The Rec League: Dual Timelines

The Rec League - heart shaped chocolate resting on the edge of a very old bookThis Rec League is from Kay. Thanks, Kay!

My catnip: books with two plots, relevant to each other, taking place in different time periods. An example would be Sarah Maine’s The House Between Tides or Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden. There’s usually a romantic element but they’re not necessarily romances.

Sarah: Does Susanna Kearsley fit, I wonder? It’s dual time line but sometimes the characters cross over or between the timelines. But if this person loves pairs of storylines that parallel each other from distant time periods that’s Kearsley 100%.

Nicola Cornick, too. The Phantom Tree would fit, and The Last Daughter of York. ( A | BN | K )

I just got an email about a book that fits: Mrs. Nash’s Ashes by Sarah Adler, ( A | BN | K ) which comes out in May: Just in time for summer, MRS. NASH’S ASHES takes us along for two romantic journeys set decades apart: a laugh-out-loud road trip romance and, a moving 1940s-set sapphic love story. In present day, former child-star Millicent Watts-Cohen is on what she believes to be simple a mission: hop on a flight from Washington, D.C. to sunny Key West and deliver the ashes of her elderly best friend to a long-lost lover. But when every flight in the airport is suddenly cancelled, Millie’s only hope at keeping her promise to dear Mrs. Nash is the insufferable—and ridiculously attractive—Hollis Hollenbeck.

Which books would you recommend? Let us know below!

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  1. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    Decidedly not a rom-com, but the first book that popped into my mind was OF SUNLIGHT AND STARDUST by Riley Hart & Christina Lee. A recently widowed man begins renovating a barn on his property with the help of a homeless ex-con he is allowing to live there. They discover a diary written by a young man who lived in the house 50 years before. Both timelines are m/m bi-awakening romances, but (big cw/tw here), while the contemporary story ends happily, the 1940s story does not—although there is a bittersweet reclaimation of sorts in the present day. It’s a beautifully written book that, I must admit, made me cry at the end. Highly recommended.

  2. Moriah says:

    Alexandra Walsh’s Marquess House series is very interesting. I found the concept to be very well done l. Of course Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series fits this to a T.

  3. Jill says:

    I came here to recommend the Pink Carnation Series, so seconded. Just remember that Mischief of the Mistletoe is solely set in 1803-04. That Summer and The English Wife, also by Lauren Willig, are dual timelines.

  4. Adele Buck says:

    Suz Brockmann’s early Troubleshooters series has a few books which are split between contemporary stories and a storyline from World War II.

  5. kkw says:

    I usually avoid this device, so idk if the few that I like would be the best at it, or the most disappointing from the pov of someone looking for it, but fwiw I adore the Brockmann Troubleshooter series.
    These more tepid recommendations are all pretty well known, but: I didn’t hate the Kearsley book I read although I didn’t read more of them because parallel timelines. Ditto Outlander. I love Schwab so I endured the Addie La Rue book. I thought The Bluest Eye was brilliant but I don’t know that it’s a book anyone could be said to enjoy.

  6. squee_me says:

    Kelley Armstrong does a version of this in the Stitch in Time series. I *loved* the first book, DNF the second. The series includes three books plus some novellas.

  7. Suze in NE says:

    Two I’ve read recently are The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (no real romance to speak of, and one timeline does deal with an unfaithful husband), and The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan – one tragic romance in the past, one lifetime platonic relationship (with dogs!), and one new romance.

  8. HeatherS says:

    Lauren Willig’s “That Summer” comes to mind. Also “Pulp” by Robin Talley.

  9. Carol S. says:

    The Alice Network; The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier; The 13th Tale by D. Satterfield; The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly someone; and Susanna Kearsley. Maybe Carol Goodman too? I think there’s a relatively recent Laura Lippman. I know I’ve read a ton of these and am blanking out!

  10. SarahL says:

    The Seven Sisters, by Lucinda Riley. It’s an 8 book series (almost complete, last one comes out this year). Follows six adopted sisters in a present day timeline with an overarching arc, interleaved with individual historic timelines as they each investigate their birth ancestry. Most of the books have a romantic element, though it’s stronger in some than others. They sometimes get a little formulaic but the historical timelines are very well researched.

