Who doesn’t love a story that holds your attention from the first page, first paragraph, or even the first sentence? A novel that you can’t put down and that has you turning page after page, where you can’t wait to find out what happens next. That’s how I felt with these wonderful historical fiction must-reads. Many of these stories relate to struggles that still exist today. The characters in these novels are strong and they are survivors. I enjoyed reading these books and writing about them. I hope you enjoy these stories, too!
In a café just outside Central Park in New York City sits Ruby Henderson, alone and missing her family back in California. It is December 1938, and Christmas is around the corner. Just as Ruby is overwhelmed with sadness, into the café walks Marcel Benoit. Instantly Ruby and Marcel are attracted to each other, and within six months they are married and living in Paris. For a short time, Ruby and Marcel live the high life, dancing and going to parties, and Ruby, who always wanted to live a big life, seems happy. Everything is wonderful until it isn’t. Until Paris is invaded. Soon Marcel all but disappears from Ruby’s life, from their marriage, with no explanation. The only comfort Ruby has is teaching English to her eleven-year-old neighbor, Charlotte. When Ruby discovers Marcel’s secret, she will have to face the reality of what is happening around her. Courage will be needed, and choices must be made. Ruby’s and Charlotte’s lives will be changed forever. This is an unputdownable story of love, loss, and hope.
The story opens with a young child traveling with his family to a beach to watch turtles come ashore and lay their eggs in the sand. In the morning we learn that the boy and his family will dig up some of the turtles’ eggs and take them back to their village in the shadow of Mount Namuli. The reason for this: a lesson learned, to take only what is needed and leave the rest behind. This is a memory that he will hold on to for as long as he can. A memory of the last time he was free, a memory of his mother and father and the place he called home. This child will soon have his whole life changed when his village is destroyed and he is kidnapped. Based on the true story of Yasuke, Japan’s first foreign-born samurai and the only samurai of African descent. A riveting and very powerful story.
Set in late 16th-century Africa, India, Portugal, and Japan, The African Samurai is a powerful historical novel based on the true story of Yasuke, Japan’s first foreign-born samurai and the only samurai of African descent—for readers of Esi Edugyan and Lawrence Hill.
In 1579, a Portuguese trade ship sails into port at Kuchinotsu, Japan, loaded with European wares and weapons. On board is Father Alessandro Valignano, an Italian priest and Jesuit missionary whose authority in central and east Asia is second only to the pope’s. Beside him is his protector, a large and imposing East African man. Taken from his village as a boy, sold as a slave to Portuguese mercenaries, and forced to fight in wars in India, the young but experienced soldier is haunted by memories of his past.
From Kuchinotsu, Father Valignano leads an expedition pushing inland toward the capital city of Kyoto. A riot brings his protector in front of the land’s most powerful warlord, Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga is preparing a campaign to complete the unification of a nation that’s been torn apart by over one hundred years of civil war. In exchange for permission to build a church, Valignano “gifts” his protector to Nobunaga, and the young East African man is reminded once again that he is less of a human and more of a thing to be traded and sold.
After pledging his allegiance to the Japanese warlord, the two men from vastly different worlds develop a trust and respect for one another. The young soldier is granted the role of samurai, a title that has never been given to a foreigner; he is also given a new name: Yasuke. Not all are happy with Yasuke’s ascension. There are whispers that he may soon be given his own fief, his own servants, his own samurai to command. But all of his dreams hinge on his ability to protect his new lord from threats both military and political, and from enemies both without and within.
A magnificent reconstruction and moving study of a lost historical figure, The African Samurai is an enthralling narrative about the tensions between the East and the West and the making of modern Japan, from which rises the most unlikely hero.
Mia Jacobs has just escaped from a place and people that mean to harm her. She walks alone along the roadside at night. The forests next to her are pitch-black. In her pocket she carries a copy of her favorite book, written almost two hundred years before her time, The Scarlet Letter. It is her most precious book because somehow it seems to tell the story of her own mother, Ivy. Where Mia has just escaped from, books are not allowed. But books are Mia’s treasures, and she is on her way to the library in her town, a place where she feels safe, a place where she can get help. Here a journey will begin for Mia, one that will take her far from what she knows, but one that will ultimately lead her back to herself. This is another wonderful and magical book by Alice Hoffman. A beautifully written story about a mother and daughter—heartbreaking and uplifting.
