Feature Image Credit: @thebookishroo
2022 is going to be a banner year for historical fiction, and I am really looking forward to the plethora of books coming out. For this roundup, I chose ten literary historical fiction titles to highlight: the stories span the globe and the decades of the 20th century and include books about two bookstores, a prominent Black Hotel in 1920s Los Angeles, European royalty, a courageous group of nurses in the Philippines and more. 2022 will be an exciting year for historical fiction – be sure not to miss our separate list of best historical fiction books coming in 2022!
Antoinette’s Sister by Diana Giovinazzo (January 11, 2022)
While everyone knows Marie Antoinette, her sister Queen Charlotte of Naples is less renowned. The ninth daughter and sixteenth child of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, the formidable Hapsburg ruler, Maria Carolina Charlotte is groomed from birth to extend her family’s power and influence through marriage. When her older sister Josepha dies, Charlotte is forced to marry King Ferdinand IV of Naples, a simple and easily influenced individual, and she finds herself thrust into the role of Queen of Naples amidst power struggles, economic turmoil and political uprisings.
The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher (January 11, 2022)
Paris’ Shakespeare and Company remains one of the most famous and recognizable bookstores in the world today. In its early years, the store was a second home to authors such as Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce, and when Joyce’s book Ulysses is banned in the 1920s, store owner Sylvia Beach agrees to publish it under the Shakespeare and Company name. The Paris Bookseller brings to life this influential woman and her struggles to honor her love of literature following her decision to publish Ulysses and the financial crises that the Great Depression brings.
The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull (February 1, 2022)
Grand Duchess Olga Romanov was the oldest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, and The Last Grand Duchess tells her lesser-known story. Brought up at the glittering Alexander Palace, Olga and her sisters are sheltered from the world around them. When war breaks out, the sisters work as nurses tending to Russian officers; but tensions in Russia begin to build as a revolution threatens to topple three centuries of Romanov rule.
Check out our must-read medieval historical fiction books>>
Love & Saffron by Kim Fay (February 8, 2022)
Written in epistolary format and set in the 1960s, Love & Saffron tracks the friendship between two women, Imogen and Joan, as they get to know each other through letters. Imogen Fortier is a longtime columnist for a magazine and lives on Camano Island near Seattle. Joan, who is younger, is a new food columnist in Los Angeles. When Joan writes Imogen a fan letter and encloses a recipe and some saffron, the women begin a correspondence that develops into a wonderful relationship. Incorporating the history of the era, food, and personal tidbits, the women bond and become close friends as they correspond about their lives.
The Next Ship Home by Heather Webb (February 8, 2022)
Ellis Island served as the arrival point into the United States for immigrants in the early 1900s. In The Next Ship Home, two women, one arriving at Ellis Island from Italy and one working on the island, band together to fight the corruption prevalent at the immigration processing center. Inspired by true events, the novel shines a light on how difficult it was to come to the United States and the prejudices and exclusion many immigrants faced.
Here are our favorite historical women’s fiction books based on true stories>>
The Tobacco Wives by Adele Myers (March 1, 2022)
Myers’ debut novel follows a young seamstress who unearths terrible secrets that a local tobacco company is hiding from its consumers. A recent arrival to 1946 Bright Leaf North Carolina, Maddie Sykes is enthralled by the wives of the tobacco executives who run the town and lead seemingly perfect lives. But when Maddie uncovers some dark truths about the tobacco company’s products, she must decide if unveiling the harm being done by the company is worth upending the lives of the tobacco women and the rest of the townspeople who depend on the company for their livelihood.
On a Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark (March 1, 2022)
Relayed in a dual-timeline format, A Night of a Thousand Stars tells the story of Argentina’s Dirty War in the 1970s and the long-term impact on its citizens and those left behind. During this era, many individuals were “disappeared” by the government leaving families to wonder what happened to their love ones. Toggling between 1970s Buenos Aires and 1998 New York, the book follows the Larrea family as its members make sacrifices and decisions in order to survive and protect themselves and their loved ones from the random disappearances experienced during this brutal era and chronicles the toll those choices eventually take on everyone involved. A Night of a Thousand Stars shines the light on a tragic era in Argentina’s history and demonstrates the long-lasting consequences of violence and other atrocities.
