Finding a great book can sometimes be a lot harder than you expect.  If you are like us, you are constantly scanning the weekly The New York Times Book Review, checking out what’s new on the best sellers list at Amazon, or reading audio book reviews on itunes, all just to get some sort of reassurance that your time won’t be wasted on reading a dud. But, what we have found is that word-of-mouth buzz is likely to be much more reliable than any book list.

Recently, a few of us at Women You Should Know got to talking about some of our favorite reads and thought, why not spread the word?

We all agree that some of the best stories give you something to think about, or present you with a new perspective, one that may stay with you long after the story ends.  Really good books also establish rich characters that you can follow through a story’s twists and turns, and keeps you turning the page.

One genre that continues to provide us with a constant stream of reliable hits is the historical novel. These books straddle the line between fact and fiction. They use historical figures as characters along with the use of fictional characters to tell the story of an important period of time or event in history.

What we like most about historical novels is that they engage both the left and right sides of the brain. You are learning about history while fully engaged in a deeply rooted plot. How much better would 10th grade European History have been if the lessons were wrapped up in a package of drama, passion, corruption, love and intrigue?

The balance between fact and fiction in these stories paints a portrait of the past and the present, helping us to better understand and relate to the characters in such a way that makes us feel connected to them, on a personal level.

So, if you are unsure of whether or not you want your next book to be non-fiction or fiction, try an historical novel, and you will get both. Here are some of our recently read favorites:

Paris WifeThe Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

This story is told from the perspective of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Hemingway. It takes you through Ernest Hemingway’s struggle to find his literary voice, while Hadley gives up her dreams to provide him with the stability he needs to create his American masterpieces.  We get to meet and know many literary figures and how they influenced Hemingway and his work. This is beautifully written, completely engaging, and makes you want to catch the next plane to Paris!

Claude & CamilleClaude & Camille, A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell

Stephanie Cowell is a master of the historical novel genre. She mixes history with a delightful story that is filled with surprise, love and sadness.

This story traces the life of Claude Monet and his long, tumultuous love affair with his wife Camille Doncieux. Claude & Camille is a romance, but also provides an education in the history of the Impressionist movement. It is both vivid and engrossing, and you don’t need to be an art lover to fall in love with this story.

Flowers in the BloodFlowers in the Blood, by Gay Courter

If you love stories about family secrets you will love this book. Based on actual events, this novel tells the story of Dinah Sassoon, the daughter of an affluent and powerful, Jewish opium trader in Calcutta. It is a dramatic and compelling story of one woman’s quest for love and justice. Today, with less than .0001% of Jews living in India, this book teaches us a largely forgotten piece of history. This colorful story brings the smells, sights and sounds of India right into the palm of your hand.

Marrying MozartMarrying Mozart, by Stephanie Cowell

Another historical novel by Stephanie Cowell, Marrying Mozart revolves around the young composer’s relationship with the amateur, musical Weber family, a constant source of love and inspiration to the young Mozart. The most engaging part of this book is not actually about Mozart, but rather the lives and complexities of the four Weber sisters that influenced him to write some of his most famous works. You’ll feel like you have been on a tour through Salzburg and Vienna, the music centers of the world.

Next on our must read list of historical novels: