Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh (2005)

bakertowersJennifer Haigh’s family saga takes place in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. Baker Towers exudes family love, pain, and pathos, as the children of Italian/Polish immigrants go out to meet the world to find their calling, a sense of happiness, and directions to their lives.

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood (2014)

mrshemingwayThe incredible talent, the struggles with mental health, the madcap adventures around the globe, the drinking, the recklessness, and the many loves of the original party animal – Ernest Hemingway told through the eyes of his four wives is a revealing piece of historical fiction. Fans of The Paris Wife may be disappointed at first when the Hadley they have grown to love is pushed into the background and each new wife in turn takes over the narration of the literary genius' life story.

Naomi Wood endears the reader to the many qualities that made Hemingway fall for the other three women over the years. In Mrs. Hemingway, Wood drives the point home that all the great loves of his life could not quench his inherent loneliness.

China Dolls by Lisa See (2014)

chinadollsThree young Asian American women meet at the Golden Gate International Exhibit in 1938. They forge immediate friendships and end up entertaining in the San Francisco nightclub scene. Each woman holds dark secrets that are slowly revealed as they struggle to survive during the war years. Friendship, family, love, and betrayal are examined from their diverse points of view in Lisa See’s China Dolls.

Join our Novel Idea discussion group on Wednesday, May 13 at 7pm to talk about China Dolls. Get your copy of the book at the front checkout desk.

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai (2014)

hundredyearhouseThis is the quirky and charming story of Laurelfield, a grand estate north of Chicago. Rebecca Makkai unfolds the history of the century old house in reverse order starting with Zee and Doug, a young couple struggling to find their place in the world of academia. At Laurefield, they encounter locked attics, Y2K fears, jealousy and plenty of ghosts. As the past is revealed in the subsequent chapters, you begin to understand that everything is connected in a mysterious way. I loved this unconventional story and you will want to read The Hundred-Year House again as soon as you finish.

Hey 20-30somethings -- GenLit will be discussing this novel on Wednesday, March 25 at 6:30pm at Phillies Pizza in Willowbrook. Join the conversation on Facebook.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

allthelightThe horrors of Nazi-occupied Europe are told through the eyes of Marie-Louise and Werner. They are on opposing sides, yet they are both just innocent teenagers caught up in a no-win situation. In another time and place, they could have been soulmates. Their intelligent and gentle natures bleed through some of the travesty.

Marie-Louise escapes war-torn Paris as her father tries to hide her away in a family home in St. Malo, but the war catches up with them. Her father, as an employee of the National History Museum, is hiding a special stone with legendary stories attached to it. The stone and its legends add a touch of mysterious appeal to All the Light We Cannot See.

Werner is an electronic genius and an orphan who gets caught up into the Nazi plan at a much younger age than necessary. Superiors lie about his age to take advantage of his radio expertise on the front lines. Werner's sister is part of the underground German resistance movement and adds an interesting element to the story.

Anthony Doerr alternates between Werner and Marie-Louise's voices and magically creates a haunting story readers will not soon forget.

For more novels of WWII, check out our list.

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver (2014)

murderatbrightwellIf you’re a fan of traditional mysteries, you’ll enjoy this one. Set at a fashionable hotel on England’s southern coast in 1932 with a cast of characters right out of an Agatha Christie mystery, Murder at the Brightwell is a witty and energetic who-done-it.

Amory Ames, wealthy and dissatisfied with her life, takes a holiday at the seaside and turns detective after a fellow hotel guest turns up dead and another is suspected of foul play. The plot takes on a new dimension when her husband Milo arrives unexpectedly. Amory and Milo Ames’ off and on again marriage seems to be laying the foundation for a lively and clever new series of mystery novels by Ashley Weaver. At least I hope so.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.