Posts Categorized: Historical Fiction

Oct 16

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Fairy Tales, Historical Fiction 26

Bookworms, Bookworms, let down your hair!

I’m eeeeeeeevil and have locked you in a tower and forced you to grow your hair to unimaginable lengths that don’t occur in nature and now I want to use it as a rope, damnit! Heck yes, y’all, I just finished reading Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, a re-telling of Rapunzel. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration through NetGalley. May I be locked in a tower if this review is untrue.*

bittergreensBitter Greens begins with a note about how the folk tale Rapunzel originally surfaced in Italy but its best known published version appeared in France. What follows is Forsyth’s imagining of how the tale managed to travel. It gives a fictionalized account of the life of the French author, Charlotte-Rose de la Force as well as a creative interpretation of Rapunzel’s origin story.

Charlotte-Rose was a courtier in Louis XIV’s lavish and fickle court. After a series of scandals, Charlotte-Rose is, for all intents and purposes, disposed of in a poverty ridden convent. Out of sight, out of mind, no? Her greatest love was writing, but even that is denied to her inside the cloisters. It certainly doesn’t help anything that Charlotte-Rose was raised a Huguenot and was forced to convert to Catholicism… And then, you know, unceremoniously dumped in a convent. Bad form, Louis.

In any case, Charlotte-Rose is in a bit of a pickle, but comes to befriend Sœur Seraphina who comes to teach her the glories of gardening and shares her stories. What story do you think she starts with?! Why, a young maiden locked in a tower with a ginormous length of hair, of course!

Fairy tale retellings can be a bit hit or miss for me, but Bitter Greens was a big hit. It had all my favorite historical fiction elements; I felt like I was IN these times. And there was plague. MUAHAHAHAHA! Really though, the best part of this novel from my perspective was that the witch got a fantastically developed back story. I like my villains to have depth, and Selena Leonelli was one complex lady. If you like historical fiction, fairy tales, and interwoven storylines, Bitter Greens is your book, y’all!

Alright Bookworms, let’s talk villains! Who’s your favorite fairy tale villain? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I will NOT be using it on hair extensions, because at the moment, long hair seems incredibly over-rated.*

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Oct 03

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Audio Books, Historical Fiction, Time Travel 32

Well Hello my Lovely Bookworms,

I’ve been spending a good amount of time multi-tasking lately and utilizing the glory of the audio book. Last year Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was ALL the rage, and I, as per usual, missed out on it. I decided to play catch up when I saw this was available through my library’s digital audio offerings, and it was a wise decision.

lifeafterlifeWho out there likes Bill Murray? I suppose the more telling question would be who DOESN’T like Bill Murray, but I digress. Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies. I first saw it on an airplane ride to a fun family vacation, can you blame me? The premise of the movie is that Bill Murray keeps living the same day over and over and over again until he gets it right. My husband is a huge nerd on the subject and he saw somewhere that the creators estimate that for Bill Murray’s character to have acquired all the skills he did he was likely living the same day for somewhere in the neighborhood of TEN THOUSAND years. Crazy right? Why am I rambling though?

Life After Life is about a woman named Ursula. Instead of living a single day over and over again, she lives her whole life. Some of those lives aren’t particularly long, though. I mean, she’s strangled by her umbilical cord at least once. And YOU try escaping the Spanish Flu. It is NOT as easy as it sounds. If you manage to avoid the flu, though, good luck surviving the London bombings during WWII. The universe isn’t particularly kind to any of the Ursulas. Just when you think she’s finally gotten it right, though, you’re hit with a bit of an ambiguous ending. And so it goes.

I thought this book was very good. The only thing that hampered my enjoyment slightly was that the narrator insisted on saying “et” instead of “ate.” That, and she really wasn’t particularly good at American accents so the couple of times one popped up they sounded funny to me. Of course, it’s not as though I could do any better. I’m sure my British accent is downright offensive in its clownishness. I’d recommend Life After Life to those who enjoy literary fiction AND time travel type novels. A little bit o’ metaphysical mystery is going on and it’s quite the ride.

