Category Archives: Historical

Island Beneath the Sea

TitleIsland Beneath the Sea

Author:  Isabel Allende

Publisher: Harper, April 2010

Summary: Island Beneath the Sea follows a young woman named Zarité thrown into slavery in 18th century Haiti. Known by most as Tété, she is chosen to become housekeeper for Toulouse Valmorain, an unpredictable plantation entrepreneur and his wife, Eugenia, a woman slowly being dissolved into madness by the harsh living conditions and constant threat of political uprisings. The story follows Tété, who is likeable and sweet, but also conflicted and strong, as she struggles to become a free woman while desperately trying to keep her family intact and protect all those who have helped her.

Staying true to her roots, Allende creates an emotional story of romance, politics, and fantasy using an outstanding cast of characters. At times, the book can be a roller coaster- the defeats are particularly harsh and the accomplishments incredibly satisfying, reminding the reader that life is not always just. At approximately 500 pages, be prepared to devote at least a few weeks to the book. The characters -since their relationships are generally unconfirmed and many appear sporadically- take some time to get to know, but it is well worth the effort.

Who will like this book?  Those who like literature and character development- though not as tough as 100 Years of Solitude, a large number of characters come into play, and the book moves rather slowly at times (which is not a particularly bad thing!). Also, those who like reading about exotic places, history, and politics. Similar books would include Honolulu by Alan Brennert and Portrait in Sepia, also by Allende.

If you like this, try this: Honolulu by Alan Brennert, Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende, Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

Recommended by:  LB, Circulation Assistant

Amandine

TitleAmandine

Author:  Marlena de Blasi

Publisher: Random House, May 2010

Summary: Amandine is the first novel written by Marlena de Blasi, an author known for her memoir writing. The story is captivating and the author’s writing is simply beautiful, filled with sense details and unforgettable characters. Amandine is born out of wedlock into an aristocratic family in Krakow, Poland in 1931. She is born with a heart defect and not expected to survive. Under the pretext of bringing her to a hospital in Switzerland, Amandine’s  grandmother brings her to a remote convent in France. The Countess arranges to leave the child at the convent with a large sum of money and in the care of a governess, Solange Jouffroi. As a young child, Amandine is doted on by the nuns, Pere Philippe and Solange, but suffers cruelty and humiliation at the hands of the Abbess Mother Paul and the other children attending school at the convent. This cruelty, compounded by the abandonment by her mother, causes Amandine to believe there is something wrong with her. After a tragedy involving Amandine is barely averted, Solange takes her on a harrowing journey north through occupied France toward the governess’s home. Leaving their sheltered life in the convent, the pair discovers the horrors of war all around them. Meanwhile, Amandine’s birth mother, having just recently discovered that her child did not die at the hospital in Switzerland, has begun her own journey to find her. This is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve read it.

Who will like this book? Fans of historical fiction.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

One Amazing Thing

TitleOne Amazing Thing

Author:  Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Publisher: Unbridled Books, October 2009

Summary:  There are nine strangers in an Indian visa and passport office who are thrown together when an earthquake hits and leaves them trapped under the rubble. As time passes and there is no communication available to the outside world anxiety rises and tempers flare! After organizing what little provisions they have and securing themselves in the office as well as they can, tensions increase and a young graduate student sizes up the situation and suggests that they all tell a story about an “amazing” thing that has happened in their lifetimes. After initial reluctance and suspicion each character reveals their stories. These stories range from a young Chinese woman who has to flee India during the Sino-Indian War of 1962 leaving her Indian lover and family behind, to a seventy year old accountant orphaned at nine who only found comfort in doing math. Other stories include a young Muslim man struggling with America’s prejudice after 9/11, a rebellious teenager who discovers the gift and healing of music and a woman whose entire view of life changes after glimpsing a display of affection between an elderly couple.

These stories bring the characters to life and also give many different pictures of India. Divakaruni’s writing is beautiful and you can hardly wait for her to get to the next story. A novel about nine people trapped in the rubble of an earthquake would have been compelling enough but the author raises the bar by making these characters jump off the page with their “amazing” stories. This is a fast read that you will not be able to put down until you get to the last page!

Who will like this book? Fans of historical and contemporary fiction.

