12 books for the historical fiction fan this holiday season

If you know someone who loves historical fiction, they might enjoy one of these books!

If you know someone who loves historical fiction, they might enjoy one of these books!

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

A Long Petal of the Sea is a book by Isabel Allende. (, Ballantine Books)

A Long Petal of the Sea follows Roser, a young pregnant widow fleeing late 1930s Spain after General Franco and his fascists overthrow the government. When Roser meets Victor Dalmau, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased love, they reluctantly marry in order to survive. The novel follows their journey as refugees and unlikely partners against the backdrop of war.

Isabel Allende is a Chilean writer who now lives in California. Her other novels include The House of the Spirits and The City of the Beasts. In 2010, she won Chile's National Literature Award and in 2014, she received the U.S. presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half is a novel by Brit Bennett. (Emma Trim, Riverhead Books)

Spanning four decades, from the 1950s to the 1980s, The Vanishing Half is a multi-generational story that explores race, identity, family and love, revolving around identical twin sisters who flee from their hometown in rural Louisiana when they're 16 years old. As they embark on separate lives, Stella and Desiree, who are light-skinned Black women, choose to live in different worlds: Stella "passes" as white, while Desiree marries "the darkest man she could find." 

Brit Bennett is a writer from Los Angeles. She is also the author of the novel The Mothers.

The bestselling American author joins Eleanor Wachtel to discuss her new novel, The Vanishing Half, which revolves around identical twin sisters who live out different racial identities. 52:28

The Good German by Dennis Bock

The Good German is a novel by Dennis Bock (Jaime Hogge, Patrick Crean Editions)

The Good German is a reimagined history in which, in 1939, Georg Elser succeeded in assassinating Hitler. But what unfolds is an alternate history where fascism reigns in Europe, and an atomic bomb is dropped on London, and Elser must reckon with the knowledge that his act of heroism changed the course of history — and for what end?

Dennis Bock is a writer, editor and teacher from Toronto. His novel Going Home Again was a finalist for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize. His other works include the novels The Ash Garden and The Communist's Daughter and the short story collection Olympia.

Dennis Bock talks about the thinking behind his alternative history novel The Good German. 10:18

The Forgotten Daughter by Joanna Goodman

The Forgotten Daughter is a book by Joanna Goodman. (, HarperCollins Canada)

The Forgotten Daughter is about a surprising love affair set against the backdrop of the Quebec separatist movement of the early 1990s. Veronique is the daughter of a prominent separatist activist, who was convicted of kidnapping and murdering a politician in the 1970s. Veronique has passionately taken up her father's cause. And James is a journalist who opposed separation, and whose sister, Elodie, was one of the Duplessis Orphans, and was wrongly declared mentally ill as a child and sent to an institution. As Veronique grows closer to James and Elodie, all three must reckon with Quebec's past and their own role in shaping its future.

Joanna Goodman is a novelist originally from Montreal and now living in Toronto. She is also the author of The Home for Unwanted Girls.

Genevieve Graham is a bestselling author of Canadian historical fiction. She talks about the real life inspiration behind her new book, The Forgotten Home Child. 3:18

The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham

The Forgotten Home Child is a novel by Genevieve Graham. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC, Simon & Schuster)

In The Forgotten Home Child, Genevieve Graham tells a story spanning decades about a girl named Winny who roams the streets of Liverpool, after running away from an abusive home. When Winny is sent to a shelter for forgotten children, she learns that she will be shipped off to Canada where a family and a better life awaits her. At 97 years old, Winnifred Ellis is asked by her great-grandson about his family tree. Harbouring secrets about her past, Winnifred knows she can't lie any longer. The Forgotten Home Child is inspired by the true story of the British Home Children.

Graham, who is from Nova Scotia, has written several novels that highlight Canadian history. Her other books include At the Mountain's Edge, Tides of Honour, Come From Away and The Forgotten Home Child.

Ken Follett

14 years ago
Duration 11:18
One of the world's most thrilling authors. 11:18

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

The Evening and the Morning is a book by Ken Follett. (, Viking)

In the prequel to The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett takes the reader to the end of the Dark Ages. England is facing attacks from the Welsh in the west and the Vikings in the east and those in power are corrupt. During these turbulent times, a young boat builder, a Norman noblewoman and a monk find their lives intertwined. Each must face a dangerous and clever bishop who will do anything to increase his wealth and power.

