Past Tense

Nonfiction That Reads Like Historical Fiction

Mixing things up a little bit this week in a way that might have you going: wait, is this the newsletter I signed up for? Yep, it sure is! But instead of talking historical fiction, this week we’re going to be talking nonfiction that reads like historical fiction. And here’s why: good narrative nonfiction can read a lot like a novel. Let me explain.

I recently finished a historical nonfiction book about two powerful Merovingian queens (see the first title below) who carved out roles for themselves in the early Medieval Ages, shortly after the fall of Rome. It was so well written that I found myself devouring it more like a novel than nonfiction. And that got me thinking about how well-written historical narrative nonfiction can read a bit like historical fiction. It makes sense if you think about it. Authors of both genres rely on research and historical documents, to varying degrees, to depict historical stories accurately. They also both rely on some speculation and imagination to fill in the gaps missing in the historical record.

So if you’re interested in pushing your literary limits a bit with me, take a chance on these narrative nonfiction books. They straddle the line between nonfiction and fiction in the way they depict these stories. And, who knows, they might just surprise you!

The Dark Queens Book Cover

The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak

In a time when women’s roles were limited in society (huh, sound familiar?), two women rose up through the ranks, marrying kings and eventually ruling in the place of their young sons, to head up a rivalry–and a Civil War–that lasted for decades. Queen Brunhild of Austrasia and Queen Fredegund of Neustria were largely erased from history, but their legacy as founding rulers of the Franks lives on in these pages as Shelley Puhak recounts their incredible story and their violent plays for power.

For a historical fiction novel with some crossover with this one, try The Rebel Nun by Marj Charlier, which follows the uprising at a monastery by one of Brunhild and Fredegund’s nieces.

Last Boat Out of Shanghai Book Cover

Last Boat Out of Shanghai by by Helen Zia

Following Mao’s revolution, many of the thriving intellectuals and entrepreneurs of Shanghai feared what would become of their city–and themselves. What followed was a mass exodus, for those with the means to escape, at least. Through countless interviews, Zia pieces together the story of four young people facing the agonizing decision to abandon everything for an uncertain future as refugees. There’s Benny, a teenager who’s unwittingly inherited his father’s dark wartime legacy; Annuo, forced to flee with her Nationalist father; Ho, fighting deportation to finish his studies in the U.S. while his family struggles back home; and Bing, given away by her poor parents to be raised by strangers in America.

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The Dragons, the Giant, the Women by Wayétu Moore

In this memoir, Wayétu Moore recounts her family’s harrowing escape on foot during the First Liberian Civil War. But a new life in America isn’t always easy either, for a girl who is both Black and an immigrant. Told through lyrical storytelling and lush prose, The Dragons, the Giant, and the Women follows Moore’s journey to find home in the midst of upheaval, from Liberia to Texas and back again.

The Poisoner's Handbook Book Cover

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

For all the true crime fans out there, this historical nonfiction book explores the birth of forensic medicine in 1920s New York. A string of accidental and deliberate poisonings in New York City force chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler to develop new and innovative means of detecting poisons in the body. Told case by case and poison by poison, The Poisoner’s Handbook is like glimpse into the lawless days of New York’s past. And I just can’t get enough.


Read this piece about Frankish aueens Brunhild and Fredegund in the Smithsonian by Shelley Puhak.

Learn how author Henel Zia went about researching the refugees fleeing China’s Cultural Revolution in this interview.

“Wayétu Moore Escapes a Civil War in Liberia. In America, She Encounters a New Kind of Danger.”


Historical Nonfiction: 30 of the Best Books in the Genre

15 Nonfiction Black History Books To Read

50 Great Narrative Nonfiction Books

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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 Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. What about you?

Past Tense

Around the World in 8 Historical Fiction Books

Traveling without ever going anywhere is one of the great gifts books give us. I can just crack open a library book and learn about different cultures and places I’ve never been to and might never get the chance to visit. During the past few years, that gift has been especially comforting, as I’ve been forced to stick a lot closer to home.

