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Web of Lives

Web of Lives

posted by:
February 11, 2013 - 9:15am

Beautiful RuinsSome reading experiences are meant to be savored. Jess Walter creates one in Beautiful Ruins, which begins in 1962 at Hotel Adequate View on the Italian coastline. Pasquale Tursi, who runs the hotel, is captivated by the blond woman who arrives at his hotel. She turns out to be a dying American actress, and thus begins a novel that sweeps over decades and contains a cast of captivating characters, all “beautiful ruins” in their own right. In the present day we meet Michael Dean, a film producer who has recently returned to favor with the popularity of a reality television show, and his long suffering assistant Claire Silver, who is in the process of discovering another line of work. Next comes Shane Wheeler who wants to make a pitch to Michael Dean with a screenplay about the Donner party. Other characters include a would-be novelist, a failed musician and a famous film actor. These lives are woven together in an unusual style that includes chapters of novels, film treatments and even a play.

 

The characters Jess Walter creates are completely realized and finely detailed. The story captures the imagination and you can’t help but care for this motley crew as they try to create something that matters, only to find themselves failing and falling and further affecting all the other lives around them.  Although the characters seem separated at the beginning of the novel, the stories begin to intertwine and blend, leading to an incredible crescendo. Thoroughly discussable, this novel is perfect for book groups. Beautiful Ruins will pull you in, capture your heart and will make you reflect on your own life choices.

Doug

 
 

The Wild Blue Yonder

The Wild Blue Yonder

posted by:
February 4, 2013 - 9:01am

 

The Aviator's WifeFrom the time he became the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927, Charles Lindbergh has been a source of national fascination. In her new book, The Aviator’s Wife, historical novelist Melanie Benjamin turns the spotlight on the woman behind the man. Anne Morrow Lindbergh is a fascinating persona in her own right, the first American woman to earn a first class glider pilot’s license, in order to become her husband’s co-pilot and navigator. Told in the first person, the novel begins with the couple’s brief, whirlwind courtship—romantic to Anne but perfunctory to Charles.

 

Anne is immediately smitten, and although he is less than attentive to her emotional needs, Charles’ prowess in the bedroom keeps her interest. She respects his keen intellect and career ambitions, while all the while wishing he was less distant. The Aviator’s Wife follows the couple through the highs and lows of their complicated marriage. Benjamin chronicles in detail perhaps their greatest tragedy, the infamous kidnapping of their firstborn, Charlie. She captures Anne’s paralyzing grief at the loss of her beloved son, and her sense of hope and helplessness as investigators attempted to find the boy.

 

Love, determination, convention, and duty ultimately fueled their marriage for 45 years. Although first and foremost a wife and mother of five more children, Anne managed to carve her own identity as a writer and feminist. Benjamin also illustrates Anne’s affair with her physician, sparked when she was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery. Charles never visited his lonely, ailing wife during this difficult time. And although Anne found her own respite, she is shocked and saddened to learn of her husband’s own indiscretions over the years. Well-written and engrossing, this historical novel proves to be an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.

Paula G.

 
 

Edwardian Fiction Abounds

Edwardian Fiction Abounds

posted by:
February 1, 2013 - 8:01am

 

Habits of the HouseSummerset AbbeyAshendenIn addition to being one of BBC’s most popular series of all time, Downton Abbey has inspired a new publishing trend. This winter and spring, publishers will release a crop of new books set in Edwardian England. One of the most anticipated of these novels has been Fay Weldon’s trilogy-starter Habits of the House. At the turn of the 20th century, the Earl of Dilberne’s estate is in dire financial straits. He plans to save the family fortune by marrying his son Arthur off to a Chicago heiress named Minnie O'Brien, but both Arthur and Minnie have secrets that might jeopardize the engagement. Weldon, who wrote the pilot episode of the original Upstairs, Downstairs, brings the time period and its social conventions to life effortlessly.

