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Summer Reading List: Historical Fiction Edition

Go Back in Time With One of These Great New Period Pieces

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • June 27, 2021

What is it about summer reading and historical fiction? The two seem to go hand in hand. We crave the experience of getting transported to other times and places and learning a bit of history as we go. If historical fiction is your jam, here are great new titles from 2021, featuring real-life figures and events from the past that will deepen your understanding of past eras.

Featuring Real-Life Figures

The Personal Librarian
Out June 29, this collaboration by acclaimed authors, Victoria Christopher Murray and Marie Benedict, imagines the remarkable true story of a Black woman who hid her true identity, passing as white, to leave a lasting legacy as J. P. Morgan's personal librarian.

Leonora in the Morning Light
For fans of Amy Bloom's White Houses and Colm Tóibín's The Master, this page-turning novel by Michaela Carter centers on British-Mexican Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington and the art, drama, and romance that defined her coming-of-age during World War II.

The Widow Queen
The bold one, they call her. From Elzbieta Cherezinska comes the epic story of a Polish queen who was all but forgotten until now. To her father, the great duke of Poland, Swietoslawa simply represents a chance for an alliance, but she refuses to be simply a pawn in her father's schemes.

The Bohemians
Jasmin Darznik explores the life of one of America's most celebrated photographers, Dorothea Lange. The novel captures a glittering and gritty 1920s San Francisco, with a cast of unforgettable characters, including such legendary figures Frida Kahlo and D. H. Lawrence.

The Social Graces
In 1870s Manhattan, women had little independence or power and society was everything. Renee Rosen throws back the curtain on the notorious feud between Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt and Mrs. Caroline Astor, as they battled for control of New York society during the Gilded Age.

The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba
Chanel Cleeton has mined her own family's stories about leaving Cuba into several engrossing novels. Her latest finds one of its three heroines in Evangelina Cisneros, a real-life 18-year-old woman who was wrongfully imprisoned during the Cuban Revolution in 1896.

The Women of Chateau Lafayette
Most castles are protected by men. This one by women. The Chateau de Chavaniac played a pivotal role in three major wars, starting with the French Revolution. Stephanie Dray highlights the extraordinary women who stood their ground during these tumultuous times.

Based on Actual Events

Remote Sympathy
After a move from Munich to idyllic Buchenwald, Greta's only complaint is the looming presence of the nearby prison camp. Set in Nazi Germany, this novel by Catherine Chidgey explores an important question: How much people are able to overlook? And in doing so, perpetuate evil.

Yellow Wife
In the tradition of Wench and Twelve Years a Slave, this harrowing story by Sadeqa Johnson follows Pheby, an enslaved woman who has enjoyed a relatively privileged life as a favored figure on the plantation. But when she turns eighteen, her circumstances take a cruel turn.

"It was Indiana, it was the dirt she had bloomed up out of, it was who she was, what she felt, how she thought, what she knew." In the tradition of Willa Cather, Marilynne Robinson, and Elizabeth Strout, Laird Hunt presents this depression-era tale about a young orphan girl trying to find her place.

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur
Alka Joshi follows up on The Henna Artist with a story set in 1969. Henna artist Lakshmi arranges for her protégé, Malik, to intern at the Jaipur Palace. But when Malik takes his place at the palace, he finds it rife with dark secrets and deceptions.

Elisabetta, Marco, and Sandro grow up as the best of friends despite their differences in this WWII novel by Lisa Scottoline. As a love triangle emerges in the wake of the rise of fascism, the three must put aside their feelings in order to save their families from the terrors threatening their home city of Rome.

Wild Women and the Blues
1925, Chicago: Honoree is a sharecropper's daughter, willing to work hard and dance every night on her way to the top. 2015: Film student Sawyer Hayes arrives at 110-year-old Honoree's bedside, still reeling from a devastating loss. Denny Bryce's debut novel offers a dynamic perspective.

Ready to get lost in one of these immersive explorations of past lives? We're certainly adding some of these great titles to our summer reading lists! Hopefully something here has caught your eye. If not check out our Summer Reading: Classics Edition or any of our monthly Most Anticipated blogs for more suggestions. And let us know what kind of summer reading lists you'd like to see.

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