So, I thought we’d take advantage of that vicarious travel this week to venture all around the globe with only eight books. These historical fiction books set all over the world will give you a peak into the history–both good and bad–of people and countries near and far. Travel back to the Reign of Terror in France or explore the Korean coast and countryside in the wake of World War II. Whichever destination you choose, don’t forget to pack some snacks and sunscreen and enjoy the adventure.


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Mademoiselle Revolution by Zoe Sivak (August 2, 2022)

As the daughter of a rich planter and an enslaved woman, Sylvie de Rosier is able to enjoy the comforts of a lady in 1791 Saint-Domingue society, though she’s never fully accepted by the island elites. As a rebellion sets off the Haitian Revolution, Sylvie and her brother flee to Paris, unwittingly moving from one society in turmoil to another. There, she catches the eye of Robespierre, who sees in her race and her abandonment of her aristocratic roots a perfect example of his ideals. But as Sylvie watches another deadly empire rising in France during the Reign of Terror, she is torn between Robespierre’s ideology and the love and freedom of thought she has found in another.


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The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazawule (June 28, 2022)

A Black couple fleeing persecution in 1960s America travel to Ghana where they hope to start a new life without the threat of an FBI agent constantly on their trail. But the country is in a state of political turmoil, and what Melvin and Bernadette hope will be their safe haven soon becomes a place of chaos, where their own relationship begins to crumble. The story is an intimate look into the lives of this couple as well as a tale at the intersection of the American Civil Right’s Movement and postcolonial West Africa.


The Old Drift Book Cover

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

The story of a nation is told through three generations of families on the banks of the Zambezi River. A single mistake entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy that will ripple throughout the generations in this sweeping novel of past, present, and future that blends fact with fiction and truth with magic.


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A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang (August 9, 2022)

Yitian has been estranged from his family for years when he gets an urgent phone call from his mother telling him his father has disappeared from their rural Chinese village. Struggling to navigate China’s impenetrable bureaucracy as an American outsider and blindsided by his mother’s secrecy, Yitian has to call on the help of a childhood friend to try to discover how his father’s past during the Cultural Revolution could be connected to his disappearance today.


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The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn

Goh Junja is trying to survive as the latest in a long line of haenyeo–deep sea diving women–as Korea struggles following the Japanese occupation of World War II. The new political climate, with an influx of U.S. troops and a creeping paranoia of communism, is almost as treacherous. Still grieving her mother’s death, Junja can scarcely keep up, but when her lover is accused of harboring communist sentiments, she must finally learn to adapt to the ever-changing world around her.


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The Three Pleasures by Terry Watada

Following the bombing of Pear Harbor, racial tension grows in Vancouver, British Columbia. The RCMP round up “suspicious” characters and the creation of internment camps in the interior is only months away. Narrated by a young reporter for the New Canadian, the only Japanese-Canadian newspaper allowed to continue publishing during the war, and told from the perspective of three people in Vancouver’s Japanese community, The Three Pleasures is a depicts a painful period of Canada’s history.


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The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Lilith, born into slavery in eighteenth century Jamaica, becomes a powerful force among the Night Women, a group planning to revolt against the plantation owners enslaving them. But on a sugar plantation rife with secrets, a powerful woman like Lilith won’t go unnoticed. And as she pushes against the bounds of what’s expected–and allowed–for an enslaved woman, she risks becoming a weak link in this desperate conspiracy for freedom.


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Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

In 1990s Colombia, a sheltered girl safe in a gated community outside of Pablo Escobar’s reach becomes determined to befriend her family’s new maid, Petrona, whose life has not been so easy. But both Chula and Petrona are caught up in a web of secrets, and as the conflict in Bogotá escalates, they will have to choose between sacrifice and betrayal.


Around the World in 80 Books

If You Can Only Read One Book Per Country, Make It This

The Most Translated Books from Every Country in the World

Go Global with These (Nearly) 80 YA Books Set Around the World

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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 True Biz by Sara Novic and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. What about you?

