Bristol House by Beverly Swerling
Combining the stories of a research assignment undertaken by desperate scholar and recovering alcoholic Annie Kendall and the preoccupations of sixteenth-century Carthusian monks, Bristol House is fast-paced, conspiracy-driven historical fiction of the best kind. Swerling’s ghost story provides illumination on Thomas Cromwell’s dealing with the church while linking it to modern-day religious politics in this excellently researched novel.
The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman
Ellen Sussman has written a lovely novel of healing, redemption and forgiveness with The Paradise Guest House. I was intrigued by Jamie’s journey to Bali to confront painful memories haunting her as a result of the nightclub bombing in Bali that killed her boyfriend, and left her with emotional and physical wounds. She also has some issues to resolve with Gabe, a sexy ex-patriot with whom she made a profound connection during her recovery. Sussman achieves the fine balance required to convey the beautiful beaches and unique island culture with a country that struggles to get back to its feet, and to reclaim its carefree nature, peace and tranquility. The different ways we live, process grief, attempt to rebuild in the wake of great personal loss, and take the steps to open ourselves again to love are gently explored in this satisfying novel. Recommended.
Flora by Gail Godwin
It’s hard to say which element of Gail Godwin’s Flora is the most intriguing—the tension that arises in Helen’s isolation with her high-strung governess, the curious nature of this precocious young narrator, or the salacious details of family history that are hinted at through story and letter—but it’s the delightful mix of haunting goodness that readers will consider long after they have turned the last page.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
NoViolet Bulawayo’s ten-year-old Darling tells her story with all the sassy and vibrant honesty of a young girl who is fully accepting of and in love with the precarious life she is offered growing up largely unsupervised and in a greatly changing Zimbabwe. When Darling moves to the United States, readers are treated to an illumining, funny, heartbreaking, and eye-opening look at two cultural perspectives on friendship, family, and consumerism. I immediately fell in love with the strength and purity of Darling’s voice and the compelling nature of her story.
Stuck in the Middle with You by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Boylan’s latest autobiographical offering is part exploration of her family’s journey as she transitions genders from male to female (effectively changing her role in the lives of her wife and two young sons) and part informal sociological survey of gender identity and its role in parenting. Clear, thought-provoking, heart-warming and breezily confessional, Stuck in the Middle with You uses personal experiences and revealing interviews to outline the evolution of what children and parents take away from different types of families.
Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley
Amity & Sorrow propels readers through the collision of a lonely farmer and a woman on the run from a failed communal experiment—her fearful and reluctant teenage daughters in tow. Riley deftly explores the bonds and boundaries of love, faith, and responsibility when passionate and well-intentioned ideals stray far from their origins in this emotionally fraught debut. I really love when I get so involved with a book that I want to talk with the characters and give them guidance. That was definitely the case here! (read my longer review & my interview with Peggy Riley)