The best historical fiction novels that are NOT set during World War II

Why am I passionate about this?

I have loved historical novels since my mom first read Anne of Green Gables to me as a kid. They are the novels I reach for first and love the most. The creative glimpse into other times and lives is, to me, the most exciting reading experience. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I do. My latest book – The Sunshine Girls is a dual narrative timeline, set in the current day and the 1960s-1980s. 


I wrote...

The Sunshine Girls

By Molly O'Keefe,

Book cover of The Sunshine Girls

What is my book about?

The Sunshine Girls is about two sisters who realize their mother isn't who they'd always thought when a legendary movie star shows up at her funeral, unraveling the sweeping story of a friendship that begins at a nursing school in Iowa in 1965 and onward as it survives decades of change, war, fame—and the secrets they kept for each other.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Second Life of Mirielle West

Molly O'Keefe Why did I love this book?

Amanda Skenandore’s beautiful and insightful novel about a silent film star who was sent to live in a Louisiana Leper Colony in the 1920s. The book is rich and full of surprising historical details. While it might seem like a downer – it is funny and heartwarming, with a beautiful coming-of-age story and romance at its heart.  Absolutely fascinating.

By Amanda Skenandore,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Second Life of Mirielle West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The glamorous world of a silent film star’s wife abruptly crumbles when she’s forcibly quarantined at the Carville Lepers Home in this page-turning story of courage, resilience, and reinvention set in 1920s Louisiana and Los Angeles. Based on little-known history, this timely book will strike a chord with readers of Fiona Davis, Tracey Lange, and Marie Benedict.
 
Based on the true story of America’s only leper colony, The Second Life of Mirielle West brings vividly to life the Louisiana institution known as Carville, where thousands of people were stripped of their civil rights, branded as lepers, and forcibly quarantined throughout…


Book cover of Mary Jane

Molly O'Keefe Why did I love this book?

Mary Jane is a kind of a quiet novel. It lulls you into a false security with its lyrical prose and fantastic 1970s historical details about a teenage girl coming of age in Baltimore. She gets a job as a babysitter for a respectable neighborhood doctor – but the doctor is a psychiatrist hired to help a famous musician get sober. This book is funny and tender and sharp all at once. And it reminded me of my childhood.

By Jessica Anya Blau,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mary Jane as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The best book of the summer." -- InStyle

"I LOVED this novel....If you have ever sung along to a hit on the radio, in any decade, then you will devour Mary Jane at 45 rpm." -Nick Hornby

Almost Famous meets Daisy Jones & The Six in this "delightful" (New York Times Book Review) novel about a fourteen-year-old girl's coming of age in 1970s Baltimore, caught between her straight-laced family and the progressive family she nannies for-who happen to be secretly hiding a famous rock star and his movie star wife for the summer.

In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves…


Book cover of Such a Pretty Girl

Molly O'Keefe Why did I love this book?

NYC in the ’70s gets the spotlight with all of its grit and glitter in this extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking novel about a mother and daughter. It’s not just rich in fascinating detail about the time and setting, it’s a nuanced look at women’s sexuality and the price of fame and family obligations.

By T. Greenwood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Such a Pretty Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Perfect for fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid, Jodi Picoult, and Emma Cline, this vividly lyrical, evocative novel from the award-winning author transports readers to the gritty atmosphere of 1970s New York City as the precarious lines between girl and woman, art and obscenity, fetish and fame flicker and ignite for a young girl on the brink of stardom and a mother on the verge of collapse.

“A gorgeously written, emotionally resonant novel about mothers and daughters.” —Jillian Cantor, USA Today bestselling author

In 1970s New York, her innocence is seductive.
Four decades later, it’s a crime...

Living peacefully in Vermont,…


Book cover of When We Lost Our Heads

Molly O'Keefe Why did I love this book?

Heather O’Neill is one of my favorite authors. She lives in the nuanced and gritty places in relationships. She also sets her novels in really exciting and different time periods. I could pick any of her books, but her latest is so delicious. When We Lost our Heads is set during the turn of the 19th century in Montreal. It’s about two women from different economic realities and families – who forge a very unlikely, volatile, destructive, and important relationship. It is funny and dark and the time and setting are vital and exciting. 

By Heather O'Neill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When We Lost Our Heads as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Every decent friendship comes with a drop of hatred. But that hatred is like honey in the tea. It makes it addictive.”

Charismatic Marie Antoine is the daughter of the richest man in 19th century Montreal. She has everything she wants, except for a best friend—until clever, scheming Sadie Arnett moves to the neighborhood. Immediately united by their passion and intensity, Marie and Sadie attract and repel each other in ways that thrill them both. Their games soon become tinged with risk, even violence. Forced to separate by the adults around them, they spend years engaged in acts of alternating…


Book cover of The Thread Collectors

Molly O'Keefe Why did I love this book?

This novel set in 1863 during the Civil War, about two women – one enslaved in New Orleans, the other Jewish and living in New York City who risk everything for the soldiers they love. There is so much fascinating historical detail in this book - the war, the experience of Black men as soldiers, the brutal life of enslaved women in the deep south, the community they created because of and despite of the brutality. Northern free women and their domestic roles and limitations – the communities they built. It’s about bravery and needlepoint. Seriously.

By Shaunna J. Edwards, Alyson Richman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Thread Collectors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“An unforgettable story of female strength, hope and friendship. This collaborative work is magnificent—a true revelation!” —Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman with the Blue Star

“A brilliant story brimming with unexpected friendships and family ties. Historically sound and beautifully stitched, The Thread Collectors will stay with you long after the last page is turned.” —Sadeqa Johnson, international bestselling author of Yellow Wife  

1863: In a small Creole cottage in New Orleans, an ingenious young Black woman named Stella embroiders intricate maps on repurposed cloth to help enslaved men flee and join the Union Army. Bound…


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Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…


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