With travel restrictions still relatively tight and a whole summer ahead of us, we’re all eager to take a little trip. Here are ten books that will still transport you to incredible, far-flung places and times, minus all the COVID-19 risks. Spanning from medieval Europe through to 2015 America, with ships to Norwegian islands, treks across the Middle East, and drives through the Andes Mountains in Ecuador, these books cover enough centuries and oceans to quench even the greatest wanderlust. No need to pack a bag; just pick up one of these absorbing, panoramic reads and prepare to set sail for parts unknown.
Set Sail for Distant Places and Times with These 10 Absorbing Historical Fiction Novels
Three childhood friends—Nora, Hazel, and Marie—uneasily await the declaration of World War II in Britain. While Nora attempts to get a job at the Home Office’s Air Raid Precautions Department and Hazel struggles to keep two dark secrets hidden, it is Marie who is proclaimed a risk to the nation as a German ex-pat. Divided by their different struggles, the three friends are nonetheless reunited as they fight to keep Marie out of an internment camp in this intimate portrait of female friendship.
The start of World War II looms over three friends who struggle to remain loyal as one of them is threatened with internment by the British government, from the author of the “sweeping, stirring” (Kristin Harmel, internationally bestselling author of The Room on Rue Amélie) The Light Over London.
In August of 1939, as Britain watches the headlines in fear of another devastating war with Germany, three childhood friends must choose between friendship or country. Erstwhile socialite Nora is determined to find her place in the Home Office’s Air Raid Precautions Department, matchmaker Hazel tries to mask two closely guarded secrets with irrepressible optimism, and German expat Marie worries that she and her family might face imprisonment in an internment camp if war is declared. When Germany invades Poland and tensions on the home front rise, Marie is labeled an enemy alien, and the three friends find themselves fighting together to keep her free at any cost.
Featuring Julia Kelly’s signature “intricate, tender, and convincing” (Publishers Weekly) prose, The Whispers of War is a moving and unforgettable tale of the power of friendship and womanhood in the midst of conflict.
In this uncanny, Gothic thriller, it’s 1850s London and the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park draws visitors together from around the world. Iris, a beautiful aspiring artist, hardly remembers her encounter there with the unusually intense collector Silas. But for Silas, his run-in with Iris becomes the organizing event of his life. As Iris goes on to begin studying under a famed Pre-Raphaelite artist, Silas’s obsession morphs into an intricate trap, set for an unsuspecting victim.
A panoramic but tender epic, THE SWEETEST FRUITS tells the story of the three women who impacted the life of famed writer Lafcadio Hearn. A Greek immigrant in the 1850s, an African American ex-slave on her way to Cincinnati after the Civil War, and a Japanese woman who becomes the writer’s wife and literary partner, these three women’s stories are intertwined with Hearn’s own, illustrating the complex role relationships play in the creation of art, culture, and history.
The captivating debut novel by the critically acclaimed author of BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME (2015), THE WATER DANCER tells the story of Hiram Walker, a young man imbued with a strange power but born into slavery. After his mother is sold away and Hiram has a near-death experience, Hiram decides to run away from Virginia. But as he gets involved in underground resistance movements declaring war on the masters, he can’t escape his desire to save the family he left behind.
In early medieval Britain, Languoreth and her twin brother are thrust from a young age into a bloody conflict as Christian forces threaten their old pagan kingdom. Languoreth’s emotional and magical connection to famed warrior Maelgwn persists, despite her arranged marriage to the High King, who grows increasingly sympathetic to Christianity’s followers. A cinematic, sweeping historical romance, THE LOST QUEEN re-imagines one of the most powerful women in history in a story that will appeal to fans of Outlander.
In this lyrical, multigenerational tale, a family struggles to stay together and find a way forward in the face of the Vietnam War. In the late 1940s, Trần Diệu Lan and her children are forced to flee their family home as Communism comes to power in North Vietnam. Years later, her granddaughter Hương struggles to come of age and maintain hope as she watches her family members leave to fight in the same bloody conflict that has tormented them for decades.
On an isolated island off the coast of Norway in 1617, a brutal storm drowns all the men in one evening. The women of the small fishing community are left alone to fend for themselves. Years later, Absalom, a Scottish man who’s led witch burnings, arrives on the island with his wife Ursa. While Ursa is entranced by the utopian vision of independent women, and drawn to one woman in particular, her husband is set on dominating the island and its people.
In 2011, Nour’s family moves from America back to Syria to be close to family. But when war brings violence to their doorstep, the family is forced to take a dangerous trek across the Middle East to escape. Eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, the heroine of Nour’s favorite bedtime story, disguises herself as a boy and travels with a famed mapmaker across the same route, eager to chart the world. In this absorbing, magical debut, two girls find their voices as they come of age under incredible circumstances.
In 2015 New York, eighty-year-old Elsie receives a parcel of letters written by her mother during World War II. These letters lead Elsie to uncover the story of Amanda Sternberg who, at the end of the 1930s in Berlin, is forced to flee with her two daughters after her husband was taken to a concentration camp. Following Amanda to the South of France and into a Nazi labor camp, Amanda’s story becomes one of insurmountable love, sacrifice, and survival.
From the internationally bestselling author of The German Girl, an unforgettable, “searing” (People) saga exploring a hidden piece of World War II history and the lengths a mother will go to protect her children—perfect for fans of Lilac Girls, We Were the Lucky Ones, and The Alice Network.
Seven decades of secrets unravel with the arrival of a box of letters from the distant past, taking readers on a harrowing journey from Nazi-occupied Berlin, to the South of France, to modern-day New York City.
Berlin, 1939. The dreams that Amanda Sternberg and her husband, Julius, had for their daughters are shattered when the Nazis descend on Berlin, burning down their beloved family bookshop and sending Julius to a concentration camp. Desperate to save her children, Amanda flees toward the South of France. Along the way, a refugee ship headed for Cuba offers another chance at escape and there, at the dock, Amanda is forced to make an impossible choice that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Once in Haute-Vienne, her brief respite is interrupted by the arrival of Nazi forces, and Amanda finds herself in a labor camp where she must once again make a heroic sacrifice.
New York, 2015. Eighty-year-old Elise Duval receives a call from a woman bearing messages from a time and country that she forced herself to forget. A French Catholic who arrived in New York after World War II, Elise is shocked to discover that the letters were from her mother, written in German during the war. Her mother’s words unlock a floodgate of memories, a lifetime of loss un-grieved, and a chance—at last—for closure.
Based on true events and “breathtakingly threaded together from start to finish with the sound of a beating heart” (The New York Times Book Review), The Daughter’s Tale is an unforgettable family saga of love, survival, and redemption.
After her father’s suicide in the 1960s, Malena is shocked to find a letter, signed only by “A,” revealing that her mother is still alive. Malena travels to the letter’s address on Alameda Street in the Andes Mountains and assumes a fake identity to stay with the four sisters who live there, all of whom have names starting with “A.” But as she falls in love with them all—and with the wrong man—Malena begins to wonder if her plan will lead to more problems than solutions.
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