Share 9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World

9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World

Erin Flaaen is a corporate marketing coordinator at Simon and Schuster. She loves dark stories, devours historical fiction, and still has a soft spot for great YA. (A short list of her favorite authors would include Emma Donoghue—not just for ROOM—Lisa See, George Saunders, David Ebershoff, Jeannette Walls, Shirley Jackson, Scott Westerfeld, David Levithan, and Libba Bray.) Originally from Arizona, she moved to New York in 2014 and now spends her days being constantly confused by the weather, craving Mexican food, and reading books on buses.

There’s no doubt that my favorite genre is historical fiction, and I’m always coming across new titles I can’t help but passionately recommend. Each of these nine novels provides a unique look into a different time and place, from pre–World War I Seattle, to Prohibition-era Georgia, to 1930s San Francisco. Through the eyes of diverse characters and cultures, they give new and fascinating perspectives into history and our world.


Love and Other Consolation Prizes
by Jamie Ford
Ernest Young, a 12-year-old half-Chinese orphan, finds himself up for auction “to a good home” at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, where the winning ticket belongs to the madam of a high-class brothel. Deftly navigating past and present, Ernest tries to hide his complicated past from his adult daughters. This novel is my favorite recent work of historical fiction.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes
Jamie Ford

MENTIONED IN:

Readers’ Choice: The Top 10 Most Shelved Books in April

By Off the Shelf Staff | April 27, 2018

9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World

By Erin Flaaen | April 2, 2018

The 10 Best Books We Read in 2017

By Off the Shelf Staff | January 5, 2018

Close

Chronicle of a Last Summer
by Yasmine El Rashidi
Beginning in 1980s Egypt, this novel transports us to another, somewhat earlier, time and culture. The unnamed narrator is six years old in the opening pages, living in a sprawling family home overlooking the Nile. Her quiet childhood is haunted by mystery and loss, as people—including her own father—disappear overnight. CHRONICLE OF A LAST SUMMER follows an Egyptian woman’s coming-of-age as her nation changes around her.
Chronicle of a Last Summer
Yasmine El Rashidi

MENTIONED IN:

9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World

By Erin Flaaen | April 2, 2018

Close

China Dolls
by Lisa See
Ruby, Helen, and Grace become friends after auditioning to be showgirls at the same “Oriental” nightclub in San Francisco in 1938. In the years that follow, the three girls rely on each other as World War II and racism against Chinese and Japanese Americans consume the United States, testing the girls’ loyalty to each other. I particularly love this novel because it shows an underrepresented side to World War II, against the backdrop of nightclub glitz and glamour.
China Dolls
Lisa See

Three young women from different backgrounds meet at San Francisco’s exclusive Forbidden City Nightclub and become fast friends. When their dark secrets are exposed, a shocking act of betrayal changes everything.

MENTIONED IN:

Here’s Why Our Book Club Loved THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE

By Off the Shelf Staff | April 13, 2018

9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World

By Erin Flaaen | April 2, 2018

15 Stories of Betrayal to Read for the Ides of March

By Taylor Noel | March 15, 2017

Close

The Twelve-Mile Straight
by Eleanor Henderson
In Georgia during Prohibition and the Depression, after two babies—one with light skin, the other dark—are born to Elma, a white sharecropper’s daughter, a black field hand is accused of having raped her and is murdered. In the years that follow, as Elma begins the difficult task of raising her babies, everyone on the farm is forced to contend with the actions that led to this man’s death.
The Twelve-Mile Straight
Eleanor Henderson

MENTIONED IN:

12 Southern Novels That Will Knock Your Boots Off

By Taylor Noel | July 17, 2018

9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World

By Erin Flaaen | April 2, 2018

Close

The Kitchen House
by Kathleen Grissom
Orphaned aboard a ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia is sent to a tobacco plantation, where she lives and works in the kitchen house with the slaves. Raised by the master’s illegitimate daughter, Belle, Lavinia bonds with her adopted family. But with her light skin setting her apart, she is forced to make choices that may risk her loved ones’ lives.

Read the full review of THE KITCHEN HOUSE.

The Kitchen House
Kathleen Grissom

When a white indentured servant violates the delicate order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate. Sweeping from 1790–1810, this is a heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful, story of class, race, and familial bonds.

MENTIONED IN:

9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World

By Erin Flaaen | April 2, 2018

10 Literary Houses That Host Family Stories and Buried Secrets

By Elizabeth Breeden | January 13, 2017

13 Most Shelved Books on Off the Shelf in 2016

By Off the Shelf Staff | December 13, 2016

14 Books Worth Revisiting From Today’s Best Writers

By Wendy Sheanin | August 18, 2016

A Riveting Book Club Favorite That Became a Bestseller

By Trish Todd | April 4, 2016

Enter to Win These 12 Fall Book Club Favorites

By Off the Shelf Staff | September 29, 2015

Close

The Secrets of Mary Bowser
by Lois Leveen
Some of my favorite works of historical fiction are based on the lives of real people and bring to light individuals who may otherwise be forgotten to history. In this novel, we are introduced to Mary Bowser, a courageous freed slave who risked her freedom and her life by returning to the South during the Civil War to spy on Confederate soldiers.
The Secrets of Mary Bowser
Lois Leveen

MENTIONED IN:

9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World

By Erin Flaaen | April 2, 2018

12 Historical Novels Inspired By Real-Life Bad-Ass Women

By Greer Macallister | October 2, 2017

Close

The Wonder
by Emma Donoghue
Emma Donoghue is most noted for ROOM, but her historical fiction is just as good. In THE WONDER, Lib Wright, one of Florence Nightingale’s colleagues, is hired to observe an 11-year-old girl who claims to have survived for months without food. While tourists and journalists flock to witness this “miracle,” Lib finds herself fighting for the child’s life.
The Wonder
Emma Donoghue

On Erin’s wish list

Emma Donoghue is one of my favorite authors, so it’s taken every bit of my self-restraint to wait for the holidays to get a copy of her new book. In THE WONDER, a nurse is called to a small Irish village to observe the “miracle” of a girl said to have survived without food for months. Donoghue has already proved to be a skilled and remarkable writer in ROOM, FROG MUSIC, and SLAMMERKIN, giving me confidence that her newest novel will be another amazing read.

MENTIONED IN:

9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World

By Erin Flaaen | April 2, 2018

11 Novels from Irish Authors You Need to Read Now

By Nikki Barnhart | March 16, 2018

12 Books on Our Literary Wish Lists This Year

By Off the Shelf Staff | December 19, 2016

Close

New York
by Edward Rutherfurd
At 880 pages, this novel can be a bit intimidating, but, in all fairness, so is the city that serves as its main character. The aptly titled NEW YORK provides a sweeping history of the Big Apple through the eyes of various often-related characters, from the city’s beginnings as a Native American village up to September 11, 2001.
New York
Edward Rutherfurd

MENTIONED IN:

A Peek Behind Julianna’s Shelf

By Off the Shelf Staff | April 30, 2018

9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World

By Erin Flaaen | April 2, 2018

Close

The Tumbling Turner Sisters
by Juliette Fay
Set in the world of American vaudeville, this novel follows Nell, a widow, and her three teenage daughters as they set out on the vaudeville circuit to support themselves. Among an array of diverse performers, the four women find a new sense of freedom, but they also must face the seedy and dangerous side of early-twentieth-century American theater.
The Tumbling Turner Sisters
Juliette Fay

Read with a Whiskey Sour

Pour yourself a whiskey sour and dive into the world of this compelling historical novel set against the turbulent backdrop of American vaudeville. In THE TUMBLING TURNER SISTERS, four sisters embark on an unexpected adventure in the company of traveling vaudeville acts in a last-ditch effort to rescue their family financially.

Close

Thank you for joining our email list!

If you create an Off the Shelf account, you'll be able to save books to your personal bookshelf, and be eligible for free books and other good stuff.

Click here to create your free account.

You must be logged in to add books to your shelf.

Please log in or sign up now.