After reading Goodnight from London earlier this summer, I realized that some of my favourite books are historical fiction. I love stories about women in the early 20th century, during the world wars, and about writers or artists. Though I could list 20 or more historical fiction novels that I love or am planning to read, I thought capping it at five would be good. So, here are my top five historical novels.
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. After buying this book years ago (back when I still worked at a bookstore — man, I miss that discount), I finally read it earlier this year. The Secret Keeper takes place partly during World War II and seventy years later as Laurel searches for clues about a shocking crime she witnessed as a child. Morton has a beautiful way with words, and the plot is completely unpredictable — just when I thought I had it figured out, new information surfaced and changed everything. I loved the jumps between decades and character perspectives. It’s also refreshing to read a story about women that isn’t focused on their romantic conquests. I don’t mind those stories, in fact I like them quite a bit (I am a hopeless romantic at heart), but it was great to read a novel where the mystery wasn’t about how she would get the guy.
The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. You know by now that I love Jojo Moyes (exhibit A, B and C), so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I loved this novel about a woman, Sophie Lefèvre, living in an occupied town in France during the first World War. What makes this story even more fascinating is the portrait of Sophie (painted by her artist husband) that is found a century later in a woman’s apartment, the worth unknown to her. The legal battle that ensues was so interesting (I love a good legal drama), and once again I love the contrast of the stories in their respective centuries. Writing this is now making me realize that it’s time to read it again since it’s been three years since I read it.
Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson. I read this novel about a woman attending art school in Paris in the mid-1920s last year and fell in love with Robson’s characters and prose. Moonlight Over Paris tells the story of Helena, an English woman who, after a failed engagement and a nearly fatal illness, decides to move to Paris for a year, to live with her aunt and attend an art school. Though she comes from a noble family, she wants to make a living for herself, and sees art as her chance to do so. While in France, she is exposed to a new way of life, friends, and a handsome American. I did share a full review last spring, which you can read here.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett. You’re probably familiar with this story as it was adapted into a movie and was nominated for and won many awards, including Octavia Spencer for best actress. The Help, tells the story of Skeeter Phelan who decides to write a tell-all book through interviews with the African-American maids who work in the white homes in the South during the 1960s. Stockett is a talented writer, and tackles the difficult theme that is racism in the United States, especially the deep South. I actually haven’t seen the movie (not sure how I skipped it, I think my mom has even seen it), but I’ll just assume that the book is better, because it almost always is.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Lastly is this epistolary novel that really made me fall in love with the historical fiction genre (though I think Kit Pearson’s The Sky is Falling was my first introduction back in elementary). Written through letters from writer Juliet to members of the Literary and Potato Peel Society in Guernsey, the story of the German occupation of the island during World War II is told. It’s been far too long since I’ve read it, but this will always be one of my all-time favourites, and the one that I consistently recommend to anyone looking for a good book to read.
Have you read any of these books? What’s your favourite historical fiction novel?
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