Genre: Literary Historical Fiction

Literary, Sagas, Christian and Biographical

“I learned that this genre provides an interesting lens to examine the hopes and fears of our past and present.” Jessica Atherton

1 Setting/Frame : Genuine if not completely accurate; escape into another time and place; learning about a different occupation/role than one’s own; relevance
2 Character: Authentic characters carry the story even with good world-building especially if characters are based on a real person. Experiencing a life that one would never have; through multiple viewpoints we learn of others experiences and other cultures
3 Writing Style/Language: More descriptive and lyrical than other genres; story telling ability is key
4 Tone or Mood: Sense of stepping into the past—strength of novel’s frame and storyline makes it an immersive experience. Readers want to feel the pull not just the dry details.
5 Storyline: Include the story of that time in the background of the character’s story; Good story brings history alive

Pace does not seem to be a great factor in determining choice for real Historical readers.

Approachable way to learn about history; can peak interest in nonfiction subject areas
Wide variety so determining what reader wants is paramount in this genre.

Thank you to Jessica Atherton; Stefanie Aucoin; Eileen Barrett; Michelle Deschene; Diane Giarusso; Nanci Milone Hill; Jan Resnick; Rebecca Rowlands; Christine Sharbrough; Sandra Woodbury

 Holten Richmond Middle School (55 Conant Street, Danvers)
Tuesday, September 24, 2013; 9:45am to 12:00N

ASSIGNMENTS:  Benchmark:  Geraldine Brooks’s March

Read 2nd title in the Literary Historical genre. (See below for suggestions.) Appeal to be read for September meeting: Focus on all the appeal factors, but really think about language, tone and frame.

Handouts:  “Literary Historical Novels.” Johnson, Sarah L. Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre. Libraries Unlimited., 2005, p.465-66 (Previous handout [Saricks on Historical Fiction from The RA Guide to Genre Fiction (2009) p.290-311] was given to the group May  2010)                                                                        “Brad Says: The Characteristics of a Good Historical Novel.” Hooper, Brad. Booklist.  April 15, 2013, p.31)                                                                                               Adult Reading Round Table Boot Camp: Historical Fiction (

Please post your RA review of your 2nd Food Memoir & Literary Historical choices on this RA RT Blog: Drop down menu for form under Submit 2nd title info. Also post any fun Summer Reading that you wish to share with the group: new author, new genre, just plain awesome! etc.

Suggested Titles for Second choice:

  • Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs      
  •  Tracy Chevalier’s The Girl with the Pearl Earring
  • Michael Cunningham’s The Hours.    
  • E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime.
  • Helen Dunsmore’s The Siege 
  • Andrei Makine’s Dreams of My Russian Summer
  • Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall
  • Jane Stevenson’s The Winter Queen

Here is something interesting from Diane: (British) about Literary Historical Fiction.

Meeting NOTES: Thanks to Anna Call, Boxford Public Library

Several members brough up MOOCs
1. MOOC: Massive Open Online Course
a) free
b) accumulating credibility
c) often feature good professors
d) Coursera is a good source
2. Current MOOCs of interest
a) Starting Oct 16: historical fiction MOOC
b) Comic book and graphic novel MOOC happening now
3. What MOOCs are like
a) Fun and great
b) Require self-motivation
c) If you don’t have time, you can just watch or listen to the lectures


MLS offering intro to RA on regional basis by the end of January
Signups on a calendar – watch for it

Stefani Aucoin, Medfield : Just got an RA grant

Christine Sharbrough, Chelmsford: Codes group from ALA having email convo on RA today and tomorrow

Christine Sharbrough is taking over Nanci’s old place reviewing Christian Fiction in Library Journal.

