Making a list of clean fiction books for adults is tricky business.
To begin with, everyone has a different definition of clean.
Some readers don’t want profanity or sex scenes, others don’t want violence or triggers of abuse. The line is fuzzy and varies for each person.
On the other hand, there are scads of books with no offensive content that aren’t well-written.
My goal here was to highlight books that fit a general definition of clean but also stood out as high quality.
Top 5 Exceptional Clean Fiction Books for Adults
- Pride and Prejudice
- Hannah Coulter
- Peace Like a River
- The Widows of Malabar Hill
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
(Note: pictures of book covers are Amazon affiliate links. Clicking through to purchase will earn commissions for this site.)
Clean Romance Books for Adults
A few books in this section do not have romance as the main component but weaves it in as an intregal part of the whole story.
Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
The heir of Edenbrooke believes that females are empty headed flirts until he meets Marianne Daventry.
She intrigues him enough to changes his plans to flee home and his mother’s match making schemes.
Blackmore by Julianne Donaldson
Blackmore is the name of the estate of Kate Worthington’s neighboring friends. It’s where their grandparents live and where they spend their vacations. She is enamored by the idea of it and her dream is to visit it.
She also wants to visit India and the only way her mother will support her trip is if she receives and rejects three proposals of marriage. She decides Blackmore is the perfect place to achieve that goal.
The Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah M Eden
Lord Cavratt impetuously kisses an unknown woman in the garden of a country inn to prove a point.
He assumes she is a serving woman, but her angry guardian informs him she is a woman of brith whose reputation can only be saved by marriage.
The marriage of two strangers? What could go wrong? What could go right?
Seeking Persephone by Sarah M Eden
The Duke has a flaw that he believes will keep any woman from marrying him.
But, with abundant wealth at his disposal, he can surely entice a young woman into marriage by endowing her family with large quantities of money.
But can two married people get to know each other and find love with scars of the past hanging over them?
Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay
Five stars for Dear Mr. Knightly! I struggle to find wholesome, well-written fiction. This one’s a winner. I’m a huge fan of Webster’s Daddy Long Legs, and this modern re-telling knocked it out of the park. I like it better than the original. The Austen references were fun, but the story itself was poignant.
Even though it’s technically Inspirational fiction, the Christian message was subtle, not overwhelming. Kudos to Reay for a wholesome, engaging work.
These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner
“A moving, exciting, and heartfelt American saga inspired by the author’s own family memoirs, these words belong to Sarah Prine, a woman of spirit and fire who forges a full and remarkable existence in a harsh, unfamiliar frontier. Scrupulously recording her steps down the path Providence has set her upon–from child to determined young adult to loving mother–she shares the turbulent events, both joyous and tragic, that molded her and recalls the enduring love with cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot that gave her strength and purpose.
Rich in authentic everyday details and alive with truly unforgettable characters, These Is My Words brilliantly brings a vanished world to breathtaking life again.”–Goodreads
Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson
Savannah Cade needs help with her romance manuscript. Can a mystery editor help her solve more than just manuscript problems?
Writing to an anonymous friend whose advice and interaction you start to fall in love with has You’ve Got Mail vibes.
This is a breezy read. Simple, straight forward plot without time jumping or point of view hopping. Just right when life is too stressful for complicated plots with a plethora of characters.
An inside look at the publishing world was fun, too, to someone who has skirted around the fringes for the past decade.
The Selection by Keira Cass
If the Bachelor and Bachelorette TV shows are any indication, we love the idea of a competition for love. Add to that echoes of Queen Esther’s story, and a competition for the royal crown is compelling.
In the future kingdom of Illea, the prince must choose his bride from a group of 35 eligible commoners. America Singer is a contestant dealing with her own inner turmoil, not sure she wants to win. The stage is set for a great story.
In spite of having to suspend belief at times, I found this story engaging. It’s fun to entertain a princess fantasy every once in awhile.
The Selection is the first in a five book series.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
It’s hard not to like Lizzie Bennet. She speaks her mind, she’s unfazed by social regulations, she’s fiercely loyal. And no one can articulate matters of the heart like Jane Austen.
Five girls growing up in one household is certainly a recipe for matchmaking dilemmas.
Certainly other Austen titles have won hearts, but Pride and Prejudice often is recognized as standing above the rest.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Austen fans often agree that Pride and Prejudice tops the list as the author’s greatest work. What comes in the number two slot can be debated. Some prefer Emma, others Persuasion.
