Jump into the best time travel books and discover the mind-bending scenarios only possible in the best time travel fiction.
The other night at dinner, I was asking my kids whether they would like to travel to the past or the future. The myriad replies included visiting the dinosaurs and flying in a spaceship across the galaxy.
The linear nature of our lives means that we can only imagine a different way of experiencing time. The best time travel books use this impossibility to create mind-bending scenarios for us to contemplate.
Today, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite time travel books, along with a whole slew of intriguing books with time travel to fire up your imagination.
Have fun exploring the twisty what-if scenarios in these time traveling books and let me know your favorites in the comments!
Best Time Travel Books
When you think of the best books about time travel, Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel comes to mind. In this classic love story, art student Clare and librarian Henry try for a sense of normalcy as Henry time shifts through their life. Henry has Chrono-Displacement Disorder; he unexpectedly gets pulled to important emotional moments in his past and future life. A mind-bending romance that is a must-read for any fan of time travel books.
Stephen King seems to write amazingly in every genre, and time travel fiction is no different. In 11/22/63, English teacher Jake Epping discovers that this friend Al has a portal in his diner storeroom that leads back to 1958. As Jake emerges into the past, he starts by trying to change the life of one of his students and eventually concocts a plan to prevent President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. But playing with time always has unintended consequences.
One of the ultimate time travel romance books, Gabaldon’s Outlander series creates a sweeping love triangle. Recently returned from serving as a WWII nurse, Claire Randall decides to take a second honeymoon with her husband. When she steps through a standing stone in the British Isles, she finds herself transported back to 1743 in war-torn Scotland. As Claire allies with the great warrior James Fraser, she must decide between the love of two completely men in two completely different times.
America has fallen victim to False Memory Syndrome – a disease where victims are driven mad by memories of a life they never lived … or have they? It’s up to NYPD cop Barry Sutton and neuroscientist Helena Smith to figure out how to stop this epidemic, even as reality is shifting all around them. You’ll have a hard time putting this one down, so you’ll certainly want to pick up a copy before the film adaptation hits Netflix.
On the 19th anniversary of their son’s murder, Lord and Lady Hardcastle throw a party with the same guests as that fateful day long ago. At 11 pm, Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered. In a Groundhog Day-esque fashion, Aidan Bishop must relive this day 8 times, but from the perspective of eight different witnesses. His task: identify Evelyn’s murderer, or do it all over again. Evelyn Hardcastle will throw you into a brilliant game of Clue as you see the same events from multiple viewpoints. Just ignore the why this happening and jump right into the mystery come to life, with plenty of fun twists and turns along the way.
Recent Books on Time Travel
In the Midnight Library, there are two books – one book for the life you’ve lived and one for the one you could have lived. After attempting suicide, Nora Seed finds herself there. Now she must decide which book to choose from. What if she had made different choices? Would her life have been any better? All of us have regrets, and by allowing Nora the possibility to redo her life, Haig does a brilliant job showing how we can never predict the outcomes of our choices. A thoroughly enjoyable read that intimately talks about the pain depression and second-guessing has on our life.
Dannie Cohan knows exactly where she’ll be in five years – until the night of her engagement. In her post-engagement bliss, she has a vision of herself in five years engaged to someone else. She doesn’t think much of it, until years later when she finds he is dating her best friend. While the premise sounds light-hearted, partway through the story, beach read goes out the window and thought-provoking steps in. You’ll feel compelled to know if the vision came true and surprised at how well Serle counters your expectations.
On New Year’s Eve in 1982, Oona Lockhart is faced with a life-changing decision: travel abroad to continue her studies in London or pursue fame as a member of her boyfriend’s rock band. As the clock strikes midnight and Oona turns 19, she faints and wakes up as a fifty-year-old. Thus begins the mixed-up time travel life of Oona, where every year she gets to randomly experience her life at different stages. One of the best recent books with time travel, Oona Out of Order explores if we can change our destiny while having fun highlighting the differences between decades.
One of the most anticipated time travel books of 2021 comes from the author of Red, White & Royal Blue. Cynical August doesn’t believe life will ever change until she develops a crush on a girl from her subway commute. Jane is perfect and the highlight of August’s every day. But when August and Jane finally meet, August realizes that somehow Jane actually lives in the 1970s. A time-defying romance perfect for your summer reading list.
