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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 Wedding Gift

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Bodden, Marlen Suyapa(2013)Recently Added Review
The Wedding Gift

Bodden self-published and marketed her novel, and as a successful e-book, it appeared on the WSJ’s best seller list. Elite publishers soon took notice, and the novel has become a commendable addition to historical fiction depicting slavery in the antebellum South. An 1840s Alabama court case was seminal in Bodden’s tale narrated by a racially-mixed young woman, Sarah Campbell, who endures the abuse inflicted upon the enslaved who powered the plantation machine. Juxtaposed with Sarah’s story is that of the plantation mistress, who suffers in silence at the hands of a cruel husband. Sarah escapes – with some help from the underground network – to the Caribbean where she reveals to the reader a betrayal and a murder. An engrossing read!

Reviewed by Susanne W., Steele Creek Branch

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The Distance From Normandy

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Hull, Johnathan(2003)Recently Added Review
The Distance From Normandy

What could a troubled teenager and his WWII veteran grandfather possibly have in common? Both are haunted-- Mead, by his memories of lost buddies during the war in Europe and a wife recently dead from cancer; Andrew, by a lost friend, fears, and failure. When Andrew tries to save himself from a bully by bringing a knife to school, he is expelled for the remainder of the year, and his grandfather offers to take him off his helpless mother`s hands for three weeks. Only Mead`s widowed neighbor, Evelyn, takes easily to the boy, much to Mead’s frustration. Desperate, Mead decides to travel to Europe, taking Andrew with him. Even though Mead must confront war time ghosts, he and Andrew both find the strength to help themselves and also each other.

Reviewed by Annette N., Independence Regional

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The Steady Running of the Hour

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Justin Go(2014)
The Steady Running of the Hour

Tristan Campbell receives a mysterious letter from a solicitor located in London about a mysterious inheritance from Ashley Walsingham, who died while trying to summit Mt. Everest in 1924. The fortune was originally supposed to go to Imogen Soames-Andersson, the woman Ashley loved, but she went missing. If Imogen could not be found, the fortune would go to the next of kin according to the will. Thus, begins Tristan’s adventures across Europe trying to desperately prove he is the true heir to Imogen’s inheritance. At the same time Tristan is traveling through Europe, the reader is introduced to Ashley and Imogen. This is an adventurous novel filled with regret, longing, bravery, and love. It’s a must read for anyone who loves adventure and history.

Reviewed by Maeve C., University City Regional

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That Summer

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Lauren Willig(2014)
That Summer

The year is 2009 and Julia Conley has just inherited a house in London from her great-aunt. Soon, bits of Julia’s blocked memories come back when she starts going through the house at Herne Hill. Through her investigation, she finds a hidden painting in the wall, which leads her on a historical investigation to find out the painting’s story. The author also refers back to 1849, when Imogen Grantham was living at Herne Hill. She is married to an unfriendly, older man and is not very happy in her dull life. One day, she meets the pre-Raphaelite painter, Gavin Thorne and falls in love. Lauren Willig combines two-time periods into one hard-to-put-down story that flows effortlessly.

Reviewed by Maeve C., University City Regional

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China Dolls

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Lisa See(2014)
China Dolls

It’s 1938 and Ruby, Helen, and Grace could not be more different. They meet while trying out to be dancers in an Oriental nightclub in San Francisco. Ruby is Japanese passing as Chinese. Helen is from a traditional Chinese family living in Chinatown. Grace fled an abusive father from the Midwest. Although they are different, their friendship has it’s ups and downs during World War II. Lisa See has written a novel that sheds new light on San Francisco and America during World War II. See opens your eyes to what happened to Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans during the war. This is an interesting and enthralling historical fiction read. If you like See’s other books, you will enjoy this book.

Reviewed by Maeve C., University City Regional

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Orphan Train

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Kline, Christina Baker(2013)
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Orphan Train

Two resilient women`s lives run parallel in Christine Baker Klines’ new novel, Orphan Train. Vivan is an elderly widow living in three rooms of her ocean-front New England mansion, whose early years were wrought with deprivation and despair, first as a poor Irish Ellis Island immigrant, then an orphan train rider deposited in the Depression-era frozen Midwest. Similarly, Molly, a bright free-spirited teen with Penobscot Indian blood, has been bounced through foster homes since her father’s demise and mother’s break down. Fate brings them together so that Molly can apparently satisfy a community service project cleaning Vivian’s attic, when ultimately these two kindred spirits form a deep bond over family and legacy that heals them both.

Reviewed by Lydia T., Main Library

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Fallen Women

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Dallas, Sandra(2013)
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Fallen Women

In 1885, well-to-do Beret Osmundsen, who operates a mission for women in need in NYC, travels to Denver seeking information about the death of her younger sister Lillie. The reader soon learns about Lillie’s expulsion from both the Osmundsen and Stanton homes because of some “indiscretions.” Consequently, wild child Lillie then turns to prostitution and winds up being stabbed to death in a brothel. Beret assertively inserts herself into the Denver police’s investigation using her “street women” experience to help find the killer. Along the way, a little romance ensues. A number of suspects turn the pages, but the jaw-dropping truth reveals itself near the novel’s end. Dallas’s Beret is a proper Victorian lady – and one gutsy sleuth.

Reviewed by Susanne W., Steele Creek Branch

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All the Light We Cannot See

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Doerr, Anthony(2014)
All the Light We Cannot See

Marie Laure is blind and lives with her father in Paris until WWII begins. Suddenly, they both must flee the Germans and go to the country with a precious gem from the Museum of Natural History where her father worked. On the other side of the war, Werner is a brilliant orphan boy who becomes part of the Hitler Youth. Soon, Marie Laure and Werner’s stories are entwined during an upheaval in Saint-Malo, where Marie Laure has been living throughout the war. This tale of two young people doing everything they can to survive is captivating and hard to put down. The writing is seamless and electrifying. This story shows that throughout it all, people really do try to do best by one another.

Reviewed by Maeve C., University City Regional

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The Girl You Left Behind

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Moyes, Jojo(2013)
The Girl You Left Behind

In 1916 France Sophie Lefevre’s artist husband, Edouard, leaves to fight in WWI. She only has a portrait he painted to remember him by. When Germans occupy Sophie’s town, a commander takes a liking to both Sophie and the painting. Can Sophie trust this German soldier to help her, or will he be her ruin? 100 years later Liv Halston is living in modern day London. Her husband bought her a painting on their honeymoon. After his sudden death, Liv finds out the painting was supposedly stolen by Germans during WWI and the artist’s family wants it back. Both sides try to find out what happened to Sophie and the painting, The Girl You Left Behind, during WWI and its aftermath. Moyes creates a historical mystery and love story that spans generations.

Reviewed by Jessica B., Mint Hill Branch

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Shiloh: A Novel

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Foote, Shelby(1952)
Shiloh: A Novel

Shiloh, a most important battle of the Civil War, lasted but two days. As the first day dawned, the South was in excellent position to destroy the Union Army. Confusion about the nature and number of the two armies, however, as well as missed or mistaken orders, major tactical mistakes, bad weather, worse luck, and devastation by friendly fire would cost both dearly. NCOs and junior officers from each take turns telling the story – allowing no hint of glory -- from ground level, thus preserving Foote’s famous sense of fairness to both, along with his urge to tell it from their point of view.

Reviewed by Jim B.

Patron Review This book review was submitted on-line by a Reader's Club patron.

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