We’re big fans of author Kate Quinn on Off the Shelf! Her new releases are consistently at the top of our Most Anticipated lists—hello Diamond Eye—and her historical fiction books always shed a fresh light on events of the past. But not many people know that her book-blurbing skills are also A+ material. From her Instagram profile to her BookBub page (that has over fifty reviews), we’ve scoured the sites to find our favorite book recommendations from her. She writes so concisely and lovingly about each book that we can’t help but add-to-TBR every single one.
12 Beautifully Written Books Kate Quinn Recommends
Downton Abbey meets Gangs of New York in this darkly compelling debut. In a world where high-society debutantes and industry titans live oblivious of the immigrant poor and desperate on their doorsteps, proud and clever Irishwoman Mary Ballard moves easily between both spheres, acting by day as prim lady's maid to society heiress Charlotte Walden and letting loose by night in the company of her reckless twin brother and his gang of none-too-savory compatriots. Mary harbors a secret passion for the beautiful Charlotte, who only has eyes for Mary's brother, and this claustrophobic love triangle of stifled desire and class warfare plays out to deadly, devastating effect. A gem of a novel to be inhaled in one gulp.
“Downton Abbey meets Gangs of New York…a gem of a novel to be inhaled in one gulp” (Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author) about a devoted maid whose secretive world is about to be ripped apart at the seams—a lush and evocative debut set in 19th century New York that’s perfect for fans of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith and Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin.
By day, Mary Ballard is dutiful lady’s maid to Charlotte Walden, a wealthy and accomplished belle of New York City high society. But Charlotte would never trust Mary again if she knew the truth about her devoted servant’s past.
On her nights off, Mary sheds her persona as prim and proper lady’s maid to reveal her true self—Irish exile Maire O’Farren. She finds release from her frustration in New York’s gritty underworld—in the arms of a prostitute and as drinking companion to a decidedly motley crew consisting of members of a dangerous secret society.
Meanwhile, Charlotte has a secret of her own—she’s having an affair with a stable groom, unaware that her lover is actually Mary’s own brother. When the truth of both women’s double lives begins to unravel, Mary is left to face the consequences. Forced to choose between loyalty to her brother and loyalty to Charlotte, between society’s respect and true freedom, Mary finally learns that her fate lies in her hands alone.
A captivating historical fiction of 19th century upstairs/downstairs New York City, The Parting Glass examines sexuality, race, and social class in ways that feel startlingly familiar and timely. A perfectly paced, romantically charged “story of the sumptuous world of the privileged and the precarious, difficult environs of the immigrant working poor is highlighted by vibrant characters and a well-paced plot, which will pull readers into the tangled tale” (Publishers Weekly).
OUR AMERICAN FRIEND is an intriguing Russian nesting doll of modern Washington politics, Cold War spy games, and above all women with secrets. A burned-out White House correspondent gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she is selected to write the biography of an enigmatic Russian model turned even more enigmatic First Lady of the United States. Just what is the President's wife hiding? Anna Pitoniak's masterful puzzle of espionage, love, and betrayal kept me flipping the pages to find out.
A mysterious first lady.
The intrepid journalist writing her biography.
And the secret that could destroy them both.
Tired of covering the grating dysfunction of Washington and the increasingly outrageous antics of President Henry Caine, White House correspondent Sofie Morse quits her job and plans to leave politics behind. But when she gets a call from the office of First Lady Lara Caine, asking Sofie to come in for a private meeting with Lara, her curiosity is piqued. Sofie, like the rest of the world, knows little about Lara—only that Lara was born in Soviet Russia, raised in Paris, and worked as a model before moving to America and marrying the notoriously brash future president.
When Lara asks Sofie to write her official biography, and to finally fill in the gaps of her history, Sofie’s curiosity gets the better of her. She begins to spend more and more time in the White House, slowly developing a bond with Lara—and eventually a deep and surprising friendship with her.
