When it comes to discussions of hot new historical fiction books, we can get a little bit dramatic. Just hearing the words “inspired by a true story” or, say, “Victorian era,” gets us close to passing out with excitement. If you feel the same way we do, then prepare yourself for the range of books in this most-anticipated historical fiction list for fall.
Jordyn’s Pick: After reading Jane Johnson’s THE SEA GATE and falling in love with her writing, news that her next book, THE WHITE HARE, is coming this fall forced me to finish everything I’m currently reading to make room for the new novel. In the summer of 1954, Magdalena and her adult daughter, Mila, buy a promising, though neglected house in a coastal valley slightly to the west of Cornwall. Due to its location and the haunted myths surrounding the town (based on actual Cornish folklore), the house has long been neglected. At first, the mother and daughter pair are excited to renovate the house into a bed-and-breakfast and enjoy catching up, accompanied by Mila’s young daughter, but soon the supernatural legends of the land show their hand and halt any plans for a new beginning. Johnson’s attention to detail and rich historical landscapes make this a perfect story as the weather gets cooler and you’re looking for a cozy read. If you’re a fan of Alice Hoffman’s and Kate Morton’s books, you will love THE WHITE HARE.
For fans of Alice Hoffman and Kate Morton, The White Hare is a spellbinding novel about mothers and daughters finding a new home for themselves, the secrets they try to bury, and the local legends that may change their lives.
In the far west of Cornwall lies the White Valley, which cuts deeply through bluebell woods down to the sea at White Cove. The valley has a long and bloody history, laced with folklore, and in it sits a house above the beach that has lain neglected since the war. It comes with a reputation and a strange atmosphere, which is why mother and daughter Magdalena and Mila manage to acquire it so cheaply in the fateful summer of 1954.
Magda has grand plans to restore the house to its former glory as a venue for glittering parties, where the rich and celebrated gathered for cocktails and for bracing walks along the coast. Her grown daughter, Mila, just wants to escape the scandal in her past and make a safe and happy home for her little girl, Janey, a solitary, precocious child blessed with a vivid imagination, much of which she pours into stories about her magical plush toy, Rabbit.
But Janey’s rabbit isn’t the only magical being around. Legend has it that an enchanted white hare may be seen running through the woods. Is it an ill omen or a blessing? As Mila, her mother, and her young daughter adjust to life in this mysterious place, they will have to reckon with their own pasts and with the secrets that have been haunting the White Valley for decades.
Molly's Pick: Kate Atkinson, so skilled at combining elements of thrillers, detective fiction, and family drama, is one of my favorite historical fiction novelists. I was blown away by LIFE AFTER LIFE and its follow-up, A GOD IN RUINS, and I’m eagerly anticipating SHRINES OF GAIETY as a result. Set in 1926 London, SHRINES OF GAIETY follows Nellie Coker, queen of the Soho club scene. As Nellie’s empire of nightclubs grows and she works to advance her family’s stature, she must confront the sordid underbelly that lurks behind the glittery facade. I’m still holding out a modicum of hope for this century’s Roaring Twenties, but until that happens, I am happy to sip on a French 75 and let Kate Atkinson masterfully transport me to her new story’s world.
Emily R’s Pick: A fake marriage between a pair of ill-matched spies trying to unravel a deadly conspiracy in 1930s Shanghai? Yes, please! You’ll get this and more in superstar author Chloe Gong’s FOUL LADY FORTUNE, the start to a new duology, set in the same world as her bestselling These Violent Delights duology. If you like fake dating, an enemies-to-lovers plot, the return of fan-favorite characters, spy missions, secrets, and/or redemption arcs, this is the historical fiction for you—and me!
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends comes the first book in a captivating new duology following an ill-matched pair of spies posing as a married couple to investigate a series of brutal murders in 1930s Shanghai.
It’s 1931 in Shanghai, and the stage is set for a new decade of intrigue.
Four years ago, Rosalind Lang was brought back from the brink of death, but the strange experiment that saved her also stopped her from sleeping and aging—and allows her to heal from any wound. In short, Rosalind cannot die. Now, desperate for redemption for her traitorous past, she uses her abilities as an assassin for her country.
Code name: Fortune.
But when the Japanese Imperial Army begins its invasion march, Rosalind’s mission pivots. A series of murders is causing unrest in Shanghai, and the Japanese are under suspicion. Rosalind’s new orders are to infiltrate foreign society and identify the culprits behind the terror plot before more of her people are killed.
