The Two Mrs. Carlyles
As a Californian, I was immediately drawn to this novel’s setting: San Francisco, just after the violent quake of 1906. The disaster makes Violet and her two friends wealthy—if only they can keep a secret. Yet after Violet marries a handsome widower, she soon finds herself haunted by the first Mrs. Carlyle, and her own past. This book reminds me of Rebecca in all the right ways, serving up complicated female relationships alongside a delicious dose of the gothic.
Two best friends set off in the late 1950s to study art in Italy. One girl is beautiful and popular, the other quiet and observant, dying for affection. I remember the fierceness of my own adolescent friendships, and Salam promises to capture that intensity in her portrait of a young woman grappling with selfhood, desire, and loss. This book has been compared to The Talented Mr. Ripley, and I can’t wait to be transported to its lush, retro setting—and find out who is hiding what.
The Lions of Fifth Avenue
It’s 1913, and Laura Lyons is the superintendent of the New York Public. She’s also a woman in search of her own identity. Her journey takes us from the stacks, to Greenwich Village, to the heart of the suffragette movement—until a series of book thefts change everything. Eighty years later, Laura’s granddaughter finds herself confronting another string of thefts, and her own family history. Book heists, feminism, love, and family secrets? This one really does have it all.
The First Actress
C. W. Gortner
Is any woman so compelling as Sarah Bernhardt? Thespian, lover, mother, muse—Bernhard lived larger than life, and Gortner captures her story in her own voice. From humble beginnings to conquering the world of European theater, this is a story of determination, talent, and one woman’s struggle for independence. Set against the rich backdrop of Paris in the 1800s, readers are sure to be swept away as Bernhard makes her indelible mark.
The Queen of Tuesday
This book takes us off-screen, straight into Lucille Ball’s fraught personal life. Blending fact with fiction, Strauss imagines what might have happened if his grandfather and Ball had had an affair. In the process, he brings to life not only a Technicolor, mid-century America, but also a portrait of a woman before her time: powerful, brilliant, and altogether human.
The Lost Diary of Venice
In recent weeks, I found myself turning away from fiction. How could I justify escaping into a novel when so many urgent issues deserve my attention, and my action? Eventually, though, I realized a distinction exists between avoidance and restoration. I discovered that if I allow myself a brief respite with a good book, I’m able to face the present moment with new vigor.
When it comes to literary getaways, I can testify that nothing does the job quite like historical fiction. Give me a half an hour in Victorian England, or Belle Époque Paris, and suddenly I’m capable of tackling today. My deepest hope now is that my own debut novel, set in Renaissance Venice, might offer a similar balm to readers.
Yet just because historical fiction provides a diversion doesn’t mean it can’t also be relevant. As a female author, I’m particularly proud of the way historical fiction helps us better understand the challenges women have faced, and how they’ve fought to claim their own identities. This spring, several new books offer not only great escapes, but complex, compelling female protagonists. Here are the titles at the top of my TBR list (now if we could just get more men to read them)!
Featured image: @shanti via Twenty20