Black history month offers fresh looks at freedom fighters John Lewis, Harriet Tubman and Medgar and Myrlie Evers.
Black history month offers fresh looks at freedom fighters John Lewis, Harriet Tubman and Medgar and Myrlie Evers.

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The American Queen

Bestselling author Vanessa Miller has penned yet another moving and illuminating novel in The American Queen. Inspired by a true story, it celebrates a Black woman’s pursuit of freedom and a community’s undying courage.

It is 1864, and though President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation over a year ago, Louella is still enslaved at the Montgomery Plantation in Mississippi. Emboldened by a speech of her father’s about revolution and freedom—one that later costs him his life—Louella decides to risk her own life to become a free woman. Together with her loving husband, William, she leads her community on a journey fraught with unimaginable obstacles to build a kingdom founded on equality, justice and love.

An indestructible spirit shines through the hardship and cruelty Louella and her community face. Brutal beatings and murders are constant on the plantation, and even after they establish their Kingdom of the Happy Land, inequality, injustice and attacks by the Ku Klux Klan threaten to destroy everything they have painstakingly built. Still, they persevere and create a society where Black people can not only live freely but also pursue their dreams.

With gentleness and empathy, Miller examines the complex relationship between faith and adversity. Though she is inspired by William’s faith, Louella struggles to reconcile her circumstances with God’s promises. Having lost both her mother and father, hate settles in her heart towards those who continuously seek to subdue Black people. Louella’s spiritual journey is beautifully chronicled, and by the end of the novel, her growth is evident.


The Irish Matchmaker

Matchmaking season is approaching and Lisdoonvarna’s matchmakers, Catriona Daly and her father, are preparing for the 1905 Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. Though she’s helped many in the town find love, Catriona herself has been unsuccessful. With each matchmaking season, her hopes of finding her true love and finally leaving Lisdoonvarna are reignited. When Catriona is asked to be the matchmaker for Lord Osborne’s son, Andrew, she instead hopes to catch Andrew’s eye herself, and sets out to become the bride his family wants for him.

Meanwhile, Donal Bunratty is struggling to provide for his young daughter while facing the possibility of losing his farm. Fifty years after the Great Famine, Ireland is still suffering from its impact. Donal’s farm is not as productive as it once was, and without help, he may soon be forced to give it up. Though he misses his late wife, he decides to take part in the matchmaking festival with his daughter’s encouragement.

Filled with delightful twists, The Irish Matchmaker is an immersive story about faith and finding love in unexpected places from Jennifer Deibel, the author of A Dance in Donegal, The Lady of Galway Manor and The Maid of Ballymacool. Deibel skillfully weaves Donal and Catriona’s stories, creating realistic characters and a fascinating storyline. She also takes an honest look at the crushing impact of economic hardship and explores the role of faith when all hope seems lost.


The Foxhole Victory Tour

With enchanting prose, author Amy Lynn Green’s endearing historical novel, The Foxhole Victory Tour, follows the intriguing adventures of a group of USO performers during World War II.

Socialite Catherine Duquette joins a USO tour set to travel across part of North Africa, hoping to escape her sheltered life and find out what happened to Sergeant Leo Wallace, a pilot she’s in love with who suddenly stopped responding to her letters. After getting fired from her dream job, musician Maggie McCleod joins the USO camp show as well. Their unit also includes a magician, a tap dancer and a singer. As the group starts to bond, they learn that the USO talent manager will be selecting only one of them for the prestigious Pepsodent Show tour, a career-making opportunity that all of them are determined to land.

Green crafts a compelling and original cast of characters. Maggie is outspoken and witty, while Catherine is sophisticated and conflict avoidant. Then there is Gabriel, the pensive, withdrawn magician; Judith, the private and skeptical singer; Howie, the experienced tap dancer; and Douglas, their businesslike talent manager. The opportunity to grow their career adds an interesting twist to the group’s dynamics. All of them want to be selected for different, valid reasons. They grow individually and as a group, and beautifully exemplify the themes of friendship, faith and resilience explored in the novel.

The Foxhole Victory Tour is an eye-opening look at the experiences of brave USO performers who helped build troops’ morale and keep them connected to their lives back home during WWII.

Three Christian historical novels laud the power of faith, love and commitment in overcoming risk and tragedy.
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Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Independence chronicles the lives of Bengali sisters Deepa, Priya and Jamini beginning in 1947, during a period of upheaval in India. Deepa looks for fulfillment in marriage, while Priya hopes to become a doctor like their father, and Jamini focuses on family and duty. When their father is fatally shot during a riot, their lives are turned upside down. During the Partition of India and Pakistan, each sister is forced to make a life-changing choice. At once a tender family portrait and a powerful exploration of Indian history, Independence is a rewarding book club pick. 

Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai tracks a diverse cast of characters whose lives are impacted by the Vietnam War. Phong, a Black American Vietnamese orphan, searches for his parents and dreams of immigrating to America. Dan, an American helicopter pilot haunted by his experiences in the war, goes back to Vietnam, aiming to lay the past to rest and mend his marriage. This stirring novel offers a nuanced look at how the country was affected by the conflict, and Nguyễn’s examinations of PTSD and racism will get book clubs talking.

Regina Porter’s The Travelers tells the story of two very different American families whose lives become interlaced over the course of several decades, beginning in the 1950s. James Vincent, a prosperous white lawyer, struggles to bond with his son, Rufus. Tensions mount after Rufus marries Claudia Christie, a Black woman. Through flashbacks, Porter provides a poignant account of Agnes, Claudia’s mother, who was raped as a young woman in Georgia. Porter masterfully spins the detailed stories of other family members as she explores the meaning of kinship and connection. The end result is an epic yet intimate tale teeming with humanity.

In Salt Houses, author Hala Alyan follows the Yacoubs, a Palestinian family displaced by the Six-Day War. The conflict splinters the family, as sisters Alia and Widad settle in Kuwait, and their mother goes to Jordan. Despite a troubled marriage, Alia and her husband, Atef, raise three children, two of whom move to America. Through skillful shifts in perspective, Alyan compassionately portrays the lives of the Yacoubs and their experiences across the years. Tradition, identity and assimilation are among the book’s many rich discussion topics.

Journey from India to Palestine, from Vietnam to midcentury America in these stellar reads.
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The legacy of Sherlock Holmes is a wide one, spanning genres. The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles and The Tainted Cup give two vigorous nods to Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mysteries while embodying radically different tones: While the first is a cozy sci-fi whodunit with romance sprinkled in, the other combines the classic Holmesian ethos with the sort of existential threat epic fantasy can provide. Both novels, however, are tightly constructed celebrations of the mystery form.

The second in Malka Older’s Investigations of Mossa and Pleiti series, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles rejoins Investigator Mossa and her paramour, the botanist Pleiti, as they investigate a series of disappearances around Valdegeld, the university community on the rings of Jupiter in which Pleiti makes her home. As they search for 17 missing students, staff and faculty, Pleiti and Mossa travel from the habitable platforms that surround the planet to Mossa’s childhood home on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. All the while, the specter of their last case looms large in Pleiti’s mind, the conclusion of which shook her faith in both the university and herself. The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles is a delightful cozy mystery: engaging, concise and as focused on its characters’ relationships as it is on the puzzle itself. If that wasn’t enough, Older delivers a world that is detailed enough to be believable but sidesteps away from distracting technical issues that could bog down the story. While lovers of hard sci-fi might feel frustrated by some of the implausibilities of Older’s depiction of life in Jupiter’s rings, the fantastical backdrop not only enables a clever mystery, but also serves as a subtle reminder of what might be in store for humanity if we can’t get our act together about climate change and income inequality.

Despite those faint warnings, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles is ultimately a warm hug of a book. Robert Jackson Bennett’s The Tainted Cup, however, is a shot of distilled paranoia. The city of Daretana is under persistent threat of magical contamination and attack from the massive Leviathans that stalk the waters outside its sea walls. When an officer of the imperial engineering corps dies in a way that is both gruesome and horticulturally intriguing, famed investigator and notorious eccentric Ana Dolabra is pulled onto the case. Ever wary of engaging directly with the outside world, she sends her new assistant, the young Dinios Kol, in her stead. Magically engineered to remember everything he ever experiences, Din becomes Ana’s eyes and ears, and as they dig into the engineer’s death, they find a trail of intrigue that threatens the safety of the empire itself. The mystery within Bennett’s latest novel is slow and methodical, unspooling subtly throughout its 400-plus pages. True to the promise of its epic fantasy backdrop, the novel spins the consequences of the murder into something bigger than any could anticipate. Bennett expands the scope of this story in a way that feels both natural and occasionally surprising, dazzling readers with both his imaginative world building and perfect pacing.

As with many homages to Sherlock Holmes, both The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles and The Tainted Cup are told not from the perspective of their singular investigators, but from the perspective of their assistants. Just as with Conan Doyle’s John Watson, both assistants are in many ways far more three-dimensional than their partners. Older’s Pleiti spends as much time thinking about her research and her budding relationship with Mossa as she does on the case itself. And Bennett’s focus on Din and his occasional misgivings about Ana are often more compelling than any depiction of Ana’s antics.

