Hildegard of Bingen

IlluminationsIlluminations

Illuminations, A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen, by Mary Sharratt, is a radiant and absorbing book, providing a deeply moving portrayal of the life of Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century German mystic. Because she was the 10th child in her family and, perhaps more importantly, because even as a very young child she was visited by visions and her parents did not know what to do with her, she was “tithed” to the church. Yes, given away. At the age of eight, she and a young noblewomen for whom Hildegard served as a companion were locked away in the anchorage of a monastery. For the next 30 years Hildegard never left that small, bricked-up enclosure. You have to read the story to understand how and why this could possibly have happened.

The isolation, cruel as it was, allowed her several advantages. She learned to read and was supplied with all the books from the monastery’s library, even on subjects normally restricted to girls. She learned to play the psaltery and began to compose stirring vocal and instrumental music. She learned herbal medicine and kept herbs and flowers in pots in the small courtyard of the anchorage and made salves and remedies used in the monastery’s infirmary. She developed a fierce, independent spirit, chafing against the suffering of her young years, which in later life gave her the courage to rebuke the church for its practices. Still experiencing her visions, in the long hours of her seclusion, she “saw” the great power and love at the center of creation, with the holy Mother soothing her lonely soul.

After being released from her confinement, she continued her spiritual seeking, founding a community of nuns and becoming the abbess. She was tireless in her devotion to her “daughters” and her work as a healer, writer, teacher, composer and visionary. She produced a tremendous flowering of artistic and intellectual accomplishment and innovation. Although she was often at odds with church authority she also enjoyed the support of several popes and archbishops, as well as the king of Germany, and she kept up prodigious correspondences with them and other dignitaries. But perhaps she would most want to be remembered for the spiritual truths she envisioned, of Caritas, Divine Love, which came to her as a living light.

We own several works of fiction and non-fiction about Hildegard as well as a sampling of her own writings on an array of subjects. Two dvds tell her story as well. Mostly she has left behind her music, of which we have a generous representation in our collection.

Amazon Teen Bestsellers: Rush Revere and the First Patriots

Apparently radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh is trying to make American history come to life for young people, in a series of books about "time-travel adventures with exceptional Americans." The first book in the series is Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, in which Limbaugh created the character of a middle-school teacher named Rush Revere. In the second book, "Rush Revere and First Patriots," the character is transported back to the time leading up to the American Revolution. The second book currently is #9 on Amazon's list of Best Sellers in Teen and Young Adult Books.

ALA's 2014 Reading List Winners - Librarians' Top Picks in Genre Fiction

Congratulations to this year's winners in 8 genre fiction categories, just announced at the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. It is great to see among them some first novels. An added value of the Reading List (as opposed to the Notable Books) has always been the inclusion of the shortlists which enriches the readers exploration of the genres.

Adrenaline Winner:
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. This modern spy novel pits two covert operatives against each other in an intricate cat-and-mouse game. As Dominika and Nathaniel ply their tradecraft, they navigate the moral ambiguities of a post-Cold War world where no one is as they seem and betrayal is business as usual.

Short List
The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad, a FFF (blog)
Ghostman by Roger Hobbs, a FFF (blog)
Lexicon by Max Barry
Lost by S.J. Bolton

Fantasy Winner
Vicious by V.E.Schwab. A friendly rivalry turns vicious when college friends Victor and Eli obtain super-human powers and use them for very different purposes. This dark paranormal fantasy, a riveting tale of vengeance and redemption, proves that extraordinary powers don’t necessarily make superheroes.

Short List
The Necromancer’s House by Christopher Buehlman
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
American Elsewhere by Robert Bennett Jackson
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, a FFF (blog)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #449

Inspired by the true story of African-American WWII veteran Isaac Woodard, Deborah Johnson's The Secret of Magic * is a clear-eyed depiction of the post-war Deep South, and a young female attorney's attempt of the impossible - attaining justice for a black man.

Joe Howard Wilson called his father from a rest stop to let him know that he was within hours of being home. But he never arrived. Two weeks later, his body was found.

A newly minted attorney at the NAACP office in New York, Regina Robichard worked for a young Thurgood Marshall who sent her down to Revere, Mississippi, after receiving a letter asking that they look into the murder of a black war hero. The letter was signed by M(ary) P. Calhoun, a reclusive author whose novel The Secret of Magic about white and black children playing together in a magical forest, had captivated a young Regina.

"Johnson offers a completely engaging Southern gothic with unforgettable characters in this fictionalized account of a pivotal NAACP case from the 1940s".

