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More Chills! More Thrills!

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Have you been on the edge of your seat, waiting for this next installment of my Suspense Spectacular? (Just answer Yes; let’s get an atmosphere going.) My previous post introduced a few big names in the genre. We also honored the predecessors of today’s hits. Today, I’ll start by focusing on female stars of the genre. Lastly, we’ll dig up hidden gems from authors you might not expect.

Writing for The Atlantic, Terrence Rafferty claims that “Women Are Writing the Best Crime Novels.” He says, “They don’t seem to believe in heroes as much as their male counterparts, which in some ways makes their storytelling a better fit for the times.” Without shying away from murder – be it most gruesome – the insightful women who have flourished within “domestic noir” write with “awareness of that inside-out sort of violence” that occurs so often in real life. (1) So, if you’re looking for a psychological edge, you’ll be spoiled for choice among women authors in this genre.

Incidentally, I learned that several male writers use female pen names within this genre. (2) That makes marketing sense, as their readers are more likely to be women. (3) Considering the history of women authors using masculine noms de plume – their only option if they hoped to be taken seriously – it’s ironic that men can now use women’s names in order to increase their own profitability as authors!

Don’t worry. This is not a blog post about The Patriarchy. But I hope to highlight some of the writers of this genre who actually are women – not men using women’s names. (Yes, I did double-check them all! My search history got a little weird.) You can find summaries of intriguing titles online.

Women of the Genre

  • Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train; Deep Water.
  • Katherine Neville, The Eight. This “historical thriller/whodunnit/magical story” paved the way for works like The Da Vinci Code, Kostova’s The Historian, and Mosse’s The Labyrinth. (4)
  • Tana French, The Secret Place. In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad series).
  • Amy Greene, Long Man. A small, East Tennessee community desperately searches for a missing toddler before the TVA floods their town.
  • Sarah Waters, Fingersmith. Readers love this Dickensian tale’s twists and turns.
  • Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl confronts the myth that “women are … naturally good,” a misconception that “robs [them] of any sort of will.” (5)
  • Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me.
  • Denise Mina, Garnethill (Garnethill trilogy); The Field of Blood (Paddy Mehan novels); Still Midnight (Alex Morrow novels).
  • Minette Walters, The Ice House; The Sculptress; The Scold’s Bridle.
  • Dorothy B. Hughes, Ride the Pink Horse; In a Lonely Place.
  • Donna Tartt, The Secret History. “[It’s] both an intellectual novel of ideas and a murder mystery without the whodunnit element.” “[An] amazing book that combines crime and Greek language and mythology with Donna Tartt’s beautiful writing style.” “[This] was one of the most unique reading experiences of my life.” (6, 7, 8)
  • Alex Marwood, The Darkest Secret.
  • Libby Fischer Hellman, A Bitter Veil. Reviewers call it “gripping,” “poignant,” “terrifying,” “viscerally effective.” (9)
  • Vicki Hendricks, Miami Purity. A raw, erotic story.
  • Liane Moriarty, The Husband’s Secret.
  • Tess Gerritsen, Playing with Fire. I love this review: “OMG Tess Gerritsen, give me my life back! I’ve never been so consumed by a book — let alone one about a…diabolical cursed violin score, toddler psychopath, and WWII-era Italy? Yeah, I was as skeptical as you probably are, but somehow it all works. I couldn’t stop tearing through the pages… What a whirlwind!” (10)
  • Renée Ahdieh updates the story of Scheherazade (1001 Nights) in The Wrath & the Dawn.
  • Alison Gaylin, What Remains of Me.
  • Jessica Knoll, Luckiest Girl Alive.
  • Val McDermid, The Mermaids Singing (Tony Hill series); A Place of Execution.
  • Margaret Millar, How Like an Angel; A Stranger in My Grave.
  • Sophie Hannah, Woman with a Secret.
  • Barbara Vine (real name, “Ruth Barbara Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE”) was a prolific writer of intense psychological thrillers and murder mysteries. Award-winning titles include Make Death Love Me, A Fatal Inversion, The House of Stairs, and King Solomon’s Carpet. Reading thrillers written by an English baroness sounds like a good idea to me. (11)

As you can see, there are so many incredible women authors to choose from; I found it difficult to stop adding names to the list!

Now, by “Deep Cuts,” I mean a few things: lesser-known works by famous authors, works of suspense by authors who normally write within a different genre, or even books you might pick up without knowing what thrills lie in store.

Deep Cuts

  • Agatha Christie sometimes falls into the “cozy mystery” subgenre, thanks to her Miss Marple But And Then There Were None is a deliciously frightening work.
  • Steven King, master of horror, also writes suspense that takes place in a monster-less world. The Long Walk and The Running Man are two examples, published under pseudonym Richard Bachman. (12)
  • Dan Brown wrote tech thriller Digital Fortress before finding fame with The Da Vinci Code.
  • Herman Koch’s The Dinner finds two families deciding how to deal with their teenage sons, who have committed a violent crime, over dinner. The evening starts off civil enough, but inevitably unravels. (14)
  • Gogol, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and others shine in the lesser-known tales collected in The Greatest Russian Stories of Crime and Suspense (Otto Penzler, editor). (15)
  • Roald Dahl, beloved children’s author, wrote some truly twisted short stories for adults. I have to say, it was eye-opening to stumble upon them as a young girl!

Nothing beats a page-turner when it comes to summer reads; and I’ve certainly given you a lot to choose from here. So come to the library, check out a book, and beat the heat with a chilling tale of suspense!

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The Suspense is Terrible! (ɪ ʜᴏᴘᴇ ɪᴛ ᴡɪʟʟ ʟᴀsᴛ.)*

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

₮ⱧɆ ₴Ʉ₴₱Ɇ₦₴Ɇ ł₴ ₮ɆⱤRł฿ⱠɆ

When confronted with a thriller, I used to think, “Here’s a novel that features guns, bombs, and lies. Probably some politics, too.” And while those elements might feature in some bestselling books, I now know how narrow my perception was. For I have probed past the whims of pop culture, and discovered some of the fascinating premises to be found within the realm of suspense, thriller, and crime novels. While this genre may not be new to you, I hope you’ll follow along with this two-part post, and perhaps leave your best recommendations at the end.

