8 must-read historical fiction books based on true events


I’m always drawn to books that are set during World War 2 (though I’m careful as to what I choose as there are so many churned out these days that it can be hard to find the ones that are written for the right reasons and properly researched). Historical fiction is my favourite genre and as much as I love WW2 books, I’ve recently expanded my knowledge in other areas of history that I’m keen to explore more of. This list contains some of my favourite (and possible underrated) WW2 books as well as some other incredible stories inspired by or based on true events.

“Courage is fear you ignore.”

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Spotlight recommendation

Every month, I share my top recommendation. For September it is:

The Last Reunion by Kayte Nunn


Genre: Historical fiction based on a group of Australian & British WW2 servicewomen

The Last Reunion is an incredibly constructed (and very well researched) novel that covers a geographical area rarely touched on in WW2 fiction and aptly named the ‘forgotten war.’ It is enthralling and captivating, spanning decades and countries fronted by female-driven narratives.

Quick overview

Based on true events, the story centres around a group of women who ran a mobile canteen in the Burma war. Fast forward nearly 60 years and the women reunite on New Years Eve, where secrets spill and long-ago friendships face the ultimate test.

Hayley’s historical highlights

Here are some other historical fiction (HF) books I recommend, covering true events that include the 1627 Barbary pirate raids in Iceland, the 1918 Spanish flu, and the Dust Bowl era from the 1930s.

Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

historical-fiction-16th-century england

Genre: Historical fantasy fiction set in 16th-century England

I’m not much of a fantasy reader but I wanted to include Sin Eater as it was like nothing I’d read before and totally worth leaving my comfort zone for.

Caught stealing a loaf of bread, May is sentenced to become a sin eater, where she listens to the dying confess their sins and absolves them after death, consuming each sin which is represented by a different food. When a non-confessed food is revealed on the Queen’s governess’ coffin, May is suspicious, aware that something is happening in the underbelly of the castle and is determined to solve the mystery. But at what price?

Read if you like: Coming of age stories, magical realism, and unexpected endings.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Genre: HF set during the Spanish flu pandemic in Dublin, 1918

The majority of The Pull of the Stars takes place in an understaffed hospital, where Nurse Julia is tasked with looking after the expectant mothers quarantined together in a tiny makeshift ward. With only a smattering of characters and a storyline that covers just three days, it is a raw and honest account of one woman’s fight to save mothers, babies, and staff from a ravaging and unstoppable disease.

Read if you like: slow burns, strong character building, and intense endings.

Note: there are no speech marks in the book and only four chapters which catches a lot of people off-guard.

People Like Us by Louise Fein


Genre: HF set in Leipzig, Germany in the 1930s

People Like Us sets itself apart from others set during WW2 as the story is told from the eyes of Hetty, a girl whose father is a highly ranked SS Officer and who epitomises ‘the perfect German.’ The book paints a tragic love story between Hetty and Walter – a boy she loves but a boy who also goes against everything her family in the Nazi circle believe.

Read if you like: WW2 novels from a unique angle, events that leave you breathless, and heartbreaking endings.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah


Genre: HF set in Texas during the Great Depression

You’d probably expect The Nightingale to be my KH book of choice for this list (which I still highly recommend) but we’re jumping further back in time with The Four Winds which is set during the dry and drought-ridden Dust Bowl. I loved this one even more than The Nightingale as the way KH explores the Great Depression and the California ‘dream’ is nothing short of exceptional.

Read if you like: Immersive scenery descriptions, family sagas, and character transformations.

The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson


Genre: HF retelling set in the early 1600s between Iceland and Algeria

Barbary pirates raided Iceland in 1627 and sold the captured Icelanders into slavery. Though the raid itself is well recorded, little is known about the futures of the women or children who were sent to Algiers.

The Sealwoman’s Gift is a rich retelling, layered with sagas and stories, and gives a voice to Icelandic women. Bursting with history, the book is refreshing and interesting, particularly for those (me) who have very little knowledge in this era.

Read if you like: Icelandic/North African culture, descriptive settings, and powerful storytelling.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Historical fiction set in era America

Genre: HF set in Depression-era America

I’ll admit, Me Before You was not my jam as an avid avoider of all chick lit. However, The Giver of Stars totally redeemed Jojo Moyes as an author in my eyes, with a book based on the real life story of the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.

Read if you like: Strong female leads, a solid narrator (audiobook), and interesting character backgrounds.

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

WW2 historical fiction

Genre: HF set in Nazi-occupied Poland and modern-day America

The Things We Cannot Say is, to date, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Yes, it’s another WW2 book, but believe me when I say this one stands out among all the others.

Read if you like: Intertwining narratives, gasp-worthy twists, and experiencing every emotion the body is capable of producing.

The Zookeeper of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh

historical fiction set in Belfast

Genre: HF set in Belfast during WW2

Based on a true story, The Zookeeper of Belfast centres around the city’s first ever female zookeeper who is tasked with looking after the zoo’s latest recruit – a baby elephant – as bombers continue to target the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Read if you like: WW2 books from a unique perspective, uplifting narratives, and human-animal friendships.

Don’t forget to check out the WW2 book list if you want to add even more options to your overflowing TBR this month. Let me know which book(s) you choose and be sure to tag me in your reviews so I can read your thoughts ☺️

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