Ask A Librarian: Bring Me Your Finest Histories, Real or Alternate

Hello, readers! It’s a gorgeous day outside in Seattle, but I am going to be inside, as being employed at the library means far too much time thinking up titles to request. I thought I had seven holds yesterday and walked out with sixteen items. I finished Hold Me Closer Necromancer last night, and I re-started Karen Marie Moning’s Iced this morning. What are you reading? What do you want to read? Bring it on!

Historical fiction and (well written) sci-fi…I love Ken Follet books, Cane River, All Orson Scott Card. The last book I read was a Jodi Picoult. And I’m ALWAYS looking for a new book to add to the queue!

Have you read Bowl of Heaven? Co-written by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, an expedition to another solar system encounters a giant structure half-surrounding a distant star. Because we can’t leave well enough alone, an exploration party is sent to visit the bowl, and that’s when it all goes to hell in a handbasket. This is on my to-read list, and was highly recommended to me.

Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is an intricately-plotted novel about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VII, and the role Cromwell played in court politics that led to the formation of the Church of England. If you like it, the sequel is Bring Up The Bodies.

King’s Dragon by Kate Elliott is the first of a seven-volume fantasy series. Modeled after early medieval Europe, the kingdom of Wendar is under siege from the king’s sister, and three people from disparate walks of life – an orphan, the king’s bastard son, and an apprentice monk – will be drawn into events far beyond their experience.

I’m interested in alternate history fantasy or sci-fi. I’ve read Gail Carager’s works and Naomi Novik’s. Pluses are an innovative world building concept and characters that are at least occasionally funny.

One author who often comes up in the discussion of alternate histories is Harry Turtledove. His book Guns of the South is considered one of the pillars of the genre, in which a group of time-travelling South Africans deliver AK-47s to the Confederate army during the Civil War.

I just picked up a book from the library by Jo Walton called Tooth and Claw. It’s a Victorian novel of manners and families… it’s just that the families are dragons. I loved Walton’s Among Others, and I have high hopes for Tooth and Claw. 

I’ve been craving more Gail Carriger, so I turned to her website to see what was on the horizon. She has a list of authors and books to tide readers over between books, and one that stood out to me was M. K. Hobson’s The Native Star. Set in the Reconstruction-era American West, it’s about a witch in a steampunk world. I’ve already added it to my holds list.

Did any of you participate in World Book Night last week? Did you receive a book? I think it’s such an amazing idea, but I always feel awkward about the idea of going up to strangers on the street and giving them a free copy of a book. (I think it’s the years of avoiding copies of Dianetics when I go downtown.) Had I participated, I would have handed out Nora Roberts’ Montana Sky. It’s two things I don’t normally read: set in the American West and a contemporary romance (I’m a Regency romance reader), but Roberts has a knack for relatable characters, touching love stories, and writing families I want to know more about. I love that the women in her books often have close female friends who are just as important to them as their romantic partners. Her books almost always pass the Bechdel test. I’m hoping that next year I’ll get up the guts to participate. What book would you hand out to strangers?

By Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to

11 replies on “Ask A Librarian: Bring Me Your Finest Histories, Real or Alternate”

First poster – are you me? I’ll be checking out all these recommendations:) and Wolf Hall is great.

Historical fiction, history of science, and a little bit of sci-fi: I recommend Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle, and Anathem. Though the latter is very dense if you’re not use to his style, I wouldn’t necessarily start with that one.

(ETA: Cryptonomicon is TOTALLY the book I would hand out to strangers on World Book Night:) My mum got a book of Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry a few years ago and loved it. It’s a great idea).

He’s also co-writing historical fiction with the Mongoliad series, about the Mongol invasion of Europe (and political infighting in the Mongolian courts). Very intriguing, if you’re like me and don’t know much about that time and place in history.

Also Freedom & Necessity by fantasy novelists Steven Brust and Emma Bull is chock-full of historical fiction with just a leeetle bit of occult fantasy.

Thanks for the recommendations. Tooth and Claw sounds wonderful.

Also for the other seeker of books Bernard Cornwell writes some cool historical fiction, and some of it has a low fantasy vibe to it. Stonehenge comes to mind as one of his books that isn’t part of a multi-novel epic. They do get kind of gory though.

I enjoyed Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, once I realised that all the female characters would always be utterly one-dimensional. It taught me a lot about the Peninsular War, though, and his medieval fiction is a little better on that point.

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