The best historical fiction novels about women who changed history

Helen Lundström Erwin Author Of Sour Milk in Sheep's Wool
By Helen Lundström Erwin

Who am I?

I love to write stories about people who lived during pivotal times in history. I’m intrigued by what people were thinking and why they thought that way. People, just like us now, were a product of their time and circumstance. They had strong opinions about the issues of the day, and debated fiercely. It’s these conversations and opinions that help me make the past come alive. Being born and raised in Sweden, and having been a New Yorker for thirty years, I was awarded the 2021 Swedish Women’s Educational Association (SWEA) New York’s Scholarship for the artistic promotion of Swedish culture and history in New York.

I wrote...

Sour Milk in Sheep's Wool

By Helen Lundström Erwin,

Book cover of Sour Milk in Sheep's Wool

What is my book about?

Sour Milk in Sheep’s Wool is about my own family history. When I was growing up, my parents used to take me to a park and a castle where they said my great-grandmother had lived. It was there, they said, she lived with her two children, even though she never married their father. My imagination was set alight, and I kept wondering what her life had been like. However, family lore had colored her story, and the circumstances were not as romantic as I thought. There were secrets, and more children than we knew.

Sour Milk in Sheep’s Wool is the parallel story of two women living very different lives, but who each in their own way, fight for the rights of all women.
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The books I picked & why

The Help

By Kathryn Stockett,

Book cover of The Help

Why did I love this book?

The Help stayed with me. I could relate to the mixed emotions of loving parts of your job, but hating other parts, and shoving down that uncomfortable feeling you get when you know you’re not treated right, but could lose everything if you speak out. I can only imagine how this must feel when it’s because of racism and segregation.

It’s about how even small acts of resistance can change the world. A story about women who question the status quo, and who, at the risk of their own livelihoods, say, enough!

By Kathryn Stockett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestselling novel and basis for the Academy Award-winning film-a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't-nominated as one of America's best-loved novels by PBS's The Great American Read.

Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who's always taken orders quietly, but lately she's unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She's full of ambition, but without a husband, she's…

Book cover of Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague

Why did I love this book?

It’s almost twenty years since I read this book, but after living through the Covid Pandemic in New York City, I keep thinking about it. It couldn’t be more relevant, especially the part about isolating to protect others from a deadly disease. 

Year of Wonders is about a woman who confronts the beliefs and superstitions of her community, when she insists that the whole village isolate themselves to prevent the spread of the plague.

By Geraldine Brooks,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Year of Wonders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of 'March' and 'People of the Book'.

A young woman's struggle to save her family and her soul during the extraordinary year of 1666, when plague suddenly struck a small Derbyshire village.

In 1666, plague swept through London, driving the King and his court to Oxford, and Samuel Pepys to Greenwich, in an attempt to escape contagion. The north of England remained untouched until, in a small community of leadminers and hill farmers, a bolt of cloth arrived from the capital. The tailor who cut the cloth had no way of knowing that the damp…

Daughter of the Reich

By Louise Fein,

Book cover of Daughter of the Reich

Why did I love this book?

Daughter of the Reich is a story of a young girl in Nazi Germany who was raised to believe that her neighbors and fellow citizens are the enemy because they're Jewish. You gain real insight into the propaganda Germans were told about the Jewish people, and how one relationship can shatter all your misconceptions and stereotypes.

This book reminds me of my own writing in that it explores both sides of history and what happens when someone begins to question their own upbringing.

By Louise Fein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the author of the international bestseller The Hidden Child comes a spellbinding story of impossible love set against the backdrop of the Nazi regime, perfect for fans of The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See.

She must choose between loyalty to her country or a love that could be her destruction…

As the dutiful daughter of a high-ranking Nazi officer, Hetty Heinrich is keen to play her part in the glorious new Thousand Year Reich. But she never imagines that all she believes and knows will come into stark conflict when she encounters Walter, a Jewish friend…

Someone Knows My Name

By Lawrence Hill,

Book cover of Someone Knows My Name

Why did I love this book?

Someone Knows My Name, is a poignant portrayal of the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the inhuman strength and perseverance of a woman who survived it.

As a writer and historian, I love when I find a writer who can put themselves inside the mind of a person from an earlier time. Lawrence Hill truly does, especially the way he describes how alien the new world was for someone who came from a different culture. How every detail is new, and how heart-wrenching it is to be torn from everything you know. 

By Lawrence Hill,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Someone Knows My Name as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kidnapped from Africa as a child, Aminata Diallo is enslaved in South Carolina but escapes during the chaos of the Revolutionary War. In Manhattan she becomes a scribe for the British, recording the names of blacks who have served the King and earned their freedom in Nova Scotia. But the hardship and prejudice of the new colony prompt her to follow her heart back to Africa, then on to London, where she bears witness to the injustices of slavery and its toll on her life and a whole people. It is a story that no listener, and no reader, will…

Book cover of Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom

Why did I love this book?

This non-fiction book is giving Harriet Tubman the recognition she deserves. She was a hero in the true sense, who lived a life of service to others, and truly helped change the world. We have all heard of her, but few know who she really was, how much she did, and how incredibly brave she was.

Sometimes when I’m having a hard time, I think of how much she did all by herself, literally walking alone into enemy territory to save others, and leading an army of men. I could never compare myself to her, but thinking of her inspires me and gives me courage. 

By Catherine Clinton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Harriet Tubman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most important and enduring figures in the history of 19th century America, the legendary conductor on the Underground Railroad whose courageous exploits have been described in countless books for young readers, is here revealed for the first time as a singular and complex character, a woman who defied simple categorisation. |In this, the first major biography of Harriet Tubman in more than 100 years, we see the heroine of children's books and biopics with a new clarity and richness of detail.| - Time

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