Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Time for Fall reading

Circling the Sun by Paula McClain
 McClain hit a winner with The Paris Wife back in 2011 and as good as that story was about Hemingway and his young wife, Circling the Sun is even better. Breathtaking in its setting of Africa, McClain has written a masterpiece about a remarkable woman, Beryl Markham.  Born in Kenya, abandoned early on by her mother, this tenacious little girl broke gender expectations to become a horse trainer and an aviator, always fighting for her free and independent life.  Not meant to be tied down, Beryl goes through men at a rapid pace, but not in a rash manner, rather in a way to revel in the great passions of life.  Writing almost as if Kenya is a character itself, McClain is able to portray a world long gone - of roving herds of elephants, flood-torn rivers, rolling hills of grass, and of the European people who took on the most difficult terrain in an attempt to tame this wild continent.  It was a fascinating read that reminds us that having the life one desperately desires is never easy, and is sometimes painful.  This would be a fantastic book club book as it is rich in its themes and riddled with complex, intriguing historical characters.

The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall
A favorite read of mine a couple years ago was Whistling Past the Graveyard, a road trip in the old South with a spunky 'Scout-ish" red-headed girl and a wise black woman; Crandall is now back with another historical fiction, this time setting her story in 1923, involving the barnstormers of the new age of aviation.  Her three main characters are complex, each dealing with their own demons:  Cora, the New York formerly rich girl now turned poor who wants more than to be sold to the highest bidder in marriage; Gil, the tortured survivor of WWI reconnaissance flying who sees his future only in death; and Henry, the orphaned boy of German descendants, whose entire past is written in disaster and who has secret corners of his youth that he feels need to be hidden from his new flying family.  Crandall truly captures the spirit of this new age - the courage and bravery it takes to walk on wings, the stunts of the pilots who fly machines made of wood and cloth, and the obsession of American society with these new daredevils.  This is an entertaining book that will keep you turning the pages, rooting for the heroes to overcome their own foibles.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Glitzy, gossipy, and deliciously naughty, this book exposes the inner circle of Truman Capote and the decadent women of New York Society:  Babe Pale, wife of CBS executive Bill Pales - on every best dressed list, constantly striving to be perfect, who busy a pair of identical shoes for each of her five homes, and trusts her friends too much; Pamela, who has so many last names they are hard to count, constantly moving from husband to husband so she can pick up great wealth and status; Slim, Babe's best friend who never quite marries as well as she should; and of course, Truman, their own 'trueheart' whose questionable trust and love is bought in lunches at the Plaza and weekends in the Bahamas.  Thank People magazine in 1955...the dirty little affairs, the neglected rich wives, the parties dripping with jewels, and more importantly, the question of who is really a friend and who is just using you.  This book will keep you turning pages until the last piece of dirty laundry is aired.

House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure
Here it is, the second novel by the author of The Paris Architect. One of the main things I loved in Belfoure's debut novel, was the complexity of his characters, finding them both despicable and admirable at different times.  In this novel, set in the Gilded Age of New York in 1886, the main characters were intriguing, but had few redeeming qualities.  The bad guy, Kent, whoe keeps his gang in line by well-placed, vicious murders; the 'hero', John Cross, an architect who plans robberies for Kent, using his architectural knowledge, in order to pay back his son's debts, but is conflicted by the choices of his new life; the socialite wife, Helen, who thoroughly enjoys trolling her friends' homes, looking for the next joint to rob; and their three children, who all get pulled into the gritty underworld of the Tenderloin and Delancy streets, betting on dogs to kill the most rats, fishing treasure out of the East River, and accruing more gambling debts for mommy and daddy to pay off.  It was ultimately quite the page turner, and would give a book club some juicy moral dilemmas to discuss.

After You by Jojo Moyes
Lou is back...the quirky, loyal, 'my life is a disaster' heroine from Moyes' huge bestseller, Me Before You.  Do you need to read the first book?  In a nutshell...yes, but it is worth it.  That book encompassed Louisa's change in life, when she goes to work for a wealthy, adventurous man who had been paralyzed by a car accident and wishes to legally kill himself.  It was a heartfelt, thought-provoking, fabulous book.  The big question is, does the sequel merely repeat the story, as so many sequels do (think The Rosie Effect...ugh)?  In this case, Moyes nails it and repeats only the tone, characterization, and lovely thematic development of the first.  In After You, Lou is trying to reclaim her life and move on from Will's death.  In her search for healing, she comes across some eccentric members of a grief counseling group, begins a relationship with an ambulance driver who treats her after falling off a building, and has her whole life turned upside down by the appearance of Will's never-before-known daughter.  As we watch Lou attempt to live the life Will wanted her to, we laugh, cry, and cheer on this delightful character.  This sequel nails it.

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