Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Denny's & Claire's NHN Reading Recommendations (List #16)

Created for the Notting Hill Napoleons' Consideration for 2009 --- And for Interested Visitors to The Book Den!

1) All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren.
This landmark book is a loosely fictionalized account of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana, one of the most remarkable and controversial politicians in American history. The novel tells the story of Willie Stark, a popular but underhanded governor of a Southern state who effectively appeals to the common man while playing dirty politics with the best of the back-room deal-makers. However, his key assistant cannot shed his idealism so easily and the stormy relationship between the two form much of the novel’s tension (456 pages. New: $5. Several copies in Omaha Public Library system.)

2) Angels in Iron by Nicholas C. Prata
"The year is A.D. 1565 and the tiny island fortress of Malta, defended by an anachronistic crusading order called the Knights of St. John Hospitallers, is all that stands between the war machine of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the very heart of Christendom. Pitifully outmatched and against impossible odds, the indomitable Grand Master Jean Parisot de La Valette nevertheless inspires his knights to ‘strike a blow for Christ’ and sacrifice their lives to halt the invading Turks at the gates of Europe. What follows is a desperate struggle between East and West, Cross and Koran, faith and despair. Nicholas Prata relates the actual events of the Great Siege in riveting and graphic prose which brings the extreme heroism of the knights and the unimaginable horror of combat sharply into focus." (Aquinas and More web site.) (292 pages. $16.95 new. $12.00 used.)

3) Bardelys the Magnificent by Rafael Sabatini
One of Sabatini's earlier novels, this is still a richly satisfying read. It's an engaging story of the Marquis de Bardelys, a court favorite of Louis XIII, who takes a loaded wager that he can win the heart of Roxalanne de Lavédan where his rival had failed. The ensuing action, however, includes the Marquis being mistaken for someone else, a mistake that goes uncorrected and then endangers not just the romance but his neck. (232 pages. $20 new. Less expensive used copies can be obtained through the web.)

4) Finding Noel by Richard Paul Evans
"When I wrote my first novel, The Christmas Box, I never imagined it would become an international bestseller. It was a story for my two (then) little girls. But as I wrote, I realized that it was also for my mother -- to ease her pain over losing a child…When The Christmas Box hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, no one, including me, was more excited than my mother. I lost my mother on Valentine's Day of 2006. After weeks of struggling with my grief, I decided I would write a story for her. As she loved Christmas, I chose to write a Christmas novel, my first since The Christmas Box. Finding Noel is about how people come into our lives for a reason. It is a love story about Macy and Mark, two young people from different worlds. I'm sorry that this Christmas, for the first time since I became a writer, I won't be able to present my mother with a copy of my book. I think she would have enjoyed reading it. But, then again, I'm not certain that she hasn't. As you read Finding Noel, I hope that you enjoy the journey and feel the same powerful emotions I felt as the story came to me. Fondly, Richard Evans." (320 pages. $14 new. Used from $6. 17 copies in OPL.)

5) Fortune's Fool by Rafael Sabatini
Published in 1922, the novel is set in Restoration London (1665) and concerns itself with the adventures (perhaps "misadventures" is the proper word) of a soldier of fortune who is struggling to deal with the hardships of...peace! The novel sparkles with witty dialogue, intrigue, romance, and the dangers of the plague. Will a possible war with Holland be Randal Holles’ deliverance or will his court enemies bring him down before then? And how will he fare with the gorgeous actress Sylvia Farquharson to whom he's lost his heart? (324 pages. $20 new. Used from $6.)

6) The Golden Ring: A Christmas Story by John Snyder
I give a hearty recommendation to John Snyder’s The Golden Ring: A Christmas Story as a terrific holiday read. Not classic literature but a solid Christmas novel in a culture that’s pretty short on them. A bittersweet story marked by Christian faith, family values and a heart-stirring plot, The Golden Ring was a nice surprise that I found in the public library a couple of years ago. We liked it so much that we ordered three autographed copies at the author’s website and gave two of them as gifts last Christmas. (180 pages. $16 new. Used considerably cheaper. 8 copies at OPL.)

7) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
After a terrible fall from a horse in 1920, Margaret Mitchell’s health began to decline. In fact, by 1926, she had to resign from the Atlanta Journal where she had developed into a popular reporter. Fearing that she was becoming bored and depressed, her husband gave her a new Remington typewriter upon which was this challenging message, “Madam, I greet you on the beginning of a new career.” The result? Only the bestselling novel of all time, Gone with the Wind! It’s a long read, but hey - that’s part of its charm for the story, characters and writing are splendid enough to make you never want it to end. Gone with the Wind would make a terrific wintertime book. (1024 pages. New: $8. Used from $1. Several copies in OPL.)

8) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
This was the third Dickens novel in the Napoleon Rota. We've been following the same pattern so far and I suggest we continue. (544 pages. Several copies in OPL system. Used copies easily available.)

9) The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins
One of Collins’ most vividly drawn characters, the mysterious and obsessed Countess Narona, is the central figure in The Haunted Hotel. Part detective story, part ghost story, part psychological thriller, Collins takes the reader from London to the ancient waterways of Venice in a most memorable and pleasantly eerie journey. You may want to read this one with the lights on! (225 pages. Often published with other works. $7 and up for used copies. 2 copies in OPL.)

10) The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott.
Sir Walter Scott ranks Number 4 in the standings of the Napoleon’s “Most Read Authors.” Fortunately, we have a long way to go before we need worry about running out of Scott titles to delight us. Our recommendation for this year is The Heart of Midlothian, an exciting novel inspired by several historical events, including the Porteous Riots of 1736 in Edinburgh and Helen Walker’s long trek on foot to London to obtain a pardon for her sister, wrongfully sentenced to death for child murder. (566 pages. Used copies at $1. 2 copies in OPL system.)

11) Landfall by Nevil Shute
A British Coastal Command plane strikes at a U-boat in the English Channel. But a British submarine in the same waters goes missing and is presumed lost. Did the young pilot accidentally bomb one of his country’s own ships, sending his fellow warriors to their deaths? Only Roderick Chambers’ girl believes in him after the tragedy. But he doesn’t even believe in himself. And even she can’t stop him from taking the one last chance to clear his name…even though the attempt will likely cost him his life. (240 pages. $6 used. 1 Copy in OPL.)

12) The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington.
This 1919 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel portrays the decline of the extravagantly affluent Amberson family, serving as a touching backdrop for the huge social changes America saw in the decades following the Industrial Revolution. Rather than join the modern age, George Amberson insists on remaining a "gentleman" and tries desperately to hang on to his own version of patrician pride. But his town soon becomes a city and the family palace becomes surrounded by industry, destroying the elegant, cloistered lifestyle enjoyed by the family in years gone by. A genuine literary masterpiece. We loved it. (276 pages. New $13. Used from $4.85. 2 copies in OPL system.)

13) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.
Mansfield Park may be full of serious events like betrayal, social ruin, and ruptured friendships. But, golly; it is a comedy so, rest assured, there’s plenty of humor, gentle satire, the requisite happy ending and plenty of Austen's excellent writing along the way. (448 pages. New: $6. Used from $2. 4 copies in OPL.)

14) No Highway by Nevil Shute
A new type of British airliner is flying into certain disaster high above the Atlantic. But one of the passengers aboard is a brilliant scientist who recognizes the fate that awaits. Or does he? This is Nevil Shute with his usual skill in human characterizations, dialogue, and thoughtfulness but with one of his most grippingly suspenseful stories. (280 pages. $6 used.)

15) O Little Town by Don Reid
Yes, that Don Reid, member of the legendary country group (now retired) The Statler Brothers. In this quiet Christmas novel set in a Southern small town in 1958, there are two primary storylines taking place. One deals with the preacher’s daughter getting nabbed shoplifting and the other with a terminally-ill grandfather who has a secret tradition he plans to pass on to his descendants. ( 256 pages. New just last month at $12.99. Used copies will probably be plentiful next year.)

16) The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau by Anthony Hope
Before there was Rafael Sabatini, there were the adventurous romances he cherished by Alexandre Dumas, Baroness Emmuska Orczy, and Anthony Hope. Indeed, Hope's dashing novel, The Prisoner of Zenda set the bar high with its combination of drama, principle, courage, plot complexity, romance, suspense and the allure of foreign intrigue. But since The Prisoner of Zenda is a mere 212 pages and because you'll read it as fast as you eat Almond Joys, I suggest we team it with the lesser-known but thrilling sequel, Rupert of Hentzau (220 pages). (The Prisoner of Zenda is readily and cheaply available. The sequel less so with used copies from $8 to $12.)

17) Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo.
1793 was the year that Louis XVI was decapitated and Robespierre really swung into “terror mode” to further the French Revolution. And after neglecting the Revolution as a theme for his whole career, Hugo finally did so with this, his last novel. Ayn Rand once wrote an introduction to the novel and described the theme of Ninety-Three as “man's loyalty to values.“ That sounds like a great theme for the NHN to explore, especially when it comes from the pen of such a master artist. (392 pages. New: $27.95. Used from $8.)

