As has been the case since, like, 2020, this year hasn’t gotten off to the best start. I won’t go into the list of reasons why this happens, but it’s safe to say that you might need a little escapism right now. Historical fiction novels are your answer.
This is not to say that the other periods described in these books were necessarily “better”. These stories often take place during times of war or economic upheaval. But still, sometimes you have to get out of your Twitter timeline and think about another set of issues, you know? Here are the best books to do just that, from a story based on the story of a famous New York building to an epic saga told through letters written to a loved one.
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Violeta, by Isabel Allende
There’s a lot to say about this book, which follows a woman who was born in 1920 and has an incredibly turbulent life in South America, but the big headline for me is that the character is living through two different pandemics, so honestly, that’s is the cathartic read you’re probably looking for right now. The English version of the book is linked here, but the original is in Spanish.
The Magnolia Palace, by Fiona Davis
When a portrait model loses her mother during the Spanish flu, she suddenly has to find a way to make some money. So she takes a job as a secretary for Helen Frick, the daughter of industrialist Henry Clay Frick. Fifty years later, in this same mansion, a different model begins to investigate a famous murder that took place in the house.
A Ballad of Love and Glory, by Reyna Grande
Any book with the tagline “A Forgotten War. An Unforgettable Romance,” gets an immediate yes from me. During the controversial annexation of Texas, a Mexican woman loses her home and her husband. Meanwhile, an Irishman decides to help the Mexican army fight against the United States, and their lives intertwine.
Our last days in Barcelona, by Chanel Cleeton
In this dual-timeline story set in, you guessed it, Barcelona, a mother and daughter go against their family’s expectations of them. There’s espionage, family secrets, and the reunion of long-lost lovers. What more could you ask for?
Groupies by Sarah Priscus
Okay, that’s “historic” if you count the 70s as historic, and yes, we do. If you liked “Daisy Jones & The Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, this book is for you. Faun, a college dropout, grabs her camera and moves to Los Angeles after her mother dies. She reconnects with her childhood best friend, who is conveniently dating a rock star. It sounds like an incredible life pivot, but things get more complicated the longer Faun stays there.
Mercury Pictures Presents, by Anthony Marra
Another Hollywood story! Maria Lagana moves to Los Angeles to escape her family’s past in Italy, and she finds herself working at Mercury Pictures, a film studio. On the brink of World War II, she’s confronted by a man from her father’s past, and things get dicey.
The Tobacco Wives, by Adele Meyers
Maddie Sykes, an aspiring seamstress, moves to North Carolina to work with her aunt. She ends up being employed by the rich women of the town, but she learns that health problems have followed all of her clients and she discovers the cause. Will she report what she knows or keep it to herself?
Next Ship Home: An Ellis Island Novel, by Heather Webb
Two women arrive on Ellis Island with different dreams: one hopes to live in the United States, and the other dreams of being a translator for immigrants. But the corruption on the island turns out to be greater than expected.
Peach Blossom Spring, by Melissa Fu
This book follows three generations of a Chinese family and begins with the matriarch, Melin, fleeing China in 1938. Her son grows up and must struggle with his own childhood while raising his daughter, Lily. How much should he actually tell her about his past so she can know who she is?
Mademoiselle Revolution, by Zoe Sivak
Sylvie de Rosiers, a privileged woman living in Haiti, must flee the island when a revolution begins to tear it apart. When she arrives in Paris, she becomes fascinated by the revolution of this country and its leader Maximilien Robespierre. She must decide which side of the story she really wants to be on in this gripping book.
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