The Messenger (2006) and The Secret Servant (2007) by Daniel Silva

messengerGabriel Allon, the Israeli spy in many of Daniel Silva’s novels, is cast against terrorist groups from al-Qaeda and the sword of Allah who would attack the Vatican and kill the Pope and/or the U.S. President should their schemes succeed. The Secret Servant follows The Messenger and includes many of the same characters and intrigues of the prior novel. These adventures give the reader a bad taste for most of the antagonists and an appreciation for Israeli secret service. The Secret Servant has an extra twist of an Arab willing to help the Israelis in an effort to save a woman’s life as well as that of his own son. In both novels, a young woman is in great danger in the hands of terrorist but Allon and his team come to the rescue.

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (2014)

officerspyThis is a fictional re-telling of the infamous Dreyfus Affair which tore France apart in the late 1890s, and revealed a deep-seated anti-Semitism in French society. The novel is told from the point of view of Georges Picquart, an intelligence officer who came to believe in Dreyfus’s innocence and was himself persecuted for his refusal to let an innocent man die in prison without a fight.  Many historical novels based so closely on real events can be stiffly told with flat characters, but Robert Harris manages to fill An Officer and a Spy with real people in an era that he brings to life on the page.

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka (2002)

divineemperorThis slip of a book will remain with you for days. Julie Otsuka’s poetic language skillfully and delicately reveals the story of a Japanese American family’s internment in a Utah camp. The father, a successful businessman, is separated from his wife and children and sent to a camp in New Mexico. The family is reunited at their home in Berkeley. However, they find their former lives changed forever, and their property has been quietly stripped of all that they held before their imprisonment.

Find When the Emperor was Divine and other tales of life on the home front in WWII here.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

stationelevenOne night during a stage production of King Lear in Toronto, the movie star Arthur Leander collapses. At the same time, the deadly Georgia flu is spreading rapidly across the world decimating the population. This haunting and intriguing dystopia imagines life after collapse of civilization. Jumping back and forth through time, Emily St. John Mandel reveals the details Arthur’s life along with the child actor Kirsten, his former wives, his best friend, and the man who attempted to save his life on stage. A compelling look at the connections that bind us to one another, Station Eleven proves that humanity can survive against the odds.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier (2010)

smileIn her graphic memoir, Raina Telgemeier relates her long and painful journey towards a perfect smile. It all began when Raina was in sixth grade, tripped, and lost her two front teeth, injuring the bones above in the process. The years that followed were filled with surgeries, head gear, retainers, and a painful amount of braces as dentists attempted to ultimately move all of Raina’s teeth towards the middle of her mouth. While she deals with all this, Raina is also trying to fit in at school, make friends, and (if she’s lucky) find a boyfriend.

Smile is a hilarious tale of a dental tragedy that is told expertly through the graphic format and Telgemeier’s engaging art, which won her an Eisner award. While this book is aimed at younger readers, the humor within is sure to garner laughs from any age reader, and readers in their 20s and 30s especially will find a lot of nostalgia in the early 90s setting.

Runner by Patrick Lee (2014)

runnerGripping, suspenseful, definitely need to suspend disbelief, but oh what a ride. In Runner, Patrick Lee keeps you guessing from beginning to end. In the wee hours of the morning, ex-special forces operative Sam Dryden encounters 12-year-old Rachel. She’s terrified, on the run, and can’t remember anything from before two months ago. What follows is a heart-pounding adventure with endearing characters.

Raúl Esparza narrates the book brilliantly – I kept inventing excuses to stay in the car so I could listen to just a bit more of the audiobook.

Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones (2014)

nightshanghaiA five star read! Night in Shanghai tells the story of a young jazz musician who left the U.S. to pursue his career in China. Nicole Mones thoroughly researched her topic to present the history, language, and culture of pre-WWII China. The ending of the book will stir emotion in the reader because you know where those ships are going.

Listen to an interview with the author (or just read the highlights) here on NPR. Visit her website to discover more about her research and browse galleries. Join us on February 11 when the Novel Idea group will discuss the book at 7pm at the library.

Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh (2013)

tellingthebeesAlbert Honing, a beekeeper in his eighties, lives a quiet life until he discovers his two elderly neighbors, also beekeepers, murdered. Narrator Albert slowly and deliberately tells this tale of relationships and family secrets and loss. Bittersweet and wonderfully written, this tale vibrates with a mesmerizing rhythm. Albert’s bee lore regularly takes center stage and factors heavily in the story; readers will learn the poignant meaning of its title.  I listened to Telling the Bees, Peggy Hesketh’s first novel, and recommend it for those who can patiently allow Albert his story’s due.

Four Souls by Louise Erdrich (2004)

foursoulsLouise Erdrich’s Four Souls is a beautifully written, fascinating installment in the ongoing story of Fleur Pillager, a Native American Ojibwe. She travels to Minneapolis where she plans to avenge the loss of her family’s land to a deceptive, wealthy white man, but instead finds herself entangled with a complex relationship.

Check out Tracks (1988) to see where Erdrich first introduces Fleur.

Sycamore Row by John Grisham (2013)

sycamorerowA very rich man (Seth) kills himself by hanging and leaves much of his estate to his black caregiver by a holographic will. Of course, Seth’s family challenges the will; a jury must determine whether Seth’s handwritten will is valid.

John Grisham’s masterful storytelling leads the reader through the trial, the families’ histories and a look at justice and redemption. This is one of Grisham’s best novels set in Clanton, Mississippi, with a street lawyer (Jake) from A Time to Kill as the principal character. Grisham teases the reader to find out why a deceased man would abandon his children and grandchildren in such a manner; how he accumulated such a fortune; and what became of his brother who is mentioned in the handwritten will. Amazing characters, afflicted with greed, stupidity, racism and drink color the story in Sycamore Row and entertain the reader as he navigates through this engaging tale. For more information, read this review in the New York Times.