Historical fiction is a genre that continues to grow exponentially, and 2023 promises to be another fabulous year in terms of the quality and number of books publishing. I chose titles from various eras and places; these stories are set all over the world including Australia, the United States, Greece, Cuba, Vietnam, the United Kingdom and more, and cover numerous time periods in the past. Read on for some of the most anticipated historical fiction titles in the start of 2023.
Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks (1/10)
Alice Young accidentally stumbles across New Jessup, Alabama in 1957 after fleeing her hometown. New Jessup is an all-Black town created by individuals who want no part of integration, and believe that Black people will fare better by remaining together and rejecting desegregation. There are no “whites only” signs, no restrictions on where Blacks may go, and no white people living there at all. In New Jessup, Alice begins a relationship with Raymond, an organizer whose activities could lead to their removal from their town. As turmoil grows within New Jessup, as well as in the rest of the country, Alice must contend with balancing work and homelife, her search for her missing sister, and how to protect her own daughter from the world at large.
The Mitford Affair by Marie Benedict (1/17)
The brilliant and eccentric Mitford family dominated the English social, literary and political scape between the World Wars, but become embroiled in a huge scandal when one of the daughters divorces her husband to marry a fascist leader. As Nazis rise in power, another daughter follows her sister’s lead to Munich, sparking rumors that she’s become Hitler’s mistress, their novelist sister Nancy becomes suspicious of their interests and uncovers concerning documents. As Great Britain goes to war with Germany, she now must make the difficult choice between personal and political interests.
Code Name Sapphire by Pam Jenoff (2/7)
After escaping Nazi Germany following the murder of her fiancé in 1942, Hannah Martel boards a ship for the United States. But when her ship is turned away in Cuba, she lands back in Brussels where her cousin Lily lives, whom she hasn’t seen in years. Anxious to leave Nazi-occupied Europe, Hannah agrees to help an underground network called the Sapphire Line in exchange for receiving new papers that will grant her a way out. But when her cousin’s family is arrested and headed to Auschwitz, Hannah must decide how much she is willing to risk for the family with which she has reconnected.
The House of Eve by Sadeqa Johnson (2/7)
Set in 1950’s Philadelphia, The House of Eve follows Ruby Pearsall, a 15-year-old who plans to be the first in her family to head to college, regardless of the lack of familial support. But when she gets drawn into a forbidden relationship, she threatens to destroy her future before it even starts. Meanwhile, Eleanor Quarles moves to Washington, DC where she meets and falls in love with William Pride at Howard University. But William’s family is one of DC’s elite Black families, and his parents have other ideas for William. Eager to integrate into the Pride family, Eleanor decides a baby will help her feel more accepted by his parents. When the two women’s lives unexpectedly collide, they must contend with choices that will impact them both for years to come.
Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein (2/7)
This historical mystery is the sweeping saga of how two families, one wealthy and one poor, collide in 1940’s Trinidad near the end of American occupation and British colonialism—and the chilling thread that connects them. Rooted in Trinidad’s pastoral landscape and inspired by oral storytelling traditions, Hungry Ghosts shows the ripple effects of generational trauma, sacrifices, and the ties of religion, class and family.
The Woman with the Cure by Lynn Cullen (2/21)
In 1940s and ’50s America, polio is feared just as much as the atomic bomb. The pandemic leaves no life untouched, particularly children, and outbreaks put cities in lockdown. While the world’s brightest minds race to find a vaccine, Dorothy Horstmann—doctor, daughter of immigrants, and often the only woman in the room—is also working to find a cure. But she’s looking for the cure within the disease’s victims: in the blood. What she discovers helps bring a colleague’s proposed cure to the forefront, but when she’s asked to validate his vaccine, she must decide between what she knows is right and wrong.
The Porcelain Moon by Janie Chang (2/21)
It’s the final days of the First World War, and in France, two women’s lives are about to intersect in a surprising, possibly dangerous way. Camille Roussel is planning her escape from an abusive relationship, as well as a love affair. A young Chinese woman, Pauline Deng, is running away from her uncle’s Paris home to avoid an arranged marriage in Shanghai. They meet in the French countryside when Camille offers Pauline a room for her stay. As they become friends, secrets are revealed and the two women are forced to make a terrible decision that will bind them together for the rest of their lives. Set against the little-known history of the 140,000 Chinese workers brought to Europe for labor during WWI, The Porcelain Moon is a tale of forbidden love and what we are willing to risk for freedom.
