The best books that genuinely reflect the time they are set in

Who am I?

I’m deeply interested in the lives of my ancestors including the times they lived through so in researching our family tree I took into account the historical events they witnessed. This is what led me to read and write historical fiction. One branch of my family where survivors of the Great Hunger so I have done a lot of research on this dark period of Irish history. During WW1 my husband’s great uncle died in the trenches as an Irishman fighting in the British Army while at the same time my English grandfather and his two brothers were imprisoned as conscientious objectors, one of them dying as a consequence.


I wrote...

A Pocket Full of Shells

By Jean Reinhardt,

Book cover of A Pocket Full of Shells

What is my book about?

In 1846 a baby girl is born to a young Irish fisherman and his wife. It is the second year of the Great Hunger and the young couple chooses to remain in Ireland, while family and friends are leaving. Their story takes place in the fishing village of Blackrock, Dundalk but with the cities of Liverpool and Sunderland playing a critical part in their lives. Is their love for each other and their homeland enough to sustain them, or will they be forced to join the one-and-a-half million who emigrate? This is the story of a young man's love for his wife and child and the struggle to provide for his family in one of the darkest periods of Ireland's history.

The books I picked & why

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Strumpet City

By James Plunkett,

Book cover of Strumpet City

Why this book?

I first read this book in my teens and it profoundly affected me. The storyline is set in Dublin from 1907 to 1914, when a third of the city’s residents were destitute. Large families lived in single rooms in the dilapidated former homes of wealthy landlords. The author weaves the lives of his fictional characters into the workers’ revolt and great lockout of 1913, a tragic time for the ordinary people of Dublin. In spite of this, there are wonderful scenes of kindness and self-sacrifice that a close-knit community will often provide. I feel this book greatly influenced my own writing decades after first reading it. 

Strumpet City

By James Plunkett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Set in Dublin during the Lockout of 1913, Strumpet City is a panoramic novel of city life. It embraces a wide range of social milieux, from the miseries of the tenements to the cultivated, bourgeois Bradshaws. It introduces a memorable cast of characters: the main protagonist, Fitz, a model of the hard-working, loyal and abused trade unionist; the isolated, well-meaning and ineffectual Fr O'Connor; the wretched and destitute Rashers Tierney. In the background hovers the enormous shadow of Jim Larkin, Plunkett's real-life hero.

Strumpet City's popularity derives from its realism and its naturalistic presentation of traumatic historical events. There are…


Seek the Fair Land

By Walter Macken,

Book cover of Seek the Fair Land

Why this book?

This is the first book in a trilogy that follows multiple generations of a fictional Irish family. Set in the mid-1600s, Cromwell’s soldiers leave a trail of destruction behind as they attack towns and villages throughout the country. After his wife is killed in the massacre of Drogheda Dominick McMahon and his two children, along with a wounded priest, set out to find a safer place to live. The story is compelling and, although part of a trilogy, can be read as a stand-alone novel. It has everything I like about historical fiction – captivating characters woven into a series of major events that pull the reader into a bygone era.

Seek the Fair Land

By Walter Macken,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seek the Fair Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is 1649. As the English soldiers trample the Irish homesteads, leaving behind them a trail of barbarity and destruction, a few brave men set out to seek a 'fair land' over the brow of the hill.

Among them is Dominick MacMahon, whose wife has been killed in the bloody massacre of Drogheda, and whose son and daughter, and a wounded priest, Father Sebastian, accompany him.

But as he journeys in search of peace and freedom he is relentlessly pursued by Coote, the Cromwellian ruler of Connaught . . .


Annals of the Famine in Ireland, in 1847, 1848, and 1849

By Asenath Nicholson,

Book cover of Annals of the Famine in Ireland, in 1847, 1848, and 1849

Why this book?

This is an eyewitness account of the Great Hunger in Ireland for the years 1847-1849, written by an American woman who felt pity for the poor Irish immigrants fleeing their native land. Her first trip to Ireland was just before the Great Hunger and although conditions were bad then, they were much worse on her second visit. Her accounts allow the reader to see what takes place through her eyes and they are harrowing at times. Not only does the author inform us of the dire situation of the poor but she also pays tribute to those who lost their lives in the struggle to help others. This was one of the books I used as a reference while writing my own series.

Annals of the Famine in Ireland, in 1847, 1848, and 1849

By Asenath Nicholson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Annals of the Famine in Ireland, in 1847, 1848, and 1849 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Annals of the Famine in Ireland" is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the effects and contributing causes of the Great Famine. But it is not a history. It does not merely trot out facts and figures. Rather, it is a personal and emotional response from an eye-witness to the calamity. Histories are generally detached from the events that they record but, in this account, the reader will experience an immediacy to the situation as though transported back to the very time and place. The anecdotal nature of the testimony allows it to be so.

The author, Asenath…


The Tattooist of Auschwitz

By Heather Morris,

Book cover of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Why this book?

Although set in such a terrible place this book tells the story of one young man’s hope and resilience. The tattooist’s true life experience is sympathetically used by the author as a base for the storyline and it makes for a very unsettling but compulsive read. I like that there isn’t too much description and yet I still felt the bleakness of the camp and the desperation of its prisoners. The love story running throughout the book helped to show the strength of the human spirit in spite of inhumane conditions.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

By Heather Morris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Tattooist of Auschwitz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the bestselling books of the 21st century with over 6 million copies sold.

Don't miss the conclusion to The Tattooist of Auschwitz Trilogy, Three Sisters. Available now.

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.

In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival - scratching numbers into his fellow victims' arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.

Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl.…


Atonement

By Ian McEwan,

Book cover of Atonement

Why this book?

Set in WW1 this novel stirred up many emotions and I even shed some tears. There is so much in this storyline that appeals to me, the futility of war, one’s ability to forgive, and how just one lie can change a person’s life forever. The first few chapters might seem a bit slow but life was at a slower pace before 1914 and this is where you become well-acquainted with the characters. The vivid portrayal of the chaos and trauma of war shows that the author really did his research. Long after I finished reading this book my mind went back to it, wondering how I would have reacted in the shoes of each person. 

Atonement

By Ian McEwan,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Atonement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Ireland, romantic love, and country life?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Ireland, romantic love, and country life.

Ireland Explore 169 books about Ireland
Romantic Love Explore 510 books about romantic love
Country Life Explore 44 books about country life

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Crime and Punishment, A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience, and The Leopard if you like this list.