From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and the Practical Magic series comes an enchanting novel about love, heartbreak, self-discovery, and the enduring magic of books.
One brilliant June day when Mia Jacob can no longer see a way to survive, the power of words saves her. The Scarlet Letter was written almost two hundred years earlier, but it seems to tell the story of Mia’s mother, Ivy, and their life inside the Community—an oppressive cult in western Massachusetts where contact with the outside world is forbidden, and books are considered evil. But how could this be? How could Nathaniel Hawthorne have so perfectly captured the pain and loss that Mia carries inside her?
Through a journey of heartbreak, love, and time, Mia must abandon the rules she was raised with at the Community. As she does, she realizes that reading can transport you to other worlds or bring them to you, and that readers and writers affect one another in mysterious ways. She learns that time is more fluid than she can imagine, and that love is stronger than any chains that bind you.
As a girl Mia fell in love with a book. Now as a young woman she falls in love with a brilliant writer as she makes her way back in time. But what if Nathaniel Hawthorne never wrote The Scarlet Letter? And what if Mia Jacob never found it on the day she planned to die?
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.”
This is the story of one woman’s dream. For a little while it came true.
This is the story of New York society girl Everleigh “Lee” Farrows. Like so many before her, Everleigh’s life has been planned out to the last detail. She is to marry well, have children, and never mention the passion she has for photography. As we meet Lee, she is visiting Madame Dillard, New York City’s premier matchmaker. Already having an engagement that did not work out and with her former fiancé spreading rumors about Lee, her options for a husband are few and far between. But a chance meeting with a handsome stranger named Roland Whittaker will seem to give Lee the second chance she has been waiting for. With everything in place, Lee is ready to start her new life, until Roland takes her on a surprise vacation to the Hamptons in the summer of 1957. There a hotel named for her and a new friendship with professional photographer Starling Meade will change everything and leave Lee questioning the life she thought she wanted. A great summer read!
“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.
This is the third novel in the Emmy Lake Chronicles (DEAR MRS. BIRD and YOURS CHEERFULLY). It is now 1943, and twenty-five-year-old Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, are living in London. Emmy is married to the love of her life, Charles Mayhew, who she misses dearly as he is overseas in the army, and Bunty is starting to live again after losing her fiancé, William, two years before during an air raid. As the story begins, Emmy is now the readers and advice editor for the magazine Woman’s Friend. The magazine is thriving, and all seems well until the death of the publisher, Lord Overton. Soon rumors are flying around the office of a new publisher, Mrs. Cressida Porter, Lord Overton’s niece. In the beginning, Mrs. Porter expresses the same vision for the magazine as Emmy; however, when Mrs. Porter starts to make changes geared to impress her friends with no thought to the loyal readers, Emmy decides to face Mrs. Porter and the challenges of turning Woman’s Friend back to what it was: a support for all women. This is a touching and lovely novel about friendship, grief, and fighting for what you believe in.
From the author of the bestselling “jaunty, heartbreaking winner” (People) Dear Mrs. Bird comes a charming and irresistible novel featuring journalist Emmy Lake as she fights for her readers, her friends and her found family in London during World War II.
London, 1943. Twenty-five-year-old Emmy Lake is doing her part in the war effort by spearheading the hugely popular “Yours Cheerfully” advice column in Woman’s Friend magazine. The postbags are full, Emmy’s guidance offers much needed support to her readers, and Woman’s Friend is thriving. Cheered on by her best friends Bunty and Thelma, and resolute in the absence of her husband who is fighting in the army, Emmy is dedicated to helping women face the increasing challenges brought about by over three years of war.
But Emmy’s world is turned upside down when glamorous socialite, the Honorable Cressida Porter, becomes the new publisher of the magazine, and wants to change everything about it. Aided by Mrs. Pye, a Paris-obsessed fashion editor with delusions of grandeur, and Small Winston, the grumpiest dog in London, Mrs. Porter fills the pages with expensive clothes and frivolous articles about her friends. Worst of all, she announces that she is cutting the advice column and leaving the readers to fend for themselves. Her vision for the publication’s future is dreadful and Emmy is determined to fight back.
