Tsarina by Ellen AlpstenStarring: Catherine Alexeyevna, second wife of Russian tsar Peter the Great, who later ruled the empire in her own right as Catherine I.
Read it for: the stranger-than-fiction story of her meteoric rise from humble origins to the highest circles of imperial power.
You might also like: Kathryn Harrison's Enchantments, which tells the story of another commoner (Rasputin's daughter Masha) who gets pulled into the Romanov family's orbit.
The Forgotten Sister by Nicola CornickWhat it's about: the suspicious 1560 death of Amy Robsart, wife of Queen Elizabeth I's favorite (and possible lover) Robert Dudley.
Is it for you? The story is told in alternating narratives, one during the 16th-century events in question and another during a modern-day investigation of the historical crime.
Reviewers say: "Cornick's rich mystery will serve readers well on a rainy day" (Publishers Weekly).
At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop; translated by Anna MoschovakisStarring: Alfa Ndiaye, a Senegalese soldier fighting with the French army during World War I; Mademba Diop, Alfa's childhood friend and fellow soldier.
What goes wrong: Mademba suffers a fatal combat injury and begs Alfa to save him from a lingering death, but Alfa finds himself unable to go through with it. Haunted by this choice, Alfa must now find a way to survive the war and live with himself.
You might also like: The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North, which also examines the horrors of colonial violence and the ways in which regret and guilt can deeply mark a person.
Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel JoyceWhat it's about: In 1950, middle-aged London schoolmarm Margery Benson decides to leave behind her normal life and travel to the Pacific island of New Caledonia in order to pursue her dream: finding a real specimen of the Golden Beetle, a nearly mythological insect she's been obsessed with since childhood.
Read it for: the heartwarming friendship that Margery develops with her unlikely assistant Enid, a young woman with her own dream to pursue during their unusual journey.
Reviewers say: "A delightful book filled with characters for whom readers will root" (Library Journal).
Stories from Suffragette City by M.J. Rose and Fiona Davis, editorsWhat it is: an engaging collection of short stories set during a watershed moment in the American women's suffrage movement, the 25,000-strong 1915 protest march in the heart of New York City.
Authors include: Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Chris Bohjalian, Christina Baker Kline, and Jamie Ford.
Why you should read it: In this collection are stories that highlight the diversity of the suffrage movement, including "Boundless We Ride" (which portrays Chinese-born activist Mabel Ping-Hua Lee) and "American Womanhood" (about journalist and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells-Barnett).
Marley by Jon ClinchStarring: Jacob Marley, erstwhile friend and business partner of A Christmas Carol's Ebenezer Scrooge.
What happens: Friends become partners-in-crime become bitter rivals in this atmospheric novel, which traces the men's complicated relationship from their initial boyhood meeting to their dramatic falling out.
You might also like: Louis Bayard's Mr. Timothy, which imagines the post-Christmas Carol fate of Tiny Tim.
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoyWhat it is: an engaging portrayal of the youth and early adulthood of Marilla Cuthbert, long before the arrival of spirited orphan Anne Shirley to their Prince Edward Island farm.
Read it for: the richly detailed and sympathetic portrait of Marilla's character, which doesn't shy away from her flaws but does much to humanize her as well.
Don't miss: the winks at later events in the original Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery; young Marilla's passionate embrace of social causes like the abolitionist movement.
Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Elizabeth MillerWhat it's about: the early days of the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder, told from the perspective of her likeable, strong, and sympathetic mother Caroline.
Why you might like it: although still full of the kind of detail and emotional resonance as the original Little House books, this story also thoughtfully portrays the hardships and privation of pioneer life, including Caroline's isolation from her extended family and the psychological strain her circumstances create.
Unforgivable Love: A Retelling of Dangerous Liaisons by Sophfronia ScottWhat it is: a lush, high-drama story of lust, love, and scheming amongst the who's-who of Harlem's postwar elite.
Based on: eighteenth-century French classic Les Liaisons dangereuses.
You might also like: Graffiti Palace by A.G. Lombardo, an Odysseus tale set during the 1965 Watts Riots; Windward Heights by Maryse Condé, a turn of the 20th century Caribbean Wuthering Heights homage.
The Cassandra by Sharma ShieldsWhat it's about: the heartwrenching story of Mildred Groves who, while working as a secretary at a World War II-era military facility, struggles with her dawning awareness of the destructive capability of nuclear weapons and the failure of her colleagues to take her concerns seriously.
Inspired by: the myth of Trojan princess Kassandra, to whom Apollo gave the power of clairvoyance but also cursed to never be believed.
Read it for: the compelling parallels drawn between the looming nuclear threat and the endemic racism and sexism of Mildred's workplace.
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