7 Gripping Historical Fiction Books

Thanksgiving Break is here and that means more free time. If you’re a book nerd like me, then that free time will probably be largely taken up by reading. One of my favorite genres of book is historical fiction, and I think it is the perfect genre to read in autumn. Here are some of my favorites. Hopefully, they will help you find a good story to settle into over break.

1. City of Thieves by David Benioff

This book is set during the siege of Leningrad in World War 2. It follows two boys, Lev and Kolya, as they journey through the lawless and dangerous Leningrad to deliver a dozen eggs to a powerful Soviet colonel in exchange for their lives.

I could not put this one down. I didn’t go into it knowing that much, except that it sounded interesting and odd at the same time (delivering eggs?). The story was intense and eye opening to just how bad the situation in Leningrad was. If you want something quick and engrossing pick this up.

2. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This book takes place in Nazi-occupied France and follows two completely opposite sisters. They struggle to survive and resist the Germans who have taken over their homes. This book was a good representation of the hardships women during the war had to face. A lot of the time, their stories are overpowered by the stories of men in battle, so it was nice to read about their hardships and how they persevered.

If you like reading about strong and empowered women, then this is the book for you. Also, I don’t have a sister, but I feel like this book would be very relatable to someone who does. I will admit that at the beginning of the story, I was convinced that I wouldn’t like it, but as I got to the end, I changed my mind and ended up really enjoying it. It was quite inspirational in a lot of ways.

Side note: I just learned that this is being turned into a movie, so definitely read the book before watching the film!

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book also takes place in France during World War II. It follows the journeys of two very different children and a couple of other interesting side characters. One of the main characters is a blind girl name Marie Laure who lives in Paris but flees to Saint Malo with her father. The other character is a boy named Werner who is a Hitler youth. Their paths end up colliding in an intricate and well-planned way.

This book is so detailed and great that I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to write. The author, Anthony Doerr, won a lot of awards for this novel. You should read it if you want something that will make you think a lot about human nature and technology.

4. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I would describe this as a historical fiction thriller. It is good to go into this not knowing too much, but I will tell you the very basic plot. It takes place in 1945 Barcelona and follows a boy named Daniel. On Daniel’s eleventh birthday, his dad takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and Daniel picks out a book called the Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. Daniel is tasked with protecting this book, but there is someone trying to systematically destroy all of Carax’s work. Strange and dark things continue to happen and the mystery is drawn out in an epic tale.

This is one of my very favorite books. As I was reading this one, I knew it was going to turn into my favorite and it’s very hard to put into words how I feel about something I liked so much. I find it much easier to talk about a book I either hated or kind of liked. The writing was beautiful, the plot was unguessable, and the characters were very real. It was a very dark and epic adventure. This was originally written in Spanish, so if the book was this good translated, then it must be even better in its native language (sometimes things can get lost in translation).

5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I would be very surprised if you haven’t heard of this wonderful book yet, but if you haven’t, then here is the synopsis. This story takes place in 1939 Nazi Germany and is narrated by death (coolest concept ever). It follows a foster girl named Liesel Meminger as she steals books, learns to love reading, and takes care of a Jewish man in her basement.

This is one of those books that you will never forget. It gives you all of the feels and leaves you gutless. The Book Thief is a classic that everyone should read.

6. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

This book takes place 1941 is about a Lithuanian girl named Lina, who is forced, with her mother and brother, onto a dirty Soviet train car and shipped to the Arctic Circle to work in a labor camp. This book shows what life was like for Lithuanians who were forced by Stalin to toil in extreme cold and cruel conditions.

I cried the first time I read this and chances are, you will too. It is so heartbreaking, but it is a story that needs to be told. I had no idea about this part of history before reading this book. This is a quick read that you won’t be able to put down.

7. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys likes to write books about historical events that have been lost to history, and this is another great one of hers. I think I liked this one even better than Between Shades of Gray. It is about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff during World War II. Most people know about the Titanic, but not so many know about the Wilhelm Gustloff. This is odd considering it was the worst maritime tragedy in history.

