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    Book Club in a Bag

    If you like "Downton Abbey"

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    Downton Abbey, the critically acclaimed British costume drama, follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in early 20th century England. This world of strictly divided social classes holds a fascination for many of us; despite the rules which keep the classes apart, there's always more to be found beneath the surface. If you're a fan of the show, waiting for the next installment to be broadcast in September 2012, maybe some of these great reads will help the time pass:

    The Glass Virgin

    Catherine Cookson

    What differentiates a true lady from a common woman? Is it blood, environment, education or simply hauteur? The late, prolific Cookson deftly explores these questions in this dizzying upstairs-downstairs "romance of adversity" set in rural Edwardian England. Annabella Lagrange is a lovely 17-year-old lady-to-be... or not to be, whose aristocratic childhood comes to a crashing halt when her womanizing papa, who has just bankrupted his wife Rosina's glass factory, reveals that Annabella is actually the daughter of a local whorehouse madam. Manuel Mendoza, a predictably dark and handsome self-made workman, helps Annabella begin a new, humble life as a farmhouse maid with an invented past. Cookson liberally heaps mental anguish and cruel twists of fate upon her heroine as Annabella tentatively navigates "life as lived by the majority of people." Over the course of a trying year, Annabella keeps her ladylike dignity-and virginity-as she entangles herself in the bonds of love. Is it truly possible for "the upper class to come down and the working class to come up and meet in the middle" in the realms of love and business? Despite some heavy-handed foreshadowing and spell-breaking asides about the social limitations of the Edwardian era, Cookson proves herself a seasoned storyteller, whose plentiful list of titles keeps historical women's fiction fans in the hardcover aisle years after the author's death.

    Finding Emilie

    Laurel Corona

    Corona's second historical novel (after Penelope's Daughter) offers an excellent introduction to Emilie du Chatelet (1706-49), whose wealth could still not overcome the discrimination she faced as a female intellectual in 18th-century France. A talented mathematician, she glimpsed the relationship between energy and matter two centuries before Einstein, and her translation of Newton's Principia Mathematica remains the standard French version. Emilie died at age 42 after bearing a daughter, who died 18 months later. Drawing from these historical facts, Corona has the daughter, Lili, survive and taken in by a kindly and thoughtful family that encourages her to use her mind. As Lily tries to find her place in the glittering and decadent prerevolutionary France, she gradually learns about her brilliant and notorious mother and eventually meets her mother's former lover, Voltaire, now a very old man tending his garden. Although readers are aware times are darkening, the depictions of intellectual salons and the passionate pursuit of the sciences lighten the book. Verdict Corona's marvelous scenes of the French Enlightenment in progress will appeal to readers who long for times when anyone of any intellectual claim could dabble in new ideas.

    Flirting with Destiny

    Sarah Hylton

    Flirting with Destiny is a First World War saga from a much-loved author. Summer, 1914. As the storm clouds gather over Europe, four privileged young women prepare to leave school and embark on adult life. But for Louise, Imogen, Cora and Miranda, the outbreak of war will change everything. Instead of foreign holidays and glamorous parties, leading to marriage and babies, they must learn to adjust to a new and very different world. The difficult years ahead test their characters to the full, and strain their once-strong friendship.

    Daughters of Fortune

    Tara Hyland

    Elizabeth and Amber are the daughters of London fashion dynasty magnate William Melville and his wife; Caitlyn, who grew up in Ireland, is Meville's daughter by another woman. She hasn't even known who her father is until her mother dies when she is 15 and she joins the Melville family in London. Hyland's sweeping debut follows the three sisters from privileged but rocky adolescence to the beginnings of their careers and relationships. Elizabeth has her eye on running the business, Caitlyn goes to Paris to learn design, and Amber becomes a model. Halfway through the novel, Hyland introduces a suspense element that lends complexity to the role of the family business in the story line, but she also throws in an unsavory plot twist. Verdict: lots of sex, fashion, and drama add glitter to this family saga, which will appeal to fans of Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, and Judith Michael.

    Discover a Publisher - New York Review Books

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    If you enjoy reading The New York Review of Books*, why not try a book published by the same publishing house? The wide variety of books from New York Review Books includes fiction and nonfiction, which they describe as "exploratory and eclectic," and most include an introduction by a writer or literary critic. Check out their website for more about the books!

    The Mountain Lion

    Jean Stafford

    Eight-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother Ralph are inseparable, in league with each other against the stodgy and stupid routines of school and daily life; against their prim mother and prissy older sisters; against the world of authority and perhaps the world itself. One summer they are sent from the genteel Los Angeles suburb that is their home to backcountry Colorado, where their uncle Claude has a ranch. There the children encounter an enchanting new world-savage, direct, beautiful, untamed-to which, over the next few years, they will return regularly, enjoying a delicious double life. And yet at the same time this other sphere, about which they are both so passionate, threatens to come between their passionate attachment to each other. Molly dreams of growing up to be a writer, yet clings ever more fiercely to the special world of childhood. Ralph for his part feels the growing challenge, and appeal, of impending manhood. Youth and innocence are hurtling toward a devastating end.

    Everything Flows

    Vasily Grossman

    Everything Flows is Vasily Grossman’s final testament, written after the Soviet authorities suppressed his masterpiece, Life and Fate. The main story is simple: released after thirty years in the Soviet camps, Ivan Grigoryevich must struggle to find a place for himself in an unfamiliar world. But in a novel that seeks to take in the whole tragedy of Soviet history, Ivan’s story is only one among many. Thus we also hear about Ivan’s cousin, Nikolay, a scientist who never let his conscience interfere with his career, and Pinegin, the informer who got Ivan sent to the camps. Then a brilliant short play interrupts the narrative: a series of informers steps forward, each making excuses for the inexcusable things that he did—inexcusable and yet, the informers plead, in Stalinist Russia understandable, almost unavoidable. And at the core of the book, we find the story of Anna Sergeyevna, Ivan’s lover, who tells about her eager involvement as an activist in the Terror famine of 1932–33, which led to the deaths of three to five million Ukrainian peasants. Here Everything Flows attains an unbearable lucidity comparable to the last cantos of Dante’s Inferno.


    John Williams

    William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar's life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a "proper" family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude. John Williams's luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.


    George Simenon

    Pedigree is Georges Simenon’s longest, most unlikely, and most adventurous novel, the book that is increasingly seen to lie at the heart of his outsize achievement as a chronicler of modern self and society. In the early 1940s, Simenon began work on a memoir of his Belgian childhood. He showed the initial pages to André Gide, who urged him to turn them into a novel. The result was, Simenon later quipped, a book in which everything is true but nothing is accurate. Spanning the years from the beginning of the century, with its political instability and terrorist threats, to the end of the First World War in 1918, Pedigree is an epic of everyday existence in all its messy unfinished intensity and density, a story about the coming-of-age of a precocious and curious boy and the coming to be of the modern world.

    * Did you know? You can read The New York Review of Books through our E-Library, using the database Masterfile Premier. Follow this link, click on Masterfile Premier, and log in with your library card:

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