Escape reality with my favorite time travel books. Don’t miss this stack with time loops, parallel lives, Groundhog’s Day themes, and multiverses.
If there is one genre I’m a sucker for, it is time travel, and I’m not the only one obsessed with books about time.
From H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” to Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” time travel books have been a popular genre in literature for a long time. In these books, authors explore the idea of traveling through time, either backward or forwards, and the potential consequences of it.
On the Book Gang podcast, we invited our first time travel writer to share the challenges of writing time travel. Cesca Major decided to tackle the trickiest literary time machine genres to write- the Groundhog Day story.
She shares her strategies to keep readers engaged and how she used her background writing thrillers to build in a clue sequence. You can learn more about her debut novel below!
Listen to the full episode (the show notes are located here) below and subscribe to the Book Gang podcast for more episodes like this one.
Over the years, I’ve taken so many thrilling adventures through time, exploring the history and alternative timelines. Whether you’re a fan of science fiction, historical fiction, or romance, there’s a time travel book out there for you. So, fasten your seatbelts and prepare to embark on a journey through time!
This month we will be delving deeper into the world of time travel books and exploring some of the best titles written on the subject, including my favorite under-the-radar book gems I’ve found for you.
One important note that I want to stress about today’s list is that I have read EVERY SINGLE ONE of these books. As this list is updated, it will only highlight my list of tried-and-true selections. At the end of today’s post, I’ve also included our book club member favorites for browsing today.
In this novel, Emma is trapped in a never-ending Monday, reliving the same day repeatedly as she tries to save her husband and keep her family and work life from falling apart.
On the first Monday of our story, Emma is wrapping up another harried day of obligations and comes home to an angry husband. Dan has lovingly prepared an anniversary dinner and wrote the annual letter they will give each other on this special day.
The problem is that Emma has entirely forgotten the day's celebration and many previous celebration days, along with this symbolic letter of their year together. After this fight, Dan takes the dog for a walk and gets hit by a car.
When Emma goes to bed, Dan is dead and gone. But when she wakes up, he is alive.
This cycle repeats as Emma tries to keep Dan alive or tune into what the Universe is trying to tell her on this never-ending Monday.
Major weaves in relatable text message threads that become increasingly funnier as Emma stops caring about the nonsense and becomes singularly focused on her family.
For readers that love a bookish theme, Major weaves in intelligent and insightful commentary on Emma's demanding role as a literary agent and the authors she is juggling. As new authors make increasing demands on her time, tiny bits of the literary world spill onto pages. These sections were quite juicy about the experience with writers, reviewers, and agents.
This book's ending offers a savvy plot twist that I audibly gasped out loud- it is so, so good! Don't miss this fantastic novel or the author's interview on the Book Gang podcast (linked above) as she discusses the challenges of writing a great time travel story.
Agatha Christie mystery fans will adore this fun debut. In fact, one of our book club members shared that this is the first book she has ever read that REALLY delivered on these rich comparisons.
There are three rules of Blackheath House:
Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you tell us the killer's name.
Readers know that Evelyn Hardcastle will die. She will die daily until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. Aiden finds himself waking up in a different body and repeating the day repeatedly, armed with new information when he wakes.
Some of his hosts help him, while others make his job very hard. Leaving clues for himself to find, he must win the game to leave the property...but that's what everyone else wants to do. It will be a fight to the dramatic finish.
Turton crafts some unlikeable characters and creates beautiful tension when Aiden has to fight the impulses of the body he inhabits. His confusion is the reader's confusion, too, so the story keeps the reader on their toes.
I recommend reading this in paper copy to ensure you can access the map and cast of characters to assemble your game of Clue as you solve the case.
Craving a young adult time travel escape? I've been on a Lynn Painter kick, and this adorable story is so much fun on audiobook.
This story follows a teenage girl who endures the worst Valentine’s Day imaginable, only to find herself reliving it repeatedly.
Emilie is a straight-A student and a meticulous planner with a penchant for checklists. She has carefully chosen her boyfriend, Josh because he ticks all the right boxes, and she is determined not to fail in relationships as her parents did.
But on Valentine's Day, Emilie's carefully constructed life begins to unravel. She crashes her car into her brooding and handsome lab partner Nick, who reluctantly gives her a ride to school. Then she receives the devastating news that her coveted summer fellowship in Chicago has been taken away. And to top it all off, she catches Josh kissing his ex-girlfriend.
After returning home in tears, Emilie's father reveals something that will change their lives forever. Seeking solace, Emilie escapes to her grandmother's house, hoping this dreadful day will end soon. However, she soon realizes she is trapped in a never-ending time loop, reliving the same terrible day repeatedly.
