The members of our Book Club Favorites group are avid readers of historical fiction, which comes as no surprise. Historical fiction provides a soaring reprieve from everyday life and allows readers to immerse themselves in an entirely different time frame. Backed by fact and rooted in historical events, the genre takes book club discussions to a whole new level. This March, we’ve been reading two recent historical stories, both set during World War II. Janet Skeslien Charles’ THE PARIS LIBRARY and Kristin Harmel’s THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS are brilliant reads that prove just how rich and immersive historical fiction can be. Join us in a conversation with both authors on Monday, April 4, at 1:00 p.m. ET, live on Simon & Schuster’s Facebook and YouTube channels! Until then, check out the two great historical fiction books just noted, along with some other fantastic based-in-history fiction picks your book clubs are sure to rave over.
Book Club Favorites: 7 Historical Fiction Picks for Spring
One legendary wedding veil ties four women together across generations. In present day, it’s Julia’s wedding day in North Carolina. She is adorned with her great-grandmother’s wedding veil, which was bequeathed to her by a mysterious woman on a train. Despite the luck that the veil should bring Julia, she decides to flee to the Virgin Islands alone, for what was to have been her honeymoon. Later, she and her grandmother, Babs, work to uncover the history of the veil. In a parallel story line, in 1914, Edith Vanderbilt, following the death of her husband, is struggling to maintain the beautiful Biltmore Estate, with her daughter, Cornelia. We follow them through the years as Cornelia’s sense of duty to maintain the home—and legacy—conflicts with her yearning to build a life outside it. Alternating between a romantic comedy feel in the present day with a historical fictionalized peek into an intriguing family’s North Carolina estate, THE WEDDING VEIL revolves the characters in both time frames around one shared sacred object.
The New York Times bestselling author of Under the Southern Sky and the Peachtree Bluff series brings “her signature wit, charm, and heart” (Woman’s World) to this sweeping new novel following four women across generations, bound by a beautiful wedding veil and a connection to the famous Vanderbilt family.
Four women. One family heirloom. A secret connection that will change their lives—and history as they know it.
Present Day: Julia Baxter’s wedding veil, bequeathed to her great-grandmother by a mysterious woman on a train in the 1930s, has passed through generations of her family as a symbol of a happy marriage. But on the morning of her wedding day, something tells her that even the veil’s good luck isn’t enough to make her marriage last forever. Overwhelmed and panicked, she escapes to the Virgin Islands to clear her head. Meanwhile, her grandmother Babs is also feeling shaken. Still grieving the death of her beloved husband, she decides to move out of the house they once shared and into a retirement community. Though she hopes it’s a new beginning, she does not expect to run into an old flame, dredging up the same complicated emotions she felt a lifetime ago.
1914: Socialite Edith Vanderbilt is struggling to manage the luxurious Biltmore Estate after the untimely death of her cherished husband. With 250 rooms to oversee and an entire village dependent on her family to stay afloat, Edith is determined to uphold the Vanderbilt legacy—and prepare her free-spirited daughter Cornelia to inherit it—in spite of her family’s deteriorating financial situation. But Cornelia has dreams of her own. Asheville, North Carolina has always been her safe haven away from the prying eyes of the press, but as she explores more of the rapidly changing world around her, she’s torn between upholding tradition and pursuing the exciting future that lies beyond Biltmore’s gilded gates.
In the vein of Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman and Jennifer Robson’s The Gown, The Wedding Veil brings to vivid life a group of remarkable women forging their own paths—and explores the mystery of a national heirloom lost to time.
After one young girl, beginning at age two, is stolen from her wealthy German family and forced to live in Eastern Europe’s eerie wilderness, her entire perspective on the world changes. Now it’s 1942 and the world is at war, but Yona is still hidden within the forest and completely unaware of life outside it. Her kidnapper has died, and Yona has, until this point, relied solely on her learned skills to survive the wilderness. She is entirely alone—until one day she discovers a group of Jews fleeing from the Nazi terror. Yona realizes that fate has brought her to these desperate refugees, and she takes on the challenge of helping them navigate through the forest. But when she is betrayed, Yona must confront her past to understand where she truly belongs. A harrowing, unforgettable story.
The New York Times bestselling author of the “heart-stopping tale of survival and heroism” (People) The Book of Lost Names returns with an evocative coming-of-age World War II story about a young woman who uses her knowledge of the wilderness to help Jewish refugees escape the Nazis—until a secret from her past threatens everything.
After being stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in the unforgiving wilderness of eastern Europe, a young woman finds herself alone in 1941 after her kidnapper dies. Her solitary existence is interrupted, however, when she happens upon a group of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror. Stunned to learn what’s happening in the outside world, she vows to teach the group all she can about surviving in the forest—and in turn, they teach her some surprising lessons about opening her heart after years of isolation. But when she is betrayed and escapes into a German-occupied village, her past and present come together in a shocking collision that could change everything.
