Archive for May, 2009

Historical Fiction Annotation

May 28, 2009

Title: Shanghai Girls

Author: See, Lisa

Publication Date: 2009

Number of Pages: 309

Genre: Historical Fiction

Geographic Setting: Shanghai and Los Angeles (Chinatown)

Time Period: 1930s- 1950s

Series: NA

Plot Summary: Sisters Pearl and May Chin have grown up educated and wealthy.  They are models whose portraits are used for calendars and advertisements.  Their sophisticated lives of being entertained and wearing western clothes came to an unexpected and abrupt stop when their father arranged marriages for both of them to settle off gambling debts. Married to two brothers, their father-in-law instructs them to join the family in Los Angeles.  As they begin their journey, war breaks out in China. Although their first decision was to run away, difficult circumstances made it necessary to follow their father-in-law’s plan to come to America. While in China, their husbands’ family appeared to be wealthy, but once in America, they learn the all the members of the family must work very hard in family owned businesses and live very frugally. It is a story of the relationship of sisters from young adults to wives with cultural customs, self sacrificing decisions, and several life changing secrets affecting their lives. This complex story of sisters is layered with Pearl and May’s stories of their husbands, the challenges associated with adjusting to their new family and living in America.  While no longer living in China, the war in China still had repercussions on their life in America and how they lived in Chinatown. Everything affected their daily life, especially how they jointly raised the only child, a girl, born into the family and their relationship with her.

Subject Headings: Sister Relationships; Historical Fiction; Chinese Fiction; Immigrant Fiction; Los Angeles Chinatown Fiction; Family Secrets Fiction.

Appeal: densely written, historical situations, cultural tones, custom moral issues, characters slowly developed, sister relationships, complex secondary characters, multiple plotlines, family issue orientated, political, multiple country settings, open ended.

Three Terms that describe this book: relationships, layered, historical.

Similar Authors and Works (fiction): Tan, Amy – Joy Luck Club, a book of mother and daughter relationship colored by earlier immigration from China. Khlaed Hosseini – The Kite Runner: story of how the main characters develop and behave during political turmoil and how it affects their relationship.  Picout, Jodi – My Sister’s Keeper; story of two sister’s lives and the relationship that defines one sister’s role in life.

Similar Authors and Works (Non-fiction): Chai, May-lee and Winberg Chai – China A to Z: Everything You Need to Know to Understand Chinese Customs and Culture. Cho, Jenny: Chinatown in Los Angeles, California. Apter, Terri – The Sister Knot: Why We Fight, Why We’re Jealous, and Why We’ll Love Each Other No Matter What.

Name: Donna Mihovilovich

The Brief History of the Dead

May 28, 2009

Author: Kevin Brockmeier

Title: The Brief History of the Dead

Genre: Fantasy

Publication Date: 2006

Pages: 252

Geographical Setting: Antarctica and The City (an afterlife inhabited by the dead whose memory is still alive on earth)

Time Period: An indeterminate, near future

Plot Summary: The City is an afterlife populated by the dead whose memory lives on in the world. The inhabitants of The City will remain there as long as someone who know them while alive continues to live on earth. On earth, though, a devastating epidemic has wiped out the population. Laura Byrd, a scientist stranded on an Antarctic research expedition, may be the last person alive. As the population of The City dwindles, the remaining residents begin to discover that Laura is the one thing they all have in common. With failing equipment, disappearing colleagues, and harsh conditions, Laura struggles to survive. Alternating between the perspectives of Laura and various inhabitants of The City, the story draws its characters through their memories.

Subject Headings: afterlife, apocalypse, death, memory, female scientists, Antarctica

Appeal: leisurely-paced, deliberate, structured, introspective (characters), well-drawn secondary characters, quirky, mystical, connective, episodic, flashbacks, tragic yet hopeful, stark, timeless, details of Antarctic expedition, bleak, contemplative, accessible, casual, graceful

Three terms that best describe this book: Contemplative, connective, reminiscent

Relevant Fiction Authors/Works: The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett—a combination of the extraordinary with the every-day, a concentration on memory, and colorful characters. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold—vivid afterlife, character-driven, and full of grace and wonder. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger—fantastic elements, well-drawn characters, reminiscence, various perspectives/times, purposefully driven.