Alright Bookworms, talk to me. If you had to live one day of your life over and over again, which one would you choose?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Sep 11

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Audio Books, Historical Fiction 12

Hello Bookworms,

Today I’m combining two of my favorite things, historical fiction and audio books! Are you tired of me raving about audio books yet? TOO BAD! I am loooving them! I am always thrilled by the fact that my library’s audio book selection isn’t as picked over as the regular digital books and I was able to snag Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks with ZERO wait. I know, right? Exciting stuff, kiddos!

calebscrossingCaleb’s Crossing takes place waaaaaaaaay back in the day. It focuses on the exploits young Bethia Mayfield, a girl living in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor in the 1600s. Her tiny band of Puritan pioneers has found a way to live (more or less) peacefully with the indigenous population. Bethia is frustrated that though she shows more of an aptitude for learning, she is restricted and not allowed tutoring the way her brother is. In a small act of rebellion, Bethia strikes up a friendship with Caleb, one of the island’s native inhabitants. An unusual series of events bring a group of students from the island to Harvard to study, and Bethia goes along to work as a housekeeper. Because, you know, teaching a girl would have been horrible. (Dramatic eye roll. Shaking fist at history!)

This is some heady historical fiction, you guys. For me, so much of the “American History” that we covered in school left out Native Americans. I mean, they were mentioned, obviously, but all the good juicy detail was left out. History is written by the “winners” as you know. I really liked getting the Native American perspective through Caleb- it made for a nice alternative viewpoint. Aside from that, two things struck me about this book.

First, it suuuucked to be a woman in the 1600s. Maybe not as much as it sucked to be a Native American, though I can’t say that for sure, but egads. I get SO MAD when I read stories in which women are discouraged from traditional learning. Shoot, if a girl wants to learn Latin and Greek, let her, for heaven’s sake! Some girls are going to be smarter than some boys, and the fact that Bethia’s intellect was continually quashed had me all riled up.

Second, Harvard, the fantastic fabulous Harvard started out laaaaame. They were literally on the brink of starvation all the time. Being out in the wilderness was a major quality of life advantage back in the day, because do you even KNOW what a city would be like without sewers and running water? Holy olfactory overload, Batman! I’m sure Harvard puts their humble beginnings in all their pamphlets and whatnot. Maybe I’m just bitter than I don’t have an Ivy League education. But seriously. From here on out, I’m going to see “Harvard” and think “stinky starvation swamp!”

Talk to me, Bookworms. I know that the majority of y’all are ladies (though I do appreciate the fellows who frequent this site!) Do you get upset when you read about women being denied the opportunity to learn? In historical settings or (incredibly sadly) current times? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Aug 07

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

Historical Fiction 4

Tally Ho, Bookworms!

I’m not really sure if “tally ho” is actually something associated with fox hunting, but in my mind it is, and is therefore completely appropriate to start off today’s discussion of Daisy Goodwin’s new novel, The Fortune Hunter. (Actually, I just googled it, and I am indeed a genius with an ear for British lingo. Obviously.) *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.*

fortune hunterSet in Victorian England (where the actual Queen Victoria makes appearances), The Fortune Hunter focuses on the lives and exploits of an unlikely trio of characters. First is the Austrian Empress, Elizabeth (aka Sisi). The aging “most beautiful woman in Europe” has crazy long hair and the tortured demeanor of a woman denied her passions in life by duty. She’s convinced her emperor husband to allow her to spend the winter fox hunting in England to escape her mundane existence.

Bay Middleton is a man with no fortune or titles, but he’s got a handsome face, dashing mustache, and makes an impressive figure on horseback. He’s fond of hunting, flirting, and the occasional tryst with a married woman. He’s quite the cad, actually, until he meets Charlotte Baird, the only woman he can fancy himself marrying. Bay’s life amps up a bit in complexity when he is tapped to be the empress’s pilot for the upcoming hunting season. Sisi may not be as young as she once was, but she’s still pretty hot.

Charlotte Baird is the heiress to the vast Lennox fortune, but rather than be concerned with balls (giggle-snort) and the latest fashions, she spends her time fiddling around with the new-fangled science of photography. Her well-meaning brother and his snooty fiance have Charlotte’s (and their own) best interests at heart, but leave Charlotte craving freedom and a chance at true love.

Anybody smell a love triangle?! The ambiance of Victorian England is beautifully drawn, and Goodwin does a fabulous job of displaying the lives and social conventions of the upper-crust. It was incredibly frustrating, actually, to experience just how stifling the lives of these characters could be, and all for different reasons. I will admit that I’m terribly conflicted in my feelings about Bay. He’s a bit of a scoundrel. A scoundrel with a conscience maybe, but he certainly displays some ungentlemanly behavior. I wasn’t sure if I should root for him or not! If you dig historical fiction, the Victorian era, and/or fancy folk fox hunting, you should definitely give The Fortune Hunter a go.

