Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category
I love to talk about books! Recently I had the honor of speaking to the ICCSD Retired Teachers Association. Not only is this one of my favorite groups to visit, but I also have an opportunity to see some of the teachers who made a big difference in my life (thank you!). After my presentation I received a number of requests for the book list I shared. I thought others may enjoy the list as well so I’m posting it here. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I did!
Recommended Books for Iowa City Community School District Retired Teachers Association, January 2013
|Wakefield, Dan (Editor)
|Letters shows a very human side of a person who mentored others, was proud of his heritage, was frustrated when he was misunderstood, pushed back against censors, and profoundly loved his family. Vonnegut’s last word of advice he was writing for an audience, “And how should we behave during this Apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog, if you don’t already have one …” (Page 413). Biography|
|Marshall, Penny||Marshall’s biography reads like a Who’s Who of 70′s, 80′s and 90′s pop culture. Each chapter represents a different phase in Marshall’s life, and she often relates the story to a life lesson she learned from her mother. Marshall is pragmatic and unrepentant. She worked hard and played harder. In the midst of her life choices, and despite her many successes she distills life down to four simple lessons: “try hard, help your friends, don’t get too crazy, and have fun.” Biography|
|James, Eloisa||Eloisa James, also known as Mary Bly, is an Associate Professor of English Literature at Fordham University. She is from Minnesota but has degrees from Harvard, Yale and Oxford. She is probably best known for the Regency Romances she writes. After a successful fight with breast cancer, she and her Italian husband, on a whim, decide to go to Paris on sabbatical for a year with their 11 and 15-year-old children. Biography|
2013 All Iowa Reads selection
|My favorite All Iowa Reads book so far. Many events described in the book are memories from my childhood and memories long-time Iowans will share. Lyrical writing conjures experiences of cold Iowa winter days and the joy of an Iowa spring or fall. The book follows four siblings in one family and their life events. Although they go different places and have different experiences, their roots are deep in the Iowa soil and family ties. Fiction|
|Moriarty, Laura||Laura Moriarty’s newest novel is a hybrid story about the life of silent-film star Louise Brooks and fictionalized character Cora Carlisle. The story begins in 1922 when 36-year-old Cora Carlisle agrees to chaperone 15-year-old Louise Brooks for a summer in New York City dancing with the Denishawn School of Dance. Readers learn Cora’s life, just like Louise Brooks’, is not what it appears and the story revolves around Cora’s path of self-discovery and quest for happiness. Fiction|
|Walter, Jess||Jess Walters weaves a wonderful story that easily switches between 1962 and the present day. The characters are real and readers will understand the friction between dreams and reality that each character faces. I thought the writing was beautiful and I especially appreciated the strong sense of place Walters creates in Italy. The Cinque Terre is on my short list of places where I want to visit, so I appreciated the opportunity to vicariously travel to Italy in the pages of this book. Fiction|
|Tyler, Anne||Pulitzer Prize winning author, Anne Tyler, is well-known for novels with subtle plots that explore complex issues. These issues often include personal discovery, relationships, life changes, and characters who are seeking meaning in their lives. The Beginner’s Goodbye is definitely subtle and I had to be patient and let Tyler tell me the story when she was ready. It was delightful to slow down and pay attention to the words and story as it unfolded. Fiction|
|Rosnay, Tatiana de||A fictionalized story of Rose Bazelet and her opposition to the destruction of her family home during Haussman’s renovation of Paris, 1853-1870. Haussman’s radical plan was criticized for the large-scale destruction it caused; however, in recent times he has been credited with establishing Paris as a modern city. de Rosnay is best known for debut novel, Sarah’s Key. Like Sarah’s Key, this book features solid characters, a strong sense of place, and a time of significant historical events. Fiction|
|Orringer, Julie||Sometimes books come along and leave a lasting impression, forcing the reader to ruminate about events and characters long after the book is done. This is one of those books. Andras and Tibor Levy are Jewish brothers who grew up in a small village in Hungary. It is the 1930′s and both aspire to do great things. The book focuses on Andras, his adventures and studies in Paris, and the relationship he establishes with the mysterious Klara Morgenstern, a Hungarian ballet instructor. Fiction|
