Tag Archives: historical fiction

Song Of Ice And Fire Read-Alikes

Over the past holiday weekend I enjoyed unexpected access to HBO on-demand, and managed to watch the first three episodes of Game Of Thrones season four.  Needless to say, I was instantly reminded not only how much I love this show, but also the epic George R. R. Martin series that spawned it.  I feel like re-reading the whole series, but I also feel like it might be more productive to seek out something new to fill the void until Mr. Martin gets that sixth book out to us.

While I have recommended it before here in this space, I want to plug our Novelist database again. A lot of the titles I am going to mention below came from a Game Of Thrones read-alike search on Novelist. While I am not searching for carbon copies of Mr. Martin’s epic, I would like to at least match the tone of his series–gritty fantasy or even historical fiction with plenty of compelling characters.

Name-of-the-Wind_cover The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  The first book of the Kingkiller Chronicles, descriptions indicate this book possesses the necessary grittiness of Martin’s work, but with a good deal more magic. It also utilizes different point-of-view characters to tell the story, much like Mr. Martin does in his books. Mr. Rothfuss and this series has been recommended to me before, so that encourages me as well. Also encouraging is that the second book, The Wise Man’s Fear is also out and in our collection. The next installment, The Slow Regard Of Silent Things, seems to be due in October of this year, so if I do really enjoy it, I’ve picked a good time to start reading.

Iron-King_cover  The Iron King by Maurice Druon.  Brought to us from France by the same outfit who publishes Mr. Martin’s books, it’s no coincidence why the cover of this historical novel has a similar livery to the Song Of Ice And Fire series. Mr. Druon’s epic tale of the rule of the Iron King, Philip the Fair of France served as Martin’s inspiration for Game Of Thrones. A cast of flawed and fascinating characters populates this epic tale of ambition, violence and revenge.

Legions-of-Fire_cover Legions Of Fire by David Drake.  I have long been a fan of Mr. Drake’s sci-fi writing, but I have only read his shorter fantasy fiction, so this one would be a first for me. Set in a fantastic analog of the Roman Empire, Legions is the first book in a quartet of novels in the author’s Books Of The Elements series. Out Of The Waters marks the second title in the series, and the fact CLP also has it on the shelves makes this one another enticing option on my list!

Desert-of-Souls_cover The Desert Of Souls by Howard A. Jones.  Part of another series, this book could prove a good example of the sort of serendipitous meandering that results when using Novelist.  I found this title after plowing through a few of the database’s sidebars of suggested titles. Set in 8th century Baghdad, this quasi-historical novel contains some interesting fantastic elements, and is followed up by The Bones Of The Old Ones.

A few minutes poking around in Novelist gave me quite a few options to plan my next few weeks and months of reading!

I would also be much obliged for other title suggestions. Thanks!

–Scott

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An Exciting Weekend With Dangerous Women

My idea of a good time is soaring through the air with night witches, galloping through the Old West with outlaws, tailing dangerous dames and femmes fatales, and otherwise cavorting with women you’d be crazy to cross. Luckily for me–and for you!–George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois have edited a spectacular collection of short stories called Dangerous Women,  featuring what are most commonly referred to today as “strong female characters,” though they are ever so much more than that.

Members of the Missouri University Shooting Club, 1934. Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons - click through to learn more.

Members of the Missouri University Shooting Club, 1934. Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons – click through to learn more.

I had fully intended to read one or two tales at a time to make the collection last longer, but the stories are just so great, I’ve been burning through them the way I normally polish off a bag of Fig Newtons after a long run (do not judge). So far I’ve been totally creeped out by Megan Abbott, highly amused by Joe R. Lansdale, stunned to silence by Brandon Sanderson, and treated to a whirlwind of genres from Western to noir. I’m even in possession of information that Jim Butcher fans who aren’t up-to-date on the Dresden files will be extremely excited to learn. And overall, I’m just plain delighted by the variety of genres produced by a greatest hits lineup of well-known folks–that make up the volume.

