Blog

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard (2008)
Twenty years after the horrors of the French Revolution, sometimes medical student Hector Carpenter is minding his own, rather aimless, business, when the mysterious Vidocq involves him in the search for the missing (or dead) lost Dauphin. Vidocq, a real life police detective and founder of the Brigade de Sûreté, leads his young friend through dangerous escapades through the French countryside and Paris until they find the truth about the lost Dauphin. Or do they?

Visit the author's website, read reviews at Amazon.com and check out the reading guide for the book.

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti (2008)
Twelve year old Ren has no memory of his life before he came to the Catholic orphanage in mid-19th century New England. Then, one day, the mysterious Benjamin Nap comes to the orphanage and claims Ren as his long lost brother. Soon Ren is off with Nab, who turns out to be a con man of great charm. This is a delightful old-fashioned story with an appealing young hero you can't help but root for. It includes grave robbing, breathtaking chase scenes, and even a long lost evil relative.

Visit the author's website, preview the book and read a New York Times review of the book.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (2006)
I read this for my young adult literature class. It was fast paced and has a very important (and different) narrator. The book talks about Nazi Germany but also about the growth of a young girl. And what book lover doesn’t want to know more about the book thief?

Watch the video to see the author discuss The Book Thief, read the reviews at BookBrowse.com and listen to NPR's interview with the author.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (1997)
There are many good books about this painful time in human history but there are some books that have a profound impact on us because they present the real toll of the Holocaust. This is one of those books. The Reader is a work of psychological complexity; an exploration of the painful and difficult process of guilt and atonement. It is also a love story. The story is told in three parts by the main character, Michael Berg. Each part takes place in a different time period in the past.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she disappears without explanation. When he sees her again, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a terrible crime. As he watches her refuse to defend herself, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder. The final part the book is about truth and reconciliation.

Read an excerpt from this Oprah's book club selection and view the reading group guide.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)
Many of us read about Francie Nolan and her life 100 years ago growing up poor in Brooklyn when we were young ourselves. Try it now as an adult. Although the writing is at times a little stilted and too often we are told things instead of shown them, the spirit of Francie and her practical and hardworking mother and her dreamer of a never-do-well father comes through. Some scenes are absolutely delightful: Papa taking Francie and her brother on a fishing trip or Aunt Sissy finally finding a way to get herself a baby. Other parts are poignant beyond words: Six-year-old Francie having to take her younger brother for their vaccinations before starting school or Francie finding that she must work instead of going to high school.

Preview this American classic and check out the reading group guide.

Guernica by David Boling

Guernica by David Boling (2008)
David Boling’s first novel is the tale of Justo Ansotegui, the strongest man in Guernica and a successful farmer; and Miguel Navarro, a fisherman's son too prone to seasickness to be of much use on a boat. In a broader sense, it's about Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and beginning of World War II, and the Basque who proudly held onto their traditions at a time when their language and customs were outlawed by the Spanish government.

Boling tells the story of Guernica and her people while telling the story of human suffering, heroism, and amazing fortitude. He draws a wonderful picture of the Basque culture and describes the countryside of Spain so well that you can see, hear, taste, and smell it. The bombing of Guernica on the eve of World War II was a devastating experiment in total warfare by the German Luftwaffe. Boling, along with many historians, sees the bombing of Guernica as an act of terrorism. Perhaps, as I did, you will make a connection between that long-ago atrocity and the modern world. And perhaps as I did, you will finish this novel with a sense of hope.

Learn more about the bombing of Guernica at PBS.org. Visit the author's website for reviews and his bio.

Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom

Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom (2008)
Set in 1940-41, this is a political novel in the very best sense. It offers a taste of the hardship and fear gripping Madrid under its new Fascist dictator, Francisco Franco. It is a novel that thoughtfully considers what can happen to an ordinarily decent man in wartime. Harry Brett, Sandy Forsyth and Bernie Piper who were together at school are the players. The underlying question of Spain’s neutrality has the British worried. While Spain considers its options Harry Brett is recruited by British intelligence to discover if Sandy Forsyth has found gold reserves that will strengthen Franco’s hand. Bernie Piper vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama. An attempt to rescue him becomes a dangerous game which draws the strands of this saga together. A first rate thriller.

