Posts Tagged ‘Historical Fiction’

Top Genre Fiction You May Have Missed

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews.

This modern spy novel pits two covert operatives against each other in an intricate cat-and-mouse game. As Dominika and Nathaniel ply their tradecraft, they navigate the moral ambiguities of a post–Cold War world, where no one is as they seem and betrayal is business as usual.


Read-alikes: Alan Furst’s Night Soldiers, John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and Charlie Huston’s Skinner.

The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent.

Love, morality and greed collide in this Reconstruction-era western. A whore without a heart of gold, Lucinda escapes from a Fort Worth brothel to begin a new life—and a new con. She and her lover are bound to cross paths with Texas Ranger Nate, who is chasing stone-cold killer McGill. Both Nate and Lucinda are unforgettable characters, driven by the need to survive.

Read-alikes: Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, Charles Portis’ True Grit, and 3:10 from Yuma (film, Lionsgate, 2007)

Last Days by Adam Nevill.

Deep in debt, documentary filmmaker Kyle Freeman reluctantly accepts the financial backing of an enigmatic self-help guru to make a movie about infamous cult the Temple of the Last Days. Unique, atmospheric, and deeply disturbing, Nevill’s novel delivers a visceral horror experience that will haunt readers long after they put the book down.

Read-alikes: Ramsey Campbell’s The Grin of the Dark, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and Paranormal Activity (film, Paramount Pictures, 2009)

Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell.

London, 1854: The Artist of Death ritualistically re-creates the sensational Ratcliffe murders inspired by the writings of the notorious opium addict Thomas De Quincey. In this fast-paced mystery, filled with colorful characters and authentic period detail, Scotland Yard detectives, along with De Quincey and his daughter, must find the Artist of Death before he executes another macabre masterpiece.

Read-alikes: Stephen Gallagher’s The Bedlam Detective, P. D. James and T. A. Critchley’s The Maul and the Pear Tree: The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, 1811, and Alan Moore’s From Hell.

Me before You by Jojo Moyes.

Unemployed 26-year-old Louisa takes the only job she can find: as a “care assistant” to 35-year-old quadriplegic Will. When Louisa discovers the depth of Will’s unhappiness, she embarks on a mission to convince him that life is worth living and, in the process, begins to think about her own future. This bittersweet, quirky novel recounts an unlikely friendship while grappling with complex issues in a realistic and sensitive manner.

Read-alikes: Jonathan Evison’s The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, Elizabeth Berg’s Talk before Sleep, and Michelle Wildgen’s You’re Not You.


Reading Group Suggestions

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Here are some suggestions for new and recent books that would be good for discussion.

The Painted Girls: a novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan. “1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.” (Penguin Putnam)

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver. Summary: “In 1936, a young mother resting by the side of a road in Central California is spontaneously photographed by a woman documenting the migrant laborers who have taken to America’s farms in search of work. Little personal information is exchanged, and neither woman has any way of knowing that they have produced what will become the most iconic image of the Great Depression. Three vibrant characters anchor the narrative of Mary Coin. Mary, the migrant mother herself, who emerges as a woman with deep reserves of courage and nerve, with private passions and carefully-guarded secrets. Vera Dare, the photographer wrestling with creative ambition who makes the choice to leave her children in order to pursue her work. And Walker Dodge, a present-day professor of cultural history, who discovers a family mystery embedded in the picture.”

Twisted Sisters by Jen Lancaster. Summary: “Reagan Bishop is a pusher. A licensed psychologist who stars on the Wendy Winsberg cable breakout show, I Need a Push, Reagan helps participants become their best selves by urging them to overcome obstacles and change behaviors. An overachiever, Reagan is used to delivering results. Despite her overwhelming professional success, Reagan never seems to earn her family’s respect. Her younger sister, Geri, is and always will be the Bishop family favorite. When a national network buys Reagan’s show, the pressures for unreasonably quick results and higher ratings mount. But Reagan’s a clinician, not a magician, and she fears witnessing her own personal failings in prime time. Desperate to make the show work and keep her family at bay, Reagan actually listens when the show’s New Age healer offers an unconventional solution. Record Nielsen ratings follow. But when Reagan decides to use her newfound power to teach everyone a lesson about sibling rivalry, she’s the one who will be schooled.”


Featured On Today Show

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Featured February 12, 2014 on Today:

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki. “Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John Andre. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.” (from cover page)

Reading group guide included in book.


In Honor of Chinese New Year

Friday, January 31st, 2014

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (Find in our catalog).

