Three Souls by Janie Chang

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China, 1935…a young woman named Leiyin wakes up one day at her own funeral. Accompanied by her three souls-her Yin, her Yang, and her Hun-she must look back on her life and learn why she is still floating among the living, not crossing over. Her journey is painful. She relives all of her mistakes and sees, from the outside looking in, the pain she has caused others in her own pursuit of happiness.

The living still need her help, and she learns she must do what she can to put things right, even after death. But how does a spirit reach out to the living? They don’t seem to feel her, even when she reaches out to touch them, and her family needs her more than ever before.

Three Souls is not the first novel I’ve read this year dealing with Eastern philosophy on the afterlife, death, traditions in respect to the spirit world-and I have to say I’m glad for this little popularity surge. I tend to be pretty morbid, in general, and I’m fascinated by world views on the more macabre subjects. This novel is beautifully written, and it’s a history lesson on the advent of communism in China, while managing to truly be about a woman not so different from any of us. Mostly self-centered, but with good intentions and a lot of love and caring for people who don’t hear it enough. This novel made me wonder what, if anything, my own actions have set forth in other people throughout the course of my life. If you like this type of read, you will really enjoy Three Souls, by Janie Chang.

Two Sisters by Mary Hogan

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Muriel Sullivant was the third child in her family. Her older sister, Pia, was a picture of perfection, especially in her mother’s eyes. Her older brother had an impenetrable relationship with her father. She always felt like the chubby, messy, hopeless tagalong. Now that she is an adult, she still struggles to have a deep conversation with her father, and her mother still disapproves of her diet, her job, her apartment, her lack of a love life. She can’t help but wonder why she has always felt so displaced.

One day, her sister Pia shows up at her house and she is bombarded with a horrible truth. Her sister is dying, and she wants Muriel to make sure that her funeral wishes are carried out. Muriel is blown away, but she cannot deny her sister a final wish…Then comes the biggest blow…She also wants Muriel to keep it a secret that she’s dying, from everyone…Including their mother. Muriel assents to her sister’s request, but the pressure of the situation leads her to dig a little deeper into her family’s past and secrets. And what she discovers after her sister dies is life-changing.

Two Sisters, by Mary Hogan, is ripe with growing pains and the usual emotions on the journey of sisterhood, but if you are hoping for something cozy and sweet and “girl-power”, this novel will not take you there. Two sisters is raw and heart-wrenching, and takes the reader to sadder places. Muriel finds resolution-the truth sets her free. Bring your tissue box if you think this one sounds like your next read…And maybe some chocolates too.

The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch

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Sugar Wallace is a well-mannered southern gal who makes a hobby of traveling the world, spreading warmth and cheer with her very own honey, from her very own bees. Sugar likes to bring out the best in people around her, and her new apartment building is about to have a total transformation of it’s own. But Sugar has her own secret, dark past, and despite the joy she spreads among everyone around her, she is very much alone. She never wants to love again…So when a sexy Scotsman named Theo appears in her life and just doesn’t want to go away, Sugar must truly learn to practice what she preaches…And find a love of her own.

The Wedding Bees, by Sarah-Kate Lynch, is a warm novel of the women’s fiction genre. If you want something simple and sweet, be sure to pick up The Wedding Bees today.

Vintage by Susan Gloss

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The lives of three women intersect in a local vintage clothing store, three very different women:

Violet Turner is doing her best to make a living pursuing her dream, she owns her own vintage clothing store and avoids thinking about her complicated past at all costs…But she can’t seem to escape from where she came from, people keep creeping out from the shadows.

April Morgan is a young woman, set to start college with a serious complication-she’s in the second trimester of her pregnancy, and the father of the baby is no longer in her life. Her mother passed away recently and she is totally alone but for the child she will soon bring into the world.

Amithi Singh is a very traditional Indian woman who devoted her entire life to being a wife, then a mother, far from her family in the U.S. Her daughter is a grown woman and she has just realized her husband has been betraying her for many years. She is about to face a serious question: Who am I when I am not a wife and mother? What is my purpose now?

These three women are about to unceremoniously enter one another’s lives, and the results will be bittersweet, but, inevitably heartwarming.

