The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

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cover171999-mediumThe story of a solitary green notebook that brings together six strangers and leads to unexpected friendship, and even love

Julian Jessop, an eccentric, lonely artist and septuagenarian believes that most people aren’t really honest with each other. But what if they were? And so he writes–in a plain, green journal–the truth about his own life and leaves it in his local café. It’s run by the incredibly tidy and efficient Monica, who furtively adds her own entry and leaves the book in the wine bar across the street. Before long, the others who find the green notebook add the truths about their own deepest selves–and soon find each other In Real Life at Monica’s Café.

The Authenticity Project’s cast of characters–including Hazard, the charming addict who makes a vow to get sober; Alice, the fabulous mommy Instagrammer whose real life is a lot less perfect than it looks online; and their other new friends–is by turns quirky and funny, heartbreakingly sad and painfully true-to-life. It’s a story about being brave and putting your real self forward–and finding out that it’s not as scary as it seems. In fact, it looks a lot like happiness. The Authenticity Project is just the tonic for our times that readers are clamoring for–and one they will take to their hearts and read with unabashed pleasure.

Reading this book was a balm for my soul during a particularly difficult time. I’ve spent my career believing in the power of words to reveal and heal, and Clare Pooley accomplishes that in this heartwarming story. Being authentic, truly authentic, is terrifying for most people. Would you ever reveal your deepest secret, and if you did, would it be in a notebook that you leave on a table in a coffee shop for a complete stranger to read? That’s what happens here, but instead of strangers remaining strangers, the people who find the notebook and read the contents become friends who help each other move on from particularly difficult parts of their lives.

This will make a great book club selection and will be a popular read for those who are craving happiness and human comfort.

Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Published By: Penguin Group Viking; Pamela Dorman Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel byRuth Hogan


cover180892-mediumFrom the wildly popular bestselling author of The Keeper of Lost Things comes a surprising and uplifting story about the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, and the magic of chosen family.

Tilly was a bright, outgoing little girl who loved fizzy drinks, naughty words, and liked playing with ghosts and matches. When her beloved father suddenly disappeared, she and her fragile, difficult mother moved into Queenie Malone’s magnificent Paradise Hotel in Brighton, with its endearing and loving family of misfits—including the exuberant and compassionate Queenie herself. But then Tilly was dealt another shattering blow when her mother sent her off to boarding school with little explanation and no warning, and she lost her beloved chosen family.

Now an adult, Tilda has grown into an independent woman still damaged by her mother’s unaccountable cruelty. Wary of people, her only true friend is her dog, Eli. When her estranged mother dies, Tilda returns to Brighton and the home she loved best. With the help of the still-dazzling Queenie, she sets about unraveling the mystery of her exile from The Paradise Hotel, only to discover that her mother was not the woman she thought she knew at all…and that it’s never too late to write your own happy ending.

With Ruth Hogan’s trademark quirky, clever, and life-affirming characters, Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel will dazzle readers and mesmerize them until they reach the surprising twist at the end.

I adored Ruth Hogan’s Keeper of Lost Things so was excited to crack open this new story. The description promised colorful, unconventional characters and plenty of past heartbreak and adult angst. I was not disappointed.

Hogan does a masterful job of communicating how differently people perceive the same actions and situations. The different memories of the past experienced by Tilly and her mother paint a picture of two people so far apart in how they perceive things that they essentially ruin each others lives. The reconciliation that Tilly experiences through her mother’s diaries after her death is heartbreaking, real, and ultimately beautiful.

Tilly’s relationships with the real and the unreal can be confusing at times, but ultimately come together to form a unique and special narrative.

And there has never been a better ending sentence. Read this book.

Publication Date: April 14, 2020
Published By: William Morrow
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card


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A transporting debut novel that reveals the ways in which a Jamaican family forms and fractures over generations, in the tradition of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

Stanford Solomon has a shocking, thirty-year-old secret. And it’s about to change the lives of everyone around him. Stanford Solomon is actually Abel Paisley, a man who faked his own death and stole the identity of his best friend.

And now, nearing the end of his life, Stanford is about to meet his firstborn daughter, Irene Paisley, a home health aide who has unwittingly shown up for her first day of work to tend to the father she thought was dead.

