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DECEMBER 11, 2014
Just finished reading...
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This book is not for everyone. If you don't know anything about English history in the16th century, you might find it a bit confusing-lots of characters, references to past events, and a setting not only foreign in location but in time. Even if you love historical novels, this one does require a little work on the part of the reader. Mantel, a prize winning novelist in the UK, has taken an actual but little known participant in the Court of Henry VIII and brought him to life. Thomas Cromwell, great grandfather to Oliver Cromwell, came from very humble roots to become a key advisor to Henry VIII during a time of great change and turmoil for the monarch. The beauty of Mantel's writing is in her being able to make us react to Thomas as a real person. Her glorious prose allows us to enter the society where Cromwell, at least for a time, flourished, and to share the company of Henry and several of his well-known wives. This book is the first in a series of three. The second volume in the series, Bring Up the Bodies, is also available in both print at the library and as an ebook.
The Greater Journey:Americans in Paris by David McCullough. If you have ever been to Paris, celebrated American historian, David McCullough's latest book will have you wanting to go back, and if you haven't been there, you'll want to go. During the 19th century American painters, sculptors, musicians, aspiring doctors, and statesmen travelled to Paris in droves, seeking inspiration from its fine museums and acclaimed schools. In spite of a very chaotic political climate, Paris had become a center for the very latest ideas and trends in the arts and sciences. McCullough has conjured up a splendid picture of the city through the eyes of these young Americans, but the real stars of the volume are the Americans themselves. Like characters in a novel, their stories are exciting, compelling, and many times, surprising. I lived for three years not ten miles from Cornish, New Hampshire, where American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, had a home and studio. I never visited it, however, because I had no idea who Saint-Gaudens was, nor of his importance in the art world of his time. McCullough's style of writing is clear and well-organized, very easy to read for history. I especially enjoyed the sections about the young doctors who went to Paris to study. The history of American medicine owes a lot to the French! You might never get to Paris for real, but this book definitely takes you there for free.
Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard. Some readers may be familiar with this title from the Steven Spielberg film, which I thought was excellent. When I saw this book show up in the collection (a very welcome donation), I was anxious to read it and see how it compared to the movie. Based on his own personal experiences during World War II, Ballard has created a very memorable novel of war. Jim is an eleven year old boy who is suddenly separated from his parents and on his own in the great Chinese city of Shanghai. The Japanese have taken over, and he is forced to live on sheer nerve, as he moves from the deserted neighborhoods around his home to being placed in the infamous Lunghua Detention Center. The author captures the horror of Jim's situation, but makes us want to stay with him and hope for his survival. Look for this finely written and fascinating story on my shelf of staff recommendations at the library.
All Clear by Connie Willis. Earlier this year Connie Willis's Blackout was published, and reading it was something like watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1-it just left you wanting more! The two novels together tell the story of three historians, time travellers living in the year 2060, who travel back to World War II to experience and study various events taking place in Britain. Their carefully planned adventures quickly go awry, however, when their escape routes become inoperable and they begin to fear that their presence in the past is altering history. Eileen, taking care of evacuee children in the countryside, Polly, working as a shop girl during the London Blitz, and Mike, posing as an American reporter observing the rescue from Dunkirk, are forced to join together in order to save not only themselves, but to insure the proper outcome of the war. Although I must admit I thought the two volume format a bit long, one can not but admire Willis's attention to detail. The trials of the three historians take you to the heart of the action, and the time travel aspect of the book keeps you guessing to the very end of the story. If you like reading about WWII, you will definitely find these two novels worth a read.
The Other BoleynGirl by Philippa Gregory. If you're a fan of the new Showtime series The Tudors, you might like this book. It tells the story of Henry the Eighth's second and turbulent marriage to Anne Boleyn, but through the eyes of her younger sister, Mary. Mary was a real person, and she was present at the court of Henry, although not much is known about her. Gregory has used a combination of historical facts and her own imagination to create a detailed picture of 16th century England and its volatile royal family. This book was also recently made into a film of the same name by director Justin Chadwick with Natalie Portman and Scarlet Johansson as the two sisters.