In these already very hot days of summer, the only living thing that thrives on my lanai is this desert rose plant. Even early mornings and late evenings are too hot for rocking and reading. However, in the cooler interior, I have been making the time for reading books that I will suggest for my church book club next fall. I started with four books of fiction and now have moved on the memoirs and biographies. Book club members will send me their suggestions over the summer. In September, we will choose books for the coming year. Whenever possible, I like to read the books before recommending them.
Here are four novels that I plan to recommend for our 2018-2019 reading season. These are the publishers’ descriptions, not my own reviews. Let me just say that I think that all four books will stimulate some good discussion.
Correa, Armando Lucas. The German Girl. New York: Atria Books, 2016.
Before everything changed, young Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now, in 1939, the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; her family’s fine possessions are hauled away; and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. Hannah and her best friend, Leo Martin, make a pact: whatever the future has in store for them, they’ll meet it together. The German Girl sweeps from Berlin at the brink of the Second World War to Cuba on the cusp of revolution, to New York in the wake of September 11, before reaching its deeply moving conclusion in the tumult of present-day Havana. Based on a true story, this masterful novel gives voice to the joys and sorrows of generations of exiles, forever seeking a place called home.
Kline, Christina Baker. A Piece of the World. New York: William Morrow, 2017.
To Christina Olson, the entire world is her family farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. The only daughter in a family of sons, Christina is tied to her home by health and circumstance, and seems destined for a small life. Instead, she becomes Andrew Wyeth’s first great inspiration, and the subject of one of the best-known paintings of the twentieth century, Christina’s World. As she did in her beloved bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction to vividly reimagine a real moment in history. A Piece of the World is a powerful story of the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, her complicated relationship to her family and inheritance, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.
Krivák, Andrew. The Signal Flame. New York: Scribner, 2017.
Andrew Krivák tells the heartbreaking, captivating story about a family awaiting the return of their youngest son from the Vietnam War. In a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania, Hannah and her son Bo mourn the loss of the family patriarch, Jozef. They were three generations under one roof; a war-haunted family in a war-torn century. Jozef was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I. His American-born daughter’s husband, Bexhet, an immigrant, fights in World War II—returning to Dardan, Pennsylvania, only to be taken in a hunting accident on Hannah’s family’s land. Finally, Hannah’s younger son, Sam, goes MIA in Vietnam. And so there is only Bo, a quiet man full of sorrow and conviction and a firstborn’s sense of duty. He is left to grieve but also to hope for reunion, to fall in love and create a new life, to embrace the land and work its mountain soil. The Signal Flame is a stirring exploration of generations of men and the events that define them, brothers who take different paths, the old European values yielding to new world ways, and the convalescence of memory and war.
Ng, Celeste. Little Fires Everywhere. New York: Penguin Press, 2017.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
If you have read any of these books, I would love to hear your impressions.