Emmy and her friends must save the magazine they love, but when personal tragedy strikes, can they find a way to do so while juggling the very real implications of life in war-torn London?
Perfect for book clubs and fans of The Paris Library and Lessons in Chemistry, Mrs. Porter Calling is a story about women coming together. Set during World War II but inherently resonant with how we choose our families today, Pearce’s signature combination of laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreakingly sad storytelling delivers a feel-good tribute to the strength of friendships. This stand-alone novel with its much-loved continuing characters is the perfect tonic for our times.
Moving between 1907, 1944, and 2021, Julia Kelly’s THE LAST GARDEN IN ENGLAND introduces us to the gardens of a large and beautiful country estate called Highbury House. In 1907, Venetia Smith, a well-known garden designer, is invited to create many different garden rooms for the estate, including a tea garden, a children’s garden, a bridal garden, and a winter garden. In 1944, during World War II, Diana Symonds, mistress of Highbury House, has turned the estate into a hospital and employed Beth Pedley as a land girl to work the house’s farm and Stella Adderton as the main cook. In 2021, Emma Lovett comes to Highbury House to restore the neglected gardens to Venetia Smith’s original design. As Emma researches and works in the gardens, she begins to uncover the long-buried secrets of the past, secrets that connect Venetia, Diana, Beth, and Stella. A warm, uplifting story of family, new beginnings, and love.
From the author of the international bestsellers The Light Over London and The Whispers of War comes “a compelling read, filled with lovable characters and an alluring twist of fates” (Ellen Keith, author of The Dutch Wife) about five women living across three different times whose lives are all connected by one very special garden.
Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.
1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.
1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.
“Gorgeously written and rooted in meticulous period detail, this novel is vibrant as it is stirring. Fans of historical fiction will fall in love with The Last Garden in England” (Roxanne Veletzos, author of The Girl They Left Behind).
This story begins in the 1950s and alternates between the two distinct voices of Ruby Pearsall, a high school student in Philadelphia, and Eleanor Quarles, a college student at Howard University in Washington, DC. Ruby is determined to be the first in her family to attend college, while Eleanor works in Howard’s library and is on her way to becoming a talented archivist. They both have plans for their lives, but when Eleanor meets fellow college student William Pride and Ruby meets a neighbor named Shimmy, their trajectories change in unexpected ways. They both face challenges that will ultimately bring them closer to who they are and who they were meant to be. An unforgettable and powerful story.
From the award-winning author of Yellow Wife, a daring and redemptive novel set in 1950s Philadelphia and Washington, DC, that explores what it means to be a woman and a mother, and how much one is willing to sacrifice to achieve her greatest goal.
1950s Philadelphia: fifteen-year-old Ruby Pearsall is on track to becoming the first in her family to attend college, in spite of having a mother more interested in keeping a man than raising a daughter. But a taboo love affair threatens to pull her back down into the poverty and desperation that has been passed on to her like a birthright.
Eleanor Quarles arrives in Washington, DC, with ambition and secrets. When she meets the handsome William Pride at Howard University, they fall madly in love. But William hails from one of DC’s elite wealthy Black families, and his parents don’t let just anyone into their fold. Eleanor hopes that a baby will make her finally feel at home in William’s family and grant her the life she’s been searching for. But having a baby—and fitting in—is easier said than done.
With their stories colliding in the most unexpected of ways, Ruby and Eleanor will both make decisions that shape the trajectory of their lives.
I was hooked from the first page of this beautiful and well-written novel. The story revolves around three different and strong women who live on the island of Nantucket just before the Great Fire of 1846. Eliza Macy is the head of her household while her husband, Henry, has been out to sea for close to four years. Although Eliza does her best to keep up appearances for herself and for her children, secretly she fears financial ruin if her husband does not return soon. Meg Wright, a pregnant free Black woman, and her husband, Benjamin, run a successful cobbler shop. They have dreams and a determination to relocate their store to Main Street. Maria Mitchell spends her days in charge of Nantucket’s Atheneum and her nights on her rooftop studying the stars through her telescope. The summer of 1846 is sweltering, and there has been no rain for weeks. The pressure building on the island will turn one tiny spark into a devastating fire that will lead these three women to come together, to help each other survive, and to go on to build a stronger community on the island of Nantucket. A great book club read!
Photo credit: iStock / Jona Bastian