Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stories about history and far-away places

People read for a lot of different reasons -- but some people read because they like getting a mental picture of different places or times. The books below all have strongly-described settings that will make you feel like you've traveled to another world. Look for them at your library using the WorldCatalog link, or find copies in the Amazon search box, both here on BookBag.

The Falconer's Knot: A Story of Friars, Flirtation and Foul Play, by Mary Hoffman (Bloomsbury USA) Historical Fiction. Star-crossed lovers! Lies! Crimes of passion! Friars! Peril! And ... pigments! If you thought the Italian Renaissance couldn't possibly provide the setting for a rip-roaring romp of a mystery, think again. When gorgeous and wealthy Silvano is accused of killing a sheep farmer--the husband of the woman Silvano loves--he flees to Giardinetto, where the monks grind and mix pigments for a renowned fresco painter. But when people start dropping dead at the monastery, Silvano must find the true culprit and clear his name. Rich with detailed descriptions of medieval Italy (and about the process of making paints), this suspenseful tale will transport you back in time.

The Star of Kazan, by Eva Ibbotson; illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Dutton Children's Books) Fiction. Instead of her birthday, Annika marks her Found Day, when Sigrid the housemaid and Ellie the cook discovered her abandoned in a church and took her home with them. Despite her happy life with Sigrid, Ellie, and many good friends, Annika still longs to meet her long-lost mother. When a glamorous, fine lady appears and claims Annika as her daughter, the girl is only too happy to be whisked off to her new-found family's estate...which turns out to be a big mistake. This richly imagined, suspenseful story is brimming with great characters and paints a vivid portrait of early-20th-century Vienna.

Lost Boy, by Linda Newbery (David Fickling Books) Fiction. Matt Lancaster is out riding his bike when a speeding car, nearly killing him, runs him off the road...where he finds a memorial to Martin Lloyd, a boy who was killed in a hit-and-run at the very same spot. Then Matt starts seeing Martin's ghost and meets the elderly man said to have been responsible for the boy's death, and the more questions Matt has about the past, the more complicated a puzzle it becomes to solve. This creepy and gripping mystery has a touch of the supernatural and gives readers a strong sense of its setting in the hills of Wales.

Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You, by Hanna Jansen; translated from the German by Elizabeth D. Crawford (Carolrhoda Books) Historical Fiction. Eight-year-old Tutsi Jeanne d'Arc Umubyeyi lived a normal, happy enough life in Rwanda until the day in 1994 that her Hutu neighbors murdered her family and razed her home (Tutsis and Hutus are two groups of Rwanda's native peoples). This story details the unimaginable horrors that she witnesses and survives before being adopted by a German family. Descriptions of the time before the genocide give a clear picture of daily life in Rwanda, and accounts of the violence make Jeanne's experience painfully clear. Written by Jeanne's adoptive mother at the young girl's insistence, Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You is an emotional and absorbing fictionalization of a true story.

Westminster Abby, by Micol Ostow (Speak) Fiction. Sheltered 16-year-old Abby Capshaw is traveling from New York City to London, where she hopes that her summer of study abroad will help her forget about her overprotective parents and her cheating boyfriend. Abby, who sees herself as "a little vanilla" (sweet, yet plain and not very exciting), hopes that the summer will be her chance to become more like a hot-fudge sundae. This 1st of 13 novels in the fun-and-fabulous Students Across the Seven Seas (S.A.S.S.) series brings the sights and sounds of London to life; readers who like to experience new places through reading will enjoy the rest of the books, in which students travel to places such as Italy, France, Spain, and China.

Night of the Howling Dogs, by Graham Salisbury (Wendy Lamb Books) Fiction. Dylan is excited about going camping with his scout troop at Halape, one of the most remote beach spots on Hawaii's Big Island, just beneath the Kilauea volcano. But when he learns that Louie Domingo, a thuggish older boy, will also be going on the trip, his excitement turns to worry. Louie is definitely intimidating--but he's no match for the earthquake and tsunami that strike after the boys reach their destination. Based on an actual 1975 disaster that the author's cousin experienced, this riveting survival tale incorporates Hawaiian legends and, with its vivid descriptions of the setting, makes readers feel as though they are on the Big Island right along with the characters.

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