In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: LIFE magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton. But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road.
The Lost Diary of Venice
In the wake of her father’s death, Rose Newlin finds solace in her work as a book restorer. Then, one rainy Connecticut afternoon, a struggling painter appears at her door. William Lomazzo brings with him a document written over a hidden diary that had purposely been scraped away. The restoration sparks unforeseen challenges when William—a married man—and Rose experience an instant, unspoken attraction and find themselves connected to an artist who lived five centuries ago. A richly detailed page-turner shadowed by one of history’s darkest times, The Lost Diary of Venice weaves a heartbreakingly vivid portrait of two vastly different worlds—and two tales of entrancing, unrelenting love.
The Year of the Witching
In Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement. But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood. Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she learns grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes that if Bethel’s darkness is going to change, it must begin with her.
The Lions of Fifth Avenue
In nationally bestselling author Fiona Davis’s latest historical novel, a series of book thefts roils the iconic New York Public Library, leaving two generations of strong-willed women to pick up the pieces. Flipping between 1913 and 1993, this book showcases two generations of women who, through their love of books, seek to redefine themselves and open their hearts.
From the O. Henry Prize-winning author, Inheritors is a heartbreakingly beautiful and brutal exploration of lives fragmented by the Pacific side of World War II. Spanning more than 150 years, and set in multiple locations in colonial and postcolonial Asia and the United States, Inheritors paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of its characters as they grapple with the legacies of loss, imperialism, and war.
Set in Haiti, this book spans the 1990s to 2010, when a massive earthquake churns the ground beneath the capital city, destroying nearly everything in its wake, leaving the dead unnumbered, and forever altering the course of life for those who survive. At once suspenseful, heartrending, and gorgeously lyrical, Zo is an unforgettable journey of heroism, grief, redemption, and persistence against all odds. With a modern-day Romeo and Juliet story at its core, this novel brings us vividly to Haiti at a moment of historic tragedy and transformation, as it tells a luminous tale of unlikely love.
It is the 1950s in a restless Iran, a country rich in oil but deeply divided by class and religion. The government is unpopular and corrupt and under foreign sway. One night, an illiterate army driver hears the pitiful cry of a baby abandoned in an alley and menaced by ravenous wild dogs. He snatches the child up and takes her home, naming her Aria. Nazanine Hozar’s stunning debut gives us an unusually intimate view of a momentous time, through the eyes of a young woman coming to terms with the mysteries of her own past and future.
Bright Precious Thing
From the New York Times bestselling author of Let’s Take the Long Way Home comes a moving memoir about how the women’s movement revolutionized and saved her life, from the 1960s to the #MeToo era. Bright Precious Thing is the captivating story of a woman’s odyssey, her search for adventure giving way to something more profound: the evolution of a writer and a woman, a struggle to embrace one’s life as a precious thing.
Age of Consent
A daringly honest, sexy debut novel about three young women coming of age in 1980s New England and New York, Age of Consent is a bingeable summer read. A “total time machine,” this book captures the struggles of teenage women—each with parental issues of their own—coming of age in a big city filled with money, treachery, powerful men, and not many role models.
Martha Hall Kelly
For readers of The Nightingale and Sarah’s Key, inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this remarkable debut novel reveals the power of unsung women to change history in their quest for love, freedom, and second chances. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.
Love and Ruin
In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha Gellhorn travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in the devastating conflict. It’s her chance to prove herself a worthy journalist in a field dominated by men. There she also finds herself unexpectedly—and unwillingly—falling in love with Ernest Hemingway, a man on his way to becoming a legend. Paula McLain brings Gellhorn’s story richly to life and captures her as a heroine for the ages: a woman who will risk absolutely everything to find her own voice.
Daisy Jones & The Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup. Written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies, Daisy Jones & The Six brilliantly captures a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.
We Were the Lucky Ones
It is the spring of 1939 and three generations of the Kurc family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war grows closer. As one sibling is forced into exile, another attempts to flee the continent, while others struggle to escape certain death, either by working grueling hours on empty stomachs in the factories of the ghetto or by hiding as gentiles in plain sight. Inspired by the incredible true story of one Jewish family separated at the start of World War II, determined to survive—and to reunite—We Were the Lucky Ones is a tribute to the triumph of hope and love against all odds.
The Nickel Boys
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
Connell and Marianne grew up in the same small town, but the similarities end there. At school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation—awkward but electrifying—something life-changing begins. Normal People is the story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find that they can’t.
City of Girls
In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters. Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life—and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it.
Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is recognized as one of the best-loved classic children’s stories, transcending the boundaries of time and age, making it as popular with adults as it is with young readers. The beloved story of the March girls is a classic American feminist novel, reflecting the tension between cultural obligation and artistic and personal freedom. Once you read it, watch (or re-watch) the movie that came out last year and experience the magic onscreen all over again.
The Lies That Bind
It’s 2 A.M. on a Saturday night in the spring of 2001, and twenty-eight-year-old Cecily Gardner sits alone in a dive bar in New York’s East Village, questioning her life. Feeling lonesome and homesick for the Midwest, she wonders if she’ll ever make it as a reporter in the big city—and whether she made a terrible mistake in breaking up with her longtime boyfriend. As Cecily reaches for the phone to call him, she hears a guy, Grant, on the barstool next to her say, “Don’t do it—you’ll regret it.” The two forge an unlikely connection and begin to fall for each other—but then Grant disappears in the chaos of 9/11. This novel is a mesmerizing and emotionally resonant exploration of the never-ending search for love and truth.
Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, watching everything and everyone, but most especially Isabella. In 1957, when the girls graduate, they land coveted spots at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila in northern Italy, a prestigious art history school. There, free of her claustrophobic home and the town that will always see her and her Egyptian mother as outsiders, Bridget discovers she can reinvent herself as anyone she desires… perhaps even someone Isabella could desire in return.
The Book of Longings
Sue Monk Kidd
In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. She engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes narratives about neglected and silenced women. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything.
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.
Historical fiction has a unique way of captivating readers—it works like a time machine, transporting those who enter to different bygone eras around the world. We can’t get enough of the vivid detail backed by extensive research, the extraordinary characters and storylines, and, most especially, the stories, previously untold, coming to light. Historical novels spark curiosity in a subject that you never thought about before, and leave you with lessons learned. It’s true magic.
Here are some historical fiction favorites—new and old—that we’ll be reading this summer.