If you like women’s fiction, this melancholy-turned-sweet novel will be a great choice. Vintage, by Susan Gloss, is a novel in the Meg Donohue vein, examining female relationships and the hardest thing we do in life-learning to trust in our fellow female.

The Taste of Appleseeds by Katharina Hagena

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Originally entitled “Der Gerschmack von Apfelkernen”, this novel has been translated into English from German, and has already been a literary success in Europe, translated into numerous languages and made into a German film (which I’m dying to get my hands on).

The story revolves around Iris, a woman who inherits her grandmother’s home upon her death and is forced to face some of the secrets of her family and her past. Her grandparents both had deep, dark secrets hidden in the walls that don’t tell tales. Tragedy struck more than once in the little home, more than one daughter was lost. Iris decides to speak with the man who has been tending the home, and with the lawyer representing the property (who is conveniently handsome) and see if she can put together the pieces left behind for her.

The Taste of Appleseeds, by Katharina Hagena, is a must-read for readers who love Kate Morton (The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, the House at Riverton) , Katherine Webb (The Unseen, The Half-Forgotten Song) , or Kimberley Freeman  (Wildflower Hill, Lighthouse Bay, Ember Island). What makes the novel original is that it has a touch of magical realism, faint but there nonetheless, which gives the story something special that you magical realism readers will love too.

Anyone who knows me well enough to judge can tell you that these types of novels are my very favorite. Long, delving back through generations, deep and dark family secrets, beautiful description and an almost magical feel, and a heroine who is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery at any cost…LOVE them. They aren’t for readers who want instant gratification or a short weekend read, but for patient readers who like to take a more languid path once in a while. If this sounds like you, then don’t hesitate to read The Taste of Appleseeds…And if any of you can figure out how to get any version of the movie available here in the states be sure to let me know!

The Hive by Gill Hornby

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A group of women are drawn together in the interest of the local private school attended by their children. The intention : to raise money for the school doing various fundraisers. The outcome : DISASTER. Playground politics are laid out brutally in a world where bullying occurs even among the mothers. The queen bee of the hive is power-hungry and thrives on exclusivity, and some of the mothers have truly had enough. What will happen when the tension is finally too much? Can the queen bee be overthrown?

Anyone who has ever been mother to elementary school-aged children knows about the politics that go along with participating in school events/fundraisers, etc. The Hive, by Gill Hornby,  is set in the U.K.,  but is easy to relate to, even for Americans. Good women’s fiction. I listened to the audiobook while I was at work and found myself smiling and shaking my head as I listened to this novel.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride & Prejudice Novel by Pamela Mingle

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Jane Austen lovers, you followed Elizabeth Bennet as she stumbled down the path to love with the stuffy Mr. Darcy, and maybe you even read one of the many “tribute-like” novels written in present day, telling the story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s life after marriage (The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Ann Collins, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll….there are hundreds actually). Once you’ve had your fill of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam, you may have even read a novel or two devoted to one of her other sisters- she had 4, if you recall-of all the sisters, however, one must wonder what would have become of Mary Bennet, the studious and unapproachable young lady who spent more time in her father’s library than looking for love.

I, personally, found myself drawn to this novel, because I am a booknerd, myself… Could someone like Mary Bennet find love? When reading Pride and Prejudice, you automatically assume that she will become a spinster (mostly because this seems to be what she wants). The Pursuit of Mary Bennet tells the story of a young lady who must decide what she wants to do with her life, whether it be in a governess position, or finally married off (which seems an unlikely option at first), and fortuitously, a handsome gentleman appears and turns the Bennet household upside down. Sibling rivalry being one of many issues that arise upon his arrival.

If you do love Jane Austen spinoff novels, this one is worth a read. If you haven’t read Jane Austen you may want to start at the beginning with Pride and Prejudice, however.

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

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Lady Elizabeth wants what every young woman wants…A little independence, a purpose in life, and maybe, if she’s lucky, fulfilling true love. Unfortunately, in 1914, a blossoming lady from an aristocratic family has only one true purpose. To find a husband who will be suitable for the fortune of the family line and become a respected lady of society, just like her mother.  Elizabeth longs to see the world, experience life, help people in need…But her mother will hear none of this, and the young lady of the house is forced to walk away, with almost nothing to her name, and no survival skills whatsoever, braving a world that would resent her if she told them her true social standing.

