2018 is shaping up to be a terrific year for fans of historical fiction. And who better to recommend a new book to read than a bestselling author? We’ve rounded up the best historical fiction coming out this year as recommended by bestselling authors, including Pam Jenoff and Mary Alice Monroe. Take a look at their suggestions below, complete with publishers’ descriptions.
The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard
“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”
In November 1944, 18-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months — a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.
The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.
When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.
Recommendation: Jennifer Chiaverini says, “Suspenseful and intriguing… explores an aspect of the Manhattan Project long shrouded in secrecy, bringing to light an important chapter of World War II history.”
Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict
From the author of The Other Einstein, the mesmerizing tale of what kind of woman could have inspired an American dynasty.
Clara Kelley is not who they think she is. She’s not the experienced Irish maid who was hired to work in one of Pittsburgh’s grandest households. She’s a poor farmer’s daughter with nowhere to go and nothing in her pockets. But the other woman with the same name has vanished, and pretending to be her just might get Clara some money to send back home.
If she can keep up the ruse, that is. Serving as a lady’s maid in the household of Andrew Carnegie requires skills he doesn’t have, answering to an icy mistress who rules her sons and her domain with an iron fist. What Clara does have is a resolve as strong as the steel Pittsburgh is becoming famous for, coupled with an uncanny understanding of business, and Andrew begins to rely on her. But Clara can’t let her guard down, not even when Andrew becomes something more than an employer. Revealing her past might ruin her future — and her family’s.
With captivating insight and heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one brilliant woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.
Recommendation: Pam Jenoff says, “Downton Abbey fans should flock to this charming tale of fateful turns and unexpected romance, and the often unsung role of women in history.”
I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon
In an enthralling new feat of historical suspense, Ariel Lawhon unravels the extraordinary twists and turns in Anna Anderson’s 50-year battle to be recognized as Anastasia Romanov. Is she the Russian Grand Duchess, a beloved daughter and revered icon, or is she an imposter, the thief of another woman’s legacy?
Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn.
Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.
Germany, February 17, 1920: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.
Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson.
As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened. With a brilliantly crafted dual narrative structure, Lawhon wades into the most psychologically complex and emotionally compelling territory yet: the nature of identity itself.
The question of who Anna Anderson is and what actually happened to Anastasia Romanov creates a saga that spans 50 years and touches three continents. This thrilling story is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.
Recommendation: Lisa Wingate says, “Compelling and utterly fascinating… drifts far into the mysterious lives of Anastasia Romanov and Anna Anderson.”
The English Wife by Lauren Willig
From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and murder.
Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor house in England, they had a fairytale romance in London, they have three-year-old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and named it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to try to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?
Recommendation: Jennifer Robson says, “The English Wife, with its deliciously evocative portrait of the splendors, sorrows and intrigues of Gilded Age high society, is [Willig’s] best book yet.”
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Bridge Across the Ocean comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love.
In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters — Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa — a chance at a better life.
But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without — and what they are willing to do about it.
As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.
Recommendation: Kate Quinn says, “A thoughtful examination of life… somber, gripping, and illuminated with hope.”
The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel
For fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, this powerful novel of fate, resistance, and family — by the international bestselling author of The Sweetness of Forgetting and When We Meet Again — tells the tale of an American woman, a British RAF pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in occupied Paris during the tumultuous days of World War II.
When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevards, awash in the golden afternoon light. But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter, too.
Charlotte Dacher is 11 when the Germans roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze. After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear the yellow star, Charlotte can’t imagine things getting much worse. But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is ripped forever apart.
Thomas Clarke joins the British Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he’s really making a difference. Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting — and an unexpected road home.
When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis — and to open their own broken hearts — as they fight to survive. Rich with historical drama and emotional depth, this is an unforgettable story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.
Recommendation: Mary Alice Monroe says, “Set against all the danger and drama of WWII Paris, this heartfelt novel will keep you turning the pages until the very last word.”
The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator’s Wife, a fascinating novel of the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female legends — screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford.
It is 1914, and 25-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone’s lips these days is “flickers” — the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you’ll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.
In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title “America’s Sweetheart.” The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.
But their ambitions are challenged by both the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender—and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world’s highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered.
With cameos from such notables as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish, The Girls in the Picture is, at its heart, a story of friendship and forgiveness. Melanie Benjamin perfectly captures the dawn of a glittering new era — its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak.
Recommendation: Allison Pataki says, “With elegant prose and delicious historical detail, Benjamin delivers a timely tale of female friendship — and the powerful duo who dared to dream beyond the narrow roles into which they’d been cast.”
Tangerine by Christine Mangan
The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends — once inseparable roommates — haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy — always fearless and independent — helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.
But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice — she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.
Tangerine is a sharp dagger of a book — a debut so tightly wound, so replete with exotic imagery and charm, so full of precise details and extraordinary craftsmanship, it will leave you absolutely breathless.
Recommendation: Joyce Carol Oates says, “As if Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, and Patricia Highsmith had collaborated on a screenplay to be filmed by Hitchcock — suspenseful and atmospheric.”
The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith
A reckless wager between a tennis pro with a fading career and a drunken party guest — the stakes are an antique motorcycle and an heiress’s diamond necklace — launches a narrative odyssey that braids together three centuries of aspiration and adversity. A witty and urbane bachelor of the Gilded Age embarks on a high-risk scheme to marry into a fortune; a young writer soon to make his mark turns himself to his craft with harrowing social consequences; an aristocratic British officer during the American Revolution carries on a courtship that leads to murder; and, in Newport’s earliest days, a tragically orphaned Quaker girl imagines a way forward for herself and the slave girl she has inherited.
In The Maze at Windermere Gregory Blake Smith weaves these intersecting worlds into a brilliant tapestry, charting a voyage across the ages into the maze of the human heart.
Recommendation: Richard Russo says, “A dazzling high-wire act. I turned every page with a sense of wonder and excitement.”
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
1920s India: Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female lawyer, is investigating a suspicious will on behalf of three Muslim widows living in full purdah when the case takes a turn toward the murderous. The author of the Agatha and Macavity Award-winning Rei Shimura novels brings us an atmospheric new historical mystery with a captivating heroine.
Inspired in part by the woman who made history as India’s first female attorney, The Widows of Malabar Hill is a richly wrought story of multicultural 1920s Bombay as well as the debut of a sharp and promising new sleuth.
Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father’s law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes women’s legal rights especially important to her.
Mistry Law has been appointed to execute the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen examines the paperwork, she notices something strange: all three of the wives have signed over their full inheritance to a charity. What will they live on? Perveen is suspicious, especially since one of the widows has signed her form with an X — meaning she probably couldn’t even read the document. The Farid widows live in full purdah — in strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking to any men. Are they being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous guardian? Perveen tries to investigate, and realizes her instincts were correct when tensions escalate to murder. Now it is her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that no innocent women or children are in further danger.
Recommendation: Susan Elia MacNeal says, “Perveen Mistry is an extraordinary heroine — one of the first female lawyers in India, she’s whip smart, strong-willed, and, most importantly, compassionate. Defying convention while draped in a sari, Perveen is sure to join the leads of great mystery fiction.”
Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
Servants and socialites sip cocktails side by side on their way to new lives in this “thrilling, seductive, and utterly absorbing” (Paula Hawkins, #1 New York Times bestselling author) historical suspense novel in the tradition of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile and Ken Follett’s Night Over Water.
The ship has been like a world within itself, a vast floating city outside of normal rules. But the longer the journey continues, the more confined it is starting to feel, deck upon deck, passenger upon passenger, all of them churning around each other without anywhere to go…
1939: Europe is on the brink of war when young Lily Shepherd boards an ocean liner in Essex, bound for Australia. She is ready to start anew, leaving behind the shadows in her past. The passage proves magical, complete with live music, cocktails, and fancy dress balls. With stops at exotic locations along the way — Naples, Cairo, Ceylon — the voyage shows Lily places she’d only ever dreamed of and enables her to make friends with those above her social station, people who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.
But Lily soon realizes that she’s not the only one hiding secrets. Her newfound friends — the toxic wealthy couple Eliza and Max; Cambridge graduate Edward; Jewish refugee Maria; fascist George — are also running away from their pasts. As the glamour of the voyage fades, the stage is set for something sinister to occur. By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and Lily’s life will be changed irrevocably.
Recommendation: Paula Hawkins calls Dangerous Crossing, “Thrilling, seductive, and utterly absorbing.”
White Houses by Amy Bloom
For readers of The Paris Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue comes a love story inspired by “one of the most intriguing relationships in history” — between Eleanor Roosevelt and “first friend” Lorena Hickok.
Lorena Hickok meets Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 while reporting on Franklin Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign. Having grown up worse than poor in South Dakota and reinvented herself as the most prominent woman reporter in America, “Hick,” as she’s known to her friends and admirers, is not quite instantly charmed by the idealistic, patrician Eleanor. But then, as her connection with the future first lady deepens into intimacy, what begins as a powerful passion matures into a lasting love, and a life that Hick never expected to have. She moves into the White House, where her status as “first friend” is an open secret, as are FDR’s own lovers. After she takes a job in the Roosevelt administration, promoting and protecting both Roosevelts, she comes to know Franklin not only as a great president but as a complicated rival and an irresistible friend, capable of changing lives even after his death. Through it all, even as Hick’s bond with Eleanor is tested by forces both extraordinary and common, and as she grows as a woman and a writer, she never loses sight of the love of her life.
