Past Tense

Badass Women of STEM Throughout History

Hi historical fiction fans!

I’ve got some great new reads coming at you this week, including two new releases and historical fiction books about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Let’s get to reading, shall we?

Bookish Goods

White Library Card Sticky Notes with Blue Lines from Etsy

Library Card Sticky Notes from Peanut Butter Taco

Keep track of notes and to do lists in bookish style with these library card sticky notes, perfect for librarians and booklovers alike! $3.

New Releases

Light to the Hills Book Cover

Light to the Hills by Bonnie Blaylock (December 1, 2022)

In 1930s Appalachia, a young packhorse librarian finds herself taken in — and taken with — a local family who remind her of her own childhood and parents. But a secret from Amanda’s past could destroy the happiness she’s found here. And when the truth catches up with her, she’ll have to rely on the hope, forgiveness, and mountain justice of the new community she longs to become a part of.

An Impossible Return Book Cover

An Impossible Return by Caroline Laurent, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman (December 1, 2022)

Love, longing, and terrible secrets abound in this star-crossed love story set in the Chagos archipelago in the late 1960s. For Marie and Gabriel, the future seems bright after welcoming a son into the world. But Gabriel, secretary to the archipelago’s administrator, hides a devastating secret about the future of the islands that will change their lives forever.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

I’ve had NASA on the mind recently as they set out to return to the moon for the first time since the ’70s with the Artemis missions. Artemis will at last see the first woman and person of color to land on the moon. That’s history in the making, but women have been making waves in science — despite obstacle after obstacle — for as long discoveries have been made.

The Tenth Muse Book Cover

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

A young mathematician sets out to solve the Riemann Hypothesis, the greatest unsolved mathematics problem of her day. Her research into this theorem with a mysterious past also brings up questions about her own history and identity. Her parents are not who they seem to be — so who, exactly, is Katherine? It is a question that will have her digging into some of the biggest moments of the 20th century.

Her Hidden Genius Book Cover

Her Hidden Genius by Marie Benedict

Two men who were awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. But they were not the first to uncover the hidden double helix structure of DNA — Rosalind Franklin was. Her place in scientific history was hidden by the men around her, but her discoveries advanced our understanding of DNA forever. This is her story.

More suggested reading: Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini, The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict, and The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny.

That’s it for now, folx! Stay subscribed for more stories of yesteryear.

If you want to talk books (historical or otherwise), you can find me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Right now I’m reading The Cartographer’s Secret by Tea Cooper. What about you?

Swords and Spaceships

How Many Astronauts Does it Take to Woman a Spaceship?

Happy Friday, shipmates! It’s Rachel, your acting captain speaking to you one last time before Alex is back onboard again. I’ve loved getting to talk SFF with all of you and hope you’ve found some great new reads to check out. Because, truly, do we ever have enough science fiction and fantasy in our lives? (The answer to that should be obvious.)

Safe flying and see you among the stars!

Bookish Goods

Wooden Lightsaber Bookmarks from Etsy

Lightsaber Bookmarks from Quetzal Studio

Fulfill your destiny (and all your childhood dreams) with these awesome lightsaber bookmarks from Quetzal Studio on Etsy. $8

New Releases

The Red Scholar's Wake Book Cover

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

In a universe full of sentient ships and space pirates, the banner spaceship of a pirate fleet proposes an arranged marriage with a captured bot maker whose help the ship desires in finding out who killed her late wife, the Red Scholar. This book is set in Aliette de Bodard’s Hugo-nominated The Universe of Xuya series, which also includes The Tea Master and the Detective and On a Red Station, Drifting.

The Crew Book Cover

The Crew by Sadir S. Samir

Described as “Kings of the Wyld meets Deadpool” in an Arab-inspired world, The Crew follows a man looking to escape his past as a warrior-monk by working as a sword-for-hire and looking out for only himself until he’s recruited to put together a team of assassins to take out the Bone Lord of Akrab.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

With NASA’s Artemis mission and plans to put the first woman on the moon, it got me thinking about the history — and future — of women in space travel. During NASA’s Mercury era, the laboratory testing astronaut candidates sent one woman through the same Phase I biomedical tests as the other candidates, found she tested just as well, and wrote a paper proposing women might be better suited to space travel due to their smaller statures which, in turn, require fewer consumables such as oxygen and water. Sadly this didn’t lead to much at the time, but it does make for interesting fodder when you think of what could be — and what might have been — when it comes to space travel.

