Melanie Benjamin portrays the lives and circumstances that led to the creation of the beloved children’s tale, Alice in Wonderland, in which Alice, a...moreMelanie Benjamin portrays the lives and circumstances that led to the creation of the beloved children’s tale, Alice in Wonderland, in which Alice, a very real girl indeed, is immortalized by a beloved family friend. Discover for yourself whether her literary looking-glass reflection truly resembles her true self, as she is flummoxed by the inexplicable behavior of the grown-ups in her very smart Oxford world as they rule her existence, who say one thing and mean another and who behave much like a Cheshire cat laying a trap. Through her eyes, we relive the innocence and impudence of youth as it inexorably lead to its own loss, despite our best efforts to halt its progress; while we also learn that even the most harsh lesson can, in the end, bring redemption to life’s riddles, through love. This novel has much to offer: stirring relationships, royal intrigue, love and loss, and historic detail, as well as a plot that moves along nicely.(less)
Ann Rinaldi’s Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is a wonderful portrayal of the life and times of Phillis Wheatey, an African slave whose unusual edu...moreAnn Rinaldi’s Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is a wonderful portrayal of the life and times of Phillis Wheatey, an African slave whose unusual education and writings eventually earned her freedom during the tumultuous Revolutionary War era. From her nightmare aboard a slave vessel, to her early education in the home of the caring and well-connected New England Wheatley family, we see young Phillis grow into a passionately literate teenager, willing to risk ostracism from the many white faces who refused to believe Africans capable of higher thinking, as well as those in her own race who derided her for haughty aspirations. Despite all obstacles, Phillis and her surrogate family defy the detractors and prove during a politically fraught time that the very freedom they were fighting for as a nation ought to be extended to those upon whose backs the new nation’s economy had been dependent. Her life and writings brought much hope and fervor to the anti-slavery movement. This novel is easy to read, not overly maudlin, and suitable for younger readers.(less)
The Birth of Venus is an historical novel set in fifteenth-century Florence amidst political, religious and artistic upheaval. Her protagonist, young...moreThe Birth of Venus is an historical novel set in fifteenth-century Florence amidst political, religious and artistic upheaval. Her protagonist, young Alessandra Cecchi, born into a noble family and used to luxury, must scrape together her education as an artist at a time when women were not recognized for such talents. Her rebellious nature leads to dangerous byways in her increasingly tumultuous city, until her parents decide that her safety can only be ensured through an arranged marriage, where she will learn shocking new lessons about human nature--including her own. Alessandra provides a woman’s perspective of the extravagant Medici family’s loss of political power to a religious-ascetic regime that all but eliminates women's civil rights. In an interesting twist, the most boldly free character of all is Alessandra’s beloved and brassy African slave, who treads among the streets and Machiavellian family schemes with confident ease. Though Sarah Dunant’s writing is mellifluous, the plot line moves slowly. Nevertheless, I was able to plow ahead because of the lovely scenery and cameo appearances of famous Renaissance artists. (less)
Geraldine Brooks’ historical novel Year of Wonders is a horror story of sorts. Her characters, delved from the crumbling archives of a tiny village in...moreGeraldine Brooks’ historical novel Year of Wonders is a horror story of sorts. Her characters, delved from the crumbling archives of a tiny village in the English countryside, richly portray for us the harrowing year in which the plague reached their families. With great courage and conviction, they barricade themselves off from the rest of the country, having supplies brought in and left at a predetermined place with payment made in coins dropped in disinfecting vinegar to prohibit the needless passing of the disease to the outside world. The author explores “What would it be like…to make such a choice and to find that in consequence, two-thirds of your neighbors were dead within a year? How would faith, relationships, and social order survive?” The ramifications of this decision to remain essentially jailed in a small town full of virulent, contagious people, are obviously deadly, in more ways than one. Through Brooks’ capable hands, we see how tragedy and trial can bring out the most surprising results: While a stalwart leader might fall into confused impotence, a newly-orphaned child might just as well become a capable homesteader; and a common servant once despised by her employers might rise up into a much-needed emblem of God’s compassion on her community’s frailty. Good literature such as this challenges us to consider our own reaction to adversity, and also provides the catharsis of still being alive when we put it down. Whew!(less)
Despite a reputation for musical genius and a childhood spent performing alongside her famous brother, Nan Mozart’s dreams of a career in music were r...more Despite a reputation for musical genius and a childhood spent performing alongside her famous brother, Nan Mozart’s dreams of a career in music were repeatedly dashed, merely because she was a woman. For decades, she struggled against the social expectation for women to eschew careers to marry and bear children, but financial desperation along with the social stigma of being unmarried in her thirties finally drove her to settle on Plan B: marriage to a twice-widowed man, complete with his troupe of five rambunctious children. Moser’s novel gives a fresh glimpse through feminine eyes the life and times of this family led by the famously rigid and demanding father who gambles his family’s political standing, financial future, and health, on his son’s genius. Nan ultimately chose to accept God’s opportunities and purpose for her life, rather than dwell in bitterness on the could-have-beens, and she discovered that raising a family can indeed be a feat worth a lifetime’s ambition, pride, and even joy. (less)
Erik Larson’s fascinating account of the magical and terrifying events surrounding the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair is a masterpiece of engaging nonficti...moreErik Larson’s fascinating account of the magical and terrifying events surrounding the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair is a masterpiece of engaging nonfiction. He brings to life the epic forces involved in creating an entire city whose ambitious grandeur surpassed even Eiffel’s famous new tower in Paris. This fair, created to celebrate 400 years of Columbus’s discovery of the Americas, was birthed amidst terrifying economic times, catastrophic forces of nature, bureaucracy at its best and worst, gravity-defying engineering accomplishments and the artistic achievement of millennia; and in the midst of it all, a predator unlike any ever before discovered on our shores hunted human prey at his leisure. Larson’s research, with over 50 pages of footnotes and indices included, into the awesome accomplishments in the fields of science and architecture, as well as new discoveries in forensics and psychopathology, will forever alter how I view those gentle old black and white photos in the hallways of the Museum of Science and Industry on the other side of Lake Michigan.(less)
Katherine Paterson’s historical novel for young people portrays the tangled web of the Bosnian Kosovo/Serbia conflict of the early 1990’s, as seen thr...moreKatherine Paterson’s historical novel for young people portrays the tangled web of the Bosnian Kosovo/Serbia conflict of the early 1990’s, as seen through the eyes of a young Albanian Kosavar girl. Young Meli’s way of life is shattered as Serbians and Albanian freedom fighters wage acts of vengeance back and forth over the issue of independence for Kosovo. After Serb militia burn down her family’s home, her family joins the pilgrimage of displaced Albanians on a frozen cross-country flight to safety at a refuge camp, where their father, against all odds, books asylum to America. On arrival in this incredibly different culture, they struggle to remake ends meet without an English-speaking wage earner in the home, and they further become targets of racial ostracism after the 9/11 attacks for being “arabs.” Though it addresses the complicated and difficult issues of war, racism and the high cost of freedom, this book is engaging and easy to read, with an uplifting ending— a perfect choice for introducing young people to recent world events and social justice.
