Jen's Staff Picks History
Trust Jen's taste? Here's what she's picked in the past!

Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Set in 1964, on the eve of Churchill's retirement from Parliment, this literary gem gives unique insight into the crushing battle against depression. Black Pat, "the black dog" of depression is a presence that Winston Churchill is all too familiar with. Slobbering and annoying, his job is to remind his "clients" of why they should be unhappy. While Churchill has managed to come to a sort of peace with the dog's appearances and has a modicum of control over the visits, it is Esther Hamerhans, a young widow still struggling over the circumstances of the death of her husband that is most susceptible to Black Pat's manipulations. When Esther is assigned to transcribe Churchill's retirement speech for him, Black Pat's two "clients" are destined to meet. Can their brief connection help Esther as she tries to send Black Pat on his way, or is he destined to stay with her for life? This darkly comic, completely original debut is a quick read and delivers an ultimately satisfying ending.

978-1-4000-6940-8 | $24.00/NCR | The Dial Press | HC | February

Juliet by Anne Fortier

Many fans of Shakespeare think that "Romeo and Juliet" was his invention and that the story took place in �fair Verona.� Anne Fortier takes a deeper look at the origins of the star-crossed lovers in this debut novel and shatters these myths. The story intertwines two plot lines�the contemporary story of Julie Jacobs, who discovers she is the descendant of Giulietta Tolomei, the real-life Juliet, and an historical retelling of an early version of the Romeo and Juliet story, set in Siena. As you are drawn into the lives of both �Juliets� you see that Shakespeare's old curse, �A plague on both your houses!" is still at work and Giulietta�s fate may soon be Julie�s fate too. Both storylines are compelling and I got lost in the book. Fortier�s descriptions of Siena are enchanting and readers will be ready to book a trip to Italy as soon as they finish the last page. A fabulous summer read, great book club pick, and a perfect choice for fans of historical fiction. Brava!

978-0-345-51610-7 | $25.00/NCR | Ballantine | HC | August

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage begins in the time before. The government is using a weaponized virus to transform convicts into killing machines. But when the experiment goes awry, it means the end of the civilized world. 100 years later, a small group of survivors are struggling to hang on amidst the encroaching darkness. As their hope is waning, a mute girl appears out of the wasteland offering them a last chance. A chance that takes them on an odyssey that could mean salvation or could mean death. This epic, post-apocalyptic story is a twisty, fast-paced read that will keep you up reading long into the night. Cronin creates a believable, heartbreaking world in which humanity’s only hope is a young girl. The best thing is, the plot rocks AND the writing is amazing (Cronin won the PEN/Hemingway for Mary and O’Neill). It may be 720 pages, but you will love every one of them.

978-0-345-50496-8 | $27.00 | Ballantine | HC | June 2010
978-0-385-66951-1 | $32.95C | Doubleday Canada | HC | June 2010

Alice I Have Been: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin

You may think you’ve never heard of Alice Liddell, but I’m certain you have. Growing up at Oxford, where her father was the dean, Alice and her sisters spent many enchanted days with an eccentric professor named Charles Dodgson (we know him as Lewis Carroll). He took them on outings and excursions and told them fantastical stories, one of which young Alice made him write down, which became the beloved classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This historical fiction offering is a fascinating look behind the scenes at a literary classic in the making. Benjamin deftly explores the child behind the story, vividly imagining the events that led to some very un-childlike photographs being taken of 7-year-old Alice by Carroll himself—photos that demand being Googled instantly. I have to say, I will never be able to think of Lewis Carroll the same way again. Using the facts the author could find about the real Alice Liddell as a jumping off point, the story is a richly layered coming-of-age story that will appeal to young adult readers, devoted fans of Alice, as well as fans of historical fiction. Tim Burton’s movie take on Alice releases March 2010 (starring Johnny Depp) and will be sure to inspire renewed interest in Wonderland, so be sure to have plenty copies of the classic available too.

978-0-385-34413-5 | $25.00/$29.95C | Delacorte | HC | January 2010

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

This engrossing work of historical fiction is full of intrigue, with just the right splash of romance. As a fan of the HBO series Rome, I was thrilled that this novel began right where the show left off. With the fate of Cleopatra and Marc Antony's three children orphaned by their suicide. Told from the point of view of their daughter, Kleopatra Selene, readers are whisked into the dangerous world of Ancient Rome as the children are paraded through the streets as curiosities and then forced to live among those responsible for their parents' deaths, never knowing when they might outlive their usefulness to Augustus. While I had read quite a bit about Cleopatra, I knew next to nothing about this next chapter in the story, so the novel kept me guessing. Of special interest to librarians is the contribution Kleopatra Selene made to the library world. In addition readers looking for fiction that they can learn from, this is a great offering for young adult readers and the perfect novel to suggest to your book groups.

