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  • C. P. Lesley

Books We Loved, Aug. 2016

Stephanie Cowell, Claude and Camille (2011)

Lyrical novel about Claude Monet and the woman who loved him despite the opposition of her bourgeois family and its plans to marry her off to a wealthy older man. The seas of Le Havre, the community of young painters that became known as Impressionists, the society of late 19th-century Paris, and the gardens of Givenchy all come richly alive in this emotionally compelling story. The sense of impending tragedy created by the opening pulls the reader along as Camille sticks with Monet through broken promises and poverty and a certain intense self-absorption that would have most of my heroines smacking him upside the head, as the saying goes. You will smell the sea and glory in the water lilies even as you grieve for Camille's lost opportunities. And who wouldn’t love that cover?—CP

Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (HarperCollins, 2016)

The central premise of Tribe, a nonfiction work by Sebastian Junger, is that the people with the least sense of community are the most likely to suffer PTSD when they encounter mayhem, especially in war. But this slim book by one of the country’s best known war journalists (and author of The Perfect Storm) goes on from there to identify additional quirks and foibles that keep so many of us from experiencing happiness.—JS

Hana Sanek Norton, The Serpent’s Crown (Cuidono Press, 2016)

Even more than this author’s The Sixth Surrender, which I picked as a book I loved in May 2016, The Serpent’s Crown digs deep into the byzantine (literally) politics of the late Crusades. As two warring families vie for supremacy, the fate of Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Beirut hang in the balance. Into this tense and deadly struggle stumbles Juliana de Charnais, in search of her husband. The mix of conflict and cooperation between these different but equally strong-minded spouses makes for a compelling and ultimately touching tale. For an interview with the author, see New Books in Historical Fiction.—CPL

Elizabeth Strout, My Name Is Lucy Barton (Random House, 2016)

This spare, compassionate, insightful novel by a Pulitzer Prize winner (for Olive Kittredge) is another portrait, of Lucy Barton, a successful writer and a mother who receives an unexpected visit from her own estranged, impoverished mother. The five-day visit provokes memories and anecdotes about Lucy’s life and those who touched her life. It is the story of the unspoken and curative love between mother and daughter, despite their remaining virtually unknown to one another. An important writing teacher advised Lucy, “You will have only one story. You’ll write your story many ways.” Lucy’s story is one of loneliness and the need to heal wounds.—AA

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