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Customer Discussions > Historical Fiction forum

can anyone recommend any good historical fiction set in europe or america???

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Showing 1-25 of 586 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 24, 2009 12:40:34 AM PST
kellie says:
i dont know about anyone else, but im getting sick of all the english stuff coming out at the moment and most of it isnt even good or well written or even accurate (am i the only one that is finding this insulting???). so am wondering, does anyone have any recommendations on good well written historical fiction books set in europe or america??? or any particular favourites of yours that you would like to recommend??? am getting desperate for fantastic books that are gonna stay with me forever...and uni just went back so i need some good stuff fast...or ill have to actually study... :) help!

Posted on Feb 24, 2009 3:07:05 AM PST
J. Wan says:
Urgh. My fallback recommendation is always Dorothy Dunnett. She wrote two series and one quasi-historical book about Macbeth.

Series one (and I love love love it to death) is called the Lymond Chronicles and spreads over a 12-year period that ends with the beginning of Elizabeth I's reign. Book I is in Scotland, Book II Northern France, Book III Malta & Scotland, Book IV Ottoman Empire, Book V Russia, Book VI France again. I cannot recommend this series highly enough for its historical accuracy, its multilayered plotting and characterisation, and a story - and hero - that I'll never forget.

The other series, I haven't read. But it's called the House of Niccolo and takes place in Renaissance Italy, and thnk it's about the rising/falling/rising fortunes of a merchant named Niccolo.

As for the Macbeth, come to thnk of it I'm not even sure if it'd be fiction or non-fiction. You can decide.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2009 4:37:01 AM PST
Lindymc says:
If you haven't already, you should try Sharon Kay Penman. She has written a great novel about Richard III - The Sunne in Splendour; three superb books about the era of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquataine: When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance, Devil's Brood. And probably her most popular novels are the Welsh trilogy, starting with the book Here Be Dragons.

And the English author Elizabeth Chadwick has written several wonderful historical novels. My favorites are about the famous William Marshall and his father John Marshall: A Place Beyond Courage, The Greatest Knight, Scarlet Lion.

Both of these authors can be trusted for historical accuracy, great dialog, and wonderful character and plot development.

Posted on Feb 24, 2009 4:42:41 AM PST
kellie says:
can you tell me more about the dorothy dunnett books? like what they are about? i cant find anything about them...of course im probably not looking in the right place :)
lindymc- i just picked up the first two books in the eleanor series by penman today really cheap im glad you think they are worth reading.

you wouldnt happen to know any good biblical historical fiction books? i just finished reading the red tent and thought it was fantastic...i have had absolutely no religious education so i found the book to be fascinating in several ways. any suggestions anyone???

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2009 11:11:55 AM PST
Cool Houses says:
Crimson Petal and the Michael Faber? I believe...
Also the books by Karleen Koen (Through a Glass Darkly) remains one of my all time favorites...

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2009 1:44:27 PM PST
The Ramsay Scallop is a wonderful book (Ramsay, Ramsey...?) - It's about a young well born girl during the crusades. Her parents die and her betrothed comes back from the crusades - with both of them so young, the parish priest sends them on a crusade / quest of their own prior to their marriage. Along the way (months of travel) they come to know each other and that the world is a changing and wonderful place. Age 12 - 16 appropriate.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2009 1:48:53 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 24, 2009 2:32:11 PM PST
Misfit says:
kellie, I know what you mean - everything these days seems to be historical fiction lite. I agree with Lindymc, Penman and Chadwick are my favorites when it comes to medievals, and they have such different styles (and subject matter) that you shouldn't get a been-there done-that feeling.

I've read Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond chronicles and loved them but they are difficult to get in to. Lymond's a very flawed hero (to say the least) and the story goes from Scotland to England to France to Malta to Turkey to Russia and back again to Scotland. Brilliant scenes, sword fights let alone the real life chess game with very deadly consequences.

Have you tried Anya Seton? The Winthrop Woman takes place in America, as does parts of Devil Water.

There's Gwen Bristow's historicals. Calico Palace (California gold country and San Francisco), Jubilee Trail and Celia Garth.

Another author I discovered last year was Celese de Blasis. A bit towards the romance but she packs plenty of historical details in her books. I loved The Proud Breed - a big old multigenerational saga set in old California.

Are you interested in 19C India? MM Kaye's books are awesome, along with Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald and Olivia and Jai by Rebecca Ryman.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2009 2:10:18 PM PST
One of my favorite series of historical novels about England are currently out of print but well worth the trip to the library or used book search to find them. They are the books in the Howarth Dynasty serices by Jean Stubbs. There are 4 in the series in order from 1 to 4: By Our Beginnings, An Imperfect Joy, The Vivian Inheritance and The Northern Correspondent. These books are about an actual family history covering the period from the mid 1700s to the mid 1800s. I just love them and have read them over and over again. Whenever I get into one of those slumps where I can't find a book that GRABS me I go back and read these again. I hope you can find them and that you enjoy them if you do.

Posted on Feb 25, 2009 5:56:04 AM PST
kellie says:
thankyou for the recommendation rebecca i will try and get them through a second hand dealer.

misfit and lindymc- i just bought some of the penman and chadwick novels- the chadwick one i got was daughters of the grail- i prefer books that arent too sappy love story ish but the ones that are 100% brutish and blood and gore just annoy me as well (im difficult to please im afraid :D) but i have heard good things about these authors...

...a recommendation for you Misfit, im guessing that you are interested in indian historical fiction? have you read The Black Englishman by Carolyn Slaughter? i came across it today at work and thought id let you know...

i read crimson petal and the white by michael faber a few years ago and found it enthralling- unfortunately i was about to get on a 12 hour multiple plane flight to the U.K and had two brand new books from two authors i follow to read and even though i was about 3/4 of the way through...i had to leave it behind :( but its one that i am willing to read again, its very in depth.

if anyone else can think of any more books then PLEASE let me know, the more fiction i have the easier my life in the coming months shall be :P...

Posted on Feb 25, 2009 7:03:56 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 25, 2009 7:10:43 AM PST
Julia says
The books I would recommend were written by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Some of them are "The Flame and the Flower", "Shanna" and "The Wolf and the Dove". They are old books, but I really enjoyed them.

Posted on Feb 25, 2009 7:37:50 AM PST
Misfit says:
Hi kellie, I'll take a look at The Black Englishman. Hopefully the library has it, I'm not buying much these days :)

Penman is awesome, her greatest strength is taking the most difficult periods in medieval history and getting that light bulb to go off in your head so you understand. i.e. the English Civil War between Stephen and Maude - I never got it until I read When Christ and His Saints Slept. Now I get it and all those other books set in that period make so much more sense.

Chadwick, she's got such an awesome way of effortlessly sucking you into another century with the little details of food, clothes, smells, etc. without clubbing you over the head with it like some other authors I've seen. Her older books (like Daughters of the Grail) are a bit more romance-ish but then I like a good love story on occasion.

I keep forgetting this one, but take a took at Brian Wainwright's Within the Fetterlock. Not an easy read and very complex but worth while.

Not sure if it's what you're looking for but a recent find of mine is Susan Howatch. The first I read was Penmarric (her first novel) set in late 19C/early 20C Cornwall. Bit fat family saga, fueding siblings that kind of thing. What's really cool is in this and two other books is that she parallels her character's stories with those of the Plantagenets. In Penmarric it's Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their devil's brood. In Cashelmara (which I'm currently reading) she parallels her story with that of Edward I, Edward II and his wife Isabella, but this time set in 19C Ireland - and this is a definite wow book for me, plus the fun of picking out who is Piers Gaveston, Despenser and Mortimer, let alone how the author is going to deal with *Edward's* mysterious demise.

Speaking of Edward, there's Susan Higganbotham's The Traitor's Wife - its coming out in a new trade paperback from Source books.

If you're interested in French history don't be afraid to try Dumas, and don't let the size of the books scare you. He's big on dialogue which moves quickly.

