China Dolls by Lisa See

china dollsBook – Meet Helen, Grace and Ruby – young women from very different backgrounds. Each fascinating with her own set of baggage and secrets.  However, they all share the same dream of fame and the three become fast friends working as dancers at the glamorous Forbidden City Nightclub in San Francisco in 1938 just as the World’s fair is set to open and rumors of war circulate.  The story spans 50 years and the girls tell their own stories through alternating voices.  They share in each other’s ups and downs and rely on one another through unexpected challenges and changes in financial situations.

Working at the prestigious club, these strong and independent women are looked upon as delicate “China Dolls” dressed in beautiful glittering costumes and makeup. They all hit bumps on their road to stardom, but manage to overcome the obstacles. But their bond of friendship is jeopardized with the bombing of Pearl Harbor that results in betrayal and the revelation of hidden secrets.

Well researched by author Lisa See this is a rich story of dreams, relationships, and the endurance of the human spirit.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! by Richard Ned Lebow

archdukeBook - On the 28th of June, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo, an event which is now commonly regarded as the spark that kicked off World War I. In this book, Lebow considers what might have happened if the assassin had missed. The Archduke, he argues, was an important moderate voice in European politics, and if he had lived, war may have been avoided. But what would the world look like if one of the deadliest conflicts of the twentieth century had never happened?

Lebow offers two alternatives: a particularly good world, in which the absence of war creates an open, moderate, and prosperous global community; and a particularly bad one, in which the tensions which contributed to the Great War continue without ever breaking into outright war, creating an atmosphere of oppression and paranoia. He admits that either set of events is as plausible as the other, and we’ll never be able to test his guesses, but he also argues that thinking about how things could have been different helps us to understand why things happened the way they did.

Since the book focuses so much on individual people, it’s easy to get lost in a long list of names and titles, particularly since half of the book is describing things that these people never actually did. I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the war, but for someone already a little familiar with the events, this is an interesting new angle.

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

stella bainBook – This novel begins with a compelling mystery as the main character awakens in a field hospital in Marne, France during World War I, not knowing her name or anything about herself beyond what is evident from her British nursing uniform and her American accent. This beautifully written historical fiction has the reader rooting for the courageous nurse as she forges on with nursing the wounded, pursuing threads of her identity, and ultimately facing a court trial. The audiobook is narrated by Hope Davis, and her pleasant, soothing voice matches Shreve’s spare, graceful presentation of a tragic yet intriguing story revolving around the development of psychotherapy for victims of shocking events. The courage, generosity, and intellect of individuals who aid the victims of war and prejudice are highlighted in the telling of “Stella Bain’s” story. The historical setting also provides a nostalgic backdrop for a love story that develops sweetly during this hopeful tale of rebuilding. If you enjoy this book, the library collections contain numerous novels by this award-winning author.

Upstairs, Downstairs (1971)

UpDown_TitleCard2DVDs -The Library will be hosting the program Below Stairs: Meet the Kitchen Maid Whose Memoirs Helped Inspire Downton Abbey on Thursday, January 23, 7p.m.  British servant Margaret Powell wrote the best-selling memoir Below Stairs and she will be portrayed by Leslie Goddard.  Powell’s 1968 book was among the inspirations for Downtown Abbey and directly inspired the 1970s series Upstairs, Downstairs. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, I would highly recommend the series Upstairs Downstairs. Hard to believe that it first aired over 40 years ago on Masterpiece Theater.  It won seven Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody.

The series tells the stories of the residents of 165 Eaton Place a townhouse in a posh London neighborhood.  The “Upstairs” is comprised of the wealthy and aristocratic heads of household Richard Bellamy a member of Parliament and his wife Lady Marjorie. They have two children, Elizabeth who is in her late teens and James who is in his early twenties. The “Downstairs” consists of the Bellamy’s lively and devoted servants overseen by Hudson the butler and Mrs. Bridges the cook.  Other servants include parlor maids, Rose, Daisy, and Sarah, kitchen maids Emily and Ruby, footmen Alfred and Edward,  coachman Pearce, chauffeur Thomas, and Lady Marjorie’s Maid Maude.  The series covers almost a 30 year time period and shows all the characters surviving social change, political upheaval, scandals and the horrors of the First World War. Most importantly you get a sense of the relationships formed between those upstairs and downstairs and their loyalties to each other.