Past Tense

Asian American and Pacific Islander Historical Fiction for AAPI Heritage Month

Happy AAPI Heritage Month! To celebrate all the contributions and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, I wanted to highlight six incredible works of historical fiction from AAPI authors and about the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience. I always love finding ways to incorporate holidays, history, and current events into these newsletters to keep things fresh, so AAPI heritage month is the perfect excuse to highlight some of my favorite–and most anticipated!–books from AAPI authors. Let’s talk about them, shall we?

How Much of These Hills is Gold Book Cover

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

A Chinese American family tries to make it in the Old West as prospectors turned coal miners even as they’re constantly made to feel like outsiders. The story is told masterfully and out of order, beginning with siblings Lucy and Sam setting out to the hills to bury their father’s body and then traveling back in time to reveal their childhood and how their Ba and Ma first met. It’s a stunning work of historical fiction that I can’t recommend enough.

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Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

This National Book Award winning novel follows a seventeen-year-old girl living in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the age of McCarthyism. Not only is her father’s hard won citizenship in danger due to anti-Chinese sentiment, but Lily’s burgeoning feelings for her friend and exploration of lesbian night clubs like The Telegraph Club put her–and her family–in an even more precarious position in a time when not dressing feminine enough could get you arrested.

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The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Eight young Japanese women make the arduous journey by boat to San Francisco where they will become “picture brides.” Each section highlights a different woman, following them through marriage, birth, and the arrival of a war that alienates them even further.

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Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport

Family matriarch Pono weaves an epic tale of her family and Hawaii’s history for her four granddaughters, all of mixed heritage. It’s a story of triumph and tragedy, equal parts personal and political, that finally helps Pono’s granddaughters understand their heritage and their place in the world.

We Are Not Free Book Cover

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

Told in a collection of stories to give voice to the many young people affected, We Are Not Free follows fourteen teens who grew up together in the lead-up to WWII and are now being forced into incarceration camps in the country they were born and raised in. In a society determined to hate and suspect them, this group of second-generation Japanese Americans must band together to create community even as racism and injustice threaten to tear them apart.

The Picture Bride Book Cover

The Picture Bride by Lee Geum-yi, translated by An Seonjae

You’ll have to wait a little longer to read this book, but now’s as good a time as any to add it to your TBR. In 1918, Willow leaves her home in Korea to journey to Hawaii as a picture bride. She arrives, only to find her new husband didn’t want to marry her in the first place and the Hawaiian Korean community is divided over Korea’s burgeoning independence movement. If she wants to create the life of opportunity and plenty the matchmaker promised her, it’s clear she’ll have to forge it for herself.

Release: October 11, 2022

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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 Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. What about you?

Past Tense

May Historical Fiction You Need on Your TBR

New month, new historical fiction coming in hot to wreck your TBR! I always love seeing what new releases are coming out every month and sharing them with all of you. Maybe it’s a sadistic desire to make everyone else’s to be read lists as horrifyingly unattainable as mine (2,333 titles and counting) or maybe it’s just because I love introducing people to their next favorite read. Either way, here are six historical fiction novels coming out this May that shouldn’t be missed. Go ahead and add them to your TBR while silently cursing my name. Don’t worry; I get it.

the hacienda book cover

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

Described as Mexican Gothic meets Rebecca, this historical haunted house novel set in the wake of the Mexican War of Independence follows a woman looking for security after her father is executed and her home burned to the ground, so much so that she ignores the rumors about her new husband and his dead first wife. But Hacienda San Isidro is not the home she imagined. She feels watched all the time and her new sister-in-law won’t even enter the house at night. A local priest, who is more witch than man of God, is the only one who will take her fears seriously. But even his powers may not be enough to keep the darkness of San Isidro at bay.

Release date: May 3, 2022

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Mansions of the Moon by Shyam Selvadurai

Shyam Selvadurai’s Mansions of the Moon is a sweeping reimagining of ancient India which tells the story of Yasodhara, the wife of the man who would become the Buddha. He wasn’t the Buddha when she married him, though; he was just Siddhartha Gautama. But as his spiritual calling pulls him away from her and leaves their marriage crumbling, Yasodhara is forced to question how a woman alone in ancient India can get by–and how she might find her own spiritual enlightenment, even without her husband.