Faye is a happily married mother of two who still feels the ache of the loss of her mother as a child. When she suddenly finds herself transported back in time, she has the opportunity to befriend her mother. Faye, Faraway is a slow heartfelt debut novel that spends most of the story contemplating the psychology of time travel, faith, and the relationship between parents and children.
With her love life in shatters, Maelyn Jones is devastated to find this will be her last Christmas spent with her family at the snowy Utah cabin. As she drives away, a car crash sends her into a time loop to relive the same Christmas vacation over and over again. Now she must figure out how to end the time loop so she can live happily ever after. A lighthearted romance with a Groundhog Day premise perfect for your holiday reading list.
Classics Books on Time Travel
Octavia E. Butler
In 1976, Dana, a young African-American writer, finds herself inexplicably sent back through time to a pre-Civil War plantation in Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy, she finds herself back in Los Angeles. Over and over, Dana finds herself returning to the plantation, which she realizes is where her ancestors lived. As her stays in the past become longer, Dana becomes entangled in the plantation and is forced to make harder and harder choices to survive. Octavia Butler’s genre-bending novel is a must-read among time travel books.
H. G. Wells
In this classic story which pioneered time travel fiction and coined the word “time machine,” the time traveler pulls a lever and transports himself 800,000 years in the future. On a dying Earth, he meets two strange races – the innocent childlike Eloi and the Morlocks, brutal underground dwellers. Highlighting class conflict, The Time Machine warns against the assumption of the inevitable progress of mankind.
After being hit over the hit, Hank Morgan wakes up to find himself miraculously in King Arthur’s Camelot. The nineteenth-century mechanic sets out to modernize the medieval era with electricity and gunfire, quickly creating chaos. Mark Twain’s imaginative satire sharply criticizes his contemporary culture, with interesting parallels to our world today.
How to describe Slaughterhouse-Five? In this postmodern anti-war science fiction World War II novel, the unreliable narrator tells the tale of Billy Pilgrim, a time-traveling man being held in an alien zoo. Through flashbacks, we relive Billy’s capture during the Battle of the Bulge, life as a POW working in a slaughterhouse (Slaughterhous #5) during the Dresden firebombing, and his subsequent life after the war. If you can get past Vonnegut’s strange style, his discussion of fate, free will, and death earn it its place among the best classic time travel books. For, “so it goes.”
Andrew Harlan is an Eternal, tasked with sifting through past and present centuries to monitor progress and, when necessary, changing things to ensure things play out how his organization wishes. When Andrew falls in love with a non-eternal, he must decide where his loyalties lie and at what cost his happily ever after ending is worth.
Interesting Time Travel Novels
Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
If you love more literary books on time travel, you’ll want to pick up this award-winning novella. In a world devastated by war for generations, two rival agents, known simply as Red and Blue, are tasked with securing the best possible outcome for her side. When an unlikely correspondence sparks between them, their romantic bond threatens to change both the past and the future.
As policeman Sam Vimes chases notorious serial killer Carcer, they are both caught up in a magical storm. Unexpectedly finding themselves in the past, Carcer ends up killer Vimes’s mentor John Keel. Now on the eve of Revolution, Vimes must impersonate Keel and act as the mentor to his younger self while trying to capture the killer without ruining the timeline. Although the 29th book in the Disc World series, Night Watch can be read as a standalone novel.
In 1970, Caroline Sears is devastated to learn her newborn daughter has a heart defect that cannot be cured. Except, her brother-in-law declares there is a cure. Hunter claims to be a time traveler from the future who promises that if she jumps to 2001, she can have fetal heart surgery and save her baby. Now Carly must decide what she believes and whether she should take a leap of faith.
After dropping out of grad school, Matt Fuller finds himself in a dead-end job working as a research assistant at MIT. When he accidentally creates a time machine while studying gravity and electromagnetic forces, Matt assumes he has nothing to lose by taking a jump in time. Every time each jumps, he travels further into the future, getting tangled into more and more complicated situations and hoping that with one more jump he can return to his present.
In France, an archaeology professor leads a group of graduate students researching two fourteenth-century towns. When Professor Johnston flies back to America to handle their shady sponsors, the students begin to unearth his modern-day possessions buried in the ruins at the dig site. Quickly they are whisked away to a secret site and told that they must travel back to the time of knights if they are to save their professor.
