Herta Muller’s words form images assembled as a collage and story for the reader to follow. The Fox was Ever the Hunter is rich in images and symbols to lead one along the path of fear and frustration caused by the totalitarian regime the author grew up with in Romania. The secret service lurks ever present and for Adina, they threaten with notes and gradual dissection of her fox fur bought years ago with her mother. Clara finds that her special friend with whom she shares the evening rest is not just a lawyer but an agent of that dreaded service. All are suspicious of others and fearful of what may come, but hope for a brighter day.
For more about the book and the author, check out The New York Times review.
In 1863, sixteen-year-old Placidia agrees to marry Gryffth Hockaday after knowing him for a very short time. He is a soldier on leave, so while he goes back to fight for the Confederacy, she travels to his South Carolina farm to look after it and be a mother to his young son, Charles. Being alone and isolated, living with only the slaves and no other family leaves Placidia vulnerable. When Gryffth comes home after the war is over, he finds that she has been accused of having a child while he was gone and then murdering the baby. Placidia finds herself arrested, in jail, without her husband’s support. What really happened while Gryffth was gone? The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers is a perfect read for those who enjoy historical fiction (especially Sandra Dallas) that highlights the everyday lives of women.
What would you do if three planes crashed in your town within eight weeks? As fifteen-year-old Miri Ammerman, her mother Rusty, her grandmother Irene, and friends prepare for Hanukkah and Christmas in December 1951, an airplane crashes. In the Unlikely Event is an engrossing story told from multiple perspectives, has likable characters, and deals with relationships and romance in the midst of tragedy. Judy Blume has stated that that idea stemmed from real plane crashes that occurred in Elizabeth, New Jersey near where she lived – get the scoop in this Buzzfeed interview.
In 1938, Marianne von Lingenfels makes a promise to watch over the families of German resistors. As the war comes to an end, she finds herself taking in Benita and her son, Martin, and Ania and her two sons, Anselm and Wolfgang, at the family’s run-down castle. The three women struggle to survive on their own as they come to terms with the enormous toll the war has taken on them. Taking place over almost sixty years, the novel explores the lives of everyday Germans during the war, a view that hasn’t really been explored at length in popular fiction.
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck is an absorbing read that would be great for discussion. For people who enjoyed Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly and other female-centered World War II fiction.
In Ann Hood’s novel, a clever storyline follows two women’s lives some fifty years apart against a backdrop of significant events in American history: the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and its aftermath, and the 1960 presidential election and inauguration of JFK. At one point in The Obituary Writer, their two storylines merge into one. Vivien and Claire are not contemporaries, yet they share certain struggles and dreams. Can one woman’s regrets bring closure and happiness to another woman? With the women’s movement and all the changes of the 20th century, did individual women’s lives change that much? Even in the 21st century, do women continue to feel trapped in traditional roles?
Political writer Christopher Buckley retreats to the 16th century for this hilarious story as he believed the U.S election of 2016 was sufficiently self-satirizing to demand his attention. In 1517, relic hunting was a good business for Dismas until he conspires with the artist Durer to produce a creditable shroud for sale to an affluent but corrupt noble. The noble was greatly displeased when the fraud was uncovered and Dismas escapes with his life only after agreeing to steal the true shroud for the noble. The reader then journeys with Dismas and Durer to Chambery in hopes of substituting a shroud of equal or better quality (according to Durer) for the true shroud. Many misadventures and missteps occur for the reader to enjoy until the pair of travelers are rewarded for their efforts. The reader should then read again the 2017 news report at the beginning of The Relic Master to see what the author is suggesting.
As the first in a new series by Alan Bradley, this mystery has promise. Flavia is delightful, charming, intelligent, and an almost too clever eleven-year-old chemist who deftly solves a murder in her English village in the early 1950s. The reader wants to scream at her older sisters, her silent father, and the authorities to get out of the way and let Flavia solve the crime in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
If you are missing your Downton Abbey fix, you will be pleased to find Julian Fellowes also has written this serialized novel (as well as two others Snobs and Past Imperfect) featuring the British aristocracy. Belgravia takes the reader from the Duchess of Richmond’s ball just before the battle of Waterloo (yes, the Duke of Wellington attends!) and well into the 19th century to follow the fate of young Charles Pope, conceived just before the ball. Questions of legitimacy are not easily resolved as Pope’s biological father is killed at Waterloo and his mother dies at his birth. Pastor Pope and his barren wife are delighted to adopt Charles and give him their name at the secret request of Pope’s maternal grandparents.
Thus the adventure and suspense begin to protect the name of Pope’s deceased mother and to find a suitable heir for the paternal grandparent’s good family name and estate. Complications arise from the maternal grandfather’s social ambitions, a daughter in law’s affair, and jealousies harbored by husbands and would-be heirs.
Colson Whitehead’s newest novel seeks to answer one question: what if the Underground Railroad were an actual railroad? This is, unfortunately, where the fantasy ends and the cruel truth of our country’s past sets in. Cora is a young woman who grew up in slavery on a Georgia plantation. When she was a child, her mother escaped, leaving Cora bitter and orphaned and later an outcast. When another slave, Caesar, approaches her with a plan to escape, at first she refuses, but eventually the two set out for freedom together, taking an underground steam train to northern states. Though the planation is behind them, other horrors await as each state is like its own world, not to mention a famous slave catcher is hot on their trail.
The Underground Railroad is by no means an easy read, but it is a rewarding one. Whitehead makes the journey personal through Cora and the people she meets along the way, and his narrative style is unmatched. Additionally, Bahni Turpin’s excellent narration really brings everything into focus. By the end, it will be clear to see why this book has won so many awards and distinctions, including the National Book Award.
This is one of my recent favorite books. I could not stop reading this compelling story of two sisters during the Nazi occupation of France, and how the war impacts each in very different ways. These strong women are inspiring and unforgettable, as they endure the unimaginable. All of the characters in The Nightingale really brought the story of the French Resistance to life. I felt as if I were reading a true story. There are twists and turns that kept me engaged until the bitter end.
I highly recommend Kristin Hannah’s latest novel for anyone who enjoys reading about WWII history, or about strong women in extraordinary circumstances. It would also be a great book for book clubs.