Who doesn’t love secrets, deceptions, and thorny plots? This week’s book club has them in spades, and you never know what you’ll dig up. We’ve got a century of mistaken identity, betrayal, and intrigue to get through, so there’s no time like the present to start!
1. Tangerine by Christine Mangan ($27): “Time moves quickly, I have found, turning people and places into first history and then later stories. I have trouble remembering the difference, for my mind often plays tricks on me now. In the worst moments — in the best moments — I forget about her. About what happened. It is a peculiar sensation, for she is always there, lurking just beneath the surface, threatening to break. But then there are times when even her name escapes me, so that I have taken to writing it down on every scrap of paper I can find…for I must never forget, I remind myself.”
Tangier in 1956 is mysterious and terrifying for young Alice Shipley, who is reluctant to leave her apartment after getting lost outside. It’s less of a secret that her husband, John McAllister, rushed her into a marriage she wasn’t really ready for so that he could get at the fortune remaining in trust for her until she turns 21. The son of family friends, he hides his family’s own ruin behind fancy clothes, Alice’s allowance, and constant exploration of the city that so baffles his wife. Then, there’s Lucy Mason. Lucy was Alice’s best friend and roommate at Bennington College, but an alluded-to “accident” caused them to separate. Alice never expected to see Lucy again — or maybe she hoped she wouldn’t. Then Lucy arrives in Tangier.
Lucy is everything Alice is not: hard-edged, brash, and daring. They bonded in college over their shared status as orphans, but Lucy says a lot of things about herself that don’t really stand up to scrutiny. She also has an uncanny ability to take control of any situation, and it becomes increasingly clear that she’s romantically interested in Alice to the point of obsession. What was the accident that happened between the two women, and will Alice find out Lucy’s secret before it’s too late? What’s not a secret is that this book is so exciting that George Clooney’s Smokehouse Pictures has already optioned the movie rights and tapped Scarlett Johansson for the leading role. Read it before it explodes.
2. The Balcony by Jane Delury ($26): Fan of Downton Abbey? What if you could have followed the secrets of the Crawley family and their servants for a hundred years, instead of just 14? (Yes, Maggie Smith would be there the whole time. She’s eternal.) The Balcony proves that even the walls have ears as it follows a century in the life of a manor house in a small, unassuming village near Paris. Weaving together stories that reach from the Belle Époque to the 1990s, the book sees the household through from its days of highest glory to its furthest deterioration, and everything in between.
“The manor…was a five-minute drive from the village, protected from the surrounding ugliness by the pines and oaks of a forêt domaniale. Clearly, the house — a bourgeois manoir of buttery limestone that stretched three stories into slate turrets and gables — had once been magnificent, but it had been hastily and cheaply remodeled in the 1970s…. ‘This is what happens when you lose everything to a war,’ Hugo told me as he carried my suitcase inside that first day.” Ten different stories come together at the Léger estate, as the occupants deal with love and war in all their permutations.
Characters in The Balcony include a bright au pair who falls for her employer, a hero of the World War II Resistance who behaves horribly toward his own family, a Jewish couple who take refuge from the Gestapo within the house, and a famous courtesan who takes her own life at 40. Through all the drama and revelations, the manor bears witness, and you will too.
3. I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon ($27): Anastasia Romanov, the secret grand duchess, has been a figure of fascination for the last century; her story has inspired speculation, literature, and even a Disney musical. Russian Czar Nicholas Romanov was executed by the Bolshevik secret police July 17, 1918, along with his wife and five children, but rumors persisted that the 17-year-old daughter had survived the hail of bullets due to a lack of proven remains. Lawhon introduces a new spin on this story with a fictional exploration of the real life of Anna Anderson, the most famous claimant to the throne.
In 1920, Anna Anderson is pulled from a Berlin canal in what appears to be a suicide attempt. Revived and hospitalized, the woman is discovered to have a brutal pattern of scars across her body: scars that theoretically could have been made by a hail of bullets. For the next 50 years, she would claim to be the lost Anastasia, gathering crowds of supporters and detractors, and inviting more than a little danger.
“If I tell you what happened that night in Ekaterinburg I will have to unwind my memory — all the twisted coils — and lay it in your palm. It will be the gift and curse I bestow upon you. A confession for which you may never forgive me. Are you ready for that? Can you hold this truth in your hand and not crush it like the rest of them?” Lawhon pushes us backward in time to reveal Anna’s secrets, telling her story from the 1970 German court decision on her claim to the day her story begins. She contrasts this with the forward motion of the last horrifying year of Anastasia’s life. Will the two stories match, or not? You’ll have to read to find out.
What books shouldn’t remain a secret? Tag us in your next revealing read @BritandCo.
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