Relevant Non-fiction Authors/Works: Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith by Studs Terkel—a collection of interviews with doctors, death-row parolees, survivors, AIDS workers, and others who have confronted the idea of death, their beliefs and expectations, their personal histories. Life After Death: The Burden of Proof by Deepak Chopra—combining spirituality with science, Chopra explores the concept of life after death, and death’s important place in the journey of a soul. Skating to Antarctica by Jenny Diski—a combination travelogue and memoir, this book tells the tale of a woman who moves to Antarctica to escape a painful relationship with her parents.

Name: Elizabeth Ludemann

The Steel Wave: A Novel of World War II

May 28, 2009

Author: Shaara, Jeff

Title: The Steel Wave: A Novel of World War II

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publication Date: 2008

Number of Pages: 493 p.

Geographical Setting: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and France

Time Period: January through October of 1944

Plot Summary: The Steel Wave: A Novel of World War II is an account of the D-Day, the Allied invasion of Northern France. This is the second book in Shaara’s World War II compelling historical fiction trilogy. Laced with historical figures and invented dialogue, this work of fiction is well researched and gripping. There are various points of view; starting from political leaders all the way down to soldiers risking their lives on the battlefield. These political figures include Dwight Eisenhower, Erwin Rommel, and Winston Churchill. Shaara especially makes the encounters of the soldiers on the battleground feel genuine and first hand. He delves into the details of the uncertainness of war and the various plans which went wrong. Confusion governed most of what occurred on the battlefield and the reader has a true sense of the experience. This novel reads quickly and is packed with intense action and conflict.

Subject Headings: World War II, Nazis, Military History, Politics, Historical Fiction, United States – History, France – History, Germany – History, Military Life, Adolf Hitler, Dwight Eisenhower, Erwin Rommel, Invasion of Normandy

Appeal: engrossing, compelling, characters are closely observed, multiple points of view, characters are well developed, historical details, political, issue oriented, complex, dramatic, layered, engaging

Three Words to Best Describe the Book: historical, engrossing, and complex

Similar Authors and Works:

Bernard Cornwell, Battle Flag, a work of historical fiction taking the reader into the Civil War. It is a compelling military story with a character driven plot; the third book in the Starbuck Chronicles.

Ross Leckie’s Hannibal, presents a fictional account of ancient military history. It presents the story of Hannibal and his attempt to take over Rome. It is written as memoir.

Mary Renault’s Fire From Heaven is a fictional work on the early life of Alexander the Great. This historical novel is biographical and is a tale of development and betrayal.

Relevant Non Fiction Works and Authors:

Adolf Galland’s The First and the Last: The German Fighter Force in World War II. This is an autobiography from the point of view of a German general.

Marianna Torgovnick’s The war complex: World War II in Our Time, examines how the events of World War II became ingrained in American’s cultural memories. Taken from a psychological and sociological point of view, discussed how American are affected by wars.

Thomas Childers’ Soldier From the War returning: The Greatest Generation’s Troubled Homecoming From World War II. Childers addresses the aftermath of soldiers returning home from World War II particularly focusing on the hardships which were faced upon return.

Marta Siuba

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

May 27, 2009



Author: King, Stephen

Title: Gunslinger

Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction/Western

Publication Date:  1982

Number of Pages:  315

Geographical Setting: All-World, a kind of dystopia similar to the Old West

Time Period: Undetermined future?

Series: The Dark Tower Series (Book 1 of 7)

Plot Summary: Roland Deschain is the last gunslinger in a parallel universe very similar to the Old West. He is on a quest to catch “the man in black,” the one who will lead him to the Dark Tower. Roland recounts, to a farmer, his visit to Tull, a town of people who didn’t trust him and Roland was forced to kill them all, including his love, Alice. Roland continues his journey in the desert and is helped at a station by a man named Jake. Roland finds out Jake’s past before he died in our universe. They travel together, and Roland rescues Jake from an oracle and then proceeds to bond with the oracle to find out more about the Dark Tower. Additionally, details about Roland’s past are revealed. Roland and Jake travel together, but Jake does not trust Roland. When Roland is faced with a decision to continue the pursuit of “the man in black” or let Jake die, Roland decides to pursue “the man in black,” letting Jake fall to his death. The action culminates when Roland and “the man and black” have a confrontation at “Golgotha” where “the man in black” tells Roland of his future, revealing snippets and events that will occur in subsequent books. Roland wakes up next to a pile of bones and a black cloak and continues his journey.