These Ghosts Are Family revolves around the consequences of Abel’s decision and tells the story of the Paisley family from colonial Jamaica to present day Harlem. There is Vera, whose widowhood forced her into the role of single mother. There are two daughters and a granddaughter who have never known they are related. And there are others, like the house boy who loved Vera, whose lives might have taken different courses if not for Abel Paisley’s actions.

These Ghosts Are Family explores the ways each character wrestles with their ghosts and struggles to forge independent identities outside of the family and their trauma. The result is an engrossing portrait of a family and individuals caught in the sweep of history, slavery, migration, and the more personal dramas of infidelity, lost love, and regret. This electric and luminous family saga announces the arrival of a new American talent.

A man steals another man’s identity and lives a whole new life over decades. What happens to his first family and how do his actions shape their lives? Maisy Card’s debut novel is bursting with the stories of all the people touched by Abel Paisley’s split second decision to become Solomon Stanford. She skillfully weaves all the stories together and lets the lives of so many bleed out on to the pages. You won’t like all the characters, but you will be drawn into their stories nonetheless.

Stories like this always make me think about the decisions we make and how they affect others. There are so many paths we could all walk down throughout our lives – whose path did we affect and what did it mean? Card doesn’t pull punches. There are some ugly things in this books, but the characters feel real and raw so that you can’t help but feel their pain, sorrow, and joy.

This will be one of the best of 2020. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Published By: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez


cover175515-mediumThe first adult novel in almost fifteen years by the internationally bestselling author of In the Time of the Butterflies and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents

Antonia Vega, the immigrant writer at the center of Afterlife, has had the rug pulled out from under her. She has just retired from the college where she taught English when her beloved husband, Sam, suddenly dies. And then more jolts: her bighearted but unstable sister disappears, and Antonia returns home one evening to find a pregnant, undocumented teenager on her doorstep. Antonia has always sought direction in the literature she loves—lines from her favorite authors play in her head like a soundtrack—but now she finds that the world demands more of her than words.

Afterlife is a compact, nimble, and sharply droll novel. Set in this political moment of tribalism and distrust, it asks: What do we owe those in crisis in our families, including—maybe especially—members of our human family? How do we live in a broken world without losing faith in one another or ourselves? And how do we stay true to those glorious souls we have lost?

I finished this beautiful book several days ago and it continues to call to me. I keep dipping back into it to re-read passages. Some might dismiss this as taking advantage of the current political issues around immigration and human rights, and to those skeptics I say f*** you. This is a haunting, beautifully written story about life after tremendous loss, what it means to be human, and to recognize and celebrate humanity wherever you find it. Here, it’s a pregnant, undocumented girl who is more than a statistic. She is a real person who needs help and who, in turn, helps Antonia find a new path.

This should be popular with book clubs and community reading programs.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Published By: Algonquin Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

What the Neighbors Read – 2019


Lists of “Best Books of 2019” are everywhere right now, so I thought I’d bring back one of my most-read posts from last year – top 10 lists of what people borrowed from the Monroe County Library System. All of this information was separated from personally identifiable information before it was shared with me.

The most borrowed book across all formats? Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens!

Top 10 Most Borrowed Adult Print Books

Top 10 Most Borrowed DVDs

 

Top 10 Most Borrowed E-Books

 

Top 10 Most Borrowed E-Audiobooks

Another “Best Books of the Decade” Post


books6Reflection is always a good thing. It helps you understand where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and where you’re going.

Looking back at a decade of reading, one thing was clear to me – if left to my own devices, I read very narrowly in just a few genres (children’s fiction, cookbooks, history, and mystery/suspense). When I assembled the list below of my “Best Books of the Decade,” I realized that many of these titles were sent my way by other people; they were *not* titles that I picked up on my own. This shows the power of being part of a reading community where you expose yourself to books you might otherwise never find.

There are many types of reading communities – book clubs where you gather with a group to discuss a particular book; online communities like Litsy, Goodreads, and LibraryThing; Book of the Month where you subscribe and receive a new set of books each month; and my favorite – your local library, where you can usually find someone who will happily discuss and recommend books.

Here are the books that resonated with me over the last 10 years. Perhaps you’ll find something interesting!

