Tag: Historical Fiction

Aug 22

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Audio Books, Historical Fiction 4

How Goes It, Bookworms?

I’m doing well, you know. Reading and thinking and whatnot. I’ve also been bridesmaiding. Since the bride in question lives a couple of hours from me, I’ve had lots of time to check out audiobooks and podcasts whilst road tripping to various pre-wedding events. Thank heaven for that because holy heck, I just finished Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and frankly, I’m surprised my head did not explode from the awesomeness.

homegoingHomegoing centers on two branches of the same family beginning in 18th Century Ghana. Two half sisters born in different villages face shockingly different fates. One sister marries a British officer and lives a fairly luxurious life in Cape Coast Castle. The other sister is captured by a neighboring tribe and kept in the dungeon of the very same castle until she is transported and sold into slavery. (They’re unaware of the other’s existences, of course.) What follows is a story following each branch of the family generation by generation, one in the US and one in Ghana.

Y’all, this book is POWERFUL. It covers all sorts of gritty bits of history, both in the US and in Africa, that have been swept under the proverbial rug. I was at least semi-familiar with most of the things in this book, but knowing a thing is different from FEELING a thing… Like, in college I took a class on the history of criminal justice in the US, so we read non fiction on the subject of chain gangs and the hideous post slavery incarceration practices in the American South. I’m not sure if it’s just that it was required reading or that I’m typically a thousand times more engaged by fiction, but this book hit me like my school books never did. I think the generation by generation approach Gyasi took was freaking brilliant, because it smacks you upside the head with a dose of THIS WAS NOT THAT LONG AGO. Because it wasn’t. Slavery was not THAT long ago. Chain gangs were not THAT long ago. Segregation was not THAT long ago. There is still so much work to be done.

I highly recommend this book to every human on planet earth, obviously, but if you’re not the fence about your medium, the audio book is PHENOMENAL. The narrator Dominic Hoffman is sooooooooo good at setting the scenes with his use of accents and inflection. I know that audio book narration is a completely different art form than acting in a movie, but when you can’t rely on an anguished twisted facial expression to get your point across and manage to portray that simply with your vocal cords? I’m in awe. If you are interested in additional background information on the book, I must also recommend the Beaks and Geeks podcast where Gyasi was interviewed. I am kicking myself SO HARD right now for deciding not to wait in the long signing line at BEA for this book. Although, maybe it’s for the best. I probably would just have embarrassed myself, as per usual.

Talk to me Bookworms! Have you read HomegoingWere you similarly gobsmacked?

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

 

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Jul 22

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Audio Books, Historical Fiction 11

Salutations Bookworms!

I’ve been summering hardcore, so I haven’t been in a “let’s sit in front of the computer” sort of mood lately. I mean, there are hummingbirds in my yard to stare at. Hummingbirds, you guys! But, just because I haven’t been in a computery mood doesn’t mean I haven’t been in a book mood. I am up to my eyeballs in books I’ve experienced and just haven’t told y’all about yet. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, as you very well know, and I will read books from basically any point in human history. Heck, I’d read books from dinosaur history if they had compelling characters… (Sidebar: How awesome would it be to read Pride and Prejudice, sans zombies, but where everyone is a dinosaur? I mean, would we assign dinos based on the characters’ personal attributes or just have to make everyone a triceratops? If you have to choose but one dinosaur, triceratops is always the correct choice. But, like Lydia’s got some raptor in her, so…) I was talking about a book wasn’t I? Oh yes! The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman! I read it… With my ears. What a delicious audio book treat. Let me tell you about it.

thedovekeepersThe Dovekeepers tells the tale of the siege of Masada from the perspectives of four different women. In case you’re unfamiliar with Jewish history, way back in like 70 CE, the Romans were being total dicks to basically everyone. They burned the temple in Jerusalem and murdered and pillaged all up in the holy land. Different Judaic sects fled into the dessert, and a group of them landed at Herod’s old mountain castle that was all imposing and fortress-y. Masada, said fortress, housed the bands of fleeing Jewish folk for months but it couldn’t last forever. According to Josephus, the ancient historian, only two women and five children survived to tell the tale.

Alice Hoffman put her own spin on the story, weaving mythology, history, and a dash of mysticism to bring history to life. Books like this are SO my jam. This book reminded me a lot of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent (review), what with the biblical times (well, approximately, anyway) and the writing of women back into religious history. And, of course, Alice Hoffman being Alice Hoffman, the magical elements were perfection. The narrators of the audio book were fabulous too, and each of the four women were given a different voice. Literally. A lot of audio book narrators are really great at differentiating their voices to represent different characters, but you just can’t beat the differentiation that comes with actual different people reading each woman’s account. There are no triceratops in this book, but it’s still totally worth reading.

Alright Bookworms. Talk to me. If each Bennett sister were, in fact, a different dinosaur, which ones would they be? 