Here are three great titles that explore exactly those ideas, featuring women leading missions to the stars.

Goldilocks Book Cover

Goldilocks by Laura Lam

A team of women steal back the spaceship and the mission originally meant for them before it was taken over by a group of men in this dystopian, sci-fi thriller set on a spaceship. But it soon becomes clear that though their intentions are good, they might not all be on the same page with what their mission — and the future of humanity — holds in store.

The Calculating Stars Book Cover

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

In this alternate history novel, a meteorite has obliterated much of the eastern coast of the United States and the oncoming climate cataclysm caused by its impact will soon make Earth uninhabitable. Dr. Elma York is one of the scientists working to put a man on the moon, but she soon begins to wonder, with so many capable women pilots and scientists involved in the International Aerospace Coalition, why does it have to be a man?

Escaping Exodus Book Cover

Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

In contrast to the other two titles I’ve mentioned, Escaping Exodus is more space fantasy than science fiction. And calling the main character an astronaut might be a stretch, considering her people live on a biological spaceship among the stars. But she is nonetheless the heir to a matriarchal ship, and it’s through her leadership that her people will find a way forward when it becomes clear that their way of live is coming to an end.

See you, space pirates, and be sure to thank your co-pilots. My co-pilot, Kara, is practicing her tongue calisthenics in preparation for some Jar Jar Binks-like escapades at the dinner table.

a photo of Kara the large tan dog with a big grin and her tongue lolling out

You can catch me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Past Tense

Dysfunctional Families (Just Like Yours) In Historical Fiction

Hi historical fiction fans!

I’m home for the holidays this week and couldn’t be happier for some family time. All I have planned for the next few days is good food, good leftovers, and lots of reading. Whether you’re celebrating this week or not, I hope you all are finding lots to be thankful for.

If you want to do a bit of good in the world this week, I suggest checking out the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project.

Bookish Goods

Herb Bookmarks from Etsy

Herb Bookmarks from Another Studio

Mark your place in style with these gorgeous metal herb bookmarks from Another Studio on Etsy. $8.

New Releases

All the Blood We Share Book Cover

All the Blood We Share by Camilla Bruce (November 22, 2022)

This historical horror novel follows a family of serial killers, the Benders, who left their bloody mark on 19th century Kansas. Be sure to keep the lights on when you read about this horrifying — and real — historical family.

Angels of the Resistance Book Cover

Angels of the Resistance by Noelle Salazar (November 29, 2022)

To contrast a family of serial killers, how about a family of resistance fighters during WWII? Sisters Lien and Elif fear that war is inescapable, even before it reaches their home in the Netherlands. And while joining the resistance offers chance for a better future, it also could risk everything they hold dear.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

Holidays mean family and family means all the baggage that comes along with it. Just kidding — kind of. I mean, that is the joke this time of year, right? That the whole family gets together over a delicious meal and has to try to avoid all the various topics that could lead to arguments and landmines with herculean effort.

Regardless of whether your family get togethers are easy sailing or rough waters, you’ll find both solidarity and something to talk about over the dinner table with these historical fiction novels featuring complicated — and sometimes dysfunctional — families.

The Vanishing Half Book Cover

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

In a family saga that spans generations, two identical twin sisters find their lives diverging radically as one moves back to the hometown she always tried to escape with her Black daughter while the other passes as white with a husband who knows nothing of her past or her racial identity.

The God of Small Things Book Cover

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Another tale of twins awaits in The God of Small Things. Raised in an affluent Indian family, Rahel and Esthappen’s world is shaken by the arrival of their young cousin and by a growing tide of unrest. Amidst it all, the complicated shambles of their family provide some comfort. But soon, the arrival of Sophie and her English mother prove that all that they thought they knew can change in a day.

