Category Archives: Historical

Columbine

Title: Columbine

Author: Dave Cullen

Summary: On April 20, 1999, two boys entered their high school and proceeded to unleash the most unforgettable school shooting of the modern era. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were troubled outcasts in black trench coats, picked on by jocks and preps, who, after years of listening to angry music and playing violent video games, finally snapped.

Or were they? Actually, none of these accepted facts about the young killers are true. In this absorbing book, a reporter who was on the scene that day and followed the story long after the tragedy of school shootings became seemingly commonplace, dispels the myths behind the shooting, its perpetrators, and even its victims. Everyone knows what you mean when you say ‘Columbine,’ but not one of us has ever heard the whole story until now.

Who will like this book: True crime readers. Anyone who remembers that day would be benefited by reading this important book.

If you like this, try this: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. A fictional work that deals, in part, with Columbine and it’s aftermath, The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Heretic’s Daughter

Title: The Heretic’s Daughter

Author: Kathleen Kent

Publisher: Little, Brown; September 2008

Summary:  Young Sarah Carrier has a tense relationship with her bold and opinionated mother, Martha. When she is sent to live with her aunt, cousins, and charismatic uncle during an outbreak of the plague, she wishes never to return to her parent’s household and backbreaking farm life. A family dispute over inherited land is soon overshadowed by an even larger threat to those who do not toe the line of Puritan conformity. The gossip about witches in the neighboring town of Salem soon escalates beyond any reason, and soon enough Martha Carrier is named a witch by the courts. Before she is arrested, she must ask Sarah, only 10 years old, to do the unthinkable.

Illuminating the horrifying nature of the trials, and the atrocious conditions those accused were forced  to live in, The Heretic’s Wife is historical fiction at it’s best. You will read this engrossing debut novel, written by a descendant of the Carrier family, in no time at all.

Who will like this book?: People who like intense historical fiction or who are interested in the Salem Witch Trials.

If you like this, try this: The Minister’s Daughter by Julie Hearn. A mystery set in modern-day Salem, The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Vagrants

Title: The Vagrants

Author:  Yiyun Li

Publisher: Random House, February 2009

Summary: The Vagrants takes place in the town of Muddy River in China during the late 1970s. The focus of the story is the execution of Gu Shan as a counterrevolutionary and the effect that her death has on various members of her community. Some of these residents were victims of Gu Shan during her days as a Red Guard and are excited about the upcoming denunciation ceremony and her execution. Others realize this is another injustice. The reader is introduced to several characters but what they have most in common is the oppression they suffer at the hands of their communist government. This is a tragic story but well worth reading.

Who will like this book? Readers who like historical fiction.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

Water Ghosts

Title: Water Ghosts

Author:  Shawna Yang Ryan

Publisher: Penguin Press, April 2009

Summary: According to Chinese superstition, those who die by drowning will seek the living to take their place.

It’s 1928 and the residents of Locke, California and the surrounding towns are getting ready for the Dragon Boat Festival. All is going smoothly until an unknown boat drifts to shore. The boat is carrying three bedraggled Chinese women and seems to have come out of nowhere. One of the women is Ming Wai, the wife that Richard Fong left behind in China several years ago. Richard is now the manager of a successful gambling parlor in Locke and was never able to return to China for his wife. While Ming Wai was languishing in China, Richard was living comfortably as a bachelor in California, complete with his own prostitute.Most of the townspeople are confused about the arrival of the three women but Poppy See, the brothel madam is suspicious. Poppy is a seer and had a premonition of bodies washing ashore before the women arrived. Now strange things are happening to the town and the people living there.

Water Ghosts is a wonderfully written tale of love, loss, and the consequences of betrayal.

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

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

A Reliable Wife

Title:  A Reliable Wife

Author:  Robert Goolrick

Publisher:  Algonquin, March 2009

Summary: Robert Goolrick resurrects the Gothic romance!  This book is so dark, suspenseful, sensual, and scary that I’m not quite sure how to begin to explain it, accept to say that is absolutely fabulous. It’s 1907 Wisconsin, the dead of winter, and everything is dark, frozen, covered with snow.  Ralph Truitt stands on the platform of the train station, awaiting the arrival of his new wife-to-be under the watchful eyes of practically everyone who lives in his small rural town (that is everyone who hasn’t gone murderously insane.)  Catherine Land sits on the train, having answered Truitt’s ad in the newspaper, on her way to marry him.  She says goodbye to her past, literally throwing the remnants of it out the window of the private railway car he has sent for her (yes, he’s that rich).  We don’t know much, but we know that Catherine is definitely not who she’s pretending to be, and that’s only the beginning of all of the terrible secrets buried in this book.

Part DuMaurier, part Poe, part Bronte (and even a little bit part Stephen King), Goolrick has masterfully created a suspenseful tale that will leave you breathless, really.  He writes for all of the senses, and brings us to a world that is simply tragic and utterly beautiful.

Recommended by: Mary, Branch Reference

Etta

Title: Etta

Author:  Gerald Kolpan

Publisher: Ballantine Books, March 2009

Summary: Who was Etta Place? Historians know her as an elusive and beautiful member of the outlaw gang “The Wild Bunch”. She is also known for her legendary romance with the Sundance Kid. Etta’s true identity and her fate after the Sundance Kid’s death remain a mystery. Gerald Kolpan has imagined and written a life story for this enigmatic woman. Though this is a work of fiction, it is clear the author extensively researched the era and included details about a number of things-from the Pinkerton Agency to railroad food. This clever debut novel will transport you back in time to the not-so-wild west and life on the run as a fugitive member of The Wild Bunch.

