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Powell’s Picks of the Month 2019

Definitely the bookshop which I am most looking forward to visiting at some point, Powell’s Books of Portland, Oregon, has a wealth of wondrous website content.  They include frequent lists of books recommended by their booksellers, and have also collated their Picks of the Month for 2019 onto one handy page (see here).  I have scrolled through this list on many occasions, and thought it a worthwhile exercise to pick ten books from it which I am very much looking forward to reading.

 

1. The Swallows by Lisa Lutz 9781984818232
When Alexandra Witt joins the faculty at Stonebridge Academy, she’s hoping to put a painful past behind her. Then one of her creative writing assignments generates some disturbing responses from students. Before long, Alex is immersed in an investigation of the students atop the school’s social hierarchy — and their connection to something called the Darkroom. She soon inspires the girls who’ve started to question the school’s “boys will be boys” attitude and incites a resistance. But just as the movement is gaining momentum, Alex attracts the attention of an unknown enemy who knows a little too much about her — and what brought her to Stonebridge in the first place.  Meanwhile, Gemma, a defiant senior, has been plotting her attack for years, waiting for the right moment. Shy loner Norman hates his role in the Darkroom, but can’t find the courage to fight back until he makes an unlikely alliance. And then there’s Finn Ford, an English teacher with a shady reputation who keeps one eye on his literary ambitions and one on Ms. Witt. As the school’s secrets begin to trickle out, a boys-versus-girls skirmish turns into an all-out war, with deeply personal — and potentially fatal — consequences for everyone involved.  Lisa Lutz’s blistering, timely tale of revenge and disruption shows us what can happen when silence wins out over decency for too long — and why the scariest threat of all might be the idea that sooner or later, girls will be girls.’

 

97805255413322. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
‘In a remote Polish village, Janina devotes the dark winter days to studying astrology, translating the poetry of William Blake, and taking care of the summer homes of wealthy Warsaw residents. Her reputation as a crank and a recluse is amplified by her not-so-secret preference for the company of animals over humans. Then a neighbor, Big Foot, turns up dead. Soon other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances. As suspicions mount, Janina inserts herself into the investigation, certain that she knows whodunit. If only anyone would pay her mind…  A deeply satisfying thriller cum fairy tale, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is a provocative exploration of the murky borderland between sanity and madness, justice and tradition, autonomy and fate. Whom do we deem sane? it asks. Who is worthy of a voice?’

 

3. Heads of the Coloured People by Nafissa Thompson Spires 9781501168000
‘Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous — from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide — while others are devastatingly poignant — a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.   Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body.’

 

97800628628534. Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken
From the day she is discovered unconscious in a New England cemetery at the turn of the twentieth century — nothing but a bowling ball, a candlepin, and fifteen pounds of gold on her person — Bertha Truitt is an enigma to everyone in Salford, Massachusetts. She has no past to speak of, or at least none she is willing to reveal, and her mysterious origin scandalizes and intrigues the townspeople, as does her choice to marry and start a family with Leviticus Sprague, the doctor who revived her. But Bertha is plucky, tenacious, and entrepreneurial, and the bowling alley she opens quickly becomes Salford’s most defining landmark — with Bertha its most notable resident.  When Bertha dies in a freak accident, her past resurfaces in the form of a heretofore-unheard-of son, who arrives in Salford claiming he is heir apparent to Truitt Alleys. Soon it becomes clear that, even in her death, Bertha’s defining spirit and the implications of her obfuscations live on, infecting and affecting future generations through inheritance battles, murky paternities, and hidden wills.  In a voice laced with insight and her signature sharp humor, Elizabeth McCracken has written an epic family saga set against the backdrop of twentieth-century America. Bowlaway is both a stunning feat of language and a brilliant unraveling of a family’s myths and secrets, its passions and betrayals, and the ties that bind and the rifts that divide.’

 

5. McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh 9780525522768
‘Salem, Massachusetts, 1851: McGlue is in the hold, still too drunk to be sure of name or situation or orientation — he may have killed a man. That man may have been his best friend. Intolerable memory accompanies sobriety. A-sail on the high seas of literary tradition, Ottessa Moshfegh gives us a nasty heartless blackguard on a knife-sharp voyage through the fogs of recollection.’

