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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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Deadly Election, a Flavia Albia mystery

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Davis, Lindsey(2015)Recently Added Review
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Deadly Election, a Flavia Albia mystery

Flavia Albia is by all accounts a true outsider. She is a woman in a man’s profession (private informer). She is a former street urchin from a backwater province (Britannia) now working in the imperial capital of Rome. However she is the adopted daughter of the master himself, Marcus Didius Falco, now sensibly retired, so she has picked up some skills from him as well as having her own special tricks due to her gender and street survival skills. These will be helpful as she discovers a strongbox for sale in her family’s auction business has not one but twice produced a corpse. After twenty adventures with Falco, Lindsey Davis has given us a worthy successor with Falvia Albia in this her third outing

Reviewed by John C., Main Library

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The End of Innocence

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Jordan, Allegra(2014)Recently Added Review
The End of Innocence

Set amidst proper Boston society, within the halls of Harvard, and inevitably the battlefields of Ypres two young people come together as the world falls apart. In 1914 American is not yet in the war though allegiances are clear and Harvard is not a peaceful place. Helen Windship Brooks starts her studies at Radcliffe, delighted to be away from her mother’s embarrassing cause of the day and persistent penchant for social suicide. When a prominent professor invites her to join his Harvard poetry class Helen meets a talented German student, Wils Brandl. Allegra Jordan devoted 21 years of research to this beautiful, heartbreaking book which surely belongs beside All Quiet on the Western Front as a classic of The Great War.

Reviewed by Rita L., Independence Regional

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Stoner

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John Williams(1965)
Stoner

This slim novel shadows the quiet life of a man who has already largely been forgotten by the few who knew him. His name is William Stoner and the predictable trajectory of his life as an impoverished farm boy is irrevocably overturned when he discovers Shakespeare. The reader follows Stoner throughout his many frustrations including a frigid marriage, a failed love affair, and ill health-- all along the dramatic backdrop of the first half of the twentieth century. This subtle, weighty novel questions the idea of what makes a life heroic and is considered one of the greatest forgotten novels of the past century

Reviewed by Lacey S., Mountain Island Branch

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Masaryk Station

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Downing, David(2013)
Masaryk Station

The Cold War steadily replaces World War II as the sixth and final installment of the masterfully-forged John Russell series finds our reluctant hero in 1948 Berlin. He is still spying for both Soviet and Western occupiers, trapped in an ever more deadly ideological struggle between the erstwhile allies. Rapidly-expanding tension raises fears of yet another, even more devastating global conflict. Russell, understandably grown more cynical by it all, is ready to retire, but because his debt to the Russians seems never to be satisfied, quitting carries a potentially fatal risk. Continuing, however, obviously carries equal or greater peril – from all sides. A Russian defector with evidence incriminating a Soviet security chief may offer a way out, provided Russell is willing to take the ultimate and, perhaps, final risk.

Reviewed by Jim B.

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

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Lehrter Station

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Downing, David(2012)
Lehrter Station

Downing’s fifth John Russell novel describes the British-American journalist’s attempt to fulfill his obligation to the Soviets who rescued his family during the war. NKVD agents approach Russell and order him to return to occupation-divided Berlin and assess Germany’s political, especially socialist, tendencies. In addition, and more perilously important, he must convince American Intelligence that he, though a Russian agent assigned to spy on them, is willing to turn double-agent . . . while still, in fact, continuing to spy for the NKVD. This triple-cross, along with the hero’s more humanistic endeavors on behalf of refugees and missing persons, not to mention the author’s fascinating evocation of wartime German train stations, will delight fans, seasoned or new, of this excellent series.

Reviewed by Jim B.

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

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The Miniaturist

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Burton, Jessie(2014)
The Miniaturist

In Holland in 1686, .01% of the population holds 42% of the wealth. Eighteen-year-old Nella is the brand-new wife of a member of that .01%. As a wedding gift, her husband, Johannes, gives her a miniature version of their house, and blank checks to spend on furnishing it. Nella will navigate her new life with Johannes, his sister Marin, and their two servants as she learns about Johannes` work at the Dutch East India Trading Company. Working with a merchant known only as the miniaturist to furnish her miniature house, Nella will discover that with each new miniature furnished another secret of the houses` residents is revealed. Who is the miniaturist? Will Nella`s life be better or worse for knowing the full truth?

Reviewed by Marie H., ImaginOn

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The Invention of Fire

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Holsinger, Bruce(2015)
The Invention of Fire

Return with John Gower (A Burnable Book) to the streets and sewers of Medieval London. Someone has killed 13 Welsh prisoners and dumped their bodies in a London sewer. Not only have that but the prisoners appeared to have been killed by “handgonnes” a new weapon of war. Gower is asked to investigate the killings but finds that officials are obstructing him at every turn including those who put him to the task. Meanwhile the civic government of London is in conflict with the crown; the nobles are at odds with King Richard II and the French are massing a fleet across the channel. Do any or all of these have a bearing on Gower’s investigation? Also will he survive?

Reviewed by John C., Main Library

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Dreamers of the Day

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Russell, Mary Doria(2008)
Dreamers of the Day

Ohio schoolteacher, Agnes Shanklin, an old maid, loses her entire family in the flu epidemic of 1919. Newly wealthy from her unexpected inheritance, suddenly free, decidedly less mousy and much more adventurous, off she goes to Egypt to visit her late sister’s friend, Lawrence of Arabia, who – along with Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell – is attending the Cairo Peace Conference. This historic forum, allegedly formed to deal with matters unaddressed by the Treaty of Versailles, will result in the creation of Iraq and secure British access to Middle Eastern oil. By then, Agnes, having endeared herself to the modern reader, literally issues him a direct, fateful warning about what he will inherit here.

Reviewed by Jim B.

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

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Potsdam Station

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Downing, David(2011)
Potsdam Station

The stately, baroque Berlin John Russell remembers is no more. Returning from a three-year absence starting in 1941, necessitated by a desire to stay alive, he comes back to skeletal ruins battered and besieged by Russian troops; he is desperate to find his loved ones. In his absence, his son Paul has grown into a battle-weary Wehrmact veteran of 18, fighting his way home from the Eastern Front. His lover, the movie-star Effie, risks her life daily helping Berlin’s few remaining Jews escape the dying, but still-deadly Nazi beast. Russell knows only that, while one or both may survive Hitler, they are both helpless against Stalin’s thirst for revenge. This is book four in the John Russell series.

Reviewed by Jim B.

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

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Some Luck

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Smiley, Jane(2014)
Some Luck

The story is an amazing year-by-year telling of 33 years of Iowa farm life: the raising of children, crops, and nation starting in the 1920s. It has thoroughly charmed your reviewer and, coincidentally, reminded him that the deepest experiences of life are often subtle to the point of boredom. After being emotionally stunned by the first chapter, your reviewer entered seemingly more hum-drum fare as the book settled into the rural routines of over three decades. He is happy to report, however, that he ultimately found it a powerful, emotionally compelling read about an iconic American family history. And the best news of all is that it is but the first entry in a supremely promising planned trilogy.

Reviewed by Jim B.

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