All-Time Favorite Historical Fiction

Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres. In fact, many of my favorites within the genre also make my overall list of favorites. I realized recently that I’ve been reading a lot less of it than I used to, and I think it’s because for the past couple years, I’ve been making it a point to read more diversely. I guess I’d never noticed how much historical fiction is written by white women. It’s great that women do well in this genre, but I hope we’ll continue to get more authors of color in there, as well.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon—this is the only one of Chabon’s books I’ve read, and I was very impressed with it. I didn’t even like comic books at the time, which makes me think I’d like to read it again now that I have that added element of interest.

Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman

Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns—All I remember of this book is that the protagonist’s grandfather does what makes him happy regardless of how his petty neighbors judge him for it. That’s a theme I want to read more of.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker—I wish I’d written a review of this when I finished it; all I wrote on Goodreads was, “This might be one of my favorite books of all time. I read it all in one morning and finished with tears in my eyes.”

Euphoria, by Lily King—A fascinating story of anthropologists in Papua New Guinea in the 1930s. It’s based on the life of Margaret Mead, and although I deeply despise love triangles, I think the setting was unique enough that I didn’t mind it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows—I’ve read this book in print and listened to the audio, and both times I loved it. It’s been such a popular book club choice that many of you have probably read it, so you know for yourselves.

The Hope Chest, by Karen Schwabach—The only fiction I’ve ever read about the suffrage movement of the early 1900s. I loved it.

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan

The Kitchen God’s Wife, by Amy Tan—I was very into Amy Tan several years ago, and although I’ve forgotten details, I remember loving this one even more than The Joy Luck Club.

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver—So far I’ve loved most of Kingsolver’s books, and after The Poisonwood Bible, this is probably my favorite. It’s set in Mexico in the early 1900s, featuring Frida Kahlo, Diego Riveira, and Leon Trotsky as characters. I was just captivated by their story.

Madame Tussaud, by Michelle Moran

Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden

The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton—Nothing is worse for me than reading about the way people are tyrannized by religion, so this was upsetting as well as fascinating (17th-century Amsterdam is a setting I don’t think I’ve ever interacted with before).

My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver—I started it for the first time my freshman year in college, and only got a few pages in before I quit. Five years later I decided to read it again, and I fell immediately in love. It’s been one of my all-time favorite books ever since.

Rush Oh!, by Shirley Barrett

Shanghai Girls, by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

Vanessa and Her Sister, by Priya Parmar

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley

Aside from the largely white representation of authors, what this list brought to my attention is the fact that I’ve never written reviews for many of my favorite books (The Poisonwood Bible, seriously?). I suppose I read most of them before I started writing book reviews, and now that it’s been so long, I don’t remember enough details to be able to do it—which is the reason I started writing reviews in the first place. Luckily I’m a re-reader by nature; I just need to make sure I write down some thoughts the next time I make my way through these books.

Check out Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. I love so many of these books (especially Guernsey Literary and My Name is Asher Lev). I’m going to have to try out some of the others here too! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gwen says:

      Have you read I Capture the Castle or The Watchmaker of Filigree Street? I think you might like them too, if you loved Guernsey and Asher Lev. They have similar atmospheres. And of course I loved them all. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love I Capture the Castle as well. 🙂 I haven’t read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street — I’ll have to check that one out! Thanks!


  2. I remember reading Catherine Called Birdy in school and just being fascinated by it – I think it helped cement my addiction to historical fiction!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gwen says:

      I didn’t read it until my mid-twenties, but Number the Stars by Lois Lowry did the same for me when I was young. I couldn’t even count how many times I read that book in elementary school.


  3. @lynnsbooks says:

    Great list – I was scrolling down and nodding my head. Some excellent books on here which makes me even more anxious to read Burial Rites which I’ve had for ages.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gwen says:

      It’s been two years since I read Burial Rites, and I still think about it often. I hope all the hype doesn’t end up disappointing you, because for me it was completely worth it.


  4. foxtaylor says:

    Kavalier and Clay is on my to read pile!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lghiggins says:

    I have been more of a mystery fan than one of historical fiction, but after reading The Other Einstein (publication date of October 18), I think I could be persuaded to read more from this genre. I’ll take note of some of your favorite books and authors. It looks like a good list.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gwen says:

      See, and I rarely read mysteries. We’ll have to trade. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. svetasbooks says:

    Loved the poison wood bible, but am not a fan of Amy Tan because of how she portrays Asian men. I also did like the Chosen and The promise by Chaim Potok. Did not read my name is Asher Lev yet


    1. Gwen says:

      What kind of portrayals do you mean? I haven’t read Amy Tan in probably almost ten years, but I have to say, in historical fiction about women I think it generally makes sense to have male characters depicted badly. Most of history has involved men in every culture being terrible to women, right? Or is there something more specific you’re thinking of?


  7. svetasbooks says:

    Asian men don’t have good rep in America 😦 I read a ton of historical fiction so I understand theach part that not everyone man is an angel. I do. But still there are good men in historical fiction even if they are fictional or unrealistic. In Amy Tan’s two books, the Asian men are depicted horribly: in joy luck club they cheat on women or cannot perform sexually or abuse women in one way or another. The men that are given a far more rounded characterizations happen to be white men. In the kitchen god’s wife, the husband is a horrible person who has a small penis and is abusive in all ways to the wife. To me the husband is too evil to be true and was not portrayed as a deep character.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gwen says:

      I definitely get that, and I’m sensitive to the same issues – but I think if anyone gets to explore that it’s Asian women.


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