That’s it for now, folx! Stay subscribed for more stories of yesteryear.

If you want to talk books (historical or otherwise), you can find me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Right now I’m reading Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. What about you?

Swords and Spaceships

The Future of Food in Science Fiction

Happy Tuesday, shipmates! It’s Rachel again, acting captain while Alex is away, and I’ve got even more great SFF to talk about. Since I’ve got food on the mind with the upcoming holidays in the U.S., I’m sharing a couple of my favorite foodie SFF novels exploring the future of food. And this is no freeze-dried astronaut food, trust me.

Bookish Goods

Hobbit Swords Sweatshirt from Etsy

Hobbit Swords Sweatshirt from Rosie Katt Designs

Cozy up with this adorable sweatshirt featuring our favorite hobbits’ swords. $28+

New Releases

Snow Crash Book Cover

Snow Crash: Deluxe Edition by Neal Stephenson

This gorgeous new hardcover edition of Stephenson’s sci-fi classic features never before seen material. It’s a must-read for any fan of the cyberpunk genre, with a new cover that is sure to be a stand out on any bookshelf.

Star Wars Convergence Book Cover

Star Wars: Convergence by Zoraida Córdova

Who else is loving all the great new Star Wars books that have been coming out from bestselling authors in the last few years? In this one, by the author of Labyrinth Lost and The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, a Jedi Knight and the privileged party boy son of the Chancellor set out to uncover who is behind an assassination attempt that could destroy two warring planet’s hopes for peace.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving this week in the U.S., you’ll probably agree that a big part of the holiday is the food. So while you’re eating all the good turkey and sides, let’s consider what the future of food might look like with some science fiction books filled with futuristic ideas about dining.

The Sol Majestic Book Cover

The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz

Ever wondered what a restaurant of the future might look like? How about sentient dough, stasis cubes to keep food from spoiling, and a time accelerating machine that allows you to cook elaborate meals in no time at all? There’s so much more to this book than just food, including philosophy and politics and friendship, but the food and the most famous restaurant in the galaxy make it perfect for fans of foodie genre fiction.

Light from Uncommon Stars Book Cover

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Like The Sol Majestic, this novel is about far more than food. We’re talking a family of alien refugees, a renowned violin instructor paying off a deal with the devil, and a trans music prodigy who becomes wrapped up in their affairs. But it’s the donut shop that the alien family runs, featuring machines that create the perfect donuts, which earns it a place on this list.

See you, space pirates, and be sure to thank your co-pilots. My co-pilot, Kara, put on her fall best just for all of you.

a photo of a dog with an orange bow tie

You can catch me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Swords and Spaceships

Indigenous SFF Authors You Should Be Reading

Hey there, shipmates, and happy Friday! I’m Rachel, and I’ll be your acting captain here for the next few weeks as Alex is off traversing the cosmos. I normally handle Book Riot’s historical fiction newsletter, Past Tense, but (shhh, don’t tell anyone) SFF is my true love.

So what do we have in store for you today? New releases, bookish goodies, and some great SFF recommendations, including several Indigenous sci-fi and fantasy authors I think you should be reading.

Bookish Goods

a photo of a mug with a venn diagram of life, the universe, and everything, with 42 in the overlap in the middle

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything Mug by LikiLooPrintworks

Hold the answer to life, the universe, and everything in the palm of your hands with this fun, Hitchhiker’s Guide coffee mug. $20

New Releases

Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction; painting of a young Black woman in a yellow astronaut suit holding little white flowers

Africa Risen, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, and Zelda Knight

I love a good anthology, and this one — full of speculative fiction from African and African diaspora writers — is at the top of my TBR.

The Fall of Númenor Book Cover

The Fall of Númenor by J.R.R. Tolkien

Couldn’t get enough of the Amazon Prime Rings of Power TV show? This newly expanded edition of Tolkien’s writings about the Second Age of Middle-Earth should satisfy that craving.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

November is Native American Heritage month, which is the perfect opportunity to talk about some of my favorite Indigenous SFF authors who I think everybody should be reading.

