“No one leaves for good:” In Memory of Stephen Sondheim

On Friday, the theatre world lost Stephen Sondheim at the age of 91. During his long life, Sondheim was a lyricist and composer, who revolutionized musical theatre as an artform. His impossibly clever lyrics, combined with ingeniously innovative music, against the backdrop of stories with sources ranging from literature, film, art, and drama.

I have two favorite Sondheim musicals. Fortunately for theatre geeks like me, both had productions filmed live on Broadway, and are available on DVD and streaming.

Of the two, Into The Woods is the most well-known. It’s a mash up of fairytale characters and plots in an original story. The first act is funny and clever, though it embraces the darker, more subversive tones of fairy tales. The second act explores the purpose behind these stories, the ways that people use narrative to cope through hard times.

My other favorite, Passion, is definitely one of his more polarizing works. It’s a one act musical that tells a dark tale of obsessive love, based on the novel by IU Tarchetti. It introduces three main characters, all hard to like in their own ways. As their lives intertwine, we invest more strongly than we realize and we become almost uncomfortable with some of the feelings evoked.

I think the best send-off I can give Sondheim is in his own words, from Into the Woods:

“Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood. Do not let it grieve you. No one leaves for good.”

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Top Ten Tuesday: Recommendations for Classic Lit Based on Your Favorite TV Show

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

November 16: Books to Read If You Love/Loved X (X can be a genre, specific book, author, movie/TV show, etc.) For this one I’m recommending classic literature on the basis of TV shows. But I’m not recommending the book if it’s a direct (or not so direct) literary adaptation (too easy!). I’m recommending classics that remind me in some way of these TV shows. Just to be clear, these aren’t always read/watch alikes, but they have something similar in terms of subject, theme, characters, or tone.

image source: wikipedia

1. Squid Game- I’m tempted to say The Hunger Games as a recommendation here, but I don’t know if I’d call that “classic.” I’ll say Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Twisted games that turn into a survival match, though at least in this one, the people involved are children. I know it’s a short story, but I’ll also shout out Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery here: another game of chance with deadly consequences

2. Game of Thrones- I feel like Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien is sort of a no-brainer here. They’re both epic fantasies. I mean, there are even articles out there about how they’re similar!

3. Bridgeton– The obvious recommendation here is the novels of Jane Austen. Yes, I’m aware that Jane Austen is great literature, and Bridgeton is fun TV. But fans of the regency romance in Bridgerton will probably find something to love in Austen. If you want to get away from the obvious, check out Fanny Burney, whose work influenced Austen. Yes, maybe I’m cheating by mentioning authors here rather than single books, but I don’t care!

4. Downton Abbey– For this one I went with Howard’s End by EM Forester. Both deal with the British aristocracy in the early 20th century. Like Downton, Howard’s End has strong themes about class and foreshadows that worldwide change is imminent, and an era is ending in terms of upper class way of life.

5. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel– I had a tie for this one: The Group by Mary McCarthy and The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. Both deal with women’s experiences in work and love. Both are set in New York City, too.

image credit: wikipedia

6. You– Actually now that I think of it, Dexter can also be a good show to pair with Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. All involve a murderer as the protagonist.

7. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend- This might seem kind of weird, but go along with me for a moment. Crazy Ex- Girlfriend is about a mentally fragile woman who is obsessively in love with a man. So is Passion by IU Tarchetti (it’s been published under both titles). Plus, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show with strong connections to musical theatre. Passion became a Tony winning musical by Stephen Sondheim.

8. The Good PlaceThe Divine Comedy by Dante. I feel like this is sort of self explanatory too. Both deal with what happens after we die, if we’re good, bad, or somewhere in between. But actually as I write this, it strikes me that Sartre’s No Exit could also work as a pairing.

9. Stranger Things Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury- Both are about kids (about 13ish years old) fighting evil. Both also have strong nostalgic tones for their era (1980’s and 1930’s respectively).

Top Ten Tuesday: Musicals Based on Books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

November 3: Non-Bookish Hobbies (Let’s get to know each other! What do you do that does not involve books or reading?)

I’m so nervous about the election today, but doing this post was a welcome distraction this week!

Most people who know me, know these things about me: 1. I am a bookworm. A book devourer. I consume books. 2. I love musicals. I love music as a storytelling device. So naturally, I love it when some of my favorite books become musicals. Here are some books that have become musicals over the years. Some you probably know, but others you may not. You could say that geeking out over musicals it one of my non-bookish (but sometimes still bookish) hobbies.