Check out the book discussion and read reviews at Amazon.com.

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson (2008)
I was completely enthralled from the first page. Historical mystery based on historical fact. Two intertwining stories of Julia in modern-day Cornwall and Catherine in 17 century Cornwall mix together for an engaging story within a story. The detailed descriptions of the actualities of the Barbary Pirate slave trade and the exotic environment of Morocco then and now leap off the page, allowing you to feel as if you are there. Both women are connected by their gift of embroidery, which plays a key role.

Visit the author's website and find reviews at Amazon.com.

March by Geraldine Brooks

March by Geraldine Brooks (2004)
The father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was a chaplain with the Union troops during the first part of that book. This is his story, a committed abolitionist who joined the war effort as a moral cause.

Listen to an excerpt from the book, visit the author's website, and check out the reading guide.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2008)
At the end of WWII, writer Juliet Ashton has just published a collection of the humorous columns she wrote about London during the war. Now she is at loose ends trying to find her next project. Through a happy accident, a used book with her name in it lands on the Channel Island of Guernsey and into the hands of Dawsey Adams. Through letters to Dawsey and others on Guernsey, Juliet learns about what occupation under the Germans was like and finds the inspiration for her next book.

The story is told entirely in letters between Juliet and her many friends and is very charming. Some might feel it is a bit too charming and even sentimental, but anyone willing to enter into the time and place of the book and who enjoys quirky eccentrics will find a satisfying read. The book is reminiscent of Helen Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road for its depiction of England right after WWII and its discussion of literature through letters from Hanff and the friends she made at a bookshop in England. For another story of the Channel Islands under German occupation, see the British miniseries Island at War.
Visit the book's website and read reviews of the book at Amazon.com.

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani (2007)
In a literal way, the title of this book refers to the dye that carpet makers make from the petals of flowers. In another more poetic way, our heroine does give her life’s blood to learn the secret of carpet making in 17th century Persia. Eventually her talented persistence permits her a spiritual rebirth and a decent life. The journey from abject poverty and helplessness to self-respect is a beautifully conceived and artfully written story. I recommend this book for its absorbing content and rich character development.

Find a reading guide, author information and reviews at Book Browse. Go to the book's website for additional interviews, reviews and related links.

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

Any Human Heart by William Boyd (2002)
Following a character through his or her life can be very absorbing. That is what this novel, written in the form of an "intimate journal," does and it includes most of the major events of the 20th century. It is fiction skillfully interwoven with history.

Any Human Heart tells the story of Logan Mountstuart through his diaries, and his experiences. Born male, rich, good looking and arrogant at the beginning of the century, he dies a modest, kinder and wiser man. Logan's life might seem preposterous but it is certainly engaging.

Find reviews, information about the author and an interview with the author at Book Browse. Read additional reviews at ReviewsOfBooks.com.

Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard

Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard (2003)
Did you ever wonder what may have happened to Tiny Tim, the Cratchett family, or old Mr. Scrooge? Bayard answers that question in a very imaginative and mysterious way. Part historical fiction, part mystery, and part psychological thriller, this book is a wonderful read.

Visit the author's website and read a review at Salon.com.

Buckingham Palace Gardens by Anne Perry

Buckingham Palace Gardens by Anne Perry (2008)
Anne Perry researches the Victorian era thoroughly so her stories are historically accurate. The real bonus in this mystery is the plot that encircles the Prince of Wales. It’s a cliff hanger. Perry also introduces a new character, Gracie into the series. Gracie infiltrates the servants’ staff of the Prince and is a source of vital information for special investigator Thomas Pitt. Perry revitalizes the historical mystery.

Visit the author's website, read reviews and an excerpt from the book.

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin

The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin (2008)
Adelia, the heroine of Ariana Franklin's bestseller, Mistress of the Art of Death, finds herself again in the service of King Henry II, who wants to know who murdered his mistress, Rosamund Clifford. Rosamund was poisoned in the tower in which she lived. Just as in her previous novel, Franklin's story is great fun. Adelia is part CSI investigator and part medieval detective. The story moves forward in this second book of the Adelia Aguilar series. Adelia has given birth to Allie whose father is Rowley Picot, king Henry's staunch supporter.

Read an excerpt, visit the author's website, and read reviews.