I’ve been having a fantastic time putting together my Curated Bookshelf every month, but there are some themes where I just can’t find 12 books for it (yet). So I’ve decided to share these shorter lists on Mondays (most Mondays, at least). I hope you enjoy!
While I enjoy certain historical periods and have enjoyed history classes when I was a student, historical fiction is just something I never really had an interest in. When I was growing up, my mom read historical fiction, but the covers completely failed to compete with the covers of all my pretty fantasy novels, so I didn’t think historical fiction could actually be interesting. Many, many years later I’ve crossed paths with several, some better than others, but it’s the better ones that make me pause and wonder if historical fiction could ever become a genre I enjoy. The jury’s still out, but I thought I’d list some historical fiction books I have enjoyed.
Snow Dust and Boneshine by Grendolyn Peach Soleil
Once upon a winter’s night, a lost cowboy finds himself in Purgatory Bend. Patrick Doolin is plagued by a wound that won’t heal, but winter is the season of miracles. As Patrick wanders through Wyoming, he meets Fawna Darling, the mysterious granny witch, who channels the folk magic of her ancestors.
With nowhere to go and a secret Patrick doesn’t yet understand, he seeks shelter with Fawna in the snowswept prairie. Forbidden to fall in love, they form an eternal bond in the dreamscape, but when the bluebirds sing of summer and threaten their empire of dreams, they are faced with an impossible decision. Will Patrick stay in the land of the living, or will he cross over the prairie?
Summer is the season of surprises, and Fawna’s childhood sweetheart, Dezi Ketchum, longs to win her heart too. When winter melts across the gold-slick prairie, Fawna searches for answers under the rose moon. Caught between fire and water and flesh and fantasy, she follows her heart and ventures into uncharted territory.
I hesitate a little about labeling Snow Dust and Boneshine historical fiction as I can’t really tell if Westerns are considered their own genre or if they lie under the umbrella of historical fiction. Additionally, there are fantasy elements blended into this one as one of the characters is something of a witch and she ends up with a mysterious man living with her for the winter. But I felt like I got a sense of what life was like back then, the hardships they lived through during the winter months, and that’s really what’s stuck with me.
The Venice Atonement by Merryn Allingham
A tragic accident at the opera – or the murder of someone keeping dangerous secrets?
While watching the opera at La Fenice, Nancy Tremayne is shocked to see a woman fall to her death. But how did this tragedy occur?
Newlywed Nancy is accompanying her art professor husband, Leo, on a work trip. As she explores Italy’s beautiful city on the water, she is increasingly compelled to uncover the mysterious circumstances surrounding the woman’s death. Leo is adamant it was an accident but his assistant, Archie, reluctantly helps Nancy despite his seeming coldness to her. Nancy’s determination to reveal the facts puts her in harm’s way more than once. As she learns more about Venice’s secrets she realises she may be forced to make a choice – the truth, or her life?
The Venice Atonement is set in Venice, Italy in 1955. It follows a newly married woman who finds herself married to a man who doesn’t want her to work and, since it’s the 1950s, that’s acceptable. Well, not exactly to Nancy, which is why she finds enough time on her hands to solve a murder mystery. I had a great deal of fun traveling around 1950s Venice, solving the mystery with Nancy and getting a peek into what her life was like and what Venice was like back then.
The Angel of Bishopsgate by Eloise Reuben
A terrifying villain. A young woman desperate for answers. Danger and intrigue in Victorian London.
In 1848, Tessie and Finn struggle each day and dream of life far away in the New World, but when Tessie is attacked by an underworld figure known only as the Angel of Bishopsgate, her fight for survival has only just begun.
Separated from her beloved Finn, and oblivious to why the Angel wants her dead, her only clue points home to Dublin, and a past she thought would never find her.
Battling her way from the treacherous Old Nichol slums, and navigating the sparkling upper-classes, how will Tessie survive this game of cat-and-mouse with the city’s most notorious villain?
The Angel of Bishopsgate was not the first historical fiction novel I ever read, but it was the first that started to make me think I could enjoy the genre, once in a while at least. Set in the mid 1800s in London, it follows a poor couple as they’re torn apart but never stop looking for each other. This was a thrilling mystery with secrets at so many turns. I couldn’t speak to any historical accuracy, but I felt hurled back into the late 1840s. The story was engaging and I absolutely loved the young couple.
The Fountain by John A. Heldt
Portland, Oregon. In May 2022, the Carpenters are a sad lot. Bill, 81, has just buried his beloved wife. Paul, 75, has terminal lung cancer. Annie, 72, is a paraplegic with broken dreams. Childless and directionless, the siblings face an uncertain future in their childhood home.
Then Bill, a retired folklore professor, learns from a dying man that the legendary Fountain of Youth, his obsession for decades, may be more than a myth. He races to Mexico to find the truth.
Within weeks, the Carpenters, with nothing to lose, enter a mysterious cave and exit in July 1905 as healthy young adults. They begin new lives in Oakland, California, only vaguely aware of a devastating earthquake that will rock the San Francisco Bay Area on April 18, 1906.
In THE FOUNTAIN, the first book in the Second Chance trilogy, three siblings find opportunity, romance, and heartbreak as they make the most of a new lease on life.
The Fountain is not strictly an historical fiction novel. As a matter of fact, it’s quite light on historical details, but much of the story is set in 1905 during the months leading up to the 1906 San Francisco quake. I struggled to feel like I was transported in time along with the siblings who chose to step back in time from modern times. It was there in the way people dressed and spoke and did things, but I just didn’t feel like I was reading historical fiction. Then the last quarter hits along with the quake and suddenly everything slows down and narrows and I feel like I’m there in the rubble with the characters. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking.
