The Tsarina's Daughter by Ellen AlpstenSeries alert: The Tsarina's Daughter is the follow-up to Ellen Alpsten's first biographical novel Tsarina, which centered on Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great, and her rise from commoner to Empress Regnant of Russia.
This time: The deaths of her parents and shifts in court politics leave Peter and Catherine's sheltered daughter Elizabeth (called Lizenka) penniless and out of favor in her youth, but as an adult she is presented with an opportunity for redress that's as tempting as it is dangerous.
Reviewers say: "Alpsten’s gifts at laying on evocative period detail and engendering empathy for her characters will keep the pages turning" (Publishers Weekly).
City of Incurable Women by Maud CaseyInspired by: the real stories of women confined to the Salpêtrière hospital in Belle Epoque Paris with the dehumanizing and unscientific diagnosis of "hysteria."
Read it for: the evocative, lyrical writing and vivid illustrations, which bring each woman's memorable story to life.
Is it for you? The experimental structure and visceral depictions of the horrors of 19th century psychiatry might not appeal to all readers.
Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa FuWhat it is: a moving and character-driven family saga that explores questions of identity, obligation, and the sacrifices sometimes required to survive.
The setup: After traumatic upheaval during his childhood in China Renshu "Henry" Dao does everything in his power to assimilate into American culture, but he isn't prepared when his daughter Lily starts asking questions that could reopen the wounds of his buried past.
Reviewers say: The "sincere and tender prose" (Booklist) in Peach Blossom Spring makes for "an affecting tale of love, loss, estrangement, and heritage" (Publishers Weekly).
A Fine Madness by Alan JuddWhat it's about: the fascinating life and mysterious death of Elizabethan dramatist and alleged secret agent Christopher Marlowe.
Narrated by: Linguist and forger Thomas Phelippes, who worked in espionage under Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I's principal secretary and unofficial spymaster.
Series alert: A Fine Madness is the first in a planned series by diplomat and spy novelist Alan Judd.
The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. by Lee KravetzWhat it is: a lyrical psychological novel about three lives touched by the development, publication, and study of Sylvia Plath's only novel The Bell Jar.
Starring: Agatha White, a frustrated 1950s housewife who develops a one-sided and increasingly obsessive rivalry with Plath after they join the same poetry group; psychiatrist Dr. Ruth Barnhouse, who tried to treat Plath's clinical depression; auction house curator Estee, who discovers the original manuscript of Plath's novel.
Appearances by: influential American poets Robert Lowell, Maxine Kumin, and Anne Sexton (who the character Agatha White is based on).
The Great Passion by James RuncieWhat it's about: Upon hearing about the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, a former student of the composer reflects on his time with his teacher, which coincided with the composition of the celebrated oratorio St. Matthew's Passion.
Book buzz: The Great Passion is "historical fiction of the highest order" (Publishers Weekly) and "rich in its descriptions of music, devotion to God, and the daily hardships of 18th-century life" (Kirkus Reviews).
About the author: Documentarian, producer, and writer James Runcie is best known for his Grantchester historical mystery series, which was adapted into the popular show of the same name.
Quantum Girl Theory by Erin Kate RyanWhat it is: a suspenseful, unconventional missing person story set during the 1960s in a small Southern town with an uncanny atmosphere and plenty of secrets to hide.
Starring: itinerant hustler Mary, a "psychic" who joins the search for a missing girl hoping for the reward money but begins to take a genuine interest in the case after realizing it might be connected to two more disappearances that aren't receiving the same attention.
Who it's for: readers that appreciate parallel narratives, unreliable narrators, and thought-provoking mysteries.
Pollak's Arm by Hans von Trotha; translated by Elisabeth LaufferHow it starts: From his well-appointed apartment in Rome, Jewish Austro-Czech archaeologist and art collector Ludwig Pollak begins to share, in a leisurely fashion, a remarkable tale of his life and career with an unnamed visitor working on behalf of the Vatican.
The problem: The visitor is there to plead with Pollak to take refuge within the walls of the Vatican, where he will be safe from Nazi roundups of local Jews -- the first of which is set to begin the following day.
What makes it unique: Pollak's Arm is as much a tour of the titular character's impressive collection of art and antiquities as it is a story of the man himself, inviting readers to contemplate each richly depicted object along the way.
Things Past Telling by Sheila WilliamsWhat it's about: Inspired by a supercentenarian named in the 1870 U.S. census and ancestors of author Sheila Williams, this descriptive, dramatic novel follows the life of Maryam, an enslaved midwife.
Read it for: the sheer span of events Maryam's long life has allowed her to witness; Maryam's hard-won tenacity and resilience, which sustain her through her dehumanizing circumstances.
For fans of: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi; Conjure Women by Afia Atakora; Sadeqa Johnson's Yellow Wife.
Red Burning Sky by Tom YoungStarring: stranded American airman Bill Bogdonavich, who gets involved with the local resistance in his father's home country of Yugoslavia after his plane is shot down by the Nazis; Drew Carlton, a fighter pilot desperate to make up for a recent string of failed missions in whatever way he can.
Their mission: coordinate the safe return of hundreds of Allied soldiers stuck behind enemy lines through volatile alliances between the O.S.S., royalist Serbian partisans, and communist guerillas.
Why you should read it: Red Burning Sky is a welcome addition to English-language World War II fiction set in forgotten theaters of the conflict.
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