Let me just start this post by saying this is not the sort of novel I usually read. It is a feel good novel and some might say perhaps a little too tied together.  However, there is something special about this story and its characters and I am glad I read it.  You should read it too!  Ok, now on to the book!

“Remarkably Bright Creatures” is a novel about hope from the perspective of a Giant Pacific  Octopus named Marcellus.  And yes, also from the perspective of some people.  Marcellus is living in an aquarium in the fictional town of Sowell Bay in the Pacific Northwest.  The novel begins with Marcellus’s thoughts on “Day 1,299 of My Captivity.”  “Each evening, I await the click of the overhead lights, leaving only the glow from the main tank.  Not perfect, but close enough.  Almost-darkness, like the middle bottom of the sea.  I lived there before I was captured and imprisoned.”  Marcellus believes he is a prisoner and because his life span is only 4 years (at most only 160 days remain), he is trying to make a difference.

Tova Sullivan, a 70 year old recent widow, is the evening cleaning person at the aquarium.  One evening she discovers that Marcellus has escaped from his tank and she saves him.  They develop a unique relationship. 

Tova is grieving the loss of her husband Will.  In addition, Tova’s son, Erik, disappeared before his 18th birthday, almost 31 years earlier, and Tova is still grieving. Is it possible that Marcellus knows something about Erik’s disappearance?

Tova has a group of friends that call themselves the Knit-Wits.  The group had started with seven friends but is slowly decreasing due to the vagaries of old age.  The Knit Wits annoy Tova and yet she is begrudgingly dependent on them.  She begins to consider whether she should move into a senior community.

In the meantime, meet Cameron Cassmore.  Cameron is a ne’er-do-well thirty something who cannot hold a job or maintain a relationship.  His mother abandoned him with his Aunt Jeanne when he was nine years old and he has never known his father.  He is obsessed with finding both.  After he loses yet another job his girlfriend throws him out and he finds himself basically homeless.  He stays with friends (very good friends) while deciding what to do.  In a box of mementos that his aunt has provided, he finds a picture of his mother with Simon Brinks, a wealthy real estate mogul in the Pacific Northwest. He also finds a class ring from Sowell Bay.  He reaches the obvious conclusion that Simon Brinks is his father and he decides to go to Sowell Bay to find him.

Cameron ends up working at the aquarium and meeting Tova.  Things develop from there.

The novel is filled with family intrigue, romantic relationships, grief, confusion and ultimately love, friendship and satisfaction.  Marcellus is the vehicle through which everything moves forward.  The book has a happy ending and is as much about hope and the inherent goodness of all creatures as much as anything else.  In these difficult times, believing in that  inherent goodness can only help get us through.  You can reserve this novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on https://discover.cuyahogalibrary.org/Record/183105

This Other Eden is a work of historical fiction based on the story of Malaga Island from the mid-1800s to 1912.

This Other Eden begins when Benjamin Honey, a former slave, shows up on an uninhabited Island with  “his wife, Patience, nee Raferty, a Galway girl, in 1793.”  The island was “hardly three hundred feet across a channel from the mainland, just under 42 acres, twelve hundred feet across. East to west, and fifteen hundred feet long, north to south…”  Benjamin brought with him various apple seeds, all of which failed to grow, and a determination to create a life on the island.  The island became known as Apple Island.

The story then moves to 1911 focused on the Honey descendants and other residents of the island.  Esther Honey is the great granddaughter of Benjamin and lives with her son, Eha and her grandchildren Charlotte (age 8), Tabitha (age 10) and Ethan (age 15).  There are also two other families on the island, the Larks and the McDermotts, as well as Annie Parker, “who lived alone, and Zachary Hand to G-d Proverb, who lived by himself, too, mostly inside a hollow tree…”  There were three dogs on the island too.

The families seem happy in their situations.  The Larks, most likely brother and sister as well as husband and wife, have four living children with various issues.  The McDermott sisters are raising Norma, Emily and Scotty Sockalexis.  Their mother, Cheryl Sockalexis, claimed that her brother was Louis Sockalexis , a professional baseball player with the Cleveland Spiders.  Cheryl left the children with the McDermott sisters.

