Tag Archives: fiction

Love and War in the Time of Napoleon

Napoleon’s myriad attempts to conquer Europe featured his struggle, from 1807-1814, to dominate Portugal and Spain. Of course the British were part of this fight, and the conflict plays a part in many Regency Romances. Two recent series portray the impact on individuals and families whose participation on the war front and behind the scenes leave a lasting impact of life and love.

proposalMary Balogh’s seven-book, romance series features the Survivor’s Club, six men and one woman who return to England, broken of body, mind and heart. They spend three years together at the seaside estate of the Duke of Stanbrook, supporting and encouraging each other as they heal, preparing to venture forth and live out their lives among the town and the country folk they each belong to. Balogh, in her usual sensitive style, relates these romantic tales with strong parallels to our disabled veterans returning home from the Middle East wars of today. Each of the seven characters meets physical and mental challenges as they vie for independence and love. The last book in this series, Only Beloved, will be published in May 2016. Balogh excels at developing relationships. She takes the time to portray how people start at one place and change, usually driven by hope and longing for a life of peace and contentment while treasuring those special moments of fleeting joy or happiness.

Survivors’ Club

pinkcarnationAnother excellent Regency romance series has wrapped up this past fall. Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series is told from the point of view of contemporary Harvard graduate student Eloise Kelly, who travels to England to do research into a ring of British spies tracking the movement and secret strategies of Napoleon and his armies. Eloise lands at the doorstep of Arabella Selwick-Alderly and her grand-nephew, Colin, who reluctantly open their family archives to Eloise. As the months go by, Eloise begins to unravel the elusive tidbits of information about the spy training school run by her ancestor, Richard Selwick (the Purple Gentian), that sends its spies—both male and female—behind enemy lines and into Parisian parlors and boudoirs of many historical personalities of the Regency era. Their intrigues reach as far as India and end on the Iberian Peninsula, where the final mission of the Pink Carnation is played out. These stories are rich in humor and historic detail and as Eloise not only discovers the identity and destiny of the Pink Carnation, she finds for herself a husband and a different kind of future for herself than she intended at the start of the series.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

 

-Sheila

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Sins of the City

There are a million stories in the Steel City’s library system. These are two of them.

Black Lotus, K’wan

Detective James Wolf is a good cop who gets results; he’s also a loose cannon who bends rules to suit his own needs. This infuriating combination is exactly what’s needed to solve the gruesome murder of a priest. Temporarily transferred from narcotics to homicide, WolfKwan is given carte blanche to find the killer, who left only one piece of evidence behind: a rare black flower. Wolf’s investigation sends him into a tangled web of secrets, lies and scandal that eventually leads to a cold case from his own shady past. Before it’s over, everybody’s dirty laundry will be hung out to dry, for better or worse. Fast-paced, suspenseful stuff for readers who like police procedurals and other psychological thrillers.

Available in print, Playaway, digital audio, Kindle and EPUB formats.

Kiss the Ring, Meesha Mink

Naeema Cole gave her son Brandon up for adoption, but secretly kept tabs on him to make sure he was growing up right. All of her dreams for him went up in smoke, however, when Brandon was murdered at age fourteen. The three other boys he ran with were the prime kisstheringsuspects, but the police couldn’t prove anything, and everybody walked. Desperate for justice, Naeema transforms herself into Queen, a tough-talking character disguise that helps her infiltrate the boys’ social circle … which turns out to be a bank robbery ring.

The atmosphere is tense as Naeema struggles not to blow her cover, taking greater and greater risks as she searches for the truth, including possibly losing her heart to the leader of the gang, against all logic and her own better judgment. Sizzling with suspense, sex and surprise plot twists, Kiss the Ring will have thriller and romantic suspense readers eagerly turning pages until the end, at which point they can pick up the sequel, All Hail the Queen.

Both titles available in print only.

Ask the library staff about these and other pulse-pounding tales of street justice, and tell us about your favorites in the comments section!

–Leigh Anne

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Reading Room

Room

Right on cue for the holiday movie season comes yet another film with its origins in a popular book.  The movie Room — based on the Emma Donoghue novel of the same name  will be released here in the United States next week.

Some people may shy away from the subject matter.  My initial reaction was that I wanted nothing to do with this book. A child and his mother held captive in a small room for seven years? No thank you. But one of the key things to understand about Room is that this novel is about so much more than the actual plot.  So much more.