 

97815011346166. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham
Journalist Adam Higginbotham’s definitive, years-in-the-making account of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster — and a powerful investigation into how propaganda, secrecy, and myth have obscured the true story of one of the twentieth century’s greatest disasters.  Early in the morning of April 26, 1986, Reactor Number Four of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station exploded, triggering history’s worst nuclear disaster. In the thirty years since then, Chernobyl has become lodged in the collective nightmares of the world: shorthand for the spectral horrors of radiation poisoning, for a dangerous technology slipping its leash, for ecological fragility, and for what can happen when a dishonest and careless state endangers its citizens and the entire world. But the real story of the accident, clouded from the beginning by secrecy, propaganda, and misinformation, has long remained in dispute.   Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews conducted over the course of more than ten years, as well as letters, unpublished memoirs, and documents from recently-declassified archives, Adam Higginbotham has written a harrowing and compelling narrative which brings the disaster to life through the eyes of the men and women who witnessed it firsthand. The result is a masterful nonfiction thriller, and the definitive account of an event that changed history: a story that is more complex, more human, and more terrifying than the Soviet myth.  Midnight in Chernobyl is an indelible portrait of one of the great disasters of the twentieth century, of human resilience and ingenuity, and the lessons learned when mankind seeks to bend the natural world to his will — lessons which, in the face of climate change and other threats, remain not just vital but necessary.’

 

7. The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid by Colin Meloy 9780062342461
It is an ordinary Tuesday morning in April when bored, lonely Charlie Fisher witnesses something incredible. Right before his eyes, in a busy square in Marseille, a group of pickpockets pulls off an amazing robbery. As the young bandits appear to melt into the crowd, Charlie realizes with a start that he himself was one of their marks.  Yet Charlie is less alarmed than intrigued. This is the most thrilling thing that’s happened to him since he came to France with his father, an American diplomat. So instead of reporting the thieves, Charlie defends one of their cannons, Amir, to the police, under one condition: he teach Charlie the tricks of the trade.  What starts off as a lesson on pinches, kicks, and chumps soon turns into an invitation for Charlie to join the secret world of the whiz mob, an international band of child thieves who trained at the mysterious School of Seven Bells. The whiz mob are independent and incredibly skilled and make their own way in the world — they are everything Charlie yearns to be. But what at first seemed like a (relatively) harmless new pastime draws him into a dangerous adventure with global stakes greater than he could have ever imagined.’

 

97803853526808. Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger
‘An emotionally engaging, suspenseful new novel from the best-selling author, told in the voice of a renowned physicist: an exploration of female friendship, romantic love, and parenthood — bonds that show their power in surprising ways.  Helen Clapp’s breakthrough work on five-dimensional spacetime landed her a tenured professorship at MIT; her popular books explain physics in plain terms. Helen disdains notions of the supernatural in favor of rational thought and proven ideas. So it’s perhaps especially vexing for her when, on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday in June, she gets a phone call from a friend who has just died.   That friend was Charlotte Boyce, Helen’s roommate at Harvard. The two women had once confided in each other about everything — in college, the unwanted advances Charlie received from a star literature professor; after graduation, Helen’s struggles as a young woman in science, Charlie’s as a black screenwriter in Hollywood, their shared challenges as parents. But as the years passed, Charlie became more elusive, and her calls came less and less often. And now she’s permanently, tragically gone.  As Helen is drawn back into Charlie’s orbit, and also into the web of feelings she once had for Neel Jonnal — a former college classmate now an acclaimed physicist on the verge of a Nobel Prize–winning discovery — she is forced to question the laws of the universe that had always steadied her mind and heart.’

 

9. Women Talking by Miriam Toews 9781635572582
Eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and over a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.  While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women–all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in–have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?  Told through the “minutes” of the women’s all-female symposium, Toews’s masterful novel uses wry, politically engaged humor to relate this tale of a community wrestling with its own foundational myths. For readers of Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Women Talking examines the consequences of religious fundamentalism and communal isolation, and it celebrates the strength of women claiming their own power to decide.’

 

978152476313810. Becoming by Michelle Obama
‘In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America — the first African American to serve in that role — she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.  In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her — from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it — in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations — and whose story inspires us to do the same.’

 

Have you read any of these?  Which books on the list have piqued your interest?  Are you one of those lucky people that has been to Powell’s already?

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The Book Trail: Lost in the Woods

I am kicking off this Book Trail with one of my favourite books, written for children by one of my favourite lyricists, Colin Meloy of Portland-based band The Decemberists.  The books which follow largely deal with children lost in the woods, or trapped in adult-free lands; a good theme, I feel, for a not-too-obvious Hallowe’en post.

1. Wildwood by Colin Meloy 10431447
‘In Wildwood, Prue and her friend Curtis uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval–a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood. Wildwood captivates readers with the wonder and thrill of a secret world within the landscape of a modern city. It feels at once firmly steeped in the classics of children’s literature and completely fresh at the same time. The story is told from multiple points of view, and the book features more than eighty illustrations, including six full-color plates, making this an absolutely gorgeous object.’