The families are eccentric but happy and Esther has a secret about Eha’s father, which she carries with her. 

Every June Matthew Diamond, a missionary,  would arrive at his summer home on the mainland directly across from Apple Island. Diamond takes a boat from the mainland to the island, where he  brings the islanders certain necessities and teaches the children in a small schoolhouse.  Esther does not like or trust Diamond,   “She believed…that no good ever came of being noticed by the mainlanders…The more good he tries to do, the more outside attention he‘ll bring, and that’s no good.  No good at all.”

Soon enough, representatives of the state show up on Apple Island, along with doctors forcibly running tests on the islanders.  Diamond knows trouble is coming and arranges for Ethan, a promising artist, to move to Massachusetts and live on a large property prior to going to art school.  While living on the property in Massachusetts, Ethan befriends the house maid and you can imagine the rest.

Ultimately, the state evicts all of the residents and forces some of them into institutions…the same conclusion for Malaga Island.

Paul Harding is an excellent writer.  The book is short, beautifully written and focuses on the unintended consequences of imposing one set of values on people who live by a different, harmless set of values.  The novel was short listed for the 2023 National Book Award (Blackout by Jason Torres won) and the 2023 Booker Prize (won by Paul Lunch’s Prophet Song).  You can reserve this novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on https://discover.cuyahogalibrary.org/Record/199603

“The postman had just dumped the mail on the ground at the foot of the mailbox.  My mother went to collect it…She flipped through the stack of envelopes…All very typical for early January.  Except for the postcard. ..What caught my mother’s attention right away was the handwriting, strange and awkward…Then she read the four names, written in the form of a list.

Ephraim

Emma

Noemie

Jacques

They were the names of her maternal grandparents, her aunt, and her uncle.  All four had been deported two years before she was born.  They died in Auschwitz in 1942.  And now, sixty-one years later, they had reappeared in our mailbox.  It was Monday, January 6, 2003.”

If this beginning of the novel “The Postcard” does not grab you,  I do not know what will. The novel is semiautobiographical and is the story of the Rabinovitch family, beginning in Moscow in 1918, led by Nachman and Esther Rabinovitch. In the year 1919, Nachman announces that is time for all of the family members to leave Moscow due to growing threats of antisemitism. Son Ephraim is relatively secular, although his wife Emma is observant, and refuses to acknowledge the threat. Nachman, Esther and one daughter go to Palestine and the rest of the family leaves for other places. Ephraim and Emma start out in Latvia, but then decide to go to Palestine due to the antisemitism they experience. Palestine is a little too undeveloped for them and ultimately they land in Paris and then to Les Forges in the countryside.

Ephraim refuses to acknowledge the dangers to them in France. He believes that they are exempt. In the meantime, his oldest daughter, Myriam, falls in love with Vincente Picabia, an uneducated, rather bohemian Parisian, and they marry. Vencente is not Jewish. When the Vichy officers come for the Rabinovitch children in Les Forges, Myriam is hidden and escapes. Her brother, Jacques, and sister, Noemie ultimately land and die in Auschwitz, as do her parents.  Their route to the end of their lives is heartbreaking.

Myriam survives through the help of her husband’s family and friends, who are with the French resistance.

The novel’s narrator, Anne, is learning this family history as a result of the postcard. Anne’s mother, Lelia, daughter of Myriam, is a journalist and writer and has been making archives of the family history. Anne did not know any of the story until the postcard showed up in 2003.

Anne and her mother go in search of the family’s past and the creator of the postcard. What they find is frequently chilling, including property owned by their family and remnants of the Nazi and Vichy perspective. The search includes Anne better understanding her mother, as the child of a survivor, and Anne’s clarity regarding her Jewish history and identity.

“I was Jewish but didn’t look it. Sarah [Anne’s friend] looked Jewish but wasn’t according to the texts. We’d laughed about it. It was all so silly. Ridiculous. And yet it affected both our lives deeply. As the years passed, the issue remained complex, intangible, incomparable to anything else…Nothing else had ever characterized me as strongly in the eyes of the men I’d loved…My Jewishness always mattered in some way; it was never insignificant.”

