Leila Meacham’s Somerset is a stirring family saga covering 150 years in the lives of the Toliver and Warwick families who are looking to make their way in the newly formed communities in Texas. Simon Toliver is determined to free himself from his South Carolina family and build his dream plantation in Texas. He is forced into a relationship with Jessica Wyndham, whose abolitionist leanings have made her a persona non grata in South Carolina. The two begin a perilous journey that will determine their future. Meacham’s story begins in the antebellum period as the plantation begins to grow and prosper, but threats of war are on the horizon. Simon and Jessica must find a way to protect their homes and families. Meacham creates memorable characters like Jessica’s best friend Tippy, a slave whom Jessica is determined to free.
Meacham wrote this novel as prequel to her first novel, Roses. Roses covers the history of the Somerset plantation from the years 1914 through 1985, introducing readers to the heirs of the Toliver and Warwick fortunes. Somerset begins in 1835 and sets the stage for all that is to come.
Leila Meacham is a new heavy hitter in the family saga, and Somerset is no exception. Grand and sweeping, it is full of tidbits of Texas history and rich with compelling characters that bring plenty of drama, action and romance. Teresa DeBerry reads the novel on the audio recording with such an authentic Texan drawl that the reader will be transported directly to the antebellum south. Fans of Belva Plain or Barbara Taylor Bradford are sure to find something to love in this novel.
Ishmael Beah writes as though he is guided by a kaleidoscope of imagery. The old man's hair was not gray; it was the "color of stagnant clouds." Such is the pleasure of reading this Sierra Leone-born author, who recently published his first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, about the aftermath of civil war in his home country. The book, part fable/part allegory, is really several individuals’ stories set in the village of Imperi. It is about the redemptive nature of those who have suffered heartbreak few can imagine and the human need to renew, rebuild and rejuvenate.
Imperi is a devastated, desolate place since the war. Villagers are now making their way back, past the rows of human skulls that line their path. They bring with them memories. They bring physical scars as well, like those borne by Sila and his two children, whose hands were cut off by a 16-year-old boy soldier now living among them. They crave a return to the old ways, like Bockarie and Benjamin, two teachers at the center of the story who find it difficult to inspire students when conditions are so poor. Fortunately, there are storytellers, like the elder Mama Kadie, whose evening tales swaddle those listening in the tentative celebration of tomorrow. As more villagers return, we learn of their pasts. Insidious corruption from both within and outside of the government complicates matters.
Beah, a former child soldier who wrote about his experiences in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, was influenced by the tradition of oral storytelling as a young boy. "I bring a lot of that oral tradition to my writing and I try to let it seep into the words." His evocative narrative, conveyed in the third person, borrows from his native Mende as well as other languages. It is lyrical prose that invites readers to slow down and drift into a world Beah knows all too well.
After France’s stunning defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and its near defeat in WWI, no event garnered more attention or more divided the nation than the Dreyfus Affair. Robert Harris’s new book, An Officer and a Spy, is an incredibly compelling fictional account of the long-simmering scandal, especially the rabid paranoia and anti-Semitism that fueled it.
Harris, as seen in previous works like Fatherland and Pompeii, is a master of historical fiction. In An Officer and a Spy, Harris presents us with a cast of actual historical figures in an account that reads like a spy novel. Georges Picquart is a French Army officer who is convinced of the alleged treason of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer accused of selling secrets to the hated Germans. As an award for his service in the Dreyfus Affair, Picquart is given command of the intelligence section responsible for catching spies in France. Although clearly anti-Semitic himself, Picquart slowly realizes two things: Dreyfus was not guilty, and the real spy is still on the loose. Picquart petitions his superior officers to reopen the Dreyfus case and give him leave to continue the investigation. The French High Command, unwilling to admit its own mistakes and face the political consequences, decides instead to exile Picquart to Tunisia. What follows is a smear campaign and eventually Picquart is defending himself against charges of treason. Meanwhile, over the decade that this story plays out, a solitary figure – Alfred Dreyfus – is kept prisoner on the remote Devil’s Island.
This 100-year-old scandal fits in perfectly with our modern era’s headlines of domestic spying, rendition and puppet trials. It is a novel that is unafraid of showing its hero, George Picquart, as a flawed human being. With its espionage and dramatic courtroom scenes, this novel will have you yelling “J’accuse!” at the power-mongers who would convict innocent men in order to advance their own ambitions.