Time’s Undoing by Cheryl A. Head (2/28)
This dual timeline story focuses on 1929 Birmingham (known then as “Magic City”) during its heyday as a steel supplier. Master carpenter Robert Lee Harrington relocates his family to Birmingham for a job, and with its booming economy, the city is a great place to live—except for the fact that the Klan is very active there. In the 2019 timeline, Robert’s great-granddaughter, Meghan McKenzie, the youngest reporter at the Detroit Free Press, becomes interested in his murder and why his body was never found. So she travels to Birmingham to investigate, stirring up secrets that have been long buried and that someone does not want uncovered.
Dust Child by Nguyen Phan Que Mai (3/14)
In 1969 to help their parents pay off debts, sisters Trang and Quỳnh leave their village and travel to Sài Gòn to become “bar girls,” women who, for a fee, drink and keep company with American GIs. Against her better judgment, Trang gets involved with Dan, an American helicopter pilot. Many years later, Dan, with his wife Linda, decides to return to Vietnam in an effort to make peace with his past and heal his invisible wounds. Meanwhile, Phong, the son of a Vietnamese woman and a Black American soldier, sets out on a journey to locate his parents and find a way to escape Vietnam. Abandoned as a baby, Phong grew up ostracized from his peers, called “the dust of life.” He longs to live in the United States to provide for a better life for his family.
Two Wars and a Wedding by Lauren Willig (3/21)
In September 1896, Smith College graduate Betsy Hayes, an aspiring archaeologist, heads to Athens, eager to work at some of the most renowned and famous excavation sites. But she finds her dreams stymied by men who don’t believe women should pursue this line of work. She eventually allies herself with philanthropist Charles, Baron de Robecourt, whose views are more open-minded about women. But when tensions between Greece and Turkey escalate, Betsy’s archaeological sites are turned into battlefields, where she finds herself caring for the wounded. In June 1898 at the start of Spanish-American war, Betsy is anxiously trying to track down her ex-best friend Ava to make amends with her. When Betsy learns Ava might be with the Red Cross in Cuba, Betsy joins the Red Cross as well and accompanies Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders there in hopes of finding Ava.
The Perfumist of Paris by Alka Joshi (3/28)
This final chapter in Alka Joshi’s New York Times best-selling Jaipur trilogy takes readers to 1970s Paris, where Radha is living with her husband and two daughters. She often thinks of the son she had to give up years ago, but loves being a mother and has found her passion as a perfumer. As she works under a master perfumer designing new scents, the demand of her family and secrets of her past come to a head when she must travel to India to recruit her sister and the courtesans of Agra—women who use the power of fragrance to seduce. She’s feels on the verge of success, until she finds out the son she never told her husband about is heading to Paris to find her, upending her carefully managed world.
Homecoming by Kate Morton (4/4)
In the South Australian town of Tambilla, a delivery driver discovers a dead body on Christmas Eve, 1959, on the grounds of a magnificent mansion. An investigation ensues surrounding the shocking and mysterious death. Six decades later, Jess, an unemployed journalist in London, is called back to Australia because her grandmother Nora has been sent to the hospital. While staying at her grandmother’s house, she stumbles across a book called the Turner Family Tragedy of Christmas Eve, 1959, that chronicles the police investigation into a long-ago murder. When she delves into the book, she is stunned to discover that her family may have a connection to the decades-old killing.
Coronation Year by Jennifer Robson (4/4)
It’s 1953 in London and Queen Elizabeth is about to be coronated. Edie Howard, owner of the Blue Lion hotel, has been gifted a miracle: the queen’s gold coach will pass by the Blue Lion’s front doors, allowing Edie to up charge for rooms and save her business. Stella Donati is a young photographer and Holocaust survivor who stays at the Blue Lion while she interviews for a job. She discovers a purpose for herself that she never anticipated, one that bridges her past and her future. James Geddes is a war hero and an artist trying to make his place in a world that looks down on his Indian ancestry. He finds acceptance and belonging at the Blue Lion as he befriends Edie. When threats put the Blue Lion and the Queen herself at risk, Edie, Stella, and James race to uncover the truth and protect their home.
The Trackers by Charles Frazier (4/11)
During the Depression, painter Val Welch journeys to Dawes, Wyoming to craft a mural depicting the region for the town’s new post office, a job resulting from Roosevelt’s New Deal. While in Dawes, he stays at the ranch of wealthy art patron John Long and his wife Eve, who are both the frequent subject of gossip and rumors. Long wants to be a politician and served as a sniper in the first World War, while Eve used to ride the rails and sing in a Western swing band. When Eve runs off with an expensive painting, Long hires Val to track her down. As he chases her across the country, he slowly unveils secrets that may change each of their lives.
