The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
Reviewed by Linda Shroyer
I love birds and art so when I stumbled upon the novel, The Bird Artist by Howard Norman, I was intrigued. The story opens with a confession, “My name is Fabian Vas. I live in Witless Bay Newfoundland….I am a bird artist and have more or less made a living at it. Yet I murdered the lighthouse keeper, Botho August, and that is an equal part of how I think of myself.” That is the reader’s first glimpse into the lives of the people living in a remote coastal village in 1911. I chuckled at Fabian honing his art skills via a correspondence course with the testy artist Isaac Sprague. The townspeople are quirky but endearing: Enoch Handle, who pilots the mail boat, his red-headed daughter Margaret, whose methodical bookkeeping skills run contrary to the way she lives her life—with gusto and abandon. And I loved the spirited Mrs. Paulette Bath who oversees the town’s library housed in her living room. Curl up on the sofa with a hot cup of tea and enjoy Fabian Vas’s story of what drove him to the lighthouse that dark night and how it altered the course of his life.
Available at TCPL: Book
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Reviewed by Erica Hall
For readers who enjoy Greek mythology, The Song of Achilles is a must-read retelling of The Iliad. While many other interpretations focus on Achilles or Hector, this book follows the life of Patroclus, particularly with respect to his relationship with Achilles. Beginning when they are both young boys and concluding with the tragic end that we all know, Miller fills in the gaps that Homer and other interpreters have left surrounding Patroclus’ life. As Achilles’ closest companion, Patroclus is certainly a major figure in the Trojan War, and here his story is beautifully fleshed out. One might even find themselves sympathizing with Achilles, who frequently comes across as brattish in other interpretations.
Available at TCPL: Overdrive Audiobook
To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
Reviewed by Lynne Bartlett
This book’s title is enough to be intriguing – then especially so when finding out about the subject matter. It is a novel that takes place in Alaska during the late 1800s – a time when Alaska was still being explored. Lieut. Col. Allen Forrester is taking two men to wild Alaska along several rivers and across mountains. They pick up several guides along the way, meet native Alaskans and encounter people and situations that can only be described as magical because they cannot really be explained. The Lieut. Col. is a newly married man and his wife Sophie waits in Vancouver for letters that are slow in coming and ultimately for his return. She is not content to socialize and keep house and begins learning how to photograph birds – a difficult task with all of the burdensome equipment that was needed. She turns her pantry into a darkroom and teaches herself with the help of a few long-distance mentors. The reader learns about what happens through diary entries of both the Lieut. Col. and Sophie; also through their letters to each other. But it is even more than these entries and letters that make the story so enjoyable – there is a sense of wonder and awe about what took place historically, because as the story unfolds, we also are hearing from descendants of the main characters in present times who are communicating by letter about the diaries, letters, and artifacts that will become part of a museum in Alaska. There is a breadth and focus of this novel that is very captivating and I felt myself there, in the danger and hardships of a wild Alaska and present in the lives of people who explored it, people who waited for their loved ones to return, and people who looked back to that time in awe of what their ancestors accomplished. I highly recommend this book! I can’t wait to also read this author’s first novel The Snow Child which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. I’ve discovered a wonderful new author!
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Reviewed by Tammy Powers
The Second Mrs. Hockaday is a historical fiction novel set in the Civil War timeframe and is based on a true incident. The story is told through letters and diary entries. Placidia, a teenage girl, marries Major Gryffth Hockaday, an older man with an infant son. After being married for two days, he is called to war and she is left to manage a 300-acre farm with servants. When Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia has been accused of having borne and murdered an infant. As the story unravels, the issues of race, slavery, war, love and forgiveness are woven into a tale that is both haunting and mesmerizing. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction and a good story.
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Reviewed by Betty Pruett
This book tells story of battlefield danger, wartime romance, and indomitable courage. The cast of characters include a corrupt judge, a fast-talking, piano-playing reporter from New York, an Indiana cavalryman who rescues a slave and other soldiers who marched with Sherman. One of the main themes of the book is structured around Sara Lester and her 12 year old daughter, Hattie, and their struggles to save the family rice plantation as General Sherman marches across Georgia toward Savannah. Sherman offers the conquered city to President Lincoln as a “Christmas gift”. If you enjoy reading about the Civil War, you would enjoy this book. John Jakes portrays the events in a very believable manner.