“Crime pays,” says journalist Anita Singh, writing for The Telegraph: “thrillers and detective novels now outsell all other fiction.” [1] It’s a broad category: these novels might be packed with fast-paced action (the Jason Bourne series), psychological drama (Gone Girl), or military intrigue (The Hunt for Red October). With high stakes and life-or-death outcomes, thrillers often become the basis for hit movies. And while supernatural or dystopian tales may have had a surge in popularity over recent years, thrillers continue to enthrall us because they could happen. Grounded in reality, often set in present-day, they let us imagine what life would be like if we got on the wrong side of a corrupt government – or a jealous lover.

But why would anyone want to do that? The late novelist and critic Mary McCarthy explained it this way: “We all live in suspense, from day to day, from hour to hour….” And, as writer Lisa Gardner adds, “…one of the appeals of suspense is [that we can] safely explore our innermost fears.” [2] In other words, we all live with a high degree of uncertainty in our lives. The more nervous, fragile, lonely, pessimistic, or uninformed we feel, the more we fear that uncertainty. When fiction addresses that primal fear, it allows us to take a breath, say to ourselves, “OK. What if?” and confront those worst-case scenarios. Fear often shrinks under scrutiny. And if we vicariously reach a satisfying solution through the deeds of our literary avatars, so much the better.

Today, we’ll start with the heavy hitters: the names that even I recognized! Then we’ll look at the classic works of literature that paved the way for those authors. Next week, we’ll scrounge up a few “deep cuts” – lesser-known works of suspense by authors who usually fit into a different genre. And we’ll highlight some of the women authors who are shaking things up in the realm of suspense.

Heavy Hitters

  • Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond Casino Royale is a classic. Fleming said, “While thrillers may not be Literature with a capital L, it is possible to write what I can best describe as ‘thrillers designed to be read as literature’.” [3]
  • Robert Ludlum, creator of the character Jason Bourne. Ludlum died in 2001, but the wildly popular Bourne series continues, thanks to a collective of authors who carry his torch.
  • Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series also continues posthumously, following the success of Larsson’s first three novels, beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
  • Tom Clancy created the Jack Ryan character in The Hunt for Red October. There are now more than 20 novels in the series.
  • John le Carré introduced British intelligence officer George Smiley in Call for the Dead, and he appears in nine other novels, perhaps most famously in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

The Classics

  • The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale by Joseph Conrad. A tale of terrorism, anarchy, and political intrigue, set in 1880s London.
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Although many modern reprints give this gothic work the appearance of a romance novel, it’s a psychological work that led to a rather faithful film adaptation by that master of suspense, Sir Alfred Hitchcock.
  • A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes, star of four novels and many short stories by Doyle. Fans of the BBC series Sherlock may find the differences – and similarities – amusing.
  • “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe. Before there was Sherlock Holmes, there was C. Auguste Dupin, Poe’s amateur detective with uncanny skills of deduction. Dupin appears in two more of Poe’s stories.
  • A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (also titled The Mask of Dimitrios). Charles Latimer is a mystery novelist becomes intrigued by a dead man’s past, which leads to dangerous consequences. The story is described as a hybrid of “spy thriller” and “detective noir.” [4] There is a sequel, The Intercom Conspiracy.
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. This is a “quintessential Gothic romance,” with a young heroine in both physical and psychological danger. Austen, Poe, and others were heavily influenced by Radcliffe. [5]
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. “Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, [it] is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.” [6]

That’s all for this week. Check back next week as I do my best to turn up some unexpected finds, and explore the success of women authors in this genre. Don’t forget to share your favorites (especially classics) in the comments below!

* A line you will recognize from either The Importance of Being Earnest or Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, depending on your tastes.

How to Take a Mental Health Day

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Are you unusually overwhelmed at work? Do you fear that – contrary to your character – you are one careless comment away from smacking a coworker in the face, or bursting into tears in the break room? Can you no longer distinguish your personal life from your work life? If you’re otherwise healthy, but feeling out of sorts and out of control, maybe it’s time to take a mental health day.

A mental health day (MHD) is just like a sick day. Instead of staying home because of a sore throat or a twisted ankle, however, an employee takes this day off work for a legitimate wellness concern that may not present physically. Sometimes the need stems from a clinically diagnosed illness (i.e., Major Depressive Disorder), but not always. Depression, anxiety, grief, stress, and emotional trauma are some possible reasons to take a mental health day.

“That sounds like playing hooky,” you might say, skeptically. Indeed, our culture pressures us to put career first, ahead of family and sanity. You may know someone who missed a child’s birthday party, rescheduled an anniversary dinner, or cancelled a vacation due to being “on call” at a job that has nothing to do with life and death.

Web developer Madalyn Parker made waves in 2017 by publically sharing her experience taking a mental health day. Check out this screenshot of her Tweet. See, it can be done!

And there’s still a cultural stigma against mental illnesses. They often go ignored or misunderstood, and aren’t given the same consideration as a visible sickness or injury. People with depression, for example, are instructed to “buck up.” This places the demand for a cure back on the sick individual, rather than encouraging them to seek help. (Imagine telling someone with a broken leg to “walk it off!”)

I’m not suggesting we all abandon our jobs and start living like Thoreau in the woods. (Although that is my own personal plan for early retirement.) But I am suggesting we start to value mental health as a vital element of wellness. It’s irresponsible to show up to work if you’ve got a fever. It’s equally unwise to wait until you’re in psychological crisis mode before you take some time off work. When you see your emotional distress flare, consider scheduling a mental health day (people who know you well can help you spot the warning signs, too.)

Be sure the day is productive in some way. You’re not skiving off work; you’re taking care of yourself. Evaluate the reasons you are staying home from work, and decide what you need most. Is it sleep? Quality time with a loved one? An afternoon full of play? If a Netflix marathon usually leaves you sluggish and empty, skip it. This is a day to fill yourself up. Here are some elements you might incorporate into your MHD:

  1. Drink lots of water all day long, and eat healthy food. (Dehydration and poor nutrition amplify the effects of emotional stress.)
  2. Schedule an appointment with your therapist, counselor, or mentor; or catch up with a friend who will listen with compassion.
  3. Attend to personal issues that have been causing stress, such as a long to-do list or a wilting relationship.
  4. Get out in nature.
  5. Sleep in, or take a restorative nap during the day. Go to bed earlier than usual.
  6. Exercise, to get your mind and body back in sync. It should be something you enjoy, not a chore: yoga, swimming, shooting hoops, golfing, climbing rock walls, …
  7. Book a therapeutic massage.
  8. Drive a few towns over for a change of scenery.
  9. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb. This will help block out social media, e-mails, and marketing calls. (Most phones let you customize this option, so you can still get important calls from select contacts.)
  10. Do something creative and meditative, such as painting, writing, cooking, or gardening.
  11. Laugh – and cry! Both work wonders for stress relief. Watch a movie, listen to a podcast, or read a book that you know will engage your emotions.

