‘The Diamond Eye’ by Kate Quinn is a thrilling historical fiction based on a truly heroic Russian female sniper during WWII

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn’s latest historical fiction novel, “The Diamond Eye,” is a fictionalized story of a Russian woman who became one of the most acclaimed snipers in WWII. In fact, in the author notes at the end of the book, Quinn states that while she usually explains how the fictional characters in the story relate to the real historical people, in this book “nearly every person named comes straight from the historical record.” Of course, it’s fiction. Quinn doesn’t know, and we don’t learn, exactly what transpired during those turbulent times when Germany invaded Russia. But Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a real woman, and she wrote a memoir that Quinn used to relate many of the events documented in the novel.

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‘The Echoes’ by Jess Montgomery is the 4th novel in the wonderful historical fiction ‘Kinship’ series

The Echoes by Jess Montgomery

Somehow, “The Echoes” seems a softer story than the first three novels in this fabulous historical fiction series about a woman sheriff and the problems she encounters in the rural Ohio county she protects at the start of the last century. While there are crimes in this story, the focus is on the people who live in this part of Bronwyn County, Ohio. It’s July, 1928, and both the weather and emotions are running hot. The narration is in third person, and author Jess Montgomery shares both Sheriff Lily Ross and her mother, Beulah’s points of view. Each is clearly labeled. Both women are widows, and Lily’s mother had a late-in-life child who is the same age as one of Lily’s children. What Lily does not know at the start of this story is that her mother has arranged for Lily’s brother’s child, Esmé, who was born in France during WWI, to come to live with them.

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‘Woman on Fire’ by Lisa Barr is a thriller about the worlds of art and censorship

Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr

In “Woman on Fire,” author Lisa Barr immerses readers into the world of art—now and during the Holocaust—and how the art world, the buying and selling of paintings by famous artists, even today is impacted by what the Nazis did. Barr begins the story with one of the main characters, Jules Roth, in danger during an art exhibit. The story then takes us back 18 months in time and cleverly provides the background for that event. It also shares the fascinating story of lost artwork, Nazi theft and destruction of artwork, hidden identities, psychopathy, drugs, artists, and journalism.

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‘Memphis’ by Tara M. Stringfellow is an ode to generations of Black women and a view into the conflicting issues of motherhood

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

In her historical fiction novel “Memphis,” Tara M. Stringfellow introduces us to three generations of women. We meet Hazel, who was born in 1921; Miriam, born in 1957; her sister August, born in 1963; and Miriam’s two daughters, Joan and Mya, born in the mid 1980s. It’s through the eyes and words of four of these women that we learn the story of one Memphis family, and this family—these strong women who suffer through so much adversity yet remain pillars of strength—is based on Stringfellow’s family and her ancestors.

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‘When Winter Robeson Came’ by Brenda Woods is a beautifully told middle grade historical fiction

When Winter Robeson Came
by Brenda Woods

I don’t think I’d ever read a book about the 1965 riots in Watts, California, until I read Brenda Woods’ beautifully written book, “When Winter Robeson Came.” There is much that is lovely about the verse in this story: the lyrical language, the way Woods compares feelings to tempos in music, the clever way she compares the discrimination in Mississippi to that in California, and how she manages to make us feel the gamut of emotions that the characters display from fear to joy.

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‘The Last House on the Street’ by Diane Chamberlain grips readers with a story of terror and a look back at the horror of bigotry and violence during a time of civil rights activism

Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain grabs us from the first few pages in “The Last House on the Street,” when main character Kayla is confronted by a hostile woman, masquerading as a prospective client, who unsettlingly knows more than is comfortable about Kayla and the recent death of her husband, as well as about her young daughter and the secluded new house they are preparing to move into. Her tone is threatening and causes Kayla to feel even more fearful about moving into the house that she and her husband, both architects, had built as the house of their dreams.

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‘Ripped Away’ is historical fantasy as two kids travel back to London at the time of Jack the Ripper

Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick

“Ripped Away” by Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle grade novel, almost a novella, really, at a bit over 100 pages, featuring first person narrator Abe Pearlman. In his very relatable, charming narrative he describes his lonely existence. He’s not in any school clubs nor does he play sports. And when he nods at Mitzi, a classmate he finds interesting, she can’t be bothered to respond with even a nod. As he walks through town on his way home from school, he sees a sign he had never noticed before, “Fortunes and Futures,” in the third story of a building. He decides to investigate.

