Love is in the Air! Just Kidding, it’s Plague.

By Kristi S

If you are cynical like me, or were not hit by cupid’s sparrow this year, last week might have gotten under your skin. Valentine’s Day is a holiday I have never enjoyed. Perhaps it is the shock of turning a corner in the store and finding everything bright pink. Maybe it is the odd sense of obligation we feel on this day. Possibly, it is the joke gifts my mother gives me that remind me I am perpetually alone. All this to say, I avoid Valentine’s fervor like the plague.

Speaking of plague, I love reading plague books in all genres. Dystopian novels where humanity has been wiped out? Bring it on. Historical fiction about medieval maladies? Absolutely! Dark fantasy with questionable definitions of plague? I’ll count it if people are suffering. I find that every year when February rolls around, I am ready to escape into these unpleasant worlds. It’s always good to remind myself that there are worse things in life than conversation hearts. So today, I have compiled a diverse list of books about the plague to help you avoid the disease of romance in macabre style.

Dystopian Diseases

American War by Omar El Akkad

The year is 2075 and a new civil war has begun in the United States. Rising waters, limited resources, and plague have led families from the coast, including Sarat’s family, to move to refugee shelters in the Midwest. Here, Sarat joins the resistance movement for the South and she will stop at nothing to see the world fall. In this novel, El Akkad offers a bleak perspective on human nature, and his experience as a journalist makes this war seem so real, you can’t help but wonder if this is truly the future or a diatribe on the present.

Plague Tales by Ann Benson

A cross between speculative fiction and historical fiction, this novel begins as bubonic plague is spreading across Europe and presents a parallel storyline set in a futuristic London. The chapters alternate stories, and the stark difference in settings and time makes their similarities eerie. Benson is a master at building suspense and I found myself up far too late because each chapter ends on a cliffhanger. I will never look at modern medicine in the same way.

Medieval Maladies

Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands

The Black Plague is ravaging England and people are dying in droves. Families are desperate to believe in a cure, as a man claiming to be a prophet arrives to predict where the plague will strike next. Christopher, a young apothecary’s apprentice, is at the center of this mystery and must use his considerable skill in codes and puzzles to save the city. Though written for middle grade readers, this book is so well-written and fast-paced that readers of all ages will enjoy the adventure. I loved attempting to solve the puzzles myself and seeing Medieval London through Christopher’s keen eyes.

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Is it historical fiction? Fantasy? Mystery? However it is classified, I was entranced from the start. In 14th century England, an unlikely band of misfits, joined together by necessity, attempt to outrun the plague. As each character tells their story, a dark narrative unfolds and we soon realize that all is not as it seems. Each character is layered and compelling and the book is filled with gritty historical detail that had me completely immersed in the story. This book is certainly a grim tale, and not for those who love a happy ending, but the rich storytelling and suspense make it a worthwhile read.

Preparation for Pandemics

As I read these books, I am always curious as to how the Black Death ended in Medieval Europe. Turns out, no one really knows, but here are some possible explanations. Though this doesn’t give me much hope for my odds of survival in case of plague, at least I can prepare a quarantine area and ring some bells.

So there you have it, a bit of doom and gloom to brighten your February. I want to hear what my fellow cynics are reading this month to combat the love-filled air! Peruse these other plague books for ideas, and leave your own suggestions in the comments.

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Beyond Bestsellers: Beyond the Regency

by Lindsey A.

We’ve reached the midpoint of our February edition of the Beyond Bestsellers reading challenge. I hope you’ve found a historical romance to read this month! You can also take our quiz to see a number of different lists with reading suggestions.

If you haven’t created a list, please do. We love sharing suggestions! To see lists tied to the reading challenge, change “Keyword” to “List” and run a catalog search for “Beyond Bestsellers.”

Right now I am reading The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley. The titular Scottish nobleman has a reputation as a dangerous “madman.” Having spent his youth in an asylum, he is now shunned by society. Ian has what many readers believe is Asperger syndrome, which was not understood in Victorian England. The heroine, Beth is a young widow recovering from her own past demons. With her late husband’s inheritance, she hopes to travel and explore the world. When an opportunity to remarry presents itself to Beth, it is Ian who warns her against the man, who is not what he seems. Of course, Ian starts to pursue her himself. This is a romance, after all, and he is the hero!

