Past Tense

California Dreaming in Historical Fiction

Hi historical fiction fans!

Who else is looking for a brief escape from reality? I know I am. The books we’re talking about today should help with that, from titles on women working during WWI to surf culture in 1960s California. Let’s escape into the page for just a minute or two!

Ever wanted to be as up-to-date on new releases as the contributors here at Book Riot? Well, we might have just the thing you need. Book Riot’s New Release Index will keep you in the know about all the latest books. New books for days. Subscribe today — you won’t be able to read them all, but it’s fun to try! 

Bookish Goods

Pastel pink bookmarks designed to look like a carnival ticket with "admit one" on the sides that reads "Book Lovers Club" in red bubble font and features a quote from Virginia Woolf.

Book Lovers Club Bookmarks by Fleurs on Sunday

I love a good bookmark and these ones made to look like carnival tickets for book lovers are just too cute. $6

New Releases

cover of The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride (August 8, 2023)

A broken-down neighborhood that has long been a haven for Jewish immigrants and African Americans is rocked by the discovery of a body at the bottom of a well. The residents of Chicken Hill know all too well who it is and how it wound up there, but the story of how these neighbors had to come together to protect each other from white, Christian America is far more complicated.

Canary Girls Book Cover

Canary Girls by Jennifer Chiaverini (August 8, 2023)

As men enlisted for WWI in droves, the factories supplying ammunition were left empty. It’s women and girls who take up the call to “Be the Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun.” Even as they work in dangerous conditions and suffer from strange maladies, the women work to hasten the end of the war. But it’s only on the football pitch, as part of the arsenal ladies’ football club, that they can truly leave their worries behind.

For a more comprehensive list of new releases, check out our New Books newsletter.

Riot Recommendations

One of the new releases on my radar this week is first up for my recommendations, and it got me thinking about other books set in California. Here are three that explore different eras of California history, from the good, the bad, and the ugly.

California Golden Book Cover

California Golden by Melanie Benjamin

Two daughters of a legendary surfer pushing to make a place for herself in a male-dominated sport vie for their mother’s time and affection in this book about California surf culture of the 1960s. As one daughter becomes a celebrity surfer in her own right, the other finds herself swept up in the counter-culture movement full of drugs and cults. But through it all, Mindy and Ginger are connected by the trauma of their unorthodox childhood.

Frog Music Book Cover

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

When her friend is shot through the window of a saloon, burlesque dancer Blanche risks everything to bring her murderer to justice. Inspired by a forgotten cold case in San Francisco’s storied history, Frog Music is a tale of notorious women, dangerous men, free-loving bohemians, and murder.

China Dolls Book Cover

China Dolls by Lisa See

Set in the years leading up to WWII in San Francisco, three girls compete for a role in an exclusive “Oriental” nightclub, the Forbidden City. Grace and Helen are both Chinese American, but Ruby is only passing as Chinese. Her friends both know all too well she’s actually Japanese. So when America enters the war and begins interring innocent Japanese citizens, Ruby will be left wondering: which of her friends betrayed her?

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

If you want to talk books, historical or otherwise, you can find me @rachelsbrittain on Goodreads, Instagram, and Litsy, my favorite bookish social media app.

Right now I’m reading The Bookbinder by Pip Williams. What about you?