978-0-307-40912-6 | $25.00/$29.95C | Crown | HC | September 2009

The Rapture by Liz Jensen

The marketing copy calls it Girl Interrupted meets The Dead Zone and I have to say it is spot on. As the novel opens, 16-year-old Bethany Krall is in a psychiatric hospital for brutally killing her mother and is assigned to Gabrielle Fox, a young therapist recently crippled in a car accident. It seems Bethany's previous therapist left under mysterious circumstances and Gabrielle soon understands why. Still struggling to come to terms with life in a wheelchair, she is easily manipulated by the twisted teen who seems to have an uncanny, even spooky ability to foretell natural disasters and even knows things about Gabrielle's life that she shouldn't know. Gabrielle's skepticism turns to wary belief as Bethany's predictions of earthquakes and hurricanes come eerily true. She enlists the help of a geophysicist and the two attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery just as Bethany shares her most shocking and horrific revelation. Can they convince society that Bethany's warnings should be heeded? Can they save the world before it is too late? This gothic, apocalyptic novel is a mesmerizing read. You won't be disappointed...just scared silly.

978-0-385-52821-4 | $24.95/NCR | Doubleday | HC | August 2009

The Palace Circle by Rebecca Dean

This fine piece of historical fiction set just before WWII follows the life of Delia Chandler, an eighteen-year-old Virginian who marries an English Viscount and is whisked away to become part of the Windsor court. Initially a fish out of water, she easily adapts and has society wrapped around her little finger--she wins them over with her vivacious personality, flame-red hair, and her penchant for singing Dixie at the drop of a hat. But her victory soon pales when she realizes that her husband has married her simply to produce heirs and has no intention of leaving his mistress. Her life is thrown into turmoil yet again when her husband is appointed as an advisor to King Fuad of Egypt and she exchanges one palace circle for another, far different one. I found the chapters set in Egypt fascinating and a nice twist on the traditional British court story. And just as it seemed Delia's story was running its course, the author switched narrators and Delia's daughters and their love-interests took center stage. The multiple viewpoints added depth to the story and there were plenty of twists to keep me in suspense. Recommend to fans of Philippa Gregory, romance readers, book groups, and anyone looking for a solid historical yarn.

978-0-7679-3055-0 | $14.00/NCR | Broadway | TR | March 2009

When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale

As a new mother, I often obsess about how what I say and do now will affect my two-year-old in the future. Does he file it away every time I scold him or choose doing the dishes over making a puzzle together, someday to revisit it on a therapist's couch? I try to remember that my son is certainly luckier than many-nine-year-old Lawrence, for instance-acting the man in the family as his mother packs he and his little sister up and drives them through the night from their home in England to Rome. She fears their father is stalking them and feels she must put as much distance between them as possible. Told in Lawrence's voice, complete with misspellings and misconceptions, this is a fascinating look at a young boy trying to comprehend the incomprehensible at his age. As Lawrence tells his story, it becomes apparent that something is not right, the problems that haunted them in England have followed them to Rome, and it is heartbreaking to see how they impact the young boy. Reader's can't help but engage with Lawrence (even when he's being bratty) and young adults will certainly relate to the young narrator. Perfect for fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

978-0-385-52625-8 | $23.95/$27.95C | Nan A. Talese | HC | July 2008

Tigerheart by Peter David

Captain Hack. The Boy of Legend. Fiddlefix. The Bully Boys. These wonderful characters are enchantingly familiar, yet offer a charming new take on the beloved story of Peter Pan. Peter David takes the classic characters and turns them on their heads, bringing readers on a witty and engaging adventure that builds upon the original tale. Young Paul Dear, having grown up on his father's fantastic stories of pirates, pixies and wild Indians, has no trouble believing in The Anyplace, and when a family tragedy strikes, he knows he most go there to make things right. With the help of the pixie Fiddlefix, he sets off to find The Boy of Legend and encounters a fascinating world of danger and adventure where he, himself, must play the hero. In the end, he finds that he and The Boy have more in common than he could ever have imagined. This delightful tale for all ages is perfect to offer to your YA readers or to anyone who has fond memories of the original.