[In fact, the only thing that makes me sad about this anthology is that there are no writers of color featured in it. I fail to see how that could possibly have happened, given that authors like Nalo Hopkinson, Jewelle Gomez, and Natsuo Kirino (to name but a few of many) are alive and well, and creating dangerous women of their own. Luckily, there are other story collections to remedy this shortcoming, and I’d recommend you look into them.]

My favorite piece thus far in Dangerous Women addresses the fear of getting old with a twist of the fantastic. Megan Lindholm (better known to some as Robin Hobb) delivers the quietly brilliant “Neighbors,” the story of an aging woman named Sarah whose son is determined to put her in an assisted living facility. Sarah, who has lost her husband (to death), her brother (to Alzheimer’s disease) and her dog (to the mysterious fog that rolls into her yard every night) is determined to hold on to her house for as long as she can. But though her efforts have kept her children at bay thus far, she can’t hold out forever. Meanwhile, the fog–and the mysterious people Sarah sees coming and going inside of it–gets closer and closer to the house. Deeply moving and suspenseful, Lindholm’s story will have you rooting for Sarah all the way up to the surprising–but, under the circumstances, believable–ending.

So, if you’re looking for a series of hair-raising adventures featuring heroines–and villains–who could teach Buffy the Vampire Slayer a thing or two, I definitely recommend snuggling up for a weekend with Dangerous Women. Despite its one glaring flaw, it’s one of the most exciting collections I’ve picked up in a long time, and short story fans of all kinds will consider it a win.

–Leigh Anne

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Stacking ‘Em Up: Our Favorite Reads From 2013

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a library blog in possession of a good staff must be in want of a best books post. Library workers are frequently their own best customers, passing titles back and forth with reckless abandon, buttonholing colleagues in stairwells to insist they check out the book that kept us up late swooning (or shivering). Nothing brings us more joy, however, than turning those efforts outward and sharing our favorites with you.

The Eleventh Stack team consumed a mountain of reading this year (probably taller than Richard, and he’s pretty tall). Here are some of the ones we enjoyed most.

Maria:

turncoatThe Turncoat by Donna Thorland

Though labeled historical fiction, this book has a passionate and sizzling romance at its heart, so I would call it historical romance as well. The first book in the Renegades of the Revolution series, I loved this dangerous romance set amid the intrigues of Revolutionary War Philadelphia. Quaker country-girl-turned-rebel-spy Kate Grey falls for British officer Peter Tremayne despite their opposing allegiances. I especially enjoyed its life meets fiction aspect as George Washington, John Andre, General Howe, and Peggy Shippen all make appearances here. I look forward to reading more in the series from this debut author. Thorland, who is also a filmmaker, made a fascinating book trailer; I think it would make a great movie.

detroit

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

My poor hometown. Native metro-Detroiter and award-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff writes a raw and thoroughly readable portrait of the Motor City’s state of emergency, from its abandoned neighborhoods, horrible city services, double-digit unemployment rates, and rampant crime to the die-hard residents who refuse to give up. A moving and frightening account of the decline of a great American city.

Melissa F.

I spent most of 2013 hanging out with some questionable, unreliable, but incredibly memorable characters from the Gilded Age.  You don’t get much more eyebrow-raising than Odalie from The Other Typist, Suzanne Rindell’s debut that has been described as “part Hitchcock, part Patricia Highsmith, and part Gatsby.” It’s a phenomenal, can’t-put-down read that I’ve been recommending all year long.  Also of note is The Virgin Cure , Ami McKay’s historical fiction story of a twelve year old orphan in 1870s New York that is based on the true story of one of her relatives.  

The OrchardistAnd then there was benevolent Talmadge from The Orchardist. I adored Amanda Coplin’s luminous debut novel with its grand, overlapping themes of morality and religion, of being one with the earth and the eternal struggle of good versus evil. It’s been compared to The Grapes of Wrath (this one is way better). Like Steinbeck, Amanda Coplin joins the list of authors who have given us a true American classic.

