Posts Tagged ‘1920s’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Clare B’s Picks

December 22, 2014

I read both fiction and non-fiction.  I prefer books that have rich characters, who feel like people I know by the time I finish the book.  Here are the best books I read in 2014.

Ten Things I've Learnt About LoveTen Things I’ve Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler
Alice is a wanderer, unable to decide on a career.  She has a strained relationship with her family, but has returned to England to be with her father during his final days.  Daniel is a middle aged homeless man on the streets of London, who uses found items to make small, transient art pieces.  He is also searching for the daughter he has never met.  The chapters in this amazing debut novel, alternate between Alice’s and Daniel’s voice, as events lead them inexorably towards each other.

The Death of SantiniThe Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy returns to his troubled relationship with his father in this excellent biography, where he also explores the dynamics between he and his siblings, particularly his sister Carol.  In the prologue, Conroy says that he has been “writing the story of my own life for over forty years…but I must examine the wreckage one last time”.  He does, using soaring language, and descriptions that are both tragic and hilarious.  The picture Conroy paints is not always pretty, and at times he is especially brutal in describing his own actions.  However, Pat Conroy is the ultimate storyteller, and that amazing talent shines in this retelling of his life.

March, Book OneMarch, Book One by John Lewis
I am not generally a fan of graphic novels.  However, this is perhaps the most powerful book I have read this year, and I think the format is an excellent way to describe the Civil Rights struggles.  Congressman Lewis recounts his early meeting with Martin Luther King, which led to his commitment to the non-violence movement.  Illustrator Nate Powell’s images help bring to life the incredible bravery and determination of the young men and women who risked their lives to right the horrible wrong of segregation.

The Other TypistThe Other Typist  by Suzanne Rindell
New York City in the 1920s:  women’s roles are changing, Prohibition is in full swing, and crime is hidden right in front of you.  Odalie Lazare is the new member of the typing pool at a police precinct.  Beautiful, mysterious, sometimes charming, sometimes cold, she fascinates the staid, reliable typist, Rose Baker.  Odalie pulls Rose into her world of intrigue with the promise of friendship and excitement.  Told in Rose’s voice, this satisfying tale will leave you asking, “what just happened?”

Guests on EarthGuests on Earth by Lee Smith
Evalina Toussaint, an orphan, arrives at Asheville, NC’s famed Highland Hospital, in 1936. Her mother has died, her father is unknown. she is alone, abandoned and has virtually shut down.  Dr. Carroll, the hospital administrator, and his wife, a concert pianist, take Evalina under their wings.  Part patient, part ward of the Carrolls, Evalina lives at Highland on and off over the next several decades, as she struggles to find a life for herself.  Smith has not only written a well-crafted novel, but she has also explored the changing attitudes about mental illness, and its treatment, using the factual story of Highland Hospital and the tragic fire that killed its most famous patient, Zelda Fitzgerald.  Zelda has a cameo role in the novel, providing a fleeting, but enduring influence on Evalina.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

February 26, 2014

There are different editions of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, but there is no definite version of the book. The reason for this is simple. Hemingway died before he had finished work on the memoir. A Moveable Feast was first published in 1964, three years after the author’s death, and a so-called restored edition reached the public in 2009.
After Hemingway’s death, his fourth and last wife, Mary, handed manuscripts and notes over to the publisher Scribner in New York City, and editor Harry Brague went to work on the account Hemingway had referred to as “my Paris book.”
According to Hemingway’s friend, A. E. Hotchner – who came up with the title of the book – the manuscript “was not left in shards but […] ready for publication,” and the publication of 1964 was essentially the draft that he had read as early as 1957.
The memoir concerns the years 1921 to 1926, and the locale is mainly Paris, France. The French capital attracted great artists from all over the world at this time, and legendary names – for example F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein – fill the book. But Paris and the Hemingway family are the main characters of the memoir, which glows with a lust for life, writing, and literature.
In the preface, Hemingway says: “If the reader prefers, this book can be regarded as fiction,” and the omissions the author decides on have the characteristics of fiction. Hemingway was a master of “less is more” when he was writing well. He offered less, which ignited the imagination of the audience which could then give the tale depth. This is what Hemingway is doing in the 1964 edition of A Moveable Feast; which may give storytelling precedence over what actually took place.
People who knew Ernest Hemingway have stated that he could return to a tale of actual events over and over again, and each time the story would change a bit. To write a true sentence, to Hemingway, was a matter of staying true to the art of storytelling. And when Hemingway stayed true to storytelling, he managed to capture the deeper truths about the world as he experienced it.  So, even if A Moveable Feast may be a fictionalized version of Paris in the 1920s, it is also a book that offers readers the gist of the Paris of that era.