During your mental health day, you may come up against a few lies, so be sure to equip yourself with the truth: Time spent resting is NOT time wasted. It is NOT weak to ask for help or to express your needs. You ARE worth taking care of! And self-care is NOT selfish!

If taking a paid day off isn’t an option at your job, you can still dedicate a day to your mental health. The same goes for those of you who work from home, or stay home as a caregiver to family members. You’ll have to be intentional with your scheduled days off. You may have to ask for more help and be firm with your boundaries. But you CAN do it, and it IS worth it.

None of these activities will cure a mental illness or replace a long-term management plan, of course. You may need to incorporate lifestyle changes, or find a counselor or medical professional whose job is to equip you to navigate life’s challenges. (Check the links at the end of this post for a starting point to that search.) But taking time to care for yourself in meaningful ways can help maintain a sense of balance, self-worth, and perspective. As the rallying cry goes, “Mental health is health!”

When you are ready to go back to work, I hope you notice that you’re feeling refreshed and in control. A healthy person can give more, and joyfully so, to all around them: at home, at work, and everywhere else.

 


A few links to help you search for a mental health care professional:

Sources:

Discover the World of Urban Fantasy

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

“The Dresden Files” by Mika-Blackfield

Being a lover of memoir and “the classics” (think, “books you were forced to read in high school”), I’ve felt comfortable referring to those categories in previous blog posts. But when I saw the colorful genre bookmarks we have at the library – check them out on your next visit!–, I felt inspired to explore some authors I’ve never read before.

One genre I’m pretty unfamiliar with is Urban Fantasy, so I thought I’d start there, and every research trip begins with a visit to Wikipedia, doesn’t it (just don’t tell your teachers)? From there, I gathered these elements of the Urban Fantasy subgenre (1):

  • A primarily real-world, urban setting, in the past, present or future
  • Earthbound mythological creatures (sometimes)
  • Coexistence / conflict between humans and paranormal beings (some other times)
  • Often explores how city life changes after the discovery of magic
  • Does not rely primarily on a romantic plot (as distinct from Paranormal Romance subgenre)

This sounds like many of the bestsellers and blockbusters in the past couple of decades! So who are the storytellers behind this enduring pop culture phenomenon?

“Neil Gaiman’s American Gods Fan Art” by AnamikaB

Even I, in my ignorance, recognize the name Neil Gaiman halfway down the list on the bright yellow bookmark before me. His novel, American Gods, is a prime example of the genre. In it, Gaiman posits that “gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them.” (2) Therefore, in modern America, new gods – representing media, the internet, and the stock market, among others – have more authority than the old gods brought over by immigrants; and fantastical creatures hold commonplace occupations. But a mysterious man wishes to shake things up, and he needs the help of ex-con Shadow to rouse ancient powers. A strange, epic journey, with elements of horror, fantasy, and magical realism, this award-winning novel has an international fan base.

Neil Gaiman, and indeed the genre of Urban Fantasy, would not be where they are today without Terri Windling. She created the Bordertown universe, tales of which have been written by a multitude of authors. Bordertown is “a dystopian metropolis that lies along the border between “the Elflands” and “The World”.” (3) The tagline on some of the book covers reads, “Where Magic Meets Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which I find charming. As one reader puts it, “the aesthetic of Celtic punk rock, elf/human gang warfare, and glamorous urban decay absolutely succeeds. You can understand why this series inspired its own new wave/nerd subculture back in the eighties.” (4)

Mercy Thompson

Interestingly, 57% of writers in this genre are women. (1) Another such writer who caught my eye was Patricia Briggs, with her Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is a shapeshifting mechanic who was raised by werewolves. She interacts with vampires, gremlins, and other creatures of the night. Ignore the sexy artwork on the book covers: this is not a steamy series, but rather one with compelling dialogue and a strong, sensitive female lead. There are plenty of books in this series, starting with Moon Called.

I’d like to leave you with some more author recommendations, which is a hard thing to do as I haven’t actually read any of them. But thank goodness for those bookmarks, and for Goodreads.com, a great resource for book lists and reader reviews. Searching Goodreads by genre, I found that there are some Urban Fantasy authors whose books have been reviewed by community members hundreds of thousands of times! (Side note: If you find a reviewer whose taste matches your own, you can follow him/her on the site. It’s like having your own personal book critic who delivers tailored book recommendations.)

  • Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series (AKA the Southern Vampire Mysteries). These books are the source material for HBO’s True Blood.
  • Jim ButcherThe Dresden Files Harry Dresden is Chicago’s first and only wizard P.I. This series is the Urban Fantasy high standard for many reviewers.
  • Kelley ArmstrongDarkest Powers A genetically-engineered teenage necromancer’s powers are out of control: she raises the dead without even trying. On the run from her creators, she’s accompanied by a sorcerer, a werewolf, and a witch.
  • Seanan McGuireWayward Children Children who have gone through magical portals – like Wonderland’s rabbit hole, or Narnia’s wardrobe – find it hard to adjust to normal life once they return. Luckily, there’s a home just for them.
  • Kevin HearneThe Iron Druid Chronicles. The last of the druids runs a bookshop in Arizona, but that won’t throw an angry god off the trail of his magic sword. Celtic mythology meets vampires, werewolves, and Thor. Yes, this series definitely has a silly edge to it, but reviewers say it’s a lot of fun!
  • Holly BlackThe Poison Eaters and Other Stories. Elves, werewolves, vampires, faeries: whatever your creature obsession, there’s a short story for you in this YA/adult collection from the author of popular middle-grade series The Spiderwick Chronicles.
  • Terry BrooksWord & Void There’s been a long strike in a steel town, and it’s the hottest Fourth of July on record. Into this volatile atmosphere come a knight of the Word and a demonic servant of the Void, whose opposing goals are mysteriously linked by a teenage girl. The fate of humanity is to be decided amidst the fireworks that celebrate freedom.
  • Ilona AndrewsKate Daniels Magic feeds on technology, creating a chaotic backdrop for tales of a mercenary who lives in Atlanta, cleaning up paranormal problems.