2010
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Haunted Ground by Erin Hart
Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth

2011
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe (and here’s a music video inspired by the book by the Tuatha Dea)

2012
Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman

2013
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Something Red by Douglas Nicholas
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

2014
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Jackaby by William Ritter

2015
Call the Nurse by Mary MacLeod
Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

2016
Little French Bistro by Nina George
Swiss Vendetta by Tracee deHahn

2017
Goblins of Bell Water by Molly Ringle
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivy
Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

2018
The Darkling Bride by Laura Anderson
The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie
Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Circe by Madeline Miller
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Florida by Lauren Groff
Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

2019
Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
Cursed by Thomas Wheeler
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Inland by Tea Obrecht

My intent for the next few years is to read more widely – more non-fiction and more world authors.

 

A Decade of Reading


go awayThe end of a decade is a natural time to reflect on many things. Over the next few weeks, I am certain the internet will be flooded with “Best Of” posts on topics ranging from music to film to TV to books. I’ll be sharing a few posts here about some of the things I read and some of the authors and characters I discovered in the decade past.

At this time 10 years ago, I was preparing for an ambitious reading project. 2010 was the 100th anniversary of the founding of my employer, the Rochester (NY) Public Library. I spent the year reading 100 books representing each year the library had existed. I drew titles from best-seller lists from 1910-2010 and sourced the books from local library collections and online repositories. Some were wonderful:

Some had lost their luster to time and fell flat:

Others were just plain fun to read:

What I found most surprising were the number of books that had been best-sellers in their time but which were wholly unknown to me and to many of the librarians who helped me find copies. That certainly made me wonder how well some of our current best-sellers will age. Will Danielle Steel, James Patterson, and Malcolm Gladwell be footnotes in literary history?

If you’re interested in seeing the best-seller lists I used, take a peek here. I gave up on writing reviews of each book – I just didn’t have the time – but you can see my posts on the project by browsing the category 100 Books. 100 Years in the column to the right.

My reading goal for 2020 is to read more widely – more non-fiction, more books by non-white authors, more books by authors from countries other than the U.S.

What are your reading goals for the new decade?

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson


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From the Publisher: An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

There are few writers who can tell the real, deep story of a family as beautifully as Jacqueline Woodson. Here, she takes a seemingly simple story of 16 year old Melody and her “coming of age” ceremony and uses it to reveal the passion, desire, betrayal, trauma, and love that led to the moment she descends the stairs of her grandparents home to the instrumental music of Prince.

Woodson exposes family history with a scalpel – lifting up a flap of skin to reveal the bloody but strong sinew underneath which tethers a family together. She does not shy away from hard things like racism, violence, sex, and lost opportunities but uses those common experiences across generations to demonstrate how damn hard it is to keep your children from repeating your own stories.

Give this book to every teen you know.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Penguin
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg


palacesA few months ago, sociologist Eric Klinenberg wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times called “To Restore Civil Society, Start with the Library” and subsequently published the book Palaces for the People which describes his work around the concept of social infrastructure.

News of both publications immediately started flowing into my email box and social media feeds. The concept of public libraries as social infrastructure captured the attention of many people. As I read Klinenberg’s book, I recognized many of the concepts library leaders have for decades struggled to communicate to funders and stakeholders. Libraries aren’t always thought of as “essential services” when municipalities are facing difficult budget years, so having a different way of describing what libraries do as “infrastructure” is very valuable.

Klinenberg defines social infrastructure as “physical conditions that determine whether social capital develops and whether human relationships and connections are formed.” Simply put, it refers to places or things that bring people together, that help create a community. Libraries are an example. What happens when people gather in these places? People who are very different from each other come together and become part of a community. They very likely have differing political and religious views, support different sports teams, watch different television shows, or read different kinds of book. The *place* brings them together.

In his book, Klinenberg primarily gives examples of how people benefit from the social infrastructure created in certain places. He talks a lot about neighborhoods and opens Palaces for the People with a data story he collected on a deadly heatwave in Chicago. More people died during that event in neighborhoods he describes as “forgotten.” These are neighborhoods where there is little to no interaction among the people who live there and where neighbors don’t know each other because there are no places for them to gather. There were no relationships bolstered by community spaces so no one checked on each other to make sure people were okay during the heatwave.

He writes: “When hard infrastructure fails…it’s the softer social infrastructure that determines our fate.”

Klinenberg singles out public libraries as the ultimate example of social infrastructure that works. He provides example after example of how people connect at libraries. One woman he interviewed described the library as a “place of permission” where you can follow your own interests and not be pushed in a certain direction. Libraries are a place that is judgement free, where you can explore whatever interests you.

