So many great historical fiction titles are coming out this summer! To help book lovers know which ones to pick up and when, I sorted through them to compile this list of the best ones. Once I read a book, I will update this post with my comments on that particular novel.
I will be interviewing a number of the authors on this list in the coming months so you can keep an eye out for those episodes. Short summaries are included from the publishers’ descriptions on each book to provide some detail on the selections. And as always, shop local or if you purchase the books online, I would be so grateful if you would use my affiliate Bookshop.org links below which support independent bookstores and the production of my podcast. In addition to helping support my show, your purchases allow me to show sales numbers from my recommendations, which helps me recruit authors to come on my podcast and participate in other events.
As always, please make sure you let me know in the comments what historical fiction titles you are excited to read this summer. Here is my list of the Most Anticipated Historical Fiction of Summer 2023:
Good Night, Irene by Luis Alberto Urrea (May 30th)
In 1943, Irene Woodward abandons an abusive fiancé in New York to enlist with the Red Cross and head to Europe. She makes fast friends in training with Dorothy Dunford, a towering Midwesterner with a ferocious wit. Together they are part of an elite group of women, nicknamed Donut Dollies, who command military buses called Clubmobiles at the front line, providing camaraderie and a taste of home that may be the only solace before troops head into battle. After D-Day, these two intrepid friends join the Allied soldiers streaming into France. Their time in Europe will see them embroiled in danger, from the Battle of the Bulge to the liberation of Buchenwald. Through her friendship with Dorothy, and a love affair with a gallant American fighter pilot named Hans, Irene learns to trust again. Her most fervent hope, which becomes more precarious by the day, is for all three of them to survive the war intact.
The Paris Deception by Bryn Turnbull (May 30th)
Sophie Dix fled Stuttgart with her brother as the Nazi regime gained power in Germany. Now, with her brother gone and her adopted home city of Paris conquered by the Reich, Sophie reluctantly accepts a position restoring damaged art at the Jeu de Paume museum under the supervision of the ERR—a German art commission using the museum as a repository for art they’ve looted from Jewish families. Fabienne Brandt was a rising star in the Parisian bohemian arts movement until the Nazis put a stop to so-called “degenerate” modern art. Still mourning the loss of her husband, she’s resolved to muddle her way through the occupation—until her estranged sister-in-law, Sophie, arrives at her door with a stolen painting in hand. Soon the two women embark upon a plan to save Paris’s “degenerates,” working beneath the noses of Germany’s top art connoisseurs to replace the paintings in the Jeu de Paume with skillful forgeries—but how long can Sophie and Fabienne sustain their masterful illusion?
Crow Mary by Kathleen Grissom (June 6th)
In 1872, sixteen-year-old Goes First, a Crow Native woman, marries Abe Farwell, a white fur trader. He gives her the name Mary, and they set off on the long trip to his trading post in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan, Canada. Along the way, she finds a fast friend in a Métis named Jeannie; makes a lifelong enemy in a wolfer named Stiller; and despite learning a dark secret of Farwell’s past, falls in love with her husband. The winter trading season passes peacefully. Then, on the eve of their return to Montana, a group of drunken whiskey traders slaughters forty Nakota—despite Farwell’s efforts to stop them. Mary, hiding from the hail of bullets, sees the murderers, including Stiller, take five Nakota women back to their fort. She begs Farwell to save them, and when he refuses, Mary takes two guns, creeps into the fort, and saves the women from certain death. Thus, she sets off a whirlwind of colliding cultures that brings out the worst and best in the cast of unforgettable characters and pushes the love between Farwell and Crow Mary to the breaking point.
The House of Lincoln by Nancy Horan (June 6th)
Showing intelligence beyond society's expectations, fourteen-year-old Ana Ferreira lands a job in the Lincoln household assisting Mary Lincoln with their boys and with the hostess duties borne by the wife of a rising political star. Ana bears witness to the evolution of Lincoln's views on equality and the Union and observes in full complexity the psyche and pain of his bold, polarizing wife, Mary. Along with her African American friend Cal, Ana encounters the presence of the underground railroad in town and experiences personally how slavery is tearing apart her adopted country. Culminating in an eyewitness account of the little-known Springfield race riot of 1908, The House of Lincoln takes readers on a journey through the historic changes that reshaped America and that continue to reverberate today.
Long Gone, Come Home by Monica Chenault-Kilgore (June 6th)
Birdie Jennings dreams of a big life beyond her small town of Mt. Sterling, Kentucky—beyond her mundane job tying tobacco leaves at Wrights Factory. Her life changes when she meets smooth-talking Jimmy Walker who makes big promises for an exciting life together. But some short years after they marry, Jimmy disappears without a trace, leaving Birdie alone with their two toddlers. Out of money, Birdie moves back home with her overbearing mother. Just as she's settling into her new life, Birdie witnesses a gruesome murder and is urged to flee Mt. Sterling to avoid questioning. With nothing but a borrowed suitcase and a questionable note about a house in Cincinnati promised to Jimmy, she travels to the big city. Plunged into the bustling jazz scenes of the hottest nightclubs, Birdie learns that finding her place among criminals and saints is tough—but she is tougher.