 The novel is part holocaust story, with a very personal and uniquely French perspective, part mystery and part examination of Jewish identity. Anne explains that although she knew she was Jewish, she had never received a Jewish education, celebrated Jewish holidays or been in a synagogue. And yet, the specter of modern day antisemitism arrives at her door when her six year old daughter, 16 years after the postcard arrived, tells her that “They do not like Jews very much at school.”

“The Postcard” was published in France in 2021 to great acclaim and translated and released in the United States in 2023. The novel is insightful, horrifying and unforgettable. In light of what is going on around the world right now, the novel reminds us of the importance of history and the importance of recommitting to Never Again! You can reserve The Postcard at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on https://discover.cuyahogalibrary.org/Record/207061

“Be Mine” is a novel about finding contentment with age and dealing with loss. Richard Ford is one of my favorite authors, and his ability to address the struggles of life in a matter of fact and sometimes amusing way is on display in this sometimes uncomfortable and yet reassuring novel.

The novel begins with a chapter entitled “Happiness”. “Lately, I’ve begun to think about happiness…To be happy—before the gray curtain comes down. Or at least to consider why you’re not, if you’re not. And whether it’s worth the bother to worry about…It is worth worrying about—although I’m certain of little else…But to go out the door…and not bother with being happy is to give life less than its full due. Which after all is what we’re here for…Or am I wrong?”

Frank Bascombe, the semi-retired real estate agent and prior sports writer, at age 74, is struggling with these questions. And his struggle comes in the form of caring for his 37 year old son, Paul, recently diagnosed with ALS. Paul and Frank have traveled to Minnesota, from Haddam, New Jersey, so that Paul can receive experimental treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

Paul is a unique character and his relationship with his father feels tortured and yet genuine and heartfelt. “For all of life, our father-son discourse has been encoded and elliptical—sustained, on-topic converse being simply not our way. Sometimes to the point of silence.”

Frank also has a daughter, Clarissa, who lives in Scottsdale and runs a boarding and grooming kennel. She does not think much of her father and their relationship is fraught. “My daughter can churn up deranging effects in me. I don’t much like her, if truth were told.” Clarissa does not approve of Frank’s efforts to take care of Paul and thinks that Paul should stay with her and her wife in Scottsdale.

While Paul is receiving treatments at the Mayo Clinic, Frank busies himself with his care and with other entertainments, including the very young masseuse Betty. In the meantime, Frank is planning a RV trip with Paul to Mt Rushmore. He rents an out of date, unusable old camper attached to a Dodge 1500 with Florida plates, because this is what Paul chooses.

The last step in Paul’s care at the Mayo Clinic is an appreciation event. The descriptions of the Mayo Clinic, and the staff at the Mayo Clinic feel like something out of a futuristic dystopia. “Gonda Atrium is a lofty, buzzing, light-shot Scandinavian fishbowl…Over in front of the great window…a barbershop group of red-jacketed oldsters crooning “Edelweiss” and “Sunrise, Sunset”…Wide corridors lead unceasing foot traffic in all directions…”.

Ultimately Paul and Frank make it to Mt. Rushmore, and despite all the difficulties, the trip is a success. Throughout the novel, Frank is meeting new people and remembering the life he has led to this point. Ultimately, Frank and Paul do end up with Clarissa in Scottsdale and that is where Paul’s life ends. Frank concludes that “It isn’t life that’s well-nigh unfathomable and in need of amplification and more light…its death that’s the profound mystery and the real story.” The novel ends with a final chapter on Happiness. 

Although Frank Bascombe is trying to come to terms with aging, happiness and death, and he is trying to convince himself that he has done just that, I believe he has failed. That said, I believe he has come to terms with understanding that these are all things that he cannot exactly control and that for the short time we all have, we should continue to seek and hopefully find, if not happiness, contentment. Be Mine can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on https://discover.cuyahogalibrary.org/Record/202423

Tom Lake is a story of life’s winding roads, disappointments, and ultimate joys and beauty. “The past, were I to type it up, would look like a disaster, but regardless of how it ended we all had many good days. In that sense, the past is much like the present because the present — this unparalleled disaster — is the happiest time of my life.”