Talk to me, Bookworms. Do you ever feel conflicted about rooting for a character who is meant to be the hero?

Check out Daisy Goodwin on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site I will receive a small commission.*

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Aug 05

Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes: A TLC Book Tour & GIVEAWAY

Giveaways, Historical Fiction 15

Good Morrow Bookworms,

Today we’re heading back to a time before indoor plumbing, personal hygiene, and standardized spelling. The Mydle Ayges! (That’s probably how Chaucer would have spelled it. Dude was fond of random “y”s.) *I received a complimentary copy of Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes for review consideration from TLC Book Tours. May I be struck down with bubonic plague if the following review contains anything but my honest opinion.*

tlcsinfulfolkSinful Folk starts on a somber note. It’s 1377 in a small village in England when one night four children are burned to death in a fire under some rather suspicious circumstances. One of the children belongs to Mear, the village mute who works for the blacksmith. Everyone in the village things Mear is a man, because, well, when everybody is filthy and wearing robes, it’s easy to hide your lady-ness. She’s not mute either, but it’s easier to pretend that she is than risk revealing her life story (which is really quite juicy and scandalous.)

Mear sets out with a delegation from the village including the fathers of the other fallen boys. They’re on a quest to take their poor children’s bodies to London in order to receive the King’s justice for their loss. Lemme take a minute to school you on the whole serf situation, k? It’s illegal for these normal everyday folks to take to the road without permission (and, apparently, a tunic) from their liege lord. It’s also crazy dangerous. There are bandits all up in those forests and there’s always the PLAGUE to contend with. Oh, and you better not be Jewish, because you might get burned at the stake. Makes you want to load a cart full of charred child corpses and take a hike, right? Bring out your dead!

I really dug this book, guys. I love when historical fiction doesn’t shy away from dirty details, and the Middle Ages were so friggin grim. To add to the intrigue, this book is loosely based in historical FACT. The charred child corpses traipsing through the snow TOTALLY HAPPENED. Plus, there were Chaucer references all over the place, and it was the first time I found it useful to have read The Canterbury Tales in Middle English. (Thanks, college!) If you enjoy books like The Pillars of the Earth (review), its sequel World Without End, or the phenomenal Pope Joan (review), you need to pick up Sinful Folk. Trust me on this one.  If you still don’t believe me (even under penalty of plague) feel free to check out the other stops on the tour.

Tell me something, Bookworms. How far would you go to seek justice? 

****UPDATE*****

I just found out I get to give y’all a free AUTOGRAPHED copy of this book! Enter! (US Only, please. Sorry internationals, you know I still love you!)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jul 28

The Major’s Daughter by JP Francis

Historical Fiction, World War II 20

Greetings Bookworms,

I don’t know what’s going on with me lately, but I feel like Grumpy Pants McGee. I’m not sure if it’s just a bit of a summer slump or if I’m slowly morphing into an old man who yells at kids to get off his lawn. Probably the latter, if only I had a cane…. In any case, I kind of feel bad for the books I’m reading right now. I can’t say for sure my feelings aren’t tainted by my inner curmudgeon. I would like y’all to keep that in mind with today’s review. *I received a complimentary copy of The Major’s Daughter by JP Francis from the publisher for review consideration.*

themajorsdaughter

The Major’s Daughter takes place during WWII. A group of German prisoners of war were brought to New Hampshire to work in the logging industry for the duration of the war. Heck, young men were a premium commodity, with all the able bodied fellows putting on uniforms and heading to the front. Collie’s father is the Major in charge of the logging POW camp. She’s using her school girl German to help facilitate communication between the prisoners and the guards.

OF COURSE, there’s a super studly German POW who catches her eye. August is a gentle soul, exhausted and mortified by the Nazi cause, but bound by circumstance to serve his country. He’s young and handsome. Collie is young and beautiful. They can speak to each other in two languages. Anybody have a guess as to where this is going???

I had a heck of a time getting into this book. It must be my jaded cranky inner old person coming out, but I’ve lost my taste for star crossed lovers. It wasn’t just Collie and August. Collie’s BFF Estelle finds herself in a similar situation, though her forbidden love is of Indian descent. He’s actually a perfectly respectable citizen, he just lacks the right connections and complexion to be accepted into Estelle’s world.

