th-century classic revisits England in the Middle Ages as Sir Walter Scott delves into the conflicts between the Crown and the Barons, the Norman overlords and the conquered Saxons, and Richard the Lionheart and his brother, Prince John. Ivanhoe is credited with increasing interest in chivalric romance as a literary category.
43. The Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sarah Ackerman
Setting: 1940s, the Pacific
In this novel set before, during and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, author Sarah Ackerman paints a vivid picture of the heroic American wartime nurses. Eva Cassidy, a newly enlisted Army Corps nurse, finds herself on the glamorous SS Lurline with the dashing yet mysterious Lt. Clark Spencer. But when Pearl Harbor is bombed and the United States’ involvement in World War II becomes imminent, Eva must band together with her fellow nurses to keep the American wounded alive. Filled with romance, hardship and hope, this 2019 tale has something for everyone. Need a brief break from historical fiction books? Curl up on the couch with one of these beloved romantic movies.
44. The Whispers of War by Julia Kelly
Setting: 1940s, England
How far would you go to protect your friends? It’s 1939, and the threat of war is looming in England for childhood best friends Nora, Hazel and Marie. When Germany invades Poland, German expat Marie is labeled an enemy and threatened to be put into an internment camp. The three friends find themselves fighting to keep Marie free—and fighting for their friendship. Publishers Weekly praised this 2019 novel as “intricate, tender and convincing.”
45. Essex Dogs by Dan Jones
Setting: 1340s, England
The first in a forthcoming trilogy of historical fiction books by acclaimed historian Dan Jones, Essex Dogs is due to hit shelves on Feb. 7, 2023. It’s July of 1346, and 10 men have just landed on a Normandy beach: the Essex Dogs, a tight-knit group of men-at-arms led by an experienced (if slightly over-the-hill) captain. Set during the Hundred Years’ War, over a century of warfare over the French throne, this novel examines the harsh realities of medieval warfare from the perspective of soldiers and civilians alike. As the Dogs fight their way toward Crécy, they are also fighting to survive in a war in which rules have been abandoned and chivalry cast aside. The level of historical accuracy in this triumphant fiction debut will thrill and intrigue readers, but you might need to pick up a feel-good book afterward to take the edge off.
46. Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara
Setting: 1940s, Chicago
Aki Ito and her parents have just been released from Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp they had been sent to after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Just as they’re about to reunite with Aki’s older sister, Rose, in Chicago, they learn that Rose has mysteriously died. Aki sets off to uncover the mystery of Rose’s death while also coming to terms with the heartbreaking discrimination Japanese American families faced during this time period. Clark and Division is one of the best historical fiction books of 2021 and is particularly amazing considering the 30 years of research author Naomi Hirahara completed on Japanese American history in order to write it. If you’re looking for material for a younger audience, these children’s books about diversity will address difficult topics in an age-appropriate way.
47. The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan
Setting: 1940s, England
From author Jennifer Ryan comes an uplifting story of passion, drive and femininity. It’s the midst of World War II, and England is beginning to feel its losses. In order to boost morale, the BBC creates a wartime cooking competition with an incredible prize: the chance for the winner to become the program’s first-ever female co-host. Four women enter the competition with different reasons for wanting to win, but will they band together when they need it most, or will their competitive streaks break them apart? Reviewers from Reader’s Digest, Booklist and NPR rave that this 2021 book is a delightful and satisfying page-turner.
48. The Last Dance of the Debutante by Julia Kelly
Setting: 1950s, England
It’s time to get whisked away in a whirl of ball gowns, glitz and glamor. The Last Dance of the Debutante, the newest of Julia Kelly’s historical fiction books (published in 2022), follows three unlikely friends as they navigate the last debutante season in 1958 London, during which they will be presented to Queen Elizabeth II. But when Lily Nichols learns a secret that threatens to devastate her family, the season takes a turn, and these young women learn what’s really important in life.
