What if you only had a week to understand the secrets of the past that have left your mother with severe depression and yourself prone to panic attacks? A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore is the story of two young women caught up in the glamour and tragedy of Paris. Kitty Travers left England in 1937 to study piano in Paris. In 1961 her daughter, Fay Knox is playing the violin as part of a week-long symphonic tour of Paris. Fay remembered a trip to Paris as a schoolchild when she had experienced what felt like flashbacks even though her mother told her that she had never been to France. Just before Fay left, her mother told her to talk to Mother Superior Marie at St. Cecelia. The novel alternates between Kitty and Fay as they each fall in love in the romantic city. The book portrays the particular attractions of Paris during each era. The dangers of wartime are a part of the story that Fay needs to understand so she can help her mother heal.
Julia Keller’s novel, Sorrow Road entwines secrets from 1938 with a present day death in an Alzheimer’s care facility. Bell Elkins and Darlene Strayer both grew up in Appalachia and both went to Georgetown Law School. Bell is a county prosecutor in Aker’s Gap, West Virginia while Darlene is a federal prosecutor based in northern Virginia. Although Darlene rarely comes home, she has met with Bell to ask her to investigate her father’s death at the Thornapple Terrace, an Alzheimer’s facility. When Darlene has a fatal car accident going down the mountain after their meeting, Bell is left trying to understand what she needs to investigate. What could possible motivate anyone to murder an Alzheimer’s patient, other than a mercy killing? Bell’s life is further complicated when her adult daughter, Carla returns home. Murder almost always has roots in the past, but this story lets the past motivate the present in several ways. Practically every character is strongly influenced by past choices and actions. The brutal winter weather is so well portrayed that it can be felt as strongly as the actions of the characters. Winter puts particular pressures on small rural towns with dangerous roads that impact the story. The poverty of rural West Virginia is a motivator for several acts of violence. The connections will elude the reader until the end of the novel.
In bestselling author Robyn Carr’s latest novel, Emma and Riley are childhood friends through high school. Things fall apart when Emma goes off to college and leaves Riley behind with Jock, Emma’s boyfriend.
Fast forward several years. Emma is reeling from the betrayal of her husband and subsequent suicide. Emma, with nothing to her name, comes home. Riley now owns a very successful cleaning business, and reluctantly hires Emma. But Emma can’t escape her past and has a difficult time, until she re-unites with Adam, Riley’s brother. Let’s just say this makes for an uncomfortable family dynamic.
For a romance novel, this book packs a little of everything between the covers. Pain, loyalty, friendship, hardship and of course – love.
What people are eating is a reflection of their society. A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe explores what people were or were not able to eat during the Depression. It also covers various ways that the government attempted to provide relief to its citizens who were often in crisis. I had not realized that before this period, the federal government had no involvement in the nutrition of its citizens. This was also an era of discoveries of how vitamins and minerals worked to promote good health. When US citizens were so desperate for food, some actually dying of starvation, the government was forced to step up. Different methods of relief were tried at different times. When farm crops were abundant, the federal government bought up the surplus and turned it over to various organizations for distribution to the disadvantaged. The Red Cross frequently had a role in this. The Depression was also an era that ushered in the school lunch program. Research was done that showed how poorly children learned when they were hungry. These two food historians have uncovered so much information about how people and government coped with hunger. Recipes are even included.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer was a truly cautionary tale of a non-fiction book about a disastrous storm that took place when many climbers were attempting to ascend Mt. Everest. The Summit by Harry Farthing is a fictional novel of two men who attempt Mr. Everest, separated by seventy years. Neil Quinn is a successful climbing guide for Mt. Everest who has been to the top eight times. His current client is very challenging. Nelson Tate, Jr. is a sixteen-year-old who has already summited six of the seven highest peaks in the world. Quinn has been hired by Nelson’s very wealthy father to get him to the top. After the young man died on the mountain, Tate, Sr. ensures that Quinn is blackballed as a climbing guide. Quinn returns to Europe and tries to understand how he came down the mountain with an ice axe marked with a Nazi swastika. Some incredible characters based on real life figures point him in the direction of Josef Becker, a climber sponsored by the Nazis who had tried to climb Everest before WWII. The novel alternates the feats of these two climbers. The story is often literally cliff hanging, but it also is a fictional historical detection of one of the legends of Everest. The book an exciting depiction of mountain climbing, but also a vivid portrait of the era when the Nazi government attempted to display German superiority.
Readers are always looking for a thriller as intriguing as Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. A new book that comes close to these with plot twists is The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. Lo Blacklock is employed by a travel magazine in England and has been feeling that she is going nowhere with her career. Her supervisor is pregnant and not feeling that she can tolerate a cruise, so this is Lo’s big break. The cruise will be the maiden voyage of a luxury yacht. There are only ten cabins on the boat and everything is extremely luxurious. The owner, who is a sort of Richard Branson figure, is on board, along with his wife who is recovering from chemotherapy. Lo is a woman who has panic attacks and a bit of a drinking problem. She hopes to excel with a feature article describing the cruise through Scandinavian waters. She is having an experience far beyond an ordinary person’s financial means. Her reputation follows her when she drinks a little too much on the first night and then insists that she thinks she saw a woman fall off the ship. She is also positive that she saw a young woman in Cabin 10, although staff and other passengers insist that no one like that was on the boat. The protagonist deals with her own personal demons as she must cope with very frightening situations. See how soon you can figure out what may have happened and why.
Philippa Gregory is an outstanding writer of historical fiction. Her most recent novel Three Sisters, Three Queens is the story of Henry VIII’s two sisters, Margaret and Mary, and his first wife, Katherine. Although at times they had real affection for each other, they were often in conflict for control and precedence. Margaret, the oldest Tudor sister, was at court when Katherine came to England to become Henry’s brother’s wife. Marriage was a political function, so Margaret was there to witness the loss of status Katherine faced when her first husband died and her later elevation when she became Henry’s wife. Even though Margaret had hoped to marry someone else, she was sent to Scotland to become King James’ wife. Her treatment by Gregory is what makes an absorbing novel. Although the major highlights of Margret’s life are well known, her motivations are open to interpretation. She was widowed when Scotland rebelled against Henry. Margret’s marriage was supposed to have been a peaceful link, but she basically had to spend her life trying to protect her son’s birthright. A good historical novel humanizes figures which help the reader better understand and remember the events the characters were a part of.