If I Could Turn Back Time: 15 Novels to Read in Standard Time

This weekend saw the passing of daylight saving time back into standard time, giving many of us a coveted extra hour of sleep. And sure, in Chicago at least, that means we may also never see the sun again. But if we think about the changing of the clocks as time travel, it all becomes a lot less depressing.

Time travel is one of my favorite tropes: sometimes, the adventures are backed by scientific thought or magic; other times, they involve a bit of suspension of disbelief to go along for the ride. But I love seeing modern sensibilities juxtaposed against older schools of thought, even when that contrast reminds us history can also be horrific. Time travel often portrays history as more fluid than we think, proving we’re not always as separated from our pasts as we may hope.

To read more about this fascinating phenomenon, put that precious “extra” hour to good use, and pick up one (or all) of the 15 time-travel novels below.

Beyond the Highland Mist, by Karen Marie Moning

Talking about time travel without talking about romance would just be wrong. Beyond the Highland Mist is the first in Moning’s steamy Highlander series, the precursor to her popular urban-fantasy series, Fever. In it, Adrienne finds herself far from present-day Seattle, in medieval Scotland, where her modern attitude make her even more alluring to handsome warrior Hawk.

Both Sides of Time, by Caroline B. Cooney

Confession: I have never finished The Face on the Milk Carton. But I HAVE read Both Sides of Time and its sequels more times than I can count. Teenage Annie Lockwood is transported from 1995 to 1895. There she meets Strat—a boy who’s everything Annie’s modern boyfriend is not. 

The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig

Nix has spent her life on her father’s ship, sailing to different ports—and different times. Now Nix’s father has finally acquired something he’s spent years looking for: the map that will take them to Honolulu in 1868 and potentially save Nix’s mother from dying in childbirth. But no one knows what his success may mean for Nix . . . or her very existence.

Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred is a modern classic for a reason. First published in 1979, Butler’s novel reminds us of the dangers of the past by thrusting a 26-year-old black woman into the antebellum South. Contrasting modern mores and nineteenth-century customs, Kindred not only shows us the worst of humanity, but also reminds us that even today, that narrative is far from finished.

The Last Magician, by Lisa Maxwell

The Last Magician leans into the fantastical aspect of time travel. Maxwell builds a Manhattan where anyone with an affinity for magic is trapped on the island and at risk of losing their powers, or worse, their lives. Feisty Esta has been raised to help steal artifacts from the elusive Order of Ortus Aurea, who created the New York boundary, and her biggest mission sends her back to 1902 to search for a book that could mean freedom, even as the past forces her to question truths she’s believed her whole life.

A Murder in Time, by Julie McElwain

Don’t want to pick between time travel and mystery? The Kendra Donovan series introduces an FBI agent who, after a disastrous raid, winds up in nineteenth-century England. Kendra attempts to pass herself off as a maid, but when the body of a murdered girl is found, Kendra endeavors to use twenty-first-century tools of investigation to solve the crime.

The Named, by Marianne Curley 

Ethan is a Guardian of the Named, an agent who travels back in time to keep the evil Order of Chaos from disrupting the time line. With the help of his eternally youthful mentor, Arkarian, Ethan works to save the world while also attempting to avenge the tragic death of his sister. He does not, however, plan on having to train schoolmate Isabel into the way of the Guard.

Opposite of Always, by Justin A. Reynolds

Jack’s version of time travel is a little more controlled; he only travels within his own time line—and he always starts at the moment he meets Kate on the stairs of a college party. He already knows the end of their story, and soon, he’s racing against the clock to try to change it, all while preserving his relationships with his friends and family.

Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken

Etta Spencer is preparing for her New York City violin debut, which has been a long time in the making. Nicholas Carter is preparing to get himself a ship of his own. There is no reason for these two to ever meet, especially as they live hundreds of years apart. Then Etta is kidnapped by a time-traveling family. She just wants to get home, but as Etta and Nicholas embark on a scavenger hunt across the world—and across the centuries—they find the concept of home is more complicated than they thought.

The Psychology of Time Travel, by Kate Mascarenhas

In 1967, four female scientists discover time travel. It should be their greatest moment, but one of the women suffers a breakdown, which puts the future of their work in jeopardy, and she is cast out of the group. Fifty years later, the woman’s granddaughter Ruby receives a note from the future, inspiring her (and her grandmother) to take on the complex institution time travel has become.

Recursion, by Blake Crouch

People are going mad from memories of lives they’ve never lived. Barry, a New York City cop, is investigating these cases. Neuroscientist Helena is racing against the clock of her mother’s Alzheimer’s, attempting to make a breakthrough in memory preservation. Helena’s benefactor, a wealthy tech magnate, has the funds to make this research a reality, but there is more to him than meets the eye. Even Helena and Barry’s stories aren’t that separate after all. While Dark Matter took on interdimensional travel, Recursion tackles time travel within a person’s own time line and how it can change the larger picture.

Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly

During a winter in Paris, Andi discovers and develops an increasing fascination with the journal of Alexandrine, a young woman who lived in Paris over two centuries ago. Then a midnight trip to the catacombs sends Andi straight into a time when Alexandrine was still alive: the heart of the French Revolution. Donnelly was already one of my favorite historical-fiction voices; this book transports readers (and Andi) in a whole different way.

Ruby Red, by Kerstin Gier

A time-traveling gene runs through the female side of Gwen’s family, but the family believes it’s skipped over Gwen. But when Gwen starts making uncontrolled leaps into the past, she is thrust into a secret world, complete with a time-traveling partner.

The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

Harper Curtis stumbles across a house in Chicago that transports him beyond his bleak Hooverville and into the future. The house also gives him access to the “shining girls,” women across time who glow with a spark, with potential . . . until Harper snuffs out their light, that is. But in 1989, one of Harper’s victims, Kirby Mazrachi, doesn’t die, and she never gives up on solving her case.

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Red and Blue are agents for opposite sides in a time war, and they keep crossing paths. Soon, they’re leaving behind messages to each other, messages that start as taunts but grow into something larger—and threaten those on both sides of the war.

P.S. Yes, I know, I have left some time-travel classics (such as OutlanderThe Time Traveler’s Wife, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, among many others) off this list. What are some of the other time-travel titles you love?



About the Author:

Melody’s love of words has taken her on a variety of adventures, beyond the adventures on the page, including librarian, bookseller, literary intern, dramaturg, and script reader. Reading hundreds of books a year, she's constantly seeking that next literary fix.

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