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Orphans of the Carnival: A Novel by Carol BirchDreaming of fame, Julia Pastrana leaves her home in Mexico's Sinaloa state at the encouragement of an American carnival promoter. Despite her talents as a singer and dancer, Julia is mostly dismissed as a sideshow spectacle due to the hair that covers her face and body, the result of a genetic condition. Throughout her eventful life, Julia continues to seek recognition for her abilities, while longing for love and acceptance. Based on the life and career of a real-life 19th-century indigenous Mexican entertainer, this novel by the author of Jamrach's Menagerie may appeal to fans of similar books about Victorian circus performers such as Melanie Benjamin's The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb or Stacy Carlson's Among the Wonderful.
The Shores of Tripoli: A Novel by James L HaleyIn 1801, the newly formed United States naval fleet is dispatched to the Berber States of North Africa to put a stop to the piracy that threatens American trading interests in the Mediterranean. Against this dramatic and richly detailed backdrop of life at sea, 14-year-old midshipman Bliven Putnam earns his stripes. A good choice for fans of seafaring historical sagas in the vein of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series or Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels, The Shores of Tripoli is the 1st book in the Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates series.
Valiant Gentlemen: A Novel by Sabina MurrayRoger Casement meets Herbert Ward in 1886 while both men are working in the Congo. Despite differences in upbringing and temperament, they form a friendship that endures for the next 40 years, even as the two pursue different paths in life (Ward marries an Argentinean-American heiress, while Casement dedicates himself to humanitarian efforts). However, Casement's staunch support for Irish independence ultimately drives them apart. Valiant Gentlemen's in-depth psychological portraits of its complex leads intensify the novel's emotional impact as estrangement leads to tragedy.
Crossing the Horizon: A Novel by Laurie NotaroIn 1927, three women vie to be the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic: the Honorable Elsie Mackay, an earl's daughter who disobeys her family's wishes in order to follow her dreams; Mabel Boll, a wealthy widow who craves fame and adulation above all else; and Ruth Elder, a former beauty pageant winner from Alabama who's got her eyes on the skies. For another character-driven tale of daring women breaking barriers in the 1920s, check out Victoria Patterson's The Peerless Four, about a Canadian track and field team overcoming significant hurdles in pursuit of Olympic gold.
New York City in the 1950s
The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie BenjaminIn 1955, literary enfant terrible Truman Capote becomes the friend and confidant of Babe Paley, the glamorous "trophy wife" of a prominent media executive. Soon, Capote becomes a fixture in Babe's bevy of "swans" -- a veritable who's who of Manhattan socialites, including Slim Keith, Marella Agnelli, C.Z. Guest, and Gloria Guinness. But even Capote's genuine (or is it?) regard for Babe doesn't prevent him from gleefully gathering material that he'll turn into "La Côte Basque 1965," a roman à clef that will tear this close-knit circle apart. Secrets, scandals, and betrayals small and large drive this gossipy, high-drama tale from the author of The Aviator's Wife.
Searching for Grace Kelly by Michael CallahanSet in Manhattan's storied Barbizon Hotel for Women during the summer of 1955, this "deliciously stylish, retro" (Booklist) debut follows a trio of young women as they pursue their personal and professional goals. Smith College student Laura is a summer intern at Mademoiselle; working girl Dolly attends secretarial school while husband-hunting; and vivacious British import Vivian, an aspiring singer, peddles cigarettes at New York's famed Stork Club. Their bond, intensified by their shared living situation, is also tested by romantic complications involving men both eligible and unsuitable. If you enjoyed the period detail and heady atmosphere of Amor Towles' Rules of Civility or Fiona Davis' The Dollhouse, try Searching for Grace Kelly.
Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne RindellGreenwich Village in 1958 is "a madman's paradise," explains aspiring writer Cliff Nelson. Disinherited by his wealthy family, Cliff dreams of literary stardom but spends much of his time bar-hopping. His story intersects with that of both Eden Katz, a Midwest transplant who's determined to have a career in publishing despite the industry's sexism and anti-Semitism, and African American writer Miles Tillman, Harlem-born and Columbia-educated, whose talent and ambition may not be enough to overcome society's prejudices. Reminiscent of Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything, this novel evokes a bygone era through sparkling dialogue and rich period detail.
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