As selected by journalist and author Jennifer Steil.

Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel (Picador, $16). This tale of an expatriate woman struggling to live within the confines of Jedda's deeply conservative society is creepier than any ghost story, especially for the truths it reveals about Saudi Arabia. With evocative detail, Mantel tackles fundamentalism, oppression, and greed — as well as the ignorance in the expat community.

An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson (Spiegel & Grau, $16). Johnson spent 20 years as a nun with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in Italy and elsewhere. In this unsparing memoir, she describes her conflicts with the congregation and the disillusionment that eventually led her to leave the church. You will never think of Mother Teresa in the same way.

Trumpet by Jackie Kay (Vintage, $15). After the death of a famed black Scottish trumpet player, the musician's family and friends discover he was biologically female. Told from multiple viewpoints, Trumpet examines the fallout that results when people are forced to live a lie in order to live freely.

What the Day Owes the Night by Yasmina Khadra (out of print). One of Algeria's most popular writers, Khadra illuminates his country's complex and bloody history with compelling stories of love and friendship. In What the Day Owes the Night, a boy whose poverty-stricken parents give him to rich relatives finds his world fractured by the power struggles among French, Arab, and Berber Algerians.

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement (Hogarth, $15). This breathtaking novel depicts how girls have become collateral damage in Mexico's drug wars. Poisoned by insecticides, disguised by their own mothers to protect them from kidnapping, and stolen from their homes by drug lords, the girls of rural Guerrero must find creative ways to survive.

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran (Harper Perennial, $16). How refreshing to discover a book that depicts teenage female sexuality so frankly. A hilarious and often cringe-inducing coming-of-age story, How to Build a Girl follows a brave, libidinous teen in Britain who finds novel means of escaping the prison of poverty.

—For her first novel, The Ambassador's Wife, journalist, author, and former senior editor of The Week Jennifer Steil drew on her experiences as a diplomat's spouse in the Middle East.