Tis the season to reminisce and discuss favorites from the past year. Today’s focus- Top 10 Historical Fiction books of 2021! It’s actually been quite a year for the historical fiction genre. I had trouble compiling this list as there are too many goodies to list.
Ways I whittled down-
One- Some books from the genre are already super well-publicized- aka (The Four Winds and Malibu Rising). So, I steered clear of any that hit mainstream status. Instead I highlighted other goodies that might have fallen under radar.
Two- I like to embrace the WIDE definition of the historical fiction genre and the different tastes of its readers. Therefore, I tried to spotlight a wide variety of approaches and “flavors” in the genre.
So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 Historical Fiction Books of 2021!
This links included are my affiliate links, so if you purchase using these, I will receive a small commission. But all recommendations are based of my true opinions. 🙂
- The Women’s March by Jennifer Chiaverini– I will warn you up front- this does not read like a typical historical fiction story per say. There are times it reads more like a non-fiction biography, reporting more than weaving a tale. But, this book is SOO worth reading.
It highlights one of the most important suffragette parades in American history and pays homage to a number of the most integral women to the cause. Alice Paul, Ida Wells Barnett, Maud Malone, “General” Rosalie Jones – how many of these women do you know? I know it was my first time hearing a few names. To get a first-hand look at what these courageous women were willing to do to have their voices heard- get a copy of this book!
2. The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan– In a new spin on a World War II novel, four women compete for a spot hosting a women’s cookery show on a BBC radio program. They come from extremely different walks of life and therefore have been affected by the war differently. I enjoyed this book a lot because it was very different than the usual London- surviving the Blitz focused type read from this era. I also very much enjoyed the stories of these women and how they ended up intersecting as the story went on. Overall, if you’re looking for a more heart-warming read- this is it!
3. Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia– Hailed as a “delicious, twisted treat for lovers of noir” this novel is far from light and heart-warming!
It’s 1970s in Mexico City and political unrest is rampant. For Maite, a daydreaming secretary, her only worry has been when she can get the next issue of her favorite soap opera comic to read. All that changes when her mysterious neighbor comes by with a request to watch her cat and then disappears. Suddenly, Maite is thrust into this world of secrets, political dissidents and shadowy enforcers.
This book really did remind me of a gritty, old Humphrey Bogart story. I enjoyed it immensely as you were forced to look deeply at these layered characters where no one is what they seem. By the end they even had me rooting for one of the anti-heroes!
4. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles– Oh my goodness I LOVED this book! It takes place in two different time periods- Paris in 1939 and Montana in 1983. We follow Odile a heroic librarian at the American Library in Paris through World War II. We then see her again in Montana, living next door lonely teenager, Lily.
Although the plot and pacing in this book are also strong and fabulous, what really brings it to life are the characters. This is truly a character driven book that forces you to take a deep look at human nature- the good, bad and ugly in us all. This is definitely a Must Read!
5. The Perishing by Natashia Deon– Whoo, what a whirlwind read. There’s an air of the supernatural in this one.
Lou, (a black immortal who continually gets reborn in different bodies, gender changes, but never race) wakes up in an alley in the 1930s with no memory of who she is. Taken in by a kind foster family she works to put her mysterious origins behind her and goes on to become the first Black female journalist at the Los Angeles Times. All is going well until she meets a firefighter who she’s never met, but realizes she’s been drawing his face for years. Memories of her past lives come rushing back and she is forced to try and detangle them all to discover who she truly is.
This IS a great read, but I will caution, it’s a bit confusing. The narrative jumps around in time to Lou’s past lives and memories which can be jolting at first. But once it gets going, it is difficult to put down. I also appreciated the richly drawn setting and time period that Deon brings to life in Los Angeles during Prohibition. I definitely recommend if you’re looking for a heavier read that might require some more patience. This would actually be a good Book Club Read with plenty to discuss.
6. The Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian– Who is up for a good witch trial? It’s Boston 1662 and a young Puritan woman, Mary, is in an abusive marriage. She tries to divorce him to save her life, but in a settlement where everyone is looking for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary, who is willing to be different and think for herself, is soon the object of suspicion herself.
This novel was written by the same author of The Flight Attendant which was not historical fiction. But he manages to bring that same twisted, thriller type writing alive here as well. I enjoyed the story very much and felt it definitely portrays some timely themes about American mob mentality and how divided we can become.
7. Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams- Spies, secrets and disappearances during the Cold War. How can that NOT be intriguing? It’s 1948 and Iris Digby vanishes overnight from her London home with her American diplomat husband and their two children. Four years later, Iris’s estranged twin sister, Ruth, receives a postcard alluding to Iris still being alive. Suddenly, Ruth is on her way to Moscow in what becomes a dangerous mission to extract the Digby family from behind the Iron Curtain.
This falls squarely into spy thriller territory, wrapped around some family drama. Add in the authentic time period details and it’s a fantastic ride. If you’re a fan of fast-paced thrillers, especially with some Russian KGB officers- then you’re in for a treat with this one!
8.Island Queen by Vanessa Riley- I just have one word to describe this book- Inspirational! This book is based off a true-life story and is truly a beautiful memorial.
Dorothy Kirwan Thomas (Doll) was born into slavery on the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat. Doll worked to eventually buy the freedom of her sister, mother and herself from her Irish planter father. She then proceeded against all odds to rise above the systems to become a successful business and land owner herself.
This story is an empowering read and should be taught as classroom curriculum! It’s not only a story of race, but a story of women rising above the bonds and expectations stacked against them.
9. The Magician by Kathleen Shoop- This is for the baseball nut in all of us! A true American Dream tale!
Set in the Pennsylvania coal mining region during the Great Depression, Mary Musial is expecting again. After four daughters, her husband Lukasz is losing hope for a son. But Jupiter is rising when Stanisław Franciszek Musiał is born on November 21, 1920, and the midwife predicts he will live an extraordinary life. Sure enough, Stan Musial does later become one of America’s greatest baseball players, but that almost didn’t happen. Through beautiful storytelling and vivid scene work, Shoop introduces us to the Musial family and the sacrifice and love this family shared as Stan was often forced to choose between obligation and love of the game.
This book reminded me a bit of The Notebook or Water for Elephants in its storytelling style. It begins in the present with a hilarious escape scene from the old person’s home to then go “back in time” to what transpired. I enjoyed this book immensely and I’m not even usually a baseball fan. But I can definitely say books like this are what bring out that All-American nostalgia in us all.
10. The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien– For the British history fans- here’s a fantastic new take on the War of Roses!
O’Brien takes on the story of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, the woman who helped claim the throne for her family. As the War of Roses storms through the country, Cecily begins to plot to overthrow the weak King Henry VI. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family is forced to flee and she is left alone to be imprisoned. There she continues to plot behind the scenes until eventually her brother is on the throne.
Not only is Cecily Neville’s story impressive and exciting on its own, but O’Brien manages to tell it in a new and creative way. Each chapter is a letter from a different member of the family. At first I was nervous that there would be too many characters to keep track of. But surprisingly, O’Brien pulls it off. I actually found the letters to be a structured way to remain grounded while still getting a special close glimpse into the inner workings each character.
Overall, if you’re a British history buff- this is a can’t miss!
Follow up from Top 10 Historical Fiction Books of 2021 list
Thanks so much for reading this Top 10 Historical Fiction Books of 2021 list. I hope you enjoyed and found a few goodies to add to the TBR pile. Did you enjoy this list? Be sure to check out my Book Reviews page for more great recommendations! Also make sure you subscribe to my newsletter where I offer book suggestions each week.