Over the past few days at work, I’ve eyed a few books that somewhat cover my interest in Russian history (particularly pre-Bolshevik, WWII, and Cold War) and Arthurian legend. Two vastly different topics, each with fascinating elements of history and culture.
I spotted Lara’s Gift by Annamarie O’Brien, which is about breeding borzoi dogs in 1914. It’s a Middle Grade novel, and I know if I were younger it would’ve sparked my interest in Russian culture immediately. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar by Jennifer Laam was one I had hope for, but my disinterest in Russian royalty (although the Anastasia story is intriguing!) paired with a contemporary storyline weaving in detracted from that Russian feel. I’ve also read The Bronze Horseman trilogy by Paullina Simons, set in WWII Leningrad following two lovers who eventually split to the front and NYC, reunite, and continue their lives up to the present day. Last fall, I read The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford, a YA set in the Cold War, featuring a Russian boy with ambiguous intentions when an American girl falls in love with him.
Recommendations: I will read Middle Grade up to Adult Fiction, preferably by a contemporary author (Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky will wait till the long winter months, but if you have a favorite of their’s, let me know!), and preferably not about royalty. This can span from three eras: early 1900s, WWII, and Cold War. Do you have any recommendations?
Also, come on. Snow. If you don’t know me by now, you should know I love winter. Just look at those covers.
If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ll remember I went through a huge Robin Hood and Merlin phase, watching the BBC shows and looking up historical information on whether or not these people were real, and if not then which individuals could they be based off of, etc. A friend of mine has already recommended Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven trilogy for Robin Hood (knowing my Hood interests are mostly of Celtic/early Anglo-Saxon origin and less on the actual thief), as well as Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle series.
I haven’t read Lawhead yet, nor have I read T.A. Barron’s Merlin Middle Grade series, Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga, or even the classic Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I kid you not, though, when I say these books haunt me in the store. I want to read them, but something is holding me back. Maybe you can provide that little push? (Don’t worry, I already own Once and Future King.)
Recommendations: I will read Middle Grade up to Adult fiction on anything pertaining to King Arthur and Merlin. The more Celtic/Anglo-Saxon history thrown in there, the better. In my head it makes everything more authentic! Do you have any suggestions?
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Share your thoughts and recommendations!
8 thoughts on “Calling for Book Recommendations: Russia and Legends”
Okay, Russian themed books: ‘Deathless’ by Catherynne Valente incorporates Russian folktales into a story of 20th century life under communism. ‘Enchantments’ by Kathryn Harrison is a tale of Rasputin’s daughter in the days leading up to and just following the Russian revolution and is full of amazing atmospheric descriptions of St. Petersburg. ‘City of Thieves’ by David Benioff is a great ‘buddy’ novel with some romance set during the siege of Leningrad. ‘Tsarina’ by J. Nelle Patrick (I haven’t read it, but it looks like fun YA book set in the last days of the Tsar’s reign), but based on your descriptions above, it may not be of interest. Just because I think his books are funny, wise and great reads, you should check out Gary Shteyngart: ‘The Russian Debutante’s Handbook’ and ‘Absurdistan’. ‘You Are One of Them’ by Elliot Holt. Then there are the oldies: ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’ by John Le Carre — all of his cold war spy novels are wonderful though most take place in the shadow grounds of Europe rather than in the Soviet Union. Another spy novelist worth looking at is Alan Furst who writes about espionage in Europe between the wars, including the activities of Russian spies. ‘Dr. Zhivago’ by Boris Pasternak (plus there’s a new non-fiction book that about the cold war politics that were critical to getting the book published), I haven’t read these, but they are on my list: ‘The Master and The Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov, a classic satire of Stalinism that was banned in Russia until 1966 very weird and very influential, ‘Red Cavlary’ by Isaac Babel which are stories about the early years of Soviet Rule. Phew, more than you were looking for and probably not all of it on target. Good luck finding titles that feed your craving.
WOW! Thank you so much. The more the better.
Oops, sorry, I forgot a brand new book that is one my TBR pile soon: The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil. Got a great review from the New York Times and is getting lots of support from indie bookstores and was Powell’s Indiespensable choice this month. Okay, I need to go put together some new bookshelves — though thinking about books is more interesting that trying to bring order to them!
oh my goodness, thank you! Thank you thank you thank you.
“Blood Red Snow White” by Marcus Sedgewick is a YA novel set during the Russian Revolution that follows Arthur Ransome, an Englishman who may or may not have become a Russian spy. It’s full of magical realism and lots of snow! Also “Angel on the Square” by Gloria Whelan is a book I read over and over when I was in middle school. It’s about a young girl named Katya whose mother is a lady-in-waiting to the Tsarina. Then the Russian Revolution hits and Katya has to learn to survive away from the Russian Court. From what I remember, the Russian royals are not a huge part of the story. It’s more about Katya’s journey so you might like it even though it includes some Russian royalty 🙂 “Russka” by Edward Rutherford is a fiction novel that sort of spans most of Russian history by following one family through the decades. Hope that helps!
Thank you very much, this DOES help!
Ok, so I know that I’ve already recommended/endorsed via FB, but I really had to say it again just because: THE YOUNG MERLIN SERIES. That series is one of the very few that I’ve re-read, which for me says a lot. The Arthurian Saga is also one I’d totally endorse, but was a bit heavy to re-read imo (but I was also a teenager and had mild-to-moderate-to-severe ADD … 😉
Let me know if you end up reading any of these, I’d love to know what you think!
Hahaha thank you again for the extra push 🙂