From Washington, D.C. to Hyde Park, from a little white house on Long Island to an apartment on Manhattan’s Washington Square, Amy Bloom’s new novel moves elegantly through fascinating places and times, written in compelling prose and with emotional depth, wit, and acuity.
Recommendation: Paula McLain says, “It seems a minor miracle, what Amy Bloom has done in White Houses… Easily, the most intimate, crackling, and expansive rendering of Eleanor Roosevelt in print and, more than this, a dizzyingly beautiful tale of what it means to be human, and what it is to love.”
Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirstin Chen
The day nine-year-old San San and her 12-year-old brother, Ah Liam, discover their grandmother taking a hammer to a framed portrait of Chairman Mao is the day that forever changes their lives. To prove his loyalty to the Party, Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the authorities. But his belief in doing the right thing sets in motion a terrible chain of events.
Now they must flee their home on Drum Wave Islet, which sits just a few hundred meters across the channel from mainland China. But when their mother goes to procure visas for safe passage to Hong Kong, the government will only issue them on the condition that she leave behind one of her children as proof of the family’s intention to return.
Against the backdrop of early Maoist China, this captivating and emotional tale follows a brother, a sister, a father, and a mother as they grapple with their agonizing decision, its far-reaching consequences, and their hope for redemption.
Recommendation: Celeste Ng says, “Bury What We Cannot Take explores what it takes to survive in a world gone mad — and what is lost when we do. Kirstin Chen has written both an engrossing historical drama and a nuanced exploration of how far the bonds of familial love can stretch”
Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth
Two brothers are exposed to the brutal realities of life and the seductive cruelty of power in this riveting debut novel — a story of savagery and race, injustice and honor, set in the untamed frontier of 1880s Australia — reminiscent of Philipp Meyer’s The Son and the novels of Cormac McCarthy.
An epic tale of revenge and survival, Only Killers and Thieves is a gripping and utterly transporting debut, bringing to vivid life a colonial Australia that bears a striking resemblance to the American Wild West in its formative years.
It is 1885, and a crippling drought threatens to ruin the McBride family. Their land is parched, their cattle starving. When the rain finally comes, it is a miracle that renews their hope for survival. But returning home from an afternoon swimming at a remote waterhole filled by the downpour, 14-year-old Tommy and 16-year-old Billy meet with a shocking tragedy.
Thirsting for vengeance against the man they believe has wronged them — their former Aboriginal stockman — the distraught brothers turn to the ruthless and cunning John Sullivan, the wealthiest landowner in the region and their father’s former employer. Sullivan gathers a posse led by the dangerous and fascinating Inspector Edmund Noone and his Queensland Native Police, an infamous arm of British colonial power charged with the “dispersal” of indigenous Australians to “protect” white settler rights. As they ride across the barren outback in pursuit, their harsh and horrifying journey will have a devastating impact on Tommy, tormenting him for the rest of his life — and will hold enduring consequences for a young country struggling to come into its own.
Recreating a period of Australian and British history as evocative and violent as the American frontier era, Only Killers and Thieves is an unforgettable story of family, guilt, empire, race, manhood, and faith that combines the insightfulness of Philipp Meyer’s The Son, the atmospheric beauty of Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist, and the raw storytelling power of Ian McGuire’s The North Water.
Recommendation: Paulette Jiles says, “A gripping novel about conflict in the Australian outback at the turn of the century; beautifully done.”
All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church
A powerful novel about a gutsy showgirl who tries to conquer her past amongst the glamour of 1960s Las Vegas — and finds unexpected fortune, friendship, and love.
It was unimaginable. When she was eight years old, Lily Decker somehow survived the auto accident that killed her parents and sister, but neither her emotionally distant aunt nor her all-too-attentive uncle could ease her grief. Dancing proves to be Lily’s only solace, and eventually she receives a “scholarship” to a local dance academy — courtesy of a mysterious benefactor.
Grown and ready to leave home for good, Lily changes her name to Ruby Wilde and heads to Las Vegas to be a troupe dancer, but her sensual beauty and voluptuous figure land her work instead as a showgirl performing everywhere from Les Folies Bergere at the Tropicana to the Stardust’s Lido de Paris. Wearing sky-high headdresses, five-inch heels, and costumes dripping with feathers and rhinestones, Ruby may have all the looks of a Sin City success story, but she still must learn to navigate the world of men — and figure out what real love looks like.
With her uncanny knack for understanding the hidden lives of women, Elizabeth J. Church captures both the iconic extravagance of an era and the bravery of a young woman who dances through her sadness to find connection, freedom, and, most important, herself.
Recommendation: Sara Gruen says, “A gorgeously written novel with the bite of a gin martini, All the Beautiful Girls goes beyond the splashy, gaudy dazzle of Las Vegas in the 60s to reveal the beating heart beneath the glamorous façade of the showgirl with big ambitions.”
Which of these books do you want to read? Share in the comments!