Other Discussion:
1. Christian Fiction (See previous post on this topic.)
a) What is Christian Fiction
• Grace of God included
• religious tilt is expressly verbal
• Does not count allegories like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
2. Speed Reading
a) Not enough time to cover it right now, but maybe later
b) What is speed reading?
• About the same as remembering a book you read a few years ago
• A good way to cover the basics
• Readers’ Advisory application
• how well written
• general plot
• no spoilers
c) Requirements
• Practice
d) Benefits
• Good for reading books you don’t care for
• Alternative to Novelist
• Never trust RA to a database
• Problems with Novelist is a good reason to retain RA books
• Novelist responds well to emails
e) We might consider an extra meeting just to learn speed reading
• there is considerable interest
BENCHMARK: March by Geraldine Brooks
1. Why is this book literary?
a) Need a dictionary
b) Language flows and is lyrical
c) Language and time worked together for “sweeping” effect
d) Multiple story arcs, using the flashback device
• literary writers tend to use this more than writers of other genres
e) Spans a large amount of time despite its relative length
• Uses as few words as possible to paint a detailed picture of the characters
2. Characterization
a) The characters in this book were representations of real people
b) “Little Women” tie-in
• preconception of Mr. March form “Little Women” did not fit with the corresponding character in “March”
• difference in perspective between March’s daughters and himself
• March trying to protect his family from the horrors of war
• March is not a large part of “Little Women”
• idealization
• idealized by daughters in “Little Women”
• idealized by himself in “March”
• minor character → major character
• this is a device also seen in “Ahab’s Wife”
c) Fictional biography
• Geraldine Brooks is famous for this
• The original Mr. March was based on Louisa May Alcott’s actual father
• the fictionalized Mr. Alcott interacted with fictionalized historical figures in “March”
d) Fan fiction
• Fan fiction is a story written by readers whose affection for an author and their characters inspires them to write stories about them
e) Unitarian Universalist themes
f) Mirrors actual journals of Unionites and Confederates
• “history comes to life”
g) General dislike for Mr. March
• though the book is enjoyable, the character is self-indulgent and wallows tediously
• was this typical of educated men of this era?
• War shatters March’s personal reality
• How much of his unlikeability was a side effect of his desire to protect himself and his family from the horrors of war?
h) Universal themes
• Dealing with horrible situations
• Soldier’s experience
• Idealism altered by reality
• Defending the family and self from an unconscionable experience
• If he writes about reality, maybe it becomes more real
i) Perspective switches
• Marmie
• Voice contrasts powerfully with March’s
• Marmie’s reality is significantly different than what March thinks it is
• Idealism vs. Reality again
j) Universal truth
• details should feel quaint
• themes should carry through to a modern perspective
k) Inconsistencies with “Little Women”
• similar to the book vs. TV show complaint
• consider this an alternate history
• may change “Little Women” on a re-read
• Mr. March
• less romantic
• more depth
• development not present in “Little Women”
• Marmie
• sheds light on the concurrent present
• relationship rules
• March’s incorrect assumtions
• allows audiences to identify with the differences in perspective
• refreshing new point of view
• feminist
• modern sensibilities
l) Drawing in the reader
• historical fiction pulls in the reader despite differences in place, time, ideology, etc.
• readers often know the ending before they reach it
• normally the ending is not happy, or does not resolve
• factual accuracy
• “March” gets things generally correct, but invents incidents
• readers of historical fiction may consider this critical to their experience
• what people consider factual may also vary
• know your reader
• one way to circumvent this problem would be ot describe it as an “alternative history”
• puts it into a narrower niche
m) Conclusion
• characters are interesting enough to overcome their own weaknesses
• style is attractive
• literary
• subtext
• can be irritating for a reader who doesn’t like layers of meaning
• historical context avoids preachiness
• integrated, not presented
• prestige read
• book clubs, cocktail parties, etc.
• “character building” rather than pleasant
n) Why is it “literary” and not just “quality?”
• stands the test of time and remains popular
• literary authors often aren’t prolific because they labor over the book
• Quality is the perception of the reader, literary is measurable in style and characteristics