Sena Jeter Naslund’s historical novel, Abundance, which could alternately be titled, “Being Queen Of France Is Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be,” or, “Do...moreSena Jeter Naslund’s historical novel, Abundance, which could alternately be titled, “Being Queen Of France Is Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be,” or, “Don’t Lose Your Head, Marie!” etc., gives us a lovely, well-researched glimpse into the fabulous and turbulent life of Marie Antoinette. Written from Marie’s point of view, we follow her life story from the day she leaves her native Austria at the tender age of 14 to be wed to the Dauphin of France, an awkward and reticent teenager himself; we celebrate her gracious allegiance to her new nation, as well as her wildly popular acceptance by the already royal-leary populace; we experience heady luxury and scandal in the gilded courts of King Louis XV and XVI; we feel her heartbreak as her marriage flounders and she struggles to conceive an heir to the throne, with her every sorrow splashed unceremoniously across the daily tabloids; and since we know how it all ends, we cringe at her every miss-step that lowers her rate of popularity, such as her extravagant spending and gambling habits while her constituents fight wars for flour during a famine. With such a rich setting and iconic historical figures, this novel brings to exhilarating life the woman behind the pretty painted portraits. She is a friend, she is us.(less)
Aptly titled, Marjorie Hart’s Summer at Tiffany is her charming memoir of a summer spent as a ground-breaking female page in the boutique of a girl’s...moreAptly titled, Marjorie Hart’s Summer at Tiffany is her charming memoir of a summer spent as a ground-breaking female page in the boutique of a girl’s dreams. I was inspired by this wide-eyed Midwestern college girl’s adventures in 1940’s New York City, living vicariously through her refreshingly innocent youth as she handled priceless jewelry, happily earned meager wages while sharing a dingy apartment with two buddies, and sampled New York City’s glamorous nightlife with midshipmen home from war. I saw a little of myself in her Lucille Ball-type antics on the sales floor, and held my breath as she encountered illustrious—and sometimes notorious—celebrities, and even avoided narrow escapes with the law herself. Since I knew that she lived into her 80’s to write this memoir, I yearned to discover whether her soldier beau ever proposed to her; or whatever became of her music career; whether she ever acquired a professional cello like the one in the upper floor rare instrument store; or whether she ever afforded a bit of Tiffany’s herself. It was a gentle and satisfying read, one that makes you want to live an interesting life as a legacy to your grandchildren.(less)
“’The storm,” she said, and she looked down at her feet. “The tormenta changes everything.’
‘Yes,’ said Felipe. ‘The tormenta changes everything.’”
This...more“’The storm,” she said, and she looked down at her feet. “The tormenta changes everything.’
‘Yes,’ said Felipe. ‘The tormenta changes everything.’”
This is an historic fiction of two children whose social circles would normally not have intertwined: she is a rich white girl, daughter of a bank magnate, with everything she could ever want; he is an orphaned Hispanic boy who must work for her father for his meager existence, saving his wages in the hopes of bringing his Grandparents to live with him in America. Set in turn-of-the-last-century Galveston, Texas, a devastating hurricane blows in that will destroy much, yet will give birth to a friendship that will transcend culture, race and social norms. I found this a fast and cathartic, tear-jerking read, especially since I spent childhood weekends sailing and fishing in Galveston Bay. I was also ironically/perfectly on vacation at a beach while reading it.
“’Some things are easier to see when there is nothing but darkness around you.’”
This scintillating and poignant novel is a peerless combination of science, history, psychology and romance that easily makes my top ten sci-fi list....more
This scintillating and poignant novel is a peerless combination of science, history, psychology and romance that easily makes my top ten sci-fi list. If ever I could write the perfect novel, it would be this one; and now that it’s written, my work as an author must be done, with no money or glory to show for it, @!*#!
Samantha Hunt set themes of loneliness & madness, love and wonder against a thoroughly believable backdrop of the “electric wars”--the race toward futuristic inventions during the turn of the last century--and included in her cast such illustrious characters as Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, Westinghouse and Samuel Clemens, aka, Mark Twain.