"Passionate but never didactic, Johnson wisely allows the novel's politics to play second fiddle to the intimate, nuanced drama of the young black Yankee and middle-aged white Southerner in this provocative story about race in America that becomes a deeply felt metaphor for all human relationships."

* = starred review

The Story Prize finalists have been announced

The Story Prize, now in its 10th year, announced their three finalists competing for the top prize which recognizes an "...author of an outstanding collection of short fiction..." published in the previous year.

This year's finalists are:

Andrea Barrett, for Archangel -- Ms. Barrett is no stranger to literary awards. She won the 1996 National Book Award for Ship Fever and Other Stories. The four stories in Archangel span two centuries and use science as a backdrop for the protagonists' efforts to make sense of a dangerous world.

Novelist Rebecca Lee (The City Is a Rising Tide (2006) got the nod for her first short story collection, Bobcat: & Other Stories, seven tales that examine the messy interiors of human relationships in all their chaotic permutations.

It is hard to find a critic who did not rave about George Saunders' Tenth of December. This, his his seventh collection of short stories, already has won the Pem/Malamud Award for Excellence. In these ten short pieces, Saunders writes beautifully about heroism, PTSD, and hope in the face of a devastating medical crisis.

There is already a Story Prize winner. For the second time in its history it has award The Story Prize Spotlight Award. This year's recipient is Ben Stroud, for his ten-entry collection of historical fiction short stories, Byzantium, for which he received $1000.

The winner, who will receive a $20,000 purse and an engraved bowl, will be announced Wedneday, March 5th at the New School's Auditorium in New York City.

Teen author Libba Bray skillfully weaves together historical fiction and fantasy in The Diviners

Teen author Libba Bray first gained notoriety for her unusual Gemma Doyle series, which includes New York Times bestseller A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing. These books skillfully and unusually blend historical fiction with fantasy, merging the world of an early twentieth century girls boarding school with an alternative universe only accessible to those with the Sight.

After completing the Gemma Doyle trilogy, Bray wrote Going Bovine, the story of a 16-year-old boy with mad cow disease, which won the Printz award from the American Library Association. In 2012, however, Bray again delved into the fantasy/historical fiction genre and produced The Diviners, the first in a new trilogy. Set in 1920s New York City, The Diviners introduces Evie, a 17-year-old girl from Ohio exiled from the Midwest and sent to live with her uncle, who is the curator of the unusual Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult. Along with spending her time embracing everything that comes with living in Prohibition-era New York, Evie is drawn into an investigation dealing with a series of occult-related murders. And, although she does her best to keep it a secret from everyone around her, Evie’s supernatural power may be the only thing that will help catch the murderer at last!

Bray’s rare ability to accurately depict historic American settings while injecting them with believable fantastical turns has made fans of the Gemma Doyle trilogy and of Bray’s writing in general ecstatic over the release of The Diviners. Filling a truly unique niche in teen fiction, the book can be enjoyed by adults as well. The second book in The Diviners series, Lair of Dreams, will be published in August 2014, and you can read more about the series as a whole here.

The Historical House Series

If you have a young reader in your life who loves historical fiction, check out The Historical House Series. Written by Adèle Geras, Ann Turnbull and Linda Newbery, this unique series follows the lives and times of young women who live in the same house in London over a period of 200 years. Follow along as the young women meet famous people the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, join in the fight with suffragettes to allow women the right to vote and watch the first moon landing! Each book is written from the perspective of the young girls and captures the enchanting stories of their dreams and determination, all while set in the colorful world of London.
Polly’s March by Linda Newbery
Lizzie’s Wish by Adèle Geras
Mary Ann & Miss Mozart by Ann Turnball
Andie’s Moon by Linda Newbery

Poldark

PoldarkPoldark

If you are missing Downton Abbey, and need something to fill the dark evenings, you might give Poldark a try. Based on the novels of Winston Graham, and released as a 29-episode television series in England 38 years ago, it is still in the top 10 favorite Masterpiece Theater series of all time.

Set in Cornwall, at the end of the 18th century, Captain Ross Poldark returns from the American wars to find his father dead, his estate in ruin and his fiancee (believing him dead) married to his cousin. Over the next 15 years, we follow Ross, his low-born, but very charming and spirited wife, Demelza, and his family, neighbors, friends and enemies, as they battle storms of jealousy, villainy and economic uncertainty. There is also enough of love, success and contentment to keep things on a fairly even keel.

