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When I first saw Tina Fey co-anchor Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update with Jimmy Fallon on some lonely teenage evening, I couldn't stand her. The punchlines were marinated in a sense of overwhelming superiority, with a side of mean-spirited smarminess. Thankfully this is not the version of Tina Fey that came into focus as time passed.
Near Manchester, England, in 1836, Emmeline Roke finished a piece of golden embroidery on a blue silk gown. It wasn’t her gown. Had she enough money for such a dress, she would have used it to buy better food and other small comforts for her family. At fifteen, her sewing work was an important source of income for them. Everyone in her family worked—her beautiful, willful, widowed mother in the fabric mill whilst her beloved little brother, deaf-mute since nearly his birth, also did piece work. Life in the all-too-real world of Linda Holeman’s Search of the Moon King’s Daughter is hard for the Roke family, and it’s about to get harder.
Emmeline remembers that it wasn’t always this way. Not too long ago, they lived in a small cottage attached to the village grocery shop. Her father Jasper Roke may have been destined for greater things, but he gave it up when he met Emmeline’s mother, Catherine. He took the job running the shop, which came with the cottage. If he was a bit lazy and closed down for the afternoon when he felt like taking them all out for a picnic and reading poetry and fairy stories to his family, it was no matter to him. But when he died suddenly, everything came apart. The little family had to move to another town—a mill town—where there was work to be had. It was a hard life, but it was doable—until the day Catherine Roke was hideously injured at her loom.
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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese--Focusing on the world of medicine, this epic first novel by well-known doctor/author Verghese (My Own Country) follows a man on a mythic quest to find his father. It begins with the dramatic birth of twins slightly joined at the skull, their father serving as surgeon and their mother dying on the table. The horrorstruck father vanishes, and the now separated boys are raised by two Indian doctors living on the grounds of a mission hospital in early 1950s Ethiopia. The boys both gravitate toward medical practice, with Marion the more studious one and Shiva a moody genius and loner. Also living on the hospital grounds is Genet, daughter of one of the maids, who grows up to be a beautiful and mysterious young woman and a source of ruinous competition between the brothers. After Marion is forced to flee the country for political reasons, he begins his medical residency at a poor hospital in New York City, and the past catches up with him.
The medical background is fascinating as the author delves into fairly technical areas of human anatomy and surgical procedure. (Library Journal)
If you like Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, you may like these titles.
Away: a novel by Amy Bloom
"The story begins in Russia in the 1920s. Lillian Leyb survives the massacre of her family and runs away to New York City to live with a cousin. Ever practical, she allows herself to become the mistress of a star of the Jewish theater, and, although she's not happy, life is not so bad. However, when she finds out that her daughter Sophie may still be alive in Siberia, she leaves everything she has and begins the arduous journey home. She rides trains hiding in broom closets and servicing conductors. She climbs on boats and walks the Yukon trail headed for the Bering Strait and probably death. But she has to try." (Booklist Review)
Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
The brutal 1970s civil war in Ethiopia is the dramatic setting in this first novel, told from searing personal viewpoints that humanize the politics from many sides and without slick messages. The author, born in Addis Ababa and now living in New York, tells the story in unforgettable detail: between Emperor Haile Selassi in his lush palace set against the famine outside, captured in the image of a child gnawing on a stone. The focus is on the family of physician Hailu, first before the revolution and then after the brutal regime takes over. His older son tries to lead a quiet life and look the other way, until Hailu is taken and tortured. The younger son joins the mass demonstrations, exhilarated that change has come, then deflated when he confronts the new tyranny. The clear narrative voices also include the women in the family and others on all sides, who experience the graphic violence, both in the old feudal system, where a rich kid regularly rapes a servant, and in the new dictatorship with torture in the name of freedom. (Booklist)
Emily and Navin have just moved into their grandfather's abandoned house with their mother. Their grandfather has been missing for decades, so Emily doesn't think twice about picking up the necklace she finds in his library. What she has awakened though, is a gateway to a bizarre and magical world. Suddenly her mother is swallowed whole by a hideous tentacled creature and it's up to Emily and Navin to get her back. So begins the first book in the Amulet series, The Stonekeeper.
It turns out that the necklace is a powerful amulet that can control and protect any surrounding life force. Emily's grandfather's last wish was for her to take up the stone and help save this strange world, known as Alledia, from an evil elf king. Emily also receives several robots that her grandfather single-handedly constructed to help her with this mission. The first robot we meet is the pink rabbit, Miskit, who wields a stun gun while piloting a giant mechanical exoskeleton.
Nikola Tesla was a complicated, enigmatic man who continues to pique our collective curiosity. Although he transformed the modern world with contributions like alternating current and wireless energy transfer, he died destitute and unappreciated. In The Invention of Everything Else, Samantha Hunt seems to fully recognize Tesla’s value, making him the novel’s star and honored guest. Most biographical accounts indicate that Tesla was on the anti-social side, but Hunt successfully transforms his aloof character into a structural adhesive, situating him as the force that keeps the novel’s disparate elements from spiraling into separate and distinct orbits.
The Invention of Everything Else opens in 1943, the year of Tesla’s death. He lives as a forgotten recluse in room 3327 in The Hotel New Yorker and spends his time tending to his beloved pigeons and contemplating the past. Hunt channels Tesla’s profound alienation in one of the novel’s strongest passages: “I’ve been forgotten here, left all alone talking to lightning storms, studying the mysterious patterns the dust of dead people makes as it floats through the last light of day.”
Multiple-choice standards of learning tests are not concerned with the details that fill out American history. Who wants to know that those who disagreed with the Revolutionary patriots risked their lives and fortunes in a time of mob rule? What state examiner wants to hear tales of men of honor who refused to break their oaths of loyalty to the king and were whipped, tarred and feathered, or "smoked out" of their homes, as happened to 65-year-old Israel Williams, a respected Loyalist legislator, whose signature in support of the rebel cause was only gained after a night of gasping for air inside his smoky home? In Thomas B. Allen's Tories, many of these stories from across the colonies are well-preserved and well-told so that they might be well-remembered.