The best books to read when you dream of waking up in a period drama

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a writer of traditional Regency romances who would be happy to let everyone fight over Mr. Darcy while I sneak off with Captain Wentworth. If period dramas are dress-up for grown-ups, the best historical fiction is nothing less than a trip in a time machine, no Dramamine required. So if you’ve ever dreamed of being knocked over the head and waking up in a Jane Austen novel, you’re not alone. Come join me in one of my Regencies. I’ll save you a glass of ratafia.


I wrote...

The Naturalist

By Christina Dudley,

Book cover of The Naturalist

What is my book about?

She posed as a boy to assist a handsome naturalist. The first things to blossom were scandal and love.

Daughter of a penniless squire, Alice Hapgood has long donned boy’s clothing to pursue her passion for the natural world. Despite dim marriage prospects, the Somerset flora and fauna keep her perfectly content—until she meets Joseph Tierney, a visiting naturalist commissioned by the Royal Society. Joseph has his own history of thwarting expectations to pursue science, and when he seeks an assistant, Alice cannot resist. She adopts her boy persona even while wishing she could win him as herself, be herself. When her deception is exposed and scandal breaks, will the threat of forced marriage destroy both Joseph’s chosen career and their chance at love?

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Shield of Three Lions

Christina Dudley Why did I love this book?

I still remember the day I bought Kaufman’s book in a London bookstore near Westminster Abbey—a girl disguises herself as a boy in medieval England and goes in search of the king, so her estate can be restored. Sign me up! It was my first encounter with the magic of historical fiction, the best of which is immersive and alive, without dull data dumps or jarring anachronisms. This wonderful (and, for me, life-changing) story ticks all my boxes: smart heroine; rich, real characters; scenery that doesn’t creak; and a thumping good romance. Last, but absolutely not least, The Shield of Three Lions is stuffed with hilarious lines and scenes. An author who can make me laugh? Her price is far above rubies.

By Pamela Kaufman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shield of Three Lions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first novel in the Alix of Wanthwaite series, by bestselling author Pamela Kaufman.

Eleven-year-old Alix is the daughter of the baron of Wanthwaite, whose lands along the Scottish border are among the best in England. But when her family is killed and her lands seized, Alix is forced to flee from the only home she’s ever known. Her one hope of restoring her inheritance is to plead her case to King Richard the Lion Heart, who is far away in France, preparing to go on his Crusade. Alix resolves to follow him. She cuts her hair, dresses as a…


Book cover of Ivanhoe

Christina Dudley Why did I love this book?

Speaking of the Middle Ages, I can’t not mention the book that launched the whole historical fiction genre. Scott’s rousing tale boasts knights and damsels, Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart, tournaments and besieged castles, and even a good old-fashioned burning at the stake. What’s not to love? No one reads this book anymore because it doesn’t begin with a fistfight or an explosion, which is such a shame because it’s an out-and-out winner. #TeamBriandeBoisGuilbert

By Walter Scott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ivanhoe is set in England in the 1190s, over a century after the Norman Conquest which saw William the Conqueror seize the English throne. A wealthy nobleman named Cedric, who is intent on restoring a Saxon to the throne, plans to wed Rowena, a beautiful young woman who is his ward, to the Saxon Athelstane of Coningsburgh. There’s just one small problem: Rowena has fallen in love with Cedric’s son, Wilfred of Ivanhoe. To get him out of the way so Rowena will marry Athelstane, Cedric banishes his own son from the kingdom. Ivanhoe (as Wilfred is known, by his…


Book cover of Hornblower and the Hotspur

Christina Dudley Why did I love this book?

As an author of Regency romances, I think of Forester’s Hornblower novels as the guy-friendly equivalents, and I tried and tried to get my son to read these. Sigh. The series follows a Royal Navy man during the Napoleonic Wars, from his days as a lowly midshipman to his zenith as an admiral, and every last book in the series is so stinking good. Forester writes the most bang-up action scenes and has researched the heck out of everything, without ever bludgeoning you over the head with it. His characters are alive—flawed and fascinating and funny. In short, if this man weren’t dead for the last sixty years, I would marry him.

By C. S. Forester,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An important contribution to the economic literature, this book provides a systematic analysis of the problems of economic growth and stability presented by the changing role of energy in modern economics. The result of a massive study by the author of the effects of energy and energy shocks on the world economy, the volume is organized around the theme that energy is an integral feature of the economy and that any interpretation of short-term movements in economic activity is likely to be seriously at fault if it neglects energy supply changes and their repercussions. The author takes both an historical…


Book cover of Barchester Towers

Christina Dudley Why did I love this book?