Being Cornwall, the fortunes and vicissitudes of life are influenced by mining and smuggling, and stories of both figure prominently in Poldark's story, and being the late 18th century, the French Revolution has exerted its influence on the class-conscious Brits. There is plenty of adventure, in other words, and the dashing and head-strong Poldark does not disappoint as he dashes about, righting wrongs and sometimes creating and then solving numerous scrapes. The scenes of the Cornish countryside and coast are particularly beautiful.

Not quite as elegant or fine a family as the Crawfords, the Poldarks still entertain with many of the same themes: class differences, love – both thwarted and fulfilled, the politics and struggles of the day, good vs evil men and women, and the fortunes and misfortunes of inherited privilege and wealth. Part romance, part adventure and part soap-opera, it is all you have come to expect from British historical drama.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #437 - Ars longa, vita brevis (Art is long, life is short)

At the heart of Thomas Van Essen's debut - The Center of the World *, is perhaps the greatest painting by the renowned British painter J. M. W. Turner, and Henry Leiden, a middle-aged family man with a troubled marriage and a dead-end job, who finds his life transformed by the discovery of the painting in a secret compartment at his summer home in the Adirondacks.

Unlike the marine paintings Turner is known for, The Center of the World is a mesmerizing and erotic painting of Helen of Troy, so scandalous at the time that it was believed to have been burned by John Ruskin. Van Essen reimagines the 19th C. setting where Turner struggled to create this painting at the home of his patron Lord Egremont, and Elizabeth Spencer, Turner's muse and the model for his Helen.

"Filled with sex, beauty, and love (of all kinds), this richly textured novel explores the intersection between art and eroticism." "Van Essen writes gracefully and makes accessible the issue of art as transcendence...an appreciation for how art moves the human heart."

The Girl You Left Behind * by Jojo Moyes is about a 100 year-old painting that serves as catalyst in linking two loves stories, one set in occupied France during World War I, the other in contemporary London.

Liv Halston could not part with the painting her late husband David, a brilliant architect gave her as a wedding gift. Readers would be able to deduce that it is the same painting that Édouard, an artist who studied with Henri Matisse, painted of his wife Sophie Lefèvre, a village innkeeper before he headed off to war in 1916. The mystery is the odyssey of how this painting - The Girl I left Behind ended up in the hands of the Halstons, and who is the rightful owner - whether it is the Lefèvre heirs, the WWI occupying German kommandant who coerced a bargain with Sophie, or Liv who treasures it as the last link to the man she lost too soon?

"Moyes has created a riveting depiction of a wartime occupation that has mostly faded from memory. Liv and Sophie are so real in their faults, passion, and bravery that the reader is swept along right to the end. This one is hard to put down!"

Needing no introduction is Donna Tartt. In this her 3rd novel which took a good part of a decade to write The Goldfinch * * , the name is taken from a small, exquisitely rendered painting.

13 year-old Theo Decker miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend's family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.

"The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America, and a drama of almost unbearable acuity and power. It is a story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the enormous power of art."

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

New and Award-Winning Historical Fiction for Teens

Reading historical fiction can be a great way to learn more about past eras while still enjoying the fictional embellishments and projections of an author. This can be especially true for teens, as historical fiction presents a unique way to relate to coming-of-age individuals from the past and learn facts about bygone events and characters that can turn out to be helpful in school.

On our new teen shelf currently is The Red Umbrella, added to our collection in October 2013, which details the repercussions of the communist revolution on a teenage girl and her family living in Cuba in 1961. The author, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, makes the character of Lucia relatable and the events that Gonzalez describes are exciting and historically relevant.

Also new on our list of teen historical fiction is My Beautiful Hippie, by Janet Nichols Lynch. The story paints a vivid portrait of the cultural revolution in San Francisco in the late 1960s, and details the struggles of a teenage girl to fulfill the expectations of her traditional middle class family despite being drawn intensely to the alternative culture sweeping through the city.

Ann Rinaldi, who has been writing teen historical fiction for nearly 3 decades, is known for her carefully researched and extremely absorbing portraits of United States history. One of her most famous novels, The Fifth of March, tells the story of the Boston Massacre from the perspective of a servant in the house of John Adams. Rinaldi skillfully details the events of the Salem witch trials in her 1992 book A Break With Charity and describes the horrors of the Battle of Gettysburg in her most recent book, The Last Full Measure. Many of her over thirty historical novels for teens have won awards, including a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age for The Fifth of March and ABA’s Pick of the Lists for her book The Coffin Quilt.

For more historical fiction recommendations for teens, check out the Historical Fiction-Librarians’ Choice for High School list on the public lists section of our website!

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