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Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett (2014)

edgeofeternityThe third of Ken Follett’s 20th century trilogy, Edge of Eternity begins with the assassinations and turmoil of the 1960s and ends with the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989. The five families of the earlier books produce new generations heavily involved in the events of this period. The German family is separated by the Berlin Wall and only at the end does a father meet his 18-year-old daughter who he has composed for and sang to in his successful rock concert career. An English rock group finds international success often in concert with this German composer. A Russian author must keep his identity secret as he publishes stories of the Gulag in the west with the help of a TASS reporter. African Americans of mixed ancestry tell their stories of the freedom rides and interaction with well-known political leaders, some more intimate than political. Russian and American diplomats struggle to avoid nuclear war while maintaining a strong position with their allies. The episodes are well told and keep the reader engaged, particularly as one reminisces about these events.

The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig (2015)

otherdaughterThe glittering veneer of the Bright Young Things cracks under the pressure of secrets large and small in 1920s England. After her mother's death, governess Rachel Woodley discovers her father isn't a long deceased botanist, but a powerful earl living in London. A chance meeting with a gossip columnist launches Rachel's adventures as Vera, a witty girl flitting from one party to the next -- under the guise of uncovering more about her family.

Lauren Willig's latest engaging historical drama contains rich period details, flawed yet likable characters, and a few surprises along the way. Check out The Other Daughter today.

The High Divide by Lin Enger (2014)

highdivideUlysses Pope embarks on a journey that will lead him far away from home for an indefinite period of time. He may not even come back. But the only explanation for his departure that he gives his family is vague and left to be discovered in a note inside a locked trunk. Set in the late 1800s, The High Divide follows the members of the Pope family as they travel across the Great Plains—the father’s departure prompting first his young sons, and then his wife to go on their own quests.

The story unfolds as three different narrators (Ulysses, his wife Gretta, and his older son Eli) give accounts of their adventures—each searching inwardly and outwardly for answers, and encountering many colorful, and sometimes dangerous, individuals along the way. The High Divide is sure to be an entertaining read for lovers of fiction set in this era, as Lin Enger has created authentic voices for his characters and woven some intriguing historical personages and events into his tale.

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.

Citizens Creek by Lalita Tademy (2014)

citizenscreekThis book is arranged in two parts: first about Cow Tom, born a slave and sold to a Creek Indian chief before he was 10 and then about his granddaughter, Rose who was born free. Tom gained his name while tending the tribe’s cows under the direction of his mentor, Old Turtle. Tom wanted more than living on someone else’s land, doing another’s bidding; he wanted marriage, a son, and most of all freedom. Both Old Turtle and Chief Yargee recognize Tom’s special skills with language and the Chief allows Tom to apply part of his earnings as a translator towards his and his family’s freedom.

Rose dearly loved her grandfather and desperately wanted to find her place as a respected member of the family, the tribe, and break the family curse of only girl babies. These stories show family and tribal commitment from black slaves and freedmen at a time of conflict and removal of tribes from the southeast into Oklahoma Indian Territory. In Lalita Tademy’s Citizens Creek, the reader can easily become involved with the characters from their loyalty to one another and their conversations about their problems and struggle to reach their goals.

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.

Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal (2014)

dollbabyIt’s New Orleans during the Civil Rights movement. Eleven-year-old Ibby Bell has just lost her beloved father. Her mother unceremoniously dumps her on the doorstep of her Grandmother Fannie (with her father’s urn) and quickly disappears. Fannie and Ibby have never met and each has a lot of adjusting to accomplish.

The black cook Queenie and her smart mouth daughter Dollbaby take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South. But the traditions lead to dark secrets and things that were hidden in the past. Forgiveness and redemption come into play in this touching coming of age story. Check out Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal today.

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani (2003)

lucialuciaWhen Kit Anaetti, a budding playwright, is invited to tea by her elderly neighbor, she hears her neighbor’s life story. Lucia was a young girl living in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and working in a custom dress designer’s shop. After meeting her future in-laws, she suddenly calls off her engagement. Instead, she chooses her work and a dashing and exciting suitor. Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani is a tragic love story with vivid Italian characters.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)

lifeafterlifeKate Atkinson delivers a beautifully written, wildly imaginative tale of 20th century England. In Life After Life, Ursula Todd lives her life, over and over again. From the pre-war bucolic setting to the Great War and 1918 Influenza, to the horrors of WWII in London and beyond, Atkinson guides the reader through the first half of the 20th century through Ursula’s eyes. A novel of historical fiction with a fantastical element, Life After Life is a thought-provoking read of what might change if you could relive your life.

The plot may seem farfetched, but the author structures the book in such a way that it is believable. If you enjoy reading historical or literary fiction, WWII novels, stories about families, alternative histories, or just want a good story, try this book – you won’t regret it!

And if you’re hooked, a companion novel, A God in Ruins, will be released in May (and focuses on Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy).

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.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer (1950)

grandsophyIn Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy, a lighthearted and witty regency romance along the same vein as Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, Sophia Stanton-Lacy returns to England after traveling around continental Europe with her diplomat father…and immediately throws her cousin’s household into chaos. With her effervescent personality and managing manner, Sophy effortlessly fixes familial and romantic relationships. You’ll admire Sophy’s mad skills as a horsewoman, her disregard for silly rules, and the way her kindhearted yet devious mind conceives her madcap plans.

I listened to the engaging narration by Sarah Woodward -- and you can too by downloading the book through Hoopla!

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.