Historical fiction has a unique way of whisking readers back in time, allowing them to explore different eras, cultures, and significant events through the eyes of captivating characters. And there’s no better time to cozy up and be whisked away than on a crisp fall day. Luckily for us, this fall promises to deliver an impressive lineup of new releases set in times gone by. From sweeping sagas to intimate explorations of personal histories, these novels are more than just a trip to the past; they’re a bridge to understanding our present through the lens of yesteryear. So, mark your calendars and clear your shelves—this season’s offerings are not to be missed!
Dayna’s Pick: No one immediately grounds you in a sense of place like William Kent Krueger, from THIS TENDER LAND and ORDINARY GRACE to his latest, THE RIVER WE REMEMBER—in which I could feel the wind on my face and hear the comforting din of the local diner. A memorable cast of characters propels this novel forward, and as the central mystery is unveiled, I found myself racing toward the finish. This was a perfect “Oh, just one more chapter!” read. THE RIVER WE REMEMBER is alluring, tense, and very moving. In small-town Minnesota in 1958, a powerful local figure is found murdered, and Sheriff Brody Dern, a decorated war hero, is tasked with investigating. As the town is struck by the news, long-buried questions, grievances, and emotions bubble to the surface for everyone. The themes beautifully presented by Krueger will linger long after you’ve finished.
In 1958, a small Minnesota town is rocked by the murder of its most powerful citizen, pouring fresh fuel on old grievances in this dazzling standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the “expansive, atmospheric American saga” (Entertainment Weekly) This Tender Land.
On Memorial Day, as the people of Jewel, Minnesota gather to remember and honor the sacrifice of so many sons in the wars of the past, the half-clothed body of wealthy landowner Jimmy Quinn is found floating in the Alabaster River, dead from a shotgun blast. Investigation of the murder falls to Sheriff Brody Dern, a highly decorated war hero who still carries the physical and emotional scars from his military service. Even before Dern has the results of the autopsy, vicious rumors begin to circulate that the killer must be Noah Bluestone, a Native American WWII veteran who has recently returned to Jewel with a Japanese wife. As suspicions and accusations mount and the town teeters on the edge of more violence, Dern struggles not only to find the truth of Quinn’s murder but also put to rest the demons from his own past.
Caught up in the torrent of anger that sweeps through Jewel are a war widow and her adolescent son, the intrepid publisher of the local newspaper, an aging deputy, and a crusading female lawyer, all of whom struggle with their own tragic histories and harbor secrets that Quinn’s death threatens to expose.
Both a complex, spellbinding mystery and a masterful portrait of midcentury American life from an author of novels “as big-hearted as they come” (Parade), The River We Remember is an unflinching look at the wounds left by the wars we fight abroad and at home, a moving exploration of the ways in which we seek to heal, and a testament to the enduring power of the stories we tell about the places we call home.
Heather’s Pick: Few genres blend as beautifully as historical fiction and mystery, which is why I’m always on the lookout for promising new historical mysteries. And Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s THE SQUARE OF SEVENS immediately caught my eye. Not only does it have a cool cover, but it’s described as atmospheric, geared toward fans of writers like Sarah Waters and Sarah Perry, and set in Georgian England. Check, check, check. The real kicker, though, I think you’ll agree, is the plot: THE SQUARE OF SEVENS centers on Red, a young lady who grows up practicing a tarot technique she learned from her secretive late father. Red’s mission to learn more about him and her mother expands her world . . . and puts her safety at risk. Doesn’t get more intriguing than that!
“A big, satisfying, and clever read.” —The Times (London)
An orphaned fortune teller in 18th-century England searches for answers about her long-dead mother and uncovers shocking secrets in this immersive and atmospheric saga perfect for fans of Sarah Waters and Sarah Perry.
Cornwall, 1730: A young girl known only as Red travels with her father making a living predicting fortunes using the ancient Cornish method of the Square of Sevens. Shortly before he dies, her father entrusts Red’s care to a gentleman scholar, along with a document containing the secret of the Square of Sevens technique.
Raised as a lady amidst the Georgian splendor of Bath, Red’s fortune-telling delights in high society. But she cannot ignore the questions that gnaw at her soul: who was her mother? How did she die? And who are the mysterious enemies her father was always terrified would find him?
The pursuit of these mysteries takes her from Cornwall and Bath to London and Devon, from the rough ribaldry of the Bartholomew Fair to the grand houses of two of the most powerful families in England. And while Red’s quest brings her the possibility of great reward, it also leads to grave danger.
Laura Shepherd-Robinson, “the queen of modern Georgian literature” (Susan Stokes-Chapman, author of Pandora), has written a dazzling and Dickensian story of mystery and intrigue, with audacious twists and turns.
