SYDNEY LEONARD’S PICKS:
‘Here Be Dragons’ by Sharon Kay Penman (2008, fiction): This historical fiction tale of King John of the Magna Carta and his illegitimate daughter, Joanna, is a moving tale that I was unable to put down. While John has been written down in history as a greedy king or the devil’s spawn, Penman shows how he could be ruthless in all things except decisions concerning his children. Joanna, although a bastard child, was always John’s favorite daughter, but he still had to marry her off to benefit the state of England. Therefore, he pairs her with Prince Llewelyn of Wales so that England will be able to claim at least a part of Wales as its own. Yet John had not accounted for his daughter falling madly in love with her husband, and he finds himself in the position of having to choose which is more important to him – his ambition or the love of his daughter. Similarly, Joanna found herself in the difficult state of having to choose between the two men that she loves most in the world-her husband and her father. A tale of passionate love, divided loyalties and an accurate insight into Wales and England during the 1200s, ‘Here Be Dragons’ is by far the best book of the decade.
‘Henry’s Sisters’ by Cathy Lamb (2009, fiction): This brilliant novel reads like a heart-wrenching memoir of three sisters who cannot move forward because of the darkness of their past. Lamb has concocted a masterpiece similar to ‘Angela’s Ashes- full of laughter, tragedy, misguided love and a series of hardships the family must learn how to break away from. While all three sisters are messed-up emotionally in different ways, their brother Henry is the glue that holds them all together. Despite his mental disability and the hardships he also was forced to endure, Henry has learned how to trust, love and be happy again. So when the three sisters are forced to return home to take care of Henry and their grandmother (who believes she’s Amelia Earhart) while their mother undergoes heart surgery, Henry is the one who inevitably pieces them back together again. This is a beautiful story that will make the reader laugh and cry.
‘Sex With The Queen’ by Eleanor Herman (2005, nonfiction): Whether you’re a fan of European history or not, this book is worth buying if only for entertainment. Herman wittily delivers true stories about the Queen’s marriage to some of the most revered, cruel and charming kings of Europe’s past. The reader immediately becomes captivated by the tale of each queen and learns that not all royal marriages were full of wedded bliss and luxury. Some royal princesses were shipped off to marry mentally disturbed kings, while others found themselves bound to powerful men who preferred the company of men to women in the bedchamber. True, several queens made matches of love, or at least, equality, but many were forced to endure unfaithful, arrogant and ambitious husbands who took immense pleasure in their discomfort. From the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, all the way down to Princess Diana of Wales, Herman has created a series of truths that will never be forgotten.
Pierce Alquist’s Picks
‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ by Khaled Hosseini (2003 and 2007, fiction): These two novels have had substantial and controversial importance over the last decade. Their display of life in the Middle East, especially Afghanistan, have enthralled readers internationally. ‘The Kite Runner’ follows the story of Amir, a young boy living in Afghanistan, as he immigrates to the United States as a young man. The novel delves deeply into the themes of regret and forgiveness, but Hosseini’s skill as a writer most effectively shines in his moving characters. ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ recounts the intertwining lives of two women, both married to abusive husbands in Afghanistan. In ‘Suns,’ Hosseini portrays the cruel reality of war but softens the tale with the insightful and rich friendship of the two women.’ ‘ ‘ ‘
The ‘Millennium’ trilogy, by Stieg Larsson (fiction): We are lucky that Swedish writer Stieg Larsson presented his three manuscripts for the ‘Millennium’ trilogy to his publisher before his death in 2004, for they are some of the best crime thriller books published in the last decade. The first book, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ was released in America in 2008. ‘The Girl who Played with Fire’ followed in 2009, and the highly anticipated third book, ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,’ is set to come out on May 25. The trilogy follows journalist Mikael Blomkvist and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander as they face sadistic serial killers, sex trafficking thugs and corrupt businessmen.
‘The Gargoyle,’ by Andrew Davidson (2008, fiction): ‘The Gargoyle’ is an unconventional love story following a former porn star whose career comes to an end when his entire body is set afire in a car accident. While in the hospital, he meets Marianne, an alluring’ woman who claims that their love has been reincarnated over the ages. The novel follows their story as the narrator becomes ever addicted to his morphine and the plot spirals out of control in mind-blowing scenes of altered reality.
Alquist and Leonard are members of the class of 2013.