For people who love books, there are no greater places to spend time than bookstores and libraries, being surrounded by books and other reading materials. Accordingly, stories set in those same locales are a huge draw for readers. From iconic locales like the New York Public Library and Shakespeare and Company in Paris, to librarians on the frontline in World War 1 and the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, the following historical fiction novels highlight the importance of books and the sense of community that reading creates. Enjoy!
Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner
In 1950’s London, Bloomsbury Books, a bookstore that sells new and rare books and that has existed for over a century, is run by men and guided by the general manager’s 51 rules. But following World War 2, three strong women working at the store strive to modernize the store’s ways and chart their own paths in a male-dominated world. Interacting with literary greats such as Daphne de Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Peggy Guggenheim and more, these three women push the boundaries of the early 1950s.
The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable
Told in a dual timeline format, The Bookseller’s Secret focuses on real-life author Nancy Mitford, of the infamous Mitford sisters, and a fictional, long-missing wartime manuscript that she allegedly penned in the middle of the London Blitz while working at the Heywood Hill bookshop. The Bookseller’s Secret brings to life the legendary author during a lesser-known period of her life and will appeal to book lovers by combining a book shop setting and a hunt for a lost manuscript written by a historical legend.
The Mayfair Bookshop by Eliza Knight
Written in a dual timeline format, The Mayfair Bookshop is set in 1938 at the start of World War 2 and in the present day. In the earlier time period, London socialite Nancy Mitford’s seemingly perfect life hides a darker story. She is saddled with an unfaithful husband who is broke, and two of her famous sisters are Nazi sympathizers. To support herself, she takes a job at the Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair. Decades later, Lucy St. Clair is a book curator who owns a first edition copy of one of Nancy’s books with a cryptic inscription written by Nancy. When she is hired to work at Heywood Hill, she discovers that she and Nancy have a connection that will change her life.
The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher
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 Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis
Set in the beautiful and historic New York Public Library, The Lions of Fifth Avenue is a dual timeline tale about two women living 80 years apart who both must deal with the theft of valuable books from the library’s collection. While investigating the missing books, each woman makes discoveries that may alter her life forever. Readers will eat up the details about the superintendent’s apartment in the library (in earlier eras they were able to live in the library!) and other less-known tidbits about this iconic and historic building.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Belle de Costa Greene worked as J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian and curator of his private library housed in a townhouse off of East 36th Street before the collection became the Morgan Library and Museum. While she became an influential individual in the art world and one of the country’s most prominent librarians, she hid a big secret: she was a Black woman “passing” as a white woman, and moreover was the daughter of the first Black graduate of Harvard. The Personal Librarian chronicles Belle’s life and legacy, and what it was like to be torn between success and the desire to be herself.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a tale of family, prejudice and perseverance, and one woman’s determination to find her own way despite her hardscrabble existence. Richardson features numerous issues from 1930’s Kentucky: Horrific coal mining conditions, the true blue-skinned people that lived in Appalachia and the Pack Horse library service. The story is also a beautiful tribute to literature and the power of reading.
The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
In 1950’s Tehran, a time of political turmoil and uncertainty, one idealistic teenager named Roya finds peace in a local literary shop that’s filled with books, pens and bottles of ink. Mr. Fakhhri, who owns the shop, introduces Roya to Bahman, a lover of poetry and a social justice advocate, and with whom Roya falls in love. Tragically, the lovers are later separated when a coup takes place. Always connected by the days they shared at the stationery shop, Roya and Bahman are finally reacquainted more than sixty years later.
The Library of Legends by Janie Chang
In 1937, Japanese bombs begin to fall in the city of Nanking, China. Students from Minghua University are tasked with protecting a priceless collection of myths and folklore that date back more than 500 hundred years. This collection is known as the library of legends. Now, the students must flee the city and travel to Shanghai, all the while protecting the ancient books. But, one of the students is harboring a secret that could mean ruin for them all.
The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes
Moyes, of Me Before You fame, crafts a story about five women who join forces as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library brigade and eventually become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky. They endure danger, hardship, and terrible traveling conditions to ensure that their patrons have books, especially those people who have never had any so that they can learn, and as a result, change their lives.
The War Librarian by Addison Armstrong
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 the fact 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 Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin
Ava works as a librarian at the Library of Congress until she is recruited by the U.S. military to 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.
Leave A Comment