1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – Set in ’50’s Ireland and New York, this sparely written novel centers on the story of Eilis Lacey and her immigration from Ireland to bustling Brooklyn. Eilis is a complex and reserved character, a young girl who is feeling her way through life while working hard and experiencing first love. The description of Brooklyn in the ’50’s is energetic and buoyant and the ending is unexpected. A beautiful and controlled novel.

2.The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt – Byatt’s dense and lush book packs in lots of characters, lots of historical events and lots of ideas. It is overwhelming for some, but I found this novel, set during the late Victorian/Edwardian era, utterly irresistible. The children of writers and artists discover life for themselves and step out of the security (or nightmare) of their parents’ talent with sometimes tragic results. If you love this time period, The Children’s Book is a must-read. Byatt manages to capture the spirit of the times while also telling a convincing story. This is a book to be slowly savored.

3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows – When I think of this novel, my heart feels delight. Just after WWII journalist Juliet Ashton goes to the island of Guernsey to investigate how the citizens survived there under German occupation. She meets a charming group of people who valiantly braved the deprivations and fear of living under the enemy. This epistolary novel radiates goodness. It will become a favorite.

4.Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – If heart-warming books don’t, well, warm your heart try this dark and thrilling neo-Victorian tale instead. It features mistaken identity, insane asylums, bands of thieves and all the sordidness of Victorian life that is white washed in other novels. The plot is a gut-puncher that you’ll not easily forget.

Have you read these? Liked them? What are your favorite historical novels?

{Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman.}

14 Comments

  1. I’ve read only The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I learned so much from it about the Channel Islands in the war. I was vaguely aware of them, I’d read at least one mystery set in Jersey, but I wasn’t even sure exactly where they were! I think the best historical fiction can do that, make history come alive. I like historical mysteries like Elizabeth Peters’ Victorian archeologist detectives, or Sharan Newman’s 12th-century Paris ones, or Georgette Heyer (though she took some liberties with her version of the Regency). But Dorothy Dunnett and Patrick O’Brian are to me the best.

    • I’ve heard of all of your favorites, but have never read any of them. I see Dorothy Dunnett mentioned a lot on historical novels lists so I would really like to try her.

  2. Great choices! I’ve read and enjoyed all four of those. I love historical fiction and almost any time period interests me. There are so many books I consider favourites…The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye, Katherine by Anya Seton. The Dorothy Dunnett book I’m currently reading, The Game of Kings, is wonderful too.

    • I really enjoy your thoughts on the historical novels you read, Helen! I get so many great titles for the tbr from your blog. I would like to try Sharon Penman – her books look fascinating!

  3. I liked the Guernsey book though I think it was a bit predictable and contrived. I did like learning about Guernsey — there’s also a great BBC miniseries about the occupation called Island at War. And I LOVED Fingersmith — I’ve only read one other of her books, The Little Stranger, and it was just okay. I do hope to read more eventually.

    I just finished Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier which I really liked. Girl With a Pearl Earring is probably my favorite historical novel ever.

    • Okay, adding Girl with a Pearl Earring to the tbr! And also Island at War – maybe they have it on netflix?
      I can recommend Affinity by Sarah Waters. It’s not as good as Fingersmith, but still really good.

  4. I really enjoyed the Guernsey Literary— too. I used to read a lot of historical fiction but not so much now. I loved Mary Stewart’s Arthurian trilogy and Rosemary Sutcliffe’s books too.

  5. I loved Fingersmith, I must read The Children’s Book this year, liked but couldn’t quite love TGLPPS, and gave up on Brooklyn.

    I’ll second Sharon Penman and M M Kaye, and also mention Company of Liars by Karen Maitland, The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George, and pretty much anything by Michelle Lovric.

    And I’m reading a Tudor nover, The Girl in the Mirror by Sarah Gristwood, at the moment and liking it very much

    • You read the most interesting historical novels, Jane! I love reading your reviews. I think I’d like to try the Margaret George book as I just finished Wolf Hall and want to know about Henry VIII’s reign.

  6. I NOT READ ANY OF THESE BUT I always thought William Trevor’s love and summer was the other half of brooklyn as it set in same time of brooklyn but in ireland ,all the best stu

  7. I almost forgot Georgette Heyer! She is the queen of the Regency novels. Her attention to detail was amazing, she was an expert on the Regency period. Her novels are often compared to Jane Austen, and though the writing isn’t nearly as good, they’re still pretty fun reads without being total Austen knockoffs.

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