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The Holocaust, a horrific and nightmarish period of world history has been a popular and powerful theme for novels over the years. While the realities of our past will always remain unchanged, the following stories are poignant and heartfelt narratives that detail hope, horror, love, and despair. They are brilliantly written and extraordinarily moving.
Beach Music by Pat Conroy — Pat Conroy, America’s preeminent storyteller, delivers a sweeping novel of lyric intensity and searing truth–the story of Jack McCall, an American expatriate in Rome, scarred by tragedy and betrayal. His desperate desire to find peace after his wife’s suicide draws him into a painful, intimate search for the one haunting secret in his family’s past that can heal his anguished heart. Spanning three generations and two continents, from the contemporary ruins of the American South to the ancient ruins of Rome, from the unutterable horrors of the Holocaust to the lingering trauma of Vietnam, Beach Music sings with life’s pain and glory. It is another masterpiece in Pat Conroy’s legendary list of beloved novels.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak — A contemporary classic, this story is powerful and lasting. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay — In the summer of 1942, the French police arrested thousands of Jewish families and held them outside of Paris before shipping them off to Auschwitz. On the 60th anniversary of the roundups, an expatriate American journalist covering the atrocities discovers a personal connection—her apartment was formerly occupied by one such family. She resolves to find out what happened to Sarah, the 10-year-old daughter, who was the only family member to survive. Poignant and powerful, this novel captivates the reader until the very end.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry — As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink — Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany. When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.
Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in Reference Services.
Looking for a new world to get into? Here are a few first books in some great series not of this world!
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin – One of the most acclaimed pieces of sci-fi to come out of China, The Three Body Problem offers a fresh spin on the genre. Jumping between the modern age and the 1970s in the heart of the Great Leap Forward in China, the main character Ye Wenjie misuses a secret military project to communicate with our closest neighbors in space, who view us as nothing more than a pest in the way of saving their own civilization. While the trilogy has been complete in Chinese for several years, the translation of the final book in the series Death’s End is due later this year. Highly recommended for its unique perspective, terrifying premise about life in the universe, and use of real science. Translated from Mandarin.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey – A space opera in the truest sense. Leviathan Wakes reads like a well paced movie. Humans have colonized the solar system, but our problems are not gone. Earth and Mars are locked in a Cold War-esque rivalry, “belters” born in space are viewed as uncivilized, barely human, and corporate greed may have unleashed a 4 billion year old weapon designed to wipe out humanity. The series has become a Sci-Fi channel series The Expanse, and the story is ongoing with 4 sequels in print and one due this year.
Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky – A terrifying post-apocalyptic science fiction adventure in the metro tunnels of Moscow. Stations become distinct political entities as the survivors fight with each other over the dwindling resources, and rangers venture to the surface to find it an uninhabitable wasteland full of inhuman monsters. But are the monsters really an enemy? Or are the inhabitants of the Metro the real danger? Metro 2033 has spawned two official sequels (Metro 2034, Metro 2035) and a best selling video-game franchise. Translated from Russian.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu – Described as Game of Thrones in a fantasy “silkpunk” setting, Liu’s book is a journey into a refreshingly unique fantasy world based on medieval China. The Grace of Kings is emotional, exciting and a breath of fresh air in a genre that is stale in it’s diversity of setting and character. This is a remarkable debut from an author who previously had only done short fiction and translations. The series continues later this year with The Wall of Storms.
Lewis Parsons is a librarian in Research and Information Services at the Sawyer Free Library.
Last year was the rebirth of Books & Brews, a popular book group here at the Sawyer Free Library. When I decided to take over the group, I was nervous and excited at the same time. I wanted to pick interesting, thought provoking books that would both entertain and offer great discussion. Here are a few books we read over the last year that proved to be undisputed hits and great picks for anyone interested in starting a book group.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire – When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil? Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.
All Souls: A Family Story From Southie by Patrick Michael MacDonald – Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up in “the best place in the world”– the Old Colony projects of South Boston–where 85% of the residents collect welfare in an area with the highest concentration of impoverished whites in the U.S. In All Souls, MacDonald takes us deep into the secret heart of Southie. With radiant insight, he opens up a contradictory world, where residents are besieged by gangs and crime but refuse to admit any problems, remaining fiercely loyal to their community. MacDonald also introduces us to the unforgettable people who inhabit this proud neighborhood.
The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian – In this novel, nothing is what it at first seems. Not the bucolic Vermont back roads college sophomore Laurel Estabrook likes to bike. Not the savage assault she suffers toward the end of one of her rides. And certainly not Bobbie Crocker, the elderly man with a history of mental illness whom Laurel comes to know through her work at a Burlington homeless shelter in the years subsequent to the attack. In a narrative of dazzling invention, literary ingenuity, and psychological complexity, Bohjalian engages issues of homelessness and mental illness by evoking the humanity that inhabits the core of both. At the same time, his tale is fast-paced and riveting. The Double Bind combines the suspense of a thriller with the emotional depths of the most intimate drama. The breathtaking surprises of its final pages will leave readers stunned, overwhelmed by the poignancy of life’s fleeting truths, as caught in Bobbie Crocker’s photographs and in Laurel Estabrook’s painful pursuit of Bobbie’s past — and her own.
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb – In this extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to hitch a wild ride on a journey of love, pain, and renewal with the most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years. Meet Dolores Price. She’s 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Stranded in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips, and Pepsi her anxious mother supplies. When she finally orbits into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she’s determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before she really goes under.
Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in Reference Services.