Posted on Feb 25, 2009 8:30:08 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 25, 2009 3:14:38 PM PST
I second (or third) the recommendation of The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.
The books - like Francis Crawford of Lymond - are complex, highly intelligent, funny, disturbing, confusing and challenging. When you're looking for books that stay with you for a lifetime, this series is probably it.
And some advice in case you give them a go, don't loose yourself in details, like the Latin or French Lymond is spouting from time to time - he is a Renaissance Man in the truest sense after all and there is time enough to explore all the dephts the second time around - just go with the flow and enjoy the ride.
Though English is not my first language, this was one of the most rewarding reads in my life.

ETA: I just read your question about more details about the Lymond Chronicles. The first of the six books is 'The Game of Kings' and IMO the best summary I found on Barnes&Nobles:

<<... Like Patrick O'Brian, whose books have attracted a devoted following, Dunnett's work is timeless, an extravagantly imagined blend of fact and fiction. Although Dunnett's hero, Francis Crawford, is a fictional creation, many of her cast of supporting characters, from Mary, Queen of Scots on down, are based on historical figures.

Breathtakingly thrilling and meticulously researched, the Lymond Chronicles follow the adventures of the irresistible and indefatigable Francis Crawford, a 16th-century Scottish nobleman. Although her hero travels across Renaissance Europe, from England to Russia, he always returns to Scotland, where Mary, Queen of Scots is still a vulnerable child. With the Lymond Chronicles, Dunnett explains, she "wished to explore, within several books, the nature and experiences of a classical hero: a gifted leader whose star-crossed career, disturbing, hilarious, dangerous, I could follow in finest detail for ten years. And I wished to set him in the age of the Renaissance." The rest, as they say, is history. ...>>

ETA2: And to add something not yet yet mentioned:
Outlander (series)- by Diana Gabaldon: Compelling storytelling with characters one gets to deeply care for.
Measuring the World - Daniel Kehlmann: Follows two young geniusses of the Enlightenment Era, Humboldt and Gauss, who go about understanding and explaining the world in very different ways. Fast paced, humorous, yet deep read.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2009 9:02:04 AM PST
Misfit says:
**bangs head against wall**

How could I forget the Outlander series. Great fun and what a love story.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2009 11:22:20 AM PST
Misfit, I am sure Jamie forgives you. ;)

Posted on Feb 25, 2009 11:37:44 AM PST
Jeanne says:
I agree whole heartedly with the Outlander series! And don't forget Gabaldon's offshoot from the Outlander series - the Lord John Grey novels! Starts with Lord John and The Private Matter, then Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade and a third (that I am blanking the title of right now, sorry.) Also Anna Lee Waldo writes well researched historicals... she is a retired college professor. Sacajawea is older, but well worth the long read. Prairie is based on real life, has some interesting historical tie-ins to Tom Mix, early american horse racing and other historical figures along with the beginnings of the wild west shows. And her Circle of Stones, Circle of Stars series is VERY intriguing with the Madoc voyages, Welsh and druidic history and the link to druids coming to America before Columbus. Compelling stuff! She has the sequels to those finished and ready to be published too.

And *cough, cough* I have recently had a historical fiction book published too - Toward the Horizon. Based on the actual story of the ship Hector and her epic journey to Nova Scotia in 1773 - the first of many Scottish immigrant ships to Canada. It is written with as much historical detail as possible. Had to get a plug of my own in there... Also, it's interesting that so many readers are looking for good historical fiction and when authors submit to the bigger publishing houses, during the last few years, we are told that "historical fiction does not sell!" There is a real disconnect there between what readers want and what the publishers think they want... Good luck and happy reading!

Posted on Feb 25, 2009 11:58:59 PM PST
J. Wan says:
Third and fourth the Chadwicks, especially the William Marshal (sigh). And ooh ooh ooh! Totally forgot the Anya Seton (whoever had said it) - "Katherine" is very good.

Interesting that the majority of our suggestions have a love story attached to it.

Kathleen Woodiwiss is definitely historical, and is also definitely romance. I don't connect with her books the same way millions of other readers do, but it's always worth a try.

And for historical fiction with a mystery plot, I'd go with Ariana Franklin's "Mistress of the Art of Death", about a medieval woman coroner. A very fun book.

Have heard very good things about Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth". Anyone read it?