Second Titles
1. Nanci
a) Didn’t read a 2nd, but has read Tracy Chevalier in the past
b) “Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier
• Long books
• Very lyrical
• Female-centric
• Time period setting becomes a character
2. Cindy
a) “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
• Short
• Early 1900s-1940s in the South
• music, automobile references
• Style is a series of letters
• very effective
• captures characters with natural language
• difficult situations become beautiful
• dialect could be a barrier for some readers, but others will find it more accessible than typical historical fiction
• Maya Angelou’s latest book would be a good crossover
3. Sarah
a) “Pure” by Andrew Miller
• Paris, 1785
• Main character Jean-Baptiste is charged with getting rid of a decrepit church, including its overflowing cemetery
• Themes
• Change is difficult, even when it’s clearly for the best
• “You can’t go home again”
• Qualifiably happy ending with a resolution
• Jean-Baptiste’s story ends well, but of course the French Revolution is still on its way
4. Michelle
a) “Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
• Relationship between Patricles and Achilles through the Trojan War
• Style
• Language is gorgeous but accessible
• vibrant
• Metaphor is great and not multilayered
5. Sandra
a) “Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
• Themes
• male homosexual relationship
• know your reader before recommending this
• Reviews
• “juvenile,” possibly because of the accessible language
• Ending
• Fits with the history, but greatly softened
6. Jim
a) “Altai” by Wu Ming
• Sequel to “Q”
• not necessary to read “Q” to enjoy “Altai”
• Actually written by a collective of Italian authors
• “Wu Ming” is the Chinese character for “unidentified”
• Translated from Italian
• uses modern colloquialisms
• 1500s in Venice, Italy
• Beautiful descriptions of settings in Venice, Greece, Istanbul and Cyprus
• Armory explodes and a top investigator is on the case
• Does not become a mystery
• Characters
• Main character is shallow
• Peripheral characters are better developed, possibly because they also appear in “Q”
• Might not be ideal for readers who enjoy a character-driven read, but the characters remain compelling
• Symbolism
• good, but not aggressive
7. Eileen
a) “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy
• Death of a nine-year-old from a wealthy family in Kerala, India in 1960s
• Characters
• Estha and Rahel
• two-egg twins with one soul
• separated upon the death of their foreign cousin
• reunite at 30 to heal
• Style
• exquisite
• almost poetic
• Themes
• Forbidden love and its consequences
• Culture clash
• Setting
• Time and place done exceptionally well
• An emotional experience
• Is it historical fiction?
• Not always considered “historical” fiction
• some components of historical fiction
• events set at least 25 years before the book was written
• events preceded the life of the author
• defer to the patron’s personal feelings on this matter
• Crossover: Ivan Doig
8. Tatjana
a) “Becoming Madame Mao” by Anchee Min
• Madame Mao was the wife of Mao Zedong
• ambitious social and economic climber
• accumulates influence during the Cultural Revolution in China, eventually marries Mao and struggles to maintain her own power
• “like pulling teeth”
• Madame Mao begins as an actor and never seems to stop, even when she’s not on stage
• Everything is explained in theatrical terms
• She feels fake, and it’s difficult to sympathize with her because it’s unclear who she really is
• Style
• poetic
• metaphorical
• reminiscent of Chinese poetry
• not flowing or “old-timey”
• frequent narrative voice changes between 1st and 3rd person
• short chapters
• supposed to make it quick, but do not succeed
• Historical Biography
• Realistic, if not accessible
• an account of a grab for fame
• Might appeal to sinophiles
9. Theo
a) Did not read a 2nd book
10. Christine
a) “The Book of Rachel” by Leslie Cannold
• Historical account of the lives of women in the time of Jesus
• Not a retelling of the Jesus story
• Primarily historical rather than religious
• Character
• Jesus’ plucky sister
• Strong woman who defies conventions
• Likeable
• Marries Judas Iscariot, adding further dimensions to the story
• Predictable ending
• Style
• language is absorbing
• Parallels
• “The Red Tent,” though “Rachel” may be more likeable
• “The Dove Keepers”
• same audience
11. Anna
a) “Sacre Bleu” by Christopher Moore
• Impressionist painters encounter a weird color peddler and his gorgeous assistant, who make their living by first inspiring and then sucking dry talented writers
• Style
• Good plain fun
• Not lyrical
• Just funny
• Readership
• Art fans who aren’t too serious about facts
• Readers of science fiction
• Similar
• “To Say Nothing of the Dog” by Connie Willis
12. Diane
a) “Regeneration” by Pat Barker
• First in a series about World War I
• Siegfried Sassoon is discharged to a mental hospital when he refuses to fight. There he encounters soldiers suffering from PTSD
• Style
• Functional rather than lyrical
• Staccato
• Little fluff
• Difficult to like
• It’s World War I – it’s necessarily awful
• Themes
• Being silenced
• Psychological effects of war
• Purpose of mental health treatment
• Morality of war
• Characters
• Likeable
• Dynamic
• It’s possible to read for the characters
• Similar authors
• Sebastian Fox
13. Jan
a) “Dante Club” by Matthew Pearl
• Horrific murders happening in 1800s Boston seem to be themed on the levels of Dante’s Hell, which is still being translated into English
• Themes
• All of Pearl’s books share similar themes
• Relating to authors who don’t appear in the story
• Relating to classic works of literature
• Real people are characters
• Book about a book
• Publishing industry
• Aftereffects of the Civil War
• Subtle
• Academic point of view
• Strong setting
• Similar books
• “Inferno” by Dan Brown
• Not as good as “Dante Club”
14. Stephanie
a) “Serena” by Ron Rash
• Style
• staccato, not lyrical
• In 1920s North Carolina, the creation of a National Park divides a community, allowing a charismatic but evil villainess to intimidate her neighbors
• Characters
• exceptionally evil villains
• Serena is strong and interesting
• “above” the other characters
• Setting
• Clear wealth/poverty gap
• Reminiscent of “The Hunger Games”
• Ending has a case of “Checkov’s gun,” but remains strong
• Movie will be released in late October
• Author is being discovered
15. Shelly
a) “A Catch of Consequences” by Diana Norman/Ariana Franklin
• An American barkeeper leaves Boston for London during the early years of the American Revolution, allowing her to witness events from the British perspective.
• Characters
• Strong secondary characters
• Former wife is very evil
• British perspective on the American Revolution is unusual
• Recommend to fans of Ariana Franklin’s books
16. Leane
a) “Wolf Hall” by Hillary Mantel
• Physical size of the book is a problem, but the audio is available
• Details the events of the 1520s leading to the marriage of Henry VIII of England to Anne Boleyn from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell.
• Characters
• “Breathe on the page”
• strong, clear relationships
• Plausibly written from Cromwell’s perspective
• Knowing that Cromwell will die at the end takes the pressure off the the reader to “make it” to the ending
• TV Tie-In: “The Tudors”

