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Book Sommelier: 7 Full-Bodied Reads from the Literary Vineyard

March 10 2021
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I find books are best enjoyed when they are savored like fine wine. In my last trip to the literary vineyard, I discussed six books as satisfying as a glass of wine, and I have returned with even more complex, full-bodied reads. Whether you’re more inclined to select a bright story with sparkle or a rich, silky novel steeped in fine prose, these selections are sure to appeal to all appetites.

About Grace
by Anthony Doerr

Steeped in metaphors and imagery. Heavy, but broken up with a subtle taste of hope. Best served when cold as snow.

Ever since he was a little boy, David Winkler could see things before they happened, from a man carrying a hatbox being hit by a bus, to falling in love with a woman at a supermarket. So, when he dreams that his infant daughter will die in a flood as he tries to save her, he travels thousands of miles away to the Caribbean in an attempt at thwarting destiny.

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About Grace
Anthony Doerr

“From midpoint on, this extraordinary novel is about Grace—about finding Grace. In every way.”

Read Betsy Burton’s review here.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Eight Hundred Grapes
by Laura Dave

Bubbly and light, with a quirky effervescence. Notes of secrecy and romance at the top, however, its surprising undercurrent of familiarity will make you think of home. Ideal for the summer.

When Georgia Ford discovers a life-changing secret her fiancé had been keeping from her a week before their wedding, she drives from Los Angeles to Sonoma, where her safe haven—her family’s beloved winery—is located. However, when she arrives, it appears as if her fiancé is not the only one who has been keeping secrets.

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Eight Hundred Grapes
Laura Dave

EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES is escapist reading at its best because not only are there sun-dappled fields to picture, a dashing neighbor vying for Georgia’s attention, and behind-the-scenes winemaking (author Laura Dave took her wine research seriously!), there is also real heart.

Read Elizabeth Breeden’s review here.

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MENTIONED IN:

Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

Staff Picks: 10 Classic Novels We Truly Enjoyed Reading for School

By Off the Shelf Staff | October 14, 2021

10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

By Alice Martin | October 13, 2021

10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

Close
The Story of the Night
by Colm Toibin

Layered with themes of the personal and political. Delicate, yet bracing with emotion. Ideal for a solo night of introspection.

At a time where Argentina is facing political upheaval, Richard Garay is facing internal conflict; he feels stifled, both by his job and his mother. However, as his country edges toward peace, Richard begins to take chances and slowly starts to embrace his sexuality.

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The Story of the Night
Colm Toibin

From the award-winning author of Brooklyn and The Master, a powerful, brave, and moving novel set in Argentina.

In Argentina, in the time of the Generals, the streets are empty at night, and people have trained themselves not to see. Richard Garay lives with his mother, hiding his sexuality from her and from society. Stifled by his job, Richard is willing to take chances, both sexually and professionally. But Argentina is changing, and as his country edges toward peace, Richard tentatively begins a love affair. The result is a powerful, brave, and poignant novel of sex, death, and the diffculties of connecting one's inner life with the outside world.

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MENTIONED IN:

Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

Staff Picks: 10 Classic Novels We Truly Enjoyed Reading for School

By Off the Shelf Staff | October 14, 2021

10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

By Alice Martin | October 13, 2021

10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

Close
Lana's War
by Anita Abriel

A blend of romance and danger, stemming from a balanced core of extravagance and resistance. Abundant, with an opulent body.

The lush French Riviera serves as the backdrop for this World War II epic. After suffering a miscarriage and witnessing the execution of her husband at the hands of the Gestapo, Lana Antanova is approached by members of the resistance. As she infiltrates groups of Russian aristocrats who are close with German officers, Lana is able to collect intel on upcoming raids and help members of the Jewish community escape.

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Lana's War
Anita Abriel

From the author of the “fast-paced, heartbreaking, and hopeful” (Kristin Harmel, author of The Room on Rue Amélie) The Light After the War, a riveting and heartfelt story of a young woman recruited to be a spy for the resistance on the French Riviera during World War II.

Paris 1943: Lana Antanova is on her way to see her husband with the thrilling news that she is pregnant. But when she arrives at the convent where he teaches music, she’s horrified to see Gestapo officers execute him for hiding a Jewish girl in the piano.

A few months later, grieving both her husband and her lost pregnancy, Lana is shocked when she’s approached to join the resistance on the French Riviera. As the daughter of a Russian countess, Lana has the perfect background to infiltrate the émigré community of Russian aristocrats who socialize with German officers, including the man who killed her husband.

Lana’s cover story makes her the mistress of Guy Pascal, a wealthy Swiss industrialist and fellow resistance member, in whose villa in Cap Ferrat she lives. Together, they gather information on upcoming raids and help members of the Jewish community escape. Consumed by her work, she doesn’t expect to become attached to a young Jewish girl or wonder about the secrets held by the man whose house she shares. And as the Nazis’ deadly efforts intensify, her intention to protect those around her may put them all at risk instead.

With Anita Abriel’s “heartfelt and memorable” (Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author) storytelling, Lana’s War is a sweeping and suspenseful tale of survival and second chances during some of the darkest days of history.

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The Woman of a Thousand Names
by Alexandra Lapierre

Bold, with a strong female lead at its core. Each sip reveals a different, distinct flavor. Full-bodied, velvety, and befitting of royalty.

