9 Christmas Historical Fiction Books To Delight You This Season
Historical fiction is my kinda genre.
My first introduction to this kind of writing was Margaret George’s Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles which I followed up immediately thereafter with The Autobiography of Henry VIII. Lengthy reads, but exceptionally detailed and well-researched novels that capture the essence of the Medieval era.
I find historical fiction enjoyable for several reasons:
- I can escape into a story that is woven through actual events in time. It feels like an escape grounded in reality. I love that you can be transported back in time and see the world interpreted through a real person’s eyes in a sense.
- Historical fiction weaves together the dates, timelines, and events that I’ve read about elsewhere or studied in school. I’m able to get a sense of significance and feel more empathy for those who experienced that era because I can better see when things happened.
- Speaking of empathy, the characters may be made up or represent real people, but a good author will have done in depth research into what their lives were like based on diaries or historical accounts and use that to fill out each character’s personality, behaviours, thought processes, and reactions. I often have to remind myself the story is still fiction.
- I enjoy learning something while I’m reading and even though historical fiction is still fiction with adaptations, changes, and assumptions, it’s fun to see how the world played out during that era. If only students had more time during a semester to read historical fiction novels, they would probably retain the information easier and in more detail.
As someone who prefers to read literary journalism, true crimes, or personal narratives, historical non-fiction is another aisle you’ll find me gravitating to when I allow myself a visit to the bookstore (i already have a pretty big stack of “going-to-reads” that must be finished before finding anything new!). It’s the type of book I savour and try to focus my attention to fully. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find the time, but the holidays are definitely one of those times when I make it a priority to read.
Christmas Novels Rich in Characters and History
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Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva
First of all, don’t confuse this title with the book or movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas”….that is another story by another author (Les Standiford). Standiford’s book is nonfiction, telling the tale of how A Christmas Carol reignited Dickens’ career. The author has combined a ton of research with a vivid imagination in order to pay homage to Dickens and ask the question: what if Charles Dickens’ life was like this?
Although this book Mr. Dickens and His Carol contains some factual information here and there, it falls more toward a fictional story than into a traditionally historical fiction piece. There are some questionable aspects of the story given our modern lens, however it was an enjoyable and entertaining read surrounding a man who really did understand the essence of what is Christmas.
Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Hazel Gaynor
There is something about the Great World Wars that draws me in. This story is told through the epistolary style of letters between friends during World War I. It’s a fascinating read with such endearing friendships and references to the war. It follows every year of World War 1 from 1914 – 1918 with reflective chapters woven throughout that feature the main characters talking about their experiences after the fact.
This is a book I savoured during the holidays when I could spend the evening sitting in our front room with the tree lit and the moonlight coming in through the windows. It was a fascinating book, with such an endearing sense of friendship that I found easy to read and hard to leave.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
This book felt appropriate for the time we are living in so I’ve included it here, it’s also a great read.
It’s a dual timeline story that takes place in 2054 and the middle of the black plague of the 1300s. How the characters of the book, especially during the Middle Ages, struggle with a terrifying sickness, or as we know it to be, a pandemic, is insightful and interesting comparison to the times we are currently living, which is just a few years earlier than when the “future” in the book takes places, 2054.
All in all the book is immersive and the events of the times are well portrayed, that I have shared this book with others to read.
Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
A book to expand your old English vocabulary. This story was a wonderful period piece full of all the exquisite vernacular of the day and historical lessons reflecting the era. This novel has Jane Austen as the protagonist and sleuth in order to solve the mysterious death of a guest at her home during the twelve days of Christmas festivities.
The synopsis: Jane Austen and the Twelve Days of Christmas: On Christmas Eve of 1814, we find the Regency era’s most beloved author on holiday at the Vyne, the gorgeous estate of the prominent Chute household, with family and friends. As they prepare for the twelve days of Christmas festivities, the guests are all in a celebratory mood—until one of the Yuletide revelers dies in a riding accident, which Jane immediately views with suspicion. With clues scattered amidst cleverly crafted charades, dark secrets coming to light during parlor games, and old friendships returning to haunt the Christmas parties, can Jane discover the truth and stop the killer from striking again?