Lara and her husband Joe are in their late 50s and live and run an orchard in Michigan. Their three daughters, Emily, Nell and Maisie are living with them because of the pandemic. Emily, the eldest, lives in a separate house on the orchard and intends to take over the orchard when the time is right. Maisie is training to be a veterinarian and Nell wants to be an actress. The pandemic has put everything on hold.

Emily, Maisie and Nell are very interested in the course of Lara’s life and the novel is Lara’s reminiscence of her past and how she ended up married to Joe and living on an orchard — some of which she tells her daughters and some of the story she withholds, but tells us!

The story begins when Lara (previously known as Laura — a tidbit her daughters just learned), was in high school and volunteering to check people in for tryouts for “Our Town.” She ends up auditioning and getting the role of Emily, which she performs to perfection.

After high school, Lara is admitted to both Dartmouth and University of Pennsylvania (neither of which she could afford), but she attends the University of New Hampshire. She did not do any acting until her junior year, when she again plays Emily in “Our Town”, where she is “discovered” by Bill Ripley. Ultimately, she goes to Los Angeles where she is cast in a movie. The release of the movie is continuously delayed.

She moves to New York where she struggles and finds herself at Tom Lake, a summer theatre in Michigan, where she is given a dormitory type room and the role of Emily in “Our Town.” “…this unremarkable room with the remarkable view in Middle-of-Nowhere, Michigan, was everything that had ever been written about freedom and possibility.” At Tom Lake, Lara meets and falls in love with another actor in the play, Peter Duke, a handsome, extremely talented, wild man.

Lara tells her daughters the detailed story of her acting experience, her relationship with Duke and how, through a variety of mishaps and perceived limited talent, she gives up her career as an actress. Interestingly, the film she made earlier in Los Angeles is ultimately released to acclaim. Duke becomes a famous actor and Lara’s daughter, Emily is obsessed with him throughout her childhood.

We also learn a lot about Lara by the stories she chooses to withhold from her daughters. In addition to Lara telling the twists and turns of her life, we learn about her daughters and their lives. Joe’s story, along with Duke’s story and the story of Duke’s brother, are left to the end.

The book is simply wonderful and life affirming, told in Ann Patchett’s deceptively simple style with subtle humor along the way. The novel describes life’s unexpected twists and disappointments, while at the same time affirming its ultimate joy and preciousness, without in any way being saccharin or preachy.

“There is no explaining this simple truth about life: you will forget much of it. The painful things you were certain you’d never be able to let go? Now you’re not entirely sure when they happened, while the thrilling parts, the heart-stopping joys and larger sorrows, and unbelievably, those things get knocked aside as well, until one morning you’re picking cherries with your three grown daughters and your husband goes by on the Gator and you are positive that this is all you’ve ever wanted in the world.”

I love Ann Patchett. Every novel is different but her perspective on life is positive in the face of all the negative day to day existence has in store. Read this novel! Tom Lake can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

“I Have Some Questions For You” is a complex story about the murder of a teenager (Thalia) at a seemingly high end boarding school in 1995. The story is being told 23 years later by Bodie Kane, a graduate of the Boarding School and a roommate of the murdered student.

There is a lot going on in the book. Bodie is now 40 years old, has two children and is separated from her husband. She lives in one part of a duplex and her husband, Jerome, lives in the other half. This living arrangement allows them to share child responsibilities. Jerome is a well-known and successful artist.

Bodie has a tragic family history, having lost both her father and her brother at a young age and ultimately her mother as well. She was raised by a kind Mormon family in Indiana who arranged to send her to the boarding school in New Hampshire, known as Granby. Bodie spent her time at Granby feeling out of place, uncomfortable and inferior. She believed that all of the other students were wealthy and entitled. The extent of her history is disclosed throughout the novel.

Bodie has become a relatively famous podcaster and her friend Fran, who now teaches at Granby, arranges for her to teach a two week seminar on podcasting and film studies at the school. “My podcast at the time was Starlet Fever, a serial history of women in film—the ways the industry chewed them up and spat them out.”