Ragtime

Based on the novel Ragtime by EL Doctorow

I actually haven’t seen this one live, but I’ve come to love it via the Original Broadway Cast Recording which features some of my all time favorite performers including Audra MacDonald, Marin Mazzie (who we recently lost too soon) and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

The Woman in White

Based on the novel The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins

This musical chopped down the Wilkie Collins’ novel pretty significantly, but that’s necessary. There’s no way to get everything in the book into a two and a half hour production! The show was pretty short live on Broadway and in London, but the cast recording is available to anyone curious.

The Phantom of the Opera

Based on the novel The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

I’d say that most people know this or at least know of this. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical takes some liberties with the original novel by Gaston Leroux but for the most part, they work. The show is one of the biggest hits in the world, with productions running worldwide. It’s had a Hollywood version, and the 25th Anniversary staging is also available to watch.   However, not everyone knows that the novel also has other musical adaptations by Maurice Yeston and Arthur Kopit, Ken Rice, and David Staller.

Jane Eyre

Based on the novel by Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte

This had a brief Broadway run in 2000, but I never had the opportunity to see it. I discovered it thanks to the cast recording and some youtube videos. If you’re a fan of the novel and you like musicals check it out.

The Secret Garden

Based on the novel by The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Lucy Simon’s musical adaptation of The Secret Garden expands the story a bit, depicting flashbacks of Archibold’s romance with Lily, but not in any way that feels untrue or disrespectful to the source material. I really liked how the ghosts at Miselthwaite are an active part of the show.

Les Miserables

Based on the novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Once again, this is one that really needs no introduction. It’s played all over the world. It was a major Hollywood film. There are even three separate concert stagings available to home viewers (I’m partial to the 10th Anniversary, but there’s also the 25th and the more recent Staged Concert. Yes, Hugo’s novel was adapted significantly to be able to take place onstage in a three-hour span. But as far as adaptations go, I felt that it was pretty well done, especially considering the size of the source material.

The Bridges of Madison County

Based on the novel The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

This one is weird because I hated the literary source material. I found it badly written and treacly. I saw the show because I was a fan of the composer/lyricist, Jason Robert Brown, as well as the two leads, Kelli O’Hara and Stephan Pasquale. I was surprised to see that Marsha Norman wrote a script that took the basic premise of the novel; a four-day affair between a fifties housewife and a traveling photographer, and did something very different with it. It didn’t last long on Broadway, but the cast recording is available.

The Light in the Piazza

Based on the novella The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer

This is based on Elizabeth Spencer’s novella of the same name (which I also love), but in this case, the music, the performances, the sets and costumes, and production all came together to enhance the beauty of the material. The show was filmed live and broadcast on PBS’ Live From Lincoln Center. Though there’s no official DVD release of which I’m aware, the video may be on the internet somewhere. There’s also a cast recording available.

Passion

Based on the novel Fosca by IU Tarchetti

This isn’t for everyone. I’ll say that straight out. It’s a dark story of love and obsession.  It’s not a romance we’re comfortable with, and one of the primary players is Fosca, a character who doesn’t quite qualify as a heroine, but she isn’t an anti-heroine or a villain either. Though I could see different people responding to her character in different ways. But it’s also really beautiful in an unexpected way. I would suggest that people looking at this leave their cynicism at the door. Luckily the original Broadway production is available on DVD.

Wicked

Based on the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

I’m actually not the biggest fan of this one. It’s a fun show, with some catchy tunes that provides an enjoyable few hours of theater. I just don’t think it’s more than that. But then I wasn’t the biggest fan of the novel either. It’s actually very different from the show. Some significant chances were made to the story in adapting it for the stage.

South Pacific

Based on the book Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener

This Rodgers and Hammerstein Classic is based on the book of interrelated short stories but James Michener, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948, The musical combined several of these stories, and won the Pulitzer for Drama in 1950. There’s a Hollywood film, a made for TV version with Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jr, and a 2005 staged concert starring Reba McEntire and Alec Baldwin. A Broadway revival was broadcast on PBS but not released on DVD. It may still be available on the internet somewhere.

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 11: Hidden Gems (which books haven’t been talked about as much or haven’t been marketed as strongly that you think deserve some recognition?)

