Villa America by Liza Klaussman

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There is a certain amount of romanticism attributed to “The Lost Generation” a term that was popularized by Ernest Hemingway and used in his novel, The Sun Also Rises. Artists like Ernest himself, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, and more make up the list of figures associated with this time period. More fascinating is that many of these writers and artists found themselves in the same social circles, and even travelled the globe and found one another as Expats in Europe. One such place where individuals convened was Villa America, a home built by Gerald and Sara Murphy in Cap D’ Antibes. Gerald had a brief success as a painter, and his wife was known for throwing lavish parties for their social circle.

There have been quite a few novels written about the Lost Generation, books about the tumultuous relationship between Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald), or about the many conflicted relationships of Ernest Hemingway (The Paris Wife, Mrs. Hemingway) many other novels exist and the appeal is intoxicating. The colorful personalities of famous literary figures and artists who were drawn together following the War and set the tone for the time with a determination to create something new and bold and honest and maybe even shock the world- What conversations they must have had at the dinner table! What must they have thought about one another! The very idea is enough to set a literature junkie’s head spinning.

Gerald and Sara Murphy were key figures during the era, of all of the characters listed above, they were the most settled and they often hosted get-togethers in their home, bringing everyone together and enjoying the excitement and novelty of the incredible combination of personalities. They are often fringe characters in the other novels, somewhat treated as necessary to the story but less than interesting. Villa America, by Liza Klaussman, delves deeper into the lives of the painter and his socialite wife who dared to make a life for themselves outside of the confines of traditional American society and create a world of creativity and thinkers around them. Sara and Gerald earned their own bit of the limelight, Gerald as a painter and Sara was rumored to be the inspiration for beautiful, charismatic characters in works by both Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and was even painted by Picasso. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “Tender is the Night” after inspiration received during his times at Villa America, and it has been said that the characters are based on his friends there and the novel, “Villa America” is written to delve deeper into the world that inspired Fitzgerald’s novel.

In short, if you love The Lost Generation as much as I do, don’t miss Villa America, by Liza Klaussman, and the audiobook by Hachette Audio is worth a listen, too.

The Uninvited: A Novel by Cat Winters

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Ivy Rowan wakes up one day after being struck with Influenza. An epidemic has taken over the town and before she got sick, her father and brother had committed a terrible crime. Deep in her gut, something is telling her that it’s time for her to leave home and go out on her own in life.

Out in town, everything is in turmoil. In addition to the epidemic, soldiers are being sent to fight in the Great War overseas, dying in battle, coming back wounded, leaving behind widows and wives to fend for themselves. Ivy finds a place to board in town and seeks out a German man who was wronged by her family members-she wants, more than anything, to help him in some way.

Ivy finds herself confused, nothing is as it should be, the world is such an ugly place and she wants desperately to find beauty and warmth in it. She wants desperately to make a difference in someone’s life…But there is one terrible hitch-women in her family have always had a “gift” of seeing spirits after they have passed, right before something terrible happens to someone close to them….And she keeps seeing the spirits of the departed all around her.

What are the spirits trying to tell her? Is someone close to her in danger? Can she help enough to make a difference to someone? Can she form a connection with the German man that will give him comfort in his time of misery?

The Uninvited, by Cat Winters, is a psychological thriller sprinkled with ghosts and set in the time of the Great War. A combination of so many genres makes for an addicting and intriguing read. If you don’t like “ghost stories”, I would steer clear of this one, but if you can handle a touch of the supernatural in your reading, The Uninvited is very strange and interesting. If you like books that twist your perception and reality, The Uninvited is for you!

The Tide Watchers by Lisa Chaplin

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Lisbeth has nothing left. Abandoned by her husband, her newborn son stolen, she has been forced to work as a tavern wench and unable to leave the France to return to her native Britain in dangerous times with Napoleon plotting to take over the world. A handsome stranger saves her from an unpleasant encounter with ruffians, and offers her a deal she can’t refuse.

