The Illness Lesson by Clare BeamsStarring: failed utopian Samuel Hood; his educated but bored daughter Caroline; his disciple David, who has come to help them open a progressive school for girls in late 19th century Massachusetts.
What happens: The students are suddenly plagued by mysterious sickness, and desperate for the school not to fail, Samuel and David send for a doctor in the burgeoning field of psychology. Caroline has a terrible feeling about the doctor, and his twisted, invasive ideas about "treatment" for the girls soon make everything much, much worse.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood HargraveNorway, 1617: Forty fishermen drown at sea -- the entire male population of the isolated Arctic town of Vardo.
The new man in town: As the town's women try to rebuild their lives, a Scottish witch hunter arrives with his Norwegian wife, threatening the independence that they've just started to carve out for themselves.
For fans of: the Netflix series Godless, also about a town that loses all of its men in an accident.
Deacon King Kong by James McBrideWhat it's about: It's 1969, right after the moon landing, and Brooklyn-based Baptist deacon Cuffy Lambkin (called "Deacon King Kong" after his favorite kind of moonshine) shoots his former protégé (and current drug dealer) Deems Clemens in broad daylight.
Dead man walking? The community is abuzz with speculation about both the deacon's motivation and his eventual fate, but the journey to answering both of these questions will surprise everyone.
Read it for: the vibrant neighborhood, which is almost a character; the surprising moments of humor that occasionally pop up; the timely exploration of community solidarity and systemic violence.
The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur PhillipsWhat it is: the fast-paced and dramatic story of Mahmoud Ezzedine, a physician in service to the Ottoman ambassador to England who has been given an important secret mission, one that he must complete before he can return home to his family.
A question of faith: As the reign of Queen Elizabeth I draws to a close, Mahmoud must determine the true religious outlook of likely successor James VI of Scotland -- no easy task for an "infidel" stuck on the already religiously divided isle of Britain.
Read it for: its unique and intriguing premise; the circumstances which force the extremely-unqualified-to-spy Mahmoud to learn on the job.
Red Letter Days by Sarah-Jane StratfordStarring: Phoebe Adler, a broadcaster and screenwriter in 1950s New York; her sister Mona, whose medical needs depend on Phoebe's financial support; Hannah Wolfson, an American TV producer working in Britain.
What goes down: As the Red Scare ramps up, Phoebe is branded a communist after supporting a union during the war and now, blacklisted, goes abroad to find work. In London she encounters wealthy and powerful Hannah, and a bustling community of other blacklisted Americans writing under pseudonyms.
Inspired by...Hannah Wolfson, best known for creating the hit 1950s show The Adventures of Robin Hood from abroad because her politics turned her into a pariah in the U.S.
A Long Way from Home by Peter CareyWhat it is: a character-driven and engaging road trip through 1950s Australia, in which three white Australians competing in the Redex Trial car race take a wrong turn and come face to face with their country's bloody colonial past and continued oppression of Aboriginal people.
Read it for: the strong sense of place; the competing motivations of the racers, which are revealed through alternating perspectives; the exploration of personal vs. collective history and culpability.
About the author: Peter Carey is the (rare) two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize; in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda and again in 2001 for True History of the Kelly Gang.
Devastation Road by Jason HewittWhat it's about: At the end of World War II, a British soldier named Owen wakes up in a field in Czechoslovakia, with only a jumbled handful of intact memories, none of which explain much about who he is, how he got so far east, and how he's supposed to get home.
You might also like: Rachel Seiffert's novel The Dark Room, which was adapted into the 2012 film Lore and also deals with the immediate aftermath of the war, the flood of displaced people, and the danger that still lurked in a land now "at peace."
News of the World by Paulette JilesStarring: former Confederate Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who earns his postwar living traveling through Texas and reading the news to rural communities; ten-year-old Johanna Leonberger, a white child kidnapped by the Kiowa, whom Captain Kidd is paid to escort back home.
Read it for: the captain's attempts to connect with Johanna, who has forgotten how to speak English and tries to escape every time she can.
Try this next: Presidio by Randy Kennedy, another road trip western that follows a strong-willed girl's unexpected connection with her traveling companions.
This Tender Land by William Kent KruegerWhat it's about: the escape of four children being held at the abusive Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota, a place designed force them into conformity and rob them of their identities.
Why you might like it: It has the feel of a 1930s Huckleberry Finn, with a long journey downriver and lots of colorful characters that the kids meet along the way.
For fans of: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, which tells the story of black boys suffering horrific abuse at a reform school in the last years of Jim Crow.
Grace by Paul LynchWhat it is: a heartwrenching coming-of age story set during the devastation of the Irish Potato Famine.
Starring: Fourteen-year-old Grace Coyle, who is forced to leave home to improve her chances of survival and tries to pass as a boy for safety; her younger brother Colly, who gets separated from her early in their journey.
Reviewers say: the novel is "bleak and unsparing yet often mesmerizing" (Library Journal).
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