Julie’s Summer Reading List
by Julie Failla Earhart
Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James. This nonfiction title recounts the year the author and her family spent in Paris. Written in brief essays and short vignettes, this easy-to-read book captures life in City of Lights. From the hardships the children have in their new school to the fabulous food to the obscure museums, once you’ve finished, you’ll feel as if you where living next door.
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. Screenwriter Wingfield delivers a touching first novel that has been critically acclaimed as worthy of Erskine Caldwell and Flannery O’Connor. It’s 1956 in southern Arkansas. On the first Sunday of June, the Moses clan gathers for its annual reunion. Methodist preacher Samuel Lake; his wife, Willadee; and their three children return to Moses homestead. When tragedy strikes at the family’s heart, the stage is set for a page turner.
My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. Mary is 20 years old when the Civil War broke out. She already has a reputation as the best midwife in Albany, but that’s not enough; she wants to be a surgeon. When Mary sees an advertisement from Clara Barton, she races to Washington to answer the call. She begins to help the old Union Hotel that has been transformed into a hospital. There she and the doctor have only the barest supplies. If you want to experience what a battlefield really looked like after the shooting stopped, this is an excellent book. Without being gross or disgusting, Oliveira takes readers into the hardships of 19th-century medicine.
Little Black Dress by Susan McBride. St. Louis writer McBride centers her magical realism tale on three women, Evie, her sister Anna, and Evie’s daughter Toni. Evie’s in search of something that she hasn’t seen in many, many years: the little black dress that tore her and Anna apart. She dons the dress, then has a massive stroke. Luckily the housekeeper finds her, but the damage is great. She is in a coma. While Evie is comatose, readers are taken back to the story of her and her sister Anna. On a shopping excursion to Ste. Genevieve, Anna purchases a little black dress for her rehearsal dinner. It’s the dress’s magic that shows Anna that she shouldn’t go through with the wedding. Readers should expect laughter and tears. (See our book review!)
The Games Men Play by Joe Schwartz. A short-story collection from another St. Louis writer for the urban genre lover. These dark stories—twenty-one in total—take readers from the streets of the St. Louis to its rural counties. Not for the faint of heart.
The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott. A short gem of literary fiction. Henry Cage has been ousted at the consulting firm he founded. A structured man, Henry isn’t too concerned as he was near retirement anyway. In fact, he looks forward to his time alone. But the quiet doesn’t last long. He’s the victim of a random act of violence on New Year’s Eve, 1999. Then his ex-wife wants to see him. She lives in Florida; he loves in London. His estranged son, Tom, makes contact, wanting to re-enter his life along with a wife and a grandson that Henry never knew existed. At first he’s apprehensive about meeting the four year old, but he finds a love and peace he never knew. When the perpetrator of the New Year’s Eve attack, begins harassing Henry, his life topples completely out of control.
Sarah’s Key by Tatina de Rosnay. De Rosnay’s first book to be translated into English (she’s published ten in French) comes a story haunting story.The subject of this historical novel is the little-remembered roundup of the French Jews by the French police in Paris on July16, 1942. Opening with the roundup in the dead of night, the girl and her parents are herded to the Velodrome d’Hiver outside the city. Her little brother, Michel, is left behind, hiding in a locked closet. The story fast forwards to 2002. American-born Julia Jarmond is a journalist for an American magazine. Her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the roundups and eventual deportations. She begins to investigate, searching for survivors and eyewitnesses. The more Julia knows, the more she must know. The story alternates between the girl’s point of view and Julia’s. The riveting account of what probably happened to many Jewish families and what happens with Julia’s family as she uncovers dark secrets won’t be soon forgotten.
Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman. Another historical fiction novel that at 636 pages may be intimidating to a lot of readers, especially if it’s vacation reading. But trust me, once you delve into it, you won’t want to put it down. The story begins in the Bellevue Asylum where Mary Todd Lincoln is a favorite of the head doctor’s wife. Interspersed within her narrative are her life’s memories—in chronological order—in intimate detail. From her wealthy childhood in the slave-holding South, readers can get a glimpse of Mary’s desperate nature. As a young woman, she visits a fortune teller who forecasts her marriage to a president. As a young wife, Mary struggles to cook and clean. As a bereaved mother, she takes laudanum, shops compulsively believing that things will keep her family safe, and attends séances in an effort to contact her sons. As a widow, she flees to Europe, living in Germany for years. On her return to Chicago, the death of a third son, sends her over the edge. All this and more is covered in Cooke Newman’s book. In an effort to maintain what little bit of sanity remains after her commitment to the asylum, she begins to pen her memoirs. Mary portrays herself as a passionate, political, unconventional, determined, and intelligent individual.