To reduce suspicion, however, she must pose as the wife of another Nationalist spy, Orion Hong, and though Rosalind finds Orion’s cavalier attitude and playboy demeanor infuriating, she is willing to work with him for the greater good. But Orion has an agenda of his own, and Rosalind has secrets that she wants to keep buried. As they both attempt to unravel the conspiracy, the two spies soon find that there are deeper and more horrifying layers to this mystery than they ever imagined.
Heather’s Pick #1: The mythology of the American West is strong, but historical novels like GILDED MOUNTAIN paint a more realistic picture of frontier life than you’ll find in most Hollywood films. Set in 1900s Colorado, Kate Manning’s story introduces readers to Sylvie Pelletier, whose new position as a secretary in the Padgett family’s manor house offers her the chance to experience more of the world. But if at first Sylvie’s enthralled by the wealth and power of her employers, she quickly becomes aware of the inequality all around her. Because while the Padgetts make vast amounts of money from their marble-mining company, their servants and quarry workers can barely make ends meet. As she learns more and more about the Padgett Company’s unfair working conditions, Sylvie has to decide where her loyalties truly lie.
Set in early 1900s Colorado, the unforgettable tale of a young woman who bravely faces the consequences of speaking out against injustice.
In a voice spiked with sly humor, Sylvie Pelletier recounts leaving her family’s snowbound mountain cabin to work in a manor house for the Padgetts, owners of the marble-mining company that employs her father and dominates the town. Sharp-eyed Sylvie is awed by the luxury around her; fascinated by her employer, the charming “Countess” Inge, and confused by the erratic affections of Jasper, the bookish heir to the family fortune. Her fairy-tale ideas of romance take a dark turn when she realizes the Padgetts’ lofty philosophical talk is at odds with the unfair labor practices that have enriched them. Their servants, the Gradys, formerly enslaved people, have long known this to be true and are making plans to form a utopian community on the Colorado prairie.
Outside the manor walls, the town of Moonstone is roiling with discontent. A handsome union organizer, along with labor leader Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, is stirring up the quarry workers. The editor of the local newspaper—a bold woman who takes Sylvie on as an apprentice—is publishing unflattering accounts of the Padgett Company. Sylvie navigates vastly different worlds and struggles to find her way amid conflicting loyalties. When the harsh winter brings tragedy, Sylvie must choose between silence and revenge.
Drawn from true stories of Colorado history, Gilded Mountain is a tale of a bygone American West seized by robber barons and settled by immigrants, and is a story infused with longing—for self-expression and equality, freedom and adventure.
Holly’s Pick: Jess Kidd has become one of my favorite authors. She has a knack for immersive storytelling and draws readers into her gothic, historical settings. That’s why I am eagerly awaiting the publication of her newest novel, THE NIGHT SHIP. This story, which toggles between two time periods, is based on a true historical event. Back in 1628, an orphaned girl is bound for the Dutch East Indies by boat. Throughout her journey, she spends her time searching for the mythical monsters that are thought to roam the ship. Flash-forward almost four hundred years, where a lonely boy named Gil is sent to live in the islands off Western Australian with his grandfather. While he is there building a new life, Gil discovers the story of an infamous shipwreck, the Batavia. As the lives of these two characters parallel and entwine, a thrilling, twisted, and beautiful tale of friendship and sacrifice unfold. Prepare to be spellbound by another Jess Kidd masterwork.
Based on a real-life event, an epic historical novel from the award-winning author of Things in Jars that illuminates the lives of two characters: a girl shipwrecked on an island off Western Australia and, three hundred years later, a boy finding a home with his grandfather on the very same island.
1629: A newly orphaned young girl named Mayken is bound for the Dutch East Indies on the Batavia, one of the greatest ships of the Dutch Golden Age. Curious and mischievous, Mayken spends the long journey going on misadventures above and below the deck, searching for a mythical monster. But the true monsters might be closer than she thinks.
1989: A lonely boy named Gil is sent to live off the coast of Western Australia among the seasonal fishing community where his late mother once resided. There, on the tiny reef-shrouded island, he discovers the story of an infamous shipwreck…
With her trademark “thrilling, mysterious, twisted, but more than anything, beautifully written” (Graham Norton, New York Times bestselling author) storytelling, Jess Kidd weaves a unputdownable and charming tale of friendship and sacrifice, brutality and forgiveness.
Heather’s Pick #2: Given the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II and coronation of a new British monarch for the first time in 70 years, we’re even more ready than usual to dive back into Philippa Gregory’s Fairmile series. DAWNLANDS picks up after the events of TIDELANDS and DARK TIDES, continuing the epic story of Alinor, an ordinary woman in 17th-century England who nevertheless finds herself at the center of history. By 1685—a particularly tumultuous year in which King James II ascended to the British throne following the sudden death of his brother, King Charles II—Alinor and her family have become enmeshed in royal intrigue despite their best intentions. Can they play the political game to win back their Tidelands home?