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Reviewed by Linda Shroyer
Sara de Vos was a master painter in the Guild of St. Luke in Holland in 1631. Females at the time traditionally only painted still life, leaving the more important pastoral landscapes to the male painters. Why centuries later, is the only existing painting attributed to Sara de Vos a haunted winter scene? In this intricately woven tale, Dominic Smith takes the reader on a journey that drifts back and forth from 1631 to 1957 to 2000. The reader slowly pieces together the heartbreaking story behind the painting’s imagery as well as how the painting becomes a pivotal point in the lives of a wealthy lawyer, a graduate student, an art historian and an art forger.
I enjoyed the way Smith brings to life the Dutch Golden Age—the time of Vermeer and Rembrandt. There are also fascinating insights into the world of art forgery. If you liked following the trail of the painting in The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, or the journey of the illuminated manuscript in Geraldine Brook’s People of the Book, you will love reading The Last Painting of Sara de Vos.
Available at TCPL: Book
Reviewed by Nathan Spangler
This book is by far one of the best historical fiction books written on the Battle of Gettysburg. It gives you a sense that you are actually standing there in the fields of Pennsylvania, living the battle with the men in the book. Michael Shaara does a wonderful job of keeping the details of the battle correct, while being able to add in his own ideas of conversations and thoughts between men that may have happened during this three day period. In a lot of books on the War Between the States, you seem to get a one-sided ideology that supports either the Southern viewpoint or the Northern; Michael Shaara tries to give a viewpoint from both sides, often switching between the two sides during different chapters of the book. Michael Shaara has also written many other historical fiction books like Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, which have been made into movies.
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Revenant by Michael Punke
Reviewed by Mylinda Poteet
In 1823, trappers with the Rocky Mountain fur company set out on an expedition thru the American frontier. Hugh Glass is a scout for the trappers. While out scouting Hugh is viciously attacked by a grizzly bear. Thinking Hugh will not survive, the leader of the group decides to leave Hugh behind with two men to care for him and bury him after he dies. The two men left to care for Hugh rob him and leave him.
This is the story of how Hugh survives being left severely injured, without any weapons or supplies. He must survive in winter, trying to find food and shelter, and under constant threat of attack by Indians. Hugh is driven by the need for revenge for the two men who left him to die. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes adventure and stories of survival. The Revenant was also made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass. The story line varies slightly in the movie, but defiantly worth watching.
Available at TCPL: Book | Overdrive Audiobook
Reviewed by Natasha Hunt
Ode on a Grecian Urn By John Keats
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on.”
In 1911, 6 months after the NYC Triangle Shirtwaist fire, Clara, a nurse on Ellis Island, waits at the top of the hospital steps for the next wave of immigrants when she see a vibrant copper color in the sea of gray and brown coming towards her. Clara is drawn to the man with the copper scarf, which reminds her of the horrible night when she witnessed her friend Edward jump from a burning building. Moving 100 years forward to the 10th anniversary of 9-11 and the death of Taryn’s husband Kent, Taryn receives a shock when she sees a published picture in a magazine of herself looking up at the smoking Twin Towers with tiny black specs leaping out.
This Historical Fiction novel explores individuals coping with the loss of their loved ones. This story brought back memories about where I was at the time of 9-11 and how I felt seeing those pictures on TV. This novel also allowed me to place myself in my Great Grandparents shoes as they went through Ellis Island. Thinking back to all the stories of them coming over from Czechoslovakia, it gave me a greater understanding of being a third generation American. Anyone that has had a tragedy in their life or has had family come through Ellis Island will appreciate these stories of healing, love, and new beginnings.
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Reviewed by Morgan Hayes
Roman Blood, by Steven Saylor, is a novel that will delight lovers of historical fiction and mystery novels. The story takes place in Rome in the year 80 B.C. and follows the adventures of a man named Gordianus the Finder. Gordianus is hired by the historical figure, Marcus Tullius Cicero to help him investigate the truth behind Sextus Roscius, a man accused of murdering his own father. With the help of Cicero’s own slave, Tiro, Gordianus travels throughout the Roman Subura where he encounters many perils on his quest to solve the mystery.
Besides Cicero, Roman Blood also features other historical persons that include, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the dictator of Rome at the time of the story, Lucius Cornelius Chrysogonus, Sulla’s former slave, and Marcus Licinius Crassus, a Roman General and politician. Saylor does a superb job of combining the true historical aspects of the time with the fictional character Gordianus to deliver an exciting account of one of the greatest murder trials in Roman history.
Available at TCPL: Book | Digital Audiobook