As for Francis Crawford of Lymond - what can I say. He's rambunctious, rebellious, generous, humourous, sarcastic, violent, cynical, kind, brilliant, and absolutely to die for.

And last but not least, Peter Carey's "True History of the Kelly Gang" (Australian). Won the Booker Prize several years book, and has some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read.

Posted on Feb 26, 2009 1:47:18 AM PST
If you want to move into the Second World War era, there's a couple books I can suggest. They are written as fiction but based on real events. The first is Robert Ryan's Night Crossing. He does an excellent job of presenting the story of a German musician who flees to England when war is declared. She is detained as an enemy alien and is caught in a love triangle between her German soldier fiance and a Scottish police inspector. It is an easy book to get into and is even more interesting because it's based on real events.

The other book I will mention is my own novel, Hitler and Mars Bars. It's the story of a German boy who is transported to Ireland by the Red Cross after the Second World War to recuperate from the devastation in his homeland. It's a moving story of his experiences growing up in a foreign land. While it is an historical fiction, it is based on a true story.

Hope this will give you more titles to add to your reading list.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2009 4:56:41 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 26, 2009 4:57:59 AM PST
Misfit says:
J. Wan, I know 99.9% of the population seems to think Pillars is the greatest novel since War and Peace but be warned - graphic sex and violence, historically inaccurate and cardboard characters from the 20C. To each his own, but I'd recommend you look at all the reviews carefully to see if its for you.

I haven't read Ariana Franklin's "Mistress" books yet. I hear they're well written with good characters but perhaps she diddles a bit too much with known history. I'm still torn whether or not to read these books.

Dianne and Jeanne, I just have to mention that its a refreshing sight to have authors step in here and CONTRIBUTE to the discussion and then respectfully suggesting your books instead of some I've seen who spam every thread with a book promo. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2009 7:17:22 AM PST
anita says:
Take a look at "Toward the Horizon" by Jeanne MacGregor Lahn. The first three chapters take place in Scotland as the families are making their decision to emigrate. The action takes place aboard the Hector where 200 people are crammed into the hold of the ship. This new author has made the characters come alive. You will laugh and cry with them. An excellent read!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2009 7:25:18 AM PST
anita says:
If you are interested in more recent history, you might read my book "Mose." It covers the period in America from 1899 to 1968 (from horse and buggy days to Sputnik.)

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2009 8:01:46 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 26, 2009 8:04:57 AM PST
B L T says:
I know exactly what you mean. I've been reading historical fiction for almost 40 years and don't read much of whats come out in the last several years.

One of my favorite authors is Zoe Oldenbourg. She was one of the worlds great historical novelists. If you want to experence the colors, sights, smells and noises of life in medievil times, read Zoe Oldenbourg. She takes you there. I guarentee her books will stay with you for a long time. Read the reviews on her books.

The following Zoe Oldenbourg novels are some of my favorites of all the books I've read over the years.:

'The Heirs Of The Kingdom' A great story of what it was like to be part of the great mass of the poor who joined the long trek to Jerusalem on the First Crusade.

Oldenbourg's trilogy, 'The World Is Not Enough', 'The Cornerstone' and 'Destiny of Fire' Late 12th early 13th century family saga. Fantastic novels.

'Cities Of Flesh' 12th century France at the time of the Albigensian Crusade. (look it up)

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2009 9:32:35 AM PST
I also thought of another book, this one American Historical - On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon by Kaye Gibbons. I loved this book however had a little trouble getting into it. Also I have purchaed the Sparrowhawk series but have yet to read them. They do get high marks on though as did Occasion.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2009 9:35:04 AM PST
Oh my gosh! The Woodwiss books you mentioned are some that I read years ago and were the ones that first got me into historical fiction. I loved all three of them. What are some other books you have read and would reccomend?

Posted on Feb 26, 2009 10:15:37 AM PST
Wow! This has been a treasure trove of ideas. I have gone through and read all the posts, made my list of authors and suggestions and now I am off to do some book shopping. Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2009 11:05:37 AM PST
Doe says:
You must read "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zusak.
One of my all time favorites!!
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