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Best New Books of 2013: Marcy H’s Picks

December 2, 2013

While I work primarily in Youth Services, for pure pleasure I mostly read adult contemporary fiction.  I have read quite a few new books published this year and here are my list of favorites.  I hope you’ll enjoy them too!

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin
This is the fictionalized story of Anne Morrow Lindberg and her marriage to Charles Lindbergh.  This well-written novel is filled with historical information in the context of a deeply moving story about Anne’s journey to find herself and her voice through the tragedies of her life and the difficulty of her marriage to America’s hero.

Insane City by Dave Barry
Wildly entertaining and seriously funny, this wild romp through Miami with Seth Weinstein on the eve of his wedding has everything from pirate, illegal immigrants, an orangutan, a snake, and medicinal brownies…a crazy plot that could easily be envisioned as a successful movie (think Hangover or Bridesmaids).  This book is pure escapism but with enough social commentary to give it a little substance as well.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
This is a story of first love between two 16 year old misfits who by happenstance have to sit next to each other on the school bus. What starts out as awkward indifference to each other transcends into a sweet, and endearing loving relationship that helps each other cope with the realities in their lives. You will find yourself reliving your own teenage angst while rooting hard for these two characters.

The Supremes at Earl’s All You Can Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
While not in the genre of highbrow literature, this delightful book takes you into the world of three engaging middle class African American women, Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean, as they deal with life and death issues over the course of one year’s time.  The three have been fast friends since high school days when the proprietor of the local hangout christened them “The Supremes,” hence the name of the book.  Warm, witty and intelligently written, this book was a page turner that didn’t disappoint and one I was sorry to see end.

Z:  A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler
This fictionalized autobiography of Zelda Fitzgerald is a very compassionate, well-written book that fleshes out this oft-maligned wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This book shows us a fully-formed, somewhat flawed individual filled with dreams and aspirations of her own that were never fully realized due to the intensity and volatility of her relationship with her husband and the excessive lifestyle they lived.  A well-researched book that immerses the reader into the lives of these larger than life characters.

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

June 3, 2013

Dennis Lehane has described his newest book, Live by Night as an homage to the gangster genre. Taking place mostly around Prohibition time, in Tampa with the rum trade as its vocation, the story makes heavy use of the political and ethnic backdrop that defined the place and era. The revolutionary spirit sweeping through the Hispanic world has made its way through Florida and into gangster organizations seeking to profit from Cuban rum.

Joe is a small time Boston outlaw who, after a violent prison stint, is tapped by the local mob boss to shape up the rum operation in Florida. Some of the best action takes place during Joe’s prison time, but the pace barely slackens once he heads south. He slaps arrogant grifters into shape and turns a sloppily managed illicit trade into a criminal empire. Yet, we are always on his side. Joe doesn’t shy from violence, but he has a conscience: he feels bad when he destroys the people who are worth feeling bad about, and he becomes something approaching a respectable figure for his straight-dealing. When the KKK comes after him, he puts them down for good just like any other rival gang.  Somehow, we always cheer for him and want him to succeed in his criminal enterprise.

Lehane explores the premise that the gangster code is no less ethical than the legal behavior of legitimate business — that a gangster who throws a man out of a window is no less ethical than a banker who throws his entire family out of his house. It’s an idealized principle that may not stand up to real-world scrutiny, but it is a large part of the appeal behind movies like The Godfather and Scarface. It also captures some of the current zeitgeist after the financial meltdown. As usual, Lehane spends as much time building character as he does with moving the plot forward with explosions. If you like your criminal epics delivered with a deft touch of artistry, Live by Night will satisfy.