The situations presented in the book were compelling enough, despite my reticence to give creedence to insta-love. What I really struggled with is the book’s outcome… And I can’t even tell you about that because SPOILERS. Still. If you like historical fiction, novels set during WWII, and/or tales of star crossed lovers, you might really enjoy The Major’s Daughter

Tell me something, Bookworms. Do you ever feel like love is a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” proposition? Let’s discuss.

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

 

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Jul 14

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Classics, Historical Fiction 32

Hello Bookworms!

I am SO EXCITED today! I’m going to my very first author event tonight to meet Jo Baker at my local library. I’d had Longbourn on my shelves for a while when I saw the announcement for her visit and bumped it up my reading list. I have to send a big thanks out to Kelly from Read Lately for sending me her ARC of Longbourn just because I commented that I was excited to read it. Book bloggers can be super nice, in case you didn’t already know that.

longbournLongbourn follows the events of Jane Austen’s fabulous and much loved Pride and Prejudice, but this time it’s from the perspective of the servants. The only reason the five lovely Bennet sisters were able to spend their days playing piano, working on needlepoint, and worrying about attracting husbands is because they had people doing their cooking, cleaning, and laundry for them.

Sarah is the main protagonist and a servant at Longbourn, the Bennet homestead. Sarah was orphaned as a child and eventually landed a place in service at Longbourn. While it’s a good deal better than a workhouse, it’s not a glamorous position. I mean, it’s the early 1800s. There are chamber pots to empty, fires to light, and (GAG) menstrual rags to launder.

You guys, I LOVED this book. One of my favorite things about reading historical fiction is the dirty gritty stuff. I like to know what MY life would have been like if I lived back in the day. It de-romanticizes things for me and makes me super grateful for indoor plumbing and electricity. I certainly wasn’t raised a destitute orphan, but I wasn’t born into an outrageously wealthy family either. I don’t know that I’d be in service, but I probably would have to get my hands dirty from time to time.

If you enjoy historical fiction, Jane Austen, or classic story re-tellings, Longbourn is fabulous. Oh, and never fear, Bookworms, I’ll be sure to inform you of all the different ways I manage to embarrass myself in front of Jo Baker.

Tell me something, Bookworms. Does historical fiction ever make you grateful for living in the here and now? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jun 30

Written in my Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon

Historical Fiction, Romance 29

Salutations Bookworms,

If you’ve been hanging around here for any length of time, it would be impossible to miss the fact that I’m a little bit obsessed with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series. Funnily enough, this is the first time I’ve “reviewed” one of the major books in the series because since becoming hooked on the novels, I’ve read every new major installment the minute it was released. An Echo in the Bone was released waaaay back in 2009. That’s three years before I started this blog, if you are interested in the math. I’ve been pining for the next book for FIVE YEARS. The waiting was made all the worse because of an accursed cliffhanger. But now? I HAVE IT! Muahahahahaha!

writteninmyownheartsbloodWritten in My Own Heart’s Blood was released on June 14th. It was auto-delivered to my Kindle because OF COURSE I pre-ordered it. I spent the next week staying up too late and drinking in all the Gabaldon goodness. What can I say? This is the eighth book in the epic series and it did not disappoint!

Seeing as it was indeed the eighth book, it seems a bit silly to write a review. I mean, how can I do that without giving all sorts of spoilers for the preceding seven books? Instead, I’m just going to launch into a long, weird, fangirl rant about why you need to be reading these books. Cool?

OMG, what are you waiting for?! Gabaldon’s amazing series includes something for everyone. You like sci-fi? We’ve got time travel. You like history? Adventures in the highlands start in the 1740s. You like romance? I challenge you to find another literary love like that of Jamie and Claire. (Or Bree and Roger. Or Jenny and Ian. Or, or, or…) Interested in the medical ministrations of the past? You’ll be up to your elbows in poultices and leeches. Political maneuvering? Battle? Seafaring? For heaven’s sake, it’s all here!

You will laugh, you will cry, and you will simply fly through these chunky tomes! So go, please. Read them. Love them. Come back and talk to me about them. Oh! I almost forgot. Anybody who has finished reading Written in My Own Heart’s Blood and wants a safe place to chat about all the spoilers, I made a little Facebook group dedicated to the cause.

Tell me something good, Bookworms. How many of y’all read and love Diana Gabaldon?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jun 23

Let’s Get Lewd: Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue

Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 38

Greetings Bookworms!

