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7 Historical Fiction Books That Will Open Your Eyes

Books & Writing

September 13, 2023

The majority of human history is ugly - whether it be the horrors of the Holocaust, or the stains left behind from the era of slavery, the majority of human history isn't pretty. Despite the gutwrenching stories, there are a few stories that remind us of the importance of hope and love. Love is a powerful force and we can see that in many historical stories.

Some of these stories became great works of literature, becoming instant bestsellers within a week! These seven historical fiction books will open your eyes - to the horrors of the past, and the hope the future gives us!

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne survives World War 2 with her stubborn sister, as her husband is locked up in a POW camp. As the war progresses, Vianne can't find any food and starves, and Isabelle and Vianne can't help but notice the disappearances of their Jewish friends. After her neighbor is deported, she's forced to hide the neighbor's son, all while a Nazi lives in the house.

Isabelle is tired of watching the horrors of war take away everyone she loves. She then joins a resistance group, "The Nightingale." Her job is to take abandoned pilots across the Pyrenees in hopes of sending them back to their country, so they don't get locked up in a POW camp. "The Nightingale" is a literary masterpiece, a story of motherhood, a story of darkness and love.

"I loved you, both with all my damaged heart."

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2. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien

Odile is ambitious. She lives in the bustling city of Paris, and everything seems to be perfect, until disaster strikes. When the Nazis invade her city, Odile seeks refuge at her dream job in the Paris library.

She then realizes the terrors the Nazis have brought to her city. The constant air raids, the anti-Jewish laws, and the oppression that plagued the library. With her fellow librarians, Odile uses the power of books to fight the Nazis.

Fast forward forty years, Odile escapes the grip of her past by moving into a small town in Montana. After meeting a curious teenager, Lily, she realizes she can't escape her past. Odile explores her past with Lily, and Lily realizes Odile isn't who she seems. "The Paris Library" teaches us that we can't escape our past, and people aren't who they seem.

"Love is accepting someone, all parts of them, even the ones you don't like or understand."

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3. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

"The Rose Code" is a story of three women. Osla, a wealthy debutante who is enamored with the dashing Prince Philip. Beth, a village girl who struggles with self-image and self-esteem.

Mab, a woman trying to escape the struggles of London poverty. All three women work as code breakers in Bletchley Park, and all three form valuable friendships.

"The Rose Code" takes us through the journey of all three women, and teaches us the importance of women in war. But, Bletchley Park isn't what it seems. There's a snitch, there's a spy.

This paranoia plagues Beth, Mab, and Osla and tears apart their friendship. It's up to them to find the mole, before it's too late.

"Cancel leave, cancel meals, cancel sleep. The day is set."

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4. The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Belle da Costa Greene is an ambitious librarian. She was hired by one of the most influential figures in America's economy, J.P. Morgan.

Her job is to manage a collection of thousands of the world's rarest manuscripts and artworks at the Pierpont Morgan Library. But Belle isn't who she seems to be.

She has a secret. If revealed, it'd tear apart her reputation and status as an elite member of New York society. She's black. "The Personal Librarian" is a true story, and ends up being a thriller when people learn about her secret.

"Changing your name is easy. Changing your soul is impossible."

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5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Liesel Meminger is a book thief. Her eccentric father, Hans, teaches her how to read with the books she steals. Liesel and her foster family live on the outskirts of Munich, the main center of Nazi Germany. Zusak adds another layer to the story as a Jewish man hides in Hans's basement. "The Book Thief" is a heart-stopping story of fearlessness and hope.

"I am haunted by humans."

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6. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Mila Pavlichenko experiences emotional abuse from her husband. She leaves him and becomes a single mother, raising her son, and studying at university to become a historian. Her plans were brought to a halt after World War 2 plagued Russia. Mila answered the call to war and became a sniper.

Fast forward a few years, she becomes history's deadliest female sniper, known as "Lady Death." Mila became an instant icon for Russia, so she's sent to America to help promote aid for Russia in the war. She befriends Eleanor Roosevelt and loves her time in America, until things aren't what they seem. Someone is trying to hunt Mila. "The Diamond Eye" is a thriller and a true story. It serves as a reminder to always be on the lookout, and to never let anyone stop you.

"There is not a woman alive who has not learned how to eat rage in order to appear calm."

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7. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This novel is about to be released as an adaptation by Netflix! It's no surprise why though. Doerr's masterpiece won the Pulitzer Prize, became a National Book Award Finalist, and became a NYT Top 10 Book.

The premise is - Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father, who works for the Museum of Natural History. When the Nazis invade Paris, she is forced to flee to her uncle's home while carrying a valuable jewel.

The second point of view is from a German orphan, Werner. He finds a radio, and learns more about the cost of war that is waged all throughout Europe. Eventually, Werner and Marie-Laure's paths converge and the story takes a sharp turn. "All the Light We Cannot See" is the perfect example of how a novel can use a historical premise, as well as incorporate romance, tragedy, and other elements.

"Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever."

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Dev Shah
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Writer since Sep, 2023 · 31 published articles

I am a high school sophomore living in Largo, Florida. My goal as a journalist and interviewer is to help our generation of teenagers by providing inspirational writing and exploring complex topics. I focus on mental health, self-love, entertainment reviews, and narrative experiences. My work has been published in The Washington Post, Tampa Bay Times, Fortune Magazine, Education Week, and more local papers. I use my experiences as the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion to guide my writing and pieces, and my vast verbal knowledge to best articulate my thoughts.