The Last Lifeboat by Hazel Gaynor (June 13th)
1940, Kent : Alice King is not brave or daring—she’s happiest finding adventure through the safe pages of books. But times of war demand courage, and as the threat of German invasion looms, a plane crash near her home awakens a strength in Alice she’d long forgotten. Determined to do her part, she finds a role perfectly suited to her experience as a schoolteacher—to help evacuate Britain’s children overseas.
1940, London : Lily Nichols once dreamed of using her mathematical talents for more than tabulating the cost of groceries, but life, and love, charted her a different course. With two lively children and a loving husband, Lily’s humble home is her world, until war tears everything asunder. With her husband gone, Lily is faced with an impossible keep her son and daughter close or enroll them in a risky evacuation scheme.
When a Nazi U-boat torpedoes the S. S. Carlisle carrying a ship of children to Canada, a single lifeboat is left adrift in the storm-tossed Atlantic. Alice and Lily, strangers to each other—one on land, the other at sea—will quickly become one another’s very best hope as their lives are fatefully entwined.
A Right Worthy Woman by Ruth P. Watson (June 13th)
Maggie Lena Walker was ambitious and unafraid. Her childhood in 19th-century Virginia helping her mother with her laundry service opened her eyes to the overwhelming discrepancy between the Black residents and her mother’s affluent white clients. She vowed to not only secure the same kind of home and finery for herself, but she would also help others in her community achieve the same. With her single-minded determination, Maggie buckled down and went from schoolteacher to secretary-treasurer of the Independent Order of St. Luke, founder of a newspaper, a bank, and a department store where Black customers were treated with respect. With the help of influential friends like W.E.B. DuBois and Mary McLeod, she revolutionized Richmond in ways that are still felt today.
The Spectacular by Fiona Davis (June 13th)
New York City, 1956: Nineteen-year-old Marion is over the moon to have been selected to be one of the Rockettes, Radio City Music Hall’s glamorous precision-dancing troupe. It’s an honor to perform in the world’s most spectacular theater, an art deco masterpiece. But with four shows a day as well as grueling rehearsals, not to mention exacting standards of perfection to live up to, Marion quickly realizes that the life of a Rockette has both extraordinary highs and devastating lows. Then one night a bomb explodes in the theater. It’s only the latest in a string of explosions around the city orchestrated by a person the press has nicknamed the "Big Apple Bomber." With the public in an uproar over the lack of any real leads after a yearslong manhunt, the police, at Marion’s urging, turn in desperation to a radical new technique: psychological profiling. As Marion finds herself pulled deeper into the investigation, she may be forced to sacrifice everything she’s worked for, as well as the people she loves the most.
My thoughts: I am a huge fan of Fiona Davis, and this one did not disappoint. I loved learning more about Radio City Music Hall and enjoyed the storyline immensely. It is a sadder story than she usually writes.
The Brightest Star by Gail Tsukiyama (June 20th)
At the dawn of a new century, America is falling in love with silent movies, including young Wong Liu Tsong. The daughter of Chinese immigrants who own a laundry, Wong Liu and her older sister Lew Ying (Lulu) are taunted and bullied for their Chinese heritage. But while Lulu diligently obeys her parents and learns to speak Chinese, Wong Liu sneaks away to the local nickelodeons, buying a ticket with her lunch money and tips saved from laundry deliveries. By eleven Wong Liu is determined to become an actress and has already chosen a stage Anna May Wong. At sixteen, Anna May leaves high school to pursue her Hollywood dreams, defying her disapproving father and her Chinese traditional upbringing. After a series of nothing parts, nineteen-year-old Anna May gets her big break—and her first taste of Hollywood fame—starring opposite Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad. Yet her beauty and talent isn’t enough to overcome the racism that relegates her to supporting roles as a helpless, exotic butterfly or a vicious, murderous dragon lady while Caucasian actresses in yellowface are given starring roles portraying Asian women.
The Glass Chateau by Stephen P. Kiernan (June 20th)
One month after the end of World War II, amid the jubilation in the streets of France, there are throngs of people stunned by the recovery work ahead. Asher lost his family during the war, and in revenge served as an assassin in the Resistance. When he arrives at le Chateau Guerin, all he seeks is a decent meal. Instead he finds a sanctuary, an oasis despite being filled with people every bit as damaged as him. But they are calming themselves, and recovering inch by inch, by turning sand into glass, and glass into windows for the bombed cathedrals of France. It's a volatile place, and these former warriors manage their trauma in different ways. Asher turns out to have a gift for making windows, and decides to hide the fact that he is Jewish so the devout Catholics who own the chateau will not expel him. As the secrets of the chateau’s residents become known one by one, they experience more heated conflict and greater challenges.
