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It’s fun to read a historical fiction book about a time period or historical event you know a lot about, but sometimes it’s a real delight to read unique historical fiction that opens your eyes to a time period or event or part of history you had no idea about before you cracked open the cover.
Here are some of my favorite unique historical fiction titles!
25 unique historical fiction books
I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Ruta Sepetys is a little hit or miss for me, but this historical fiction title was a definite win in my book. It’s set in Romania in 1989 and while most European communist regimes are falling apart, Romania is still deep in the throes of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s dictatorship, with most of the world completely unaware. Cristian is 17 years old and dreams of a different life for himself, but when he’s blackmailed into becoming an informer, it looks like all his dreams might go up in smoke unless he’s willing to risk absolutely everything. I HIGHLY recommend this one on audio!
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
I already know that The Four Winds is divisive. I LOVED it and couldn’t stop listening – blowing through the 15 hour of audio in just days – but I know other people found it too depressing. I was sucked in to this story of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and a woman who will do whatever it takes to protect her children. After growing up in a family that consider her too weak (thanks to a childhood illness) and too homely to ever marry and then a husband who can’t find the happiness he seeks with his family, she knows that the only person she can really rely on is herself. If you love historical fiction and strong characters, this one is a winner. (Full review here)
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristine Levine
I was familiar, of course, with the story of the Little Rock Nine – the nine black children who integrate in the high schools of Little Rock Arkansas and the public, and the Governor was so deeply opposed to it that President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to get the students into school. What I didn’t know anything about was “The Lost Year,” which took place the following school year when the Governor, furious about being overridden by the President, closed all the public high schools for the entire year. This one is filled with lots of interesting things about integration in Little Rock that I didn’t know. (Full review here)
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada, a young disabled girl and her brother, Jamie, are evacuated to the English countryside during World War II, where they find life to be much sweeter away from their abusive mother. (Full review here)
The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner
Susan Meissner is always one of the most highly recommended historical fiction writers when I am needing recommendations. I really enjoyed this one about three women during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Ruta Sepetys does terrific YA historical fiction (probably her most famous is Salt to the Sea) and this is one about a family being deported to Siberia in 1941 is excellent (and not to be confused with the other Shades of Gray book).
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
I was so into this book when I read it for the 2022 Everyday Reading Book Club. It’s the perfect wintery historical fiction title for when the weather is cold! Two estranged sisters are brought together again when their beloved father is dying. Their Russian mother has never been warm, but their father makes her promise to tell their daughters a story she began years earlier about a love story that spanned sixty years.
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
I blew through 400 pages in three days. Set in the 1970s, it’s the story of a teenage girl who moves to Alaska with her mom and her recently-released POW dad who fought in Vietnam and is convinced that Alaska will give him the new start he needs. Spanning more than a decade of Leni’s life, she gets a front row seat to her father’s inability to handle the darkness that falls over Alaska and the darkness that he’s fighting within himself. I couldn’t put this one down. Be warned that you’ll want your tissues you for this one. (Full review here)
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
I love it when I get completely sucked into a book and just want to spend all my time reading it. I was a wary of this one at the beginning with dual story lines, but I quickly was immersed in the book and read it in just a couple of days. It’s reminding me that I need to go find some other orphan train books (Full review here).
What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon
This was a 2022 Everyday Reading Book Club book and it’s definitely one of the most popular books I’ve ever done in book club – I got a FLOOD of messages from people who were absolutely obsessed with this time travel book about a woman from America raised by her Irish grandfather who, after his death, returns to Ireland to spread his ashes and finds herself back nearly a hundred years earlier, meeting her grandfather who is a little boy. This one is full of history and romance and read by two terrific narrators, who really bring it to life. The first couple of chapters are a bit slow, so be willing to be a little patient – it’s worth it! (Full review here)
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Lovely War by Julie Berry
I mean, if you haven’t read this book already, I’m probably falling down on my job here, but truly. THIS is the time to pick up a copy. The story takes place during World War I and follows four main characters. Even more fun? The story is framed by several Greek gods who are in a tiff of their own during World War II. I know it sounds weird, but trust me, it works. It’s in the top 10 books I’ve ever read. And while I read a paper copy, I’ve heard the audio version is STUNNING. (Full review here)
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
This was a favorite of mine several years ago. When a skeleton is dug up on 17-year-old Rowan Chase’s family property, she’s immediately determined to figure out who it belongs to and how it ended up buried in her Oklahoma yard. The story switches between Rowan’s life in the present and Will Tillman, who is also 17, but lives in 1921. A perfect historical fiction murder mystery that I couldn’t put down. (Full review here)
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
I read this to the girls and it was terrific. I already knew and loved Linda Sue Park from her Newbery winner, A Single Shard, and this one didn’t disappoint. If you’re a Little House on the Prairie fan, this has similar vibes, but from a totally different point of view.
Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
Ignore the truly terrible cover that looks like I’m recommending a shady romance novel, but this historical fiction book is TERRIFIC. It takes place just before WWII in Chicago where Ruby is a fifteen year old working at a packing house. Since her dad’s death, things have been hard for Ruby and her mother and Ruby lives for the weekends when she can go out dancing with her friends. And then she meets Paulie, a handsome boy from her neighborhood with quite a reputation for trouble who tells her she’s a good enough dancer to get a job as a taxi dancer. The idea of making $50 a week instead of $12 a week and not having to deal with brining pigs feet? Well, how can she resist? Naturally, she’s suddenly in much deeper than she ever meant to be.
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages
In this middle grade fiction novel, the year is 1943 and Dewey Kerrigan is traveling west on a train to go live with her scientist father. But everyone has been very secretive about where exactly he is. When she reaches Los Alamos, New Mexico, she learns why: he’s working on a top secret government program. This is so well-written and I absolutely loved it. (Full review here)
The Road Home by Ellen Emerson White
Ellen Emerson White may not be the most well-known author, but her writing is funny, sharp, and smart, and I think more people need to discover her! The Road Home takes place during the Vietnam War. The main character is a nurse in Vietnam and before the beginning of the book there is a big incident that really destroyed her life. It takes a long time for her to come to terms with it, and it slowly plays out as you read until you finally figure out what happened. Highly recommend this book for any historical fiction fan. Sometimes I see it in YA and sometimes adult fiction, but no matter your age, it is terrific.
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
This YA historical fiction title is set in 1950s New Orleans and I LOVED it when I read it years ago. Josie is the seventeen-year-old daughter of a French Quarter prostitute. Her dream is to escape New Orleans and enroll at prestigious Smith College. But when she becomes entangled in a murder investigation, will her dreams slip through her fingers?
Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
Based on the author’s own life, this is the story of Ruthie, a Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl living with her family in New York City. She loves life in the city, playing hopscotch with her friends outdoors, and attending school. But after a car accident, she’s put into a full-body cast and spends a year home in bed recovering. While her world has become very small, she discovers lots about herself, her family, and the neighbors around them, and it’s a completely compelling and heart-warming story.
Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen
You know how some books, you can look at the cover even months or years later and the feel of the book comes rushing back to you? That is this book for me. The atmosphere of the German city, the Nazi boarding school, and the woods was SO strong for me it was like falling into those places headfirst while I read. There is also a sequel to this that is definitely on my TBR list! (Full review here)
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
This one was the April pick for The 2023 Everyday Reading Book Club! Jo is fired from her job as a hat maker at the very beginning of the book and she knows that finding another job in 1890s Atlanta, especially because she is Chinese, is going to be extraordinarily difficult. And it’s not just herself she needs to care for. She also feels responsible for Old Gin, the elderly man who has raised her and is now getting more and more ill. The two of them live secreted in a former Underground Railroad hiding spot under the house of one of the newspaper publishers. So Jo decides she’ll start writing an anonymous advice column. What could possibly go wrong? I LOVE this book. (Full review here)
The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
This book was bananas but in the best sort of way. I’ve never read anything quite like it. The year is 1241 in Provence, France and the town is still recovering from The Crusades. When a tavern matchmaker finds Dolssa, a young woman with healing gifts, near death by the river, she is hidden and nursed back to health. All the while, Dolssa is being hunted by an obsessed friar who is determined to burn her for being a heretic.