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This list has been curated by our Books Editor based on books she’s read or sampled, and books that have great Goodreads reviews.
If you’re not a major history buff, the word “historical” might give you flashbacks to memorizing names, dates, and events in your high school history class (ugh). But scrap that memory for a sec because reading historical fiction doesn’t require any studying.
Basically, a novel is considered historical fiction if the story takes place in the past. But so many of them are inspired by real people and events, use familiar settings as backdrops, or retell old stories from new perspectives — so it’s easy to feel connected to them (even if history class wasn’t your jam 😉).
Ready to take a trip through time? Here are the latest highly rated releases in historical fiction.
This atmospheric tale entwines the stories of five women living in different times: 1907, 1944, and 2021. The women’s stories of loss, hope, and triumph are braided together by a garden at the Highbury House estate, which becomes a lovable character of its own.
The story follows Venetia, who is hired to design the original garden in 1907; Beth, Stella, and Diana in 1944 when the house is requisitioned as a convalescent hospital for soldiers; and Emma, a present-day garden designer who’s hired by new owners to restore the gardens on the estate and uncovers secrets from the past in the process.
This powerful YA historical novel takes readers back to the 1940s in Japantown, San Francisco to hear the stories of 14 different second-generation Japanese American teens. Fourteen different POVs might seem like a lot, but it gives readers a deeper look into what it was like living through a time when Japanese Americans were forced into mass U.S. incarceration camps during World War II.
The characters really come alive on the page, and the racism and injustice they’re faced with is unfortunately still relevant to the times we live in now. We think this is a must-read for everyone, regardless of whether young adult novels are typically your thing.
If you haven’t read The Henna Artist, the first book in this series, you’ll def want to do that first. But knowing the sequel is ready and waiting for you is always comforting. Both books have nearly 5-star ratings on Goodreads, compelling covers, and book club accolades.
In the first book, the author paints a portrait of one young woman’s struggle in a society that’s wavering between the traditional and the modern and takes place in the 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes a highly sought henna artist to the wealthy and must keep their secrets and her own. The sequel takes place 12 years later… but we’re not about to give any spoilers!
In 18th century London, a woman named Nella works in a secret apothecary shop, where she sells well-disguised poisons for her patrons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. Two hundred years later in present day, Caroline, an aspiring historian, discovers an aged glass vial from the apothecary in the River Thames and begins a curious research project that ends up crossing the barriers of time.
We completely and instantly fell in love with the storylines of both women (plus Eliza, a young girl in Nella’s time), and the mystery that curls from chapter to chapter like the smoky wisps of freshly blown out candles.
A story about a woman going to war while her husband stays at home? Well, it’s not your typical story, but Nancy Wake wasn’t your typical woman. Inspired by true events, this novel begins in 1944 but is told in interweaving timelines, categorized by the four code names that Nancy used during WWII.
Though she started as a journalist living in Paris, this Australian expat became a fighter, smuggler, spy, and target. She even became a French Resistance leader on the top of the Gestapo’s most-wanted list by the end of the war.
Word nerds, take note: We predict this will be a major book club hit. It’s a tale loosely inspired by fact, when a single word was accidentally omitted from the Oxford English Dictionary. In this story, when a team of male scholars are compiling the first version of said dictionary, one of their daughters decides to “collect” the words they wish to discard — most of them relating to women’s experiences.
The book is set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and explores the ways in which spoken and written words impact people, and how what gets recorded — and what doesn’t — influences society.
What happened out on the ice in the 1850s? You’ll keep turning the pages to find out. When male search parties are unsuccessful in finding Lady Jane Franklin’s husband’s lost expedition, a dozen women join a secret expedition to try and find him. But when one of them doesn’t return, a murder trial unfolds.
The ~coolest~ part? This story is inspired by real events — Lady Jane Franklin was a real person who sent a number of expeditions to search for her husband’s lost Arctic venture, but the idea of an all-female search expedition is fictitiously explored in this book.