(Other highly recommended books in case the Gilded Age isn’t your thing: Tenth of December and In Persuasion Nation, both by George Saunders; Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan; Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys, The Bird Saviors, by William J. Cobb, When It Happens to You, by Molly Ringwald (yes, THAT Molly Ringwald!), Still Life with Oysters and Lemon and Dog Years by Mark Doty (listen to the audio version); Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon, and Songdogs, by Colum McCann.)

What can I say? In the words of Sinatra, it was a very good year.

JessBurial Rites, Hannah Kent

If you’ve had good experiences with Alice Hoffman and Geraldine Brooks (Kent even gives a shout out to Brooks as a mentor in her acknowledgements), then this is for you.

In rural Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir has been tried and accused of murder – and now must await execution in her home district. No prison means she’s forced upon a family who obviously wants nothing to do with her. Over the next months, Agnes is put to work on the farm. She slowly begins to open up about her messy past to a young priest, chosen for a long ago kindness, and to the wife of the household, who begins to see a Agnes as woman who has been worn down by a harsh life. Based on true story of one of the last two executions in Iceland, Kent deftly blends some amazing research with strong prose to weave a story about woman who was truly a victim of her circumstances.

SuzyTraveling Sprinkler, Nicholson Baker. Suzy really enjoyed this book a lot, but is not here to tell us about it because she is off riding her bike someplace not currently buried under several feet of snow. We are extremely jealous of very happy for Suzy, and hope she comes home soon to tell us more about the book.

Leigh Anne

Much to my surprise, the two books I’ve enjoyed most this year were both set during World War II. I’ve never been much of a war buff, but that’s a testament to how the power of good fiction can make you more interested in history. In this case, the novels were Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity.

Life After Life –the tale of an Englishwoman who keeps reincarnating as herself and trying to kill lifeafterlifeHitler–has cropped up on a number of best/notable lists this year, including the New York Times, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and I’ve already reviewed it earlier this year, so let me just say this: what an ending. When I read the last few sentences, and the light bulb over my head finally went on, I was amazed at how cleverly Atkinson had made her point: no matter how hard we strive as individuals, we can never act out of context. We always need other people to help us achieve our objectives, even if we are strong and clever.

verityCode Name Verity takes us behind enemy lines as Verity the spy and Maddie the pilot tell their stories in alternating sections. The crux of this novel–which I also reviewed earlier this year–is truth: who’s telling it, who’s hiding it, and how flexible it can be depending on how high the stakes are. For Maddie and Verity, the stakes are very high, indeed, and I loved that the book, while intended for a teen audience, didn’t shy away from the horrors of war…or deliver a tidy happy ending. If you want a great portrait of what it must have been like to be a teenager during WWII, pick up this novel….but be prepared to have All Of The Feelings. If you adore Wein as much as I do after you’re done, you’ll want to move on to her 2013 release, Rose Under Fire, in which pilot Rose Justice is captured and sent to the concentration camp Ravensbruck.

It was really hard to pick my favorites from what turned out to be an amazing run of excellent reading this year. Some other books I devoured include Letters From Skye (historical romance), Longbourn (historical fiction), and The Son (epic southwestern family saga). And now I must stop, before I blog your ear off…

bookcover Joelle 

I do love fantasy books! My favorites for this year were The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Both of these books have already achieved positive critical acclaim, but I will add mine:

The Golem is created by a mysterious and mischievous Rabbi as a bride for a young man who is set to travel to New York from Poland. The Jinni had been trapped for centuries in a lamp which also made its way to New York City. They both try to fit in to society with their separate supernatural talents, but recognize each other as different right away. It is interesting to see these magical beings from two different cultures coming together. The author creates characters with unusual and distinctive personalities.

ocean Neil Gaiman is the master of creating fantasy worlds that do not follow any specific cultural tradition, yet are somehow universal. A man journeys back to his old home town, and is drawn to a place only half remembered. The reader is transported to the mind of a seven year old, a time in a person’s life when one is very vulnerable, and when one can accept magic as a matter of fact.
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http://vufindplus2.einetwork.net/bookcover.php?id=.b29858586&isn=9780820329673&size=large&upc=&oclc=551718356&category=&format=

