Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’
Summary: Despite the struggles of the small bookstore, Sempere and Son, that Daniel Sempere runs with his father in the 1957 Barcelona under Franco’s brutal rule, life is looking is looking up. He has married the beautiful Bea, fathered a beautiful son, and his best friend Fermin Romero de Torres is about to be married. Yet as Christmas draws near, a dark and tormented figure carrying a secret from two decades will alter the fates of Daniel and his family forever.
Review: The Shadow of the Wind, the first in what is currently a three book series, remains a work of atmospheric beauty. This third entry, like Ruiz Zafon’s second work The Angel’s Game, is lovingly translated by poet Robert Graves daughter Lucia Graves. Ruiz Zafon is one of the rare writers who could write an utterly enthralling telephone book. While set in the same fictional world, Ruiz Zafon’s previous two books were each captivatingly capable of standing alone. This third book, at half the length of either of the previous two entries, binds together the standalone tales of the previous books and injects a hearty dose of nitroglycerin into a series that hardly needed it. The caveat is of course that you need to have read the previous two books in the series; you’ll be lost (if happily so) otherwise. If you have read the previous two books, however, you will likely devour this latest entry in a single sitting and begin counting down the days until the next installment.
Read-a-likes:Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s books are difficult to compare. Reader’s interested in Spanish history might give Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones de Sierra or the Captain Alatriste novels of Arturo Perez-Reverte.
Availability: The Lake Bluff Public Library currently owns this books as a book and audiobook. Click here to check on the availability.
Review by Eric.
Summary: This story is set in 18th century England and it is here that Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a Philadelphia trained anatomist, has come to continue his own education as a medical doctor and forensic scientist, as well as lecture to the anatomy students of Christ Church College. As a forensic expert, he is called upon to investigate the sudden death of Lady Lydia Farrell’s brother, Sir Edward Crick. Despite the fact that his fellow townsmen despised Sir Edward, their rumors have implicated her husband, Captain Michael Farrell in his death. Silkstone, with the help of his forensic and medical training along with deductive reasoning, navigates his way through unforeseen twists and turns and ultimately determines who killed Crick.
Review: The Anatomist’s Apprentice is a fairly fast paced mystery that chronicles the progress made in understanding scientific principles and human anatomy, as well as the reluctance of some to embrace these new theories acquired during the age of enlightenment. References to social class and mores of the day also help to establish the true nature of characters within the storyline. Vividly descriptive language enable readers to see, smell, and hear every detail used to explore and unravel the mystery. Overall, this book is an intriguing tale of good versus evil, love, murder, mystery, and heroism. Any reader who watches NCIS or CSI will enjoy reading this period, forensic mystery.
Read-a-likes: Cat of the Century by Rita Mae Brown, Double TakebyCatherine Coulter, The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen, Port Mortuary by Patricia Daniels Cornwell, The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin, and The Alienist by Caleb Carr are all novels which feature sleuths in historical context.
Review by Valerie.
Description: When she drops out of school and struggles to start a career on Broadway in the fall of 1950, seventeen-year-old Kit Corrigan accepts help from an old family friend, Nate Benedict, a lawyer said to have ties with the mob. Kit isn’t all that surprised that Nate asks her to do some favors for him, but she never thought he would ask her to keep tabs on Billy, Nate’s son and Kit’s former sweetheart.
Review: Blundell vividly describes the life and times of the 1950s era. I immediately found myself immersed in Kit’s world. The dialogue, attention to clothes, fashion, and music are perfectly and expertly detailed. There is no denying that Blundell loves history. Fans of history and theater will find a lot of things to appreciate here, but other readers may become a bit bored with the overly descriptive narrative as the story circles back and forth through the years of Kit’s life including her Great Depression childhood and her family’s bootlegging past. Sometimes the narrative became a bit too wordy for me, paragraphs are written where a few sentences could suffice. In fact a lot of the twists and turns in the story were actually anti-climatic as I predicted them before they were revealed.
Besides Kit, the feisty, ambitious teen who wants to rush into adulthood head on, I had a hard time connecting with the other characters. I like to picture myself as a character in the book and to actively participate in the story, with Strings Attached however, I always felt like a stage director watching the scenes unfold from a large distance. The romance between Kit and Billy was there, but I didn’t feel it. I liked that Blundell addressed the prejudices of the time especially with the Irish American community and the beginning of the Red Scare, but this angle wasn’t explored as much as I would have liked. I found myself putting down the book quite a lot and completely forgetting about it.
I actually think Strings Attached would work more as a movie than as a book. Perhaps it would be easier to see the characters and background scenes play out on the screen instead of reading them thus making it a bit more personal and approachable. Nonetheless I would recommend this book for fans of historical fiction and those who love an old fashioned family drama out of the 1950s. I liked this book, but I enjoyed What I Saw and How I Lied much more.