 

2. Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver
‘Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice,until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.  That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.  Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.  From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.’

 

3. Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky
9869553Juniper’s parents have not been themselves lately. In fact, they have been cold, disinterested and cruel. And lonely Juniper Berry, and her equally beset friend, Giles, are determined to figure out why.   On a cold and rainy night Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world’s secrets in a simple red balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t.  M.P. Kozlowsky’s debut novel is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that make us who we are.

 

4. Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham
Max ‘the Wolf’ is a top notch Boy Scout, an expert at orienteering and a master of being prepared. So it is a little odd that he suddenly finds himself, with no recollection of his immediate past, lost in an unfamiliar wood. Even odder still, he encounters a badger named Banderbrock, a black bear named Walden, and McTavish the Monster (who might also be an old barn cat) – all of whom talk – and who are as clueless as Max.  Before long, Max and his friends are on the run from a relentless group of hunters and their deadly hounds. Armed with powerful blue swords and known as the Blue Cutters, these hunters capture and change the very essence of their prey. For what purpose, Max can’t guess. But unless he can solve the mystery of the strange forested world he’s landed in, Max may find himself and his friends changed beyond recognition, lost in a lost world…

 

5. The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton 7843500
Ten-year-old Persimmony Smudge leads (much to her chagrin) a very dull life on the Island at the Center of Everything . . . until the night she overhears a life-changing secret. It seems that Mount Majestic, the rising and falling mountain in the center of the island, is not a mountain at all-it’s the belly of a sleeping giant, moving as the giant breathes. Now Persimmony and her new friend Worvil the Worrier have to convince all the island’s other quarreling inhabitants-including the silly Rumblebumps, the impeccably mannered Leafeaters, and the stubborn young king-that a giant is sleeping in their midst, and must not be woken. Enhanced with Brett Helquist’s dazzling illustrations, Jennifer Trafton’s rollicking debut tells the story of one brave girl’s efforts to make an entire island believe the impossible.

 

6. The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell
Twelve-year-old Clara Dooley has spent her whole life in the Glendoveer mansion, where her mother is a servant to the kind and elderly matron of the house. Clara has never known another home. In fact, she’s confined to the grand estate due to a mysterious heart condition. But it’s a comfortable life, and if it weren’t for the creepy squawking birds in the aviary out back, a completely peaceful one too.  But once old Mrs. Glendoveer passes away, Clara comes to learn many dark secrets about the family. The Glendoveers suffered a horrific tragedy: their children were kidnapped, then drowned. And their father George Glendoveer, a famous magician and illusionist, stood accused until his death. As Clara digs deeper and deeper into the terrifying events, the five birds in the aviary seem to be trying to tell her something. And Clara comes to wonder: what is their true identity? Clara sets out to solve a decades-old murder mystery—and in doing so, unlocks a secret in her own life, too. Kathleen O’Dell deftly weaves magic, secret identities, evil villians, unlikely heroes, and the wonder of friendship into a mystery adventure with all the charm of an old fashioned classic.

 

99728787. The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer
Like the other children who have journeyed to the village of Xibalba, Martin Maple faces an awful truth. He was forgotten. When everyone else in the world disappeared one afternoon, these children were the only ones left behind. There’s Darla, who drives a monster truck; Felix, who used string and wood to rebuild the internet; Lane, who crafts elaborate contraptions for live entertainment; and nearly forty others, each equally brilliant and peculiar.   Inspired by the prophecies of a mysterious boy who talks to animals, Martin believes he can reunite them all with their loved ones. But believing and knowing are two different things, as he soon discovers with the push of a button, the flip of a switch, the turn of a dial…  A whimsical apocalyptic fable that carries readers to a future world without adults, a journey filled with dark humor that every reader will want to take.

 

8. Vanished by Sheela Chari
Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother-intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon.  When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela’s instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?  Sheela Chari’s debut novel is a finely tuned story of coincidence and fate, trust and deceit, music and mystery.

 

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The Book Trail: From Yugoslavia to England

I am using a source other than Goodreads for today’s book trail – the wonderful Powell’s Bookstore, based in Portland, Oregon, has a wonderful website, upon which I have already made a wonderful slew of discoveries.  I clicked on one of their picks for August’s Women in Translation month as the starting point for this post, and am using their ‘Other Titles You Might Like’ feature for the rest of the list.