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‘The Last Dance of the Debutante’ by Julia Kelly is a frothy tale of parties and upper-class British snobbery but it’s touching and inspiring

The Last Dance of the Debutante
by Julia Kelly

“The Last Dance of the Debutante,” Julia Kelly’s historical fiction about the last group of British debutantes who got presented at Court to the Queen in 1958 is, as might be said about many of the debutantes, a frothy delight. Getting to sneak vicariously into debutante parties and reading about the effort and expense that went into a debutante’s season in 1950s England is fascinating, and Kelly provides us with the inside story. It was a time when, at least for upper class women, their goal as debutantes was to meet other debutantes and expand their social circle, all in the pursuit of one overarching aim: to find a husband who would increase their social value. So the daughters of the extremely well-connected and wealthy might demand a suitor with a title or prospective title, and the daughter of an impoverished but noble family might simply need a suitor who could provide the funds to keep the family estates going. Each debutante had slightly different goals, but almost all were in pursuit of a husband.

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‘Boy Underground’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde is a coming of age story of a gay teen in the 1940s

Boy Underground by Catherine Ryan Hyde

“Boy Underground” is the title of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest novel, and the title has a double meaning. On one hand, the title refers to Nick, who is main character Steven Katz’ best friend, and who is also Steven’s romantic crush. Because of an unbelievable betrayal by Nick’s father, he must hide and ends up living underground in a root cellar on Steven’s family’s huge farm. On the other hand, the title could also refer to Steven, and the fact he is gay; something he is hiding from his family and pretty much everyone else. During this time homosexuality was considered a perversion and a crime. Steven’s feelings, his identity, his persona—all are hidden “underground.”

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‘The Last Rose of Shanghai’ by Weina Dai Randel is a gripping novel about turbulent life in wartime China

The Last Rose of Shanghai
by Weina Dai Randel

“The Last Rose of Shanghai” by Weina Dai Randel paints a vivid portrait of life in Shanghai during WWII, during the Japanese occupation both before and after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It’s an in-depth study of not only the Jewish refugee situation, but also how wealthy Chinese families lived and the rules that they lived by. The story is told from the viewpoints of Aiyi Shao, the youngest daughter of a wealthy Shanghai family; Ernest Reismann, a German refugee who arrived in Shanghai with nothing but a camera and his younger sister; and also from Aiyi Shao’s point of view in 1980 as she is trying to convince a documentarian to research and film a documentary about Ernest’s life during the war.

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‘The Winter Guest’ by Pam Jenoff is historical fiction about Poland, life in a small village during WWII, and sacrifice

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff writes historical fiction, sometimes based on real events, usually about WWII and the Holocaust. Her books provide a glimpse into how people survived in often horrific situations and reflect both the best and the worst instincts of humans. In “The Winter Guest,” Jenoff writes about Poland during the war, centering her story on a family in a small town near Kraków, eighteen-year-old twin sisters caring for their younger three siblings after the death of their father and the hospitalization of their mother for cancer. Much of the story is about their struggle to survive during this time of depredation, but Jenoff also imagines what life was like in small-town Poland.

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‘The Ballad of Laurel Springs’ by Janet Beard is historical fiction about the songs that might just define us

The Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet Beard

“The Ballad of Laurel Springs” by Janet Beard is historical fiction that begins in the present and gives us context for the ballads that are repeated through each woman’s tale — for this is a story that runs for over century, told about and by women all related by blood or circumstance. Each woman shares her story, some taking place in a year, some over many years, in first person narrative. At times, it almost feels like they are speaking directly to us. Pearl’s first sentence to us is, “I don’t believe in witches…Seems to me folks just like to blame their troubles on someone. If your cow stops giving milk, it’s probably sick, and if your horse up and dies, it’s probably gotten old. It’s not a witch’s fault—just bad luck.” That attitude changes horrifically later in her story.

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