Book – Circling the Sun is based on the true life story of Beryl Markham. In the early 1900’s, Beryl, her parents and brother arrive from England to farm 1500 acres of untouched bush in Kenya. Two years later, when Beryl turns five, her mother and brother return to England, unable to handle the primitive conditions. Beryl remains on the farm with her father, running wild in the stable and with the nearby Kipsigis children, particulary her best friend Ruta. As Beryl grows up, she resists conventions and finds herself most comfortable training horses. After a disastrous marriage, she builds a life for herself among the decadent expats living in Kenya. Her circle of friends includes Karen Blixen and Karen’s lover, Denys Finch Hatton. (Blixen wrote her memoir Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen). Beryl also discovers the joy of flying, becoming a bush pilot and record-setting aviator. I was inspired by Beryl’s determination to follow her own path, despite many roadblocks and much hardship. Paula McClain also wrote a novel based on Hemingway’s early married life titled The Paris Wife.
Book – Chris Bohjalian pays homage to his Armenian roots in Sandcastle Girls, by telling the story of “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About”. The genocide of over ½ million people by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The account is relayed through Laura Petrosian, the great granddaughter of Elizabeth, an American from Boston and Armen from Armenia. While researching her genealogy for a book, Laura comes across letters and photographs of her great grandparents that help her piece together her family history.
Elizabeth and Armen meet in Aleppo Syria in 1915. Elizabeth, is a nurse recently graduated from college who accompanies her father on a mission to provide humanitarian aid to Armenian Refugees. Armen is an engineer working for the Germans who is desperately looking for his missing wife and baby who were lost during the deportations and mass murders. The two soon become very fond of each other. They are separated when Armen leaves to fight for the British Army. Elizabeth and Armen’s love flourishes in spite of continuing genocide and war, as they write letters to each other.
This is an enduring love story that also gives us heartbreakingly gritty details about the atrocities of the horrific events. It was a bit difficult to get through due to the subject matter, but definitely worthwhile.
Book- Despite living in a small Texas town collectively obsessed with football and the local Miss Clover City beauty pageant, Willowdean Dickson has managed to carve out a niche away from all that, looking to her deceased shut-in aunt Lucy for guidance. This is no mean feat, given that Will’s (or Dumplin’, as her mother calls her) mother is a former Miss Clover City winner and current pageant bigwig. However, the pageant draws Will into its orbit. First her best friend Ellen begins to hang out with pageant hopefuls, creating a distance between herself and Will where none existed before. Then Will enters a secret affair with the laconic Bo, an enigmatic-but-hot fast food coworker whom she’s crushed on for months.
Though Will is a bigger girl, she has up to this point in the story projected confidence. However, Bo’s keeping her a secret, and her niggling suspicion that her mother is ashamed of her, damages her confidence. In a wild bid to prove to herself to herself and to do what her aunt Lucy had always dreamed of doing, she, and a ragtag band of other unlikely candidates, enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant. What follows is a campy high school coming-of-age experience reminiscent of Hairspray. Perhaps the best, most refreshing thing about Dumplin’ is that, unlike other stories in this vein and much like real life, the fat protagonist is allowed to remain fat; she doesn’t magically lose weight the moment she locates her self-confidence.
Book – For a delectable romantic comedy, check out The Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan.
Meet Polly Waterford, a distraught young woman who is reeling from a toxic break-up. When she is forced to move out of her boyfriend’s apartment, she has nowhere to go. And that’s how she finds her escape, on the seaside of Cornwall in a tiny little house in the middle of nowhere. All alone and far from home, Polly is overcome with loneliness. She does the only thing she can do, she bakes. Soon, what was only a comforting hobby turns into much more as the locals discover Polly’s mouth-watering baked goods.
However, the town baker has taken an instant dislike to Polly who has stolen all of her customers. Can Polly ever escape a life of drama? What will she do when her toxic ex-boyfriend shows up in Cornwall? This charming tale is full of drama, humor and romance–and of course visions of fresh baked bread. Enjoy this sweet story that will keep you cozy in the chilly months ahead.
