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The Best Historical Fiction Boooks of 2020

The Best Historical Fiction Boooks of 2020

By Read it Forward

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About the list

This list was curated by Friendspire on 2 November 2020, based on a list of books by Read it Forward.

Reading is one of those hobbies that tends to stay with you for life. Sure, we might start reading children's books like Clifford The Big Red Dog, but as we get older, so too do the novels we read. It starts with a modest book, then it progresses to young adult novels, biographies, and classics. Reading takes us out of our everyday lives and stresses,
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Soot

2020 | Dan Vyleta

The electrifying sequel to the national bestseller Smoke - bringing back readers to a world that Entertainment Weekly called Part Dickens, part dystopia, and totally immersive. The year is 1909. It has been ten years since Thomas Argyle, Charlie Cooper and Livia Naylor set off a revolution by releasing Smoke upon the world. They were raised to think Smoke was a sign of sin manifested, but learned its suppression was really a means of controlling society. Smoke allowed people to mingle their emotions, to truly connect, and the trio thought that freeing the Smoke would bring down the oppressive power structure and create a fair and open society. But the consequences were far greater than they had imagined, and the world has fractured. Erasmus Renfrew, the avowed enemy of Smoke, is now Lord Protector of what remains of the English state. Charlie and Livia live in Minetowns, an egalitarian workers' community in the north of England which lives by Smoke. Thomas Argyle is in India on a clandestine mission to find out the origins of Smoke, and why the still-powerful Company is mounting an expedition in the Himalayas. Mowgli, the native whose body was used to trigger the tempest that unleashed the Smoke, now calls himself Nils and is a chameleon-like thief living in New York. And Eleanor Renfrew, Erasmus' niece who was the subject of his cruel experiments in suppressing Smoke, is in hiding from her uncle in provincial Canada. What she endured has given her a strange power over Smoke, which she fears as much as her uncle. Believing her uncle's agents have found her, she flees to New York with a theater troupe led by Balthazar Black, an impresario with secrets of his own. There they encounter Nils and a Machiavellian Company man named Smith. All these people seek to discover the true nature of Smoke, and thereby control its power. As their destinies entwine, a cataclysmic confrontation looms, and the Smoke will either bind them together or rend the world.

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Code Name Hélène

2020 | Ariel Lawhon

This fully animated portrait of Nancy Wake . . . will fascinate readers of World War II history and thrill fans of fierce, brash, independent women, alike. --LISA WINGATE, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours BASED ON THE THRILLING REAL-LIFE STORY OF SOCIALITE SPY NANCY WAKE, comes the newest feat of historical fiction from the New York Times bestselling author of I Was Anastasia, featuring the astonishing woman who killed a Nazi with her bare hands and went on to become one of the most decorated women in WWII. Told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy used during the war, Code Name Hélène is a spellbinding and moving story of enduring love, remarkable sacrifice and unfaltering resolve that chronicles the true exploits of a woman who deserves to be a household name. It is 1936 and Nancy Wake is an intrepid Australian expat living in Paris who has bluffed her way into a reporting job for Hearst newspaper when she meets the wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca. No sooner does Henri sweep Nancy off her feet and convince her to become Mrs. Fiocca than the Germans invade France and she takes yet another name: a code name. As LUCIENNE CARLIER Nancy smuggles people and documents across the border. Her success and her remarkable ability to evade capture earns her the nickname THE WHITE MOUSE from the Gestapo. With a five million franc bounty on her head, Nancy is forced to escape France and leave Henri behind. When she enters training with the Special Operations Executives in Britain, her new comrades are instructed to call her HÉLÈNE. And finally, with mission in hand, Nancy is airdropped back into France as the deadly MADAM ANDRÉE, where she claims her place as one of the most powerful leaders in the French Resistance, armed with a ferocious wit, her signature red lipstick, and the ability to summon weapons straight from the Allied Forces. But no one can protect Nancy if the enemy finds out these four women are one and the same, and the closer to liberation France gets, the more exposed she--and the people she loves--become.