If you like this book try: Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Two Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
Description: A fictionalized biographical account of the lives of the Bronte family. From the death of the mother Mia to the death of Charlotte Bronte, who died at the age of 38 and outlived all of her siblings.
Review: The title of the book is misleading. The novel doesn’t focus on the two leading sisters, Charlotte and Emily, but rather the entire family. Branwell, their egocentric brother whom their father, the Rev. Patrick Bronte, doted upon is a complex character. At times I couldn’t help but like his charm, but my opinions of him definitely changed by the end. There is also a keen observation of the talented youngest sibling, Anne, who can’t help but be in the shadow of her elder sisters. The two eldest sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, both of whom died after falling ill at a nightmarish girl’s school, are also included in the tale.
Charlotte’s personality of constantly seeking approval and love is shown quite nicely. Branwell’s hubris can be a bit much, but I could see glimpses of the male characters in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in him. I wonder if he inspired his sisters while they were writing. Emily was a fascinating character. She doesn’t speak much, but when she does it usually profound. I also really liked strong, but silent Anne. Now I have a desire to read her books too.
I wasn’t aware that there were two older Bronte sisters before Charlotte, so that was a treat to learn about them too. Despite relentless struggles and early deaths, the Bronte sisters are rightfully memorable and celebrated.
Morgan stays pretty close to the real biographical facts of the Bronte family. She deftly shows the struggles of each individual as well as the evolution of great, female writers. Her writing is excellent. The language is extremely descriptive and detailed. When reading the novel, I could totally picture myself at Halworth and observe what is going on, but also know what the characters are feeling. Though the pacing is a bit off at times, I found The Brontes a thoroughly enjoyable novel.
Readalikes: Passions by Jude Morgan or Romancing Miss Bronte by Juliet Gael
Description: Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.
Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a delightful book that crosses a wide variety of genres: coming of age, historical fiction, and even feminism. Calpurnia, more commonly called Callie by friends and family, is a spunky, adventurous, and curious girl. You would most likely find her out in the fields with her journal detailing the insects and other species she’d encounter rather than hosting parties at home. Growing up with six brothers in rural Texas in 1899, Callie realizes that her aversion to needlework and cooking disappoints her mother. Still, she prefers to spend her time exploring the river, observing animals, and keeping notes on what she sees. Callie’s growing interest in nature creates a bond with her previously distant grandfather, an amateur naturalist of some distinction. I absolutely loved Callie’s grandfather who is incredibly funny with his one liners and has impeccable comedic timing.
After they discover an unknown species of vetch, he attempts to have it officially recognized. This process creates a dramatic focus for the novel, especially with how Callie mother inspects her to grow up to be: a woman who is to be married and uphold her own family. While the scientific observations are interwoven with the daily life of Callie, the main focus of the book is Callie’s gradual self-discovery as revealed in her vivid first-person narrative. While some become bored with the book’s lack of a plotline, I was immediately taken by Callie’s family and friends. Her bonds with her siblings, the conversations she overhears, and the meddlings that Callie gets herself into are all told wry humor, warmth that allows the characters and its setting come to life. While the book doesn’t dismiss domestic work as unnecessary or demeaning, it allows young girls to realize that they should not restrict their talents and dreams to society’s expectations. Callie is admirable and a role model that I think many young girls would like. I, for one, would love to have her as my friend.
If you like this book try: Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman, Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth by Jay Hosler, Kevin Cannon, and Xander Cannon
Description: The year is 1776 and the American Revolution is underway. 13 year old Samuel is a highly-skilled woodsman, who returns from a journey to find his home burned down, the neighbors slaughtered, and his parents missing. He hear news that his parents may be alive in New York City. He sets out toward New York City to rescue his parents from the band of British soldiers and Native Americans who kidnapped them after slaughtering most of their community.
Review: Woods Runner is a riveting account of the Revolutionary War. Paulsen’s narrative weaves a frank and deglorified depiction of the American Revolution that many of us do not find in our history textbooks. In an author’s note, Paulsen indicates that his purpose is not to rewrite the war, but rather clarify some aspects of it to the reader. He definitely succeeds.
The main story of Woods Runner revolves around a 13 year old boy named Samuel who feels right at home with hunting and living in the wilderness. When Samuel is on a fun excursion, he hears word of an uprising in Concord and Lexington, areas close to home. Afraid of his parents and his community, he rushes back to check if everyone is okay. Sadly, he finds his home burned down, the neighbors slaughtered, and his parents missing. Samuel’s anguish is unimaginable and it’s an emotional punch to the gut. He uses his woodsman skills along with alliances with some unlikely people to tracks his captured parents who may be taken to British-held New York. It’s is Samuel’s bravery, hope, and the goodness of humanity that upliftings this dark book. He reminds us that there are many ways one can be a hero.
