New Adult Fiction: Viper Wine

Viper Wine, the debut by Hermione Eyre, is far from your typical historical fiction novel. Considered a great beauty of her day, Venetia Stanley is popular at the 17th century court of Whitehall palace, adored by her husband, and revered by painters and poets who all wish to pay homage to her looks. After years of marriage and motherhood, however, Venetia feels that her looks are beginning to fade, and asks her husband, Sir Kenelm Digby, a charismatic inventor who dabbles in alchemy, to assist her in finding a potion or elixir that will preserve her youth. He refuses, claiming that she is perfect just the way she is. Forced to look elsewhere for help, Venetia is eventually given a potion that contains viper’s blood and opium, and that works…. for awhile. As other women at the court follow in Venetia’s footsteps, the elixir becomes all the rage, with disastrous consequences.

Eyre draws obvious parallels between Venetia’s desire for physical perfection and today’s obsession with beauty and looks. She even deftly weaves into Viper Wine cameo appearances by today’s celebrities, including Naomi Campbell and Groucho Marx, thus creating a truly unique reworking of the idea of the historical novel. Venetia Stanley, her husband, and several other characters are actual people from the era of Charles I, and it’s clear that Eyre devoted extensive time to the research of this book. This fascinating exploration into how far we have gone… and continue to go, to achieve beauty will appeal to even those who typically avoid historical fiction.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #520

Plague Land * * by S.D. Sykes. Dispatched to a monastery at the age of seven, now at seventeen Oswald de Lacy assumes the title Lord of Somershill Manor when his father and two older brothers too, succumb to the Plague that has decimated the countryside. Left at home are his overbearing mother and his dangerous and unmarried sister Clemence.

In quick succession, local villagers Alison Starvecrow and her sister are found murdered, which the ambitious village priest blames on a band of demonic dog-headed man. It is now Oswald's responsibility to solve the crimes. But every step Oswald takes seems to lead him deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife.

"Sykes adds an intricate and intriguing debut (the first of a planned series) to the ever-widening pool of medieval-era mysteries. Thrilling plot twists and layered characters abound in this rich tale of murder and mystery in 14th-century Kent."

Readers might enjoy watching the Brother Cadfael series, based on mysteries by Ellis Peters; and Hugh De Singleton series by Melvin R. Starr.

Sadly, this brings to mind The Siege Winter, a stand-alone by the late Ariana Franklin (and completed upon her death by her daughter Samantha Norman), whose award-winning series based on the character of Adelia Aguilar, a medieval woman forensic pathologist will be fondly remembered by historical mystery fans.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Can't Wait for our 3/23 Laura Ingalls Wilder Event? Try Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen!

In advance of AADL's upcoming event, Laura Ingalls Wilder & Her Place in the World on Monday, 3/23, here is a review of Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen, a beautiful work of fiction that ties into loving Laura Ingalls Wilder, and shares themes that appear in the Little House books and in Laura's own life

Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen is the story of Lee Lien, a first-generation American daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, who spent her childhood reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series in the backseat as her family crisscrossed the Midwest, running one tacky Asian buffet after another. Lee is now grown and in possession of a English Literature Ph.D, but no job offers. In returning to live with her short-tempered mother and goodnatured grandfather, Lee stumbles upon a family heirloom that may prove a connection to Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Lee’s beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder. As she chases down clues to prove her theory, she struggles with the everyday realities of her own family.

Nguyen draws some striking parallels between her story and that of the real life and fictionalized versions of the Ingalls Wilder characters. There’s the “missing pieces” of the Ingalls’ family’s real life that are not depicted in the books, such as the birth and death of a son and a stint as innkeepers in Iowa, which relates to the unknowable things in Lee’s own family history, such as the impact of her grandfather’s Saigon cafe on a traveling American writer, the circumstances of her father’s death, or the true state of her mother’s relationship with a family friend. The fraught relationship between the real life mother and daughter Laura and Rose is mirrored in Lee’s interactions with her own mother. Even Laura’s “itchy foot” desire to move ever westward appears as Lee follows her investigation from Illinois to the California coast.

This is the story of a young woman who must go back in order to go forward and how you never know what you might find between the covers of a book.It’s an excellent read whether you are a Little House lover or not, but readers of the Little House series will be especially appreciative of hints of Nguyen’s own obvious adoration.

