For some reason, I had the song from the movie Greece in my head. You know, “Those Summer Nights?” Really, it’s “Ni-hights.” So I’ve changed it slightly to “those summer books.” Flows right off the tongue right? Right?
The Courtesan: A Novel by Alexandra Curry
Alexandra Curry has such talent! I got a digital galley from Penguin Random House’s First to Read program (officially releasing in September). I can hardly believe this is Curry’s first novel. Anyone who writes with such lyrical language, one that seems to carry itself forward with its own steady momentum, could write anything and I would read it. This is a story that grabbed my heart from the very beginning and wouldn’t let go. I was taken in entirely, and that rarely happens for me. It’s based on a true story of a young girl who had nobody and was sold to a brothel in the late 19th century. She undergoes much change as she moves from one life situation to another, yet shows strength and an inner compass throughout.
Even if you are far less sentimental than I am, this novel backdrop of the Quin dynasty was educational and the novel shows an interesting transition time for Imperialist China as it must open to a relationship with the West. I can hardly wait to see what Curry writes next!
Born 1973 in Bielefeld, Germany, Nina George is a prize-winning and bestselling author (“Das Lavendelzimmer” – “The Little Paris Bookshop”) and freelance journalist since 1992, who has published 26 books (novels, mysteries and non-fiction) as well as over hundred short stories and more than 600 columns
The lead character owns a floating book barge on the Seine called the “Literary Apothecary” because he can “prescribe” novels for any situation or broken heart. He says, “I wanted to treat feelings that are not recognized as afflictions and are never diagnosed by doctors. All those little feelings and emotions no therapist is interested in, because they are apparently too minor and intangible. The feeling that washes over you when another summer nears its end. Or when you recognize that you haven’t got your whole life left to find out where you belong. Or the slight sense of grief when a friendship doesn’t develop as you thought, and you have to continue your search for a lifelong companion. Or those birthday morning blues. Nostalgia for the air of your childhood.”
He lost his great love and spends years mourning. The book takes him on a journey down the rivers in France and toward his own healing. It is excellent… highly recommend. Poetic language, heartfelt words, and universal emotions. I wish Nina George had more of her books translated into English. I have so many beautiful highlighted passages! One more…
“Whenever Monsieur Perdu looked at a book, he did not see it purely in terms of a story, minimum retail price and an essential balm for the soul; he saw freedom on wings of paper.”
OK, another final one: “He had always felt that books created a force field around him. He had discovered the whole world on his barge—every emotion and place and era. He had never had to travel; his conversations with books had been sufficient…until finally he prized them more highly than people. They were less threatening.”
Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain
“This valley was more than my home. It beat in me like the drum of my own heart.”
McLain describes 1920s colonial Kenya and Beryl Markham’s African childhood there as the setting of her extraordinary adventures training horses and as a pilot. McLain wrote one of my favorite books, The Paris Wife: A Novel (see my review here – can’t believe that was 4 years ago!), and I’ll read anything she writes. She seems to be an expert at historical fictional memoir (The Paris Wife is about Hadley Hemmingway).
“You can’t run from any part of yourself, and it’s better that you can’t. Sometimes I’ve thought it’s only our challenges that sharpen us, and change us, too…”
And wow. McLain succeeds in conveying the adventurous spirit of Beryl and all that she must overcome, especially as a woman at a time when women did not undertake half the adventure she was. She had her own ideas and lived by them to the end. After winning several horserace awards, she was the first person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic from Europe to America. If you know Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa: and Shadows on the Grass, you know the Denys Finch-Hatton and Beryl Markham that McLain writes of. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Markham had actually written her own memoir, West with the Night, and there are several books available about her. Highly recommend.