Release date: May 3, 2022

The Surgeon's Daughter Book Cover

The Surgeon’s Daughter by Audrey Blake

As the only female student at a prestigious medical school in the nineteenth century, Nora Beady faces constant scrutiny. Instead of bowing under the immense pressure, she teams up with the sole female doctor on-staff, and the two begin pioneering new techniques for a groundbreaking surgery: the Cesarean section. Success could mean saving countless lives and furthering the roles for women in medicine. But failure would be just one more excuse for the men in control of the medical field to keep women from practicing medicine.

Release date: May 10, 2022

The Last Queen Book Cover

The Last Queen by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Last Queen is the story of Jindan, a commoner who would go on to become the last reigning queen of India’s Sikh Empire. When her son inherits the throne at barely six years old, she transforms herself from the role of pampered royal to warrior queen, determined to hold the British Empire at bay. And though they rob the queen of everything she has in an attempt to break her spirit and quash a possible uprising, Jindan still manages to inspire her people through two wars and fight to her dying breath.

Release date: May 10, 2022

The Dance Tree Book Cover

The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The author of The Mercies is back with another historical novel, this time about an odd plague in 1518 Strasbourg. Women are dancing uncontrollably in the streets, but for a young pregnant woman just outside the city limits, it’s the arrival of her sister-in-law after six years of penance that changes everything. No one will tell Lisbet what crime her sister-in-law committed, so she knows it must be serious. But soon Lisbet, her sister-in-law, and her best friend find themselves pushing the limits of what is acceptable at a time when women are already dancing to a dangerous tune.

Release date: May 12th 2022

Our Last Days in Barcelona Book Cover

Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton

Chanel Cleeton returns to the world of the Perez family in this novel about Isabel Perez who travels to Barcelona when her younger sister, who has worked for the CIA in the past, goes missing. But apparently Beatriz and Isabel aren’t the first Perez women to spend time in the city. A mysterious picture of their mother sparks questions about their family’s past during the Spanish Civil War that could change their lives forever.

Release date: May 24, 2022


Read (or listen to) an interview with Isabel Cañas about her debut novel, The Hacienda, on NPR.

Author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni talks resurrecting a forgotten queen.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

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 Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation by Hannah Gadsby. What about you?

Past Tense

Fascinating Biographical Historical Fiction

One of the things I find fascinating in historical fiction is when real people’s stories are interwoven into the plot. There’s always an element of parsing fact from fiction when it comes to historical tales, and I particularly love discovering which elements of a story are accurate and which are of the author’s own invention. One subgenre of historical fiction which particularly leans into that fine line between fact and fiction is biographical historical fiction, or fictional accounts of real people.

There can be a lot of variation in how closely they align to the real lives that these people lived, with made up dialogue and narrative being added to create a story (this isn’t nonfiction, after all). And speculation is sometimes even more necessary with historical figures we have less evidence and first-hand accounts about (see: I, Tituba below). But regardless, these fictionalized biographies give us a fascinating glimpse into the lives of historical figures we might only know from high school history books, or perhaps even not at all.

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Fever by Mary Beth Keane

Mary Mallon was a courageous woman, an immigrant from Ireland who worked hard to climb up from the lowest rungs of domestic service into a role as a cook after discovering an uncanny skill in the kitchen. But you probably only know her as Typhoid Mary. There’s good reason for that, considering Mallon left a trail of disease in her wake. But there’s more to her story than that, and in Fever, Mary Beth Keane uncovers it alongside a fascinating look into the scientific breakthrough discovery of “asymptomatic carriers” of disease.

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The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong

In this book about the life of Greek-Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn, it’s the women in his life telling the story. From the tragic life of a mother forced to leave behind her son to the daughter of a former samurai who would eventually become his wife and literary collaborator. It’s the story of a migratory author whose writing about Japan offered the Western world a glimpse into a culture that was largely unknown to them, but also the women in his life who long for their own stories to be told.

