It can be tricky to start reading a genre you’re unfamiliar with and with endless options out there, it can be challenging to know where to begin. If you pick the wrong book, it can even turn you off a genre completely. To prevent this, I’ve chosen 5 books to help you ease your way into Historical Fiction, so you can find your next read and discover what this amazing genre has to offer.
1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a critically acclaimed novel that’s perfect for anyone interested in historical fiction. This book is a must read for this particular genre, and it’s one of my personal favorites.
The book follows the story of two teens on opposite sides of World War II as they try to navigate the hardships life throws at them. It’s a tale of grief, resistance, love, and what it means to be human.
Marie-Laure is a young girl living in Paris with her loving father, who works in a museum. When Paris is occupied by Nazis, they must seek refuge with Marie-Laure’s great uncle in Saint-Malo. But her father has been tasked with the job of guarding one of the museums most prized possessions, the Sea of Flames: a jewel that is said to be cursed.
Werner Pfennig and his sister are orphans in a coal mining town in Germany. After discovering a radio as a child and falling in love with storytelling, Werner teaches himself how to fix these devices. He becomes a young prodigy and is soon sought after by the military for his electrical engineering expertise.
In Saint-Malo, Marie-Laure eventually discovers the resistance— just as Werner is assigned to track it down.
The two teens are unexpectedly brought together by a path woven from tragedy, and through their tales, we learn so much about the goodness in people. Even when it can be difficult to find light, it is always there; you just have to know how to see it.
2. The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict
In The Other Einstein, Marie Benedict follows the story of Mitza Maric, the brilliant physicist and mathematician married to Albert Einstein.
This book explores the following question: in a time where it was difficult for female voices to be heard, could it be possible that Einstein’s wife had more to do with his historical contributions than we think?
Mitza Maric is a young woman at Zurich University. The only woman in her class, she is under immense pressure to prove that women are more capable than society believes. Her education is her priority, and she doesn’t have much interest in marriage— until she meets a young man named Albert Einstein, that is.
A charismatic musician and scientific genius, Mitza’s fellow student sweeps her off her feet. Benedict’s story not only navigates how their marriage came to be, but how the complexities of two geniuses in one partnership eventually caused the union to crumble.
While Benedict’s work is historical fiction, this book truly gives you an enlightening perspective on what it was like to be a woman when they were completely disregarded in the STEM world. It will leave you proud, angry, and wanting to know more all at once.
3. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult follows the story of Sage Singer, a young and lonely baker grieving her mother’s death. When she meets an elderly man named Josef Weber in her support group, they form an unlikely friendship. Josef is a kind man, and Sage finds comfort in their wholesome relationship.
But as Sage begins to learn more about her grandmother’s experience as a Jewish girl in World War II, she soon discovers that Josef’s life might be more intertwined with hers than she could have ever imagined. She is eventually asked to make an impossible decision and doing so could have grave consequences.
Picoult’s The Storyteller is a masterpiece. It explores humanity’s worst and finest moments, and the beauty behind the healing art of storytelling. This book is life changing and you will not see things the same after reading it.
4. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay follows two different timelines. First there’s Sarah, a young girl in the year 1942. On the dreadful Vel’ d’Hiv, she and her family are arrested and eventually separated. Before she is taken from her home, Sarah locks her little brother in a cupboard in secret, hoping to shortly be reunited with him.
Then there’s Julia Jarmond, a journalist in Paris, 2002. On the horrible night’s anniversary, Julia is asked to write about Vel’ d’Hiv and eventually uncovers the story of Sarah. The journalist will soon realize that she and her family have connections to Sarah, and in discovering the past, she begins to make realizations about her own future as well.
This is a story of loss, and the importance of looking into the past while staying true to your own tomorrows. This is another life-altering story I can’t recommend enough; you will certainly not be unchanged.
5. Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman
For those of you looking for wholesome romance combined with eye-opening historical themes, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman is the read for you.
The story follows Violet and Emma, a mother and daughter living in Hawaii shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Grieving over the mysterious disappearance of Violet’s husband and Emma’s father Herman, the two learn to navigate loss in an unforgiving time. But Emma knows more about Herman’s disappearance than she wants her mother to believe, and Violet is still set on discovering the truth behind what happened.
Life seems to turn upside down when the marines come to town. Through her friend’s little brother, Violet is introduced to Parker, a goodhearted marine with a love for animals. As Violet spends more and more time with the marines, she finds herself drawn to Parker, even as she’s still trying to pick up the broken pieces Herman left behind.
Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers is a lighthearted romance, mystery, and moving historical novel all in one. It explores themes like grief, love, prejudice, and what it truly means to heal.
Historical fiction is such a broad genre and typically covers a lot of important and essential topics. These novels often provide valuable insight on both the past and the present, and I believe this genre is definitely worth exploring. These books are great introductory reads to this area of literature, and I hope you’re able to benefit from their value.