But even as both novels focus on the everyman features of their investigative assistants, they also continue the tradition of the idiosyncratic, possibly neurodivergent, investigator. Both Ana and Mossa are singular entities, their intellects unmatched by their peers and just as quixotic as Sherlock Holmes himself. While neither wakes up the neighbors at all hours of the night playing the violin, each will worm their way into readers’ hearts in similarly unlikely ways, whether it’s Ana’s tendency to question visitors about the smell of their urine or Mossa’s encyclopedic knowledge of every food stall in the greater Jupiter area. Their lineage is clear, and their prowess is unquestionable.

The Great Detective’s heirs take to the stars and tangle with magical murders.
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Canadian Boyfriend

Jenny Holiday’s Canadian Boyfriend, in which a dance teacher tends to her own emotional wounds while helping a young widower manage his new reality, is a true romance gem. When one of Aurora “Rory” Evans’ students, Olivia, returns to class after losing her mother, Rory is especially attentive to her and Mike Martin, Olivia’s pro hockey-playing dad. Rory and Mike connect immediately, and after Rory moves in to work as a nanny, they become intimate friends . . . and then lovers. Standing in the way of something more permanent is his grief, her people-pleasing ways—and the fact that when Rory was in high school, she told everyone that Mike was her boyfriend, seeing as he conveniently lived in Canada. Still, the bond between them won’t disappear, no matter what they tell themselves. Told in alternating first-person perspectives that are full of both revealing introspection and engaging banter, the heart-wrenching journey of Rory and Mike is tender, painful, joyful and, most of all, honest. This is everything a romance novel should be: a story of two people who learn from each other and are better together than apart.


A Were and a Vampyre wed to broker an alliance between their two species in Bride, an impressive change of pace for rom-com queen Ali Hazelwood. Reminding herself that their union will only last a year, Misery Lark steels herself to live with Alpha werewolf Lowe Moreland and his people—who view her with open hostility and dislike. But Lowe himself is harder to read. While he’s at first studiously detached, he begins to connect with Misery over his irrepressible little sister and then aids in Misery’s search for her missing best friend. Danger and power struggles continually surround the pair, but Lowe and Misery offer each other a respite from all that . . . and then more. Told primarily in Misery’s snarky and amusing first-person voice, there is plenty of action, stirring love scenes and intriguing world building that will leave readers wanting more. Snippets from Lowe’s point of view offer insight into the tender interior beneath his tough exterior. Paranormal romance fans will swoon over this one.

Wild Life

Two lonely people find their way to each other and new lives in Wild Life by Opal Wei. Both Zoey Fong and Davy Hsieh have big plans, and neither of them expects or welcomes an attraction that goes from a smolder to full-on flames in a heartbeat. But after former boy band star Davy accidentally absconds with a crucial slide from scientist Zoey’s workplace, she follows him to his private island. Things only get more madcap from there in this hilarious spin on Bringing Up Baby. Wei writes well-drawn, one-of-a-kind characters that will elicit readers’ sympathy and laughter as they spur each other to grow and change. Put together the aforementioned sexual chemistry, a big cat (heard but not seen) and geese (both seen and heard, eliciting an appropriate amount of terror, if one knows geese) and the result is a vibrant, fast-paced and highly entertaining romance.

Fangirl Down

Tessa Bailey sets fire to the pages in Fangirl Down. When bad-boy golfer Wells Whitaker quits the sport in frustration, he stands up Josephine Doyle, his biggest fan, who recently won a lunch with him. Wells’ conscience nags him about the missed meal and he seeks Josephine out, only to find her golf shop in shambles from a hurricane. Wells hits upon an idea to help that will also get him back on his game: She’ll be his new caddy, and they’ll split the prize money. It’s delicious to watch the grouchy golfer find he has a heart after all as he falls for the sunny Josephine. Bailey is known for her witty repartee and Wells and Josephine don’t miss a beat, in addition to having some off-the-charts love scenes. Josephine’s endeavors to manage her diabetes without insurance add some gravitas to this delightful, laugh-out-loud love story.

Sex, Lies and Sensibility

Nikki Payne offers an engrossing tale that is part family drama, part romance and all deep emotion in Sex, Lies and Sensibility. After their father dies, sisters Nora and Yanne Dash are left with nothing but a dilapidated inn on an island in Maine. To complicate matters, they must rehab the place into a successful business in a year or lose everything. Their first glimpse of the environs doesn’t improve their moods, especially given that they’re the only two Black people around. And while Abenaki eco-tour guide Ennis “Bear” Freeman may be gorgeous, Nora doesn’t need a man. She has good reason not to trust them and she also notices that Bear is reticent to talk about his past. But as their businesses begin to work together, the attraction can’t be denied. Nora and Bear’s past mistakes keep them wary, even as familial and outside forces work against their possible happiness together. Payne will grab readers by the heartstrings even as they fall in love with noble, ambitious Nora and Bear and the eclectic cast of this compassionate novel.