How long can Emilie endure her life going up in flames? And when something positive finally emerges from these dreadful days, what happens when the Universe ceases to grant do-overs?
Have you ever wondered how far you would go to save the life of someone you love? Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke are a writing duo that I have come to appreciate over the years, and I even interviewed them to learn more about their creative process on the blog. This exploration continues their fantastic writing journey through this Groundhog Day time travel story.
Dom's day is going terribly wrong, and there is no escaping it. After bumping into his ex-fiancée, Mia, whom he hasn't seen in years, he believes they have been given a second chance and asks her out. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes on their date, and Mia dies.
In a desperate move, Dom makes a wish to save her life, and to his surprise, wakes up the next morning to find her alive. However, no matter how much he changes their time together, Mia still meets a tragic end every day.
Dom frantically searches for answers to save Mia and rekindle their love, but the more he digs, the more obsessed he becomes. As he confronts the truth about himself and those closest to him, he realizes that slowing down time may be the only way to see things.
This novel will leave you on the edge of your seat. It also has a great romance, a touch of magic, and profound truths that are easy to devour.
Like many readers, The Time Traveler’s Wife was my first dip into this trope. I still vividly remember my emotional reaction to the storyline and how much it moved me.
This beautifully written novel explores the unconventional love story between Henry, a man with a rare genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and his wife Clare, who must learn to navigate life with a partner constantly disappearing and reappearing in different times and places.
Henry's altered timeline can change the past, but doing so has unpredictable and often negative consequences for the future.
For the record, it’s hard to classify if this is a time loop book, but we don’t have a category for how Henry lives his life out of chronological order. This involuntary time travel experience is what makes this so captivating.
Niffenegger weaves together the intricacies of time travel with the emotional depth of the characters' relationship, making this a beloved favorite for any time travel enthusiast. I still count this among my favorite reads of all time
There are nine months in pregnancy and nine alternate lives in this story of a woman who imagines a life without kids and allows her to explore a world with and without motherhood in this profoundly moving book club selection.
Rose is an academic who loves her career, but her husband's one request is that she give that up to pursue having a child with him. The opening sequence begins with a fight about prenatal vitamins, and in each variation, Rose approaches this life challenge with a different answer or outcome.
In each of her nine lives, her story unfolds in different ways, showing the reader the consequences of our biggest decisions and how our lives can change unexpectedly. The novel explores reinventing oneself and becoming entirely new, even when we think we know who we are.
As Rose navigates love, loss, betrayal, divorce, death, and her career, she ultimately learns that life is full of surprises and that fate can intervene when we least expect it.
Jason Dessen is heading home on a cold Chicago night, anticipating a peaceful evening with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie.
Suddenly, everything changes when a masked stranger knocks him out and says these final words, "Are you content with your existence?"
When he awakens, Jason's life is not the one he recognizes in this new reality. His wife is not his wife. His son has never existed. And Jason is not just a regular physics professor but a celebrated genius who has accomplished something remarkable.
Is it the reality he remembers, or the other one that's a figment of his imagination?
And even if the world he remembers is real, how can Jason ever return to his loved family?
The solutions lie in a journey that is both incredible and deeply complex, which will compel him to confront the darkest aspects of himself as he fights against a terrifying, almost invincible enemy. Don't miss this science fiction thriller for your stack.
Kate Waithman never thought she would find love again after the sudden death of her husband over a decade ago, but now she's preparing to walk down the aisle with a kind and loving man. However, Kate feels less than excited about the impending nuptials, initially attributing it to stress and lack of sleep.
When her husband visits her in her dreams, though, she begins to fall into an alternate universe where the lines between reality and imagination are blurred.
Kate's journey takes her on a renewed path of self-discovery as she balances the line between reality and dreams, ultimately leading her to a sign language class and the New York City foster system, where she discovers unexpected rewards.
Fans of Sliding Doors books will be swept away in this novel that is equally heartwarming as it is heart wrenching.
A vast library exists beyond the edge of the universe, where unlimited books recount the stories of alternate realities. Among them, one describes your present life, while others narrate the paths you could have taken if you had made different choices. As we often ponder what might have been, what if we could visit this library and see for ourselves?
This is the intriguing premise of this captivating award-winning bestseller we read together for our book club.
With the option of pursuing a different career, undoing past heartbreaks, or even pursuing her dream of studying glaciers, Nora embarks on a journey through the Midnight Library to discover what truly brings fulfillment and purpose to life.
Nora can also live out some of her biggest regrets that help her realize the consequences of those choices, for better or worse. I loved exploring these regret-filled moments and living vicariously through Nora’s missed opportunities.
As many of us struggle with the mental health consequences of our busy world, the encouragement to go on and how we can unexpectedly impact others was a beautifully bittersweet reminder that life is tough, but so are we.
