It’s almost October, and Fall is my favorite time of year to curl up with a good historical fiction book and read away the evening, curled up in bed with the fireplace burning. After a few lackluster years of reading less fiction, I recommitted to the joy of falling in love with books in a more serendipitous way. For a long time, I relied on my Kindle and fell into the trap of analysis paralysis – scrutinizing reviews and stars and synopses – hardly ever reading an actual book. In 2023, I vowed to leave the digital distractions behind and embrace more spontaneity in my literary life. To that end, I grabbed books on Target runs and from the Buy One Get One 50% off table at Barnes and Noble or at my favorite independent bookstore – Reading in Public. And, I made a point of picking up a library book or two for myself when I took Ashton on the weekends. The result is that I’ve read more this year (31 and counting) than any since having a baby and starting a business (at the same time).
In this post, I’m excited to share the best historical fiction books I’ve read so far this year, including smash hits I’d previously overlooked, a couple from favorite authors, and one or two surprises. Plus, a little note: if you choose to purchase any of these gems through the Bookshop.org links below, you’ll be supporting Reading in Public, a local gem I hold dear.
Kate Morton is my favorite author of historical fiction, and I jump to read her books as soon as they are released. While The Secret Keeper remains my favorite Morton novel, Homecoming was an incredibly satisfying read. It was not until I picked up Homecoming that I realized Morton had Australian roots. The plot flips between the present day and the late 50’s and involves the mystery of an entire family’s mysterious demise that remained unsolved for decades. I love how Morton weaves together the perspectives of various characters over the course of the book to recreate the series of events that led to the tragedy, ultimately revealing all with an unexpected and heartbreaking twist. Homecoming was as satisfying as any of Morton’s novels and was well worth the wait.
I was well aware that The Four Winds has been a critically acclaimed best seller for quite some time, when I finally checked it out from the library this summer. I loved The Nightingale when I listened to the audio version years ago, but the Four Winds, which is set during the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression, is on a much higher plane. It’s searing, poignant, and heartbreaking, and I could not put it down. I felt like Hannah brought the struggle and hardships of the migrants from the Plains to California to life in a way I haven’t considered since reading The Grapes of Wrath in high school. It wasn’t difficult to draw parallels between their experiences of discrimination and exploitation and the present day realities of immigrants. This is a book you’ll continue to think about long after you finish it.
I picked up the hardcover version of the The Secret Book of Flora Lea on whim while at Barnes and Noble one week and in part, I admit, because I loved the cover art. I burned through this story of two sisters who are evacuated to the countryside from London during the Blitz. The book is told from the perspective over the older sister and flashes back between the war and twenty years after. At the heart of the plot is the disappearance of the younger sister Flora Lea. Henry keeps you guessing at Flora’s fate until the very ending with a satisfying plot twist that made this one of my favorite historical fiction reads this year.
I am definitely a sucker for WWII novels especially those that feature the heroism of Resistance fighters. The Book of Lost Names is unique in its premise – a Jewish woman in her 20s escapes occupied Paris with her mother into the mountains and joins the resistance as a forger. Like so many novels in this genre, it’s rife with tragedy and sacrifice and the heroism of ordinary citizens in the face of immense danger. The ending is unexpected and satisfying in every way. I look forward to reading more of Harmel’s books in the future.
Does Lessons in Chemistry really need any introduction at this point? Add my voice to the chorus singing its praises. I felt like this book is everywhere and everyone but me had read it! I listened to it after a glowing recommendation from both my parents, and I was hooked from the first minute. Any book with a personified dog is an immediate winner for me. But, seriously, this story about a single mother in the 60s, a scientist turned TV entertainer, is so engaging that I had to keep listening….while driving, cleaning, folding laundry, making breakfast. I will go so far as to say that this was my favorite audiobook since I listened to All the Light We Cannot See over seven years ago. We’re very much looking forward to the show coming out on Apple+ in October.
The Ship of Brides is a fictionalized account of the true story of Australian war brides traveling back to Great Britain to rejoin their enlisted husbands at the end of WWII. As soon as I spotted this book, I thought about my friend Lindsey who told me about her Australian grandmother who met her grandfather when he was station abroad during the war.
The plot bounces between four different brides on the ship, from different backgrounds with varying stories. The journey from Australia to England is fraught with challenges to the ladies including discrepancies in class and station. And, it doesn’t end happily for all of them. Another engrossing read from Moyes, whose novel The Giver of Stars was one of my favorite audiobooks in 2022.
For fans of WWII novels looking to branch out, The Girl You Left Behind is an easy departure. Set between a French village during WWI and the present day, it is a story of hardship, enduring love, hope, and bravery. With this book, Moyes once again asks us to question the meaning of loyalty and what price is worth paying for love.
This is the first book that I’ve read by Sarah Penner. The Lost Apothecary is another mystery that switches been the current day and the past – in this instance, London in the late 1700s. A single woman with a knowledge of herbs and remedies passed down from her mother unintentionally falls into assisting other women by conjuring lethal tonics to free them from their troubling circumstances. For years she lives and works in relative anonymity until one client makes a fatal mistake and throws her existence into chaos. Meantime, in the present day a young woman on her own quest unwittingly stumbles into this centuries old mystery. In all honesty, this story isn’t as refined or nuanced as works by Morton or Moyes, but it is still an entertaining book and perfect for reading on a Fall evening.
Shop My Favorite Historical Fiction
The links below lead to complete lists of my favorite historical fiction books both on Amazon for convenience as well as on Bookshop.org, because we do need to support our local independent bookstores as much as we can.
Have you read any great historical fiction this year? Let me know in the comments so I can add to my TBR list!