Inspired by incredible true stories of survival against staggering odds, and suffused with the journey-from-the-wilderness elements that made Where the Crawdads Sing a worldwide phenomenon, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a heart-wrenching and suspenseful novel from the #1 internationally bestselling author whose writing has been hailed as “sweeping and magnificent” (Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author), “immersive and evocative” (Publishers Weekly), and “gripping” (Tampa Bay Times).
The story begins in 1939 in Paris with Odile, a young librarian who has just landed her dream job at the American Library in Paris. With the invasion of Nazis, the libraries are under surveillance from spies. Many people are anonymously reported and banned from the library due to their heritage (and, ultimately, will be carted off to the detention camps). With the help of her fellow librarians, Odile works to save the banned books and, at risk to herself, deliver stories to those exiled from the library.
Flash-forward to 1983 Montana, where we again meet Odile, now older and widowed. Lily, a teenager with a frustrating home life, lives next door. Despite their age difference, the two strike up a friendship. As their relationship blossoms, Lily becomes more curious about Odile’s past and asks questions that force her to confront her understanding of the war. Told from the perspective of two timelines, THE PARIS LIBRARY is a soaring tale about the love of books, resilience, and friendship, and a unique contribution to WWII stories based on historical fact.
An instant New York Times, Washington Post, and USA TODAY bestseller—based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II—The Paris Library is a moving and unforgettable “ode to the importance of libraries, books, and the human connections we find within both” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author).
Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet seems to have the perfect life with her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into the city, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.
Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
“A love letter to Paris, the power of books, and the beauty of intergenerational friendship” (Booklist), The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest places.
It’s the height of the Cold War. Martin has been in prison for fifteen years as an atomic spy who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II. After all these years, our protagonist now finds himself in a spy exchange. He’s being traded into East Berlin, but he can’t seem to understand why. His knowledge of espionage is far outdated. He doesn’t have a true understanding of the world outside prison. Not until Martin arrives in East Berlin does he understand that there’s an underground side to the prison-exchange, and that he is a part of the dangerous game. A suspenseful historical thriller.
From “master of the genre” (The Washington Post) Joseph Kanon, an espionage thriller set at the height of the Cold War, when a captured American who has spied for the KGB is swapped by the British and returns to East Berlin needing to know who arranged his release and what they want from him.
Berlin. 1963. The height of the Cold War. An early morning spy swap, not at the familiar setting for such exchanges, or at Checkpoint Charlie, where international visitors cross into the East, but at a more discreet border crossing, usually reserved for East German VIPs. The Communists are trading two American students caught helping people to escape over the wall and an aging MI6 operative. On the other side of the trade: Martin Keller, a physicist who once made headlines, but who then disappeared into the English prison system. Keller’s most critical possession: his American passport. Keller’s most ardent desire: to see his ex-wife Sabine and their young son.
The exchange is made with the formality characteristic of these swaps. But Martin has other questions: who asked for him? Who negotiated the deal? The KGB? He has worked for the service long enough to know that nothing happens by chance. They want him for something. Not physics—his expertise is out of date. Something else, which he cannot learn until he arrives in East Berlin, when suddenly the game is afoot.
Filled with intriguing characters, atmospheric detail, and plenty of action Kanon’s latest espionage thriller is one you won’t soon forget.
It’s rural Ireland, 1843, and Padraig leaves his family and friends for Dublin to rally for his country’s independence. Little does he know, he’s leaving behind a baby in the belly of his girlfriend. While he is away, a potato famine is destroying Padraig’s home (and will come to claim the lives of both his mother and the mother of his new daughter). His best friend, Brendan, winds up escaping the country with Padraig’s daughter, Maeve, and, in search of safety, boards a ship to America with the young girl. Two family trees expand on different ends of the globe as our characters witness betrayals, survive hardships, and come to an understanding about family. An expansive and powerful story.
“A novel as easy to read as the latest bestseller, No Country is a rousing adventure made up out of the blood and guts and dreams of people on three continents and nearly 150 years of troubled history” (Alan Cheuse, NPR).
In the poverty of rural Ireland in 1843, Padraig Aherne and Brendan McCarthaigh grew up as brothers, inseparable, even when Padraig falls in love with their beautiful classmate, Brigid. But when Padraig makes a dangerous mistake that forces him onto a ship bound for India, and the deadly potato famine sweeps through their tiny village, Brendan is left alone to care for his best friend’s child, an infant daughter Padraig never knew he had. Eventually, Brendan flees with her aboard one of the infamous “coffin ships,” to begin a new life in America. As Brendan’s and Padraig’s two family trees take root on opposite sides of the world, their tendrils begin to intertwine, moving inexorably toward a disastrous convergence more than a century later.
Unfurling against the fickle backdrop of history that includes terrorism on the Indian subcontinent, an East European pogrom, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, and the terrible intimacy of a murder in a sleepy New England town, the fallout from lives torn apart in No Country smolders for generations.
