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A Book To Remember

A Book To Remember

posted by:
April 21, 2012 - 3:35pm

The DressmakerKate Alcott (pseudonym for Patricia O’Brien) puts a fresh spin on the story of the Titanic by focusing on the aftermath of its sinking in The Dressmaker.  The novel is told from the perspective of Tess Collins, a seamstress, who is hired right before boarding to be personal maid to high society fashion designer Lucile Duff Gordon.  Tess is determined to use her seamstress skills to elevate her position in society, but both Tess and Lucile’s futures are irrevocably changed by events that occur while they are passengers on the luxury liner and as survivors in New York. By page 37 the Titanic has sunk and Alcott transitions from the frigid sea to the mean streets of New York and the ensuing investigation.  A senator wants to prove negligence on the part of the White Star Line but New York Times reporter, Sarah “Pinky” Wade smells richer storylines and digs deep to investigate the rumors of on-board bribery and murder which implicate Lucile’s husband.   

 

Transferring this familiar story to early 20th century New York gives readers a new way to approach this epic disaster.  Alcott’s well-drawn characters add richness to her story which is strong in setting and historical detail.  As Tess' personal dramas unfold, the ugly wake left by this oceanic catastrophe and the roles passengers and crew members played are revealed by the disturbing official investigation, which Alcott has taken from the transcripts of the U.S. Senate hearings.   Titanic buffs and fans of historical fiction will enjoy this tale of tragedy and triumph. 

 

Two Titanic Tidbits: Julian Fellowes’ (Downton Abbey) two-night miniseries Titanic debuted April 14th on ABC.   If you didn’t catch it or love it enough to watch again – place your hold now in the library’s catalog!  Follow events @TitanicRealTime on Twitter where The History Press has set up an account to send real-time (+100 years) updates on the progress of the ship and its only voyage. Start following now to get the whole story as it happened.

Maureen

 
 

A Binocular Vision of History

The Company of the Dead The improbable history of the sinking of the Titanic is legendary. The “unsinkable” ship’s maiden voyage was favored with the advantages of an experienced captain, a capable crew, and peerlessly clear weather. She had every probability of reaching her destination unscathed. Yet despite the clear night and the watchful lookout, a looming, unseen colossus was destined to sink her. Of course, even the smallest twist in the kaleidoscope may produce chaos. It is on this premise, embodied by the mysterious, anachronistic presence of a pair of 21st century night vision binoculars, that author David Kowalski launches his epic exploration of “what if?” What if the Titanic hadn’t struck the iceberg? Or, what if she had, but on a different side? Who lives that night, who dies and how - these subtle changes will reshape history as we know it in breathtakingly plausible ways. That is, unless one man’s profound sacrifice in 2012 can reset the Titanic on its original date with destiny.

 

At just under 750 narrative pages, The Company of the Dead is a tome to be sure, yet not a page in its composition is superfluous to its intricately-woven plot and character development. Throughout the story, Kowalski demonstrates compulsive attention to historical detail and lyrical language. These elements serve to draw the reader ever further into the author’s ambitious yet startlingly realistic vision of a world reshaped and on the edge of the apocalypse.

 

The Company of the Dead is broadly recommended for readers of any genre who are prepared to invest time in an absorbing adventure. Technically a secret rather than an alternate history, The Company of the Dead nevertheless plays on the same “what if?” element characteristic of so many alternate history titles. It will therefore strike a particular chord with devotees of alternate history and historical fiction. Readers beguiled by alternate histories involving familiar historic figures and locations may also enjoy Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series as well as a smorgasbord of series and standalone titles by Harry Turtledove.

Meghan

 
 

Strangers in a Strange Land

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of ForgetfulnessWhen A Crocodile Eats the SunWhite Woman on the Green Bicycle

The sun eventually did set on the British empire.  The process of its descent makes for some interesting reading in both novels and non-fiction books as authors explore the impact of the withdrawal of British rule on non-native families living abroad.

 

Author Alexandra Fuller’s latest book Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is an account of her parents’ migration from the British Isles to east Africa and is the story of immigrants adapting to and adopting a new country and adjusting once again as British colonialism yields to self-rule.  Fuller’s mother, especially, has a voice in this book as the family moves throughout east Africa’s farming communities.

 

The same themes of family history intertwined with recent African history are carried out in When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin.  Godwin, a journalist now living in the United States, was raised in Rhodesia; he and his sister left the country but his parents remained even as Robert Mugabe rose to power and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.   Godwin’s description of his aged parents’ life under Mugabe’s rule is harrowing but he, as does Fuller, conveys the attachment of his parents to a country  which has become inhospitable and often dangerously hostile to them.

 

Monique Roffey’s novel The White Woman on the Green Bicycle examines the marriage of a white couple, George and Sabine Harwood, living in Trinidad.  The newlywed Harwoods arrive on the island in 1956 as George has been offered a three year employment contract.  Sabine, wilting under the heat and culture shock, can’t wait to return to England but George thrives as an Englishman living in a British colony and refuses to leave.  Broken promises figure in both the Harwood marriage and Trinidad’s move to independence and this Orange prize short-lister blend of fiction and fact is an interesting window into a lesser-known former British colony.

Lori