Penelope Lively’s latest book, How It All Began, is a masterfully crafted novel that explores the interconnectedness of human lives. After she’s attacked on a street in London, Charlotte Rainsford recovers at the home of her daughter, Rose. Trapped in a lackluster marriage, Rose serves as assistant to Lord Henry Peters, a pompous historian. With Charlotte on her hands, Rose is forced to take time off—a hiatus that causes Lord Henry to enlist the aid of his niece, Marion. An interior designer, she joins him on a trip that turns out to be fateful for everyone involved. Several cleverly woven plot strands demonstrate how a seemingly isolated incident can have incredible repercussions. Lively has been writing first-class fiction for nearly four decades, and this shrewdly observed narrative finds her at the top of her powers.
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First-time novelist Barbara J. Zitwer tells a stirring story of friendship and the power of connection in The J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society. The novel’s heroine, Joey Rubin, is a successful New York architect who travels to the Cotswolds to supervise renovations on Stanway House, the majestic manor that served as home to J.M. Barrie while he wrote Peter Pan. Joey’s experience at Stanway is far from magical, thanks to a crotchety caretaker and unfriendly locals. But when she discovers a gang of elderly women enjoying a swim in a lake on the manor grounds in the middle of winter, she’s intrigued. Known as the J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society, the group adopts Joey as one of their own, leading her on an extraordinary journey of growth and personal evolution. Zitwer writes from the heart about Joey’s search for fulfillment and the importance of pursuing dreams, and she has a gift for depicting relationships. Her debut is a charmer from start to finish.
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In The Paris Wife, a magical mix of fact and fiction, Paula McLain tells the story of Hadley Richardson, the reserved Midwesterner who married Ernest Hemingway in 1921. A bit of a spinster, Hadley is 28 when she first encounters the budding novelist in Chicago. Eight years older than Hemingway, she’s sensible and stable—an unlikely match for the moody writer. But she throws caution to the wind, marries him and travels to Paris, where they join a group of alcohol-loving expatriates that includes F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce. Not quite at ease in her bohemian surroundings, Hadley struggles to establish a home. Hemingway, meanwhile, works on The Sun Also Rises, develops an interest in bullfighting—and flirts openly with other women. When he betrays Hadley, their marriage crumbles, and she makes some critical discoveries about herself. McLain’s portrayal of Paris in its prime is spot-on, and in Hadley, she has created a character of subtlety and nuance.