Seeking the one man who ever seemed to see her for who she is and what she can become, Elizabeth works hard to learn skills that would make the ladies back home faint with shock. A young lady driving a vehicle? A young lady in a war zone, hauling men from battle to the hospital? This young lady faces a world that barely embraces women in the workforce, experiences events that would give anyone nightmares, risks her own life every day, all without complaint…But with her heart full of love for Dr. Robert Fraser, a man who cannot acknowledge their relationship but whose passion for her surpasses all sensibility.

If you love novels with a “Downton Abby” feel, you will adore this novel. I, personally, love novels set in World War I, although I’m not sure I can tell you why, specifically, that is so, except that women came into their own during that war, they joined the workforce, they learned to survive at home without men to take care of them, in the most dire of situations…Which sets the tone for these novels, making you want nothing more than to see the heroine come out on top before the novel ends…

Swimming in the Moon by Pamela Schoenewaldt

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The year is 1904, and Teresa and her daughter, Lucia, are servants in the grand villa of a count and countess on the Bay of Naples. Lucia’s beginnings were shady, she doesn’t know who her father was, only that her mother was assaulted on the shore while working at a masquerade ball many years before. Still, they have a peaceful life, for the most part, cleaning the villa and keeping to themselves. One day, however, everything changes. Her mother aspires to sing opera, and who should appear before her but a famous male opera singer. She confronts him in effort to make him listen to her beautiful voice and she is cast aside and humiliated. News about the episode travels over the island, and the incident appears to be all the Count needs to escalate his poor treatment of Teresa, and to turn it’s terrible focus onto Lucia. Suddenly, the young woman and her mother are fleeing Italy and headed to America to find a new life.

Early 1900s America was a bustling place, full of opportunity and modern ideas…But life is not so wonderful as families in Italy were led to believe. Sweatshops fill the cities and immigrants are treated badly. Racism is powerful and there is no love lost between the Italians, the Polish, the Irish… All are competing for work and suspicion runs rampant. Still, Teresa gets a job and Lucia is allowed to learn English and go to school, and things go quite well for some time…But Teresa struggles, trouble finds them, and they must find a new path. Teresa decides to chase her dream and finally gets work as a performer in a vaudeville show. Lucia is finally able to graduate, but she receives terrible news about her mother, and her life and plans are put on hold…Maybe forever. Will Lucia ever find the life she wants, or will she continue to be beaten down, time and again?

Once in a while, an avid reader finds a novel like Pamela Schoenewaldt’s Swimming in the Moon and is thrown a little off-kilter by it’s originality and deep emotional pull. Many of us get trapped in genres, Paranormal Romance, or Historical Romance, or Fantasy, or ChickLit, and we never venture outside of our comfort zone. Swimming in the Moon is the type of book that takes you out of your comfort zone, although I would categorize it as women’s fiction because it outlines one of the greatest challenges faced by many females: the mother-daughter relationship. If you enjoy fiction with a lot of drama and feeling, you won’t want to miss Pamela Schoenewaldt’s Swimming on the Moon.

The Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen

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Ruby Rousseau dropped out of her all-girls university less than a year ago, and thought she would never have to look back. But one day, a suitcase was delivered to her by mistake-a suitcase belonging to a girl from her old dormitory, Beth Richards. She finds herself pulled into the mystery of a missing person, and forced to deal with the ghosts from her recent past, including a love affair with a Professor that went terribly wrong.

The Butterfly Sister is a mystery novel with a distinctly feminine flair, and for those of you who love literature or poetry, the references to Sylvia Plath, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf, and other notable female literary geniuses (who were deeply disturbed) is a refreshing and intellectual pleasure, especially for a mystery novel.

I will confess that I was probably the perfect reader for this novel, being interested in tragic literary figures, feminism, and also being an avid mystery reader. This novel may not be for readers who do not share my interests. But if you do, you do not want to miss The Butterfly Sister, by Amy Gail Hansen.