Posts tagged with "Historical Fiction"

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 08/31/11
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The setting is the alluring social scene of New York City in 1938.  Katey Kontent (“like the state of mind’), our heroine, is the daughter of a Russian immigrant.  Smart, witty and fearless, we first find Katey working at a Wall Street secretarial pool and living in a boardinghouse with her roommate Eve.  Katey and Eve pinch pennies all week so that they can go out on the town on the weekends.  Until New Year’s Eve when Eve’s social-climbing eye manages to land them in the path of Tinker Grey, a handsome New York up-and-comer banker.  Soon Tinker takes them under his wing and introduces them to the world of New York’s wealthy.  Thus the story unfolds.  These are three very complex characters, each with their own story to tell.  Eve has tunnel vision as far as improving her social status and the power it can bring.  Tinker, of course, is not the person he appears to be.  But Katey is a shining star.  Looking to improve her job status, she uses her brains and guts to move up from the secretarial pool to the upper echelon of Conde Naste magazine.  She manages to sidestep every bump in the road, and there were quite a few,  with grace and a strong sense of self.  We see her grow through her experiences and applaud her successes.
Rules of Civility is a very sophisticated, classy book, reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald in its smart dialogue and strong sense of the setting and time period.  With a dry martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other, the unforgettable characters stroll through the book with an edgy reality that only New York City can provide.  Sometimes brilliant, sometimes reckless, sometimes heartbreaking, this first novel by Amor Towles is a must read.

Posted by mingh on 04/02/12
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London, summer of 1584: Radical philosopher, ex-monk, and spy Giordano Bruno suspects he is being followed by an old enemy. He is shocked to discover that his pursuer is in fact Sophia Underhill, a young woman with whom he was once in love. When Bruno learns that Sophia has been accused of murdering her husband, a prominent magistrate in Canterbury, he agrees to do anything he can to help clear her name.

In the city that was once England's greatest center of pilgrimage, Bruno begins to uncover unsuspected secrets that point to the dead man being part of a larger and more dangerous plot in the making. He must turn his detective's eye on history,on Saint Thomas Becket, the twelfth-century archbishop murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, and on the legend surrounding the disappearance of his body, in order to solve the crime.

As Bruno's feelings for Sophia grow more intense, so does his fear that another murder is about to take place; perhaps his own. But more than Bruno's life is at stake in this vividly rendered, impeccably researched, and addictively page-turning whodunit;the stability of the kingdom hangs in the balance as Bruno hunts down a brutal murderer in the shadows of England's most ancient cathedral.

Posted by cclapper on 04/15/11
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Paris -- 1889: Murder... and epidemic!  And just as the world is flocking to Paris, visiting the new World's Fair and Mr. Eiffel's fresh wonder, the Eiffel Tower!  Explorer and investigative journalist extraordinaire Nellie Bly knows something is going on- could these murders and the epidemic be connected?  She's put her latest expose to bed, and is looking for a new challenge.  And helpers-interesting helpers: Louis Pasteur, Oscar Wilde and Jules Verne.  Nelly Bly is a woman of action, and she will play no small part in a world usually reserved for men.
This novel has gotten some good attention.  And Carol McCleary has spun a second tale of Nelly Bly- The Illusion of Murder.   May be more to come-

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 07/29/11
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Beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash is the toast of the town.  She is probably the most wealthy and eligible young heiress of the Gilded Age in America, since her father is one of the new American billionaires of the 19th century, making his mark in flour.  Their family mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, puts the Vanderbilts’ down the street to shame.  Her mother’s every move is in gilded and diamond-studded excess, so that there is no doubt who has the most money in town.  Mrs. Cash has determined that the most ideal marriage for her daughter would be to a British nobleman – say, a duke, perhaps.  So Cora and her mother are off to England to find a titled husband for Cora.  Literally, quite by accident, she meets the dark, handsome and mysterious Lord Ivo Maltravers, the Duke of Wareham.  In no time flat, he asks her to marry him.  Everybody’s happy – end of story.  Right?
Not so fast . . . there are a few things not quite right here.  For one thing, our handsome Duke is broke.  So did he marry Cora only for her money?  Does he really love her?  For sure, Cora is madly in love with her husband, which is also problematic.  Since there appears that Ivo might be having an affair under Clara’s nose.  Clara soon finds out that money can’t buy happiness, especially under the critical eye of the “Double Duchess,”  Ivo’s jealous and deceitful mother.  The rigid traditions of Victorian-era British aristocracy make mincemeat of Clara’s attempts at making a name for herself in the London social scene, to the point of humiliation.  Can this marriage possibly be saved?

I normally do not read romance novels, but the vivid details of this period in history, the costumes, customs, food, and social lives of the upper class of the Gilded Age really drew me into the story.  The author deftly used the culture clash of American new money vs. Victorian tradition to move the plot along.  There were plenty of twists and turns in the plot, so that you were always second-guessing what you thought was going to happen.  The cast of supporting characters was delightful, including Prince Bertie himself.  The American Heiress is Daisy Goodwin’s debut novel, which came as a surprise to me.  Her writing is excellent and mature.  This was really a fun summer read.