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

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Jun 14

The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay

Historical Fiction 17

How Goes It, Bookworms?

There’s no set formula that’s going to guarantee I pick up a book, but pitching me a book that’s historical fiction about a troupe of sisters performing a Vaudeville acrobatic act is about as close as you can get. Needless to say, when I was approached about The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay, I couldn’t say “YES PLEASE” fast enough. (I always say “please” and “thank you”, despite my self-proclaimed bad manners.) *I received a complimentary copy of this book through the publisher for review consideration. You’ll get my honest opinion whether you want it or not.*

thetumblingturnersisters1919 marks the beginning of some tough times for the Turner family. The patriarch is a low paid boot-stitcher in Johnson City, New York, until he is injured and unable to work. The four Turner daughters and their parents have always lived on the edge of disaster, but this loss of income devastates their precarious balance. Their mother decides that Vaudeville is the answer and sets about grooming her daughters for the stage in a hurry.

The girls cobble together an acrobatic act that lands them enough paying gigs on the Vaudeville circuit to keep the family from being evicted. Traveling from town to town on the train also affords Gert, Winnie, Kit, and the recently widowed Nell a sense of freedom they’d never known at home. They meet a host of fascinating characters and performers along the way, as well as being exposed to the seedy underbelly of show business.

Gaaaaah there is almost nothing I love more than tales of old-timey show business! I positively gobbled this novel up. Fay did a fantastic job of incorporating real-life events into the narrative and made the story sparkle with life and energy. I loved every little bit of this book, from the painfully cheesy jokes the performers would tell to the characters’ romantic entanglements. Heartbreak and hilarity abound.

I did, however, have one beef. I live in Peoria, IL. The phrase “Will it play in Peoria?” (it’s a famous expression, I swear) comes directly out of the Vaudeville era and references the fact that the town in which I live is a big ol’ bag of middle America. An act could play well in NYC, but that didn’t mean it would work everywhere. Peoria, however, represented the median sensibility of all the folk in the land. The Turner sisters were mentioned visiting two other Central Illinois towns (Galesburg and Champaign) but neither my town nor our little catch phrase got a mention! I’m not going to lie, I feel kind of slighted, you guys.

All that nonsense aside, I loved the book. If you are in the mood for historical fiction and are even half as fascinated as I am by Vaudeville, you should check out The Tumbling Turner Sisters.

Talk to me Bookworms! Does your hometown (or the town you live in, I guess, seeing as I’m not originally from Peoria) have a claim to fame? I want to hear about them! The weirder the better!

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

 

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Apr 04

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Historical Fiction 6

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

The things I like about Mondays are extremely limited, but they’re greatly improved when I get a chance to discuss historical fiction. Yay for books, saving all the days of the week from abject horribleness! Today we’re heading back to WWI England, or, perhaps more specifically, the summer before WWI. Hence the title of Helen Simonson’s new book, The Summer Before the War. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. I’ll still be honest and all that, because I lack social graces.*

summerbeforethewarIt’s the summer of 1914 in Sussex, England. Beatrice Nash arrives in picturesque Rye with a few crates of books and something to prove as the school’s new Latin teacher. Hugh Grange is a medical student in town visiting with his formidable Aunt Agatha, Uncle John, and cousin Daniel. The troubles in the Balkans seem far removed from the glorious weather and small town scandals of Sussex. I mean, a FEMALE Latin teacher? Agatha staked her reputation on bringing Beatrice to town. And Beatrice has her own problems- she’s mourning the loss of her beloved father while struggling against a system that makes what little inheritance she has nearly impossible for her to access. Unfortunately, war breaks out, as war tends to do, and the town is transformed by the war efforts and preparations to send so many of their young men off to war.

Ah what a whirlwind, am I right?! Believe it or not, I actually had a hard time getting invested in this book at first. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the fault of the book, just one of those weird mood things, but it took me a while to really dive into this world. Once I did though? Well, suffice it to say that a number of late night tears were shed while I SHOULD have been sleeping because I couldn’t put the book down. And because I have feelings. If you dig historical fiction, The Summer Before the War is definitely one you should check out.

Talk to me Bookworms! What was the last book you read that kept you up late? Made you cry?

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

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Sep 10

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Audio Books, Historical Fiction 4

Greetings, Bookworms!

You’ll probably recall my giant rant about Scribd changing up its audio book program. As a result, I scoured my library for the oodles of expiring titles and prioritized those I simply couldn’t live without hearing before they turned into pumpkins. I’ve been meaning to read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton for quite a while, and I’m so glad I decided to check this one out. Not only was it a great story, but the incomparable Davina Porter narrated (she’s the one who reads all the Outlander books and is beyond amazing.) Yay audio books! Boo Scribd for bursting my bubble! (I’m totally still bitter, Scribd!)

theminiaturistNella Oortman is a mere 18 years old when she arrives in Amsterdam, the newly minted bride of merchant Johannes Brandt.  While Nella is thrilled to leave her rural home for the excitement of the big city, she soon discovers that her marriage isn’t going to be what she expected. Johannes is incredibly distant, though when he does interact with Nella he is kind. His sister Marin, however, is even less welcoming.