51rkzkhzekl-_ac_us218_1. A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin– Our narrator is an intelligent, good-looking young college student. He’s dating Dorothy, a wealthy young woman with a problem. She’s pregnant. If/when her dad finds out about the baby, he’ll cut her off penniless. Thereby eliminating any use she might be of to our narrator. But that’s easily solved. He can get rid of Dorothy and try to marry money again in a year or two. She’s got two sisters after all! We spend the first portion of the book seeing through the eyes of a sociopath, and the latter portion we see from the perspective of his potential victims. I’m usually pretty good at spotting an author’s tricks. About 2/3 of the way through I was sure that I knew exactly where this was going and I was totally wrong! Ira Levin is well known for some of his other books like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. This is his debut and it definitely teases his future ability as a storyteller.

31vqaqjxh5l-_ac_us218_2. Passion by IU Tarchetti– This was made into a film called Passione D’amore in 1981 and was adapted as a Tony-winning musical in 1995, but it’s still not very well known. Giorgio is a young soldier, having an affair with Clara, a slightly older, slightly married, woman. When he’s transferred to a provincial military outpost, he meets Colonel Ricci, his new commanding officer. The Colonel lives with his sick cousin Fosca. When the Colonel mentions that Fosca is an avid reader, Giorgio lends her some books. But when he meets Fosca he’s taken aback by her illness, her ugliness, and her lack of polite social skills. Still, he tries to be kind to her when their paths cross. As Fosca falls for Giorgio, she makes no effort to hide her feelings. And when she finds out about Clara she makes her opinion known. The strength of her overtures deeply unsettles Giogio who is thrown into the depths of emotions, love as well as hate, with an intensity that he’s never before experienced. I think one reason this doesn’t have mainstream popularity is that the reader doesn’t have an obvious person to root for. Giorgio is a perfectly nice guy, but he’s most comfortable on surfaces. He’s all for polite chatter and interactions. Fosca forces him beyond that, pushing him (and the reader) into uncomfortable territory. Yet that’s also the reason that it’s hard for a reader to identify with Fosca. She makes Giorgio, and us, uncomfortable.

51tsapquwul-_ac_us218_3. Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson– Susanna is a dressmaker in Vienna circa 1911. She watches over her neighbors and keeps a journal. We meet the people in her life. There’s Herr Egger, a fellow with a nasty habit. Nini is Susannah’s dress model, who moonlight’s as an anarchist. Then there are the Schumakers and their six daughters, Sigi the piano prodigy next door, Susannah’s lover, an aristocratic field marshall, and her friend Alice, the only person who knows that Susannah has secrets of her own… Eva Ibbotson is best known for her middle-grade fantasy and YA romance novels, which are lovely. While this has romantic elements it’s more a slice of life than her other work and seems aimed at a slightly older readership. I wish that Ibbotson wrote more for this audience.

5196005bwql-_ac_us218_4. Watch By Moonlight by Kate Hawks- Many of us have read Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman,” in which an innkeepers daughter “had watched for her love in the moonlight.” The poem is notable for its strong rhythm and vivid narrative. In this book, Hawks expands and retells the poem’s narrative. We meet Bess Whateley, who works in her parents’ public house, and falls in love with Jason Quick, a thief who steals to buy his father out of indentured servitude. He is now pursued by the King’s 54th Regiment. In the poem, the title character is presented as a romantic hero. He is here too, but as we learn about his character and his background we see him become more three dimensional. Is he romantic? Yes. but he’s also a criminal. He’s doing bad things for a good reason, which makes him very human and flawed. If you’re not familiar with the poem I’d suggest going into the story fresh. Hawks includes bits and pieces throughout the novel, and it’s included in its entirety at the end. I knew the poem, so the ending took on an inevitability for me as I read the book.

51zjlwr-kl-_ac_us218_5. Time and Chance by Alan Brennert– One night, Richard Cochrane, an actor, flubs his lines during a production of Brigadoon. Following the performance, he learns that his mother died, and he goes back to his New Hampshire town.  Going home has made him reflective. He thinks about the decisions he made, and what he gave up to pursue his acting career.  Thirteen years ago, Richard broke up with his girlfriend and left town in pursuit of his dreams. But now that he’s back, Richard encounters the man he might have been: the Richard who put aside his dreams of an acting career, got a steady job at an insurance company, married his girlfriend and had a family. Both Richards are unhappy and on some level both regret the choices that brought them to this point. So they decide to switch places so each can see if he’s happier if he’d decided differently. Yes, this is a fantasy, in which a man meets a parallel version of himself, but I think most people can relate to in some way. We all have decision points in our lives that leave us wondering “what might have been” if we’d chosen a different path.

