It’s a new year, and that means it’s time to select new books for your book club to read! Are the members of your group historical fiction fans? If so, we have the perfect list for you to choose from. These are some of the best new historical fiction novels that make perfect choices for book groups because they feature complex plots, memorable characters, and settings that will sweep you away to a different era. Take a look at our historical fiction for book club recommendations below, complete with publishers’ descriptions.
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
Worldwide bestselling “dazzling storyteller” (Associated Press) Isabel Allende returns with a sweeping novel about three very different people who are brought together in a mesmerizing story that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil.
In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident — which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster — a 60-year-old human rights scholar–hits the car of Evelyn Ortega–a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala–in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz — a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile–for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.
Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
Release date: Out now
The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch
St. Petersburg, New Year’s Eve, 1916. Marina Makarova is a young woman of privilege who aches to break free of the constraints of her genteel life, a life about to be violently upended by the vast forces of history. Swept up on these tides, Marina will join the marches for workers’ rights, fall in love with a radical young poet, and betray everything she holds dear, before being betrayed in turn.
As her country goes through almost unimaginable upheaval, Marina’s own coming-of-age unfolds, marked by deep passion and devastating loss, and the private heroism of an ordinary woman living through extraordinary times. This is the epic, mesmerizing story of one indomitable woman’s journey through some of the most dramatic events of the last century.
Release date: Out now
A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake
Told in alternating tales at once haunting and redemptive, A Tangled Mercy is a quintessentially American epic rooted in heartbreaking true events examining the harrowing depths of human brutality and betrayal, and our enduring hope for freedom and forgiveness.
After the sudden death of her troubled mother, struggling Harvard grad student Kate Drayton walks out on her lecture — and her entire New England life. Haunted by unanswered questions and her own uncertain future, she flees to Charleston, South Carolina, the place where her parents met, convinced it holds the key to understanding her fractured family and saving her career in academia. Kate is determined to unearth groundbreaking information on a failed 1822 slave revolt — the subject of her mother’s own research.
Nearly two centuries earlier, Tom Russell, a gifted blacksmith and slave, grappled with a terrible choice: arm the uprising spearheaded by members of the fiercely independent African Methodist Episcopal Church or keep his own neck out of the noose and protect the woman he loves.
Kate’s attempts to discover what drove her mother’s dangerous obsession with Charleston’s tumultuous history are derailed by a horrific massacre in the very same landmark church. In the unimaginable aftermath, Kate discovers a family she never knew existed as the city unites with a powerful message of hope and forgiveness for the world.
Release date: Out now
Little Reunions by Eileen Chang
A bestselling, autobiographical depiction of class privilege, bad romance, and political intrigue during World War II in China.
Now available in English for the first time, Eileen Chang’s dark romance opens with Julie, living at a convent school in Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese invasion. Her mother, Rachel, long divorced from Julie’s opium-addict father, saunters around the world with various lovers. Recollections of Julie’s horrifying but privileged childhood in Shanghai clash with a flamboyant, sometimes incestuous cast of relations that crowd her life. Eventually, back in Shanghai, she meets the magnetic Chih-yung, a traitor who collaborates with the Japanese puppet regime. Soon they’re in the throes of an impassioned love affair that swings back and forth between ardor and anxiety, secrecy and ruin. Like Julie’s relationship with her mother, her marriage to Chih-yung is marked by long stretches of separation interspersed with unexpected little reunions. Chang’s emotionally fraught, bitterly humorous novel holds a fractured mirror directly in front of her own heart.
Release date: Out now
Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell
New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell makes a dramatic departure with this enthralling, action-packed standalone novel that tells the story of the first production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream — as related by William Shakespeare’s estranged younger brother.
Lord, what fools these mortals be…
In the heart of Elizabethan England, Richard Shakespeare dreams of a glittering career in one of the London playhouses, a world dominated by his older brother, William. But he is a penniless actor, making ends meet through a combination of a beautiful face, petty theft and a silver tongue. As William’s star rises, Richard’s onetime gratitude is souring and he is sorely tempted to abandon family loyalty.
So when a priceless manuscript goes missing, suspicion falls upon Richard, forcing him onto a perilous path through a bawdy and frequently brutal London. Entangled in a high-stakes game of duplicity and betrayal which threatens not only his career and potential fortune, but also the lives of his fellow players, Richard has to call on all he has now learned from the brightest stages and the darkest alleyways of the city. To avoid the gallows, he must play the part of a lifetime…
Showcasing the superb storytelling skill that has won Bernard Cornwell international renown, Fools and Mortals is a richly portrayed tour de force that brings to life a vivid world of intricate stagecraft, fierce competition, and consuming ambition.
Release date: Out now
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.
Release date: Out now
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.
