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Looking for historical fiction books for the summer? I think this is a great genre to explore in the summer as the books make you feel like you have traveled to a different time and place.

historical fiction books for summer

While I never thought of myself as a historical fiction reader, some of the best books I’ve read are in that genre.

Some historical fiction books are as action packed as any thriller. Some are so expertly crafted with thoroughly developed characters that they rival the best literary fiction. And some are mystery puzzles that need to be solved.

I find that historical fiction fall into two categories:

  • Stories that take you through a specific historical event such as a war.
  • Stories that give you a glimpse into what life was like during a certain time in a certain place.

How I chose books for this list? I started with books that I personally read and loved and thought would make great picks for summer reading. I then surveyed readers from real life or from reading groups I’m in for their recommendations for summer. I then looked up each title on GoodReads and picked the books with highest ratings.

You can feel confident with the books on this carefully crafted reading list of historical fiction books for summer.

Let’s dive in!

Historical Fiction Books for Summer

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon (1780s)

I wouldn’t have personally picked a book about a frozen river for a summer reading book, but sooo many readers said this book needs to go on your summer TBR list! Described as a historical mystery, The Frozen River tells the story of a real midwife who lived in Maine in the late 1700s who is called upon to determine the cause-of-death of a man who is found dead in a local river after it freezes over. The midwife thinks it’s clearly murder; while a local Harvard educated doctor thinks otherwise. This launches the midwife into an investigation to learn more about what happened. Months before he was found dead, a woman confided in Martha that the man found dead was part of a duo who raped her. Fans describe this book as gripping and atmospheric page-turner.

Content Warning: sexual assault

The American Queen by Vanessa Miller

The American Queen by Vanessa Miller (1860s)

The American Queen tells the story about a group of formerly enslaved Americans who were forced out of their homes in Mississippi. They travel northward in search of their own land where they could settle and establish their own community, and they do just that under the leadership of their sweet queen and king in a series of providential events. This is a beautiful and true story about loyalty, survival, trust, power, love, and forgiveness.

Reading note: Great on audio! (My favorite part was when the narrator would sing. She really brought Louella to life.)

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty (1870s)

Two old-timer cowboys, Gus and Call, decide to saddle up for one last adventure: driving a herd of cattle from their Texas ranch all the way to Montana. Along the dusty trail, they face challenges, forge new friendships with a ragtag group of cowboys, and grapple with the fading glory of their Ranger days. The journey is a bittersweet reminder of life, loss, and the enduring power of friendship. Historical fiction fans rave about this book and say it is a must-read.

crocodile on the sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (1880s)

This is the first book in the Amelia Peabody series. Peabody is a strong-willed Victorian woman who inherits a fortune and sets off for Egypt to fulfill her passion for Egyptology. On her journey, she befriends Evelyn, a young woman in need of a protector. Together, they travel up the Nile to an excavation site, where they encounter a grumpy archaeologist, a suspicious mummy, and a plot that threatens Evelyn’s life. Amelia, with her sharp wit and resourcefulness, must unravel the mystery and keep her new friend safe. Some people find Amelia annoying, but I love her. In my opinion her overconfidence is part of her charm. She literally had me laughing out loud.

Go here if you want more Ancient Egyptian historical fiction.

Reading Note: Great on audio!

Lovely War Book

Lovely War by Julie Berry (1910s)

I loved this book! There is a lot of historical fiction written about World War II; this one is about World War I. It’s written in the context of a love story (hence, the title of the book). It also has a very unique context because in the background you will meet the Greek gods Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Ares who are all playing a role in the story. Aphrodite is on trial for meddling in people’s lives! To defend herself, she recounts a tale of four characters during World War I. There’s Hazel, a talented pianist yearning for love, and James, a soldier headed for war. Across the battlefield, Colette, a brave singer with a tragic past, finds solace in the music of Aubrey, a talented jazz musician facing prejudice. As war stretches its cruel hand, these four must fight for love, friendship, and hope amidst the chaos.

Reading note: If you’re looking for this one in your local bookstore or library, expect to find it in the young adult section.

The Evolution of Annabel Craig by Lisa Grunwald

The Evolution of Annabel Craig by Lisa Grunwald (1920s)

To say this book is a historical fiction book about the Scopes Monkey Trial doesn’t do it justice. Yes, it is definitely about that, and I loved getting this on-the-ground view of that pivotal trial, but it’s really a story about a young woman named Annabel Craig. Annabel has to navigate living on her own after both her parents died when she was a young teenager, a marriage with an up-and-coming local lawyer, the biggest event to ever happen in Dayton, Tennessee, and her faith in God in the face of it all. I thought it was all beautifully told in this book by Lisa Grunwald. Also, Grunwald can write!

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store

Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride (1930s)

This is a recent read of mine, but I think it’s sooo good. This book could also fall under the mystery and literary fiction genres. This book had been on my TBR list since it came out last summer. I’m only sad that it took me so long to read it. I enjoyed it so much that it gave me a serious book hangover after I finished it. I simply wanted more. The book centers around a Jewish couple, Moshe and Chona. Moshe owns the local theater, and Chona owns the local grocery store. The book explores race issues, anti-semitism, class, and what happens when all of these things intersect.

Reading Note: Great on audio!

