10 Inspiring Historical “Fiction” Reads for Your Summer

The lazy days of summer are finally upon us, bringing with them a chance to slow down and catch a good book. Whether you’re a bookworm, history buff, or you’re just looking for a good read to tote along on your next vacation, this list is for you! Here are ten faith-filled [or simply inspiring] books with a historical bent to keep you company. Some are fiction, some are memoirs or [auto]biographies that read like fiction—all are a fantastic way to feed your soul and literary appetite at the same time.

1. The Road to Jerusalem

(Medieval Sweden, 1150)

Opening with the birth of a boy named Arn, this is the first book of a trilogy set in the world of the Knights Templar and Crusades. The Road to Jerusalem follows Arn’s boyhood as he leaves his family to be raised in a monastery, learning the skills of civilization and swordbearing before setting out on his own in the world. But he finds himself sorely unprepared for the secular world, coming of age in a drastically different setting that leads him on an unlikely path to knighthood. The book and series as a whole are an adventurous and intriguing look into family dynamics and monastic life, bringing some realism and fascination to the Medieval Era. Content: Somewhat clean. Cultural references to imbibing and clan warfare, allusions to adult content.

2. Silence

(Japan, 1640s)

Made popular by the recently released film by the same title (reviewed on the BiS blog here) this is not a novel for the faint of heart or weak of faith. Rather, it delves deep into the most distressing and beautiful moments of faith—sometimes one and the same. Based on true events, Silence is the story of a priest and his fellow missionaries seeking to shepherd a recently-discovered remnant of underground Christianity in hostile Japan. In the midst of strife and martyrdom, this incredibly written story explores the depth of persecution, doubt, and weakness—contrasted with the belief and hope, strength and sacrifice of a simple people tortured for their commitment to Christ. Content: Heavy in detailed graphic descriptions of violence and brutality toward the innocent.

3. The Invention of Wings

(Civil War Era, 1860s)

Though it hit the top of the charts a few years ago, this inspiring story is one worth telling and re-telling—especially for those who have missed or forgotten it. Based on true events and characters, this fictionalized account of an activist during the Civil War is arresting for all of the right reasons. Written by the same author who wrote Secret Life of Bees, it centers on the relationship of a slave and her owner-turned-abolitionist throughout their lives in the deep South. Sue Monk Kidd expertly weaves together the lives of two girls—once friends—both prisoners of their circumstance, and both unwilling to accept that their reality is acceptable. What was once a virtually unknown true story of feminine strength and dignity is now a truly hope-laden journey through the depth of human evils and the height of human good. Content: Mostly clean language. References to crimes against women, racism, descriptions of torture and brutality toward innocent people, brutality toward children.

4. Anne of Green Gables

(Canada, early 1900s)

There’s a lot of hype surrounding the new TV miniseries, but when’s the last time you hunkered down with any of the actual Anne books? If it’s been awhile—or never—I entreat you to pick up a copy and seriously lose yourself in the delights of the Victorian era with the heroine of the century. L.M. Montgomery builds characters that are deep, strong, and realistic yet endearing; our protagonist Anne is both painfully real while embodying all the best of feminine strength. For the best experience, stick with the series through Book 8 and give yourself the gift of journeying through all the charming changes of the era along with the maturing and ever more endearing Anne in all the heartrending, adventurous, beautiful seasons of her life.  Content: Very clean. Isolated references of cruelty toward children and allusions to domestic violence.

5. Orphan Train

(United States, early 1900s)

An alternating perspective novel set in modern day America with flashbacks to the early 1900s, this tale centers on the moving relationship between two women unpacking their childhood ghosts. It’s also a jarring narrative of the little-known enterprise that existed at the turn of the century, when orphans on the East Coast were shipped across the country by train to families willing to take them—just as Anne experienced in Anne of Green Gables though most were not as fortunate as she was. Orphan Train peels back the layers of history to reveal the plight of these children and the spirited ways in which they both adapted and attempted to rise above their condition. Content: some language, some adult content, references to or brief depictions of crimes against women and children. 

6. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

(World War II Era, Poland: 1938-1945)

This is a haunting, beautiful, poetic, and riveting memoir; one I couldn’t believe wasn’t fiction. Set in Poland during the Second World War, this is the incredible story of a young Catholic medical student-turned-prisoner-turned-renegade whose faith and experiences, one after another, lead her from fear and trembling to action and heroism, right under the noses of the Nazis. Though less graphic than other World War II novels I’ve read, this story shook me more deeply than most because of the knowledge—never far from mind—that every unbelievable experience was true, and had to be believed. Impeccably written, with unspeakably painful realities and poignant moments of redemption. Content: Clean language. References to crimes against women, depictions of antisemitism, descriptions of torture and brutality toward innocent people, some brutality toward children.

7. The Shadow of His Wings  

(World War II Era, Germany/Italy/Africa: 1938-1945)

A reads-like-fiction account of a German seminarian drafted into the German Army during WWII, this memoir is jaw-dropping from start to finish. Written in his own words, Father Goldmann tells how his carefree, somewhat reckless childhood propelled him towards a vocation as a priest. Once drafted into the army and eventually forced to serve in the SS under Hitler, Father Goldmann’s unwavering faith continued, lit by a burning desire to serve God in whatever circumstance he found himself. Through persecution from his own compatriots, daring missions, imprisonment, and possibly the most unlikely path to ordination ever, this priest both survived and led countless souls to Christ. I truly couldn’t put this one down. Content: Clean language. Occasional descriptions of brutality and war scenes, minimally graphic.

8. Lilac Girls

(World War II Era, France/Germany: 1938-1945)

If you’ve read and liked other WWII novels like The Book Thief, All the Light We Cannot See, and The Nightingale, I highly recommend this read! This novel follows three women whose lives are inextricably woven together by the brutal realities of war. A fictionalized account based on real people and eye-opening true events, it’s another little-known story of the darkest aspects of the Holocaust set against the incredible human spirit that prevails. Like other all-but-forgotten testimonies, it’s simply a story that begs to be shared. Content: Occasional mild language; some casual treatment of fidelity in marriage; torture and crimes against women, depictions of antisemitism, not overly graphic.

9. A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe the “Saint of Auschwitz”

(World War II Era, Poland: 1938-1945)

Possibly the most well-known story of the Holocaust in Catholic circles, this biography is cited by some as the best account of Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s life and ultimate martyrdom at Auschwitz. Although a more factual read and the least novel-esque on our list, this captivating biography weaves in true accounts from those who knew the saint personally. Many know of Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s sacrifice and death, but know far less about his incredible, far-reaching accomplishments that spanned his life prior to his martyrdom in the concentration camp. This book captures the fullness of the man behind the saint, and the scope of his lifelong work that is just as compelling as his saintly death. Content: clean language, accounts of torture and death. Not graphic.

10. He Leadeth Me

(Cold War Era, the Soviet: 1947-1960s)

This is the memoir of an American missionary priest who was serving in eastern Poland when World War II broke out. Captured by the Red Army and accused of being a “Vatican Spy,” Father Ciszek  survived for 23 years in the worst conditions of Cold War imprisonment that Russia had to offer. This little-known story is a stirring, outstanding read. But even moreso, it’s a simple yet phenomenal spiritual companion if you’re journeying through your own difficult season of suffering. Content: Clean language. Occasional descriptions of brutality and war scenes.

Tell us, have you read any inspirational fiction or memoirs lately?

Written by Megan Hjelmstad. Find out more about her here.

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  • Reply
    Kathy Farrell
    June 28, 2017 at 11:50 am

    Hello, I would like to recommend 3 books by Diana Wallis Taylor, “Martha”, “the Woman at the Well’, and “Claudia, the Wife of Pontius Pilate”. These are biblical fiction where the author has researched the time of Jesus and draws us into that time in history through the foods, scenery, and fictional characters of Jesus’ time. They are written beautifully and without anything that is against our orthodox Catholic teachings. (She is a Christian writer and also has a book on Mary Magdalene, but this particular one doesn’t stay true to our Catholic teachings). Thank you and God bless you all!

  • Reply
    Lindsay Schlegel
    June 28, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    I’d add In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. Beautiful. One to get lost in.

  • Reply
    June 29, 2017 at 11:15 am

    I love these recommendations! I just finished Lilac Girls and Orphan Train. I have Silence and The Shadow of His Wings on my 2017 reading list. (I also just purchased the Shadow of His Wings graphic novel for my son to read.) I had not heard of In My Hands but I added it to my list too. Thanks! 🙂

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