8 Novels About the 1920s That Will Get You Excited for the Roaring 2020s

January 14 2020
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To ring in 2020, we’re looking back at some of our favorite stories about another set of twenties. The 1920s in America and abroad were rich with love, booze, money, and radical change. From heel-tapping flappers testing social limits to gun-toting gangsters running riot in the aftermath of the Great War, the characters that populate these novels both illustrate the historic tropes of our imaginations and defy convention. Taken together, this collection of poignant, nostalgic, and atmospheric portraits of a bygone era encapsulate the ethos of a time not all that different from our own.

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quintessential novel about Jazz Age America, midwesterner Nick Carraway is invited into the lavish life of his cousin Daisy Buchanan and his Long Island neighbor Jay Gatsby. Despite the fact that Daisy is married to the boorish Tom Buchanan, she’s still attracted to Gatsby, her former lover. As Nick facilitates their budding affair, he finds that the sway power, prestige, and old aristocracy still hold over what he thought was a modernizing world becomes hard to ignore.

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The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Some consider it “the great American novel.” The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his powerful love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan is an exquisitely crafted tale that has been essential reading since it was published.

Read the full review here.

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City of Flickering Light
by Juliette Fay

It’s the summer of 1921 and best friends Irene, Millie, and Henry are headed west for the bright lights of Hollywood. Determined to make it in the burgeoning film industry, the trio are initially awed by glitz and glam. But as the smoke begins to clear, the grit and grime of back alleys, dive bars, and ratty apartments threaten both their happiness and their lives. A heartfelt, cinematic testament to friendship, City of Flickering Light is Juliette Fay at her radiant best.

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City of Flickering Light
Juliette Fay

Juliette Fay—“one of the best authors of women’s fiction” (Library Journal)—transports us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood and the raucous Roaring Twenties, as three friends struggle to earn their places among the stars of the silent screen—perfect for fans of La La Land and Rules of Civility.

It’s July 1921, “flickers” are all the rage, and Irene Van Beck has just declared her own independence by jumping off a moving train to escape her fate in a traveling burlesque show. When her friends, fellow dancer Millie Martin and comedian Henry Weiss, leap after her, the trio finds their way to the bright lights of Hollywood with hopes of making it big in the burgeoning silent film industry.

At first glance, Hollywood in the 1920s is like no other place on earth—iridescent, scandalous, and utterly exhilarating—and the three friends yearn for a life they could only have dreamed of before. But despite the glamour and seduction of Tinseltown, success doesn’t come easy, and nothing can prepare Irene, Millie, and Henry for the poverty, temptation, and heartbreak that lie ahead. With their ambitions challenged by both the men above them and the prejudice surrounding them, their friendship is the only constant through desperate times, as each struggles to find their true calling in an uncertain world. What begins as a quest for fame and fortune soon becomes a collective search for love, acceptance, and fulfillment as they navigate the backlots and stage sets where the illusions of the silver screen are brought to life.

With her “trademark wit and grace” (Randy Susan Meyers, author of The Murderer’s Daughters), Juliette Fay crafts another radiant and fascinating historical novel as thrilling as the bygone era of Hollywood itself.

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The Girls At the Kingfisher Club
by Genevieve Valentine

In this sparkling, reimagined fairy tale, firstborn Jo loves nothing more than the eleven sisters she’s raised since their mother’s death. When their father is asleep, the girls sneak out of their aristocratic home and dance the night away in booze-drenched, music-laced speakeasies. But one night, after running into no-good bootlegger Tom, Jo begins to realize that doing what’s right for herself and doing what’s right for her family aren’t always the same thing.

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The Girls At the Kingfisher Club
Genevieve Valentine

This dazzling story of love, sisterhood, and freedom reimagines the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as Jazz Age flappers who escape their father’s Manhattan town house each night to dance in the city’s underground speakeasies. If you loved Rules of Civility or The Paris Wife, be sure to tuck this bewitching novel into your beach bag.

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Josephine Baker's Last Dance
by Sherry Jones

Sherry Jones’s impeccably researched Josephine Baker’s Last Dance is a fictionalized look at the life of the vivacious singer, dancer, actress, and activist. From her impoverished American childhood to her rise to It Girl and beyond, Josephine’s life exemplifies not only the triumphs of fame but also the losses suffered along the way. This moving, intimate portrait is a tender homage to one of the most extraordinary women of the past century.

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Josephine Baker's Last Dance
Sherry Jones

From the author of The Jewel of Medina, a moving and insightful novel based on the life of legendary performer and activist Josephine Baker, perfect for fans of The Paris Wife and Hidden Figures.

Discover the fascinating and singular life story of Josephine Baker—actress, singer, dancer, Civil Rights activist, member of the French Resistance during WWII, and a woman dedicated to erasing prejudice and creating a more equitable world—in Josephine Baker’s Last Dance.

In this illuminating biographical novel, Sherry Jones brings to life Josephine's early years in servitude and poverty in America, her rise to fame as a showgirl in her famous banana skirt, her activism against discrimination, and her many loves and losses. From 1920s Paris to 1960s Washington, to her final, triumphant performance, one of the most extraordinary lives of the twentieth century comes to stunning life on the page.

With intimate prose and comprehensive research, Sherry Jones brings this remarkable and compelling public figure into focus for the first time in a joyous celebration of a life lived in technicolor, a powerful woman who continues to inspire today.

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Crossing the Horizon
by Laurie Notaro

In Laurie Notaro’s captivating historical novel, three women vie for dominance of the sky in the wake of Charles Lindbergh’s record-breaking flight. Elsie is an impressive, classically trained pilot; Mabel is an ambitious, glamorous society sweetheart; and Ruth is a former beauty pageant contestant with her sights set on a new goal. Together, these women push the limits of aviation, as well as those of competition and friendship. Meticulously researched and intricately drawn, Crossing the Horizon depicts an exciting time defined by fearless women.

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Crossing the Horizon
Laurie Notaro

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The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain

You may recognize the name Ernest Hemingway, but Paula McLain’s stunning historical look at Hemingway’s marriage in 1920s Paris makes sure you’ll remember the name of his wife, Hadley Richardson. After a whirlwind romance, Ernest and Hadley move to fun-loving, raucous, volatile Jazz Age Paris. But the no-boundaries lifestyle begins to take its toll, and Hadley struggles to maintain her sense of self as she becomes Ernest’s muse for what will be his breakthrough novel.

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The Paris Wife
Paula McLain

This deeply intimate novel captures the love affair between two unforgettable figures: Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. Despite their extraordinary bond, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, and they find themselves facing a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

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The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters

Bestselling, award-winning author Sarah Waters offers her most atmospheric portrait of the past yet in The Paying Guests. In postwar London, the widowed Mrs. Wray and her unmarried daughter, Frances, are forced to turn their home into a boarding house to earn extra money. Soon, their new tenants begin to disrupt their careful lives and awaken new passions, both thrilling and devastating, inside them. The Paying Guests tells a tension-filled, sensual love story for the ages.

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The Paying Guests
Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters earned a reputation as one of Britain’s great writers of historical fiction, and here she delivers again. A love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of 1920s London, this is her finest achievement yet.

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Jazz
by Toni Morrison

Jazz tells the story of Joe Trace, a troubled middle-aged man who murders his teenage lover. His wife, Violet, with worries all her own, assaults the girl’s corpse in a fit of rage. While the narrative remains grounded in 1920s Harlem, the explosive tragedy of this traveling cosmetics salesman and his family reaches backward to the American South in the nineteenth century, following lineages of fury, passion, and obsession in a way that only the incomparable Toni Morrison can.

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Jazz
Toni Morrison

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