What was your summer read? I’d love to know a great bellwether book! Here’s my vacation snapshots of six different books that might interest you for this Fall.
1. THE STORY KEEPER is a mysterious author whom Jenn Gibbs must find or her new job may soon be her old. Jenn finds herself in the mistaken possession of a treasured story from the publishing house slush pile. She’s fascinated with the story of Sarra, a mixed-race Melungeon girl and the danger Sarra finds herself-- in Appalachia early 1900’s. To find the rest of the book and the author, necessitates Jenn's return to Appalachia and the town and family she has avoided since running away years before.
I love how the book flips from the 21st century first-person voice of Jenn Gibbs, to the mysterious omniscient observer from a century before. Is the story she’s seeking true? Could it be that of reclusive author Evan Hall? Past stories intertwine with the present; will they be a part of Evan and Jenn’s future? Lisa Wingate’s novel might interest those who have seen the massive advance press and success of her newest novel: Before We Were Yours.
2. THE BOOK SELLER is single gal Kitty who, with her friend Frieda, owns a little bookstore. But when Kitty is asleep she keeps dreaming of being Katharyn, a wife and mother of three. When the dream becomes more real than her day job and her lives blur, she must decide who she is and what’s happened to her. Who or what caused such grief that she can’t live in the past or the present? Which story is real? What’s the truth? Why are there two lives at all? I enjoyed the mystery of trying to figure out which character was real and why the book seller’s life turned so dysfunctional. Cynthia Swanson has an interesting concept that will keep your interest. Julia Roberts is slated to play Kitty in the upcoming movie adaptation.
3. ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN’ by Rick Bragg is a memoir about himself--poor white kid in the deep South who grows up to become a 1996 Pulitzer Prize winning feature writer. Bragg's story is an honest, raw, and painful look at poor white Southerners, an alcoholic and abusive dad with a heart-wrenching secret, his three brothers, and the heroism of a mother who sacrifices everything for her children.
Reporter Rigg Bragg opens the window to an Americana unfamiliar to many. This NY Times National correspondent takes you all over the world and into the heart of stories from Haiti to the Deep South to murderer Susan Smith driving her boys into a lake. Bragg goes from fury to forgiveness and with the help of a heroic mom, more than survives his past.
I’m always amazed by stories of people who succeed in the face of terrible odds. This reminds me of the memoir The Color of Water, the story of a white woman marrying an African American and living in Harlem raising 12 kids in the 1940’s. I appreciate a memoir that illuminates a time and family.
4. THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING is Joan Didion’s reflection after tremendous loss. I read this highly rated memoir because I’m working on one and I love to read other successful ones.
It’s Christmas 2003 and Joan Didion and her husband are in the hospital watching their only child put into an induced coma and on life support. Days later, Joan’s husband sits down to dinner and has a massive heart attack. Their daughter recovers and then lapses with a brain hematoma requiring six hours surgery. This memoir isn’t for everyone but it’s a look at how we handle grief and death and trying to make sense of how it all happens. “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. The question of self-pity.” That’s what she wrote immediately after it happened and then wrote nothing else until she wrestled with this memoir.
5. THE ORPHAN’S TALE could mean the story of Astrid, Noa or the baby rescued from a boxcar. There are so many quality WW2 novels out there right now but Orphan’s Tale and Lilac Girls are two favorites and distinctly different than any other about the Holocaust. Like The Nightingale, Pam Jenoff's Orphan’s Tale is about two women, their courage, love, and friendship. Astrid is a former aerialist in the circus, whose Nazi husband deserts her because she is a Jew. Noa is a sixteen-year-old who becomes pregnant by a Nazi soldier and thus rejected by her family. After being forced to surrender her infant when he looks more Jewish than Aryan, she takes a job working in a train station where she finds a boxcar filled with babies and bravely steals one. She finds refuge at the same circus as Astrid and a tentative friendship grows when Astrid must teach her to “fly” to stay hidden and survive.
6. LILAC GIRLS are not three friends. They are three women whose lives intersect and effect one another. Though Martha Hall Kelly’s book is historical fiction, her characters are based on real figures.
Caroline Ferriday is a wealthy but sympathetic New Yorker who helps run the French consulate. Her job becomes complicated when Hitler invades Poland and then France. Polish teenager Kasia Kuzmerick works for the underground resistance which lands her and her family in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp where Herta Oberheuser is an aggressive and abusive doctor. Her power and position grow by following the commands of the Nazi government. She operates on the Jews of Ravensbruck who are later called “The rabbits” because of the results of these horrific experimental surgeries.
Amazingly, this is Martha Hall Kelly’s first novel. Her research is thorough, taking readers from New York to Poland to Paris to Germany and the aftermath of the war. You’ll survive to the end wondering about the characters you love and hate.