(That being said, it is the story of a five year old boy named Jack and his Ma. From the book jacket:  To five year old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born. It’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack’s imagination — the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.  

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen — for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven foot space.  But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation — and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer. )

It is original in respect to the writing, for it is the mark of a true literary talent to sustain the incredibly authentic voice of a five year old over the course of a novel, which Emma Donoghue (a mother herself) does brilliantly.  The pacing is perfect and has you on the edge of your seat.  While Room is indeed very tense in parts, this isn’t a gory or graphic novel. (Donoghue could have easily gone down that road, but didn’t, and it works just as well.)

As a reader, you don’t know where this story is taking place nor do we ever learn Ma’s full name and those elements add to the absolute straight-from-the-headlines feeling that Room has. (This inspiration was the Fritzl case in Austria and I found myself thinking a lot about Elizabeth Smart and the stories of the women held captive in Cleveland as I read.)  We also know that this takes place in the modern day; there are references to a website with “lots of faces,” and emailing friends, and Lady Gaga and children’s show characters such as Dora the Explorer and Barney. There are so many small details that add meaning and depth to the novel, such as the time of year in which it takes place (springtime, right around Easter weekend, symbolizing death and resurrection).

You find yourself caring about these characters, rooting for them, wondering what exactly happened for Ma and Jack to wind up in this predicament in the first place.  (And when that is revealed, you realize how this could have very well been a memoir.)  You find yourself falling in love with Jack, wanting to adopt him and cheering his mother’s feisty spirit.   From a literary perspective, everything works in this one.

This is the type of book that you want to buy a hundred copies of and give to everyone you know who hasn’t read it yet.  It is that good, that powerful, that affecting.  This is a book that completely engulfs you, that you are compelled to read in practically one sitting. (It took me three, but one was spent reading almost 200 pages straight, and I vowed not to go to bed until I knew what happened.)

But most of all, you read Room in utter and complete awe, for this is a story about love and the lengths to which someone will go to in order to give a child the best life possible, despite being trapped in horrific circumstances.

~ Melissa F.

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Remember

I find it absolutely hilarious that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh shares its birthday with V for Vendetta day (a/k/a Guy Fawkes day for those of you who don’t speak geek). For starters, V. and Carnegie would not have liked each other at all. Also, V. was concerned about helping the common man by blowing up powerful institutions; Carnegie, for his part, was often unkind to ordinary folks, but was still interested in building institutions for them. The irony is more than a little palpable.

So, in addition to everything else you need to remember today, take note that Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh turns 120 years old this November 5th. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed; much has changed, but many things have remained the same. Governor Daniel Hartman Hastings, one of the speakers at the Library’s 1895 dedication ceremony, had this to say of the enterprise:

The public library is equally a public necessity and a public blessing. Its unfolding and spreading influence for good is beyond calculation. This community already thrills in anticipation of the blossoming and the ripening fruit to come from the tree this day planted.

Here is a temple of enduring stone which will stand through the ages, whose grand and graceful proportions will be a constant source of pleasure to the beholder. Here, Music will charm the ear and gladden the soul. Here, Art will welcome and inspire her devotees. Here, Literature will sit upon her throne and the children of men will gather wisdom at her feet. Here are assembled the representatives of the greatest industrial community in the land to receive the trust committed to their keeping by a benefactor and a philanthropist.

Today the temple of stone is still, indeed, standing*. She’s had a bit of work done, but is all the better for it. Music is still here, and still charming. Art remains welcoming. Literature has expanded her kingdom by leaps and bounds, in ways Carnegie himself couldn’t have predicted. And the Library has consistently—most recently through its current strategic plan—proved itself both a blessing and a necessity to the Pittsburgh region. One of the city’s biggest, best fruit baskets, so to speak.

Nothing there anyone could complain about. Not even V.

Super Science @ CLP - Squirrel Hill, circa 2012 - photographer unknown. Click through to learn more about STEM programming at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Super Science @ CLP – Squirrel Hill, circa 2012 – photographer unknown. Click through to learn more about STEM programming at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Will the Library still be here 120 years from now, when we all have internet chips in our brains and we finally get those hoverboards we were promised? I think so. It might look different, but the mission will still be the same: to engage our community in literacy and learning. Complex characters both fictional and historical will still be here, whispering reason—or revolution—as you walk by. And of course, through our programs, services and community engagements, the Library will still be planting, and harvesting, all sorts of fruit for you to enjoy.