1. A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska 28593020
‘Zlata and Srebra are 12-year-old twins conjoined at the head. It is 1984 and they live in Skopje, which will one day be the capital of Macedonia but is currently a part of Yugoslavia. A Spare Life tells the story of their childhood, from their only friend Roze to their neighbor Bogdan, so poor that he one day must eat his pet rabbit. Treated as freaks and outcasts—even by their own family—the twins just want to be normal girls. But after an incident that almost destroys their bond as sisters, they fly to London, determined to be surgically separated. Will this be their liberation, or only more tightly ensnare them?  At once extraordinary and quotidian, A Spare Life is a chronicle of two girls who are among the first generation to come of age under democracy in Eastern Europe. Written in touching prose by an author who is also a master poet, it is a saga about families, sisterhood, immigration, and the occult influences that shape a life. Funny, poignant, dark, and sharply observed, Zlata and Srebra reveal an existence where even the simplest of actions is unlike any we’ve ever experienced.’

 

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
‘A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. In dialogue with but diametrically opposed to the narratives of the Vietnam War that have preceded it, this novel offers an important and unfamiliar new perspective on the war: that of a conflicted communist sympathizer.  It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s astonishing novel takes us inside the mind of this double agent, a man whose lofty ideals necessitate his betrayal of the people closest to him. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.’

 

258527843. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
‘From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America.  In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.   Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality — and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.  Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.’

 

4. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
‘Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.  The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.  They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.’

 

5. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown 16158542
‘For readers of Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.  The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together — a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.’

 

6. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
‘From the #1 New York Times bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania, published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the disaster.  On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship — the fastest then in service — could outrun any threat.  Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small — hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more — all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.  It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.’

 

104314477. Wildwood by Colin Meloy
‘Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. That is, until her brother is abducted by a murder of crows and taken to the Impassable Wilderness, a dense, tangled forest on the edge of Portland. No one’s ever gone in — or at least returned to tell of it.  So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval — a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.’

 

8. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
‘Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute she sneaks out to join him.  So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?’

 

Have you read any of these?  Which have piqued your interest?

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One From the Archive: ‘Wildwood’ (The Wildwood Chronicles: Book One) by Colin Meloy ****

‘Wildwood’ by Colin Meloy

When I find bands or singers I particularly love whose lyrics never fail to astound me (Conor Oberst, Sam Duckworth, Jesse Lacey, Frank Turner and Benjamin Gibbard come to mind, and I could go on), I often find myself wishing that they would turn their literary talents to a book.  What is really cool is that Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists, has done so.  What is even cooler is that he has turned his Wildwood stories into a trilogy.

I first heard about this novel via a BookTube channel, and when I saw how beautiful the cover was, I had to break my self-imposed book buying ban and purchase myself a copy.  What I found most adorable when I received it was that Meloy has written the book and crafted the storyline, and his partner, Carson Ellis, has illustrated it – and so very beautifully, too.

The story begins with Prue McKeel, a young girl living in Portland, Oregon, taking her baby brother Mac out for the day.  When he is toddling around in a local playground, a murder of crows swoops down and abducts him, taking him deep into the Impassable Forest on the very edge of Portland.  The Impassable Forest is a place where nobody ever ventures, so imagine Prue’s surprise when she sets off to find her brother and is able to cross the enchanted boundary between the city and the trees.

One of her classmates, Curtis, a rather adorable boy in a furry parka, follows her as she makes her way into the forest, and is soon part of the adventure too.  On their quest to retrieve Mac from the clutches of evil, they meet many different characters, and even stumble upon a secluded community in the middle of the forest.

Meloy has plotted Wildwood very cleverly indeed, and despite its length, at no point does it feel sparse or too devoid of an engrossing storyline.  He is an inventive writer, and has crafted the world within Wildwood marvellously.  The story, whilst it contains elements of magical realism – a talking owl who takes tea in a library, for example – has been rendered in such a way that it is eminently believable at times.

Throughout, I caught glimpses of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, but there was still something incredibly original about it.  The characterisation was polished, and I loved the writing style.  Some fabulous descriptions can be found within its pages.

Prue takes tea with an owl (Illustration by Carson Ellis)

As you can see from this post, Carson Ellis’ illustrations are an absolute delight, and they work wonderfully alongside Meloy’s story.  I love her style, and the way in which she has rendered scenes with such care.  I would happily purchase a book on the strength of her drawings alone.

After finishing Wildwood, I am so intrigued to see what will happen next, and am eagerly anticipating the paperback release of the next book in the series, Under Wildwood.