The Cuban Heiress by Chanel Cleeton (4/11)
Inspired by the true story of the SS Morro Castle, The Cuban Heiress follows two women whose stories intertwine on a roundup cruise from New York to Havana. While New York heiress Catherine Dohan has kept her past a secret, the minute the ship leaves port her life comes crashing down around her, threatening her life aboard the cruise liner. In an effort to track down who wants her dead, she teams up with Elena Palacio, a jewel thief with secrets of her own. Elena is on her way to Havana to exact revenge against those who wronged her, and the two women work together to save themselves and ensure that justice is served.
The Golden Doves by Martha Hall Kelly (4/18)
In the French resistance, American Josie Anderson and Parisian Arlette LaRue are able to reveal so many Nazi secrets that they become known as the Golden Doves—causing them to be the Gestapo’s number one mark. When they are arrested and taken to a concentration camp, their courage costs them both their family. Ten years later, the two former female spies join together for a dangerous mission across Europe to hunt down an infamous Nazi doctor and reclaim what they’ve lost, ultimately risking it all to secure justice.
The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan (5/2)
As World War 2 escalates in 1939 and London is frequently bombed, Hazel and her younger sister Flora are sent out of the city to stay in a quiet rural village away from danger. To help her sister avoid getting homesick while staying with another family, Hazel creates a new world for them to escape to called Whisperwood. One day while playing by the Thames, Flora disappears, and Hazel feels responsible for years to come. But when as an adult two decades later, Hazel happens across a picture book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars, she is stunned because she never shared the story of Whisperwood with anyone. The book’s discovery sets Hazel on a path to discover Flora’s fate.
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See (6/6)
Tan Yunxian was raised by her grandmother to be a physician in 15th century China, even though it goes against societal norms. Yunxian learns a lot about childbearing alongside a midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two become fast friends, sharing their joy and struggles, until Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage and told she can no longer be friends with Meiling. She is told not to help the women in the house, and to be a proper wife. This means playing instruments, reciting poetry, giving birth to sons, and staying within the estate boundaries. But Yunxian feels she has a bigger duty to serve and this captivating story shows what the power of female friendship can do.
The Spectacular by Fiona Davis (6/13)
Marion Brooks should feel happy about her upcoming engagement and her future as a housewife in the suburbs, but instead she feels trapped, so she takes a chance and auditions for the New York City Rockettes. During all of this, the city is the target of multiple bombings orchestrated by who the press have labeled the “Big Apple Bomber”. With no leads, the police turn to Peter Griggs, a young doctor who specializes in psychological profiling. When Marion unexpectedly gets pulled in to the search, she realizes she has to stand out and take a risk if she wants to catch the bomber. But doing so might mean sacrificing everything she’s worked for.
Queen of Exiles by Vanessa Riley (7/11)
In 1810, Marie-Louise Christophe is crowned queen of Haiti as her husband begins his reign over the only free Black nation in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is still struggling with insurmountable debts to France and indifference from former allies. While Louise tries to steer the country in the right direction, King Henry battles with mental illness. Ten years later, King Henry is overthrown and dies by his own hand. Louise and her daughters flee to Europe with smuggled jewels and try to create a new life. Louise remains resilient and restores Henry’s fortune that puts her at the same level as European kings. As they all find their way in the world, they discover more about themselves, their Blackness, and their future in a white and male-dominated world.
Crook Manifesto by Colton Whitehead (7/18)
Set throughout 1970’s New York in its seedy glory, this is a dark comedic tale about a city under siege but also a look into the complicated meaning of family. Furniture store owner and ex-fence Ray Carney is trying to stay out of trouble and live the straight-and-narrow, until he needs Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter and asks an old police contact to secure them, who has a favor of his own to ask of Carney that calls back to his old days of crime. Paired up again with his violent partner in crime, readers are brought into the a mix of counter culture, shady politicians, crime crews, Hollywood stars, celebrity drug dealers and mobsters, making it clear that the crooked duo have to find their own code of ethics.
The Fraud by Zadie Smith (9/5)
Mrs Eliza Touchet is the housekeeper and the cousin by marriage to William Ainsworth, a once successful author who is now in decline. She believes England is a land of facades, where nothing is truly what it seems. Andrew Bogle grew up enslaved in Jamaica and knows that the rich deceive the poor and that manipulation is more common than people realize. He comes to England to be a star witness in a huge case of imposture. The “Tichborne Trials”-where a low class man from Australia claimed he was the rightful heir of the Tichborne estate-captivate Mrs Touchet and all of England as the truth becomes more and more complicated to uncover.