Historical fiction is easily my favorite genre. Below are three novels that will transport you to days past, to characters so extraordinary, you will wish they were real!
The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes
If you have read any of my other book posts, you will know that JoJo can do no wrong in my eyes. I simply cannot write a list of book recommendations without her. The Girl You Left Behind, though, is easily my favorite book she has written. I consistently count this in my top ten favorite books of all time.
It is 1916, and Sophie, a passionate young bride has been left behind in France while her beloved husband fights at the front. She and her sister run an inn, which quickly becomes occupied by German officers. Sophie becomes trapped in an ethical dilemma that draws conflict between her own loyalties and the basic human need to survive. Because the Germans are in her home, she does have access to a bit more food and supplies than the rest of her friends and neighbors. Ethically she would almost rather die than accept help from them. The key word there, is almost. As time passes, a portrait of Sophie, painted by her husband, catches the eye of the Kommandant, and his appreciation for the portrait rapidly spirals into a dangerous obsession with Sophie.
Meanwhile, in modern times, Liv is reeling from the sudden unexpected death of her husband. When chance circumstance reveals that the painting her dear husband purchased for her on their honeymoon is actually a stolen piece of artwork, she enters into a legal battle fueled by her grief. These two women, both of whom would do anything just to see the men they love one more time, are connected through both the painting itself, and the raw love that spans throughout time.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Vianne and her younger sister have always had a strained relationship. Vianne is quiet, peaceful, and content living her simple life in the French countryside with her daughter and her husband. Isabelle is fiery, passionate, and has never felt like she truly fit in. When her husband Antoine goes to the front, Vianne’s father sends her unruly little sister to keep her company. The two immediately find fault with one another, each refusing to see the other’s point of view. But when the Nazis invade the small village, and Vianne’s home becomes requisitioned, living with the enemy makes these childish squabbles seem of little importance.
As the war continues, one sisters fights openly, joining the resistance and risking everything to support her country. Meanwhile, the other fights secretly, with much less bravado but every bit as much dedication. As Vianne makes impossible choices to protect her daughter, readers will picture their own mother, heartbroken knowing that she would do the same if it meant keeping you safe. As Vianne and Isabelle struggle to communicate, readers will picture their own siblings, knowing how hard it can be to love someone for who they are. As Vianne and her dear friends are asked to betray each other by the Nazis, readers will think on their own friendships, knowing immediately who they could count on to keep a true secret, to raise their children if they were suddenly killed. As the months of fighting Nazis instead of each other pass, the sisters discover the value in their differences, and readers are left wondering: if faced with these same choices, how would I respond?
The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Lauren Willig, and Beatriz Williams
Olive is a young housemaid working for the Pratt family in their beautiful Gilded Age mansion. The year is 1893, and Olive is struggling to come to terms with her father’s death. Betrayed by the patriarch of the Pratt family, his career and life were suddenly in ruins. Olive came to the home under false pretenses to avenge his death. Her plan is derailed when she realizes that not all of the Pratts are evil. One, in fact, might just be the answer to all of her prayers.
In 1920, Lucy is working as a secretary at a law firm. When her dearly loved father died, her evil grandmother revealed the cruelest truth of all: her father may not have even been her father. Desperate to put the pieces of history together to help herself heal, Lucy moves to Manhattan, and into the Pratt Mansion, which has since been turned into a boarding house for respectable young women. She doesn’t know how or why, but she knows that this was the last place her mother lived before she was married, so the answers must be within the walls of this once stately home.
By 1945, the mansion has been turned into a hospital for wounded officers. Dr. Kate Schuyler is working the nightshift when the critically wounded Captain Cooper Ravenal is brought in. He seems to know her, calling out to her in the night, finding comfort in her face, and recognizing the ruby necklace she inherited from her mother. Kate believes all of this to simply be delirium brought on by his injuries, until she finds an antique portrait of a woman identical to herself, wearing what appears to be her necklace, in his bag.
Readers will instantly start to form hypotheses of how these women are connected, but it will take until the very last 20 pages for all pieces of the puzzle to finally click. As readers learn the way each of these stories end, they will experience both hope and heartbreak, knowing how easily happiness can slip away if we let it.