Best Historical Fiction Books: 12 Must-Read Novels

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Books are like balms — grabbing the right book at the right time can provide the perfect antidote for what you’re going through at that very moment. Whether you need a dose of hope, happiness, comfort, inspiration, courage…you name it, a great book has the power to ease worries and offer a safe haven to rest and recharge. And there are few things better than curling up with a good read that transports you to another place and time. Enter one of the most popular book genres: historical fiction. This beloved literary genre provides fictional stories that take place within the setting of historical events — sometimes these novels are even based on real-life true stories. Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best historical fiction books — both new and old releases — that are guaranteed to enthrall you.

Keep scrolling to discover 12 of the best historical fiction books that will magically take you back in time to the 1800s, 1900s and beyond. Happy reading!

For a captivating WWII story told in dual timelines...

Try The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer  (Best Historical Fiction Books)
Graydon House

From bestselling author Kelly Rimmer, The Things We Cannot Say will enchant any historical fiction fan. In 1942 Poland, 15-year-old Alina Dziak yearns to marry her fiancé, Tomasz, but WWII changes it all. In 2019, Alice is a mom of two. Then, one day her 85-year-old grandmother asks her to go to Poland for information. Going back and forth between Nazi-occupied Poland and modern life, Rimmer delivers a poetic, emotional and intricately layered storyline.

What readers are saying: "This book was beautifully heartbreaking. The author, Kelly Rimmer, masterfully balanced two timelines, both from a first-person perspective. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys having their heart broken, only to be put back together word by word throughout this story. I initially listened to the audiobook, but I loved it so much that I had to buy a physical copy for my own personal library."

For a thought-provoking story set in 1850 Virginia...

Try The Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

The Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson   (Best Historical Fiction Books)
37 Ink

This immersive, vibrant story takes readers back to Charles City, Virginia, in 1850. Pheby Delores Brown grew up a slave on a plantation where her mother was the medicine woman. Pheby was promised freedom on her 18th birthday, but instead of a free life with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is thrust into life with the owner of a jail called the “Devil’s Half-Acre.” An extraordinary tale about a brave heroine’s true sacrifice, courage and fight for freedom.

What readers are saying: "A must-read. A wonderfully written story of a woman's trials and struggles to seek freedom for herself and later her family. This story pulls at your heart strings — it is hard to read at times, but it's so powerful."

For an emotional story about family set in 1938 California...

Try Only The Beautiful by Susan Meissner

Only The Beautiful by Susan Meissner   (Best Historical Fiction Books)

Characters who feel like real-life friends and a deeply compelling storyline combine in this novel written by bestselling author Susan Meissner. Rosie’s parents never told anyone of her ability to see colors when she hears words, but when they die in 1938, her secret gets out, and Rosie ends up in a hospital for the mentally ill where she suffers injustices. Years later, a friend, who has seen her own horrors, tries to reconnect with Rosie. A deeply heart-wrenching journey of grief, hope, family and second chances.

What readers are saying: "I have read many books by author Susan Meissner and have enjoyed them all. Only the Beautiful was no exception. Her research was impeccable. Meissner explored some very sensitive topics in this book. It was both heartbreaking and uplifting. The characters were well developed and the two female protagonists were both strong, determined and committed to what they believed in."

For an illuminating story set in 1973 Alabama...

Try Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins Valdez

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins Valdez  (Best Historical Fiction Books)

An unforgettable tale unfolds in this novel inspired by true events. It's 1973 and nurse Civil Townsend works at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic — and she's determined to make a difference in her African American community. During her first week on the job, she meets her newest patients, Erica and India, whom she takes under her wing. Decades later, Civil is ready to retire, but people and stories from her past return to the present and refuse to be forgotten. A riveting, redemptive and hope-filled story.

What readers are saying: "From the very first page of this book, I knew the heroine, Civil, was going to take my heart on a roller coaster ride. She did not disappoint at all! All of the characters in this book are well-defined and their stories are gut-wrenching. When I finished the last page, I was emotionally exhausted, but like Civil, I had closure and peace."

For an engrossing story set in 1961 Britain...

Try The Princess by Wendy Holden

The Princess by Wendy Holden  (Best Historical Fiction Books)

This fascinating novel about beloved Princess Diana Spencer is set in 1961 Britain. Born into the Spencer earldom, Diana grew up amid her parents’ divorce, and her refuge was always her romantic novels. So when she becomes a candidate for the Prince of Wales, her dream to be loved intersects with Charles’ need for a bride. What follows is an astonishing story of Diana’s route to the altar and beyond.

What readers are saying: "This book is brilliant. Diana tells a childhood friend about the string-pulling that brought about her engagement to her Prince charming. What if all those Barbara Cartland books on Diana's shelves shaped the future princess into a hopeful romantic? A woman who just wanted her own happy ever after? Reading this brought back memories of teenage me watching the wedding of the century. If you are a royal watcher and have a fondness for Princess Di, you will not want to miss this book."

For an empowering tale set in 1920s Seattle...

Try The Roaring Days of Zora Lily by Noelle Salazar

The Roaring Days of Zora Lily by Noelle Salazar  (Best Historical Fiction Books)

This sweeping, glamorous saga begins in 2023 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum, where a costume conservator sees a name — Zora Lily — hidden in the label of a gown once worn by Greta Garbo. Flash back to 1924: Zora Hough spends her days dreaming and her nights sewing to make money. Soon, Zora makes connections that may just lead her to the life she’s always wanted.

What readers are saying: "I read this entire book in one day. The book opens in present-day Washington, DC at a museum that is doing a display of iconic movie dresses. Then, the story is set in the Seattle area in the 1920s, where classes of people are looked down upon. Noelle takes you on a roller coaster of emotions with Zora’s story. You will not want to put it down."