I plan to broaden my literary horizons by adding a couple of these to my reading list. If I abandon my classics and only ever write about Urban Fantasy from now on, you’ll know what triggered it!


Sources:

Art

The Symbols of Ireland

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations
In Moscow, Russia, 2012
by Кирилл Сергеев – wikimedia

This Irish feast has taken on a life of its own in countries around the world. On March 17, we are inundated with cartoons, clothing, even cards, embellished with images of the day: shamrocks, harps, elaborate crosses. Familiar as they may be now, what do they really have to do with St. Patrick’s Day?

Symbols provide a glimpse into the psyche of an artist – or an entire culture. Sometimes, patterns and figures evolve to express an idea. Other times, the meaning follows the motif. (For example, when previously pagan symbols take on Christian significance.) Just like language, a culture’s symbolism serves both as a time capsule and an evolving conveyance of modern ideals. Today, we’ll take a look at some common symbols associated with Ireland, and discover the meanings they carry.

 

St. Patrick
with a shamrock

Shamrocks and Four-Leaf Clovers

When you think “St. Patrick’s Day,” do you visualize a lucky four-leaf clover, or is it a shamrock? With its three leaves, the seamróg, or shamrock, is the true symbol of Ireland’s patron saint. Legend has it that Patrick used the plant to illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity to pre-Christian Ireland. So, while you might want to wear a rare four-leaf clover to represent the “luck of the Irish,” only the tri-lobed seamróg represents St Patrick himself.

Of course, pre-Christian Irish art indicates that the island’s inhabitants already had a concept of “three-in-oneness.” But it’s still a nice legend, and a great example of how we can find new significance in existing symbolism.

 

Spirals and Knotwork

Trinity knot

triskelion

One ancient motif resembling the Trinity is the triskelion. Three arms spiral out from the center, with rotational symmetry. Spirals feature heavily in ancient Irish art, but there’s no way of knowing what the earliest artists wished to convey. Perhaps the spiral represented the course of heavenly bodies through the night sky.

detail from the Book of Kells

The triquetra, also known as a Trinity knot, is another indigenous emblem that found a Christian meaning. Its three distinct wings form an unbroken, never-ending whole. In one variation, a circle winds through the wings, further unifying the design. The triquetra is the simplest element of Celtic knotwork. Elaborate examples can be found in the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells, and on decorative crosses in churchyards up and down Ireland.

 

The Celtic Cross

A beautiful design that looks as striking on a tattooed arm as on a headstone in a cemetery, the Celtic cross is composed of a traditional Christian cross with a circle around the intersecting lines. The stem and arms of the cross are often decorated with elaborate knotwork.

Legend attributes this cross to St. Patrick himself. According to the story, Patrick stamped the cross over a circle representing the pagan sun god, emphasizing the spiritual importance of the cross by associating it with the life-giving powers of the sun.

 

A golden Claddagh ring by Royalcladdagh – wikimedia

Claddagh Rings

A heart for love, a crown for loyalty, and two hands for friendship: these are the elements present in every Claddagh ring. They originated in the small fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, possibly earlier than 1700, and are now popular as wedding rings the world over. The hand on which the ring is worn, and whether it’s worn facing inward or out, can communicate the romantic status of the wearer to one in the know.

 

The Irish Tricolor

Ireland’s flag has three vertical bars, of green, white, and orange. The green represents the sovereign Republic of Ireland, traditionally a Catholic nation. The orange represents Northern Ireland, which is thought of as a Protestant land, and has been part of the United Kingdom since 1921. And the white field in between? Referring to the strife between his divided countrymen, Irish nationalist Thomas Francis Meagher explained, “The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between Orange and Green and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.”

It’s a concept that’s still relevant, as governments discuss what the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will look like in a post-Brexit UK.

 

The Maid of Erin

Guinness by swissbhoy – Flickr

The Harp

As a nation of poets, storytellers, musicians, and bards, Ireland has long been represented by a harp. Before the tricolor flag, a banner commonly used was a golden harp (sometimes with a winged woman, the Maid of Erin, carved into it) in the center of a green field.

The Irish government wanted to trademark the harp symbol – but Guinness, hallowed creator of Ireland’s most famous stout, had gotten to it first, back in 1876. That means you’ll always see Guinness’s harp facing one way, and the government’s harp facing the other.

 

Beer

Speaking of Guinness, why does alcohol feature so heavily in modern St Patrick’s Day celebrations? It has to do with the calendar. No matter when Easter falls, the Lenten fast is already underway by the time March 17 rolls around. Until the 1970s, pubs in Ireland were closed – by law – on the day. The festivities were quiet indeed.

Dog and men gathered in Patrick Sullivan’s Bar, c. 1963

But somewhere along the line, Irish-American Catholics wanted to celebrate their honorary patron saint while still remaining pious, and so the restrictions on food and alcohol came to be lifted for the day. Try to fit 40 days’ worth of revelry into 24 hours, and excess is the natural result! This Americanized aspect of the holiday made its way back to Ireland in the 1990s, largely as an effort to promote tourism.

If you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in this way, you’ll need a ready toast. Raise your glass and say “Sláinte!” (pronounced something like “SLAWN-chə” to drink the health of your party.

Thanks for joining me on this cultural expedition! I hope you’ll enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations all the more, having these few fragments of knowledge. Slán go fóill! (Bye for now!)

Vintage St. Patrick’s Day postcard with the motto “Erin go bragh,”or “Ireland forever”


Sources:

Authors to Explore During Black History Month

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

The modern United States of America has the great honor of being home to myriad cultural groups. The inventions, discoveries, perspectives, and creativity of minority groups impact our nation the whole year through, and it’s personally edifying to reflect on the abundance of important ideas that come to us from so many different cultures. That’s why, during Black History Month each February, we take the time to officially celebrate, enjoy, and learn about the innumerable contributions that black men and women have made to American culture.