Even more surprising to Sofie is the fact that Lara is entirely candid about her mysterious past. The First Lady doesn’t hesitate to speak about her beloved father’s work as an undercover KGB officer in Paris—and how he wasn’t the only person in her family working undercover during the Cold War.
As Lara’s story unfolds, Sofie can’t help but wonder why Lara is rehashing such sensitive information. Why to her? And why now? Suddenly Sofie is in the middle of a game of cat and mouse that could have explosive ramifications.
For fans of The Secrets We Kept and American Wife, Our American Friend is a propulsive Cold War-era spy thriller crossed with a fictional biography of a First Lady. Spanning from the 1970s to the present day, traveling from Moscow and Paris to Washington and New York, Anna Pitoniak’s novel is a gripping page-turner—and a devastating love story—about power and complicity and how sometimes, the fate of the world is in the hands of the people you’d never expect.
An intoxicating brew of court politics, deadly magic, family rivalry, and enough swashbuckling female swordplay to delight Wonder Woman's entire isle of Amazons. Macallister’s turn from historical fiction to historical fantasy is a gem—I can't wait for the next installment!
A centuries-long peace is shattered in a matriarchal society when a decade passes without a single girl being born in this sweeping epic fantasy that’s perfect for fans of Robin Hobb and Circe.
Five hundred years of peace between queendoms shatters when girls inexplicably stop being born. As the Drought of Girls stretches across a generation, it sets off a cascade of political and personal consequences across all five queendoms of the known world, throwing long-standing alliances into disarray as each queendom begins to turn on each other—and new threats to each nation rise from within.
Uniting the stories of women from across the queendoms, this propulsive, gripping epic fantasy follows a warrior queen who must rise from childbirth bed to fight for her life and her throne, a healer in hiding desperate to protect the secret of her daughter’s explosive power, a queen whose desperation to retain control leads her to risk using the darkest magic, a near-immortal sorcerer demigod powerful enough to remake the world for her own ends—and the generation of lastborn girls, the ones born just before the Drought, who must bear the hopes and traditions of their nations if the queendoms are to survive.
SISTERS IN ARMS is heartwarming but fierce, a novel brimming with camaraderie and fire, starring women you’d love to make your friends. Prickly, musical Grace and bubbly, privileged Eliza may not make the most natural allies, but it’s fight or die when they’re thrown together in the Army’s first class of female officers—and the first Black women allowed to serve their country in World War II . . . Kaia Alderson’s debut is a triumph!
A fresh, original debut, twining personal family drama together with the lesser-known history of World War II Romania. Even readers saturated with Second World War dramas will be enthralled by this moving tale of two ferociously devoted mothers, the daughter they share, and the sacrifices they are willing to make for a new future. Gripping, tragic, yet filled with passion and hope—I couldn't put it down!
A sweeping historical romance that is “gripping, tragic, yet filled with passion and hope” (Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author), offering a vivid and unique portrayal of life in war-torn 1941 Bucharest during World War II and its aftermath—perfect for fans of Lilac Girls and Sarah’s Key.
On a freezing night in January 1941, a little Jewish girl is found on the steps of an apartment building in Bucharest. With Romania recently allied with the Nazis, the Jewish population is in grave danger so the girl is placed in an orphanage and eventually adopted by a wealthy childless couple who name her Natalia. As she assimilates into her new life, she all but forgets the parents who were forced to leave her behind.
As a young woman in Soviet Romania, Natalia crosses paths with Victor—an important official in the Communist regime that she used to know as an impoverished young student. Now they are fatefully drawn into a passionate affair despite the obstacles swirling around them and Victor’s dark secrets.
When Natalia is suddenly offered a one-time chance at freedom, Victor is determined to help her escape, even if it means losing her. Natalia must make an agonizing decision: remain in Bucharest with her beloved adoptive parents and the man she has come to love, or seize the chance to finally live life on her own terms, and to confront the painful enigma of her past.
