The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Epstein


The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein (2008)
Reminiscent of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, this novel is a re-imagining of the life of Pan Yuliang and how she went from prostitute to post-Impressionist artist. Pan Yuliang was actually one of the most talented and provocative Chinese artists of the twentieth century. The background of historical events make The Painter from Shanghai an irresistible story.

Visit the author's website, read an interview with the author, and check out the reviews.

Straight into Darkness by Faye Kellerman

Straight into Darkness by Faye Kellerman (2005)
It’s 1929, and the Nazis are causing daily trouble in Munich at the time that police inspector Axel Berg searches for a serial killer.

Before you come to the library, preview the book. You can also visit the author's website.

Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey

Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey (2001)
Different in tone from her alarming psychological tales (Homework, The Missing World), this novel is a deceptively simple coming-of-age story set in Scotland in the early 1900s. Eva’s mother dies giving birth to her and she is raised by her father and her practical Aunt Lily. Eva is a woman whose life is accompanied by invisible "companions" whose “guidance” is both helpful and harmful. Eva’s relationship with them is colored by both humor and melancholy. This isn't a ghost story, but rather a love story of the best kind.

Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver

Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver (2004)
An American hit man is hired to go to Berlin during the 1936 Olympics to take out a high ranking Nazi. Check out the author's website for more about the novel, an interview, an excerpt, and more.

The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing start today! Visit NBC's Olympic website for TV and online listings, results, plus information about the U.S. athletes and teams.

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani (2007)
In this first novel, author Amirrezvani introduces a Western audience to the people and customs of 17th-century Persia. The narrator, whose name is never revealed, is 14 years old when the story begins with the death of her father. Without means, she and her mother leave their village and go to live with her father’s half-brother in Isfahan. The young girl who has a gift for carpet making discovers in her uncle a mentor who helps her master the art of carpet design.

As one reviewer said: “This is a story about adversity and persistence, failure and triumph. It is a story about stories themselves, about narratives and the role of oral tradition in Iranian history and culture.” I think this is a beautifully written historical fiction.

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian (2008)
In the waning months of World War II in Europe, the German Emmerich family makes their way across Poland and Germany in an attempt to escape the Russians. On the way they are helped by the mysterious Manfred, a German soldier who has seen too much but seems to belong to no specific army unit. This book has an involving story and characters to care about—but its real strength is its evocation of the brutality and randomness of war.

For an excerpt, backstory, and author interview, visit Bohjalian's official website.

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland (1999)
The title of Girl in Hyacinth Blue could also be titled Life of a Painting. All who read this book will enjoy art more because of the wonderful description of the painting and the way the owners of it enjoy its beauty.

Set in Amsterdam from 1939 to 1945, the story gives a wonderful history of the life of the people during WWII. Since the story gives the historical account of the painting Girl in Hyacinth Blue from present day to its beginning, you're reading a memoir backwards to find out how the painting came to be in the current owner's home.

Enjoy an easy read while you learn.

Visit the publisher's website for a reading guide and an interview with the author.

The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell

The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell (2008)
In late Victorian London, young maid Jane Wilbred comes from the country to take a position with the Bentley family. Soon Jane becomes the pawn of both upstairs and downstairs. Jane’s mistress Mina Bentley has a secret past she is desperate to outrun and a mysterious woman shows up claiming to be the widow of Mr. Bentley’s older brother. Is the young man wooing Jane in love with her, or only using her for his own master’s devious plans? Wonderfully gothic and atmospheric.

At the publisher's website, you can browse inside the book, find more about the story and the author, and view a reading group guide.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (1994)
A courtroom drama provides the framework for this tale of the legacy of racism following WWII in the northwestern United States.

The reading group guide for the winner of the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award contains historical background for the  novel, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading. You can also compare the novel to the 1999 movie starring Ethan Hawke.

The Geisha's Granddaughter by Chayym Zeldis

The Geisha's Granddaughter by Chayym Zeldis (2003)
This novel provides readers with a taste of how Japanese Americans felt while adjusting to a new world, when WWII shatters that world with the accompanying internment.

We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg

We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg (2006)

This story is set in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1964. It is about three extraordinary women – Paige, a victim of polio, who is paralyzed from the neck down; Diana, her 13-year-old daughter; and Peacie, their black caregiver. The reader gets a real glimpse into each of their struggles, and also sees how hard it was for blacks to live in the rural South during this time period. As usual, Elizabeth Berg’s character development is so terrific, the reader will be sorry to see this story come to an end.

Don't forget -- starting April 16, call the Downers Grove Public Library at 630-960-1200 to get your tickets for An Evening with Elizabeth Berg on May 8.

The Eye of the Abyss by Marshall Browne

The Eye of the Abyss by Marshall Browne (2003)

In late 1938, Franz Schmidt, an unassuming, slight man and bank auditor, takes up the anti-Nazi cause as his bank is taken over by the Party.

The New York Times has an overview of this novel and other crime stories from 2003.

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka (2002)
A spare, yet poignant, first novel about the ordeal of a Japanese family sent to an internment camp during World War II. Never melodrama— the novel's honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power.

Them by Nathan McCall

Them by Nathan McCall (2007)
Interesting human introspection story about a changing neighborhood. It makes suburbanites think about other places. As western suburbs of Chicago tear down houses and neighborhoods change, it is everywhere and good to hear about other places and circumstances. It makes the reader think.

Read a review from the Los Angeles Times or check out the official website for fun extras like reading guide questions, an excerpt, a Q&A with the author, or a video.

The Judas Field by Howard Bahr

The Judas Field by Howard Bahr (2006)
A return to the site of the Battle of Franklin twenty years after the battle brings back bitter and horrific memories to former Confederate soldier Cass Wakefield.

Howar Bahr received the 2007 Shaara Prize for Civil War Fiction. Read more about the prize, about the author, and Bahr's acceptance speech. Check out reviews in the Boston Globe or Washington Post and look at a reading group guide.