Lydia and Freddie had been inseparable for over a decade, and Lydia believed their love was unbreakable. However, when Freddie dies in a car accident on Lydia's twenty-eighth birthday, her world is shattered.
Emotionally devastated, Lydia's doctor prescribes sleeping pills to help her through this difficult time. When sleeping, Lydia discovers that Freddie's life continues in her dreams. In this sleeping world, she is still preparing for her wedding and savoring every continued moment with Freddie.
Lydia's life quickly begins to fracture into two lives- her awake life and her sleeping life. Silver builds such a beautiful love story in the fissures of these cracks. After all, we do have the ability to immortalize people and erase faults when they pass away.
As Lydia heals, her time in her sleeping life begins to separate, and Lydia discovers that her waking life might be just as beautiful. So, with the aid of Freddie's best friend Jonah and her sister Elle, Lydia begins to take tentative steps into a new world, prepared to embrace life, and perhaps even love once more.
Mastai is a screenwriter and this book plays out like a movie (soon to be adapted for Peacock) that any Dark Matter fan will truly, love!
In Tom Barren's version of 2016, the future that people in the 1950s dreamed of has become a reality. The world is a dazzling, idealistic place filled with flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where even avocados never spoil, and punk rock never existed because it wasn't necessary.
Despite this techno-utopian paradise, Tom struggles to find his place in the world, and things only get worse when a twist of fate turns his life upside down. In a time-travel mishap, Tom is stranded in our 2016, the real world that we know, which he sees as a now dystopian wasteland.
As Tom adjusts to this new reality, he discovers unexpected versions of his family, career, and even a potential soul mate. But he faces a difficult choice: should he try to fix the flow of history and restore his utopian world or embrace this messy and unpredictable reality as his new home?
In 1970, Carly Sears, a young widow from the Vietnam War, received the devastating news that her unborn baby girl had a heart defect with no cure.
However, her brother-in-law, a physicist with an enigmatic past, proposes a solution that challenges Carly's preconceived beliefs and demands that she muster a level of courage and strength she never knew existed. He shares with her that surgery can be done, but this surgery won't be available until 2001.
How could he know this? Let's say that he has time traveled a bit…
With his help, Carly time travels so her child can be part of this experimental surgery. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, but Carly will do anything to save her daughter.
Chamberlain creates such suspense with this story that I could not put it down. This historical fiction novel has a surprisingly grounded time travel aspect, approaching this trope with beauty and believability, mainly crafting strain on the relationships of those left behind.
Searle's version of time travel is light and frothy without a repeating loop sequence, but just a single vision that imagines a different world for our main character in five years.
Dannie Kohan has always been a planner. She lives by the numbers and never strays from her carefully laid path. So when her job interview goes just as planned, and she accepts her boyfriend's marriage proposal, she knows she is on track to achieve those five-year goals.
But that very successful evening, Dannie has a vivid vision of herself in five years, and her imagined future is turned upside down. In this sequence, Dannie wakes up in a different apartment with a different engagement ring and a different man by her side. The year is 2025, five years in the future, and Dannie doesn't even recognize her own life or the man she's with.
This is not a love story but one of great platonic love and the power of our deep, lasting friendships that sustain us through our years. In those glimmers, I loved the warmth of this story. The friendship between these main characters reminds us of the importance of our childhood friends and how essential they are to help us weather tough times in our lives, especially when parents can't show up for us in the ways they should.
This book is a good choice for a reader that needs a quick win that won't ask a lot of you and won't take you too far into any elaborate time travel dimensions.
So many books I read contain complicated mother-and-daughter relationships, which might be why this is such a refreshing selection. But, unfortunately, this mother-and-daughter relationship held beauty and ended too shortly.
The story begins with this shimmering line, "The loss of my mother is like a missing tooth: an absence I can feel at all times, but one I can hide as long as I keep my mouth shut."
Fisher immediately pulls her reader into the story with a conversational conspiratorial tone that intimately explores the loss of a parent, faith, and love through the story of Faye, a woman who travels back in time.
Faye is a thirtysomething woman with two daughters and a husband training to be a clergyman. But, unlike her husband, Faye doesn't believe in God, and her logical scientific brain brings the complexity needed for Faye to struggle with the realities of her unusual predicament- reuniting with her mother, who she lost as a child through a unique time machine portal.
You see, Faye has never forgotten the pain of losing her mother at a young age. But when she suddenly finds herself in 1977, the year before her mother's death, Faye has the chance to reconnect with her long-lost mother and her younger self. The time machine is an old cardboard box discovered in the attic that takes her to her past self and her mother when she thinks of her and steps inside.
As she forms a close bond with her mother, Faye must confront her identity and the difficult choice she must make between her loved ones in the past and present.
