The story: Beatrice's father has recently passed away, leaving her—a well-educated, well-traveled young woman— to fend for herself in pre-World War I England. She is hired as the first woman teacher in a village school and taken under the wing of the Kents, an influential family in the village. In her first year there she experiences successes and losses as the country heads into war and refugees pour into the village. A self-proclaimed spinster, Beatrice also discovers that perhaps she isn't destined for a life of loneliness without her father.
Me: I liked this novel. I didn't love it nearly as much as Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Simonson's debut novel, but I did really enjoy it. There is a mixture of innocence and a quest for knowledge in Beatrice, who is on the cusp of an old world, ready for the new one. And I love the historical context of the novel. Recommended.
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion.
The story: This is the sequel to Simsion's The Rosie Project, the story of Don Tillman's "scientific" attempt to find a wife who fulfills his 16-page questionnaire. Don and Rosie have moved to NYC and are completely enjoying their new life together— until a series of misunderstandings and surprises nearly destroys their marriage.
Me: I liked this OK, although it didn't hold a candle to The Rosie Project. I think most of that has to do with the sheer enjoyment and surprise of Don's character in the first novel; by the sequel, we know Don and aren't as intrigued by his quirks. Still, this is a must-read if you loved The Rosie Project, and everyone should love The Rosie Project.
The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.
This is a multiple re-read for me. I teach this whenever I teach World Literature, and I re-read whatever books I'm teaching right along with my students. I love this one—but it's never one of the students' favorites.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.
The story: An uninvited guest shows up at a christening party, and nothing will ever be the same again in the lives of the Keating family or the Cousins family. This novel spans fifty years, exploring the intertwined lives of the two families who are bound by blood, marriage, secrets, tragedies, and, most of all, the stories behind everything.
Me: Well, Ann Patchett is incredible. State of Wonder — wow! The Magician's Assistant and Bel Canto? AMAZING!! Patchett is consistently a powerful storyteller. How in the world does she come up with these incredibly diverse storylines? I have no idea—I'm just happy she does. Highly recommended!