Naturally, Black authors write in every genre: from science-fiction to romance, from graphic novels to poetry. Although readers see the value in reading works from all facets of culture, they may not have come across some of these writers before. Today, we’ll take a winding journey through various genres, highlighting Black authors along the way.

Let’s start in the world of comic books and graphic novels. The timeless duo of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson has been reimagined in a comic book series written by Karl Bollers. Set in Harlem, New York, with African-American leads, Watson and Holmes treats the traditional sidekick as the leading man. While keeping elements of the classic story intact – Watson is a war veteran; Holmes specializes in usual cases – Bollers comes up with new dangers and adventures for the pair in a modern, urban setting.

Other writers to check out in this medium include Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks), Brandon Thomas (The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury), Brian Parker (You Can Rely on Platypi), David Gorden (Quincredible), Kyle Baker (Nat Turner), Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr (Best Shot in the West), and Ta-Nehisi Coates (Marvel’s Black Panther).

Speaking of Coates, who first made his name in journalism, his 2015 non-fiction book, Between the World and Me, is considered a must-read. It takes the form of “a letter to the author’s teenaged son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in the United States” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Between_the_World_and_Me).

Such a personal publication leads us to the genre of autobiography and memoir, which is a great way to get inside the heads of people with different experiences and perspectives. Much-loved television writer and producer Shonda Rhimes shares her journey from fear and detachment to self-acceptance and empowerment in Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. Another television personality with an entertaining memoir is Issa Rae, with The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl. In Black Man in a White Coat, Damon Tweedy, MD, explores the relationship between race and the medical world.  Elizabeth Alexander writes about family, creativity, and loss in The Light of the World. Other well-known authors in this genre include Frederick Douglass (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass), Solomon Northup (Twelve Years a Slave), Barack Obama (Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance), and Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings).

Angelou is also beloved for her poetry, one example being “Still I Rise.” Merely scratching the surface of her fellow renowned Black poets, we find Rita Dove (“Exit”), Gwendolyn Brooks (“We Real Cool”), Langston Hughes (“Harlem”), Nikki Giovanni (“Walking down Park”), Jean Toomer (“Blue Meridian”), Lucille Clifton (“won’t you celebrate with me”), Tyehimba Jess (“Hagar in the Wilderness”), Melvin Dixon (“Heartbeats”), and Robert Hayden (“Middle Passage”).

Switching gears, let’s talk cookbooks: another great way to appreciate culture. No matter your tastes or skill level, you’re sure to find new recipes to add to your rotation with these selections. Edna Lewis’ classic The Taste of Country Cooking weaves stories with delicious recipes to create seasonal menus. Formerly an integral part of Paula Deen’s staff at Lady & Sons, Dora Charles has published her own cookbook, full of unexpected tips for maximum flavor, called A Real Southern Cook: In Her Savannah Kitchen. The Church Ladies’ Divine Desserts, by Brenda Rhodes Miller, gives you all the recipes you need for crowd-pleasing desserts, as well as wisdom and laughter from “the Church Ladies.” And celebrity chef Marvin Woods brings you “125 recipes for coastal Southern cooking with innovative style” in The New Low-Country Cooking.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a list some modern writers of fiction, along with a title selected from their work.

  1. LaShonda Katrice Barnett, Jam on the Vine
  2. Paul Beatty, The Sellout (satire)
  3. Chesya Burke, Let’s Play White (short stories)
  4. Octavia E. Butler, the Xenogenesis trilogy (sci-fi)
  5. Ernessa T. Carter, 32 Candles (humorous)
  6. Tananarive Due, Ghost Summer (short stories)
  7. Piper Huguley, the Home to Milford College series (inspirational romance)
  8. N. K. Jemisin, the Inheritance trilogy (fantasy)
  9. Beverly Jenkins, prolific author of historical and contemporary romance
  10. Sadeqa Johnson, Second House from the Corner
  11. Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom (horror)
  12. Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale
  13. Rebel Miller, the Kira’s Story series (futuristic romance)
  14. Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
  15. Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress (mystery)
  16. Z. Z. Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (short stories)
  17. Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Balm
  18. Delores Phillips, The Darkest Child
  19. Darryl Pinckney, High Cotton
  20. John Ridley, Everybody Smokes in Hell (noir)
  21. Alice Walker, The Color Purple
  22. Colson Whitehead, Zone One (zombie thriller)
  23. Jacqueline Woodson, Miracle’s Boys (young adult)

Of course, these authors are relevant all year long, not just during Black History Month. So, if many of these names are new to you, why not choose a few and add their works your reading list this year? And don’t forget, if we don’t have one of these titles in our catalogue, we can always submit an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) request to other libraries throughout the country.

Here are links to lists and reviews I found helpful (and interesting) in creating this blog post, where you can discover even more great writers. Happy Black History Month! Read the rest of this entry

Sequels, and Trilogies, and Series, Oh My!

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Few pleasures compare to delving into a series of novels by an author you love. Writing a fiction series gives an author a chance to really flesh out a cast of characters, and to embellish a setting with such fine details that it becomes almost real. What a delight, to spend your rainy weekends or long road trips in these places that feel like a second home!

There’s a flip-side to this pleasure. It’s the frustration of picking up a promising novel, only to realize you have no idea what half the characters are talking about, or even who they are – and the author seems to think you should. That’s what happens when you pick up the sixth book in a series without realizing it.

Sometimes, the book’s cover art does not make clear that the book you’re about to read is part of a series. Other times, the “other titles in this series” list at the front of the book is incomplete, or even out of order. Why would publishers do this to us? Who shall be the savior of the sequel-seeker?

I can answer that second question for you. One of the resources you have access to, as a card-holding member of the Williamson County Public Library, is a database called eSequels.com. eSequels promises to keep current, accurate records of thousands of fiction series. Note: the collection seems to focus on general fiction, so most Young Adult series will not be included.

To access this amazing resource for free, click here. You need to be directed there from the WCPL website, so I’ll describe how to find it by searching our website, too. Starting at http://lib.williamson-tn.org, type eSequels into the gray search bar on the top right corner of the screen. Hit enter, or click the magnifying glass icon, to search. On the page that comes up, click Databases by Title, then click the shortcut to E-F (or just scroll down until you find it). Find the eSequels link, click on it, and use your library card number to log in where it says “Patron Barcode.” Once you get to eSequels.com in this way, bookmark the page so you don’t have to go through these steps every time.

