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Spotlighting Historical Fiction, Summer 2020

Cindy Burnett
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Some great historical fiction titles release this summer including books about the 1939 New York World's Fair, the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Manhattan Project, the New York Public Library and much more.

So many great books come out in the summer months. This week, I am highlighting some historical fiction titles that are releasing in summer 2020 (May-August). Because the historical fiction genre is so popular at the moment, there are a plethora of books coming out in that category so it was hard to narrow the list down. After much consideration, I chose the 11 titles that I am the most excited about for summer 2020. I have placed an asterisk by the ones that I have read and recommend.

  • The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel - Harmel’s latest novel chronicles the story of a skilled forger who risks her life during World War 2 to help hundreds of Jewish children escape the Nazis. To ensure that the children’s original identities will not be permanently erased, Eva and a fellow forger create a coded system to secretly preserve the real names and identities of the escapees. Decades later, the code is discovered but cannot be decoded, and Eva must decide if she has the strength to revisit the past.
  • Estelle by Linda Stewart Henley - Before he was well-known and revered for his paintings and other artwork, Edgar Degas spent five months in New Orleans in late 1872 and early 1873. In this dual timeline tale, the lives of two women living a century apart intertwine. Searching for inspiration in the earlier timeline, Degas paints Estelle, Degas’ sister-in-law and Creole cousin. In 1970 while renovating a New Orleans house that she inherited, Anne Gautier stumbles upon a journal by one of her ancestors who knew Degas. Filled with intrigue, art and family connections, Estelle explores Degas’ time in New Orleans. 
  • Fast Girls* by Elise Hooper - Fast Girls shines the light on three little-known American female Olympians who doggedly pursue their dreams to compete in the Nazi-sponsored 1936 Berlin Olympics, the first integrated Olympics. These women must each overcome their own personal obstacles and roadblocks in order to have their time on the Olympic track and defy those who think women (and people of color) should not compete. Chock full of historical details and stories about various Olympians and the grand event itself, readers will love the stories of these strong, determined women. Hooper has produced another fascinating and intricate book that kept me engaged from beginning to end.
  • The Jane Austen Society* by Natalie Jenner – This book is set in Chawton, England following the Second World War – the town where Jane Austen spent her last years. When Austen’s legacy is threatened, an eclectic group of townspeople band together to save her home and her heritage. Struggling with personal tragedies and loss, these individuals unite around their love of Jane Austen and her stories and find themselves aiding each other as much as they help save Austen’s legacy. The Jane Austen Society is a tribute to Austen and is chock full of fascinating tidbits about the author and her beloved books. Natalie Jenner’s fabulous tale is historical fiction at its finest – she transports the reader to another time and place filled with unique and authentic characters while focusing on the importance of literature and its ability to resonate for decades to come.
  • The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton – Set during the Great Depression, Cleeton’s new novel takes place in Key West, Florida. As a mighty hurricane blazes toward Key West over the 1935 Labor Day weekend, three women find themselves thrown together as secrets emerge, love is challenged, and danger is prevalent. 
  • The Lions of Fifth Avenue* by Fiona Davis - Set in the beautiful and historic New York Public Library, The Lions of Fifth Avenue is a dual timeline tale about two women living 80 years apart who both must deal with the theft of valuable books from the library’s collection. While investigating the missing books, each woman makes discoveries that may alter her life forever. Readers will eat up the details about the superintendent’s apartment in the library (in earlier eras, they were able to live in the library!) and other less-known tidbits about this iconic and historic building. 
  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Moreno-Garcia’s latest novel is set in 1950s Mexico and is a mixture of gothic, horror and historical fiction. As the book opens, Noemi Taboada receives a startling and distraught letter from her recently married cousin begging Noemi to come rescue her from certain doom. The cousin lives at High Place, a mysterious mansion in the Mexican countryside, and Noemi sets out to investigate her cousin’s concerns. Soon after her arrival, Noemi realizes that something sinister is at play at High Place. 
  • Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook* by Celia Rees - Set in Germany following World War 2, this historical fiction tale follows Brit Edith Graham as she joins the Control Commission, tasked with setting up schools in ravaged German towns. Before she leaves London, she is recruited by the OSS to spy and send back intelligence through recipes she gathers as she travels. Rees brings the post-war country to life – the devastation to the cities and towns, the rush to find war criminals, the lack of food and shelter, and the underground Nazi movement that hopes to re-emerge. 
  • The Taste of Sugar by Marisel Vera – Vicente Vega and his family operate a coffee farm in Puerto Rico at the end of the 19th century on the eve of the Spanish-American War. As the story opens, Puerto Rico is under Spanish rule with Spain coercing Puerto Ricans into its war with the United States. In the midst of the tumult from the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico is also hit by the forceful San Ciriaco Hurricane of 1899; together these two events decimate the livelihoods of Vega and his family and countless other Puerto Ricans who decide to head to Hawaii to work in the sugar plantations. 
  • Universe of Two by Stephen Kiernan – Universe of Two is the fictionalized story of Charlie Fisk, the man who designed and constructed the detonator for the atomic bomb. Recruited to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project, Fisk was ordered to create the detonator against his own beliefs, and when he had a crisis of conscience, his wife, not privy to the details of the project, encouraged him to finish up his work on the project. Following the detonation of the bombs on Japan, he and his wife spend their post-war years attempting to make amends for his contribution to the devastation wreaked on Japan.
  • We Came Here to Shine* by Susie Orman Schnall - Two women forge a friendship and summon up the courage to pursue their dreams and overcome adversity against the splendid backdrop of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Schnall skillfully weaves in details from the actual World’s Fair and includes a beautiful (and helpful) map of the fair at the front of the book. Historical fiction steeped in the spectacle and hoopla of the New York World’s Fair, We Came Here to Shine is a story about courage, friendship and having the strength and determination to achieve one’s goals. Susie was my first podcast guest, and you can learn more about the book and her writing process here.

If you have a recent historical fiction title that you enjoyed, I would love to hear about it!

See more book recommendations in this month’s Buzz Reads. In addition, Conversations from a Page is hosting a Curated Book Discussion over Zoom for Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson on Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 11 a.m. CST (cost-$5 or $30 for an annual pass). For more bookish thoughts, see @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram, the Continuing the Conversation newsletter or Cindy’s Reading Recs.

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