Subject Headings: Fantasy Fiction – American, Good and Evil – Fiction, Roland (Ficticious character – King), Adventure Stories

Appeal: Dark, Brooding, Suspenseful, Dystopic, Survival, Betrayal, Fast-paced, Multi-layered, Intricate setting, Horror, Bleak hero,  Tragic, Good versus Evil, Archetypal

3 Terms: Macabre, Survival, Betrayal

Relevant Fiction: Weaveworld by Clive Barker would be a good choice for fans of The Dark Tower, it combines adventure and fantasy with the same dark undertones used in The Gunslinger. Watchers by Dean Koontz also combines a suspenseful chase with supernatural elements. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, though intended for younger readers, would definitely satisfy a lover of The Gunslinger, with its supernatural, suspenseful, and horror themes.

Relevant Nonfiction: Tales of the Wild West by B. Byron Price is a collection of real stories of the old West.  The Road to the Dark Tower: Exploring Stephen King’s Magnum Opus by Bev Vincent is companion material to the Dark Tower series explain its origins and development

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: A Concordance by Robin Furth is another companion material explaining the words, terms, and phrases used in the the Dark Tower series.

Name: Stephen Koebel

The Plot Against America

May 27, 2009

Author: Roth, Philip
Title: The Plot Against America
Genre: Historical fiction, alternate history
Publication Date: 2004
Number of Pages: 391
Geographical Setting: Weequahic, New Jersey; Washington D.C.; United States
Time Period: 1940s United States
Series: N/A
Plot Summary: In an attempt at re-writing history, Roth describes the relationship of a hypothetical family in a small New Jersey town in l940. In that year’s election, Charles Lindbergh is awarded the Republican nomination for president and subsequently wins the battle with FDR. However, for Jewish Americans, Lindbergh proves to be anything but the brave patriot he is portrayed as in the media. Within weeks after the election, he shows sympathy towards Nazi ideals, forms a pact with Germany and Japan and starts enacting laws that attempt to marginalize the Jewish population. One of these programs includes the Office of American Absorption, which resolves to break up Jewish ghettos and prevent them from feeling any sense of community. Always seen through the Jewish perspective, Roth tries to show the narrator living as close to a normal life as possible, describing coming-of-age events while reading headlines and absorbing the events of being marginalized for having a certain ethnic background. It is a constant state of fear that becomes the underlying theme to the novel, and what the Jewish response will be, that allows the reader to examine a slice of Jewish life in the eventful times of World War II.
Subject Headings: Alternate history; Historical novel; Lindbergh; Presidents United States fiction; Presidents Election fiction; Jews United States fiction; Jewish families fiction; Antisemitism fiction; Newark (N.Y.) fiction; Alternate histories (Fiction); Political fiction; Jewish fiction
Appeal: densely-written, engrossing, detailed, dramatic, introspective, realistic, character-centered, layered, thought-provoking, contemporary, historical details, political, urban, contemplative, foreboding, moody, thoughtful, smart, stark
Relevant Fiction: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union: A Novel by Michael Chabon (fictional story with an alternate history scanerio involving Jews),
The Forgotten by Elie Wiesel(father tells events from his life in concentration camps during WWII),
Man in the Dark by Paul Auster (modern story of alternate history regarding 9/11 and the 2000 election)
Relevant Nonfiction: A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People: From the Time of Patriarchs to the Present by Eli Barnavi (includes maps, timelines and illustrations regarding Jewish migration),
Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End by Daniel Gordis (outlines how Israel should deal with current and future issues),
I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl by Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl (a myriad of responses from Jewish people to the last known words of Daniel Pearl)
Name: Matt Woronko

His Majesty’s Dragon

May 27, 2009

Product Details

Author: Naomi Novik

Title: His Majesty’s Dragon

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Publication Date: Del Rey Books, 2006

