Last Dance on the Starlight Pier by Sarah BirdWhat it's about: Evie Grace Devlin's career ambitions are on hold after news of her vaudeville past reaches administrators at her nursing school. In need of money for a fresh start, Evie finds her skills as a performer useful, however, as she gets pulled into the singular world of the Depression-era dance marathon craze.
Read it for: Evie's compelling spirit and determination; the evocative and well-rendered atmosphere.
Try this next: In a Far-Off Land by Stephanie Landsem.
Little Souls by Sandra DallasWhat it is: a descriptive and engaging story of survival and chosen family set during the 1918 Influenza pandemic.
Starring: Lutie, a Denver fashion illustrator; her older sister Helen, a nurse dealing with the pandemic on the front lines; 10-year-old Dorothy, who the sisters take in after the child becomes an orphan under violent, traumatic circumstances.
Why you might like it: though the situation is dire, Helen, Lutie, and Dorothy are a compelling little family whose bonds with each other lend a hopeful air to an otherwise heavy story.
Shadows of Berlin by David R. GillhamThe setup: In her postwar life in 1950s New York, Holocaust survivor Rachel Perlman struggles to carry the weight of her survivor's guilt, which her American-born husband and in-laws -- despite being Jewish themselves -- can't seem to understand.
What happens next: Her estranged uncle Fritz announces that he's found a painting by Rachel's mother, who perished in a concentration camp, and the memories associated with the artwork and its subject force Rachel to contend with everything she did to survive the war.
Read it for: the haunting depiction of Rachel hiding in plain sight in Berlin during the war and the disarmingly poetic turns of phrase that she uses to tell her story.
Two Storm Wood by Philip GrayWhat it's about: Just after the end of World War I, Amy Vanneck leaves England to look for her fiancé (or his body) in the devastated French countryside. After arriving at the Somme, she discovers a gruesome war crime and evidence that suggests that its perpetrator plans to kill again.
Why you might like it: Despite the darkness of Two Storm Wood's subject matter, readers will be pulled in by the moody tone and the intricate nonlinear plot structure.
Reviewers say: "Immersive and eerily atmospheric" (Booklist); "powerful historical fiction and a testament to war’s insanity" (Kirkus Reviews).
Mrs. England by Stacey HallsStarring: Ruby May, a recent graduate of the Norland Institute for the Training of Ladies as Children’s Nurses who trades London for rural Yorkshire when she accepts a job as a nanny; Charles and Lilian England, Ruby's new employers.
The problem: Hardcastle House, the stately but isolated manor of the England family, is as full of Edwardian splendor as it is full of secrets. And though Mr. England and the children in Ruby's charge are friendly, Mrs. England and other household servants are aloof and cold to her with no explanation.
Angels of the Pacific by Elise HooperWhat it's about: the group of nurses known as the Angels of Bataan, who were kept as prisoners of war in the Philippines during World War II.
Read it for: the courageous and inspiring characters, who band together to save as many lives as they can under the most dire circumstances.
Reviewers say: "Heroism, strong characters, and period dialogue shine" (Booklist).
Forbidden City by Vanessa HuaWhat it is: the atmospheric depiction of the dramatic change in circumstances that a young girl from the countryside undergoes after her dancing skills thrust her into the heart of power in 1960s China.
Starring: Mei Xiang, who narrates her harrowing story from the safety of San Francisco as she celebrates the 1976 death of party chairman Mao Zedong.
Is it for you? Forbidden City was inspired by the stories of the many teenage girls like Mei who experienced sexual abuse after being drawn into the Chairman's inner circle.
A Woman of Endurance by Dahlma Llanos-FigueroaWhat it's about: the role of Puerto Rico in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, explored through the story of Pola, an African woman who is used, abused, and force to bear children that her captors can sell for profit.
Why you should read it: Although Pola's ordeal is heartwrenching, her characterization is made even more compelling by her tenacious hold on her humanity and the rare moments of love and happiness she seizes for herself.
Try these next: The Prophets by Robert Jones or Things Past Telling by Sheila J. Williams, which both explore the rich inner lives enslaved people live despite their violent circumstances.
The Myth of Surrender by Kelly O'Connor McNeesWhat it is: a character-driven and thought-provoking exploration of another side of the postwar Baby Boom known as the "Baby Scoop Era"-- the period between the 1940s and 1970s in which the rate of premarital pregnancies skyrocketed, and women faced increasing pressure to put their babies up for adoption.
Featuring: worldly Chicago waitress Doreen, pregnant from a liaison across racial lines; Margie, a naive teenager Doreen meets and befriends as the two wait for their babies to be born at the Holy Family Home for the Wayward.
Read it for: a timely reminder of the issues surrounding reproduction in the era before widespread access to contraception.
M: Son of the Century by Antonio ScuratiWhat it is: the well-researched first entry in author Antonio Scurati's tetralogy about the life and career of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Why you should read it: Though few would dispute the role of fascism in 20th century history, more people could stand to learn more about the movement's early origins and influential figures.
Reviewers say: "A masterwork of modern Italian literature that will leave readers eager for more" (Kirkus Reviews).
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