Libraries in Monroe County have a long and rich history, and most of our mayors and town supervisors and other entities responsible for funding our libraries understand the role libraries play in community and are committed to keeping our doors open.

Years ago, when I worked at the Ogden Library in Spencerport, I was doing some research for a book. I learned that when the Town of Ogden was founded in 1815, the first three institutions created were a church, a school, and a library.

Imagine that group of pioneers, who had literally cut their way west from Connecticut and Massachusetts through untamed wilderness, arriving in Ogden, building their homes, then setting about creating a community. I think it says a lot about those pioneers that they created a library in the middle of the wilderness. They knew that a library would provide something valuable and necessary in their new community.

Today, public libraries all over the world are providing social infrastructure for their communities. In Monroe County, there are dozens of examples of the library creating and enabling communities to form.

People who live in Rochester’s 19th Ward point to the Arnett Branch as an anchor in their community. The library provides a safe space for children to gather after school where they are supervised, fed, and given homework assistance until picked up by their parents after work is done for the day. Adults can apply for jobs, or participate in a writing group. Teens learn about college and work opportunities. All ages come to play. A local artist, Richmond Futch, has created beautiful murals on the exterior of the library, which only reinforces the role of the library as a community anchor and has made the library a selfie destination.

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The Phillis Wheatley Community Library is located at the corner of Ford Street and Dr. Samuel McCree Way in Rochester. In 2017, a community project called the Storywalk was completed there, where children and families created a story that is told through kiosks alongside the building and enhanced by gorgeous sidewalk murals that were painted by community members. This project brought dozens of people together and gave them ownership of the library. The people who live nearby consider library staff as family and the library as home. Recently, I was present at Wheatley when there was a shooting outside and several bullets hit the windows of the library. The library was locked down by police with no one in or out. Once the doors opened again, I was astonished and deeply moved by the crowd of neighbors who rushed in and enveloped staff members in hugs, making sure they were okay. The library staff and neighbors are like family.

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The Monroe Branch recently started a new service that relies on the kindness of strangers. They took an empty book cart and put some canned food and couple loaves of bread on it with a sign that reads “Take what you need. Leave what you want.” It is available for anyone who is in need and gives community members an opportunity to give to those who are in need. This is the result of staff noticing an increase in the number of homeless and hungry people taking shelter in the library.

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Perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of social infrastructure when it is applied to libraries is that library space requires people to confront radical differences in a shared space. Nowhere is that most evident than at the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County. At Central you are guaranteed to run into to someone who is vastly different from you. A person might be homeless, or of a different ethnicity, or transgender, someone with mental health issues, lawyers, doctors, techies, business people, young mothers, teens, grandparents, and so on.

Everyone is welcome there, and we attempt to provide the right service at the right time to the right person. When Midtown closed in 2008, the Central Library became the only public place downtown with clean restrooms, and where it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. That meant we had a great influx of homeless and transient people who no longer had Midtown as a hangout. Instead of viewing these newcomers as a problem, we adapted our services to help them. We created Health Central on the 3rd floor where people who need help can get connected to healthcare, housing, and legal assistance. We have Nurse Barb on duty a couple days a week. She’s a retired nurse who volunteers her time to take vitals and counsel people on their health needs. Central is also now a regular stop for mobile health services providing dental care and mammograms.

I am sometimes confronted with people who resent the inclusiveness at Central and see it as threatening. I have had librarians from suburban libraries say they will never attend another training session at Central because it’s too dangerous. I’ve had an older gentleman tell me he doesn’t understand why we allow “young thugs” in the library, and have had people voice objections about sharing space with the homeless. These reactions are based in fear of the unknown, and sometimes people are willing to learn, sometimes not. The people who are comfortable with the stew of visitors to Central outnumber those who are afraid, as seen in our annual attendance numbers, which top 600,000 visits. More visits than all our sports stadiums, more than Strong Museum, more than the Zoo.

How does all this fit with the concept of social infrastructure?

Libraries are adapting services in response to community needs and activities. We are creating community. Most libraries do that very deliberately, but libraries have also shown up during times of crisis.

When Superstorm Sandy hit the downstate region, the NYC boroughs were devastated. In Queens, many libraries were flooded, and some destroyed. Within days of the storm, Queens librarians had opened libraries and became disaster centers in their neighborhoods, handing out food & clothing, providing electricity for people to charge phones, and doing storytimes in makeshift encampments to entertain weary and bored children.

