An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (2014)

officerspyThis is a fictional re-telling of the infamous Dreyfus Affair which tore France apart in the late 1890s, and revealed a deep-seated anti-Semitism in French society. The novel is told from the point of view of Georges Picquart, an intelligence officer who came to believe in Dreyfus’s innocence and was himself persecuted for his refusal to let an innocent man die in prison without a fight.  Many historical novels based so closely on real events can be stiffly told with flat characters, but Robert Harris manages to fill An Officer and a Spy with real people in an era that he brings to life on the page.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

stationelevenOne night during a stage production of King Lear in Toronto, the movie star Arthur Leander collapses. At the same time, the deadly Georgia flu is spreading rapidly across the world decimating the population. This haunting and intriguing dystopia imagines life after collapse of civilization. Jumping back and forth through time, Emily St. John Mandel reveals the details Arthur’s life along with the child actor Kirsten, his former wives, his best friend, and the man who attempted to save his life on stage. A compelling look at the connections that bind us to one another, Station Eleven proves that humanity can survive against the odds.
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Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones (2014)

nightshanghaiA five star read! Night in Shanghai tells the story of a young jazz musician who left the U.S. to pursue his career in China. Nicole Mones thoroughly researched her topic to present the history, language, and culture of pre-WWII China. The ending of the book will stir emotion in the reader because you know where those ships are going.

Listen to an interview with the author (or just read the highlights) here on NPR. Visit her website to discover more about her research and browse galleries. Join us on February 11 when the Novel Idea group will discuss the book at 7pm at the library.

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand (2012)

summerlandOn the island of Nantucket, an entire community must learn how to come to grips, and attempt to deal with their sorrow, after a tragic car accident claims the life of a 17-year-old girl and seriously injures her twin brother.

Summerland is the first Elin Hilderbrand novel I have read, and it sure won’t be the last. She has a definite knack for delving into the lives of the major characters. By the end of the story, you really care and feel as though you actually know them. This was a very enjoyable novel – now I see why Hilderbrand is such a popular author!

That Summer by Lauren Willig (2014)

thatsummerThe story is set in London and goes back and forth between 2009 and 1849. In the modern thread, Julia inherits a house and travels from New York to London to clean out the house before selling it. The story switches to 1849, where Imogen lives in the house with her dispassionate husband. Imogen has an affair with the artist painting her portrait – a painting that still hangs in the house in 2009. Modern day Julia pieces together Imogen’s life and finds love in Nicholas, an antiques dealer who helps her with the research.

I really enjoyed That Summer and loved the switching of the characters and the years. Very entertaining – I hope that a movie is made from Lauren Willig’s novel.

The Mangle Street Murders by M. R. C. Kasasian (2014)

manglestreetRenowned London detective Sidney Grice is irascible, vain, and a genius. When he takes in a young woman as his ward, he never dreams that her humanistic approach to life will assist him in his detecting. A chance meeting with a doctor and struggling writer Arthur Conan Doyle suggests that Grice and March Middleton, his ward, will become the model for his famous detective Sherlock Holmes.

Find a copy of The Mangle Street Murders by M. R. C. Kasasian today.

The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch (2014)

lastenchantmentsIn 2005, having somewhat of a quarter-life crisis after working as a staffer on a failed presidential campaign, former Ivy leaguer Will Baker leaves New York City and his long term girlfriend for a yearlong English graduate program at Oxford University in England. Will quickly falls into an eclectic group of friends – and in love with smart and elegant British student Sophie. As his year at Oxford progresses, Will increasingly questions his identity and his future. Charles Finch, who himself spent time at Oxford, infuses the campus with love and nostalgia, and the setting is a character in its own right. The Last Enchantments is a must for fans of the movie L'Auberge Espagnole.
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A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (2009)

beautifulplacetodieWhen an Afrikaner policeman is murdered in a remote area of South Africa, detective Emmanual Cooper is brought in to investigate. It is 1952, and the Apartheid system has recently become the law of the land. How does an honorable policeman investigate when not all witnesses are considered equal and people of different races are only allowed to associate in very proscribed ways? What is most intriguing in this story is the application of "race laws" that overrule family relationships and human behavior. Check out Malla Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die; for more mysteries set in Africa, see our book list.

Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany (2013)

heartlikemineGrace, a career woman in her mid-thirties, enters into a relationship with Victor, a divorced workaholic with two children. After Victor’s ex-wife passes away suddenly under mysterious circumstances, Grace is thrown into all the turmoil that unfolds. Heart Like Mine is narrated by three different females. The character development is really good. I’m looking forward to reading more books by Amy Hatvany.

Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo (2005)

actsoffaithPhilip Caputo sets this fascinating tale of aid workers against the background of Sudan’s civil war, where the Muslim government in the north fights the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) for control of the Christian and animist south. Acts of Faith presents multiple stories of a group of men and women who confront their own individual moral crises and fears as they work to alleviate the suffering caused by civil war in contemporary Sudan. Reporter, novelist, and nonfiction writer, Caputo has produced a compassionate and dramatic novel.

The Impersonator by Mary Miley (2013)

impersonatorIn 1924, vaudevillian Leah Randall finds herself unemployed. When approached by shady Oliver Beckett with a scheme to impersonate a missing heiress and share in her inheritance, Leah is at first dismissive. When no paying roles materialize, Leah gives in and finds herself in a mansion on the Oregon coast impersonating Jessie Carr. Jessie disappeared seven years before. Is she alive, and if not, what happened to her? Could what happened to Jessie now happen to Leah? Mary Miley’s The Impersonator is a fun jazz-era mystery inspired by Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (2013)

girlyouleftbehindSophie and Liv struggle through tragedies, tough decisions, and community ridicule nearly a century a part. A hauntingly beautiful portrait of Sophie with penetrating eyes painted by her impressionist husband connect the womens' plights across time. Liv feels a deep connection to Sophie and risks everything to keep the painting out of the wrong hands.

Sophie is left behind in occupied France during WWI as her husband goes off to fight. Liv is left behind after her husband's untimely death in 21st century London. Liv meets Paul and finds out he is on the opposing side of her quest to keep Sophie's portrait. Their relationship develops in opposite directions. She is not sure if he can pull her out of her deep depression left by her husband's death, financial ruin, and public criticism, or push her further down.

As Liv finds herself at the end of all hope, Jojo Moyes allows the reader inside the mind of Sophie on the brink of death at the hands of the enemy. In The Girl You Left Behind, parallel narratives converge as the two women continue to struggle. A satisfying epilogue ties up loose ends in both worlds, yet leaves enough for the reader's imagination to wander a bit.

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer (2014)

cairoaffairIt may be a spy novel, but it’s deeper as it involves feelings. The Cairo Affair takes place in the Middle East; the characters are Egyptian Americans, Libyans, and CIA agents. Olen Steinhauer’s writing provides a very warm, poetic description of Cairo. This book will stay with you for a while, not leaving your thoughts.

Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline (2014)

keepquietJake Buckman is a successful businessman who longs to have a closer relationship with his 16-year-old son. He gets his wish when both of them try to cover up a tragic accident. Lisa Scottoline’s Keep Quiet includes plenty of suspense and is a good page turner.

The Lie by Helen Dunmore (2014)

liedunmoreDaniel Branwell returns to his small Cornish village at the end of WWI. Daniel, although very smart, is from a very poor family and had to leave school to support his widowed mother. Now back from the war, he helps an elderly neighbor, and when she dies, moves into her home. Without education and prospects, traumatized by the war, and deeply missing his childhood friend, Frederic, who died in battle in front of him, Daniel wanders through life searching for meaning. The Lie by Helen Dunmore is a quietly beautiful and moving novel.