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IPPL Staff

A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (2009)

beautifulplacetodieWhen an Afrikaner policeman is murdered in a remote area of South Africa, detective Emmanual Cooper is brought in to investigate. It is 1952, and the Apartheid system has recently become the law of the land. How does an honorable policeman investigate when not all witnesses are considered equal and people of different races are only allowed to associate in very proscribed ways? What is most intriguing in this story is the application of "race laws" that overrule family relationships and human behavior. Check out Malla Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die; for more mysteries set in Africa, see our book list.
IPPL Staff

Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo (2005)

actsoffaithPhilip Caputo sets this fascinating tale of aid workers against the background of Sudan’s civil war, where the Muslim government in the north fights the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) for control of the Christian and animist south. Acts of Faith presents multiple stories of a group of men and women who confront their own individual moral crises and fears as they work to alleviate the suffering caused by civil war in contemporary Sudan. Reporter, novelist, and nonfiction writer, Caputo has produced a compassionate and dramatic novel.
Denise

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014)

inventionofwingsI loved everything about this book…the superbly-drawn, complex characters; the inspirational, and often intense, storylines of each character; and the wonderful setting descriptions that made me feel like I was there with the characters! The fact that this novel was based on real-life people makes it more powerful and unforgettable.

Set in Charleston during the early 1800s, the plot follows the life of two girls into adulthood, alternating the narration between the two. Sarah Grimke is the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, and Hetty is the young slave who is given to Sarah on her 11th birthday. They share a common goal – freedom! For Hetty, it is freedom from the bondages of slavery, and for Sarah, from the oppressive societal constraints on women. Sarah is vehemently against slavery, treating Hetty with respect, even secretly teaching her how to read, which was against the law at that time. Sarah becomes a strong activist in the abolitionist movement and civil rights for women. Hetty’s life is heartbreaking, yet inspiring in so many ways.

After I finished The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters and did some research on Sarah Grimke to learn more about her real life.

Highly recommend this book!
IPPL Staff

The Impersonator by Mary Miley (2013)

impersonatorIn 1924, vaudevillian Leah Randall finds herself unemployed. When approached by shady Oliver Beckett with a scheme to impersonate a missing heiress and share in her inheritance, Leah is at first dismissive. When no paying roles materialize, Leah gives in and finds herself in a mansion on the Oregon coast impersonating Jessie Carr. Jessie disappeared seven years before. Is she alive, and if not, what happened to her? Could what happened to Jessie now happen to Leah? Mary Miley’s The Impersonator is a fun jazz-era mystery inspired by Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar.
Mary

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (2014)

astonishmeThe world of professional ballet is the centerpiece of this character-driven novel. To dance for a professional New York ballet company is no small feat, but for Joan her role as a member of the ballet corps does meet her aspirations. She becomes romantically involved with Arslan, a Soviet ballet star whom she helped defect to the U.S. Arslan takes the U.S. ballet scene by storm while Joan’s career declines. She leaves the ballet company, marries her best friend from high school, and has a son. Her son Harry becomes the ballet star which Joan had hoped to become, and it is through his success that Arslan reenters her life. Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me rekindled memories of Baryshnikov’s defection to the West in 1974, and his impact on American ballet.
Joan

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (2013)

girlyouleftbehindSophie and Liv struggle through tragedies, tough decisions, and community ridicule nearly a century a part. A hauntingly beautiful portrait of Sophie with penetrating eyes painted by her impressionist husband connect the womens' plights across time. Liv feels a deep connection to Sophie and risks everything to keep the painting out of the wrong hands.

Sophie is left behind in occupied France during WWI as her husband goes off to fight. Liv is left behind after her husband's untimely death in 21st century London. Liv meets Paul and finds out he is on the opposing side of her quest to keep Sophie's portrait. Their relationship develops in opposite directions. She is not sure if he can pull her out of her deep depression left by her husband's death, financial ruin, and public criticism, or push her further down.

As Liv finds herself at the end of all hope, Jojo Moyes allows the reader inside the mind of Sophie on the brink of death at the hands of the enemy. In The Girl You Left Behind, parallel narratives converge as the two women continue to struggle. A satisfying epilogue ties up loose ends in both worlds, yet leaves enough for the reader's imagination to wander a bit.
Jennifer

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl (2014)

deliciousI savored Ruth Reichl’s first foray into fiction (sorry for the pun – couldn’t resist!). I vacillated between eagerly turning the pages and pausing for a break, simply because I didn’t want the story to end. In Delicious!, we meet Billie as she prepares for an interview as the assistant to the editor of a food magazine.