 

T. J. Brown’s Summerset Abbey is a story about three young women in an upper-class household. Rowena and Victoria were raised along with Prudence, their late governess’s daughter. Rowena and Victoria’s father is the second son of an Earl, but class never mattered in their bohemian household. The three girls have been like sisters throughout their lives. When Rowena and Victoria’s father dies, the girls must move to their uncle’s home, Summerset Abbey, which is run much more traditionally. All three are forced to confront class for the first time when Prudence must become Rowena and Victoria’s maid. Romance and drama abound in this story, but a shocking family secret jeopardizes the girls’ bond. Summerset Abbey is the first novel in a captivating new trilogy.

 

In these stories, place is often as important as the characters. Elizabeth Wilhide’s debut novel Ashenden follows an English country house through its various inhabitants over 240 years of its history. The house becomes the main character in the upstairs and downstairs dramas that play out in it. Wildhide’s extensive knowledge of architecture and design give Ashenden a unique twist all its own.

Beth

 
 

Independent Woman

Independent Woman

posted by:
January 31, 2013 - 8:45am

A Change of FortuneLady Eliza Sumner is a determined woman bent on recovering her fortune, her family name, and her dignity in A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano. Some slight obstacles include a lack of money, family, friends, and a loss of faith. After her father’s death, Eliza’s inheritance was stolen by his trusted manager and his wife, Eliza’s former governess. The despicable duo has fled to America where they are masquerading as British aristocracy. Eliza, with little more than enough money to pay for her way across the pond, arrives in New York with the intent of recovering her wealth and returning to London in a blaze of glory. She takes a post as governess to a wealthy family and begins plotting.

 

When Eliza’s employer presses her into attending a dinner party, a disguised Eliza (complete with padding and eyeglasses) meets the fabulous Beckett brothers – Zayne and Hamilton. Hamilton is an eligible widower who blames himself for his wife’s death and is devoted to his two children. Because of the failure of his first marriage, he has sworn off women and marriage. However, Eliza and he learn that they share a common enemy and find themselves thrown together repeatedly in their efforts to recover her fortune and save his business. Eliza and Hamilton aren’t without friends who try to help their cause, including Agatha, an opinionated suffragette who happens to be the eldest daughter of Eliza’s employers, Arabella, sister to the Beckett brothers, and Theodore Wilder, a dashing detective.

 

This debut inspirational historical romance is packed with humor, interesting characters, and a fast-moving plot. This is the first in the Ladies of Distinction series and will appeal to fans of Deeanne Gist and Cathy Marie Hake. For more fun with this zany crew, look for A Most Peculiar Circumstance in June where readers will be delightfully reacquainted with Theodore Wilder and Arabella Beckett.

 

 

Maureen

 
 

Secrets, Politics and Life in the โ€˜70s

You are the Love of My LifeUnrelated secrets simultaneously surface, threatening to destroy a family, a neighborhood and a country in Susan Richards Shreve’s latest novel, You Are the Love of My Life. A community on the outskirts of Washington, DC is the perfect backdrop for this story set in 1973, just as Watergate is ready to engulf the capital and the nation. In this seemingly tranquil neighborhood, Lucy Painter grew up in a family drowning in secrecy. Her father, an advisor to Harry Truman, committed suicide due to “the information he kept”. Her mother changed their last name and moved them across the country for a fresh start, but these actions only served to catapult Lucy towards an adult life equally full of secrecy and lies. When Lucy moves with her two children back to her childhood home, she hopes for a life of anonymity. But intrusive neighbors, especially fellow mother Zelda who has been hiding a dysfunctional marriage, threaten the protective shell she’s built around her life. When Lucy’s daughter Maggie becomes entranced with Zelda and further isolates herself, Lucy realizes she must lay bare her past in order to move forward in her own life and rescue her daughter.