Suggested playlist, consisting solely of songs by Colin Meloy and The Decemberists:
1. Crane Wife – Parts 1 and 2 – The Decemberists
2. A Cautionary Song – Colin Meloy
3. Rox in the Box – The Decemberists
4. Don’t Carry It All – The Decemberists
5. June Hymn – The Decemberists
6. The Engine Driver – Colin Meloy
7. Down by the Water – The Decemberists

Purchase from The Book Depository

4

Favourite Illustrations

I thought I would produce a post for today which was a little less taxing than having to read through an entire review, and focus instead on that which has been largely neglected on The Literary Sisters to date – that of the humble illustration.  I must admit that I still love books with pictures in them, even as an adult and a PhD researcher.  When I flip open the pages of a Persephone book and see lovely illustrations alongside the text, I delight a little.  There is just something so charming about them.

Without further ado, I am going to post ten of my favourite book illustrations.  I hope you enjoy this veering away from the literary!

 

1. John Teniell‘s iconic interpretation of Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland

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2. E.H. Shepard‘s delightful images in A.A. Milne‘s Winnie the Pooh (and friends)

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3. Carson Ellis‘ wonderful drawings in husband Colin Meloy‘s Wildwood Chronicles series

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4. Ludwig Bemelmans‘ adorable redhead, Madeline

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5. The Moomins by my beloved Tove Jansson

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6. The lovely Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

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7. Beatrix Potter‘s whimsical animals

The Mice Sewing the Mayor's Coat circa 1902 by Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943

 

8. Quentin Blake‘s wonderful depiction of Roald Dahl‘s Matilda

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9. Mary Cicely Barker‘s Flower Fairies, which enchanted me throughout childhood

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10. Pauline Baynes‘ stunning drawings in C.S. LewisChronicles of Narnia series

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There are no great surprises here, I’m sure!  Which are your favourite illustrations?  Have I featured any of them here?

4

‘Wildwood’ (The Wildwood Chronicles: Book One) by Colin Meloy ****

‘Wildwood’ by Colin Meloy

When I find bands or singers I particularly love whose lyrics never fail to astound me (Conor Oberst, Sam Duckworth, Jesse Lacey, Frank Turner and Benjamin Gibbard come to mind, and I could go on), I often find myself wishing that they would turn their literary talents to a book.  What is really cool is that Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists, has done so.  What is even cooler is that he has turned his Wildwood stories into a trilogy.

I first heard about this novel via a BookTube channel, and when I saw how beautiful the cover was, I had to break my self-imposed book buying ban and purchase myself a copy.  What I found most adorable when I received it was that Meloy has written the book and crafted the storyline, and his partner, Carson Ellis, has illustrated it – and so very beautifully, too.

The story begins with Prue McKeel, a young girl living in Portland, Oregon, taking her baby brother Mac out for the day.  When he is toddling around in a local playground, a murder of crows swoops down and abducts him, taking him deep into the Impassable Forest on the very edge of Portland.  The Impassable Forest is a place where nobody ever ventures, so imagine Prue’s surprise when she sets off to find her brother and is able to cross the enchanted boundary between the city and the trees.

One of her classmates, Curtis, a rather adorable boy in a furry parka, follows her as she makes her way into the forest, and is soon part of the adventure too.  On their quest to retrieve Mac from the clutches of evil, they meet many different characters, and even stumble upon a secluded community in the middle of the forest.

Prue’s baby brother, Mac, is abducted by crows (Illustration by Carson Ellis)

Meloy has plotted Wildwood very cleverly indeed, and despite its length, at no point does it feel sparse or too devoid of an engrossing storyline.  He is an inventive writer, and has crafted the world within Wildwood marvellously.  The story, whilst it contains elements of magical realism – a talking owl who takes tea in a library, for example – has been rendered in such a way that it is eminently believable at times.

Throughout, I caught glimpses of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, but there was still something incredibly original about it.  The characterisation was polished, and I loved the writing style.  Some fabulous descriptions can be found within its pages.

Prue takes tea with an owl (Illustration by Carson Ellis)

As you can see from this post, Carson Ellis’ illustrations are an absolute delight, and they work wonderfully alongside Meloy’s story.  I love her style, and the way in which she has rendered scenes with such care.  I would happily purchase a book on the strength of her drawings alone.

After finishing Wildwood, I am so intrigued to see what will happen next, and am eagerly anticipating the paperback release of the next book in the series, Under Wildwood.

Suggested playlist, consisting solely of songs by Colin Meloy and The Decemberists:
1. Crane Wife – Parts 1 and 2 – The Decemberists
2. A Cautionary Song – Colin Meloy
3. Rox in the Box – The Decemberists
4. Don’t Carry It All – The Decemberists
5. June Hymn – The Decemberists
6. The Engine Driver – Colin Meloy
7. Down by the Water – The Decemberists