Juliet’s Pick #1: Two refugees, Marguerite from Beirut and Naïm from Aleppo, are connected by their struggles, dreams, and a haunting piece of music. Marguerite’s longing for musical education leads her to flee to Cuba, only to encounter revolution and chaos. Five decades later, Naïm, a former piano prodigy who lost part of one hand in the war, seeks a normal life in America. Spanning different locations and eras, THE REFUGEE OCEAN explores immigration, healing, and the transformative power of music and art. I can already feel myself getting emotional over this story and, honestly, I can’t wait.
Two refugees find that their lives are inextricably linked—over time and distance—by the perils of history and a single haunting piece of music.
Born in Beirut in 1922, Marguerite Toutoungi lives a life of loss and sacrifice. She dreams of traveling to Europe and studying music at the Conservatoire de Paris but her family—and her society—hold her back. When she meets the son of a Cuban tobacco farmer at a formal dance, love transforms her life. Together with him, she flees across the Pacific Ocean. She’s hoping for a new beginning. Instead, she finds revolution and chaos.
Over fifty years later, Naïm Rahil is a teenage refugee from Aleppo, Syria. A former piano prodigy who struggles to thrive in America—and who has lost part of his hand in the war—he dreams of a simple, normal life.
Moving from Aleppo on the brink of civil war, to Lebanon in the late 1940s, to Havana during the Cuban Revolution, to the suburbs of Washington, DC, The Refugee Ocean grapples with what it means to be an immigrant, shows how wounds can heal, and highlights the role of music and art in the resilience of the human spirit.
Juliet’s Pick #2: If there’s one theme that I love reading more than any other, it’s smart girls/women who use their wits to overcome a difficult situation; so you know that I’m beyond excited to read THE VASTER WILDS. Groff’s book tells the story of a servant girl who flees a colonial settlement, armed with only her intelligence and a divine inner spark, and finds an unknown land that challenges all she’s been taught. It is both an adventure and a profound fable, exploring colonialism and adaptation. Through the girl’s journey at a pivotal historical moment, the novel questions whether humanity can change quickly enough to preserve itself.
Juliet’s Pick #3: A Depression-era political spy thriller centering around a woman who is torn between justice and forgiveness? Sign. Me. Up. In 1939 New York City, during the Great Depression, Giddy Brodsky works at a jazz club but dreams of escaping poverty by starting a cosmetics business. Haunted by memories of her family’s flight from Russia after Cossacks burned their village, her past catches up with her when she believes she recognizes one of those Cossacks. Teaming up with the chief commissioner of immigration at Ellis Island, who is hunting the same man for suspected involvement in a political assassination plot, Giddy becomes a spy. When she finally confronts the man, she uncovers a political conspiracy that upends everything she thought she knew. I’m not kidding when I say that I can’t get my hands on a copy of THE JAZZ CLUB SPY soon enough!
From the author of the “riveting” (Chicago Tribune) The Midwife of Venice, a fresh and sweeping historical novel following a Jewish woman attempting to bring justice to her family on the eve of World War II.
New York City, 1939: At the height of the Great Depression, a time when President Roosevelt is trying to keep America out of World War II, Giddy Brodsky is lucky to have a job as a cigarette girl at a Manhattan jazz club. Nevertheless, she dreams of establishing a cosmetics business and leaving the poverty-stricken Lower East Side tenements behind. She has lived there with her family ever since they fled Russia, forced to emigrate after a group of Cossacks burned down their village, and her memories continue to haunt her.
Giddy tries to focus on the future until, during an evening streetcar ride, she thinks she recognizes one of the Cossacks who changed her life forever. Determined to get answers, she enlists the help of Carter van der Zalm, the Chief Commissioner of Immigration at Ellis Island, who is hunting the same man. He suspects the Russian is involved in an assassination plot that will destroy American and Soviet relations, and he enlists Giddy to moonlight as a spy for him. But when she finally tracks down the man they’re both seeking, she finds herself in the middle of a shocking political conspiracy that changes everything she once held true.
In the tradition of Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept and Kate Quinn’s The Rose Code, The Jazz Club Spy is a glittering and gritty look at pre-WWII America, and the personal battle one woman wages between justice and forgiveness.
Holly’s Pick: Jesmyn Ward, a decorated award-winning author bound for greatness akin to that of Toni Morrison, has returned with another brilliant novel. LET US DESCEND, publishing October 24, showcases Ward’s power as a writer. This novel is a haunting masterpiece that reimagines the life of an American slave. Annis, a teenage girl, has been sold by the white enslaver who fathered her. During her harrowing and horrific journey across the southern landscape, Annis musters the strength to carry on through stories told by her mother, teachings from her African warrior grandmother, mythology, memories, and hope. While a heartbreaking and tragic tale, LET US DESCEND is fiercely gripping and incredibly spellbinding. Ward’s rich and poetic sentences beautifully interweave elements of magic realism, crafting a novel that’s both devastating and enlightening.