The grandeur of the past, the excitement of the present and the hope of the future. Who could ask for a better gift? If you feel the same, please share your Library story and tell us how CLP has affected your life. To learn about other ways you can remember the Library on this momentous occasion, click here.

–Leigh Anne

*Does this make library workers Stone Temple Pilots?  Hm.

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Ready, Set, Write!

Ah, November. The time for shorter days, hot beverages, curling up on the couch with a good book, spending time with loved ones and finally writing that novel you’ve got banging around in your head.

In case you are not one of the hundreds of thousands of writers who gather (digitally and in person) each November for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, let me explain. From November 1 to 30, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel (that’s 1,667 words per day).

Sound hard?

Well, that’s probably because it is. I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2007 and have only met the word count goal three times—but even the “failures” aren’t really failures. I always end the month with more written than I had at the beginning, and even if my novel fizzles out, I can use what I learned for my next draft.

Also, it’s fun.

Think you can’t start because it’s already November 3? Think again! As of this writing, I haven’t written a single word toward my NaNo novel. That’s okay, though, because I still have 27 entire days to pound out those 50,000 words. I’ve written as many as 10,000 words in a single day, and there are people who do the whole 50,000 in a single day or weekend.

Even if you’re only a hobbyist, or want to write a fanfic novel for fellow diehards and don’t care about traditional publishing, the Library can help you train with one of our handy books on writing.

No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty
noplotBaty is NaNoWriMo’s founder and ultimate guru. The original No Plot? No Problem came out in 2004 when NaNo was just starting to take off. An updated version came out in 2014 (the Library has the print as well as the eBook version). This guide psyches you up for your Herculean writing effort, and it provides tips and tricks for such dangerous acts as writing at work. It takes you through the stages you’ll go through with your novel (sort of like grief), and acts as a general novel-writing cheerleader. A must-read for NaNo newbies.

Book in a Month by Victoria Schmidt
bookinamonthI haven’t read this personally, but it has good reviews on Goodreads. Unlike Baty’s book, this one breaks down the novel-writing process into a structured timeline with specific milestones meant to be reached on certain days. And, since you aren’t limited to November with this system, you can pick any month that works for you.

Is Life Like This? by John Dufresne
lifelikethisIf writing 50,000 words in 30 days seems like something a crazy person would do, how about writing a novel in six months? Like Book in a Month, this title gives you a goal to work toward and milestones to hit along the way. Great for those who prefer distance running to sprints. Or for those who don’t want to cut themselves off from all social activity for thirty days.

Kicking in the Wall by Barbara Abercrombie
kickinginthewallAbercrombie’s book gives you prompts and exercises to practice your writing craft throughout the whole year, not just during November. Or cherry-pick for ideas that speak to you and your current project. The book also includes inspirational and encouraging quotes to keep you motivated.

The Daily Writer by Fred D. White
dailywriterThis book is essentially a writer’s devotional. Instead of providing religious texts or messages, though, the author provides meditations meant to deepen and enrich your creative side and grow your writing practice over the course of a full year (with an extra day for leap year).

Happy novel writing!

-Kelly, who is seriously behind on her word count

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Short Stories for Long Nights

Reading in bed is one of my favorite pleasures in life — made more enjoyable when the nights get colder, as has been the case recently here in Pittsburgh.  (Yesterday it snowed in some parts ’round here, and last night the temperature went down to 28 degrees!) In my mind, there is nothing better than being under the covers and spending time with a good book right before falling asleep … assuming, of course, that I don’t actually fall asleep before turning the first page.

Lately, I’ve taken to reading a short story before bedtime. This works out well because I seem to always have a short story collection on my nightstand.

Here are a few that are keeping me company on these cooler nights.

A Manual for Cleaning WomenA Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories has been getting quite a bit of buzz from the literary community, partly because this is a posthumous collection from Lucia Berlin, who was somewhat unknown as a writer during her lifetime. So far, the buzz is deserved, as these are very, very short stories that pack a punch.  Of the handful that I’ve read thus far, “Dr. H.A. Moynihan” was enough to keep me awake for the rest of the night.

Wonderful Town

Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker is one of those books that I’ve “always been meaning to” check out someday.  These are very New York-centric stories, giving the reader a flavor for The Big Apple. The audiobook version, which I listened to several months ago, is an abridged version of this collection.