Black Sun Book Cover

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

If you’ve been looking for a non-Eurocentric epic fantasy series, this one from Rebecca Roanhorse is it. Set in a world inspired by the pre-Columbian Americas, Black Sun is full of magic, adventure, political intrigue, and celestial prophecies. What more could you want? I’m also really excited to dig into Roanhorse’s newest release: Tread of Angels.

A Snake Falls to Earth Book Cover

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

Darcie Little Badger is one of my favorite speculative fiction authors. Her young adult SFF novels are full of heart and stories influenced by Indigenous storytelling traditions. And her short fiction — like “Skinwalker, Fast-Talker,” featured on the Levar Burton Reads podcast — is also excellent.

Future Home of the Living God Book Cover

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Erdrich doesn’t always write speculative fiction, but, oh, when she does. In this dystopian novel, a pregnant woman fights for herself and the life of her unborn child as growing fears about the end of humanity threaten them both. Her newest novel, The Sentence, also blends speculative elements with the real world in what I strongly contend is one of the best pieces of fiction to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even more Indigenous SFF writers to check out: Stephen Graham Jones, Cherie Dimaline, Daniel H. Wilson, Eden Robinson, and Jennifer Givhan.

See you, space pirates, and be sure to thank your co-pilots. Mine, Kara, recently stole some leftover Halloween candy and buried it in one of my plants for safe keeping. She’s a devious one.

You can catch me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Past Tense

Cozy Up With These Historical Mysteries

Hi historical fiction fans!

Do you ever read a book that leads you to another book that leads you to another book? I’m in one of those daisy-chained book trails right now. I recently finished reading The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum (which I’d been wanting to read for some time after reading her other book, The Poisoner’s Handbook). And after reading about The Jungle and its relationship with food adulteration and food safety laws at the turn of the 20th century, I thought, ‘huh, I’ve never read that — maybe it’s time.’

I started it immediately after finishing The Poison Squad, and I will say reading them as a pair definitely heightens the experience of both. The first half of the book went by in a horrifying flash, but it starts to slog on after that. I’m in the final bit now, getting through Sinclair’s lengthy socialist manifestos, and let’s just say I’ll be happy to get to the last page. Very happy to have read it! But also very happy to be done reading it. It’s probably partially my fault for reading the original version, unedited by the publisher.

Anyway, that’s my latest bookish adventure. On to the historical fiction recommendations!

Bookish Goods

Oxford, Freaking, Comma Mug

Oxford, Freaking, Comma Mug

Make sure everyone knows your stance on the Oxford comma with this playful mug. $14 and up.

New Releases

The Call of the Wrens Book Cover

The Call of the Wrens by Jenni L. Walsh (November 15, 2022)

In this novel spanning both World Wars, a young woman joins the Women’s Royal Navy Service (the “Wrens”) to train and deliver carrier pigeons via motorcycle on the Western Front. Her life converges with that of an automobile racer in the 1940s when women are called to become despatch riders once more.

The Lindbergh Nanny Book Cover

The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks (November 15, 2022)

A Scottish immigrant trying to understand the world of the East Coast American elite finds herself thrust into the limelight — and notoriety — when her young charge, Charlie Lindbergh, is kidnapped from his home. Betty wants nothing more than to find justice for the little boy that she adores, but in doing so, she will first have to prove she wasn’t the one who took him.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

Look, it’s cold and rainy/snowy (the worst combination?) and I want nothing more than to cozy up under some blankets with my dog. This kind of weather always makes me think of mysteries, and truly what better way to get through a cold, gray day than by reading a book full of thrills and suspense? Here are three that deliver on both counts.

Lavender House Book Cover

Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen

A down-and-out former policeman is brought in to help investigate the death of a reclusive family’s matriarch in the 1950s. Irene Lamontaine was notoriously secretive about her soap recipes, but that wasn’t the only secret she held dear. She and her family stayed hidden to protect themselves, but now they must let someone in. And Evander Mills is beginning to see that there might be more to life than nightclub trysts and desperate lies. But certain members of the Lamontaine family are hiding darker secrets. And Mills is beginning to think he might be on the hunt for a killer after all.