For a dazzling, mystery-laced story set in 1920s New York...

Try The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis

The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis  (Best Historical Fiction Books)

Opening up this thrilling novel will first whisk you back to 1919 New York City. Lillian Carter’s life is in shambles: She lost her mother to the Spanish flu and all her work as a sought-after artists' model has dried up. When she’s offered a job at the majestic Frick mansion, she decides to accept. Then, 50 years later, another model, Veronica Weber, has a job at the Frick Collection museum, and she stumbles upon dark secrets that reveal the eerie truth about the Frick family.  A mesmerizing historical thriller that richly captures two eras.

What readers are saying: “After spending all day on screens, I love picking up an actual book — especially if the story transports me to a pre-screen era! I adored going back in time to New York in the ’20s — and I was so intrigued by the mystery that connects the two women!”

For a stirring, wintry mystery set in the 1700s...

Try The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon  (Best Historical Fiction Books)

Inspired by real-life Revolution-era diarist and midwife Martha Ballard, this novel is set in the winter of 1789. When the body of one of the most respected men in Hallowell, Maine, is found in a frozen river, Martha is called in to investigate. Relying on her medical knowledge as a healer and the diaries she keeps about the goings-on in her village, she begins to unearth the truth behind an unspeakable crime. Now, Martha must overcome secrets and lies to solve the case. A tense yet tender story about a remarkable woman meant to be remembered.

What readers are saying:  "When starting this book, the reader immediately feels part of the community and is invested in Martha’s life and the lives of the vulnerable women she assists. This well-researched novel is a five-star read for me and one of my favorites so far this year. The action never stops. Make sure you read the author’s extensive notes at the end of the book. You will miss out on the real story if you don’t!"

For a haunting and evocative WWII story set in France...

Try The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (Best Historical Fiction Books)
St. Martin's Griffin

This #1 New York Times bestselling novel — now set to be a major motion picture — paints a powerful portrait of love and strength in the midst of war. In a sleepy French hamlet, Vianne must say goodbye to her husband as he heads for the front and to her sister, who will join the resistance. Vianne never believed the Nazis would invade France, but here they are, requisitioning her home as she tries to save herself and her daughter from the perils of war. A haunting and rich tale that celebrates the strength of the human spirit.

What readers are saying: "This book is a beautifully tragic sisterly love story about two sisters in WWII surviving in their own way. It showcases how the human spirit can survive in the darkest of places. It's wonderfully written — and the scenes really take you there."

Related: Kristin Hannah Talks About Her New Novel ‘The Women’ + How She Went From Attorney to Bestselling Author

For a moving family saga novel set in 1945 Japan...

Try The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan

The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan  (Best Historical Fiction Books)
S&S/ Marysue Rucci Books

Readers are transported back to 1945 Malaya in this rich, spellbinding saga that follows Cecily Alcantara, a mother who was also an unlikely spy for Japanese forces during WWII. Ten years prior, a chance meeting with General Fuijwara lured her into a life of espionage. Now, she’ll do anything to save her family. This captivating story shines a light on the dangers of war and the lengths to which we’ll go to save the ones we cherish.

What readers are saying: "My favorite way to unwind is by brewing a hot cup of tea and cracking open a historical fiction book, so when I saw this WWII epic, I knew it would fit my mood to a tee. I devoured this debut novel in one weekend. This story was so moving that it stayed with me long after I finished the last page — now I cannot wait to read the author’s next book!”

For a gripping story about a strong heroine set in 1937 Ukraine...

Try The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn (Best Historical Fiction Books)
William Morrow Paperbacks

Bestselling author Kate Quinn captures readers' hearts again with her newest WWII novel. Set in 1937, in Kyiv, Ukraine, college student Mila Pavlichenko only cares about two things: her job at the library and her son. But when Hitler decides to invade both Russia and Ukraine, Mila must step up and defend her homeland. She transforms from a studious girl to an elusive sniper known as Lady Death. Now everyone knows her name, and Mila is sent to Washington, D.C., on a goodwill tour, where she befriends Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. But will her traumatizing past get in the way of her potential happiness?

What readers are saying: "The Diamond Eye is just the sort of historical fiction that I love to read. It's based on a true story about an incredible woman, and not only did I get a feel for the era, how women survived in the military and what the life of a sniper is like, I fell completely under the spell of Lyudmila (Mila) Pavlichenko."

For a showstopping story about a group of thieves in 1920s London...

Try Queens of London by Heather Webb

Queens of London by Heather Webb  (Best Historical Fiction Books)
Sourcebooks Landmark

Bestselling author Heather Webb's new novel Queens of London delivers an exciting ride through the criminal underworld of 1925 London. Alice Diamond is the leader of the Forty Elephants, a network of all-girl thieves in 1920s London — and she’s the target of Lilian Wyles, one of Scotland Yard’s first female detectives, who wants to prove herself by putting Alice behind bars. What follows is a scandalous series of events about crime, sisterhood and the meaning of justice.

What readers are saying: "The premise of Queens of London sounded exciting enough, and then, several chapters in, I found a character who stole my heart: Ten-year-old Hera and her friend, Biscuit. That sealed the deal and I had to know what happened. Webb has written a diamond of a page-turner with real heart and soul. It is made even more memorable by the audio — narrated by Amy Scanlon — which hits all the right tones and accents."

For more book recommendations, click through the links below!

Colleen Hoover, Sarah J. Maas & More Best-Selling Romance Authors Reveal the Love Stories They Can’t Get Enough Of

Best Book Club Books: 10 Page Turners, From Romances to Thrillers to Historical Fiction

10 Books to Read If You Love ‘Bridgerton’: These Romances Will Make You Swoon!

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