Search Features on eSequels

Upon logging in to eSequels, you land on a page with links to various search features. As you will see, with multiple ways to search and browse, eSequels.com is the resource you never knew you needed – but won’t be able to live without!

If you’ve heard your friends talking about a particular author, but can’t remember which book comes first in the series, Search by Author to figure out where to start. By default, authors are listed alphabetically by their last names. You can choose to list them by first name instead.

 Search by Book Title brings up a list of every book in eSequels’ database. Let’s say you want to dive into author Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic worlds of sci-fi or fantasy. You know she has written a book called The Dispossessed, but you aren’t sure where it falls in the chronology. Finding The Dispossessed in Search by Book Title will bring up all the books in Le Guin’s Hainish series, and you will learn that the first book in that series is called Planet of Exile.

I find it interesting to Search by Character, because the database lists not just the main characters, but some important supporting characters, as well. So, if you want to start reading books featuring Sherlock Holmes, you will find that he’s not only a character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original series, but that several authors over the years have used him as a character in their series, as well! You can also search for characters like Winston Churchill, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Oscar Wilde, all of whom appear in some capacity or another in the eSequels.com database. Just keep in mind that the characters are listed alphabetically by first name, not last.

Next, you can Search by Location. Whether you’re fascinated by Tampa or Tuscany, this is a great way to discover a series that takes place somewhere you’d like to spend a lot of time in.

 Search by Subject – really, it’s browsing – is a great way to find a new series to explore. Say you want to read a series on Celtic mythology, but you don’t know where to begin. The Celtic mythology page on eSequels lists 24 different authors who have written Celtic mythology series. Clicking on any of those author links will bring up a summary of each book, and tell you the correct reading order of the series.

Lastly, you can Search by Keyword. This can help you if all other searches have failed. Searching this way takes a little longer, the website warns; but you can enter up to two keywords or terms. The search will only return results that contain all the terms you enter. I tested this function by entering the terms “Prince Edward Island” and “orphan.” The search took me right to the page for L. M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne of Green Gables series.

Now that you know about these cool features, I hope you’re excited to start browsing on your own. But if you’d like some guidance on popular and classic series, keep reading to find a few random selections. When the series description appears in quotation marks, I have taken it from eSequels.com.


Emily of New Moon series by L. M. Montgomery (classic, all-ages)

This is one of my personal favorite series. Like Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon takes place on Montgomery’s native Prince Edward Island in Canada, with an intelligent, passionate heroine who grows from childhood to adulthood. But, as wonderful as Anne Shirley is, Emily Starr is a more three-dimensional character. The stories are deeper, more introspective, and more realistic, which makes sense when one considers that Montgomery identified more strongly with aspiring writer Emily than with Anne. The author explored some of her real emotions and experiences through the character of Emily Starr. Emily’s adventures are sometimes dark, sometimes joyous, sometimes funny – and sometimes all three – but they are always beautiful.

Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams (sci-fi, humor, action)

“Dirk Gently is a “holistic” private eye, brilliant but rather seedy, who uses his psychic powers to find lost cats or to save the human race. Like the [Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] series, the “holistic” detective series is a blend of science fiction, humor, and action, entertainingly presenting some mind-boggling ideas.”

Jack Reacher series by Lee Child (action, thriller)

“Jack Reacher is the linchpin of a series of thrillers which are regarded by some critics as the best going today. Jack is a tall, 250-pound, taciturn, ex-U.S. Military Police Major, who can kill with his bare hands. He is a Robin Hood type with his share of problems, which he doesn’t brood about, being basically a rather cheerful fellow. These very exciting, action-filled novels, which take Reacher all around the U.S., are character-driven more than plot-driven with a protagonist who is basically likeable despite his lethal potential.”

Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander (mystery, historical)

“Lady Emily Ashton is an unconventional Victorian widow. After her husband of six months, Philip, Viscount Ashton, big game hunter and classical antiques collector, dies on an African hunting expedition, she uncovers a number of Philip’s secrets, which lead her to the first of her adventures. Eventually Emily acquires a new husband, debonair British intelligence agent Colin Hargreaves, with whom she shares a series of romantic, suspenseful adventures in places as far afield as Constantinople.”

Myth series by Robert Asprin (fantasy, humor)

“Next to Thieves’ World, Asprin is best known for his fantasy series, Myth, which he started as a satire on what he regarded as the overblown and pretentious heroic fantasy series of the 1970s. … Although the series started as satire, it acquired a regular cast of characters, … and became more farcical than satirical. “Myth” has remained extremely popular, especially with young adult readers and fans of humorous fantasy novels laced with puns.”

The Mitford Years series by Jan Karon (cozy, Christian-themed)

“The series set in the fictional North Carolina mountain town of Mitford … has been a publishing phenomenon. Readers have really taken to their hearts Episcopal priest Father Tim Kavanaugh and his neighbors. Mitford, unlike many fictional hamlets, has no violence or illicit sex. Its characters are slightly eccentric but nice, mainly concerned with their relationship with God and Jesus. The main storyline concerns Father Tim’s realization of his loneliness, his adoption of a stray dog, and his relationship with [his neighbors].”

Pendergast series by Douglas Preston (supernatural thriller, mystery)

“The Pendergast books are a series of wild adventures which feature more than a dollop of horror and SF elements. Interesting villains, such as Pendergast’s brilliant but evil brother, Diogenes, populate the novels. Serial killers abound, along with mad scientists, and feisty women.”

Libby, by Overdrive: a new app for your library experience

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

As a library card holder, you already know that you have access to a vast collection of books, periodicals, movies, and audiobooks at the Williamson County Public Library (not to mention all the other fantastic resources the library provides for the community). But here’s what you may not know: if you also have a smartphone, tablet, computer, or eReader, you can easily gain access to your library’s digital collections of eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more. It’s like discovering a new wing of your favorite library, full of additional content. And the digital collections are available around the clock!

At WCPL, we give you access to these vast, additional resources through various apps, which you can read about on this page (http://lib.williamson-tn.org/e_library). One popular collection is known as Tennessee R.E.A.D.S. Previously, the books and audio in this collection were accessible only through the Overdrive app. Now, Overdrive has released a second app called Libby.