“New York Times bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan brings us her latest novel: a sweeping, evocative epic of two women’s intertwined fates and their search for identity—from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog- shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese village

Shanghai, 1912. Violet Minturn is the privileged daughter of the American madam of the city’s most exclusive courtesan house. But when the Ching dynasty is overturned, Violet is separated from her mother in a cruel act of chicanery and forced to become a “virgin courtesan.” Half-Chinese and half-American, Violet grapples with her place in the worlds of East and West—until she is able to merge her two halves, empowering her to become a shrewd courtesan who excels in the business of seduction and illusion, though she still struggles to understand who she is.

Back in 1897 San Francisco, Violet’s mother, Lucia, chooses a disastrous course as a sixteen-year-old, when her infatuation with a Chinese painter compels her to leave her home for Shanghai. Shocked by her lover’s adherence to Chinese traditions, she is unable to change him, despite her unending American ingenuity.

Fueled by betrayals, both women refuse to submit to fate and societal expectations, persisting in their quests to recover what was taken from them: respect; a secure future; and, most poignantly, love from their parents, lovers, and children. To reclaim their lives, they take separate journeys—to a backwater hamlet in China, the wealthy environs of the Hudson River Valley, and, ultimately, the unknown areas of their hearts, where they discover what remains after their many failings to love and be loved.

Spanning more than forty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement transports readers from the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty to the beginning of the Republic and recaptures the lost world of old Shanghai through the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of the foreigners living in the International Settlement, both erased by World War II. A deeply evocative narrative of the profound connections between mothers and daughters, imbued with Tan’s characteristic insight and humor, The Valley of Amazement conjures a story of inherited trauma, desire and deception, and the power and obstinacy of love.” (Book flap text)

You may also like:

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (Find in our catalog)

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (Find in our catalog)


For Fans of Downton Abbey – the Dilberne Court Trilogy

Friday, January 24th, 2014

For those long hours waiting between new episodes of Downton Abbey, try curling up with a book.  The Dilberne Court Trilogy by Fay Weldon is sure to please fans of domestic drama set among the aristocracy of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods.  Fay Weldon is the award-winning novelist and writer of the pilot episode of Upstairs Downstairs, the world-famous TV series against which all other historical domestic sagas are measured. She has written this brilliant new trilogy about what life was really like for masters and servants before the world of Downton Abbey.

Habits of the House (find in our catalog).  “As the Season of 1899 comes to an end, the world is poised on the brink of profound, irrevocable change. The Earl of Dilberne is facing serious financial concerns. The ripple effects spread to everyone in the household: Lord Robert, who has gambled unwisely on the stock market and seeks a place in the Cabinet; his unmarried children, Arthur, who keeps a courtesan, and Rosina, who keeps a parrot in her bedroom; Lord Robert’s wife Isobel, who orders the affairs of the household in Belgrave Square; and Grace, the lady’s maid who orders the life of her mistress. Lord Robert can see no financial relief to an already mortgaged estate, and, though the Season is over, his thoughts turn to securing a suitable wife (and dowry) for his son. The arrival on the London scene of Minnie, a beautiful Chicago heiress with a reputation to mend, seems the answer to all their prayers.”  (Provided by publisher).

Long Live the King (find in our catalog).  Follows the restoration of the Dilberne fortune and manor at the turn of the 20th century, when Lord Robert and Lady Isobel assist coronation plans for Edward VII, anticipate the birth of a grandchild and debate the future of an orphaned niece.



The New Countess (find in our catalog).  “England, 1903. Lord Robert and Lady Isobel Dilberne and the entire grand estate, with its hundred rooms, are busy planning for a visit from Edward VII and Queen Alexandra just a few months away. Preparations are elaborate and exhaustive: the menus and fashions must be just so, and so must James, the new heir and son of Arthur Dilberne and Chicago heiress, Minnie O’Brien. But there are problems. Little James is being reared to Lady Isobel’s tastes, not Minnie’s. And Mrs. O’Brien is visiting from America and causing trouble. Meanwhile, the Dilbernes’ niece, Adela, is back and stirring up hysteria in the servants’ hall by claiming the house is cursed. The royal visit is imperiled, but so are the Dilberne finances once more. His Lordship is under tremendous stress, and the pecking order will soon be upset as everything at Dilberne Court changes. The New Countess is the final novel in Fay Weldon’s exciting trilogy that began with Habits of the House and Long Live the King. The bestselling novelist and award-winning writer of the pilot episode of the original Upstairs Downstairs lifts the curtain on British society, upstairs and downstairs, under one roof” (Provided by publisher).


