The best sweeping historical fiction by women

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, I was surrounded by history and imagined time travel to the past. Yet my history courses in school consisted mostly of dry facts that I was expected to memorize. I sought out historical fiction that got the facts right but more importantly, could transport me completely to another place and time. Inspired by high school teachers, I began to see myself as a writer. I was particularly interested in exploring women’s history. After co-authoring two nonfiction books, Between Pit and Pedestal: Women in the Middle Ages and An Annotated Index of Medieval Women, I began to write fictional stories of ordinary women from that period.


I wrote...

A Tale of Two Maidens: A Medieval French Story of Fate, Adventure, and the Hundred Years' War

By Anne Echols,

Book cover of A Tale of Two Maidens: A Medieval French Story of Fate, Adventure, and the Hundred Years' War

What is my book about?

Fifteen-year-old Felise, an apprentice scribe in medieval France, is in a desperate situation. She yearns to find a way to become a writer and a bookshop owner, but in order to achieve her dreams she must first escape from her cruel guardian, who is plotting an arranged marriage for her. The Hundred Years’ War rages all around her. She fears that France will soon be held captive, just as she is—but when Joan of Arc blazes into history and Felise’s life, everything changes. 

A Tale of Two Maidens brings to life the story of an ordinary medieval girl on an extraordinary adventure—one that will require her to dig within herself to claim her own true, independent, and heroic destiny.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Red Tent

Anne Echols Why did I love this book?

In my late twenties, I faced a stark reality: history belongs to those who write it. What I had learned in school was simply the history according to the white Christian patriarchy.

The voices of women, as well as people of many ethnicities, religions, and cultures, were silenced. I began to seek out books in which diverse characters were allowed to speak. 

Reading The Red Tent opened my eyes to the possibility of writing historical fiction from the perspective of a woman. As I listened to Dinah’s voice in the novel, speaking so honestly about matters of the heart, I imagined my own historical novel told in women’s true voices.

Thus my novel A Tale of Two Maidens was born.

By Anita Diamant,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In The Red Tent Anita Diamant brings the fascinating biblical character of Dinah to vivid life.

'Intensely moving . . . feminist . . . a riveting tale of love' - Observer

Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her fate is merely hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the verses of the Book of Genesis that recount the life of Jacob and his infamous dozen sons. Anita Diamant's The Red Tent is an extraordinary and engrossing tale of ancient womanhood and family honour. Told in Dinah's voice, it opens with the story of her mothers -…


Book cover of The Mists of Avalon

Anne Echols Why did I love this book?

I read The Mists of Avalon while on a backpacking trip in Hawaii. Thus the mists described so vividly in the novel are forever intertwined with the morning mists on the north shore of Kauai. 

Atmospheric and compelling are the first two words that come to mind in describing this novel. Stereotypes about women, such as Morgan le Fay (usually portrayed as a one-dimensional villainess) are completely dismantled.

Instead all of Bradley’s characters, both male and female, are as real as flesh and blood people, caught in a tumultuous time period.

Like Dances with Wolves, The Mists of Avalon spoke to me deeply about the sadness of a dominant culture completely suppressing a richer, older one that was much more in harmony with nature.

By Marion Zimmer Bradley,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Mists of Avalon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here is the tragic tale of the rise and fall of Camelot - but seen through the eyes of Camelot's women: The devout Gwenhwyfar, Arthur's Queen; Vivane, High priestess of Avalon and the Lady of the Lake; above all, Morgaine, possessor of the sight, the wise, the wise-woman fated to bring ruin on them all...


Book cover of The Weight of Ink

Anne Echols Why did I love this book?

As a historical fiction writer, I am continually honing my ability to create characters wholly from the past, devoid of any trace of my modern perspective.

The Weight of Ink inspired me in this pursuit and gave me a beautiful model of how a writer can achieve that goal. The main character, Ester, doesn’t lash out at the men who control her or shrink meekly into her prescribed role as a passive woman.

Instead, she quietly and cleverly pursues what brings her the most joy: a rich life of the mind and heart.