Widows of Malabar Hill Book Cover

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

In 1920s Bombay, Perveen Mistry has just become one of the first female lawyers in India. When she comes across a strange amendment to a will, she suspects the three widows living in seclusion after their husband’s death are being taken advantage of. When her investigation results in a murder, Perveen knows her suspicions were right. What exactly is happening on Malabar Hill? And will her skills as a lawyer and a women’s rights activist help her make it right?

The Plague of Doves Book Cover

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

An unsolved murder haunts the town of Pluto, North Dakota, generations after it changed the lives of the Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation forever. And in a reckoning during the present day, a part-Ojibwe girl, her grandfather, and a local judge come together as a wrenching truth is finally revealed.

That’s it for now, folx! Stay subscribed for more stories of yesteryear.

If you want to talk books (historical or otherwise), you can find me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Right now I’m slogging through reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. What about you?

Past Tense

Why Do All WWII Novels Look the Same?

Hi historical fiction fans!

I’m sampling fall all across the U.S. this year between my usual spot in the south and trips to Milwaukee, D.C., and upstate New York to visit family and friends. It’s been fun but exhausting, and I’m definitely looking forward to being home with my doggie and not going anywhere for a few weeks. I hope all of your falls have been filled with friends, family, and good vibes so far, too!

Bookish Goods

Cream colored tote bag with a red speckled triangle in the center and the words "Books & Wine"

Books and Wine Tote Bag

Perfect for you favorite book club or a trip to the local book store, this books and wine tote is just the thing you’ve been looking for. $21.

New Releases

Love and War in the Jewish Quarter Book Cover

Love and War in the Jewish Quarter by Dora Levy Mossanen

In 1941 Tehran, a doctor falls in love with the wife of the antisemitic Governor General who also happens to be the most powerful man in Iran. It is a love that will upend the life of the doctor, his beloved daughter, and their entire community, even as he fights to protect all the people he loves.

A Matter of Happiness Book Cover

A Matter of Happiness by Tori Whitaker

After inheriting her great-great-great-aunt Violet’s Jazz Age era Jordan MX car, Melanie Barnett discovers a letter addressed to her. Apparently her aunt has a little more wisdom to impart, and as Melanie reads about the story of her life during the motorcar boom of Detroit, she realizes that their lives — and quests to figure out modern womanhood — intersect more than she ever realized.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

I asked my sister what I should talk about this week in the newsletter and she mentioned a trend she’s heard about of WWII books all looking the same. And she has a good point. Rioter Ann Foster noted it in a post about WWII-era women looking away as far back as 2019. And there’s a whole Goodreads shelf on book covers featuring war time women looking away.

What’s up with this cover trend? My guess is that it lends a certain air of mystery to the subject of these novels as well as a sense of action in the lives of the main characters during a time of intense turmoil. Regardless, enjoy these three WWII novels featuring women walking/looking away and decide for yourself what this cover trend is all about.

The Last Rose of Shanghai Book Cover

The Last Rose of Shanghai by Weina Dai Randel

Aiyi Shao, a young heiress and owner of a Shanghai nightclub, hires a Jewish refugee to play piano at her club. His hiring causes a sensation, but it’s their shared love of jazz and a burgeoning feelings for one another that change things for good — especially as the war worsens and circumstances threaten to tear them apart.

The Half-Life of Ruby Fielding Book Cover

The Half-Life of Ruby Fielding by Lydia Kang

Siblings working for the war effort stateside discover a mysterious woman hiding underneath their back stairs. This woman, who has a penchant for poisons, quickly draws Maggie and Will under her spell, but she may be hiding deadly secrets. Is she a friend or a foe? And will befriending her become Will and Maggie’s downfall?

Sisters of Night and Fog Book Cover

Sisters of Night and Fog by Erika Robuck

Two women, one the American wife of a Frenchman, the other a crack shot with dual citizenship recruited by the British Special Operations Executive, become enmeshed in clandestine operations during WWII only to find their endeavors brought to a jarring halt when they’re caught and brought to the Ravensbrück concentration camp.