A BALLAD OF LOVE AND GLORY is a beautiful novel set against the backdrop of the Mexican American War, beginning in 1846. This is where we meet Ximena Salomé, a gifted Mexican healer, who is living a satisfying life. But when the Texas Rangers storm her ranch and shoot her husband, her life changes forever. She begins to use her healing skills as a nurse on the front lines, in the battle against the U.S. Army. Meanwhile, John Riley, an Irish immigrant on America’s side of the war, is sickened by the violence he has witnessed against Mexicans. In an act of defiance, he swims across the Rio Grande and joins the Mexican Army. When Ximena and John meet, a dangerous and unexpected romance blooms between them as they fight for the fate of Mexico and the future of their relationship.
A Long Petal of the Sea meets Cold Mountain in this sweeping historical saga following a Mexican army nurse and an Irish soldier who must fight, at first for their survival and then for their love, amidst the atrocity of the Mexican-American War—from the author of the “timely and riveting” (People) Across a Hundred Mountains and The Distance Between Us.
A forgotten war. An unforgettable romance.
The year is 1846. After the controversial annexation of Texas, the US Army marches south to provoke war with México over the disputed Río Grande boundary.
Ximena Salomé is a gifted Mexican healer who dreams of building a family with the man she loves on the coveted land she calls home. But when Texas Rangers storm her ranch and shoot her husband dead, her dreams are burned to ashes. Vowing to honor her husband’s memory and defend her country, Ximena uses her healing skills as an army nurse on the frontlines of the ravaging war.
Meanwhile, John Riley, an Irish immigrant in the Yankee army desperate to help his family escape the famine devastating his homeland, is sickened by the unjust war and the unspeakable atrocities against his countrymen by nativist officers. In a bold act of defiance, he swims across the Río Grande and joins the Mexican Army—a desertion punishable by execution. He forms the St. Patrick’s Battalion, a band of Irish soldiers willing to fight to the death for México’s freedom.
When Ximena and John meet, a dangerous attraction blooms between them. As the war intensifies, so does their passion. Swept up by forces with the power to change history, they fight not only for the fate of a nation but for their future together.
Heartbreaking and lyrical, Reyna Grande’s spellbinding saga, inspired by true events and historical figures, brings these two unforgettable characters to life and illuminates a largely forgotten moment in history that impacts the US-México border to this day.
Will Ximena and John survive the chaos of this bitter war, or will their love be devoured along with the land they strive to defend?
Alternating between present day and 1918, BLUEBIRD, by Genevieve Graham, is a dazzling novel about the Great War and the postwar Prohibition era. Cassie, a museum curator, loves solving mysteries from the past. She has a particular interest in a family of bootleggers who ferried illegal booze across the Detroit River during Prohibition. Flash back to 1918, where Corporal Jeremiah Bailey is wounded in a mines explosion in Canada. He wakes in a hospital under the care of “bluebirds,” Canadian nurses nicknamed for their blue gowns and white caps. By the end of the war, Jerry has returned home to Windsor, scarred by the horrors he witnessed overseas. After reconnecting with the one nurse he fell for during his recovery, the two realize there are exciting opportunities to take hold of during the Prohibition in their city. But with the opportunities comes dangerous conflict, which threatens to destroy all they have built. Based on real events and persons in WWI, this is a dramatic and fascinating story.
A dazzling novel set during the Great War and postwar Prohibition about a young nurse, a soldier, and a family secret that binds them together for generations to come—from USA TODAY and repeat #1 bestselling author Genevieve Graham.
Cassie Simmons, a museum curator, is enthusiastic about solving mysteries from the past, and she has a personal interest in the history of the rumrunners who ferried illegal booze across the Detroit River during Prohibition. So when a cache of whisky labeled Bailey Brothers’ Best is unearthed during a local home renovation, Cassie hopes to find the answers she’s been searching for about the legendary family of bootleggers...
Corporal Jeremiah Bailey of the 1st Canadian Tunnelling Company is tasked with planting mines in the tunnels beneath enemy trenches. After Jerry is badly wounded in an explosion, he finds himself in a Belgium field hospital under the care of Adele Savard, one of Canada’s nursing sisters, nicknamed “Bluebirds” for their blue gowns and white caps. As Jerry recovers, he forms a strong connection with Adele, who is from a place near his hometown of Windsor, along the Detroit River. In the midst of war, she’s a welcome reminder of home, and when Jerry is sent back to the front, he can only hope that he’ll see his bluebird again.
By war’s end, both Jerry and Adele return home to Windsor, scarred by the horrors of what they endured overseas. When they cross paths one day, they have a chance to start over. But the city is in the grip of Prohibition, which brings exciting opportunities as well as new dangerous conflicts that threaten to destroy everything they have fought for.
Pulled from the pages of history, Bluebird is a compelling, luminous novel about the strength of the human spirit and the power of love to call us home.
Photo credit: iStock / Brankospejs