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Do you love historical fiction? One of my favorite things about historical fiction is how it transports you to another time and place and brings the people and events to life. Historical fiction audiobooks take this a step further, with amazing narrators that immerse you in the story and the past.
The best historical fiction audiobooks feel like you’re living the history alongside the characters. You laugh with them, cry with them, feel their joy and pain–and get an inkling of what it may have been like to live their story.
While historical fiction is often based on a true story or real events, facts are often adjusted to fit the narrative.
Knowing this, I still find the best historical fiction to be an incredible tool for learning about the past–and it’s that emotional connection with the fictional characters that does it for me.
It’s easy to read a narrative of historical facts and understand what happened, without fully comprehending that real people, with real lives and dreams, lived through the events.
Historical fiction puts us alongside unforgettable characters chasing freedom, living adventure, enduring wars, finding romance, fighting for survival, and facing death.
I’ve included book recommendations for several middle-grade and YA novels that were excellent listens–if you find you have trouble focusing on audiobooks, I recommend trying a novel for younger readers. The telling is a bit simpler, but the stories are no less compelling.
If you’re looking for some of the best historical fiction audiobooks that you won’t be able to stop listening to, here are a few of my favorites.
The Best Historical Fiction Audiobooks for Riveting Listening
Elsa Martinelli is a farm wife in Texas in the 1930s. When drought and relentless dust storms threaten their health and livelihoods, her husband leaves. With her children’s health declining, she takes them to California in search of the promise of work and a new life. But when they arrive, the family finds they are anything but welcome, and they face a new kind of fight for their survival.
Hannah tells an unforgettable tale with an interesting perspective, and Julia Whelan’s narration is, as always, spot on.
Lauren Wolk writes fantastic middle-grade fiction that I love as an adult reader, and Echo Mountain lived up to my high expectations. After losing everything during the Depression, Ellie and her family move to Echo Mountain in the wilds of Maine. Ellie loves it; she finds freedom in the woods and nature and thrives on the challenges of survival.
Ellie’s joy in the mountain is short-lived when an accident leaves her father in a coma–an accident that Ellie is blamed for. Ellie desperately tries outlandish schemes to wake him, and ultimately takes to the mountain in search of an old woman healer known as “the hag.”
Wolk’s writing is delicious–she has an amazing talent for evoking nature and setting a scene, and she writes children with such sensitivity. Her characters tend to be wise beyond their years, but she never forgets they are children, and she affords them the naivete and innocence they deserve. I loved listening.
In present-day London, Caroline is visiting from the United States and finds an intriguing vial while “mudlarking” in the Thames. A history lover, she researches it and learns it may have belonged to an apothecary from centuries before–one who didn’t just heal.
In 1791, Nella helps women find freedom from men who ruin their lives–but she does it in the darkest of ways. When 12-year-old Eliza finds herself in Nella’s shop, she is intrigued by her work. Their collaboration could jeopardize not only themselves but also all of the women Nella has helped.
This historical fiction audiobook goes back and forth in time, alternating the perspectives of the two women. The story set in the past is more riveting, but the present thread ties it together.
As Mallory lay on her deathbed, she tells her son to call Jake McCloud–the husband of the leading candidate for President. He can’t imagine how she knows Jake.
The story flashes back 28 years to 1993, when Mallory and Jake first meet at the Nantucket cottage she inherited. Over the next three decades, the two meet every year for one weekend, never having contact in the time between. Their connection runs deep, and complicates the lives they live outside of that weekend–but it is also essential to each of them.
This is an unusual love story, and Hilderbrand’s Nantucket is always a dream. She’s a go-to for me for summer audiobook listening, and this is one of her best (and yes, it pains me to call a story set in 1993 “historical fiction”!).
Hamnet imagines the family life of Shakespeare in the years leading up to his son’s death. Mostly following Shakespeare’s wife, Agnes, a woman with unusual healing gifts who is devoted to her children Susanna, Judith, and Hamnet, O’Farrell builds them a rich home life and explores the depths of Agnes’s grief after 11-year old Hamnet’s death.
I’m glad I listened to this, though it didn’t always hold my attention. It’s worth the read or listen alone for the detailed path of the flea that carried the disease that ultimately killed Hamnet–a beautifully written, prescient narrative composed before most of us gave “contact tracing” any thought.