I, Tituba Book Cover

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox

You might recognize the name Tituba as that of the first woman to be accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. As an enslaved woman, Tituba’s story has often been relegated to the sidelines, and little is known for certain about her life before she was brough to colonial Massachusetts by puritan priest Samuel Parrish. Maryse Conde breathes life to her story, mixing fact with fiction and reality with the supernatural to finally give Tituba the central story she deserves.

Island Queen Book Cover

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

Based on the incredible life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, Island Queen tells a sweeping story of survival and entrepreneurialism. Born into enslavement on a small Caribbean island, Dorothy Kirwan Thomas would go on to buy freedom for herself, her sister, and her mother from her Irish slaveholding father. But that is just the beginning of this remarkable woman’s journey that would lead to her becoming one of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in the colonial West Indies.

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Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini

I’ve always been fascinated by Ada Lovelace, daughter of infamous British poet Lord Byron and a mathematician mother, who would go on to become the foremother of computer programming. So no surprise, then, that a biographical historical fiction novel about her would be of interest to me. Ada Lovelace lived a truly fascinating life, from her mother’s attempts to keep her firmly away from anything that might spark the creativity of her Byron heritage to her introduction to Charles Babbage and his fascinating Difference Engine. It’s a deep dive into an extraordinary woman’s all too short life.

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Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

In the summer of 1950 in Iran, a young poet named Forugh Farrokhzhad begins to find her voice as a writer, even as tradition would try to hold her back. Farrokhzhad flees a suffocating marriage for an affair with a filmmaker, choosing to live her own life by her own rules, even as she is both uplifted and vilified for it. And as the Iranian Revolution causes upheaval across the country, Forugh Farrokhzhad uses the power of her poetry to inspire generations.

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Learn more about why Iranians both loved and hated poet Forugh Farrokhzhad in this New York Times piece.

How Monique Truong’s The Sweetest Fruits exhumes writer Lafcadio Hearn.

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 Dark Queens by Shelley Puhak. What about you?

Past Tense

Commemorate the Sinking of the Titanic with Historical Fiction

Just a few days and 110 years ago, on April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank on her maiden voyage from Southamptom to New York. As many as 1,635 passengers and crew lost their lives that night. Many books have been written about the tragedy, from firsthand accounts like the autobiography of stewardess Violet Jessup in Titanic Survivor to nonfiction about the ship itself like The Ship of Dreams. But there’s no shortage of fiction about the sinking of the Titanic, either. I’ve even read some time traveling science fiction novels that take a sojourn to the ship. And when it comes to historical fiction, for readers who really want to inhabit the past a la Rose and Jack, there’s some of that, too.

With the 110 anniversary of the sinking just past us, it seems like a good time to highlight some books that commemorate the stories of people who were–or might have been–on the Titanic that fateful night. With stories of tragedy and heroism, love and inaction, these five novels paint a picture of a terrible tragedy that could have so easily been prevented.

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The Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abe

Madeline is only seventeen when she attracts the attention of Jack Astor of the New York Astors, falling head over heels in love with the recently divorced war hero despite their twenty-nine-year age difference. Their relationship is highly publicized, and soon Madeline becomes a favorite new target for the press. It’s only on their honeymoon to Egypt that she finally finds some peace with her new husband. But on their journey home aboard the state-of-the-art ocean liner, the Titanic, the unthinkable happens. And soon, Madeline finds herself a widow with a newborn son and difficult choices to make about the future she wants to make for herself as the new Mrs. Astor.

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The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

On the night of the Titanic‘s sinking, one ship looked on. Onboard the deck of the SS Californian, Second Officer Herbert Stone watches eight distress rockets fired from the sinking ship. Despite raising the alert, Captain Stanley Lord does not come to the bridge. The Californian does not go to the Titanic‘s aid. The next morning, as the extent of the tragedy is laid clear, the two men do everything in their power to hide their role in what happened. But a determined journalist sets out to get the truth and expose the Californians deliberate inaction, whatever the cost.