When riots erupted in Ferguson and Baltimore, libraries stayed open and provided safe spaces for neighbors afraid for their lives. And then those libraries turned around and started discussions on race and healing, providing a safe space for people to have hard conversations.

Libraries provide valuable social infrastructure in a community, not only by the things they provide, but by the experiences offered and the people who offer them. When the Rochester Public Library conducted a study of branch facilities and services last year, the overwhelming response from community members when asked what they liked the most about their library was….STAFF. Our staff are our lifeblood. It is through them that community is created.

Visiting a library will remind you that there are different people with different ideas out there, and that is not a bad thing. Libraries allow communities to form and reform organically. New parents connect at baby storytimes, people looking for work help each other out, kids come together to learn about any number of things. Adults come together to discuss books, for craft classes, or to build with legos and end up forming new friendships that extend outside the library.

There is emerging research on the alienating effect of the internet on human behavior. Anyone who is on any social media platform has probably experienced a “troll” – someone who deliberately says nasty things to elicit a negative response. The relative anonymity of online communication has provided an outlet for the worst in us. It’s easy to say something hurtful when you don’t have to look someone in the eye. I see people looking for alternatives, and they are looking back into their communities for opportunities to connect in real life with other people. What better place to do that than the public library?

Social infrastructure – real community – provides an alternative to that kind of negativity. Klinenberg ends his books with this: “We need smart civil engineering to fix the critical networks that are failing, but we also need to engineer civility in societies that are at risk of breaking apart.” Libraries can provide a conduit for growing that civility.

Author Spotlight – Kate Morton


mortonDo you like secrets? Author Kate Morton is a master at telling tales that revolve around secrets. I found my way to Morton’s work with her second novel, The Forgotten Garden, which is one of those books that just transfixes you and everything else fades to gray while you read. After that, I went back and read her debut, The House at Riverton, and was just as enthralled; that experience has been repeated with each new book she’s published. Morton is set to publish her sixth book this year – September/October in Australia & New Zealand, and October in the U.S. I just got my hands on an advanced reading copy of that new book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, and thought I’d share my fondness for the author here.

On her website, Morton writes:

“I started writing because I wanted to recapture the joy of reading as a child. As soon as I learned that the black marks on white pages were doorways, and that it was within my power to go through them (and the back of a wardrobe) whenever I chose to, I was hooked. I read everything that I could get my hands on and could usually be found hiding in the bough of one of the avocado trees in our garden, book in hand. I’m still chasing that feeling of complete immersion, which makes the real world disappear.”

It seems Morton’s reading experiences as a child have informed her writing as an adult, given the addictive nature of her books. Storytelling is an art, and Kate Morton’s work is a masterful example of the art form at its best. Much of her work reminds me, in its basest form, of the Gothic novels I read when I was a child – Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, for example – but Morton has taken the form to a new level. Her stories are typically told across time and in multiple voices, with meticulously researched history, and memorable character development. I encourage you to add one of Morton’s books to your summer reading list.

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The House at Riverton – Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy this debut novel set in England after the First World War. The “war to end all wars” signaled a major change in the lives of England’s aristocracy, and Morton chronicles the trials and tribulations of one family buffeted and bound by secrets, tragedy, and misunderstanding.

 

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The Forgotten Garden – The first Morton book that hooked me on the author. A young woman comes into an unexpected and shocking inheritance from her beloved grandmother, and travels across the world to discover long-buried secrets that will change her life forever.

 

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The Distant Hours – A compelling story featuring a decaying manor in the English countryside, the trio of odd sisters who live there, and (of course) secrets from the past better left buried. This includes a fascinating look into the era when children were sent to the country from London to keep them safe from bombings during World War II.

 

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The Secret Keeper
– A young girl witness an unexplained act of violence involving her mother, which becomes a distant memory as she grows up. As an adult, that memory begins to haunt her as the family celebrates her mother’s 90th birthday.

 

 
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The Lake House
– Heartbreak and tragedy destroy a family in the early 1930s, then 70 years later, a burned out police inspector on a forced holiday picks up on a cold case and re-opens old wounds.

 

 

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The Clockmaker’s Daughter
– Scheduled for publication in the U.S. in October 2018. Murder, intrigue, art, tragedy – all these things coalesce during a heady summer in 1862, observed by the clockmaker’s daughter, whose voice carries over the decades to be heard once again by an archivist.