|McLain, Paula||The fictional story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. After a whirlwind courtship the couple marries and moves to Paris so Ernest can pursue his writing career. The Hemingways are drawn into Parisian life and meet many other writers and artists. There is a constant friction, though, between Ernest the writer and Ernest the husband. Highly recommended. Fiction|
|Vreeland, Susan||Because of this book, I went to New York City to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other places to see Tiffany Glass. Fictionalized story of Clara Driscoll who worked with Louis Comfort Tiffany at his New York studio and possibly the person who conceived the idea for the iconic Tiffany stained glass lamps. Set with the turn-of-the-century New York City backdrop with issues such as the rise of labor unions, women in the workplace, and advances in technology. Fiction|
|Box, C.J.||Game Warden Joe Pickett’s friend, Nate Romanowski, knows a secret about a governmental official. That official plans to kill Nate to keep him quiet, and is targeting the entire Pickett family to get to Nate. Will Nate’s actions justify the outcome? Can Nate survive and save his friends? All C.J. Box books recommended including Pickett series and stand-alones. Mystery|
|Winspear, Jacqueline||It’s April 1933 in London and the Private Investigator, Maisie Dobbs, is grappling with how she fits into the world. Maisie comes from the working-class neighborhood in Lambeth where her father was a costermonger before going to work at a country estate. Maisie inherited a considerable estate from her mentor and feels an obligation to use her new-found wealth to help others but struggles to balance the moral obligation she feels with the wishes of those she wants to help. Mystery|
|Bradley, Alan||The fifth book in the Flavia de Luce Series. Step aside Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy, eleven year old Flavia de Luce is on the case! It’s 1950 and Flavia is living in an old English estate with her family. Flavia is a budding chemist as well as a precocious pre-teen. The books are well written, the characters are well developed, and the mysteries are solid. Mystery|
|Cain, Susan||More than 33% of people are introverts. Through research in psychology and neuroscience, and personal interviews, Cain demonstrates the difference between introverts and extroverts and our country’s perception of the “Extroverted Ideal.” The author also focuses on the power of introversion and ways introverts have successfully coped with living in an extroverted world, providing suggestions for how introverts can harness this power while remaining true to themselves. Nonfiction|
|Hillenbrand, Laura||Olympic runner Louis Zamperini enlisted in the US Army Air Forces in 1941. When the plane he was assigned to crashes into the South Pacific, Louis survives the crash and 47 days at sea in a plastic life raft. He was then captured by the Japanese and sent to a labor camp. I respectfully refer to this books as the, “I will never complain about anything ever again book.” An older title but highly recommended! Nonfiction|
Drum roll please. Which Fiction books do Library staff recommend?
Spy stories, thrillers, historical fiction, families, suspense, drama, and even a mystery that somehow escaped from that list. Hippies, baseball, horse racing, mercenaries, journeys, friendship, and J.K. Rowling sans Harry Potter.
These books also represent many formats including regular print, large print, spoken word, eBook and eAudio. A great book in the format of your choice. There is something for everyone here.
|A Hundred Flowers||Gail Tsukiyama|
|Alys, Always||Harriet Lane|
|Art of Fielding||Chad Harbach|
|Casual Vacancy||J K Rowling|
|Derby Day||D J Taylor|
|Double Game||Dan Fesperman|
|Flight of Gemma Hardy||Margot Livesey|
|Heading out to Wonderful||Robert Goolrick|
|House I Loved||Tatiana De Rosnay|
|One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared||Jonas Jonasson|
|Red Book||Deborah Copaken Kogan|
|Round House||Louise Erdrich|
|St. Zita Society||Ruth Rendell|
|Telegraph Avenue||Michael Chabon|
|Tell the Wolves I’m Home||Carol Rifka Brunt|
|Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry||Rachel Joyce|
|Up Jumps the Devil||Michael Poore|
Laura Moriarty’s newest novel is a hybrid story about the life of silent-film star Louise Brooks and fictionalized character Cora Carlisle. The story begins in 1922 when 36-year-old Cora Carlisle agrees to chaperone 15-year-old Louise Brooks for a summer in New York City dancing with the Denishawn School of Dance.
Moriarty creates the character of Cora Carlise based on a mention of a chaperone in Louise Brooks 1982 “memoir” Lulu in Hollywood. Cora becomes the central character in The Chaperone, and unlike real life, the narrative relegates Louise Brooks to a background character. Moriarty uses bible belt morality and Cora’s mid-life search for happiness to weave a story of contrasts. Readers learn Cora’s life, just like Louise Brooks’, is not what it appears and the story evolves around Cora’s path of self-discovery and quest for happiness.