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler (March 8, 2022)
Booth delves into and at times reimagines the complicated lives of a gifted family of stage actors who were also the family behind the infamous John Wilkes Booth. Fowler depicts a nation deeply divided by politics where alcoholism is prevalent, people deny facts, and death is all too common from disease. Amid this tumultuous time, she chronicles the story of a complex family whose lives, as well as the lives of the rest of the country, were forever changed by one of their members. Interwoven into the Wilkes’ tale are chapters highlighting President Lincoln’s life, career, and speeches, a foreshadowing of what is to come.
Angels of the Pacific by Elise Hooper (March 8, 2022)
Set in the Philippines during World War, Angels of the Pacific focuses on the Angels of Bataan, a group of U.S. Army and Navy nurses who courageously endured four years in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp after the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippines. Hooper also highlights the role that Filipinas played in the resistance, working to thwart the Japanese invaders.
Here our the best historical fiction books set in WWII>>
Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu (March 15, 2022)
This multi-generational tale begins in 1938 China when a mother and her son must flee the rapidly approaching Japanese Imperial Army. The one solace amid the hardship is their beautifully illustrated scroll containing ancient fables; this manuscript provides them hope as they are forced to move from place to place. Spanning decades and continents, Peach Blossom Spring reveals that one’s past is never quite forgotten and that physically leaving a place does not erase the mental scars.
The White Girl by Tony Birch (March 15, 2022)
The White Girl is set in the 1960s fictional Australian town of Deane. Odette Brown and her fair-skinned granddaughter Sissy live in the Aboriginal section of the town, Quarrytown, and are subject to the restrictions placed on them by the welfare authorities. When a new policeman arrives, Odette realizes that Sissy is in danger of being taken from her with absolutely no recourse on Odette’s part because during this time period Aboriginal people could not be Australian citizens nor make basic decisions for themselves such as when and where to travel or what job they will hold. The White Girl is a beautiful and heartbreaking tale of family and the lengths people will go to in order to protect each other.
Things Past Telling by Sheila Williams (March 15, 2022)
Things Past Telling is a sweeping saga of a woman’s 112 years from her birth in Africa, to her enslavement and then ending as a free woman again following the Civil War. Maryam Prescilla Grace, eventually known as Momma Grace, is stolen from her village and taken to the Caribbean. She is subsequently sold and sent to the United States where her skills as a midwife are needed. There, Maryam takes care of both slaves and her master while finding love and family only to have them sold away from her. Loosely based on the author’s family history, the tale depicts the determination and strength she and so many other slaves possessed despite the horrific experiences they endured.
A Woman of Endurance by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa (April 12, 2022)
A Woman of Endurance takes place in Puerto Rico during the era of plantations and the slave trade. Pola, an African woman is sold into captivity for the purpose of producing children to work as slaves. After enduring extreme hardship and a brutal event, Pola is left disfigured and is subsequently sold for almost nothing to another plantation which allows her to find some sense of security in her horrible world. The author does not shy away from graphic depictions of the violence inflicted on Pola, but she also focuses on the strength of the human spirt and the effects of community and fellowship.
In the Face of the Sun by Denny S. Bryce (April 26, 2022)
In this dual timeline narrative set in 1928 and 1964, Bryce follows two women, Daisy Washington and Frankie Saunders. In 1928, Daisy spends her time at the newly-built Hotel Somerville chronicling behind-the-scenes Hollywood scandals and monitoring the African-American elite who frequent the Somerville until she reveals secrets that threaten her own safety. In 1964, Frankie is pregnant and anxious to leave an abusive relationship; with her aunt Daisy, the two head out on a road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles. As the two women fight to remedy their past mistakes and relationships, they also work to solve a mystery from 1920s Hollywood.
The Surgeon’s Daughter by Ashley Blake (May 10, 2022)
In 19th century Bologna, Spain, Nora Beady is the only female medical student which makes her an oddity; everyone takes her accomplishments for granted but finds fault with any mistake she makes. Then she meets the only female doctor on staff, Magdalena Morenco, and the two women begin working on perfecting a new surgery technique, the Caesarean section. But they meet stiff resistance from their male colleagues who not only denounce the procedure but also prevent their wives from having it, even in life-threatening conditions. When Nora is faced with the dilemma of providing the dangerous surgery to hopefully save a patient’s life, she must decide whether she is willing to risk failing and setting back the role of women in medicine as a result.
