What does the future hold for three young girls when their father dies expectantly? Well if the year is 1878 and you are living an impoverished neighborhood on the lower slope of Montmartre in Paris, the answer would be despair. These are the circumstances framing the setting of The Painted Girls, the newest novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan. In this story we meet the van Goethem sisters and follow their struggles as they put their childhood behind them and are forced to earn a wage to prevent being thrown penniless into the streets. The main role of caregiver is taken on by Antoinette, the eldest sister, filling in for their mother who is more interested in drinking absinthe than raising the children. Middle sister Marie abandons her education to join the Paris Opera with her youngest sister Charlotte. Training for the ballet pays seventeen francs a week, though it is still barely enough to put food on the table. Once she is discovered by Edgar Degas, Marie starts on a journey that will culminate in one of the artist’s most famous creations, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.
This is an absorbing story based on the lives of individuals during this period of history. The author’s attention to detail paints the dire circumstances the girls find themselves in as well as the dark and seedy elements that threaten to engulf them. By observing how the sisters grow throughout the story and the importance of their love for each other, Buchanan creates a remarkable novel, as captivating as it is enlightening.
Fans of Sophie Kinsella’s novels can always expect a charismatic, slightly flighty heroine winding up in madcap situations. In Wedding Night, the reader will be delighted to find two heroines, sisters, relaying the adventure in alternating chapters. Lottie is fully expecting her boyfriend Richard to propose to her during a romantic dinner. When he fails to do so, she is inconsolable. Her sister Fliss worries that Lottie is about to make another one of her “unfortunate choices”. This choice comes in the form of Ben, an old boyfriend she had spent some time with in Greece. Ben is also unmarried, and he and Lottie decide to tie the knot. Fliss is going through a horrible divorce and is fully aware of how disastrous a rushed marriage can be. Ben’s friend and work colleague Lorcan also desperately needs to talk to Ben about some important business matters. This prompts Fliss, Lorcan, Fliss’s son Noah and Lottie’s ex-boyfriend Richard to head en masse to a high-class resort hotel on a romantic Greek island in the hopes of preventing an almost inevitable honeymoon baby.
Sophie Kinsella is a true queen of chick lit, and this stand-alone novel is sure to please her fans. Known for her Shopaholic series, fans will recognize that character slightly in Lottie, the more flustered and impetuous sister. But Kinsella also creates a more serious, thoughtful heroine in Fliss, the wiser, more careful sister who will do almost anything to protect her sibling. The characters form a nice balance and make a great story that is also comes complete with Kinsella’s signature humor.
America’s most famous family feuders are surely the Hatfields and McCoys. Memorialized in cartoons, movies, and recently the subject of a television mini-series, the two clans have become an Appalachian cultural reference. In The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Story, author Dean King presents a factual history of the warring families and lays to rest some of the myths perpetuated around the deadly quarrelling which spanned decades.
The Tug River runs between what is now West Virginia and Kentucky. Mountainous and forested, the valley’s inhabitants scratched out a living hunting, timbering, sometimes brewing moonshine. "Devil" Anse Hatfield and Randolph McCoy were each a patriarch with thirteen or more children apiece and a sprawling network of relatives. Hatfields and McCoys lived on both sides of the river and sometimes chose spouses from the other’s clan. Their peaceful co-existence was challenged with the advent of the Civil War; just as Kentucky became a Union state and Virginia chose the confederacy, family members also chose sides and hard feelings developed with the ensuing home guard executions of "traitors" in both states.
King outlines other incidents which intensified the animosity between the families, including the theft of a branded pig, a dispute over timber rights, and the infamous ill-fated romance between Johnse Hatfield and Rosanna McCoy. He thoroughly traces the roots of the hostilities and follows the brutal beatings, home burnings, armed battles, and a court ordered hanging which would eventually claim the lives of well over a dozen people. King uncovered previously overlooked documentary evidence, reviewed legal records and contemporary newspaper accounts, and interviewed descendants of the families, all of which make this book and its fascinating photographs an encompassing study of this deadly vendetta fueled by pride and profit.
