Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Read Outside the Box: Best Adult Historical Fiction

In March, I fell in love with a book: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I read the 600 page biography in 5 days, having to force myself to put the book down for little things like sleep and showering. I wanted to shout praises for this book from the rooftops. I wanted to extol my adoration on my blog. But I review YA fiction, which this definitely is not. Of course, I could make an exception, but I've chosen a niche for my blog and I stick to it, with the exception of a few cross-over novels. So the idea for Read Outside the Box formed: a monthly feature in which I - along with my readers - will recommend favorite books outside the YA fictional genre. After all, if you're old enough to read YA, you're old enough (or at least capable) of reading other things as well. YA is simply one of many genres that many of us enjoy reading.

Historical fiction has been at the forefront of my bookshelf almost since the moment I started reading. History was always my favorite subject in high school. I have devoured many a history book, children's and adult, fiction and non-fiction. I am most interested in the Revolution-era United States (ironically, none of the below books are set in that time period) and World War II, but I'm not picky. I'll eat up pretty much any well written book regardless of the time period and subject.

Clearly, many of you feel the same, because I received tons of suggestions for this Read Outside the Box. Here are a few (well, more than a few) of my favorites and a few of yours:

My Favorite Adult Historical Fiction

Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (also recommended by Anne, Natalie, and Annette)
-Story of Masada: 900 Jews held out from Roman invaders in the desert for months. Only two women and five children survived.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran (also recommended by Jennie and Roxanne)
-Discover the life of the famous wax artist, set at the height of the French Revolution.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
-A literary mystery set in post-war, Franco-era Spain. A coming of age story.

Everything by Jeff Shaara
-One of the best historical fiction writers today. I've read almost all of his books. I particularly love his World War II books, although he's best known for his Civil War books.

The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
-Story of the first commoner to marry the Crown Prince of Japan. Starts in World War II and goes until today. Apparently, loosely based on the real life Empress.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
-Massively popular book. Recent Ole' Miss grad writes the stories of the African American maids of the white families in her town. Set in 1960s Mississippi.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (also recommended by Jen)
-Read about Henry VIII's violent life from Thomas Cromwell's point of view. Unless other historical accounts, Cromwell is the good guy.

Everything by Georgette Heyer
-One of the best regency romance writers ever. A must if you love Jane Austen. A very prolific author.

Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky
-Tells about the lives of ordinary Parisians on the eve of the Nazi occupation of Paris. Written by a Jewish Parisian who later died at Auschwitz. The manuscript wasn't discovered for decades.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (also recommended by Dalene)
-Follow the life of a geisha in pre-War and post-War Kyoto, from childhood on. A very loose historical interpretation, I think, but fascinating nonetheless.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
-An epistolary novel focusing on the residents of Guernsey during World War II, the only part of Britain to be occupied by the Germans.

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
-A mail order bride and her eccentric brother comes to live with a widower and his sons. Set in 1909 Montana. Sarah Plain and Tall for grown-ups!

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
-An epic story of a family set during World War II. Covers every aspect of the War and American society at the time.

Readers' Favorite Adult Historical Fiction

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons - Jessie Marie
-A love story amidst the German siege of Leningrad during WWII.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - Jessie Marie, Natalie, and me
-A beautiful story of friendship and family before, during, and after the Taliban in Afghanistan

-A slave girl from Judea ends up at the center of ancient Roman society.

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman - Anne.
-A story of young love in pre-WWII Prague and the horrors of war.

Lionheart by Sharon Penman - Anne.
-An epic family story of the four surviving sons of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitane

Girl With the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier - Dalene and me.
-Step into Vermeer's famous painting and life in 17th century The Netherlands

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - Dalene and me.
-Life in 19th century China for women, from footbinding to marriages to families.

Outlanders  by Diana Gabaldon - Sarah and Lauren
-Historical Fiction/Fantasy/Romance: WWII nurse gets transported to 18th century Scotland, in the middle of the Highland wars.

The Other Boleyn Girl and everything else by Philippa Gregory - Jenny, Lisa, Jenni Elyse, Anna, Natalie, Jen, and me
-Mary Boleyn is the apple of King Henry VIII's eye until her sister Anne comes along. Drama ensues! I've heard this is a very loose interpretation of history, but it's so enjoyable that I don't care.