Ruta is so good at writing amazing characters. Their stories and personalities seem so real. In this book, we follow four main characters, but there are also great side characters as well. The layout of this book reminds me a lot of All The Light We Cannot See because of how well all of the characters’ stories intertwined. She even brings in characters from Between Shades of Gray.

When I finished this book, I could not stop thinking about what I had read for the longest time. I think that’s a sign of a good book.

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World War 2 Historical Fiction Recommendations

     I want to share with you four of my favorite historical fiction reads that take place during World War 2. This is by no means all them, however all of these are books that I know I will be rereading in the future. I am a huge historical fiction fan. It is usually the genre that I will turn to if I ever feel like I don’t have anything interesting to read. Hopefully this post provides you with some ideas for what to read next if you want some historical fiction adventure in your life!

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

My Goodreads Rating: 4.5 stars
    This book follows two perspectives that both show us a different side of the war. We learn about Marie Laure, a blind girl who lives in France, and Werner, a Hitler Youth in Germany. The story expertly weaves their stories together in a way that opens your eyes to things about the war that you may not have learned in history class. Marie Laure and Werner’s stories collide when they both end up at Saint-Malo, a walled citadel in France. There are also other people’s perspectives that are woven into the story through short viewpoint chapters. This book was really beautifully written and I learned a lot about the history of radios from Werner’s perspective chapters. This book is 530 pages and took me awhile to finish, but if you’re looking for a well researched and well written historical fiction, then you can’t go wrong with this one.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My Goodreads Rating: 4 stars
     This book takes place in German-occupied France and also follows two different perspectives. The chapters switch back and forth between the perspectives of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, who both have extremely different personalities. This book does a really good job of showing the difficulties that women during the war had to endure while their husbands were away fighting. There are a lot of books out there that discuss what it was like for the soldiers during the war, but not many touch on the subject of the women on the home front. I must admit that at the beginning of this novel, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to like it because of the writing and the fact that I thought there was going to be a love at first sight story. However, I’m so glad that I continued reading because there got to a point where I absolutely couldn’t put it down. The writing improved as the story went on and the plot line was so riveting that I just had to know what was going to happen next. At the end, I was left shocked at the hardships that the women in the story had had to endure. Pick this one up if you want a good story about human bravery and perseverance!

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

My Goodreads Rating: 4 stars 
    I first read this book when I was in middle school and I remember that it made me cry and that I absolutely loved it. I read it again recently just to see if it was actually as good as I first remembered it and it had the same effect on me (I cried again). You may notice that I have two Ruta Sepetys novels on this list and that’s because she is one of my favorite authors. She is so good at bringing to light stories about historical events that most people have never heard of (including me). This book is about the Soviet invasion of Lithuania in 1941 and follows a Lithuanian girl named Lina and her mother and little brother as they are deported to Siberia. The stories of the hardships that the Lithuanian people had endured has been lost to history for a really long time, but this book attempts to reveal the past. Ruta is Lithuanian herself and I think that is what motivated her to research this part of history. It is a beautiful story that you must read!

Salt to Sea by Ruta Sepetys 

My Goodreads Rating: 4 stars
    This is Ruta’s most recent book and it takes place in 1945 in East Prussia as many refugees from the war made their way to a ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff. The Wilhelm Gustloff is a ship that sank and killed about 9,400 people, which is the largest loss of life from a sinking ship in history (yet it’s not very well known). The book follows three different characters as they journey through East Prussia to the Wilhelm Gustloff for salvation. There is Joana (a Lithuanian nurse), Florian (a Prussian with a mysterious letter), and Emilia (a little polish girl in a pink cap). In the story, the three of them have to band together to survive as they journey to the ship that is supposed to save them. This book was so captivating and I think I liked it even better than Between Shades of Gray. This is one of those books that makes you sit and stare at a wall after you finish it and try to digest what you just read. This book has stayed with me and I definitely recommend it.
Ruta Sepetys has also written one more book called Out of the Easy that takes place in New Orleans in the 1950’s. I haven’t read it yet, but I certainly want to!

There you go! Those are four of my favorite historical fiction World War 2 books. I hope you consider reading them all because they are all so good!