You may have noticed that Regency era Britain dominates this genre. The Regency was a colorful time in history, with battles and class struggles and strict parameters for even the most frivolous occasions, creating all kinds of conflict for characters to overcome. Many books have dabbled in other time periods, like medieval Scotland (the highlander hero is very hot right now) or nineteenth century America (especially Westerns), but it’s rare to find a historical romances that look beyond the Regency. Even more rare is a book set outside of the Western world.

Things are changing, though. With the rise of self-publishing, more authors are able to get their unique historical romances into the hands (or tablets) of readers. It seems like publishers are taking notice and branching out. We are also seeing more diversity in our romances (check out my blog post on gay historical romance, for example), which is very refreshing!

I love the Regency, I really do. I just like to mix it up sometimes. Maybe you do, too?

Below are some suggestions for reading outside the box.

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Sail Away with Whidbey Reads 2018

By Marie B.

I consider myself lucky to live in a place where I can get to the beach in just five minutes. It’s a bonus to live on an island nestled between the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges. Even though the world just outside my door is so wonderful, I sometimes escape into a book to immerse myself in the watery wonders of the sea. A skilled author can make me believe I can smell the salty air and feel the sea spray on my face.

In the funny, poignant novel Before the Wind by Jim Lynch, readers get a taste of what it’s like to be part of a family that eats, drinks, and breathes sailing. The Johanssens have built boats for generations, and they race them, too. Josh runs a boat repair shop. Unatttached at 31, he is running out of matches on the dating site he joined. Josh’s mom dreams of solving the Navier-Stokes equations and winning the million-dollar prize. His brother is, essentially, a 21st Century pirate. Their sister Ruby can sense how the wind will behave, making her an incredible asset in competitive sailing. Instead of sailing, she chose to do something else with her life, which is a bitter disappointment to her father, the taskmaster. Bobo, Josh’s grandfather, is drinking to excess. In short, there’s a storm brewing on the Johannsen Family horizon.

“Before the Wind” is the 2018 selection for Whidbey Reads, an annual community-reading experience. Whidbey branches of Sno-Isle Libraries are hosting a variety of programs related to the book’s themes, including four appearances by Whidbey Island’s own shanty-singing Shifty Sailors.

The ultimate events are a pair of appearances by author Jim Lynch. He will speak at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland on Wednesday, April 18, and at the Oak Harbor Yacht Club in Oak Harbor on Thursday, April 19. Book sales and signing follows in both locations.

The Whidbey Reads committee is proud to present the 2018 programs, and hopes the community enjoys each one. In the meantime, here are a few titles to help sailors and landlubbers alike get into the nautical spirit of things.

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Beyond Bestsellers: Historical Romantic Suspense

by Jocelyn R.

As a huge fan of the romance genre, it’s probably no surprise that I also find historical romance very appealing. With historical romance, not only do I get the love story, I also get the historical details that convey the spirit of the age – the society, social mores, courtship rules and rituals, and historical people of note (and since many historical romance authors research the heck out of the time period for their novels, I feel like I’m also getting a really fun history lesson). But what if you want a little bit…more in your romance novel? What if you crave a little adventure, suspense or mystery as well? That’s when you should look for a historical romance that is also a romantic suspense novel.

Romantic suspense is a sub-genre of romance where the main characters are in ongoing jeopardy due to a mystery or intrigue. The jeopardy they face is much higher than simple societal consequences, as often in these novels their very lives are at stake. The inclusion of a suspense plot in a romance can help enhance the developing relationship between the characters as they work through conflicts with each other as they overcome serious threats and obstacles.

One well-known author of historical romantic suspense is Amanda Quick (a pseudonym for Jayne Ann Krentz). Many of her novels are set in Britain during the 1800s, but she recently made forays into 1930s America. Just to give you an idea of what she writes, here’s some info about two of her novels –

Slightly Shady
A banter-filled regency romance where shopkeeper Lavinia and private investigator Tobias attempt to solve a murder and find a diary that’d been used for blackmail.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Set in 1930s California, this swiftly moving historical romance contains surprising plot twists, secrets galore, and a murder mystery.

Of course, other authors have delved into historical romantic suspense as well. Check out the suggestions below and on this list.

The Lotus Palace – Jeannie Lin
Set in ninth century, Imperial China, this historical romance thrusts aristocrat Bai Huang and street-smart maidservant to courtesan, Yue-ying together to solve a murder.

Ready, Set, Rogue – Manda Collins
In this banter-filled regency romance, bluestocking heiress and scholar Ivy Wareham must solve the murder of her benefactress with the help of an irritable Marquess.

