The internet is awash in lengthy lists of summer reading. Overwhelmed? Here are my quick takes on two historical novels that make good choices for book groups or solo reading.
In Wendy Jones’ The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals (2014), it’s 1924 in Wales and undertaker Wilfred is at a picnic when he is so moved by the vision of doctor’s daughter Grace in a yellow dress that he proposes to her. He thinks better of it right away, but when he tries to break off the engagement, he finds that other complications make it impossible for him to extricate himself. Meanwhile, he meets Flora, a woman he feels he truly can love. Already optioned for a BBC miniseries from the producers of Downton Abbey, Jones has given us characters trying to be good who struggle to align society’s expectations with their own desires. The sequel, The World is a Wedding, just came out and continues the stories of Wilfred, Flora, and Grace.
You might know Paula McLain from her book about Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, The Paris Wife (2011). In this year’s Circling the Sun, she returns with another rich historical novel, this time about a much more compelling and convention-bending woman, the Kenyan-raised horse trainer and pilot, Beryl Markham. It was Hemingway who helped rediscover Markham’s memoir, West with the Night, and this novel takes us into her childhood, her infatuation with Africa, and her affair with Denys Finch-Hatton, who was also the lover of Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen). The setting, and Beryl’s strong, uncompromising character, frame this page-turner which is perfect for the beach or a book group.