If you have an interest in Chicago history and wonder what life may have been like in the gilded age when a Prairie Avenue address meant you made it to the top of society, What the Lady Wants by Renée Rosen is sure to please. In this book of historical fiction, the author has done her research and then embellished the facts. It is the story of Delia Spencer Caton and her decades-long affair with Marshall Field. The story is set amid the background of a growing city, from the days of the Chicago Fire, through the unrest of the Haymarket Square Riot and the splendor of the Columbian Exposition, until Marshall Field’s death in 1906. Fans of Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank are sure to enjoy.
A great summer read to escape into is The Lake House by Kate Morton. In this family saga with Gothic undertones, the main setting is an old estate in Cornwall where an infant disappeared in the 1930s. At the turn of this century, a London detective on a mandated leave for disobeying policy, with unresolved issues of her own, discovers the abandoned estate and works to uncover the mystery. The narration alternates between present and past, where the reader learns about the family who lived there and all the events leading up to the abduction. There are layers and layers to this story, and just when one layer is uncovered and you think you know what happened, there is a new twist. Secrets abound, and the book has been described as moody, atmospheric and suspenseful. In the end, past and present are neatly resolved.
A beautifully written, highly recommended memoir is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Just as Kalanithi is finishing extensive training as a neurosurgeon in his mid-thirties, he gets a devastating diagnosis of stage four lung cancer. He dies while writing this book, and ultimately his wife was able to finish for him. It is a short book with big questions dealing with what makes life worthwhile in the face of death. At the beginning of his career, the author chose a career of medicine over literature and writing, and the quality of writing in this inspiring book makes it clear that he excelled at both.
Another good historical fiction summer read is The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, who also wrote Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Set in Rye, England, in the summer of 1914, old ways are tested as a free-thinking, single, female Latin teacher comes to town. Once again, there is great characterization as the town people deal with a non-traditional romantic relationship, class snobbery and other social constraints on the brink of World War I.
Harlan Coben is known for his suspenseful page-turners. He does not disappoint with his latest, Fool Me Once. Maya, a former combat vet is grieving the murder of her socially prominent husband, Joe, while trying to protect her two-year-old daughter. While checking a nanny cam given to her by her best friend after the murder, she spots her dead husband with her daughter on the recording. Is she really seeing what she thinks she sees? As always, the book is filled with lots of dialogue, secrets, and twists in the plot in this fast read.