Looking for more Laura Ingalls Wilder? Try this list of titles that includes biographies, writers chasing their own Laura obsessions, or books that just capture that young girl/big frontier feel.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #514 - "I want to trespass boundaries, erase all identifications, anything which fixes one permanently into one mold, one place, without hope of change.” ~ Anaïs Nin

Debut novelist Angelina Mirabella's The Sweetheart refers to Leonie Putzkammer, a 17 year-old with little prospect, living and caring for her widowed father in a Philadelphia row house and waiting tables at a diner. When an impulsive feat of athleticism on Bandstand comes to the attention of Salvatore Constantini, the legendary wrestling promoter, she is offered a chance to recast her future.

At Joe Pospisila's School for Lady Grappling, Leonie is put through a grueling regiment of physical training in and out of the ring; and coaching in dramatics (wrestling is after all, entertainment). To build a fan base, Leonie recreates herself as Gorgeous Gwen Davies, being tall, blonde, curvaceous does not hurt. Before long, she becomes known as "The Sweetheart of the ring" and has a genuine shot at the championship.

But the loneliness of the road, the injuries, the burden of finance eventually put a strain on her relationship with her out-of-work father, her tag-team partner/friend Screaming Mimi Hollander, and even on her budding romance with Sam (Spider) McGee, a men's champion wrestler. At a critical time in her debut season, Leonie finds she has a difficult decision to make.

"An engrossing portrait of the little-known (1950s) world of women's wrestling with questions about the nature of stardom and showing love..." "Angelina Mirabella's surprising, affecting, and morally complex novel describes how a single decision can ripple through the lives of everyone around us."

Recommended for those who enjoyed League of Their Own, a motion picture about the All American Girl’s Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in the 1940s, based on a true story, and The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg - the story about five women who worked in a Phillips 66 gas station during the WWII years.

Award Winning Audiobook: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society 2008. 8 hours.

Awards: Audiofile Magazine's Earphones Award for excellence in narrative voice and style and vocal characterization; in print, the book reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list for paperback trade fiction in 2009.

Authors: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Narrators: Paul Boehmer, Susan Duerden, Rosalyn Landor, John Lee, Juliet Mills

The Society is a book club formed during World War II when the Nazi regime occupied Guernsey. Their story is told through a series of letters exchanged between the islanders and an English newspaper columnist in 1946. This correspondence reveals the members’ quirky personalities, as well as their joy and heartache during the occupation. The variety of characters - from a pig farmer to a phrenologist to a French concentration camp survivor - and the wonderful voice acting by five talented narrators make this audiobook truly outstanding.

For other multi-voice audiobooks, including some of the talented narrators mentioned above, try these titles:

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
Silent House by Orhan Pamuk
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
The 19th Wife: a novel by David Ebershoff

The End of Always deals beautifully with timeless issues

The setting of the new book The End of Always, by Randi Davenport, is unexpectedly haunting: turn-of-the-century Waukesha, Wisconsin, provides a stark backdrop to the chilling story that Davenport unveils slowly to readers. Seventeen-year-old Marie Reehs is consumed with memories of her mother, who died in a mysterious accident to which her father was the only witness. In her heart, Marie knows that her violent, abusive father murdered her mother, but her older sister is desperate to keep what remains of the family together and begs Marie to forget what she has seen. As Marie toils away every day at the local laundry, she vows that she will not marry a violent man, as seems to be the legacy for the women in her family. When she starts a love affair with a handsome and charismatic young man, she thinks that he may be the answer to her prayers for freedom, but readers must press on until the end of this luminescent book to find out if Marie will be able to break free from the Reehs women’s dark family curse.

Reading about domestic violence in a historical context was interesting and eye-opening. Although difficult to read at times, The End of Always is ultimately an uplifting and powerful story of a courageous woman trying to take charge of her own life.

The 2015 Reading List

While most of the country's households were glued to the Superbowl, and Chicago was slammed with a memorable snowstorm, the intrepid librarians at ALA Midwinter announced this past year's best of the best in genre fiction - the Reading List. The winner in each of the 8 categories are:

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Detroit serves as the economically battered backdrop of this inventive, visceral suspense story about a series of bizarre murders that draws a group of memorable characters into a complex web of violence. Smart, stylish and addictive, this page-turner shows how the American Dream has failed many on a personal level.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Following the sudden, suspicious deaths of his entire family, exiled half-goblin Maia becomes emperor, a role requiring diplomacy and adherence to strict protocols. Focusing on the intricacies of court life, this elegant novel unfolds at a pace that allows readers to savor the rich tapestry of character, setting and plot.

Historical Fiction
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
Banished from the court of Versailles, spirited Charlotte-Rose de la Force meets a nun who weaves together the strands that form the Rapunzel fairy tale, revealing its surprising origins. A captivating marriage of history and folklore featuring characters true to their time periods, yet timeless in their dreams and desires.

