Historical Fiction Favorites of 2017 (January-September)

One of my favorite favorite FAVORITE genres is historical fiction! When I look over the books I've given 5 stars to on Goodreads or when I'm thinking of a "favorite book" (that elusive thing!) most often I'm passing over various historical fiction books that I've loved. I've always enjoyed history, especially the time periods that stretch across both world wars or following, during the fifties.

Thankfully there is no shortage of great historical fiction books out this year! So many good ones have been released already and there are a few that I'm excited to share with you that will be released in the next few months. Some of these I have read and reviewed already, some I have on my TBR stack and I'm looking forward to starting! There are plenty of historical fiction books I haven't picked up yet (The Alice Network by Kate Quinn for one!) and am looking forward to adding my reviews and books to my list as the year goes on. Let me know if you've read any of these! 
If you love Little Women or the story of Lousia May Alcott, than this is the book for you. Told from the perspective of Louisa May Alcott's sister, May, who was the inspiration for Amy in Little Women,  this story is one I am really excited about starting! I've never liked Amy's character (I have a younger sister and can speak from experience some of those annoying things that happened during Little Women) but I have a feeling this book is going to change my mind. 

We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May. 

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”
I was so excited to read The Dressmaker's Dowry because I hadn't read anything set in San Francisco before the turn of the century before. The streets and city life, the poverty and social classes, all of it was new to me and made for an incredibly interesting read! It is obvious from the story and the extras in the back of the book how much research Meredith Jaeger did in preparation for this story. Told in simultaneous present/past story lines, The Dressmaker's Dowry is definitely worth a read! You can see my full review here. 

San Francisco: 1876

Immigrant dressmakers Hannelore Schaeffer and Margaret O'Brien struggle to provide food for their siblings, while mending delicate clothing for the city's most affluent ladies. When wealthy Lucas Havensworth enters the shop, Hanna's future is altered forever. With Margaret's encouragement and the power of a borrowed green dress, Hanna dares to see herself as worthy of him. Then Margaret disappears, and Hanna turns to Lucas. Braving the gritty streets of the Barbary Coast and daring to enter the mansions of Nob Hill, Hanna stumbles upon Margaret’s fate, forcing her to make a devastating decision...one that will echo through the generations.

San Francisco: Present Day

In her elegant Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Sarah Havensworth struggles to complete the novel she quit her job for. Afraid to tell her husband of her writer’s block, Sarah is also hiding a darker secret—one that has haunted her for 14 years. Then a news headline from 1876 sparks inspiration: Missing Dressmakers Believed to be Murdered. Compelled to discover what happened to Hannelore and Margaret, Sarah returns to her roots as a journalist. Will her beautiful heirloom engagement ring uncover a connection to Hanna Schaeffer?

I couldn't wait to get Seven Days in May when I spotted it on Instagram shortly before it was released! One of my favorite time periods, during the First World War, and more specifically aboard the Lusitania, I knew this book was going to be unique. A seldom told story in fiction, the sinking of the Lusitania was something I haven't read about previously so I am looking forward to starting this one. 
As the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in thewedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk. Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitaniafor the seven-day voyage with Edward, not knowing that disaster lies ahead.

In London, Isabel Nelson, a young woman grateful to have escaped her blemished reputation in Oxford, has found employment at the British Admiralty in the mysterious Room 40. While she begins as a secretary, it isn’t long before her skills in codes and cyphers are called on, and she learns a devastating truth and the true cost of war.

As the days of the voyage pass, these four lives collide in a struggle for survival as the Lusitania meets its deadly fate

Another great historical fiction release this summer and one that takes place in a setting I haven't read about before, 1881 and the formation of the first sorority. I can't wait to start this one because I know its going to be an interesting read, as we follow Beth on her quest to start her own fraternity in a time when it wasn't deemed important for women to have or need one. I love stories that center around women fighting back against the norms placed for them during a specific period in time, empowering to say the least! 

Illinois, 1881: Whitsitt College sophomore Beth Carrington has two goals to fulfill by the time she graduates: obtain a medical degree, and establish a women’s fraternity, Beta Xi Beta, that will help young women like herself to connect with and support one another while attending the male-dominated Whitsitt.

Neither is an easy task. The sole female student in the physicians’ program, Beth is constantly called out by her professors and peers for having the audacity not to concentrate on a more “fitting” subject like secretarial studies. Meanwhile, secret organizations are off-limits, and simply by crowding together in a dank basement room and creating a sense of camaraderie, she and her small group of fraternity sisters risk expulsion.

In order to have the fraternity recognized, she knows she needs help. She turns to the most powerful student on campus: senior Grant Richardson, Iota Gamma fraternity president and the scion of a Whitsitt family—a man she’s only acquainted with because of her longstanding friendship with his fraternity brother Will Buchannan. Staunchly traditional, Grant doesn’t see the purpose of this women’s organization, but captivated by Beth, he agrees to give her a helping hand. What she doesn’t know is how many will stop at nothing to keep her burgeoning organization out of the record books—and who she can actually trust along the way.

As Beth fights for her beloved Beta Xi Beta to be recognized, she will uncover deep secrets about the college and those who surround her, and will have to put both love and friendship on the line so that history can be made.

Lilli De Jong by Janet Benton (release date: May 16th)
One of my absolute favorites that I've read of this list, Lilli De Jong is the story of a mother who will do nothing to stop herself from being with her baby. But the story doesn't stop there- Lilli must fight against the restrictions society has placed on women during the late 1800's in regards to single motherhood. She also fights against arrogant males, poverty and the expectations of those around her as well as the religion she was raised in. Told in a diary format from Lilli's point of view, this story kept me enthralled from the first page. There is so much that rang true as a mother myself (who has far less struggles but loves her child just as deeply) and I couldn't put it down. 

Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a charity for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overpowers her heart. Mothers in her position have no sensible alternative to giving up their children, but Lilli can't bear such an outcome. Determined to chart a path toward an independent life, Lilli braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family's home to the perilous streets of a burgeoning American city. Lilli de Jong is at once a historical saga, an intimate romance, and a lasting testament to the work of mothers. "So little is permissible for a woman," writes Lilli, yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood."

I enjoyed this book immensely, a beautifully written account of a Jewish family in Austria at the start of WWII and simultaneously a story of present day Katie who's personal struggles send her on a quest to solve the mystery of a unique postage stamp. I couldn't put this down once I started, a quiet and unassuming story of a single family in Austria and the art of postage stamp design. The darkness of WWII, while shadowing the story of the characters, didn't take away from the love and hope that was found in this book. Truly a remarkable story! You can read my full review here. 


Austria, 1938.
Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. When his teacher disappears during Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, and simultaneously works alongside Elena, his beloved teacher's fiery daughter, and with the Austrian resistance to send underground messages and forge papers. As he falls for Elena amidst the brutal chaos of war, Kristoff must find a way to save her, and himself. 

Los Angeles, 1989
Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and while cleaning out her house and life in the aftermath, she comes across the stamp collection of her father, who recently went into a nursing home. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter as he goes through her dad's collection, Katie and Benjamin are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall. 

Did you read the Little House on the Prairie series when you were younger too? Some of my favorite childhood books are from that series and when I saw Sarah Miller was releasing this book, Caroline, I couldn't wait to pick it up! Sarah Miller has recreated the life of pioneer Caroline Ingalls (or 'Ma') and   I am so looking forward to getting lost in pioneer life once again. 


In this novel authorized by the Little House estate, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, "Ma" in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books.

In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls and her family leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the warm bosom of her family, for a new life in Kansas Indian Territory. Packing what they can carry in their wagon, Caroline, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril.

The pioneer life is a hard one, especially for a pregnant woman with no friends or kin to turn to for comfort or help. The burden of work must be shouldered alone, sickness tended without the aid of doctors, and babies birthed without the accustomed hands of mothers or sisters. But Caroline’s new world is also full of tender joys. In adapting to this strange new place and transforming a rough log house built by Charles’ hands into a home, Caroline must draw on untapped wells of strength she does not know she possesses.

By far one of my FAVORITE reads of 2017, Christina Baker Kline has written a beautiful story of the woman in Andrew Wyeth's famous painting Christina's World. This story captured my heart and reminded me why I love historical fiction, especially stories centered around art and artists. I loved getting to know this fictionalized version of Christina and what kept her in that farmhouse her whole life. Moving beyond and outside of the painting, Christina became a very real person and a character I won't soon forget! You can read my full review here

To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life. Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.

As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.

Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.

Another five star read for me this year, The Women in the Castle was truly a captivating and thought provoking story that I am still thinking about! Told from the viewpoints of three different women and carrying into present day, The Women in the Castle shares the stories that I feel aren't often told in historical fiction. The stories of German women left behind to raise their children and live their lives in a world that isn't what it seemed, a war that wasn't what they were told it was and husbands gone fighting for what they can't let themselves believe in. How do you continue on after it's all over? How do you welcome those men home or look yourself in the mirror when the atrocities of WWII are finally reveled and you were living inside of it? I couldn't stop thinking of this book after I finished it! Truly historical fiction at its finest and a beautifully written story that really sticks long after its over. You can read my full review here. 

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resistor murdered in the failed July, 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows. 

First, Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naïve Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resistor’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war. 

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges. 

Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.

All summaries are from Goodreads. 


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