Bodie is obsessed with Thalia’s murder. The school’s athletic trainer, Omar Evans, the only African American at the school, was ultimately convicted of the murder and sent to prison. Bodie is convinced that he is innocent.

Thalia had been very beautiful and had a boyfriend in her class, Robbie. But unknown to almost anyone, Thalia was also having an intimate relationship with one of the teachers, Denny Bloch. The novel is Bodie’s letter to Denny Bloch, explaining all the harm he has caused. Bodie is convinced that Denny Bloch killed Thalia.

The students in her podcasting class decide to take another look at the murder. As a result, a legal rights group gets involved and tries to get Omar a new trial. A number of Bodie’s classmates are called to testify and there are some very interesting interactions among old classmates, where they learn things about each other they did not previously know.

In the meantime, Jerome (Bodie’s husband) has been accused of sexual misconduct based on a relationship he had many years ago with a 21 year old college student when he was 30 years old. Bodie cannot accept the inequity of her husband being accused of improprieties for an adult consensual relationship when Denny Bloch was preying on young girls who were his students. “It was like seeing someone hanged for stealing gum when down the street someone else was robbing a bank.”

The novel touches on society’s differing expectations of women and men, privilege, the MeToo movement, race, wealth and class, the judicial system and a lot of other timely issues. The novel starts out slow but the reader’s patience is rewarded with an interesting story and a lot of things to think about. Rebecca Makkai is definitely an author to watch.

“I Have Some Questions For You” can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

The Rabbit Hutch is the story of lives gone awry in the depressed town of Vacca Vale, Indiana. In the past, the town had been completely dependent on Zorn Automobiles. “For decades, Zorn Automobiles was a miracle, a heartbeat, an empire…” And then the factories closed. “After 1963, Zorn, a superhero in previous generations—became the Vacca Vale bogeyman.” Zorn left behind environmental issues, empty buildings and despair.

The novel begins with an incident in one of the apartments in La Lapiniere Affordable Housing Complex, also known as The Rabbit Hutch. Specifically, 18 year old “Blandine Watkins exits her body.” The exit is loud and other tenants in the building hear her screams.

The novel then introduces us to some of the other tenants, one of whom is Joan Kowalski. Joan, 40 years old, works at Restinpeace.com, where she scans comments to obituaries and removes anything negative about the deceased. Joan is responsible for reviewing the obituary for a child television star named Elise Blitz, who has died at age 86. Ms. Blitz had been a child star in a television series called Meet the Neighbors, where she played “Susie Evans, a trouble loving spit-fire at the center of the series.” Ms. Blitz wrote her own, slightly embellished obituary. Ms. Blitz left behind a neglected and rather disturbed adult son, Moses Robert Blitz. Moses leaves an unpleasant message on his mother’s obituary and after some emails with him, Joan allows the comment to remain. Joan is disciplined by her boss for this and the comment is removed.

Blandine (f/k/a Tiffany) is a foster child of immense intellect and talent. She is given a scholarship to go to the town’s one and only private school, where she feels like an outcast but she thrives academically. One of her teachers, James, a music teacher, takes an interest in her and sparks fly. He asks her to babysit for his children and she discovers he is wealthy and lives in a mansion. “The house is inconveniently magnificent.” His wife comes from “Zorn money.” When the relationship between James and Blandine progresses, James feels regret and distances himself. Blandine’s reaction is to drop out of school.

In the meantime, Blandine’s three male, 19 year old roommates are sacrificing animals at frighteningly accelerating rates. When Blandine brings home a goat, there is trouble. We learn the story of the animal sacrifices, the goat and Blandine’s exit from her body from one of the 19 year old roommates, who is telling his story to the police.

Moses Blitz, 53 years old, writes a mental health blog, which is quite ironic since he has what appears to be serious mental health issues. Moses is quite bitter about his mother and is also bitter towards Joan for removing his comment on his mother’s obituary. Moses, who lives in California, decides to travel to Vacca Vale to teach Joan a rather bizarre lesson. While in the process, he discovers what is going on in Blandine’s apartment.