Libby has much of the functionality of the original Overdrive app, such as checking out eBooks and audiobooks, placing holds, and sending to Kindle. Some library patrons have already made the switch to this new app, with no looking back. But there are some differences between the two to be aware of before you dive in. Let’s look at how Overdrive and Libby compare, so you can decide which one might be best for you.

Why Libby?

Designed to be simple, attractive, and user-friendly, Libby makes it easy to get started downloading eBooks and audiobooks right away. This is the feedback I read over and over, from novice and experienced users alike: Libby is so easy to use! If you have never used either app before, I would recommend you start with Libby, because of its easy setup.

Libby makes managing multiple library accounts painless, whether you have a library card in another library system (for example, Davidson or Maury county), or even a household member’s card you’d like to add. All checked-out materials live on the same “shelf” within the app, streamlining the way you access your digital loans.

With Libby, you can download eBooks and audiobooks for offline access. If you’re online, you can stream the audiobooks instead, which saves space on your device. Libby will also deliver eBooks to a Kindle, if you prefer.

Since Libby is a new app, new features are being added all the time. Just this month, the developers added new search features. For example, you can now search by the title of a series, instead of the names of the books within the series, which sounds very helpful! If you give Libby a try, be sure to keep it updated regularly. That way, you won’t miss out on any added capabilities.

Why Overdrive?

As is often the case with technology, we sometimes have to choose between something that’s feature-heavy and something that’s easy to use. That’s the case when it comes to Overdrive and Libby.

It’s important to know that, right now, Overdrive has better accessibility support than Libby. Libby currently lacks support for text-to-speech, voiceover, and multiple languages. Overdrive also has more amenities for the visually impaired. However, many of these features are planned for Libby’s future updates.

Overdrive gives you better control when it comes to searching content. You can exclude mature content from your searches, or set your searches to show only children’s books. This is not possible in Libby.

If you use Overdrive’s “Wish list” function, stick with it for now. You can “tag” books in Libby, but you cannot import your Overdrive Wish list to Libby.

With Overdrive, you can stream videos from your library’s collection. You can also access checked-out material through your computer’s web browser. Neither feature is planned for Libby.

If you’d like to read more about Libby, you will find some helpful links at the bottom of this article. They include the official getting started guide, a great FAQ page, and an accessibility review.

I bet you will find Libby easy to set up, and a pleasure to use. Remember, if you get stuck, you can always come in to the Reference department for help. Enjoy!

Helpful Links

Classic Southern Fiction Writers

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Nashville is changing. It’s changing A LOT. And so is our little town of Franklin, one of Nashville’s major suburbs. Since 1980, Franklin’s population has increased more than 500%, which you’ll have no trouble believing if you want to go anywhere during morning rush hour – or lunch hour – or evening rush hour – or a Saturday – you get the gist. Whereas we used to be the “#1 small town in Tennessee,” we are now ranked as the 7th largest city in the state!

While Franklin has maintained its classic southern charm, we’ve also welcomed a healthy number of transplants from all over the USA, and from other countries, as well. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to talk about classic Southern Fiction writers. These writers have played an important role in capturing, communicating, and preserving some of the cultural aspects of the South, from the hills of Appalachia to the bayous of Louisiana, and the states in between.

Whether you’re new to the southern states, or you’re a native southerner who wants to get more familiar with a writer who shares your family culture, I hope you’ll find an interesting, new-to-you author by the end of this post.

 (As with any society, the South is responsible for both positive and negative contributions to culture. Some of these authors may use racially insensitive language, or potentially upsetting plot points, but I won’t address specifics in this post. If you prefer to avoid literature of this nature, I encourage you to further research these authors and books before you start reading.)

Mark TwainThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876); Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).
“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in a 1935 essay. William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature,” and Twain’s obituary acknowledged him as “the greatest humorist [America] has produced.” Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn deal with boys growing up and adventuring along the Mississippi River in the antebellum South. Twain was known for his use of satire, and both of these books carry with them heavy doses of social criticism.

Kate Chopin – “Désirée’s Baby” (1893); “The Story of an Hour” (1894); The Awakening (1899)
Living in late 19th century Louisiana, Kate Chopin denied being a feminist or a suffragist. But she viewed the culture around her with a probing eye. With a knack for clear, compassionate observation, and the boldness to write honestly – even if some subjects were deemed controversial, even immoral, at the time – Chopin nonetheless helped pave the way for 20th century feminist authors. The Awakening, about a young woman who determines to discover her identity beyond “wife” and “mother” despite societal conventions, is a staple in English literature classes. She also published several important short stories.

William FaulknerThe Sound and the Fury (1929); Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
Mississippi native William Faulkner created the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, placed it in his home state, and set most of his short stories and novels there. This allowed him to explore a variety of social groups within the same locale. He is known for including passages of “stream of consciousness” writing his stories, where he eschews proper grammar and punctuation in an attempt to convey the state of a character’s mind. Faulkner’s novels can be considered allegories for southern history. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

Zora Neale HurstonTheir Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
In addition to her works of fiction, Zora Neale Hurston collected African-American folk tales, published anthropological studies on voodoo practices, and wrote plays, non-fiction, and poetry. Their Eyes Were Watching God is her most well-known novel. It explores themes of race, gender roles, and gender inequality. The heroine, Janie Crawford, comes to learn what it means to take ownership of her life, and what it means to be an independent woman in early 20th century Florida.

Carson McCullersThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
Of her craft, McCullers said, “Writing, for me, is a search for God.”  Born in Columbus, Georgia (225 miles from Nashville, as the crow flies), Carson McCullers was another author who keenly observed her culture, and translated with great empathy (and perhaps a touch of comedy) the pain and loneliness she saw. Her friend Tennessee Williams summed up “Carson’s major theme: the huge importance and nearly insoluble problems of human love.”

Eudora WeltyA Curtain of Green (1941), The Optimist’s Daughter (1972)
Welty is a much-loved, much-awarded author who lived most of her life in Mississippi. Also a documentary photographer during the Depression era, she often found inspiration in the subjects of her own photographs. A woman ironing clothes behind a post office became the subject of one of her finest short stories, “Why I Live at the P.O.” Some southern authors have a reputation for world-weary cynicism. Welty instead managed to address difficult subjects – race relations, poverty, aging, loss – with a tender, artistic, even optimistic, voice.