Follett is a Welsh bestselling historical fiction writer. He is best known for his Kingsbridge series, which includes The Pillars of the Earth. His other books include The Key to Rebecca, The Eye of the Needle 

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

The Mirror & the Light is a novel by Hilary Mantel. (Joel Haynes, HarperCollins)

Hilary Mantel closes her blockbuster Tudor trilogy with The Mirror and the Light, which traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell's journey from self-made man to one of the most feared, influential figures in England. Cromwell was a politician, fixer, husband and father who worked under King Henry VIII from 1532 to 1540. Mantel won the Booker Prize twice previously, for the two earlier instalments of the series — first in 2009 for Wolf Hall, and again in 2012 for its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.

Mantel is a British novelist best known for her Tudor trilogy. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2006. Her other books include the novels A Change of Climate and Beyond Black and the memoir Giving Up the Ghost.

The two-time Booker Prize winner talks to Eleanor Wachtel about concluding her chronicle of Thomas Cromwell in the court of King Henry VIII. 58:46

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Maaza Mengiste is an Ethopian-American writer. (W.W. Norton, Nina Subin)

In The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste draws on surprising discoveries about the role of women during Italy's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia — a conflict that many consider to be the start of the Second World War. The story revolves around Hirut, a young Ethiopian woman who takes up arms to join the fight against Mussolini's brutal occupation. The novel also features a sensitive portrait of Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia for more than 40 years.

The Shadow King was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.

Mengiste is an Ethiopian American writer who now lives in New York. She is also the author of Beneath the Lion's Gaze and Addis Ababa Noir.

In her new novel, The Shadow King, the Ethiopian-American author draws on surprising discoveries about the role of women during Italy's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia. 1:02:04

Hamnet & Judith by Maggie O'Farrell

Hamnet & Judith is a novel by Maggie O'Farrell. (Murdo Macleod, Knopf Canada)

Hamnet & Judith is a virtuosic imagining of the lives of Shakespeare's family, set in the plague years of 16th-century Stratford-upon-Avon. Seen primarily through the eyes of the playwright's wife, the story follows the life and early death of their son, about four years before Shakespeare wrote his celebrated play Hamlet.

Hamnet & Judith won the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction.

O'Farrell is an Irish writer who now lives in Edinburgh. She is also the author of the novels After You'd Gone and The Hand That First Held Mine and the memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death.

Eleanor Wachtel speaks with Maggie O’Farrell, winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel, Hamnet & Judith. 58:18

The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull

The Woman Before Wallis is a novel by Bryn Turnbull. (MIRA,

The Woman Before Wallis follows the life of Thelma Morgan, the daughter of an American diplomat, who marries a viscount and enters into the glamorous world of the British aristocracy. When her husband introduces her to Edward, Prince of Wales, they fall into a love affair. Eventually Thelma must leave Edward in the hands of her friend Wallis and sail to New York to help her sister, who's embroiled in a scandal. But Thelma never could have imagined the consequences that follow. 

Bryn Turnbull is a novelist from Toronto. The Woman Before Wallis is her first book.

Soot by Dan Vyleta

Soot is a book by Dan Vyleta. (HarperCollins Canada,

In the sequel to Smoke, it has been 10 years since Thomas Argyle, Charlie Cooper and Livia Naylor set off a revolution by releasing Smoke upon the world. People were raised to believe that Smoke was a sign of sin, but what it actually did was allow them to explore their emotions and truly connect. The trio thought by freeing Smoke, the oppressive power structures that used it for control would fall, giving way to a fair society. But the consequences were not as they imagined, leaving the world deeply divided.

Dan Vyleta is a German Canadian writer who currently teaches in the U.K. He is also the author of the novels The Crooked MaidThe Quiet Twin and Smoke.

We Two Alone by Jack Wang

We Two Alone is a book by Jack Wang. (Mike Grippi, House of Anansi Press)

Set over a century and spanning five continents, We Two Alone traces the evolution of the Chinese immigrant experience. Tracing various people, families and professionals across the globe, Jack Wang creates a tapestry of experience that encompasses the trials and tribulations of a diaspora trying to find its place in the world. 

Wang's short stories have been published in Joyland Magazine, The Humber Literary Review and The New Quarterly. We Two Alone is his first book.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?