Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener

Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener (1947)
This is Michener’s first novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, inspiration for the musical South Pacific, and a quietly moving story of men and women far from home at a time of war. These tales are connected short stories in which a handful of characters appear. In the background, the invasion of a Japanese held island is being planned, but in the mean time, sailors and nurses fall in love, write letters home, drink, and fraternize with the local population.

Learn more about this ever popular author.

The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace

The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace (2010)
Based on the true story of a 19th century inventor and his innovation, The Blind Contessa's New Machine is a story of love and the triumph of the imagination.

In Italy in the early 1800s, the Contessa Fantoni is engaged to marry the town’s most eligible bachelor when she suspects that she is losing her eyesight. Only one person really believes and understands her; her childhood friend, Turri. With his eccentric interest in invention and in an act of love, he provides Carolina with a writing machine so that she can write and communicate with the world.

Wallace’s novel imagines the love affair that inspired a remarkable invention. Her passages which describe Carolina's dreams and memories are wonderfully written and show that although physically limited by her blindness, Carolina's world is unlimited and full of adventure. The novella was inspired by the true story of Pellegrino Turri and the Contessa Fantoni!

Check out the book group guide and read an interview with the author.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (2010)

Edie Burchill is at loose ends. She has lost her boyfriend and her London apartment and is sleeping on her boss’s couch. Unexpectedly she learns that her mother has spent the early months of WWII as a young evacuee at Milderhurst Castle, owned by renowned author Raymond Blythe. Blythe was the author of The True History of the Mud Man, a childhood classic and Edie’s favorite book. Now the castle is crumbling and Blythe’s three elderly daughters live there in seclusion until they invite Edie into their home. Then mysterious disappearances and deaths are revealed and Edie sees how the past has impacted not just the Blythes, but her own past as well.

 Watch the author discuss her writing of The Distant Hours and view reviews.

Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch

Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch (2010)Kings of the Earth fictionalizes the Ward brothers of Munnsville, New York, whose story was told in the documentary Brother’s Keeper. In this novel, the four brothers become the three fictional Proctor brothers: Vernon, Audie and Creed; who in their senior years still live on the family's old and inadequate dairy farm. When the eldest brother dies, apparently after being suffocated, the local authorities take a confession from the brother, Creed, to explain the death.

Ranging from the 1930s to 1990s and back again, we hear a rural chorus of voices telling the story of three brothers. Recalling William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, each chapter is headed with a character name and told from his point of view and each releases essential information. Some of the chapters are little more than a few sentences, but effectively present the story of conflict between old versus new – rural versus modern. Inspiring and poignant, this novel by Clinch addresses one of Faulkner's favorite themes: our ability to endure.

Visit the author's webiste and view his reading guide. Read the L.A. Times review.

Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry Greenwood

Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry Greenwood (2010)
Phryne Fisher is a Melbourne, Australia, jazz age flapper and private investigator. This time, though, she is on vacation. Packing up her two adopted daughters and practical companion Dot, Phryne heads for the seaside only to find a house full of Surrealists next door, a film crew making a movie on the beach, a whole town looking for hidden treasure, and, oh yes, smugglers and a missing cook and butler. In short order, between dips in the ocean and scrumptious meals, Phryne has it all sorted. Don’t read Phryne for the mystery but for the delightful collection of characters that make up her world.

Don't miss the delightful Phyrne Fisher website!

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen (2010)
I have been anxiously awaiting the start of this new series by Anna Godbersen (thanks to the kind teen patron who alerted me to it!) and I was not disappointed. Set in 1929s NYC at the height of Prohibition, the book chronicles the lives of three young women from very different backgrounds as they try to make their mark in society.

Astrid is a socialite, home from boarding school on holiday, and living the life of parties and country club lunches. Letty and Cordelia have come to New York from Union, Ohio, so Letty has her chance to make it big as a singer. Once they arrive in New York, Cordelia reveals her actual motivation for coming along (to search for her father, a famous bootlegger); she and Letty argue and go their separate ways.

Godbersen’s strength is in her historical writing – depicting the lives of fictional characters against actual historical events, and making the frivolity and decadence of the time period come alive for teen readers. This was a fun, engrossing read left wide open for a sequel (or more) that I look forward to reading!

Check out the Bright Young Things/Luxe blog to discover more about the author and this intriguing series.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (2009)
An immigrant tale set in the early 1950s, Brooklyn follows Eilis Lacey as she journeys from Ireland to New York City to escape economic hardship and begin a new life. This heartwarming coming of age story filled with grit and determination may move too slowly for some, but features interesting characters and lovely writing.