 

Shreve does an excellent job creating nuanced characters who don’t reveal all their cards. In addition to Lucy and Zelda there is August, a former professor who’s widowed and struggling with professional shortcomings, Lane, who is coping with the then-shame of breast cancer treatment, and Adam, Zelda’s husband and Vietnam veteran who is silently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Shreve’s novel highlights a time in American history when normalcy and conformity battled with larger social issues and political blunders too big to ignore, a time when underlying tensions came to a roiling boil.

 

Melanie

 
 

The Mysteries of History

The Anatomist's WifeIndia BlackTravel back to 1830s Scotland and meet Lady Keira Darby, the young widow at the center of Anna Lee Huber’s gothic debut The Anatomist’s Wife. Keira has been living a quiet life in the secluded castle of her sister and brother-in-law since her husband’s death eighteen months ago. She is recovering from the scandal that she starred in when it was revealed that she illustrated the corpses her husband dissected. But a house party brings the titled society elite to her hiding place, and Kiera is forced to face her past. When one of the guests is murdered, the past bubbles up and all fingers point to Keira. The authorities are several days away and her brother-in-law asks her to help new inquiry agent Sebastian Gage in the investigation. As the two work together, they must deal with danger, lies, and of course a little bit of romance.

  

While waiting for the next Lady Darby Mystery, enjoy the company of India Black, a saucy, young brothel owner whose business caters to England’s finest civil servants and military men. India Black by Carol Carr introduces this feisty heroine who finds herself in deep trouble when a War Office official dies while visiting one of her employees. She is blackmailed by another British agent, Mr. French, into helping recover important military papers lost at her establishment. The future of Britain is at stake and India is quickly embroiled in a deadly game of intrigue involving diabolical Russian agents. India and French soon find themselves fending off attempts on their lives and fighting their growing attraction. This unique heroine adds to a strong mystery, and the good news for avid readers is that India Black and the Widow of Windsor is on shelves now and India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy is due in January.

 

Maureen

 
 

Oprah Chooses Hattie

Oprah Chooses Hattie

posted by:
December 7, 2012 - 9:15am

The Twelve Tribes of HattieDebut author Ayana Mathis is having the best week ever! Oprah Winfrey just announced that Mathis’s novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her next Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection. Authors and publishers know that having your book selected for Oprah’s Book Club is like winning the publishing lottery. Her stamp of approval has catapulted many authors to the bestsellers list, and The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is certain to make Mathis the next. Oprah praised the book saying, “I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.”

 

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie follows an African American family over the course of sixty years. After her father’s death, Hattie Shepherd fled Georgia with her mother and sisters to make a new life in Philadelphia. In 1925, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s children Jubilee and Philadelphia die of pneumonia, a loss that marks Hattie for the rest of her life. She goes on to have nine more children, raising them to face the harsh realities of the world. The novel focuses on the experiences of her adult children and granddaughter. With each chapter narrated by a different family member, the novel is like a series of connected short stories tied together by the common thread of family bonds. Mathis brings the Great Migration to life in this unforgettable story of a family’s resilience in the face of adversity. Readers can join in the discussion on Goodreads or Twitter (#OprahsBookClub) and watch Oprah’s interview of Mathis, which will air on Feburary 3 on Oprah’s cable network OWN.

 

Beth

 
 

Photos Through the Years

Photos Through the Years

posted by:
December 7, 2012 - 8:45am

Eight Girls Taking PicturesWhitney Otto has created eight memorable female photographers in her new novel Eight Girls Taking Pictures. The novel is written episodically; each character appears in a separate short story, but there is a common thread running through the entire novel. The first story features photographer Cymbeline Kelley, studying photography in the early 1900s and discovering what it means to be a female artist in her time period. Cymbeline is the glue that holds the novel together. Even after her own story is completed, she is often mentioned in the stories that follow, so the reader will learn what happens to her as she ages. Many other characters are equally fascinating and the novel spans many years during the twentieth century. Charlotte Blum, a Jewish photographer in Germany during World War II, is falling in love with another woman. Miri Marx becomes a wife and mother and moves to an apartment in New York City, contenting herself by taking pictures of Central Park from her window. Each story begins with a photograph, allowing the reader to discover how this particular photo fits into the life of the photographer. Otto covers many themes in the novel, including what it means to be a women and an artist and how to balance what is expected of you with what you hope to achieve. Because the novel spans so many years, the reader can witness the changing times but still appreciate the similarities of these different women from separate eras.