John Cheever(OK, technically this one isn’t a bedtime book for me — I listened to it in the car — but most of these stories are set in so-called bedroom communities, so it counts for this post.) I spotted The John Cheever Audio Collection on the shelf recently and decided to try his stories.  This is where I confess that I’ve never read any John Cheever, which is something I think I should have done by now. Someone who loves short stories as much as I do really should have some familiarity with Cheever.

The narration is key to this collection of 12 stories. Meryl Streep is brilliant on “The Enormous Radio” (how could she not be?), but that doesn’t take away from this being one of the best stories in the bunch. “The Five Thirty Eight” is another great offering. These stories evoke another time — a simpler world — which is why I’m enjoying them.

I’m always on the lookout for great short stories to read, either before bed or any other time.  What have you enjoyed recently that you would recommend?

-Melissa F.

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Omens, Visions, Deceptions

About a year and a half ago I picked up Omens, A Cainsville Novel by Kelley Armstrong and totally fell in love with the bookcovercharacters and the paranormal mystery plot. Olivia Taylor-Jones is a department store heiress with everything going for her; she is beautiful, intelligent and caring. Her fiancé is a brilliant attorney who is getting ready to run for office. In a short while Olivia will turn 25 and come into the inheritance left to her by her father.

Then, without warning, everything falls apart. Liv is suddenly thrust into the media spotlight when a story is leaked claiming that she is adopted and names her birth parents as infamous occult serial killers. To Liv’s horror her mother confirms the rumors before jetting off to Europe to evade the press and her fiancé abandons her as a form of damage control for his political campaign.

Looking for shelter Liv finds herself pulled to a small, remote suburb called Cainsville, a safe haven where she can hide while she sorts out the mess that has become her life. Soon enough she realizes that Cainsville is not all that is seems and Liv finds her self pulled deeper into the mystery of her birth-parents’ crimes while realizing that the omens she has seen all her life are real and not just part of a vivid imagination. An uncertain friendship with her birth-mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, gives Liv the impetus to embark on solving the mystery of her identity.

What I really enjoyed about Omens was the mystery of Cainsville: Who is Olivia and how does she fit into the puzzle? Why does she see things that other people don’t? Who is Gabriel Walsh? Why is he helping Liv even though her birth-mother is no longer his client? Most importantly, are her parents all that they seem or is there something extraordinary laying beneath the surface?

1When I finished Omens I immediately went back to page one and re-read it, and that is not something I do often. The interactions between the characters left you wanting more and the questions behind Cainsville and the inhabitants were entertaining and other-worldly. So when Visions, the second Cainsville novel, came out last year, I was thrilled. But as I read I became wary; Armstrong was taking the series in an all too familiar direction. She introduced Ricky, a “Sons of Anarchy” cast off and un-surprisingly Liv found herself in the middle of a love-triangle. We find some of the answers to our paranormal questions but the mystery of Cainsville promptly took a back seat to the blossoming romance between the characters and the (terrible, absolutely terrible) age old question: Who gets the girl?

Optimistically, because Visions ended with many unfinished plotlines, I (naively) assumed that book three would bring everything to a close while getting back to the intriguing mystery that made Cainsville enjoyable in the first place… I don’t think you need to read omens or have second vision to see where this is going…

Deceptions came out this August and the story of Cainsville is now entirely focused on the love triangle with Liv at the gggcenter. The titles really could be how I feel about the books: There were omens of what was to come, visions of the love triangle and finally the deception has been uncovered. Now before you get out the pitch forks (I know Armstrong is a popular author in the genre) the books are still well done, and the plot makes sense, but Armstrong’s focus is no longer about unmasking the truth of Cainsville. Even the questions surrounding Liv’s birth parents (while driving the plot) are secondary to the relationships between Liv, Gabriel and Ricky.

I will read the rest of the Cainsville novels, and maybe if I had stumbled on them after they were all released I would be more forgiving, but waiting a year in-between books that don’t answer any questions but are instead an epic “will she / won’t she” is frustrating to say the least. The last thing I wanted to do is get interested in a series that has the potential to turn into a paranormal version of Stephanie Plum, or even a more serious Sookie Stackhouse-esque love-triangle.  But no matter how much I may want to fight it, Armstrong’s writing has kept me interested and I do care about what happens to Liv and the inhabitants of Cainsville.

What do you think? Have you read the Cainsville novels? Do you agree with my frustrations over where the plot has gone or do you think the love-triangle has made the book?

-Natalie

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