The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

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This book came to my attention a few years ago but I didn’t have a chance to read it until now. I really liked it and I’m torn between being sorry that it took me so long to get to it and glad that I finally did.

It fits into so many categories, historical fiction, romance (I use this one cautiously), and a mystery though it isn’t classified as one. Notice I didn’t say it was a ghost story but it is loaded with atmosphere especially as it takes place in 18th century Cambridge, England. The author shows a cloistered, mostly male, world of the academics which was political, religious and blasphemous mix, but he also offers a glimpse into the life of the people who serve that world and the Cambridge of that time. I can’t wait to read more of this author’s works. (Submitted by Renee)

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Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

molokaiIf you’ve ever been a member of a book club, you would know that it’s rare when everyone gets to like the same book. Usually,  there are opposing opinions. Not with this book! A dozen of people gave it 4 stars out of 5. Impressive! We thought it was well written, easy to read, interesting, based on historical facts which allowed us all to learn something new or expand what bits and pieces we already knew.

The novel focuses on the leprosy epidemic of late 19th and early 20th century  in Hawaii. The disease was little understood at the time and was spreading so much that the government naturally decided to quarantine the sick. However, the quarantine part was rather radical. People with disease were sent away to an island and that was their doomed, last destination since there were no effective treatments available. Even more disheartening is that children were treated the same as adults – they were sent away too, torn away from their families. The main character in the book is Rachel Kalama. She gets to be sent away when she is 6 years old. The story follows her life, as she grows up, and faces various challenges. The ending is not all ‘cakes and roses’, but it’s not bad at all and you are left in a positive mood regardless of a heavy subject. (Submitted by Mariya)

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The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon

the golden meanThe 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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The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

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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)

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America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray

america's first daughterAmerica’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: a novel of North Korea by Hyejin Kim

Image result for BOOK COVER JIA: A NOVEL OF NORTH KOREAJia 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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The Queen of Water by Laura Resau

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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