  11. June says:

    I second Adele’s suggestion of the earlier Troubleshooters books for this (some worked better for me than others…)

    Personally I’m not that fond of “finding an old diary” as a driver of dual timelines, but am willing to make exceptions. So with that in mind: the YA novel Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly is a good take on this. The modern-day protagonist has a lot of issues; her counterpart navigates intrigue and tragedy in 1790s Paris.

  12. Lori says:

    The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. Kind of a end-of-rom-com. Contemporary MC is in London with her spouse, discovers he’s been cheating. She finds an old apothecary vial near the River Thames, the link to a series of murders from 2 centuries earlier. At the same time we get the story of those murders in history from that MC’s POV. Grabbed this in an airport and it hooked me fairly quickly.

  13. squee_me says:

    A bit different from the other suggestions but I think it fits this rec league: Inherit the Lightning by Bud Gundy. This is more of an intergenerational family drama with some romantic elements rather than a true romance. Not involving time slip or other supernatural plot devices, but through the present day character exploring family history in connection with an inheritance, it sets up a compelling contrast in the experiences of gay men in different time periods.

  14. Kat says:

    Possession by AS Byatt. Not technically romance genre but it’s very close, and a masterful version of this device IMHO.

  15. amyc says:

    Its an older book, but AS Byatt’s Possession does this, and the writing is beautiful. Not a Romance, but there is romance.

  16. Stefanie Magura says:

    Cat Gardiner’s A Moment Forever is a book I really liked which uses this device. The first time period is the early 1990’s, while the second one is World War II during the 1940’s. It starts when the heroine in the first timeline is gifted a house by a relative she hasn’t known was alive and doesn’t want to be found.

  17. leda says:

    Another vote for Possession. Many dual timeline novels I’ve come across don’t integrate the storylines well and sometimes it feels just like a gimmick but Possession could not have worked any other way.

  18. Kareni says:

    I’ll suggest The Tin Box by Kim Fielding which has a happy present day resolution but a sad story in the past. Both timelines feature a male/male romance. The present day leads find a box of old letters in an old insane asylum.

  19. Diane F says:

    The Secret Life of Sunflowers by Marta Molnar is a contemporary romance/fictionalized history novel that’s been getting lots of Book Club buzz. A fine arts auctioneer inherits a diary and letters belonging to Vincent van Gogh’s sister-in-law Johanna Bonger – the woman who inherited all van Gogh’s paintings when he died. Both women’s stories are fascinating.

  20. Barb in Maryland says:

    I can recommend The Paris Apartment by Kelly Bowen–alternates modern times with WWII Paris, with a satisfying romance in the modern timeline. I will gladly second the rec for Possession by AS Byatt, and for the Nicola Cornick titles. I’m a Kearsley fan, especially The Winter Sea and Bellewether. I also enjoyed Julia Kelly’s The Last Garden in England.

  21. denise says:

    I fell in love with Karen White’s books, many have dual timelines, especially the standalones:

    Flight Patterns has a WWII timeline, if that’s your thing.

  22. Andrea2 says:

    Does Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenigger qualify?

  23. Andrea2 says:

    And I spelled her name wrong. Audrey Niffenegger. sorry

  24. Melanie says:

    The House of Secrets by Sarra Manning. A present-day couple move into a London house and find a suitcase full of things that lead them to uncover the story of a woman living in the 1930s. I really enjoyed this when I read it a few years ago.

  25. Jcp says:

    I love these troupe!

    I recommend
    Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
    Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
    The Memory House by Rachel Hauck
    The Wedding Dress Shoppe by Rachel Hauck
    Next Year in Havana by Channel Cleeton
    The Gown by Jennifer Robson

  26. SaraGale says:

    It’s been awhile since I read it, but Labyrinth (sadly not with David Bowie) by Kate Mosse, has this type of story line. I can not recall snippets of the story.
    I have enjoyed this device here and there, but usually find I can’t get into the author’s next book with the same concept. Any many authors, like Mosse and Kate Morten, use this device repeatedly.

    The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan has the dual timelines/flashbacks. It was an interesting read.

  27. I adore Susanna Kearsley, and many of her books fit this rec. (A few don’t have a previous timeline — thinking especially of The Shadowy Horses — and as noted, some involve time travel for the main character, but many are pure dual-timeline novels.)

    Kelley Armstrong’s Stitch in Time series involves time travel, but is close enough to the rec theme that dual-timeline readers may enjoy it. I loved the first book, and haven’t read the second yet; I believe there are now four.

