The Today Show reinstated its book club in 2013, and the first two selections went on to be bestsellers. The newest selection is Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan, a fascinating portrayal of the unknown woman behind a famous man. In her new novel, Horan reimagines the lives of author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Although most of us are familiar with Stevenson’s work, few people know about the smart, independent woman who was his wife.
Fanny decides to leave her husband and her life in San Francisco behind to start over. Along with her three children, she travels to Belgium planning to study art. After a tragedy occurs during her travels, Fanny goes to an artists’ retreat in France where she meets Louis, a Scottish man 10 years her junior. Louis is captivated by the beautiful, opinionated and brash American woman. Although she is initially resistant to her suitor, eventually Louis wins her over, and their tumultuous love affair begins. The story takes them across Europe and America and through the South Pacific.
Many readers will remember Horan’s wildly popular first novel Loving Frank, which was the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Horan says that she is led to these women by first becoming fascinated by the men’s lives. She shares more about what inspires her to write about the lives of these fascinating women in this video.
Blogger, mom and wife, and, in her own words, “recovering Jesus Freak,” Addie Zierman writes the story of her evangelical adolescence and young adulthood in When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over. Raised by parents who belonged to an evangelical church, Addie caught “fire” in her sophomore year of high school when she and her friends became devout Christians, first joining and then creating their own Bible study group at their high school. These were the 1990s, the days of WWJD?, mission trips to save lost souls and contemporary Christian pop music.
Divided into four sections, Zierman provides the reader with a glimpse into the mind of a young evangelical woman who believes she knows the path that her God has put forth. Pressing her along this journey is Chris, a young man three years older, who seems to Addie to have it all figured out. But as she eventually realizes, nothing she does is holy enough for Chris while he is in his own state of “fire,” and they part on bad terms. This breakup points Zierman toward her disillusionment with her beliefs; nonetheless, she enrolls in a conservative Christian college in the Twin Cities. She meets the love of her life, Andrew, who shares Addie’s propensity for standing out from the rest of their classmates. After their marriage, failed attempts to find a church that has everything they’re looking for results in her rebellion against everything. This includes forays into alcohol abuse, a minor infidelity and previously undiagnosed depression. Ultimately, she finds redemption in creating a spiritual center that is right for herself and her family.
Conversationally composed, with very little religious jargon that might bother the casual reader, When We Were on Fire is an exceptional memoir. Relatable to anyone who has ever become fixated on a topic, whether it involves matters of faith, a romantic interest or otherwise, Addie Zierman’s work makes her a writer to watch.
Lene Kaaberbøl’s Death of a Nightingale begins with Olga and Oxana, two sisters growing up in the Ukraine during the time when Stalin was considered their uncle, whether they liked it or not. During that time, it was hard to tell what was right and what was wrong because regardless of what one did, there was someone who said it was wrong. Olga and Oxana‘s family did what it had to do to get by during famine, but it’s not until years later that the reader sees the ripples of the sisters’ actions.
In the current day, Nina, a Danish nurse with the Red Cross, has taken charge of looking after the asthmatic daughter of Natasha, a woman who was convicted of attempting to kill her abusive fiancé. When Nina agreed to take extra care of this young girl, she didn’t realize protecting her from harm could include keeping her safe from people trying to kill or kidnap her. She becomes entangled in a situation far more dangerous than she could have imagined.
The timing coincides with Natasha’s escape from custody as she sets off to find her daughter and right the wrongs of her past. It is after Natasha’s escape that her ex-fiancé is found tortured and killed in a similar fashion to her ex-husband’s. Although police suspect Natasha, Nina has suspicions that something more is going on. Now she becomes ensnared with keeping Katerina safe at all costs, even if that means saving her from her own mother.
It’s not until the end of this roller coaster of a novel that the reader sees how Olga and Oxana’s past actions have created this tense situation. Though this novel can be read as a stand-alone book, it’s the third in the Nina Borg series. Those who enjoy Nordic crime novels such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are sure to find edge-of-your-seat satisfaction with this series as well.
Mark your calendars for an exciting literary event! Author April Smith will visit the Perry Hall Branch at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9 to talk about her new novel, A Star for Mrs. Blake.