Holly
Nestled behind the International Poetry Room on CLP-Main’s second floor, you’ll find one of my favorite places in the Library.  The Oversize Book Room is home to volume upon volume of giant, gorgeous books. These are books that are graphic-heavy, photo-heavy, and often really heavy in weight, and therefore they do not fit on our regular book shelves/make great impromptu weapons.  Fashion, art, landscape photography, crafts and home repair are some of the subjects that you can find here.   One day while helping a patron find another book in this section, I stumbled upon the splendid  Jack London, Photographer. This is my favorite book of 2013 because it exemplifies what I love most about the Library and the serendipity that lives here.  I had no idea that Jack London was a photographer, and a talented one at that!  This gem contains somewhat disparate, at least in terms of location, photo collections.  They are a fascinating  look at early 20th century history through the eyes of a classic author.  Chapters have titles like ” The People of the Abyss,”  which is a stark look at impoverished Londoners in 1902. Battlefields are a subject as well, such as  those of  the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 and the Mexican Revolution of 1914.  I loved this book because it was a rejuvenating break from my usual reading of text-heavy new fiction and new nonfiction.

Don

For me this was an unusual year, and my reading reflected all the strangeness. I found myself reading old (Kim by Rudyard Kipling), new (A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki), rereads (The Final Solution by Michael Chabon and The Fall by Albert Camus), pastiche (The Mandela of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu), Buddhist fiction (Buddha Da by Anne Donovan), science fiction (Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian MacDonald), and the truly, wonderfully bizarre (Duplex by Kathryn Davis).

Part of the unusual nature of all this is the fact that, thematically, there is a great deal these books have in common. There are all kinds of connections between them, come to think of it. And really, there is not a book listed above that you can go wrong with, but, since we are picking favorites, here we go…

My favorite book of the year turns out to be a tie between the first two listed: A Tale for the Time Being, and that hoary old chestnut, Kim. Both of these books surprised, in different ways. I was frankly stunned by how good Kim (and Rudyard Kipling) is. I’d always thought of Kipling as just another dead old white guy, with a penchant for British colonialism and simplistic stories, who might easily be ignored for, oh, 50-plus years or so. And was, by me.

It really is delightful to wake up every day and realize how very, very wrong you can be.

timebeing

Ozeki’s book is difficult to describe, so I’ll let the author speak for herself (from her website):

A Tale for the Time Being is a powerful story about the ways in which reading and writing connect two people who will never meet. Spanning the planet from Tokyo’s Electric Town to Desolation Sound, British Columbia, and connected by the great Pacific gyres, A Tale for the Time Being tells the story of a diary, washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, and the profound effect it has on the woman who discovers it.

Kim is part quest–for self and for meaning–, part old-fashioned adventure via the time-honored motif of the journey, and, consistently, a fine, penetrating story on what it means to be human.

Yes indeed, how very good it is to wake up each and every day.

Melissa M.

5In5Of course my favorite book this year was a cookbook, specifically Michael Symon’s 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners. I’ve watched this man on television so many times now that as I was reading the recipes I could hear them, inside my head, being read to me in his voice. Now, Michael does cheat the five ingredients rule a little because he uses items from his pantry that are not part of that total number. The first section of the book, after the introduction, is a list of what items should be in your pantry at all times. These include things like extra virgin olive oil, a variety of vinegars, pasta, canned beans, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and other spices. You probably already have most of those in your kitchen cupboards, so no worries there. The recipes are not complicated; most have only 3-4 steps. This is food you could cook on a weeknight and would want to eat. Plus, who wouldn’t love a cookbook with a chapter called “On a Stick”? Foods on a stick rule!

There you have it! Your turn. What were your favorite reads of 2013, whether new finds or old favorites?