The Today Show reinstated its book club in 2013, and the first two selections went on to be bestsellers. The newest selection is Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan, a fascinating portrayal of the unknown woman behind a famous man. In her new novel, Horan reimagines the lives of author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Although most of us are familiar with Stevenson’s work, few people know about the smart, independent woman who was his wife.
Fanny decides to leave her husband and her life in San Francisco behind to start over. Along with her three children, she travels to Belgium planning to study art. After a tragedy occurs during her travels, Fanny goes to an artists’ retreat in France where she meets Louis, a Scottish man 10 years her junior. Louis is captivated by the beautiful, opinionated and brash American woman. Although she is initially resistant to her suitor, eventually Louis wins her over, and their tumultuous love affair begins. The story takes them across Europe and America and through the South Pacific.
Many readers will remember Horan’s wildly popular first novel Loving Frank, which was the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Horan says that she is led to these women by first becoming fascinated by the men’s lives. She shares more about what inspires her to write about the lives of these fascinating women in this video.
Lene Kaaberbøl’s Death of a Nightingale begins with Olga and Oxana, two sisters growing up in the Ukraine during the time when Stalin was considered their uncle, whether they liked it or not. During that time, it was hard to tell what was right and what was wrong because regardless of what one did, there was someone who said it was wrong. Olga and Oxana‘s family did what it had to do to get by during famine, but it’s not until years later that the reader sees the ripples of the sisters’ actions.
In the current day, Nina, a Danish nurse with the Red Cross, has taken charge of looking after the asthmatic daughter of Natasha, a woman who was convicted of attempting to kill her abusive fiancé. When Nina agreed to take extra care of this young girl, she didn’t realize protecting her from harm could include keeping her safe from people trying to kill or kidnap her. She becomes entangled in a situation far more dangerous than she could have imagined.
The timing coincides with Natasha’s escape from custody as she sets off to find her daughter and right the wrongs of her past. It is after Natasha’s escape that her ex-fiancé is found tortured and killed in a similar fashion to her ex-husband’s. Although police suspect Natasha, Nina has suspicions that something more is going on. Now she becomes ensnared with keeping Katerina safe at all costs, even if that means saving her from her own mother.
It’s not until the end of this roller coaster of a novel that the reader sees how Olga and Oxana’s past actions have created this tense situation. Though this novel can be read as a stand-alone book, it’s the third in the Nina Borg series. Those who enjoy Nordic crime novels such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are sure to find edge-of-your-seat satisfaction with this series as well.
Mark your calendars for an exciting literary event! Author April Smith will visit the Perry Hall Branch at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9 to talk about her new novel, A Star for Mrs. Blake.
In 1929, Congress passed the Pilgrimage Bill, a piece of legislation that allocated $5 million to help mothers and widows of fallen World War I soldiers travel to France to visit their graves. During the project, 6,693 women made the journey to their loved ones’ graves. Cora Blake is a single mother whose 16-year-old son lied about his age to enlist in the Army near the end of the war. He was killed in action, and she made the difficult decision to have him buried in France. In 1931, Cora is invited to travel to France with a group of American Gold Star Mothers to visit her son’s grave. Although the mothers come from very different backgrounds, they share the common link of their lost sons. The novel follows Cora and her group on their remarkable journey, which changes their lives in surprising and indelible ways.
This beautiful story would be an excellent choice for book clubs. Smith brings this little-known piece of American history to light with warmth and sensitivity. The novel, which is a departure from Smith’s Ana Grey mystery series, is getting a lot of national media attention, and BCPL is delighted to offer our customers this opportunity to meet Smith and learn more about this fascinating story.
Betty Dean is 10 when she moves to the island of Guernsey to live with Arlette, her mother’s boyfriend’s mother in Lisa Jewell’s Before I Met You. Arlette is in her mid-80s, but still independent, stylish and intimidating. Despite the decades that separate the elderly spitfire and the little girl, they become fast friends. When Arlette’s health deteriorates, it is Betty who remains with her, providing loving care while forgoing college, boyfriends and jobs. Following Arlette’s death, Betty is provided with a small amount of money, a fabulous collection of vintage clothes and a chance to finally start living. A bequest to an unknown and unfound woman named Clara Pickle leaves the family puzzled and Betty determined to track her down. Betty quickly moves to SoHo determined to find the mysterious Ms. Pickle and kick start her life in the process.