Throughout the novel the possibility of community development looms and Blandine grows increasingly agitated at the prospect. She also carries a book, “She Mystics: An Anthology” with her everywhere she goes and is obsessed with the mystics. The other tenants in the Rabbit Hutch are a side story in the novel, but the focus is on Blandine and Moses.

The novel is sort of dark and disturbing, with humorous moments and a hopeful ending. This novel is not for everyone, but it is well written and unlike just about anything else. It also won the 2022 National Book Award for fiction. The Rabbit Hutch can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

“Shrines of Gaiety” is a raucous, action packed novel about a matriarch led family that owns numerous, very profitable nightclubs. The story takes place during a short period of time in 1926, after World War I, and begins when the matriarch, Nellie Coker, is being released from prison.

Nellie has six children who are more or less somehow involved in the nightclub business. Edith, the oldest daughter, is the child Nellie trusts the most with the business. Nevin, the oldest son has been in the war, is extremely principled and seems to have little interest in the nightclubs. Shirley and Betty each run a club and have been highly educated in the hopes they each will find a husband who is a member of the landed gentry. “To Nellie, money without a title was almost as bad as a title without money.” Ramsay is a 21 year old drug addicted dreamer who wants to write a novel and is struggling with his sexual identity. Finally, Kitty is an 11 year old afterthought. Shirley, Betty, Edith and Ramsay each run a nightclub. No one nightclub is the same and each caters to a different class of patron. However, each nightclub has girls who are paid to dance with male patrons. London is in post war insanity during the period reflected in the novel.

After Nellie is released from prison it becomes clear that there are a number of people who want to either take her down or take over her fiefdom. First is the police officer Maddox, who Nellie has been paying for protection but who is seeking to take control of her empire. Next is Detective Chief Inspector John Frobisher, who is looking to close down the clubs due to illegal activities. Finally, there is a mysterious man named Azzopardi who seems to want to bring down the empire, but might it be something else?

Enter Gwendolen Kellig, formerly a part time librarian in York, who is rescued by Nevin but is “spying” for Frobisher. Gwendolen has come to London to search for her friend’s sister, Freda, and Freda’s friend, Florence. Freda and Florence have run away to London, where dead girls are being found in the Thames on almost a daily basis. Freda has run away seeking to be a star, after being attacked by her mother’s boyfriend. Freda’s sister had suggested that Freda could work in a library. “’The Library?’ Freda echoed, unable to keep the horror out of her voice. A library—the deathliest place on earth.”

All of the characters come together in the context of the nightclubs and the story has many twists and turns. Nellie’s character is based on the story of real life Kate Meyrick, who “was the queen of Soho’s clubland” during the same time period.

The novel is loads of fun and beautifully written. This is a definite do not miss! You can reserve the “Shrines of Gaiety” at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

“The Marriage Portrait” is a beautifully written piece of historical fiction revolving around the marriage of 13 year old (15 in the novel) Lucrezia di Cosimo de’Medici to Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara in 1560.

The novel begins with 16 year old Lucrezia and her husband, not quite a year into their marriage, traveling to the Duke’s hunting lodge. Lucrezia suddenly realizes why they are there. “This is the reason for their sudden journey to such a wild and lonely place. He has brought her here, to this stone fortress, to murder her.”

The novel then moves back and forth, chapter by chapter, from Lucrezia’s birth to the moment that brings her to the lonely lodge and her fear of what is about to happen there.

Lucrezia, the fifth child of Eleanora and Cosimo, was a wild child and for a time was banished to the servant’s quarters. Ultimately she is returned to the nursery to be raised by Sofia, along with her many brothers and sisters. Lucrezia’s life is one of privilege, living in a grand palazzo in Florence. Her father keeps a sort of menagerie in the basement and one day Lucrezia sees a tiger arrive. When their father takes some of the children, including Lucrezia to see the animals, Lucrezia, to the horror of the servants and her father, actually pets the tiger.

Through her studies in the Palazzo Lucrezia discovers that she has significant artistic talent. She spends as much time as she can painting all sort of creatures and ideas.