Posted by Ultra Violet on 08/08/11
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At her full adult height Lavinia Warren Bump was 2 feet, 8 inches tall, yet she was a proportional dwarf, meaning she was a "perfect woman in miniature". Melanie Benjamin was inspired by her appearance in the E. L. Doctorow masterwork, Ragtime, to write Lavinia's fictionalized autobiography.
The book traces her life from the Massachusetts farm where she lived a protected life with her family, to her achievement of becoming a school teacher, to her disheartening and sometimes shocking life on a Mississippi riverboat as a performer. Lavinia maintained her dignity and grace through it all. It was her most distinguishing characteristic. She returns home to find that she misses the lime-light, and approaches P. T. Barnum with a business offer. Barnum takes her into his troupe and Lavinia Warren becomes a household name. With a bit of manipulation from Barnum, Lavinia meets and marries the famous General Tom Thumb, who is only a few inches taller than her. The wedding of the tiny people was the event of the year. It even bumped the news of the Civil War off of the front page of the New York Times. They travelled the world together and amassed a fortune. Nonetheless, Lavinia had many hardships to endure.
Any reader interested in P. T. Barnum, or Gilded Age America will enjoy this historical treat. It is rich with detail about the period, including clothes, customs and lifestyles of the rich and famous, such as the Astors and Vanderbilts.

Posted by Ultra Violet on 08/05/11
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Crossing back and forth from Holland, Berlin, and Los Angeles, this book tells the parallel tales of a boy and a girl both born the day the Berlin Wall came down. Although this is tagged as Christian fiction, it is spiritual without knocking the reader over the head with an ideology. A sweet story of hope.

Posted by Ultra Violet on 05/15/14
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Martin Strauss has a severe memory disorder. His doctor explains that he will get increasingly worse. Strangely, Martin will not just lose his true memories, but he will also "remember" things that never happened. Adding to his psychological discomfort, Martin is disturbed by his guilt. He was the man who punched Harry Houdini, causing his death.
While this is a mysterious historical fiction about the life and death of Houdini, it is also about the fictional character Martin Strauss who struggles with anxiety, uncertainty, guilt, and regret. So, pretty much, the human condition. Martin Strauss and Harry Houdini cross paths repeatedly in a twisting story of reality and illusion. It is an exciting and suspenseful novel, but also a pleasure for a fan of Houdini. Among the many wild speculations and fictionalizations, there is some solid fact about the life of the brilliant illusionist. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his spiritual medium wife make a cameo. And by the end, the reader has been lead on a crazy, fun journey with a surprising and meaningful ending.

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 03/24/12
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April 15th marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  So Kate Alcott's new novel The Dressmaker is very timely.  Not to minimize the seriousness of the subject, this book could be described as The Devil Wears Prada meets The Titanic, with a little Daniel Steel drama thrown in for good measure.  You very well could envision Kate Winslett in the part of our protagonist, Tess Collins, the dressmaker.  Leonardo Di Caprio could play the part of any male in the story since he seems to be so versatile.  But this only speaks to the many layers of this book.

The backbone of the story was derived from the actual transcripts of the Senate hearings that took place to investigate the tragedy.  Alcott's novel humanizes the tragedy, fictionalizing what happened to the real survivors of lifeboat #1 after the ship sank.  Why were there only 12 people in that lifeboat, when it could have held 50-60?  Lady Lucille Duff Gordon, who in the early years of the twentieth century was the one of the top names in the fashion world, was actually in lifeboat #1, along with her husband Cosmo.  In real life, Lady Duff, as she was commonly referred to, was a driven, nasty, tough woman.  Alcott gives her this persona in The Dressmaker, but with a hidden softer side as well.  She hires Tess Collins as her apprentice seamstress just before they board the Titanic. In the aftermath, Tess stands firm against Madame Lucille's pressure, manipulations and lies about what actually happened, determined to be a success in the U.S. and make it on her own talent.  With the Senate hearings conducted by Senator William Alden Smith as a backdrop, The Dressmaker examines the choices people make when faced with a life-threatening situation and how they live with those choices afterward. The impressive caste of characters also makes this believable and intriguing history - the "Unsinkable Molly Brown;" Pinky Wade, the indominable New York Times reporter; Tess's two suitors, Jim and Jack, who also survived the disaster; and Elinor Glyn, Lady Duff's sister, a real-life famous actress and author.    

Posted by Ultra Violet on 04/13/11
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Kau is a fierce pygmy warrior. His family and his entire village have been destroyed by the Ota tribesman. Five years after Kau is enslaved and sent to America, he escapes and embarks on a journey through the unspoiled lands of early nineteenth century Florida.

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 08/16/11
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In 1944, at the age of 23, Marshall Stone was a cocky young U.S. Army pilot with nine successful missions to brag about when his B-17 bomber was shot down in a Belgian field, near the French border.  With German troops closing in to capture him and his fellow downed crewmates, he fled into the nearby woods. Miraculously, he was found right away by nearby villagers who hid him from the Germans.  The people who helped him were part of a network of French citizens, from all walks of life, who formed the Resistance, sheltering and moving downed Allied airmen through covert routes to return them to their airbases in England.  To these brave people Marshall owed his life.
Forty years later, newly widowed and retired, Marshall Stone returned to that crash site in Belgium.  The overwhelming memories from that experience drove him to stay in France and try to find the people who helped him, especially a vivacious young girl in a blue beret.  In his odyssey, he finds many of those people, all of whom had their own terrifying experiences during the war.  But none more horrific than the story of the young French girl who helped him and so many other airmen to escape the German soldiers.  His journey becomes a life-changing experience, helping him to find closure and a second chance at life.
Based on the true wartime experiences of her late father-in-law, author Bobbie Ann Mason writes a very authentic account of the French Resistance during WWII. The details and vivid narratives bring history alive for the reader.

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