Susan Voake, former librarian at the Marion Cross School, lives in Norwich with her husband and springer spaniel. She collects antique dolls, buys and sells Victorian ladies' sentimentalia and ephemera, bakes yummy cookies and enjoys visiting her daughters and their families, treasure hunting, or working in her perennial garden.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to work on the first edition of an important new dictionary? The Liar’s Dictionary might give you a skewed insight into that experience, but, more importantly, if you are a “word” person, it will bring you hours of delight. (And for you fans of complex syntax, there is even one of those single sentences that takes up an entire page!) This is a narrative of two eras. In the present we meet Mallory, a young intern employed by Swansby’s never completed Encyclopedic Dictionary who must find “mountweazels”(fictitious entries) before the volumes are digitized. In 1899, we meet another young Swansby employee, Winceworth, who is working on the S’s in preparation for the dictionary’s initial publication, As the story alternates between the two, we piece together connections. Yes, it’s a mystery, but truly, as noted , this is one of those books that is not about the destination. It’s all about the journey. More importantly, how one very erudite writer might describe that journey is her journal.
The American Library in Paris remained open for the entirety of the second World War. Despite Nazi demands that blacklisted books not circulate and “certain people” no longer enter, the courageous librarians from France, the United States and England hand carried books to their loyal subscribers. Janet Charles shares their true story wound through the experiences of her fictional characters, Odile, a young French librarian, daughter of an overbearing Paris police commissioner, who years later becomes the mysterious, exotic inhabitant of a small Montana town from which Lily, a middle school bookworm, longs to escape. A compelling view of Paris under the occupation and small town America in the 1980’s as well as a testimony to the power of libraries.
Charles Baudelaire, the sensual 19thc French poet, is at the core of this intricately plotted novel of multiple incarnations. We learn in the preface that this mysterious three story manuscript, Crossings, was brought to a Paris bindery, complete with very specific binding materials, but never retrieved. Is this but another episode to add to the narrative of entwining characters within these pages? We are informed that one may read it chapter by chapter from page 1 to page 327 or in an alternative chapter sequence designated by the “author”. I suggest doing both. By the end of your second reading, you may find yourself “crossing” with the other characters whom you will come to know so well. Truly an unusual literary experience!
Did you read In Search of Lost Time? Did you love “Midnight in Paris”? Do you long to be sipping a café at Closerie des Lilas? Take a few days this summer and escape to Jazz Age Paris where the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, Maurice Ravel and Gertrude Stein inhabit the perimeter of this compelling story centering on the beloved housemaid of Marcel Proust. Amidst the gritty lives and histories of three other Parisians—a struggling French painter, an Armenian refugee puppeteer, and a French reporter dreaming of America—we dive into an absorbing novel beautifully written and rich in graphic detail.
The Austen family home distinguished the village of Chawton in Hampshire and from the time of her death was a destination for Jane’s passionate readers worldwide. However, at the end of the second world war, the future of the family estate is in doubt and the artifacts of the Austen legacy could easily be dispersed to the winds. Enter an interesting group of Austen lovers--a local teacher, one of her students, a handyman, the town doctor, and a Hollywood actress. All have been profoundly sustained by reading Austen and realized deep connections from her characters to their own lives. Can they prevail in preserving the Austen legacy despite their personal struggles? Although a work of fiction, the novel does harken to the establishment of the actual Jane Austen Society in 1940 to create a museum honoring the beloved writer.
Alternating between Freedomtime (1867) and Slaverytime (1854) we meet Rue, a healer and midwife, and her mother, MayBelle, the healer who taught her. Needed and feared by the community, those of both races depend on the skills of these women, especially when the Civil War besieges the plantation and Reconstruction does its worst. The links and loves between those in the house and those in the slave quarters are vividly portrayed through a well-woven plot and memorable characters.
Not long after I trained to be a teacher, I not so secretly wished I had chosen to be an archeologist. Mudlark brings it all back. Lara Maiklem takes us with her as she explores the low tide sands of the Thames River. We follow the geology of the river with its links to the history of London and share in the pleasures and surprises of her discoveries. It’s not easy to become a mudlark these days. One needs to procure one of the limited number of licenses by demonstrating knowledge, skills, and a willingness to relinquish some treasures to the City of London. Not to worry. The vicarious journey with Lara is almost as good as doing it yourself.
