11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, read by Helen, on 11/30/2012

Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell – a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

The Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, read by Helen, on 08/30/2012

Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for “a reliable wife.” But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she’s not the “simple, honest woman” that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man’s devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt a passionate man with his own dark secrets has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways.
With echoes of “Wuthering Heights” and “Rebecca,” Robert Goolrick’s intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, read by Helen, on 08/30/2012

They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carriedhas become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

Pretty Boy Floyd by Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana, read by Helen, on 08/30/2012

The time is 1925. The place, St. Louis, Missouri. Charley Floyd, a good-looking, sweet-smiling country boy from Oklahoma, is about to rob his first armored car.
Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Larry McMurtry and his writing partner, Diana Ossana, Pretty Boy Floyd traces the wild career of this legendary American folk hero, a young man so charming that it’s hard not to like him, even as he’s robbing you at gunpoint. From the bank heists and shootings that make him Public Enemy Number One to the women who love him, from the glamour-hungry nation that worships him to the G-men who track Charley down, Pretty Boy Floyd is both a richly comic masterpiece and an American tragedy about the price of fame and the corruption of innocence.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Classics, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, read by Helen, on 08/30/2012

The most popular pirate story ever written in English, featuring one of literature’s most beloved “bad guys,” Treasure Island has been happily devoured by several generations of boys—and girls—and grownups. Its unforgettable characters include: young Jim Hawkins, who finds himself owner of a map to Treasure Island, where the fabled pirate booty is buried; honest Captain Smollett, heroic Dr. Livesey, and the good-hearted but obtuse Squire Trelawney, who help Jim on his quest for the treasure; the frightening Blind Pew, double-dealing Israel Hands, and seemingly mad Ben Gunn, buccaneers of varying shades of menace; and, of course, garrulous, affable, ambiguous Long John Silver, who is one moment a friendly, laughing, one-legged sea-cook . . .and the next a dangerous pirate leader!

The unexpected and complex relationship that develops between Silver and Jim helps transform what seems at first to be a simple, rip-roaring adventure story into a deeply moving study of a boy’s growth into manhood, as he learns hard lessons about friendship, loyalty, courage and honor—and the uncertain meaning of good and evil.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

Night Birds by Thomas Maltman, read by Helen, on 07/30/2012

The intertwining story of three generations of German immigrants to the Midwest—their clashes with slaveholders, the Dakota uprising and its aftermath—is seen through the eyes of young Asa Senger, named for an uncle killed by an Indian friend. It is the unexpected appearance of Asa’s aunt Hazel, institutionalized since shortly after the mass hangings of thirty-eight Dakota warriors in Mankato in 1862, that reveals to him that the past is as close as his own heartbeat.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

Forever Queen by Helen Hollick, read by Helen, on 06/30/2012

What kind of woman becomes the wife of two kings, and the mother of two more?

Saxon England, 1002. Not only is Æthelred a failure as King, but his young bride, Emma of Normandy, soon discovers he is even worse as a husband. When the Danish Vikings, led by Swein Forkbeard and his son, Cnut, cause a maelstrom of chaos, Emma, as Queen, must take control if the Kingdom-and her crown-are to be salvaged. Smarter than history remembers, and stronger than the foreign invaders who threaten England’s shores, Emma risks everything on a gamble that could either fulfill her ambitions and dreams or destroy her completely.

Emma, the Queen of Saxon England, comes to life through the exquisite writing of Helen Hollick, who shows in this epic tale how one of the most compelling and vivid heroines in English history stood tall through a turbulent fifty-year reign of proud determination, tragic despair, and triumph over treachery.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, read by Helen, on 06/30/2012

Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, ‘best of all the Greeks’, is everything Patroclus is not — strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess — and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton, read by Helen, on 05/30/2012

A timeless American classic rediscovered—an unforgettable saga of a heartland family

On a farm in western Missouri during the first half of the twentieth century, Matthew and Callie Soames create a life for themselves and raise four headstrong daughters. Jessica will break their hearts. Leonie will fall in love with the wrong man. Mary Jo will escape to New York. And wild child Mathy’s fate will be the family’s greatest tragedy. Over the decades they will love, deceive, comfort, forgive—and, ultimately, they will come to cherish all the more fiercely the bonds of love that hold the family together.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

A Good American by Alex George, read by Helen, on 05/30/2012

An uplifting novel about the families we create and the places we call home.

It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead (“What’s the difference? They’re both new“), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together.

Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf.

A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette’s grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors’ story, comes to realize he doesn’t know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James’s family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American. And, in the process, Frederick and Jette’s progeny sometimes discover more about themselves than they had bargained for.

