Biography and Memoir
The Pianist from Syria by Aeham AhmadWhat it's about: Born a second-generation Palestinian refugee in Syria, accomplished pianist Aeham Ahmad sought solace in music as the ongoing Syrian civil war tore his adopted homeland apart.
Author alert: Readers may remember Ahmad from the widely-circulated videos of him playing piano in a rubble-strewn Damascus; in 2015, he won the International Beethoven Prize for Human Rights.
Is it for you? This day-to-day account of the conflict -- and Ahmad's eventual immigration to Germany -- is both wrenching and inspiring.
Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto HindmanWhat it is: the surreal stranger-than-fiction chronicle of Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman's four years spent working as a fake violinist for a famous and eccentric unnamed composer.
Wait, what? Hindman and her fellow musicians played their instruments to packed houses across America, even performing on PBS -- but the music audiences heard blared from hidden CD players.
Reviewers say: "tricky, unnerving, consistently fascinating" (Kirkus Reviews); "far-reaching, insightful, and unputdownable" (Booklist).
The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation by Jodie PattersonWhat it's about: Activist Jodie Patterson finds her mettle tested when her third child, three-year-old Penelope, announces, "I'm a boy."
Read it for: Patterson's candid reflections on black womanhood and parenting a transgender child.
For fans of: Nishta J. Mehra's Brown White Black and other moving family memoirs that address issues of intersectionality.
First: Sandra Day O'Connor, An Intimate Portrait of the First Woman Supreme Court... by Evan ThomasWhat it is: a deeply researched biography of Sandra Day O'Connor, who in 1981 became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Don't miss: gossipy tidbits of Court intrigue (O'Connor and her fellow justice Antonin Scalia couldn't stand each other).
Did you know? In 1973, O'Connor also became the first female Senate Majority Leader when she was elected to lead the Arizona state Senate.
The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose by Chris Wilson with Bret WitterWhat it's about: At 17, Chris Wilson was sentenced to life in prison after killing a man in self-defense. Though his sentence was commuted after 10 years, he spent the intervening time working on his "Master Plan" for success, completing an Associate's Degree and learning new languages.
A fresh start: Once released, Wilson started a business that hires ex-convicts and found fulfillment as a motivational speaker.
Who it's for: readers who enjoy uplifting stories of second chances.
Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate, and the Throne by Christopher AndersenWhat it is: an engaging collective biography of the three most powerful women in the British monarchy -- reigning queen Elizabeth II; Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
Why you might like it: Bestselling royal biographer Christopher Andersen's "catnip for royal watchers" (Vanity Fair) offers a dishy and detailed examination of the monarchy's possible futures following Elizabeth's death or abdication.
Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia BairdWhat it is: a lively and sympathetic portrait of Queen Victoria, Britain's second-longest reigning monarch (after Elizabeth II).
Read it for: journalist Julia Baird's thoughtful myth-debunking -- contrary to popular belief, Victoria did not shirk her royal duties following the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert.
Reviewers say: "readers will feel as though the story of the famous British queen is being told for the first time" (Booklist).
Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia... by Nancy GoldstoneStarring: Elizabeth Stuart, a granddaughter of Mary, Queen of Scots whose disastrous political marriage precipitated the Thirty Years' War; Elizabeth's four spirited daughters, whom she raised in exile during the Dutch Golden Age.
Why it matters: Elizabeth's determination to maintain her daughters' royal power and influence still resonates, as every British monarch since George I can be traced "in unbroken line" to this lesser-known family.
A Royal Experiment: Love and Duty, Madness and Betrayal -- The Private Lives of King... by Janice HadlowWhat it's about: "Mad King" George III of the dysfunctional Hanover line sought to be a moral compass for his subjects by conducting a virtuous public and private life -- often at the expense of his own relationships.
Read it for: George's faithful yet complicated marriage to Queen Charlotte, who bore him 15 children and often sublimated her own desires to ensure the success of his reign.
Book buzz: Originally published in the UK as The Strangest Family, A Royal Experiment was a 2014 Booklist Editors' Choice pick.
Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions... by John Julius NorwichWhat it is: a sweeping group biography of four long-reigning 16th-century monarchs who dramatically shaped the era's politics and culture.
Want a taste? "Sometimes friends, more often enemies, always rivals, the four of them together held Europe in the hollow of their hands."
About the author: The late John Julius Norwich was a popular historian and the author of Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy.
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