In Baker Towers, Jennifer Haigh paints an evocative picture of a post-World World II mining town in Pennsylvania. After Stanley Novak dies unexpectedly, his widow and children  try to escape their dreary life.  Mother Rose struggles but can never escape the narrow-mindedness that goes along with small town life.  Her five children try to fit in to the world around them, awash in the many changes of the era.  Spanning three decades and a host of rich characters, this is a deep and true family story, and Haigh captures the hardscrabble era with grace and sympathy.  For fans of historical fiction (WW II era), family dramas, and those who simply enjoy  good writing.

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Of all of the 352 pages, my husband just had to decide to peak over my shoulder when Phoebe Millbury finally succumbs to her passion for the rogueish Rafe Marbrook, bastard brother of the Marquis of Brookhaven. We were on a plane, and he was so shocked that I would be reading such racy content in public that he literally sputtered. I just raised a libariany eyebrow and kept reading. The first in a trilogy, Celeste Bradley’s Desperately Seeking a Duke introduces three cousins who must be the first to marry a duke in order to inherit the family fortune. Pheobe, a vicar’s daughter, is the star of this saucy tale of love, lust, and ridiculous 19th-century inheritance law.

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Glass Castle phenom Jeannette Walls arrived on the New York Times’ Best Seller list again last week with her new “true-life novel” Half Broke Horses. In this slightly fictionalized account, she speaks in the voice of her wise-cracking, horse-breaking, school-teaching, plane-flying maternal grandmother Lily Casey Smith.

As a tomboy in West Texas, Lily is a daddy’s girl who roars through life with great whoops of confidence and a well-honed sense of adventure. A boarding school attempt at civilization leaves her no more ladylike, but inspires her to become a teacher. Which, at 14, she does. Lily’s struggles to fit in to the conservative small towns that will take an adolescent teacher exemplify the unwillingness to compromise that will define her. Through marriages, floods, blizzards, men named Rooster who fall hopeless in love with her, poker games, and hearses turned into school buses, Lily stands her ground, even when stepping aside might have been the smarter choice.

Readers wanting more stories of strong women making their own way in the world will enjoy:

Away by Amy Bloom
After her family is killed, Lillian Leyb leaves Russia and comes to the United States in 1924. Doing whatever it takes to survive, Lillian finds new determination when she learns that her daughter may still be alive. Though much bleaker than Half Broke Horses, Lillian is a tough-willed woman storming her way through America’s often inhospitable landscape.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich
After a convent deflowering, common-law marriage, and bank robbery abduction, Agnes DeWitt assumes the identity of Father Modeste, a priest on his way to serve on a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation. There she spends the rest of her life, living as a man and keeping watch over those around her.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
Eighty-six-year-old  Ninny Threadgoode puts Evelyn Couch’s midlife crisis in perspective as she tells her the story of Idgie and Ruth. The whole town of depression-era Whistle Stop, Alabama, was moved by the change they saw in brash, independent Idgie when she fought for gentle Ruth and her son Stump.

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
Like Lily Casey, Haven Kimmel’s 1960s childhood home was small (Mooreland, Indiana. Population 300) but her world was grand. A little girl who often displays more sass than sense, I once told a friend, “It’s like reading Ramona Quimby’s autobiography. But it’s real!”

These Is My Words by Nancy Turner
I swear, if you put Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett in 1881 Arizona you’d have 17-year-old Sarah Agnes Prine. As Sarah and her family travel back to the Arizona Territories from a disastrous trip to Texas, she meets the outwardly disagreeable Captain Jack Elliot. And there’s banter and misunderstandings and Indians. And it’s wonderful.

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