Lacuna  by Barbara Kingsolver - Annette
-Explore the Mexican world of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and depression-era America. Socialism, art, and history.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant - Lisa
-Italian teenager falls in love with a northern European commission to paint the local chapel walls

Juliet by Anne Fortier - Lisa and Jennie
-Modern day Julie discovers her ancestor Guilietta in 14th century Italy may be the real Juliet.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon K. Penman - Lee
-A version of the War of the Roses where Richard III is actually the hero.

-A mystery series set in Tudor England at the height of the controversy over the Catholic church vs. Church of England. Thomas Cromwell is the bad guy in this one.

The Memoirs Of Cleopatra by Margaret George - Heidi
-Discovery the story of Cleopatra, Marc Antony, and Julius Caesar from Cleopatria's voice.

Everything by Sarah Waters - Wendy and Missie
-Popular British historical fiction author. Writes mostly (entirely?) about Victorian era England.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck - Jenni
-A story of two different families in the Salinas Valley - the heart of California agriculture.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Jenni and me
-Legendary story of Atticus Finch and his children Scout and Jem in 1930s Alabama.

Everything by Alison Weir - Anna
-Alison writes fabulously detailed biographies of British figures. And she has a great name.

-Explore the life of the famous Catherine de Medici in both France and Italy.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry - Living By Fiction
-Epic story of the wild west.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - Living By Fiction and me
-Famous Civil War novel. Snobby, overdramatic, strong Scarlett and handsome, dark Rhett.

Victoria Victorious by Jean Plaidy (and her other books too) - Shoshana
-The life of Queen Victoria from childhood through her reign.

Roses by Leila Meacham - Natalie
-Discover a 100 year epic story of 20th century Texas history. Love and loss.

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly - Natalie
-A London born woman immigrates to New York City in 1888 and has her own flower shop. First book in a series. Must read if you like Jennifer's YA books!

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault - Sophia
-Read about the last years of Alexander the Great's life. This is actually the second book in a series.

The Alexandrian by Martha Rofheart - Small Review
-A famous courtesan or over of people like Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian - Small Review
-Well known series about life aboard a master-of-war ship during the Napoleonic era.

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark - Laura Ashlee
-Two love stories set in India spanning a century.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton - Jennie
-Modern day Edie discovers her mother's past during WWII where she lived in a British castle. My mother loves Kate's books.

Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees - Jennie
-Historical mystery about Mozart's death. Music, Masons, passion.

What are your favorite adult historical fiction novels? Have you read any of these?

Any suggestions for next month's feature?


  1. you actually read all of those.?? Amazing!! OMG! Those books are interesting ;-)

  2. The only two I've read are Memoirs of a Geisha and Rebecca but now I'm interested in Suite Francaise - thanks!

  3. I love historical fiction! I'm so pleased you included a Mary Renault book, she was an amazing writer. And The Other Boleyn is like crack to me; it's so addictive and good. I love this list; I've gotten a lot of recommendations from it.

  4. The Help is really good, so is Lonesome Dove and Gone with the Wind. Another one that I really liked was The Killer Angels, it's a historical fiction about the battle of Gettysburg. AWESOME stuff. :)

  5. I'm not sure if Rebecca is historical fiction. I've always seen it labeled as romantic suspense. I did love the soap pop aspect of "The Other Boylen Girl" and I thought "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "The Help" were okay. Great list! There's a few that I've been meaning to try.

    1. You're right. Rebecca isn't historical fiction. It was from last month's post and I forgot to delete it. Oops.

  6. I have read the help, roses, east of eden in high school. Thats a great list of books. I adore any books by alice hoffman.