• Post your stuff on the web!
• Watch for an email
• Choose a Saga for next time

Second Titles

Jan Resnick

The Poe Shadow – Matthew Pearl
Appeal Factors: pace – deliberate; story – intricately plotted; language/style – compelling, elegant; tone – suspenseful; frame – Baltimore, France 1849 – 1851.

In 1849, Edgar Poe travelled from Virginia to Philadelphia, but he didn’t make it. Instead he appeared in Baltimore, ill or drunk, and died after several days, delirious and unremarked. Our narrator, Quentin Clark, a comfortable, young attorney and Poe admirer, witnessed the pitiful, sparse funeral, and vows to discover why Poe died under such circumstances and to restore the writer’s reputation.

The search for answers leads Quentin to Paris in search of the real detective inspiration for Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. The quest becomes a destructive obsession that threatens Quentin’s career and freedom. Two Frenchmen are possibilities for Dupin, Auguste Dupont – Quentin’s choice and Baron Claude Dupin. The story develops several layers including ambition, Baltimore society, French politics, and Quentin’s consuming search for answers. He becomes as entrapped as some of Poe’s characters.

The Poe Shadow is a mix of historical research, obsession, real and fictional characters, and suspense. The tension builds deliberately. The meticulous language and description should appeal to readers who enjoy language, detailed settings, and literary puzzles. The Poe Shadow will expose the reader to the lore of Poe and make her want to know more.

  • Similar authors: Matthew Pearl, Laurie R. King, Laura Lippman, Denis Lehane, Elizabeth George, S.J. Rozan

 The Dante Club – Matthew Pearl
Appeal Factors: pace – fast; story – intricately plotted; language/style – compelling, elegant; tone – suspenseful; frame – Boston, 1865

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes, two of Boston’s literary giants, are preparing the first American translation of The Divine Comedy. James Russell Lowell and George Washington Greene meet with them weekly to assist. They refer to themselves as the Dante Club. Harvard and elements of the educational establishment are resistant to teaching the Romance languages and their authors.

