Some books are beautifully written while others tell a fascinating story. And then there is Anthony Doerr’s new novel All the Light We Cannot See, which combines exquisite prose with an engrossing and layered tale of history, science and myth set in Europe during the era of World War II.
In August of 1944, the French coastal city of St. Malo was the location of a battle between the occupying Nazi troops and the Allied forces determined to drive out the Germans. In the city, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a 16-year-old blind girl, is home alone, hiding under her bed when the shelling begins. Across town, German army private Walter Pfennig is stationed with his radio team in the basement of the Hotel of Bees.
Doerr moves his story back and forth within a 10 year time frame. Marie-Laure was living in Paris with her father, the locksmith for the vast complex of the National Museum of Natural History. The pair fled Paris as the Occupation began, possibly carrying with them a priceless diamond steeped in legend from the museum’s collection. As a boy, Werner lived in an orphanage where he repaired a radio discarded as trash. He and his little sister would tune in to French radio broadcasts about science. Gifted with an analytical mind, Werner is drafted by the Nazis, using his skills to hunt down amateur broadcasters for the Resistance. Doerr carefully unfolds each character’s narrative as they gradually converge in St. Malo.
The center of this story might be a peerless gem, as cursed as the Hope diamond, both precious and horrifying. It might be the realization that both good and evil — or caring and callousness — can live within one heart. All the Light We Cannot See is a finely crafted work and deserves its place on The New York Times best sellers list. Readers of World War II literary fiction might also enjoy Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists, a 2012 Man Booker finalist.
It’s 1938, and while San Francisco is prepping for a world’s fair and a war is percolating overseas, three young girls are focused on making it as showgirls in the city’s most exclusive Asian revue. Lisa See introduces us to Ruby, Helen and Grace in China Dolls, a captivating novel which takes readers to the dazzling and debauched world of burlesque while detailing the intricate relationships of women and the impact history and fate has on their lives and friendships.
Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen Fong lives with her extended and very traditional family in Chinatown. And Ruby Tom is stunning, independent and ambitious, but has a closely guarded secret. These three young women from diverse backgrounds find themselves competing for the same jobs, but still become fast friends sharing secrets, hopes and dreams. Everything changes with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As the U.S. government sends innocent Japanese citizens to internment camps, Ruby’s true heritage is exposed and she is sent to a camp in Utah. Did one of her friends betray her secret?
Paranoia and suspicion set in, and their friendships become increasingly fragile as the war intensifies. However, bleak times demand support, and the trio always manages to find a way back to one another. Lisa See once again delivers a faultlessly researched historical saga spanning a half century. This story of female friendship, ambition and betrayal is highlighted by the magnificent milieu of Asian burlesque entertainment. The colorful details create a beautiful backdrop for sharing the life journey of these three remarkable and dynamic women.
It’s the fall of 1941 in England, and the world stands on the brink of destruction. By night, the bombs drop. By day, exhausted Londoners go about their daily business. As do a network of spies – specialists in deceit – determined to stop Hitler and all he stands for. Maggie Hope never expected to be one of them. Shattered from her undercover experiences in Berlin, she is assigned to share her expertise in the training of future SOE agents.
Britain stands alone; the United States merrily jitterbugs, packing Bundles for Britain, remaining determined to stay out of European affairs. Winston Churchill despairs that FDR will never come to England’s aid. Determined to defend the realm whatever the cost, Churchill authorizes the development of chemical weapons.
But the war is about more than the plans of politicians. It’s about the people who must make deeply personal decisions about their involvement. When a dear friend of Maggie’s is accidentally affected by the secret experiments being conducted in Scotland, Maggie must decide how far she will go to find a killer, save a friend and her country.
Meticulously researched, and based on the stories of true spies, political and military events, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent is sure to please historical fiction readers as well as lovers of mystery and suspense. Susan Elia MacNeal is a master at creating the backdrop of war and the heartbreak of those involved. Readers of Jacqueline Winspear and Laura Wilson will be delighted with this latest entry in the Maggie Hope series.
Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is back to solve another baffling historical mystery in Why Kings Confess by C. S. Harris. The French Revolution is over, and Napoleon seems poised to usurp the French throne from the Bourbons. A secret delegation of royalists has been dispatched to England to try and make peace with the British monarchy. French physician Damion Pelletan is discovered in a back alley, his body mutilated and his companion, Alexi Sauvage, badly injured. Sauvage, a woman trained as a physician but unable to practice in England or France due solely to her gender. Sebastian knows Alexi from an unfortunate encounter in the past, but quickly realizes that he must leave the past behind, investigate the murder and find her attacker. Soon he will become embroiled in a hotbed of political intrigue and conspiracy as he encounters the tale of the “Lost Dauphin.” Is it true that there is a surviving male heir to the throne of France, spirited away under the cover of darkness years before? With concerns for his wife Hero and their unborn child, Sebastian plunges forward, using his preternatural gifts of sight and hearing to try and piece together this rather difficult and dangerous puzzle.
C. S. Harris is the pen name for Candice Proctor, who earned both an MA and PhD in history. This is apparent in Why Kings Confess, the ninth title in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. Regency England plays an important role in the novel, and there is rich historical detail that will enlighten and educate the reader as well as keep them entertained. The mystery itself is complex, with several suspects and plot twists that will delight anyone interested in a traditional whodunit. The audio edition, narrated by Davina Porter, is particularly well done, as her narration brings the text to life. The series, beginning with the novel What Angels Fear, is also available for download as an e-book.
Steve Berry, bestselling and highly acclaimed author of historical thrillers, including the Cotton Malone series, has over 17,000,000 copies of his books in print internationally. Get to know Steve as he answers questions about his latest bestseller and future writing plans, and even shares the strangest way he’s encountered his readers!
The Lincoln Myth involves Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Constitution, religious zealots and of course, Cotton Malone trying to save the country. Where do you get your ideas? Is it true that there is a little bit of you in Cotton?
The constitutional concept of secession has always fascinated me. It's one of those arguments that have no easy answer. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is likewise interesting. It is the quintessential American religion, and it played some key roles in our history. When I found out that Abraham Lincoln was the first president to ever read the Book of Mormon, and that he made a secret deal with Brigham Young, I knew there was a novel there. So I sent Cotton Malone to get to the bottom of things. And he is basically me. When I created him for The Templar Legacy, I used my personality, so we share a lot of traits, like the love of rare books. He doesn’t like enclosed spaces, I don’t either. He doesn’t like the taste of alcohol. He has finicky eating habits. That's me. I, of course, don’t jump out of planes and shoot guns at bad guys, but I live that through him.
You’ve said in the past that the most wonderful fiction always has a ring of truth to it. What’s the ring of truth in The Lincoln Myth?
The concept of a union of 50 states that is indivisible and forever is not necessarily accurate. Lincoln did not fight the Civil War to save the Union, he fought that war to create the Union. I doubt many of us realize that. I didn't, until I did the research for this novel.
History is so important to you that you and your wife created History Matters to assist communities around the world with historic restoration and preservation. In fact, you’ll be in Baltimore at the B & O Museum for a reception and book signing on May 21 for the Edgar Allan Poe House. Why does history matter?
History is who we are and where we came from. To forget that or, even worse, to just allow it to rot away, robs the future of that past. It's our duty to preserve what came before for the next generation.
With so many copies of your books all over the world, you must encounter people reading your novels all the time. What is the weirdest place you’ve ever seen a Steve Berry book being read? How about the most exotic?
Fiji is probably the most exotic. The oddest happened in an airport. The man sitting beside me started reading the latest hardback, then a woman sitting across from me did the same thing. On the back cover of each book was a full color photo of me, yet neither made the connection. That's the cool thing about being a writer. You don't lose your anonymity, which is wonderful.
