Nearing the end of her life, prima ballerina Nina Revskaya is again haunted by memories of the past, memories that she had thought were safely hidden and forgotten in the poignant novel Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay.

Born and raised in Moscow during the Cold War, Nina’s talent and skill not only ensure her career at the Bolshoi Ballet, it insulates her from many of the harsh realities of life in Stalinist Russia. She falls in love with the poet Victor Elsin, develops a circle of friends that includes writers and composers and enjoys a life of relative comfort. The illusion is shattered when a close friend is arrested and sent to a labor camp, forcing Nina to confront the true nature of the corrupt and unforgiving government. Disillusionment, a shocking betrayal and a daring escape plan propel Nina into the West where her star continues to rise.

Now an old woman wracked with illness, Nina decides to sell her jewels with the proceeds going to charity. Most of the jewels are from her admirers, but a few, particularly a rare and valuable set of amber, are from Russia. Bringing them out into the public eye brings the return of painful memories, of lost love and rash decisions, decisions that reverberate across time and now confront Nina once again.

Moving between present-day Boston and 1950s Soviet Union creates fascinating contrasts in this novel, as well as ratcheting up the tension as separate stories build. From fine jewelry to the ballet to the living conditions of ordinary people in Stalinist Russia, Kalotay effortlessly crafts a bittersweet story of love and friendship and the righting of past wrongs.

In addition to listening to an audiobook while on a long car ride, books on CD are a great way to pass the time while gardening or listening to while cleaning the house, or just about anything else!  One of my most recent discoveries is a great mystery with a hint of “chick lit,” Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella.

Young, London-based businesswoman Lara Lington has just learned that her 105-year old great-aunt has just passed away – an aunt that she did not even know.  While attending Sadie’s funeral, Lara hears voices and catches an occasional glimpse of a young woman dressed in 1920s attire.  She then realizes that the young woman is not an illusion but is actually the ghost of Sadie at age 23!  Sadie has decided to relentlessly haunt her grand-niece in order to nearly force Lara to help her find her most prized possession, a dazzling, diamond, dragonfly necklace that was stolen before she died.   The pair form an unlikely duo that argue, confide in each other and share a friendship in the most unlikely of ways – all while solving the mystery of the missing necklace.

Twenties Girl has a little bit for everyone -mystery, romance, intrigue and comedy.  A definite recommended read – you may find yourself  circling your block a few dozen times to find out how the book ends!