Through Waters Deep – Sarah Sundin
In this novel that blends history, romance, faith, and friendship, a naval officer and navy secretary must expose a saboteur in 1941 Boston.

Happy reading!

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Picture Book Writers: Children’s Author Biographies

by Emily Z.

In the other half of my library life I plan library storytimes for children. Before I ran away and joined the library, I ran the children’s department at a bookstore. At this point I’m no longer certain which came first, a love of children’s literature or a livelihood that demanded it. Either way, I still try to make time for such books, even ones I’ve read before (alright, especially ones I’ve read before). Increasingly, I wonder what makes the authors of our childhoods (and their creations) so beloved? Is it simple nostalgia? Do we automatically cherish the books read to us when we’re young or do we ultimately prefer the ones we discover on our own? How do some children’s books eventually become classics, especially when they’re not initially well received?

You might also wonder what makes the authors of these books so unique. What type of person is a children’s author? Do they all share some ineffable personal quirk—an abundance of imagination, immaturity, wisdom, or what? I haven’t yet found any one unifying element in my research. Essentially none of the writers I’ve read about started out writing children’s books—it was a second career or third or fourth. Author biographies are doubly intriguing to me because you get not only the story of someone’s life, but a look in at how their life experiences might have influenced their works.

That’s where I’d like to go today, into the lands of Oz, the Wild Things, and the varied territories of talking animals. I’m also choosing to leave out a few heavy hitters like Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.This certainly isn’t because they’re uninteresting (and I feel kind of bad now because some of them have birthdays coming up) but there are so many books and films out about them at this point, I wouldn’t know where to start. I thought I’d give some other authors a shot at the spotlight.

In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown
by Amy Gary

When we think of the works of Margaret Wise Brown, we might picture the striking but familiar bedroom of Goodnight Moon or perhaps the frenetic affection of Runaway Bunny. Who do you see, though, when you try to imagine Margaret herself? Who wrote these sweet and gentle stories? For some reason, I always envisioned a mannerly grandmother figure, perhaps because I associated the books with my own grandmother reading them. As it turns out, I was very mistaken. Margaret was a firecracker. She was an unstoppable, athletic, passionate, obstinate, impulsive, and intelligent woman in her prime. She chased hares on foot as a hobby. She fell messily in love with tempestuous people. She was ahead of her time, championing the reinvention of children’s books as books actually written for children. At the same time, she struggled with doubts about the importance of her work (a body of work so voluminous and highly-valued it is still being published decades after her passing). This story of Margaret’s life starts gently but the drama builds and it goes out with a (unfortunate) bang.

There’s a Mystery There: The Primal Vision of Maurice Sendak
by Jonathan Cott

Sendak‘s stories seamlessly unite a visceral wildness with familiar, domestic themes and imagery. They’re about children, food, school, dreams, fairy-tales, monsters, and the subconscious. In this examination of Sendak’s life and legacy, Cott shares his clear admiration for Maurice in a weaving together of intimate interviews from a variety of sources. Sendak had a difficult childhood, unusual career path, and a frank openness paired (somewhat perplexingly) with a fondness for cryptic symbolism and surrealism in his work. This book also dives deep into Sendak’s masterpiece, Outside Over There, a picture book which took him five years to finish.

You might also check out Making Mischief, a book with even more of Sendak’s art and information on the artists who influenced him.

The Real Wizard of Oz
by Rebecca Loncraine

Like her subject L. Frank Baum, Loncraine has the chops of a storyteller. Whether or not you’re especially enamored with the world of Oz or believe Baum was the J.K. Rowling of his time, Loncraine offers up a captivating banquet of some very interesting times in American history with stylish flair. Baum did not start writing for children (or even dream of the Oz series) until the latter part of his life, but the inspiration for many of the themes in his writing are evident all along the road of his earlier life. He lived in a period of incredible expansion, economic turmoil, war, disease, drought, suffrage, spiritualism, racism, and electricity. When he was a child, veterans were just coming come from the Civil War with metal prostheses, not unlike a certain fictional woodsman. Baum’s wife and mother-in-law were both fiery, brilliant, and progressive women, which likely inspired Baum to push the buttons of his publisher when he wrote progressive books for girls under the pen name Edith Van Dyne. In truth, Baum’s careers, opinions, and moods were even more varied than his many nom de plumes.

Oh, and did you know there was an Oz musical stage play that came out before the movie?