51boj2l7mll-_ac_us218_6. The Ear, The Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer– Zimbabwe, 2174. General Amadeus Marsika’s three children disappear from their yard one day. They quickly learn that their world is one of contrasts. Wealthy people, like their family, live in vast estates staffed by robots. The poor live in a neighborhood called The Cow’s Guts where they search for plastic in a toxic waste dump. Here, the Marsika children are taken, prisoner. They escape only to encounter new dangers. Meanwhile, they are pursued by three very unusual detectives, knowns as The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm, who seem to always be a few moments too late to rescue the kids. This stands apart from so many other YA dystopias with its blend of high tech futuristic setting and African tribal folklore. While there are parallels to other fantasy tales, such as The Wizard of Oz, this has enough to make it unique and provocative.

21mg6dwqdwl-_ac_us218_7. Lionors: King Arthur’s Uncrowned Queen by Barbara Ferry Johnson- Keep in mind, I read this as a teen and loved it, I but I haven’t read it since. I don’t know how well it holds up.  Lionors is mentioned in several literary sources as King Arthur’s mistress and the mother of his illegitimate son, but in this book, she takes center stage. Lionors, daughter of the Earl of Santam, meets Arthur, the ward of Sir Ecktor. They fall in love and plan to marry. But when it turns out that Arthur is actually the son of Uther Pendragon, and is now King, it becomes clear that he must marry elsewhere to secure the peace of the kingdom. However, he returns to Lionors whenever he can. She hears about what’s going on in Camelot, but her life is at her manor. The book is managing something tricky. The narrator is removed from the action for the most part, but she has stakes in it nonetheless. Aside from her visits from Arthur, and the child she has with him (here it’s a daughter), Lionors is connected to the events of Camelot via visitors for the most part and she struggles to have a purpose beyond the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: “You will be a queen, but you will die uncrowned and unknown…”

61nsx83i0fl-_ac_us218_8. Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee- In 4B there are no limits to pleasure. People are encouraged to eat, drink, have sex with multiple partners, and take drugs. If they get bored they can always commit suicide and be brought back in a new body. Really the only thing that’s forbidden is murder. When our protagonist becomes bored and jaded we follow her in and out of various bodies and circumstances, until she breaks that one rule. She’s faced with a choice. Either she undergoes personality dissolution, in which all her memory will be wiped, or she is given a single, permanent body, and banished from 4B. The unnamed protagonist opts for banishment and finds herself in a desert, where she must make a life for herself. For the first time, she discovers that some sacrifices may be worthwhile, and that being human means making choices.

41erf8g69dl-_ac_us218_9. All This and Heaven Too by Rachel Fields– This book is a fictionalization of the life of Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, the author’s great aunt by marriage. In the mid 19th century, Henriette was the most notorious woman in France. Hired as the governess to the children of the Duc and Duchesse de Praslin, she quickly came to see the problems that existed in her employer’s marriage. She and the Duc formed a close (platonic) relationship based largely on their mutual interest in the children- an interest which the Duchesse didn’t share. However, the Duchesse was aware of the closeness that existed between her husband and the governess and felt threatened. She dismissed Henriette without a letter of recommendation, and then met a tragic end. The gossip surrounding the relationship between Henriette and the Duc, as well as the circumstances surrounding Henriette’s dismissal, meant that both fell under suspicion of murder. Forced to defend herself in a trial, Henriette soon becomes hated by a nation, making life there impossible. So she flees to America where she starts anew like so many others. In 1940 this was made into a film starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. However, despite the film’s popularity, the literary source material has fallen by the wayside. The film focuses on the first half of the story, ending with Henriette’s departure for America. However, the book follows her to her new life. While it’s less dramatic than the first half (with accusations of adultery and murder!) it’s interesting to see what became of this remarkable woman.

