See the books that won our annual She Reads Awards for the Best Historical Fiction Books.
The appeal of historical fiction is its ability to transport the reader to another time and place while highlighting a little-known or underreported event in history. The genre has flourished in recent years providing a plethora of choices. Here are seven standout books of 2019 that I have enjoyed and six more that are generating a ton of buzz… and they all sound fabulous. These are the must-read historical fiction books of 2019.
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer
In The Age of Light, Scharer tackles Lee Miller’s relationship with and the impact she had on Surrealist May Ray’s photography and legacy as well as Miller’s own career as a photographer. Readers will revel in the beautiful and lyrical prose as well as the details of Miller’s storied career including her documentation of the concentration camps following World War II.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a tale of family, prejudice and perseverance, and one woman’s determination to find her own way despite her hardscrabble existence. Richardson features numerous issues from 1930s Kentucky – horrific coal mining conditions, the true blue-skinned people that lived in Appalachia and the Pack Horse library service. The story is also a beautiful tribute to literature and the power of reading.
The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis
Fiona Davis chooses one iconic New York City building for each of her books and constructs a tale around that building. The Chelsea Girls is Davis’s latest novel and is set at the Chelsea Hotel, an institution for artists, writers, actors and more. The book tells the tale of two fictional female characters, a playwright and an actress, navigating the Broadway scene of the ’50s, during the height of McCarthyism and the Red Scare. While I love all of her books (she is a must-read author for me), The Chelsea Girls is a standout.
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones & the Six is a fictional band that made it big in the 1970s who dealt with everything fame brings – drugs, worshipping fans, no privacy and competing egos. Years later, an interviewer (whose identity is unknown to the reader) compiles an oral history of the band and its rise to fame; after completing interviews with the band and other involved individuals, the interviewer combines the band’s tale into one long chronology which hilariously and, at times, heartbreakingly tells the band members’ stories from different perspectives.
The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin
The Last Collection chronicles the careers of and rivalry between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli that commenced in Paris at the start of World War II. Polar opposites in almost every way, the two women find themselves pitted against each other in their competition to rule the French fashion industry during the glamorous 1930s and 1940s. The book is an in-depth tale of an enchanting, dangerous and fascinating time period in Paris. Mackin’s attention to detail and lyrical prose bring Chanel and Schiaparelli to life in a gorgeous and riveting manner.
Learning to See: A Novel of Dorothea Lange, the Woman Who Revealed the Real America by Elise Hooper
Dorothea Lange’s photographs from the Great Depression – and the Japanese American internment camps to a lesser extent – are iconic and part of the fabric of our culture but the story of her life is less well-known. Hooper’s novel tells Lange’s tale including the sacrifices she made to bring about social change for the less fortunate. Learning to See is a fabulous tale from start to finish and the inclusion of some of Lange’s photographs at the end of the novel are an added bonus.
The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood
Wood’s fascinating and heartbreaking debut novel charts the first five years of the Dionne quintuplets’ sad and storied lives. As only the best historical fiction can, The Quintland Sisters brings the reader to Canada in the ’30s and shines a light on a little-known event that had an impact on its era. Wood is careful to place the quintuplets’ story into context and to demonstrate what frequently and repeatedly occurs in history – the point that over time greed tends to overshadow even the best intentions.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
The author of Eat, Pray, Love turns her focus to historical fiction with a love story set in NYC in the ’40s, specifically the burgeoning theatre scene. Relayed in flashbacks, City of Girls is the story of a young woman coming to terms with herself and the choices she makes.
The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith
Claude Ballard was once a famed pioneer of French silent films who worked for the creators of cinema, the Lumiere brothers; he now lives in the dilapidated Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel and takes photos of the lost and lonely on the Sunset Strip. Visited by a film-history student, Ballard reflects on his lost masterpiece, The Electric Hotel, a film that both bankrupted him and caused the end of his muse’s career.
The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes
This is the year that we see not one but two historical novels about the horseback-traveling librarians in Kentucky during and following the Great Depression. Moyes, of Me Before You fame, crafts a story about five women who join forces as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library brigade and eventually become known as the Horseback Librarians of Kentucky.
Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Gaynor and Webb join forces in Meet Me in Monaco to craft a fictional tale set against the backdrop of Grace Kelly’s fairytale marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco. The book tells the story of a star-crossed couple over the span of three decades and features the Cannes Film Festival, a storied royal wedding, Grace Kelly and the Cote d’Azur.
The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey
The Satapur Moonstone is Massey’s follow-up to her much-lauded The Widows of Malabar Hill and stars Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s sole female attorney. Summoned by Satapur’s royal family to resolve a dispute over the education of the crown prince, Mistry soon discovers that much more is at stake than just an educational decision as she navigates decades-old feuds and power grabs.
The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
Roya and Bahman meet and fall in love in a neighborhood book and stationery shop in 1953 Tehran. The night before their wedding, the pair agree to meet at the town square, but violence breaks out related to the Iranian Revolution and Bahman disappears. Decades later, a twist of fate reunites the pair and offers Roya the opportunity to question Bahman about his whereabouts over the years and his seemingly easy ability to disregard their relationship.
*Disclosure: The links above are affiliate links. These picks are editorially selected, but if you purchase, She Reads may get something in return. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
Cindy Burnett has the beautiful and uncanny ability to weave into words what a specific book will bring to my bookshelf and life with spot on depth and insight. I will read anything she recommends!
Cindy is my go-to for historical fiction recommendations and I absolutely can’t wait to read these books!!
Lovely collection, Cindy. Can’t wait to real all of your suggestions.
Awesome list Cindy~ I’m adding a few I haven’t heard about to my TBR. Congratulations on your article. I look forward to reading more of your book reviews. Best wishes.
so truly happy to be in this list. Thank you, Cindy. And now I have to start reading. All of them!
I have added Electric Hotel to my tbr pile (thanks!). I am a big historical fiction fan so I really enjoy your blog. I thought I would share a book I read recently that I absolutely adored called “Scenes from the Heartland” by author Donna Baier Stein (https://donnabaierstein.com/). I found this book to be so different from other historical fiction I’ve read because the stories are based on accompanying pictures from a well-known American painter (Thomas Hart Benton). Pictures of county fairs, dances, preachers, farmers, etc turned into 9 short stories. I think the author does a fantastic job of bringing these lithographs to life. It is heartwarming and moving and I loved every story. I really hope you and your readers will check it out.