That’s it for now, folx! Stay subscribed for more stories of yesteryear.

If you want to talk books (historical or otherwise), you can find me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Right now I’m reading The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum. What about you?

Past Tense

Happy Native American Heritage Month, Historical Fiction Fans

Hi historical fiction fans!

Happy November! Spoopy Season is over and now it’s time to return to our regularly scheduled program of historical fiction sans witches and vampires and ghosts (except when I’m feeling feisty). I love a good historical fantasy or alternate history, but let’s bring things solidly back to the real world this week with some tried and true historical fiction.

Bookish Goods

Gold plated maple leaf bookmark

Maple Leaf Bookmark

I’m happy to use whatever is around me as a bookmark when necessary, but I can’t imagine a better — or prettier — way to save your spot than with this gorgeous gold plated maple leaf bookmark.

New Releases

Well Behaved Wives Book Cover

Well Behaved Wives by Amy Sue Nathan (November 1, 2022)

Newlywed Ruth Applebaum is a law school graduate settling into married life in an upper-class Philly neighborhood, determined to endear herself to her exacting mother-in-law. But Ruth is also fiercely independent, honest, and intelligent, and when she discovers one of the housewives she’s befriended is hiding a dark secret, she encourages her fellow classmates at the etiquette school her mother-in-law signed her up for to finally push back against the status quo.

Trespasses Book Cover

Trespasses by Louise Kennedy (November 1, 2022)

Set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a teacher who spends her nights filling in at her family’s pub meets a married Protestant barrister who’s made a name for himself defending IRA members and soon finds herself falling into an affair. She’s drawn into his sophisticated world, but when the father of one of her students is brutally beaten, it sets in motion a chain reaction that will threaten everything and everyone Cushla holds dear.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

Did you know that November is Native American Heritage Month? To celebrate, let’s read all the historical fiction we can from Indigenous authors, starting with these two.

When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky Book Cover

When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky by Margaret Verble

At the Glendale Park Zoo in 1920s Nashville, a young Cherokee horse-driver on loan from a Wild West Show must help her fellow employees get to the bottom of strange happenings going on at the zoo as lingering vestiges of the ancient past begin to manifest in the present.

Cherokee America Book Cover

Cherokee America by Margaret Verble

A prosperous farmer and mother to five boys in the Cherokee Nation West decides to take a stand as she watches the violence in the frontier community around her escalate. People are missing, her son is caught up in a murder case, and guns and gold are going missing. In order to save her community, Cherokee America Singer will have to help her community come together and face these issues — even if it means expelling one of their own.

That’s it for now, folx! Stay subscribed for more stories of yesteryear.

If you want to talk books (historical or otherwise), you can find me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Right now I’m reading Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: an Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang. What about you?

Past Tense

Well-Behaved Witches Rarely Make History

Hi historical fiction fans!

I’m visiting some friends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this week and we are taking full advantage of fall: apple picking, horror movies, and plenty of cider for everyone. Whether you’re enjoying cool weather and colorful leaves or a warm and sunny climate, I hope you’re enjoying these last few days of October!

Bookish Goods

a photo of someone wearing a red sweatshirt that says Verona 1597

Verona Sweatshirt

Who doesn’t love a good Shakespeare sweatshirt? Especially one that looks this good with plaid.

New Releases

Isaac's Torah Book Cover

Isaac’s Torah by Angel Wagenstein, translated by Elizabeth Frank and Deliana Simeonova (October 25, 2022)

Isaac’s Torah follows the saga of Isaac Jacob Blumenfeld, who grows up in Kolodetz, a town that belongs, in turn, to the Hapsburg Empire, Poland, Soviet Russia, Germany, and finally Russia once again. In order to survive the turmoil of the 20th century, Jacob becomes adept at playing the fool, a role he will continue to perfect from his boyhood in Kolodetz all the way until he’s accused of war crimes in a Siberian gulag.