49. The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin
Setting: 1880s, the Great Plains
This gripping tale of survival, resilience and courage, published in 2022 by the author of The Aviator’s Wife, is based on the true story of the Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888. In it, two schoolteacher sisters, Raina and Gerda Olsen, are faced with the difficult decision of how to save their students when an unexpected blizzard strikes. While fictionalized, this story about nature threatening the lives of hundreds of immigrant families is as important as it is riveting. It’s just one of the many historical fiction books that are relevant today.
50. The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
Setting: 1940s, France
All that is forgotten isn’t always lost—or so says Kristin Harmel’s 2020 historical novel, The Book of Lost Names. The story centers around Eva Traube Abrams, a graduate student forced to flee Paris at the start of World War II. Eva begins forging identity documents for Jewish children, hoping to escape to neutral Switzerland with the help of fellow forger Rémy. But Eva has also been keeping a record of the children’s true identities in the Book of Lost Names, which leads to a moment that will come back to haunt her years down the line. One of the best historical fiction books, this story will stay with you long after the final page.
51. The Tobacco Wives by Adele Myers
Setting: 1940s, North Carolina
You’re going to want to get your hands on this 2022 novel about lesser-known women’s activism during the post-war period. It follows Maddie Sykes, a young seamstress who relocates to Bright Leaf, North Carolina, to join her aunt’s sewing business. Bright Leaf just so happens to be the Big Tobacco capital of the South, and her aunt’s clientele includes the glamorous wives of the tobacco executives. But when Maddie uncovers evidence that links Big Tobacco to the declining health of Bright Leaf’s citizens, she has to make a big decision: do what’s best for her fellow man … or what’s best for her. In your own life, these self-help books can help you tackle your own brand of tricky decisions.
52. The Mad Girls of New York by Maya Rodale
Setting: 1880s, New York
Maya Rodale weaves a tale about the life of famous Gilded Age reporter Nellie Bly and her undercover escapades at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women in this 2022 publication. The book follows Nellie as she uncovers the horrible conditions that Blackwell patients were subject to. What starts off as a way to prove her ability in the male-dominated field of early journalism turns into a mission far greater.
53. The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis
Setting: 1920s, New York
Among the best historical fiction books published in 2022, The Magnolia Palace follows the story of 21-year-old Lillian Carter. After losing her mother to the influenza pandemic of 1919, Lillian jumps at the chance to be employed as the secretary to Helen Frick. But as time goes on and Lillian’s life becomes more and more intertwined with that of the infamous New York family, the stakes become high—life-or-death high. Full of secrets, mystery, murder and romance, this Reader’s Digest favorite will likely become one of yours too.
54. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Setting: 1940s, France
While Kristin Hannah’s 2017 novel, The Nightingale, is set during World War II, it’s not your typical war story. Instead, Hannah reimagines this volatile time from a female perspective, telling the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as they separately navigate German-occupied France. Vianne gets her home requisitioned by a German captain and must make impossible choices in order to keep herself and her daughter alive. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Isabelle falls in love with Gaetan, who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France. But what happens when he betrays her? A deeply moving tale about the resilience of women, this bestselling fan favorite among historical fiction books will stay with you long after the last page.
55. Loyalty by Lisa Scottoline
Setting: 1800s, Sicily
For readers who enjoy a thriller along with their historical fiction books, the latest book (dropping March 28, 2023) from bestselling author Lisa Scottoline is a must-buy. Tracing the rise of the Mafia in 19th-century Sicily, the novel will transport you to Italy for a classic tale of good versus evil. Franco Fiorvanti grows lemons for the baron; he dreams of rising above his station, but Sicily’s immovable class system thwarts his ambition—until the baron asks him to commit a terrible deed. Meanwhile, young lawyer Gaetano Catalano is part of a secret society of aristocrats who investigate crime. His newest case will take him to a dark place. Years pass, and the mystery deepens, and readers will happily go along for the ride in this unputdownable new novel. For a totally different type of read, our favorite sci-fi novels will take you well out of the past and into futuristic worlds.