The Piano Teacher, Janice Y.K. Lee
This story is set in Hong Kong in the 1940s and 1950s, which is a place and time I don't know much about. It tells the story of two affairs; one between an Englishman and a Eurasian woman on the eve of World War II, and the other between an married American woman and an Englishman. I didn't know anything about the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and actually ended up doing a bit of research online so I'd have a better understanding of the events. While I did enjoy it, I felt some of the characters were not developed as much as I would have liked. Despite that it was a fascinating look at a society I knew nothing about.
The Story Sisters, Alice Hoffman
I chose to read this because I had enjoyed another of Alice Hoffman's books, The Probable Future. The Story Sisters was even better. It's the tale of the three Story sisters and the world they weave for themselves as they grow up and deal with life changing events. The story is haunting and cobwebbed with fantasy that feels completely real. The characters are all well developed and I was completely entranced from start to finish. While the main focus is on the girls' emotional development, the plot is strong and often surprising.
Playing the Enemy, John Carlin
This book was the basis for the recent movie Invictus, which I had seen and enjoyed. The book is less rugby-focused than the movie and focuses more on the political challenges Nelson Mandela faced in ending apartheid in South Africa. I learned a lot about the process which I had never known before. At times the author seemed to be so enamored of Mandela that he lost his way in explaining how this man changed his country, but that is a small complaint. Having seen the movie and read the book, I was impressed (for the most part) with how true to life the movie was. I recommend them both! (Note: apparently the book has been re-released under the title Invictus, but the content remains the same.)
The Greatest Knight, Elizabeth Chadwick
I've been reading a lot of historical fiction but this novel is set further back than most as it takes place in 12th century Europe. It follows the rise of a knight who serves Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his sons Young Henry and Richard (the Lionhearted). I was thoroughly engrossed throughout. The author did a great job of making William Marshal, the protagonist, seem like a real man and not a mythical perfect knight. There's a sequel coming out March 1 and I will definitely be getting it!