Consider multiple plot lines. Now replace that structure with a polygon of a countable but infinite number of sides. Colin McCann has constructed an extraordinary novel of one day in the life of two real-life men working together for peace--Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli, both of whom had young daughters killed in random violence--as points literally in the middle of the figure. The sidelines and angles accru as McCann like Scherazade adds 1001 details of history, ornithology, technology, geology, culture and religion. Eloquent, tender, and grisly, this hypnotic, heartbreaking book demands your total attention.
What a fascinating study! Kassia St. Clair has surveyed the history of textiles from fur to polyurethane with striking examples of their impact on elements of society and culture from the silk road and slave ships to haute couture and the Olympics.
Written with a very light touch but scrupulously footnoted with a comprehensive glossary and extensive bibliography and index, this volume is both an academic tome and a delightful read. Pull up your coziest wool or polyester blend blanket and snuggle in for some winter enlightenment.
During the 14th century Despenser War, a baronial revolt against King Edward ll, illuminators of London’s Paternoster Row, the center of publishing in London, are a struggling community. The commissioning of a new book of hours is life-altering for the Doncastor family’s small shop. Through alternating views and voices from the city shop and the country manor, we observe the creation of the manuscript and the troubles of both it’s illuminators and the intended recipient, Lady Mathilda Fitzjohn. A fresh picture of the craft of the illuminated manuscript and fetid tale of life in medieval London.
Tracy Chevalier’s latest historical novel introduces us to Violet Speedwell, one of two million “excess” British single woman verging on spinsterhood after the first world war. Having lost her father, her brother and her fiancé, Violet is now attempting to break free from her mother’s nagging grasp and become independent. Visiting Winchester Cathedral, she is fascinated by the ladies embroidering cushions and kneelers, and is determined to join their ranks but faces all the trials and judgments of an unmarried woman in the 1930’s. Well-wrought characters playing their parts in an historical context for contemporary social issues makes for an interesting read.
Whether you are 4, 44, or 94, this picture book/graphic delight (and my pick for serious 2020 Caldecott consideration!) has it ALL. Begin with its fuchsia end papers directing you to the book on the shelf. Pull that book off the shelf and drink in the calligraphy collaged title page that introduces us to the book’s graphic style. Feast your eyes on the rainbow compilation of text and color that follows it. Don’t miss the almost too pale apple shape poem that is the colophon and then join the satisfied reader under her book umbrella and the rain of letters on the dedication page.Now slide into this adventure, savor each turn of the page, and as Kwame Alexander exhorts, “ SLEEP. DREAM. HOPE (You never reach)---------THE END. I loved it!
A quest tale worthy of Scheherazade, complete with djinns and a leviathan is set against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. Fatima, a sultan’s concubine aching for her freedom and Hassan, a mapmaker whose magical fingers construct invisible spaces rather then rendering visible ones have lived in the Muslim palace of Granada since childhood. They entertain one another by telling stories and as they grow, comfort one another with vestiges of their favorite tale—The King of the Birds. As the Spanish inquisitors blockade the palace, Fatima and Hassan embark on a desperate escape to the isle of the Bird King. Sensual, touching, and even comic at times, this heroic adventure will enchant both adult and young adult fantasy readers.
If you enjoyed Martha Kelly’s earlier historical novel Lilac Girls, you will certainly want to read this prequel. In alternating chapters replete with compelling cliff hangers, three women tell their stories that intersect in time and sometimes place. Set in the St. Petersburg countryside, post- war Paris, and New York, heiress Eliza Ferriday traces the disappearance of her Russian friend Sofya Streshnayva, whose aristocratic White Russian family attempts to flee from the Bolsheviks with the help of a local fortune teller’s daughter, Varinka. Heroes and villains abound in the aftermath of war as the struggle of desperate immigrants displaced by conflict is lightened only by the deeds of kind people willing to offer what they can.
Don’t you love a good backstory? Finding Dorothy gives us the intertwining of two-- Judy Garland preparing for the 1938 MGM production of the Wizard of OZ and Maud Baum, wife of L. Frank Baum, attempting to preserve the legacy of his beloved character. The Oz books have been analyzed and deconstructed for years as has the showmanship of Frank Baum, but less has been written about his extraordinary wife, daughter of Women’s Rights activist and suffragette, Matilda Gage. Maud’s story before and after Frank is detailed in a novel meticulously drawn on the facts of the lives of the fascinating individuals it portrays. After reading this novel, even though you may have seen The Wizard of OZ seventeen times, you might decide to watch it just one more.