What to Read While Waiting for the Next Hilary Mantel

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Readers seduced by Hilary Mantel’s unique writing style and the awefully fascinating character of Thomas Cromwell in the award-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies will have a hard time waiting for the last part of the trilogy. While we wait to see what happens next, may I suggest picking up Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Freemantle?

In Wolf Hall we sawThomas Wolsey, King Henry’s chancellor, brought down by his failure to provide the king with his divorce and by the vicious factions supporting Anne Boleyn.  Cromwell is his faithful servant but refuses to lie down for Wolsey’s disgrace.  His political manouevering brings him inexorably to the gates of Wolf Hall, family seat of the Seymours. In Bring Up the Bodies it is Ann Boleyn’s turn for disgrace, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle.  To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy.  What price will he pay for Anne’s head?

By way of contrast, in Queen’s Gambit (Find this book in our catalog) the time has moved forward to the end of Henry’s reign.  Jane Seymour has died in childbed and there have been two further Queen’s.  Henry is still looking for a back-up son but does not want to marry a young girl.  Katharine Parr is 30 and has the reputation of being kind and a healer - she has nursed two husbands already through their last illnesses - and Henry is ailing.  For the King, Katharine has the advantage of not being closely allied with any powerful magnates.  Sadly for Katharine this does not make her immune to the vicious power struggles in the court, which focus on her when she marries the King.

Like Hilary Mantel, Elizabeth Freemantle has set her story in a court where every noble is after only one thing – the rise of his family.  Husbands, brothers, fathers sacrifice their wives and daughters to their selfish and vicious ambition. We see the Seymours again, and the papists who were given a shot at influence after the compromises made by Cromwell.

Elizabeth Mantel writes beautifully.  She evocatively depicts the terror under which everyone at court operated in the late reign of Henry VIII.  The story is told partly through the voice of Katharine and partly through Dot, her maidservant.  Dot is the likeable voice of everywoman who reflects on the unfolding tragedy which must inevitably ensue for the last wearer of the “poisoned wedding ring.”  You will be consumed with dread waiting to see if Katharine escapes the headsman’s ax.


Big Read of the Summer?

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Philipp Meyer’s second novel, The Son (Find this book in our catalog) has been a big success with critics and  arrived on the NYT hardcover best seller list during its first week on sale.  According to The Wall Street Journal, the book is “positioned to be the big literary read of the summer.”  Check it out and see if you agree!

Here’s what it says about the book in our catalog:  “Spring, 1849. The first male child born in the newly established Republic of Texas, Eli McCullough is thirteen years old when a marauding band of Comanches storms his homestead and brutally murders his mother and sister, taking him captive. Brave and clever, Eli quickly adapts to life among the Comanches, learning their ways and language, answering to a new name, becoming the chief’s adopted son, and waging war against their enemies, including white men — which complicates his sense of loyalty and understanding of who he is. But when disease, starvation, and overwhelming numbers of armed Americans decimate the tribe, Eli finds himself alone. Neither white nor Indian, civilized nor fully wild, he must carve a place for himself in a world in which he does not fully belong … ”





Books to TV – The White Queen

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Philippa Gregory’s novels in The Cousins’ War series, set during England’s War of the Roses, have been adapted into a ten-part tv series that will premiere on STARZ cable network on August 10th. Titled The White Queen, the BBC/STARZ production is based on the first three books of the series.

Three formidable women had key roles in the dynastic civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses.  Jacquetta of Luxembourg was Henry VIII’s great-grandmother. The staunch Lancastrian made her peace with Yorkist Edward IV when he seized power and saw her fortunes soar after he married her daughter Elizabeth Woodville. But later her second husband and their son were executed by the rebel leader earl of Warwick, who tried Jacquetta for witchcraft. Jacquetta’s plucky daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, was Henry VIII’s grandmother.  She did her utmost to secure the throne for her son Edward and may have been involved in a rebellion against son-in-law Henry. Margaret Beaufort was mother of Henry VII.  A formidable plotter, her personal piety never interfered with her ambition for her son—who became king despite a tenuous claim to the throne.  Said author Philippa Gregory, “I think people are going to be surprised to see these remarkably powerful women when traditional history tells you female were simply relegated to be victims or wives or mothers.”

The books in the whole series are:

The White Queen.  “In this account of the wars of the Plantagenets, a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition, Elizabeth Woodville, catches the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown.”

The Red Queen.  “Married to a man twice her age, quickly widowed, and a mother at only fourteen, Margaret Beaufort is determined to turn her lonley life into a triumph. She sets her heart on putting her son on the throne of England regardless of the cost to herself, England, and even her son. Disregarding rival heirs and the overwhelming power of the York dynasty, she names him Henry, like the king; sends him into exile; and pledges him in marriage to her enemy Elizabeth of York’s daughter. As the political tides constantly move and shift, Margaret charts her own way through another loveless marriage, treacherous alliances and secret plots, always with her ultimate goal before her.”

