Book Recommendation: SO MUCH LIFE LEFT OVER

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“[They] suffered from the accidie of not being at war. Even in a land as beautiful and surprising as Ceylon, they missed the extremes of experience that had made them feel immensely alive during the Great War, in spite of its penumbra of death. Neither of them missed the killing…but still they yearned for the passionate oblivion of the hunt.” Louis de Bernieres, SO MUCH LIFE LEFT OVER

Publisher Synopsis:

They were an inseparable tribe of childhood friends. Some were lost to the battles of the First World War, and those who survived have had their lives unimaginably upended. Now, at the dawn of the 1920s, they’ve scattered: to Ceylon and India, France and Germany, and, inevitably, back to Britain, each of them trying to answer the question that fuels this sweeping novel: If you have been embroiled in a war in which you confidently expected to die, what are you supposed to do with so much life unexpectedly left over? 

The narrative unfolds in brief, dramatic chapters, and we follow these old friends over the decades as their paths re-cross or their ties fray, as they test loyalties and love, face survivor’s grief and guilt, and adjust in profound and quotidian ways to this newest modern world.

At the center are Daniel, an RAF flying ace, and Rosie, a wartime nurse. As their marriage is slowly revealed to be built on lies, Daniel finds solace—and, sometimes, family—with other women, and Rosie draws her religion around herself like a carapace. Here too are Rosie’s sisters—a bohemian, a minister’s wife, and a spinster, each seeking purpose and happiness in her own unconventional way; Daniel’s military brother, unable to find his footing in a peaceful world; and Rosie’s “increasingly peculiar” mother and her genial, shockingly secretive father. The tenuous interwar peace begins to shatter, and we watch as war once again reshapes the days and the lives of these beautifully drawn women and men.

My Recommendation:

Prepare for infatuation and heartbreak.

In SO MUCH LIFE LEFT OVER, the reader holds in her hands an entire world where she will become intimates of the men and women on the pages. These characters are both traumatized and cause trauma. They make awful decisions–from the small and foolish to the epically cataclysmic–and yet they are profoundly endearing because of their enormous capacities for love.

De Bernieres titles each chapter, making little stories of them. Narrators and points of view change, style and structure shift, settings and times switch, threads left open are later picked up, hearts are broken, mended, and broken again, and yet the reader is never left confused or unmoored because of the assured storytelling.

I was left a sobbing mess by SO MUCH LIFE LEFT OVER. If you love stories that consume you and leave you a little broken, I highly recommend it. This novel will win awards.

Have you read any of Louis de Bernieres other work? (This is my first.) Can you recommend which book of his I should read next? 

 

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Book Recommendation: The Lake House

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“She made her way back quickly through the woods, careful to avoid the boathouse and its memories. Dawn was breaking as she reached the house; the rain was light. The lake’s water lapped at its banks and the last of the nightingales called farewell. The blackcaps and warblers were waking, and far in the distance a horse whinnied. She didn’t know it then, but she would never be rid of them, those sounds; they would follow her from this place, this time, invading her dreams and nightmares, reminding her always of what she had done.” ~Kate Morton, THE LAKE HOUSE

Publisher Synopsis:

Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories.

One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. He is never found, and the family is torn apart, the house abandoned.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as a novelist. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old Edevane estate—now crumbling and covered with vines. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone…yet more present than ever.

My Recommendation:

Kate Morton has done it again. (And again. And again.) She manages to create nuanced, layered, multi-period mysteries with large casts of rich, sympathetic, memorable characters who haunt the reader long after the pages of the book are closed.

From past to present, THE LAKE HOUSE is lush and dark, enticing readers to enter each building, estate, and forest passage, following characters closely, watching over their shoulders, trying to unravel the mysteries of year and place along with them. Every character–no matter how difficult–is fully human and relatable in some way, making Time the true antagonist.

Unique to Morton’s stories are the way they engulf the consciousness. Through her spellbinding prose she hypnotizes the reader at each sitting. Whether one has ten minutes or an hour to read, it will be an immersive experience.

For those looking for escapist fiction, I highly recommend THE LAKE HOUSE, or any of Morton’s works.

Have you read it? What is your favorite Kate Morton novel? 

