Books have the power to change lives and nowhere is this more true than the story of 19-year-old Cussy Carter, an Appalachian woman who joins the Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and delivers books to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky. She's also the last living female with Blue People ancestry, all of whom had a skin condition called methemoglobinemia, which really did turn their skin blue. Inspired by real history and set in 1936, this is a story of hope and heartbreak and how fierce determination can challenge the grasp of poverty and oppression.
- by Lisa See
O: The Oprah Magazine calls this: "A spellbinding portrait of a time burning with opportunity and mystery." From the publisher: "It's 1938 in San Francisco: a world's fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities. Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. The girls become fast friends, relying on one another through unexpected challenges and shifting fortunes."
The story behind this historical thriller could launch its own novel, which is just one reason this book earned a dedicated bonus episode of One Great Book. Lara Prescott has always loved the book Dr Zhivago, and was stunned—along with the rest of the world—when the CIA declassified documents revealing that it had played a role in the book's covert publication and distribution in Russia during the Cold War. This is Prescott's imagining of what that might have looked like. The story moves between East, where the focus is on Pasternak and his muse/mistress, and West, where readers get to know the female spies of the OSS. The book has the feel of Kate Quinn’s The Huntress, with some of the storytelling flavor of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, or Brit Bennet’s The Mothers.
From the publisher: "From the author of A Bridge Across the Ocean comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters--Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa--a chance at a better life. But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope."
In this standalone novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, three women’s lives become entangled over the course of Labor Day weekend, 1935, when the storm of the century slams into Key West. The story is told from three perspectives, that of three different women who seem to share little in common, but whose lives are about to intersect in ways no one could foresee. Helen is a Key West native, poor and pregnant, fleeing her abusive husband. Mirta is Cuban, newly married to a man she barely knows, and just beginning her honeymoon. And Elizabeth, who’s come south on a dangerous search for a long-lost loved one. A captivating novel about a little-known historical event.
- by Jess Walter
This is a story of two brothers who get mixed up in the labor movement in 1909 in Spokane, Washington. They're from Montana and when their mother died, their last surviving parent, they go to the big city to find work and make a future for themselves. But the brothers end up at a labor protest and they end up in jail. As a result of their circumstances, they get all mixed up with the based-on real life activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Hers was not a name I knew, but I love reading about under explored, unexamined periods of history. Something else I loved about this book is the wonderful cast of characters. It's at its heart a story of two brothers, but the whole roster of supporting characters is deep and fabulous. There's a vaudeville actress whose character might be my favorite; her stage name is Ursula the Great and her backstory is fantastic. I would highly recommend this for fans of This Tender Land.
- by Ariel Lawhon
I loved Lawhon's historical fiction debut The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress and was eager to read her next work. Her second novel puts an interesting spin on a tragic historical event: the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. This entertaining, suspenseful tale is told from multiple points of view and is based on the lives of real characters. The enigmatic setting—aboard the luxurious yet claustrophobic airship—captures your imagination. My husband surprised me by loving this. For fans of Agatha Christie and Kate Morton. Publication date February 23, 2016.
- by Stacey Lee
From the publisher: "An unforgettable story of determination set against a backdrop of devastating tragedy. San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty of Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare's School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes. On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. Now she's forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can't sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the 'bossy' cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?"
- by Ruta Sepetys
This is a terrific YA novel equally beloved by tweens, teens, and grown-ups. My daughter pulled this down from our family bookshelves because her teacher was raving about it. From the publisher: "For readers of All the Light We Cannot See, bestselling author Ruta Sepetys returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war's most devastating—yet unknown—tragedies."
From the publisher: "An epic journey set during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. A stunning new novel that tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. Hassan has a secret—he can draw maps of places he's never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan's surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan's gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?"
- by Anita Shreve
After a scorching summer and months of no rain, the largest fires in Maine's history swept over its coast, from Bar Harbor to Kittery. In Shreve's claustrophobic domestic suspense we experience this real event through the eyes of Grace Holland, whose marriage is its own sort of natural disaster. Her husband came back from the war a little broken. So did her friend's husbands, yet they don't seem as cruel. When wildfires break out, her husband leaves to help dig a fire break, and Grace and her children flee to the ocean to escape the flames. When her husband doesn't return, Grace thinks she's lost him forever—and she's far from devastated. But then he returns, and the real trouble begins. Dark and a little melodramatic, but oh-so-discussable. Publication date: April 18.
From the publisher: "Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn't stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her. When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots—and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly as well as do something significant to help her brother stationed in the Pacific. But even the WASP won't accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of 'passing,' of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one's racial heritage, denying one's family, denying one's self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be."
- by Kate Quinn
The Alice Network author Quinn also takes on the aftermath of WWII in her latest historical release. Inspired by a true story she stumbled upon in the historical archives (which would totally spoil the big reveal—you’re going to have to read the Author’s Note to learn all!), Quinn weaves together three perspectives to tell a gripping story: Jordan is a Boston teenager who works in her father’s Boston antiques store, Ian is a British journalist determined to bring his brother’s killer—known as “the Huntress”—to justice, and Nina is a Russian fighter pilot and the only woman alive who can identify the Huntress. There’s no weak link in the story; each thread is fascinating—and when they began to come together I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. A mesmerizing tale of war crimes, coming of age, love and fidelity, and the pursuit of justice, with stirring implications for today.
- by Louise Hare
In 1948, the Empire Windrush arrived in Essex, London, carrying 492 Jamaican immigrants who were recruited by the British government to help rebuild the economy after WWII. In her debut novel, Louise Hare tells a fictional story about young love, prejudice, and home. Recent immigrant Lawrie Matthews works as a postman by day and a jazz musician by night. In between, he makes time to woo the girl next door. When Lawrie discovers something terrible on his way to work one day, he becomes the number one suspect, despite all evidence to the contrary. The community turns against him in a show of xenophobia and racism; his hopes seem all but dashed. His friends want to help but fear getting wrapped up in danger themselves, leaving it up to Lawrie's love interest to step in. Hare writes a mystery wrapped in a romance, with vibrant historical detail.
Historian-turned-novelist Robson sets her latest historical release in 1947, when times are grim: so many have lost so much, war rationing continues, Britain is in ruins. But in a bleak year, there’s a bright spot: Princess Elizabeth’s royal wedding captured the hearts of a nation, and was a beacon of hope to a country on its knees. Britain was on its knees, but the people insisted on a real celebration, including a beautiful gown. Robson’s story shifts among three protagonists and spans 70 years, but the common thread is Elizabeth’s gown—and specifically, the women who make it. While Robson has a fine eye for detail, and her behind-the-scenes descriptions of the fine autelier’s workroom are riveting, the heartbeat of the story comes from female friendship, secret pasts, and life after loss. A must-read for fans of The Crown, and recommended for all seeking an intimate take on the often-neglected postwar era.