While the summer is over and the kids are back in school, there’s still time to read. (Actually, because the kids are back in school there might be more time to read…) We at WPL have been found some good books this month, and as always are happy to share our favourite authors and titles.
Also, a happy EBOOK day to everyone. While not yet an official holiday, perhaps it’s something we can all work on for the future.
Breaking out of my consistent theme this year (fantasy books) I instead picked up a close cousin: historical fiction. Book one in the acclaimed french series “The Accursed Kings,” Druon chronicles the family of Phillip The Fair. The “Iron King” of France is known for his ruthless managing and ability to pursue funds for the crown by any means. After dismantling the Knights Templar for the sake of the royal treasury, the king is cursed by men being burned on the stake. While Phillip tightly rules the country and suppresses rebellion on the fringes, it is his own family which he fails to control. A story of adultery, subterfuge, and some highly interesting characters. The Iron King is a great read for fans of historical fiction, the Game of Thrones series, and people who loved The Pillars of the Earth. George RR Martin admits to being heavily influenced by the series, and after reading it is easy to see why. This is fantastic historical fiction.
This novel may be the best thing I’ve read this year. Yes, it is that good. Told in alternating short chapters just 3 to 5 pages in length, it chronicles the experiences of young blind French girl named Marie-Laure and a German soldier named Werner, whose paths collide during the horrors of World War II.
Marie-Laure and her father are living in Paris where he works as a talented locksmith in the Museum of Natural History. When the Nazis take over the city, Marie-Laure and her father flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo where her reclusive great-lives in towering old house on the English Channel.
Werner and his sister Jutta are two German orphans living in a mining town with not much to look forward to but a life of drudgery. Werner discovers he has a knack for fixing things and uses that talent to secure a spot in a school for Hitler Youth. While he at first welcomes this as a chance to build a better life, he quickly finds himself startled by the brutality of the Nazi regime. He eventually finds himself on an assignment that leads with seeming inevitability towards Saint-Malo.
The intricate, carefully constructed narrative reminds me of one of the elaborate wooden puzzles that Marie-Laure’s father builds for her each year on her birthday. The prose is hauntingly beautiful and the characters are wonderfully drawn. The novel manages to feel both intimate and expansive at the same time. I felt not just as though I were reading this story but that I was living within it. Yes, it is that good.
Lea: Online Magazines!
I have some time off in September and my goal is to read through at least some of the magazines which are “piled up” on my iPad, courtesy of Zinio, a great service from the library.
I really like magazines, but then a book catches my eye and….you can guess the rest. The issues used to pile up on my couch; at least now they are contained! Magazines featuring cooking and other women’s issues are my preference, so I will be reading Food Network Magazine, Woman’s Day, O, Good Housekeeping and others. If I get through my backlog I would love to try Travel + Leisure or maybe even Smithsonian.
So, I will be doing my best to make a dent in my “pile” this month….but I just checked out three more issues!
An unlikely page turner this novel follows 14-year old Bo, a refugee from Vietnam. Bo is living with his widowed mother and younger sister and their entire family life is defined by the impact of agent orange. It’s Bo’s sister, Orange, in whom the effects are most visible since she suffers from severe deformities but the entire family is dealing with the aftershocks as it lead to his father’s death, his mother’s illness. Bo himself is dealing with raising his little sister alone since his mother’s shame and depression keep her from being emotionally available.
Yet, the story manages to be uplifting rather than depressing and I found myself drawn to Bo’s world of unlikely friendship – a connection to a pet bear – and deep love for his sister. There are moments of heartbreaking beauty, like when Bo’s friend teaches Orange how to communicate using sign language, and she is finally able to express herself, that add some much needed light to a dark plot. This book may be bittersweet but it’s brimming with love and this book stayed with me long after I finished reading.
This adult novel follows 11-year-old Julia during an extraordinary time in her life and in the world. For some unknown reason, the rotation of the earth has started to slow. At first, days are only a few minutes longer, but as time goes on the days continue to lengthen, which is named “the slowing”. This is the backdrop of Julia’s coming of age story, as she deals her own pre-teen struggles like being teased for not yet needing a bra, realizing she likes a boy, or wondering why her parents fight so much.
This book is not about the science of the slowing, but the effects of it are in the background as Julia tells her story. As the days grow longer, the world needs to decide how to keep time. Do people just live by the sun and adjust to a longer and longer day? Or should people try to live live 24 hours at a time, calling it midnight even if it’s as bright as noon outside? This concerns Julia as she needs to know what time to go to school, and whether there will even be school next year. Her mother doesn’t want to worry her, but starts stockpiling food as crops exposed to too much sunlight followed by too much darkness start to fail. Julia and the world wonder if the slowing can be fixed, or if one day the world will just stop turning, and what that would mean for life on our planet.
I thought the book’s premise was interesting and I enjoyed it. I would recommend it anyone who enjoys coming of age stories, or fans of other stories with a sci-fi backdrop like The Last Policeman. This novel is in the library’s adult collection but I believe the content would be suitable for most young adults as well.
Brendan: A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Rise of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin (1989)
In late June of this year, as ISIS militants surged across northeastern Syria and northern Iraq, the group released a video entitled “The End of Sykes-Picot.” The footage showed an ISIS fighter in front of a map of the Syrian and Iraqi border. Pointing to the map, he stated “There is no border. Now this is all one country, god willing.” A Peace to End All Peace by historian David Fromkin details how during the First World War, and the years immediately afterward, the borders of the Middle Eastern nations that exist today were determined not by the inhabitants of the region but by British and French diplomats who concluded secret arrangements regarding the area’s future. The Sykes-Picot agreement, referred to by ISIS in their video, was one such agreement. Fromkin masterfully weaves historical research and story-telling together, a rare feat in the genre of historical non-fiction. He keeps the chapters short, which gives the book a fast-paced, mystery novel feel. The historical figures that populate the narrative – including Winston Churchill and T.E Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) – are brought to life in colourful detail, and the key events of the era are explored with the help of archival materials not previous available. If you are looking for a book that will shed light on the causes for the present-day situation in the Middle East, look no further than David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace.
(Rob’s note: Regrettably this title is not in our collection, but you may be able to obtain a copy via the Interlibrary Loan System.)