You’re in for a treat today, because we’re talking about Emma Donoghue. Again. She’s awesome, what can I say? After reading and loving Frog Music a while back (review) I decided I needed MORE of Emma Donoghue’s historical fiction, and if prostitutes were involved, all the better. Luckily, Emma Donoghue’s back list offered me Slammerkinand oh my stars, I’m glad of it!

slammerkinSlammerkin tells the sordid tale of Mary Saunders. Born into the working class of 18th Century London, Mary’s prospects are limited. Though she is afforded the advantage of attending school, she is prepared only to work in domestic service or follow in her seamstress mother’s footsteps. Disheartened by her lack of opportunity, Mary soon chases a fancy into dire circumstances and is forced to take up prostitution as a means to support herself. Oh yeah. I should probably mention that she’s all of 14 at the time. 14!

Selling your body isn’t glamorous work by any means, but Mary finds it offers her a sense liberty she wouldn’t have enjoyed in a “virtuous” occupation. She becomes obsessed with clothing- the flashier the better. It was her lust for a red ribbon that started her down her path to depravity, after all.

THIS BOOK, you guys! Holy cow, I loved it so hard! Mary’s story was so captivating. And!!! I didn’t realize until the end that it was based on a true story! Donoghue did a glorious job of capturing 18th Century London’s underworld, and didn’t sugar coat the grimy details (STDs are no joke, y’all, especially before antibiotics. Yowza.) I am endlessly fascinated by the plight of women throughout the ages. Even though the current world is far from perfect, I’m SO GRATEFUL to have opportunities beyond becoming a servant or a prostitute. Sheesh.

My love for hooker books has been very well documented. I feel a little creepy about it, to be honest, but I suppose everyone has their fixations. Is there a controversial/tragic/less than savory topic that you simply can’t get enough of, Bookworms? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site I will receive a small commission.*

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Jun 16

Hannibal: Enemy of Rome by Ben Kane

Historical Fiction 12

BOOKWORMS! THIS. IS. SPARTA CARTHAGE!

Why yes, I have seen 300. And Gladiator. And you know? Despite the gore, I rather enjoyed both films. Thanks to these movies, when I was offered a copy of Hannibal: Enemy of Rome by Ben Kane, I thought I’d give it a shot. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

hannibalHannibal: Enemy of Rome is set during the second Punic War. Don’t know what that is? Well. Rome was around, doing its Roman thing (conquering territory, enslaving the natives, all that good stuff.) Carthage was located in North Africa, near modern day Tunisia. They weren’t big fans of Rome, but they were big fans of war. E’erybody liked a war back then, it seems.

Anyhow, Hannibal Barca, Carthaginian general and elephant enthusiast (not to be confused with Hannibal Lecter, fictional serial killer and genius) is making a name for himself and plotting revenge on Rome for a past war. On the eve of this military expedition, a young teen named Hanno and his best friend Suni go out fishing, get drunk, and are swept out to sea. They are (of course) captured by pirates and sold into slavery. Because that was a thing. ANYBODY could be kidnapped and sold into slavery. Spoils of war… Or piracy. Hanno winds up as a slave in a Roman household (ROMAN?! Ptooey!) and rather unexpectedly becomes friends with the son of the household, Quintus.

Hanno and Quintus, Carthaginian and Roman, friends? You remember that song from South Pacific? That you have to be carefully taught who to hate? These guys are teenagers, they’ve been raised to hate one another, but they’re still young enough and honorable enough to accept that there are exceptions to every rule.

Aside from that whole star-crossed friendship thing, Hannibal: Enemy of Rome is a lot of war with a lot of detail. Military strategy, battle tactics, and graphic gore abound. There’s also quite a bit of colorful language. Apparently calling someone a “whoreson” was the ancient equivalent of a “yo mama” joke. You know. If “yo mama” was a whore.

Who would like this book? Despite the heavy military emphasis (which isn’t usually something I enjoy), it is well-written historical fiction. If you enjoyed Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth (review) or John Jakes’s North and South series (review), this might be the book for you. I will warn you that it’s the first in a series, a fact I didn’t realize until I hit the end and the war wasn’t over yet. I can only hope the forthcoming books include more about the elephants!

Alright Bookworms. Fun question for you today. Although Hannibal didn’t technically ride an elephant into battle, it’s a pretty sweet steed. What animal would YOU ride into battle? (Fictional creatures are allowed. No judgement if you choose a unicorn.)

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I will use that commission to beef up my battle steed fund.*

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