Poignant, funny, and heartbreaking, A Good American is a novel about being an outsider-in your country, in your hometown, and sometimes even in your own family. It is a universal story about our search for home.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

1929 by Frederick W. Turner, read by Helen, on 04/30/2012

By 1929, the brief, brilliant career of Bix Beiderbecke–self-taught cornetist, pianist, and composer–had already become legend. From the summer of ’26 at Hudson Lake, Indiana, when his genius blazed forth with a strange, doomed incandescence, Bix’s career tragically reflected the chaotic impulses of a country suddenly awash in wealth, power, and a profound cynicism. Shy, elusive, inarticulate, Bix was beloved by both the raccoon-coated campus crowd and the men who nightly played alongside him. He is still celebrated in a yearly festival in his hometown of Davenport, lowa. And that is where the novel begins, in Davenport, at the Bix Fest. It then travels back in time to focus on the highlights of a meteoric career: the early jams at the Blue Lantern Casino, a Capone-controlled nightclub; the grueling cross-country tours with Paul Whiteman’s “Symphonic Jazz” orchestra; the disastrous Whiteman trip to California to make the first all-color talkie musical; the stock-market crash of 1929, which finds Bix in an asylum, victim of the era’s signature product, bootleg gin; and finally, Bix’s dying efforts to combine his piano compositions into a suite that would be the pinnacle of his life’s work and his evocation of his time and place. Colored by some of the age’s most popular characters–Bing Crosby, Maurice Ravel, Al Capone, Louis Armstrong, and Clara Bow–1929 brilliantly illuminates a period in history, personified in the gifted, compelling, and melancholy figure of Bix Beiderbecke.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Redemption by Frederick Turner, read by Helen, on 03/30/2012

Francis Muldoon is a special policeman in the notorious Storyville District of New Orleans in 1913. His job is to see that the District’s volatile mixture of sex, alcohol, and gambling doesn’t boil over but instead rolls along at a continuous simmer. Once a member of the city’s regular police force, he now works for the District’s vice lord, Tom Anderson, patrolling his patron’s honky-tonks and saloons and whorehouses—both the high-priced bordellos and the coffinlike cribs where the girls work with only a cot and a washbasin.  When Adele, a beautiful singer at the Tuxedo dance hall, draws Francis into a contentious rivalry for her affection, a fatal shootout is the inevitable conclusion, sending the District into a scalding eruption and revealing the central characters for what they are.

Filled with the rich atmosphere of America’s most colorful city,Redemption is the powerfully told tale of a man’s efforts to restore the integrity of his soul.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, read by Helen, on 01/30/2012

In Jordan’s prize-winning debut, prejudice takes many forms, both subtle and brutal. It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband’s Mississippi Delta farm—a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family’s struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura’s brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not—charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its inexorable conclusion.

The men and women of each family relate their versions of events and we are drawn into their lives as they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale. As Kingsolver says of Hillary Jordan, “Her characters walked straight out of 1940s Mississippi and into the part of my brain where sympathy and anger and love reside, leaving my heart racing. They are with me still.”

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction, Horror

11/22/63 by Stephen King, read by Helen, on 01/30/2012

If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you? Would the consequences be what you hoped?

Jake Epping, 35, teaches high-school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and cries reading the brain-damaged janitor’s story of childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father. On his deathbed, pal Al divulges a secret portal to 1958 in his diner back pantry, and enlists Jake to prevent the 11/22/1963 Dallas assassination of American President John F. Kennedy. Under the alias George Amberson, our hero joins the cigarette-hazed full-flavored world of Elvis rock’n’roll, Negro discrimination, and freeway gas-guzzlers without seat belts. Will Jake lurk in impoverished immigrant slums beside troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald, or share small-town friendliness with beautiful high school librarian Sadie Dunhill, the love of his life?

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

Face the winter naked by Bonnie Turner, read by Helen, on 02/28/2013

  Daniel Tomelin, a shell-shocked veteran haunted by the carnage of the First World War, abandons his family in the Great Depression and goes on the road in search of relief from his nightmares. The life of a freight-hopping, banjo-strumming hobo appeals to him more than he wants to admit. But he insists he’s not a bum – he’s a family man looking for work; a down-and-out victim of the Depression, whose war flashbacks and guilt for leaving his family accompany him through the hills of Missouri.

Compassionate, humorous, and warm, despite the economic hardships of the era, Face the Winter Naked will appeal to readers who enjoy tales of survival in the Great Depression. Stories of desperate men who couldn’t handle the realities of war or financial ruin. Men who dearly loved their families but hadn’t the courage to stay and accept responsibility. The story pulls the reader back to a tragic period in history, where people either learned to cope with poverty – or perished.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Madeline, Thriller/Suspense

Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom, read by Madeline, on 01/30/2013

Fans of Carlos Ruiz Zaf n’s The Shadow of the Wind and Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong will fall in love with Winter in Madrid, the arresting new novel from C. J. Sansom. In September 1940, the Spanish Civil War is over and Madrid lies in ruins while the Germans continue their march through Europe. Britain stands alone as General Franco considers whether to abandon neutrality and enter the war.

Into this uncertain world comes Harry Brett, a privileged young man who was recently traumatized by his experience in Dunkirk and is now a reluctant spy for the British Secret Service. Sent to gain the confidence of Sandy Forsyth, an old school friend turned shadowy Madrid businessman, Brett finds himself involved in a dangerous game and surrounded by memories.

