I read a total of 48 books in 2019. I know, I know, that sounds like a lot to some of you, but I’ve read about 10 fewer books each year from 2016. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read, but I think life sometimes just gets in the way. I suspect after the Covid-19 hibernation is finally done, my totals for 2020 will be a lot higher. I enjoy reading as a means to relax and escape. Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine and I tend to read quite a few. Of the 48 books I read in 2019, 20 of them were historical fiction. I have a few favorite authors of historical fiction whose new releases I always look forward to reading. Here are some of my top historical fiction reads from 2019.
Best Historical Fiction
Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen
1960’s NYC, what’s not to love? Ms. Rosen has created a real and likable protagonist in Alice Weiss. Alice is a simple, straightforward, Midwestern girl from Youngstown, OH, but she’s got smarts and savvy in spades – enough to help her conquer gritty NYC. She lands a job at Cosmopolitan with the help of her deceased mother’s friend. Alice finds herself working as the personal assistant/secretary to Helen Gurley Brown, of Sex and the Single Girl fame who has just landed at the helm of Cosmo. Almost immediately Alice’s integrity is put to the challenge by “Don Juan” of the office, Erik. I liked that Alice did not let herself get intimidated. She’s got spunk! The story offered excellent insight into the life of a working girl in 1960’s New York, the man’s world of a mega-publisher such as Hearst and magazine such as Cosmo with a woman at the lead.
As I read, I could imagine all the drama, photoshoots, article and cover ideas and scandal, I certainly remember reading those covers as a teen and imagining what adult life was like The complete cast of characters Ms. Rosen has created just completed the story.
The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey
I love reading about little known parts of history and The Beantown Girls delivers on that. The story centers on Red Cross Clubmobile girls in WWII. Three friends from Boston join up and get sent off to Europe to boost the morale of the troops while delivering coffee and donuts. Fiona has an ulterior motive for joining, she hopes to find out what happened to her fiance who is listed as MIA.
The characters were all so well written and realistic. I loved their distinctive personalities. Dottie, a talented musician who overcomes her shyness to entertain the servicemen while working hard as a Clubmobile girl. Viviana. a plucky former secretary whose personality and looks have all the guys falling all over themselves to catch her eye, but will she fall for the Brit who’s a Cary Grant look-alike? You’ll have to read to find out the girls’ adventures. I loved how the tension built as the girls end up close to the action on the front. There’s just a touch of romance to round things out.
I also recommend The Saturday Evening Girls Club by Jane Healey. She’s also currently working on a new book.
A Promise Given by Michelle Cox
is the third book in the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series. It’s a bit of mystery and romance. The series starts with Henrietta Von Harmon in 1935 Chicago working to support her widowed mother and seven siblings as a taxi dancer. She gets embroiled in a police investigation involving the Mob and her missing friend Polly. Inspector Clive Howard is overseeing the case and he ends up smitten with Henrietta.
Book 2 finds Clive and Henrietta engaged. We begin to learn a bit more about Clive and his life outside of the police and back at his family home Highbury in upscale Chicago suburb of Winnetka.
Book 3, the couple marries and heads off to the English countryside for a honeymoon with Clive’s uncle. When a man in the village is murdered, Clive’s cousin comes under suspicion, Henrietta and Clive try to investigate and prove his innocence. The author has done an excellent job of keeping the supporting characters throughout the series, a hallmark of any successful series.
The Beautiful Strangers by Camille Di Maio
So much to love in this book! The setting is beautiful Southern California, the Hotel Del Coronado in the glamorous 1950’s. There are movie stars, mystery, romance, and a ghost. Kate Morgan is from a hard-working San Francisco restaurant family. She is looking for an escape, but is not sure how to make it happen. Her grandpa has been filling her mind with stories of Southern California, telling her to find the beautiful stranger. How can Kate go down there on the whim of an old man? Kate does just that, pawning the only thing her family has of value, her grandma’s wedding ring. She lands a job at the Hotel Del.
The author has woven a delightful tale that will have you turning the pages to find out the answers to several mysteries. Kate gets to meet a few movie stars who are filming at the hotel, Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe. I loved how Marilyn was portrayed. I’ve always had a soft spot for her, and to have Marilyn help Kate on her quest to find the beautiful stranger was genius. I truly felt transported to Coronado Island and the Hotel Del with Camille’s descriptive writing.
Meet Me in Monaco by Heather Webb & Hazel Gaynor
Get ready to jet off to the Cote d’Azur and drown yourself in its scents and sunshine. No need to spend a fortune getting to the French Riviera, this book will take you there within its pages.
I have long been a Grace Kelly fan and I adored the way Ms. Webb and Ms. Gaynor wove her story into that of fictional characters Sophie and James. The story unfolds with a serendipitous meeting of Grace and Sophie at Sophie’s perfumerie. Grace ends up hiding from news photographer James’ flashbulbs. James is quite taken with Sophie, but she has a boyfriend. Just as their relationship sparks, James ends up recalled to London. James and Sophie find themselves together again when he returns to the area to cover the wedding of Grace and Ranier. Their romance blooms as Sophie struggles to keep Duval Perfumerie out of debt and she tries to figure out what to do about her boyfriend.
The character of Grace Kelly is drawn just as I imagined she would have been, friendly, down to earth, but able to turn on the glamour. I shed a few tears at the ending. You’ll find yourself looking up old pictures online, watching vintage clips of the royal wedding and yearning to watch all of Grace Kelly’s movies.
Heather Webb is a Francophile, so many of her books are set in France. The Phantom’s Apprentice, a re-imagining of The Phantom of the Opera, was a favorite of mine. I’ve also been reading Hazel Gaynor since her debut, The Girl Who Came Home, but my favorite is The Girl From the Savoy. Ms. Webb and Ms. Gaynor collaborated before on two other historical fiction novels, Last Christmas in Paris and Fall of Poppies, both of which focus on WWI.