The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon is a great historical novel based on true events. It’s about Alexander III of Macedon (also known as Alexander the Great) who was a young and a powerful Greek emperor who ruled the largest Western empire of the ancient world. He was only in his early 20’s when he became a king, and died at the age of 32. In his teen years he was tutored by the legendary Greek philosopher Aristotle. This novel is re-imagination of what it was like for Aristotle to tutor this clever young man whose limitless ambition was also alarming. Consequently, Aristotle aimed to give Alexander the “Golden Mean” to become a prominent leader without losing control over his desire for power. (Submitted by Jamila)
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This book grabs your attention on the first page and never lets it go: “Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love” (unnamed narrator, p.1). The narrator of the novel may at first seem beyond redemption: he’s a drug addicted, porn producer who pursues vices at every corner until he is brutally maimed by fire in a car accident. The book follows his slow and painful recovery in the burn ward and the people he meets along the way including the beguiling and mysterious sculptress, Marianne Engels, who claims that they were lovers in medieval Germany, when she as a nun and he was a mercenary. The author seamlessly weaves other tragic tales of love – parental love, unrequited love, self-love – throughout the narrative and introduces us to captivating characters from around the world – Japan, Iceland, England, and Italy. While this novel falls squarely within the historical fiction genre, it also touches upon the idea of time as circular, amorphous and includes magical, mystical and surreal elements. I heartily recommend this novel to all readers passionate about deeply drawn characters, multicultural themes, and page-turning prose that you just can’t put down! (Submitted by Andrea)
America’s First Daughter is a fine specimen of historical fiction genre: superbly researched historic facts, artfully woven together events and people, and seamless delivery of the story. From the first page to the last, you can hear the clear and powerful voice of Martha (Patsy) Jefferson, the daughter of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of the United States of America and the author of The Declaration of Independence. It was hard to believe that the book is written by two authors: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. Their literary symbiosis created a stunningly good book that has one voice, one story, and a sense of wholeness. Bravo!
The novel focuses primarily on Patsy Jefferson, yet there is naturally much attention and exposure given to Thomas Jefferson as well. There are plenty of moments where you may find yourself struggling to solve, alongside with characters, the many philosophical, psychological, and moral issues that come up in life. You will reflect on what it is really like to be a president’s daughter.
From Parisian balls to dish scrubbing, from being admired by the finest men in high class society to ending up with a drunkard husband, from having a loving mother and sisters to losing them, from having a role-model of a father to worrying sick about her father’s reputation, Patsy Jefferson, like a Statue of Liberty that came alive, with stone strong determination overcomes all obstacles and gracefully contributes another chapter to the history of America and its people. (Submitted by Mariya)
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Jia by Hyejin Kim was one of the most fascinating books I ever read about North Korea. It tells a story of a little girl, whose mother came from a very prominent family, but her father did not. As a result, the whole family was sent to a Gulag in the mountains. The father disappears and the mother dies during Jia’s birth. Jia’s paternal grandparents are given jobs at the gulag, courtesy of the maternal grandparents, and take care of their two little granddaughters. After a chance meeting with a South Korean soldier, they manage to smuggle little Jia to the capital city of Pyongyang, in hopes she can find her maternal grandparents and have a chance to live a better life. She does find them but they want nothing to do with her, so she ends up staying in the orphanage. She becomes a dancer and eventually moves to a very good job at an international hotel, joining a famous dancing ensemble. She becomes a beautiful dancer herself, just like her mother, whose name is not even mentioned in the book, and she falls in love with a young soldier. But when she shares with him where she came from, and that she’s not who he thinks she is, he is shocked and plans to report her. So, in order to avoid prosecution, Jia has to escape Pyongyang and cross over to China, where she falls into the hands of women traffickers and only a lucky meeting with a kind-hearted stranger makes it possible for her to survive. This book was very different from other books I have read on North Korea, because it is about living in Pyongyang and leading a somewhat prominent life. It was a very heartbreaking read, and I recommend that you have tissues handy. (Submitted by Monika).
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This is the story of Maria Virginia, who was born to a very poor farming family in a tiny Ecuadorian village. While she was still a child (she doesn’t know her real age, but estimates she was around 7), she was “sold” to a family of a dentist and a university professor to care for their baby while they were at work. The family doesn’t pay her, allow her to watch TV or to eat from their plates and all the mother tells her is how stupid, useless and unwanted Virginia is. The father is very kind to her, calling her his daughter, and eventually grows way too fond of her, so Virginia, now in her teen years, sees no other option than to escape and return to her family’s dirty house (we’re talking fleas here and such). However, during her many years with the doctor’s family, Virginia secretly learned to read and studied hard to catch up. So even though she never went to school, she was able to graduate shortly after she was given the chance and entered one of the most prestigious universities, disguising the fact that she is a longa (a native Indian). The truth come out when she enters a contest and becomes The Queen of the Water. (Submitted by Monika).
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The God of Small Things is a remarkable debut novel from Arundhati Roy, an Indian author who won the Man Booker Prize for this very work. This book is a story of a family caught in the middle of social and political change. More specifically, the story follows two estranged twins who are recalling a childhood incident that tore their family apart and changed their lives forever. The narrative jumps back and forth between present (1993) and past (1969), which helps build a sense of suspense, tragedy and dread. The language is beautiful – sometimes I had to stop just to enjoy the poetry of a paragraph. The characters are complicated and well-drawn, which for me is a must for any family drama. There are also many historical details that give an interesting perspective on India’s complicated recent past. Highly recommended. (Submitted by Naomi.)
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Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese is a beautiful, captivating story of a broken Ojibway man, Saul Indian Horse. He faces the atrocities he endured at residential school as well as the racism and abuse he experienced as he tried to build a life in Northern Ontario in the 1960s. The story starts as Saul has entered an alcohol treatment centre as a grown man and is forced to face his past in order to move forward.
The portrayal of the sexual, cultural and physical abuse the Canadian residential school system inflicted on Saul is hard to read but with it comes understanding. Through the heartbreaking story, starting with Saul’s early life with his family living a traditional life in the Northern Ontario bush until being captured and taken to residential school, Saul perseveres and finds hope when he is introduced to hockey and discovers his passion and exceptional talent.
This 2013 Canada Reads nominee story is an important story about courage and healing and I would highly recommend this book to anyone from teens onward. (Submitted by Michelle).
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