The Lost Saints of Tennessee
by Amy Franklin-Willis
Amy Franklin-Willis first novel, The Lost Saints of Tennessee is a story of family and the struggle to love each other despite of our faults and failures.
At midlife, Zeke Cooper finds himself fleeing his West Tennessee hometown and his grief and guilt over the death of his twin brother, anger at his mother’s misplaced dreams and the failure of his marriage. He seeks solace with older cousins on their idyllic farm near Charlottesville Virginia, a place where as a young man Zeke had aspirations of graduating from the university there and perhaps becoming a writer. Making peace with his dying mother and a house full of sisters, Zeke eventually picks up his feet and continues moving along life’s journey.
Franklin-Willis’ story is southern without being hokey and emotional without being overwrought.
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle
by Fiona Carnarvon, Countess of Carnarvon
If you’re suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal it’s time to open up Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy Of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon, the current lady of the castle that provides the setting for Downton Abbey.
Like Cora Crawley in the PBS Masterpiece tale, Lady Almina was a wealthy heiress, the illegitimate daughter of Sir Alfred Rothschild. His fortune injected a strong dose of capital that provided electric lighting, modern bathrooms and other amenities to Highclere castle and enabled his daughter and son-in-law, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, to literally entertain royally.
One of her first duties as Lady Carnarvon was to organize a 3 day visit by the Prince of Wales which cost 360,000 pounds in today’s money and involved redecorating and copious amounts of food. Not all was extravagance though. Like the Crawleys, the Carnarvon’s converted their castle into a hospital during WW I. They also played an important role in the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.
This story of the real people who lived in Downton Abbey’s set should tide you over till season 3.
The Cellist of Sarajevo
by Steven Galloway
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Canadian author Steven Galloway, is a brief novel of four ordinary people trying to maintain their humanity in the midst of war.
A young father meticulously makes his way through Sarajevo’s streets to bring back water from the brewery, the only safe source of water in the whole city, provided by springs deep beneath the earth. He loves his family. He wants to help his grumpy old neighbor lady. He keeps moving, one excruciating step at a time. Every intersection is perilous and snipers kill in an instant.
A man old enough to yearn for retirement finds himself toiling in the only bakery still operating in the city. He dreams of Sunday picnics and playing with grandchildren. Every day his walk to work is perilous. He is all alone in the city after his wife and son escaped on the last bus out of Sarajevo.
Amidst this danger, a cellist appears at 4pm daily on the spot where 22 people were gunned down standing in line for bread. He plays Albioni’ Adagio, a piece of music from 17th century Venice discovered in the rubble of WW II’s firebombing of Dresden surviving that other terrible war. Is he playing for the dead or the living?
Arrow is the sharp shooter assigned to protect the cellist daily. Morally repulsed by this task, she was recruited for this duty against her will because she served on the university rifle team. Each of these characters yearns for normalcy and strives for humanity. This is an elegant and thought provoking little book.
Candyfreak: A Journey Through The Chocolate Underbelly of America
by Steve Almond
For grown up fans of Willy Wonka, this memoir of a candy lover is a mouth watering Valentine of a book and an ode to America’s independent candy makers which are finding it more and more difficult to survive in today’s world of corporate giants like Hershey’s and Cadbury. A lifelong candy fiend, Almond claims to have eaten candy every day of his life and professes that there are 3 to 7 pounds of candy available in his household at all times.
Traveling around the country visiting local candy companies, Nashville’s own Standard Candy Company, maker of the famous Goo Goo Cluster is featured. Did you know this local company makes its bread and butter manufacturing various nutrition bars and candy bars for other companies and only makes their signature candy bar 10 days a month? Also featured is the Idaho Candy Company’s Idaho Spud, first created in 1918. It is a marshmallow like confection made of agar, a seaweed product, flavored with maple, sprinkled with coconut and rolled in cocoa to look like a potato.
Almond’s writing style is hilarious and if you get a hankering for any of the unique confections he describes there’s a list of handy websites offering these goodies for sale so we can all savor the joy.
Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love
by Edward Ball
What Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil did for Savannah, this story does for Charleston. I’m not sure why this story never achieved the same level of bestsellerdom but it’s just as lurid and fascinating.
It is the story of Gordon Langley Hall, the only son of parents who were “in service” to British aristocrats. After making his way to America he somehow managed to inherit the personal fortune of elderly American heiress Isabel Whitney. Hall headed to Charleston where he embarked on a grand restoration of an antebellum home on Society Street, filling it with fine antiques and making a place for himself in Charleston society. Adding further to his celebrity status he somehow managed to publish a string of biographies, including one of Lady Bird Johnson.
All of this is scandalous enough but the real story begins when he takes up with a much younger African American man, changes his name to Dawn and has a sex change operation at Johns Hopkins. Bear in mind this all took place in the late sixties and early seventies. Think of the gossip. But wait, there’s more. Dawn shows up with a baby. Author Ball is to be commended for sorting the truth in the midst of a Gordian knot of lies, deceits and conflicting stories in this entertaining read.
by Jacqueline Winspear
My favorite mysteries feature women detectives who rely on pure intellect to solve their cases. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Dorothy L. Sayers Harriet Vane come to mind. Add to this list Maisie Dobbs, nurse, veteran of the First World War, Cambridge educated, psychologist and private detective. This series by Jacqueline Winspear begins with Maisie Dobbs and continues with the seventh volume, Mapping of Love and Death, due out in March 2010.
Begin with this first volume, for background on how a bright working class girl developed into the remarkable Maisie. Starting out as a servant after the death of her mother, she is taken under the wing of Lady Rowan, the vivacious and progressive aristocrat who recognizes Maisie’s talent and sees she receives a first rate education after intense tutoring by her friend psychologist Maurice Blanche. During WW I Maisie finds herself a nurse in a field hospital in France where she treats victims of mustard gas and other horrific injuries before she and her fiancé, surgeon Simon Lynch are both injured themselves.
This war experience provides the foundation for all of Maisie’s work as a private detective, giving her compassion and understanding as she navigates the harsh realities of post war England when the tremendous death toll of the war left many damaged souls as well as social and economic devastation. Somehow, the conclusions she reaches while solving her cases move Maisie and her clients a little closer to healing the wounds of war. For mystery lovers who relish plowing through multiple volumes at once, this character driven series is a prize.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (vol. 1)
By Marjane Satrapi
As our nation emerges from years of isolation from Iran and attempts to engage a nation whose actions are frightening, this autobiographical graphic novel serves as an excellent primer on the history of Iran’s theocracy. For readers not tuned into graphic novels, don’t be deceived by the comic book format. Satrapi, born in 1969, is a child of the revolution but also the child of progressive, well educated parents who are at first elated by the overthrow of the Shah. They are quickly disillusioned when the Islamic regime evolves into the same sort of totalitarianism and fear suffered under the Shah. Marjane’s story continues in Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.