Category Archives: Historical

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

City of Thieves

Title: City of Thieves

Author:  David Benioff

Publisher: Viking, May 2008

Summary: David is a screenwriter who has been asked to write an autobiographical essay for a magazine. He feels his life is not interesting enough to write about so he travels to Florida to interview his Russian grandfather about his life during the siege of Leningrad. The interview lasts a week but focuses on one particular week during the siege when David’s grandfather Lev met his future wife, made his best friend, and killed 2 Germans.

Lev Beniov is seventeen and without family in Leningrad. His father was taken away and his mother and sister fled the city before the Germans surrounded it. He has been living in an abandoned building since the siege and he spends his days keeping watch for fires from the rooftop and trying to find enough food and wood to survive. One evening as he is on fire watch, he and his friends spot a German paratrooper falling from the sky. He is obviously already dead, so Lev and his companions find the body and proceed to take everything they can form the dead soldiers pockets. Unfortunately, the police catch Lev and arrest him for looting. While in custody, Lev meets Kolya, a soldier who has been arrested for desertion. The two are spared by the colonel in charge, but only because the colonel has other plans for them. Their ration cards are taken from them and will not be returned until they accomplish this nearly impossible feat: find a dozen eggs for the colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake. Yes, people are starving to death all over the city, but the colonel’s daughter needs 12 eggs for her wedding cake.

Soon after Lev and Kolya set off on this odyssey to find the eggs, they realize they will never find them in city and must travel behind enemy lines if they have any chance of completing this assignment. The story of Lev and Kolya’s struggle to survive and prevail is at times heartwarming and at times heartbreaking. By the end of this book I cared so much for these two characters that it made me sad to finish the book. This is truly one of the best books I’ve read all year.

Who will like this book?  Everyone, especially those who like historical fiction.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

The White Mary

Title: The White Mary

Author: Kira Salak

Summary: After all the buzz about this book I thought I would have liked it much more than I did. The writing was very good and the descriptions of the jungle travel are very vivid, but the story was a bit too slow paced for me. I think it could be that I just didn’t care much for the main character. Although I didn’t personally like this book, it was very well written and I’m sure it will appeal to many others.

Marika is a journalist who covers human interest stories in war torn countries. She has narrowly escaped death several times but continues to travel alone to these dangerous regions. When she hears the news that her idol, fellow journalist Robert Lewis, has committed suicide, she decides to write his biography. During her research she comes across a letter written by a missionary who claims to have seen Robert Lewis in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Although she has settled down for the first time in her life while she writes Lewis’s biography, she cannot forget the letter and sets of to PNG to search for him. The novel follows Marika, called White Mary by the local people, through the jungle led by her guide Tobo, a witch doctor from a local village who does more to help Marika than just lead her on her quest. Tobo is by far my favorite character in this story.

Who will like this book?  Anyone who enjoys stories with strong characters and vivid descriptions about exotic, dangerous locations. Just remember to pack some bug spray, mosquito netting, and a big floppy hat because you’ll actually feel the bugs and the blistering sun while you’re reading.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

So Brave, Young, and Handsome

Title: So Brave, Young, and Handsome

Author: Leif Enger

Summary:  It’s finally here! Leif Enger’s second book after his best-selling debut novel Peace Like a River.

In 1915 Minnesota, Monte Becket is an author struggling to write his second novel. Written on a whim, his first novel was a smashing success. Now Monte is starting to feel like he really only had one good book in him. When Monte befriends Glendon Hale, a fugitive outlaw, he gets the chance to live out a real adventure. Monte is encouraged by his wife Susannah to accompany Glendon on his journey to Mexico to find the wife he abruptly left so many years ago. Glendon is looking for forgiveness while Monte is looking for inspiration. Only when they are on their way to Mexico do they realize that Glendon’s sins of the past have not been forgotten and the two are being pursued by an ex-Pinkerton turned bounty hunter.

This is a story about relationships, loyalty, forgiveness, and the importance of taking risks to find out what kind of person you really are.

Who will like this book?  Anyone who enjoys old-time westerns or just a really nice story.

If you like this book, try this: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

Recommended by:Sue, Circulation Coordinator

Young Bess

Title: Young Bess

Author: Margaret Irwin

Summary: Young Bess provides a fictional, though grounded in historical fact, novel on the life of Queen Elizabeth when she was simply the Lady Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and sister of Edward VI. Young Bess describes Elizabeth’s chequered relationship with Henry VIII, the father she resembles and differs from in so many ways. But along the way Bess also finds the maternal love that has been sorely lacking from her life from her father’s sixth and last wife, Catherine Parr.

Catherine not only provides Bess with love but more importantly with a belief in her destiny–that Bess will someday be Queen of England. Unfortunately, her destiny may be derailed by the long-standing feud between two brothers, Thomas and Edward Seymour, uncles to Edward VI, the brother of young Bess. Their hatred for each other eventually destroys both brothers, but will this hatred destroy Bess?

Who will like this book?: For those who enjoyed Alison Weir’s The Lady Elizabeth or any of the Philippa Gregory novels on the women of the Tudor Court, Young Bess is the book for you

Recommended by: Mona, Reference Librarian

America, America

Title: America, America

Author:  Ethan Canin

Summary: Ethan Canin has always been a wonderful writer, but this is his best book yet.  In fact, it’s one of the best books I’ve read – period.  Several reviewers have deemed it a “great American novel,” not only because of the quality of writing, but also because of its breadth and subject matter.  It is an elegantly drawn portrait of a small American town seen through the eyes of a boy who is at crossroads in his life, during a time when his family and home and country were at a crossroads as well.

Corey Sifter at 50 years old is looking back on that time in his life when he was growing up near Buffalo, New York, in the 1970s.  He had become involved with the powerful Metarey family, first as a groundskeeper on their grand estate, and then as a trusted right-hand man of the patriarch, Liam Metarey.  He was only a 16 year-old boy from a working-class family when it all began, but even then he had the gift of steady observation, not jumping to conclusions about the events around him.  As the Metarey dynasty becomes the driving force behind their friend Senator Henry Bonwiller’s bid for the presidency, Corey is asked to lend a hand and becomes the Senator’s driver and aide. As the campaign gains strength and Corey’s ties to the Metarey’s deepen, he finds himself entangled in a scandal that leads to the downfall of a powerful man and a family that means the world to him.

America, America is much more than a political novel.  Ultimately, I think, it is a novel about relationships and our place in the world, our place in history.  And it is a novel that spans the life, and perhaps the death, of the American dream.

Who will like this book?  Any fan of Richard Russo or John Irving.  Readers who big, multi-layered sagas about families, small town America, politics, love, etc.

If you like this book, try this:Anything else by Ethan Canin; The Race by Richard North Patterson; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren.

Recommended by: Mary, Reference Librarian