Where were you when?

In the 60s I was a kid in school. In the 70s I went to college. In the 80s I started a family. In the 90s I changed countries. In the 00s I gained a new citizenship. In the 10s I tried to be an author. And I sometimes feel old. But it's fun to read novels set in my younger days, to remember how things were, and to learn how different they might have been somewhere else. It's fun to read of earlier times too, my parents' days, my parents' world. And it's intriguing to read my way into different versions of my own present world--the lives of strangers who just might one day be my neighbors perhaps.

I guess I'd classify the books I've been reading recently as "drama," though I'm not sure that's a shelf in the library. Some of them are historical, others contemporary; but all them take to me to almost-places where I've almost been, and they're all highly recommended.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is set in the years of my grandparents and my parents. Spanning both the first world war and the second, it portrays the French countryside with evocative delight, and the awkward rules of changing and broken societies with haunting reality. It's a coming of age novel, a romance, a spy story and historical fiction, all rolled into one, and it's definitely dramatic. Enjoy with some bold, dark, intense five-star coffee.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is set in World War II London and Malta, where the brave promise and even the weak risk everything. As convincing in its portrayal of the Blitz as in its depiction of Malta's starvation, it's a novel that raises lots of questions about social attitudes as well as about war. Unexpected, politically real rather than politically correct, it's a long slow totally absorbing read, best enjoyed with another bold, dark, five-star coffee.

Anat Talshir's About the Night begins with the world of Jews returning to Jerusalem, and again revolves around war. The central love affair in this tale mirrors the fate of a divided city, inviting readers to ponder the meaning of love and family, faith and factions, and loyalty's hope. Yes, more dark five-star coffee with this one as well.

Letting Go by Abe Aamidor offers glimpses of several wars as the son and grandson of war veterans mourns the loss of his own son in Afghanistan. Reading like a memoir, the novel's told in first-person, filling in the past of father and son, of young love and old, hope and failure, and a wonderful world. Town and countryside are richly depicted while the protagonist seeks a way forward that's not so tied to looking back as he might have imagined. Only then can he truly let go. Enjoy with some rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee.

Stephanie: Days of Turmoil and Victory: by Donna Fletcher Crow is set in the time of Vietnam War. A young woman has burgeoning political ambitions and serious doubts both about the war and about how the poor are treated in her Idaho town. But will she really be able to bring about change from inside the system? And will the change she campaigns for even result in the change she wants? Evocatively portraying a family of faith, the politics of a State Legislature, and the youth of a time not so long gone, Stephanie is an oddly absorbing romance as well, best enjoyed with some well-balanced full-flavored coffee.

The Mud Dance by Neil Grimmett depicts an age in music rather than war or politics, but it's not without its battles as bands form and break apart, dance floors fade into mud, and relationships fracture and fray. It's haunting, haunted by a well-timed secret, and powerfully convincing. Enjoy a dark, five-star brew with this darkly brooding tale.

And finally, with a very internal battle, is Room by Emma Donoghue. With it's innocent child-like voice, it turns the concept of an unreliable narrator on its head, and combines truly horrific guilt with a genuine innocence. Freedom's price is intriguingly portrayed as well, and the child's relationship with his mother is pure delight. Enjoy with some more dark five-star coffee though -- it's seriously dark.


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