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“Air raid, Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill!”

Photo of battleship USS West Virginia under attack

USS West Virginia, Pearl Harbor 12/7/1941

Tomorrow marks the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. The next day President Roosevelt asked for, and received from congress a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan.  On December 11th, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. America had become an official combatant in World War II.

As a military maneuver the Japanese attack was an almost perfectly executed assault of torpedo and bombing attacks on the anchored US Pacific Fleet, in concert with bombing and strafing attacks on nearby Army and Marine airfields, barracks, and related facilities.  American efforts at guessing Japanese intentions and assuming a competent defensive posture were ineffective, and in the case of the Army Air Corps. counterproductive.  Thinking that local sabotage was a greater threat than an “enemy” attack, instead of being dispersed, aircraft were lined up wingtip to wingtip so they could be guarded more effectively.  It also made them sitting ducks.  Not everything went the Japanese way. Their desired primary targets, the aircraft carriers Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga weren’t in port, and the Japanese didn’t damage the submarine fleet or the 4.5 million barrels of bunker oil on hand, needed to keep the fleet at sea. Had the Japanese destroyed that reserve, what was left of the fleet might have had to relocate to the West Coast from Pearl, endangering both Hawaii and our lines of communication to Australia and New Zealand.

What did the Japanese accomplish?

  • 2,402 sailors, soldiers and Marines killed (1,177 from the USS Arizona)
  • 1,247 wounded
  • Four battleships sunk of which two were re-floated, refurbished and returned to service.
  • Three battleships damaged, 1 battleship grounded. all returned to service
  • 2 other ships sunk
  • 3 cruisers damaged
  • 3 destroyers damaged
  • 3 other ships damaged
  • 188 aircraft destroyed
  • 159 aircraft damaged

More significantly, the Japanese united a nation split on whether the then two-year old war with the axis was “our” war or not. Between December 7th and December 8th, the America First movement and isolationist sentiment ceased to have a place at the table of public policy.  What the Japanese did was seen as treacherous and sneaky, without honor – because at the moment of the attack, they were supposedly negotiating in good faith in Washington.  Since they couldn’t decode and type fast enough, the Japanese emissaries – ignorant of the military plans in motion – failed to break off negotiations and deliver a declaration of war before the attack on Hawaii commenced.   Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, planner and commander of the attack, a former Naval Attache to the US and Harvard student knew that offending the Americans sense of fair play was perhaps worse than the actual damage caused.  Said he:

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

The story of Pearl Harbor has of course generated historical accounts, memoirs, assessments, literature, fictional accounts and movies.  Wherever your tastes and curiosities lie, it’s worth remembering that there are fewer than 3,000 Pearl Harbor survivors alive today, and the youngest would likely be 88 years old (assuming he lied about his age and was 16 in 1941.)

Nonfiction:

infamy Day of Infamy / Walter Lord

One of the first, and still one of the best historical overviews of the day (along the lines of Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day) written for the casual reader.  It’s well written and well researched (for the period it was written in,) though newer research has dated it somewhat.

dawnAt Dawn We Slept / Gordon W. Prange

Through extensive research and interviews with American and Japanese leaders, Gordon Prange has written what is widely regarded as the definitive assessment of the events surrounding the attack on pearl Harbor, and providing first-hand accounts and recollections from both viewpoints.

fdrleads

Pearl Harbor : FDR leads the nation into war / Steven M. Gillon

Historian Steven Gillon provides a vivid, revealing, minute-by-minute account of Roosevelt’s skillful leadership after Pearl Harbor; perhaps the most pivotal event of the twentieth century. Remaining steady and sure-minded, Roosevelt transformed a grave and potentially demoralizing attack into an occasion for national unity and patriotic fervor.

Fiction & Alternative History:

Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th / Newt Gingrich & William Forstchengingrich

Gingrich and Forstchen provide a detailed account of the background and personalities leading up to the Japanese decision to attack the US.  Then they add the what-if scenarios that subtly change what happens as the Japanese follow their successful attack on the fleet with the additional waves to render the Pacific Fleet wholly ineffective, and Hawaii untenable as an anchorage.

