Properties of Thirst by Marianne Wiggins
Many of us have an aversion to novels that claim to be the next American epic in the tradition of John Steinbeck, particularly when they’re about World War II. These novels, purporting to be the next necessary heart-wrenching tale of wartime heroism, are seemingly everywhere, but rarely do they live up to expectations. Properties of Thirst defies, dispels and demolishes those expectations and biases in the best way. Read our review.
Sister Mother Warrior by Vanessa Riley
The complexity of Sister Mother Warrior suits the complicated, difficult history of the Haitian revolution, which Vanessa Riley brings to life through the stories of a soldier and a future empress. Read our review.
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford
Exploring the bonds that transcend physical space, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy is an enthralling, centuries-spanning tale, a masterful saga that’s perfect for fans of The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende and The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain. Read our review.
Best ancient tale for acolytes of Madeline Miller:
Wrath Goddess Sing by Maya Deane
Some prior knowledge of the Iliad will maximize the enjoyment of this novel, if only to provide some context for Maya Deane’s beautifully realized Mediterranean landscape and her depiction of the Greek gods as vivid, often malicious beings. Wrath Goddess Sing is a mythic reinvention for the ages that asks questions about topics such as trans identity, passing and the politics of the body. Read our review.
Best perspectives on the American West:
Fire Season by Leyna Krow
Leyna Krow plays fast and loose with the tropes of the frontier novel, leaning in to the notion of the unsettled West as a place where people could reinvent themselves. Read our review.
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Woman of Light retains a mythic quality while following the stories of five generations of an Indigenous North American family, from their origins, border crossings, accomplishments and traumas to their descendants’ confrontation and acceptance of their family history. Read our review.
Best for book clubs:
Horse by Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks returns to themes she explored so well in previous works, such as her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, March, which chronicles many of the injustices that occurred during America’s Civil War. Loosely based on a true story, Horse involves a discarded painting and a dusty skeleton, both of which concern a foal widely considered “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history.” Read our review.
Most glamorous subterfuge:
The Lunar Housewife by Caroline Woods
Caroline Woods’ historical thriller, set in the final days of the Korean War and the onset of the Cold War, spins a tale of big-city intrigue as it follows a promising young waitress-turned-writer and the increasingly disturbing secrets she uncovers. The result is an addictive binge of a read that’s equal parts intelligent introspection and nail-biting suspense. Read our review.
The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin
Madeline Martin is known for her deeply researched historical fiction and romance novels, and The Librarian Spy is a delight as we follow the World War II adventures of an endearing, quiet bookworm. Read our review.
Last Call at the Nightingale by Katharine Schellman
Vivian Kelly, the protagonist of this Prohibition-era mystery, is a seamstress in what we would now consider a sweatshop, and by night she is a regular at the Nightingale, a Manhattan speakeasy of some note among Jazz Age cognoscenti. When Vivian stumbles upon a dead body in the alley behind the club, the speakeasy’s hitherto bon vivant ambiance begins to melt away, revealing something altogether more sinister. Read our review.
Best love stories in historical settings:
A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall
Alexis Hall takes on the Regency with his angsty new historical romance. Following the Battle of Waterloo, Viola Carroll abandoned her previous identity, as well as her aristocratic title, to finally embrace life as a trans woman. But Viola’s dearest friend, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood, is not coping so well. He drowns himself in alcohol and opium to cope with his despair over Viola’s death, the lingering pain of a war injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. The term “slow burn” doesn’t begin to capture the agonized pining of this romance, which is absolutely suffused with yearning. Read our review.
The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian
Cat Sebastian returns to the Georgian-era setting of 2021’s The Queer Principles of Kit Webb with The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes, a charming story about two chaotic bisexuals who cross each other’s paths while pursuing their criminal endeavors. Read our review.
Best picks for Hilary Mantel fans:
Joan by Katherine J. Chen
This Joan of Arc is hungry, earthy and scrappy—a natural fighter. For readers who love Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy or Lauren Groff’s Matrix, Joan offers similar pleasures with its immediacy and somewhat contemporary tone. It’s an immersive evocation of a character whose name everyone knows, all these centuries later, but whom, perhaps, none of us knows at all. Read our review.
Learning to Talk by Hilary Mantel
Sure, it’s a little on the nose, but these seven stories, arranged chronologically, offer an unusual and ultimately fascinating amalgam of fact and fiction as two-time Booker Prize-winning British author Hilary Mantel sorts through the puzzle pieces of her past. As Mantel reflects loosely on her English childhood, she explores, as she writes in the preface, “the swampy territory that lies between history and myth.” Read our review.
Best supernatural or magical touches:
Briefly, a Delicious Life by Nell Stevens
In 1838, the French novelist George Sand (pen name for Aurore Dupin) decided that a winter away from Paris would be good for her, her two children and her ailing lover, Frédéric Chopin, who had tuberculosis. This is where the debut novel from Nell Stevens begins, and she quickly reveals an inventive, imaginative approach to historical fiction, full of comic moments but also sorrow, violence and beauty. Her ghostly narrator is full of life, a wonderful guide to another time and place. Read our review.
Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro
The first in a planned trilogy, Ordinary Monsters traverses 19th-century America, England, Scotland and Japan before eventually landing at the Cairndale Institute outside of Edinburgh, where Talents are learning to control and hone their powers. J.M. Miro (the pen name of a literary novelist) plays off the well-loved and well-worn tropes of chosen ones and magical institutions for children, but freshens things up with a large, sweeping scope and a likable, diverse cast of characters. Read our review.