The ending of this novel is one of my favorite endings of any book I have ever read!

In my next novel, a sequel to A Tale of Two Maidens, I hope to create such a memorable conclusion.

By Rachel Kadish,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WINNER OF A NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD A USA TODAY BESTSELLER "A gifted writer, astonishingly adept at nuance, narration, and the politics of passion."-Toni Morrison Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history. As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a…


Book cover of The House of the Spirits

Anne Echols Why did I love this book?

Growing up, I avidly read fairy tales and especially enjoyed a character’s transition from suffering to joy.

Discovering magical realism in my twenties was a natural progression, and House of the Spirits remains my all-time favorite of this genre. Isabelle Allende’s writing style is amazing – she is so gifted at intertwining the achingly beautiful with the harsh realities of our cruelty to other humans. 

House of the Spirits opened a window onto a time and place I had never explored, Chile during the rise of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Through the character Alba’s unflinching narration, I not only witnessed the horrors of that time period but felt them deeply. Alba’s connection to her female ancestors sustained both her and me during her ordeal as a prisoner.

A powerful and inspiring read!

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The House of the Spirits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Spectacular...An absorbing and distinguished work...The House of the Spirits with its all-informing, generous, and humane sensibility, is a unique achievement, both personal witness and possible allegory of the past, present, and future of Latin America.” —The New York Times Book Review

Our Shared Shelf, Emma Watson Goodreads Book Club Pick November/December 2020!

The House of the Spirits, the unforgettable first novel that established Isabel Allende as one of the world’s most gifted storytellers, brings to life the triumphs and tragedies of three generations of the Trueba family. The patriarch Esteban is a volatile, proud man whose voracious pursuit of political…


Book cover of The Poisonwood Bible

Anne Echols Why did I love this book?

The Poisonwood Bible took me completely out of my 21st-century, privileged world and dumped me unceremoniously into the 1960s in the Belgian Congo.

The novel takes the Price sisters and their mother on that journey too, into the ugly truth of colonialism and the U.S. government’s proxy war there against the Soviet Union.

I relived my childhood of the sixties with its prescribed “Barbie” roles for girls. I cheered for the sisters battling for autonomy and mourned with their mother. I fell in love with the beauty of the Congo, the forest “that eats itself”, the river and even the deadly green Mamba snake.

Even if I never travel to this part of Africa, I feel that I have been there through the gift of Kingsolver’s writing. 

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?

**NOW INCLUDING THE FIRST CHAPTER OF DEMON COPPERHEAD: THE NEW BARBARA KINGSOLVER NOVEL**

**DEMON COPPERHEAD IS AVAILABLE NOW FOR PRE-ORDER**

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…


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StairWell

By James Sale,

Book cover of StairWell

James Sale Author Of StairWell

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Poet Entrepreneur Consultant Innovator

James' 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

StairWell is the second volume of The English Cantos, where the Poet leaves the confines of Hell’s hospital ward and enters Purgatory. Following in the footsteps of Dante Alighieri, the Poet must climb the staircase to the Chapel of St. Luke, at once a real place of solace and sacredness in the midst of the blighted hospital, but also a metaphysical plane, accessible only to those who may pass the trials and tribulations of the purgatorial ascent.

On the journey, the Poet will meet figures both from his personal life, and those more well known, all fighting their own battles of self-improvement.

Combining deep psychology with the fantastical grandeur of an Arthurian legend, StairWell explores the fragility and wickedness of the human condition balanced with the transformational powers of Hope and Faith.

StairWell

By James Sale,

What is this book about?

From the misery of Hell’s corrupted wards, to the mountain of personal transcendence…

StairWell is the second volume of The English Cantos, where the Poet leaves the confines of Hell’s hospital ward and enters Purgatory. Following in the footsteps of Dante Alighieri, the Poet must climb the staircase to the Chapel of St. Luke, at once a real place of solace and sacredness in the midst of the blighted hospital, but also a metaphysical plane, accessible only to those who may pass the trials and tribulations of the purgatorial ascent.

On the journey, the Poet will meet figures both from…


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