 

Readers will remember Whitney Otto from the sensational How to Make an American Quilt. Eight Girls Taking Pictures follows that similar short story style and will satisfy fans of Otto as well as attracting new readers. The photographers she writes about are fictional but are loosely based on real women photographers, and Otto provides a bibliography in case she piques a reader’s interest to learn more. Truly a wonderful novel, Eight Girls Taking Pictures will also provide lively discussions for book groups.

 

Doug

 
 

A Warped Sense of Reality

The Girl BelowThere is an unsettling mystery at the heart of Bianca Zander’s debut novel, The Girl Below, a tale of family secrets and self-discovery set in modern-day London. When Suki Piper was a little girl, she lived with her parents in a basement flat in Notting Hill. One night, her parents threw a party in their building’s courtyard. During the revelry, Suki and a few others became trapped underground in a World War II-era air raid shelter on the property. Suki has no memory of how she escaped, and this incident haunts her repeatedly, in dreams and also in waking moments when she is suddenly transported back to the party. She has other strange memories, including a hand which would reach out to her from a wardrobe and an unnerving statue of a girl in her neighbor’s flat. In the present day, Suki is in her late twenties and having a tough time. After a decades-long lonely existence in New Zealand trying to reconnect with her father, she has returned to London. Having little success with a job search or friendships, she becomes reacquainted with her former neighbors, a nice but dysfunctional family. Suki is once again launched into her past and must make sense once and for all of her fractured family and the missing pieces.

 

Suki can be a frustrating narrator, coming across as fairly lazy, impulsive and immature. Yet as she embarks on her search and more is revealed about her unstable family and upbringing, she becomes a more sympathetic character. Childhood events are relayed as Suki remembers them, giving a large portion of the story a fantastical, magical bend. Among her influences, Zander cites authors as diverse as Haruki Murakami, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Sarah Waters. From these inspirations, a unique story is spun.  

 

Melanie

 
 

Eight Degrees of Manipulation

The Stockholm OctavoSome novels seem designed for escape, others for amusement, and yet others to satisfy an intellectual craving. Karen Engelmann’s The Stockholm Octavo fits into none of these particular niches yet embodies the characteristics of them all by simply engulfing the reader. With each passing scene, Engelmann sweeps the reader further into to a richly-detailed hybrid of 18th century Swedish politics and mysticism.

 

Emil Larsson has fared well for himself in this world. A rising sekretaire, skillful gamer and thoroughly contented bachelor, Larsson is a man immersed in the pleasures and glory of Stockholm’s Golden Age.  However, destiny is about to deal Emil an altogether new hand. One night, shortly after learning he must give up bachelorhood to maintain his prestigious government post, Emil is approached by Mrs. Sparrow, the proprietress of his favorite gaming house. A known seer, Mrs. Sparrow tells him she has had a startling vision of his future and invites him to undergo the cartomancy ritual known as the Octavo.

 

The Octavo is a rare and delicate reading – granted to few and successfully wielded by yet fewer. Revolving around a singular life-changing occurrence and the eight people who will bring the event to pass, the Octavo is no mere game. It is a chance meeting of known destiny and free will.  And as Emil is about to discover, he is not the only player.

 

The Stockholm Octavo will appeal to a wide range of readers. A wholly original and dazzling blend of historical events, personal fortune, political intrigue and mysticism awaits readers who dare to follow Emil on his perilous journey.

 

Meghan