Historical fiction books are like doors that give us a glimpse into the past. Aside from attracting history buffs hungry for adventure, they also tend to be the most entertaining genre. Indeed, historical fiction books present a world in which the real and the imagined mix. To prove just how much fun they are, we compiled a reading list of the best picks. So if you've ever daydreamed about what your life would have been like in Paris during the Jazz Age or in 19th-century England, the 11 books below will bring you there.
Get ready to trade in the now for a mental vacation to the past.
John Darnielle Universal Harvester ($12)
Time-travel to '90s Middle America, where a VHS store becomes the center of a suspenseful mystery.
The protagonist is just an average guy who spends his time working at Hollywood Video until customers start complaining about an unsettling glitch in a tape, which leads to an even more unsettling discovery.
Paula McLain The Paris Wife ($12)
Time-travel to 1920 when Ernest Hemingway meets his first wife, Hadley Richardson, in Chicago. The two then move to Paris with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The couple is deeply in love, though things begin to fall apart for the couple in Jazz Age Paris while Hemingway writes The Sun Also Rises. Even though their relationship is torn apart by betrayal, Hemingway writes in his later book, A Moveable Feast, "When I saw Hadley again, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her."
Emma Cline The Girls ($13)
Time-travel to 1960s Bay Area, where we hear about the young women who orbit a Manson-like cult leader.
Emma Cline pulls us into a world that's simultaneously alluring and grotesque, idyllic, and widely dystopic. The book paints a sharp, vivid image of teenage vulnerability and the power of manipulation that illustrates how the characters easily get drawn in.
Ellen Umansky The Fortunate Ones ($11)
Time-travel to 1939 Vienna and modern-day Los Angeles, where we witness a work of art connect women from different generations.
When Rose's family is unable to get out of Nazi-occupied Austria with her, she moves in with strangers in London. We then jump to the end of the war, when the young girl tries to find a painting her mother had cherished. Years later, we meet L.A. native Lizzie Goldstein, and the story of unexpected connection unfolds.
Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad ($14)
Time travel to a cotton plantation in the 1800s where Cora, a slave, flees for freedom.
This novel introduces an alternate history of the Underground Railroad as an actual subway system. There's also a plot twist that refers to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment that occurred in 1932.
Gina Apostol Gun Dealers' Daughter ($12)
Time-travel to 1980s Marcos-era Philippines, where a wealthy girl named Sol is drawn to the rebellion and present-day Manhattan.
Though this book doesn't follow a linear chronology, it reflects Sol's fragmented memory and trauma. As a young woman limited by the comfort of her wealth, she seeks to overthrow the Marcos regime.
Emma Donoghue The Wonder ($10)
Time-travel to the mid-1800s, where an English nurse goes to a small fishing town in Ireland to save a girl who has survived months without food.
Written by the same author behind The Room, this novel is a gripping psychological thriller, love story, and piece of historical fiction. The book follows a nurse and a journalist who discover the miracle of the young girl.
Octavia E. Butler Kindred ($10)
Time-travel to 1970s America on a plantation in the antebellum South.
The reader gets a glimpse inside two different eras, as a black woman is abruptly transported from her home in 1970s America to a plantation in the 1800s. It reveals the similarities between past injustices and contemporary patterns of inequality while capturing the darkness of time travel.
Virginia Woolf Orlando ($3)
Time-travel to the English countryside and London over a 300-year period, from the Elizabethan era to 1928.
This book is a metafictional novel that presents itself as a biography. The narrator tracks the experiences of a genderless and timeless individual. While it's not quite surrealism, fantasy, or sci-fi, Woolf urges her readers to move away from traditional notions of truth as objective. This book illustrates the importance of imagination and ambiguity in all forms of storytelling, legend, fiction, and biography alike.
James Baldwin Another Country ($12)
Time-travel to 21st-century New York City, where several people are connected by the loss of one man.
This book explores connection and disconnection, love and violence, taboo topics, and the many facets of identity. With a perceptive omniscient narrator, each section reveals the interiority of the characters in one man's life in the wake of his death.
Markus Zusak The Book Thief ($9)
Time-travel to Nazi Germany in 1939.
We meet protagonist Liesel Meminger, who escapes the bleak present with books that she steals and shares with the Jewish man hiding in her basement.
For more entertaining reads, check out this list of the best period dramas.
Opening Image: Adenorah