Patricia Polacco

Finally, I’d like to proffer the author Patricia Polacco. Hers is not as famous as some of the other names here, but when I started putting this post together, I knew I wanted to give her a special mention. I lamented the fact that there is no published biography on this fascinating woman or much formal analysis of her magical and moving stories. Then I remembered that Polacco has written a bit about herself, not in an official biography, but in her own books. The Junkyard Wonders, An A from Miss Keller, Thank you, Mr. Falker, and any books I may have missed that feature “Trisha” are all autobiographical. Each story provides a slice of Polacco’s early life, focusing on her struggles in school and discovery of her dyslexia. I think it’s safe to say there’s at least a bit of an author’s life in everything they write. Polacco is just a little more up front about it.

 

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Are there any authors from your formative years (or later) you’d like to read about but, for whatever reason, don’t have a biography out yet? I’d personally like to know more about Barbara Sleigh (creator of Carbonel, King of Cats), Mary Norton (she of The Borrowers and the Bed-knobs and Broomsticks), or Russell Hoban, best known for his Frances the Badger series and one very curious piece of post-apocalyptic fiction. Oh, and if you’re a Pippi Longstocking fan, there’s going to be a newly translated biography of Astrid Lindgren out at the end of this month.

 

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LibraryReads List February 2018

by Emily Z.

Can you even believe it is already February? Whether or not you’re thrilled with the pace of this year’s progress, February’s LibraryReads List has a little bit of everything to distract you from tax season. There’s family drama (real and fictional), chilling thrillers, continuing dystopian travails, historical fiction, and Sophie Kinsella, bringing the love just in time for Valentine’s Day with Surprise Me.

One title in particular has caught the attention of some librarians I know. Care to guess which one? Yes, it’s Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern. The title is charming, the topic is timely, and the characters sound delightfully eccentric, but will she get the library policy details right? I’m sure you’re all dying to know, just as we are.

What say you? Do you see your next book crush below?

I myself am eyeing How To Stop Time by Matt Haig. The main character sounds like a total Renaissance man or rather, it sounds like he is a man who was born during the Renaissance period and is still alive over 400 years later. I gather there’s some secret societies, difficult decisions, and oodles of history too.

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Beyond Bestsellers: Historical Romance

by Lindsey A.

Welcome to your February edition of Beyond Bestsellers, Sno-Isle Libraries’ community reading challenge! I hope you’re all back in the swing of things. Jocelyn’s Epic Fantasy post will bring you up to speed with the second wave of the reading challenge. Each month we will read books from different themes, and participants can engage with us by creating lists in the catalog or offering reading suggestions in the blog comments. This month the theme is Historical Romance.

I read widely in fiction but when I want an escape, I often choose historical romance. I love reading about eras far removed from my own. It’s like taking a vacation, but traveling through the Craigh na Dun rocks from Outlander and finding myself in the past. I love learning about the ways people managed daily life and relationships throughout history. Courtship in the upper echelon of Regency society was very different from dating today, and different still from the customs of ancient China or medieval Scotland.

But in every age, all around the world, people have fallen in love.

It is easy to dismiss the romance genre, but a 2016 article suggests that “believing in romance and love and the connection it provides fosters a sense of hope.” We could use a bit of hope these days!

Historical romance is one of romance’s biggest subgenres. Within it are many subgenres, from Biblical romance to Western romance to Edwardian romance and beyond. Below is a quiz to help guide you toward an era that might interest you, but romance can take place in any period of history. Twentieth Century historical romance has grown in popularity, and it’s not uncommon to find books set during World War II. Soon the genre will include the Cold War, the counterculture of the 1960s, even the fall of the Berlin Wall, and then we will all feel old.

In addition, through the month of February we are offering these ebooks and eaudiobooks with simultaneous access on OverDrive. There’s no need to wait in line – they’re available immediately!

Lisa Kleypas has a new book coming out this month in her Victorian Ravenels series, Hello Stranger. It features a female physician and a former member of Scotland Yard!

I really hope you find something that appeals to you this month. If you’re put off by the shirtless dukes and highlanders, try finding a historical novel with a strong emphasis on the romantic relationship. I think you’ll find that romance plays into quite a lot of fiction.

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Beyond Bestsellers: Epic Fantasy Lists

by Jocelyn R.

As our month exploring epic fantasy comes to an end, I hope you enjoyed this challenge and were inspired to go on an epic quest (to Mordor), learn how to use a sword, explore notions of good and evil, discover some new favorite reads. I know I did! If you’re still looking for a new favorite or are curious about what epic fantasy your fellow readers devoured this month, check out some of the lists below.

