Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (Ballantine) Beryl Markham grew up in colonial Kenya, a place of questionable morals and fascinating people. Although she was too young and too poor to be at the core of the Happy Valley set, she was old enough to know the principals (Karen Blixen, Denys Finch Hatten, Berkeley Cole, Lord Delamare) and to be a part of their world. McLain’s Circling the Sun perfectly captures the personalities of the European expats, the complexities of colonial culture, and the details of the African landscape. Told from Markham’s perspective, the novel resembles a well-crafted memoir, taking readers on a roller-coaster adventure of incredible successes and deep sorrows. Despite an unprecedented string of professional achievements, Markham was nearly lost to history; now, thanks to McLain’s riveting account, the world will once again be talking about this intriguing, strong woman.
Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans (Harper) Many readers are finding stories set in World War II to be incredibly overdone these days, but from time to time the right story gets through and is still able to dazzle. Crooked Heart is just one of those books. Although the events of World War II inform the plot, the story is really about the brilliant, orphaned Noel Bostock and under-educated and under-employed Vera Sedge who takes Noel in when he and the other children are evacuated. Together Vera and Noel are more than the sum of their parts, each one’s strengths compensating for the other’s weaknesses. The result is a book which is poignant and moving while at the same time wryly humorous. Whether you love World War II or are tired of the setting, Crooked Heart is so richly imagined and meaningful that you won’t be able to put it down.
All Together Now by Gil Hornby (Little, Brown) Bridgeford doesn’t have much going for it, other than proximity to London. Even that seems like a double-edged sword as younger residents flee for either a more urban or more rural experience. The only thing holding together even some of the residents of Bridgeford is the choir, a place where people of all ages and backgrounds can, conceivably, come together. When even that seems to fall apart its members take charge, enlisting new members with a vigor that just might bode well for their little community. Hornby excels at contradictions, making Bridgeford both cozy and confining, making characters pathetic or annoying in the views of others but strong or persevering in their own right. This level of nuance that Hornby brings makes All Together Now a complex and thoroughly enjoyable book.