I also definitely have a recommendation for Brian, given his interests. It’s called ‘Star of the Sea’ by Joseph O’Connor and takes place during the great famine. The novel follows several different characters aboard a coffin ship bound to New York City, developing both their backgrounds through flashbacks and also detailing their lives on the ship.
I would not recommend reading this novel on a kindle, as it’s peppered with letters, captain’s logs, songs, and news clippings. These details, combined with O’Connor’s fantastic storytelling, really made me feel as if I had been transported back in time. It’s a story that stayed with me for a long time after I had finished reading it.