One of most famous designer gowns of the 20th century is now exhibited at Buckingham Palace for all to see. Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown was the talk of the nation, a sparkling subject of excitement and anticipation in the dark, depressed days of 1947, when England was still rationing and London was still covered with rubble. Jennifer Robson weaves the story of the creation of this dress through the lives of an English seamstress, a French refugee embroiderer and a 21st c. Canadian woman, fascinated by the beaded floral pieces left to her by her grandmother. Juxtaposing the bleak details of London living day to day with the luxuries of Norman Hartnell’s fashion house and the intricacies of beading and embroidery, Robson also creates the heroes, villains, and heartthrobs that keep us turning the pages. By the way, if you are planning a trip to England, don’t miss this gown!
As Willa Drake reminisces about her past, four powerful events stand out, but it is an unexpected moment of her sixth decade that sets the stage for the rest of her life. Such an engrossing read! I will never ignore another saguaro cactus. I very much liked the quirky characters and the wonderful notion of how dance might express one's perception of time passing. Chapters zipped by so quickly that I was quite disconcerted when I realized only a few pages were left. Take this book on vacation. You will not be disappointed.
Within a colorfully detailed landscape of Hollywood from the earliest days through the 1950’s, John Connolly paints a portrait of Stan Laurel as the classic tragic clown. His image on the screen masked the sad reality underneath. Adoring of but forever in the shadow of Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy, his life story makes a superb soap opera. Here John Connolly presents it as the stuff of legend written with intentional style. “He” is never mentioned by name. “Ollie” is the referent for Mr. Hardy. Every other man’s name is written first and last, every time it appears. Repetition and text layout provide a poetic structure to the prose. Recommended for classic film buffs and nostalgia fans.
Berlin 1943: Twenty-five year old Magda Ritter’s parents send their daughter to relatives in the countryside of Berchtesgarden to wait out the war. But Berchetesgarden is the site of Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat. Magda’s aunt and uncle are passionate Nazis and believe every true German must serve the Fuhrer. With limited jobs available in the small town, they pull their few strings to get Magda an interview with the Reich. Several weeks later she is working for Hitler - as one of the tasters who will sample every dish prepared for him. Based on the life of Margot Woelk, who kept her wartime occupation a guarded secret until she was 95 years old, and peopled with fictionalized versions of other inhabitants of Hitler’s intimate household, this historical novel presents the final years of the war from the German perspective. Loyalty, love and betrayal - to oneself, one’s family and one’s country are key themes which resonate in 2018.
London 1595. Fortunately, Queen Elizabeth enjoys a good play, and her Lord Chamberlain is the patron of the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Men’ so that William Shakespeare’s Theatre should not be harassed by the Puritan government who would close down all these dens of Satan if they could. The Chamberlain’s daughter is to be married at Christmas and a wedding play would be the perfect entertainment. What might William devise? The historical background is set for this superb fiction focusing on Shakespeare’s younger brother and struggling actor, Richard, and the first performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cornwell’s attention to the language, smells and textures of 16th century London make the dream a vivid reality for the reader. An excellent choice for those who love Shakespeare and historical fiction.
Hallelujah! Let's begin 2018 with a landmark volume by two luminaries in their fields.
Collections of African American folktales have been available, specifically for children, for the last thirty years. For the first time, they are collected and annotated by authorities in both African American culture and world folklore for the popular adult audience.The Gates/Tatar collection begins with four classifications of African tales followed by fifteen groupings of African American tales. An elucidating essay introduces each section with additional essays explicating specific aspects of individual tales. The volume is illustrated throughout but ends with images of tale telling sites and illustrations from Paul Laurence Dunbar poems and Uncle Remus tales.This is a beautifully formatted volume, a must purchase for libraries and highly recommended for families as well.
Admission: My childhood belief in fairies lasted decades beyond the Peter Pan matinee where I clapped and cried to bring Tinkerbell back to life. When a spiritualistic family friend passed away and left me a collection of 1920's fairy photos and A. C. Doyle's The Coming of the Fairies, I was ready to be a true believer once again. Hazel Gaynor was too. She has taken the account of the Cottingley fairies and given it breadth and depth through the lens of family and children. We meet Frances and Elsie, the girls who staged the infamous fairy photos, but connect to this story though modern day Olivia, bookbinder, disenchanted fiancee and inheritor of a beloved antiquarian bookshop, who as a child lost her mother and as an adult is now losing her grandmother to Alzheimers. A sweet and gentle story written for adults but appropriate for young adult readers as well.
