Aloha, Alice 02/22/2010
 
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Honolulu by Alan Brennert
2009
Historical Fiction (saga)
360 pages

* * * * * Recommended Reading! * * * * *

While waiting on hold for Moloka'i, another novel by Brennert much enjoyed by many of my friends, I happened upon Honolulu while browsing the new books section of Library B. This fantastic saga spanning approximately fifty years tells the story of Korean Regret, who offers herself as a "picture-bride" with dreams of affluence, education, and promise to an anonymous bidder in the faraway land of Hawaii. Set against the backdrop of Hawaii's history in the early 20th century and the Korean customs of the time, Regret (now named Jin) experiences coming-of-age in the new land, along with love, successes, failures, and tragedies...pretty much all of the ingredients of a sweeping saga (which I LOVE, by the way.) 

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Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
2010
Historical Fiction (saga)
351 pages

* * * * * Recommended Reading! * * * * *

Alice I Have Been tells the story of Alice Liddell who inspired the story we know today as Alice in Wonderland. Coming from a family of prestige, Alice comes to know and spend a great deal of time with Charles Dodgson,an Oxford professor who later writes under the name Lewis Carroll. The two develop an interesting relationship that is both troublesome and full of mystery; this relationship ultimately leads to the creation of a story for Alice. The story becomes incredibly famous and Alice faces a struggle with her identity for most of her adult life because everyone knows her as "the" Alice - young with flowing blonde hair (which she didn't have, by the way). She faces many difficult situations, ultimately understanding her place in society as the Alice so many invited into their homes.
*Note: Melanie Benjamin has conducted thorough research to write a rich, fictionalized version of the true life of Alice Liddell. If you don't mind some biographical spoilers, I would highly recommend reading the notes at the end of the book. Benjamin provides a fantastic overview of the life, which I think is great segue into the novel.

 
 
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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
2006
General Fiction (with historical aspects)
335 pages

* * * * * Recommended Reading! * * * * *

I realize I am probably the last person on the planet to read Gruen's intriguing circus tale Water for Elephants, but it was certainly worth the wait. This layered novel introduces us to Jacob, an elderly man in assisted living reflecting upon his years working for the circus during the Depression-era. Gruen's attention to detail and circus history really add to the plot of the story; I found myself wanting to know even more about life as a circus employee and performer. Add an array of perfectly cast characters to a solid plot and you have a great weekend read. Oh, and there's photographs, kids!

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The Help by Katherine Stockett
2009
General Fiction (with historical aspects)
451 pages
 
* * * * * Recommended Reading! * * * * *
* * * * * Best of 2009 According to Books on the Nightstand Podcast/Blog Followers * * * * *

As many of you know, I waited on the reserve list at Library B with MUCH anticipation for well over a month before adding myself to the reserve list at Library A  with hopes of getting my hands on this much-talked about book of 2009. Once I attained my copy and had started reading, I happened upon a brand-new hardcover at the local Goodwill for $4; I almost did a little dance in the aisle on my way to the register. I gleefully returned my library copy and jumped right back into this incredible story of very different life experiences in Mississippi during the 1960s. A debut novel by Stockett, The Help features a young white woman (Skeeter) hoping to develop her writing career and uncover the horrible treatment of the women hired by families through the anonymous telling of stories from "the help" - the African-American women hired by families to care for the home and the children. The relationships between the children and "the help", the friendships of the women, and the trust built between one white woman and a group of African-American women during this horrific period in our nation's history will stay with you long after closing the book. The Help is now officially in my top ten favorite books of all-time.