 Brooklyn was the Chicago Public Library’s selection for “One Book One Chicago” in spring 2010. Read more about the book and visit the author's website.

Roses by Leila Meacham

Roses by Leila Meacham (2009)
What’s longer and more involved than an epic saga? Roses by Leila Meacham! This multigenerational novel set in Texas is engrossing to the conclusion. It’s a big book – but it’s worth the time spent reading!

Read the New Yorker review and take a peak at the novel.

The Information Officer by Mark Mills

The Information Officer by Mark Mills (2009)The Information Officer is an old-fashioned WWII suspense novel, reminiscent of Graham Greene. The prolonged and intense Axis bombing of Malta provides the backdrop to a superb spy thriller and work of historical fiction. Tiny Malta in the Mediterranean was a valuable piece of real estate for the Germans and the British during World War II as they vied to gain a toehold in Africa.

Maj. Max Chadwick is charged with putting a positive spin on Malta's depressing war time situation, and to separate rumor from fact. This directs Max's choices as he sets out to investigate a serial killer targeting dance hostesses who worked the bars in the capital city's disreputable quarter.

Read the L.A. Times review and learn more about the author at BookBrowse.

The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn (2010)
This one has what every good Gothic romance should. There is the handsome yet troubled count with the string of conquests behind him. There is the beguiling heroine who travels from Scotland to a remote mountaintop castle in Transylvania. There are the locals who talk about werewolves and vampires and the much hated last count. There are dark and stormy nights and hidden tunnels. This one hits all the right notes without being either too serious about it all or tongue in cheek.

Watch the book trailer and visit the author's website.

The Women by T.C. Boyle

The Women by T. C. Boyle (2009)
T. C. Boyle is an easy-to-read, interesting author who writes accurate historical fiction. This story about the women in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright is a realistic read. Anyone who knows Wright's architectural background will truly enjoy this book of his personal life. If you don't know or care about Wright's life, this book is still a very interesting read about a man's life in the years 1880s to 1950s.

Watch the video clip of the author discussing his book and read the  New York Times review.

Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove (1992)
In this alternate history, General Robert E. Lee finds that he is able to win the Civil War, as a mysterious group of men with questionable motives provide the Confederacy with a weapon the world of the 1860s has not yet seen: the AK-47.

Though the founding premise of the book is far-fetched, you'll need to suspend your disbelief no further. The book is incredibly-well researched, and captures the gritty feel of the era and the personalities of its characters in rich detail, from the attitudes of a defeated Abraham Lincoln to the opinions of the more progressively-minded sergeant-turned-schoolteacher Nathan Caudell. I think it'd thoroughly please a reader of traditional historical fiction as well as any harder military, political or sci-fi fan.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (2009)
Lisa See, author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, has written another compelling, good read. This time it's about two beautiful, wealthy sisters, Pearl and May, who are forced into arranged marriages with two unknown American men when the bottom falls out of their father's lucrative business just as Japan invades China. Tragedy after tragedy befall them in China and in America. Their sisterly bond remains intact as they work to survive what happens. It's a page turner, but be forewarned: the ending cries “sequel to come.”

Check out the author's website and read reviews at Amazon.com.

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert (2003)
Rachel is a young Hawaiian girl living an idyllic life in 1890s Honolulu. When a small red patch appears on her thigh and then her foot, her mother tries to hide them. But when word gets out that Rachel has leprosy, the six year old is forcibly removed from her family and eventually sent to the leper colony on Moloka'i.

Rachel spends the next fifty years of her life in the isolated colony. She makes and loses friend, marries, and even has a baby that, after the first moments of her birth, Rachel is not allowed to touch.

Brennert tells this very poignant story in a simple straightforward way that makes you feel the triumphs and pain of Rachel and the other inhabitants of the colony without manipulating and overtly playing on your emotions.

Join us for a book discussion on Wednesday, May 12 at 7:30.

La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith

La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith (2009)
After losing her husband, La (short for Lavender) goes to live in a small house in the English countryside owned by her in-laws. The time is the late 1930s and when WWII begins, La occupies herself by helping a local farmer with his chickens and leading an amateur orchestra made up of locals and men from the local airbase.

This is a quiet story about a woman who lives a simple life yet touches the lives of many.

Visit the author's website and read a review from the Washington Post.