Ballerinas fall out of the conservatory on our street, eager for a smoke. They cluster around the steps, hip bones jutting. Today, two of them are resplendent in pink tutus, absentmindedly stretching their hamstrings. (page 25)
Very early in the morning, the only light comes from tightly closed bakeries. Chairs are upside down on top of the tables, but the smell of baking bread feels like a welcome. (page 28)
Just weeks after her mother died of cancer, Eloisa James was herself diagnosed with cancer. Although her own illness was not life-threatening, it did serve as a wake-up call. In the aftermath, James and husband sold their house, packed up the family, and moved to Paris. Written in a journal style of short observations interspersed with longer stories, Paris in Love is the perfect mix of memoir and travel writing. Whether she's describing the sights and sounds of the City of Lights or laughing at the fact that she mistook salt for dishwasher soap (both are white and the box was under the sink), James will make you wish you too could spend a year abroad. Of course her adolescent daughter and teenage son have a harder go of it than James and her husband, but c'est la vie!
Memories do not exist along a timeline. In my mind everything happens at once. Anna kisses me good night and tucks me into my high-sided cot, while my hair is brushed for Margot's wedding, which now takes place on the lawn at Tyneford, my feet bare upon the grass. I am in Vienna as I wait for their letters to arrive in Dorset. The chronology laid out upon these pages is not without effort.
I am young in my dreams. The face in the mirror always surprises me. I observe the smart grey hair, nicely set, of course, and the tiredness beneath the eyes that never goes away. I know that it is my face, and yet the next time I glance in the mirror I am surprised all over again. Oh, I think, I forgot that this is me. (page 13)
Natasha Solomons's latest novel, The House at Tyneford, was inspired by true events. In the late 1930s, when there was still time for Jews to escape Nazi Europe, women of all social classes left their families for safer countries. Many sought positions as domestic servants in the United Kingdom, as did Solomons's character Elise Landau, who fled Vienna when she was just 19. Once settled into her new position at Tyneford on the English coast, Elise must adjust not only to having a job but to no longer being part of the upstairs society. When the heir to Tyneford, Kit, returns home from war, he senses something special about Elise -- but a relationship between them seems impossible. As was common during wartime, the British War Office exercised their right to take over private property. When they turn their eye on Tyneford, Elise, Kit and the entire household are forever changed by the fortunes of war.
My grief is a sharp blade. It pricks me when I least expect it, digs deep into me, stabs and twists, on and on like a cat worrying a bird. I might be shopping in a supermarket or eating a meal in a restaurant, and my eyes begin to burn with tears, my chest constricts. Once or twice, concerned shop assistants have worried that I was having a heart attack and offered to call an ambulance. Perhaps, in a way, I was.
That first night at Kilnsgate House, it was dream of Laura that woke me. At least I think it was. Not a recurring dream; I don't have those. It wasn't a nightmare, either, except that the emotions associated with its simple images shook me the way nightmares do. (pages 19–20)
Although known for his Inspector Banks series, Peter Robinson also writes standalone mysteries. His latest, Before the Poison, is a dark, psychological thriller. Chris Lowndes has built a successful quarter-century career as a composer in the Hollywood film industry. But after his wife dies, he is heartbroken, and longs for his native Yorkshire. He ends up buying the country manor home Kilnsgate House sight unseen. Even from the first day, Chris senses something amiss about the house and so begins an investigation into why it had been vacant. As it turns out, a previous owner had been murdered at Kilnsgate, and his wife was convicted and hanged. The more Chris looks into the crime, trying to sort out local legend from truth, the deeper he becomes enmeshed in village secrets.
I grit my teeth, and I find my aunt's hand clutching mine. "Don't faint," she hisses. "You have to stand up." We stand hand-clasped, our faces quite blank, as if this were not a nightmare that tells me, as clearly as if it were written in letter of fire, what ending a girl may expect if she defies the rules of men and thinks she can make her own destiny. I am here not only to witness what happens to a heretic. I am here to witness what happens to a woman who thinks she knows more than men. (pages 32–33)
Historical fiction fans have come to expect the best from Philippa Gregory -- and her book, The Lady of the Rivers, is yet another winner. At the center of this novel is Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, who will eventually be mother to a queen. Owing to her encounters with Joan of Arc, her knowledge of alchemy, and her position in limbo between the houses of York and Lancaster, Jacquetta must tread carefully to protect not only her own life but the lives of her family. Gregory has infused Jacquetta's story with suspense, action, realistic characters and historical details.
It was on nights like this that Maddie missed her most, when her love life seemed a jumble of knots only a mother could untangle. More than that, her mom's advice would have fostered hopes of a happily ever after.
The woman had been nothing if not a romantic.
She'd adored roses, and rainstorms and candlelight, in that order. She had declared chocolate an essential food for the heart, and poetry as replenishment for the soul. She'd kept every courtship note from her husband — who she'd sworn was more handsome than Clark Cable — and had no qualms about using her finest serving ware for non-holiday dinners. Life, she would say, is too short not to use the good china. As though she had known how short hers would be. (page 14)
Maddie Kern is a concert violinist, whose life seems destined to be one of rehearsal and classical music with the finest musicians of her time. But before she makes it to Julliard, she falls in love with Lane Moritomo, a Japanese American. The young couple, concerned about their parents' reactions, decide to elope in early December 1941. When their first days as husband and wife are shattered by the news of Pearl Harbor, they realize they have stepped onto a dangerous and difficult path. Kristina McMorris's Bridge of Scarlet Leaves examines one of the shameful episodes of American history: the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II and the initial denial of such men to join the U.S. Armed Services. Maddie and Lane's story is a moving and beautifully written tale of love, duty, prejudice and forgiveness.
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