Many readers asked me why I chose to write historical fiction at the events I attended last year. I didn’t have enough time to elaborate, but if I could, I would trace back to my childhood in China, where I first encountered the genre.
Growing up there, I perceived the notion that historical fiction was exclusive, highbrow, and even elitist, for many people believed historical fiction referred to the epic tales of the dynasties that prospered and perished, the curious lives of the empresses and concubines who lived and lost, the eternally tragic warlord who sang his swan song to his favorite concubine before his suicide on the other side of the river, and even the perpetually wily minister Zhu Geliang and the three rival kingdoms.
I understand today many writers and readers will disagree with the definition of historical fiction mentioned above, however, I was also surprised to hear a relative in the UK insisted that my novel The Last Rose of Shanghai, a love story between a Chinese woman and a Jewish refugee who fled to Shanghai from Nazi Germany, was not a WWII novel, because it was set outside of Europe. So I guess how you define historical fiction has much to do with the culture and the history you imbibe.
Nonetheless, as a writer, I’m always rooting for novels providing a spotlight on women considered peripheral in history, books illuminating a veiled past that continues to haunt us, stories that transport us to another place, another setting that challenges the canons of thought. I’m excited about the forthcoming titles in the spring of 2023. Take a look!
The Last Russian Doll by Kristen Loesch
I had the honor to read an arc and was absolutely mesmerized. Loesch’s prose was stunning, and the scenes she created, whether a walk by the Neva River or Siberia, were unforgettable. And fairy tales! The dolls! You’ll not look at those Russian dolls the same way again.
In a faraway kingdom, in a long-ago land … a young girl lived happily in Moscow with her family: a sister, a father, and an eccentric mother who liked to tell fairy tales and collect porcelain dolls.
One summer night, everything changed, and all that remained of that family were the girl and her mother.
Now, a decade later and studying at Oxford University, Rosie has an English name, a loving fiancé, and a promising future, but all she wants is to understand — and bury — the past. After her mother dies, Rosie returns to Russia, armed with little more than her mother’s strange folklore — and a single key.
What she uncovers is a devastating family history that spans the 1917 Revolution, the siege of Leningrad, Stalin’s purges, and beyond.
At the heart of this saga stands a young noblewoman, Tonya, as pretty as a porcelain doll, whose actions — and love for an idealistic man — will set off a sweeping story that reverberates across the century.…
The Porcelain Moon by Janie Chang
This is what I wrote about this lyrical and riveting novel:
“The Porcelain Moon is a vivid, riveting story of a Chinese woman bound by tradition, a Frenchwoman trapped in marriage, and a bright young Chinese man emboldened by his dreams of freedom. Set in Paris during WWI, the novel deftly excavates a piece of forgotten history during which thousands of Chinese men left home and toiled as mechanics, trench diggers, and railway repairers to support their European allies, who regarded them as strangers.
“Chang’s masterfully crafted novel challenges our views of the traditional images of the Chinese, our beliefs about identity, and ultimately, the western opinions that have defined the WWI narrative. Profound and precious, The Porcelain Moon is a novel for anyone who believes they know about history.”
Code Name Sapphire by Pam Jenoff
If you love historical fiction but have never read a book by Pam Jenoff, then you’re missing out. Jenoff has written more than six novels and each of her novels explores the resilience of women caught in the web of treachery.
1942. Hannah Martel has narrowly escaped Nazi Germany after her fiancé was killed in a pogrom. When her ship bound for America is turned away at port, she has nowhere to go but to her cousin Lily, who lives with her family in Brussels. Fearful for her life, Hannah is desperate to get out of occupied Europe. But with no safe way to leave, she must return to the dangerous underground work she thought she had left behind.
Seeking help, Hannah joins the Sapphire Line, a secret resistance network led by a mysterious woman named Micheline and her enigmatic brother Matteo. But when a grave mistake causes Lily’s family to be arrested and slated for deportation to Auschwitz, Hannah finds herself torn between her loyalties. How much is Hannah willing to sacrifice to save the people she loves? Inspired by incredible true stories of courage and sacrifice, Code Name Sapphire is a powerful novel about love, family and the unshakable resilience of women in even the hardest of times.
Strangers in the Night by Heather Webb
I might be partial to this one, but it’s a love story of Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, who can resist that? Besides, we hammered out the title at a writers’ retreat, belting out Sinatra’s songs … OK. We didn’t belt out his songs only because we were drunk … All right … We were totally sober!
In the golden age of Hollywood, two of the brightest stars would define — and defy — an era…
She was the small-town southern beauty transformed into a Hollywood love goddess. He was the legendary crooner whose voice transfixed the world. They were Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra. Separately they were irresistible; together they were an explosive combination.
