Step Back In Time : a list of historical fiction recommendations

As the self-isolation weirdness continues around the world and time traveling still isn’t an option (someone seriously needs to get on that!), I am once again turning to books provide an escape from reality. Today, I’m sharing a list of historical fiction recommendations. No virus in sight. Although maybe a plague, or the sweating sickness and a war. You can’t have everything. 😄

Off we go!

The Murder of Harriet Monckton is based on a true story that shocked and fascinated the nation.

On 7th November 1843, Harriet Monckton, 23 years old and a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, was found murdered in the privy behind the dissenting chapel she had regularly attended in Bromley, Kent. The community was appalled by her death, apparently as a result of swallowing a fatal dose of prussic acid, and even more so when the autopsy revealed that Harriet was six months pregnant.

Drawing on the coroner’s reports and witness testimonies, the novel unfolds from the viewpoints of each of the main characters, each of whom have a reason to want her dead. Harriet Monckton had at least three lovers and several people were suspected of her murder, including her close companion and fellow teacher, Miss Frances Williams. The scandal ripped through the community, the murderer was never found and for years the inhabitants of Bromley slept less soundly.

This rich, robust novel is full of suggestion and suspicion, with the innocent looking guilty and the guilty hiding behind their piety. It is also a novel that exposes the perilous position of unmarried women, the scandal of sex out of wedlock and the hypocrisy of upstanding, church-going folk.

This novel had me completely enthralled from start to finish and not only made me remember why I love historical fiction as much as I do but also re-awakened my sheer passion for reading. This is just plainly the kind of novel my inner bookworm dreams of and it delivered on every level.

Yorkshire, 1845. A young wife and mother has gone missing from her home, leaving behind two small children and a large pool of blood. Just a few miles away, a humble parson’s daughters–the Brontë sisters–learn of the crime. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified and intrigued by the mysterious disappearance.

These three creative, energetic, and resourceful women quickly realize that they have all the skills required to make for excellent “lady detectors.” Not yet published novelists, they have well-honed imaginations and are expert readers. And, as Charlotte remarks, “detecting is reading between the lines–it’s seeing what is not there.”

As they investigate, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are confronted with a society that believes a woman’s place is in the home, not scouring the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril.

Beautifully written, hugely atmospheric and with engaging characters, The Vanished Bride made me wish I could run across the fields and the moors along with the Brontë sisters.

For a while, Daisy Jones & The Six were everywhere. Their albums were on every turntable, they sold out arenas from coast to coast, their sound defined an era. And then, on 12 July 1979, they split. Nobody ever knew why. Until now. 

They were lovers and friends and brothers and rivals. They couldn’t believe their luck, until it ran out. This is their story of the early days and the wild nights, but everyone remembers the truth differently. The only thing they all know for sure is that from the moment Daisy Jones walked barefoot onstage at the Whisky, their lives were irrevocably changed. 

Making music is never just about the music. And sometimes it can be hard to tell where the sound stops and the feelings begin.

Written like a rock documentary, Daisy Jones and The Six is refreshing, original, brilliantly written historical fiction.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ’80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

If we’re going to talk about Taylor Jenkins-Reid, then we most definitely can’t leave out this outstanding novel. The setting, the complex and multi-layered characters, the absolutely beautiful writing … I loved absolutely everything about it!

Maud Gage Baum, widow of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, met Judy Garland, the young actress playing the role of Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. At the time, Maud was seventy-eight and Judy was sixteen. In spite of their age difference, Maud immediately connected to Judy–especially when Maud heard her sing “Over the Rainbow,” a song whose yearning brought to mind the tough years in South Dakota when Maud and her husband struggled to make a living–until Frank Baum’s book became a national sensation.

This wonderfully evocative two-stranded story recreates Maud’s youth as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of Maud and Frank’s early days when they lived among the people–especially young Dorothy–who would inspire Frank’s masterpiece. Woven into this past story is one set in 1939, describing the high-pressured days on The Wizard of Oz film set where Judy is being badgered by the director, producer, and her ambitious stage mother to lose weight, bind her breasts, and laugh, cry, and act terrified on command. As Maud had promised to protect the original Dorothy back in Aberdeen, she now takes on the job of protecting young Judy.

Sometimes you pick up a book and like magic, everything seems to fall into place. For me, Finding Dorothy is one of those books. It’s extremely hard for me to put into words exactly why that is but I completely fell in love with everything about it. The era, the characters, the writing itself … it all came together and created such a wonderful reading experience.

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet. 

I’m going out on a limb with this recommendation because I haven’t actually read it myself yet. But it’s getting so many absolutely raving reviews all over the place that I’m feeling pretty confident here.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

I couldn’t put it into words back when I first read it and I still can’t now. This novel is everything. Historical fiction from the top shelf. Unforgettable.

When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family. Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin. 

Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk. 

This will always be one of my all-time favourite historical fiction novels.

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

Full of mystery, folklore and immensely atmospheric. Once Upon A River, for me, was just a beautiful and magical reading experience.

Anyone who’s familiar with Gill Paul’s novels completely understands why I couldn’t just pick one to feature on this list.

The Lost Daughter (set in Stalinist Russia and Sydney), Another Woman’s Husband (about Wallis Simpson and Princess Diana) and The Secret Wife (about the Romanovs) … each and everyone of these three books is absolutely outstanding!

So there you have it. Some historical fiction recommendations for your reading pleasure. There are of course many, many more and narrowing this down wasn’t easy. Did I forget to include your favourite? Give it a shout-out in the comments!

Take excellent care of yourselves, stay safe (and home)! Happy reading! xx

30 thoughts on “Step Back In Time : a list of historical fiction recommendations

          1. Would have been my audiobook of the year if not for Matt Wesolowski 😄 Now that you’re into audiobooks you should revisit this one, Eva! Meanwhile I’ll check out Evelyn Hugo 😁

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    1. Did you review Hamnet, Cathy? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.

      I loved Harriet Monckton. My only problem with it was that you know the conclusion from the beginning and I would have preferred the opportunity to come to a decision on my own. But it was still an impressive 5 star read for me.

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      1. I didn’t review Hamnet properly – I enjoyed it, but thought the Shakespeare connection was a bit pointless. I felt the story could have been as powerful without it. The ending also didn’t really work for me at all, I thought the Hamnet/ Hamlet link was weak. But that’s just me. As a piece of historical fiction, I thought it was great!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad to see you enjoyed the list, Jules! I’m doing well. Let’s be honest, I was already living a part-time hermit’s life before this so nothing much has changed. 😄. Hope you and yours are keeping well too! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I LOVE this post! As you know historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. I have read many of these titles and most of those I have not read are on my TBR list. Finding Dorothy is floating at the top of that TBR list, I even have a digital hold on it in the library. And then there is Gill Paul – I’ve got some catching up to do!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Supreme Ruling Council of the Book Blogosphere hereby declares this post illegal as it presents a danger to TBRs everywhere! The poster will immediately remove it or face a penalty of no wine for a month…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic list! You mentioned some favorites including Daisy Jones, Evelyn Hugo and The Nightingale, and I have to step up reading the others!

    More historical fiction favorites of mine would include: What The Wind Knows, All The Lights We Cannot See, The Huntress, Next Year In Havana, The Fountains Of Silence and Johana Gustawsson’s books to name a few…

    Liked by 1 person

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