In 1929, Congress passed the Pilgrimage Bill, a piece of legislation that allocated $5 million to help mothers and widows of fallen World War I soldiers travel to France to visit their graves. During the project, 6,693 women made the journey to their loved ones’ graves. Cora Blake is a single mother whose 16-year-old son lied about his age to enlist in the Army near the end of the war. He was killed in action, and she made the difficult decision to have him buried in France. In 1931, Cora is invited to travel to France with a group of American Gold Star Mothers to visit her son’s grave. Although the mothers come from very different backgrounds, they share the common link of their lost sons. The novel follows Cora and her group on their remarkable journey, which changes their lives in surprising and indelible ways.
This beautiful story would be an excellent choice for book clubs. Smith brings this little-known piece of American history to light with warmth and sensitivity. The novel, which is a departure from Smith’s Ana Grey mystery series, is getting a lot of national media attention, and BCPL is delighted to offer our customers this opportunity to meet Smith and learn more about this fascinating story.
Emma Burke has survived a terrible accident and, since waking in the hospital, is unable to remember anything about her life. It is through the constant loving support of her husband, Declan, an incredibly handsome and successful businessman, that she gradually starts to reclaim her life. Her steady progress is marred only by nightmares of murder and war, which wrench her from sleep screaming. Her doctor is concerned about this element of her recovery, but Emma hears a voice in her head, remarkably like her own, which advises her not to share any details. Intrigued? You should be! Archetype, a novel by the debut author M. D. Waters, will captivate readers as they join Emma in her covert search for answers.
With the medical advancement allowing parents to predetermine the sex of their baby, the world has become overpopulated with men. Wives are a rare and valuable commodity that only the wealthy can afford to acquire. Once married, they are branded on their hand with a Luckenbooth, the Celtic symbol of two intertwined hearts. This ceremony indicates to all that the woman is taken. Emma counts herself fortunate that she has such an attentive and wonderful man who has proven exceptionally devoted to her as a husband. Unfortunately, her nightly dreams include a man with whom she is passionately in love and whom, though she hasn’t seen his face, she understands is not Declan. Are these merely dreams or possibly memories?
This novel has a very high level of suspense, as our strong-willed heroine decides not to take everything that she has been told at face value. Ever fearful of having to return to the hospital for any perceived setbacks to her recovery, she is determined to find out what information is being kept from her. It is this perilous quest for the truth that will keep the reader on edge and guessing until the final page. Archetype is a futuristic thriller, mystery and romance all rolled into one totally enthralling book.
Betty Dean is 10 when she moves to the island of Guernsey to live with Arlette, her mother’s boyfriend’s mother in Lisa Jewell’s Before I Met You. Arlette is in her mid-80s, but still independent, stylish and intimidating. Despite the decades that separate the elderly spitfire and the little girl, they become fast friends. When Arlette’s health deteriorates, it is Betty who remains with her, providing loving care while forgoing college, boyfriends and jobs. Following Arlette’s death, Betty is provided with a small amount of money, a fabulous collection of vintage clothes and a chance to finally start living. A bequest to an unknown and unfound woman named Clara Pickle leaves the family puzzled and Betty determined to track her down. Betty quickly moves to SoHo determined to find the mysterious Ms. Pickle and kick start her life in the process.
In searching for Clara, Betty also uncovers truths about Arlette and herself. Jewell simultaneously shares the stories of two young women coming of age in two very different Londons. Arlette is a beautiful and charismatic shop girl in a post-World War I London awash with artists and free thinkers. She is swept up in the bohemian movement and her friends include an impoverished artist and a jazz musician. In Betty’s London, it is 1995 where jobs are scarce and rent is high. She secures employment at Wendy’s and also becomes nanny to the children of notorious rocker Dom Jones. Both young women are balancing independence and good times with work, others’ expectations and romantic entanglements.
As the story glides between the two women, readers will be absorbed by the intrigue of Clara Pickle and embrace the fun and feisty Arlette and Betty. Jewell masterfully paints the portraits of two appealing young women struggling with genuine problems that transcend time. Forbidden romance, family dynamics and finding one’s self are at the core of this engaging and unforgettable novel of two inspirational women connected by fate.
A dizzying amount of wealth permeates the stone fortifications in Anthony Russell’s entertaining new memoir, Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle. What seems most important is what the wealth symbolizes and how it shapes the lives of those it cradles. Yes, the tweedy set flaunts its well-placed connections. There are pheasant-shoots, duck launches and tea-sipping beneath museum-bound tapestries. Not surprisingly, Russell admits there are also consequences to being reared in a "gilded bubble,” where everything material is handed to you. Russell aims to satisfy our curiosity.
For those not familiar with medieval fortresses, Leeds Castle is about as splendid as they come. Located in Kent, England, the former Norman stronghold with ties to six queens of England is among the most visited historic buildings in Britain. Its 900-year history is the stuff of fairy tales. Readers will appreciate the complement of black and white photographs.