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Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

The author of The Downstairs Girl brings us a novel about a plucky heroine determined to convince her twin brother to join her in America and give up his life on the sea, even as she hides her true identity from fellow first class passengers. Spending time with her brother below decks, Val sees the sharp disparity between the wealthy passengers and the lower classes and crew, particularly for those of Chinese descent like herself and her brother’s team. But when the unthinkable happens late one night, all of Val’s dreams of a life with her brother in America fade into one desperate aim: to survive.

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A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice by Rebecca Connolly

Only one ship answered the distress call sent out by the Titanic on the night of April 15, 1912. And even she was still four hours away when Captain Arthur Rostron got word that the Titanic struck an iceberg. Pushed to untested speeds and the very limits of its capabilities, Captain Rostron sets the Carpathia on a course toward the Titanic. But with freezing temperatures and not nearly enough life boats, will there even be any survivors left by the time the Carpathia gets there? Told in alternating views between the captain of the Carpathia and a third class passenger aboard the Titanic, A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice takes a new perspective on a terrible tragedy and an incredible rescue.

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A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar

You’ll have to wait a little longer to read this heist novel set on the Titanic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add it to your TBR in anticipation of its December release. A thief, an artist, an acrobat, and an actress team up to steal a jewel encrusted book that could be the key to solving all their problems. But when disaster strikes, they have a new objective in mind, maybe even more challenging than the first: survival

Release: December 13, 2022

The idea for this newsletter was partially inspired by YouTuber Max Miller’s recent series on the history of the food on the Titanic. If you’re not familiar with his channel Tasting History, you might want to rectify that. Fans of history that we are, I think many of you might enjoy his videos on the history of food and various dishes throughout the past. He carefully recreates dishes and recounts the history around them, and his passion and enthusiasm burst through the screen. He often talks about historical cook books, too, and other historical accounts, so that’s a double win for fans of books and history.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!


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 My Evil Mother by Margaret Atwood and Siren Queen by Nghi Vo. What about you?

Past Tense

Tantalizing Clues About A New Silvia Moreno-Garcia Book

Most of you historical fiction fans probably already have The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, the newest upcoming release from Silvia Moreno-Garcia on your radar. It’s coming out this summer featuring this stunning cover.

the daughter of doctor moreau

I mean, how could you not be obsessed with this book already? Like Moreno-Garcia’s bestselling Mexican Gothic, the novel is set in historical Mexico and blends together elements of horror, historical, and Gothic fiction. This time, though, she’ll be recreating scenes of the nineteenth-century Yucatán peninsula as part of this reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells. I truly can’t wait to see what she does with the story.

I, for one, am always excited to see any new release from Moreno-Garcia. So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across this little tidbit on Moreno-Garcia’s social media pages recently:

A new book? From SMG? This is exactly the kind of news I’m always eagerly waiting for! She’s a fairly prolific author and frequently has a new book coming out every year, so it’s not a huge surprise. But nonetheless, knowing we’ll be getting a new book from Silvia Moreno-Garcia in 2023 is still great news.

And, okay, that’s all we know about Silver Nitrate actually. Just the title and that one tantalizing little epigraph, as well as a tentative release set for 2023.

But digging into the epigraph does give us a few more clues. “Casting the Runes” is a short story published in 1911 as part of a English writer M. R. James’ collection of ghost stories. It deals with alchemy, the occult, and a cursed book. Which leads me to believe this might be a ghost story. Moreno-Garcia does horror really well as we all saw in Mexican Gothic, so that would be pretty excellent news, if you ask me.

Obviously this is all speculations and we’ll have to wait for more information to know anything about Silver Nitrate for sure. But in the meantime, it sure is fun to guess.


Check out this Reading Pathways on Silvia Moreno-Garcia to get more familiar with her books if you aren’t already.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

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 I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart. What about you?

Past Tense

April Historical Fiction That Should Be On Your Radar

Happy April, historical fiction friends! Despite some continued cold and rainy weather in my neck of the woods, I am looking forward to spring and nice, warm days of reading outside. And if you’re hoping for good reading to pair with the good weather (or, really, any old weather; let’s not pretend we as readers are all that picky when it comes down to it), these new April historical fiction releases might be just what you’ve been searching for. Many of these novels deal with family and belongings, as well as times of political change and turmoil. All of them feature fierce women making their way through the world, which is just happenstance, but what wonderful happenstance it is!