The Lady of the Rivers.  “When the death of Joan of Arc shows her the dangers faced by strong women, Jacquetta, a psychic descendant of a river goddess, studies alchemy and becomes the secret wife of Richard Woodville before returning to the court of Henry VI.”

The Kingmaker’s Daughter.  “”Kingmaker” Richard, Earl of Warwick, uses his daughters as political pawns before their strategic marriages place them on opposing sides in a royal war that will cost them everyone they love.”

The next book in the series, The White Princess, will be released July 23.  “Passionately in love with Richard III in spite of her arranged marriage to pretender to the throne Henry Tudor, Princess Elizabeth of York is forced to marry the man who murdered her lover and create a royal family under the controlling gaze of his mother, Margaret Beaufort.” – (Baker & Taylor)


Top Historical Fiction

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

This is a list of Top 10 Historical Fiction, 2013, chosen by author Brad Hooper and published in Booklist April 15, 2013.  See if you agree with Brad’s choices.  Click on a title to go straight to our catalog.

The Accursed. By Joyce Carol Oates.  “Oates brings her dark humor and extraordinary fluency in eroticism and violence to this effective novel—set in Princeton, New Jersey, in the early years of the twentieth century—about the devastating toll of repression and prejudice, sexism and class warfare.”



The Bartender’s Tale. By Ivan Doig. “This coming-of-age drama, set in Montana in 1960 but often flashing back to the Depression, is involving and subtly portrayed.”



Bring Up the Bodies. By Hilary Mantel. “The sequel to Wolf Hall (2009) takes the dramatic story of Thomas Cromwell, chief secretary to King Henry VIII, through the edge-of-your-seat events in the fall of Anne Boleyn, the monarch’s second and doomed consort.”



Coup d’Etat. By Harry Turtledove. “The author’s masterful presentation of an alternate WWII reaches its fourth volume with its quality undiminished.”



The Dream of the Celt. By Mario Vargas Llosa. Tr. by Edith Grossman. “An Irishman in the British diplomatic service in the immediate pre-WWI years—an actual historical figure—is the main character in the Peruvian Nobel laureate’s latest novel.”



Heading out to Wonderful. By Robert Goolrick. “With understated delicacy, the author creates a mesmerizing gothic tale of a good man gone wrong in the post-WWII years.”



The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. By Stephen L. Carter. “Carter draws on historical documents and a vivid imagination to render a fascinating mix of murder mystery, political thriller, and courtroom drama.”



In Sunlight and in Shadow. By Mark Helprin. Houghton.  “In this prodigious saga of exalted romance in corrupt, post-WWII New York, the author creates a supremely gifted and principled hero.”



Merivel: A Man of His Time. By Rose Tremain. Norton.  “In this wonderful sequel to Restoration (1990), set 16 years later, Tremain’s lovingly flawed protagonist, Sir Robert Merivel, pens a second riveting memoir as King Charles II’s once glorious reign winds down.”



The Testament of Mary. By Colm Tóibín. “This stunning interpretation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is as beautiful in its presentation as it is provocative in its intention.”




If You Liked Loving Frank or The Paris Wife

Friday, March 8th, 2013

The Aviator’s Wife, by Melanie Benjamin (Find this book in our catalog), a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. “Despite her own major achievements–she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States–Anne Morrow Lindbergh is viewed merely as Charles Lindbergh’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.”




Above All Things (Find this book in our catalog) by Tanis Rideout, is about George Mallory’s final attempt to climb Mt. Everest, told partly from the point of view of his wife. “A tale inspired by the life and mysterious fate of George Mallory traces the experiences of his wife, Ruth, who in 1924 maintains a hopeful vigil in war-ravaged England during Mallory’s fateful third expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest.”





Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland (Find this book in our catalog). “Against the unforgettable backdrop of New York near the turn of the twentieth century, from the Gilded Age world of formal balls and opera to the immigrant poverty of the Lower East Side, bestselling author Susan Vreeland again breathes life into a work of art in this extraordinary novel, which brings a woman once lost in the shadows into vivid color. It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows, which he hopes will honor his family business and earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s division. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered. Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman, which ultimately force her to protest against the company she has worked so hard to cultivate. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces to a strict policy: he does not hire married women, and any who do marry while under his employ must resign immediately. Eventually, like many women, Clara must decide what makes her happiest-the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.”