The Girl They Left Behind “is a vividly told, beautifully written, impossible-but-true story” (Helen Bryan, internationally bestselling author of War Brides) that you won’t soon forget.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS meets Penny Dreadful in Kris Waldherr's THE LOST HISTORY OF DREAMS, a dark Victorian epic of obsessive love, thwarted genius, and ghostly visitations. When Byronic poet Hugh de Bonne dies mysteriously, postmortem photographer Robert Highstead is propelled into a dark quest to fulfill the poet's dying wish and reunite two long-dead lovers. Still locked in obsessive grief for his own lost wife, Robert must confront his own demons as well as Hugh's if he is to learn the unsettling truth behind his mission. Eerily atmospheric and gorgeously written, THE LOST HISTORY OF DREAMS is a Gothic fairy-tale to savor.
THE LOST HISTORY OF DREAMS is an eerie gothic ghost story, love story, and haunting mystery all in one. Waldherr spins the tale of a post-mortem photographer whose tragic wife remains at the periphery of his life as he learns and records the story of dead poet Hugh de Bonne and Hugh’s own lost love. The divisions between past and present and life and death blur as the mystery unfolds in a moody Victorian English landscape.
Signe Pike pens a haunting, poetic origin story to the Arthurian legend, following the twisting paths of a young seer in training, a courageous queen stranded on both sides of a vicious war, and her battle-haunted brother who will someday don the mantle of Merlin. Intrigue, rivalry, and magic among the mists of old Britain—THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM is an enchantment of a read!
From the author of The Lost Queen, hailed as “Outlander meets Camelot” (Kirsty Logan, the author of The Gloaming) and “The Mists of Avalon for a new generation” (Linnea Hartsuyker, the author of The Golden Wolf), a “rich, immersive” (Kirkus Reviews) new novel in which a forgotten queen of 6th-century Scotland claims her throne as war looms and her family is scattered to the winds.
AD 573. Imprisoned in her chamber, Languoreth awaits news in torment. Her husband and son have ridden off to war against her brother, Lailoken. She doesn’t yet know that her young daughter, Angharad, who was training with Lailoken to become a Wisdom Keeper, has been lost in the chaos. As one of the bloodiest battles of early medieval Scottish history abandons its survivors to the wilds of Scotland, Lailoken and his men must flee to exile in the mountains of the Lowlands, while nine-year-old Angharad must summon all Lailoken has taught her to follow her own destiny through the mysterious, mystical land of the Picts.
In the aftermath of the battle, old political alliances unravel, opening the way for the ambitious adherents of the new religion: Christianity. Lailoken is half-mad with battle sickness, and Languoreth must hide her allegiance to the Old Way to survive her marriage to the next Christian king of Strathclyde. Worst yet, the new King of the Angles is bent on expanding his kingdom at any cost. Now the exiled Lailoken, with the help of a young warrior named Artur, may be the only man who can bring the warring groups together to defeat the encroaching Angles. But to do so, he must claim the role that will forever transform him. He must become the man known to history as “Myrddin.”
“Intrigue, rivalry, and magic among the mists of old Britain—The Forgotten Kingdom is an enchantment of a read” (Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network).
Mitchell James Kaplan pens a lilting, jazzy ballad as catchy as a Gershwin tune, bringing to vibrant life the complicated relationship between classically trained composer Kay Swift and free-wheeling star George Gershwin. Their musical bond is as powerful as their passion, and jazz-soaked gin-drenched Broadway is their playground through the tumultuous years of the Great War and Prohibition. RHAPSODY will have you humming, toe-tapping, and singing along with every turn of the page.
“[A] shining rendition of Swift and Gershwin’s star-crossed love.” —Therese Anne Fowler, New York Times bestselling author
In the vein of the New York Times bestseller Loving Frank, this fascinating and compelling novel “will have you humming, toe-tapping, and singing along with every turn of the page” (Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author) as it explores the decade-long relationship between the celebrated composer George Gershwin and gifted musician Katharine “Kay” Swift.
