Woman of the Ashes by Mia Couto; translated by David BrookshawWhat it’s about: In war-torn colonial Mozambique at the end of the 19th century, Sgt. Germano de Melo is tasked with putting down an uprising led by Ngungunyane, a native leader. Germano hires a 15-year-old girl, whose family sides with the Portuguese, as his translator.
Series alert: Woman of the Ashes is the 1st in a planned trilogy.
Is it for you? If you enjoy books that have a touch of magical realism, allegory, and folklore, you'll savor this meticulously researched and powerful novel.
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna GoodmanWhat it’s about: Fifteen-year-old Maggie is pregnant by her French farm boy neighbor in 1950s Québec -- and her disappointed parents force her to give up the baby, Elodie. Maggie’s story alternates with that of her daughter, who grows up under harrowing circumstances in an orphanage that is converted into a psychiatric hospital.
Why you might like it: Readers who enjoyed Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train or the film Philomena will like the intertwining narratives of this bittersweet, poignant tale, which is based on true events.
The Soul of a Thief by Steven HartovWhat it's about: As World War II draws to a close, Shtefan Brandt is a German of Jewish descent hiding in plain sight as clerk to Colonel Eric Himmel. Himmel has the foresight to realize that the Germans are about to lose -- but has plans for how to come out ahead.
Who it’s for: Fans of World War II-era fiction and readers who like vivid characters and plot twists.
Reviewers say: “Simply a wondrous and utterly captivating novel” (Booklist).
The Abbot's Tale by Conn IgguldenFeaturing: Tenth-century English abbot Dunstan of Glastonbury, the confidant and advisor to King Aethelstan, who, as the grandson of Alfred the Great, dreams of creating a united kingdom.
Why you might like it: Readers who enjoy gripping, grand historical sagas rich with battles and intrigue will savor this page-turning masterpiece.
You might also like: Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Series; the 1st is The Last Kingdom.
Dragon Teeth by Michael CrichtonWhat it’s about: The real-life 19th-century rivalry known as the Bone Wars between paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope -- who resorted to a variety of underhanded methods to outdo one another in pursuit of fossils in the American West -- is retold through the eyes of fictional Yale student William Johnson.
Why you might like it: Though this book was published after bestselling author Michael Crichton’s death, it has his signature elements: action, science, and history all combined in page-turning fashion.
Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert HarrisWhat it’s about: In 63 BC, Cicero has been elected consul -- the highest government official in Rome -- but a rising upstart named Gaius Julius Caesar (as well as the discovery of a young murdered boy) complicate Cicero’s newfound power.
Series alert: Conspirata is the 2nd book in the Cicero trilogy; the 1st is Imperium.
You might also like: Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series -- try The Seven Wonders -- or Colleen McCullough’s Master of Rome series (start with The First Man in Rome).
The Sweetheart by Angelina MirabellaFeaturing: Seventeen-year-old Leonie Putzkammer, who leaves behind her 1950s Philadelphia neighborhood to train as a female wrestler; and “Screaming Mimi Hollander,” who becomes Leonie’s fiercest competitor.
Why you might like it: You'll cheer for Leonie as she finds herself -- and love -- in the male-dominated world of professional wrestling.
You might also like: Velva Jean Learns to Fly by Jennifer Niven, which is also set in mid-20th-century America and is a moving coming-of-age story featuring a feisty, offbeat heroine.
Crossing the Horizon by Laurie NotaroWhat it’s about: In 1927, three women vie to be the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic: the Honorable Elsie Mackay, a disobedient earl’s daughter; Mabel Boll, a wealthy American widow who craves fame; and Ruth Elder, a former beauty pageant winner from Alabama.
Try this next: Victoria Patterson's The Peerless Four, about a Canadian track and field team overcoming significant hurdles in pursuit of Olympic gold. It too is a character-driven tale of daring women breaking barriers in the 1920s.
Tesla: A Portrait with Masks by Vladimir PistaloWhat it’s about: the life and times of Serbian-born inventor Nikola Tesla -- the solitary genius behind the world’s first alternating-current motor -- and his intense rivalry with Thomas Edison.
Is it for you? Yes, if you like novels set in the first half of the 20th century and enjoy cameo appearances by notable historical figures -- Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain and more.
Reviewers say: Tesla is a “moving, inventive and poetic work of biographical fiction” (Kirkus Reviews).
Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral by Mary Doria RussellWhat it’s about: In this sequel to Doc, the consumptive Doc Holliday accompanies Wyatt Earp and his brothers to 1881 Tombstone, Arizona, to face off in a legendary gunfight against the Clantons and the McLaurys.
Why you might like it: Author Mary Doria Russell employs meticulous research, sumptuous period detail, and sensitive, in-depth character studies.
Try this next: Lyndsay Faye's Gods of Gotham, a historical mystery set in 1845 New York and the 1st in a trilogy, which also features rich characterizations and vivid storytelling.
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