Every year we celebrate Jane’s birthday with a book exchange. Here’s what we swapped this year:
The Lost book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett
Arthur Prescott is happiest when surrounded by the ancient books and manuscripts of the Barchester Cathedral library. Increasingly, he feels like a fish out of water among the concrete buildings of the University of Barchester, where he works as an English professor. His one respite is his time spent nestled in the library, nurturing his secret obsession with the Holy Grail and researching his perennially unfinished guidebook to the medieval cathedral. But when a beautiful young American named Bethany Davis arrives in Barchester charged with the task of digitizing the library’s manuscripts, Arthur’s tranquility is broken. Appalled by the threat modern technology poses to the library he loves, he sets out to thwart Bethany, only to find in her a kindred spirit with a similar love for knowledge and books and a fellow Grail fanatic. Bethany soon joins Arthur in a quest to find the lost Book of Ewolda, the ancient manuscript telling the story of the cathedral’s founder. And when the future of the cathedral itself is threatened, Arthur and Bethany’s search takes on grave importance, leading the pair to discover secrets about the cathedral, about the Grail, and about themselves.
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
Set on the Korean island of Jeju, The Island of Sea Women follows Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls from very different backgrounds, as they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective. Over many decades—through the Japanese colonialism of the 1930s and 1940s, World War II, the Korean War, and the era of cellphones and wet suits for the women divers—Mi-ja and Young-sook develop the closest of bonds. Nevertheless, their differences are impossible to ignore: Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, forever marking her, and Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers. After hundreds of dives and years of friendship, forces outside their control will push their relationship to the breaking point.
The Magician by Colm Tóibín
Colm Tóibín’s new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles.
Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy by Nathaniel Philbrick
Written at a moment when America’s founding figures are under increasing scrutiny, Travels with George grapples bluntly and honestly with Washington’s legacy as a man of the people, a reluctant president, and a plantation owner who held people in slavery. At historic houses and landmarks, Philbrick reports on the reinterpretations at work as he meets reenactors, tour guides, and other keepers of history’s flame. He paints a picture of eighteenth-century America as divided and fraught as it is today, and he comes to understand how Washington compelled, enticed, stood up to, and listened to the many different people he met along the way–and how his all-consuming belief in the union helped to forge a nation.
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Traveling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent. But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered. And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel. Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes? With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger onboard. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.
Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting. Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake….
A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor
Book Two in the madcap time-travel series based at the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research that seems to be everyone’s cup of tea. In the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, Max and the team visit Victorian London in search of Jack the Ripper, witness the murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, and discover that dodos make a grockling noise when eating cucumber sandwiches. But they must also confront an enemy intent on destroying St Mary’s – an enemy willing, if necessary, to destroy History itself to do it.
Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson
Darcy and Elizabeth have found their happily ever after…now it’s Georgiana Darcy’s turn! Joining her brother and his new bride, Elizabeth in London is a dream come true for the shy, sweet Georgiana Darcy. Eager to learn to negotiate polite society from her graceful and composed new sister-in-law, Georgiana is ready to make her entrance into the matchmaking and intrigue filled ballrooms of London. Making her way through the sea of rogues and fortune hunters, Georgiana will make the transition from being simply Mr. Darcy’s little sister to a confident young woman with her own engaging story to tell.
The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories by Sarah Orne Jewett
In 1896, at the age of forty-seven, Sarah Orne Jewett published this classic novel of a female writer looking for seclusion and inspiration in the coastal town of Dunnet Landing, Maine. Returning to the women and men of small New England towns for the accompanying collection of short fiction, this remarkable volume weaves a colorful and moving tapestry of the grand complexities, joys, and beauties of life.
Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson
Barbara Buncle is in a bind. Times are harsh, and Barbara’s bank account has seen better days. Stumped for ideas, Barbara draws inspiration from fellow residents of her quaint English village, writing a revealing novel that features the townsfolk as characters. The smashing bestseller is published under the pseudonym John Smith, which is a good thing because villagers recognize the truth. But what really turns her world around is when events in real life start mimicking events in the book. Funny, charming, and insightful, this novel reveals what happens when people see themselves through someone else’s eyes.
