Mother of Strangers by Suad AmiryWhat it is: a lyrical coming-of-age story about first love in a war zone, where teenagers Subhi and Shams fight for survival during the 1948 end of the British mandate in Palestine.
Read it for: the richly detailed depiction of the sophisticated and cosmopolitan coastal city of Jaffa on the eve of the war; the sweetly dissonant moments of innocence inside the minds of characters forced to grow up too quickly.
You might also like: Exile Music by Jennifer Steil; Salt Houses by Hala Alyan.
The War Librarian by Addison ArmstrongHow it's told: through the alternating perspectives of two women who, though they lived decades apart, both displayed grit, resilience, and a determination to do what's right.
Starring: Emmaline Balakin, who trades Washington D.C. for the French countryside in 1918, to serve as a librarian at a hospital for wounded soldiers; Kathleen Carre, the granddaughter of one of Emmaline's friends who is one of the first women to enroll at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Reviewers say: "Historical fans will devour this intimate story about fighting for dignity and respect during trying times" (Publishers Weekly).
The Forty Elephants by Erin BledsoeWhat it's about: Alice Diamond's family has been running the underworld of the London neighborhood called "the Mint" for generations, but when her father gets sent to prison and her brother gets deep in debt, it's up to Alice to find a way to keep them all afloat.
How she does it: joining up with the titular Forty Elephants, an infamous all-female gang known for thieving and pickpocketing their way through even the poshest parts of the city.
Read it for: the flawed but likeable characterization of Alice; the contradictory yet inextricable combination of glamour and sleaze in this atmospheric depiction of 1920s London.
Widowland by C.J. CareyWhat it is: a thought-provoking alternate history that examines questions of complicity and self-deception in a world where England surrendered to the Nazis and a Vichy-like regime takes power.
The setup: It's 1953 and Rose Ransom works for the Ministry of Culture, editing classic books to reflect Nazi ideals. But when graffiti of famous, forbidden literary quotes starts appearing across the country, Rose is tasked with infiltrating the apparently bookish insurgency and finds herself reckoning with the truth of her nation's fate.
Reviewers say: Author C.J. Carey builds "a chillingly believable setting" for readers intrigued by the idea of "The Handmaid's Tale by way of Fatherland" (Booklist).
The Last Crown by Elżbieta CherezińskaSeries alert: The Last Crown is the compelling followup to The Widow Queen, the saga of Swietoslawa, a Polish princess who became Queen of Denmark, Queen of Sweden, and Queen Mother of England.
This time: The death of King Sweyn Forkbeard creates an opportunity for Swietoslawa's sons Cnut and Harald to bring her back to Denmark after she was exiled back to her brother's court in Poland. Free to influence politics again, Swietoslawa will do everything in her power to ensure that her legacy is secure and her sons have their thrones.
Did you know? Some historians believe Swietoslawa may have been mother to three kings: Olaf Skötkonung of Sweden, Harald II of Denmark, and Cnut the Great of England.
The Thread Collectors by Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson RichmanWhat it is: the descriptive, character-driven story of four people whose lives intertwine in unexpected but profound ways during the Civil War.
Starring: classically trained flutist William, an enslaved man in New Orleans who yearns for freedom; Stella, a free Black woman who has the brilliant idea to hide maps to the North in her embroidery; abolitionist New Yorker Jacob, a Jewish Union Army musician; Jacob's wife Lily, a seamstress well placed to spread Stella's maps.
Read it for: the bond between Jacob and William, who bond over music while in the Union Army; the moving relationship William and Stella share, which they must keep hidden from William's predatory owner.
Sacrificio by Ernesto Mestre-ReedWhen it's set: during Cuba's "special period," when the country's economy faltered after the fall of the Soviet Union and there were desperate shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities.
What it's about: Newly arrived in Havana, country boy Rafa begins an on-again, off-again relationship with Nicolás, who the government later forces into a sanatorium for HIV positive people. Then Rafa learns that Nicolás was one of "los injected ones," who intentionally infected themselves with the virus out of despair and protest.
To learn more: check out the episode of NPR podcast Radio Ambulante called "The Survivors," about the members of Cuba's persecuted punk rock scene, some of whom infected themselves with the virus to live in the relative freedom and comfort of the sanitariums after years of ostracism and poverty.
Ithaca by Claire NorthWhat it is: a thought-provoking reimagining of Penelope of Ithaca as narrated by a bitter yet witty Hera, queen of the Greek gods.
Read it for: the richly detailed world full of "spying maids, crafty merchants, and conniving queens" that makes for a "thoroughly enjoyable exploration of Penelope’s side of the ancient story" (Kirkus Reviews).
About the author: Claire North is a pseudonym of British author Catherine Webb, who publishes young adult fiction under her own name and adult fantasy as Kate Griffin. As Claire North she is best known for The First Fifteen Lives of Henry August and The Pursuit of William Abbey.
The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel WestStarring: young single mother Sara King, who works at boarding house of Mama Sugar in segregated Memphis; Mama Sugar, who welcomed Sara with open arms but has a secret past that puts both of their bond and their livelihoods to the test.
For fans of: In the Face of the Sun by Denny S. Bryce; The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazawule.
Reviewers say: "masterfully suspenseful and certain to tug at the reader's heartstrings" (Booklist).
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