Jennifer Robson’s Our Darkest Night takes us to the heart of Nazi-occupied Italy in World War II. Here a young Jewish woman finds refuge in the home of a priest-turned-farmer who agrees to pretend that she’s his new bride. The couple must not only fool their neighbors in a close-knit Italian village, but also the suspicious Nazi official who already has a vendetta against the former priest.
Dangerous Women by Hope Adams combines a mystery with early Australian history when two hundred Englishwomen are forced onto a convict ship headed towards Australia in 1841. All the women have been convicted of petty crime, but only one is willing to commit murder to escape.
Nazis ruin everything once again in Kristy Cambron’s The Paris Dressmaker. Spanning the four years of Nazi occupation in France, this book focuses on two women, one a gifted dressmaker who infiltrates the upper echelon of the Nazi elite in Paris and the other a gifted spy for the resistance who investigates the dressmaker’s disappearance.
The Elephant of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh has one of the most unique premises I’ve ever seen set in that popular World War II genre. Here a young zookeeper named Hettie finds a new lease on life when she takes charge of Violet, a new elephant in a Belfast zoo. Unfortunately, her new job coincides with the German blitz of Belfast in 1941, sending Hettie on a mission to protect her elephant charge.
While Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground is not strictly speaking a new 2021 novel—he originally wrote it in the 1940s—but this is the first year that the whole novel will be fully published. This novel explores the story of a Black man in a Chicago neighborhood who is randomly picked up after a local murder and tortured until he confesses to the crime. At which point, he escapes to the sewers below the city.
America’s early Puritan history has a fascinating dark underbelly and Chris Bohjalian’s Hour of the Witch dives right in to explore it. Mary could have had her pick of men in the Old World, but in America, she’s the new wife of the Widower Thomas, a powerful but vindictive pillar of the community. When an act of incredible violence drives Mary to seek a divorce, she finds herself at the center of a witch hunt.
Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams centers on a family mystery in the heart of the Cold War. Here a woman and her American family disappear from their London home, eventually driving her twin sister behind the Iron Curtain to try to figure out what happened to them.
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris is a fascinating glimpse into the last days of the Civil War. Two brothers, recently freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, take temporary refuge on the farm of a grief-stricken couple who lost their son to the war. Meanwhile, two Confederate soldiers, who are secretly lovers, return home and attempt to hide their relationship from their community.
I think most librarians are drawn to stories about librarians and The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray looks like a great one. This book takes the real story of Belle da Costa Greene, J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian, and explores her rise to power in New York society while trying to hide the fact that she is not Portuguese but actually a light-skinned Black woman.
I am absolutely dying to read Kristen Harmel’s The Forest of Vanishing Stars when it comes out in July. In this novel, a child is stolen from her German parents and raised in a survivalist’s paradise until her kidnapper dies in 1941. After that, the young woman continues to live her solitary existence until a group of Jewish refugees finds their way into her forest.