Mary Jane by Jessica Anya BlauWhat it's about: Sheltered teenager Mary Jane Dillard takes a babysitting job with her neighbors the Cone family, whose freewheeling 1970s lifestyle shows her that her future can be more than the church and country club bubble her strict mother keeps her in.
Read it for: the engaging characters, who are witty and likeable; the nostalgic tone, which evokes the 1970s in all of its mustard yellow and avocado green glory.
The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander BoschwitzWhat it's about: Businessman and World War I veteran Otto Silbermann has always felt as German as he has Jewish, but Kristallnacht changes everything. With no place to go he evades arrest through constant train travel, looking for refuge or even better, a way out of the country.
Why you might like it: Otto's sardonic observations draw a chilling (but occasionally absurdist) portrait of a society changing faster than the trains hurtling from one end of Germany to another.
About the author: The Passenger is the recently rediscovered second novel of half-Jewish writer Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, who escaped Germany in 1935. His previous novel was People Parallel to Life.
Half Life by Jillian CantorWhat it is: a lyrical and thought-provoking reimagining of Marie Curie's life, told in Sliding Doors-esque parallel narratives -- the life she lived in our world, and another where she decides to stay in Poland for love rather than attend the Sorbonne.
Did you know? Young Maria Sklodowska was involved with mathematician Kazimierz Zorawski, a key figure in the development of Polish mathematics, but the social divide between their families kept them from marrying before she left for Paris in 1891.
Leonora in the Morning Light by Michaela CarterWhat it's about: inspired by the life of artist Leonora Carrington, this reflective novel begins with the rebellious debutante's early career as a painter and spans her affair with artist Max Ernst, her precarious survival of World War II, and her eventual settlement in Mexico.
Appearances by: André Breton and Lee Miller, members of Leonora's social circle in prewar Paris; socialite and art collector Peggy Guggenheim, who helped Leonora escape occupied Europe; Spanish painter Remedios Varo, another European expat who joined Mexico's thriving art scene.
The Bohemians by Jasmin DarznikWhat it is: an engaging and atmospheric portrait of photographer Dorothea Lange, set during the early years of her career in San Francisco.
Why you might like it: The city of San Francisco is almost a character itself, still recovering from the catastrophic 1906 earthquake when Dorothea arrives and later weathering World War I and the 1918 flu no better than the inhabitants of the city.
For fans of: Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone and The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer.
The Social Graces by Renée RosenStarring: established Gilded Age society hostess Caroline Astor; and Alma Vanderbilt, the ambitious "new money" socialite who threatens to supplant Mrs. Astor.
Read it for: the richly detailed portrayal of the era's over-the-top wealth; the biting wit and clever maneuvering of each woman, which will make it hard to choose sides.
Reviewers say: "Rosen presents an engaging novel of 1870s high-society foibles that will please book clubs and fans of glittering frock flicks" (Booklist).
Ariadne by Jennifer SaintWhat it is: an atmospheric, feminist retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur, which imagines what motivated Cretan princess Ariadne to defy her father and the gods and help Theseus escape the labyrinth alive.
Why you might like it: The well-rendered characters are sympathetic but also believably flawed.
You might also like: Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin; Kerry Greenwood's Medea.
Revelations by Mary SharrattWhat it's about: the brief but life-altering acquaintance of mystics Margery Kempe and Dame Julian of Norwich, two towering female figures in medieval religious history.
About the author: Mary Sharratt has written numerous works of historical fiction about women's lives, including Illuminations (about Saint Hildegard von Bingen) and The Dark Lady's Mask (about poet Aemilia Bassano Lanier).
Want a taste? "When I first saw the Mysteries at York, I was seventeen and as vain as Salome."
The Elephant of Belfast by S. Kirk WalshWhat it is: a moving story of the bonds between animals and humans, inspired by the true story of a zookeeper and her charges during the Blitz.
Read it for: the affectionate relationship between (human) Hettie and (elephant) Violet; the evocative portrait of Belfast, an uncommon setting for World War II fiction.
Reviewers say: "Walsh offers a unique perspective of a country at war and the lengths people will go for those they love" (Kirkus Reviews).
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip WilliamsWhat it's about: the creation of the first Oxford English Dictionary from the perspective of young Esme Nicoll, who decides to collect the words discarded by her father, a compiler, and the rest of the team working under Dr. James Murray.
About the author: Dictionary is the first novel by Australian writer Pip Williams, whose nonfiction includes Time Bomb and One Italian Summer.
Want a taste? "The word sat in the folds of my dress like a bright thing fallen from heaven."
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