Amazing characters and regional history. One of my top 10 books of the year.
This gorgeous book is a historical, Sapphic, friends-to-lovers romance between a tenacious astronomer and a wealthy widow (who happens to be skilled in embroidery). AMAZING COVER ASIDE, this is an excellent "gateway" book for Romance: readers will enjoy how Waite draws parallels between women's experiences in the 19th century and the 21st.
Our heroines get to work translating a new astronomical text despite rebuffs from London's Scientific Society. As their friendship flourishes and their pursuits war against societal gatekeepers, they ask each other: who determines Art? What is the difference between Scientist and Hobbyist? And best of all -- can ladies have happy endings?
At heart a "romancer" of the medieval variety, Helprin here delivers with panache a difficult, larger-than-life, great-hearted quest novel. His trademark penchants for oddball humor and tall-tale adventuring are tightly focused, and perhaps in no other novel does his unabashed devotion to the Ideal and to Beauty shine with more intensity. Finishing this novel, I was troubled by Helprin's delicate, surgical prick to the heart (and, yes, I knew it was coming). But at the same time, for some hours I floated a few inches above the ground, buoyed by the aesthetic generosity, the irrepressible vision of this novel, the banquet of its gifts.
Under the canopy of oppressive heat and humidity, small town Louisiana residents in 1943 brace for an exciting (for some) and horrific (for others) event. Willie Jones, 18, will be executed at midnight for the rape of a white girl. Tensions mount as the narrative moves quietly from one burdened character to another, each playing a role in the condemning of a young man who loved Grace. Resigned to his fate, Willie spends his last month anticipating his death, while his parents, Frank and Elma do the same, knowing their son's innocence will not matter. Heartsick with his options, the prosecuting attorney is forced by Klan members to choose life for his own son, Gabe, or that of Willie Jones. Simply told, this complex web of humanity explodes when the evening takes the worst possible turn!
Like much great fiction, Laurus compresses a particular vision of human life into the person of a flawed but worthy individual. Here are moments of intense horror, of joy, and of despair. During periods when existence seems to have stalled for our hero--that nothing will ever again improve or change--the reader is led into transcendent meditation and reflection on Time and on the soul's dreadful-and-glorious progress. It is no small bonus that this book is free of trendy political and social agendas and is oblivious to what Owen Barfield termed "chronological snobbery" (the imperious disdain which modernity showers on the "ignorant" past). Finally, this is one of a precious few books which has reinforced my sense that Time is neither linear nor cyclical, but spiraling -- curved in its horizontal direction, but always with an inevitable, vertical tension.
12 year-old Aaron Broom, barely surviving St. Louis during The Depression, sees his father taken into police custody as a witness to a jewelry store robbery. With no resources, a police-secured apartment and no way to event visit his father, Aaron relies on Auggie, the street-smart newsboy, and other dubious characters to gather key information. Sleeping in a borrowed hammock in a homeless camp, Aaron approaches a sympathetic lawyer. Immediately engaging, this gem of Hotchner's vividly narrates Aaron's escapades and close calls. In a light, delectable manner, so natural to this storyteller supreme!
After being driven into exile by the rise of the Nazis, communist writer Anna Seghers wrote this heartfelt and hopeful thriller that combines the suspense of a Hitchcock movie with the real tragedy of a community in the grip of a collective madness.
You may know Circe as the original witch, or as the goddess who tempted Odysseus on his legendary journey, or perhaps not at all. You may for a time forget it all, and instead be pulled into the story of her life recounted, told as its own epic, as she struggles to find her own meaning and agency in the realms of men and gods, when she fits in neither. Perdita Weeks narrates with such power and beauty, sweeping you up in every emotion as Circe's story unfolds.
In January, 1945, East Prussia, refugees are afoot, trying to beat the advances of the Russian soldiers. Thousands of families pushing carts crammed with cherished belongings pass on the road in front of the insulated Georgenhof mansion of the Van Globig family. Eberhard, the father, is serving in the war in Italy, while his wife, Katharina, and 12 year-old son, Peter, live comfortably with their servants and unlimited supplies, seemingly oblivious to the approaching threat. Kempowski builds tension in the household so gradually that once their idyllic lives turn south, even the reader is surprised!
Avery, from a prominent South Carolina political family, is haunted by a nursing home resident, May, who seem to find her familiar. Bridging between 1939 and contemporary times, Avery discovers another stain upon American history, as she delves into May's story. May, originally Rilla, is the oldest of Briny and Queeny's 5 children, when the Memphis Tennessee Children's Home Society under the direction of Georgia Tann steals the kids. The plan making Tann wealthy is to gravely mistreat the young ones and then sell them at exorbitant prices to wealthy clients. A mystery, many untold horrors of the children abducted spill from this authentically told novel, as answers are unveiled to bring these strong characters peace in knowing who they really are!