Travel to the Jersey Shore as three childhood friends reunite in All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue. The young women are supposed to be meeting in Vegas for a bachelorette weekend, but when Kate, the bride-to-be, is dumped by her fiancé, the three regroup and head to the familiar comfort of Avalon and its stretches of glorious beaches. Kate, Dani, and Vanessa spent memorable childhood summers together down the shore. While they have remained in touch since graduating from college, the bonds forged during those special seasons have loosened. Each still harbors feelings of loss, guilt, and grief from the fateful night eight years earlier when Kate’s twin brother Colin drowned. Between that tragedy and adult responsibilities, the connection between the three twenty-somethings is not as strong. But what the three don’t know is that each harbors secrets that could impact the others’ lives. And each is at a crossroads in her life.
It turns out that the day Kate got dumped was also the day she found out she was pregnant. Vanessa, the beautiful stay-at-home mom, has been conflicted for months since finding out her husband almost cheated on her. Her anger cannot be quenched and she has been tracking a former flame on the internet. Dani, the free spirit and wannabe writer, has just been fired from another job and is unable to control her alcohol or pill intake. This fast-paced tale features three realistic women facing their pasts and making decisions about their futures. It is a fabulous beach read with an authentic beach town setting. This girls’ weekend is all about forgiveness, with a little flirting thrown in for good measure.
Romance writers and readers are grieving the loss of a beloved author this week. Francis Ray, who wrote more than 50 contemporary romances, recently passed away. Her books have often appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, and Essence bestsellers lists. Throughout her long career, Ray won several awards including a Romantic Times Career Achievement award.
Two new books by Ray were published this summer. After the Dawn, the third book in her Family Affair series, brings together two unlikely characters to save a family business. Samantha Collins is shocked when her grandfather leaves her in charge of Collins Industry and also asks Dillon Montgomery, the man Samantha has been in love with for most of her life, to help her. Years ago, Samantha’s grandfather fired Dillon and cut ties with him, and Sam and Dillon haven’t been in contact since an awkward encounter years ago. Can the two of them make this work? All That I Need is the latest entry in Ray’s long running Grayson Friends series, which remains a fan favorite. This story features Lance Saxton and Fallon Marshall, two people who live very different lives. Both are forced to reexamine their priorities when they meet and fall in love.
German author Charlotte Link creates a gripping mystery with The Other Child, her first novel translated for an English audience. In a small town nestled on the coast of Yorkshire, a young woman finishes a babysitting job and heads home. The lighted path ahead is blocked, forcing her to choose a darker and more desolate route. She never returns home. Meanwhile, a group of characters gather to celebrate the pending engagement of Gwen Beckett and Dave Tanner. Gwen, painfully shy and living at home with her father, is not the average blushing bride. Her friends and family fear that Tanner is only interested in procuring her hand to gain access to the farm and fulfill his plan to turn the farm into a bustling hotel. Fiona Barnes, an old matriarch and a close family friend, rails against the pending marriage and creates a scene at a dinner party. It is not long before Fiona is also found dead with her head smashed in, much like the young woman that was discovered earlier that week. Enter Detective Valerie Almond, a nervous detective who is unsure of her place in the police force and her ability to solve a crime. Will she be able to piece together the clues before the killer strikes again?
Link creates a great atmospheric thriller with psychological intensity. She also incorporates a story within a story as Fiona recounts a situation that happened long ago during the height of World War II. Many of the characters are tremendously flawed and the cast of suspects will keep the reader engaged in solving the mystery. Fans of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James will easily gravitate to this novel and look forward to the next one.
Elizabeth L. Silver’s debut novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is the kind of book that leaves the reader thinking about it long after finishing the last page. As the story begins, Noa is on death row awaiting X-Day, the day of her execution, when Marlene Dixon, the mother of her victim Sarah, approaches her. Marlene is a prominent Philadelphia attorney who tells Noa that she has changed her stance on the death penalty. Marlene says that she has formed a new nonprofit organization called Mothers Against Death, and she offers to petition for clemency on Noa’s behalf. What she really wants is for Noa to explain why she shot Sarah. During her trial and sentencing, Noa did not speak to defend herself. She did not offer any explanation for Sarah’s death.
The story is told through narratives written by Noa as X-Day approaches and letters that Marlene writes to Sarah at the same time. The truth is a murky thing that Silver slowly reveals over the course of the novel. The idea that both guilt and innocence exist on a spectrum is at the heart of the story. Neither of the women is what she seems to be in the beginning, and both share the burden of guilt to some degree. As Noa’s execution draws near, the reader realizes the complexity of the situation and must consider the difference between moral guilt and legal guilt. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is a complex, character-driven psychological thriller that will yield heated discussions at your next book club meeting.