 

 

Book Recommendation: THE DANTE CHAMBER

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“[H]e began to believe there was something different about Dante…Not only the subject matter of the afterlife, which most writers were too wise to approach. Dante had done what so many writers could only imagine–turned poetry into a living power, and a living power was something no one could cage inside the covers of a book.” Matthew Pearl, THE DANTE CHAMBER

Publisher Synopsis:

Memories, fears, the fog of nightmares…

Five years after a series of Dante-inspired killings stunned Boston, a politician is found in a London park with his neck crushed by an enormous stone device etched with a verse from the Divine Comedy. When other shocking deaths erupt across the city, all in the style of the penances Dante memorialized in Purgatory, poet Christina Rossetti fears her missing brother, the artist and writer Dante Gabriel Rossetti, will be the next victim.

The unwavering Christina enlists poets Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes to decipher the literary clues, and together these unlikely investigators unravel the secrets of Dante’s verses to find Gabriel and stop the killings. Racing between the shimmering mansions of the elite and the seedy corners of London’s underworld, they descend further into the mystery. But when the true inspiration behind the gruesome murders is finally revealed, Christina must confront a more profound terror than anyone had imagined.

A dazzling tale of intrigue from the writer Library Journal calls “the reigning king of popular literary historical thrillers,” The Dante Chamber is a riveting journey across London and into both the beauty and darkness of Dante. Expertly blending fact and fiction, Pearl gives us a historical mystery like no other that captivates and surprises until the last page.

My Recommendation:

Delicious, dark, and dreamy historical thrillers are Matthew Pearl’s specialty, and he again delivers with THE DANTE CHAMBER. Though it is preceded by THE DANTE CLUB, the book stands alone as a world contained.

The fascinating London literati of the mid-nineteenth century populate the pages, and are an utter delight because of their absurdity, their egos, and their unique views of the world. Christina Rossetti is the heart of the book, at once intimidating, otherworldly, and sympathetic. Tennyson, Browning, and Holmes come alive, each remarkable and strange, certain to inspire readers to revisit their works or learn more about them.

The mystery is unique and captivating. Readers will gain new insights into Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY, and the implications for how criminal or obsessive minds could corrupt its message. THE DANTE CHAMBER is not a simple read–it is layered, complex, and dense. I recommend it to readers who enjoy deep character development and rich explorations of time and art.

Have you read any of Matthew Pearl’s previous work? What is your favorite historical mystery?

 

Book Recommendation: LOVE AND RUIN

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“There were fifteen acres…but it was hard to see much of anything with all the overgrowth. The house…was Spanish-style and looked abandoned. Thick vines strangled the peeling yellow shutters, parts of the roofline, and the drained pool full of sand and empty gin bottles and tin cans. I should have run screaming, but the place had the feel of a fable…La Finca Vigia, it was called–“Watchtower Farm”…We would be two writers under one roof, hiding away from everything but each other and our work.” Paula McLain, LOVE AND RUIN

Publisher Synopsis:

The bestselling author of The Paris Wife returns to the subject of Ernest Hemingway in a novel about his passionate, stormy marriage to Martha Gellhorn—a fiercely independent, ambitious young woman who would become one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century.

In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha Gellhorn travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in the devastating conflict. It’s the adventure she’s been looking for and her chance to prove herself a worthy journalist in a field dominated by men. But she also finds herself unexpectedly—and uncontrollably—falling in love with Hemingway, a man on his way to becoming a legend.

In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the turbulent backdrops of Madrid and Cuba, Martha and Ernest’s relationship and their professional careers ignite. But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man’s wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that could force her to break his heart, and hers.

Heralded by Ann Patchett as “the new star of historical fiction,” Paula McLain brings Gellhorn’s story richly to life and captures her as a heroine for the ages: a woman who will risk absolutely everything to find her own voice.

My Recommendation:

As a Hemingway aficionado, and a fan of Paula McLain’s previous novels, I eagerly anticipated the release of LOVE AND RUIN. I had the pleasure of attending McLain’s launch event at Random House, and was captivated by the tales of travels and dreams that inspired and guided the writing of the book. It was a pleasure to dig in after such an introduction.

Before reading LOVE AND RUIN, I confess I knew little about Martha Gellhorn outside the context of Ernest Hemingway. It shames me to admit that, when he was only a part of roughly nine of her eighty-nine years of life. She was a war correspondent for more than ten conflicts and a writer for sixty years, publishing five novels, two short story collections, and fourteen novellas. She wrote travelogues and memoir, and her pieces on poverty for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration resulted in her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. Martha Gellhorn is a strong and worthy protagonist.

I devoured LOVE AND RUIN. For me, Cuba is the heart of the book. The Finca Vigia is paradise found, then lost. Though the reader does not discover the place with Gellhorn until midway through the book, the Finca feels like the payoff for all of the world and relationship building that preceded it. It is enchanting to read about Gellhorn’s work transforming it into their writing oasis. Later, as the marriage fails, I felt the loss of the Finca just as acutely. The marriage could not last, but I’d hoped Gellhorn’s sanctuary could have.