Is Greek Mythology your Achilles heel? This “women’s epic” takes you waaay back to Ancient Greece to shine a light on the women, girls, and goddesses at the center of the Western world’s greatest tale — the Trojan War.
We get to hear from the imagined perspectives of women such as Creusa, Calliope, Theano, Penelope, Eris, Polyxena, and many more. The fierce kaleidoscope of female perspectives illuminates the Trojan war in a new way that reviewers agree was much overdue.
From bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris comes a new WWII novel of courage and unlikely allies, inspired by true stories. The year is 1942 and Sadie, an 18-year-old living with her parents amid the Krakow Ghetto, is forced to seek refuge in the sewers beneath the city with her mother when the Nazis liquidate the ghetto.
Above ground, an affluent Polish girl, Ella, is shopping at the market when she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. When she realizes it’s a person, the two develop a friendship that’s tested by the worsening dangers of WWII.
Flip your history books all the way back to 1662 in Boston, where you’ll meet Mary, a young Puritan woman who’s the second wife of a very powerful but cruel man. She fights to flee from her violent marriage, but in the process, must also fight to escape the gallows when she’s taken for a witch.
Though marketed as a historic thriller, fans are saying it’s not a thriller in the traditional sense, but a “slow-burn historical fiction novel with some *thrilling* aspects, mystery, and plenty of intrigue.”
Our hearts will go on, but we’ll never quite get enough of this sunken ship’s stories — even if they are the fictional kind. This highly rated young adult novel sets off from Southampton in the year 1912 and follows twin British Chinese acrobats Valora and Jamie Luck who travel aboard the Titanic on its ill-fated maiden voyage. Stacy Lee, author of The Downstairs Girl, reimagines this famous tragedy in a fresh new way — inspired by a recently uncovered account of six Titanic survivors of Chinese descent.
Travel back more than 1,000 years to the story of a long forgotten Polish queen: Swietoslawa. She was known for being particularly bold, and while she and her two sisters were expected to be their father’s chance for a great alliance in building his empire, Swietoslawa refused to be a pawn and sought her own throne — without a husband.
Fans are saying they get “Vikings” meets “Game of Thrones” vibes from this multi-POV story. We’re in. Translated by Maya Zakrzewska-Pim.
From the bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names comes a new WWII coming-of-age story about a young woman who was taken from her wealthy German parents as a toddler and raised in the wilderness of Eastern Europe. When her captor passes away 19 years later, she finds herself totally alone — until she happens upon a group of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, who she helps teach how to survive in the forest. But the journey doesn’t end there. Eventually, she collides with her past.
Inspired by incredible true stories of survival, this book glimpses the time period in a unique way, and it’s already received a glowing 4.5 stars from hundreds of early reviewers.
This fast-paced novel transports you to post-Pearl Harbor Hawaii. It’s inspired by the real Women’s Air Raid Defense (WARD) during WWII and follows Daisy, a 23-year-old recruit. She and her sisters-in-arms enlist in a top secret program, replacing male soldiers in a war zone for the first time.
One early reviewer writes, “I adore her and her spunky WARD friends and keenly felt their joys, grief, fears, trauma, and the heat of the slow-burn romance at the book’s heart. A must-read for fans of pioneering women at war and in love.”
A book feast for book lovers! Rewind to 1942 London, where Nancy Mitford — who’s already lived through loss and multiple air raids — jumps at the chance to manage a little bookshop in Heywood Hill while the owner is away at war. Fast forward to present day, where a second female perspective enters amidst the search for one of Mitford’s lost manuscripts.
Both women are writers who journey to find the strength to pick up the pen despite various setbacks. Each thread is laced with humor and witty characters whose banter we thoroughly enjoyed.
Naomi Farr is the books editor and a copy editor at Greatist. She loves focusing on all things books, beauty, wellness, and mental health. She’s also a YA fantasy writer and bookstagrammer. You can find her (and her cat) @avioletlife.