In searching for Clara, Betty also uncovers truths about Arlette and herself. Jewell simultaneously shares the stories of two young women coming of age in two very different Londons. Arlette is a beautiful and charismatic shop girl in a post-World War I London awash with artists and free thinkers. She is swept up in the bohemian movement and her friends include an impoverished artist and a jazz musician. In Betty’s London, it is 1995 where jobs are scarce and rent is high. She secures employment at Wendy’s and also becomes nanny to the children of notorious rocker Dom Jones. Both young women are balancing independence and good times with work, others’ expectations and romantic entanglements.
As the story glides between the two women, readers will be absorbed by the intrigue of Clara Pickle and embrace the fun and feisty Arlette and Betty. Jewell masterfully paints the portraits of two appealing young women struggling with genuine problems that transcend time. Forbidden romance, family dynamics and finding one’s self are at the core of this engaging and unforgettable novel of two inspirational women connected by fate.
Nora de Jong is a successful brain surgeon and single mother of a beautiful 6-month-old girl. She lives a quiet and happy life in Texas where she shares a home with her widowed mother. Upon returning from work one afternoon she is horrified to discover that her mother has been murdered and her daughter stolen. Frantic to discover a clue to explain this tragedy and locate her baby, she unearths a small box which has been hidden in the attic. The contents are unfathomable, indicating that her mother was a member of the Nazi party in Holland during World War II and that her father had been wanted for murder. Nora is convinced that the answers to who took her daughter are tied to her parents’ past. The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten is an intense, fast-paced novel combined with an intriguing work of historical fiction. Through journal entries and recounted memories, the reader is transported to Nazi-occupied Holland. The insidious isolation of the Jews and the heroic actions taken by the members of the Dutch resistance come to life through the author’s insightful writing.
Ms. Van Heugten’s fascination with this time period started close to home. Both of her parents grew up in Holland during the occupation and were members of the resistance. Typical of that generation, they were hesitant to describe their experiences; however, their activities inspired the author to learn more. She spent time in Amsterdam researching at the Dutch War Institute where she was immersed in the daily life and hardships of the war, as told through letters and diaries. The end result is The Tulip Eaters, a thoroughly investigated, action-packed adventure.
In 1600’s England, politics and religion are inextricably intertwined. Times are dark and violent, and morality is judged by all. Those who defy the church or the government are branded as witches and killed. Many flee into the darkness to await better times, but one woman dares to remain in the light. Her story drives The Daylight Gate, the new novella by award-winning author Jeanette Winterson.
Alice Nutter is a youthful, strong and well-respected woman. She believes her wealth allows her freedom to live as she pleases, making friends and allies without political or moral consequences. Her choices are not beyond the notice of local officials, however, and they quietly start rumors about her competence. These rumors eventually force her to reveal her secrets and unleash her powers on those who would destroy her. Winterson is an intelligent storyteller, and her spare prose moves the story along at lightning speed. Graphic and violent, The Daylight Gate is a quick dip into a nightmare that just might keep you awake at night.
On March 11, 1948, a fire raged through the main building of North Carolina’s Highland Hospital, killing nine female patients trapped in a locked ward on the fourth floor. Victims included Zelda Fitzgerald, a dancer, artist and writer like her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald. Highland was a residential treatment facility for the mentally ill and considered quite progressive in its treatment methods. Author Lee Smith takes inspiration from the hospital, the tragic fire and Zelda Fitzgerald’s own life in her newest book Guests on Earth.
Smith’s narrator is 13-year-old New Orleans native Evalina Toussaint. Evalina refuses to eat after the death of her mother and is packed off to Highland for a cure. Now an orphan, the resort-like hospital becomes Evalina’s home, and its caregivers and patients her family. Fresh air and exercise, music and art: Evalina thrives under the care of the enlightened psychiatrist Dr. Carroll and develops into a talented pianist. Swimming and songs aren’t the only therapies employed at Highland, though, and as Smith reveals the darker secrets in the lives of Evalina, Zelda and other patients, she also explores the more invasive and seemingly barbaric treatments employed upon the mentally ill.
Smith, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, imbues her writing with the atmosphere of rural Appalachia. She draws upon both the folklore of the mountains as well as the culture of southern high society in creating compelling characters and an absorbing story. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “the insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read.” Guests on Earth allows a few of the guests to share their memorable tale.