The best “fish out of water” historical novels

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always loved learning about the past. Whenever we travel for vacation, my family has become resigned to making a stop at a historical site, especially for Colonial America. It was no surprise to them that I set parts of my first published novel (and series) in 18th century North Carolina. Each novel on my book list is set in a different century and features ordinary people who, when thrown into extraordinary circumstances, respond with strength, courage, and grace. These historical “fish-out-of-water” stories remind us how much people have changed across time—and how they’ve stayed the same. 


I wrote...

Whisper Falls

By Elizabeth Langston,

Book cover of Whisper Falls

What is my book about?

Whisper Falls tells the story of two teens who cross paths through a rift in time and build a “long-distance” friendship spanning two hundred years. When modern-day Mark grows alarmed by the brutal life Susanna leads in 1796, he uses technology to comb through history to discover—and perhaps alter—what the future holds for her.

Readers will be exposed to a group of people who have been oft-neglected in fiction and in history: indentured servants of post-colonial America. Woven with rich historical description, gripping mysteries, and vivid scenery, Whisper Falls will leave you enchanted and inspired by this tale of perseverance, courage, and love.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Sword Dancer

Elizabeth Langston Why did I love this book?

The Sword Dancer takes place during the Tang Dynasty. Although I knew little about that part of history, I loved how quickly this story immersed me into the world of 8th century China. Li Feng, a young woman who was orphaned under mysterious circumstances, leaves her childhood protector and journeys to the city to uncover her past. She’s strong, smart, and brave but doesn’t always make the best choices when it comes to choosing allies. Using her wits and skill with swords, Li Feng battles human foes as well as a society that doesn’t expect her to amount to much—that is, until she discovers an ally worthy of her trust.

By Jeannie Lin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sword Dancer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE THIEF WHO STOLE HIS HEART Sword dancer Li Feng is used to living life on the edge of the law - a woman alone in the dangerous world of the Tang Dynasty has only her whirlwind reflexes to trust. She will discover the truth about her past, even if that means outwitting the most feared thief-catcher of them all...

Relentless, handsome and determined, Han sees life - and love - as black and white. Until he finally captures the spirited, courageous Li Feng, who makes him question everything he thought he knew about right and wrong. Soon he's faced…


Book cover of The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Elizabeth Langston Why did I love this book?

I couldn’t make recommendations about historical novels without including The Witch of Blackbird Pond. For me, this story is the gold standard for “fish-out-of-water” historical fiction—and was the book that first had me falling in love with the genre. In the late-17th century, Kit has been living a life of luxury and relative freedom on an island in the Caribbean. When her grandfather dies, she’s forced to sail across the Atlantic to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in Connecticut. But her new home among the Puritans proves to be restrictive, confusing, and harsh. Kit fights against fear and intolerance to create her own brand of happiness. 

By Elizabeth George Speare,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Witch of Blackbird Pond as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

In this Newbery Medal-winning novel, a girl faces prejudice and accusations of witchcraft in seventeenth-century Connecticut. A classic of historical fiction that continues to resonate across the generations.

Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met.

Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when…


Book cover of Fever 1793

Elizabeth Langston Why did I love this book?

When I first read Fever 1793—set in Philadelphia during a yellow fever epidemic—I thought it was a well-written and thought-provoking glimpse into how people would respond in a crisis. After re-reading it post-pandemic, I would now add “prophetic.” Mattie is a typical grumpy teen who would rather have fun than work in her family’s coffee house. But there is a deadly fever rapidly spreading through the city. Desperation unleashes her inner strength, allowing her to prevail over disease, fear, food shortages, unscrupulous thieves, and well-intentioned but poorly-managed medical science.

By Laurie Halse Anderson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Fever 1793 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Synopsis coming soon.......


Book cover of Longing

Elizabeth Langston Why did I love this book?

Until I watched the PBS/Masterpiece series Victoria, I hadn’t heard of the Chartists, a working-class group in Britain who were determined to improve their political influence. So when I stumbled across Longing—a book set against the backdrop of the Chartist Movement in Wales, the country of my ancestors—I picked it up with greedy hands. An English lord travels to Wales to oversee his recent inheritance of land and mines. But Alexander is bewildered by the seething hostility from the local villagers and the ominous silence about their reasons. When he uncovers the poor working conditions in his mines, he patiently seeks to prove that he, too, feels a Longing for the beauty and charm of his adopted country—and will do whatever it takes to make things right.

By Mary Balogh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Longing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From New York Times bestselling legend and author of the Survivors' Club series comes a cherished novel about the risks and the compromises that come with falling in love.…
 
Governess and mistress—he wanted her as both.…

The illegitimate daughter of an English lord, Sian Jones abandoned her heritage to live in a stalwart coal mining community in South Wales. Empowered by their cause, she’s engaged to be married to the leader of a revolutionary movement that is bracing itself against the tyranny of English mine owners. But Sian’s principles are unexpectedly shaken when she accepts a job as governess under…


Book cover of Code Name Verity

Elizabeth Langston Why did I love this book?

Code Name Verity is one of the finest works of historical fiction that I have ever read. Set during World War II, it tells the story of two British women pilots who agree to serve as spies. When a secret mission over France goes terribly wrong, their friendship sustains them as they fight to avoid a horrific outcome. I re-read the shocking climax scene multiple times, first to make sure I’d read it right and then to marvel at how beautifully written and heartbreakingly perfect it was. Code Name Verity is layered, suspenseful, brilliantly plotted, and—by story’s end—hopeful.

By Elizabeth Wein,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Code Name Verity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

'I have two weeks. You'll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.'

Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, Code Name Verity is a bestselling tale of friendship and courage set against the backdrop of World War Two.

Only in wartime could a stalwart lass from Manchester rub shoulders with a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a special operations executive. When a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France, she is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in…


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Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…


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Interested in Colonial America, love triangle, and Philadelphia?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Colonial America, love triangle, and Philadelphia.

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