I vote for Sense and Sensibility.
After the death of their father, the three Dashwood sisters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret and their widowed mother must leave the family estate and dwell in a humble cottage.
Of course, the suitors come to call. Finding income to sustain the family is a constant challenge. Each of the sisters navigates their way in the midst of the challenge.
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
Best known for writing Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery penned other novels of note, including The Blue Castle.
Valancy Stirling, age 29, lives with her mother and aunt. She’s stifled by the expectations of her relatives and her coping method is to build a dream castle in her imagination.
One day she receives unexpected news that radically changes her outlook. With new freedom, she throws off convention to begin living her own life.
Throughly relatable to anyone who’s ever daydreamed and wished they could walk away from stifling convention.
When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin
Reese first meets little Annie Stephens at her lemonade stand. It doesn’t take long to see that she’s fighting serious health issues while fiercely holding to a dream of a long and healthy life. She’s lost her parents and lives with her aunt.
Reese is hiding from his past life in the medical profession.
The plot could be considered predictable, but the journey to get there is so enjoyable. Charles Martin has the magic touch to draw you in and practically force you to fall in love with his characters.
Christy by Catherine Marshall
Set in the mountains of Kentucky, Christy is the school teacher to children who don’t always wear shoes and don’t always have the means to pack a lunch.
Confronted with a culture so different from the one she grew up in, Christy is forced to examine her own beliefs about life. She also discovers deciding who to love can be difficult.
Classic for a reason, Christy will draw you in to the pathos and the drama of the human condition.
Clean Literary Fiction Books for Adults
The definition of literary fiction can be debated but for my purposes I generally refer to character driven works of art rather than plot driven novels.
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Hannah Coulter takes the panoramic view of a person’s life, the progression of a lifetime.
Sometimes when we sit down to a novel, we are looking for perspective, to find meaning for the daily grind. We need to see that what we do day after day matters. Hannah Coulter gives us a clue. For many women, all those meals cooked, all the time serving and caring others adds up to a lifetime of meaning.
Then there’s the small town, rural community. I think our deep longing for community resonates with what happens in small, rural towns where people know each other and care for each other, where lives intertwine in romance, conflict, partnership, friendship and commerce. And no man lives as an island, no matter how solitary they choose to live their lives.
Finally, there’s the strong female protagonist in Hannah Coulter. You might not realize she’s strong. Not at first. She’s the type of woman that is the glue of a community. Keeping her family together. Working the long hours to grow, process and prepare the food that keeps the whole engine running. She tends to the sick, stands by her man and brings up her children. She’s the backbone, the unsung hero. Being unassuming makes it hard to recognize her as strong.
Check out more books like Hannah Coulter.
Gilead by Marilyn Robinson
Gilead is the story of a pastor who married late in life and has a seven year old that he won’t see grow up. The novel is a series of letters to his son.
He tells of his life, his friends and neighbors, meeting and marrying his mother.
The action is slow moving, and, yet, it’s not necessarily character driven, either. Just a reflective account of life and faith in small town Iowa.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
“The unforgettable story of four orphans who travel the Mississippi River on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression.”—from Amazon
The story is told through Odie O’Banion’s adolescent eyes.
It’s his quest for home, family and the meaning of life. Along for the ride are his brother Albert and his friends Mose and Emmy.
The human experience is more complicated than most novelists are able to express. There’s the complexity of human nature and relationships, the complexity of our belief system and how our experience influences our beliefs. I feel like This Tender Land wrestled with that complexity and won.
It doesn’t downplay the true depravity of man. It has lots of plot twists.
The novelist deals with the most delicate of subjects in an inoffensive way.
There was one element of the book I didn’t care for, but it wasn’t enough to ruin it for me.
It reminded me of Peace Like a River. I’ll want to read it again and again.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
I can’t remember the last time a novel made me cry. This one did.
Ove is near the end of his life, but this novel takes us back to his family, his first love and his losses. It is a bittersweet exploration of what really matters in relationships and what gets in the way.
Love, friendship, community and social awkwardness. It’s the recipe for a great novel.
It demonstrates in brilliant colors that no man is an island.
Peace Like a River by Lief Enger
Told through the eyes of an eleven year old boy, the novel is not about a span of time, it mostly just covers one year.
Rueben is the eleven year old, Swede, his younger sister, and Davy their older brother. They live with their father out west, growing up in a modest life.
Circumstances dictate a search for answers to a reality that doesn’t add up.