Although I didn’t think the book was as strong as other recent fictionalized stories of famous people (Loving Frank, The Women, The Paris Wife, Clara and Mr. Tiffany), it was an enjoyable book nonetheless and recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction.
We had a great family vacation this summer. While staying at YMCA of the Rockies at Estes Park, Colorado, I discovered the Maude Jellison Library (see photo below), which is conveniently located next to the main Lodge and hub of YMCA activities. I wasn’t very jiggy about the books I packed for the trip, so I was delighted to discover a great library with a nice porch for reading and antlered friends who stopped by every night to watch the tourists.
One of my many happy discoveries in the Maude Jellison Library was a “Colorado Authors” and a “Colorado Travel” section. I found a couple new books by Sandra Dallas I didn’t know about, including my favorite book from the trip, The Diary of Mattie Spenser. Mattie Spenser is a young girl from Southern Iowa who marries and moves to the plains of Eastern Colorado as a homesteader. Dallas’ research is meticulous and she uses this historical foundation to weave a story with a lovable character who faces extreme adversity while trying to start a new life in Colorado.
When I returned home I picked up Dallas’ new book, True Sisters. This book begins in Iowa City and is a fictional chronicle of the Martin Company of the Mormon Handcart Pioneers. Sandra Dallas brings the fictional characters to life, giving a good sense of the challenges faced by the Mormon emigrants on their 1,300 mile journey from Iowa City to Salt Lake City. True Sisters focuses on four women and their individual stories of determination, faith, heartbreak, and friendship. I enjoyed learning more about Iowa City in 1856 as well as the Mormon Handcart Park near Hawkeye Apartments. The real-life story of the Martin Company is tragic (nearly 25% of the people who departed from Iowa City died on the journey due to disease, starvation, accidents, and extreme weather conditions); however, Dallas contrasts the tragedy with the personal stories of determination and kindness.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is at once terrifying and beautiful. Critics have pointed out that one could pause the film at any frame and find herself staring at a work of art.
The film has had a rocky journey to modern audiences. The original print was lost to fire shortly after its premiere, and though Dreyer attempted to recut the film from outtakes, the filmmakers believed the original cut to be lost. Then, the second negative was lost to yet another fire. Over the decades, many corrupted versions of the film were circulated, but none quite the same as the original. In a stranger than fiction turn of events, a nearly complete print of the Danish version of the film was discovered in 1981 in the janitor’s closet of a mental institution in Oslo, Norway. This print was restored, and the Criterion Collection version we have today is believed to be very close to the filmmakers’ intended vision.
The film tells the story of Joan of Arc after she’s captured by the British, and subsequently interrogated and tortured. The story is told through close ups of faces, and high contrast photography creates a dark, disturbing mood. As one blogger notes, “the 180 degree rule is not just broken, but flung down and danced upon. The result is disorienting and a little exhausting.”
Though this was Renee Maria Falconetti’s only prominent film role, she definitely left her mark; she plays Joan with a passion and grace that have been called “the finest performance ever recorded on film.”
A discussion of the film must also mention the wonderful score that Criterion has included with their DVD version. It is Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light,” an original opera inspired by the film. It compliments the intensity of Dreyer’s images beautifully, and enhances the viewer’s experience.
Personally, I recommend watching it on the largest screen possible with the volume set to loud. It’s the kind of film that washes over you. If you like films that are beautiful, full of emotion, and guaranteed to make you think, then this is one you can’t miss.
This won the Man Booker Prize in 2009, but it was all the subsequent references to it in reviews that convinced me to give it a try. It’s become something of a landmark.
Wolf Hall tells a great story all the more fascinating for being true. It traces the rise of Thomas Cromwell as an advisor to Henry VIII, and encompasses Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, which led to the establishment of the Church of England. It’s a well-known story, but fleshed out in human terms, if by human we mean impossibly witty banter, jaw-dropping hypocrisy, and astonishing accomplishment which changed the course of western civilization.
Henry and Cromwell made the argument (apparently with straight faces) that Katherine, whom Henry had married, lived with for 20 years and had a child with, was not, in fact, his wife. She had been married briefly to his brother, and so was actually his sister. While 20 years of incest was regrettable, a merciful God could forgive that, and Henry could marry Anne Boleyn, who was more likely to provide a male heir.
Nearly as bizarre, this argument took place in the context of the Reformation. While Henry’s regime was burning heretics, he was himself moving toward a schism with the Catholic Church. Hilary Mantel’s achievement is to show Cromwell making such paradoxical arguments in good faith, with a fair degree of intellectual and moral rigor.