Your favorite holiday decoration is your Star Trek themed tree complete with Santa in a transporter. Have you ever considered writing science fiction or fantasy?
I'd love to write a sci-fi novel one day. I even have one churning in my mind, and I just might do it. I've always been a fan of that genre.
How big of a thrill was it to be asked to write the forewords for the upcoming re-releases of James Michener’s novels?
That was truly an honor. He is, hands-down, my favorite writer of all time. I have a complete collection of his novels that I've amassed for over 40 years. To see my name on the same cover with his will be amazing. I hope a new generation of readers will rediscover Michener. He was genius. I write today because of him.
Do you have any sneak peeks for our readers as to what’s in store for Cotton Malone’s 15th adventure? Can you share any news in the development of the series for the small screen?
Cotton will return in 2015. This one deals with another fascinating quirk from the Constitution. It's called The Patriot Threat, and it will be on sale in March. Alcon Entertainment is still developing a possible television series for Cotton. Hopefully, it'll make it to the screen one day. If anyone would like to know more about that, or me, or the books, check out www.steveberry.org.
The Mangle Street Murders is the first in the Gower Street Detective series by M. R. C. Kasasian. London before the turn of the century could be a dismal place. Luckily, London has personal detective Sidney Grice. Grice is pompous, arrogant, irascible and overly fond of drinking a perfectly brewed cup of tea. He will take anyone’s case for a price. March Middleton has lost her immediate family and is sent to live with Sidney Grice as his ward. March is kinder and gentler than the great detective and is keen on getting involved in his cases. When a woman of limited means comes to Sidney’s office to hire him to clear the name of her son-in-law, Sidney and March find themselves with a curious mystery that becomes more complicated at every turn. Sidney is unwilling to allow a woman to take part in an investigation, but March holds fast and quickly begins to assist with the case. Will March’s kind demeanor be able to withstand the arrogance held by Sidney Grice?
Grice is an even ruder version of the famous Sherlock Holmes, and Kasasian pokes fun at the famous detective with this similar character. March becomes the female Watson and, as the story is told through her narrative, she holds her own as an interesting and compelling character. The mystery itself is well thought out and complex enough to keep any mystery lover guessing. Kasasian is good at detailing life in 1880s London, and readers who enjoy a mystery rich in historical detail will not be disappointed.
Leila Meacham’s Somerset is a stirring family saga covering 150 years in the lives of the Toliver and Warwick families who are looking to make their way in the newly formed communities in Texas. Simon Toliver is determined to free himself from his South Carolina family and build his dream plantation in Texas. He is forced into a relationship with Jessica Wyndham, whose abolitionist leanings have made her a persona non grata in South Carolina. The two begin a perilous journey that will determine their future. Meacham’s story begins in the antebellum period as the plantation begins to grow and prosper, but threats of war are on the horizon. Simon and Jessica must find a way to protect their homes and families. Meacham creates memorable characters like Jessica’s best friend Tippy, a slave whom Jessica is determined to free.
Meacham wrote this novel as prequel to her first novel, Roses. Roses covers the history of the Somerset plantation from the years 1914 through 1985, introducing readers to the heirs of the Toliver and Warwick fortunes. Somerset begins in 1835 and sets the stage for all that is to come.
Leila Meacham is a new heavy hitter in the family saga, and Somerset is no exception. Grand and sweeping, it is full of tidbits of Texas history and rich with compelling characters that bring plenty of drama, action and romance. Teresa DeBerry reads the novel on the audio recording with such an authentic Texan drawl that the reader will be transported directly to the antebellum south. Fans of Belva Plain or Barbara Taylor Bradford are sure to find something to love in this novel.