When Katharine “Kay” Swift—the restless but loyal society wife of wealthy banker James Warburg and a serious pianist who longs for recognition—attends a performance of Rhapsody in Blue by a brilliant, elusive young musical genius named George Gershwin, her world is turned upside down. Transfixed, she’s helpless to resist the magnetic pull of George’s talent, charm, and swagger. Their ten-year love affair, complicated by her conflicted loyalty to her husband and the twists and turns of her own musical career, ends only with George’s death from a brain tumor at the age of thirty-eight.
Set in Jazz Age New York City, this stunning work of fiction explores the timeless bond between two brilliant, strong-willed artists. George Gershwin left behind not just a body of work unmatched in popular musical history, but a woman who loved him with all her heart, knowing all the while that he belonged not to her, but to the world.
THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS is a gorgeous, poetic journey threaded with mist and magic about a group from a Chinese university who take to the road to escape the Japanese invasion of 1937—only to discover that danger stalks them from within. Janie Chang pens pure enchantment.
In BEYOND THE POINT, Claire Gibson writes a stellar trio of heroines—women I want to hug, women I want to befriend, women I want to be. Hannah, Avery, and Dani enter the male-dominated world of West Point as very different personalities, but they all prove tough as their Army boots as their friendship weathers the tests of school and life, faith and loss, love and war. An inspiring tribute to female friendship and female courage.
Kianna Alexander breathes life into forgotten historical matriarch Josephine Leary, a budding entrepreneur born into slavery and raising herself to power after the Civil War as a community investor and savvy businesswoman. Josephine's moving struggle to build family and fortune will strike a chord in a story that is both timely and timeless—CAROLINA BUILT is an exuberant celebration of Black women's joy as well as their achievements!
A vivid and moving novel based on the incredible life of real estate magnate Josephine N. Leary—a previously untold story of passion, perseverance, and building a legacy after emancipation in North Carolina.
Josephine N. Leary is determined to build a life of her own and a future for her family. When she moves to Edenton, North Carolina from the plantation where she was born, she is free, newly married, and ready to follow her dreams.
As the demands of life pull Josephine’s attention—deepening her marriage, mothering her daughters, supporting her grandmother—she struggles to balance her real estate aspirations with the realities of keeping life going every day. She teaches herself to be a business woman, to manage her finances, and to make smart investments in the local real estate market. But with each passing year, it grows more and more difficult to focus on building her legacy from the ground up.
Moving and inspiring, Josephine Leary’s untold story speaks to the part of us that dares to dream bigger, tear down whatever stands in our way, and build something better for the loved ones we leave behind.
THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY is simply transcendent. The first Chinese woman to set her lotus-bound feet in America is destined to set off a ripple through time and space, as her descendants struggle with her legacy of loss and loneliness. Themes of karma, courage, love, and motherhood weave timelessly through eight generations of women seeking to find balance in an increasingly tempest-racked world. Jamie Ford has outdone himself!
The New York Times bestselling author of the “mesmerizing and evocative” (Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet returns with a powerful exploration of the love that binds one family across the generations.
Dorothy Moy breaks her own heart for a living.
As Washington’s former poet laureate, that’s how she describes channeling her dissociative episodes and mental health struggles into her art. But when her five-year-old daughter exhibits similar behavior and begins remembering things from the lives of their ancestors, Dorothy believes the past has truly come to haunt her. Fearing that her child is predestined to endure the same debilitating depression that has marked her own life, Dorothy seeks radical help.
Through an experimental treatment designed to mitigate inherited trauma, Dorothy intimately connects with past generations of women in her family: Faye Moy, a nurse in China serving with the Flying Tigers; Zoe Moy, a student in England at a famous school with no rules; Lai King Moy, a girl quarantined in San Francisco during a plague epidemic; Greta Moy, a tech executive with a unique dating app; and Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman to set foot in America.
As painful recollections affect her present life, Dorothy discovers that trauma isn’t the only thing she’s inherited. A stranger is searching for her in each time period. A stranger who’s loved her through all of her genetic memories. Dorothy endeavors to break the cycle of pain and abandonment, to finally find peace for her daughter, and gain the love that has long been waiting, knowing she may pay the ultimate price.
Photo credit: iStock / Charl Folscher