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  • C. P. Lesley

Books We Loved, May 2016

Jennifer Robson, Moonlight over Paris (William Morrow, 2016)

This novel about post-war Paris and the Lost Generation is as sparkling and uplifting as a glass of champagne. The heroine, the English Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr, is admirable and easy to relate to. Her love interest, American war hero and newspaper writer Sam Howard, is just the right blend of real and ideal. The dazzling descriptions of Paris in the 1920s and appearances by people like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, and Gerald and Sara Murphy make it memorable.—CJH

Laini Giles, The Forgotten Flapper (Sepia Stories, 2015)

Olive Thomas finds her way as a model, dancer, and eventually silent movie star in this wonderfully accurate but even more wonderfully atmospheric exploration of New York in the Roaring Teens and Hollywood before the appearance of sound. The dialogue is snappy and the characters both lively and flawed. You’ll feel that you were there. Free interview with the author on the New Books Network.—CPL

Hana Samek Norton, The Sixth Surrender (Plume, 2010)

A book less current than most of those I post, but the sequel, The Serpent’s Crown (on which, more soon), just appeared. Juliana de Charnay is resigned to life in a convent, but she has not yet wholly abandoned the idea of a husband who can help her reclaim her lands. When she appeals for assistance to Eleanor of Aquitaine, she does not expect to find herself tied for life to Guérin de Lasalle, a warrior just returned from the Holy Land. Guérin has no more interest in his new bride than she has in him, but Eleanor’s schemes sweep them into one intrigue after another. Dorothy Dunnett fans will love this one: it’s more history and politics than romance.—CPL

Ali Smith, How to Be Both (Hamish Hamilton, 2014)

“Do things that happened not exist or stop existing just because we can’t see them happening right in front of us?” is a question that may be asked regarding one’s family history, one’s genetic makeup, or the seemingly repetitive nature of history. This question is posed in an intertwined narrative about Francesco del Cossa, a Renaissance fresco painter, and a 21st-century English girl nicknamed George. Whose story one begins with depends on the version purchased by chance. The “doubleness” of luck, of life, of experience is told gorgeously and intriguingly. The stories intertwine as Francesco’s ghost watches George touring his enigmatic frescos in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara. The story of a teenager agonizing over identity, death, future, and the creative process stay with me now, as if their stories are mine as well. No wonder this book was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.—AA

Claudia H. Long, The Harlot’s Pen (Devine Destinies, 2014)

Set in San Francisco and Sonoma in 1919, The Harlot’s Pen tells the story of Violetta, a talented journalist who embeds herself in a brothel to expose the conditions of the women who work there. The themes of suffrage, the sex trade, equal pay, government corruption, and the human condition come together in the story of this one brave and remarkable woman.—DAS

Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005)

Looks like Gregory David Roberts, one-time bank robber, heroin addict, yet a humanitarian, effusive person, has retired from public view. Shantaram remains as a monument to a larger than life persona. It’s packed full of pathos, humor, and tall tales. Although Robert’s appetite for metaphors was distracting, I was beguiled by his unique perspectives and insights into Indian culture, including the Indian mafia and the former Afghanistani conflict with Russia. Plus it has the best bear story, in which a bear is smuggled away from the police in a papier-mâché statue of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god.—GM

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