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Historical Fiction Featuring Remarkable Women

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Historical Fiction Featuring Remarkable Women

historical fiction women

Through their blend of fact and imagination, historical fiction featuring stories of real women helps us better understand the challenges these women have faced, and how they’ve fought to claim their own identities. These novels offer not only absorbing reads but also complex and compelling protagonists.

This Women’s History Month, pick up a story that showcases admirable and powerful women from different eras and walks of life.  Here are some recent titles available with your Livingston Library card.

becoming madam secretary

Becoming Madam Secretary by Stephanie Dray

Even before she became Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of labor and the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary, Frances Perkins was a tireless advocate for better industrial conditions, an end to child labor, and other social, progressive movements. She had an innate ability to see the humanity in everyone, from a struggling mother to a Tammany Hall politician. Bucking social conventions, she married late and kept her maiden name after her marriage to Paul Wilson. While her marriage had its ups and downs, she remained committed to Paul and supported him and their daughter when his illness rendered him unable to work. It was her professional relationship with FDR, however, that changed the nation. Starting with Frances’ graduate work in a halfway house, Dray dramatizes the epic life of this pioneering woman.

Belle Greene by Alexandra Lapierre

New York in the 1900s. A young girl fascinated by rare books defies all odds and becomes the director of one of the country’s most prestigious private libraries. It belongs to the magnate J.P. Morgan, darling of the international aristocracy and one of the city’s richest men. Flamboyant, brilliant, beautiful, Belle is among New York society’s most sought after intellectuals. She also hides a secret. Although she looks white, she is African American, the daughter of a famous black activist who sees her desire to hide her origins as the consummate betrayal. Torn between history’s ineluctable imperatives and the freedom to belong to the society of her choosing, Belle’s drama, which plays out in a violently racist America, is one that resonates forcefully, and illuminatingly even today.

The Brightest Star by Gail Tsukiyama

Arriving in Hollywood to become an actress, Anna May Wong discovers her beauty and talent aren’t enough to overcome the racism that relegates her to supporting roles and, over the years, fights to win lead roles, accept risqué parts, and keep her illicit love affairs hidden-even as she finds global stardom.

Disobedient by Elizabeth Fremantle

Artemisia Gentileschi, growing up in a family of all-male painters, dreams of becoming a great artist in 1611 Rome and completes lesson after lesson until a mysterious tutor threatens her honor and virtue and she is put on trial.

Diva by Daisy Goodwin

Goodwin brings to life a woman whose extraordinary talent, unremitting drive and natural chic made her a legend, Mary Callas.  With her glorious voice, instinctive flair for the dramatic and striking beauty, she was the toast of the grandest opera houses in the world.

first ladies

The First Ladies by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

The daughter of formerly enslaved parents, Mary McLeod Bethune refuses to back down as white supremacists attempt to thwart her work. She marches on as an activist and an educator, and as her reputation grows she becomes a celebrity, revered by titans of business and recognized by U.S. Presidents. Eleanor Roosevelt herself is awestruck and eager to make her acquaintance. Initially drawn together because of their shared belief in women’s rights and the power of education, Mary and Eleanor become fast friends, confiding their secrets, hopes and dreams, and holding each other’s hands through tragedy and triumph.  This is the story of two different, yet equally formidable, passionate, and committed women, and the way in which their singular friendship helped form the foundation for the modern civil rights movement.

Flight of the Wild Swan by Melissa Pritchard

Pritchard tells the story of Florence Nightingale, a brilliant, trailblazing woman whose humanity has been obscured beneath the iconic weight of legend. From her adolescence, Nightingale was determined to fulfill her life’s calling to serve the sick and suffering. Overcoming Victorian hierarchies, familial expectation, patriarchal resistance, and her own illness, she used her hard-won celebrity as a battlefield nurse to bring the profession out of its shadowy, disreputable status and elevate nursing to a skilled practice and compassionate art.

The Lioness of Boston by Emily Franklin

A deeply evocative portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner, a daring visionary who created an inimitable legacy in American art and transformed the city of Boston itself.

The Queen of Sugar Hill : A Novel of Hattie McDaniel by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

The first African-American woman to win an Academy Award, Hattie McDaniel, when the Oscar curse sets in, is thrust in the middle of two worlds–black and white–and is not welcomed in either but, through it all, continued her fight to pave a path for other Negro actors.

A Right Worthy Woman by Ruth P. Watson

Describes the true story of Maggie Lena Walker, the determined daughter of a 19th century laundress who was dismayed by the racial disparities in Richmond, Virginia and worked to found a newspaper, bank and department store where black customers were treated with respect.

sign of her own

A Sign of Her Own by Sarah Marsh

Inspired by a true story, Marsh describes the life of Ellen Lark, a deaf woman who became a favorite student of Alexander Graham Bell while he raced against Western Union to cast a human voice over wires.

No Better Time : A Novel of the Spirited Women of the Six Triple Eight Central Postal Directory Battalion by Sheila Williams

In early 1945, Dorothy and 800 African American WACs arrive at their post in England where they are tasked with processing mail sent to GIs from their loved ones back home, an estimated 17 million pieces, and with their outlooks changed forever, return to the U.S. as the catalysts for change in America.

The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West by Sara Ackerman

This extraordinary novel, inspired by real events, tells the story of a female aviator who defies the odds to embark on a daring air race across the Pacific.

The Woman with the Cure by Lynn Cullen

In 1940s and 50s America, where polio is as dreaded as the atomic bomb, Dr. Dorothy Horstmann, as some of the world’s best minds race against each other to find a vaccine, must decide what is forgivable, and how much should be sacrificed, in pursuit of the cure. 

The Women by Kristin Hannah

This is the story of one woman gone to war, but it shines a light on all women who put themselves in harm’s way and whose sacrifice and commitment to their country has too often been forgotten. A novel about deep friendships and bold patriotism, this is a richly drawn story with a memorable heroine whose idealism and courage under fire will come to define an era.

Archana ChiplunkarAdult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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