The Light of Luna Park by Addison ArmstrongWhat it's about: In this character-driven debut, 1950s teacher Stella Wright copes with a major career setback by delving into her recently deceased mother's past as a nurse who worked to save premature babies.
Read it for: the courage the strong female characters bring to the adversity they face; a look at the early days of incubator technology and the ethical issues they raised.
Did you know? In the early 20th century, Polish American doctor Martin Couney popularized the use of neonatal incubators, work that he financed through "exhibitions" of the technology in action at Coney Island and in Atlantic City.
The Manningtree Witches by A.K. BlakemoreThe setting: 1643, in the small Essex town of Manningtree, which is populated mostly by women and children while the men are away fighting in the English Civil War.
A stranger comes to town...calling himself the "Witchfinder General" and promising to "save" the women of the town from the temptations of witchcraft, which he is determined to root out at any cost.
Why you might like it: The women of Manningtree are complex, well-realized characters whose stories touch on compelling topics like suspicion, forgiveness, repression, and bodily autonomy.
Emily's House by Amy Belding BrownWhat it is: the moving and lyrical story of Margaret Maher, a lively Irish immigrant whose life changes forever after she takes a "temporary" job with the Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts, and forms a deep bond with their daughter Emily.
Why you should read it: the engaging and richly detailed portrait of Margaret and Emily's relationship; Margaret's role in preserving Emily's poetic legacy by disobeying the order to dispose of her body of work.
Reviewers say: Author Amy Belding Brown's "sensitive, intuitive, immersing prose is supremely apt for this gentle, compelling story" (Booklist).
Late City by Robert Olen ButlerWhat it's about: the final reflections of 115-year-old retired newsman Sam Cunningham (allegedly "the last living veteran of World War I"), from his Louisiana childhood and wartime service as a sniper to his dismay at the 2016 presidential election.
Read it for: Sam's moving observations about living through a century as wondrous as it was horrifying.
About the author: Guggenheim fellow and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robert Olen Butler is a creative writing professor at Florida State University, known for his story collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain and his series of thrillers starring Christopher Marlowe Cobb.
A Play for the End of the World by Jai ChakrabartiStarring: Warsaw Ghetto survivors Jaryk and Misha, who met and became friends in an orphanage in 1942.
Thirty years later: In 1972, Jaryk leaves New York for a small village in India to collect Misha's remains, along the way reflecting on his survivor's guilt and the mysterious circumstances of his friend's death.
Reviewers say: This debut by Jai Chakrabarti is a "trenchant story [that] will move readers" (Publishers Weekly).
In the Field by Rachel PastanInspired by: the life and work of scientist Barbara McClintock, who won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and who is called "Kate Croft" in this fictional biography.
Read it for: Kate's lively and resourceful characterization, which makes her easy to root for; the well-researched historical and scientific details that breathe life into the story.
Try this next: Figuring by Maria Popova, a work of nonfiction which looks at the intersection of the personal lives and careers of notable female scientists, poets, and artists such as Rachel Carson, Emily Dickinson, Maria Mitchell, and Margaret Fuller.
The Perfume Thief by Timothy SchaffertWhat it's about: the disappearance of a famous French perfumer, Monsieur Pascal, from Nazi-occupied Paris and the risky endeavor to recover his book of recipes from a Francophile German bureaucrat.
Starring: Clementine, a 70-something American expat, who dusts off her skills as a former con artist to get close to the Nazi culture vulture who acquired Pascal's recipes and has taken up residence in Pascal's home.
Reviewers say: The Perfume Thief is "a rich and rewarding tale, as original and unique as the handiwork of its eponymous character" (Publishers Weekly).
Olga by Bernhard SchlinkWhat it is: an engaging and romantic epistolary novel about a young German woman coming of age in late 19th-century Prussia under the eye of disapproving adults and her decades-spanning story of survival and love.
Read it for: the sweeping scope, which takes readers from backwater European villages to West Africa to the Arctic; the unlikely but sweet friendship main character Olga develops with a local teen after moving to West Germany.
About the author: German lawyer and academic Bernhard Schlink is best known for his novel The Reader, which was first translated into English in 1997.
When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret VerbleWhat it's about: Narrated from multiple perspectives, this character-driven and intricately plotted story centers on people from the margins of society who dare to carve out places for themselves in 1920s Tennessee.
Featuring: the titular Two Feathers, a Cherokee novelty performer who accidentally discovers a desecrated Native burial ground under the zoo that employs her; Hank Crawford, a Black horse handler at the zoo wrestling with his complex family history; and Clive Lovett, the white zoo manager and World War I vet haunted by wartime trauma.
Is it for you? Author Margaret Verble incorporates supernatural elements to evoke the violent historical legacies that hang over her characters, which might not appeal to some readers.
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