To see all the lists created for this month’s theme, as well as our previous themes, simply search by “List” for Beyond Bestsellers. Our readers have made some great lists this month.

For those of you searching for more epic fantasy written by women, check out this list by smozog000:

mercurious007‘s list, Beyond Bestsellers: Totally Epic Fantasy! caught my eye with the enthusiastic title (which so accurately reflects my own feelings toward the genre), and kept my attention when the description began with a quote from Lord of the Rings…”they’re taking the hobbits to Isengard!”

sepia_apama recommended some favorite epic fantasy novels…

while ChromaTick created a list of hidden gems in epic fantasy.

And for those of you who enjoy teen literature, smozog000 suggested some teen epic fantasy:

Alas, epic fantasy’s time in the spotlight is fading. But before I pass the torch, I’ll leave you with this quote from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, “The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.”

The time for epic fantasy is over. Now, we turn our sights to…Historical Romance.

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A Day in the life.

by Grant P.

Daniel Day-Lewis recently announced he was retiring from acting, which was greeted with much sadness and an academy award nomination. I wasn’t surprised by the announcement as he only makes a movie every 3-5 years, and 60 seems like a reasonable (if lucky) age to retire. My two favorite performances of his are in the flawed Gangs of New York, which I remember watching in the theaters (and being physically affected by his portrayal of Bill the Butcher) and in the perfect There Will Be Blood as the monstrous Daniel Plainview. Luckily for fans, the Sno-Isle Libraries have many of his films available to borrow. Below are the three films for which he won an Academy award.

There Will Be Blood – Considered by some to be the best film of this century, Paul Thomas Anderson’s astounding work is held together by Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance. Any other actor in this role would make the character of Daniel Plainview farcical, but he nails it, in all of his megalomaniac insanity. He also sports a world class mustache. Bonus points for a score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and perfect cinematography by Robert Elswit.

 

 

Lincoln – Similar time period (40 year difference) with reverse facial hair and reverse morals. The difference between the characters Day-Lewis plays in these two films really show his range. His Lincoln is so controlled and thoughtful, as oppose to the brash Plainview. Spielberg lucked out when Liam Neeson withdrew from the film; the movie would have had a very different feel after the Taken films.

 

My Left Foot – Daniel Day-Lewis’s first Oscar was for this film based on the life of Irish writer and painter Christy Brown who, because of Cerebral palsy, could only move his … left foot. The filmed showed the lengths that Day-Lewis would go to in preparation for a film.

Do you have favorite Day-Lewis performance?

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Beyond Bestsellers: Epic Fantasies From Books to Films

By Kaley C

Are you, like me, a bit of a book purist? More specifically, when you find out about a soon-to-be-released TV show, do you need to read the book first? I can’t help it. There’s always more exciting details that can’t be put into production. Don’t get me started about Peeves the Poltergeist being left out of the Harry Potter franchise, or Tom Bombadil being abandoned in the Lord of the Rings movies.

If you also appreciate the detail found in a book, you might want to get on top of these books now while the films and shows are still in production.

The Last WishThe Last Wish is a short story collection penned by Andrej Sapkowski and has been out since the 90s. Since the initial publications in various languages, you might recall that they’ve also been made into a popular RPG game known by the name of The Witcher​. The story of the assassin Geralt de Riv has been told already, but now it is in the works to be a show for Netflix. I crawled through many message boards and websites and they generally agree The Last Wish is a good place to begin your journey that’ll span several novels and other story collections.

The Lord of the Rings already has movies to its name, but get ready for Amazon’s take of the trilogy as a TV show. As a long time fan of the books, I am choosing to be optimistic about this. Please, Amazon, be gentle! Start with The Fellowship of the Ring, but if you really love backstories give The Hobbit a go first.

The Fifth Season I am so excited about this next book and future television show. The Fifth Season was my favorite book in 2015! It starts with a vengeful Essun, who is tracking her kidnapped daughter after the brutal murder of her son.  So far, it only looks like this first book has been picked up, but I’m looking forward to this dark science fantasy.

 Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, is sure to be a hit too. BBC will turn this humorous end of the world gone wrong book into a mini-series which will likely be released next year. Until then, Enjoy this photo of Jon Hamm as the Angel Gabriel that Gaiman tweeted. Expect to see David Tennant and Michael Sheen in starring roles as well!

There’s a few additional books in my list below if you’d like to keep perusing these books before they hit the film circuit!

 

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