Siblings Cash, Fitch, and Bird are each wrestling with their own struggles. Cash is trying to make sure he doesn’t fail seventh grade again. Fitch fights his own anger. And Bird wants only to go to space–if only to escape the world while carving her place in it. In addition to their individual struggles, their volatile home life weighs heavy on each of them.
Their teacher, Ms. Solonga, pushes her students to figuratively put themselves on the upcoming Challenger launch with a class simulation. She herself applied for the Teacher in Space program, and her enthusiasm wasn’t dimmed by not winning the spot. Bird latches on to the dream, idolizing astronaut Judith Resnick and dreaming of the day she would be on the shuttle. And then the worst happens.
I was a little young to remember much about the Challenger explosion, but this lovely book brought me back to the 80s, to wonderful teachers (I later had a high school teacher who had also applied for Teacher in Space, and who did an excellent space simulation project with us), and to big childhood dreams. A wonderful middle-grade, historical fiction audiobook listen.
What if Hillary Rodham had never married Bill Clinton? In this imaginative book, Sittenfeld imagines their early years together (based in fact)–and then veers. Instead of accepting Clinton’s third proposal, Hillary declines and moves ahead on her own.
She eventually makes her way into politics, following a similar but not identical path through multiple presidential runs. Her decision not to marry Bill affects his political career as well–and thus the fate of the country and the world. Ending just after the 2016 election, this is yet more “what if” fodder for those of us still wishing for a different outcome.
I loved Sittenfeld’s twist on historical fiction that humanizes Hillary (maybe too much–some intimate scenes with Bill were uncomfortable) and has excellent narration. It’s definitely for fans of Hillary, but I couldn’t stop listening.
In the early 1900s, Jo Kuan–a teenager of Chinese descent–lives on the fringes of Atlanta. She and her adopted father Old Jin cobble together a life by squatting in the basement of a newspaper and working jobs that barely sustain them.
When the newspaper is in danger of folding, Jo comes up with a plan to save it–and her home. She begins anonymously writing as “Miss Sweetie,” an advice columnist who gets people talking with her provocative words and progressive ideas about race, gender roles, and suffrage.
This is a YA historical fiction audiobook on a fascinating aspect of history that was completely new to me.
Fifteen-year-old Ana’s mother sees one path for their family to get to America from the Dominican Republic in 1965: Ana’s marriage to Juan Ruiz. With little English and few skills, Ana is isolated at the mercy of Juan, who is unfaithful and sometimes cruel.
When he returns to the Dominican Republic for several months, she begins to dream of a new life for herself, with Juan’s brother Cesar. But she must make a decision when her family’s dreams of joining her become reality.
Ana’s story is one of isolation and desperation–not uncommon for immigrant women of the time. I loved the interview with author Angie Cruz at the end, who described how her own mother’s story and New York’s Dominican community inspired her to write this book.
Nora and Theresa are sisters and young women when they leave Ireland for the U.S. Nora is serious and planning to marry a man she’s uncertain of, while Theresa jumps headlong into the Boston social scene. Theresa ends up pregnant, and Nora comes up with a plan that changes both of their lives.
Decades later, Nora has a large family and Theresa is a nun. After years of silence, the sisters come together again after a tragedy and are forced to reckon with the past. An excellent historical fiction audiobook choice if you like sweeping, character-driven stories.
This oral history of a fictional hit classic rock band of the 70s, as told by the band members and people around them, is loosely based on bands such as Fleetwood Mac. Daisy is the wild-child singer trying to make it big when she joins up with The Six. With Daisy and Billy Dunne leading the band, they skyrocket to stardom, but the behind-the-scenes are filled with conflict and fueled by drugs, alcohol, sexual tension, and of course, music.
I listened to this one on audio, and it was a major production that included big names such as Jennifer Beals, Benjamin Bratt, and Judy Greer. The voice actors were all phenomenal–I really felt like I was listening to an oral history as told by these people.
I had a little trouble tracking all of the characters, but still enjoyed it (and many readers loved it). If you love large-cast audiobooks, this might be for you.
Kauffman’s The Gunners was a compelling story of childhood friends who came together in adulthood after one of their own died by suicide. Chorus has a similar feel, but within a family. The seven Shaw siblings are shaped by their mother’s mysterious death in the 1950s (which each remembers differently), and by one sister’s teenage pregnancy.
With a narrative that moves back and forth in time over decades, the reader is granted the perspective of each sibling at different points in their lives, forming a picture of a family that shifts to fill in the spaces left by a death they don’t understand. A sensitive and perceptive literary family novel.