It is a formidable task to authentically retell a classic, though many try with varying modicums of success. I tend to be skeptical of re-visits to novels-- especially stories I've loved and re-read many times over. So it was with a bit of trepidation, as well as anticipation, that I began Mr Rochester. Delight of delights! It was totally satisfying. The tone is apt as is the rise and fall of action from chapter to chapter. The atmosphere and details are spot on. Within the 400 pages only one phrase did not ring true. If you loved Jane Eyre, I think you will find the back story of Edward Fairfax Rochester totally engrossing and the re-emergence of Jane, seen through his eyes, to be just right. Enjoy!
When I was a school librarian, I discovered “Elsie Piddock“ in Eleanor Farjeon’s collection, Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field. I read the story aloud to third graders yearly and watched twenty rapt faces reciting jump rope jingles, and cheering the satisfying finale. It never failed to thrill and my eyes welled up every time. I was delighted in 2000 to find Candlewick had acquired the rights and published the tale in picture book form, choosing Charlotte Voake as the illustrator. Charlotte (not a relation of whom I’m aware) with her whimsical, ethereal, energetic line drawings is the perfect successor to Edward Ardizonne who illustrated the original story. Fast forward to 2017. Kudos to Candlewick for re-issuing Elsie Piddock this year in a child’s hand-size version that is perfect for a story of fairies, families, tradition, and the determination of a little woman to confront tyranny and corporate greed. An unusual combination for a picture book? You bet it is. Truly a story for all time, but especially relevant today as it was when it was originally published in 1937.
The longest reigning monarch in recent history. The icon of an era. Published to herald the PBS series that describes the making and testing of the young queen, Daisy Goodwin’s novel elucidates the early life and times of this unusual woman. Perhaps some characters are a little too villainous or sympathetic—there are many ways to interpret the historical record—but this is a fast paced, engaging read, particularly for anyone interested in the 19th century. Pair it with Julia Baird’s recently published biography, Victoria the Queen: an Intimate Biography of the Woman who Ruled an Empire for an intriguing compare and contrast.
A Russian folktale? Yes!! The deep Russian winter, the enormous tile stove, Baba Yaga, the evil stepmother, the two daughters, the Tzar, the woodcutter, and perhaps even a firebird or two. They are elaborated here in sensual detail. If you loved these stories as a child, you will gobble this novel as an adult. If you never had the opportunity to read or hear a Russian folktale, this is your chance to indulge in a close to mystical experience.
Parents, nursery and primary teachers rejoice! Patricia McKissack has collected a wealth of hand claps, jump rope rhymes, circle games, spirituals, gospel music, folktales, parables and fables from her childhood in the American south. She presents them together with background information in a wonderful volume illustrated with the swirling watercolors of Brian Pinkney. This is a must purchase for libraries. Families will want to have their own copies, too.
A delightful summer read for all you fashionistas out there. Every season there is an 'IT' dress, determined by those steely critics viewing a couture collection from the front row. This is the story of one of these dresses told from the perspective of nine very different men and women. You’ll love the master pattern maker in his final year of production and sympathize with the fresh face runway model who presents the dress to the world. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s funny, and a bit touching besides. Just the book to take to the beach or to anticipate Fashion Week, whichever you prefer.
Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist, vividly recreates the Andalusia of 1936 and London of 1967 in her story of a young Caribbean immigrant and an unusual painting by a little known Spanish artist. Mysterious identities, love, betrayal and family secrets create an absorbing novel that fans of A Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Art Forger and Lisette's List will thoroughly enjoy.
With a nod to, and I would like to imagine, the blessing of, Paul Gallico, William Norwich introduces us to kindly Mrs. Brown, an aging 21s-century thrift shop and beauty parlor assistant who dresses in her self-sewn gray and brown wools and lives in her own little row house in Ashville, Rhode Island. It is an Oscar de la Renta, classic black wool suit in the inventory of a great woman of Ashville that propels Mrs. Brown on a journey to purchase such an extraordinary piece of fashion history from the New York design house itself. For those who delighted in The Queen Takes the Train and other tales of quietly determined women over fifty, My Mrs. Brown will brighten your day and perhaps even compel you to pursue a extravagant dream of your own.
An extraordinary harmonica changes the lives of three talented musicians in this lyrical story that moves from the enchanted world of a fairy tale forest to the very real world of the second world war. Recurring themes of bigotry, loyalty. loss and love echo through the movements which rise to an emotional crescendo at Carnegie Hall. A wonderful novel for young people celebrating the power of music.