Robert Penn WarrenAll the King’s Men (1946).
Warren was born just over the Tennessee line in Guthrie, Kentucky. Another staple of English literature classes, All the King’s Men won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, and its 1949 film adaptation won an Oscar for Best Picture. For this dramatic story of a once-idealistic lawyer’s descent into brutality and corruption, Warren likely took inspiration from the real life of Huey Long, former governor of Louisiana and a US Senator, who was assassinated in 1935. The novel, known for its “dramatic tension[,]… fierce emotion, narrative pace[,] and poetic imagery,” offers important insight into one facet of southern politics in the 1930s.

Ralph EllisonInvisible Man (1952)
Born in Oklahoma, Ralph Waldo Ellison attended Tuskegee Institute (“the prestigious all-black university in Alabama founded by Booker T. Washington”) in the 1930s. He was something of a renaissance man, at various times delving into football, trumpet, classic literature, sculpture, and photography. But his most enduring works are his essays, and his classic novel, Invisible Man. In it, he explores issues affecting not only African-Americans, but society as a whole. As his narrator summarizes, “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”

Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
I can’t say anything about To Kill a Mockingbird that hasn’t already been said. If you haven’t read it, make it first on your list.

To find even more southern authors worth your time, check out the members of the Fellowship of Southern Writers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fellowship_of_Southern_Writers). Their charter members include several authors from this post. You will find modern, influential southern writers among them as well, including Wendell Berry, Kaye Gibbons, and Tony Earley, well worth exploring in addition to the classics listed above. Enjoy!

ATTN: History Buffs!

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

You probably already know about the huge quantity of great, nonfiction history books at the library. But when you get to wanting something a little different that still scratches that historical itch, where do you turn? I’d like to suggest that Historical Fiction is the genre for you. Whether you’re a voracious reader of historical accounts, or a fiction lover who prefers facts taken with artistic license, this long-established genre is broad enough to hold something for everyone.

Historical Fiction has a few debated definitions, but it is not a work written around the time of the book’s events. For example, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, though now over 200 years old, is not “Historical Fiction,” as it takes place around the time Austen wrote it. (Some critics disagree on that anti-definition.) Wikipedia does a great job of defining the genre in this article, and from it I’ve compiled a working definition for us:

“An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions[,] and other details of the period depicted,” and is “written at least fifty years after the events described,” with “the author … writing from research rather than personal experience.”

Why read Historical Fiction? Why mess with facts? (Assuming the facts as we know them were recorded accurately and without bias in the first place.) Simply put, a good work of fiction can illuminate real-life truths. Fiction allows the freedom to process real issues in an abstract way, while maintaining distance from real, multi-faceted, potentially overwhelming events. A work of Historical Fiction can explore the thoughts and emotions of larger-than-life heroes and villains – those who have become so lauded or reviled, they no longer seem human – , and obscure commoners – forgotten by history, but transformed into composite characters who demonstrate the state of the world in the time they lived. For some readers, this is the best way to make an emotional connection to the past and gain fresh insight.

Let’s look at some great examples of historical novels you can find at the Williamson County Public Library. Because I love classics, I’ll list some classic examples first; then we’ll move on to more modern selections.

The Classics

Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) deals with characters and events in England and France around the time of the French Revolution of 1775. Dickens often included members from all strata of society, but he did not necessarily sketch them in black and white. Wealth did not always equal virtue; poverty did not always equal ignorance; and the powerless did not always stay that way. A Tale of Two Cities features sympathetic characters, diabolical villains, and some of English literature’s most well-known passages. The description of the storming of the Bastille left me breathless with its intensity. In addition to the book, you can find READS eBooks and audiobooks, children’s adaptations, and DVD versions.

Other classic, historical works available in a wide variety of adaptations and formats are Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy (set around Scotland’s 1715 Jacobite uprising), James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (taking place during the 1757 French and Indian War), and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (though we don’t carry the chocolate adaptation of that one at our library – sorry!).

The Middle Ages

A popular setting for Historical Fiction is medieval Europe, which covers the 5th to 15th centuries AD. Series abound, which means plenty of reading material in your new favorite genre! Here are some popular medieval historical series to check out. Series titles are in bold. The first novel in the series follows in italics. While not every book in a series may be available at this library, you can always request books through the Inter-Library Loan program!

  • Paul C. Doherty, Hugh Corbett, Satan in St Mary’s. Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, The Nightingale Gallery (under pen name Paul Harding). Doherty is a highly regarded historian, educator, and writer. He uses various pen names. He has also written about ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, first century Rome, and more.
  • Ken Follett, Kingsbridge, The Pillars of the Earth.
  • Margaret Frazer, Dame Frevisse series, The Novice’s Tale.
  • Philippa Gregory, The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, The Other Boleyn Girl (first published) or The Lady of the Rivers (first chronologically). Gregory’s popular novels have inspired controversy in historical circles.
  • Michael Jecks, Knights Templar Mysteries, The Last Templar. The Medieval Murders series, The Tainted Relic.
  • Sharon Kay Penman, Welsh Princes, Here Be Dragons. Plantagenet, When Christ and His Saints Slept. When researching for a book, Penman keeps in mind the saying, “History is written by the victors.” She scours new and alternate sources and uses deductive reasoning to come up with versions of events you may not have heard before, but may yet approach the truth.

Selections from Other Periods

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun — Nigeria’s struggle for independence in the late 1960s.
  • Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord — The life of King David from the prophet Nathan’s point of view.
  • Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See Occupied France during WWII.
  • Emma Donoghue, The Wonder Mid-1800s Ireland, shortly after the official “end” of the famine.
  • Robert Graves, I, Claudius A pseudo-autobiography of misunderstood Roman emperor Claudius.
  • David Liss, The Whiskey Rebels Post-revolution America.
  • Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove 1870s Texas: the Wild West.
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved An escaped slave’s memories and experiences after the Civil War.
  • Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine A Japanese-American family is held in an internment camp during WWII.
  • Shyam Selvadurai, Cinnamon Gardens 1920s Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
  • Sherri L. Smith, Flygirl A light-skinned African-American woman has to make choices about her identity as she tries to become a pilot in WWII-era America.
  • Markus Zusak, The Book Thief Germany during WWII.

I hope I’ve piqued your interest, or given you some new authors to check out. Is your favorite book missing from this list? Leave a comment below!

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