By Her Own Design by Piper Huguley (June 7, 2022)
Based on the true story of one of the 20th-century’s forgotten clothing designers, By Her Own Design tells the story of Ann Lowe, the Black woman who designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s bridal gown and bridesmaid dresses. In 1918 Tampa, 12-year-old Ann meets an older man who sweeps her off her feet and marries her. When things quickly turn rocky with him due to his drinking problem, Ann realizes that her dream of designing dresses may be gone forever. But Ann is saved when a prominent socialite sees Ann’s work, and offers her a job designing clothes for the wealthy Tampa crowd. In 1953, Ann is dealing with the damage to her shop which ruins the dresses she so carefully designed and created for the Kennedy wedding. With only two weeks left until the wedding, she and her seamstresses must work to have the dresses ready to go in order to show the world Ann’s immense talent.
The Falcon’s Eyes by Francesca Stanfill (July 5, 2022)
The Falcon’s Eyes brings to life the era of Eleanor of Aquitane in all of its glory – the people, the places including Château Ravinour, Fontevraud Abbey and Queen Eleanor’s exiled court in England, and the customs – as well as what day-to-day life looked like for those living then. The story is unveiled through the perspective of Isabelle, a woman who views Eleanor as her role model because she seeks to shed the conventions and restrictions of her time period. Starting with Isabelle’s early years, the novel builds up to her time with Eleanor and focuses on strong female women trying to survive in a time unprepared for them.
Joan by Katherine Chen (July 5, 2022)
Joan is a reinterpretation of Joan of Arc’s life, breathing life into the legend and filling in the historical gaps. The book opens in 1422 when Joan at age ten and living in the village of Domremy in the midst of a bloody war between France and England. Raised in a violent household, Joan contends with brutal beatings from her father until he eventually orders her to leave. Following her departure and through a variety of circumstances, she is recruited into the French army where she ascends rapidly and ultimately leads them while trying to navigate the dangers of both the battlefield and politics. Chen’s Joan is a feminist celebration of one of the most famous women in history, shining a light on her many accomplishments and her heroic life.
Sister Mother Warrior by Vanessa Riley (July 12, 2022)
Abdaraya Toya (“Gran”), a member of the “Dahomeyan Amazons”, a term coined by the Europeans, was sold into slavery and sent to Saint Domingue, a French colony. Within the slave community there, she becomes both a healer and a mother to the many children without their own mothers, including to the revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Marie-Claire Bonheur is a free woman living in Saint Domingue who was raised to help those suffering under the injustices of slavery. When she and Jean-Jacques meet, sparks fly and even though Marie Claire is married, she and Jean-Jacque fall in love and have children. When the war finally breaks out pitting the various groups against each other, both Marie Claire and Gran Toya take part in the revolution that brings freedom to the Haitian people.
The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin (July 26, 2022)
Ava works as a librarian at the Library of Congress until she is recruited by the U.S. military as a spy during World War 2. She is sent to Lisbon to pose as a librarian while gathering intel for the war effort. Meanwhile, Elaine is working in Lyon helping to operate a printing press run by the French Resistance, but the Nazis are frantically searching to locate the press and silence the printer. As the war continues, the two women begin communicating through coded messages and working to help win the war. While many historical fiction books are set during World War 2, few address what life was like in Portugal during that time period; Portugal was neutral during the war, and life there was drastically different than most of Europe.
The Codebreaker’s Secret by Sara Ackerman (August 2, 2022)
After helping crack the German Enigma code, Isabel Cooper is sent to Pearl Harbor’s Station HYPO, its code breaking center, to help break the Japanese Magenta codes that are being grabbed from the airwaves in an attempt to win the war. Angry that her brother was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Isabel believes the only way she can avenge her brother’s death is to crack these codes, but she quickly learns that life may have more in store for her when she meets her brother’s best friend, a pilot with his own secrets. Two decades later, a young journalist is sent to Hawaii to cover the opening of the Rockefeller’s latest project, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, and is roped into the hunt for a prominent guest who goes missing. While searching for the guest, she uncovers a wartime secret that she must work to unlock.
The War Librarian by Addison Armstrong (August 9, 2022)
In the midst of World War 1, Emmaline works in the Dead Letter Office where she learns about women volunteering as librarians, through the American Library Association, on the frontline of the war in France and decides to join them. Six decades later, Kathleen is a member of the first co-ed class at the U.S. Naval Academy where many people are not happy by that women are being admitted. As both story lines unfold, the two slowly begin to intertwine. The book is inspired by the first female librarians in World War 1 and the first women who enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy.
