The best dual timeline novels

The Books I Picked & Why

Sarah's Key

By Tatiana De Rosnay

Book cover of Sarah's Key

Why this book?

This is the book that made me fall in love with dual timeline novels. It is about Julia, a present-day journalist investigating the roundup of Jewish families in Paris in 1942, and Sarah, a little girl in that roundup who is sent with her family to a concentration camp – except for her little brother whom she locks in a secret cupboard. The more Julia learns about Sarah, the more the reader comes to see how their stories are intertwined. As a result, Julia’s life will never be the same. 

If you want a good cry, this book is for you. You will care so deeply about Sarah and won’t be able to put the book down until the final page. And then, it will continue to linger in your mind and heart for a long time afterwards.


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Winter Garden

By Kristin Hannah

Book cover of Winter Garden

Why this book?

I love a good mystery and a good story within a story. This book has both. Estranged sisters, Meredith and Nina, have never been close with their mother, Anya, until they finally have a chance to understand what made her so icy. As a deathbed promise to her husband, Anya agrees to tell their daughters her story, but it is so difficult for her that she must tell it little by little and as a fairy tale. From frozen, war-torn Leningrad to modern-day Alaska, the story changes this family forever. 

For anyone who has secrets, or has someone in their life they just can’t understand, this powerful book helps you see that there is a way through. It also reminds us that everyone has a story that can thaw the hardest of hearts.


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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

By Jamie Ford

Book cover of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Why this book?

This book really brings home the lasting horror and heartbreak that was the Japanese internment. In the present-day storyline, Henry Lee, a Chinese American, is in the basement of the Panama Hotel in Seattle exploring recently-discovered possessions left behind by Japanese families when they were sent to internment camps. The items ignite his memories of Keiko, a Japanese American girl whom he deeply loved before she was sent away forty years earlier. Their story and separation are told in the historical storyline. The items, and the memories, help Henry forge a new relationship with his own son, and also open the door to dreaming of that long-lost love.  

I loved this book for the way it brought a Seattle of old back to life, but also for its sweet and heartbreaking love story. It will make you think about the choices you’ve made in your own life and the people who were left behind. 


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The Alice Network

By Kate Quinn

Book cover of The Alice Network

Why this book?

I admit, I can’t read too many books set during wartime because they are so heavy and sad. But this book, while heavy and sad, somehow feels like an exception. The two storylines of this dual timeline novel are set in 1915 and 1947 and are connected by the Alice Network of women spies who served in the Great War. In the latter story, unmarried and pregnant Charlie sneaks away to look for her missing cousin and enlists Eve, a sad drunk who once was a member of the Alice Network, to help her. Together they unravel the truth of what happened all those years ago when the network was torn apart and, in doing so, Charlie learns she has more control over her life than she previously believed.

I adored this book for the meticulous research and details from true history woven throughout. Unlike most war books, this one shows that women have held very important roles during wartime and their inspiring stories should not be forgotten. It also illustrates how some women in the past have had more agency in their lives than we often believe they did.


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The Winter Sea

By Susanna Kearsley

Book cover of The Winter Sea

Why this book?

This is a book that completely grabbed hold of me and held me tight to the last word. In 1708, the Jacobites came closest to succeeding in their goal of restoring the Stewart king to the Scottish throne, but they failed. Present-day writer Carrie is researching the events for her novel and finds an ancestral connection of her own to those involved. That connection, more an ancestral memory, leads her to uncovering truths long-forgotten and that nearly destroys her.

This book brings Scottish history to such vivid life, I felt after reading that I had lived the events. Many of the characters in the story really lived, too, which makes it all that much juicier. And, if you end up loving this book as much as I do, Kearsley has written two others that connect to this one (The Firebird – somewhat of a sequel, and The Vanished Days – sort of a prequel, more of a connected story). Be prepared to fall in love with these characters and Scottish history!


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