In the engaging characters she encounters, the mouth-watering food she describes, and the foodie side of New York City she explores, the reader is drawn in to all of Billie’s new experiences. With an unexpected WWII tie (Billie discovers letters between James Beard and a precocious 11-year-old Lulu), a mystery, and unresolved family issues, this book is hard for me to describe – other than it was lovely and wonderful and completely worth a read.
IPPL Staff

The Lie by Helen Dunmore (2014)

liedunmoreDaniel Branwell returns to his small Cornish village at the end of WWI. Daniel, although very smart, is from a very poor family and had to leave school to support his widowed mother. Now back from the war, he helps an elderly neighbor, and when she dies, moves into her home. Without education and prospects, traumatized by the war, and deeply missing his childhood friend, Frederic, who died in battle in front of him, Daniel wanders through life searching for meaning. The Lie by Helen Dunmore is a quietly beautiful and moving novel.
IPPL Staff

The Blessings by Elise Juska (2014)

blessingsI really enjoyed Elise Juska’s latest novel, which centers on a large, Irish Catholic extended family living in North Philly. Told in alternating points of view by various family members and spanning 15 years, The Blessings is a lovely, sometime heartbreaking, tale of a family and what unites them.
IPPL Staff

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (2014)

index.aspxIn New York City in 1911, a fire devastated both the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village and destroyed the amusement park Dreamland being constructed above Coney Island.

These public events are the framework for a spellbinding tale in which the author weaves realism and fairy tale. This novel, a romance and a tightly plotted mystery, is set among carnival sideshows, freak shows, and the midway of Coney Island. Her portrayal of New York City during a pivotal year in the city’s history turns the city a character in its own right.

Alice Hoffman’s storytelling magic is here in The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a love story rich with history and a sense of place.
IPPL Staff

The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P. S. Duffy (2013)

index.aspxNova Scotia fisherman and amateur artist Angus MacGrath leaves his wife and son to enlist in the army during WWI. MacGrath has been lead to believe that his skills as an artist will be put to use as a cartographer. Instead he finds himself in the middle of the fight, witnessing horrors he never imagined. At home his emotionally distant wife and young son must deal with his absence and that of a beloved brother and uncle. MacGrath returns to his beloved Nova Scotia a man changed, perhaps forever.

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P. S. Duffy is a beautiful balance between realistic characters and setting and dream-like quality adopted by some of the characters to survive. For other modern novels about WWI see our bibliography.

Join us! Our Novel Idea book discussion group will discuss the book on Wednesday, September 10 at 7pm.
IPPL Staff

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon (2014)

index.aspx1930 was the year of New York Justice Joseph Crater's infamous disappearance (his body was never found). This novel tells the story as seen through the eyes of the three women who knew him best: his wife Stella, his mistress Ritzi, and the maid Maria. Their story, expertly woven around these events, comes from the author’s imagination and she builds a fascinating tale of what may have happened.

Author Ariel Lawhon saves the why of Judge Crater disappearance until a twist in the very last pages. The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress will transport readers to a bygone era of chorus girls, speakeasies, bootleggers, Tammany Hall corruption, gangsters, and irritating rich people.
IPPL Staff

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013)

index.aspxChristina Baker Kline introduces a fairly unexplored piece of American history in this tender story of two resilient women navigating their way through the past and into the future. Orphan Train is a touching story of two characters whose lives intertwine with one another, opening up buried secrets, upheaval, and an unexpected friendship.

Foster teen Molly Ayer finds herself serving community service hours at the home of aging widow Vivian Daly. The boxes in the attic haven't been touched for years, but Vivian has finally decided that it is time to clear through her old things. Molly and Vivian take on the task together and as they sort through the possessions, memories of earlier times for Vivian reveal that the two women aren't as different as it seems. Vivian, an Irish immigrant, was orphaned in her youth in New York City, and was one of hundreds of children shipped west on what became known as the orphan train. Molly discovers that her youth and perseverance can help Vivian reveal unknown truths about her past, and in doing so, uncover some insight into her own life.
Jennifer

That Summer by Lauren Willig (2014)

thatsummerAn unexpected inheritance. A mysterious painting. A forbidden relationship. In this mesmerizing tale, a house and a painting provide the link between 2009 and 1849 England.

In 2009, unemployed New Yorker Julia unexpectedly inherits a house in suburban London from a mysterious great aunt. In the mid-nineteenth century, Imogen’s mundane existence is transformed by the appearance of members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

I was immediately drawn into the family saga spanning two centuries. I love Lauren Willig’s writing style, and how she mixes historical facts and figures with her fictional tale.

After I finished That Summer, I immediately wanted to start again to revisit those gothic twists that made me question what I’d previously read.

If you enjoyed The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (2013) or A Vintage Affair (2010) by Isobel Wolff, or simply adore books that travel between the past and present, read this book!
IPPL Staff

Hyde by Daniel Levine (2014)

In this novel based on Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hyde seizes control. Though Hyde’s ramblings on the dark streets of Victorian London are often told with brutal detail, the novel takes an intriguing concept and tells an intelligent tale. The boundaries between good and evil are blurred and a dark and brooding re-imagined story emerges.

This retelling is a richly detailed and engrossing portrait of Stevenson’s characters, but Daniel Levine’s Hyde is not the first novel to re-spin Stevenson’s original. Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin told the tale from the point-of-view of Jekyll’s household maid.