Ghastly, shocking murders begin to occur in and around Boston. These are not killings of the moment; they are deliberate, well-planned, complex and punitive. As the translation progresses, Club members realize that the murders parallel the levels of The Inferno currently being translated. Who could have access to their work? Is suspicion falling on the Club as the source of the murders?

Plots and subplots, historical detail, conflict and complexity abound. The impact of the ‘War of the Rebellion’ is profound during the time of the novel, coloring the characters and the action. The historical figures successfully mix with the fictional to create a complex and involving story.

  • Similar authors: Matthew Pearl, Laurie R. King, Denis Lehane, Elizabeth George, S.J. Rozan, Arturo Perez-Reverte (The Club Dumas), Max Allan Collins (Angel in Black), P.C. Doherty, Jonathan Rabb (Rosa)

The Technologists – Matthew Pearl
Appeal Factors: pace – fast; story – intricately plotted; language/style – compelling, elegant; tone – suspenseful; frame – Boston, 1868.

It’s 1868 and ship compasses go crazy and Boston Harbor is in turmoil. Glass melts in the financial district. What is happening? Is science running amok? Society is seriously concerned about the pace of change and the potential dangers of ‘technology.’ This fear of the unknown is fanned by the fears of job loss among the trade unions. The educated and moneyed classes are not certain that everyone should have access to education and the new technologies. Will the masses be able to handle such access?

The terrifying attacks on Boston ratchet up the tension. Who is responsible? The first graduating class of the controversial MIT scrambles for the answers while trying not to draw attention or fan the fears of their unusual institution.

The Technologists is readable, fast-paced, and has good characters (a mix of historical and fictional) with well-developed back stories. The mystery in the harbor immediately draws the reader into the story.

The pace is relentless, and historical detail, conflict and complexity abound. The after effects of the ‘War of the Rebellion’ color the characters and the action. The historical figures successfully mix with the fictional to create a complex and involving story.

  • Similar authors: Laurie R. King, Denis Lehane, Elizabeth George, P.C. Doherty, Rubenfeld, Emma Donoghue – The sealed letter, Bayard – Pale Blue Eye, Preston-Child, P.C. Doherty

The Dante Club – Matthew Pearl
Appeal Factors: Pace – relaxed, compelling; Characterizations – historical, resourceful everyday characters; Language – engaging, compelling; Story – intricately plotted; Tone – suspenseful; Frame – Boston, England, India – 1870’s.

Charles Dickens is a literary rock star, and copyright is only a dream. He who has the text will publish and thrive. Timing is crucial. Upon Dickens’ sudden death, his last incomplete novel is a prize worth killing and cheating for. American publisher James Osgood and his murdered employee’s sister pursue the mystery of the missing manuscript.

  • Similar authors: Dan Simmons – Drood, Laurie R. King – Mary Russell series

Jessica Atherton

The Orphanmaster – Jean Zimmerman
Appeal Factors: excellent historical research, plucky heroine, horrific murders (murder AND cannibalism)

Jean Zimmerman’s historical mystery, The Orphanmaster, takes place in Dutch New Amsterdam during a series of murders involving children and cannibalism. By naturally incorporating historical details, Zimmerman slowly builds the world of Blandine von Couvering, an independent female trader. As Blandine expands her business, she meets Edward Drummond, an English spy. Their dialogue sparkles with realistic wit and their flirtations propel the story through dry spells in plot development. New to historical mystery, Zimmerman occasionally lapses into awkward tropes. She pulls token characters into an odd Scooby gang: one Native American supernaturally skilled at sneaking, one debonair Englishman, one Uncle Tom black man totally dedicated to caring for our intrepid heroine, and one spunky female lead, so beautiful that everyone feels compelled to remark on her looks.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy mysteries with a slow burn. The viciousness of the murders might appeal to those who want a sedate version of The Dante Club, The Alienist or the books of James McGee. Those interested in New York City from the Dutch perspective will enjoy the author’s delicate references to famous locations and people, such as Wall Street receiving its name from an actual earthen wall. The romance follows traditional genre devices, but still feels fresh and acts as an excellent counter to the dark horror of the horrific murders.

