The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline (2020)
Set in the early nineteenth century, this work of historical fiction is told from the perspective of the women in the story. Evangeline, a young English governess, finds herself transported to Australia for a crime she did not commit. Aboard the former slave ship Medea, the female convicts form friendships that will endure once they arrive in Van Diemen's Land, a penal colony. The story shifts between the lives of these English and Irish women and that of Mathinna, a young Aboriginal girl adopted by the governor of Van Diemen's Land. All of them are prisoners in one form or another. Christina Baker Kline delivers a well-researched and engrossing novel that will keep you turning pages.
Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
Allende's writing is as good as ever in this novel. We meet Roser and Victor, two young people displaced during the Spanish Civil War. Initially, they become refugees in France and later travel aboard the SS Winipeg, chartered by Pablo Neruda, to resettle in Chile. There, they raise their son and become friendly with the wealthy, landowning Solar family. Roser's and Victor's lives are again disrupted during the 1973 coup d'état in which Allende's godfather, President Salvador Allende, is deposed and General Augusto Pinochet comes to power. Allende skillfully weaves together historical events and a slow-blooming love story. Words from a Neruda poem give the book its title.
Gallant by V.E. Schwab
Olivia Prior lives in an orphanage and all she has left of her family is her mother's journal. Suddenly a letter arrives, inviting her home to the family estate, Gallant. It's the one place her mother's journal told her never to go. It's the only place where she can find the answers to her questions. This teen gothic horror has it all: ghosts, a family curse, secrets, and a shadow-world with a nameless evil.
The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews
Evelyn depends on her horsemanship to break into the beau monde and marry well enough to support her family. But in order to distinguish herself from all the other debutantes, she'll need an absolutely smashing wardrobe. Half-Indian tailor Ahmad yearns to have a business of his own - but he needs someone to take a chance on his designs. Together, they'll take the ton by storm. Fascinating historical details and a hard look at the realities of racism in Victorian London set this romance apart.
Small World by Jonathan Evison
Six degrees of separation came to mind while reading this book that spans generations and a century and a half of American history. The book follows the evolution of the transcontinental railroad (past to present) and its characters are from several different socio-economic backgrounds and cultures that are left to react to their environments and each other based on their pasts. I was transported (pun intended) by the writing, the characters, and the interconnected plot lines.
From Cold War To Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin's Russia by Michael McFaulbook
The war in Ukraine has me researching/reading more on the topic to better understand Putin's mind. A customer recommended I read this book (I listened to it). Published in 2018, it is a fast-paced inside account that combines history and memoir to tell the full story of U.S.-Russia relations from the fall of the Soviet Union to the new rise of the hostile, paranoid Russian president.
Strictly a One-Eyed Jack by John Mellencamp (2022)
The twenty-fourth studio album by Mellencamp featuring an album cover designed by his son, Speck. Containing the themes and simple instrumentation that Mellencamp is known for, the album has a sense of both familiarity and novelty. The lead single, "Wasted Days," is Mellencamp's first-ever duet with Bruce Springsteen, a fellow heartland rocker. Springsteen also provides backup on several other songs, further adding to this album's already impressive merit.
A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce by Massimo Montanari (2021)
As its name suggests, this book, roughly 100 pages, attempts to trace the origins of one of the most famous examples of Italian cuisine. With its focus on historical information rather than culinary, you'd be surprised to learn how such a dish actually had somewhat of a Middle Eastern ancestry before becoming associated with the identity it has maintained for centuries. As an Italian, this book whetted my appetite both figuratively and literally.
America's Sweethearts (2001)
A quick-witted and, at times, absurd film written by Billy Crystal, this romantic comedy stars Crystal alongside John Cusack and Julia Roberts. Cusack plays Eddie, an actor who suffers a mental breakdown after his wife leaves him while Roberts portrays Kiki, the sister/assistant to Cusack's ex-wife, Gwen, also an actor, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Both Gwen and Eddie must pretend to reconcile to help promote a new film to salvage their careers, but as you can probably guess, things don't go according to plan. Despite being a tad formulaic, the film still has a lot of charm.