Six 2024 historical novels that are sure to sweep you away to another time and place, and keep you at the edge of your seat. Choose your destination: from the Washington Territory to Hawai’i to Manchuria, to the British Seaside, to Vietnam or to Maine. Stories like these are the reason I read (and write) historical fiction, and I cannot wait to dig in!
A Wild Heavenly Place by Robin Oliveira
Hailey MacIntyre seems conjured from the depths of Samuel Fiddes’s loneliness. Caring for his young sister in the tenements of Glasgow, Scotland, Samuel has known only hunger, while Hailey has never known want. Yet, when Samuel saves Hailey’s brother from a runaway carriage, their connection is undeniable.
Through secret meetings and stolen moments, their improbable love grows. But then the City of Glasgow Bank fails, and Hailey’s bankrupt father impulsively moves their family across the globe to Seattle, a city rumored to have coal in its hills and easy money for anyone willing to work for it.
Samuel is haunted by Hailey’s parting words: Remember, Washington Territory. Armed only with his wits, he determines to follow her, leaving behind everything he has ever known in search of Hailey and the chance of a better life for his sister. But the fledgling town barely cut out of the wilderness holds its own secrets and will test them all in ways unimaginable.
The Women by Kristin Hannah
The missing. The forgotten. The brave… The women.
When twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears these unexpected words, it is a revelation. Raised on idyllic Coronado Island and sheltered by her conservative parents, she has always prided herself on doing the right thing, being a good girl. But in 1965 the world is changing, and she suddenly imagines a different choice for her life. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she impulsively joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path.
As green and inexperienced as the men sent to Vietnam to fight, Frankie is overwhelmed by the chaos and destruction of war, as well as the unexpected trauma of coming home to a changed and politically divided America.
The Women is the story of one woman gone to war, but it shines a light on the story of all women who put themselves in harm’s way to help others. Women whose sacrifice and commitment to their country has all too often been forgotten. A novel of searing insight and lyric beauty, The Women is a profoundly emotional, richly drawn story with a memorable heroine whose extraordinary idealism and courage under fire define a generation.
The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West by Sara Ackerman
This extraordinary novel, inspired by real events, tells the story of a female aviator who defies the odds to embark on a daring air race across the Pacific.
1927. Olivia "Livy" West is a fearless young pilot with a love of adventure. She yearns to cross oceans and travel the skies. When she learns of the Dole Air Race—a high-stakes contest to be the first to make the 2,400 mile Pacific crossing from the West Coast to Hawai'i—she sets her sights on qualifying. But it soon becomes clear that only men will make the cut. In a last-ditch effort to take part, Livy manages to be picked as a navigator for one of the pilots, before setting out on a harrowing journey that some will not survive.
1987. Wren Summers is down to her last dime when she learns she has inherited a remote piece of land on the Big Island with nothing on it but a dilapidated barn and an overgrown mac nut grove. She plans on selling it and using the money to live on, but she is drawn in by the mysterious objects kept in the barn by her late great-uncle—clues to a tragic piece of aviation history lost to time.
Determined to find out what really happened all those years ago, Wren enlists the help of residents at a nearby retirement home to uncover Olivia’s story piece by piece. What she discovers is more earth-shattering, and closer to home, than she could have ever imagined.
The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon
Maine, 1789: When the Kennebec River freezes, entombing a man in the ice, Martha Ballard is summoned to examine the body and determine cause of death. As a midwife and healer, she is privy to much of what goes on behind closed doors in Hallowell. Her diary is a record of every birth and death, crime and debacle that unfolds in the close-knit community. Months earlier, Martha documented the details of an alleged rape committed by two of the town’s most respected gentlemen—one of whom has now been found dead in the ice. But when a local physician undermines her conclusion, declaring the death to be an accident, Martha is forced to investigate the shocking murder on her own.
Over the course of one winter, as the trial nears, and whispers and prejudices mount, Martha doggedly pursues the truth. Her diary soon lands at the center of the scandal, implicating those she loves, and compelling Martha to decide where her own loyalties lie.
(this actually released in December 2023, and is a GMA book club pick)
The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club by Helen Simonson
It is the summer of 1919 and Constance Haverhill is without prospects. Now that all the men have returned from the front, she has been asked to give up her cottage and her job at the estate she helped to run during the war. While she looks for a position as a bookkeeper or (horror) a governess, she's sent as a lady's companion to an old family friend who is convalescing at a seaside hotel. Despite having only weeks to find a permanent home, Constance finds herself swept up in the social whirl of Hazelbourne-on-Sea after she rescues local baronet’s daughter, Poppy Wirrall, from a social faux pas.
Poppy wears trousers, operates a taxi and delivery service to employ local women, and runs a ladies' motorcycle club (to which she plans to add flying lessons). She and her friends enthusiastically welcome Constance into their circle. And then there is Harris, Poppy's recalcitrant but handsome brother—a fighter pilot recently wounded in battle—who warms in Constance’s presence. But things are more complicated than they seem in this sunny pocket of English high society. As the country prepares to celebrate its hard-won peace, Constance and the women of the club are forced to confront the fact that the freedoms they gained during the war are being revoked.
With sharp humor, biting wit, and a warm heart, Simonson captures the mood of a generation facing the seismic changes brought on by war. The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club is a timeless comedy of manners, refreshing as a summer breeze and bracing as the British seaside.
The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo
Some people think foxes are similar to ghosts because we go around collecting qi, but nothing could be further than the truth. We are living creatures, just like you, only usually better looking . . .
In the last years of the dying Qing Empire, a courtesan is found frozen in a doorway. Her death is clouded by rumors of foxes, which are believed to lure people by transforming themselves into beautiful women and handsome men. Bao, a detective with an uncanny ability to sniff out the truth, is hired to uncover the dead woman’s identity. Since childhood, Bao has been intrigued by the fox gods, yet they’ve remained tantalizingly out of reach―until, perhaps, now.
Meanwhile, a family who owns a famous Chinese medicine shop can cure ailments but can’t escape the curse that afflicts them―their eldest sons die before their twenty-fourth birthdays. When a disruptively winsome servant named Snow enters their household, the family’s luck seems to change―or does it?
Snow is a creature of many secrets, but most of all she’s a mother seeking vengeance for her lost child. Hunting a murderer, she will follow the trail from northern China to Japan, while Bao follows doggedly behind. Navigating the myths and misconceptions of fox spirits, both Snow and Bao will encounter old friends and new foes, even as more deaths occur.
In the spirit of spreading aloha, Sara shares her favorite uplifting and inspiring finds. Maybe it's a book or podcast, or maybe it's a new adventure or film that is too good not to pass along.