The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery.  The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art.  Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals.  What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.

Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed.  It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime.  Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion.  The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings.  It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.

Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family.  The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.

Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

196560Book – Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby brings us thirteen-year-old Joey who lost her hearing at the age of six.  She can almost remember the sound of her mother’s voice, which is still the only voice in her family she is able to follow by reading lips.  Joey’s mother just wants her daughter to blend in to the hearing world, and refuses to let Joy learn sign language, fearing it will make her an outcast.  However, this only manages to make Joey feel even more left out and lonely.  Joey struggles to communicate with people in her daily life, like her stepfather whose bushy mustache makes lip-reading impossible.

Everything changes the day Joy meets Dr. Charles Mansell and his signing chimpanzee, Sukari.  Suddenly a whole world of possibilities opens up for young Joey, as she secretly begins to learn American Sign Language.  Struggling to keep her newfound friends private from her mother, Joey is torn between wanting to head her mother’s wishes and being able to communicate with the world around her.  When tragedy strikes and Sukari’s life hangs in the balance, Joey will stop at nothing to save her friend.

Having read, and enjoyed El Deafo by Cece Bell, I was excited and hopeful Hurt Go Happy would be just as good a read.  The second half of this novel was a bit darker than I anticipated, following Joey’s fight to save the chimpanzee, Sukari, but it was a really interesting read overall.

 

 

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

17262100Book – This sweeping saga explores family dynamics, loyalty, love, and loss. It is the story of two brothers growing up in India.  Totally inseparable, yet very different.  With only 15 months between them, the older one Subhash is serious, reserved, and reliable, while Udayan is impulsive, a risk taker, and rebellious.  In college both excel academically. Subhash studies chemistry, Udayan physics.  It is the late 1960’s and India is experiencing political turbulence.  Subhash decides to go to America for his PhD, while Udayan stays and becomes increasingly involved with radical militant groups. He even defies his family by foregoing tradition and marrying, Gauri, chosen for love.  The brothers lose touch leading their separate lives.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, Gauri and Subhash form their own unique relationship, so that he can make sense of Udayan’s actions and because his parents shunned Guari as their daughter-in-law. Subhash acts with integrity and tries to do the right thing, but will he be a victim of his own goodness?  This sweeping saga spans four decades and explores family dynamics, loyalty, love, and loss.

I highly recommend this wonderful book along with Jhumpa Lahiri’s other works – Interpreter of Maladies, In Other Words, The Namesake, and Unaccustomed Earth.

Madam Secretary (2014)

madam-secretary-first-season.31873TV Series – I am hooked on political TV series such as The West Wing, House of Cards, and Scandal.  Therefore, I was thrilled when Madam Secretary came out starring Tea Leoni.  Elizabeth McCord is suddenly asked to serve as Secretary of State, when the current one is killed in a plane crash.  She has a unique relationship with the President of the United States, since he recruited her right out of college for the CIA.  Years later she left the CIA, because she morally disagreed with some of their interrogation tactics. In her new position as Secretary of State she is a fish out of water, since she is not a politician, nor does she have political aspirations and she is very sympathetic. Upon taking Office she inherits most of her own staff and needless to say, there is a big adjustment for all.  The only one she hired on her own is Blake, her office assistant, who is fiercely loyal to Elizabeth. She even butts heads with some of the White House staff, especially the President’s Chief of Staff.

Her former assignments with the CIA have given Elizabeth the national and international experience essential to the Office. Her husband, Henry, a religious scholar is not threatened by her job and power and he is able to offer insight of world politics, since many conflicts have religious roots. She also has 3 children who she involved in the decision making on whether she should take the job.

One of the creators of this show is Morgan Freeman who found it interesting that the 3 former Secretaries of State were all women, though he made it very clear that Elizabeth McCord is no Hillary Clinton. This is a very interesting show that gives viewers insight into the daily life of the Secretary of State and gives us an intelligent character that works hard to balance her job, family, and morals.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Book – Jess always tries to view all of life situations with an incredible amount of optimism, which is actually quite difficult in her circumstances, being a single mother and working two jobs – cleaning houses by day and serving at a pub at night.  She also cares for Tanzie, her math genius daughter; Nicky, her bullied teenage Goth stepson; and Norman, their 80 pound slobbering dog.