978-0-345-50159-2 | $22.00/$25.00C | Del Rey | HC | June 2008


The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson

This slight book packs a big emotional punch. The story of Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zipper Ashkanazi, a loving couple that perfectly complement each other. Just as Ambrose is turning 50, he is told by his doctor that he has only one month to live. This news sends the couple off on a whirlwind tour of the places Ambrose has most loved or most wanted to visit, from A to Z, as they try to deal with the revelation that their remaining time together is all too short. Richardson's spare, unsentimental prose keeps the book from being too sappy and rather than being depressing, it is a bittersweet reading experience that is decidedly life-affirming. I finished the novel and immediately went to the beginning and skimmed the whole book again, the second time finding even more meaning throughout the pages. A wonderful gem of a book with moments that will linger in your mind long after you've put it down.

978-0-385-52255-7 (0-385-52255-X) | $16.95 | Doubleday | HC | August 2007

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Imagine how you would deal with the imminent death of your spouse. Especially if she lies in a coma and you must make the decision to take her off life support? Now imagine that, as you are struggling to make this decision, you find out she has been having an affair, and her lover is the one person who has not been told and been given the opportunity to say goodbye. What would you do? This is the situation Matthew King faces and he makes some surprising choices. A descendant of one of Hawaii's largest landowners, he is also dealing with his part in the sale of his family's land to a developer, along with helping his two daughters come to terms with the loss of their mother. Scottie, his ten-year-old has taken to hurting herself, and Alex, his seventeen-year-old—an ex-model and recovering drug addict—returns home harboring the knowledge of her mother's infidelity, with her oddball boyfriend in tow. Hemmings manages to dose the story with humor despite the serious situation. I especially
enjoyed the comic relief provided by Alex's boyfriend Sid, who though seemingly moronic, manages to come up with some sage observations. Set against the lush beauty of the Hawaiian Islands, this vivid novel drew me into the world of the King family. It is the story of a family torn apart, but brought together again, a story of the bond between a father and his daughters, and ultimately, a story of second chances.

978-1-4000-6633-9 (1-4000-6633-6) | $24.95/$32.00C | Penguin Random House | HC | May 2007

Shopaholic and Baby by Sophie Kinsella

OK, DON'T PANIC. I'm home on maternity leave and need to do a staff book review. Like I actually have time to read anything with a newborn screaming in the background! But wait, I have a copy of the new Shopaholic galley...surely my laughter will drown out the sounds of the baby crying! And it helps that I can relate to the baby theme�the pram shopping (OK, I have a boring stroller), celebrity OBGYN (OK, mine was not so glamorous), and planned Water birth with Lotus Flowers (OK, again, not me). I guess my situation is a bit different, yet I still found this fourth installment in Kinsella's Shopaholic series is as engaging and amusing as all the previous volumes. Heroine Becky Bloomwood Brandon manages to get herself in the most incredible, unbelieveable situations, yet Kinsella's gift for comic writing make them seem totally believable. If you haven't read her books, do yourself a favor and try one. Millions of fans can't be wrong!

978-0-385-33870-7 (0-385-33870-8) | $24.00 | Dial Press | HC | February 2007

The Uses of Enchantment: A Novel by Heidi Julavits

Victim or Vixen? Liar or whore? These are questions posed in this psychological exploration of a young sixteen-year old girl learning to wield her sexuality, with devastating results to all involved. One day in 1985, young teenager Mary Veal disappears from field-hockey practice at her all-girls New England prep school. She reappears a few weeks later with little memory of what has happened to her, claiming she’s been abducted. Sent to a psychologist, Mary is a difficult patient, and her doctor begins to suspect that she has made the story of her kidnapping up, especially when he realizes her story has parallels to the account of a seventeenth century girl who was abducted by Indians and who caused her rescuer to be hanged as a witch. The narrative moves back and forth between 1985 and 1999 (when Mary returns home to attend her mother’s funeral) and the chapters set in 1985 are entitled “What May Have Happened.” And that is the intriguing thing about this novel—you are not certain until the end as to whether or not Mary is actually telling the truth. Was she abducted? Is there a man named “K” who has kept her all these weeks and perhaps, taken advantage of her? An enthralling and insightful look in the mid of a young girl testing her powers of sexuality, which led to a disastrous life-changing, incident . . . or may not have. You’ll have to read The Uses of Enchantment to know for sure.

0-385-51323-2 | $24.95 | Doubleday | HC | October 2006

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