Find Me in Havana by Serena BurdickWhat it's about: the true story of the life, career, and untimely death of Cuban actress Estelita Rodriguez, best known for her roles in Westerns with Roy Rogers and John Wayne.
Read it for: the compelling relationship between Estelita and her daughter Nina; the stranger-than-fiction events of Nina's formative years, including surviving a kidnapping and witnessing the Cuban Revolution.
Try this next: Third Girl from the Left by Martha Southgate, which also chronicles the relationships between mothers and daughters who have close connections with the film industry.
My Name is Anton by Catherine Ryan HydeNew York, 1965: Still recovering from his brother's death, troubled teen Anton is fiddling around with his telescope when he discovers that a neighbor is beating his wife, a woman named Edith. Moved to action, Anton connects Edith with a friend who can shelter her if she decides to leave her husband.
Washington D.C., 1980: On a train into the city, Anton and Edith run into each other and despite their age difference, form a heartwarming bond built on Anton's act of kindness 15 years ago.
Read it for: Anton's engaging narration and emotional resiliency.
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne JohnsonWhat it is: an amusing and dramatic story set in 1930s Nevada as Reno becomes the center of a burgeoning industry in quickie divorces.
Starring: Yale dropout Ward Bennett, who takes a desperately needed job at a dude ranch that hosts soon-to-be-divorcées; guest Emily Sommer, who shares an undeniable spark with Ward despite her cool veneer of patrician superiority; larger-than-life aviatrix Nina O'Malley, a guest who is on divorce number 3.
Yellow Wife by Sadeqa JohnsonThe setup: Mixed-race Pheby Brown is anxiously awaiting her 18th birthday, when her white father (and owner) Jacob has promised to set her free.
What goes wrong: A carriage accident kills Pheby's mother and incapacitates her father, and Jacob's bitter and jealous wife seizes the chance to sell Pheby to a cruel jailer, whose treatment Pheby endures until an unexpected opportunity arrives.
Reviewers say: Yellow Wife is a "powerful, unflinching account of determination in the face of oppression" (Publishers Weekly).
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.What it is: a lyrical and heartwrenching story of the power of human connection under even the worst circumstances.
The premise: Enduring the horrors of slavery, two young men living on a Mississippi plantation find love and solace in each other. But when another slave becomes a preacher to gain favor with their master, they soon become a target of his sermons and their community begins to fracture.
You might also like: Edward P. Jones's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Known World, which also features arresting writing and centers on the complex relationships that develop in communities of enslaved people.
Books You Might Have Missed
The First Actress: A Novel of Sarah Bernhardt by C.W. GortnerStarring: legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt the unwanted daughter of a courtesan who rose to a level of international stardom never seen before.
Why you might like it: Bernhardt's life -- both professionally and personally -- was a dramatic one, from having a child out of wedlock to working as a nurse during the Franco-Prussian war to her outrageous yet brilliant publicity stunts.
About the author: C.W. Gortner's other biographical novels include The Vatican Princess, The Romanov Empress, and Marlene.
Aria by Nazanine HozarWhat it's about: the difficult childhood of Iranian orphan Aria and her own journey into motherhood as the 1979 Revolution unfolds around her.
Try this next: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, another sweeping novel that features a woman navigating complex personal circumstances against a backdrop of major social upheaval.
Reviewers say: Aria is a "vibrant, unsettling portrait" of "a nation's fraught history" (Kirkus Reviews).
The Henna Artist by Alka JoshiStarring: artistic Lakshmi Shastri, who has left behind her arranged marriage to make a new life for herself in 1950s Jaipur, India, where she works as a henna artist for wealthy women in the city.
The problem: Lakshmi's 13-year-old sister Radha arrives at her door with news that their parents have died, and in her grief Lakshmi must find a way to keep her own dreams alive while making room for her sister in her life.
Why you might like it: Lush writing evokes the sensory experience of hectic, beautiful Jaipur; Lakshmi's determination and adaptability, which make her easy to root for.
An Elegant Woman by Martha McPheeWhat it is: a sweeping saga that chronicles four generations of women in the Stewart family, from a one-room Montana schoolhouse in the early 1900s to East Coast respectability a century later.
Read it for: the rich historical details; the complexity of its well-developed characters, including gutsy matriarch and suffragist Glenna, imaginative and wily chameleon Katherine.
Reviewers say: "Delicately rendered characters inform a richly textured family portrait" (Kirkus Reviews).
The Paper Daughters of Chinatown by Heather B. MooreWhat it's about: Inspired by a dark chapter in San Francisco history, this well-researched and character-driven story follows Chinese survivors of sex trafficking in the late 1800s and the work of missionary Donaldina Cameron to advocate for them.
Is it for you? Author Heather B. Moore doesn't shy away from some of the less-admirable aspects of the missionaries' work, including their lack of consideration for the Chinese women's own traditions and their strong religious zeal, which was inseparable from their desire to take care of the needy.
Contact your librarian for more great books!