Laurie Viera Rigler
A Jane Austen-obsessed woman wakes up one day to find herself back in Regency England. Now Courtney must pretend to be the Miss Jane Mansfield whose life she seems to be inhabiting. All while dealing with the inconveniences of the nineteenth century and handling chaperones, seducers, and unwanted marriage proposals. When she meets the enigmatic Mr. Edgeworth, Courtney is flooded with Jane’s memories of him and wonders if Jane might have judged him wrongly.
Books About Parallel Universes
I know parallel universe stories aren’t quite the same as time travel, but they are so irresistibly fun I couldn’t help but highlight a few. Walking home one night, Jason Dessen is kidnapped and forced into an alternate reality. He’s been thrust into the multiverse, a world where instead of marrying his wife when she got pregnant with their child, he single-mindedly persevered on with his research. Although the middle was a bit slow, Crouch’s premise will boggle your mind and the story concludes with a thrilling finale.
After the death of her fiance, Lydia is struggling to cope. Thanks to an experimental sleeping pill, she gets a chance to live the life she would have had with her fiance in her dreams. However, living in her dream life is messing with her waking life. Which life should she choose? Silver does an excellent job showing how much grief has changed Lydia and how dangerous it is to interfere with the grief process.
If you are craving something a bit different, you might want to try this mind-bending work from famed Japanese author Haruki Murakami. In 1984, Aomame notices strange discrepancies and finds she has entered a parallel version of her life, 1Q84. Quickly caught up in a religious cult, Aomame wonders what is truly real. Meanwhile, ghostwriter Tengo accepts an assignment to rewrite a book, a decision that changes his whole life and leads him closer to Aomame.
After his wife Michelle left years ago, Jeffy Coltrane has tried his best to make a good life for him and his seven-year-old daughter, Amity. One day, the local eccentric leaves a mysterious device at their house, warning them they must never use it. Once Jeffy and Amity realize it allows you to travel between parallel universes, they question what life would have been like if Michelle hadn’t left. But other people are after the device, wanting to use it for their own nefarious purposes.
While recovering from a devastating breakup and dealing with her brother’s opioid addiction, Adelaide Buchwald is spending her summer as a dog walker. When Adelaide meets a cute new boy, you get to see all the possibilities of how her life could unfold that summer – what was versus what might have been.
Time Travel Books for Kids and Teens
One of the most popular time travel books for teens is Ransom Riggs’s unique young adult series that mixes vintage photography with fantastical storytelling. Jacob never quite believed his grandfather’s outlandish tales of a magical orphanage. When Jacob starts having nightmares about the stories, his parents send him to the remote island in Wales to show him that there is nothing to fear. Instead, he meets a collection of peculiar and potentially dangerous children caught in a time loop.
Although sixteen-year-old Gwen’s family is quite eccentric, she has been able to live a normal life as a London teenager. Until she finds out that the time-traveling gene which runs in her family didn’t skip over her as everyone thought. Not having been inducted into the mysteries of time travel, Gwen is unprepared for the unexpected jumps into the past and must rely on her time-traveling counterpart Gideon, a stunningly gorgeous and insufferable know-it-all teenage boy.
Another popular choice among YA time travel books is Lauren Oliver’s story of a popular high schooler caught in a time loop. At Samantha Kingston’s high school, February 12th is “Cupid Day,” a day of valentines and roses and a big party. At the end of the night, Samantha dies in a terrible accident, only to wake up the next day to relive it all over again. As Samantha learns that small changes can make dramatic differences, she is forced to finally give serious thought to her actions.
Originally published as Gideon the Cutpurse, Linda Buckley-Archer’s time travelers series follows Peter Schock and Kate Dyer. After a brush with an antigravity machine, they find themselves back in 1763. There the two children meet ally with Gideon, a local street urchin, to get back the machine from Gideon’s nemesis, the evil Tar Man.
J. K. Rowling
How can I end a list of time travel novels without the Harry Potter time travel book? And no, I don’t mean the poorly written sequel Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter’s life is seriously curtailed as the infamous killer Sirius Black is on the loose and bent on killing our favorite boy wizard.
Do you love to read time travel books? Would you want to jump to the future or visit the past?