10 Books to Recommend

A Writer of History is NOT a book blog – however, I have written reviews from time to time on books I’ve chosen to read or books selected by one of my book clubs. Below are ten to recommend with links to each more detailed review.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – I powered through this novel in two and a half very satisfying days. The story is “based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.”

Educated by Tara Westover – Book club unanimously endorsed Tara Westover’s well-received novel of growing up in a survivalist Mormon home in the hills of Idaho.The words used to describe it included: compelling, horrifying, unbelievable, shocking, inspiring, and head shaking.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan – author Patti Callahan has written a poignant and clear-eyed story about these two well-known writers and I had the pleasure of reading the novel for an article published by the Historical Novel Society.

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin – This compelling look at two famous women – actor Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion – entertains and informs while transporting readers to the magical kingdom of the movie industry. Highly recommended.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng – the verdict at book club was resoundingly in favour of this powerful novel of memory and forgetting, war and peace, love and hate, which was nominated for the Man Booker prize.

The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George On every dimension – superb writing, feeling immersed in time and place, characters both heroic and human, authenticity, and compelling plot – The Splendor Before the Dark is a winner.

My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie Beginning in 1777 with a victory against the British at Saratoga, My Dear Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton through the eyes of his wife Eliza. Superb historical fiction.

Mary – Tudor Princess by Tony Riches – I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Mary Tudor, sister to Henry VIII. The history is fascinating and Tony’s superb writing brings Mary’s character to life with a strong and sympathetic voice.

The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson – This work of non-fiction “chronicles a glorious English summer a century ago when the world was on the cusp of irrevocable change … That summer of 1911 a new king was crowned and the aristocracy was at play, bounding from one house party to the next. But perfection was not for all. Cracks in the social fabric were showing.”

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – In the two years since reading The Alice Network, I’ve recommended it to dozens of people. Why? Because it grabbed me from the very start and wouldn’t let go. And what special ingredients does it have? Flawed, heroic, and intriguing characters – check. Tension that builds and builds – check. A superb sense of history and setting – check. Strong writing – check. An immersive experience – check. A flawless weaving of two timelines – check. What more could you ask for?

I hope some of these add to your reading piles! If you have feedback on any of them, please add your voice to the comments.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

10 thoughts on Favourite Historical Fiction

Participants in the 2015 reader survey nominated their favourite historical fiction (a second post added those mentioned by 5 to 9 participants). What can we glean from the more than 1700 nominated titles?


  1. Many mentions of titles by authors such as Dorothy Dunnett, Elizabeth Chadwick, Sharon Kay Penman, Bernard Cornwell, Patrick O’Brian, Ken Follett and Diana Gabaldon which is not surprising given the status of these writers as favourite authors. (You can find the post on favourite authors here.)
  2. Many mentions of Outlander and Wolf Hall  and I wonder if this reflects their recent TV adaptations.
  3. Despite the request for single titles only, series were frequently nominated which makes me think that participants really enjoy series and additionally did not want to be restricted to three titles.
  4. A significant number of favourites are stories set in ancient Rome.
  5. Many favourite stories were written long ago by authors such as Sir Walter Scott, Daniel Defoe, Mary Stewart, Alexandre Dumas, Irving Stone, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jean Plaidy, Leo Tolstoy.
  6. Readers enjoy myths, particularly those told of King Arthur and Merlin.
  7. Both major and minor historical fiction figures feature in the stories.
  8. There are many, many authors I have never heard of.
  9. The inclusion of a few relatively recent 2015 novels – All the Light We Cannot See for example – might suggest that it’s easier to recall a title recently read than one from long ago.
  10. Not surprisingly, favourites vary with gender, nationality and age.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.



Favourite Historical Fiction – Part 2

Source: Beyond the Elements of Style
Source: Beyond the Elements of Style

Last week’s list of favourite historical fiction generated a huge amount of interest, and many comments. Some mentioned they had already read most of the books on the lists while others said it would help them make selections for summer reading and beyond.

With your future reading in mind, I’ve gone deeper into the survey data and extracted books with 5 to 9 mentions. And what a variety of choices! As always if you notice something incorrect, please let me know. FC = mainly fictional characters. FHF = famous historical figures. Congratulations to the authors of these wonderful books.

A Burnable Book Bruce Holsinger FC
A Morbid Taste for Bones Ellis Peters FC
A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens FC
All My Love, Detrick Roberta Kagan FC
Atonement Ian McEwan FC
Azincourt Bernard Cornwell FC
Birdsong Sebastian Faulks FC
Boudica Series Manda (MC) Scott FHF
Cadfael Series Ellis Peters FC
Centennial James Michener FC
Checkmate Dorothy Dunnett FC
Code Name Verity Elizabeth Wein FC
Devil’s Brood Sharon Kay Penman FHF
Falls The Shadow Sharon Kay Penman FHF
Fingersmith Sarah Waters FC
Fire From Heaven Mary Renault FHF
The Firebird Susanna Kearsley FC
Flowers From the Storm Laura Kinsale FC
Forever Amber Kathleen Winsor MHF
Game of Kings Dorothy Dunnett FC
Gates of Fire Stephen Pressfield FC
Girl With a Pearl Earring Tracy Chevalier FHF
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Ann Shaffer & Anne Barrows FC
Harold the King Helen Hollick FHF
Hawaii James Michener FC
Hild Nicola Griffith MHF
Hornblower Series C.S. Forester FC
Innocent Traitor Alison Weir FHF
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte FC
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Susanna Clarke FC
Killer Angels Michael Shaara FC
King Hereafter Dorothy Dunnett FHF
Longbourn Jo Baker FC
Lymond Chronicles Dorothy Dunnett FC
Maisie Dobbs Series Jacqueline Winspear FC
Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles Margaret George FHF
Medicus Ruth Downie FC
Memoirs of Cleopatra Margaret George FHF
Mistress of the Art of Death Ariana Franklin FC
My Name is Red Orhan Pamuk FC
North and South John Jakes FC
One Corpse Too Many Ellis Peters FC
Peggy Pinch Malcolm Noble FC
People of the Book Geraldine Brooks FC
Poldark Winston Graham FC
Possession A.S. Byatt FC
Regeneration Pat Barker FC
Sarah’s Key Tatiana de Rosnay FC
Shadow of Night Deborah Harkness FC
Shardlake Series C.J. Sansom FC

Somehow I missed this second bunch of titles 😦

Sharpe Series Bernard Cornwell FC
Silent in the Grave Deanna Raybourn FC
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Lisa See FC
Stonehenge Bernard Cornwell FC
The Autobiography of Henry VIII Margaret George FHF
The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas FC
The Crystal Cave Mary Stewart Myth
The Daughter of Time Josephine Tey FC
The Empty Throne Bernard Cornwell FC
The Forever Queen Helen Hollick FHF
The Forgotten Garden Kate Morton FC
The Killer Angels Michael Shaara FC
The Last Kingdom Bernard Cornwell FC
The Miniaturist Jessie Burton FC
The Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley Myth
The Nightingale Kristin Hannah FC
The Reckoning Sharon Kay Penman FHF
The Red Queen Philippa Gregory FHF
The Red Tent Anita Diamant MHF
The Scarlet Lion Elizabeth Chadwick FHF
The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon FC
The Signature of All Things Elizabeth Gilbert FC
The Song of Achilles Madeline Miller FHF
The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas FC
The Twentieth Wife Indu Sundaresan FHF
The Warlord Chronicles Bernard Cornwell FC
Time and Chance Sharon Kay Penman FHF
Under the Eagle Simon Scarrow FC
Winds of War Herman Wouk FC

Even more to choose from!