New York City is known by many names—The Big Apple, The City That Never Sleeps, Gotham, The City of Dreams—to name a few, and just mentioning the city conjures up dreams of making it in the big city. Home to Broadway, the Empire State Building, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and so much more, New York City is the perfect place to set a novel with its diverse population and storied history. These 13 historical fiction titles set in The City That Never Sleeps introduce readers to new places and eras that should always be remembered.
Cartier’s Hope by M.J. Rose
Set in Gilded Age New York City, Cartier’s Hope stars Vera Garland, an investigative journalist who is determined to avenge the deaths of her father and uncle. Her quest takes her into the glittering world of jeweler Pierre Cartier, who recently purchased the Hope Diamond. Vera decides to investigate rumors that Cartier is scheming to manipulate the value of his newly acquired purchase, and she soon learns that more is at stake than just retribution.
Cora’s Kitchen by Kimberly Garrett Brown
This epistolary novel set in 1928 Harlem stars Cora, a librarian at the 135th Street library, who longs to become an author. Langston Hughes is a library patron that has left for college, and one day she decides to write him a letter asking for advice on following her dream of writing. He writes back launching a correspondence that galvanizes Cora to pursue her literary ambitions. When Cora must take a leave of absence from the library to fill in for her cousin as a cook at a wealthy white woman’s home, Cora unexpectedly befriends her employer Eleanor, and the two enter into an alliance that will help them step outside the roles and expectations society places on them.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead returns with a tale set in 1960’s Harlem. The protagonist Ray leads a double life as a furniture salesman and fencer of jewelry, until his two worlds begin to converge as Ray desperately works to keep them separate. A love letter to Harlem and a commentary on race and power, Harlem Shuffle brings to life 1960’s New York City.
The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
As the book opens, George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison are in the midst of a massive battle over who owns the lightbulb, and therefore will have the ability to electrify New York City and subsequently the United States. In addition, Westinghouse and Edison are battling over which type of current, direct or alternating, will prevail. Moore conveys what the advent of electric light meant to society: factories and business are no longer bound by when the sun rises and sets, crime is diminished in public areas at night, and day and night are no longer as distinct.
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 eighty 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 lesser-known tidbits about this iconic and historic building.
The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis
The Magnolia Palace takes place at the Gilded Age home of industrialist Henry Frick. Using a dual-timeline format, Davis toggles between 1919, when the Frick family still lives there, and 1966, when the home has become the magnificent Frick Collection, a museum still in operation today. In the later timeline, a Vogue photo shoot is occurring, and when one of the models is fired along with a museum curator, they stumble across a hidden message that leads them on a hunt that uncovers the truth about a murder that occurred at the Frick’s home years earlier.
The Matchmaker’s Gift by Lynda Cohen Loigman
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 when she finds her sister a husband. When she dies, she leaves her journals to her granddaughter Abby, a lonely divorce attorney. Abby is distrustful of true love; 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 maybe she needs to make some changes.
The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
During the Gilded Age, a battle to reign supreme in the newspaper industry rages between William Randolph Heart and Joseph Pulitzer. When Hearst learns about a Cuban woman named Evangelina Cisneros who is unfairly thrown in a Cuban jail, he plasters her image all over the front pages of his paper. Grace Harrington, a woman working for Hearst, works with others to free Evangelina—but when Cuban citizens are forced into camps, the mission to free Evangelina becomes increasingly more difficult.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Belle da 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 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 Show Girl by Nicola Harrison
Harrison brings New York City to life during the Roaring Twenties through the eyes of a Ziegfield Girl. From the early 1900s to the mid-1930s, the Ziegfield Follies reigned supreme as a popular American extravaganza, and subsequently permanently altered the way Broadway musicals were performed. In The Show Girl, Midwesterner Olive McCormick becomes a Ziegfield Girl who must balance her love for her job with the desire to forge her own path forward.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
The Swans of Fifth Avenue spans four decades, the 1950s through the early 1980s, and focuses on a group of very wealthy society women in New York, including Babe Paley, and their relationship with Truman Capote. A fair amount of the book focuses on a story Capote wrote, called “La Cote Basque 1965,” for Esquire Magazine later in his life when his career was spiraling downward. Melanie Benjamin traces the details of how this article ultimately came about, and the impact it had on Capote and his relationship with the swans.
Vivian In Red by Kristina Riggle
Vivian In Red focuses on the magic of Broadway in its early years, the evolution from vaudeville to staged musicals, as well as the role Tin Pan Alley played in contributing to the theater. Eighty-eight-year-old Milo Short, a Broadway lyricist and producer, still participates in his family business, Milo Short Productions. As he is leaving work one day, he sees a woman from his past, Vivian Adair, as she would have looked when he knew her in the 1930s. Startled, he collapses and is rushed to the hospital. Diagnosed with a stroke, Milo recovers the use of his limbs, but not his voice. Meanwhile he continues to see and hear Vivian speak to him. As the story oscillates between the 1930s and 1999, the story of Milo’s life and relationship with Vivian unfold.
We Came Here to Shine by Susie Orman Schnall
Two women forge a friendship and summon up the courage to pursue their dreams and overcome adversity against the splendid backdrop of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Schnall skillfully weaves in details from the actual World’s Fair and includes a beautiful (and helpful) map of the fair at the front of the book. Historical fiction steeped in the spectacle and hoopla of the New York World’s Fair, We Came Here to Shine is a story about courage, friendship and having the strength and determination to achieve one’s goals.