Days of Infamy / Harry Turtledoveinfamyturtle

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In a well written of the type he excels at creating, Turtledove explores the logical “it could have happened scenario”, what if the Japanese followed up their air attack with an invasion and occupation of Hawaii?

From Here to Eternity / James Jonesfrom here

It’s December, 1941 at Schofield Barracks, just north of Pearl Harbor. Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a bugler in the US Army. He’s transferred to an infantry unit whose commander is less interested in preparing for war than he is in boxing. But when Prewitt refuses to join the company team, the commander and his sergeant decide to make the bugler’s life hell.

The Cinema:

tora-tora-tora-DVDcover

Tora Tora Tora (1970)

Highly innovative grand and epic film that looks at the preparations for, and the attack itself through the eyes of both the Japanese and American participants, both high and low. From Admirals Yamamoto and Kimmel to Privates Lockard and Elliot (radar operators with no one to warn,) The inevitable unfolds.  Without a doubt the best feature film about Pearl Harbor. Featuring Martin Balsam,  E.G. Marshall, Jason Robards, Takahiro Tamura, James Whitmore, and Sô Yamamura.

from heremovie

From Here to Eternity (1953)

A fantastic ensemble cast featuring some of Hollywood’s best actors as they’re starting out.  The film is faithful to the novel, capturing the rigidity, frustration and tempo of peacetime barracks’ routine and the seedy allure of Honolulu.  Featuring Ernest Borgnine, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra.

affleckpearlPearl Harbor (2001)

Great special effects minimally redeem a love story of brotherly sacrifice that plays footloose with history and made me cringe, though the misdated Battle of Britain scenes were great.  If you’re a connoisseur of long “B” movies, then maybe it’s worth your while.  Features Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Garner, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Hartnett, Jon Voight as Pres. Roosevelt.  

– Richard

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I Really Liked…

Boy reading in the libraryAs you may have heard before, one of the things library staff do, and really LOVE to do, is something called readers’ advisory. That’s where you ask us to help you find a good book to read. Sometimes you’re looking for another book by an author you’ve already read and liked. Other times you’ve just finished something great and want another one just like it. Often, you have no idea what you’re looking for; you just know you need something to read. No matter the circumstances, we can help you!

Typically, we will begin by asking you what types of books you like to read. Is there a particular genre you like best (mysteries, science fiction, family dramas) or one we should avoid? Then we’ll usually ask you about the last book you read that you really enjoyed. We’ll ask why you liked that book. Was it the plot, the characters, the time period or setting, or the way it was written? Once you provide us with this information, we’re off! We can begin finding titles for you using our “official” library resources like the online catalog or a database like Novelist. But we often use “unofficial” resources too, like our brains and our colleagues. If we haven’t read something that we want to recommend to you, chances are we work with someone who we know has. We especially like to bounce ideas off each other when answering a readers’ advisory question.

Last Thursday afternoon, I was asked by a fellow library employee to help her select some books on CD for a car trip she was making the next day. (See, we even help each other out!) She told me that she asked me specifically because she had liked several of my staff picks and other book recommendations from this blog. She had most recently listened to The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and enjoyed it. She had also liked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Her typical reading tastes were for nonfiction and historical fiction.

So based on that information, here is what I recommended and a little explanation for each about why I selected it for her…

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – This is the classic nonfiction that reads like mystery fiction. It is evocative of its place and time the same way that The Devil in the White City is.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini – I thought this would touch on some of the issues of racial division that were central to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler – Historic fiction based on fact.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson – If you like one Erik Larson, you will probably like more. He is fairly consistent.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson – See above.

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain – Another historic fiction novel based on a real relationship. P.S. Apparently, it’s never easy being married to an author.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis – Another read-alike for Henrietta Lacks. Although this is fiction, I thought the strength of the familial bonds of an African American family would be the similar theme here.

