Things are starting to open back up a bit, but social distancing and staying at home as much as possible are still a reality of life. What better time to read a good book than when you’re cooped up in your own house? Instead of anxiously watching the news, check out these five lesser-known historical fiction titles that I absolute love—and think you will too!
Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
We’ll start this off with what is probably our most well-known title on this list, but I couldn’t possibly leave it out. This book has been out since 2016, and I don’t know how I missed it until just a few weeks ago. (College, probably.) Set in London, this title has a mystery to die for and will keep you wondering whodunit while also offering a fascinating glimpse into innovations in 19th century forensic medicine. Fair warning, it’s not for the faint of heart, but I absolutely fell in love with protagonist Audrey Rose and her world, and I devoured the entire series in about a week! Here’s the blurb:
Presented by James Patterson’s new children’s imprint, this deliciously creepy horror novel has a storyline inspired by the Ripper murders and an unexpected, blood-chilling conclusion…
Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.
Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.
The story’s shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling, #1 New York Times bestselling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.
The Widow’s Plight by Mary Davis
Are you still with me after the delicious creepiness of our first title? Great! Because here we have something a little more heartwarming. Mary Davis’ romance is set around the same time as the title above, but this time on America’s West Coast. If you love that late-1800’s feel, a little bit of the Old West, adorable kids, and sweet romance, you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did (and probably devour the rest of the series like I did, too!) But don’t let the sweetness fool you; this one also packs some twists, turns, and mysteries!
Washington State, 1893
When Lily Lexington Bremmer arrives in Kamola with her young son, she’s reluctant to join the social center of her new community, the quilting circle, but the friendly ladies pull her in. She begins piecing a sunshine and shadows quilt because it mirrors her life. She has a secret that lurks in the shadows and hopes it doesn’t come out into the light. Dark places in her past are best forgotten, but her new life is full of sunshine. Will her secrets cast shadows on her bright future?
Widower Edric Hammond and his father are doing their best to raise his two young daughters. He meets Lily and her son when they arrive in town and helps her find a job and a place to live. Lily resists Edric’s charms at first, but finds herself falling in love with this kind, gentle man and his two darling daughters. Lily has stolen his heart with her first warm smile, but he’s cautious about bringing another woman into his girls’ lives due to the harshness of their own mother.
Can Edric forgive Lily her past to take hold of a promising chance at love?
The Plum Blooms in Winter by Linda Thompson
Did I recommend this one in my last roundup blog post? Yes. Am I doing it again? Absolutely. This award-winning book about post-WWII Japan blew me away, enough that I had to purchase a copy for my mom as well. The setting is fascinating, heartbreaking, and completely underrepresented in literature. Even better, the sequel I’ve been so desperately anticipating is coming out December 2020!
A Prostitute Seeks Her Revenge—In 1942, Miyako Matsuura cradled her little brother as he died on the sidewalk, a victim of the first U.S. bombing raid on Japan. By 1948, the war has reduced her to a street-hardened prostitute consumed by her shame.
A WWII Hero Finds His True Mission—Captured by the Japanese after piloting a B-25 in the Doolittle Raid, Dave Delham survived a harrowing P.O.W. ordeal. In 1948, he returns to Japan as a Christian missionary, determined to showcase Christ’s forgiveness.
Convinced that Delham was responsible for the bomb that snuffed out her brother’s life, Miyako resolves to restore her honor by avenging him—even if it costs her own life. But the huntress soon becomes hunted in Osaka’s treacherous underworld. Miyako must outmaneuver a ruthless brothel owner, outwit gangs with competing plans to profit by her, and overcome betrayal by family and friends—only to confront a decision that will change everything.
Christy by Catherine Marshall
This book is probably our second-best well-known on the list, but it’s still surprising how many people have never heard of it. I first read this book as assigned reading in high school and fell in love with it. This title is historical in two ways—it’s set in 1912, but it was written in 1967. (Okay, 1967 may not seem like such a long time ago to some of you, but in publishing terms, that’s pretty old.) The depth of setting immersion is fantastic, and the characters are complex and vibrant.
The train taking nineteen-year-old teacher Christy Huddleston from her home in Asheville, North Carolina, might as well be transporting her to another world. The Smoky Mountain community of Cutter Gap feels suspended in time, trapped by poverty, superstitions, and century-old traditions.
But as Christy struggles to find acceptance in her new home, some see her — and her one-room school — as a threat to their way of life. Her faith is challenged and her heart is torn between two strong men with conflicting views about how to care for the families of the Cove.
Yearning to make a difference, will Christy’s determination and devotion be enough?
Finding Love in Last Chance, California by Miralee Ferrell
Quick confession: Yes, my boss wrote this book. No, she does not know I’m adding it to this list. I genuinely enjoyed this book so much that I downloaded the Kindle app to read book two—and thus my Kindle addiction began. Plenty of interwoven plot threads, unique characters, horses, mystery, a cute kid, the Old West…what more can you ask for?
It’s 1877 and Alexia Travers is alone in the world. Her father has died unexpectedly, leaving her burdened with a heavily mortgaged horse ranch. Marrying one of the town’s all-too-willing bachelors would offer an easy solution, but Alex has no interest in marriage.
Instead, she dons men’s clothing and rides the range, determined to make the ranch a success on her own. Help arrives when Justin Phillips, an acquaintance of her father’s, comes to Last Chance with his young son. Justin’s and Alex’s combined effort to save the ranch quickly turns into a fierce competition between cowboy and tomboy.
But when disaster threatens Travers’ Ranch, they must work together to save someone they both love. Can these two independent people learn to depend on God—and on each other?
BONUS: Let the Ghosts Speak by Bryan Davis
This one is a “bonus” because I can’t argue that it’s strictly historical fiction. It has a good bit of speculative fiction in it too. But Let the Ghosts Speak is one of my absolute favorite reads of 2020, so I had to include it. Masquerade parties, Paris catacombs, ghosts, murder mystery—what more could you possibly want?
In 19th century Paris, Justin Trotter, an immigrant from England, is making his way as a book translator while paying for his blind twin sister’s care. One evening, Marc Noël, Justin’s well-to-do friend and fellow thespian, invites him to a masquerade party at an abandoned schoolhouse. Justin hopes this will be an opportunity to get to know Marc’s lovely though sharp-tongued sister, Francine.
At the event, Justin meets four ghostly strangers—two adults and two children—who warn him that the party guests are in danger, and they must leave at once. True to their prediction, a murder takes place, and Justin is the prime suspect. He escapes and becomes a fugitive, hiding in the Paris catacombs.
Mystery and intrigue swirl as the ghost of Joan of Arc and other martyrs guide Justin on a lonely journey to prove his innocence and protect his sister from an abusive caretaker. Who really committed the crime? Marc? Francine? A ghost? And does seeing these ghosts mean he is going insane? Maybe he really is the murderer after all.
There is only one way to find out, to let the ghosts speak as they reveal the mysteries within Justin’s mind.
Have any other historical fiction titles we all need to read? Drop them in the comments below!
Note: I don’t get any money off these recommendations, nor have any of the authors asked me to endorse these. Yada yada whatever other legal stuff people always say. I just genuinely like to share my favorite books and geek out about them!