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Literary fiction at its finest. Way, way back in the Ozarks lays Rathlin Valley, home to the Dolly clan. Poverty runs as rampant as bad breath and bad teeth. When sixteen-year-old Ree’s daddy goes missing, no one is surprised or alarmed; this isn’t the first time. Ree is left to care for her two younger brothers and her mentally-ill mother. It’s winter. The cold is bone-chilling and the snow is deep. Ree is almost out of food. But more trouble waits when the sheriff arrives looking for Jessup, Ree’s daddy. Seems last time he was busted on drug charge, he put the family home up as collateral. The sheriff comes out to warn Ree, convinced that she knows where he’s hiding, that if he doesn’t show up at his court date, the house will soon be repossessed. This news sends Ree on a desperate hunt. She encounters many family members who are meaner and tougher than her father and more afraid of the law than what will happen to the family. As the court date gets closer and closer, Ree becomes more frantic. She has to find him—dead or alive. The bleakness of Ree’s journey matches Woodrell’s prose. At one point Ree is sexually assaulted; at another she is badly beaten. But what Ree must do to save her home is even more horrific.
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson. History taught in the classroom often becomes muddied; myths perpetuated. Many times the true story of what happened to John Wilkes Booth after he fired the fatal shot into President Abraham Lincoln’s brain is victim to such inaccuracies. Swanson takes readers on a chronological journey of the 12 days before Booth was killed. It’s true that Booth was hiding in a barn when the Union forces finally caught up with him. It’s true that he was flushed from the barn by setting it on fire. What isn’t true is that Booth died in the fire, and the barn was located on the property of Dr. Samuel Mudd. Other such falsities are put to rest in this well-researched volume. Swanson’s narrative reads like a well-plotted novel. The pace is fast, often frantic. Booth’s journey from Washington, D.C. to Maryland is detailed and picturesque. His description’s of Booth’s flight is harrowing, especially his day spent hiding in a forest and the agony of traveling with a broken leg. Along with following Booth’s escape path, Swanson also provides other important events that are happening in Washington and follows Booth’s co-conspirators as they flee from justice with the Union forces hot and heavy on their tail.
Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts. Made in the U.S.A, has everything: a great plot, compelling characters, and a feel-good ending that makes the reader’s heart soar. Life has not been easy for fifteen-year-old Lutie McFee and her eleven-year-old brother Fate. Their mother died when Lutie was six. The kids are living with Floy, the latest in a long line of their alcoholic father’s ex-girlfriends. When she keels over dead in a Spearfish, South Dakota, Wal-Mart checkout, Lutie knows that foster care is only a breath away. The kids take her car and head to Las Vegas in attempt to locate their missing father. Now they’ve reached rock bottom. The happiness they hoped to find in Vegas is stripped away when they learn some grave news about Dad. However, Lutie and Fate are lucky. They have someone who seems to watch over them; someone who leaves them little treats and notes. Their benefactor stays at arm’s length, but when Lutie is savagely attacked outside the hotel they currently call home, Juan Vargas can’t help but get involved. He takes the kids back to his home in Oklahoma, a place he, too, hasn’t been in fifteen years. It is there, among the myriad of relatives that all three find a place to finally call home. Letts’ moving novel is a quick read. Her masterful storytelling is flawless and the characters interesting. I was especially drawn to Fate’s dorkiness. He’s a creepy little guy who worries about global warming, plays Scrabble by himself, and keeps his book of facts handy. The story would be more tragic if Lutie and Fate hadn’t had Juan’s watchful eye, but Made in the U.S.A would be another story without him.
The Violets of March by Sarah Jio. If you love family secrets, long lost diaries, and romance, you’ll love Jio’s debut novel. Devastated by her impending divorce, Emily heads to her great-aunt Bee’s home on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Washington State. She plans to spend the month of March getting herself back together and hopefully writing again. She wants to write, even gets started numerous times, but there isn’t a story in her heart that she longs to tell. Once on the island, Bee puts her in the pink bedroom; a bedroom she has never slept in during the summers she and her sister spent on the island as kids. In the nightstand, she discovers a red velvet diary in the nightstand dated 1943. How it got there, she doesn’t know. Did Bee plant it, so she could finally learn the truth about her family? Or had it been left by someone and gone undiscovered until now? Emily is immediately engrossed in the story of Esther, Elliott, and Billy. And it is riveting. Esther marries a man she doesn’t love, has a daughter, then contemplates marrying the man of her dreams after he returns from the war. Complicate that with Emily’s own upheaval, her trying to figure out if the people in the diary are real or fictional, and the intense feelings she is having for one of the Islanders. Makes for an afternoon spent reading. In other words, this novel is yummy!