He will save her from her miserable situation, get her son back for her and take her to safety…If she will help the British spy network to spy on the American inventor who is working on submersible watercrafts which could change Britain’s efforts against Napoleon and bring them levels of intelligence they’ve never had before. She will, of course, do whatever it takes to convince the inventor that she can be trusted…Even if her virtue is at stake.

Thrown into a world of politics, crime, murder, espionage, and even a touch of romance, Lisbeth’s life is being turned upside down. Can she escape to safety in the end? Can she get her son back? Who can she trust? What will she do to save her son from the clutches of his horrible father? Will she give up all of her principles? Where will she end up, if she fails?

The Tide Watchers, by Lisa Chaplin, is NOT a quick, easy weekend read-the novel is intelligent and full of history and politics. If you want a novel that’s meaty and complex, The Tide Watchers is for you. I, personally, enjoyed it very much and look forward to the inevitable second installment of Lisbeth’s story.

The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust, by Edith Hahn Beer (with Susan Dworkin)

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The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust, by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin, is one story you will not be about to put down…But don’t pick it up at all if you want something sweet and romantic and warm and fuzzy. Because this is not that kind of story.

Edith Hahn was raised by Jewish parents, but raised as a pretty typical Austrian girl. Her parents had high hopes for her future, and she was encouraged to go to college and planned to one day be a lawyer. In her final stretch of school, unfortunately, the worst thing imaginable happened….The Holocaust began. Jewish citizens began to lose their basic human rights and even personal possessions. They were treated like lesser beings. They were denied jobs, education, even communication with the outside world. Jews started to disappear, running away to friendly neighboring countries, going into hiding, forced into labor, imprisoned, killed in random acts of violence.

Edith’s world was getting smaller every day. Her father passed away, her sister left the country, and her mother and a scattering of relatives was all that remained of the life she used to live. One day she and her mother are separated. She begs Nazi officers to spare her mother as they are being hauled off to do mandatory labor out on a farm…And she never sees her mother again.

When Edith is finally done with her labor, she is released and only wants to see her mother again. But her mother is gone and she is no longer welcome in the homes of her old German friends. She is too dangerous to have around. She is homeless, nameless, destitute…She must work the system and deceive everyone into believing that she isn’t Jewish…And what better way to cover her tracks than to marry a Nazi officer?

The Nazi Officer’s Wife is the most powerful story I’ve read this year, putting it squarely into a spot on my Best of 2015 List. The horrors of the holocaust, the inhumanity, the strength of one woman who had nothing and still survived. She risked everything and nearly sold her own soul to stay alive and persevere.

The story is that of Edith Hahn Beer, but it was made into a novel by Susan Dworkin. If you want literature that moves you, pulls your heartstrings, makes you angry, makes you feel desperate for the character to survive, then The Nazi Officer’s Wife is for you. I stayed up much too late at night reading this one….And if you can make it all the way through, I can guarantee you will lose some sleep, too.

Under the Same Blue Sky by Pamela Schoenewaldt

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Hazel Renner was raised by German-American parents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When she came of age, she learned that her parents were not her true birth parents, that her early memories of a grand house with servants and fancy dinners is actually a memory from her childhood, and not a lingering dream. She leaves the home of her adoptive parents to be a teacher in a rural town called Galway and she hopes to find her own identity. Strange events ensue that will haunt her for a lifetime. Stunned by tragedy and injustice, she tries to trace her roots back to her mother, hoping to break the cycle that her birth mother started, causing destruction in her wake and possibly passing it to her daughter.

Her past leads her to a castle owned by a German Baron, a gardener who may be the love of her life, and a discovery of what she really wants in life…But with World War I in effect, she stands to lose everything and everyone dear to her.