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Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

May 18, 2012

When this book opens, Maisie Dobbs is setting up her own agency with a sign on the door that says “Psychologist and Investigator”. She is hoping to carry on the work of her former mentor, a man who coached her through her education and trained her in his own detective agency. Maisie is the daughter of a former vegetable vendor who went into service at the age of 14. When the Lady of the house caught her reading in the library on her off hours, she offered to sponsor the young girl’s education. That was 15 years before. Since then, Maisie has served in WWI and graduated from Cambridge University.

Winspear has broken the book into three parts. The first introduces Maisie as an investigator and shows how she solves her first crime. The second part tells the story of Maisie’s youth and how she came to be in service, and of her time as a nurse in WWI. The third section tells about the mystery she stumble across while investigating her first case. It seems initially to be a routine case of possible infidelity, but Maisie quickly discovers that the wife is not seeing another man. In discovering the wife’s secret, she also finds that unknown numbers of veterans are disappearing into a care center and never being seen again. Is this a legitimate therapy center, or is someone taking advantage of men who served their country and came back damaged?

Overall, the book is as much about the impact of WWI the soldiers and civilians of England as it is detective story. The details and descriptions of life in the 1920’s are fascinating. I find it difficult to imagine the amount of losses Great Britain suffered in the war, and how long these effects lingered. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series (there are nine in the series now).

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

January 27, 2012

Many of you know of Janet L.’s persuasive powers when it comes to recommending a book.  Well she worked her magic on me with The House at Riverton and I never regretted it.

While I’ve not enjoyed Kate Morton’s sophomore and junior efforts as much, her debut novel struck a chord with me and generated the same feelings I had when watching (not reading) Remains of the Day and Gosford Park — that behind-the-scenes look into the country homes of early 19th century England, that angle you can only get from the staff’s point of view.  For me, the appeal of books set from this perspective is that, even in a novel, you get the unvarnished truth of the story, not the façade that the people who live in these grand homes present to the world.  In The House at Riverton, the story begins in the present, with the now 98-year-old Grace being asked by a film director to recall her experiences working as a maid in the 1920s, specifically about the suicide of a young poet that occurred in the very house that Grace worked in from the age of 14.

Grace decides this is her opportunity to tell the truth about that suicide and the fallout it created in the aristocratic family she worked for, for so many years.  Told in a series of flashbacks, this book will keep you turning the pages as the secrets are revealed against a beautifully descriptive backdrop that stretches from the Edwardian period to post-World War I England.

Find and reserve this book in our online catalog.

Also see: our previous blog posts about Kate Morton’s books.

A Lonely Death by Charles Todd

May 30, 2011

It is post-WWI in England and Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard is about to be assigned to a case that may involve a serial killer. He is being sent to the town of Eastfield in Northern England. Three local men have been murdered exactly 3 days apart and by the same method — a garrote. And all three, Jeffers, Roper and Pierce, served in the British Army during the First World War and all were wounded but survived. They knew each other but were not close friends and yet their link to the War must serve Rutledge as the starting point to solve the murders.

Prior to heading north to Eastfield, Rutledge first attends the funeral of a good friend and comrade from the War, Maxwell Hume. Hume, haunted by war visions, has taken his own life. Rutledge, too, has his own demon from the War, Hamish MacLeod. Hamish was court-marshaled and executed for not following a direct order, an order he knew would result in horrible causalities to the troops under his command. Hamish was the one person that Rutledge was closest to during his term of service and now whatever he does and wherever he goes, Rutledge hears Hamish’s voice and guidance.

Eastfield is a small and peaceful English town and the three murders have put the townspeople on edge. Rudledge and the town’s Constable Walker must gather as much evidence as they can as quickly as they can, for they are approaching the third day since the last killing. What is the link among the three victims? Why now?  Who else may play a part in this sequence of events? Rutledge knows he can’t waste any time, even if it means stepping on people’s toes and feelings.

The English mystery is almost always more nuanced than the American mystery and it has many fans.  Charles Todd is a mother and son writing team, with the mother living in Delaware and the son in North Carolina.  The duo writes in a similar style to American mystery author Elizabeth George. Charles Todd has written twelve Ian Rutledge novels and this may qualify as his best.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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