Pick one out, add it to your TBR, or request it from your local library and venture out into spring–and spring releases–with me.

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Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang

Set against the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1880s American West, a girl named Daiyu–named after a tragic heroine–is kidnapped, smuggled into America, and forced to leave the life she knew behind. Year after year, she is forced to reinvent herself, from a calligraphy school to a brothel, outrunning tragedy and desperate to survive even as anti-Chinese sentiment grows. As violence against Chinese immigrants grows, Daiyu is forced to drawn on all the pieces of herself to claim her name and her story.

Release date: April 5, 2022

The Lives of Diamond Bessie Book Cover

The Lives of Diamond Bessie by Jody Hadlock

Based on a true story, The Lives of Diamond Bessie recounts the life of Annie Moore, who became one of the sought after demi-mondaines in the United States. As a teenager she’s sent off to a convent for fallen women when she becomes pregnant out of wedlock, eventually turning to prostitution to survive. She garners many gifts from her admirers and even meets the son of a wealthy jewelry, who becomes her husband. She expects to find her salvation in him, but instead suffers the ultimate betrayal. But in this story set against the backdrop of the burgeoning Women’s Movement, how can a woman find redemption? And is the answer ever revenge?

Release date: April 5, 2022

cover of An Unlasting Home by Mai Al-Nakib

An Unlasting Home by Mai Al-Nakib

Three generations of Arab women, from 1920s to present day, face triumphs and failures as they forge lives for themselves in Lebanon, Iraq, India, the United States, and Kuwait. In 2013, a philosophy professor returns to Kuwait only to find herself facing accusations of blasphemy and the threat of execution after teaching Nietzsche. As she grapples with her place in the world, the stories of her grandmothers and mothers, whose fierce and fearless lives brought her to where she is today. It’s an intergenerational story of the personal and the political, but always, at its heart, a story of family.

Release date: April 12, 2022

Take My Hand Book Cover

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

A Black nurse in post-segregation Alabama, fresh out of nursing school and looking to make a difference, becomes a whistleblower to make known the terrible wrongs done to her patients in this historical fiction novel inspired by true events. When Civil Townsend begins working at Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she knows she’ll be making a real difference for women, helping make choices about their own bodies and their lives and what they want to do with them. But on her first week at the job, she’s shocked to find her new patients are children. And as she reflects on her career many years later, with her own daughters grown, she realizes that history is bound to repeat itself unless we force everyone to remember.

Release date: April 12, 2022

Forbidden City Book Cover

Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua

A teenager living through the 1960s Cultural Revolution in China becomes a poster child for the movement as well as a protegee and lover to Mao Zedong in this epic novel of modern history. At first, being a confidant and favorite of the Chairman seems like a dream for a girl like Mei, who dreamed of becoming the ideal revolutionary. But when a mission from Mao himself shows her the darker side of the latest stage of the revolution, she begins to question everything she thought she knew.

Release date: April 19, 2022

In the Face of The Sun Book Cover

In the Face of the Sun by Denny S. Bryce

The author of Wild Women and the Blues is back with a new historical fiction novel, this time set during the height of the Civil Right’s Movement in the 1960s. Frankie Saunders has always known her Aunt Daisy as a reckless and profane woman full of mysteries, but right now she doesn’t care what secrets her aunt is keeping, only that the woman is her best chance of escape from an abusive husband. But Daisy’s past as a journalist in Los Angeles in the twenties comes roaring back, and both women will have to decide what’s worth keeping of the past and looking forward to in this dual-narrative historical fiction novel.

Release date: April 26, 2022

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

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 Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li and Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda. What about you?

Past Tense

Trans Voices in Historical Fiction for Trans Day of Visibility

March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility, so I thought our last newsletter of March would be the perfect opportunity to highlight some books by and about transgender people through the ages. These four stories span centuries and identities to depict characters who profoundly impact those around them as well as the world they live in. From intimate portraits of found families to thieves and warriors determined to save their people, these stories remind us that trans people exist and matter on Trans Day of Visibility and everyday.