Under the Same Sky, by Pamela Schoenewaldt, is a novel with a touch of magic, a lot of heart, and the deep emotion associated with loss and love. Readers may remember a previous novel by Pamela Schoenewaldt, Swimming in the Moon, which I covered when it first came out. Pamela Shoenewaldt has a gift for the deepest uncertainty which comes with blind love for someone, or many “someones” in your life-and the possibility that they are broken, damaged, or capable of harming themselves or others.

The Reluctant Midwife : A Hope River Novel by Patricia Harman

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If you read Patricia Harman’s The Midwife of Hope River, you will be thrilled to learn that the story continues with The Reluctant Midwife.

The Midwife of Hope River told the story of Patience Murphy, serving as a midwife in the strain of the Great Depression, in the backwoods rural town near a mining camp. The heroine had heartbreak, made friends, made a life for herself and found love.

The Reluctant Midwife is about her friend, nurse Becky Myers. Hard times have hit everyone, but Becky has found herself in a unique situation. The doctor she worked for had a complete mental breakdown and has been a shell of a man ever since. He can’t speak, can’t work, can barely feed himself. His own family refuses to take on his care and she was the only person who cared enough to make sure he got treatment. Now she has gone to Hope River to find a life for herself, but she finds that the Depression has had drastic effects on the people and economy of the place. There is little work and only a shack of a house to live in while she tries desperately to find work.

But better things may be on the horizon for Becky as she learns to trust others and accept help, and she learns the solidarity of a self-made family. Perhaps there is hope for Becky, for Dr. Blum, even for Patience Murphy and her family and the rest of the residents of Hope River.

Patricia Harman’s portrayal of the historical era is poignant and sharp, brutally honest but full of hope and spirit. If you enjoy historical fiction with a little more substance and heartache, The Reluctant Midwife is for you. If you haven’t read The Midwife of Hope River, I recommend that you purchase both novels at once.

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

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A Memory of Violets, by Hazel Gaynor, is definitely making it onto my top 10 books for 2015. Anyone who knows me is aware that I have a penchant for long, descriptive stories full of mystery and family secrets. Kate Morton and Katherine Webb are my favorite authors of all time. Who didn’t love The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough? I was surprised when Hazel Gaynor’s latest novel sucked me in, right away, and I had a feeling right from the beginning that I was in for a ride.

A Memory of Violets is about two girls born into poverty in the 1800s, into a life of selling flowers on street corners. Flora and Rosie barely have food to live on, but they have one another. One horrific day they are separated in a crowd and the never see one another again. Flora spends the rest of her days looking for her baby sister-and Rosie, too young to know how to get back home, must adapt to a new life.  Years later, Tilly Harper finds the journal of Flora when she starts a job at Mr. Shaw’s Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls-and she feels compelled to find out just what happened to Flora, and what happened to her lost baby sister Rosie.

If you read The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan, or , or you have a taste for novels that tear brutally at your heartstrings but come together in the end with perfect closure and new beginnings for much-loved characters, you won’t want to miss A Memory of Violets, by Hazel Gaynor. This reviewer couldn’t put it down.

Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James

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If you know me at all, you already know that I am a HUGE Jane Austen fan. Sadly, she only has a few novels to choose from…But that doesn’t stop me from being a die-hard devotee, thanks to the many authors out there who love her as much as I do. One wonderful thing about the legacy of Jane Austen is that it opens up a world of spin-off literature. Tribute sequels to the novels are wildly popular, and authors enjoy speculating on the life of the author herself, too.

Fans of Jane Austen will already know that Jane never married in her lifetime, and spent most of her life acting as a companion to her father. Her many novels about Edwardian love send out the message that despite her celibacy, she may have had some idea of love, herself. We love to speculate that Jane might have had a lover once, too. Jane Austen’s First Love, by Syrie James, is a devoted follow-through on this very fantasy.