Leane Ellis

Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
Appeal Factors: CHARACTER/FRAME/LANGUAGE/TONE-reflective & melancholy with a hint of sinister when needed

I listened to this Booker award winner because this is not the kind of book I would ever pick up for pleasure but being told the story just might work. And to my pleasant surprise, it did work and I ended up really looking forward to my rides to and from work just to listen to the story. This is the first in the Wolf Hall trilogy (Bring Up the Bodies, #2 also won the Booker) and is a detailed look into the life and times of Thomas Cromwell and Henry VII in the 1520s. In particular the events leading up to the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and the role Cromwell played in those events. Although this is a 3rd person omniscient author, you really only see Cromwell’s point of view and experience his unspoken thoughts as events unfold. Mantel allows the reader to see the humanity in all the characters even those historically portrayed as saints (Thomas More) and villains (Cromwell). The times these people lived in was full of dramatic events and soap opera intrigue and Mantel captures that as well as creating appealing characters (even those who have little to like about them). Mantel tells a riveting story with excellent setting elements , evocative language, and details while not violating the historical record (according to critics). I do not read these long involved histories because of time constraints, and I really like books to move along–and the leisurely pace drives me crazy–but listening was a great way to deal with it. Simon Slater as the narrator was superb–doing voices that differentiated the characters, sometimes just by tone.

Cindy Grove

The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Appeal Factors: Intricately plotted and plot driven, Atmospheric, heartwrentching, moving, and bleak tone, Conversational and thoughtful writing style

Celie is an almost illiterate, 14-year-old girl living in Georgia in the early 1900′s. She is being raped and impregnated by the man she believes is her father and that he has killed at least one of her children. When Albert (called “Mister” by Celie) comes to ask for her sister Nettie’s hand in marriage, their father instead marries him to Celie. Celie’s life is once again controlled by a man who is both physically and emotionally abusive. Nettie comes to live with Albert and Celie after their father tries to have sex with her but when Nettie refuses Albert’s advances he throws her out of the house. Though they are never able to connect Nettie and Celie’s bond continue in Celie’s thoughts and writings. The book is written in the form of conversational letters that Celie writes to God and then later to her sister Nettie. The letters in Celie’s dialect reflect her location, education and slang, making the characters and setting come alive. In her letters she writes in heartbreaking detail about her thoughts and experiences weaving together in an intricate plot with many characters, twists and turns. Though the story is bleak and the subjects heavy, Walker’s thoughtful writing handles the subjects with respect and understanding of what she is putting the reader through.

Louise Goldstein

The Last Dickens – Matthew Pearl
Appeal Factors: suspenseful, historical, deftly plotted, carefully researched

The title of this historical novel refers to Charles Dickens’ final work: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Dickens died before finishing the novel. James Osgood and Rebecca Sand, whose brother Daniel was murdered when he went to the pier to pick up the manuscript, are trying to find clues to the ending of Drood.

On their journey to London they come into contact with a host of characters, interesting, kind, nefarious, and in one case, insane. There are opium dens, “bookaneers” (pirates who work for competing publishing companies), and lots of mystery and suspense.

This novel is an excellent choice for readers who enjoy intricate plot structure, historical realism in their fiction, and suspense.

Sandra Woodbury

The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
Appeal Factors: character-driven; lyrical; romantic; ancient Greece

This was maybe a bit of a stretch for the historical genre, as it is based more on mythology than history per se. However, it was very lyrical, and I felt it brought to life war in ancient Greece, including the treatment of women and the days of encampment. Even though it portrayed violence and war, however, the lyrical style softened it (much like with Brooks’ March).

I actually enjoyed being swept into these characters’ lives, feeling the pull between Patroclus and Achilles, their struggles, and the changes the years brought to them. I’m not sure how I felt it held up as a companion to the Iliad, as the character of Achilles felt very different here to me (but perhaps that is the point, as this is Achilles as seen through his companion’s eyes, the “real” person behind the myth and tales of glory). Overall, though, it was an atmospheric read that really drew me in.

It would be quite readable for younger adults, but one should be cautious when recommending it as there are a few fairly explicit homosexual love scenes. Anyone who likes ancient Greece, or mythology, could give this one a try (though several readers have complained that they felt the development of some characters did not fit with what they felt the traditional myths portrayed).

