As Bright as Heaven
Set during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, As Bright as Heaven follows a family navigating tragedy and hardship in early 20th-century Philadelphia. For Pauline Bright and her family, Philadelphia was to be a new start. However, a frightening pandemic and the arrival of a recently orphaned baby take their lives in a wholly unexpected direction.
We Must Be Brave
This debut novel from Frances Liardet is a stirring and haunting tale of tragedy, hope, and the power of love. We Must Be Brave centers around Ellen Parr, who discovers a small child asleep in the back of a bus during the December 1940 evacuation of Southampton, England. Despite not wanting children, she takes the child, Pamela, into her life and eventually her heart—until tragedy strikes, upending both of their lives.
Set in 1851, this novella opens with the titular character sobering up in a holding cell in Salem, Massachusetts. McGlue is too drunk to be sure of his name, let alone whether or not he killed a man. His memory is hazy at best and, given that the man he may have killed was his best friend, McGlue may prefer that it stays that way.
The Paragon Hotel
This Prohibition-era thriller follows “Nobody” Alice James, a wounded woman on the run from a drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. She’s fleeing cross-country to what will hopefully be a safe haven in Oregon. However, the sanctuary at Portland’s only all-Black hotel is marred by the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan and the search for a missing mixed-race child.
The Frolic of the Beasts
Translated to English for the first time, The Frolic of Beasts begins in rural Japan shortly after World War II. It centers around the bizarre love triangle between a former university student named Koji, a celebrated literary critic, and the critic’s wife. It’s a haunting examination of obsession, desire, and ultimately murder.
The Girls in the Picture
Amidst the glitz and glamour of Hollywood circa 1914, 25-year-old Frances Marion is striking out on her own. Determined to realize her dreams, she’s left her second husband and made her way to LA just as a stunning medium—silent moving pictures—is coming into its own. Frances soon finds herself caught up in this extraordinary new frontier in entertainment, as well as the complexities, dueling loyalties, and heartbreak that come with it.
The Golden Tresses of the Dead
Alan Bradley’s delightfully British adolescent sleuth, Flavia de Luce, is once again on the case—this time, at her own sister’s wedding. Having recently made the decision to take her detective status from amateur to professional, Flavia is in the perfect position to solve a mystery that is perhaps too close to home: how a severed human finger made its way into her sister’s wedding cake.
David R. Gillham
What if Anne Frank had survived the Holocaust? That is the question at the center of this powerful novel by David R. Gillham. At 16 years old, Anne Frank has survived extraordinary tragedy, including the loss of her mother and sister. Now reunited with her father in Amsterdam, she struggles to rebuild her life and escape the brutal memories and guilt that haunt her.
That Churchill Woman
Victorian London hasn’t seen anything quite like the fiercely independent socialite Jennie Jerome. She arrives in London at 19 years old to marry Lord Randolph Churchill, the son of a Duke she’s only known for three days. The marriage throws her into the maelstrom of British politics and society. She’ll eventually give birth to a man who will help define the 20th century, but her story is a remarkable one on its own.
This brilliantly imagined novel takes readers deep behind the scenes of one of the most influential films in cinema history, The Wizard of Oz. In 1938, 77-year-old Maud Gage Baum discovers MGM is adapting her late husband’s beloved novel to the screen. She immediately sets about ensuring the production stays true to husband’s work, and in the process, she develops an unlikely relationship with the film’s rising star, Judy Garland.
The Secret of Clouds
An unexpected tragedy forces a ballerina named Katya and her lover, Sasha, to immigrate to the United States. Years later, with the tragedy now firmly behind them, they give birth to a son named Yuri, who is born with a rare medical condition that isolates him from other children. Yuri is tutored by a woman named Maggie with her own tragic past, and eventually, the two forge a deep bond that will leave Maggie forever changed.
Gayl Jones’s classic novel centers around a blues singer named Ursa, whose searing hatred for the 19th-century slave master who fathered her mother and grandmother threatens to consume her. It’s a breathtaking exploration on the toll of trauma and deep roots of family history.
The Other Lady Vanishes
Set against the backdrop of a resort town in 1930s California, The Other Lady Vanishes follows Adelaide Blake, who recently extricated herself from a private sanitarium. Eager to make a new life for herself, she is quickly swept into a seaside community that serves as a haven for the Hollywood elite and is also a place where nothing is quite what it seems. The murder of a local medium catapults Adelaide into the center of a deadly mystery and into the crosshairs of a very dangerous killer.
Lauren Wilkinson’s debut novel is an espionage mystery that mines an incendiary romance, political upheaval, and a thought-provoking condemnation of race relations to create an unflinching page-turner. In 1986, a young Black intelligence officer named Marie Mitchell is sent undercover to infiltrate Burkina Faso and seduce the nation’s charismatic president, Thomas Sankara, with an eye toward ultimately deposing him. However, her sympathies for Sankara’s mission and ideology threaten to unravel the career she’s worked so hard for.
From literary fiction to thrillers to the “what if…” of speculative history, there’s really something for every reader in the realm of historical fiction. The best historical novels not only provide a window into a particular time period but reimagine the details—while staying true to the events and time period—to build stories with richly woven plots and characters. The result? A mesmerizing blend of truth and fiction. There are several great historical fiction reads we loved in 2019. Here are some of our favorites.
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