Meanwhile, Sandy’s girlfriend, ex-Red Cross nurse Barbara Clare, is engaged in a secret mission of her own—to find her former lover Bernie Piper, whose passion for the Communist cause led him into the International Brigades and who vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama.

In a vivid and haunting depiction of wartime Spain, Winter in Madrid is an intimate and riveting tale that offers a remarkable sense of history unfolding and the profound impact of impossible choices.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Lisa, Thriller/Suspense

Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom, read by Lisa, on 01/30/2013

Fans of Carlos Ruiz Zaf n’s The Shadow of the Windand Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsongwill fall in love with Winter in Madrid, the arresting new novel from C. J. Sansom. In September 1940, the Spanish Civil War is over and Madrid lies in ruins while the Germans continue their march through Europe. Britain stands alone as General Franco considers whether to abandon neutrality and enter the war.

Into this uncertain world comes Harry Brett, a privileged young man who was recently traumatized by his experience in Dunkirk and is now a reluctant spy for the British Secret Service. Sent to gain the confidence of Sandy Forsyth, an old school friend turned shadowy Madrid businessman, Brett finds himself involved in a dangerous game and surrounded by memories.

Meanwhile, Sandy’s girlfriend, ex-Red Cross nurse Barbara Clare, is engaged in a secret mission of her own—to find her former lover Bernie Piper, whose passion for the Communist cause led him into the International Brigades and who vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama.

In a vivid and haunting depiction of wartime Spain, Winter in Madridis an intimate and riveting tale that offers a remarkable sense of history unfolding and the profound impact of impossible choices.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Hard Twisted by C. Joseph Greaves, read by Helen, on 01/30/2013

In May 1934, outside of Hugo, Oklahoma, a homeless man and his thirteen-year-old daughter are befriended by a charismatic drifter, newly released from the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. The drifter, Clint Palmer, lures father and daughter to Texas, where the father, Dillard Garrett, mysteriously disappears, and where his daughter, Lucile, begins a one-year ordeal as Palmer’s captive on a crime spree–culminating in the notorious Greenville, Texas, “skeleton murder” trial of 1935.

03. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction

Bluffton by Matt Phelan, read by Angie, on 02/03/2014

I really enjoy Matt Phelan’s books. I think they are wonderful slices of life. I appreciate the minimal text and lovely illustrations. Bluffton is the story of Henry and his summers spent with Buster Keaton. It seems Keaton and other vaudeville acts summer at Bluffton and fictional Henry was able to get to know them a bit. Henry wasn’t happy working in his dad’s store and really wanted to do more with his life. Unfortunately, Buster never shows him any tricks and just wants to hang out and play baseball. The book takes place over several years as Buster and family returns to Bluffton each summer. While I enjoyed this book, I am not sure it will find a wide audience with kids. I would guess very few kids have heard of or know of Buster Keaton or even vaudeville. Also, they might not be interested in a book that really doesn’t have a lot to say or a very exciting story. This is a sleepy little book that is a fast read and great for fans of Phelan. But we don’t really learn a whole lot about the historical characters and I am not sure we learn enough about Henry to really care that much. Beautiful as always with a Matt Phelan book, but limited appeal.

03. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore, read by Angie, on 02/01/2014

Ephraim’s father has had a stroke and his mom decides to move the family to Maine to help in his recovery. They move into the old family house,
The Water Castle. The house isn’t like a normal house, it is full of strange rooms that seem impossible and secret tunnels. The Appledore family has lived in the Water Castle for generations. They came to Crystal Springs, ME to find the Fountain of Youth and built a hotel and spa and water bottling operation on the spot.

Ephraim meets two kids at school who seem to know more about his family history than he does. Will Wylie’s family has always hated the Appledores. They were hunting for the Fountain of Youth too and planned on selling the water. The Appledores beat them too it and they have been bitter ever since. Mallory is a member of the Darling family. The Darlings have worked for the Appledore’s forever and her father is the current caretaker. Ephraim, Will and Mallory start out as enemies, but soon come together to work on a school project and to find the truth about the water of Crystal Springs.

Interspersed throughout the book are journal entries of Nora Darling. She worked for Dr. Appledore in 1909 and the journal details their quest to find the water and her hopes of becoming an explorer someday. Of course there are Appledores and Wylies at that time as well and the entries show that things haven’t changed all that much in 100 years.

This book is a little hard to classify. The Fountain of Youth storyline makes it a little more science fiction, but those elements are not treated in a fantastical way. Blakemore really tries to make this more realistic than anything else with historical elements thrown in. I like the ambiguity of the genre. I thought the kids quest for the truth about the water was a really good mystery. I do wish there weren’t quite so many threads left hanging at the end though. We don’t know who really set the fire that burned down the bottling plant and hotel in 1909. We don’t know if the water actually gives the drinker immortality. We don’t know if Ephraim’s dad is really going to recover. We also are left wondering about Mallory’s mom and if she is who it is implied she is.