Jim Riordan

Altai – Wu Ming
Appeal Factors: The World of the Novel / the Secondary Characters / Pacing – slow to moderate / Intricate Plot / Themes – The search for identity and belonging

I had actually been waiting for this book to be translated into English for some time. It was written by a Italian writers collective Wu Ming (aka Luther Blisett). Altai is a loose sequel to their book Q published in 1999. Because it is a translation the tone of the writing can be jarring. What was probably written of an older prose style in the Italian was translated into modern English. The story itself opens with the main character Emmanuele De Zante agent for the Venetian secret service investigating a fire in the state run armory in 1569. However the reader doesn’t stay in Venice for long. A long kept secret forces De Zante to flee across the Mediterranean where he falls in with the very people he used to hunt.

The real strength of this book is the scenery. The authors write beautiful descriptions of 16th century Venice, Thessalonica, Istanbul. A person who loves armchair travel would enjoy the sense of place the authors impart the reader. Although I didn’t always find the main character believable (De Zante goes from being a loyal servant of Venice to one of its enemies a little too quickly to be believed) the secondary characters are very compelling. I think this is partly because the secondary characters are mostly carry overs from Q and are much better developed.

Stefanie Aucoin

Serena – Ron Rash
Appeal Factors: characters, writing style, evilness vs innocence

Have you ever seen an icicle hanging off the edge of your house and think “Wow that’s so beautiful and fragile!” but know, somewhere in the back of your mind, that it is very cold and potentially deadly? That’s Serena. She’s a beautiful, straightforward woman who sets the hairs on the back of your neck upright with this sense of danger that seems to cocoon her. The story opens in the midst of a dispute between the Pemberton Logging Company and the fledgling National Park program. George Pemberton has brought his new bride, Serena to North Carolina to help him run the logging camp. While she quickly wins over the men in the camp, there are many that don’t trust her or her husband. Together they are a ruthless pair that make many enemies, and soon there is a body count mounting up around them. Its when Serena is forced to choose between her perfect life with Pemberton and her dreams of a logging empire in Brazil that the story quickly reaches its climax and the bodies start popping up all over the place.

I was really captivated by this novel. Ron Rash creates the perfect impersonal business machine in this book. Pemberton Logging Company cares little for the natural wildlife or environment and even less for the poor families that crowd their camp looking for work to escape the Depression. He also uses a lot of imagery: like Serena’s giant white horse, a mysterious black panther, and her green evening dress, to imply the power that Serena possesses. The horse places her above everyone else, the panther is her inner killer, and the green dress is her sex appeal. While the novel is mostly written in third person it is through the eyes of Pemberton’s view of Serena that we can really see just how despicable of a person she is. At first he is enamored of his beautiful new bride with terrible nightmares, but as his loyalties are tested he beings to see more and more of the ugliness that Serena locks up inside. My only criticism of this book is that the ending suffers from a heavy case of “Chekhov’s rifle”. Sometimes too much foreshadowing can take away from a climatic scene.

Honestly, I picked this book up because I had read a Buzzfeed article about the movie adaption that’s slated for release in October. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence will be playing the ruthless Pembertons and I was curious to see how these two actors, who are most known for strong, charismatic, generally good guy characters will live up to the level of evil that Serena and Pemberton possess. I would strongly suggest reading this book before going to see it on the big screen because there are a lot of Serena’s glances and body language that I think will get lost in a film version. But I would also recommend this book if you’re looking for a good story. The characters are compelling, the plot moves quickly, and the evilness is just so delicious to read.

Eileen Barrett

God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Appeal Factors: Beautifully written, the language and way Roy expresses and describes events is exquisite.

Set in Kerala, India the book begins in the 1960’s with the funeral of young Sophie Mol, the cousin of one-soul twins Rahel and Estha. The circumstances surrounding Sophie’s death are slowly revealed as the book moves from the events prior to her drowning to twenty-three years later when the twins now thirty-one and separated since the funeral return to their childhood home. A story of love, betrayal, disappointment, and survival – this book is a masterfully woven, exquisitely worded piece of art.