51polcsfrl-_ac_us218_10. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor– When this came out in 1944 it caused quite a stir, but it seems like few people know it now. If I had to compare it to another book, I’d compare it to Gone With the Wind. Amber is a very Scarlett-like heroine. But Scarlett O’Hara was born with a silver spoon, whereas Amber St. Clare is pregnant, abandoned, and penniless when we first meet her. Amber navigates the streets of 17th century London, through the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of 1666, eventually rising to be the favorite mistress of King Charles II. But she keeps her heart true to the only man she’s ever loved; a man who she can never have.  Several historical figures appear as characters in the book, such as Charles II, Nell Gwyn, Barbara Palmer, George Villiers, and more. It was banned as pornographic is fourteen states, was condemned by the Catholic Church for indecency and was banned in Australia.  What’s remarkable is that there’s really nothing explicit. Yes, Amber has a number of affairs, but for the most part, they take place behind closed doors.  It sold about three million copies worldwide and was made into a film in 1947, but if I mention to a historical fiction fan, chances are that they won’t know what I’m talking about.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Lesser Known Romances

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday;

February 13: Love Freebie (Romances, swoons, OTPs, kisses, sexy scenes, etc.)

I feel like a lot of my favorite romances are pretty well known.  I love Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and Jane and Mr. Rochester (why do 19th-century male characters never go by their first names?) as much as the next girl.  But this week, I decided to share a few favorites that might not turn up on everyone else’s list.

51bumg7jwll-_ac_us218_1. The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson– Eva Ibbotson was primarily known for her children’s books. However, she wrote five romances intended for older readers (the others A Company of Swans, The Secret Countess, A Song For Summer, and Magic Flutes are also worth reading). They’ve since been re-released for a YA audience. They’re flawed in that they depict relationships with gender roles that are somewhat old-fashioned. But they’re usually sweet enough and fun enough so that it doesn’t bother me too much. I have a fondness for this one. It’s about a Jewish family in Austria. They get out of the country when Hitler invades and make it to England. But they’re separated from their twenty-year-old daughter, Ruth who wasn’t able to get the proper paperwork. Quinton Somerville, a friend of the family, offers to help Ruth. He’s got the papers to get to England, and she can come with him, as his wife. Once they’re safely in England they can get the marriage annulled. Ruth takes him up on his offer, but neither of them counts on falling in love…

51eksizfwl-_ac_us218_2. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– I forgot why I picked up this book in the first place. Novels about cranky old men aren’t automatic reads for me. But something attracted me to this book and I’m glad it did! Major Ernest Pettigrew is a retired Englishman who is the embodiment of duty, pride, and traditional values. Major Pettigrew is a widower who is trying to keep his son from selling off the family heirlooms when he finds an unexpected ally in his neighbor, Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. Their cross-cultural romance shocks everyone, themselves most of all. But it also reminds us that while people may seem like opposites, they can still find strong common ground; enough to build the foundation of a relationship. And it proves that falling in love at 70 is just as sweet as it is at 17.

51guog1xvl-_ac_us160_3. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee– I can’t remember how I first came across this book. But its a provocative futuristic sci-fi love story. Jane is living a life of luxury on an Earth that’s barely recognizable to the reader. But she’s not happy. Robots have replaced humans as laborers but when a new line comes out they’re also used as performing artists and the wealthy use them as sexual partners. When Jane meets Silver, a robot minstrel, his song convinces her that there’s something more to him than just metal and programming. Something almost human. She gives up everything and she and Silver run away together. As their relationship grows, Silver becomes more and more human. Is that just a clever illusion created by his programming? Is Jane needy and mentally unstable? Or has she seen in Silver something that no one else can?  If Silver is truly capable of loving Jane, he’s in terrible danger, because he’s more than anyone expected. If he has all of the advantages of a robot but can truly feel and love like a human, then actual humans can’t complete.

51l6zlabawl-_ac_us218_4. The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– I feel like this book has been getting more attention lately which I’m glad about. But it’s still largely unknown, so I feel like it can go on this list. Valancy is a twenty-nine-year-old “spinster” who lives under the overbearing thumb of her mother and her aunt. When she gets devastating news from the doctor, Valancy is motivated to do some living while she still has the chance! She becomes friends with Barney, a handsome free spirit whom her family does not approve of! She confides to Barney that she doesn’t have long to live, and proposes marriage. After all, he won’t have to live with her for long, and it’ll make her happy before she dies. After they marry, Barney and Valancy are happier than they’d ever dreamed. But Valancy’s fate hangs over their heads. Colleen McCollough wrote a novel in 1987 called The Ladies of Missalonghi, with a very similar plot set in the Blue Mountains of Australia. The similarities prompted accusations of plagiarism. Having read both, I think they’re just two novels that have similar plotlines.  I prefer The Blue Castle though.