The House of Impossible Beauties Book Cover

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

The House of Impossible Beauties highlights the 1980s Harlem ball scene in New York City, which offers a safe space for LGBTQ youth searching for family and acceptance. Angel is new to the world of drag and ball culture, but after falling for a dancer named Hector, the two decide to form the first ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit: the House of Xtravaganza.

Summer Fun Book Cover

Summer Fun by Jeanne Thornton

A trans woman living in New Mexico begins writing letters to the mysterious leader of a quintessential sixties band, the Get Happies, that Gala is obsessed with. Her letters shed light on the band and the intersecting lives / identites of Gala and BB—- as the story unfolds in the present, with biographical retellings of the past.

Confessions of the Fox Book Cover

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg

With little else to drive him, an increasingly obsessive professor races to authenticate a eighteenth-century manuscript, possibly the only written confessions of an infamous thief named Jack Sheppard. Within its pages, the manuscript tells the story of an orphan named P, who longs to live as “Jack” instead and clashes with the newly established London police. P, who will eventually become Jack Sheppard, one of history’s most notorious thieves.

She Who Became the Sun Book Cover

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Described as part Mulan, part Song of Achilles, and often compared to The Poppy War, this historical novel with touches of fantasy reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s first emperor. In a time when the Mongols ruled China, a girl fated for nothingness takes up the identity of her dead brother who was said to be fated for greatness. Taking on his name, she decides to chart a new fate for herself: to take up arms against the Mongols and chase the greatness she was always meant to achieve.

A few other trans authors I highly recommend checking out, regardless of genre: Rivers Solomon, Akwaeke Emezi, Sarah Gailey, and Yoon Ha Lee.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!


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 Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean and Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica. What about you?

Past Tense

No Time to Read? Try These Historical Short Stories on For Size

I’ve always been a fan of novellas and short stories, particularly when I’m busy and the idea of finishing a story fast is really appealing. And this past week has been a doozy that left me looking for some great short fiction to occupy my limited attention span and reading time. My usual go-to for short stories and novellas is all the excellent SFF being put out from Tor and but a recent release of original stories from Amazon Original Stories –which include several historical stories–caught my attention.

If you’re having trouble finding time to read–or just want to check out some great short fiction–these five short stories from some truly incredible authors you might recognize are a good place to start. And I’ll be reading them right alongside you! Let’s check them out.

The Tiger Came to the Mountains Book Cover

The Tiger Came to the Mountains by Silvia Moreno Garcia

This short story from the Amazon Original Stories collection Trespass tells the story of two siblings on a farm in 1917 Mexico. Revolution has thrown the country into turmoil, but an escaped tiger poses an even more pressing danger.

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington Short Story Illustration

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djèlí Clark

One of my all-time favorite short stories by an author I consider an absolute must-read, “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” tells exactly the story you think it will. It’s also hauntingly beautiful and available to read for free on Fireside Fiction.

My Evil Mother Book Cover

My Evil Mother: A Short Story by Margaret Atwood

A single mother in 1950s suburbia may–or may–not be a witch. Her daughter isn’t sure. But what else could the strange plants in the garden be for? And why else would her mother be having all these hushed, mystical conversations with neighborhood women?

Everything My Mother Taught Me Short Story Cover

Everything My Mother Taught Me by Alice Hoffman

After being told to never say a word by her mother, Adeline makes a vow of silence. But when a woman vanishes without a trace, leaving Adeline as the only witness, she must learn to find her voice in the coming of age story set in 1900s Massachusetts.

A Righteous Man Book Cover

A Righteous Man by Tochi Onyebuchi

The author of Goliath and Riot Baby tells the story of a nineteenth-century British missionary on a trip to Africa. When his preaching is interrupted by encroaching slavers, the missionary experiences a crisis of faith that leaves him questioning his very humanity.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

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 Museum of Abandoned Secrets by Oksana Zabuzhko. What about you?