The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz BazawuleWhat it's about: Fleeing racist violence in 1960s Alabama, newlyweds Bernadette Broussard and Melvin Johnson seek asylum in Ghana. A chance encounter with a musician shortly after they arrive will have dramatic, unanticipated consequences for their marriage, futures, and freedom.
Media Buzz: After a bidding war, FX won the rights to adapt Burnt Flowers into a six-episode miniseries that will star Emmy Award-winning actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
About the author: Ghanaian-born and U.S. based Samuel "Blitz" Bazawule is a multi-hyphenate creator known for his work on Beyoncé's visual album Black is King and for the film The Burial of Kojo, which won him a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Joan by Katherine J. ChenWhat it is: an atmospheric, lyrical account of the life of Joan of Arc, reimagined through a secular lens.
Read it for: the richly detailed world-building and the down-to-earth, humanizing portrait of a passionate young woman trying to make the most of her lot in life.
Reviewers say: Author Katherine J. Chen "masterfully transforms the two-dimensional martyr into a multifaceted woman and warrior" (Publishers Weekly).
Afterlives by Abdulrazak GurnahWhat it's about: the intersecting and diverging lives of three East African young people during the "Scramble for Africa" and subsequent German colonial presence in their homeland.
For fans of: A Trail of Crab Tracks by Patrice Nganang.
About the author: Tanzanian-born British writer Abdulrazak Gurnah is known for his essays, stories, and novels that examine postcolonial African society and refugee status. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2021.
Fire Season by Leyna KrowThe setting: the frontier boomtown of Spokane Falls in 1889, shortly before the Washington Territory became a US state.
The people: Barton Heydale, the disaffected and impulsive manager of the only bank within 100 miles; Roslyn Beck, a local sex worker who everyone (including Barton) underestimates to their peril; itinerant con man Quake Auchenbaucher, who has his own agenda for the town, its residents, and the bank's money.
Reviewers say: Fire Season is "a literary conflagration that absorbs down to its cooling embers" (Booklist).
My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed NewsonWhat it is: the candid coming-of-age story of Trey Singleton, a young Black gay man who leaves his wealthy family in Indianapolis to make a life for himself in New York City, just before the beginning of the AIDS crisis.
Cameos by: Civil Rights Movement legend Bayard Rustin, who Trey meets at one of the city's last remaining bathhouses; slumlord Fred Trump, whose fellow tenants Trey helps organize to demand better building conditions.
You might also like: Black Deutschland by Darryl Pickney; Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez.
Sister Mother Warrior by Vanessa RileyWhat it's about: the unlikely but strong bond between two remarkable women who played critical roles in the 1791 revolution in Haiti.
Starring: Marie-Claire Bonheur, the indomitable mixed-race wife of Haiti's first independent ruler, Jean-Jacques Dessalines; Adbaraya Toya, a warrior from the Kingdom of Dahomey (modern day Benin) who meets Dessalines after being sold into slavery and becomes a maternal figure to young "Jan-Jak."
You might also like: Palmares by Gayl Jones; The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah.
Mademoiselle Revolution by Zoe SivakWhat it is: a suspenseful, thought-provoking debut novel about the personal and political awakening of a young woman caught between two revolutions on either side of the Atlantic.
Starring: Sylvie Rogers, the daughter of a white planter and an enslaved Black woman who goes from the frying pan into the fire when she flees revolution in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) only to arrive in Paris shortly before the Reign of Terror.
Read it for: an alternate view of important figures from the French Revolution like Maximilien Robespierre; Sylvie's flawed yet sympathetic characterization.
Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell StevensWhat it's about: In 1473, 14-year-old Blanca died in childbirth at a Mallorcan monastery and for centuries her unquiet soul has lingered on the island, observing the living. But the 1838 visit by writer George Sand (and her lover composer Frédéric Chopin) unsettles Blanca in ways she no longer thought possible.
Why you might like it: Blanca is both a world-weary spirit and an excitable teenage girl, a compelling combination that gives her a fascinating perspective and engaging narrative voice.
The Swift and the Harrier by Minette WaltersWhat it is: a sweeping, thought-provoking story about the dangers of neutrality in divided times, set during the English Civil War.
Starring: physician Jayne Swift, the daughter of Royalists who insists on using her skills to help people on all sides of the conflict; William Harrier, a footman for a local family of Parliamentarians who Jayne keeps encountering under suspicious circumstances that could have dangerous consequences for their Dorset community.
Reviewers say: "This well-researched novel of 17th-century warfare shows the perils and rewards of sticking to one's principles" (Kirkus Reviews).
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