Ava’s star is rising just as Frank’s career — and public image as a family man — is taking a hit. Gone are the days of the screaming bobbysoxers and chart-topping hits. Ava, however, finds herself gracing the front page of every tabloid in America. Jealousy and cheating abound, and when the two succumb to their temperaments and their vices, their happiness is threatened at every turn.
As the pair ride the rollercoaster of success and failure, passion and anger, they both wonder if the next turn will be the end of their careers, and most devastating of all — the end of all they’ve shared.
A captivating novel with a star-studded cast spanning continents and decades, Strangers in the Night brings to life the most riveting love story of the twentieth century.
Two Wars and a Wedding by Lauren Willig
I’ve heard many great things about this novel and am awaiting it with abated breath! Dual timeline? Check. A daring heroine? Check!
September 1896: An aspiring archaeologist, Smith College graduate Betsy Hayes travels to Athens, desperate to break into the male-dominated field of excavation. In the midst of the heat and dust of Greece, she finds an unlikely ally in Charles, Baron de Robecourt, one of the few men who takes her academic passion seriously. But when a simmering conflict between Greece and Turkey erupts into open warfare, Betsy throws herself into the conflict as a nurse, not knowing that the decision will change her life forever — and cause a deep and painful rift with her oldest friend, Ava.
June 1898: Betsy has sworn off war nursing — but when she gets the word that her estranged friend Ava is headed to Cuba with Clara Barton and the Red Cross to patch up the wounded in the Spanish-American War, Betsy determines to stop her the only way she knows how: by joining in her place. Battling heat, disease, and her own demons, Betsy follows Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders straight to the heart of the fighting, where she is forced to confront her greatest fears to save both old friends and new….
Set during an electrifying era of nation-building, idealism, and upheaval, Two Wars and a Wedding is the tale of two remarkable women striving to make their place in a man’s world — an unforgettable saga of friendship, love, and fighting for what is right.
The Castle Keepers by Aimie Runyan, J’nell Ciesieslki, and Rachel McMillan
I heard through the grapevine that in the novel a poison garden ensnared three women, who might or might not be innocent. I had to take a peek. Really. Such a great idea — a poison garden. This is a collection of stories that examine questions of healing, legacy, and love against the rich backdrop of a historical castle.
Leedswick Castle has housed the Alnwick family for generations. But the world around it is changing, and secrets that have long been buried will soon come to light.
1899: Beatrice, an American, seeks the legitimacy of a British title to add prestige to her fortune. She hopes for love in her marriage of convenience to Charles at Leedswick Castle, but she finds herself entangled in generations-long family intrigue.
1917: Tobias, eventual heir of Beatrice and Charles, finds himself convalescing from the battlefields of WWI with a scarred face back at Leedswick. Elena is the young artist tasked with painting a realistic mask for the isolated hero, and they both learn to find beauty and love in unexpected places — but disaster lurks just outside the castle walls.
1945: Alec finds himself the heir to Leedswick, but he carries the burden of shell shock from his time in WWII. He seeks to make the castle into a refuge for those who are similarly haunted, calling upon a renowned psychologist and the doctor’s niece, Elisa, to help him.
Through the generations, the castle is both shelter and prison, haunting and home. It is only when its inhabitants look inward that they can free both the castle and themselves from the shackles of the past.
The Friday Night Club by Alyson Richman Gordon, Sofia Lundberg, and M. J. Rose
While men have long been credited with producing the first abstract paintings, the true creator was actually a woman – Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, who was inspired by her mystic visions. Acclaimed authors Sofia Lundberg, Alyson Richman and M.J. Rose bring her story to life in this groundbreaking novel.
Early 1900s: The world belongs to men, and the art world in Stockholm, Sweden, is no different, until Hilma af Klint brings together a mysterious group of female painters and writers — Anna, Cornelia, Sigrid and Mathilda — to form their own emotional and artistic support system. The members of the Friday Night Club find themselves thrust into uncharted territory when Hilma and her best friend, Anna, begin dabbling in the occult, believing that through séances they can channel unseen spirits to help them achieve their potential as artists. “The Five,” as Hilma referred to them, was a group of immensely talented, fascinating women whose lives and work were cast into obscurity … until now.
The Present: Over a century later, an associate curator at the Guggenheim Museum, Eben Elliot, brings the Hilma af Klint show to New York where he uncovers questions about the Five and how the modern-day art world is funded, which puts him in a precarious position both emotionally and professionally, as he witnesses how history can be manipulated.
