With the ongoing global health crisis continuing to impact day-to-day life, drifting away to another place and time through an absorbing work of historical fiction sounds more appealing than ever. To that end, here we recommend six historical novels that have recently been released in paperback for your own reading pleasure, or to read with your book club.

Each book comes with a reading guide and all of them profile compelling female protagonists, some of whom are historical figures, others are ordinary folk reacting to significant historical events.


featured book jackets



Miss Austen

Miss Austen
by Gill Hornby


Jane Austen fans will be thrilled with this glimpse into the imagined world of Cassandra Austen. The beloved English novelist's older sister outlived Jane by almost 30 years and, shortly before her own death, is believed to have destroyed the majority of Jane's letters.

In Gill Hornby's tale, Cassandra seeks out a secret cache of Jane's letters at an old friend's house, determined to ensure that her sister's private correspondence is not made public. In the process, Cassandra begins to reflect on her past, pausing to recall the most significant events of her life, including the indelible impression left by Jane.

Fans of Austen's novels will find many of the same themes discussed here as in her books, including gender dynamics and the often strange rituals of courtship.

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The Parting Glass

The Parting Glass
by Gina Marie Guadagnino


In this dark, absorbing romantic thriller set in early 19th century New York City, a young woman from Ireland, Mary Ballard, and her brother both fall in love with their employer, the beautiful and wealthy Charlotte Walden. Though Charlotte is one of the most sought after single young ladies in the city, she falls in love with her groomsman, Mary's brother. As Charlotte's lady's maid, Mary is tasked with keeping the young lovers' trysts a secret, all the while pining for her mistress herself. Mary also becomes romantically involved with a prostitute and her brother gets mixed up with local Irish mobsters, resulting in an explosive ending you won't see coming.

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Lady Clementine

Lady Clementine
by Marie Benedict


Much has been written about Winston Churchill's leadership during the World Wars, but in this fictionalized biography, Marie Benedict presents a captivating portrait of the woman behind (or more accurately beside) the man, Churchill's wife Clementine. We see the ways in which Clementine influenced her husband during what was perhaps the most trying time in British history, but she also emerges as a fully independent figure with her own thoughts, ideals, and ambitions.

Book clubs will find much to discuss including the ways in which women from all walks of life manage competing needs, aspirations and priorities.

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The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War
by Susan Meissner


This poignant novel by Susan Meissner is centered around World War II. German-American teen Elise Sontag develops a brief but meaningful bond with Japanese-American teenager Mariko Inoue at the Texas internment camp where they are both remanded. Elise and her family are repatriated to Germany after a little over a year in the camp, so this novel is unique for offering the perspective of an American living in Germany during the war, conflicted by multiple allegiances. In a present-day timeline, Elise, now 81, decides to seek out her long-lost friend Mariko.

In our related beyond the book article we explore how the experience of Elise's family is representative of the fate that befell about 2,000 Japanese-Americans and about 1,000 German-Americans who were used as barter by the United States during the war years, and were sent back to their country of origin along with their American born children in what was essentially a prisoner exchange.

The Last Year of the War should prompt engaging discussion about immigration, discrimination, patriotism and loyalty.

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The Secrets We Kept

The Secrets We Kept
by Lara Prescott


Laura Prescott's Cold War-era debut was named one of the best books of 2019 by NPR, the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and Library Journal, among other outlets, and received 4.7 out of 5 stars from BookBrowse's First Impressions reviewers. The novel's plot centers around two women working as spies for the CIA and their mission to smuggle Boris Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago out of the Soviet Union so it can be disseminated.

It's a vibrant story of love, adventure and international intrigue with literary and feminist undertones sure to offer something for just about everyone.

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The Last Train to Key West

The Last Train to Key West
by Chanel Cleeton


In this evocative novel set in Key West in 1935, the lives of three women briefly intersect at a diner on the eve of a devastating hurricane. Each woman is contending with fear and confusion related to a man in her life, and the peril of the storm adds to the story's drama and suspense.

Beyond the interpersonal troubles of the heroines, this novel stands out for its exploration of the time period --the aftermath of World War I through to the mid 1930s, including the the 1933 Cuban miltary coup (when Fulgencio Batista first rose to power), and the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane which forms the backdrop to the novel.

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