The writer-musician Russell, who grew up in this milieu, was exposed to the stuff of kings at an early age thanks to his maternal grandmother and chatelaine, the bold, indomitable Lady Baillie. "Granny B" purchased Leeds Castle in 1926 for the American sum of $874,000. It is here that Russell spent his childhood in the 1950s, absorbing "the castle way." This included eccentric "ceremonies" like fussing over baby ducks and enduring family gatherings where no one paid him much mind. With such a privileged start, gearing up for adulthood beyond the castle gate would have its challenges.
Writing with wry humor, Russell alternates between being sardonic and wistful. He points out unapologetically some of the silliness while poignantly recalling the shear splendor of it all and gratitude for being a part of it. We get to know some of the uniquely British personalities (with names like Morg, Guysy-Wee and Mr. Elves) who help add the color that make this frank, behind-the-scenes look a delightful jaunt, just in time for the return of another extravagant household in Downton Abbey.
Nora de Jong is a successful brain surgeon and single mother of a beautiful 6-month-old girl. She lives a quiet and happy life in Texas where she shares a home with her widowed mother. Upon returning from work one afternoon she is horrified to discover that her mother has been murdered and her daughter stolen. Frantic to discover a clue to explain this tragedy and locate her baby, she unearths a small box which has been hidden in the attic. The contents are unfathomable, indicating that her mother was a member of the Nazi party in Holland during World War II and that her father had been wanted for murder. Nora is convinced that the answers to who took her daughter are tied to her parents’ past. The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten is an intense, fast-paced novel combined with an intriguing work of historical fiction. Through journal entries and recounted memories, the reader is transported to Nazi-occupied Holland. The insidious isolation of the Jews and the heroic actions taken by the members of the Dutch resistance come to life through the author’s insightful writing.
Ms. Van Heugten’s fascination with this time period started close to home. Both of her parents grew up in Holland during the occupation and were members of the resistance. Typical of that generation, they were hesitant to describe their experiences; however, their activities inspired the author to learn more. She spent time in Amsterdam researching at the Dutch War Institute where she was immersed in the daily life and hardships of the war, as told through letters and diaries. The end result is The Tulip Eaters, a thoroughly investigated, action-packed adventure.
In 1600’s England, politics and religion are inextricably intertwined. Times are dark and violent, and morality is judged by all. Those who defy the church or the government are branded as witches and killed. Many flee into the darkness to await better times, but one woman dares to remain in the light. Her story drives The Daylight Gate, the new novella by award-winning author Jeanette Winterson.
Alice Nutter is a youthful, strong and well-respected woman. She believes her wealth allows her freedom to live as she pleases, making friends and allies without political or moral consequences. Her choices are not beyond the notice of local officials, however, and they quietly start rumors about her competence. These rumors eventually force her to reveal her secrets and unleash her powers on those who would destroy her. Winterson is an intelligent storyteller, and her spare prose moves the story along at lightning speed. Graphic and violent, The Daylight Gate is a quick dip into a nightmare that just might keep you awake at night.
On March 11, 1948, a fire raged through the main building of North Carolina’s Highland Hospital, killing nine female patients trapped in a locked ward on the fourth floor. Victims included Zelda Fitzgerald, a dancer, artist and writer like her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald. Highland was a residential treatment facility for the mentally ill and considered quite progressive in its treatment methods. Author Lee Smith takes inspiration from the hospital, the tragic fire and Zelda Fitzgerald’s own life in her newest book Guests on Earth.
Smith’s narrator is 13-year-old New Orleans native Evalina Toussaint. Evalina refuses to eat after the death of her mother and is packed off to Highland for a cure. Now an orphan, the resort-like hospital becomes Evalina’s home, and its caregivers and patients her family. Fresh air and exercise, music and art: Evalina thrives under the care of the enlightened psychiatrist Dr. Carroll and develops into a talented pianist. Swimming and songs aren’t the only therapies employed at Highland, though, and as Smith reveals the darker secrets in the lives of Evalina, Zelda and other patients, she also explores the more invasive and seemingly barbaric treatments employed upon the mentally ill.
Smith, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, imbues her writing with the atmosphere of rural Appalachia. She draws upon both the folklore of the mountains as well as the culture of southern high society in creating compelling characters and an absorbing story. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “the insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read.” Guests on Earth allows a few of the guests to share their memorable tale.