18) No Name by Wilkie Collins.
This is Wilkie Collins at the height of his literary powers. It is the story of two sisters, Magdalen and Norah, who discover after the deaths of their dearly beloved parents that their parents were not legally married at the time of the girls’ births. Disinherited and ousted from their estate, Magdalen and Norah must fend for themselves and either surrender to their fate or recover their wealth by whatever means available. (784 pages. New from $10.25. Used from $3. 1 copy in OPL.)

19) November 1916 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
With August 1914, Solzhenitsyn began his epic of the Russian Revolution, the finished version of which (The Red Wheel) he hoped to leave as his greatest and most important work. After 20 years, the second of the series is here. This is historical fiction at its very best. (1000 pages. New: $20.00. 3 copies in OPL.)

20) Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Dr. Elwin Ransom, noted professor of philology at Cambridge University, becomes curious about the language of the inhabitants of Malacandra (Mars) but has no idea he will soon travel there...as a hostage of two sinister villains who plan to offer him as a human sacrifice! Ransom’s daring escape, his harrowing adventures afterwards and a whole lot of profound spiritual allegory make this short novel, Lewis' first of his famous space trilogy, a more than appropriate read for the Napoleons. (160 pages. Used copies inexpensive and plentiful. 5 copies in OPL system.)

21) Random Harvest by James Hilton
I really like the other Hilton works I have read (Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips) but Random Harvest is the most engaging, profound and well-crafted of all. It is an unusually presented novel dealing with a severely shell-shocked victim of WWI whose subsequent life is successful but enigmatic because of a long period of memory loss. The touching novel has romance, mystery, character, mood, historical interest, profound philosophic perspectives, and plot twists aplenty. It’s a splendid read. (326 pages. Used copies from $10.00. 2 copies in OPL system.)

22) The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
We don’t really want to leave a task undone, do we? Having read and profitably discussed together the first two volumes of Tolkien’s legendary trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring in 1998 and The Two Towers in 2002), I suggest we finish off with this provocative and peerless novel. (544 pages. $9 new. Used copies even cheaper. Numerous copies in OPL system.)

23) The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain.
Costain was one of America’s most popular novelists in the early years of the 20th Century novelists with this being his best selling book. Based on legends that have circulated from the earliest days of the Church, The Silver Chalice describes the life of Basil, the artisan who fashioned the silver chalice that held the sacred cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper. Following its publication in 1953, the Chicago Tribune said of the book, "Costain paints a tremendous canvas filled with color and vitality. . .He breathes life into history. But The Silver Chalice does more than this. It makes the New Testament, perhaps for the first time, seem real." (Doesn’t say much for the reviewer’s preacher and Sunday School teachers, does it?) Anyhow, similarly high praise comes from the woman who wrote the introduction to the latest edition, Peggy Noonan. (533 pages. New $11. Used from $1.25. 2 copies in OPL.)

24) That Printer of Udell’s by Harold Bell Wright.
It would be hard to write a better recommendation for this book by the author of The Shepherd of the Hills than the one written by President Ronald Reagan: “I found a role model in that traveling printer whom Harold Bell Wright had brought to life. He set me on a course I’ve tried to follow even unto this day. I shall always be grateful.” Certainly we could all benefit from reading this warm-hearted novel that emphasizes a strong belief in God (and the resultant good deeds) forms the basis for a fulfilling life, no matter what a person’s past might hold. (346 pages. New: $5.95. Used from $2.)

25) Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas.
Two decades have passed since the famous swordsmen triumphed over Cardinal Richelieu and M’lady in The Three Musketeers. Time has weakened their bodies a bit and dispersed them from one another. But treasons and stratagems still cry out for justice and, eventually, civil war endangers the throne of France. Meanwhile in England, Cromwell threatens to send Charles I to the scaffold. It is in this firestorm that the immortal quartet comes out of retirement to cross swords once again with time, the malevolence of men, and the forces of history. (880 pages. New: $10.85. Used from $6. 4 copies in OPL.)

26) The Virginian by Owen Wister
Before there were the stereotypical Westerns (Zane Grey, Max Brand, and the rest), there was Owen Wister's acclaimed The Virginian, a well-written, thoughtful novel of the American West. In it Wister introduces many of the elements that others would eventually copy -- the handsome, self-educated cowboy hero (the fellow reads Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott); the modest schoolteacher from back East; and the stern requirements of dealing out one's own justice in a lawless land. But The Virginian is more than a Saturday matinee shoot 'em up, it is fine literature, a classic study of human nature, and one of the most popular novels ever written by an American. Published in 1902 and dedicated to President Theodore Roosevelt, The Virginian has the history, the literary excellence and the enjoyable readability that has made up so many of our favorites over the years. (480 pages. Many inexpensive editions around. 9 copies in OPL.