Run by Ann Patchett – I recently read a list of titles by Ann Patchett with descriptions and now I seriously want to read every. Single. One. This was one of the only ones I could find currently available at my location. It seems that her characters and settings can read like nonfiction. This seems to be a thinly veiled parody of the Kennedy family.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett – See above. But also, this actually came up as a “Similar Title” suggestion for Henrietta Lacks in our new catalog.

The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas J. Preston – Another serial killer, but this time in Italy.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – More historical fiction. If you read my blog posts, you’ve seen this more than once before. This is my favorite book from the last few years. I recommend it to EVERYONE. Whether they ask for it or not…

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson – Three different individuals migrate from the south. Another story of strong African American people.

Did all of these suggestions hit the mark? Probably not. But hopefully one or two or five did. And that’s how readers’ advisory goes, where the second and third laws of library science meet. Second law of library science: Every reader his/her book. Third law of library science: Every book its reader.

Happy Readers’ Advisory to all!
-Melissa M.

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Fantastic Voyages

My family didn’t really take vacations when I was growing up. We’d go on day trips instead, packing the car with a picnic lunch and some beach supplies, then tooling around northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania looking for adventures. Most of the time we’d end up at either Pymatuning State Park or Conneaut Lake Park. Both are magical, fun places, and I highly recommend that you visit them. However, now that I’ve just returned from my first real vacation (complete with oceans, tasty food, and intense scrutiny from airport security), I’m completely hooked on the experience, and am planning/saving for the next one.

Spotted at Tahoe Unveiled.

Spotted at Tahoe Unveiled.

Taking a cue from Melissa, I brought along some beach reads, leaping at the chance to spend some quality time with the kind of books I like best: fantasy and speculative fiction. If you like that sort of thing, or are open to trying it, these fun, fantastic reading picks will keep you entertained as you lounge on the beach, by the pool, or under a palm tree, sipping your tropical beverage of choice.

awareThe Aware, Glenda Larke. Book one of the Isles of Glory trilogy introduces us to Blaze Halfbreed and her piratical lifestyle, forced upon her by the constraints of island society. Thanks to her mixed parentage, she’s denied citizenship in the Isles, and must work as an adventurer-for-hire to earn her keep. Luckily, her ability to sense magic makes her valuable to the various political factions who rule the islands. One faction, the Keepers, has recently hired her to find a runaway princess, fleeing from an unwanted marriage. As the plot thickens, however, Blaze learns that there are some things she just can’t do, even for a chance at full citizenship. Filled with swordplay and nautical shenanigans, this adventure yarn will appeal to readers who like salty language, strong female characters, sexy situations, and, perhaps, Suzy’s recent pirate post.

Chicks Kick Butt, Rachel Caine, ed. Curious about urban fantasy, but not ready to commit to a whole novel? Try this short story buttsampler on for size. Caine–an accomplished fantasy writer with several successful series to her credit–has assembled stories from various writers in the genre that showcase its greatest strength: the tendency to feature heroines who kick butt rather than kiss it. My favorite piece was Karen Chance‘s “In Vino Veritas,” which features a high-stakes paranormal drinking contest (trust me, it’s hilarious), but the whole volume is solid, and will open up a whole pack of new authors for you to try, if this is your first stab at urban fantasy.

magePaper Mage, Leah R. Cutter. Historical fiction fans will want to try this tale on for size. Our heroine, Xiao Yen, is on a quest to fulfill a promise she made to her aunt: win glory, and bring home an immortal peach. Because she’s a highly trained paper mage, Xiao Yen can make beautiful origami creations that come alive, which is useful when you need, say, a tiger to protect your campsite after dark. On her current assignment, bodyguard to a delegation of foreigners, Xiao Yen accidentally offends a goddess in disguise, and amends for her error by taking up the immortal lady’s quest as well as her own. The pace is slow and stately, showcasing the manners and customs of ancient China while exploring a very different sort of magic. Lovely, sad, and haunting.