The daughter of Russian aristocracy, Moura was surrounded by wealth and security until the Bolshevik Revolution upends her world. As her family and friends are imprisoned by Vladimir Lenin’s police, she falls into an affair with a British secret agent, until he is deported from Russia. Alone and vulnerable, Moura must shed her past and adopt new identities in order to survive.

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The Woman of a Thousand Names
Alexandra Lapierre

From the internationally bestselling author of the “fascinating epic” (Associated Press) Between Love and Honor comes a rich, sweeping tale based on the captivating true story of the Mata Hari of Russia, featuring a beautiful aristocrat fighting for survival during the deadly upheaval of the Russian Revolution.

Born into Russian aristocracy, wealth, and security, Moura never had any reason to worry. But in the upheaval of the Bolshevik Revolution, her entire world crumbles. As her family and friends are being persecuted by Vladimir Lenin’s ruthless police, she falls into a passionate affair with British secret agent Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart. But when he’s abruptly and mysteriously deported from Russia, Moura is left alone and vulnerable.

Now, she must find new paths for her survival, even if it means shedding her past and taking on new identities. Some will praise her tenderness and undying loyalty. Others will denounce her lies. But all will agree on one point: Moura embodies Life. Life at all cost.

Set against the volatile landscape of 20th-century Russia, The Woman of a Thousand Names brings history to vivid life in a captivating tale about an extraordinary woman caught in the waves of change—with only her wits to save her.

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MENTIONED IN:

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By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

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10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

By Alice Martin | October 13, 2021

10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

Close
Ponti
by Sharlene Teo

Ripe with female relationships. Atmospheric and complex, with a coming-of-age twist. Best enjoyed when watching obscure horror movies.

A refreshing take on the multigenerational female-centered narrative, PONTI follows three distinct points of view in the sprawling metropolis of Singapore. Amisa, born in poverty, rises above her status to become a starring actress in a series of seventies cult-classic horror films. Szu, Amisa’s teenage daughter, is friendless and fatherless, living at the end of a cul-de-sac, when she develops an intense relationship with the privileged Circe. In the present day, we find an adult Circe, a social media consultant for a firm whose new project is a remake of the films that made Amisa a star.

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Ponti
Sharlene Teo

An award-winning novel about the value of friendships in present-day Singapore—a stirring debut…relatable yet unsettling [that] smartly captures earnest teenage myopathy through a tumultuous high school relationship” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

“I am Miss Frankenstein, I am the bottom of the bell curve.” So declares Szu, a teenager living in a dark, dank house on a Singapore cul-de-sac, at the beginning of this richly atmospheric and endlessly surprising tale of non-belonging and isolation.

Friendless and fatherless, Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress—who gained fame for her portrayal of a ghost—and now a hack medium performing séances with her sister in a rusty house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, an unlikely encounter develops into a fraught friendship that will haunt them both for decades to come.

With remarkable emotional acuity, dark comedy, and in vivid prose, Sharlene Teo’s Ponti traces the suffocating tangle the lives of four misfits, women who need each other as much as they need to find their own way. It is “at once a subtle critique of the pressures of living in a modern Asian metropolis; a record of the swiftness and ruthlessness with which Southeast Asia has changed over the last three decades; a portrait of the old juxtaposed with the new (and an accompanying dialogue between nostalgia and cynicism); an exploration of the relationship between women against the backdrop of social change; and, occasionally, a love story—all wrapped up in the guise of a teenage coming-of-age novel…Teo is brilliant” (The Guardian).

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Red Island House
by Andrea Lee

Lush and perfumey. Its fruity top notes give way to a bitter, complex cultural conflict. Drink when you are in the mood to travel.

Shay, a Black American professor, is married to Italian businessman Senna. Her life as she knows it is upended when Senna decides to build a luxury vacation villa on a beach in Madagascar. Before she knows it, she becomes the reluctant mistress of the house, caught between her privileged upbringing and the continent of her ancestors. Over the course of twenty years, Shay plays the role of observer, until the collision of cultures comes directly to her front door.

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Red Island House
Andrea Lee

From National Book Award–nominated writer Andrea Lee comes a gorgeously evocative epic about love, clashing cultures, and identity, set in the tropical African island nation of Madagascar.

“People do mysterious things when they think they’ve found paradise,” reflects Shay, the heroine of Red Island House. When Shay, a Black American professor who’s always had an adventurous streak, marries Senna, an Italian businessman, she doesn’t imagine that her life’s greatest adventure will carry her far beyond their home in Milan to an idyllic stretch of beach in Madagascar, where Senna builds a flamboyant vacation villa. Before she knows it, Shay has become the somewhat reluctant mistress of a sprawling household, caught between her privileged American upbringing and her connection to the continent of her ancestors.

At first, she’s content to be an observer of the passionate affairs and fierce rivalries around her, but over twenty tumultuous years of marriage, as she and Senna raise children and establish their own rituals at the house, Shay finds herself drawn ever deeper into a place where a blend of magic, sexual intrigue, and transgression forms a modern-day parable of colonial conquest. Soon the collision of cultures comes right to Shay’s door, forcing her to make a life-altering decision that will change her and Senna’s lives forever.

A captivating, powerful, and profoundly moving novel about marriage and loyalty, identity and freedom, Red Island House showcases an extraordinary literary voice and an extravagantly lush, enchanted world.

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MENTIONED IN:

Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

Staff Picks: 10 Classic Novels We Truly Enjoyed Reading for School

By Off the Shelf Staff | October 14, 2021

10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

By Alice Martin | October 13, 2021

10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

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