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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Six More Four-Star Historical Fiction Reads I Loved Last Year

Six More Four-Star Bossy Historical Fiction Reads

Historical fiction is one of my very favorite genres to read, and I recently posted about Six Four-Star (And Up) Historical Fiction Reads I Loved Last Year; here are six more Bossy loves I read last year.

Two other historical fiction books made it onto My Very Favorite Bossy 2023 Reads: Demon Copperhead and Chenneville.

If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think! I'd also love to hear: what are some of your favorite historical fiction reads?

You can click here for other historical fiction books (and lists of favorites) I've reviewed on Bossy Bookworm. I posted last year about Six Four-Star Historical Fiction Reads I Loved Last Year, and Six More Four-Star (And Up) Historical Fiction Reads I Loved in the Past Year.


01 A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird

Isabella Bird's nonfiction account of her 1873 travels through the rugged, wondrous American West is full of her irresistible determination to discover; offers fascinating details of flora, fauna, and the people she encountered; and showcases her sparkling personality.

British Isabella Bird explored the wild, rugged western United States in the late 1800s, and she journeyed the challenging terrain in shocking solo fashion.

Through the vividly recounted adventures in this lively narrative nonfiction, Bird shares her many discoveries, difficulties, and wonders.

The book is built from letters Bird wrote to her sister (with some key notes added after the fact), which paint an unflinching account of her own occasionally dangerous missteps, her soaring hopes and deep connection to the stark mountains, and a sometimes-scathing social commentary related to Indians, class, ecological irresponsibility, and the dramatic inspiration she finds in nature.

Bird was an understated trailblazer with irresistible determination and feistiness. Her wonder-filled fascination with the flora, fauna, and characters she encounters in the west combined with her mix of no-nonsense practicality and ambitious traveling goals and incredible fortitude make for a captivating read.

If you're interested in this book, you might also like the titles on my Greedy Reading List Six Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West and Six More Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West.

For my full review of this book, please see A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains.


02 Lucky Red by Claudia Cravens

Claudia Cravens's story of a young brothel worker in late nineteenth-century Dodge City, Kansas, offers up a tough young heroine who makes mistakes but whose perseverance and loyalty lead her to an unorthodox life full of friends and adventure.

Practical, tough sixteen-year-old Bridget arrives in 1877 Dodge City without a penny to her name or enough marketable skills to earn her keep.

She begins working at the Buffalo Queen, using her bright-red hair and pure, country-girl appeal to her advantage.

Then Bridget falls for a fellow "sporting woman," and when the Buffalo Queen is threatened, she must determine where her loyalties lie.

Bridget is strong and no-nonsense yet also inexperienced and far from worldly. Her decision to become a prostitute is a choice between hunger and a full belly, and she isn't sentimental about sexual intimacy or about what might have been.

The bedrock for Lucky Red is made up of wonderful historical fiction details of life in the dusty, volatile, lawless West.

Please click here for my full review of Lucky Red.


03 Beyond That, the Sea by Laura Spence-Ash

Beyond That, the Sea is a lovely character-driven historical fiction story about complicated relationships, found family, growing up, and balancing two lives, all set against the backdrop of World War II.

She had tried, as best she could, to braid her life with theirs. She never thought then that their futures would diverge. That there would be two lines, heading in very different directions... [She was] caught between two old England and one New.

Beyond That, the Sea tells the story of two families on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean during World War II.

British parents Millie and Reginald Thompson make what feels like an impossible choice: to send their eleven-year-old daughter Beatrix to America for her safety.

The Gregorys pull Bea into the heart of their Boston family and their New England life. Bea settles in, and soon her American family and life feel more familiar than the parents she left behind.

Tragedy strikes both of her families, making Bea feel torn between the two lives she's led, each of which have without question shaped her into the person she is.

The point of view frequently shifts, and many chapters are short, but I felt connected to each of the characters and thought the varied perspectives were one of the book's strengths.

I loved witnessing the growth of each of the relationships in this character-driven historical fiction gem.

Click here for my full review of Beyond That, the Sea.


04 Illuminations by Mary Sharratt

Sharratt's carefully researched, richly detailed historical fiction is based on the life of the medieval mystic who long served as an unwilling anchorite, walled into a monastery cell. Her rise to freedom and power is built upon visions and feminism.

Mary Sharratt offers an exhaustively researched, fascinating historical fiction account of the life of the 12th century mystic who later spearheaded the building of a convent and became a Benedectine abbess.

Sharratt begins the book with an aged Hildegard who has emerged from the monastery cell of her childhood. Because of this structure, I was relieved to know that she ultimately escapes her forced isolation. This made it bearable to read Sharratt's account of Hildegard's claustrophobic, dark years behind a dank, damp wall--finding spots of joy and inspiration where she is able.

I read Illuminations with a group of women over a period of months, and we were captivated by the details of the Middle Ages setting; the satisfying, subversive feminism Sharratt inserts throughout; and Hildegard's ability to reinvent her situation so dramatically. There's relatively little page time spent on the later years of Hildegard's life at the abbey.

Mary Sharratt also wrote Revelations, historical fiction about the life of Margery of Kempe, a mother of fourteen whose radiant visions led her to stun medieval British society with her vow of celibacy and ambitious pilgrimage halfway around the world.

For my full review, please check out Illuminations.


05 Go As a River by Shelley Read

Read's debut novel is gorgeously written, with vivid details of mid-century Colorado, moments that change everything, impossible decision-making, heartbreak, and hope.

Victoria is the last surviving female in a family of difficult men, living on a rural Colorado peach farm--its existence in that place and time a miracle and a testament to her father's creative farming and skill.

Wilson Moon is a drifter displaced from his tribal lands, and a chance meeting between Wil and Victoria shifts the paths of their lives forever.

Driven by instinct and survival, Victoria responds to the challenges of the wilderness, unforgiving weather, and seesawing temperatures. She realizes she must make an impossible choice--one with heartbreaking repercussions.

Much of the book is about putting one foot in front of the other despite unimaginable devastation; finding the strength to go on despite few options; and the surprise of new determination and hope after years of pain and loss.

Read brings Go As a River to life through the sights, sounds, and wildlife in the high Colorado forest; the grip of a farming lifestyle along the churning Gunnison River; and the rhythm of life dictated by the peach orchard.

The planned-flooding aspect of the novel is based on the true story of the destruction of the town of Iola, Colorado, in the 1960s.

I loved the immersive details of Victoria's life, her stalwart manner, her strength, and her perseverance. Please click here for my full review of Go As a River.


06 Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall

Marshall's debut historical fiction centers around women's searches for body autonomy in three timelines of interconnected characters and their stories.

Looking for Jane is a story of women living in three timelines who are linked through decades by a mysterious letter--and by enormously important, recurring dilemmas for women through the ages: unexpected pregnancies; searches (and fights) for bodily autonomy and securing their health; and weighty choices with repercussions that reverberate.

In this historical fiction, Marshall explores the goings-on at 1960s unwed mothers' homes in Canada--based upon actual first-person accounts of practices, cruelties, and secrets and lies at such homes in the U.S. and Canada.

The female characters' stories are deeply intertwined; I saw some of the events coming but not others, and I didn't mind predicting portions of where the story was going.

Marshall sets up realistic emotional barriers for characters who have had to hide parts of themselves away; she doesn't shy away from sharing the sometimes-tragic outcomes of pregnant women's desperate searches for a say-so in their fates; and she places each story within the events and details of its timeline.

Please click here for my full review of Looking for Jane.

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