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The Words I Never Wrote

2020 | Jane Thynne

A chance discovery inside a vintage typewriter case reveals the gripping story of two sisters on opposite sides of World War II in this captivating novel for readers of Lilac Girls and The Women in the Castle. New York, present day: On a whim, Juno Lambert buys a 1931 Underwood typewriter that once belonged to celebrated journalist Cordelia Capel. Within its case she discovers an unfinished novel, igniting a transatlantic journey to fill the gaps in the story of Cordelia and her sister and the secret that lies between them. Europe, 1936: Cordelia's socialite sister Irene marries a German industrialist who whisks her away to Berlin. Cordelia, feistier and more intellectual than Irene, gets a job at a newspaper in Paris, pursuing the journalism career she cherishes. As politics begin to boil in Europe, the sisters exchange letters and Cordelia discovers that Irene's husband is a Nazi sympathizer. With increasing desperation, Cordelia writes to her beloved sister, but as life in Nazi Germany darkens, Irene no longer dares admit what her existence is truly like. Knowing that their letters cannot tell the whole story, Cordelia decides to fill in the blanks by sitting down with her Underwood and writing the truth. When Juno reads the unfinished novel, she resolves to uncover the secret that continued to divide the sisters amid the turmoil of love, espionage, and war. In this vivid portrait of Nazi Berlin, from its high society to its devastating fall, Jane Thynne examines the truths we sometimes dare not tell ourselves. Advance praise for The Words I Never Wrote "In sumptuous prose, Jane Thynne limns the lives of two sisters ripped apart by the moral choices they made in a time of war. Dramatic, fast-paced, and emotional, The Words I Never Wrote puts the interior details of women's lives in stark relief against the dramatic backdrop of Europe in World War II, helping readers understand the difficult choices that women made."--Elizabeth Letts, author of The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis "Haunting, taut, and compelling, this portrait of two upper-class British sisters divided by World War II is a kaleidoscopic story of love and betrayal whose characters are never quite what they seem. It will capture your attention immediately and keep you thinking for a long time to come."--Lynne Olson, author of Madame Fourcade's Secret War

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The King at the Edge of the World

2020 | Arthur Phillips

Queen Elizabeth's spymasters recruit an unlikely agent--the only Muslim in England--for an impossible mission in a mesmerizing novel from "one of the best writers in America" (The Washington Post) "Evokes flashes of Hilary Mantel, John le Carré and Graham Greene, but the wry, tricky plot that drives it is pure Arthur Phillips."--The Wall Street Journal NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AND THE WASHINGTON POST The year is 1601. Queen Elizabeth I is dying, childless. Her nervous kingdom has no heir. It is a capital crime even to think that Elizabeth will ever die. Potential successors secretly maneuver to be in position when the inevitable occurs. The leading candidate is King James VI of Scotland, but there is a problem. The queen's spymasters--hardened veterans of a long war on terror and religious extremism--fear that James is not what he appears. He has every reason to claim to be a Protestant, but if he secretly shares his family's Catholicism, then forty years of religious war will have been for nothing, and a bloodbath will ensue. With time running out, London confronts a seemingly impossible question: What does James truly believe? It falls to Geoffrey Belloc, a secret warrior from the hottest days of England's religious battles, to devise a test to discover the true nature of King James's soul. Belloc enlists Mahmoud Ezzedine, a Muslim physician left behind by the last diplomatic visit from the Ottoman Empire, as his undercover agent. The perfect man for the job, Ezzedine is the ultimate outsider, stranded on this cold, wet, and primitive island. He will do almost anything to return home to his wife and son. Arthur Phillips returns with a unique and thrilling novel that will leave readers questioning the nature of truth at every turn.

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The Book of Lost Friends

2020 | Lisa Wingate

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours comes a new historical novel: the dramatic story of three young women searching for family amid the destruction of the post-Civil War South, and of a modern-day teacher who learns of their story and its vital connection to her students' lives. Bestselling author Lisa Wingate brings to life startling stories from actual "Lost Friends" advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, as newly freed slaves desperately searched for loved ones who had been sold away. Louisiana, 1875: In the tumultuous era of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Hannie, a freed slave; Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now destitute plantation; and Juneau Jane, Lavinia's Creole half sister. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following roads rife with vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of stolen inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and siblings before slavery's end, the pilgrimage west reignites an agonizing question: Could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope. Louisiana, 1987: For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt--until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Mississippi River town. Augustine, Louisiana, is suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled live oaks and run-down plantation homes lie the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything.

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