    I think The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope might work for this rec. It’s a YA in which a contemporary (as of time of writing; 1960s?) orphan is sent to live with her great-uncle in a historic mansion in New York state. The ghosts of her ancestors come talk to her, telling her their stories… which have some bearing on the present. They are quite friendly, and there’s a little humor, a fair bit of Revolutionary War history, and romances both past and present. (Although it doesn’t fit the rec, I also highly recommend Pope’s only other book, the Newbery Honor award-winner The Perilous Guard, a YA historical novel or historical fantasy (it’s kind of up to you how you interpret it) which takes place in Tudor England. It is also a Tam Lin retelling, with a dose of Thomas the Rhymer/True Thomas thrown in.)

  28. Another Anne says:

    Green Darkness by Ana Seton.
    Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine. (I think other books by Barbara Erskine also have dual timelines).

    Both Green Darkness and Lady of Hay have supernatural elements.

    Second the recs for Nicola Cornick, Susanna Kearsley and for Possession by A.S. Byatt. I also liked the historical parts of the movie adaptation, which starred Jennifer Ehle as Christabel and Jeremy Northam as Randolph Henry Ash.

    Some of Ciji Ware’s books also fit. I can’t remember specific titles now, but several were set in Cornwall and others in New Orleans and Mississippi.
    Lots of history in all of these books — which I like, but YMMV.

  29. Vasha says:

    Completely unlike most of the other suggestions here, but what about Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo? A short but powerful speculative novella about the making of history, in which a historian investigates the titular Empress and both timelines work together exceptionally well.

  30. Kay Sisk says:

    Thanks to everyone for all the wonderful suggestions! I’ll have to increase the size of my TBR pile. Again, thanks.

  31. Alli says:

    Not exactly a romance AND it requires reading the first book (Gideon the Ninth) to fully understand it, but Harrow the Ninth does the “two time lines” thing brilliantly. Series written by Tamsyn Muir.

    Also not exactly a romance, but Fifth Season by NM Jemisin pulls off three timelines in amazingly accomplished fashion.

  32. Oh, I thought of another one! The Middle Window, written in 1935 by Elizabeth Goudge (not Eileen). The MC, Judy, is staying in an old house in Scotland, with her parents and fiance (I think.) Something about the house and surroundings seems very familiar to her. She then has a series of dreams (or memories) about a Judith who lived in the house centuries earlier. It’s not time travel, but she experiences Judith’s life. It’s not one of Goudge’s best books, but I have enjoyed it several times.

  33. Kathryn says:

    For romance would Emily Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation count?

    Barbara Metz (pen names Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters) had many novels where the contemporary couple would be investigating a historical event and end up having flashbacks or being haunted by fragments of that past timeline. Most of these books (e.g., Ammie Come Home, Wait for What Will Come, The Sea King’s Daughter) were published under Barbara Michaels (which tended to be the name she published her more “gothic” novels) and the past timeline tended to be much less developed than than the present timeline. Michaels did publish one true dual timeline novel, Patriot’s Dream, published in 1976. It was set in Williamsburg, VA during the present (that is, the summer of the US Bicentennial) and during the American Revolution. I’m not sure how well it has aged.

    Not romances but Connie Willis also did dual timelines in her time-travelling science fiction novels: Doomsday Book, All Clear/Blackout. Also not romances but with multiple timelines and/or parallel timelines:
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell; Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doer; and Brit Bennet’s The Vanishing Half;

    And yes to Byatt’s Possession, Pope’s Sherwood Ring, Jemisin’s Fifth Season.

  34. Kareni says:

    I just remembered an old favorite that might fit ~ Jacqueline Marten’s Dream Walker; it was published in 1987.

    “Amaryllis Scott, a young artist, falls in love with a man she is convinced is the reincarnation of Captain Henry Bayard de Croix, who was her lover during the Revolutionary War.”

  35. Lucy says:

    I’ll add my voice to the chorus praising Possession, and add a recommendation for Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong. While not written within the romance genre, Birdsong features a sexy, sensual romance narrative set before and around WWI, and a really interesting second timeline arc featuring a female protagonist deciding what to do about the economic and sexual opportunities afforded to her by the 1970s. I also think it’s a book about the nature of personal and historical memory, but it’s not philosophically heavy-handed.

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