“Fall is in the air!” Mom announced the other day. I’m not sure what that means, exactly. But Mom is skipping merrily around the house, chirping about “fall colors,” “sweater weather” and “hot chocolate.” I’d be just as happy with a nice, thick New York steak. Whatever.
I figure it’s only a matter of time until Mom breaks out that stupid red and white polka-dot thingy she hauls me into whenever we go out in cold weather. Pay off: Coming home to cozy spot in front of a nice, warm fireplace.
Anyway, Mom says fall is a great time to grab a hot cuppa whatever and curl up next to a roaring fire with a good book! She’s got a list. Checked it twice. (I helped. The first list didn’t smell right.)
Here are some of Mom’s top fiction picks for the season. Mostly YA. In no particular order:
The Lost Letter – Jillian Cantor
Based on the work of the Austrian resistance to Nazi invaders via postage stamps (stamps!), this historical novel bridges two continents and 50 years. It spans 1938/39 Austria and 1989+ Southern California and Wales in two distinct, overlapping storylines.
The 1939 story follows a bittersweet romance between young Kristoff, an apprentice engraver, and master engraver Frederick Faber’s beautiful, audacious daughter, Elena.
Fast forward 50 years to a “nearly divorced” reporter “Kate the Great,” her philatelist (stamp collector) father, Ted, and a mysterious letter with a secret in its stamp. Unopened and unmailed, the letter is addressed to a woman in an Austrian town that no longer exists. Why?
This bittersweet story chronicles the indomitability of the human spirit, enduring hope, and ageless love. Riveting!
Legend – Marie Lu
Taut and engaging, with well-rounded characters and plenty “didn’t see that comin'” surprises.
The plot grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final Sydney Carton-ish pages. You may want to buckle up tight for this roller coaster ride. (And yes, Chian, Commander Jameson and a certain Republic captain are pond scum. Some orphans, Sitz fighters and brothers are not.)
Out of the Dust – Karen Hesse
Powerful and poignant, this award-winning story is set in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the Great Depression. The author’s masterful use of spare free verse propels this story right off the pages. You can almost taste the dust and hear Billie Jo’s piano.
Cruelty. Kindness. Despair. Hope. Menacing evil. Compassion and courage. Ancient rivalries and new wounds. This story them all. And when a Hazara girl, Fatima, and a Pashtun boy, Samiullah, fall in love in war-time Afghanistan, there’s hell to pay. Especially from self-righteous Rashid, Sami’s cousin.
A heart-breaking, haunting story of forbidden love, loyalty, betrayal and hope.
A Torch Against the Night – Sabaa Tahir
An escaped slave girl and a ruthless warrior of the Empire form an unlikely alliance as they run for their lives. Together, Laia and Elias hatch a daring rescue of Laia’s brother, an artist with an eye for detail. Led by Elias’s former best friend and newly minted Blood Shrike, Hellene, the Black Guard is hot on their heels. So is Elias’s mother, the ruthless, bloodthirsty Blackcliff Commandant. (She makes Lord Voldemort look like a piker.)
The second installment in the “Ember” series is a high octane read with plenty of room for a sequel. Brisk and compelling, the prose is as colorful as Mama Rila’s painted wagons, the plot twists as clever as a red-haired ally who may not be an ally after all. (Spoiler: the “torch” isn’t a What, but a Who. Don’t tell anyone.)
A gripping read from start to finish. You may want to stock up on bandaids. And tea with honey.
An Eagle in the Snow – Michael Morpugo
In a mountain tunnel outside London (1940), a train waits out an attack from a German Messerschmidt 109. One car is occupied by a young boy, Barney, his Ma, and a mysterious “stranger” with matches. The boy and his Ma are fleeing the night’s bombing of Coventry which destroyed their home and killed Barney’s father.
To keep the frightened young boy’s mind off the suffocating darkness, the stranger unravels a tale about a fellow orphan, Billy Byron, and his experiences during the first world war. They include Byron’s merciful choice to allow a German corporal with a mustache to walk away from the end of the Battle of Marcoing as the WWI concludes. Byron is horrified when the corporal resurfaces years later as Der Fuhrer.
A classic What If? story.
Library of Lost Souls – Ransom Riggs
Library of Souls” serves up a fantastical smorgasborg of plucky heroes and heroines like Jacob and Emma, stubborn ymbrenes like Miss Peregrine, dastardly, double-crossing siblings (Caul and Bentham), and incredible adventures amid a riveting plot peppered with alternate realities. It packs a wallop from start to finish. The prose is also top-notch, with enough dry humor and rapier wit to thaw the chilliest Yeth-faru or wake the worst ambro addict.
This may be the best book in the entire “Peculiar” series.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia – Candace Fleming
Almost Shakespeare-eque in its scope, depth, and sense of tragedy, this is a history that reads like a novel. Meticulously researched and thoroughly documented, this intriguing look at Russia’s last tsar and his family may be the definitive work on the subject.
Candace Fleming pierces the veil of mystery and secrecy surrounding the final, tragic fate of the Romanovs with primary source material, a generous amount of photos, and great dignity. If you want to better understand what happened to Russia’s last family dynasty and why, this book is for you.
What would you add?
Now if I can just remember where Mom stashed that steak. Hmmm.