When the opportunity arises for Tanzie to compete in a math contest that could win her a scholarship into a prestigious school, Jess realizes that her only chance to travel from the England to Scotland is to enlist the help of Ed. Ed has his own problems. He is under investigation for inside training and possibly losing his company and fortune. Ed and Jess barely know each other. She occasionally cleaned his house and got him home safe when he got drunk at her pub. Unlike Jess, he is a half glass empty kind of person. But being at loose ends and feeling he owed Jess a favor after the night at the pub, Jess, her kids, and even the dog cram into the car with him.

Things get tense as the journey reveals the economic gap between Jess and Ed and dealing with all of the travelers idiosyncrasies.  The story is humorous and at the same time heartbreaking.  Readers will want to go along on this road trip and experience the stops and find out the results from the ultimate destination – if Tanzie is awarded a scholarship.

If you enjoyed this book you may like other books by Jojo Moyes: The Girl You Left Behind, Me Before You, and others.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

9781250049377Book – The demands of balancing work and two daughters, especially when you are the primary breadwinner can make you forget why you fell in love with your husband in the first place and cause you to screw up your priorities and forget what is really important in life. In Landline, Rainbow Rowell offers heartfelt insight into the life of career driven Georgie and the choices she makes during the holiday season.  When she realizes her decision may lead to the ultimate unraveling of her relationship with her family and husband Neal, who offered to be the stay-at-home dad, she feels that the only way to fix things at this point is to resolve past relationship issues.  But her husband is unreachable in the present and the only success Georgie is having in contacting him is by landline from her girlhood home and the Neal that she is talking to is the Neal that she started dating years ago and fell in love with in college.  Readers of this delightful and humorous novel, will be rewarded in knowing how the couple’s relationship began and bloomed and will be wondering if the resolutions of the past will be enough to guarantee them a future.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

riding campBook – The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is the coming of age story of Thea Atwell. She is 15, lives on a ranch in Florida with her parents and her twin brother, and is already an accomplished horsewoman and beauty.  She has always been very close to her family and sheltered, as she and her brother are homeschooled and really don’t have any friends except for each other.  Thea’s world is shaken when the Depression begins and she is sent away by her parents to an exclusive equestrian boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains as a punishment. We see her adjusting to her new school and making friends with privileged Southern belles as she tries to overcome her feelings of guilt and homesickness. The reader will keep turning the pages as the story slowly unfolds to reveal the reason for her banishment by her family from her beloved home. This is not a cozy read as it is full of scandal, sex and secrets. The book has received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus.

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

fallsBook – The Falls is a haunting tale that stays with you even after you finish reading it.  It begins tragically, as Ariah’s newly wedded husband throws himself into Niagra Falls on the first day of their honeymoon. Ariah becomes known as the “Widow Bride of the Falls” and considers herself damned, but remains in the area.  She meets Dirk Burnaby, a handsome successful lawyer and they soon marry. Life is good for the Burnaby’s. They have 3 children, a lovely house, and Dirk’s law practice is thriving.  All that begins to unravel when Dirk is approached by a young mother pleading for his help.  As a result, he decides to launch a lawsuit against a chemical company polluting the Love Canal that causes environmental disasters and illnesses of nearby inhabitants, including the woman and her family. Dirk becomes obsessed with the case and commits all his time and resources to it. Although his heart is in the right place and his need for justice is intense, he is no match for corrupt politicians and big businessman. His altruistic act leaves him ruined and his family broken.  Though his children were young at the time of his lawsuit, when they reach adulthood they re-explore the man that their father was and take up his cause to restore honor to his name.  This absorbing story spans over thirty years and is very thought provoking and well researched.  It is an epic family drama with characters that are well developed.

An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg

an unfinished lifeBook – An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg is the story of Jean Gillkyson, a young widow with a precocious nine year old daughter named Griff.  Griff has made her mother promise that the next time Roy beats Jean up they will leave him. Jean keeps her promise and Griff is thrilled by the prospect of them starting a new life and going on an adventure. Having no money and no place to go Jean decides to seek refuge with her father-in-law, Einar, an old rancher in Wyoming whom she hasn’t seen in over a decade. Griff loves ranch life, the log house, and immediately makes friend with Einar’s Vietnam buddy Mitch, but will she be able to win the heart of her grandfather? Will Einar and Jean ever be able to move on and overcome the guilt that they both feel and learn to forgive and accept one another as family? Beautifully written and full of emotion this story is about healing and the hope that Griff will finally have a real home and stable family.  The movie version of An Unfinished Life is very well done and shows the beauty of Wyoming.  It stars Robert Redford as Einar and Jennifer Lopez as Jean.