Number of Pages: 384p

Geographical Setting: Locations through out Europe

Time Period: Early Nineteenth Century

Series: Temeraire Series Book 1

Plot Summary: In this adventurous, alternative universe, dragons are tamed by nations of the world as a fighting force, bonding to a handler, at hatching, and trained in the Aerial Corps in the pursuit of warfare. Will Laurence, British Navy captain of the Reliant, experienced in battle, captures a French frigate with a dragon’s egg on board. Dragons are very valuable creatures it turns out, and are used by the Air Force by both sides. Even though England has France outgunned in the way of ships, France is outgunning England 2-1 in the way of fighting dragons. Dragons are intelligent, and are able to talk from the time they hatch, but they will typically bond with just one person, usually one of the first people they see upon hatching. This egg is about to hatch, and it is necessary for one of Laurence’s officers to agree to bond with the dragon: which is a problem, because that will mean leaving the Navy, and for that matter will put great stress on any possible normal human relationships. The Aerial Corps, it seems, is a somewhat raffish and also secretive group. And when the new dragon hatches, he chooses Captain Laurence himself. Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, are then forced into the world of the Aerial Corps where things are done in a slightly different way than Laurence is used to in the Navy. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest ploy, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their initiation of battle.

Appeal: Award winning, speculative fiction, meticulous world-building, well-defined, charismatic, understatedly human characters, confident and elegantly polished prose style, emotional depths, gorgeous and inventive battle scenes, intelligent fun, addicting, polished, exciting, adventurous, gilded fantasy, original, entertaining, stylish, witty, engaging, thoughtful, and tense action.

Subject Headings: Great Britain–Officers, Ship Captains, Dragons, Napoleonic Wars, 1800-1815, Military Life, Military Tactics, Battles, Partnership, Animal/animal relations, Human-animal communication, Nineteenth century, Alternative histories,

3 terms that Best Describe the Book: tense action, speculative fiction, compelling

Similar Fiction Authors: Alexander Kent, Robin D. Owens, Anne McCaffrey, Patrick Rothfuss, Jack Campbell, Kim Newman, Michael Cassutt,  J. Gregory Keyes , Harry Turtledove, Patrick O’Brian

Authors and titles Non-fiction: Blundering to Glory : Napoleon’s Military Campaigns.  By, Owen Connelly; The disasters of war. By, Francisco Goya; The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the birth of warfare as we know it. By, David Avrom Bell.

Annotation By: Allison Robins

Wicked, The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of the West

May 27, 2009

Author:Gregory Maguire

Title: Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Genre: Fantasy

Publication Date:1995

Number of Pages:408

Geographical Setting:Oz

Time Period: n/a

Series: Wicked Years

Plot Summary: How well did we know the Wicked Witch of the West from Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz? Our Wicked Witch is the protagonist is a tragic figure. We follow her through her life from her birth to her inevitable end, learning all the details behind the scenes as Maguire twists and turns never shown by Baum. Elphaba is a strange child. By her mother, heir to the highest throne in Munchinkland, and to her belief the daughter of a minister. She goes to Shiz University where she mets and becomes close friends with Galinda, Bok (a Muchkinlander), and Fiyero, a Vinkus prince. She is joined by her sister Nessarose, a girl born without arms who requires a pair of enchanted jeweled shoes given to her by their father that allows her to walk. At Shiz learns terrible truth of the Wizard’s tyrannical, anti-Animal (with a capital A) rule and drops out to join the resistance in the Emerald city. From there things only get worse for her… Especially after a young girl lands in Oz… On her sister…

Subject Headings: Oz (imaginary place) – Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Good and evil – Fiction, Witches – Fiction

Appeal: steady, deliberate, familiar characters with a mature turn, complicated backdrop, rich setting, tragic, linear and building plot, political undertones, dark, serious, imaginative, nostalgic

terms that best describe this book: familiar, dark, tragic

Similar Works and Authors (Fiction):
Jasper Fforde: Thursday Next series: Delves into other existing works of fiction, nostalgia factor.
Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mists of Avalon: Tackles the King Arthur story from the prospective of its traditional villain as the protagonist.
Robert Coover, Briar Rose: A re-telling of the Snow White tale, tackling similar issues of identity, character, and destiny.

Similar Works and Authors (Non-Fiction): Evan Schwartz, Finding Oz: How Frank L. Baum Discovered the Great American Story: Explores the origin’s behind the original tale of Oz.
Zipes, Zack, When Dreams Come True: Classical Fairytales and their Tradition: Discusses the social history of literary fairy tales through eras and cultures.
Gita Morena, The Wisdom of Oz: an examination of the psychology of the Oz books.