Jewel by Bret Lott
“It is 1943 in the backwoods of Mississippi. In the land of honeysuckle and wild grapevine, Jewel Hilburn and her husband Leston – whose love for his wife is the surest comfort she’s ever known – are truly blessed. They have five fine children who embrace the world as though it were a sumptuous table set for a feast; and when Brenda Kay is born, Jewel gives thanks for yet another healthy baby, last-born and most welcome.
JEWEL is the story of how quickly a life can change; how, like lightning, an unforseen event can illuminate our lives and set us on a course without reason or compass.”– Goodreads
Jewel fights the odds of prejudice and ignorance with a mother’s fierce love.
“Bret Lott has created one of the finest and most indomitable heroines of contemporary American fiction.”
Beautifully crafted. A pleasure to read.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
“The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience. “–Goodreads
Rightly labeled a literary work of art. Francie Nolan develops the grit and humanity she needs to survive her tumultuous life.
Clean Historical Fiction Books for Adults
This section includes some books written for young adults that are compelling enough to be enjoyed by a broader audience.
The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin
Grace Bennett moves to London in 1939. The war is ramping up. Air raids and the fragility of life are daily uncertainty. But a job at a bookstore teaches Grace the power of the written word and friendships forged during trying times endure.
The Downstairs Girl by Stacy Lee
Jo Kuan works as a ladies’ maid in Atlanta in the 1890’s, but she also moonlights as the popular advice columnist, Miss Sweetie. Anonymously answering questions in the newspaper gives her the chance to address some social issues.
I enjoyed this wholesome story and recommend it for all ages.
Lovely War by Julie Berry
Another YA book that adults will enjoy, especially helpful during stressful seasons when a complex plot is hard to follow.
It’s set in World War I and II and follows two couples— Hazel and James and Aubrey and Collette as they navigate, war, prejudice and their relationships.
The Tehran Initiative by Joel C. Rosenberg
This isn’t technically historical fiction because it’s set in the future, or at least an alternate reality present.
I had never read a Rosenberg book before and this one surprised me by drawing me in.
I don’t read very many people who know that much about what’s going on in the Middle East. I found it fascinating. I felt like he did a good job of keeping the plot unpredictable.
I liked the characters, too and found myself rooting for them. And, always, the critical element of every page turner, what’s going to happen next?
It’s the first in a three book series.
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Based of the life of the first female lawyer in Bombay.
Not only does this fictional account weave a riveting tale, it highlights the culture and customs of 1920’s India.
The obstacles of limited educational opportunities for women, arranged marriages, gender segregation and inequalities were ingrained in the culture.
Navigating that world and winning is a real feat.
Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan
The fame of the Titanic is wide spread.
A lesser known naval disaster occurred off the US coast in the 1838. The short voyage on the steamship Pulaski was used by the upper classes to escape the heat of Savannah in the summer. But the boiler exploded and the ship sank.
This book fictionalizes several real passengers and the drama that surrounded them before, during and after the accident.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
The narrative moves back and forth between present day South Carolina and the 30’s and 40’s Tennessee.
The setting is an orphan asylum where children are cared for until families are found for them. Unfortunately, the people in charge are not as altruistic as they appear.
Inspired by true facts, this book tackles difficult themes with a surprising amount of optimism and hope. Trigger warnings.
Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan
Once Upon a Wardrobe does a deep dive into the question of why C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia. History is woven into the fictional scenario of Megs Devonshire trying to get answers for her chronically ill brother who has fallen in love with the recently published The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Megs is a student at Oxford in 1950, so she is able to gain access to the literary legend. But, of course, her straight forward questions don’t get straight forward answers. Instead, we learn the background, history and influences on the man behind the fantasies.
The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner
The Last Year of the War traces an unlikely friendship between a German teenage girl and a Japanese teenage girl who become friends in an internment camp in Texas during World War II.
Certainly the themes of racial prejudice are explored, but, even more, friendship, family expectations and traditions. Maybe an even deeper underlying theme is coming of age when the forces of your life throw you into situations beyond your control.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Windspear
Maise Dobbs is a detective in Vitorian London. Coming from modest means, she is indebted to her benefactors for her education and mentoring.
The work of a sleuth is different in the days before cell phones and fingerprints. An ability to understand human nature and get to the truth are the skills that are needed.
Independent and likable, Maise Dobbs is a heroine to cheer for and skillful plotting of the story keeps you turning pages.