Here at Off the Shelf, we love historical fiction. Historical fiction set in during World War II, historical fiction set in the Victorian era, early American historical fiction . . . You get the idea. Our current obsession? Historical fiction with a romance kick! With lush atmospheres, history lessons, and heart-filling story lines, these eight books will give you all of the best parts of historical fiction—plus some heart flutters.
Philippa Gregory is the queen of royal historical fiction, and in this installment of her Plantagenet and Tudor series, she explores the relationships and power struggles in the Tudor court that exist as Mary Boleyn is pushed aside by her family in favor of Anne, whom they set up to become Henry VIII’s romantic interest. Sibling rivalry, jealousy, and royal courting make this novel an essential historical romance.
Sometimes you just need a good love triangle, and THE PROMISE delivers one. Young Catherine flees her home in Ohio after she is involved in a scandal, and luckily comes across the recently widowed Oscar. She agrees to marry him and moves to Galveston, Texas, where he lives with his son and his housekeeper, Nan Odgen—who has feelings for Oscar. When the devastating hurricane of 1900 hits Galveston, the two women must fight for survival. It’s a heartbreaking story of strength, warmth, and hidden love.
Dual time lines show the lives and loves of two different women connected by a journal. In the 1940s, Louise becomes a gunner girl in London and falls in love. In the present day, Cara is recently divorced, and throws herself into trying to discover the story behind an old journal containing the secrets of a relationship. Kelly’s novel explores friendship, the lives and roles of women during World War II, and romances.
Languoreth is a young woman of Strathclyde, a kingdom in ancient Scotland, who falls in love with a young warrior but is sent off to marry the son of the High King. This romantic triangle is conflicted even further by the divides in religion—Christianity is beginning to overtake the old ways and Languoreth is determined to keep them in place. It’s a beautiful, deeply atmospheric, magical novel about a forgotten queen, her power, and the conflict between love and duty.
After World War I, Tom, a young American man from Chicago, meets and has an affair with Sarah, an American woman searching for her missing husband. A few months later, they meet again at a psychiatric hospital, when news of an amnesiac soldier reaches both of them. There, they also meet Paul, a journalist who also has an interest in the amnesiac. Their lives become completely intertwined, so that decades later, Tom is still haunted by his past and we the readers are left feeling full of love and loss. Get ready to feel yearning for the romance of this novel long after the last page.
After her family uproots her from their home in Southern England to Milton, in Northern England, Margaret Hale becomes involved in trying to improve the working conditions for the local mill workers. Her efforts bring her up against the mill owner, John Thorton. Despite their opposition, she finds herself attracted to him. This Victorian novel follows a great heroine during a time of industrial unrest and also explores the romantic relationship between two strong characters.
This classic novel takes place during the nineteenth century and follows the passionate affair between the independent Jane and the brooding Mr. Rochester. Jane begins as a lonely child and takes a position as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she meets the manor’s owner. They fall in love, but she discovers a secret that threatens to tear them apart. It’s a heart-wrenching novel about a woman way ahead of her time.
Even if you haven’t read the books, you might have seen the show, and you likely know that this epic novel follows a woman named Claire who falls through time to eighteenth-century Scotland and becomes intertwined with rebels trying to overthrow the crown for a different, “rightful” king. Diana Gabaldon does an excellent job of depicting life, botany, and the Jacobite rebellion—as well as writing some seriously steamy moments between Claire and her hunk highlander, Jamie.
The relationship that blossoms from friendship to love between Claire and Jamie is, well, pretty swoon-worthy. Claire is confident with a lot of spunk and Jamie is hotheaded with a lot of heart. The combination of these two could be a recipe for disaster, but they—usually—are in harmony.
Read Kara O’Rourke’s review here.
Read Kara O’Rourke’s review here.