zombieMy Life as a White Trash Zombie, Diana Rowland. Closer to home, on the Louisiana bayou, Angel Crawford wakes up in the hospital with no clue as to how she got there. When she checks out, she receives a brown paper bag with a change of clothes, several jars of what looks like iced coffee, and instructions to report to the morgue on Monday to start her new job. What the heck? Angel soon learns that her accident was a lot worse than she thought, and that what’s in those jars? Isn’t iced coffee (though it is delicious). As Angel adjusts to being one of the undead, she finds–much to her surprise–that her afterlife has the potential to be a whole lot better than her human life…unless, of course, whoever is killing all the local zombies catches up with her. If you’re willing to suspend your belief a teensy bit and have a good time, Angel will take you for a great ride. It’s an outrageous premise, but it’s got lots of heart, and I’ll definitely be looking up the sequels.

What can I say? There’s nothing I find more relaxing than a book about girls saving the world, especially if there are magical/paranormal elements involved. What do you like to read on vacation? Are super-powered super-heroines up your alley? Or is there some other genre that spells “beach read” for you?

–Leigh Anne

with apologies to Lakeside and  Coolio

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Summer of the Longbow

For some reason I always read more fiction in the summer. This summer I am falling back on the master of historical fiction, Bernard Cornwell, and his Grail Quest series, Archer’s Tale, Vagabond, Heretic, and 1356.

agin

The setting is the Hundred Year’s War, a theater boasting armored knights in colorful coats of arms, castles, sieges, and the indomitable English longbow, a battlefield advantage so consistently discussed and lionized that it comes as a shock to look at a modern map of France and notice no English territories are left. Seriously, at least weekly one can turn on cable TV and watch an expert in medieval warfare (how many of these people can society support?) shooting arrows into an armored mannequin and breathlessly proclaiming the evident effectiveness of the bodkin point against a French dummy swathed in steel plate.
The long bowman was a triumph of brutal technology against the aristocratic desire to be seen around town charging other aristocrats with a lance. French knights fell in the thousands under storms of English arrows. And this happened on a few different occasions, proving the resiliency of fashion amidst the upper classes. Charging your enemy on horseback was the thing that knights were supposed to do. And if you died stuck with a half dozen arrows fired by a broad backed chav from across the channel, well, c’est la vie!

Besides the bad news for French knights, the Hundred Years War also witnessed the devastation of the French countryside at the hands of marauding bands of English soldiers looking for whatever wealth they could extract from farms, villages, and towns.  Oh, and throw the Black Death into the mix too. It took a hallucinating French teenage girl and an England exhausted by war to finally bring the whole thing to a close. When the dust had settled France was one big step closer to becoming the modern nation state we all know today. And the long bowman became enshrined in English identity, somehow inspiring people with the knowledge that you could invade a country and kill scads of tactically impaired rich guys, take some stuff, and then go back home? Anyway.

Cornwell’s books dive right into the horror and color of this period.  A likeable protagonist tries to sort out the mystery of his past and commits to a quest that could change the world. To ice this cake the author creates a great villain, the sinister Guy Vexille, a man so driven by religious passion he is capable of any evil. I normally detest Holy Grail conspiracy stuff, it’s all so ludicrous. But in this case, the principals involved are of a different time, and the details are wrapped in believable histories. All in all, this is summer escapism done flawlessly. Because the Hundred Years War was so long, something around a hundred years apparently, Cornwell actually wrote another book with different characters to explore the later part of the war and one of the last great English victories, Agincourt.

cadfael

“But I don’t like long descriptions of people killing each other with archaic weapons!” you say. I guess there are people who might not like that. Thankfully you can get medieval without having to get medieval. Check out the Cadfael series of mysteries by the linguist-scholar Edith Pargeter who wrote under the name Ellis Peters, or the TV adaptation starring Derek Jacobi. You can feel the darkness and hunger of the period without all the stabbing and cutting and arrows flying around and all that. The books are very popular and anything with Derek Jacobi is good.

Sky

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