Gellhorn deep-seated need to travel, to seek conflict and those lost in it, and to report on it is the hallmark of the novel. Her courage and her sense of adventure are astounding, and her survival: a miracle.The war scenes are riveting and revealing, but it is McLain’s tender sketches of Gellhorn’s relationship with Hemingway’s sons that are particularly moving, giving her character dimension.

And yet, the novel is called LOVE AND RUIN. Hemingway is the hinge upon which it swings. He is the draw, the eternal fascination, the complicated man so many love to hate, and McLain is at her sharpest when the two forces of nature meet at their full power. As she did in THE PARIS WIFE, McLain provides small interludes where Ernest is the point of view character. In the vivid revelation of his demons, these scenes redeem him when we want to despise him, proving McLain is a masterful writer.

Someone in the audience at McLain’s event asked her if she would ever again write Hemingway. Having read two of McLain’s Hemingway novels now, the story of Mary Hemingway gets my vote. Lovers of strong women, history, and yes, Ernest Hemingway, will find much to interest them on the pages of LOVE AND RUIN. Highly recommended.

Have you read it or McLain’s other novels? Which is your favorite? 

Book Recommendation: THE PHANTOM’S APPRENTICE

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“This book is the result of my questioning who Christine Daaé  might have been in all her beauty, talent, love, and darkness. In THE PHANTOM’S APPRENTICE, I weaved together both the original novel and the popular musical, and added new dimensions to characters and story alike, creating a secret world all my own.” ~Heather Webb, THE PHANTOM’S APPRENTICE

Publisher Synopsis:

Christine Daaé sings with her violinist father in salons all over Paris, but she longs to practice her favorite pastime—illusions. When her beloved Papa dies during a conjurer’s show, she abandons her magic and surrenders to grief and guilt. Life as a female illusionist seems too dangerous, and she must honor her father’s memory. 

Concerned for her welfare, family friend Professor Delacroix secures an audition for her at the Opéra de Paris—the most illustrious stage in Europe. Yet Christine soon discovers the darker side of Paris opera. Rumors of murder float through the halls, and she is quickly trapped between a scheming diva and a mysterious phantom. The Angel of Music. 

But is the Angel truly a spirit, or a man obsessed, stalking Christine for mysterious reasons tangled in her past?

As Christine’s fears mount, she returns to her magical arts with the encouragement of her childhood friend, Raoul. Newfound hope and romance abounds…until one fateful night at the masquerade ball. Those she cares for—Delacroix, the Angel, and even Raoul—aren’t as they seem. Now she must decide whom she trusts and which is her rightful path: singer or illusionist. 

To succeed, she will risk her life in the grandest illusion of all.

My Recommendation:

Phantom fans rejoice! This reimagining will not only bring to life everything you love about the play, but will take it deeper into the darkness behind the music, the yearning, and the opera’s secrets.

It is a great joy to savor the passive heroine reimagined as a driven, complex woman. All of the characters have depth, and throughout the narrative Webb keeps the reader guessing about who can be trusted. The settings are rich and sensual, and the movement between salons, seasides, and stages keeps the action fresh and captivating, propelling the story to an unforgettable climax.

Fans of gothic historical fiction and, of course, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, will adore THE PHANTOM’S APPRENTICE. If you read it, I’d love to hear what you think.

 

 

 

Book Recommendation: HEMINGWAY’S HAVANA

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“So much of Havana, and Cuba, centers on the sea, and in this beautiful but merciless sea lies a part of Hemingway’s spirit and a vast part of his literary genius.” –Robert Wheeler, HEMINGWAY’S HAVANA

Publisher Synopsis:

Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for more than two decades, longer than anywhere else. He bought a home―naming it the Finca Vigia―with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn and wrote his masterpiece The Old Man and the Sea there.

In Cuba, Papa Hemingway found a sense of serenity and enrichment that he couldn’t find anywhere else. Now, through more than a hundred color photographs and accompanying text, Robert Wheeler takes us through the streets and near the water’s edge of Havana, and closer to the relationship Hemingway shared with the Cuban people, their landscape, their politics, and their culture.

Wheeler has followed Hemingway’s path across continents―from La Closerie des Lilas Café in Paris to Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West to El Floridita in Havana―seeking to capture through photography and the written word the essence of one of the greatest writers in the English language. In Hemingway’s Havana, he reveals the beauty and the allure of Cuba, an island nation whose deep connection with the sea came to fascinate and inspire the writer.