The Friday Night Club is an illuminating historical novel that explores destiny, passion, and the threads that connect five women as they challenge artistic and societal traditions.
One Last Shot by Kip Wilson
From critically acclaimed author Kip Wilson comes this gripping coming-of-age historical fiction novel in verse about Gerda Taro, a vibrant, headstrong photojournalist with a passion for capturing the truth amid political turmoil and the first woman photojournalist killed in combat.
The daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants, Gerta Pohorylle doesn’t quite fit in. While she’s away at boarding school, however, she becomes a master at reinventing herself. When she returns from school, she gets more involved with left-wing groups as Germany splits into political extremes and after she’s arrested for distributing anti-Nazi propaganda, Gerta and her family decide she must leave Germany.
In Paris, Gerda meets André Friedman, a Hungarian photographer eager for fame and fortune, who fosters Gerda’s interest in photography and how it can be as much of a tool for broadcasting her beliefs as protesting and demonstrations. Together the pair invents Robert Capa, a rich American photographer, and soon they’re selling “Capa’s” work for high prices and to great acclaim. Soon after, Gerda begins selling her own work under the last name Taro and the pair take on more assignments, jetting off to Spain to cover the growing conflict that quickly becomes the Spanish Civil War.
As Gerda pushes closer and closer to the front line, eager to capture the lives and vibrant hopes of those fighting against fascism, she begins to lose track of, and regard for, her own safety.
The Echo of Old Books by Barbara Davis
A novel about the magical lure of books and summoning the courage to rewrite our stories by the Amazon Charts bestselling author of The Keeper of Happy Endings and The Last of the Moon Girls.
Rare book dealer Ashlyn Greer’s affinity for books extends beyond the intoxicating scent of old paper, ink and leather. She can feel the echoes of the books’ previous owners — an emotional fingerprint only she can read. When Ashlyn discovers a pair of beautifully bound volumes that appear to have never been published, her gift quickly becomes an obsession. Not only is each inscribed with a startling incrimination, but the authors, Hemi and Belle, tell conflicting sides of a tragic romance.
With no trace of how these mysterious books came into the world, Ashlyn is caught up in a decades-old literary mystery, beckoned by two hearts in ruins, whoever they were, wherever they are. Determined to learn the truth behind the doomed lovers’ tale, she reads on, following a trail of broken promises and seemingly unforgivable betrayals. The more Ashlyn learns about Hemi and Belle, the nearer she comes to bringing closure to their love story — and to the unfinished chapters of her own life.
Daughters of Nantucket by Julie Gerstenblatt
Set against Nantucket’s Great Fire of 1846, this sweeping, emotional novel brings together three courageous women battling to save everything they hold dear…
Nantucket in 1846 is an island set apart not just by its geography but by its unique circumstances. With their menfolk away at sea, often for years at a time, women here know a rare independence — and the challenges that go with it.
Eliza Macy is struggling to conceal her financial trouble as she waits for her whaling captain husband to return from a voyage. In desperation, she turns against her progressive ideals and targets Meg Wright, a pregnant free Black woman trying to relocate her store to Main Street. Meanwhile, astronomer Maria Mitchell loves running Nantucket’s Atheneum and spending her nights observing the stars, yet she fears revealing the secret wishes of her heart.
On a sweltering July night, a massive fire breaks out in town, quickly kindled by the densely packed wooden buildings. With everything they possess now threatened, these three very different women are forced to reevaluate their priorities and decide what to save, what to let go and what kind of life to rebuild from the ashes of the past.
The House of Eve by Sadeqa Johnson
If you read Johnson’s Yellow Wife, then you know her exquisite writing style. The House of Eve, a daring and redemptive novel set in 1950s Philadelphia and Washington, DC, asks some hollowing questions few of us can ignore. What does it mean to be a woman and a mother? What will you be willing to sacrifice to achieve your goal?
1950s Philadelphia: fifteen-year-old Ruby Pearsall is on track to becoming the first in her family to attend college, in spite of having a mother more interested in keeping a man than raising a daughter. But a taboo love affair threatens to pull her back down into the poverty and desperation that has been passed on to her like a birthright.
Eleanor Quarles arrives in Washington, DC, with ambition and secrets. When she meets the handsome William Pride at Howard University, they fall madly in love. But William hails from one of DC’s elite wealthy Black families, and his parents don’t let just anyone into their fold. Eleanor hopes that a baby will make her finally feel at home in William’s family and grant her the life she’s been searching for. But having a baby — and fitting in — is easier said than done.
With their stories colliding in the most unexpected of ways, Ruby and Eleanor will both make decisions that shape the trajectory of their lives.