Recommended by: Claudia, Circulation

The Hummingbird’s Daughter

TitleThe Hummingbird’s Daughter

Author:  Luis Alberto Urrea

Publisher: Little, Brown, May 2005

Summary: Set in the late 1800’s- early 1900’s, the book follows Teresita, a young girl in Mexico who has been abandoned by her poverty-stricken farm hand mother and given to her abusive aunt who can not afford to feed another child. Huila, an “ancient” religious medicine woman at the age of fifty, takes the child under her wing when she realizes that Teresita has also been given the gift of supernatural healing. Teresita soon discovers her true calling to take away the people’s suffering, and soon her life spirals out of control as word spreads all the way into North America about her abilities to heal the sick and wounded, as well as her outspoken liberal political views against the government and organized religion, which do not sit well with the already collapsing Conservative government and Roman Catholic church. This story follows Teresita until the age of twenty as she desperately tries to escape her destiny of martyrdom.

Beautifully written and rich in detail, Urrea makes this a quick 500-page read. Impossible to put down, the story will stay with you long after you’ve finished- especially when you discover she is based on a real person related to Urrea. Disturbing, exciting, and beautiful all at the same time.

Who will like this book? Fans of magical realist authors (such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie) who are looking for a bit more realism than magic. If you enjoyed Into the Beautiful North, be prepared for a much darker, deeper and more mature look into human psychology, organized religion, and politics. It is NOT for those with weak stomachs.

Recommended By: LB, Circulation Assistant

The Information Officer

Title: The Information Officer

Author:  Mark Mills

Publisher: Random House ,February 2010

Summary:    It’s the summer of 1942 and Malta is quickly becoming the most bombed place on earth. The strategic location of the island, between Europe and Africa, has increased its value to both the Germans who are bombing it, and the Allies who are stationed there. The residents fear a German invasion, but the lack of protection against the constant air raids has weakened their loyalty to the Allies.

British officer Max Chadwick has been given the position of Information Officer. His assignment is to manipulate the news coming in to Malta to buoy the spirits of the troops and the island residents. What the Maltese do not know is that a psychopath walks among them, killing young women and leaving their bodies out in the open to appear as if they were killed during a bomb strike. When another young woman is found dead Freddie, a friend of Max’s and a doctor at the local hospital, discovers the true cause of death. He confides in Max that this is the third murdered woman who has come into the morgue recently. This time, though, a shoulder patch from a British officer’s uniform is found in the dead woman’s clenched hand. Max knows that if this news is released to the public, Maltese loyalty to the Allies may finally be shattered.

The Information Officer is both a love story and a murder mystery, with occasional glimpses into the mind of the killer. The crucial role that Malta played during the war may not be common knowledge, and will certainly appeal to readers of historical fiction. Mills is masterful at expressing a sense of place, with his descriptions fueling the reader’s imagination.

Who will like this book? Fans of  historical fiction and suspense novels.

Recommended By: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

The Queen’s Governess

Title: The Queen’s Governess

 Author: Karen Harper

Publisher: Putnam, January 2010

Summary: Behind every great queen is a surrogate mother. In her latest novel, The Queen’s Governess, Karen Harper, provides the story of Katherine Champernowne Ashley who brought up the young Elizabeth. Katherine Ashely stood by Elizabeth during the dangerous years before she became queen, and the equally dangerous years after she became queen. Harper’s knowledge of the Tudor period is seamlessly woven into a narrative that keeps the reader in suspense even though we all know that Elizabeth will become England’s greatest queen. If, as the story goes, the great Winston Churchill was saddened when his mother died, but cried when his nanny died, than Elizabeth must also have wept when her Kat died.

 Who will like this book? People who enjoy reading about the Tudors especially about the young Elizabeth.

If you like this, try this: A Crown for Elizabeth by Mary Luke; The Young Elizabeth by Alison Plowden; Young Bess by Margaret Irwin; and Alison Weir’s The Lady Elizabeth.