The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne
Germany, 1156. With her strange black eyes and even stranger fainting spells, young Haelewise has never quite fit in. Shunned by her village, her only solace lies in the stories her mother tells of child-stealing witches, of princes in wolf-skins, and of an ancient tower cloaked in mist, where women will find shelter if they are brave enough to seek it.
When her mother dies, Haelewise is left unmoored. With nothing left for her in her village, she sets out to find the legendary tower her mother spoke of—a place called Gothel, where she meets a wise woman willing to take Haelewise under her wing. There, she discovers that magic is found not only in the realm of fairy tales.
But Haelewise is not the only woman to seek refuge at Gothel. It’s also a haven for a girl named Rika, who carries with her a secret the church strives to keep hidden. A secret that reveals a dark world of ancient spells and murderous nobles, behind the world Haelewise has always known.
The Book of Gothel is inspired by Rapunzel, but from Mother Gothel’s perspective. While it has elements from the fairy tale, it felt more like historical fiction. The magic is down played and the history floods in. There are actual historical places and people who populate this story. I couldn’t say how accurate any of it is as it could have been warped to fit the story, but, in many ways, I did feel like it was taking me back in time.
The Mad Girls of New York by Maya Rodale
A gripping and compelling novel based on the true story of fearless reporter Nellie Bly, who will stop at nothing to prove that a woman’s place is on the front page.
In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she’d be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for women.
For months, rumors have been swirling about deplorable conditions at Blackwell’s but no reporter can get in—that is, until Nellie feigns insanity, gets herself committed and attempts to survive ten days in the madhouse. Once inside, Nellie befriends her fellow patients who help her uncover shocking truths about the asylum. It’s a story that promises to be explosive—but will she get out before rival reporters get the scoop?
From USA Today bestselling author Maya Rodale comes a witty, energetic and uplifting novel about a woman who defied convention to become the most famous reporter in Gilded Age New York. Perfect for fans of hidden histories about women who triumph.
The Mad Girls of New York is about how Nellie Bly got her start as a journalist. I love how daring Bly was and what she was willing to do just to get a story, so I was excited to see her life fictionalized in this first book of a series about her. This one details the time she spent pretending to be insane to get the inside scoop on an insane asylum for women, Blackwell’s Island. I don’t know how accurate it was, but I loved feeling like I stepped back in time and was given a chance to watch Bly in action.
Last Call at the Nightingale by Katharine Schellman
New York, 1924. Vivian Kelly’s days are filled with drudgery, from the tenement lodging she shares with her sister to the dress shop where she sews for hours every day.
But at night, she escapes to The Nightingale, an underground dance hall where illegal liquor flows and the band plays the Charleston with reckless excitement. With a bartender willing to slip her a free glass of champagne and friends who know the owner, Vivian can lose herself in the music. No one asks where she came from or how much money she has. No one bats an eye if she flirts with men or women as long as she can keep up on the dance floor. At The Nightingale, Vivian forgets the dangers of Prohibition-era New York and finds a place that feels like home.
But then she discovers a body behind the club, and those dangers come knocking.
Caught in a police raid at the Nightingale, Vivian discovers that the dead man wasn’t the nameless bootlegger he first appeared. With too many people assuming she knows more about the crime than she does, Vivian finds herself caught between the dangers of the New York’s underground and the world of the city’s wealthy and careless, where money can hide any sin and the lives of the poor are considered disposable…including Vivian’s own.
Last Call at the Nightingale is set during what’s probably my favorite historical period: the Roaring 20s. I don’t know what draws me to that time period, but I have a hard time passing up a book set on the east coast during the 1920s. This was no exception, so I’m glad I adored it. I do wish more of the language and slang of the day had made it into the book, but it was still a ton of fun with a twisty mystery.
Love & Saffron by Kim Fay
In the vein of the classic 84, Charing Cross Road, this witty and tender novel follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really does connect us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine.
When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter–as well as a gift of saffron–to fifty-nine-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a writer for the newspaper food pages. Imogen lives on Camano Island outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine, and while she can hunt elk and dig for clams, she’s never tasted fresh garlic–exotic fare in the Northwest of the sixties. As the two women commune through their letters, they build a closeness that sustains them through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the unexpected in their own lives.
Food and a good life—they can’t be separated. It is a discovery the women share, not only with each other, but with the men in their lives. Because of her correspondence with Joan, Imogen’s decades-long marriage blossoms into something new and exciting, and in turn, Joan learns that true love does not always come in the form we expect it to. Into this beautiful, intimate world comes the ultimate test of Joan and Imogen’s friendship—a test that summons their unconditional trust in each other.
A brief respite from our chaotic world, Love & Saffron is a gem of a novel, a reminder that food and friendship are the antidote to most any heartache, and that human connection will always be worth creating.
Love & Saffron is a beautiful and sweet story of friendship between two women who primarily communicate via letters. Set in the 1960s, it has an older woman in Washington State and a younger woman living in Los Angeles. One letter sparks a beautiful friendship that brings unexpected changes and love into their lives, and a ton of food. This was just such a sweet story, but, despite being told almost entirely through letters, really let me step back in time. As a resident of Los Angeles, there’s still a lot I don’t know, so it was great to learn a bit more of the history of the city I live in through this book.