  7. What a great list! I've read The shadow of the Wind, Memoirs of a geisha and Snow flower and the secret fan, they're all great!
    I've on my TBR The help and Fingersmith while I've on my wish list The Dovekeepers, Wolf Hall, Juliet and to Kill a Mockingbird. Historical fiction is really interesting:)

  8. Great choices! I, too, love historical fiction, and dabble in it as a writer. I haven't read the Dovekeepers, but it's on my kindle because people keep raving about it. I'll probably revisit this post because I'm always looking for more great historical fiction, and I've only read roughly half the books on your list! Some that I haven't read are by authors I like, though. I haven't read Madame Toussaud, but I LOVE Michelle Moran! So, thanks for posting the list. I'll probably make good use of it! :D

  9. I'm not a big adult historical fiction reader, but I feel pretty good that I've at least read one book on that list. Go me! I read Outlander a while back and enjoyed it, but I haven't started any of the other epically long books in the series yet. I do want to read The Help, I saw the movie and loved it, and books are always better than movies for me so I'm excited to get to it:)

  10. Gah! I'm so "In My Own Little World" when it comes to reading. I stick with my favorite genres and I really miss out on other great books. I struggle with adult historical fiction because it tends to drag for me, but I know there are some gem out there that I could really get into. Looking at this list proves that.

  11. Oh my, this is such a great list! Some of these are on my TBR list and a lot of them are among my favorites (The Bronze Horseman, Outlander, The Shadow of the Wind, East of Eden, etc.). I can't wait to see future 'Read Outside the Box'!

  12. To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the required reading books for English class back in high school and I actually really liked that book, I recommend it gladly. The Bronze Horseman has been highly recommended to me by a friend, it is her ultimate favourite book and she claims that it changed her self so with praise like that I have to give it a shot even if it's not a genre I typically read.

  13. Wooow!That is an awesome list!!!! I had a phase when all I read was historical fiction! I loved those lush and rich stories so much! Outlander was amazing and I think I read it around 4 times.. sadly the series went bad after book 4 and I couldn't read the last one..

    There is a German author who writes the BEST historical novels ever! Seriously, I am not kidding and I desperately wish her stories would get translated in English so that I could share them with you!
    Rebecca Gablé - she's a must read!

  14. Great post! Some of my favorites are here, as well as some new-to-me titles I've now added to my TBR list. :)

    I loved Michelle Moran's Madame Tussaud, but my favorite books of hers are the ones set in ancient Egypt, particularly Nefertiti. I love her writing, and am anxiously awaiting her next book, set in the time of Napoleon.

  15. Can I say just how much I LOVE your outside the box posts, Alison? They are AWESOME! :) Anyways, I'm a huge fan of historical fiction, so I'm bookmarking this post for future reference! I read The Other Boleyn Girl, Memoirs of Cleopatra, and A Thousand Splendid Suns when I was in high school, and I really enjoyed those three! I'd love to do a reread at some point...but you know how it many new books to focus on!

  16. Thank you so much for this post! I'm always on the look out for new historical fiction books (plus I'll be at the beach in a few weeks.) I have read quite a few already and completely agree with the recommendation.

    One that I would add is Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy. One of my favorites.

  17. Oh, this is fun! I need to just print this out and keep it with me. So many I've read, so many on my list, and really interested in some I haven't heard of! Loved Madame Tussaud, Snowflower, Fingersmith, Gone with the Wind, Memoirs of a Geisha! All are awesome. Thanks!

  18. I've enjoyed quite a few of those novels you mentioned. Speaking for myself my favorite historical series would have to be the SHARPE series by Bernard Cornwell. Marvelous storytelling.

  19. There's so many books here I absolutely love that would probably make my top 10 favorite book list! And there's even more that I've been dying to read. Definitely an awesome list you put together, and now I'm dying to find time to read all these. And of course, thanks for including my suggestions!

  20. That's a seriously awesome list there! I just finished Outlander last night and it was fantastic (as so many people have told me multiple times). Oh, and The Help--LOVE!

  21. Love historal fiction! Thanks for all the recs!

  22. What a great list!! Several I've read, but several I have not. Will make note. A little known, excellent historical fiction book I read was Fireflies in December. I don't know if you've already read it, but if you haven't you should give it a try.

  23. Great suggestions Alision! I love historical fiction so I already have quite a couple of these sitting on my shelf. Will definitely check out some of the other suggestions!

  24. soooo many great books (and books I've been meaning to read...) on that list! I'll be back here again next time I'm looking for a HF fix. Thanks!

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