The Manhattan Girls by Gill Paul (August 16, 2022)
The Manhattan Girls are four women – Dorothy Parker, Peggy Leech, Jane Grant and Winifred Lenihan – who become fast friends in 1920s New York City. While these career women have little in common, they end up becoming a fabulous support system for each other in a male-dominated world. Dorothy is a poet and a member of the Algonquin Round Table. Jane is the first female reporter for the New York Times who is she determined to launch her own magazine. Winifred is a stunning actress who keeps her life private. Peggy Leech is a magazine assistant who is eagerly working on her first novel. Paul tackles the challenges these women faced while juggling their careers and life at home as well as their romantic relationships, friendships with each other, and their vulnerabilities.
The Thread Collectors by Shaunna Edwards and Alyson Richman (August 30, 2022)
Set in the midst of the Civil War, The Thread Collectors follows two very different women whose paths collide unexpectedly. In New Orleans, Stella, a young Black woman, sews maps that help enslaved men escape and join the Union Army. Lily, a Jewish woman in New York City, creates a quilt for her husband, a Union soldier stationed in Louisiana. When she goes months without hearing from him, she decides to journey to Louisiana to find him. Loosely based on both authors’ family histories, the novel focuses on the threads that bind people and ultimately save them.
The Winter Orphans by Kristen Beck (September 13, 2022)
Employed by the Swiss Red Cross, nurse Rösli Näf runs the colony of Château de la Hille, a dilapidated castle in Southern France, serving as the caretaker to over 100 refugee children who have fled the Nazis. When the Nazis invade that area of France, the children are once again in peril – especially the older ones, who once they reach eighteen face deportation and ultimately death. Rosli and volunteer Anne-Marie Piguet come to realize that the only way to save the teenagers is to ferry them out of France through Nazi-occupied territory. Using a mixture of real and fictional characters, Beck chronicles the trials and tribulations the women faced as they worked to smuggle the teens out of France to safety in neighboring countries.
The Matchmaker’s Gift by Lynda Cohen Loigman (September 20, 2022)
Written in a dual timeline format, The Matchmaker’s Gift follows Sara Glikman, a Jewish matchmaker ahead of her time in the early 20th century who begins her matchmaking when she is 10 and finds her sister a husband. When she dies, she leaves her journals to her granddaughter Abby who is a lonely divorce attorney. Abby is distrustful of true love because her parents fought often and eventually went through a bitter divorce. But as she continues to delve into her grandmother’s journals she realizes that she may be following the wrong path and that she needs to make some changes.
Jacqueline in Paris by Ann Mah (September 27, 2022)
Twenty-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier spent her junior year abroad in postwar 1949-1950 Paris. Thrilled to be away from the societal pressure of New York and her mother’s prying eyes, Jacqueline falls in love with Paris’s social scene – the cafes, theatre and art – while also slowly realizing that the city is struggling with the aftermath of World War 2. Spies abound while communism is taking a foothold in French politics, and no one is who they seem. Mah charts the beginning of Bouvier’s long love affair with Paris as well as bringing the City of Lights to life post-World War 2.
One Woman’s War by Christine Wells (October 4, 2022)
Based on the woman who inspired Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond stories, One Woman’s War chronicles the life of Victoire (“Paddy”) Bennett, a British Naval Officer during World War 2. Paddy begins working as a secretary for Commander Ian Fleming but quickly rises through the ranks to become a full-fledged spy. When Fleming creates a dangerous plot to outfox the Germans about Allied invasion plans, he recruits Paddy to help. Newly married, Paddy is eager to work in the field but quickly realizes that the operation will impact her marriage as she struggles to balance duty to her country and her personal relationships.
Gilded Mountain by Kate Manning (November 1, 2022)
Set the mining town of Moonstone, Colorado at the turn of the 20th century, this epic tale follows Sophie Pelletier as she comes of age as well as telling the story of coalminers and their struggles against ruthless mine owners during this time period. Sylvie loves writing essays in school and lands a job at the local newspaper owned by Miss Redmond, who started her own newspaper when no one else would hire her. Eventually though, Sylvie is offered a higher paying job as a secretary to the wife of the mine’s owner, Mrs. Padgett, and she sees how the wealthy live. As conditions at the mine worsen and violence seems inevitable, Sylvie tries to navigate between the two different worlds and struggles to choose sides amid conflicting relationships. Gilded Mountain explores the always relevant topics of coming of age, belonging, justice, equality and family.
Want more literary historical fiction picks? Check out the best historical fiction books of 2021 and the best literary historical fiction of 2021>>
Thanks, Cindy! Looks like some exciting reading is coming up!
So much to look forward to! Thank you for the great list.
I read The Last Grand Duchess and it is marvellous. Bryn Turnbull’s writing is delightful and the story of Olga Romanof will move you. It is a must read.