Who will like this book?  Fans of historical fiction.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

The Lindbergh Child

Title: A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child

Author/Illustrator:Rick Geary

Publisher: Comics Lit, February 2009

Summary: After his transatlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh became an international hero, icon, and to his chagrin, celebrity. In the early ’30s, he and his wife moved to a new home in New Jersey in an attempt to live a private life. Little did they know that the tragic events that followed would thrust them even futher into the spotlight. Rick Geary begins his Tales of XXth Century Murder series with the story of the kidnapping (and murder) that led to ‘The Trial of the Century.’

We follow the events of the kidnapping, meet the various players in the investigation, and witness the trial and execution of Bruno Hauptman, who maintains his innocence throughout. Geary also discusses several of the alternate theories of the crime that persist to this day. Like his previous true crime graphic novels, this book is concise, informative, even-handed, and impossible to put down.

Who will like this book?: Fans of true crime and non-fiction graphic novels. Anyone interested in this famous crime, or the exploits of Charles Lindbergh.

If you like this, try this: Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Books in Geary’s A Treasury of Victorian Murder, including Jack the Ripper and The Borden Tragedy. The Plot Against America by Philp Roth.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Whiskey Rebels

Title: The Whiskey Rebels

Author:  David Liss

Publisher: Random House, September 2008

Summary: This is a great historical thriller that takes place soon after the Revolutionary War. It follows the lives of two strangers, Joan Maycott and Ethan Saunders, as they try to make a life for themselves in a new and unstable nation. At the center is Alexander Hamilton, Treasury Secretary, who has become the enemy of both Joan and Ethan.

Joan and her husband Andrew have sold all they own for the chance at a good life on the Western Pennsylvania frontier. Whiskey, not money, is the currency on the frontier and Andrew has developed a new method of distilling whiskey that is sure to make the Maycotts and their partners a very powerful force. That is, however, until Alexander Hamilton proposes a tax on whiskey that the whiskey producers cannot pay.

Ethan has a different reason for hating Hamilton. Ethan blames Hamilton for the false accusations of treason leveed against him during the war. Accusations that cost Ethan his reputation and his fiancee. The real question is how far will these two people go to exact revenge on their enemies. Though this is a historical novel, the references to the fragile economy and manipulation of the stock market is interesting and timely.

Who will like this book?  Anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

Madonnas of Leningrad

Title:  Madonnas of Leningrad

Author:  Debra Dean

Publisher:  William Morrow, 2006

Summary: First, thanks to Claudia Silk, our discussion leader of the Woods Book Group, for choosing this title because I don’t think I would have picked it up otherwise.  How did I miss it when it first came out?!?

Madonnas of Leningradis the story of Marina Buriakov and the memories that make up her lifetime.  In the present day, she is an 82 year old woman, getting ready to take a trip with her family to attend her granddaughter’s wedding, which should be a joyous occasion.  But Marina is slowly sinking into the abyss that is Alzheimer’s disease, making everyday tasks so difficult. And as her present slips away, the memories from her past become quite vivid, pulling her back to relive them. The author does a beautiful job of taking the reader into that time, bringing war-torn Russia to life.  Marina is a docent at the State Hermitage Museum during the siege of Leningrad in the second World War, and it is part of her job to help stow away the priceless treasures of the museum to keep them safe from destruction and theft.  Many workers and their families take refuge in the building’s basement, and to pass the time, Marina and a fellow worker walk through the empty rooms, creating a “memory palace,” envisioning the canvases that once occupied the now-empty frames.

This debut novel by Debra Dean is a work of art itself.  Beautiful and poignant, it reminds us that our memories truly are treasures. For more on Madonnas of Leningrad, listen to our podcast of Debra Dean’s call in to the Woods Book Club.

Who will like this book?:  Anyone with an interest in art history, World War II fiction, and/or family drama.

If you like this, try thisRemembering the Bonesby Frances Itani.  The Siege by Helen Dumore.

Recommended by: Mary, Reference Librarian

Nat Turner

Title: Nat Turner

Author: Kyle Baker

Publisher: Abrams, June 2008

Summary: This stunning graphic novel tells the story of the deadly slave rebellion led by the infamous Nat Turner in 1830s Virginia. Author/Illustrator Kyle Baker uses the text of Turner’s actual confession to illuminate the horrors endured during the slave crossing, and the violence of life for plantation slaves. Young Nat, an intelligent and resourceful boy, learns to read and write. In reading the Bible, Nat decides that he, like Moses, must lead his enslaved people out of bondage. The rest, as they say, is history.

To paraphrase Baker, the story of Nat Turner is intriuging because while it was always mentioned in history text books, there were never really a lot of details given about why the slave rebellion had taken place. Why is something important enough to mention, but not important enough to describe at length? With Nat Turner, Kyle Baker illuminates the man behind the rebellion without judging him a hero or a villain.

Who will like this book: People who are interested in the ‘secret stories’ of American history. Fans of heavily illustrated graphic novels. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

If you like this, try this: A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian