I recently read two works of historical fiction, both New York Times Bestsellers, The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I would recommend both books--just click on the links above to go to the authors' pages for plot summaries.
The Birth of Venus takes place in 15th century Florence, Italy. As an artist, I enjoyed reading about artists and imaging that world. It was a bit like being back in art history class. And it was a real page-turner.
The Red Tent takes place in biblical times and is the imagined story of Dinah. I was captivated by the reverence for the strong women characters as child bearers, mothers, caretakers, matriarchs, etc., etc. And ever since reading this book, I seriously wish I had a rent tent to go to once a month.
I blasted through each of these books as fast as a mama can, stealing minutes at a time, and staying up much too late at night reading. While each story was indeed engrossing and entertaining, I longed for more intricate prose. However, I realize that writing in the style of either time period would be a challenge for both author and reader. (Have you ever read Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales?)
I think I'll stick with 19th through mid-20th century lit for a while--it's back to contemporary historical fiction (does that make any sense at all??) for me!
(I'm joining in with Turn the Page ... Tuesday today over at Some of a Kind!)