Release date: Out now
White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht
In the spirit of Lilac Girls, the heartbreaking history of Korea is brought to life in this deeply moving and redemptive debut that follows two sisters separated by World War II.
Korea, 1943. Hana has lived her entire life under Japanese occupation. As a haenyeo, a female diver of the sea, she enjoys an independence that few other Koreans can still claim. Until the day Hana saves her younger sister from a Japanese soldier and is herself captured and transported to Manchuria. There she is forced to become a “comfort woman” in a Japanese military brothel. But haenyeo are women of power and strength. She will find her way home.
South Korea, 2011. Emi has spent more than 60 years trying to forget the sacrifice her sister made, but she must confront the past to discover peace. Seeing the healing of her children and her country, can Emi move beyond the legacy of war to find forgiveness?
Suspenseful, hopeful, and ultimately redemptive, White Chrysanthemum tells a story of two sisters whose love for each other is strong enough to triumph over the grim evils of war.
Release date: Out now
Winter Kept Us Warm by Anne Raeff
Ulli is a young woman squatting in a dismal, empty Berlin apartment, one year after the war has ended. She’s scraping together a living as an interpreter between American GIs and the wide-eyed local girls eager to meet them. One night, Ulli meets two soldiers who will change her life: Leo, handsome and ambitious and desperate to escape his small-town upbringing; and intellectual, asthmatic Isaac, whose refugee parents had fled Russia for New York.
Winter Kept Us Warm follows Ulli, Leo, and Isaac through the next six decades of their lives — from Berlin to postwar Manhattan, 1960s Los Angeles, and contemporary Morocco. A marriage. Two children. And yet only one parent. At the core of this novel is the mystery of how this came to be: a twisting narrative that explores the dark corners and lantern slides of these characters’ lives, revealing in pieces and fragments what became of their long-ago love triangle set against the brutality of postwar living.
Winter Kept Us Warm is an evocative story of family, strained by the cruelty of war and its generational repercussions. A novel of the heart, filled to the brim with unforgettable characters stitching together the deep threads of love, friendship, loyalty, and, of course, loss.
Release date: February 1
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.
Release date: February 6
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.
Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.
At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.
But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.
In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska — a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.
Release date: February 6
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.
Release date: February 6
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.
Release date: February 13
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.
Release date: March 27
My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
From the New York Times bestselling authors of America’s First Daughter comes the epic story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton — a revolutionary woman who, like her new nation, struggled to define herself in the wake of war, betrayal, and tragedy. Haunting, moving, and beautifully written, Dray and Kamoie used thousands of letters and original sources to tell Eliza’s story as it’s never been told before — not just as the wronged wife at the center of a political sex scandal — but also as a founding mother who shaped an American legacy in her own right.
A general’s daughter…
Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.
A founding father’s wife…
But the union they create — in their marriage and the new nation — is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all — including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.
The last surviving light of the Revolution…
When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle — to understand the flawed man she married and imperfect union he could never have created without her…
Release date: April 3
Varina by Charles Frazier
In his powerful fourth novel, Charles Frazier returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain, vividly bringing to life the chaos and devastation of the Civil War
With her marriage prospects limited, teenage Varina Howell agrees to wed the much-older widower Jefferson Davis, with whom she expects a life of security as a Mississippi landowner. He instead pursues a career in politics and is eventually appointed president of the Confederacy, placing Varina at the white-hot center of one of the darkest moments in American history — culpable regardless of her intentions.
The Confederacy falling, her marriage in tatters, and the country divided, Varina and her children escape Richmond and travel south on their own, now fugitives with “bounties on their heads, an entire nation in pursuit.”
Intimate in its detailed observations of one woman’s tragic life and epic in its scope and power, Varina is a novel of an American war and its aftermath. Ultimately, the book is a portrait of a woman who comes to realize that complicity carries consequences.
Release date: April 3
Circe by Madeline Miller
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child — not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power — the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.
Release date: April 10
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman
Philomena meets The Orphan Train in this suspenseful, provocative novel filled with love, secrets, and deceit — the story of a young unwed mother who is forcibly separated from her daughter at birth and the lengths to which they go to find each other.
In 1950s Quebec, French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility — much like Maggie Hughes’ parents. Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over. But Maggie’s heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix. When she becomes pregnant at 15, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption and get her life ‘back on track’.
Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. Bright and determined, Elodie withstands abysmal treatment at the nuns’ hands, finally earning her freedom at seventeen, when she is thrust into an alien, often unnerving world.
Maggie, married to a businessman eager to start a family, cannot forget the daughter she was forced to abandon, and a chance reconnection with Gabriel spurs a wrenching choice. As time passes, the stories of Maggie and Elodie intertwine but never touch, until Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter, finally reclaiming the truth that has been denied them both.
Release date: April 17
Which books are you looking forward to reading? Share in the comments!