Jane Austen is 15 years old, one step behind her debutante sister and desperately hoping for love and adventure, despite being very much under her mother’s thumb. Enter Edward Taylor (Yes, Edward-if you read Austen, you will immediately think of Sense and Sensibility), a college-bound young man who saves Jane when her carriage gets stuck in the mud (sounds like Emma, doesn’t it?) The politics of marriage and courting are exhibited in Jane Austen’s First Love just as well as they are in the novels by Austen, herself, and fans will not be disappointed. Definitely worth picking up for your fellow Austen lover as a Christmas gift this year.

If you enjoy Jane Austen’s First Love, and other Austen spin-off literature, please also be sure pull up this Goodreads List of Jane Austen Spin-offs and check them out!

Mrs. Hemingway, by Naomi Wood

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Anyone who knows me well AT ALL knows that I will never turn down a book if I hear the word “Hemingway”. I’m not sure why this is, because as far as I can tell he was a moody, morose alcoholic most of the time. But my interest started when I was very young, and I watched In Love and War, with Sandra Bullock, and I thought he seemed so tortured and passionate (even portrayed by Chris O’Donnell). I think, in real life, he was very charismatic and even magnetic…And he hurt everyone around him when he fell into the darkness that consumed him more and more throughout his life, leading  up to the moment when he took his own life in his later years.

Hemingway was married to four different women-each of them remarkable in her own way. When I was asked if I would be interested in covering Mrs. Hemingway, by Naomi Wood, I was ecstatic. A novel that describes Hemingway’s relationships with his four wives, based on letters and anecdotes from his life? I couldn’t resist.

When Mrs. Hemingway begins, Ernest is married to Hadley, his first wife and the mother to his first born son. She has been traveling with Ernest and living in Europe, and she recalls the moment when she met Ernest and how they fell in love, then the terrible events leading up to her divorce and the entrance of Pauline, the spunky young fashion journalist with family money and not a care in the world for anything…Except the charismatic Ernest Hemingway, of course.

Next we travel through Pauline, who was always a little naïve, and who swore she would never let Ernest go…But when the driven, intelligent, recklessly brave war correspondent Martha Gellhorn enters the scene she doesn’t stand a chance.

Martha and Ernest were passionate and explosive, feeding off one another for energy, for inspiration, and eventually draining one another until Martha finally had enough…But Ernest had the sweet, lovely Mary waiting in the shadows to swoop in and give him the affection and care he craved.

Ernest’s wives were very different, but they all saw something in Hemingway that made them risk everything to have him. Perhaps this is one of the things I find so fascinating about him. So many women, smart, decent women, fell into the storm of his life and fell back out again.

Mrs. Hemingway only takes a surface-level approach to the relationships of these women with Hemingway, but I believe Naomi Wood’s most remarkable accomplishment with this novel is her painfully accurate portrayal of life with a talented, charismatic man who said and did despicable things, hurt people around him, and who was so afraid to be alone that he didn’t have space for a single gap between women in his life…who drowned himself in liquor until he finally lost his mind.

Stella Bain, by Anita Shreve

 

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A woman is found wandering, lost, confused and ill during World War I. A kind and generous couple takes her into their home and nurses her back to health, realizing with time that the self-named Stella Bain actually has no idea who she is, and has no place to go. The couple observes only that she has been serving in the war, based on her uniform, and that she has an American accent.

Stella must overcome her amnesia and get her life back-but how long will it take? Does she have family and friends who are worrying about her? Why can’t she push away the nagging guilt that arises whenever she tries to remember who she is? What if she doesn’t want to know the truth about her past?

Suddenly, it all comes back to Stella, and she must decide what to do with the rest of her life and rediscover who the real woman inside her wants to be.

Stella Bain is very historical fiction/women’s fiction in genre. The tone is very serious and rich in description and sentiment. I found it to be an excellent audiobook to hear at work- but I also have a special weakness for historical fiction set during the Great War-I just think it was a great time for women to start showing the world what they were made of, don’t you?!