Fiction Nightstand Titles

Posted on February 1, 2014. Filed under: Fiction | Tags: , , , |

During this Spring’s “What’s on Your Nightstand” event, the following fiction books were discussed.

Remember, if Oakton doesn’t own the book or our copy is checked out, you can order a copy to be sent from one of our consortium libraries for FREE! Most books take less than a week to arrive.

book cover for Behind the Scenes at the MuseumBehind the Scenes at the Museum
by Kate Atkinson

“Ruby Lennox is a quirky, complex character who relates the events of her life and those of her dysfunctional family with equal parts humor, fervor and candor—starting with her moment of conception in York, England, in 1959: ‘I exist!’ Ruby then describes the family she is to join. Her parents own a pet shop; her mother, Bunty, bitterly rues having married her philandering husband, George, and daydreams about what her life might have been. Ruby has two older sisters, willful Gillian and melancholy Patricia.

Through its ambitious structure, the novel also charts five generations and more than a century of Ruby’s family history, as reported in ‘footnotes’ that follow relevant chapters (For example, a passage about a pink glass button reveals the story of its original owner, Ruby’s great-grandmother Alice, who will abandon her young family and run off with a French magician). Ruby’s richly imagined account includes both the details of daily life and the several tragic events that punctuate the family’s mundane existence. Though the ‘footnote’ entries are not quite as gripping as those rendered in Ruby’s richly vernacular, energetic recitation, Atkinson’s ebullient narrative style captures the troubled Lennox family with wit and poignant accuracy (Descriptive content provided by Syndetics).

book cover for Constelation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena
by Anthony Marra

“Marra’s sobering, complex debut intertwines the stories of a  handful of characters at the end of the second war in bleak,  apocalyptic Chechnya. Though the novel spans 11 years, the story  traces five days in 2004 following the arrest of Dokka, a  villager from the small Muslim village of Eldar. His  eight-year-old daughter escapes, and is rescued by Dokka’s  friend Akhmed, the village doctor, who entrusts her to the care  of Sonja, the lone remaining doctor at a nearby hospital.

Why  Akhmed feels responsible for Haava and chooses Sonja, an ethnic  Russian keeping a vigil for her missing sister, as her guardian  is one of many secrets; years of Soviet rule and the chaos of  war have left these people unaccustomed to honesty. Marra, a  Stegner Fellow, writes dense prose full of elegant detail about  the physical and emotional destruction of occupation and war. Marra’s deliberate withholding of narrative detail makes the  characters opaque, until all is revealed, in a surprisingly  hopeful way, but there’s pleasure in reconstructing the meaning  in reverse. As Akhmed says to Sonja, “The whole book is working  toward the last page'” (Descriptive content provided by Syndetics).

book cover for Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park
by Rainbow Powell

“Half-Korean sophomore Park Sheridan is getting through high  school by lying low, listening to the Smiths (it’s 1986),  reading Alan Moore’s Watchmen comics, never raising his hand in  class, and avoiding the kids he grew up with. Then new girl  Eleanor gets on the bus. Tall, with bright red hair and a dress  code all her own, she’s an instant target. Too nice not to let  her sit next to him, Park is alternately resentful and guilty  for not being kinder to her.

When he realizes she’s reading his  comics over his shoulder, a silent friendship is born. And  slowly, tantalizingly, something more. Adult author Rowell  (Attachments), making her YA debut, has a gift for showing what Eleanor and Park, who tell the story in alternating segments,  like and admire about each other. Their love is believable and  thrilling, but it isn’t simple: Eleanor’s family is broke, and  her stepfather abuses her mother. When the situation turns  dangerous, Rowell keeps things surprising, and the  solution—imperfect but believable—maintains the novel’s delicate balance of light and dark” (Descriptive content provided by Syndetics).

book cover for Fall of GiantsFall of Giants Century Trilogy, Book 1
by Ken Follett

“This first in a century-spanning trilogy from bestseller Follett  (Eye of the Needle) makes effective and economical use of its lead characters, despite its scope and bulk. From a huge cast,  eight figures emerge to play multiple roles that illustrate and  often illuminate the major events, trends, and issues of the  years leading up to and immediately beyond WWI: American  diplomat Gus Dewar; Earl Fitzherbert, a wealthy Englishman;  Fitz’s sister, Lady Maud; German military attache Walter von  Ulrich; Russian brothers Grigori and Lev Peshkov; Welsh collier  Billy Williams and his sister, Ethel, whom Fitz hires as a  housemaid.

Ingenious plotting allows Follett to explore such  salient developments of the era as coal mine safety in Wales,  women’s suffrage, the diplomatic blundering that led to war, the  horrors of trench warfare, and the triumph of the Bolsheviks” (Descriptive content provided by Syndetics).

book cover for The InstructionsThe Instructions
by Adam Levin

“Only four days pass between the opening scene of boys  waterboarding one another to the moment when 10-year-old Gurion  Maccabee and his army attempt to take down their unfair school  system, but in the dense, frenzied pages of Levin’s outsized  debut, those few days feel like forever.

