Universe of Two by Stephen P. KiernanWhat it's about: the life, marriage, and wartime work of mathematician Charlie Fisk, a somewhat reluctant recruit to the Manhattan Project who navigates his ethical ambivalence and guilt with the help of his flawed but supportive wife Brenda.
You might also like: Archangel by Andrea Barrett, Louisa Hall's Trinity, and other complex and character-driven stories that reflect on the intersections between history and scientific revolutions.
Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O'FarrellWhat it is: the moving, character-driven story of William Shakespeare's wife and children, during and after the watershed moment when his only son, 11 year-old Hamnet, dies of bubonic plague.
Read it for: the lush and atmospheric writing; the focus on the complex and engaging portrayals of Shakespeare's increasingly independent family members, with the Bard himself taking a backseat as he spends more time in London than their home in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Bonnie by Christina SchwarzStarring: financially struggling small-town girl Bonnie Parker, who becomes a legend for the infamous crime spree she would go on to commit with Clyde Barrow.
Why you might like it: This introspective characterization of Bonnie as a compelling yet flawed individual humanizes her and the people around her without glamorizing their actions or leaving the shadow of the Great Depression.
The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie WisemanWhat it's about: the devastation and resilience of an immigrant family living in Philadelphia during and after the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Featuring: Thirteen year-old Pia Lange, who becomes a caregiver to her younger brothers and will do anything to reunite with them after the children are separated under disturbing circumstances.
Why you should read it: this moving story could not be more relevant to our contemporary social and public health issues.
Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina GappahWhat it's about: The harrowing 1,500-mile, nine-month journey undertaken by the African servants of Scottish missionary Dr. David Livingstone as they transport his body to the coast of Tanzania.
Narrated by: cynical Halima, the band's cook, and loyal Jacob Wainwright, educated by missionaries following his manumission.
What sets it apart: Livingstone is a minor character in Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah's novel, which "captures the diverse cultural milieu of colonial Africa with compelling detail" (Kirkus Reviews).
A View of the Empire at Sunset by Caryl PhillipsWhat it is: Award-winning British author Caryl Phillips imagines the life of Jean Rhys -- the author of Wide Sargasso Sea, the prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre -- who was born Ella Gwendolyn Williams and whose life began in the West Indies. Sent to Edwardian England as a teenager, she was consistently an outsider.
Further reading: For more biographical fiction about women authors, try The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg, Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor, and Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James.
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa SeeIntroducing: best friends Young-sook and Mi-ja, who train as haenyeo, divers in the all-women fishing collectives of Korea's Jeju Island. Closer than sisters, their bond is shattered by wartime betrayal.
Why you might like it: This lyrical and heartbreaking novel presents a detailed look at life in a matrifocal society whose ancient traditions are threatened by modernity.
About the author: From Snow Flower and the Secret Fan to China Dolls, historical novelist Lisa See is acclaimed for her moving depictions of female friendships forged in adversity.
A Hundred Suns by Karin TanabeStarring: Jessie Lesage, the American wife of a Michelin heir who travels French Indochina with her husband and daughter to oversee the family's rubber plantations.
Read it for: the heady mix of glamour, scandal, and danger surrounding Jessie's new life, especially once she learns about the abuse and oppression the Vietnamese people endure under French control.
Reviewers say: "A smart, riveting psychological thriller" (Kirkus Reviews).
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