Ali Hazelwood goes paranormal, plus wonderful new takes on Sense and Sensibility and Bringing Up Baby.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

What if we considered our lives as marked not by romantic entanglements but by the big friendships that nourish and thwart us? The first in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend depicts the early lives of narrator Lenù and her best friend Lila, who come of age, dramatically, by the book’s end. Their impoverished Naples neighborhood is rife with violence: Early in the novel, Lila’s father throws her out a window, breaking her arm, and the girls routinely witness neighbors being beaten in the street by the local mafia. Both girls show promise in elementary school; while Lenù must study hard, Lila seems to excel without trying. Idolatrous as much as they are envious of each other, Lila and Lenù are cutthroat competitive, but they find that their friendship creates space for imagination, creativity and envisioning a future outside of their neighborhood. Until that space abruptly closes, and Lila sees that her future will be one of mere survival. Few narratives capture the euphoric, gutting fluctuations of friendship so specifically. Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein, Lenù’s singular voice is propulsive and urgent. You will see yourself in both characters, and you will be drawn to the darkness. 

—Erica, Associate Editor

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Growing up, I was utterly obsessed with the ocean, and I wanted to be a marine biologist. Unfortunately, I eventually learned that marine biology was more science and less dolphin whispering, but I still get excited when I come across a story that recognizes the magic of the marine world. The premise of Remarkably Bright Creatures immediately caught my eye: a giant Pacific octopus befriends an elderly woman and helps her solve the mystery of her son’s death. Tova, our protagonist, is gentle yet resilient, earning the adoration of Marcellus (the octopus) as she works the night shift cleaning his aquarium. Marcellus has an agenda of his own—yes, we get to hear the octopus’s thoughts—but he balances it with compassion for Tova and for the human race that humans, honestly, could learn from. The characters in this story are kind to each other, yet the goodness doesn’t feel contrived. Rather, Shelby Van Pelt has achieved a tale where there are no villains but the stakes are still high. Tova and Marcellus each have a heart as big as the deep blue sea, and their unique bond reminds us what we stand to gain from offering love, empathy and generosity to the remarkably bright creatures around us.

—Jessica, Editorial Intern

First Test by Tamora Pierce

In First Test, Tamora Pierce takes readers back to the enchanting and beloved realm of Tortall, which was first introduced in her acclaimed young adult fantasy series, the Song of the Lioness. Although it has been 10 years since it was decreed legal for women to become knights, Keladry of Mindelan (Kel) is the first girl brave enough to openly train for knighthood. Facing extreme scrutiny, an unfair probationary year and a training master hellbent on her failure, it seems like Kel might never achieve her dream. Enter Nealean of Queenscove (Neal), who is also considered an oddity as the oldest of the first-year pages. Neal takes Kel under his wing and becomes one of her biggest champions in her uphill battle to prove that she’s just as good as the male pages. As they bond over being set apart due to their unusual circumstances, their friendship allows them to overcome every obstacle thrown their way, from hazing taken way too far to being thrown into the middle of a very real battle. Together, best friends Kel and Neal prove that they are exactly where they are meant to be.

—Meagan, Production

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is an unusual love letter—written by a son to his mother, even though she cannot read. As a child in Vietnam, her school was destroyed by American napalm. Her son, called Little Dog, grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, after she immigrated there with him, and became a writer. With this letter, he is putting into words the physical language of harm and care that forms their intricate bond. He describes the impact of her PTSD from living through the Vietnam War, combined with the isolation and vulnerability of being unable to speak English in Hartford: When he tells his mother he was attacked by bullies at school, her response is to hit him, then admonish him to use his English to protect himself, because she cannot. In a way, his journey into writing is an act of love towards her, the fulfillment of her wish, even as it takes him further and further from her. Vuong tells this story with arresting beauty and intensity, following Little Dog through world-shifting experiences with love, sex and loss into his adulthood as a published writer.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor

Valentine’s Day draws our attention to romance, but these four tales of friendship, connection and the parent-child bond affirm that platonic love is just as beautiful and impactful as romantic love—if not more.

Discover your next great book!

BookPage highlights the best new books across all genres, as chosen by our editors. Every book we cover is one that we are excited to recommend to readers. A star indicates a book of exceptional quality in its genre or category.


Cristina Henríquez’s polyvocal novel is a moving and powerful epic about the human cost of building the Panama Canal. It’s easy to imagine, in these snippets of lives, just how many more love stories, deaths, migrations, protests and other life-altering moments occurred during the canal’s construction.