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Must-read novels for this winter

Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley, Harper, US $26.99, Pp 272, January 2019 ISBN 978-0062476692
The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib, St. Martin’s Press, US $27.99, Pp 370, February 2019, ISBN 978-1250202444
The Light Over London by Julia Kelly, Gallery Books, US $26.00, Pp 296, January 2019, ISBN 978-1501196416

Late in the Day is the story of four friends who first met thirty years ago when they were in their twenties. Their friendship has stood the test of time as they are still close friends. Moreover, Alex married Christine and Zach married Lydia. They have lived happily over the years. It was a leisurely summer evening when Alex and Christine receive a distressful call from Lydia who breaks the sad news that Zach is no more. Lydia is still at the hospital. Zach was fine in the morning. He woke up and got ready and went to the office at the gallery where he suddenly keeled over and died. By nature, Zach was a gentle person. As Christine says, “Of all of us, he’s the one we couldn’t afford to lose.” Alex brings Lydia and her daughter home. The three friends feel that the loss of Zach is irreplaceable. Zach was a generous and pleasant-spirited person. Lydia is in pretty bad shape and all three of them decide that she should move in with Alex and Christine. Christine and Lydia have been particularly close. Lydia was theatrically romantic and frivolous while Christine was serious and artistic but they made good friends. They were together at the university. After graduating, they met Alex and Zach, who were also childhood friends. In the beginning, it was Lydia who became romantically involved with Alex, who was unhappily married to someone else at that time, and Christine was romantically close to Zachary. As it turned out, Lydia became close to Zachary and married him while Alex ended up marrying Christine. The two partnerships evolved without any animosity and they remained friends for thirty years. The three remaining friends had thought that loss of Zach and Lydia moving with them would bring them closer. But it seems their friendship becomes warped as old grievances and jealousies resurface and add bitterness to the friendship. Tessa Hadley dissects the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and shows that often we are not living the lives we think we are living. Our apparent relationships may be hiding the real relationships beneath the surface. You may identify with one of the four characters in this highly entertaining novel. Tessa Hadley once again proves that she is a gifted storyteller.

About the author

Tessa Hadley is the author of six highly acclaimed novels, including Clever Girl and The Past, as well as three short-story collections, most recently Bad Dreams and Other Stories, which won the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Her stories appear regularly in The New Yorker; in 2016 she was awarded the Windham Campbell Prize and the Hawthornden Prize. She lives in London.

*****

The Girls at 17 Swann Street is the story of 26-year-old Anna Roux, a French professional ballet dancer who followed the man of her dream from Paris to St, Louis, Missouri, where she is downed with anorexia and depression. Anna and Matthias had met and fallen in love in Paris. Before moving to Missouri where Matthias had taken up a job, they had married. Because of her medical condition, Anna quits eating chocolate followed by cheese, the fries, and the ice cream. Quitting bread was not easy but not impossible. Another few pounds and she will be able to make it to the soloists’ list. She wanted to be lighter and danced better. Perhaps she should be running an extra mile. Then comes the point when her husband, a kind and loving man, cannot pretend everything is fine. He takes her to a treatment facility for anorexia at 17 Swann Street. Anna will be staying there among other women who are suffering from the same disease. Not all of them will be cured. It all started when Anna fell and injured herself and was unable to continue her profession as a dancer. When girls at 17 Swann St tell her she is one of the lucky ones because “You have a reason to survive”, she wonders if that is really true. But, it looks like she is one of the lucky ones. As her treatment continues, Anna submits to her doctor’s directions instead of resisting them. Over the next several weeks, her medical reports show improvement in her health. The Girls at 17 Swann Street is the story of a young woman who first struggles against herself and then against anorexia and succeeds in defeating it. Yara Zgheib explores how your strong will can change things. The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a brilliantly written novel that captures your full attention in the very first chapter.

About the author

Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar with a Masters’ degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in International Affairs in Diplomacy from Centre D’études Diplomatiques et Stratégiques in Paris. She is fluent in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. Yara is a writer for several US and European magazines, including The Huffington PostThe Four Seasons MagazineA Woman’s ParisThe Idea List, and Holiday Magazine. She writes on culture, art, travel, and philosophy on her blog, “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea.”

*****

Cara Hargraves works for an antique dealer. She can face neither the harsh truth nor the present. In order to escape reality, she buries herself in the past. Working for an antiques’ dealer helps her live in the past. As she clears out an estate one day, she stumbles on an old biscuit tin that holds a lost love story in the shape of a locket, a photograph of a young woman in uniform, and a diary dating back to World War II. This is a beautiful but unfinished diary which makes her eager to read it. As she reads the diary, she realizes that she is not ready to face the reality of wartime London. Written by nineteen-year-old soldier Louise Keene in 1941, when she was waiting at home in Haybourne, her Cornish village, for her wealthy suitor to return from war and marry her. Everything changed when she accidentally meets dashing Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton at a dance party. Paul is stationed at a local base. But, another change comes when Paul’s unit moves from there without warning. In desperation, Louise decided to join the women’s branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit as a gunner girl. The unit of the gunner girls was supposed to identify and precisely hit the enemy planes during the air raids on London which was under constant attack by the Axis planes. As the Axis planes dropped bombs on London, Cara and other gunner girls enthusiastically did their duties. In this situation, what kept Cara going was the thought that she and Paul would reunite when the war comes to an end. As love becomes passionate, they marry when Paul visits her during a leave. As she waited for Paul during those dark and bullet-filled nights, her calm is suddenly broken when she receives a bundle of her letters to Paul undelivered. She learns that Paul may be having dark secrets of his own that can upend her life. The story in The Light Over London alternates between the present and the past. It is a heartbreaking romance that will grip you from the very beginning. Julia Kelly weaves a tender romantic story around a girl who fights war showing how strong even tender, romantic women can be. With a bit of mystery in the story, even mystery-readers will like it.

About the author

Julia Kelly is the award-winning author of books about ordinary women and their extraordinary stories. In addition to writing, she’s been an Emmy-nominated producer, journalist, marketing professional, and (for one summer) a tea waitress. Julia called Los Angeles, Iowa, and New York City home before settling in London.

Most of the biographical notes in our reviews are provided by the publishers.

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