Readers who are in the search for a page turning, heart pumping adventure/survival story will really like Woods Runner. Learning about the American Revolution is just an added bonus.
Readalikes: Chains or Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson or My brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
Summary: When a huge quantity of gold, religious artifacts from the people to the west, comes to the sun worshiping people of Ratharryn in 2,000 BC, the result is years of chaos. Out of this chaos, however, three brothers erect an awesome temple to the gods which will stand the test of time: Camaban the priest, Lengar the warrior and Saban the builder.
Review: The female characters don’t get as much characterization in this, which is typical of Cornwell, though they are a bit better developed than usual by his standards. It’s hard to fault that hugely, since the society of which he writes would have been heavily patriarchal. That’s a single quibble, however. Overall, this is a solid book, though readers should be aware that this is a different read than Cornwell’s usual military history fare.
Read-a-likes: In fact, this book is very reminiscent of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth (downtrodden engineer struggles against political chaos to build religious structure). For readers seeking novels set in the same area, Princes of Ireland and London by Edward Rutherfurd are worth a look. Reader’s who enjoy the architectural elements should take a look at Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors or Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones. For some pertinent nonfiction, try A History of Britain by Simon Schama or Stonehenge Complete by Christopher Chippindale.
Availability: This item is available from the Lake Bluff Public Library as an eAudiobook.
Review by Eric.
This is the story of two young women. Andi Alpers lives in Brooklyn Heights, attends the prestigous St. Anselm’s Academy, and is a brilliant musical prodigy. She is also suicidal. She feels solely responsible for the death of her younger brother, Truman, and most of the time, her meds don’t do enough to keep her overwhelming grief at bay. Andi’s artistic mother is virtually catatonic, and her father is an absent, Nobel Prize winning geneticist who fled the household after Truman’s untimely death. Andi is told by the school principal that she is flunking out and faces expulsion if she does not have the outline and opening paragraphs of her senior thesis turned in after winter break. Much to her surprise, Andi’s father shows up the day winter break begins, and announces that she will accompany him to Paris, where he has work to do and where he will oversee her progress on her thesis.
Alexandrine Paradis lived in Paris over two centuries ago, and was the companion of Louis-Charles, the son of Queen Marie Antionette and King Louis XVI. Andi discovers a diary left behind by Alexandrine describing her days with young Louis-Charles and the events leading to the French Revolution. Swept up in the diary, Andi can’t help but identify with Alexandrine’s circumstances, forming a strong emotional and psychological bond with the brave French girl who risked her life for the sake of the helpless, imprisoned young Dauphin. Donnelly skillfully takes the reader back and forth between Paris of today and Paris of the 1790’s. Eventually, past and present become entwined, as the links between Andi’s life, her father’s research, and Alexandrine’s circumstances grow so strong that parallel worlds collide. Donnelly’s historical research is impeccable, and readers will love the way she connects musical progression and derivation from the classical musicians to Leonard Bernstein, Led Zeppelin, and Radiohead. Revolution is one of those stories that will appeal to a wide audience. While the book can be found in our Teen collection, adult fans of well-researched, well-written historical fiction will find much to enjoy here. Historical Fiction.
Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
[Electronic Resource (MyMediaMall eBook)]
[Electronic Resource (MyMediaMall eAudiobook)]
Almost everyone knows Alice Liddell Hargreaves as the real Alice in Wonderland and the muse of Lewis Carroll. Now approaching her 81st birthday, Alice reflects on her remarkable life and the strange and scandalous circumstances of her friendship with Lewis Carroll.
This novel doesn’t quite deliver on the high expectations it generates. Benjamin is fairly adept at developing the character of Alice, but the overall narrative lacks the focus and consistency it needs. There was also some struggle in building believable suspense. Lewis Carroll and the Liddell family had some sort of falling out that resulted in the two parties severing ties. Alice knows that she was somehow involved, but can’t remember what happened. This device comes off as more contrived than effective. The second half of the book was much stronger than the first because Benjamin moves Alice’s developmental journey to the forefront of the narrative. The psychology of the character is rendered very well, especially in regards to her emerging public role as Alice in Wonderland.
If you enjoyed Alice I Have Been, you might also like Gatsby’s Girl by Caroline Preston, Romancing Miss Brontë by Judith Gael, Drood by Dan Simmons, and Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper. Lake Bluff Library also owns both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. If you’re interested in exploring the world of Wonderland, you might also enjoy Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars. If you’d like to read some nonfiction about Lewis Carroll, try Lewis Carroll in Numberland by Robin J. Wilson.
Pros: Contains some interesting psychological development.
Cons: Lacks the polish it deserves.
Review by Martha