The “sweeping” (Parade) and “superb” (People) Fairmile series from #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory continues as the fiercely independent Alinor and her family find themselves entangled in palace intrigue, political upheaval, and life-changing secrets in 17th-century England.
It is 1685, England is on the brink of a renewed civil war against the Stuart kings and many families are bitterly divided. Ned Ferryman cannot persuade his sister, Alinor, that he is right to return from America with his Pokanoket servant, Rowan, to join the rebel army. Instead, Alinor has been coaxed by the manipulative Livia to save the queen from the coming siege. The rewards are life-changing: the family could return to their beloved Tidelands, and Alinor could rule where she was once lower than a servant.
Alinor’s son, Rob, is determined to stay clear of the war, but when he and his nephew set out to free Ned from execution for treason and Rowan from a convict deportation to Barbados, they find themselves enmeshed in the creation of an imposter Prince of Wales—a surrogate baby to the queen.
From the last battle in the desolate Somerset Levels to the hidden caves on the slave island of Barbados, this third volume of an epic story follows a family from one end of the empire to another, to find a new dawn in a world which is opening up before them with greater rewards and dangers than ever before.
Sharon’s Pick: A locked-room whodunit with a queer historical twist, LAVENDER HOUSE by Lev AC Rosen sounds like the ideal comfy mystery to curl up with. Set in the 1950s, at the Lavender House, this detective story’s inhabitants live as queerly and freely as they want. However, family affairs are not so carefree, and soon enough matriarch and soap empress Irene Lamontaine winds up dead. When recently fired cop Evander “Andy” Mills gets put on the case as a private investigator of Irene’s murder, he is quickly immersed in family secrets of jealousy, as he tries to determine who among this tight-knit family had the motive to kill.
Emily L.’s Pick #1: In her junior year of college at Vassar, Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (then still Jacqueline Bouvier) lived in Paris. It was the year 1949 and the City of Light was alive with jazz clubs, art, and cultured suitors. But it’s also a crumpled world after the Occupation, and a place abuzz with a more tolerant view of communism right as it became unmentionable in America. The final years of college are pivotal for any young person, and for Jackie Bouvier, they offer an expansion of her mindset, which puts her on a path towards politics and art. I love a good fictionalized biography and, complete with an immersive Parisian locale, this one sounds perfect to continue “bookcationing” with well into the fall.
Emily L.’s Pick #2: I admire author Maggie O’Farrell’s ability to fictionalize a little-known historical figure—and imagine what events occurred in her life. I also appreciate how she always gets at the heart of her main character with compassion and curiosity. Her latest, THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT, is set in 16th-century Florence, a city that I’ll read about in any time period or genre. At the start of the story, Lucrezia de’Medici is in a vulnerable spot and believes she’s going to be murdered by her husband, the Duke of Ferrara. Then the story jumps back to show how Lucrezia grew up in the royal Medici household, and how, though a rebellious spirit, she was forced into the marriage. The suspense of the two narratives builds as we watch the duke grow in villainy, and Lucrezia in her vulnerability, all the while knowing the final scene they will find themselves in.
Emily L.’s Pick #3: Perfect for spooky season, RELUCTANT IMMORTALS stars two undead immortal women you may know from classic literature: Bertha Mason from JANE EYRE and Lucy Westenra from DRACULA. Both women were victims of toxic men, and in this imaginative horror novel, they’re changing the narrative in 1960s’ California. When another immortal arrives who needs their help, Lucy and Bertha set off for San Francisco, where they come across the likes of cults and hippies, as they fight to assist their friend.
For fans of Mexican Gothic, from three-time Bram Stoker Award–winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a novel inspired by the untold stories of forgotten women in classic literature—from Lucy Westnera, a victim of Stoker’s Dracula, and Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s attic-bound wife in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—as they band together to combat the toxic men bent on destroying their lives, set against the backdrop of the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury, 1967.
Reluctant Immortals is a historical horror novel that looks at two men of classic literature, Dracula and Mr. Rochester, and the two women who survived them, Bertha and Lucy, who are now undead immortals residing in Los Angeles in 1967 when Dracula and Rochester make a shocking return in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
Combining elements of historical and gothic fiction with a modern perspective, in a tale of love and betrayal and coercion, Reluctant Immortals is the lyrical and harrowing journey of two women from classic literature as they bravely claim their own destiny in a man’s world.
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