Code Name Hélène
Told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy Wake used during World War II, Code Name Hélène is a spellbinding and moving story of enduring love, remarkable sacrifice and unfaltering resolve that chronicles the true exploits of a woman who deserves to be a household name, as she went on to become one of the most decorated women in World War II.
The Evening and the Morning
This prequel to The Pillars of the Earth is set in England at the dawn of a new era: the Middle Ages. In these turbulent times, three characters find their lives intertwined. A young boatbuilder’s life is turned upside down when his home is raided by Vikings. A Norman noblewoman follows her new husband across the sea to his homeland and is shaken their unfamiliar customs. A monk dreams of transforming his abbey into a center of learning that will be admired throughout Europe. And each in turn comes into dangerous conflict with a clever and ruthless bishop who will do anything to increase his wealth and power.
Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.
The Flight Portfolio
Varian Fry, a Harvard-educated journalist and editor, arrives in Marseille, France in 1940. Recognizing the darkness descending over Europe, he and a group of like-minded New Yorkers formed the Emergency Rescue Committee, helping artists and writers escape from the Nazis and immigrate to the United States. Now, amid the chaos of World War II, and in defiance of restrictive U.S. immigration policies, Fry must procure false passports, secure visas, seek out escape routes through the Pyrenees and by sea, and make impossible decisions about who should be saved, all while under profound pressure—and in a state of irrevocable personal change.
This cinematic saga of rags-to-riches-to-revolution follows an orphan girl in Iran who is plucked from the streets by an illiterate army driver as a baby, taken to his home, and named Aria—the first step on an unlikely path from deprivation to privilege. Over the next two decades, the orphan girl acquires three mother figures whose secrets she will learn only much later. A university education opens a new world to Aria, and soon, she is caught up in the excitement and danger of the popular uprising against the Shah that sweeps through the streets of Tehran. The novel’s heart-pounding, explosive finale sees the Ayatollah Khomeini’s brutal regime seize power—even as Aria falls in love and becomes a mother herself.
Home for Erring and Outcast Girls
Inspired by real historical events, this emotionally raw story of love, loss, and the enduring power of friendship follows the lives of two young women connected by the Berachah Home for the Redemption and Protection of Erring Girls, which offers faith, training, and rehabilitation to prostitutes, addicts, unwed mothers, and “ruined” girls. When Lizzie Bates and Mattie McBride meet there, they form a friendship that will see them through unbearable loss, heartbreak, difficult choices, and ultimately, diverging paths. A century later, Cate Sutton, a reclusive university librarian, uncovers the hidden histories of the two troubled women as she stumbles upon the cemetery on the home’s former grounds and begins to comb through its archives in her library.
England, 1580: The Black Death creeps across the land, an ever-present threat, infecting the healthy, the sick, the old and the young, alike. Set in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Hamnet imagines the tangled aftermath of grief after the death of 11-year-old Hamnet, the only son of an unnamed world famous playwright and his wife. Four years later, the boy’s father channels his loss into his masterpiece, Hamlet, about the loss of a father and his son’s vengeance.
A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom
This story starts with a family. For now, it is a father and a mother with two sons, one with his father’s violence in his blood, one with his mother’s artistry. One leaves. One stays. They will be joined by others whose deeds will determine their fate. It is a beginning. Their stories will intertwine and evolve over the course of two thousand years. They will meet again and again at different times and in different places, but their destinies remain the same. It must play out as foretold.
Rebellious Frannie Tasker knows little about the war between England and its thirteen colonies in 1776, until a shipwreck off her home in Grand Bahama Island presents an unthinkable opportunity. The body of a young woman floating in the sea gives Frannie the chance to escape her brutal stepfather–and she takes it. Assuming the identity of the drowned Emmeline Coates, Frannie is rescued by a British merchant ship and sails to New York. For the next three years, Frannie lives a lie as Miss Coates, swept up in a courtship by a dashing British lieutenant. But after witnessing the darker side of the war, she begins eavesdropping on British officers, risking everything to pass information on to George Washington’s Culper spy ring as agent 355. Frannie believes in the fight for American liberty–but what will it cost her?
We Must Be Brave
As German bombs fall on Southampton, England during World War II, newly married Ellen Parr finds a girl asleep, unclaimed at the back of an empty bus. Little Pamela, it seems, is entirely alone. Ellen has always believed she does not want children, but when she takes Pamela into her home, the child cracks open the past Ellen thought she had escaped and the future she and her husband Selwyn had dreamed for themselves. As the war rages on, love grows where it was least expected, but with the end of the fighting comes the realization that Pamela was never theirs to keep.