The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (1930s)

It’s 1936 in Kentucky where we meet Cussy (Mary) Carter, a clever woman, who is one of the “blue people” of Kentucky. Despite facing prejudice, she takes a job as for the Pack Horse Library Project, delivering books on horseback to families in the Appalachian mountains. Along the way, she befriends lonely and desperate people, challenges their suspicions, and shares the magic of good books in a world full of despair and hardship. This book is a reminder that books can connect communities and offer hope even in tough times. This is a book about friendship, hope, mercy, and compassion.

Content Warnings: Sexual assault, death, starvation

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (1930s)

The Giver of Stars also tells the story of the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, but through a different character. Alice escapes a her stuffy life in England by marrying an American man, but small-town Kentucky isn’t much better. When she has a chance to join the library group delivering books part of one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s projects, Alice volunteers. Alongside a group of women, Alice braves the mountains to bring the joy of reading to remote communities. Facing prejudice and danger, these unlikely friends learn the power of books, friendship, resilience, and compassion.

The Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini (1929 to 1946)

Did you know that there was an American woman who was put to death by the Gestapo during World War II? Neither did I until I read this book. Her name is Mildred Harnack, and she was a Wisconsin native. In fact, in America’s Dairyland they observe Mildred Fish Harnack Day every September. The Resistance Women follows four women from different walks of life and takes them from pre-World War II until Harnack’s execution. This is another one of those books that has stuck with me even though I read it more than five years ago. If you’ve ever wondered how the Nazis were able to gain the power they did, this book does such a good job of showing how slowly and subtly they increased their power.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (1939 to 1959)

This book follows three women during World War II. Caroline Ferriday, a socialite from New York, works tirelessly to aid Polish women subjected to medical experiments at Ravensbrück concentration camp. Kasia, a young Polish girl, faces unimaginable horrors in the camp but finds hope in Caroline’s determination to help. Meanwhile, German doctor Herta Oberheuser grapples with moral dilemmas as she becomes involved in the Nazi regime’s atrocities. Through their stories, this book sheds light on historical character. This is a book about resilience, determination, and friendship.

If I Were You by Lynn Austin

If I Were You by Lynn Austin (1940s)

If I Were You is an epic novel that tells the story of life in England during World War II through the lens of two women who are the same age, but polar opposites in every other way. The book starts in the present, in 1950 in the United States, when widowed war bride Audrey Clarkson and her young son show up at the home of the parents of her deceased husband in Connecticut to find her old longtime friend Eve Dawson pretending to be her. The book then goes back and tells how they got to where they are and why.

I loved this book! It is beautifully written and has such well-developed characters. If you like historical fiction, especially World War 2 historical fiction, definitely check this one out!

Check out my full review of If I Were You.

Reading Note: Great on audio!

Go as a River by Shelley Read

Go as a River by Shelley Read (1940s)

This novel is set on a Colorado peach farm during the 1940s. It follows Victoria Nash, a young woman who navigates the challenges of love, loss, and resilience after a tragic accident changes her life. As she seeks a fresh start, Victoria discovers the strength within herself and the beauty of forging her own path. The book beautifully intertwines themes of nature, family, and the enduring human spirit, making it a heartwarming and inspiring read. This would make for a great peach-themed book club pick!

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali (1950s)

This is an love story set against the backdrop of 1950s Tehran. It follows Roya, a young woman who finds solace and romance in a quaint stationery shop, where she meets her first love, Bahman. Their relationship is torn apart by political upheaval, but decades later, Roya gets a chance to reconnect with Bahman and uncover the truth about their past. This beautifully written novel explores themes of love, loss, and the enduring power of memory, making it a heartfelt and memorable read. This book goes back and forth between the past and the present, and it had me hooked from page one. Soooo good!

The Fountains of Silence book by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (1950s)

I’m embarrassed to say that I literally knew nothing about Franco’s Spain post-WWII until I read this book. This book follows the lives of several characters who live in Franco’s Spain and the visiting Americans who only see a curated version. As the name implies, one of the themes of this book is silence — because silence is how you survive living under a totalitarian regime. If you do anything to draw attention to yourself, it’s a recipe for disaster. The book switches between the different characters, slowly revealing the truth about some of the incredulous actions and projects the government is working on. It is interspersed with excerpts from U.S. government documents about life in Spain during this time.

Note: You will find this book in the YA section of your bookstore. Also, I don’t recommend this one on audio unless you know Spanish. It includes a lot of Spanish phrases, but the physical book includes a glossary to help with translation.

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (1970s)

I’m going to warn you . . . this is a gut-wrenching story, but I also think that its an important read. This book is set in 1970s Alabama. It follows Civil Townsend, a young nurse who becomes deeply involved in the lives of two young sisters and discovers a shocking injustice within the healthcare system. As Civil fights for the girls’ rights and navigates her own moral dilemmas, the story highlights themes of compassion, courage, and the fight for justice. This book sheds light on a dark chapter in American history, which is the reason why I think it’s worth reading.

now is not the time to panic book by Kevin Wilson

Now is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson (1990s)

I loved this book and am surprised I haven’t heard more people talk about it. This is a 1990s-era coming-of-age novel that takes place over a summer when two teenagers decide to create a poster as a joke during their summer break. The poster becomes a sensation and causes chaos throughout the town. As someone who grew up during the 90s, this book resonated with me and perfectly captures the nostalgia and essence of a 90s summer. I loved how Kevin Wilson brought that era to life.

Reading Note: Great on audio!

What historical fiction books are you most excited to read this summer? I would love to hear about it. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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One Comment

  1. This is a wonderful list of summer reads! “The Frozen River,” “If I Were You,” and “The Stationary Shop” have particularly caught my attention. Thanks for sharing your recommendations!

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