The best historical books for those who find history (just a little bit) intimidating

Why am I passionate about this?

I came to my passion for history later in life—when I realized I could trade in the endless date memorization I remembered from history class for an exploration of fierce lady pirates like Shek Yeung and unwilling empresses like Sisi of Austria. Historical stories that felt like thrillers, adventures, or mystery novels. Comedies. Tragedies. And most of all: books that didn’t require a history PhD to get swept up in the story. These are the books that made me fall in love with history, and they’re the kind of books I now write. I’m the author of three historical novels, all written first and foremost to sweep you away into a damn good story.

I wrote...

Book cover of The Wicked Unseen

What is my book about?

In 1996, during the US Satanic Panic, 16-year-old Audre is having trouble fitting into her new town, where everyone seems to believe there's a Satanic cult in the woods. But when the pastor's daughter—Audre's crush—goes missing, she starts to wonder if the town's obsession with evil isn't covering up something far worse.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Weight of Our Sky

Gigi Griffis Why did I love this book?

This book reads more like a thriller with heart than a historical novel, which makes it the perfect historical fiction for those just dipping a toe into the genre. 

Set in 1969 in Malaysia, during the historic race riots, the story follows a Beatles-obsessed teenage girl with OCD as she struggles to survive and get back to her family. I devoured this story over a couple of nail-biting days – and I bet you will too.

By Hanna Alkaf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Weight of Our Sky 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?

A music loving teen with OCD does everything she can to find her way back to her mother during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this heart-pounding literary debut.

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother's death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

A trip to the movies after school turns into a nightmare when the city erupts into violent…

Book cover of The Downstairs Girl

Gigi Griffis Why did I love this book?

If you love a quirky narrator, this is your perfect entry point into historical fiction. In 1890 Atlanta, our heroine—Jo Kuan—works as a lady’s maid by day and offers up wit and wisdom as a secret advice columnist by night. 

The voice in this one is what had me wrapped around Jo’s funny, sharp, insightful little finger. Expect to laugh, get angry, unravel a few mysteries, and learn a few dark things about American history along the way. There’s a reason this book was a Reese’s Book Club pick.

By Stacey Lee,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Downstairs Girl 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?

A Reese's Book Club YA Pick and New York Times Bestseller
From the critically acclaimed author of Luck of the Titanic, Under a Painted Sky, and Outrun the Moon comes a powerful novel about identity, betrayal, and the meaning of family.

By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, "Dear Miss Sweetie." When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address…

Book cover of The Poisonwood Bible

Gigi Griffis Why did I love this book?

By turns funny and enraging, this book reads like the best kind of women’s fiction…and it just happens to have a historical setting. 

Told by a whopping five narrators (who Kingsolver lends exceptionally distinct voices), this story follows a white family from the American south as they undertake a Baptist mission in the Congo in 1959 and find their lives and beliefs unraveling against the backdrop of the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium. 

This book was my first introduction to the Congo’s fight for independence and one of the most formative books of my own reading life. I still re-read it every year or two and every time it takes my breath away. This is historical fiction at its best—compelling and fascinating without being intimidating or overwritten.

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Poisonwood Bible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



An international bestseller and a modern classic, this suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and their remarkable reconstruction has been read, adored and shared by millions around the world.

'Breathtaking.' Sunday Times
'Exquisite.' The Times
'Beautiful.' Independent
'Powerful.' New York Times

This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.

They carry with them everything they believe they will…

Book cover of The Story That Cannot Be Told

Gigi Griffis Why did I love this book?

Another way to ease yourself into historical fiction is to start with books for young readers—like this gorgeous, compelling read set during the Communist regime’s fall in Romania in 1989. 

Our heroine is a young girl named Ileana who loves stories, even though stories can be dangerous (like the one that got her uncle arrested for criticizing the government). Afraid for her life, her parents send her to live with grandparents she’s never met—and still she gets caught up in the independence. 

I adored this book as an adult reader and—bonus!—it would be the perfect thing to co-read with a middle schooler or young teen if you’ve got one in your life. 

By J. Kasper Kramer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Story That Cannot Be Told as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

“By turns surprising, poetic, and stark, The Story That Cannot Be Told is one that should most certainly be read.” —Alan Gratz, New York Times bestselling author of Refugee
“A mesmerizing debut.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A powerful middle grade debut with three starred reviews that weaves together folklore and history to tell the story of a girl finding her voice and the strength to use it during the final months of the Communist regime in Romania in 1989.

Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country tore down her home to…

Book cover of Rejected Princesses: Tales of History's Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics

Gigi Griffis Why did I love this book?

No list would be complete without the writer who changed my life. It was Jason’s blog (now turned into this book) that opened a whole new world of feminist history to me. 

The book is a collection of true stories of women from history who were probably a little too wild, too sketchy, or too murderous to make the Disney Princess cut. Each story is illustrated gorgeously and researched meticulously. It’s perfect for adults and also a great gift for any teenagers who you’d like to get more into history (because what teen doesn’t love the story of teen hell-raisers from the past?). 

By Jason Porath,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Blending the iconoclastic feminism of The Notorious RBG and the confident irreverence of Go the F**ck to Sleep, a brazen and empowering illustrated collection that celebrates inspirational badass women throughout history, based on the popular Tumblr blog. Well-behaved women seldom make history. Good thing these women are far from well behaved ...Illustrated in a contemporary animation style, Rejected Princesses turns the ubiquitous "pretty pink princess" stereotype portrayed in movies, and on endless toys, books, and tutus on its head, paying homage instead to an awesome collection of strong, fierce, and yes, sometimes weird, women: warrior queens, soldiers, villains, spies, revolutionaries,…

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Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."

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