Enchantress of Numbers
Was Lord Byron’s only legitimate child as vainglorious as her brilliant but scandalous father? Actually, Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, was a gifted mathematician whose mother steered her from frivolous pursuits into a life of academics. How she navigates London society as an adult is the subject of Chiaverini’s latest work of historical fiction. —Romy Weinberg
Set in 1761 Paris, this bizarre story may very well keep readers up all night. Based on the life of Madame Tussaud, the novel is at once macabre and funny, weird and warming. Its originality makes it compulsively readable, while it remains inscrutable enough to fuel endless conversation about its twists and turns. —Romy Weinberg
City of Secrets
Elizabeth Miles may have secrets and ghosts in her own past, but she does what she can to help other high-society women solve their problems. Her friend Priscilla Knight has been left penniless after her husband died under mysterious circumstances and in great debt, and Priscilla herself is suspected of his murder. Elizabeth fights to clear Priscilla’s name, but must do so without letting the skeletons in her own closet come to light. —Swapna Krishna
Voyager (25th Anniversary Edition)
The third in the wildly popular Outlander series, this adult fantasy-romance is rendered through a historical lens—and critics say no one does that niche better than Gabaldon. The collector’s edition features a new introduction by the author, which ought to draw new readers to her oeuvre, as well as give her fanbase a welcome update and a keepsake for their shelves. —Romy Weinberg
Fans of The Paris Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue will dive headfirst into this revealing look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s relationship with Lorena Hickok, Eleanor’s close friend and lover during FDR’s presidency. Bloom’s fictional account of the true romance elegantly shines light on a little-discussed fact of American history. —Romy Weinberg
Mary Lynn Bracht
Hana and Emi are sisters living in Korea under Japanese occupation during World War II. But they’re separated when Hana steps in to protect her sister from a Japanese soldier, and Emi never learned what became of her. Decades later, Hana’s sacrifice still haunts Emi, now living in the United States, as she becomes determined to figure out what happened to Hana once and for all. —Swapna Krishna
John Banville picks up the narrative of The Portrait of a Lady where Henry James tantalizingly left off, and convincingly imagines the rest of Isabel Archer’s life. Because the award-winning author is so skilled at portraiture, he’s able to craft a would-be sequel of which James himself surely would have approved. —Romy Weinberg
House of Gold
This sweeping family drama is set in 1911 Vienna and introduces us to the Goldbaums, a wealthy and influential Austrian clan. Heiress Greta Goldbaum finally finds happiness and a sense of belonging, only to have it cruelly interrupted by war and politics. Will she accept change for her own good, or cling to her hard-won serenity? —Romy Weinberg
A Darker Sea
James L. Haley
In what may be viewed as a sequel to In the Hurricane’s Eye, but is actually a sequel to The Shores of Tripoli, James L. Haley’s A Darker Sea picks up after the American Revolution and focuses on the buildup to the War of 1812. Commander Putnam takes charge of the USS Tempest and leads his men into an unforgettable battle with the enormously formidable British Navy. —Jonathan Russell Clark
Katherine J. Chen
In the reimagining of a classic novel, Katherine J. Chen takes on Jane Austen’s masterpiece Pride and Prejudice by focusing on the youngest of the Bennett sisters, Mary, who exists on the periphery of Austen’s original comedy. In Chen’s telling, Mary is a bookish woman with literary ambitions, stuck in an era when female independence is next to impossible. It’s a brilliant stroke of perspective and a story as rich and funny as any of Austen’s. —Jonathan Russell Clark
The World According to Garp
T.S. Garp is the son of feminist icon Jenny Fields, whose book, A Sexual Suspect, made her a celebrity. Garp, a writer himself, grapples with his mother’s fame as well as his own problems, including his obsessive worry over the safety of his kids. Filled with shocking scenes, biting satire, and a Dickensian array of richly drawn characters, Irving’s breakout 1978 novel remains a contemporary classic and a complex portrait of its time. —Jonathan Russell Clark
Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra
In the recent Netflix show Maniac, the character Annie wants to read Don Quixote to prove she can, but we’re here to argue that Cervantes’ monumental classic (referred to by some as the first true novel) isn’t such a labor to read. In fact, the story of an aging man’s adventures in delusions (most of them derived from the thousands of romances he’s read) is an utterly fun reading experience. Full of hilarious set pieces and way-ahead-of-their-time literary devices, Don Quixote remains an entertaining and necessary part of the canon. —Jonathan Russell Clark
The Frolic of the Beasts
Yukio Mishima published numerous widely acclaimed novels in his life before committing suicide in 1970. The Frolic of the Beasts, the story of a dark and complex love triangle between a student, his professor, and the professor’s wife, was published in 1961 and is now available in English for the first time. A haunting love story, Mishima’s novel introduces English readers to a major figure in Japanese literature. —Jonathan Russell Clark
The newest novel from Fiona Davis (author of The Address and The Dollhouse) is set in one of New York’s crown jewels: Grand Central Terminal. Sweeping from 1928 to 1974, the story stars Virginia Clay, who stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal, a striking watercolor, and the mystery of a famed illustrator who disappeared in 1931. A rare gem itself, this novel is sure to please fiction lovers of all stripes. —Elizabeth Anne Hartman
There’s a very good chance that your giftee is among the 65 million-plus people who have read Coelho’s 1998 novel, The Alchemist. In Coelho’s newest book, he again draws on the rich experience of his own life to take us back in time, reliving the dreams of a generation that longed for peace and dared to challenge the established social order. —Elizabeth Anne Hartman
The Splendor Before the Dark
With her novel The Splendor Before the Dark, Margaret George takes the reader to the bygone days of the Roman Empire—specifically, to the time when Nero ruled. George’s novel focuses on the destruction of Rome by fire, and of Nero’s efforts to rebuild the city and avoid plots against him. —Tobias Carroll
A finalist for several major literary awards, Esi Edugyan’s novel Washington Black tells the story of a young man born into slavery in Barbados. His encounter with a progressive inventor forever changes the destinies of both, and the journey on which they embark spans continents, bringing together grand ideas and a sense of adventure. —Tobias Carroll
Gift your loved ones a trip through time with our top historical fiction picks—all sweeping tales of romance and revolution. Dive into novels centered on people like William Shakespeare, Ada Lovelace, Madame Tussaud, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s close friend, Lorena Hickock. Visit Grand Central Station in 1928, Iran in the 1950s, ancient Rome, and a 17th-century sugar cane plantation in Barbados. Experience the chaos and fear of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. Here, we present the very best historical fiction books of 2020 to give as gifts. For other awesome historical fiction ideas, check out our list of 2020 Historical Fiction We’ve Been Loving.
Featured Image: Chelsea Fone