Just when Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office so laughably declared that “Everything that can be invented has been invented” in the jaded year of 1899, we see through quirky characters and wondrous circumstances that not only might time travel, death rays and alien invasion still be possible; there is also yet unlimited potential for wonder and love in the human mind and heart.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is not just another World War II story. Written ingeniously as letters between characters scattered...moreThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is not just another World War II story. Written ingeniously as letters between characters scattered across the British Isles and beyond, we see the facts of war with a much more human viewpoint than mere numbers and dates. The protagonist, author Juliet Ashton, who has a severe case of writers’ block, receives an unusual letter from a man who has bought a used book she once owned. He loved it and would like to know if she can find him more books like it, since his town, which was occupied by Nazis for the past five years and only recently liberated, is bereft of much reading material—along with just about everything else. What follows is a miracle. She becomes a regular correspondent with him and discovers a possible subject to break her writing inertia: his involvement in a secret reading society that kept him and his unlikely group of friends alive in more ways than one while they were cut off from the outside world. Soon, she is corresponding with the whole gaggle of these charming and quirky characters, and she realizes that she must meet them in person. Upon her arrival, she finds much more than just a story; indeed, her life will be changed utterly by this quaint seaside town and its inhabitants. A darling read.
This “novel of war and survival” is not your typical fairy tale, nor is it your typical WWII historical novel. Imaginative yet realistic characters co...moreThis “novel of war and survival” is not your typical fairy tale, nor is it your typical WWII historical novel. Imaginative yet realistic characters combine with a magical setting in the primordial forests of occupied Poland in this retelling of the familiar fairy tale through the adult lens, infusing the original story with redemptive love, magic and beauty that can rescue us from the worst horrors mankind can imagine. Engaging and lovely.
I just finished The Book Thief, and not only does Markus Zusak’s award-winning Hitler-era novel have a gripping plot with unforgettable characters tha...more I just finished The Book Thief, and not only does Markus Zusak’s award-winning Hitler-era novel have a gripping plot with unforgettable characters that will keep you up late into the night, but its fresh, lyric language punches you with truths that are all too easy to miss on any given busy day. In it we are reminded that in all life’s turbulence, in all its devastating beauty and sorrow, just the frail fact of love is a miracle we dare not miss. I do not change my favorite book often, if ever, but I have officially moved this one to the top of the list. It was an honor just to read it.
As I entered the inevitably sad parts of the story that I of course knew all along would come, the tears wrenched themselves forcefully from me. It was not the pretty kind of crying, but the red, blotchy kind you really have to do in the privacy of a sound-proofed room. All I could think was, what if it had been me and my child, like the father and his foster-daughter in this story, who had to live through the horror of that war? Or what if my own children must one day go through such a thing with their own children? It makes our carefree, petty days seem so Krispy Kreme in comparison to what others have endured and are enduring this moment, somewhere.
The reason I cried so hard is that even before my children were born, I knew I would begin mourning their loss as soon as they arrived, because they grow and change and eventually…leave. And I was so right. I remember so many nights when I rocked my sweet little tow-headed baby boy to sleep, weeping because I knew he would not stay this way forever. And all the beautiful infant girl clothes have found new homes because, no matter how much I spent at The Children’s Place on her prodigious wardrobe, Princess Sophie is now in Kindergarten (and, thankfully for our checkbook, I’ve learned that her childhood will not be shortened if I buy her clothing at garage sales and consignment stores). It seems that the very nature of parenthood is to achingly love a child into fully-functioning independence, to essentially work ourselves out of a job.
And I happen to like mine.
Will God help me with this sadness as they move on into adulthood? I know they are only 5 and 7 right now, with hopefully some really great years to look forward to together, but I really have to prepare for the inevitable.
One bit of advice I have given other moms is this: every day you are a new mom. Sure, your children may be 9 and 7 years old, but you were never a mom to a 9 and 7-year-old like these two before. Each child, each developmental season, is different, and we must adapt constantly. Just when we think we’ve figured some bit of parenting out, they give us the slip. Surely this is true even as they become adults. As they leave the nest, I will still be a first-time mom, trying to figure out my new role in their lives.
In the meantime, my only recourse is to savor every hectic-sweet-loud-cuddly-obnoxious-stunning-silly minute I have with them. Oh yes, and cry a lot. (less)