Recommended by: Mona, Reference Associate and Library Lecturer

Cranioklepty

TitleCranioklepty

Author:  Colin Dickey

Publisher: Unbridled Books, September 2009

Summary: What do Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart all have in common besides being great composers? For one thing, they all had their skulls, or at least part of their skulls, stolen from their graves. Cranioklepty relates the intriguing history of Phrenology and the attempts made by phrenologists to validate their beliefs. According to Webster, phrenology is “the study of the conformation of the skull based on the belief that it indicates mental faculties and character traits.” It was developed in 1796 by Franz Gall and was very popular through the 1800’s. There were famous supporters of phrenology, including Walt Whitman who made references to it in some of his writings. There were famous skeptics as well. Mark Twain was openly critical when writing about the skull readings he received. Phrenologists were careful to “not to predict genius from the shape of the skulls but instead to confirm the already established genius in the heads before them.”

Skulls of prisoners and insane asylum patients were easy to acquire, but phrenologists were desperate to study the skulls of famous citizens, especially anyone with creative or intellectual genius. Since no one was offering to donate their skulls to this strange science, practitioners had to resort to grave robbing. The collecting of skulls became a hobby for some, and an obsession for others. Elaborate glass cases were designed to display the skulls in homes and offices. What we think of as morbid today, was thought of very differently in the 19th century. Keeping relics of someone you knew or admired was considered an honor. One collector, Joseph Hyrtl, donated his collection which is now housed in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum. If you are a fan of the macabre, you should read Cranioklepty. If you are ever in Philadelphia, you should visit the Mutter Museum.

Who will like this book? Fans of  the bizarre and slighly morbid.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

Logicomix

Title: Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

Author: Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papademitriou

Publisher: Bloomsbury, September 2009

Summary: Bertrand Russell, mathematician, philosopher, pacifist and lightning rod, was one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. This ambitious graphic biography focuses equally on his turbulent personal life and his groundbreaking work in the area of mathematical logic. We follow Russell as he discovers a paradox and works (and reworks) his theories. He teams with and is opposed by heavyweights of early twentieth-century philosophy,  including Wittgenstein and Godel, all the while searching for truth and remaining haunted by the madness he believes is constantly circling him.

Bertrand Russell affected – and was affected by – some of the most dramatic personalities and events of the twentieth century. While a graphic  novel about math and philosophy might not seem like the most enticing subject, in the hands of  these gifted writers and illustrators, Russell’s story comes to life in surprising and compelling ways.

Who will like this book?: People interested in the history of science, technology and math.

If you like this, try this: For another unique take on philosophy, try The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley. Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities by Ian Stewart. If you are as clueless about math and science as I am, check out 100 Most Important Science Ideas by Mark Henderson.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Harry of Monmouth

Title: Harry of Monmouth

Author: A. M. Maughan

Publisher: W. Sloane Associates, 1956

Summary: This classic novel brings to life Henry V, the victor of Agincourt. From the loss of his mother as a boy to generational based conflicts with his father, Henry IV, and sibling rivalry with his brother, Tom, the young Harry grows to maturity. All hold their breath to see what kind of king he will make and get their true measure of Harry’s worth when he and the English, with their back to the walls, face the French at Agincourt. But more than his wars with France, will Harry ever succeed in winning his true love, Princess Katherine of France?

Who will like this book?: Harry of Monmouth is recommended for those who like their medieval kings in a heroic mode.

If you like this, try this: Good King Harry by Denise Giardina, Fortune Made His Sword by Martha Rofheart, and Henry V by William Shakespeare.

Recommended by: Mona, Reference Associate and Library Lecturer

Lady Jane Grey

Title: Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery

Author: Eric Ives

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell, October 2009

Summary: Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary Tudor, is probably the most tragic victim of the Tudor dynasty, ending her life on the scaffold at the age of seventeen. Dr. Eric Ives, in this scholarly and page-turning account of the coup that brought Lady Jane Grey to the throne for a brief reign of nine days, provides the who, what, where, and why of a coup that on paper should have had every chance of succeeding but which ultimately failed. Refusing to rely on long accepted accounts of Lady Jane’s story, Dr. Ives offers a reassessment of this episode in Tudor history to the extent that the reader realizes “Jane, we hardly knew ye.”

Who will like this book?: Those who want to know the true story behind Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor. For if any traitor was innocent, that traitor was surely Lady Jane Grey.

 If you like this, try this: The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir; Lady Jane Grey and the House of Suffolk by Alison Plowden; and look out for The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda De Lisle.

Recommended by: Mona, Reference Associate and Library Lecturer