2017 falls during the 100th anniversary of World War I, and The Summer Before the War is the perfect novel to remind us of the world-changing conflict’s impact. In the novel, England is in the midst of fighting the Great War. For the small town of Rye in Sussex, all of the moral complexities of that war are realized. Helen Simonson is a master of gentle and sometimes fierce satire in this comedy of manners, as she was in her first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
The first three parts of The Summer Before the War have a lighter tone as the characters are gently satirized for their foibles. There is nostalgia for the Edwardian innocence still left in the town of Rye, but cruel prejudice and gossip also reside in the town. All the characters seem like good people, but Helen Simonson cleverly reveals their flaws. Beatrice Nash enters the scene as the first female Latin “master” for the local grammar school. Beatrice has recently lost her father, whom she idolized, but she will not bow to the dictates and restrictions of how her family and society want her to lead her life, so she must earn her way.
In this fractured fairy tale, a mother with four boys uses all the old wives’ tales to try to conceive a girl. Nine months later, Claude, the fifth son is born, but Claude wants to grow up to be a princess. How Claude or any child achieves a happily-ever-after is what every parent worries about and what this book is about: love, marriage, family, acceptance, and raising children.
Lin-Manuel Miranda worked for six years to do the book, music, and lyrics for his hip-hop musical Hamilton. The musical explores the life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean, who came to America and helped found our country’s financial system and, of course, was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. The musical has won the Pulitzer Prize, a Grammy, and 10 Tony awards. I love all 23,000 words of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton. The songs become earworms as they just make you replay them.
If you don’t have enough Hamilton $10 bills to get a pricey ticket to the Broadway production or time to wait in line for the cheaper Broadway lottery tickets for the play, check out the music CDs at the library from the original Broadway cast, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s backstage pass in Hamilton: The Revolution; and the book it is based on, Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton.
In Fates and Furies, first you meet the couple, Lotto and Mathilde, on their beach honeymoon. They seem a golden couple, but then the story unfolds from Lotto’s perspective in “Fates” and then Mathilde’s side in part two, “Furies.” Both characters are seriously flawed. This portrait of a marriage is like a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. Lauren Groff even includes a Greek chorus by commenting about the characters within brackets.
The novel is full of strong and powerful women who take the threads of their lives and others’ into their own hands. How much does fate affect our destinies? How much do the female spirits of vengeance and justice, the angry ones, the Furies, change our paths?
Before reading The Book That Matters Most and seeing the list its book club picked, think about the book that matters most to you. I asked several friends and the members of my book group. The books they came up with were also Ann Hood’s choices.
At the beginning of the novel, Ava is lonely and angry. Her do-gooder husband has left her for a yarn bomber, for goodness sakes! She makes huge yarn objects to make political and social statements. Her children, Will and Maggie, are living abroad. Her daughter is a lost soul and trying to find herself in Paris.
Both the parents and children are having a summer of love and discovery in Modern Lovers. It is a recipe for drama and comedy when parents are going through midlife crises while adolescents are pushing boundaries with teenaged angst. With Brooklyn as the setting, Emma Straub captures time’s passing for her characters as they move from adolescence to adulthood and question what it really means to grow up.
There should be a shelf in the library with yellow caution tape labeled WARNING, UNHAPPY ENDINGS and UNHAPPILY EVER AFTER. Reach for a book from that shelf, and you’ll need your Puffs Plus tissues. Authors have the power of the pen, so why end on an unhappy note with disaster, calamity, catastrophe, cataclysm, misfortune, mishap, blow, trial, tribulation, affliction, adversity, and death?
What teenage girl has not sighed over the plight of Jane Eyre and the love story in Wuthering Heights? The novels contain “the collective imagination” poured into them by millions of teenage girls. In The Madwoman Upstairs, narrator Samantha Whipple is the last Brontë heir. She is related to three of the most famous women writers, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, but she has a contentious relationship with them. Gothic and imaginative, The Madwoman Upstairs is a tribute to the Brontës.
Small Southern towns have their share of eccentric characters, but they have nothing on Quinn, Montana. Quinn produces “devils and angels, queens and boy princesses, gritty souls that could survive anything.” The Flood Girls are a team of misfit softball players with their manager, Laverna Flood, the owner of the local bar, leading the pack. Living in Quinn and playing ball with The Flood Girls is never boring; it is a comedy of errors.
I started listing adjectives to describe My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante: visceral; violent; passionate. This is the first in a series of four Neapolitan Novels by an elusive Italian author who writes under a pseudonym. Elena and Lila’s friendship is full of envy and love as they claw their way out childhood into adolescence in a poverty-stricken quarter of Naples in the 1950s.