Her sister, Maria, is engaged to Duke Alfonso but before they are married she contracts a fever and dies. Alfonso tells the family he would like to marry Lucrezia. She is 12 years old at the time of this request and he is approximately 27. Lucrezia and Sofia scheme to delay the marriage, but ultimately they are married when Lucrezia is 15 years old. The two spend the first weeks of their marriage in a villa before moving to the palace where Alfonso runs state. It becomes clear that Alfonso is keen to produce an heir as soon as possible to cement his position. However, Lucrezia is warned that although he has been very active with other women, Alfonso has never produced an heir. It also becomes clear that Alfonso expects complete devotion from his wife. “’You are my wife and I scarcely need to remind you that your first and foremost duty must always be to me. No one else…’”

Alfonso is alternatingly kind and nasty with Lucrezia. One day while he is out and Lucrezia is wandering in the villa, she hears a noise and finds a man has fallen. She is able to revive him with honey and he is grateful. He is an apprentice to a famous artist who has been retained by Alfonso to paint Lucrezia’s marriage portrait. The process of creating the portrait is a significant part of the story.

Ultimately Lucrezia and Alfonso move to the family palace where Lucrezia becomes close to Alfonso’s older sister Elisabetta. Elisabetta is having a forbidden romance with Ercole Contrari, the head of the guardsmen in the palace. When Alfonso discovers the romance the extent of his cruelty is on display.

The story ends in the bleak hunting lodge where Lucrezia is certain that Alfonso is trying to kill her, in part because of her independent nature (which he deplores) and in part because she has not yet given him an heir. Even though I know how the story ends (it is historical fiction after all), I was still on pins and needles at the end. The novel is perfectly written and is a nerve wracking page turner! You can reserve this novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

“Lessons” is a story of a life, its influences, its twists and turns and all of the changes that occur with the passage of time. The novel is pure Ian McEwan.

Roland Baines is the product of a complicated family life. Roland has a half-sister, Susan and a half brother, Henry, children from his mother’s first marriage. His father, Captain Robert Baines, a stern military man, has a warm and a soft side. His mother, Rosalind, appears meek and fearful. But Rosalind has some secrets, which are slowly disclosed throughout the novel.

Roland’s parents both quit school at the age of 14. They wand better for Roland and send him to a boarding school when he is 11 years old. His father insisted that he take piano lessons and it turns out that Roland is an extremely talented pianist. His lessons begin with Miriam Cornell. Miss Cornell is inappropriate toward Roland and he avoids her for many years. But ultimately, an intimate relationship develops between them which has lasting consequences for Roland’s future.

When the reader first meets Roland, he and his infant son, Lawrence have been deserted by his wife, Alissa, and the police suspect foul play. Roland is their primary suspect. Roland, who at this point is, among other things, a poet, has written some poetry with the lines “She won’t go away. Just the wrong time, when I need calm. She must remain dead.” Of course this poem is not about Alissa—it is about Miriam.

Alissa’s family life is also complex. Her father, Heinrich, was a German student during World War II and distantly involved with an antiNazi group and her mother, Jane had been a journalist until she met Heinrich and married.

Alissa has left to pursue her dream of becoming a novelist and she does, in fact, become a great novelist. She believes that the only way to create great literature is to focus exclusively on writing and wants nothing to do with her son even as he tries to reach out to her. She is considered Germany’s greatest novelist. But is the price too high?

Throughout the novel Roland has many romances but none stick until he finally marries his close friend Daphne late in life. Roland leads a long life and a lot of things happen in the world during that time. The Berlin wall falls, parents die, stories evolve, efforts are made to tackle climate change, children grow, marry and have children, England leaves the European Union and there is a pandemic. Each thing touches on Roland’s life and yet life goes on. Miriam’s influence on his life flows throughout the novel.

The novel ponders early life influences and human resilience despite the tugs of politics and loss. The story is typical Ian McEwan in its treatment of external influence on fate and yet it also has a certain level of hopefulness based on family, love and human empathy. The novel is dense and long and it is not an easy read, but it is worth the effort. You can reserve “Lessons” at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.