Writers: Their Lives and Works by James Naughtie
From William Shakespeare and Jane Austen to Gabriel García Márquez and Toni Morrison, Writers explores more than 100 biographies of the world’s greatest writers. Each featured novelist, playwright, or poet is introduced by a stunning portrait, followed by photography and illustrations of locations and artifacts important in their lives – along with pages from original manuscripts, first editions, and their correspondence. Trace the friendships, loves, and rivalries that inspired each individual and affected their writing, revealing insights into the larger-than-life characters, plots, and evocative settings that they created. You will also uncover details each writer’s most famous pieces and understand the times and cultures they lived in – see how the world influenced them and how their works influenced the world. Writers introduces key ideas, themes, and literary techniques of each figure, revealing the imaginations and personalities behind some of the world’s greatest novels, short stories, poems, and plays. A diverse variety of authors are covered, from the Middle Ages to present day, providing a compelling glimpse into the lives of the people behind the page.
Miss Austen by Gill Hornby
England, 1840. For the two decades following the death of her beloved sister, Jane, Cassandra Austen has lived alone, spending her days visiting friends and relations and quietly, purposefully working to preserve her sister’s reputation. Now in her sixties and increasingly frail, Cassandra goes to stay with the Fowles of Kintbury, family of her long-dead fiancé, in search of a trove of Jane’s letters. Dodging her hostess and a meddlesome housemaid, Cassandra eventually hunts down the letters and confronts the secrets they hold, secrets not only about Jane but about Cassandra herself. Will Cassandra bare the most private details of her life to the world, or commit her sister’s legacy to the flames? Moving back and forth between the vicarage and Cassandra’s vibrant memories of her years with Jane, interwoven with Jane’s brilliantly reimagined lost letters, Miss Austen is the untold story of the most important person in Jane’s life. With extraordinary empathy, emotional complexity, and wit, Gill Hornby finally gives Cassandra her due, bringing to life a woman as captivating as any Austen heroine.
The Leopard by Jo Nesbø
In the depths of winter, a killer stalks the city streets. His victims are two young women, both found with twenty-four inexplicable puncture wounds, both drowned in their own blood. The crime scenes offer no clues, the media is reaching fever pitch, and the police are running out of options. There is only one man who can help them, and he doesn’t want to be found. Deeply traumatised by The Snowman investigation, which threatened the lives of those he holds most dear, Inspector Harry Hole has lost himself in the squalor of Hong Kong’s opium dens. But with his father seriously ill in hospital, Harry reluctantly agrees to return to Oslo. He has no intention of working on the case, but his instinct takes over when a third victim is found brutally murdered in a city park. The victims appear completely unconnected to one another, but it’s not long before Harry makes a discovery: the women all spent the night in an isolated mountain hostel. And someone is picking off the guests one by one. A heart-stopping thriller from the bestselling author of the The Snowman, The Leopard is an international phenomenon that will grip you until the final page.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
From her place in the store, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change forever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.
The Ugly Cry by Danielle Henderson
Abandoned at ten years old by a mother who wanted to start a new family with her drug-addicted, abusive boyfriend, Danielle was raised by grandparents who thought their child-rearing days had ended in the 1960s. She grew up Black and weird, before weird was cool, in a mostly white neighborhood in upstate New York, which created its own identity crises. Under the eye-rolling, foul-mouthed, loving tutelage of her unapologetic grandmother–and the horror movies she obsessively watched–Danielle grew into a tall, awkward, Sassy-loving teenager who wore black eyeliner as lipstick and was struggling with the aftermath of her mother’s choices. But she also learned that she had the strength and smarts to save herself: her grandmother gifting her a faith in her own capabilities that the world would not have most Black girls believe.
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey
To Lucy Pym, author of a best-seller on Psychology, the atmosphere at the college where she is lecturing is heavy with tension. Beneath the so normal surface run sinister undercurrents of rivalry and jealousy. Then comes tragedy. An accident? Or is it murder? Respectable, law-abiding Miss Pym discovers some vital evidence – but should she reveal it?