As a sappy romantic, I adore a good love story. I particularly love romances that take place in a bakery, or food service setting. If you liked The Little Beach Street Bakery, try The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal, and Since You’ve Been Gone by Anouska Knight.
Book – 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.
Book – A fabulous introduction to the Cynster world and those who live in it. By Winter’s Light is the story of Daniel and Claire, a tutor and a governess for the next generation of Cynsters. Their romance is overseen and manipulated by their charges amidst a family holiday season in Scotland. With her usual deft style, Stephanie Laurens weaves a fun holiday tale that gives you insight into the personalities and abilities of the up and coming generation. I was delighted by the interactions between the cousins and really pleased with the romance that was built between Daniel and Claire. Both storylines meshed well and it was neat to see the older generation in love and happy all around.
This is the 21st book in the Cynster Saga, but they can all be read as stand-alones. I just enjoy revisiting ‘old friends’ as I continue to read about the exploits that only Cynsters seem to have and revel in.
Book – In The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise, Francis Wootten lives in Northern England and comes from a loving if dysfunctional family. His mother is tough as nails and his grandmother is the same. His father is absent, caught up in his new life elsewhere. His brother works on a magazine no one reads and raids their pantry on a regular basis along with his flatmate, Fiona. Quiet, reserved and a bit of a loner, it isn’t until his leukemia lands him in a hospital unit, that Francis makes a friend and finally falls in love.
I found myself far more interested and invested in Francis and his family than Amber. The Woottens were easier to care about and connect to while Amber was explained too often and shown too little. That said, Francis’ voice is a compelling one and the book was quite enjoyable. This would be a good read for fans of John Green, unique narrators, and strange family dynamics.
Book – Douglas Petersen, a scientist, is trying to cope with his wife Connie’s announcement that she thinks she wants to leave him. Also, his relationship with his recalcitrant seventeen-year-old son, Albie, has always been rocky. Douglas hopes that their family’s planned “Grand Tour” of Europe will somehow help them resolve their issues. He sets some personal goals for their inter-rail trip, including “It is not necessary to be seen to be right about everything, even when that is the case.” As they embark on the trip from their home in suburban London, Douglas narrates their experiences, and shares the story of his marriage to Connie and struggles as a father to relate to his son. Told in short chapters, and alternating from past to present, Douglas kept me entertained with his dry humor, insights and predicaments as he tries to approach his life in a new way.
Book – Lakshmi is an immigrant from India, married but desperately lonely. With no friends or family nearby and a husband who belittles or ignores her, she attempts suicide to end her pain. She ends up at a psychiatric unit, where she meets psychiatrist Maggie Bose. Lakshmi opens up to Maggie, who empathizes with her plight. As a condition of Lakshmi’s release, she must continue to have weekly sessions with Maggie. As the treatment continues, the lines become increasingly blurred between professional detachment and friendship, with unexpected confessions and repercussions.
The story is told in alternating chapters by Lakshmi and Maggie as they explore the themes of love, passion, forgiveness and friendship. This book is thought-provoking and I didn’t want to put it down. I loved the gentle wit, the confusion and compassion of the characters. Lakshmi, especially, is a character I’ll remember for a long time.
Book – Louisa Clark has lived in her small village all of her life with her younger sister, nephew and parents. She hasn’t explored much of life beyond her town in which the main object of interest is a tourist attraction castle. She works at a local café, has been dating her boyfriend for seven years and the most flamboyant thing about her is her fashion sense. When she loses her job, she desperately accepts a job as caretaker of a quadriplegic, Will Traynor, who lives on the castle grounds. The events that unfold change Louisa’s life in ways she never imagined. Moyes transported me into the lives of both a caretaker and a quadriplegic to examine the choices, heartache and stresses of their everyday lives. I liked these characters and the dilemmas they face are compelling and complex. While the story is often amusing, it brings serious issues to light and would be an interesting book for a discussion group.