Set adrift in an unfamiliar city, Nella is completely unmoored. Things begin to change when Johannes presents Nella with an unusual gift: a cabinet sized replica of their house. Nella is both intrigued and mildly insulted. I mean, a doll house?! That’s somewhat less than romantic, and kind of weird, actually. Nevertheless, Nella enlists the services of a mysterious local miniaturist in order to furnish the house and finds herself pulled into the inner circle of the Brandt household and its secrets quite by accident.

The cover art for this novel is genuinely representative of this book. It’s a pretty piece of historical fiction if there ever was one, and the narration of Davina Porter makes it even more magical. I found the story fascinating and loved the look inside the Brandt family. 17th Century Amsterdam was NOT the sort of place you wanted to be seen as different, that’s for darn sure. While I enjoyed the novel, I really wish there had been a few loose ends tied up, particularly in reference to the title character, but all in all, it was quite a ride. If historical fiction is your jam, The Miniaturist is certainly worth a read!

Talk to me Bookworms! Are any of you into tiny things? I’ve seen some impressive work done with miniatures, but I lack the patience to create my own and the funds to get into the hobby buying ready made. I’d love to hear from any budding miniaturists out there!

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

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Sep 08

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

Asia, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 4

Good Day, Bookworms!

It probably says troubling things about my character that I love hooker books so ding dang much, but I do, I so so do. The circumstances that lead young women into lives of prostitution are endlessly fascinating, and it’s a profession that transcends time and culture. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, this revelation comes as no surprise. If you’re new here, I really dig books about prostitutes. From a cultural perspective, not a porn-ish one, in case that wasn’t obvious. This is a long weird intro, so I should get to the point! Today we’re talking about The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry. *I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. It is not at all like prostitution because there is zero promise of a favorable review (or any review) involved. That said, the way to my heart is through hooker books, so. Yeah.*

thecourtesanThe Courtesan is the fictionalized account of an actual historical figure, one Sai Jinhua. The novel opens with the execution of Jinhua’s beloved father, an unjust punishment for political dissent. At merely seven years old, she is left in the care of her stepmother (her mother having passed away before the book begins) and unceremoniously sold to a brothel. Though Jinhua suffers the horrors of foot binding and forced prostitution, she finds kinship with the brothel’s maid. Eventually Jinhua’s fortunes change as she is purchased (again) this time to live as a concubine to a wealthy diplomat. She goes on to accompany him on a lengthy trip abroad in Europe, through Austria-Hungary (you know, back when it was an empire?), Prussia (back before it was Germany), and Russia (back when Romanovs were still Czar-ing it up.) I was pretty stoked to see that another famous historical figure made an appearance in this novel, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, whom I feel like I know rather well after reading Daisy Goodwin’s The Fortune Hunter (review). Worlds colliding all up in this piece.

This book kind of tore my guts out, in any number of instances. I mean, how could it not? There were times I cried for Jinhua and times I wanted to give her a good smack. The fact that she lived such a large life in a time and place where women’s lives tended to be secluded was fascinating. As with any piece of historical fiction based on a real person, I have no doubt that many liberties were taken for dramatic effect, but it all swirled together into a rather lovely package. If you’re like me and dig hooker books, The Courtesan would make an excellent addition to your collection.

Talk to me, Bookworms! Do you like it when real historical figures make cameos in books?

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

 

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Jun 01

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber

Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 13

Greetings Bookworms,

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you’ll probably know that I have a penchant for what I lovingly refer to as “hooker books.” That’s right, kids, I love a good book about prostitution. Not in a pornographic way, but a historical fiction way. I find them absolutely fascinating to the point where I made a list of them while discussing the brilliant Emma Donoghue’s book, Astray. To my astonishment, EMMA FRIGGIN DONOGHUE read my post. Then she left a comment in which she recommended I read Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. Of course, it took me almost 3 years to get around to reading it, but I finally did, and wahooooooo hooker books!

crimsonpetalandthewhiteSugar is a 19 year old prostitute in Victorian England. She was forced into the world’s oldest profession by her mother (of all people) and spends her free time penning revenge fantasy novels. Her life takes an interesting turn one night when she meets up and coming perfume magnate William Rackham. Rackham soon becomes obsessed with Sugar and pays to keep her at his personal disposal. Sugar’s rise in fortune lands her in a new world- one very different yet nearly as dangerous as the one she’s just left.