Technically speaking, this isn’t historical fiction because, when Trollope wrote it, it was contemporary (Victorian) fiction. But if you love Austen adaptations or anything set in later periods where people wore fancy, constrictive clothing, this book is for you. Barchester is a cathedral town getting a new bishop, and, oh, man, is everyone in a tizzy. Every cleric is angling for a promotion, simultaneously falling at the feet of the exotic Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni while refusing to bow the knee to the new powers that be. And if you have a soft spot for henpecked husbands, Trollope wrote one for the ages, with wife Mrs. Proudie stealing every scene. For my money, with his keen eye and wicked humor, Trollope is the true heir to Jane Austen.

By Anthony Trollope,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Anthony Trollope was well aware that the seemingly parochial power struggles that determine the action of Barchester Towers - struggles whose comic possibilities he exploits to hilarious effect - actually went to the heart of mid-Victorian English society, and had, in other times and other guises, led to civil war and constitutional upheaval.

That awareness heightens the comedy and intensifies the drama in this magnificent novel and it transforms the story of a fight for ascendency among the clergy and dependants of a great English cathedral into something fundamental and universal. Barchester Towers is the second of Trollope's six Barchester…


Book cover of The Custom of the Country

Christina Dudley Why did I love this book?

Unlike the other authors on this list, Edith Wharton is not funny. And if you don’t believe me, or if you suffer from too much cheerfulness, read Ethan Frome. But even though I adore funny writers, I tip my Merry Widow hat to this American master. In The Custom of the Country she follows Midwestern gal Undine Spragg as she conquers first New York and then French society, leaving destroyed men in her wake. Downton Abbey fans will know that this was the book that inspired Julian Fellowes to produce his Gilded-Age saga and complete cottage industry. Undine is a piece of work, and this book is a work of art. Don’t miss it.

By Edith Wharton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Edith Wharton’s classic story of one woman’s quest for wealth and status after the turn of the twentieth century

Beautiful, selfish, and driven, Undine Spragg arrives in New York with all of the ambition and naiveté that her midwestern, nouveau riche upbringing afforded her. As cunning as she is lovely, Undine has but one goal in life: to ascend to the upper echelons of high society. And so with a single-minded tenacity, Undine continues to maneuver through life, finding all the while that true satisfaction remains just beyond her grasp.

Hailed by Elizabeth Hardwick as “Edith Wharton’s finest achievement,” The…


You might also like...

Empire in the Sand

By Shane Joseph,

Book cover of Empire in the Sand

Shane Joseph Author Of Empire in the Sand

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a writer for more than twenty years and have favored pursuing “truth in fiction” rather than “money in formula.” I also spent over thirty years in the corporate world and was exposed to many situations reminiscent of those described in my fiction and in these recommended books. While I support enterprise, “enlightened capitalism” is preferable to the bare-knuckle type we have today, and which seems to resurface whenever regulation weakens. I also find writing novels closer to my lived experience connects me intimately with readers who are looking for socio-political, realist literature.

Shane's book list on exposing corporate, political, and personal corruption

What is my book about?

Avery Mann, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, is in crisis.

His wife dies of cancer, his son’s marriage is on the rocks, his grandson is having a meltdown, and his good friend is a victim of the robocalls scandal that invades the Canadian federal election. Throw in a reckless fling with a former colleague, a fire that destroys his retirement property, and a rumour emerging that the drug he helped bring to market years ago may have been responsible for the death of his wife, and Avery’s life goes into freefall.

Does an octogenarian beekeeper living on Vancouver Island hold the key to Avery’s recovery, a man holding secrets that put lives in jeopardy? Avery races across the country to find out, with crooked bosses, politicians, and assassins on his tail. Joseph spins a cautionary tale of corporate and political greed that is endemic to our times.

Empire in the Sand

By Shane Joseph,

What is this book about?

Avery Mann, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, is in crisis. His wife dies of cancer, his son’s marriage is on the rocks, his grandson is having a meltdown, and his good friend is a victim of the robocalls scandal that invades the Canadian federal election.

Throw in a reckless fling with a former colleague, a fire that destroys his retirement property, and a rumour emerging that the drug he helped bring to market years ago may have been responsible for the death of his wife, and Avery’s life goes into freefall.

Does an octogenarian bee keeper living on Vancouver Island hold…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Crusades, the Middle Ages, and Jane Austen?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Crusades, the Middle Ages, and Jane Austen.

The Crusades Explore 53 books about the Crusades
The Middle Ages Explore 416 books about the Middle Ages
Jane Austen Explore 90 books about Jane Austen