It will be fun to rewatch A Man for All Seasons after this, which tells the story of Thomas More, a heroic martyr in the movie, a fanatical torturer in Wolf Hall.
I’m struck by how much of this went over my head. Whence the title, for instance? Very little of the action takes place at Wolf Hall. The place names are just names to me, but the characters know them and react to a place’s characteristics.
A connection to Wikipedia filled me in on many details I didn’t know. That shy, awkward girl attending the queen, to whom Cromwell nearly proposes marriage? Turns out Jane Seymour becomes Henry’s next wife, and learning this added layers of meaning and irony to her every appearance.
The sequel to Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies has just been published and longlisted for the Booker. I’m in line.
The Shoemaker’s Wife is the newest book written by New York Times bestselling author, Adriana Trigiani, and was inspired by her own family history. This is the first novel I’ve read by the author but it definitely won’t be the last. I absolutely loved this book of historical fiction for adults. Set during the early part of the 20th century beginning in the northern part of Italy, the setting changes to New York City, and then to Minnesota. The first meeting of the handsome Ciro and the beautiful 15 year-old Enza is when he is hired to dig the grave for Enza’s beloved little sister, Stella. They later share a kiss and feel an instant connection and believe their lives are destined to be intertwined. But Ciro, who is left to grow up in a convent, witnesses inappropriate behavior by the local Catholic priest, and is banished from his village on the mountain. He escapes with the help of the loving convent sisters to live in Little Italy in New York City as an apprentice to a shoemaker. Meanwhile, Enza’s family is destitute and she decides to go to America where she can hire herself as a dressmaker and send money home for her family’s welfare and their dream of building a home of their own in the Alps. The two star-crossed sweethearts meet again, but the Great War has begun and Ciro has enlisted. Enza lands a great job with the Metropolitan Opera House sewing costumes for the likes of Enrico Caruso and other famous singers. When Ciro returns from the war he once again captures Enza’s heart and they ultimately move to Minnesota to begin their married life. Every episode in this moving novel is engaging—from life with the nuns when Ciro’s mother drops him off with his brother, Eduardo, who wants to become a priest, to the immigrant story of crossing the Atlantic in a ship where Enza nearly dies from sea-sickness, to her job with the opera and deep friendship with Laura, to Ciro’s time in France fighting in the war, to the family bonds each share, to life-long friendships made, to love, faith, and loss. This epic tale is totally enthralling and beautifully written. I cried in several parts of the novel and dare others to read this book with a dry eye. I would enthusiastically recommend The Shoemaker’s Wife to any women’s book group or individual readers who like this genre. Bravo!
When a Nobel Prize Winner takes three and a half years to produce a 150 page novel (small pages at that, large print, lots of white space) one might suspect she’s maybe coasting just a bit.
The jacket copy says this is the story of Frank Money, recently back from the Korean War, damaged with what we would now call Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. This must drive Toni Morrison nuts, because she writes best about women, and it’s also the story of his sister Cee, who’s damaged in other ways. The battle scenes in Korea are brutal. What Frank and Cee discover back home in Georgia makes those seem tame by comparison.
Home is intense. It’s distilled. It packs a punch. If you read it too fast, you’ll miss casual eloquence like “country women who loved mean.” It feels emotionally true, and shows clearly how the corrosive effects of racism explain behavior some of us might have trouble understanding.
In a way it’s silly to argue who’s the best living writer. On the other hand, who’s better?
New York City. 1845. The city has just formed a municipal police force, much to the dismay of many residents, whose disdain for a “standing army” often simply masked a disinclination to be policed. Timothy Wilde, almost as strongly disinclined to be a copper star, nonetheless finds himself on the force, thanks to a lack of options after a calamitous fire, and his charismatic, debauched brother’s political influence. When a fleeing child prostitute, covered in blood, runs literally into his arms, he is forced to invent methods of detecting a criminal.
There is so much to like here. The politics of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment are central to the story. The pacing and relationships are expertly handled, especially Timothy’s tender, largely unspoken crush on Mercy Underhill, and his anger at his brother Valentine. The slang of the era adds authenticity and color. The crime itself, dark as it may be, is handled with a degree of delicacy.
Want a great mystery that will surprise you again and again? Right here. Looking for a thoroughly researched historical novel, with fascinating information seamlessly integrated into the story? Look no further. Remember Caleb Carr’s The Alienist? This one’s even better. Lyndsay Faye has written the best mystery I’ve read in years.