Prize for the Fire Book Cover

Prize for the Fire by Rilla Askew (October 25, 2022)

A young girl in the time of Henry VIII takes her late sister’s place in an arranged marriage that turns out to be abusive. She longs for escape, but in a time of religious turmoil, a young woman as fiercely independent as Anne could easily pay the ultimate price for her opinions, her faith, and her connections to the queen.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

To wrap up our Spooky Historical Fiction for October series, we’re taking a good look at women who were accused of being witches throughout history. In the two titles I’m highlighting here, we take a look at the experiences of women of color whose outsider status — both inside and outside of their communities — resulted in accusations of witchcraft.

Conjure Women Book Cover

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Rue inherited her knowledge of healing from her mother, but it’s a gift that brings her close to life and death in her community. When a child she helps bring into the world is labeled “cursed,” the superstition of those around her threatens to bring her to ruin — especially as certain questions about her past and her connection to the white family who once owned them come to light.

I, Tituba Book Cover

I, Tituba by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox

Tituba, an enslaved woman of Indigenous descent, was one of the first people accused of witchcraft during the infamous Salem Witch Trials. In this fictionalized account, Condé creates a richly imagined take on her life and the choices and events that led to her fateful place in Salem.

More historical witch fiction to add to your list: The Wonderful Discovery of Elizabeth Sawyer by Jonathan Vischer, Circe by Madeline Miller, The Manningtree Witches by A. K. Blakemore, Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen, The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec, The Familiars by Stacey Halls, and The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

That’s it for now, folx! Stay subscribed for more stories of yesteryear.

If you want to talk books (historical or otherwise), you can find me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Right now I’m reading Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen. What about you?

Past Tense

Vampires Need Historical Fiction, Too

Hi historical fiction fans!

You ever have those weeks where you think you’re going to get so much reading done and then life comes and punches you in the face and suddenly everything is a struggle? Yeah, me, too. I’m battling a migraine, recovering from a nasty virus last week that I caught from my baby nephew, and frantically trying to get everything on my to-do list done before I’ll be traveling the next few weeks. Whew. I’m tired just listing all that.

Anyway, yeah, I’ve only gotten to a handful of the books I wanted to read this month and somehow it’s already the second to last week of October. How did that happen? But I’m always a big proponent of it not mattering how much you read, just that you read. So I guess this is me working on walking the talk, huh?

Bookish Goods

Gothic Author Illustrations

These illustrations of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and Edgar Allan Poe can do double duty as Halloween decorations and a gorgeous addition to your home library. $15.

New Releases

Lavender House Book Cover

Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen

In this book, described as a historical Knives Out, the matriarch of a soap empire dies leaving lingering questions about who in the insular community hidden away behind the locked gates of Lavender House might’ve killed her. An outside investigator is brought in to help solve the crime, but the family is hiding much more than a secret soap recipe and a murderer. And when your very existence is a crime, life itself becomes a criminal enterprise.

The Whalebone Theatre Book Cover

The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn

This historical novel follows a young girl from her youth putting on plays inside the ribcage of a beached whale to a secret agent in Nazi-occupied France during WWII, which takes her childhood playacting skills to an altogether more dangerous level.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but vampires are back in and that includes historical fiction, too.

House of Hunger book cover

House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson

The author of The Year of the Witching is back with a historical vampire novel about a young girl raised in the slums who finds a dangerous way out: by answering an ad in the papers for a bloodmaid. In her new position at the notorious House of Hunger, she is swept into a world of darkness and debauchery where bloodmaids go missing in the night. These halls could become home, but that’s only if she can learn the rules to the dangerous games the elite play before she goes missing, too.

The Gilda Stories Book Cover

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

This classic of 20th century lesbian vampire fiction follows a woman who escapes from slavery and finds a community of benevolent vampires who take her in as one of their own. It’s a radical exploration of Blackness, family, and queer identity.

A few other historical vampire novels to check out: A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson, Carmilla by Sheridan J. LeFanu, and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

That’s it for now, folx! Stay subscribed for more stories of yesteryear.

If you want to talk books (historical or otherwise), you can find me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Right now I’m reading Mademoiselle Revolution by Zoe Sivak, which I highly recommend. What about you?