The best historical fiction books about emotionally strong women

Who am I?

I “discovered” historical fiction when a teen and have devoured it ever since. When my parents took me to the Cowpens National Battlefield in South Carolina in 9th grade, I realized just how much I enjoyed learning about history in real life. I found that reading historical fiction breathed life into what can be a very dull read, so I wanted to bring history to life with my own words. Visiting historical properties has become a big passion of mine! Every trip I take includes a visit to some historical site or another. I’ve been writing historical fiction/romance/fantasy since the late 1990s.


I wrote...

Becoming Lady Washington

By Betty Bolte, Jaycee DeLorenzo (illustrator),

Book cover of Becoming Lady Washington

What is my book about?

Martha “Patsy” Custis manages an immense 18th-century plantation in Virginia but as a widow she struggles to balance her business with caring for two young children. When Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her, her life veers in an unexpected direction. But when trouble in the form of British oppression leads to revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, she must decide whether to stay home or follow her heart into a dangerous future.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Stationery Shop

By Marjan Kamali,

Book cover of The Stationery Shop

Why this book?

This highly recommended story is a love story between two people who should have been together all along but obstacles prevented them from sharing a life. Those obstacles include political and personal forces, but I won’t elaborate as that would count as giving away the story. I was intrigued by life in Iran back in the 1950s and how girls/women were treated then. How they were expected to behave even as those expectations began to shift to be more Western in nature. Dealing with change is never easy, especially for those who resist new ideas. I haven’t studied this time period nor this country so experiencing Kamali’s story gave me a level of awareness of the culture and the politics of the time in an easy-to-understand form.

The Stationery Shop

By Marjan Kamali,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A poignant, heartfelt new novel by the award-nominated author of Together Tea—extolled by the Wall Street Journal as a “moving tale of lost love” and by Shelf Awareness as “a powerful, heartbreaking story”—explores loss, reconciliation, and the quirks of fate.

Roya, a dreamy, idealistic teenager living amid the political upheaval of 1953 Tehran, finds a literary oasis in kindly Mr. Fakhri’s neighborhood stationery shop, stocked with books and pens and bottles of jewel-colored ink.

Then Mr. Fakhri, with a keen instinct for a budding romance, introduces Roya to his other favorite customer—handsome Bahman, who has a burning passion for justice…


The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

By Selina Siak Chin Yoke,

Book cover of The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

Why this book?

If you’re looking to virtually experience Asian culture, I’d highly recommend this story. Not only the language used, the expressions used, but also the décor, the clothing, the food, the religious rituals, and rites. All is woven into a beautiful tapestry of life and people in Malay. The story explores the tensions between tradition and modernizing. Especially, in this case, the Western influences on the traditions and expectations of the Asian cultures. I was reminded of the tension between my mother and myself “merely” because of the age difference, not a cultural difference. Mom was 42 when I was born, 60 when I graduated high school. Expectations had most definitely shifted by then!

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

By Selina Siak Chin Yoke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Facing challenges in an increasingly colonial world, Chye Hoon, a rebellious young girl, must learn to embrace her mixed Malayan-Chinese identity as a Nyonya-and her destiny as a cook, rather than following her first dream of attending school like her brother.

Amidst the smells of chillies and garlic frying, Chye Hoon begins to appreciate the richness of her traditions, eventually marrying Wong Peng Choon, a Chinese man. Together, they have ten children. At last, she can pass on the stories she has heard-magical tales of men from the sea-and her warrior's courage, along with her wonderful kueh (cakes).

But the…


The Mountains Sing

By Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai,

Book cover of The Mountains Sing

Why this book?

This story is set in Việt Nam and paints a clear picture of the people who lived there in the 1930-1980 timeframe of the story. The family faced hardships and tragedies, including being separated for several months when they were forced to flee for their lives. One thing I really appreciated was seeing the impact and impressions of the Việt Nam war on the people of that country. My brother fought over there—he was a Ranger in the Army—during that conflict and came home very different. In fact, he’s estranged himself from the family for the past 30+ years. Reading about the conflict from the other side gives me a clearer idea of what he might have seen or done that he never would tell me about.

The Mountains Sing

By Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Mountains Sing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Years later in Ha Noi, her young granddaughter, Huong, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore not just her beloved country, but her family apart.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Viet Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope.

The Mountains Sing is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai's first novel in English.


The Alice Network

By Kate Quinn,

Book cover of The Alice Network

Why this book?

This story of sisterly love and endurance spoke to me because at the time I was reading it my own sister and I weren’t speaking. The courage and fortitude these two sisters possess in surviving the war and finding their way back together are remarkable and enviable at the same time. Reading it made me want to mend fences with my sister, which we have since done. Added to that is the inside look at life in war-torn France during World War Two. Highly recommended!

The Alice Network

By Kate Quinn,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Alice Network as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women-a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947-are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption. 1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might…


The Henna Artist

By Alka Joshi,

Book cover of The Henna Artist

Why this book?

Imagine walking away from your husband and family after he abused you one too many times. Especially when doing so would mean your family would be ostracized and ridiculed for your actions. The main character in this story does what she must to save herself from further beatings and worse in a loveless arranged marriage. Talk about emotional fortitude! She uses that gumption to make a far better, if not perfect, life for herself and those she grows to love in her new city in India in the 1950s. Worth reading!

The Henna Artist

By Alka Joshi,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Henna Artist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For fans of Balli Kaur Jaswal's Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows and Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us, Alka Josh's The Henna Artist by is lushly-rendered, emotional book club fiction set in post-Raj 1950s Jaipur about a young woman struggling to shape her own destiny in a world pivoting between the traditional and the modern.

After fleeing an arranged marriage as a fifteen year old to an abusive older man, Lakshmi Shastri steals away alone from her rural village to Jaipur. Here, against odds, she carves out a living for herself as a henna artist, and friend and confidante to…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in family, the upper class, and France?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about family, the upper class, and France.

Family Explore 457 books about family
The Upper Class Explore 53 books about the upper class
France Explore 689 books about France

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like My Sister, the Serial Killer, The Sorrow of War, and The Doom Pussy if you like this list.