I'm stepping out of the world of children's literature today to share a few favorites from my own bookshelf (in case any of you grown-ups need some summer reading ideas!) And please share yours with me - I'm always looking for a good book!
HISTORICAL FICTION--Gillian Bradshaw has written several novels that utilize fictional characters to illuminate historical figures - in my two favorites, the protagonists are women:
THE BEACON AT ALEXANDRIA - St. Athanasius has a "bit part" in this story about Charis, a 4th Century young woman who, after being forbidden to become a doctor, disguises herself as a eunuch and flees to Alexandria.
IMPERIAL PURPLE - The twists and turns of the plot in this story surround Demetrius, a Byzantine era state slave in Tyre, who is secretly ordered to weave a cloak of royal purple as part of a scheme to overthrow Emporor Theodosius II. She and her husband are drawn into the treacherous plot and end up in Constantinople themselves.
KRISTIN LAVRENSDATTER: The Bridal Wreath; The Mistress of Husaby; The Cross by Sigrid Undset. This historical epic trilogy, set in 14th Century Norway, chronicles the life of a passionate and headstrong woman from her youth to her death. Kristin's joys and trials in the different seasons of her life are universal. Intelligent, but impetuous, she stuggles through her teen years, makes choices (some are bad ones), and lives with the consequences of her choices. Undset's writing is very descriptive and emotional and her characters are very real, with a balance between character action and contemplation. It is a study of human nature that will hold your attention, despite it's length.
THE FRIENDLY PERSUASON by Jessamyn West. I started this book mainly because the author once lived very close to my house! (There is now a park there in her name.) It's a collection of short stories, very light-hearted, about a Quaker family, headed up by Jess Birdwell (a rather free-spirited Quaker) and his wife, Eliza Birdwell (a Quaker clergywoman!), set in Civil War-era Indiana. Humorous and sweet!
THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. Set in Jackson, MS, during the early years of the civil rights movement, "The Help" refers to the black maids who worked for the white women and basically raised their children for them. The Washington Post says, "In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, Ms. Stockett spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide." Great characters and story - I literally couldn't put this book down!
84 CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff. Hanff's simple wit really sets her writing apart for me...this is a collection of 20 years of correspondence between the author (an outspoken writer, living in New York) and a London bookseller and the friendship that develops between them. Their letters are written between 1949 and 1969 and though they never meet, Helene and Frank become pen pals and not only exchange book orders, but news of their lives and families. Poignant ending that is bitter-sweet - this is a quick read and a beautiful story.
Other favorites by the same author: UNDERFOOT IN SHOW BUSINESS (Hanff's first book, published in 1961, is the humorous account of her unpredictable struggles to make it as a playwright in the world of showbusiness in New York.); Q'S LEGACY (an autobiography of how she came to be a writer in the first place: she searched for books on English Literature, starting with "A", and found nothing readable. There was only one "Q", ON THE ART OF WRITING, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch...she ends up losing it, looks up "Out of Print Books" and discovers the bookstore in London, located on 84 Charing Cross Road!); DUCHESS OF BLOOMSBURY STREET (the sequel to 84 C.C.Road); APPLE OF MY EYE (a celebration of the author's lifelong love of New York City - almost a walking tourist's guide).
LORD PETER: THE COMPLETE LORD PETER WIMSEY STORIES by Dorothy Sayers. I started with this colletion of shorter mysteries and then moved on to the longer novels with "love interest", Harriet Vane: STRONG POISON; HAVE HIS CARCASE; GAUDY NIGHT; BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON; THRONES, DOMINATIONS. If you ever read and enjoyed any Agatha Christie mysteries, you'll love Dorothy Sayers' stories of this 1920's London gentleman detective even more!
Summer is a great time to catch up on the Classics that you never read (or want to re-read) by Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Tolstoy...