51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_5. Precious Bane by Mary Webb– This is a fairly new discovery for me. Prue Sarn’s “precious bane” is her cleft pallet. It sets her apart from the other girls in her Shropshire community for better and for worse. It isolates her from her peers, but that isolation is also the source of inner strength. Prue’s brother, Gideon, is determined to lift the family out of poverty. He devotes everything he has to make money, which is the very thing that may ultimately destroy him. In a way money is his “precious bane”. It promises a better life but ultimately destroys life and love. Meanwhile, Prue has fallen in love with Kester Woodseaves, a weaver with a gentle spirit. Like Prue, he’s an outsider, due to his gentle nature rather than anything external. Will his good heart allow him to see the beauty in Prue?

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_6. Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith– A lot of readers compare this book to the (brilliant) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though it was actually a fictionalized account of the first year of the author’s own marriage. Nonetheless, the heroine, Annie Brown, has a lot in common with Francie, the heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Annie and Carl get married in the 1920’s just before Carl starts law school in the midwest. Annie leaves her Brooklyn home to go with him. Their families oppose the marriage, but they’re young, in love, a bit naive, and optimistic. They face challenges from poverty to more personal conflicts. This isn’t really a plot-driven book. It’s far more character driven. It’s hard not to root for Carl and Annie as they begin to build a foundation for their lives together.

51ktieauzl-_ac_us218_7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer– I first encountered this novella after seeing the exquisite musical that was inspired by it. It’s a beautiful book as well. Margaret Johnson is an unhappily married, wealthy, Southern woman traveling in Florence with her daughter, Clara in the 1950s. When Clara falls in love with Fabrizio, a young Italian (and he with her), Margaret finds herself torn between two equally strong impulses: to protect her daughter and spare her the pain of lost love or to hope that Clara might be luckier in love than Margaret was. The story is about the courage that it takes to fall in love and the bravery in hoping (in the face of experience) that it might last forever.

31vqaqjxh5l-_ac_us218_8. Passion by IU Tarchetti– This is probably an odd choice. It’s another book that I discovered thanks to my obsession with musical theater. Sondheim’s musical of the same name won a Tony in 1994 but is still one of his less popular works, though it’s one of my favorites. The story is about Giorgio, a handsome, young, Italian soldier. He is having an affair with the lovely (but married) Clara in Milan when he is transferred to a remote base in Parma. There he is invited to dine at his commander’s residence, and he meets the commander’s cousin, Fosca. Fosca is terminally ill, highly strung, and unattractive. She is also madly in love with Giorgio. Though he tries to avoid her at first, Giorgio eventually realizes that Fosca is offering him something that Clara cannot: a pure, true, love that requires his total surrender, yet gives him everything that she has in return.

51x5chc9f7l-_ac_us218_9. Katherine by Anya Seton– Though this book is a novel, it is based on a real-life love story. During the fourteenth century, John of Gaunt, son of a king, fell in love with the already married Katherine Swynford. Even after Katherine is widowed, she and John are prevented from marrying due to politics. However, their affair survives decades of struggle, war, politics, adultery, murder, and danger. I can see where some contemporary readers might see John and Katherine’s romance as one-sided or not very romantic. However I think that is holding a couple in the middle ages to modern expectations. In a time and a place where royal used and discarded mistresses on a regular basis, John maintained his love for Katherine over the course a lifetime, even when casting her aside would have been more politically expedient. He regarded Katherine as his wife and his partner. The descendants of John and Katherine’s children, the Beauforts, include much of the British royal family. For fans of medieval literature this book has appearances from Geoffrey Chaucer (who was Katherine’s brother in law), and includes the writings of Julian of Norwich who also appears as a character in the book.

51lsl4lfqql-_ac_us218_10. Remembrance by Jude Deveraux– Hayden Lane is a bestselling romance author with a problem: she’s fallen in love with the hero she wrote in one of her books.  When a psychic tells her that her obsession may be due to something that happened in a past life, Helen decides to see a hypnotist, who transports her to Edwardian England where she encounters a previous incarnation. But she must go back even further, to the Elizabethan era, before she learns how her earliest incarnation, Callie, was in love with a man named Talis, and how they unintentionally betrayed each other and cursed their future selves. In order to set things right, Hayden will have to figure out a way to break the curse and change history. Some elements of the plot are a bit farfetched (even if you believe in reincarnation, the curses can be hard to buy into!) but it kept me reading. Unlike many romance novels, this doesn’t have a traditional “happily ever after”, though the ending is decidedly hopeful.