From Jesmyn Ward—the two-time National Book Award winner, youngest winner of the Library of Congress Prize for Fiction, and MacArthur Fellow—comes a haunting masterpiece, sure to be an instant classic, about an enslaved girl in the years before the Civil War.
“‘Let us descend,’ the poet now began, ‘and enter this blind world.’” —Inferno, Dante Alighieri
Let Us Descend is a reimagining of American slavery, as beautifully rendered as it is heart-wrenching. Searching, harrowing, replete with transcendent love, the novel is a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation.
Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. While Ward leads readers through the descent, this, her fourth novel, is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation.
From one of the most singularly brilliant and beloved writers of her generation, this miracle of a novel inscribes Black American grief and joy into the very land—the rich but unforgiving forests, swamps, and rivers of the American South. Let Us Descend is Jesmyn Ward’s most magnificent novel yet, a masterwork for the ages.
Emily’s Pick #1: My strange book habit is that I can only read books that fit the season. So, as I’m finishing up my sunny reads, I’m also building my fall TBR with the perfect autumnal reads—and THE WITCHING TIDE is at the top of the list. It’s set in the seventeenth century, during a dreary autumn weekend in the town of East Anglia, and begins with the stirrings of a witch hunt. Martha is a mute midwife whose life and career come under threat once the infamous witchfinder, Silas, arrives in their small coastal town. In order to avoid suspicion, and with the help of neighbors, Martha is recommended as an assistant to Silas. But to succeed at her new job and protect herself, she must betray the women in town she’s loved and cared for at their most vulnerable moments. Right off the bat the plot introduces such a compelling moral dilemma that I’m dying to know how Martha can use her compassion, courage, and hopefully a little witchy magic in order to save her town and herself.
“Stylish and raw…seizes the reader’s sympathy and does not let go.” —Anne Enright, Booker Prize–winning author of The Gathering
For readers of Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel, an immersive literary debut inspired by historical events—a deadly witch hunt in 17th-century England—that claimed many innocent lives.
East Anglia, 1645. Martha Hallybread, a midwife, healer, and servant, has lived peacefully for more than four decades in her beloved seaside village of Cleftwater. Having lost her voice as a child, Martha has not spoken a word in years.
One autumn morning, a sinister newcomer appears in town. The witchfinder, Silas Makepeace, has been blazing a trail of destruction along the coast, and now has Cleftwater in his sights. His arrival strikes fear into the heart of the community. Within a day, local women are being captured and detained, and Martha finds herself a silent witness to the hunt.
Powerless to protest, Martha is enlisted to search the accused women for “devil’s marks.” She is caught between suspicion and betrayal; between shielding herself or condemning the women of the village. In desperation, she revives a wax witching doll that belonged to her mother, in the hope that it will bring protection. But the doll’s true powers are unknowable, Martha harbors a terrible secret, and the gallows are looming…
Set over the course of just a few weeks that will forever change history, The Witching Tide delivers powerful and psychologically astute insights about the exigencies of friendship and the nature of loyalty, and heralds the arrival of a striking new voice in fiction.
Emily’s Pick #2: THE GENERAL AND JULIA is told from the perspective of Ulysses S. Grant, close to death after a long struggle with throat cancer and writing a memoir reflecting on his fatherhood, incredible career as a general and president, and more. I can already tell that with the heartbreaking framing device of a former president on his deathbed, this book will give me such a sense of urgency and emotion while reading. And I can’t wait to dive in to a reflective novel that illuminates and humanizes a pivotal time in US history—from defending the Union on the battlefield to fighting to emancipate Black Americans to financial failings in the Gilded Age. THE GENERAL AND JULIA promises to be an exquisite work of historical fiction told through a uniquely personal yet profoundly political lens.
Ulysses S. Grant reflects on the crucial moments of his life as a husband, a father, a general, and a president while writing his memoirs and reckoning with his complicated legacy in this epic and intimate novel from the author of the “masterly” (The New York Times Book Review) novel Marley.
Barely able to walk and rendered mute by the cancer metastasizing in his throat, Ulysses S. Grant is scratching out words, hour after hour, day after day. Desperate to complete his memoirs before his death so his family might have some financial security and he some redemption, Grant journeys back in time.
