The best historical fiction books sweep you away to another time and place — making them ideal choices for your next book club gathering. Our curated selection of historical fiction books includes multigenerational family sagas, medieval royal dramas, and heartfelt coming-of-age narratives set against the backdrop of WWII. They’re sure to spark spirited discussions among your book club crew. The hardest part is choosing which one to read first!
Best Book Club Books: Historical Fiction
The epic dramas of the past await you in these transporting reads.
Beyond That, The Sea
By Laura Spence-Ash
In her acclaimed historical fiction debut, Laura Spence-Ash delivers a moving meditation on love, identity, and the ever-shifting nature of home. The coming-of-age narrative begins in London during the dark days of WWII, when working-class parents Millie and Reginald Thompson decide to send their young daughter Beatrix to live in America so that she might escape the bombs of war. At first, Bea is shocked by this transatlantic change, yet she soon settles into her new life in Boston with her wealthy surrogate family. Just as she begins to flourish, however, the war in Europe ends, and Bea’s parents call her back to London — where she struggles to find her place as a woman who now has two homes. Sweeping in its scale, Beyond That, the Sea guides us through the decades as Bea reckons with who she is and who she wishes to be. It’s the perfect book club book to get lost in with your fellow book clubbers.
All the Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize–winning work of historical fiction is not to be missed. Set in Europe during WWII, All the Light We Cannot See follows Marie-Laure, a young blind French girl, and Werner, a German student and expert in radio technology, as their parallel lives eventually intersect under the Nazi occupation of France. Werner’s preternatural technical abilities land him in an academy for Hitler Youth, but he soon comes to realize the terrible cost of his contributions, propelling him on a journey across war-torn Europe and into Marie-Laure’s world. The novel’s complex themes of hatred, love, connection, and survival will provide endless material for your book club to discuss.
By Min Jin Lee
While it’s now a critically acclaimed series on Apple TV+, we highly recommend reading Pachinko with your book club before watching the book-to-screen adaptation. The award-winning novel’s inciting incident occurs in early-20th- century Korea, where Sunja becomes pregnant with the child of her wealthy and married secret lover. Rather than accept the man’s offer of a life of comfort, however, Sunja decides to marry a gentle minister who is passing through town on his way to Japan. This fateful decision sets the stage for an expansive family drama that cascades down the decades over four generations.
A Gentleman in Moscow
By Amor Towles
In the bestselling A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles offers an enchanting look at life confined to being a spectator as history unfolds before you. It’s 1922 in revolutionary-era Russia, and Count Alexander Rostov has been deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal. His punishment? A life sentence of house arrest inside the Metropol, a luxurious hotel in Moscow that overlooks the Kremlin. As seismic societal shifts transpire outside his window, Rostov searches for joy and connection in his confined space by befriending eclectic hotel workers and guests. You’re sure to devour this charming narrative —and you and your book club can discuss how you might fare in this same situation.
By Toni Morrison
An unforgettable narrative that’s guaranteed to spark discussion, Toni Morrison’s groundbreaking and Pulitzer Prize–winning novel grapples with the brutality of slavery and the unsettled meaning of freedom in America. Set in post–Civil War Ohio, Beloved centers on Sethe, a former enslaved person who remains haunted by the violence she endured and the death of her eldest daughter. The narrative powerfully entwines past and present storylines to reveal the experiences of Sethe and her loved ones, while also delving into complex themes of motherhood, autonomy, and the lasting effects of dehumanization.
By Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is an acclaimed family saga that spans eight generations. The novel begins in 18th-century Ghana with two half sisters, Effia and Esi, each of whom is unaware of the other’s existence. While Effia marries an Englishman and lives a life of privilege, Esi is captured in a raid on her village and sold into the transatlantic slave trade. Each chapter is narrated by a different descendant of one of the two sisters, so the novel reads more like an interconnected short story collection that guides you across the centuries as each generation wrestles with ancestral legacy, cultural identity, and resilience in the face of oppression.
The Japanese Lover
By Isabelle Allende
A literary love story about undying passion and the ramifications of war, The Japanese Lover by internationally bestselling author Isabelle Allende makes the perfect next pick for your historical fiction book club. The novel centers on Alma Belasco, a young girl sent to live in San Francisco to escape the Nazi takeover of Poland, and Ichimei Fukuda, the son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Their young love is upended by the attack on Pearl Harbor and the forced internment of Japanese Americans, including Ichimei and his family. Years later, Alma’s grandson discovers gifts and letters addressed to his grandmother that suggest Alma and Ichimei’s love may have lasted longer than we thought.
By Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel’s bestselling Wolf Hall will immerse you and your book club in the treacherous world of Henry VIII’s Tudor court. Set in 16th-century England, the acclaimed historical fiction novel is told through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, a charismatic figure in King Henry’s court. Cromwell finds himself caught in the middle of a battle between the church, the crown, and the rest of Europe as Henry VIII attempts to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon — setting off a complex power struggle that changes the course of British history. An epic delight that’s sure to spark discussion, Wolf Hall will draw you in with its lush historical detail and shocking twists and turns.
By Maggie O’Farrell
In her National Book Critics Circle Award–winning novel Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell crafts a fictional account of the short life of Hamnet, William Shakespeare’s real-life son, who died at the age of 11. The narrative alternates between the events leading up to Hamnet’s death and the fallout of the family’s grief, exploring themes of loss, trauma, and the nature of creativity. O’Farrell’s touching and unique take on historical fiction is a must-read for any book club that appreciates the Bard and literary history.
The Other Boleyn Girl
By Philippa Gregory
Our second historical fiction pick set during the reign of Henry VIII, The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory crafts a fictionalized account of Mary Boleyn, Anne’s lesser-known sibling. Mary had an affair with Henry before her sister ascended to the king’s side. The bestselling novel imagines Mary’s side of things as she’s forced to step aside for her sister, reckoning with the complexities of passion, jealousy, and family loyalty.
By Margaret Atwood
A fascinating departure from her speculative fiction books like The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace is set in 1843 and based on the true story of Grace Marks, an Irish Canadian woman who at the age of 16 was convicted of murdering her employer and his mistress along with a fellow worker. Questions swirled about Marks’s culpability: Did she truly participate in the slaying, or was she unwittingly caught up in the crime? In the novel, Atwood creates the character of Dr. Simon Jordan, a doctor at the forefront of psychology who’s determined to delve into Grace’s past and expose the truth about the killing. A unique mix of fact, fiction, true crime, historical documents, and imaginative prose, Alias Grace will have you and your book friends contemplating the nature of memory, justice, and our capacity for violence.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
By Jamie Ford
Years after WWII has ended, Henry Lee stands before the Panama Hotel in Seattle’s Japantown — a place that holds the deserted belongings of Japanese families who were sent away to internment camps during the war. When he notices a familiar parasol, Henry is transported back to the 1940s and his friendship with Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American who was sent to the camps with her family. As Henry searches for answers about Keiko’s fate, he also reckons with his past choices and prejudices. Employing dual timelines to tell its moving tale, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet vividly captures the complexities of memory, nationalism, and the echoing influence of the past on the present.
The Pillars of the Earth
By Ken Follett
The first in a monumental series (the fifth book is set to be released later this year), Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth will transport you and your book club to a medieval realm of treachery and grace. Set in 12th-century England, the bestselling historical fiction novel centers on the construction of a grand Gothic cathedral. The project unites Philip, a devout monk, and Tom, a skilled architect and mason, as together they strive to build the magnificent structure against impossible odds, navigating deepening tensions between the church and state and a volatile societal landscape.
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