Hotel Laguna by Nicola Harrison (June 20th)
In 1942, Hazel Francis left Wichita, Kansas for California, determined to do her part for the war effort. At Douglas Aircraft, she became one of many “Rosie the Riveters,” helping construct bombers for the U. S. military. But now the war is over, men have returned to their factory jobs, and women like Hazel have been dismissed. Desperate for work, she accepts a job as an assistant to famous artist Hanson Radcliff. Beloved by the locals for his contributions to the art scene and respected by the critics, Radcliff lives under the shadow of a decades old scandal that haunts him. Hazel never expected to fall in love with the rhythms of life in Laguna, nor did she expect to find a kindred spirit in Jimmy, the hotel bartender whose friendship promises something more. But Hazel still wants to work with airplanes—maybe even learn to fly one someday. Torn between pursuing her dream and the dream life she has been granted, she is unsure if giving herself over to Laguna is what her heart truly wants.
The First Ladies by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (June 27th)
The daughter of formerly enslaved parents, Mary McLeod Bethune refuses to back down as white supremacists attempt to thwart her work. She marches on as an activist and an educator, and as her reputation grows she becomes a celebrity, revered by titans of business and recognized by U.S. Presidents. Eleanor Roosevelt herself is awestruck and eager to make her acquaintance. Initially drawn together because of their shared belief in women’s rights and the power of education, Mary and Eleanor become fast friends confiding their secrets, hopes and dreams. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected president, the two women begin to collaborate more closely. Eleanor becomes a controversial First Lady for her outspokenness, particularly on civil rights. And when she receives threats because of her strong ties to Mary, it only fuels the women’s desire to fight together for justice and equality.
The Housekeepers by Alex Hay (July 4th)
Mrs. King is no ordinary housekeeper. Born into a world of con artists and thieves, she’s made herself respectable, running the grandest home in Mayfair. The place is packed with treasures, a glittering symbol of wealth and power, but dark secrets lurk in the shadows. When Mrs. King is suddenly dismissed from her position, she recruits an eclectic group of women to join her in revenge: A black market queen out to settle her scores. An actress desperate for a magnificent part. A seamstress dreaming of a better life. And Mrs. King’s predecessor, with her own desire for vengeance. Their plan? On the night of the house’s highly anticipated costume ball—set to be the most illustrious of the year—they will rob it of its every possession, right under the noses of the distinguished guests and their elusive heiress host.
Queen of Exiles by Vanessa Riley (July 11th)
In 1810 Louise is crowned queen as her husband begins his reign over the first and only free Black nation in the Western Hemisphere. But despite their newfound freedom, Haitians still struggle under mountains of debt to France and indifference from former allies in Britain and the new United States. Louise desperately tries to steer the country's political course as King Henry descends into a mire of mental illness.
In 1820, King Henry is overthrown and dies by his own hand. Louise and her daughters manage to flee to Europe with their smuggled jewels. In exile, the resilient Louise redefines her role, recovering the fortune that Henry had lost and establishing herself as an equal to the kings of European nations. With newspapers and gossip tracking their every movement, Louise and her daughters tour Europe like other royals, complete with glittering balls and princes with marriage proposals. As they find their footing--and acceptance--they discover more about themselves, their Blackness, and the opportunities they can grasp in a European and male-dominated world.
Women of the Post by Joshunda Sanders (July 18th)
1944, New York City. Judy Washington is tired of working from dawn til dusk in the Bronx Slave Market, cleaning white women’s houses and barely making a dime. Her husband is fighting overseas, so it's up to Judy and her mother to make enough money for rent and food. When the chance arises for Judy to join the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and the ability to bring home a steady paycheck, she jumps at the opportunity. Judy becomes fast friends with the other women in her unit—Stacy, Bernadette and Mary Alyce—who only discovered she was Black after joining the army. Under Charity Adams’s direction, they are transferred to Birmingham, England, as part of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion—the only unit of Black women to serve overseas in WWII. Here, they must sort a backlog of over one million pieces of mail. However, their work becomes personal when Mary Alyce discovers a backlogged letter addressed to Judy that will upend her personal life.
The Keeper of Hidden Books by Madeline Martin (Aug. 1st)
All her life, Zofia has found comfort in two things during times of hardship: books and her best friend, Janina. As the bombs rain down and Hitler’s forces loot and destroy Warsaw, Zofia finds that now books are also in need of saving. With the death count rising, Zofia jumps to action to save her friend and salvage whatever books she can from the wreckage and starting a clandestine book club. She and her dearest friend never surrender their love of reading, even when Janina is forced into the newly formed ghetto. But the closer Warsaw creeps toward liberation, the more dangerous life becomes for the women and their families – and escape may not be possible for everyone. As the destruction rages around them, Zofia must fight to save her friend and preserve her culture and community using the only weapon they have left - literature.
The River We Remember by William Kent Krueger (Sept. 5th)
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.
I would love to hear the historical fiction titles that you are looking forward to reading for summer 2023. Please comment below with all of your thoughts and recommendations!
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