In author Gail Godwin’s newest novel, Flora, the aged Helen is remembering the summer of 1945. She lived on a mountaintop outside a small North Carolina town in her family’s once stately manse with her adored grandmother Nonie, described by one of Helen’s few friends as looking like “an upright mastiff driving a car.” Also in residence is Helen’s remote and sarcastic father who usually prefers the company of Jack Daniels to his daughter. Helen’s mother died when Helen was three. Nonie has died, unexpectedly, in the spring and Helen’s father has eagerly accepted a supervisory position at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee military facility, leaving the nearly eleven-year-old Helen in need of a caretaker.
Arrangements are made for cousin Flora to come tend Helen. Flora, a recent teacher’s college graduate, is everything Helen’s “right side of the tracks” family is not; her lack of guile and tender heart are viewed with polite condescension and her stories of Helen’s mother’s estranged family back in Alabama are an embarrassment. Hitler has killed himself but the Japanese are continuing to fight World War II. On the home front, polio has reared its paralytic head, victimizing Helen’s buddy Brian, and soldiers lucky enough to straggle home are bringing their own demons with them. Helen’s father declares that Flora and Helen must remain sequestered on the decaying estate for their own safety.
Writer Godwin is known for her graceful prose, sharply-drawn characters, and is at her best probing family dynamics influenced by Southern Gothic tradition. In Flora, she portrays both a country and a family on the cusp of change, responding to circumstances beyond either’s control. Helen’s struggle to regain her footing in a permanently altered world has far reaching consequences, and Godwin’s careful portrayal of Helen as a child desperately emulating her beloved adults rings sadly true.
What happens when an ex-wife is forced to live with the woman who broke up her once happy marriage? First time author Amy Sue Nathan delivers a novel with that tantalizing premise in The Glass Wives. Evie Glass finds her world upended when ex-husband Richard dies in a devastating car accident. While she had come to terms with living alone with their ten year-old twins in what had been their dream house, she still counted on Richard to be there. Sure, he now had a new wife more than ten years her junior, Nicole, and a baby son with that new wife. But Richard was still an active parent to her children, someone who would continue to be there through their life milestones: the bar and bat mitzvahs, their graduations. Or so she had always hoped.
Once the shock of Richard’s death begins to wear off, Nicole Glass realizes to her horror that her financial support is now gone as well. Her part time sales job at the gift store doesn’t bring in enough to pay the mortgage, let alone anything else. And although she initially was happy about the thought of removing Richard’s widow from her life, she hadn’t realized her children had already developed a bond with their half-brother. And Nicole herself is left adrift, estranged from her own relatives.
The Glass wives begin to redefine family as necessity brings their separate families together under one roof. Nathan’s smart, thoughtful story, told with compassion and a sense of humor, makes a great poolside read. Need a compulsively readable choice (with a lot of discussion points) for an upcoming book club? The Glass Wives is a sure bet.
The majority of American brides have diamond engagement rings today, but that wasn’t always the case. The American expectation of a diamond engagement ring largely grew from the aggressive marketing of the DeBeers Company in the 20th century. J. Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements brings together a diverse cast of characters in a story centered around relationships and, of course, the engagement ring.
Kate, who lived through the turmoil of her parents’ failed marriage, has vowed never to marry. She and her partner Dan are very happy together, but she must set aside her feelings about marriage as she helps her cousin plan his wedding to his long-time partner. Evelyn married Gerald soon after the loss of her first husband. They have been married 40 years, and they now face their son’s crumbling marriage and his choice of a new relationship. James is a paramedic who married his high school sweetheart Sheila. Their life together is far from perfect, but they are working to stay together. Delphine’s relationship with musician P.J. is coming to an end because of his infidelity. She reflects back on their doomed relationship as she methodically trashes his apartment. In the midst of these stories, we also meet Frances Gerety, a fictionalized version of the woman who wrote the famous DeBeers slogan “A Diamond is Forever” in the 1940s. Frances works for the N. W. Ayer advertising agency in Philadelphia and has helped craft many of the marketing catchphrases for diamonds that we still recognize today. She never married, and her experience as a single woman working to promote engagements and marriage provides a counterpoint to the other stories.
Over the course of the novel, Sullivan slowly connects these seemingly unrelated stories. She presents no perfect characters and no perfect relationships, but the enduring nature of love and family shines through. This entertaining and rich look at relationships and marriage will be the perfect addition to your summer beach bag.