My Recommendation:

From the foreword by América Fuentes, the granddaughter of the late Gregorio Fuentes, Hemingway’s friend and the captain of his boat Pilar, the reader will be captivated by Robert Wheeler’s vision of Cuba as Hemingway lived and breathed it.

HEMINGWAY’S HAVANA follows Wheeler’s triumphant photo journal, HEMINGWAY’S PARIS. These collections give us glimpses of the streets and vistas of Hemingway’s haunts from the exact places he stood. The views are informed by what Hemingway wrote about them and, because of this, offer special and humanizing insight into the writer who continues to fascinate.

Throughout, there is emphasis on Fuentes’s words about her grandfather, the Cuban people, and Hemingway that they lived por el mar, y para el mar: because the sea exists, and as servants to the sea. This current sets the sound of the sea in the reader’s ear. It is an anchor and a reminder that poverty in the presence of such majesty feels less poor.

“Both Hemingway and the Cuban people were simple in actions and in work and in expression, yet not simplistic.” Robert Wheeler, HEMINGWAY’S HAVANA

In the beauty of crumbling architecture and faded colors, antique cars and cracks in the walls where flowers grow, however, there is a romanticism that tends to the idealistic. Wheeler is clear that Hemingway was a romantic and that he is a romantic. While there is beauty in truth, simplicity, and even poverty, I was uneasy with the romanticizing of political figures. Wheeler does remind us that the photographs are meant to show Cuba as Hemingway saw it, at the time he saw it, so there is room for this idealism.

Overall, Wheeler’s eye for color and the arrangement of the photos take the reader on an emotional and a visual journey. The most moving images are of the Cuban people, particularly the old. Wheeler has a knack for capturing their timelessness, their sadness, and their wisdom.

Wheeler’s words and images are immersive and captivating, and he reveals Hemingway and the places he traveled as well as–or better than–any biographer. I hope Robert Wheeler gives us many more glimpses of Hemingway’s life from the fascinating places he lived and worked. For the Hemingway aficionado to the lover of art and place, I highly recommend HEMINGWAY’S HAVANA.

 

 

 

Book Recommendation: I WAS ANASTASIA

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“If I tell you what happened that night…I will have to unwind my memory–all the twisted coils–and lay it in your palm. It will be the gift and the curse I bestow upon you. A confession for which you may never forgive me. Are you ready for that? Can you hold this truth in your hand and not crush it like the rest of them? Because I do not think you can. I do not think you are brave enough.” Ariel Lawhon, I WAS ANASTASIA

Publisher Synopsis:

In an enthralling new feat of historical suspense, Ariel Lawhon unravels the extraordinary twists and turns in Anna Anderson’s 50-year battle to be recognized as Anastasia Romanov. Is she the Russian Grand Duchess, a beloved daughter and revered icon, or is she an imposter, the thief of another woman’s legacy?

Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn.

Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920
: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson.

As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened. With a brilliantly crafted dual narrative structure, Lawhon wades into the most psychologically complex and emotionally compelling territory yet: the nature of identity itself.

The question of who Anna Anderson is and what actually happened to Anastasia Romanov creates a saga that spans fifty years and touches three continents. This thrilling story is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.

My Recommendation:

In my childhood, my late grandmother showed me a book with Anastasia’s face on the cover, and told me about the woman who claimed to be her. I remember looking through the center section of the book at the haunting, beautiful, black-and-white photographs of the family, and being horrified at the thought of their brutal murders. Still, decades later, every time I see the name Anastasia, I think of the girl, the family, and the horror. When I learned one of my favorite writers of historical suspense was taking on the story, I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed.

Ariel Lawhon’s I WAS ANASTASIA is a masterpiece. The style is experimental–a non-linear narrative, where each section falls back in time, a bit at a time. From the US in the 1960s, to Berlin in the 1930s, to New York in the 1920s, to Russia: 1918, 1917. One month earlier, two weeks earlier, one day earlier. Though time runs at reset flashbacks, I never felt lost; Lawhon’s storytelling is grounded and assured.

The changing time periods, the drama surrounding Anna’s true identity, and the story of the Romanovs as they are subjected to ever-increasing pressure make for gripping reading, and the climax is at equal turns fascinating, shocking, and devastating.

Direct, unflinching, and telescopic, I WAS ANASTASIA balances a compelling plot and a complex study of identity. It is unlike any work of fiction I have ever read, and I will be thinking about it for years to come. I give it my highest recommendation.

Have you read it or any of Lawhon’s work? Are you fascinated with the Romanovs?