He had once been the savior of the Union, the general to whom Lee surrendered at Appomattox, a twice-elected president who fought for the civil rights of Black Americans and against the rising Ku Klux Klan, a plain farmer-turned-business magnate who lost everything to a Wall Street swindler, a devoted husband to his wife Julia and loving father to four children. In this gorgeously rendered and moving novel, Grant rises from the page in all of his contradictions and foibles, his failures and triumphs.
Moving from blood-stained battlefields to Gilded Age New York, the novel explores how Grant’s own views on race and Reconstruction changed over time. Another work of “must-read modern literature” (Charles Frazier, New York Times bestselling author) from historical fiction master Jon Clinch, this evocatively crafted novel breathes fresh life into an American icon.
Emily’s Pick #3: I first learned about Zadie Smith by watching YouTube videos of her speeches and interviews at various book festivals and conferences—and was blown away. She’s a deep thinker and conveys her intriguing thoughts with such clarity that after hearing her talk I immediately went out and bought all of her books. And since her most recent novel was published all the way back in 2016, I’m incredibly excited for her newest release, THE FRAUD. It’s based on the true story of the Tichborne Trial—an inheritance trial in Victorian England about a lower-class butcher who claimed to be the legal heir of a fortune—but Smith’s narrative is told from the perspective of lesser-known subjects, including that of Mr. Bogle, a former slave brought in from Jamaica to London to serve as a witness in the trial. Telling the story this way greatly expands the inherent themes of the trial—justice, privilege, identity, and more—and I can’t wait to see how Zadie Smith builds each element upon the others with her typical witty language.
Sara’s Pick: If you haven't read any of Tananarive Due’s work, then you are missing out on one of the scariest and most poignant voices in modern horror, and her latest book all but secures that title. THE REFORMATORY follows young Robbie Stephens, Jr., who is sent to an all-boys reformatory in 1950s Florida after defending his older sister. But Robbie’s got a secret: he can see ghosts, or haints, as he calls them. And the haints at the Reformatory reveal the dark and twisted things that are happening behind closed doors. Will Robbie’s family be able to save him in time? Or will these haints be welcoming Robbie as one of their own?
A gripping, page-turning novel set in Jim Crow Florida that follows Robert Stephens Jr. as he’s sent to a segregated reform school that is a chamber of terrors where he sees the horrors of racism and injustice, for the living, and the dead.
Twelve-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr., is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory, for kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. So begins Robbie’s journey further into the terrors of the Jim Crow South and the very real horror of the school they call The Reformatory.
Robbie has a talent for seeing ghosts, or haints. But what was once a comfort to him after the loss of his mother has become a window to the truth of what happens at the reformatory. Boys forced to work to remediate their so-called crimes have gone missing, but the haints Robbie sees hint at worse things. Through his friends Redbone and Blue, Robbie is learning not just the rules but how to survive. Meanwhile, Gloria is rallying every family member and connection in Florida to find a way to get Robbie out before it’s too late.
The Reformatory is a haunting work of historical fiction written as only American Book Award–winning author Tananarive Due could, by piecing together the life of the relative her family never spoke of and bringing his tragedy and those of so many others at the infamous Dozier School for Boys to the light in this riveting novel.
Emily’s Pick #4: Set in Philadelphia in 1875, a year before the World’s Fair, MURDER BY DEGREES follows woman doctor Lydia Weston after the body of a young female chambermaid, a former patient of hers, is discovered and presumed a suicide. But Lydia Weston’s intuition and knowledge of anatomy tell her otherwise. Dr. Weston is one of the best doctors around, but still must prove herself as she comes up against two male detectives (not unlike Sherlock and Dr. Watson) who have been assigned to the case and harbor their own prejudices and insecurities. This promises to be an atmospheric mystery that weaves in many plot and character strands, while also serving as a triumphant tale of a woman who knows her subject outsmarting the men around her. Plus, author Ritu Mukerji is an actual doctor from Philadelphia, and I can’t wait to see how she imbues her debut with her expert details.
For fans of Jacqueline Winspear and Charles Todd, Murder by Degrees is a historical mystery set in 19th century Philadelphia, following a pioneering woman doctor as she investigates the disappearance of a young patient who is presumed dead.
Philadelphia, 1875: It is the start of term at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Dr. Lydia Weston, professor and anatomist, is immersed in teaching her students in the lecture hall and hospital. When the body of a patient, Anna Ward, is dredged out of the Schuylkill River, the young chambermaid’s death is deemed a suicide. But Lydia is suspicious and she is soon brought into the police investigation.
Aided by a diary filled with cryptic passages of poetry, Lydia discovers more about the young woman she thought she knew. Through her skill at the autopsy table and her clinical acumen, Lydia draws nearer the truth. Soon a terrible secret, long hidden, will be revealed. But Lydia must act quickly, before she becomes the next target of those who wished to silence Anna.
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