It even comes with a companion guide to hosting your own Regency-Era Christmas Party that includes excellent information regarding what goes into the different types of foods, deserts, and drinks of this type of a Georgian Christmas.
Carols and Chaos by Cindy Anstey
As a Downton Abbey lover who has binge watched the series more than once, this story has all the same upstairs/ downstairs drama of the times. It’s characters are endearing, and reminiscent of a Jane Austen type of novel, so it’s easy to fall in love with the whole magic, adventure, and romance of the Christmas season.
Synopsis: The happy chaos of the Yuletide season has descended upon the country estate of Shackleford Park in full force, but lady’s maid Kate Darby barely has the time to notice. Between her household duties, caring for her ailing mother, and saving up money to someday own a dress shop, her hands are quite full. Matt Harlow is also rather busy. He’s performing double-duty, acting as valet for both of the Steeple brothers, two of the estate’s holiday guests.
Overall if you want charm, mystery, and drama set in a Downton Abbey like setting during Christmas? This is a lovely, sweet story with vibrant characters.
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
This book, first published in 1956, has all the nostalgia and is such a sweet story to read. I feel like I came away from this book having learned so many practical skills, so if ever there was a pandemic and I wanted to fill my days with baking, cooking, knitting, starting fires in a wood stove, then I’ve learned it through the interactions and memories of Truman Capote and his elderly cousin, Miss Sook Faulk.
It’s a lovely, heart warming look at life many years ago, through the eyes of a young Truman Capote, as he learns the art of making fruitcakes. There were certainly a few moments that brought a tear to my eye while reading this delightful story.
Overall the nostalgia of Christmas is fully present in this touching autobiography.
Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini
The famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his family is explored through the story behind his famous poem “Christmas Bells”. I so enjoyed how Longfellows Civil War era (1861 – 1865) is woven together with a few current-day story lines set in Cambridge, MA.
Synopsis: In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow’s classic Revolutionary War poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” was less than a month hence, and the country’s grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed.
Christmas Bells chronicles the events of 1863, when the peace and contentment of Longfellow’s family circle was suddenly, tragically broken, cutting even deeper than the privations of wartime. Through the pain of profound loss and hardship, Longfellow’s patriotism never failed, nor did the power of his language. “Christmas Bells,” the poem he wrote that holiday, lives on, spoken as verse and sung as a hymn.
It thought the story of Longfellow’s struggle and heartache was extremely well written, and the the modern reflection on it was refreshing and almost encompassing a more woman’s type of fiction. The setting in Cambridge, MA and St. Margaret’s cathedral was vivid and well supported by the spirituality of the main characters
Jennifer Chiaverini’s other book is definitely on my reading list now as well, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.
Mary & Joseph by Robert Marcum
A very interesting telling of how it could have happened.
We all know the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph and this book brings them to life. I felt that the author spent a lot of time researching the traditions of the time in order to best convey what life was like in Jerusalem in that era. This attention to detail and research truly brought to life a family living in that time period, but with the added magic of the Christmas spirit.
The British Brides Collection
by Pamela Griffin, Kelly Eileen Hake, Bonnie Blythe (Goodreads Author), Gail Gaymer Martin (Goodreads Author), Tamela Hancock Murray, Jill Stengl
The British Brides Collection historical fiction at Christmas is a fun collection to read. It takes place over five hundred years from 1358 to 1865 in England and Scotland, with each novella being the perfect length for a few minutes of downtime or finishing right before bed. You can feel the inspiration from authors like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, so British history, literature and humor lovers will delight in these stories.
There are nine inspiring stories of brides-to-be as they encounter lots of drama, love, and overwhelming romance on their way to the altar. These Christian romances are subtly woven together which I found intriguing. Altogether, a good clean Christmas read that takes place through many centuries.
I’m still on the hunt each year for new historical fiction novels I can journey through. January and February are prime reading months in my world because I find them to be quiet and slow following the chaos of the fall and leading up to Christmas. It’s almost the only time of year I don’t feel guilty indulging in reading during downtime and I encourage the family to pick up their books and we take more visits to the library to keep up the variety. Hope you find the book you’re looking for! Happy reading.
Merry Happy Holidays!