Name: Chris

War for the Oaks

May 27, 2009

<img src=”War for the Oaks cover” alt=”War for the Oaks Cover” />
Author: Emma Bull

Title: War for the Oaks

Genre: Fantasy

Publication Date: 1987

Number of Pages: 319

Geographical Setting: Minneapolis, MN

Time Period:1980s

Series (If applicable):n/a

Plot Summary: A war between the fairy courts is simmering in the air of Minneapolis. Singer and rhythm guitarist Eddi McCandry is oblivious to the fairies until she is drafted into battle.  Eddi struggles to maintain her band, independence, and a semblance of normalcy, only to discover the magic she’s always possessed. An epic battle between the fairies shatters her illusions of reality, truth, love, and loyalty. Emma Bull’s award-winning fantasy novel is one-part rock and roll, two-parts magical underworld, and enough realistically funny dialogue to lure in readers who would normally shy from fairy stories. Fans of romance, adventure, and strong female protagonists will also find something in this genre-crossing novel.

Subject Headings: Women rock musicians-Fiction. Minneapolis (Minn.)-Fiction. City and town life-Fiction. Women Singers-Fiction. Fairies-Fiction.

Appeal: Urban, mystical, engrossing, complex, dark, atmospheric, vivid, contemporary, romantic, dramatic, magic, conversational.

3 terms that best describe this book: Urban, dark, magic.

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:
The Ancient Art of Faerie Magick by D.J. Conway (historical discussion of Seelie and Unseelie courts, as well as detailed description of fairies)
Minneapolis and St. Paul by Tanya Lloyd (features beautiful photographs of locations mentioned in the book, including Minnehaha Falls, the site of the first battle)
Wish You Were Here: An Essential Guide to Your Favorite Music Scenes-from Punk to Indie and Everything in Between by Leslie Simon (discussion of Minneapolis music scene, as well as music scenes in general)

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (another urban fantasy that juxtaposes ancient magic with modern day; epic battle finishes out the book, similar dark tone and humor)
From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris (blend of fairies, fantasy, and romance; conversational tone, juxtaposes modernity and magic)
Heart of Stone by C.E. Murphy (blend of modern world with magic world; strong female characters; dark tone, cross-genre appeal)

Name: Marisa Bernstein

The Undertaker’s Wife

May 27, 2009

Author:  Loren D. Estleman
Title:  The Undertaker’s Wife
Genre:  Western
Publication Date:  2005
Number of Pages:  284p
Geographical Setting:  Buffalo, Cleveland, Monroe, MI, San Francisco, Hayes, KS, Virginia City, Chicago (and towns in between).
Time Period:  Post Civil War

Plot Summary:  Told in four parts, this is the story of Richard Connable, his wife, and his “invisible art.”  To avoid scandal, Richard is called out of retirement to make the suicide of a famous financier look as if the man died of natural causes.  His wife Lucy is left to recount the moment that brought them together:  Richard restored her injured brother’s corpse to a presentable state for his funeral.  Following their marriage, the couple moves to the Barbary Coast of San Franciso where Richard wants to bring his services to the West.  Told from both Lucy and Richard’s points of view, The Undertaker’s Wife recounts dirty politics, infidelities, professional gains and losses, prairie life (Wild Bill Hickock makes an appearance as sheriff), the loss of their only child, and their solemn dedication to one another as they slowly make their way back East.

Subject Headings:  Married women—funeral rites and ceremonies—undertakers and undertaking—capitalists and financiers—San Francisco–  Suicide victims–Secrecy

Appeal:  deliberate, measured, reflective, somber, character-centered, minimally detailed, stark, frank, grotesque, bleak, wry, simple, heartbreaking, crisp.

3 terms that best describe this book:  Solemn, macabre, even.

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:
Wild Bill Hickok, gunfighter: an account of Hickok’s gunfights by Joseph G. Rosa (historical background on Hickock, who dominates Richard’s time in Hays, Kansas)
Rest in peace: a cultural history of death and the funeral home in twentieth-century America by Gary Laderman (more in-depth look at the culture of the undertaker)
Eyewitness to the Old West : first-hand accounts of exploration, adventure, and peril by Richard Scott (adventure in the settling and establishing of the West).

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:
Whose names are unknown by Sanora Babb (female centered story about difficulties surviving in California).
A Gentleman In Charleston and the Manner of His Death by William Baldwin.  (details of David Lawton’s death are filled in through flashbacks of his life with historically accurate detail, with language “evocative of the period”.)
The master tanner heads west by W.C. Bamberger (woman moving her family West and dealing with the struggles)

Name: Katy Hite