The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman
Beneath the streets of 1970s New York, Joey meets the merry children, a gang of ancient child vampires, and discovers that immortality isn't all fun and games. Gritty, clever and gonzo, this fresh take on the vampire mythos gets darker and creepier as the pages turn.

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
This classic English mystery follows Amory and her estranged husband, Milo, whose paths cross at a seaside resort, where suspicious deaths implicate Amory’s former fiance, Gil. A vivid mystery that sparkles with personality as Amory and Milo puzzle out the truth behind the murders and negotiate their own complicated relationship.

Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
Comic misunderstandings ensue when playboy Bollywood director Samir travels to America to secure an annulment for his brother, married at age four to Mili in a traditional arranged Indian wedding ceremony. Appealing protagonists, a diverse supporting cast and a colorful multicultural backdrop lend this charming story unexpected emotional depth.

Science Fiction
The Martian by Andy Weir
Stranded on Mars, wisecracking botanist Mark Watney proves that an astronaut has to be smart, resourceful and, perhaps, a little crazy to survive. Strong characterization, well-researched but accessible technical detail, and a deft blend of suspense and humor will please science enthusiasts and fans of survival stories on any planet.

Women's Fiction
My Real Children by Jo Walton
Patricia Cowan, an elderly woman suffering from dementia, remembers two different lives, two different careers, two different families and two different worlds. A striking novel of how tragedy turns to joy and heartbreak turns to love with a narrative twist that hooks the reader and never lets go.

Check out the shortlists and readalikes, in the complete list.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Her Place in the World

Monday March 23, 2015: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

This event is intended for adults and teens grades 6 and up
This event will be recorded

Interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder is at a peak – especially with the recent publication of her autobiography Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography.

At this special AADL evening, explore the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose experiences traveling and homesteading with her pioneer family spawned her series of popular children's books. Author and Wilder scholar William Anderson and University of Michigan History professor Michelle McClellan lead us on a journey through Laura's life and tell the story of how the places she lived have now taken on a life of their own.

Wilder's legacy extends far beyond her Little House series; millions know her from the 1970s television show based on her books, and the locations she wrote about, including Kansas, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Missouri, have become tourist destinations for her devoted fans.

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall Comes to TV

Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy has been a historical fiction powerhouse - with both entries, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies becoming bestsellers and Booker Prize winners. The final book in the trilogy is underway, with no official release date at this time, although Mantel has shared details readers can expect to encounter in The Mirror and the Light.

Now Mantel’s epic is coming to TV. After assisting with the stage adaptation of her work by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Mantel signed off on a BBC adaptation, with the caveat that the show avoid historical errors and any ”nonsense” added for drama.

The six-part series will air on BBC2 in Britain later this year, with an PBS Masterpiece American release to follow. Fans of the Showtime series Homeland will be interested to see Damian Lewis (Nicholas Brody) in the meaty role of Henry VIII as part of the star-studded cast. An official trailer was just released, so fans can enjoy a quick peek to tide them over.

Jane Smiley's Some Luck depicts americana beautifully

If you’re a Jane Smiley fan like me, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the publication of her newest novel, Some Luck, which is the first in a projected trilogy appropriately titled The Last Hundred Years. Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Thousand Acres, and similar to A Thousand Acres, Some Luck follows several generations of a twentieth century Iowa farm family. The book is broken up into 34 brief chapters, each marked with the start of a year, beginning in 1920 and ending in 1953. As expected, some major life events are recounted over this period, but I enjoyed Smiley’s poignant telling of the day-to-day activities and situations that come together to create a family and a life. Because of this, the pace of Some Luck is truly unique: I found myself eagerly turning each page, not because of any unresolved plot lines, but rather because the book follows the unexpected pacing of life itself.

“Smiley depicts isolated farm life with such precision that readers can understand exactly how little boys help their father shorten lambs’ tails, and how Rosanna copes when she must deliver her baby alone,” states the review of Some Luck in the Washington Post. Some Luck is far from just another Midwestern nostalgic farm novel, however. “Smiley’s version is weirdly bold in a different way, stubbornly telling the story with the same kind of unadorned (and sometimes unspoken) language its characters use,” writes the review.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jane Smiley but enjoy the works of Marilynne Robinson and Annie Proulx, I would highly recommend giving Some Luck, and other of Smiley’s works a try. Early Warning, the second book in the trilogy, will be published in 2015.

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