You don’t have to know everything about writing and fiction and novels in order to begin your first novel. That’s true whether you’re writing or editing. But you do need to know something. A lot of somethings. There are many ways to mess up stories, so many pitfalls for the writer who is ignorant of craft and lacks both skills and experience. But no writer needs to remain ignorant, not today. Not when so many resources are available. Here are a few titles that have been fairly universally recognized as helpful to those hoping to learn the writing craft.
Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster – Forster (A Passage to India) delivered a series of lectures on the art of the novel at the University of Cambridge. Although this book was written in 1956, Forster’s writing on character development, plot elements and story remain relevant today. He reduces the novel to its essential elements and provides a plainspoken approach helpful to both beginning and mature writers.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott – With characteristic honesty and humor, Ms. Lamott (Small Victories) encourages writers to write authentically, to manage their progress incrementally, to use all their life experiences to inform their art, and much more. Her helpful advice is demonstrated by a story she tells about the book’s title. “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” This has become a bit of a mantra in my own home as Lamott is one of our family favorites.
On Writing by Stephen King – Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft. King describes how the writing life coexists with the everyday by grounding his advice in his vivid memories from childhood all the way through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999. King believes the link between writing and living spurred his recovery. A tale well told.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King – Browne and King are professional editors who share the techniques they use to edit manuscripts. They write knowledgeably about the elements of dialog, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques and take their readers through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect a manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.
On Writing Well: the Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser – This title has become a classic textbook for learning the writing craft. On Writing Well has sold more than a million copies for good reason. Zinsser’s advice is sound, well-tested and applicable to many forms of writing.
Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud – McCloud analyzes the art form itself, detailing how to achieve emotional effects and tell stories in visual styles. He explores the creation of comics, from the broadest principles to the sharpest details (like how to accentuate a character’s facial muscles in order to form the emotion of disgust rather than the emotion of surprise.) He does all with a cartoon narrator mixing fun and serious instruction. This work is a wonderful view into how to master the human condition through word and image in a brilliantly minimalistic way. Comic book devotees as well as the most uninitiated will marvel at this journey into a once–underappreciated art form.
Beth Pocock is a Assistant Director at the Sawyer Free Library.
Recently I discovered a classic children’s book that somehow I had never read (or didn’t remember reading!) I found myself enchanted and thoroughly entertained. While children may get enjoyment from stories, sometimes adult sensibilities can get even more. Children’s literature can have surprising depth and resonance. Whether rereading a book from childhood or discovering a title for the first time, you can find new literary adventures in children’s stories.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – This is a tale of being lost, then found; of not belonging and then finding your place in the world. Mary Lennox, a spoilt child of wealthy, neglectful British parents in India, is suddenly orphaned and sent to live in England with an uncle she has never met. Left to her own devices she discovers an overgrown garden, locked up due to being the scene of her aunt’s death. She also discovers her cousin Colin, who has a phantom illness and just as bad of a temperament as Mary. With the help of the kind natured boy Dickon, Mary revives the garden and Colin’s health. The destructiveness of self-indulgence and the restorative powers of nature are at the center of the novel.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – The magical world that Rowling has constructed is complete and complex, allowing readers to fully immerse themselves. The series starts out rather simply, but as the books progress through the adolescence of Harry, it becomes darker, more complicated and more violent. Rowling allows all her characters to have flaws and redeeming features (except for the purely evil Voldemort). Mature themes – fascism, racism, failure of bureaucracy, self-sacrifice, and the need for the sense of belonging — are all intertwined in the fiction. The story arc is carried throughout the seven novels, giving a satisfying literary journey.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – Animals that talk usually are cute, but White doesn’t try to hide the animals’ natural tendencies or the reality of farm life with treacle. Charlotte’s Web opens with eight year old Fern Arable convincing her farmer father not to commit the “injustice” of summarily slaughtering the runt of the litter, but letting Fern raise the piglet. She names him Wilbur, and after nursing him and playing with him, is made to sell the pig to her uncle. It is in the Zuckerman’s barn that we meet the all the animals who quickly inform Wilbur of his fate of eventually being slaughtered. But the practical, kindly and smart spider Charlotte, who is Wilbur’s friend, cleverly finds a way to save him. The animals are the center of attention in the novel, with the humans mostly there to manipulate. Even Fern, who initially witnesses the animal conversations (much to her mother’s consternation), fades from the barn as her attention turns to more human concerns. The story is more charming for reveling in the earthy world of the barn and the lives of the farm animals.
The Giver by Lois Lowry – Dystopia has been a hot topic for children’s literature recently, but The Giver was published over twenty years ago, the first in a quartet. Jonas lives in a colorless, emotionally muted Community that has chosen Sameness to frame their safe, but shallow lives. They are able to keep their lives very balanced by a strict set of rules, and having one person the keeper of all memories — both joyful, like sunshine and family love, and painful, like sunburn and warfare. Jonas is selected to be the next Receiver of Memory. But as Jonas experiences the expansion of his emotional life, he and the Giver question the basic structure of the Community. The novel examines the large issues of whether good can exist without evil, if safety and stability is bought at the cost of emotional depth, what is a community without a shared past.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo – Opal Buloni is a lonely 10 year old girl —- lonely because her loving but distracted preacher father has recently moved her to a small Florida town, but her deeper loneliness has to do with the abandonment by her mother years before. Her adoption of a stray dog, named Winn-Dixie after the supermarket she finds him in, changes her life. Through her dog she finds her circle of friends expanding. More importantly, she begins to understand that there are all kinds of loneliness in the world and that reaching out to others eases that pain. DiCamillo softly weaves a southern charmer of a story, with interesting characters and a subtle message.
Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.