Under the Almond Tree
By Laura McVeigh
If you lost everything you loved, how would you survive and begin again? Under the Almond Tree tells the story of one refugee family fleeing Afghanistan and the catastrophic effects of war and displacement.Fifteen year old Samar and her family are refugees, fleeing the conflict in 1990s Kabul, after the Russians and then the Taliban, turn their lives inside out. They are aboard the Trans-Siberian Express as it travels across Russia towards an uncertain future. With the help of Napoleon, the ticket collector, her beloved copy of Anna Karenina, and her family, Samar narrates the story of their epic journey away from their happy life in Kabul and everything they have known. But, as Samar's tale unfolds, and the secrets of the family are unearthed, we slowly discover that the truth is far more devastating - and more full of hope - than we could ever have imagined. Under the Almond Tree is a story of how we keep the truth from those we love, and even from ourselves, to hold on to the beliefs which underpin our lives. It's also the story of extraordinary resilience and courage, in a turbulent world where nothing can be relied upon, but everything is possible.
Under the Wide and Starry Sky
By Nancy Horan
THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERAt the age of thirty-five, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium to study art, with her three children and nanny in tow. Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her brood repair to a quiet artists' colony in France where she can recuperate. There she meets Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who is instantly smitten with the earthy, independent, and opinionated belle Americaine.A woman ahead of her time, Fanny does not immediately take to the young lawyer who longs to devote his life to literature rather than the law - and who would eventually write such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson's charms, and the two begin a fierce love affair-marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness that spans decades as they travel the world for the sake of his health following their art and dreams eventually settling in Samoa where Robert Louis Stevenson is buried, with these words on his grave: Under the wide and starry sky,Dig the grave and let me lie.Glad did I live and gladly die,And I laid me down with a will.This be the verse you grave for me:Here he lies where he longed to be;Home is the sailor, home from sea,And the hunter home from the hill.(Requiem, Robert Louis Stevenson)
Until I Say Good-Bye
By Bret Witter, Susan Spencer-Wendel
THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERAs inspirational as Tuesdays with Morrie and The Last Lecture ... What would you do with one year to live? Susan Spencer-Wendel was determined to laugh instead of cry.In 2011, she learned she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease -(ALS) - Lou Gehrig's disease - an irreversible condition that systematically destroys the nerves that power the muscles. Susan was just 44-years-old, with three young children, and she had only one year of health remaining. She decided to live that year with joy.She left her job as a journalist and spent time with her family. She built a meeting place for friends in her backyard. And she took seven trips with the seven most important people in her life. As her health declined, Susan journeyed to the Yukon, Hungary, the Bahamas, and Cyprus. She went to the beach with her sons and to Kleinfeld's bridal shop in New York City with her teenage daughter, Marina, for a glimpse of the wedding she would never attend.She also wrote this book. No longer able to walk or even lift her arms, she tapped it out letter by letter on her iPhone using only her right thumb, the last finger still working.And yet Until I Say Good-Bye is not angry or bitter. It is sad in parts - how could it not be? - but it is filled with Susan's optimism, joie de vivre and sens of humour. It is a book that, like Susan, will make everyone smile. From a hilarious family Christmas disaster to the decrepit monastery in eastern Cyprus where she rediscovered her heritage, Until I Say Good-Bye is Susan Spencer-Wendel's unforgettable gift to her loved ones and to us: a record of their final experiences together and a reminder that every day is better when it is lived with joy. Susan died in 2014 with a life lived to the full.