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Fiction Book Reviews

***** Historical Fiction *****

History is more than just a bunch of dates. Novels based soundly in the past can help us to better understand where we came from, where we are, and where we’re heading. Oh, and they make for some pretty fun reading too!


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The Narrow Road to the Deep North

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Flanagan, Richard(September 23, 2013)Recently Added Review
The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Set in a WWII Japanese slave labor camp, Flanagan’s dark, intense novel mainly follows Dorrigo Evans, an Australian surgeon struggling to save his fellow POWs from sickness and injury, only to send them out to work again in a hostile, tortuous environment. The story weaves between the present of Dorrigo’s dissatisfied life as a war hero and his past experiencing the horrors of war and the memories of the woman he left behind. The novel balances between the perspectives of the Australian prisoners and their Japanese captors, allowing the reader to understand both the pain of captivity and the motives behind the actions of their tormentors. The Narrow Road to the Deep North is more than historical fiction – it is a narrative on morals, loss, and the connectivity of all mankind.

Reviewed by Kaitlyn M., Morrison Regional

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Worthy Brown's Daughter

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Margolin, Phillip(2014)Recently Added Review
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Worthy Brown's Daughter

Thriller author Margolin “genre hops” to historical fiction in this novel about freedman Worthy Brown’s plight to free his daughter from servitude to sinister lawyer Caleb Barbour, who is beginning to show a disturbing interest in the girl’s burgeoning womanhood. It`s 1860’s Portland, Oregon and selfless young lawyer Matthew Penny agrees to help Worthy – especially after he supplies Matthew with some critical information about juror bribery. Penny’s efforts endure a number of hazards, including corruption, thuggery, and a disreputable beauty who preys upon lonely, wealthy men. When Barbour sexually assaults Roxanne Brown, a chain of events follows that presents Matthew with a moral dilemma. A commendable addition to historical fiction!

Reviewed by Susanne W., Steele Creek Branch

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The Outlander

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Adamson, Gil(2008)Recently Added Review
The Outlander

Mary Boulton has become a widow by her own hand, choosing to gun down the cruel man who has brought her to the frontier and brutalized and cheated on her. Only nineteen, the death of her son, just a week old, unhinges her from reality. Pursued relentlessly by her husband’s angry twin brothers, she crosses into the wilderness of western Canada circa 1903. Surviving by sheer grit, she travels from plain to mountain, helped by among others; a kind widow, who asks no questions; a free spirited man, the Range Rover, who captures her heart; and a mining camp Reverend. Spellbinding detail holds your attention as she must run from capture and tragedy, and her own demons, culminating with her surprising self discovery.

Reviewed by Annette N., Independence Regional

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The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb: A Novel

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Rinaldi, Nicholas(2014)Recently Added Review
The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb: A Novel

This memorable novel draws from actual historical events and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, published in 1969. Charles Stratton aka, General Tom Thumb, is discovered by PT Barnum at the tender age of 4, and his act soon travels the Eastern United States and Europe. Charles leads a whirlwind life, and is married at 24 to Lavinia Warren, a “little person” like himself. In contrast to their lives we read of the horrors of the Civil War, which both shadow and involve them, in the form of threats to their lives and the involvement of Charles as a Union Messenger. Written from the perspective of both Charles and Lavinia, it is impossible not to become captivated by each of their lives and thoughts.

Reviewed by Annette N., Independence Regional

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Paying Guests

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Waters, Sarah(2014)
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Paying Guests

In the aftermath of World War I London is a vortex of economic and cultural upheaval. Families still reel from sons and fathers lost. The lines between the classes blur. Against this artfully recalled backdrop Sarah Waters, an acclaimed historical crime fiction author, draws the reader into the Wray household in her new novel, The Paying Guests. Daughter Frances is an unconventional young woman attempting to prop up her mother’s outmoded world. To keep their residence afloat, Frances maintains the structure single-handedly and “clerk class” tenants are taken in. Lillian and Leonard Barber upset not only the balance of the house, but Frances Wray’s entire world as passion, intrigue, and murder unravel each of their tightly wound lives.

Reviewed by Lydia T., Main Library

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The Butterfly and the Violin

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Cambron, Kristy(2014)
The Butterfly and the Violin

This book is written during two different time periods, but flows effortlessly. In present time, Sera James, an art dealer, is trying to locate a mysterious Holocaust-era painting she saw as a child. During WWII, Adele Von Bron’s life turns upside down when she is sent to Auschwitz by her father. Adele is soon part of the Auschwitz Women’s Orchestra, as she is a talented and famous violinist. Will Sera ever find the mysteriously beautiful women in the painting? This story is very enthralling and sheds light on the art and music that was produced in the concentration camps during WWII. It shows the reader than even during a time of pain and starvation, beauty can still be found.

Reviewed by Maeve C., University City Regional

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The Penelopiad

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Atwood, Margaret(2005)
The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad is fascinating, strange, beautiful, and just the tiniest bit heartbreaking in all the right ways. It is a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey from the point of view of Odysseus’ stoic and long-suffering wife Penelope. As Homer’s Penelope is essentially summed by the phrase “good wife,” Atwood has room to truly explore and create. Atwood crafts the story in a mixture of passages that have Penelope narrating from the grave, alternating between poetry and prose. Penelope focuses not only on her absent husband, but also on all the duties of a wife who must keep her husband’s estate from falling apart. The result is a brilliant, if fictionalized, look into the mind of one of history’s most forgotten women.

Reviewed by Sarah F., Matthews Branch

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Written in My Own Heart's Blood

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Gabaldon, Diana(2014)
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Written in My Own Heart's Blood

It is 1778 and the Revolutionary war is in full swing. Jamie, after being returned from the dead and discovering his wife Claire married to his best friend, is pulled back into the thick of it. William (Jamie’s son) is trying desperately to deal with his identity crisis, Ian can’t wait to marry his Quaker love, and John Grey is trying to figure out how to get back to the British side of the war. Meanwhile in the 20th century Jamie and Claire’s daughter Briana and her husband Roger are desperately searching for their son Jem, who has been kidnapped. Roger even goes back thru the stones to try and find him. Written in My Own Heart`s Blood is the eighth installment of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

Reviewed by Carey G., South County Regional

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The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson

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Peacock, Nancy(2013)
The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson

“I have been to hangings before, but never my own.” So begins The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson by Nancy Peacock. Persimmon, or Persey as he is know, explains his life under slavery as Master moves from Louisiana into Texas just ahead of the Union Army. Master attempts to kill Persey on the river, since they both want the same woman. Persey lives and has tumultuous adventures while on the run, eventually joining with the Comanche as he’s trying to save the woman he loves. This realistic historic fiction novel is full of adventure and derring-do. A quick paced, thoughtful read that is sure to haunt.

Reviewed by Gina d., Main Library

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Calling Me Home

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Kibler, Julie(2013)
Calling Me Home

Considerate Robert is the one love for Isabelle. A family acquaintance, he has plans for medical school. Only, he is from the `other side of the tracks` as Robert is black and Isabelle is white. And in 1939, in Kentucky that is not a union accepted by society or law. Fast-forward to the present and 89-year-old Isabelle--now a widow and Texas resident--is determined to travel to Ohio for a funeral. Low-key about specifics, she gets that help from her hairstylist Dorrie. An unlikely new family member, Dorrie is a thirtyish single mother and black. To travel she drives and miles in, Dorrie receives a series of troublesome calls. Rich in historical societal norms and human relationships, one-time novelist Julie Kibler strikes gold.

Reviewed by Lawrence T., South County Regional

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