Gurion, who narrates  and refers to the text as ‘a work of scripture,’ sees himself as  the hero of a yet-to-be-recognized Jewish holiday that  celebrates the birth of “perfect justice,” and recruits an army  of misfits and Torah scholars” (Descriptive content provided by Syndetics).

book cover for The Lazarus ProjectThe Lazarus Project
by Aleksandar Hemon

“As fears of the anarchist movement  roil 1908 Chicago, the chief of police guns down Lazarus  Averbuch, an eastern European immigrant Jew who showed up at the  chief’s doorstep to deliver a note. Almost a century later,  Bosnian-American writer Vladimir Brik secures a coveted grant  and begins working on a book about Lazarus; his research takes  him and fellow Bosnian Rora, a fast-talking photographer whose  photos appear throughout the novel, on a twisted tour of eastern  Europe (there are brothel-hotels, bouts of violence, gallons of  coffee and many fabulist stories from Rora) that ends up being  more a journey into their own pasts than a fact-finding mission.

Sharing equal narrative duty is the story of Olga Averbuch, Lazarus’s sister, who, hounded by the police and the press (the Tribune reporter is especially vile), is faced with another  shock: the disappearance of her brother’s body from his potter’s  grave (His name, after all, was Lazarus). Hemon’s workmanlike  prose underscores his piercing wit, and between the murders that  bookend the novel, there’s pathos and outrage enough to chip  away at even the hardest of hearts” (Descriptive content provided by Syndetics).

book cover for A Place Called FreedomPlace called Freedom
by Ken Follett

“When young Malachi (Mack) McAsh challenges this practice, citing its illegality, he begins a pattern of rebelling against authority while pursuing justice. Mack’s dangerous quest for freedom makes him a fugitive in High Glen, where he is brutally punished by Sir George Jamisson in retaliation for his intention to quit the mines.

After escaping to London, Mack confronts injustice again when he tries to break the monopoly of ‘undertakers,’ who furnish crews to unload coal from ships; arrested and tried, he is transported to Virginia as an indentured servant. All this time, his fate is intertwined with that of Lizzie Hallim, daughter of the impoverished laird of High Glen, who is as spirited, independent-minded and daring as is Mack himself (Readers may not quite believe her sexual aggressiveness, but Follett knows how to strike chords with feminists). But Lizzie is gentry, so she must marry Jay, the younger Jamisson son.

Follett adroitly escalates the suspense by mixing intrigue and danger, tinged with ironic complications. He also provides authoritative background detail, including specifics about the brutal working conditions of mine workers and coal heavers and the routine of an American tobacco plantation. History is served by references to real-life English liberal John Wilkes, who challenged the established view that the virtual enslavement of  ‘common’ men by aristocrats was God’s will, and events in Virginia as the Colonies move toward rebellion (Descriptive content provided by Syndetics).

book cover for Tapestry of the BoarTapestry of the Boar
by Nigel Tranter

“During the reign of Malcolm IV, King of the Scots, Hugh de Swinton and his fellow mosstroopers helped keep the rampaging Galloway rebels at bay. But it was for his expertise in the killing of wild boars, as protector of the Swintons’ sheep flocks, that young Hugh was brought to Malcolm’s attention.

But Malcolm was a pious man much concerned with the well-being of his people. And he handpicked Hugh de Swinton to mastermind a very special project close to his heart: to establish Scotland’s first real hospital for the sick and poor, at Soutra in Lauderdale” (review from Barnes and Noble).

book cover for Winter of the WorldWinter of the World Century Trilogy, Book 2
by Ken Follett

“This second installment of Follett’s epic Century trilogy is  just as potent, engrossing, and prolix as the opening opus, Fall  of Giants. Continuing the histrionics of the five families  introduced in Fall, this masterfully conceived novel picks up in  1933 as Carla von Ulrich, 11, feels the horror of Nazi encroachment in Germany and proves a staunch resister, while her  older brother, Erik, becomes an infatuated soldier.

Elsewhere, English student Lloyd Williams aggressively resists the Fascists  in the Spanish Civil War. Later, wealthy American brothers Chuck (a closeted homosexual) and Woody Dewar head to the South Seas  to fight the good fight as socialite Daisy Peshkov, Woody’s  first love, is swept up with Lloyd and the drama of war.

Rife  with plot lines, interpersonal intrigue, sweeping historical  flourishes, and an authentic and compelling cast, this is a tale  of dynamic characters struggling to survive during one of the  world’s darkest periods. While some may find Follett’s verbosity  daunting, others will applaud his dedication and ability to keep  so many plots spinning while delivering a story that educates,  entertains, and will leave fans eagerly awaiting the trilogy’s  crowning capstone” (Descriptive content provided by Syndetics).

-posted by Gretchen Schneider

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