Category Archives: Historical

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

Complete Stories

Title: The Complete Stories

Author: Flannery O’Connor

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971

Summary: When I travel, I like to read books written by authors from that part of the world. So, on a recent trip to Savannah, I finally picked up A Good Man is Hard to Find, a book that had been on my ‘to-read’ list for ages. That book is contained within this larger collection of all the O’Connor’s short stories. While her career was relatively short, Flannery O’Connor was a highly-regarded master of the Southern Gothic: the scenery is dripping with humidity and the haunted characters all struggle as they are forced to face the darkness in their twisted souls.

Some of the tales are downright terrifying and some, like The River and A Stroke of Good Fortune end in a shocking, unpredictable turn of events. Almost all have characters coming to a not-so-pleasant realization about their place in the world. These are not happy stories, but the writing is so mesmerizing that you will find yourself rereading each turn of phrase. Don’t wait as long as I did to pick up this American classic!

Who will like this book: Fans of short stories, regional fiction, and darker themes. People who like their books a little twisted.

If you like this, try this:Other great Southern Gothic authors include Truman Capote, Carson McCullers and Tennessee Williams. Flannery O’Connor: A Life by Jean W. Cash.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Serena

Title: Serena

Author: Ron Rash

Publisher: Ecco, October 2008

Summary: Have you ever read a book that is so good, you just don’t understand how the author isn’t more well-known? For me, that book was the astonishing One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash. This talented author’s words are so devastatingly beautiful that they make you stop and re-read the same sentence over and over again. His latest book, like his previous efforts, is set in Appalachia, this time in the Western North Carolina’s logging fields of the late 1920s. It is there we meet Pemberton, the owner of a lumber company racing to clean out the forest before he loses his land to a planned National Park, and his wife, Serena.

Pemberton is an ambitious man, and Serena is more than his equal. Her unrelenting drive allows no questioning, and certainly no opposition. The violence and danger of life in a lumber camp is mirrored by the treacherous actions of Serena, who may be the most memorable female villain since Lady Macbeth. This fabulous book opens a window into a forgotten past, and will resonate with historical fiction fans, as well as readers who enjoy a good thriller.

Who will like this book? Fans of regional fiction. People who enjoy thrillers that aren’t procedural or formulaic.

If you like this, try this: One Foot in Eden and The World Made Straight, both by Ron Rash.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Other Queen

Title: The Other Queen

Author: Philippa Gregory

Publisher: Touchstone, September, 2008

Summary: Mary, Queen of Scots, might be the most infamous royal in all of European history: She led a life of intrigue and scandal that landed her, at age 26 and a widow twice-over, in the hands of her cousin and rival, Elizabeth, Queen of England. In another well-crafted, fast-paced historical fiction, Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Constant Princess) has chosen to focus not on Mary’s tumultuous life in Scotland, but on her captivity in England, which lasted nearly 20 years. As a Catholic queen in a newly-Protestant country, she was at the center of countless plots to restore her not only to the Scottish throne, but also to put her in Elizabeth’s place.

The story centers on three people: Mary, and her married captors, the honorable George Shrewsberry, and his savvy wife, the remarkable Bess of Hardwick. As each intrigue bubbles to the surface and Mary scrambles to emerge victorious, we see the strain her presence in England puts not only on the kingdom, but on the marriage of George and Bess. This is a fascinating piece of nearly-forgotten history, and a must-read for fans of The Tudors and the recent HBO mini-series, Elizabeth.

Who will like this book?: Fans of historical fiction that focuses on the royals. Anyone with an interest in Tudor history, or the Scots queen.

If you like this, try this: In fiction, try Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George. For some non-fiction, look for Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

People of the Book

Title: People of the Book

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Publisher: Viking, January 2008

Summary: This intriguing book by Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (March, Year of Wonders) follows the imagined path of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a priceless illuminated manuscript that was miraculously saved during the bloody conflicts of the 1990s. Hanna Heath, a temperamental and talented Aussie book conservator, is called in to restore the book in time for an exhibit at the rebuilt National Library of Bosnia.

As she examines the book, she begins to find the clues that will lead her to uncover the amazing travels of the haggadah backwards from World War II Sarajevo to fin de siecle Vienna to it’s creation right before the Spanish Inquisition. Brooks alternates Hanna’s own journey of self-discovery with chapters told in the voices of the people who protected, defaced, and crafted the haggadah. It is for these historical chapters that this book is recommended: In them, we learn that a book is no simple thing.

Who will like this book?: People who like historical fiction with a bit of a mystery twist. Book nerds and bibliophiles.

If you like this, try this: Another book with a similar backwards-through-time feel is Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland. For more on the history of books and libraries, read the masterful Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian