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10 Historical Fiction Reads Fiona Davis Recommends

September 1 2022
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Whenever we need a new historical fiction book recommendation, we know to turn to Fiona Davis, author of six historical fiction books set around New York City, including The Lions of Fifth Avenue. She’s constantly recommending intriguing books that explore shocking aspects of history. For that reason alone, all 10 of these books were automatic additions to our TBR pile.

The Paris Library
by Janet Skeslien Charles

“A fresh take on WWII France that will appeal to bibliophiles everywhere. I fell in love with Odile and Lily, with their struggles and triumphs, from the very first page. Meticulously researched, THE PARIS LIBRARY is an irresistible, compelling read.”

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The Paris Library
Janet Skeslien Charles

An instant New York Times, Washington Post, and USA TODAY bestseller—based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II—The Paris Library is a moving and unforgettable “ode to the importance of libraries, books, and the human connections we find within both” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author).

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet seems to have the perfect life with her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into the city, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

“A love letter to Paris, the power of books, and the beauty of intergenerational friendship” (Booklist), The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest places.

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The Foundling
by Ann Leary

"Leary’s latest is a stunning tale of corruption, compassion, and hope, and includes one of the best endings I’ve read in ages. She’s reached back in history and uncovered a shockingly true story, one that resonates strongly today. Full of jaw-dropping twists and intriguing characters—you won’t be able to put it down."

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The Foundling
Ann Leary

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good House, the story of two friends, raised in the same orphanage, whose loyalty is put to the ultimate test when they meet years later at a controversial institution—one as an employee; the other, an inmate.

It’s 1927 and eighteen-year-old Mary Engle is hired to work as a secretary at a remote but scenic institution for mentally disabled women called the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age. She’s immediately in awe of her employer—brilliant, genteel Dr. Agnes Vogel.

Dr. Vogel had been the only woman in her class in medical school. As a young psychiatrist she was an outspoken crusader for women’s suffrage. Now, at age forty, Dr. Vogel runs one of the largest and most self-sufficient public asylums for women in the country. Mary deeply admires how dedicated the doctor is to the poor and vulnerable women under her care.

Soon after she’s hired, Mary learns that a girl from her childhood orphanage is one of the inmates. Mary remembers Lillian as a beautiful free spirit with a sometimes-tempestuous side. Could she be mentally disabled? When Lillian begs Mary to help her escape, alleging the asylum is not what it seems, Mary is faced with a terrible choice. Should she trust her troubled friend with whom she shares a dark childhood secret? Mary’s decision triggers a hair-raising sequence of events with life-altering consequences for all.

Inspired by a true story about the author’s grandmother, The Foundling offers a rare look at a shocking chapter of American history. This gripping page-turner will have readers on the edge of their seats right up to the stunning last page…asking themselves, “Did this really happen here?”

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Take My Hand
by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

“Perkins-Valdez’s latest is a piercing look into a shameful moment in America’s history, and could not be more timely. Her electrifying, masterful novel brims with fierce compassion and deserves attention and accolades galore. I will be recommending it to everyone I know.”

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Take My Hand
Dolen Perkins-Valdez

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The Book of Lost Names
by Kristin Harmel

"Not since THE NIGHTINGALE have I finished a book and been so choked with emotion. Harmel was inspired by the true story of French citizens who fought against evil during WWII with courage and conviction. She shines a brilliant light on those who had their identities erased and lives destroyed, on a country and its people torn apart, and young women like Eva, who risked their lives with everyday acts of epic heroism. Sweeping and magnificent."

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The Book of Lost Names
Kristin Harmel

A fascinating, heartrending page-turner that, like the real-life forgers who inspired the novel, should never be forgotten.” —Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of Sold on a Monday

Inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II, a young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis in this “sweeping and magnificent” (Fiona Davis, bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue) historical novel from the #1 international bestselling author of The Winemaker’s Wife.

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books when her eyes lock on a photograph in the New York Times. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in more than sixty years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.

The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer, but does she have the strength to revisit old memories?

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris and find refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, where she began forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice Network, The Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.

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Fifty Words for Rain
by Asha Lemmie

“This virtuosic debut enthralled me from the very first page. Lemmie’s compelling and compassionate portrait of a young girl in post-WWII Japan is meticulously researched and beautifully crafted. What a heartbreaking, exceptional story by a sublime talent—I can’t wait to see what she does next!”

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Fifty Words for Rain
Asha Lemmie

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The Wedding Veil
by Kristy Woodson Harvey

“Woodson Harvey’s latest is a knockout—a perfect blend of historical fiction (two generations of Vanderbilts and their iconic North Carolina mansion) and modern love (a runaway bride and her grieving grandmother). Her masterful intertwining of the storylines makes for a read that’s both sweeping yet incredibly intimate, with perfect pacing and characters who surprised at every turn. I didn’t want it to end.”

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The Wedding Veil
Kristy Woodson Harvey

The New York Times bestselling author of Under the Southern Sky and the Peachtree Bluff series brings “her signature wit, charm, and heart” (Woman’s World) to this sweeping new novel following four women across generations, bound by a beautiful wedding veil and a connection to the famous Vanderbilt family.

Four women. One family heirloom. A secret connection that will change their lives—and history as they know it.

Present Day: Julia Baxter’s wedding veil, bequeathed to her great-grandmother by a mysterious woman on a train in the 1930s, has passed through generations of her family as a symbol of a happy marriage. But on the morning of her wedding day, something tells her that even the veil’s good luck isn’t enough to make her marriage last forever. Overwhelmed and panicked, she escapes to the Virgin Islands to clear her head. Meanwhile, her grandmother Babs is also feeling shaken. Still grieving the death of her beloved husband, she decides to move out of the house they once shared and into a retirement community. Though she hopes it’s a new beginning, she does not expect to run into an old flame, dredging up the same complicated emotions she felt a lifetime ago.

1914: Socialite Edith Vanderbilt is struggling to manage the luxurious Biltmore Estate after the untimely death of her cherished husband. With 250 rooms to oversee and an entire village dependent on her family to stay afloat, Edith is determined to uphold the Vanderbilt legacy—and prepare her free-spirited daughter Cornelia to inherit it—in spite of her family’s deteriorating financial situation. But Cornelia has dreams of her own. Asheville, North Carolina has always been her safe haven away from the prying eyes of the press, but as she explores more of the rapidly changing world around her, she’s torn between upholding tradition and pursuing the exciting future that lies beyond Biltmore’s gilded gates.

In the vein of Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman and Jennifer Robson’s The Gown, The Wedding Veil brings to vivid life a group of remarkable women forging their own paths—and explores the mystery of a national heirloom lost to time.

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Cartier's Hope
by M. J. Rose

“MJ Rose’s latest encapsulates everything I love about historical fiction: a heroine whose journey is as timely today as it is in the 1910s, a glamorous setting that perfectly melds fact and fiction into an unputdownable tale, and at the sparkling center of it all: New York City. A true gem by an author at the top of her game.”

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Cartier's Hope
M. J. Rose

In this “heady tale of romance, intrigue, and empowerment” (Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author) during the Gilded Age, a determined and remarkable female journalist is determined to uncover the truth of the legendary Hope Diamond—from the New York Times bestselling author of Tiffany Blues.

New York, 1910: A city of extravagant balls in Fifth Avenue mansions and poor immigrants crammed into crumbling Lower East Side tenements. A city where the suffrage movement is growing stronger every day, but most women reporters are still delegated to the fashion and lifestyle pages. But Vera Garland is set on making her mark in a man’s world of serious journalism.

Shortly after the world-famous Hope Diamond is acquired for a record sum, Vera begins investigating rumors about schemes by its new owner, jeweler Pierre Cartier, to manipulate its value. Vera is determined to find the truth behind the notorious diamond and its mysterious curses, especially when her reporting puts her in the same orbit as a magazine publisher whose blackmailing schemes led to the death of her beloved father.

Appealing to a young Russian jeweler for help, Vera is unprepared when she begins falling in love with him…and even more unprepared when she gets caught up in his deceptions and finds herself at risk of losing all she has worked so hard to achieve.

“Vivid…[and] memorable” (Publishers Weekly), Cartier’s Hope is “a twisting tale of greed, revenge, and masked identities that put love and lives at risk. A fast-paced historical novel that shines with as much intrigue and mystery as the Hope Diamond itself” (Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author).

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Yellow Wife
by Sadeqa Johnson

“Inspired by the true story of a Virginia slave girl, Johnson's created a complex, three-dimensional heroine who uses her wits and intelligence to cope with the most harrowing of circumstances. The setting and time period are vividly brought to life by a master storyteller.”

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Yellow Wife
Sadeqa Johnson

Called “wholly engrossing” by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this “fully immersive” (Lisa Wingate, #1 bestselling author of Before We Were Yours) story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.

Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.

She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.

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The Bookseller's Secret
by Michelle Gable

“Gable’s ingenious story connects two struggling authors, eighty years apart, and is an ode to fans of Nancy Mitford and book lovers everywhere. Filled with crisp dialogue and populated with delightful, intriguing characters, the novel sings with wit and wisdom.”

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The Bookseller's Secret
Michelle Gable

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On Gin Lane
by Brooke Lea Foster

“Set on the tony East End of Long Island where the beautiful people play, ON GIN LANE encapsulates the very best of historical fiction, delving into timeless questions about the traditional expectations of women versus the challenges and rewards of pursuing a creative career. An exciting, fast-paced, enchanting read.”

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On Gin Lane
Brooke Lea Foster

“Utterly captivating. What a lovely summer novel!” —Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author

On Gin Lane encapsulates the very best of historical fiction.” —Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author

After her fiancé whisks her off to the glistening shores of Southampton in June of 1957, one young socialite begins to realize that her glamorous summer is giving her everything—except what she really wants—in this new novel from the author of Summer Darlings.

Everleigh “Lee” Farrows thinks she finally has life all figured out: a handsome fiancé named Roland, a trust in her name, and a house in Bronxville waiting for her to fill it with three adorable children. That is, until Roland brings her out to the Hamptons for a summer that will change everything.

Most women could only dream of the engagement present Roland unexpectedly bestows on Lee—a beachside hotel on the prized Gin Lane—but Lee’s delight is clouded by unpleasant memories of another hotel, the Plaza, where she grew up in the shadow of her mother’s mental illness. Shaking off flashbacks, Lee resolves to dive into an unforgettable summer with poolside Bellinis, daily tennis matches, luncheons with her Manhattan circle, and her beloved camera in tow. But when tragedy strikes on the hotel’s opening weekend, the cracks in Lee’s picture-perfect future slowly begin to reveal themselves, and Lee must look deep within herself to determine if the life she’s always wanted will ever truly be enough.

From the regal inns to the farmland, the well-heeled New Yorkers to the Bohemian artists, the East End of Long Island is a hodge-podge of the changing American landscape in the late 1950s—and the perfect place for Lee to discover who she really is.

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Photo credit: iStock / MihailUlianikov

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