As we won’t be celebrating the first female President of the United States, let’s highlight recent books with admirable female characters that live lives of insight and resolve. All of these books are available at the Westbury Memorial Public Library and would be good choices for book groups.
How to Party with An Infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings (Simon and Schuster, 2016). This is a delightful book about a young, single mom who enters a cookbook contest. Mele bases her recipes on stories told to her by the four friends in her play group. The setting is San Francisco, where parenting often goes over the top, and there is a sweet love story, too. Hemmings is a native of Hawaii and wrote The Descendants, which was made into a movie with George Clooney.
Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). The first female cop in New Jersey was hired in 1915 and this character is based on the real character. The case to be investigated is about a missing prisoner from Hackensack Hospital who escapes during a black out caused by a storm. Thanks to the author’s research, the settings are vivid, such as the original Penn Station and small towns in New Jersey. This is a colorful and creative mystery about a successful career woman.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (Penguin, 2016). Two close friends grow up in multi-ethnic North London and each comes from a mixed raced family and dreams of becoming a dancer. Smith is masterful at character development and the interaction of race and class. The childhood scenes with family are particularly rich and it is interesting to see how the girl’s lives turn in different directions. Smith is also the author of the amazing White Teeth (2000).
The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis (Dutton, 2016). An absorbing read with two parallel stories, both set in the Barbizon Hotel, one taking place in 1952 and one in current day. The Barbizon in Manhattan was known affectionately by men as “The Dollhouse” because models and secretaries in training for Katherine Gibbs lived there. Now a posh condominium, some of the original residents still reside on one floor. The plot is about a young woman who mysteriously falls to her death in 1952. A current resident, who is a journalist, is trying to solve the crime.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, (Doubleday, 2016). Cora is a slave who escapes from a plantation in Georgia. For Cora’s journey towards freedom, the author uses the concept of an actual train with secret stations that take her from South to North Carolina to Indiana. Cora’s fear of being returned to her owner is palpable throughout and Cora’s perseverance is truly heroic. This is one of two exceptional work of fiction written about women and slavery in 2016, the other being Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.
Cathleen Towey Merenda is the Director of the Westbury Memorial Public Library and is serving on the University Press Committee for the American Library Association in 2016.