The Hollywood Daughter: A Novel by Kate AlcottJessica "Jesse" Malloy's father is a PR executive for Selznick International Pictures; her mother is a devout Catholic homemaker who disapproves of the film industry. These worldviews clash when Jesse's idol, glamorous starlet Ingrid Bergman, begins an affair with married Italian director Roberto Rossellini -- a scandal that places her father's career, her parents' marriage, and the family's livelihood in jeopardy. Although it's set in the 1950s instead of the 1930s, this coming-of-age story by the author of A Touch of Stardust may appeal to fans of Adriana Trigiani's All the Stars in the Heavens, which also features a young Catholic woman who observes a Hollywood scandal and the moral hypocrisy that accompanies it.
In the Name of the Family: A Novel by Sarah DunantThis sequel to Blood and Beauty finds Rodrigo Borgia comfortably ensconced in the Vatican as Pope Alexander VI. His illegitimate children continue to increase their wealth and power through any means available: brilliant but volatile Cesare undertakes an ambitious military campaign, while daughter Lucrezia embarks on her third marriage to secure a political alliance with the prominent Este family. Observing (and learning from) their exploits is diplomat and spy Niccolò Machiavelli. For other fictional treatments of this infamous family, check out C.W. Gortner's The Vatican Princess or Jeanne Kalogridis' The Borgia Bride.
The Confessions of Young Nero: A Novel by Margaret GeorgeLucius Domitius Ahenobarbus was born to rule. At least, that's what his mother believes, though it must be noted that Agrippina, a woman with a penchant for poisoning her husbands, may not be the most reliable judge of character. Still, Lucius -- an intelligent, sensitive boy who loves music and chariot races -- can only be an improvement over his uncle, Caligula. Lucius strives to distance himself from his relatives even as he benefits from Agrippina's scheming: by age 16, he's Emperor Nero. However, he quickly discovers that staying in power requires a certain amount of ruthlessness. This novel by the author of The Memoirs of Cleopatra is an unusual coming-of-age story that imagines the life of a notorious ruler.
The Typewriter's Tale: A Novel by Michiel HeynsIn 1907, 23-year-old Frieda Wroth, a graduate of the Young Ladies' Academy of Typewriting, arrives at Lamb House in Sussex to become Henry James' typist. Not quite a servant, Wroth occupies an unusual position in the household that allows her to observe its small dramas without participating in them. That changes with the arrival of Morton Fullerton, an American foreign correspondent based in Paris, who wants Frieda to help him retrieve a packet of letters in James' possession. With her personal desires at war with her sense of loyalty, Frieda faces a dilemma worthy of one of her employer's heroines. This introspective novel may appeal to readers who enjoyed Colm Tóibín's The Master.
The Horseman: A Novel by Tim PearsLeo Sercombe loves horses. The son of a tenant farmer, Leo lives on the Somerset estate of Lord Prideaux and aspires to a position in the master's stables. He also befriends headstrong Charlotte, Prideaux's daughter. However, in Edwardian England, Leo's ambition, coupled with his disregard for class boundaries, make him an outlier and a threat. Descriptive in style and episodic in structure, The Horseman begins in 1911 and continues through World War I. Downton Abbey fans should enjoy this period piece, which reveals a society that clings to tradition as it undergoes dramatic changes wrought by industrialization.
The Distant Marvels by Chantel AcevedoAs Hurricane Flora makes landfall in 1963 Cuba, 82-year-old Maria Sirena is forcibly evacuated to the historic mansion of the island's first governor, now a museum. Once Maria was employed as a lettora, paid to read aloud to cigar factory workers (while frequently embellishing the texts with her own commentary). Now she uses her storytelling talents to entertain her fellow evacuees with an unofficial, deeply personal history of Cuba starting with her birth in 1881 aboard a Spanish ship and encompassing the Cuban War of Independence, the upheavals of the Spanish-American War, and the events leading up to Cuba's revolution and Castro's rise to power.
Island Beneath the Sea: A Novel by Isabel AllendeZarité -- better known as Tété -- is the slave of Toulouse Valmorain, a wealthy sugarcane planter in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Although Tété loathes her master, her fears for the safety of their children and his promises of manumission prompt her to help him escape during the Haitian Revolution. She flees with Valmorain and the children to Cuba, and then to New Orleans, where, she soon discovers, her troubles are only beginning. Lush and steamy, Island Beneath the Sea presents a dramatic family saga grounded in rich historical detail and vivid descriptions of 18th-century life in Haiti and Louisiana.
All Souls' Rising: A Novel of Haiti by Madison Smartt BellIn 1791, the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (dubbed "Ayiti" by the indigenous Taíno) is divided between the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo and the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Both sides, however, depend on slave labor to produce sugar. Complicating an already volatile situation is the island's convoluted social hierarchy, which -- in addition to Creoles and African slaves -- recognizes 64 different varieties of "mulatto," most of whom are free and whose interests run contrary to those of both the plantation owners and the slaves. In other words, it's a powder keg waiting to explode by the time Toussaint Louverture spearheads a slave rebellion. All Souls' Rising is the 1st book in Madison Smartt Bell's Haiti Trilogy.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon JamesInspired by the attempted assassination of musician Bob Marley on December 3, 1976, this novel by the author of The Book of Night Women explores Jamaica's turbulent history through multiple, intersecting narratives that introduce more than a dozen characters. Framed as an oral history, A Brief History of Seven Killings features a diverse cast, an evocative and richly detailed setting, and a sprawling story told by a chorus of distinct voices in pitch-perfect dialogue.
Conquistadora: A Novel by Esmeralda SantiagoGloriosa Ana María de los Ángeles Larragoity Cubillas Nieves de Donostia -- better known as "Ana" -- longs for a life of adventure that neither her convent school nor her respectable parents will provide. Inspired by the exploits of her conquistador ancestors, Ana marries Ramon Argosas and accompanies him and his twin brother to Puerto Rico, where they'll be managing a sugar plantation. An ambitious and savvy businesswoman, Ana is soon running the place, coping with challenges ranging from hurricanes to cholera outbreaks to slave revolts. This sprawling saga, which Publishers Weekly calls "a Puerto Rican Gone With the Wind," boasts a fascinatingly complex, if not always sympathetic, heroine.
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