This offers well-written kaleidoscopic time travel sequences, and the descriptive way Fisher wrote them will give you all the Alice and Wonderland feelings as she slowly (and then dramatically) descends into another world.
Alice Stern is approaching her fortieth birthday in this big-hearted novel, and life isn't what she had expected. Despite her comfortable job and deep-rooted friendship with her beloved BFF Sam, she feels like something is missing, especially as she sits by her father Leonard's hospital bed, realizing he's nearing the end of his life.
After a night of too much drinking, Alice wakes up to find herself in her sixteen-year-old body on the morning of her sixteenth birthday, greeted by her younger and healthier father. Seeing him through the eyes of her forty-year-old mind, Alice questions if she genuinely understands her father and the choices he made in his life.
With this new perspective on her life and her father's, Alice revisits past events that take on new meanings. Yet, as all good time travelers wonder, it asks one to examine if they would change anything if given a second chance.
Straub adds a unique time travel element since Alice's father is a time travel writer, which allows for more analysis of this world. As Straub writes in one line from this fictional father, "Science fiction only has to make sense within its own walls, even if the walls are your world." If you like your time travel light on science and big on heart, this book is for you.
Set in 1975, Lux Lysander, a single mother, struggles to make ends meet and takes a solo trip to Sonoma Valley in search of solace. What she doesn’t expect to find is that just beyond this thick fog is a community frozen in time in the year 1906.
This idyllic community is cut off from the rest of the world and from time. Lux is stunned to learn that the residents of Greengage have been marooned in the early twentieth century, and she becomes increasingly torn between her two lives as she finds herself drawn to the peace and beauty of the past.
The reader gets to follow Lux as she travels back and forth through time, finding love in a different era and learning many consequences of trying to live in parallel worlds.
There are many lovely plot twists, and the ending Gideon carves for the end is movie-worthy. This backlist book is a gorgeous, original, and deeply moving novel about love, longing, and the power that time holds over all of us.
The heart-stopping novel follows Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who receives a gruesome essay from one of his adult GED students about a horrific event that occurred fifty years ago.
Shortly after, Jake's friend Al reveals a shocking secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. Al enlists Jake to prevent the Kennedy assassination, and Jake embarks on a new life in a simpler era, facing escalating suspense and breaking all the rules of time.
Although thousands of books have explored the concept of time travel and correcting past mistakes, Stephen King's approach is fresh and innovative. Each twist in the plot is unexpected, and every character has a significant depth that draws you into their story.
With big American cars, sockhops, Elvis, and Lee Harvey Oswald, Stephen King's 11/22/63 is a tribute to a bygone era and an epic exercise in suspense. Once you finish the novel check out the miniseries from Hulu starring James Franco.
Despite the novel's incredible length, the pacing is exceptional, and the narrative flows seamlessly, making it a fast read.
Written in 1979, this classic novel is one of the best science fiction stories you will ever read.
Dana is a black woman married to a white man in the late sixties. After becoming dizzy one day, she is transported to the South in 1815 when a little boy, Rufus, is drowning in a river. Dana saves him, beginning the first of many visits where he risks his life, and Dana is pulled back into the 1800's.
Her role as a black woman is not free; she must work as an enslaved person at the house and witness the true brutalities of an unkind enslaver.
Butler layers a great dimension by giving Dana a white husband, and when they are transported together, he must act as her enslaver to keep her safe. The dynamics in these roles cause stress and doubts between the two.
This is a gripping tale with a mind-bending ending worthy of any book club discussion.
If you are a fan of police procedural stories or love a good serial killer escape (I see you, true crime lovers!), this time travel series is for you.
In A Murder in Time, Kendra Donovan, a brilliant FBI agent, suffers a setback in her career after a disastrous raid that leaves her wounded and half her team dead. Seeking revenge, she travels to England to take out the person responsible, but things take an unexpected turn when she finds herself transported back in time to 1815 and stuck in Aldrich Castle.
Mistaken for a lady's maid, in this new era, Kendra must adapt to her new life in the 19th century and try to figure out how to return to her own time.
However, her investigative skills are tested when a young girl is found dead on the castle grounds, and Kendra realizes that she may have a greater purpose than expected in this new time period.
Looking for more time travel books? Here is a short list of our book club member favorites:
Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister
Just One Damned Thing After Another (Chronicles of St. Mary’s Book 1) by Jodi Taylor
I’ll Stop the World by Lauren Thoman
The Little Shop of Found Things Series by Paula Brackton
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
The Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie by Rachel Linden
Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
One Italian Summer by Rebecca Searle
What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon
This is How You Lose the Time War (novella) by Amal El-Mohtar
What is your favorite time travel story? I’d love to expand our list with your favorites too!
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