Before leaving for a tour in Iraq, 21-year old Private John Bartle makes a promise that he’ll keep his new friend, an idealistic 18-year-old soldier named Murph, safe. He does his best to keep his word as the two navigate the terrifying and bloody battlegrounds of the Iraq War, as they both struggle to maintain their sanity and, ultimately, survive.
Isadora Wing is bored. She’s on her second husband, a rather stuffy psychiatrist, and she’s looking for someone to shake things up in her now-predictable life. When she accompanies her husband to Austria for a conference, she meets Adrian Goodlove, and begins to explore and understand what it is she really wants, both emotionally and sexually.
Ruth is a single mom and a health teacher at the local high school, who recently got into big trouble for implying that sex can be an enjoyable act. As a liberal feminist, she’s annoyed by the conservatives who are, as she sees it, imposing their religious views and warped perspectives on sexuality on the school, town, and country as a whole. On the other side of the political/moral spectrum is Tim, a soft-spoken ex-addict who has found Jesus and believes it’s his duty to spread the word of God throughout the community. The two clash and come together over the course of the novel, grappling with simultaneous mutual attraction and opposing views on just about everything.
Three characters cross paths one morning without realizing it: Jackson Brodie, a detective investigating the circumstances around a young woman’s adoption, Tracie Waterhouse, an ex-policewoman with little to live for, and Tilly, an aging actress struggling to deal with her deteriorating mind. They weave in and out of each other’s lives over the course of the novel as they seek out answers to certain secrets–and strive to keep their own.
The Leftovers takes place a year or so after what is known as the “Great Departure,” a Rapture-like event which involved thousands of normal people across the world disappearing suddenly, vanishing into thin air. The focus is on the Garvey family: Kevin, Lori, and their two children, Tom and Jill. Tom has run away to follow a pseudo-prophet named Holy Wayne; Lori has joined the Guilty Remnant, a religious movement that involves isolation from society and a vow of silence; former good-girl Jill has fallen in with a bad crowd and is failing out of school. Nora, the other main character, is a woman who lost her husband and two children, and finds her life spiralling out of control. We follow them as they grapple with the aftermath of the event, trying to center themselves in a world that no longer makes sense.
Life After Life is the story–or rather, stories–of Ursula Todd. Ursula, it seems, cannot die. Her first life is over before it begins, as she dies before even taking her first breath. She is reborn moments later to the same family, in the same house, under the same circumstances. As she gets older, she dies and is reborn repeatedly, each new life taking her on a different path–some disastrous, some charmed–giving her a chance, each time, to do it over, to do it right. All that remains of her past lives, each time she is reborn, is a strong sense of déjà vu, a feeling that only grows stronger with time.
This is kind of a hard book to summarize, but here goes! We first meet the narrator (who goes by several names over the course of the book) as a young boy in an airport terminal, waiting for his flight attendant mother. We then shift to him as a teenager, where he’s a poor kid in a town full of rich snobs and is hopelessly in love with of them. Next, we find him at college, where he’s a writing student, and where his friendship with Julian, a flamboyant and incredible talented rival writer, and Evelyn, the beautiful actress, begins. It’s these two relationships that are at the center of the novel, although they’re later hidden under the veil of a novel-within-a-novel (and yet another novel within this one). This is a book about writing, more than anything–the process, the act, the emotional journey.
Alanna of Trebond is not your typical girl. Her father (a lord) expects her to become a gentle lady, and her twin brother, Thom, to become a knight. This idea is torture to both of them: Alanna dreams of becoming the greatest knight the kingdom has ever seen, and Thom wants to be a sorcerer. So they come up with a clever plan to switch places, with Alanna cutting her hair and renaming herself Alan. She enters the squire program at the palace, where she must face physical and mental challenges unlike any she’s ever experienced before, learn to control her burgeoning magical skills, and deal with new enemies–all while attempting to disguise her true identity.
Elsa Emerson is a typical little girl growing up in 1940′s Wisconsin, with dreams of becoming an actress just like the young men and women who flock to her family’s theater program each summer. An unexpected tragedy pushes her to pursue her dreams, and she moves to Hollywood as a young teenager. There, she transforms into the glamorous Laura Lamont, a woman as far removed from the all-American Elsa as possible. The novel follows Elsa/Laura through fame, heartbreak, and loss while exposing the dark underside of shiny old-school Hollywood.