April 9, 1975, and Carol Braithwaite, a known prostitute, has been savagely murdered. And if that crime isn't heinous enough, her emaciated four-year-old son had been locked in with the dead body for an estimated three weeks. In Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog, the Braithwaite case remains unsolved, but over 30 years later promises to disrupt any number of disparate lives.
There’s Tracy Waterhouse. She and her partner discovered Carol’s body and her traumatized son in 1975. Tracy always felt that certain details of the case didn’t make sense. Why was the house locked from the outside? Who had had the key? Why did Carol’s son simply vanish into thin air? And, why wasn’t the police department more actively investigating the case? Tracy, now retired from the police department and never married, witnesses a young child being mistreated by a street addict and, on a whim, buys the girl with money saved for house renovations.
Paris retains an eternal allure for the creative. And the gifted expatriates who flocked to the City of Lights in the 1920s often felt the hallowed pursuit of their individual muses justified unconventional personal behavior. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain chronicles the courtship and subsequent marriage of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway—a relationship strained and eventually damaged by their friends’ hedonistic lifestyles.
Hadley, who was seven years his senior, met her future husband in Chicago. Although quite the ladies’ man, Hemingway was immediately drawn to her wholesome beauty, even temperament, and courage. Hadley’s unconditional support bolstered Hemingway, a man already plagued by multiple demons, and gave him the companionship he needed to wholeheartedly pursue his writing.
In Georgia Bottoms, Georgia has a lot on her plate--a mother one appetizer short of being “out to lunch,” an unemployed brother more off the wagon than on, and a series of clandestine lovers scheduled six out of seven nights a week.
Do you thrive on books that keep you guessing to the last page? Does a dark novel set your heart racing with anticipation? Then let me recommend The Thirteenth Tale. But to achieve the optimal reading experience, schedule time on a day when the sky is an ominous shade of gray, an angry wind howls outside your window and your electricity flickers haphazardly. The moment is then prime to open your copy of Diane Setterfield’s debut offering.
Margaret Lea lives a solitary, sheltered life working in her father’s bookstore. Her greatest pleasure lies in surrounding herself with books, both rare and commonplace. She also dabbles in compiling short biographies of obscure but deceased individuals. Out of the blue, Margaret receives a mysterious letter from Vida Winter, one of England’s most cherished writers. Her request is that Margaret document her life story.
Unfamiliar with Winter’s novels, Margaret tentatively reads one title, only to find she’s unable to stop until completing the author’s entire collection of works. She agrees to visit Winter. The elderly writer has apparently fabricated exotic tales about herself over the years, but with only a short time to live, she now wants the truth told.
If you’re determined to avoid any books guaranteed to trigger tears, then forget The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I, however, am a sucker for an exceptional dog story and accustomed to the accompanying waterworks. From White Fang through Marley and Me to A Dog Year, the unconditional love, loyalty and goodness of (wo)man’s best friend keep me coming back for more.
Occasionally you’re lucky enough to find a book you just can’t put down. Its gripping plot grabs hold of you and, chapter by chapter, propels you along. Equally compelling is that rare title where the action isn’t paramount, but the key players are so real you find yourself reading into the wee hours. The Good Daughters, by Joyce Maynard, falls into the second category with its unforgettable characters.
We are all familiar with Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. We also remember the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. Finally, I’d be willing to bet that many of you know the Bard’s famous play was set in Verona, Italy. However, here are a few facts that might surprise you. Shakespeare’s telling was the culmination of several previous versions by various other authors. The original lovers were Giuletta Tolomei and Romeo Marescotti. There was, indeed, bad blood between the families, and the tale was set in Siena, not Verona. In a new telling, Anne Fortier’s Juliet alternates between a 20th-century pairing of Guiletta and Romeo and their 15th-century alter egos.
Julie Jacobs’ father perishes in an unexplained fire. Two years later, her mother dies in a suspicious auto accident. Fearing harm to toddler Julie and her twin sister Janice, their Aunt Rose whisks the children from Italy to the United States. Together with her live-in assistant Umberto, she raises the girls but for years avoids discussing anything related to the twins’ parents and their untimely demise.
Do you ever wonder how you might react under extreme duress? Would you rise to the occasion and become an example to those struggling around you or would you withdraw and cower in fear? In One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, nine everyday men and women are put to that exact test as their lives change over the course of one disastrous event.
In advance of a planned trip to India, the above-mentioned people—most solo, but several in pairs—have all chosen this day to go to the consulate in California to obtain a travel visa. As with many bureaucratic departments, the wait is interminable. Graduate student Uma is preparing to visit her parents who have recently moved back to India. In her irritation with the long delay, she ignores the first slight rumble. The second quake, however, rips apart what was only seconds earlier a solid building.
Are you’re looking for an entertaining book to read? Are you also willing to briefly suspend reality--as in what are the chances that two main characters would randomly bump into each other…repeatedly. If you answered “Yes’” to both questions, then let me recommend 32 Candles. This first novel by Ernessa T. Carter will not leave you pondering the meaning of life, but I guarantee you won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough.
Growing up in rural Glass, Mississippi, Davidia Jones lives with her mother Cora, who is both an alcoholic and a prostitute. With no father in the picture, Cora treats her daughter with constant cruelty and contempt. To compound her misery, Davidia is equally ridiculed at school for her plain face and hand-me-down clothing. One night with Cora on the town, Davidia stages an imaginary Tina Turner concert. Arriving home early, Cora brutally beats her daughter for wearing her high heels. Davidia chooses to stop talking…permanently. She maintains her mute state through middle and into high school.
I recently moved to Fredericksburg from Maryland, and as much as I’m enjoying my new life in Virginia, I still miss my old haunts. I can always rely on author Laura Lippman (former Baltimore Sun reporter and wife of David Simon—Homicide and The Wire) to capture Baltimore’s unique flavor.