Ishmael Beah writes as though he is guided by a kaleidoscope of imagery. The old man's hair was not gray; it was the "color of stagnant clouds." Such is the pleasure of reading this Sierra Leone-born author, who recently published his first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, about the aftermath of civil war in his home country. The book, part fable/part allegory, is really several individuals’ stories set in the village of Imperi. It is about the redemptive nature of those who have suffered heartbreak few can imagine and the human need to renew, rebuild and rejuvenate.
Imperi is a devastated, desolate place since the war. Villagers are now making their way back, past the rows of human skulls that line their path. They bring with them memories. They bring physical scars as well, like those borne by Sila and his two children, whose hands were cut off by a 16-year-old boy soldier now living among them. They crave a return to the old ways, like Bockarie and Benjamin, two teachers at the center of the story who find it difficult to inspire students when conditions are so poor. Fortunately, there are storytellers, like the elder Mama Kadie, whose evening tales swaddle those listening in the tentative celebration of tomorrow. As more villagers return, we learn of their pasts. Insidious corruption from both within and outside of the government complicates matters.
Beah, a former child soldier who wrote about his experiences in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, was influenced by the tradition of oral storytelling as a young boy. "I bring a lot of that oral tradition to my writing and I try to let it seep into the words." His evocative narrative, conveyed in the third person, borrows from his native Mende as well as other languages. It is lyrical prose that invites readers to slow down and drift into a world Beah knows all too well.
After France’s stunning defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and its near defeat in WWI, no event garnered more attention or more divided the nation than the Dreyfus Affair. Robert Harris’s new book, An Officer and a Spy, is an incredibly compelling fictional account of the long-simmering scandal, especially the rabid paranoia and anti-Semitism that fueled it.
Harris, as seen in previous works like Fatherland and Pompeii, is a master of historical fiction. In An Officer and a Spy, Harris presents us with a cast of actual historical figures in an account that reads like a spy novel. Georges Picquart is a French Army officer who is convinced of the alleged treason of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer accused of selling secrets to the hated Germans. As an award for his service in the Dreyfus Affair, Picquart is given command of the intelligence section responsible for catching spies in France. Although clearly anti-Semitic himself, Picquart slowly realizes two things: Dreyfus was not guilty, and the real spy is still on the loose. Picquart petitions his superior officers to reopen the Dreyfus case and give him leave to continue the investigation. The French High Command, unwilling to admit its own mistakes and face the political consequences, decides instead to exile Picquart to Tunisia. What follows is a smear campaign and eventually Picquart is defending himself against charges of treason. Meanwhile, over the decade that this story plays out, a solitary figure – Alfred Dreyfus – is kept prisoner on the remote Devil’s Island.
This 100-year-old scandal fits in perfectly with our modern era’s headlines of domestic spying, rendition and puppet trials. It is a novel that is unafraid of showing its hero, George Picquart, as a flawed human being. With its espionage and dramatic courtroom scenes, this novel will have you yelling “J’accuse!” at the power-mongers who would convict innocent men in order to advance their own ambitions.
The Today Show reinstated its book club in 2013, and the first two selections went on to be bestsellers. The newest selection is Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan, a fascinating portrayal of the unknown woman behind a famous man. In her new novel, Horan reimagines the lives of author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Although most of us are familiar with Stevenson’s work, few people know about the smart, independent woman who was his wife.
Fanny decides to leave her husband and her life in San Francisco behind to start over. Along with her three children, she travels to Belgium planning to study art. After a tragedy occurs during her travels, Fanny goes to an artists’ retreat in France where she meets Louis, a Scottish man 10 years her junior. Louis is captivated by the beautiful, opinionated and brash American woman. Although she is initially resistant to her suitor, eventually Louis wins her over, and their tumultuous love affair begins. The story takes them across Europe and America and through the South Pacific.
Many readers will remember Horan’s wildly popular first novel Loving Frank, which was the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Horan says that she is led to these women by first becoming fascinated by the men’s lives. She shares more about what inspires her to write about the lives of these fascinating women in this video.