A Bend in the Stars by Rachel BarenbaumRussia, 1914: When her physicist brother, Vanya, goes missing en route to observe a solar eclipse, Jewish surgeon Miri Abramov embarks on a desperate rescue mission, accompanied by a charming army deserter.
What's at stake: Vanya believes that photographing the eclipse will verify or disprove Einstein's general theory of relativity, while Miri fears that if the coming war doesn't kill them both, the Czar's pogroms will.
Reviewers say: "exhilarating" (Publishers Weekly).
The Tubman Command by Elizabeth Cobbs HoffmanWhat it's about: iconic abolitionist Harriet Tubman and her role in the 1863 Raid on Combahee Ferry, in which black soldiers from the 2nd South Carolina Infantry raided lowcountry plantations, destroying Confederate supplies and liberating 750 enslaved men and women.
What sets it apart: This well-researched novel by the author of The Hamilton Affair focuses on Tubman's lesser-known deeds as a scout and spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War.
Further reading: Catherine Clinton's biography Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara CollinsIntroducing: Frannie Langton, a Jamaican servant languishing in Newgate Prison as she awaits trial for the murders of her employers.
Why you might like it: Framed as Frannie's confession, this debut offers Gothic atmosphere, vivid recreations of both West Indian sugar plantations and Georgian London, and a penetrating exploration of Enlightenment-era scientific racism.
Want a taste? "The cold seemed to carry its own smell, like raw meat, and came on me sudden as a cutpurse.”
The Flight Portfolio by Julie OrringerWhat it's about: As a volunteer for the Emergency Rescue Committee, American journalist Varian Fry works to smuggle Jewish artists and intellectuals out of Vichy France.
Is it for you? Although it takes some liberties with the biographical details of Fry's life, The Flight Portfolio offers a well-researched depiction of the ERC's activities in assisting refugees during WWII.
About the author: Julie Orriger is the author of The Invisible Bridge.
The Spy of Venice by Benet BrandrethWhat it's about: The "lost years" of William Shakespeare, in which he becomes a spy, undertaking a secret mission while in the guise of a traveling player.
Why you might like it: This brisk yet intricately plotted debut portrays the Bard as a kind of Elizabethan James Bond, dodging assassins and seducing beautiful women.
About the author: When he's not busy writing this series (book 2 is The Assassin of Verona), author Benet Brandreth is the rhetoric coach for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The Western Wind by Samantha HarveyWhat it is: a medieval murder mystery told in reverse.
Starring: John Reve, the doubt-ridden priest whose role as confessor makes him privy to the secrets of an entire village.
For fans of: Iain Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost, another stylistically complex historical mystery whose potentially unreliable narrator slowly reveals the secrets of isolated English communities.
Plague Land by S.D. SykesWhat it's about: After the Black Death claims his father and brothers, 18-year-old Oswald de Lacy inherits Somershill. His first duty as lord of the manor? To solve a series of murders -- crimes attributed by the locals to dog-headed demons.
Why you might like it: Set in a plague-stricken 1350 Kent, England (in which both constable and coroner are dead), this series opener features an engaging narrator and a twisty mystery.
For fans of: Ariana Franklin's Adelia Aguilar series.
The Ashes of London by Andrew TaylorLondon, 1666: In the aftermath of the Great Fire, a murder victim is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul's Cathedral; reluctant government informer James Marwood, son of a traitor, is tasked with finding the killer.
Why you might like it: Marwood's adventures (which continue in The Fire Court) unfold against a richly detailed 17th-century backdrop rife with political intrigue and religious unrest.
You might also like: Susanna Calkins' Lucy Campion mysteries, also set in Restoration London and featuring a working-class sleuth.
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