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Books-In-Focus: This Week's Top Five We Thought You'd Love

Discover the lessons of history, extraordinary courage of ordinary people, and the power of personal growth in these captivating books. 

We hope you’ll find these books remarkable and inspiring that you’d add to your to-read list!

Only the Beautiful

by Susan Meissner

A heartrending story about a young mother’s fight to keep her daughter, and the winds of fortune that tear them apart by the USA Today bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things and The Last Year of the War.

Susan Meissner’s “Only the Beautiful” is a poignant and captivating novel that weaves together the stories of two women living in vastly different worlds during some of the most tumultuous times in history.

 In 1930s California, Rosie Maras becomes an orphan at just sixteen when her parents and younger brother die in a car accident. The Calvert family, who owned the vineyard where Rosie’s family had worked, takes her in, but their kindness is short-lived.  Celine Calvert is cold and distant, while Truman Calvert takes advantage of Rosie’s vulnerability, seducing her and getting her pregnant. When Celine discovers Rosie’s pregnancy, she banishes to a state infirmary where she faces forced sterilization.

Meanwhile, in Austria during WWII, Truman’s sister Helen cares for a disabled child named Brigitta Maier. When Brigitta is taken by the German government for their T4 euthanasia program, the Maiers and Helen are devastated.  After the war, Helen returns to California and learns about Rosie’s tragic fate.  Celine, now a bitter widow, reveals Truman’s infidelity, prompting Helen to set out to find Rosie and her niece, the only family she has left.

The Best Minds

by Jonathan Rosen

In The Best Minds, Jonathan Rosen offers a gripping account of his childhood friend, Michael Laudor, whose life turned tragic from a brilliant promise to a locked ward in a forensic psychiatric hospital. Rosen and Laudor grew up as best friends in New Rochelle, both children of college professors and set to join the American meritocratic elite. But when Laudor suffered a serious psychotic break and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, his life spiraled out of control.  Despite his illness, Laudor managed to graduate from Yale Law School and sold a memoir for a large sum.  But in a moment of unshakeable paranoid fantasy, he stabbed his tirelessly supportive girlfriend, Carrie, to death, becoming a front-page story of an entirely different sort.

The Best Minds is a tender and harrowing story that explores the bonds of family, friendship, and community, the promise of intellectual achievement, and the lure of utopian solutions.  Rosen’s brilliant and heartbreaking account of an American tragedy sheds light on mental illness and the ways in which we understand—and fail to understand—its effects on those who suffer from it.  With his gifts as a writer and his dedication to his subject matter, Rosen has crafted a poignant and unforgettable narrative that will resonate with readers long after the final page.

This work defies categorization by reducing it to merely a memoir, a case study, or a book about schizophrenia would be a gross oversimplification.

The Daughter of Auschwitz

by Tova Friedman

“I am a survivor.  That comes with a survivor’s obligation to represent one and a half million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis. They cannot speak. So I must speak on their behalf.”

The Daughter of Auschwitz is a powerful memoir of survival and resilience by Tova Friedman, one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz.  As a child growing up during the Holocaust, Tova faced unimaginable horrors in a Jewish ghetto, a Nazi labor camp, and finally, Auschwitz II, where she was sent with her mother at the age of six and at the same time, her father was taken to Dachau.

Through six months of incarceration in Birkenau, Tova witnessed countless atrocities and escaped death on numerous occasions. She even entered a gas chamber and survived. After being liberated by the Russians, Tova and her mother were reunited with her father and returned to their hometown in Poland.

In this memoir, Tova speaks on behalf of the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis, immortalizing what she saw and experienced in vivid detail.  Written with former war reporter Malcolm Brabant, The Daughter of Auschwitz is a searingly honest and harrowing account of one of the world’s worst crimes and a testament to the strength and courage of those who survived it.

The Golden Doves

by Martha Hall Kelly

Step into the world of the Golden Doves, where American Josie Anderson and Parisian Arlette LaRue are renowned for their bravery in the French Resistance.  But their courage comes with a cost, as they are eventually arrested and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, along with their loved ones. Josie’s mother, a celebrated Jewish singer, becomes the victim of a reclusive Nazi doctor’s unspeakable experiments, while Arlette’s son is taken from her, never to be seen again.

Years later, the Golden Doves embark on a dangerous mission to seek justice for their loved ones.  Josie, now working for U.S. Army Intelligence, accepts an assignment to hunt down the infamous doctor, while a mysterious man tells Arlette he may have found her son. Their journey takes them across Europe and to French Guiana, uncovering a web of secrets that puts them in grave danger.

Martha Hall Kelly’s The Golden Doves is a breathtaking tale of the female spies who risked everything to bring Nazi fugitives to justice.  Kelly’s meticulous research and empathetic writing shine through as she explores the horrors of Ravensbrück and the aftermath of World War II. With unforgettable characters and a gripping plot, The Golden Doves is a must-read for fans of historical fiction.

Signal Fires

by Dani Shapiro

It all starts on a balmy August night in 1985 in the heart of Avalon, fifteen-year-old Theo Wilf is driving the family car when his sister, Sarah, who has been drinking, gets into a car accident, and their friend dies.  To protect Theo, Sarah claims she was driving. While this incident serves as the book’s attention-grabbing hook, the real story focuses on the development of the characters and their metaphysical questions.  

As we follow the effects of the tragedy on the Wilf family, we are guided by an omniscient narrator to different moments in time, including 1970, 1999, 2010, 2014, and 2020. Sarah becomes a screenwriter with addiction problems, and Theo becomes a master chef struggling with inner turmoil. The book’s anti-chronological structure mirrors the yearning felt by the characters and the narrator for the idea that everything is connected and nothing is ever truly lost.

Across the street from the Wilfs are the Shenkmans, whose baby Waldo is delivered by Dr. Wilf on New Year’s Eve of Y2K.  Dr. Wilf and Waldo form a special bond that lasts a lifetime, with Waldo introducing the doctor to an app that charts constellations and geography. The app serves as a literal bridge between modern suburban living and the book’s dream of connectivity.  As the characters search for meaning and connection, the stars appear as “signal fires in the dark, mysterious fellow travelers lighting a path; one hundred thousand million luminous presences beckoning from worlds away. See us. We are here.  We have always been here. We will always be here.”

Shapiro expertly juggles multiple timelines, seamlessly weaving a tapestry of key moments like the pivotal New Year’s Eve 1999 that forever changes the Shenkman and Wilf families. While the occasional mystical element may feel unexpected, the heart of Signal Fires lies in its poignant exploration of family dynamics-the hidden secrets, unintentional wounds, and how they reverberate over time. Against the backdrop of suburban Avalon, a place both families call home, Shapiro delivers a bittersweet love letter to the suburbs, reminding us that even amidst the mundane, profound connections are waiting to be uncovered.

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