The Crimson Petal and the White was a big, fat chunkster. It was quite good, if you like hooker books, but it wasn’t the speediest of reads. It had other perks for me, of course. On Facebook, I saw a friend discussing how multi-layered sheets and waterproof pads on crib mattresses are a life saver for late night blowouts. Whipping off the top sheet once a child spews vile secretions is apparently much less trouble than remaking a crib in the middle of the night. Obviously, I had to chime in that I’d heard great things about the method… In a book about a Victorian era prostitute. Because you KNOW Sugar totes used that method in her back alley days. I’m pretty lucky in that my friends aren’t easily offended when I inadvertently compare their children to prostitutes, but I wouldn’t recommend the habit, as a general rule.

Talk to me, Bookworms! What’s your most recent incident of spurting out an inappropriate book factoid?

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

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Mar 30

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Historical Fiction, World War II 18

Hello Bookworms!

I wish I could say that there was a tried and true way to pitch me a book that will guarantee I read it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. However. Your odds are VASTLY improved if you have already written a book I loved and if the book is set in Scotland. That’s about as close to a Katie-Guaranteed-Read as you can get. Sara Gruen of Water for Elephants fame (which I loved) has a new book out called At the Water’s Edge that just happens to be set in Scotland. Obviously I ran the other way when I heard about it. If by “ran the other way” you mean frantically clicked the “request” button on NetGalley, natch. *I received a complimentary copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher through NetGalley. May the Loch Ness Monster devour my very soul if this review is anything less than my honest opinion.*

atthewatersedge

In 1944 Madeline Hyde and her husband Ellis are living the high life… If the “high life” means spending your parents’ money, getting wasted, and making public scenes. After one particularly scandalous New Year’s Eve party, Ellis’s father cuts him off financially. Problematic, seeing as Ellis’s “allowance” is their only form of income. Ellis’s BFF Hank proposes that the three of them make a pilgrimage to Scotland to track down the Loch Ness Monster. Ellis’s allowance-cutting-off father had his own public scandal once upon a time involving said monster, and this is Ellis’s chance to get back in his father’s good graces with the added bonus of rubbing it in his face.

So, because it is a GREAT idea to hop in a boat and cross the Atlantic in the middle of a WAR, Ellis, Hank, and Maddie head off to the Scottish Highlands. The bubble Maddie has been living in is unceremoniously popped en route and upon arrival. Money and distance have separated her from the war, but it’s impossible to escape the rationing, fuel shortages, and air raids in Scotland. Gradually Maddie comes to some important realizations about herself, her life, and her marriage during her Highland adventure, and her life will never be the same.

I know what you’re thinking. “But Katie, is there a hot Scotsman in this book?!” Aye, my Bookworms, there is! Never ye fear! I enjoyed At the Water’s Edgeand I would definitely recommend it to fans of Water for ElephantsIn fact, I found the romantic plot of the two books to be extremely similar… Almost too similar, actually, but not quite. Seriously though, find me a book with a hot Scotsman I don’t enjoy. (No. Please don’t. Don’t ruin hot Scotsmen for me.) If you like Sara Gruen’s writing, hot Scotsman, the Loch Ness Monster, and SECRETS, At the Water’s Edge is your book, y’all!

Let’s chat, Bookworms. About the Loch Ness Monster. Do you think Nessie is real? Hogwash? I’d like to know!

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

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Nov 13

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Historical Fiction, Plague 16

Bring Out Your Dead, Bookworms!

Monty Python jokes never, ever, ever get old, I tell you! Seriously though, the bubonic plague was NO JOKE. I just finished reading Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks and it was plague-tastic. Y’all know how much I love me some plague, right? That sounds almost as bad as my love affair with “hooker books.” I’m beginning to worry about myself…

yearofwondersIt’s 1666 in a small English mining village. When the plague descends upon the town, the villagers seal themselves off from the outside world in order to prevent the spread of infection. A quarantined village with bubonic plague? Oh you know shiznit got real in a hurry!

We see the events of the plague through the eyes of a young housemaid named Anna Frith. The town’s minister makes valiant attempts to keep the villagers from self destructing, along with the assistance of his wife Elinor and Anna, their servant. With losses felt in every croft and cottage, it’s a herculean task to be sure. As the contagion spreads through the village, Anna witnesses frantic prayers, murderous witch hunts, corruption, and desperation. The best and worst of humanity are on display in stark relief.

I didn’t realize until I’d finished the book that Year of Wonders was based on a true story. The plague did indeed strike a rural town in 17th Century England called Eyam, and the folks of Eyam sacrificed themselves in order to prevent the spread of disease. Two thirds of the village perished. TWO THIRDS. I feel like I should write a thank-you note to antibiotics right about now.

One of my favorite things about Geraldine Brooks is that she never shies away from the super icky gross bits. Imagining people being sick is one thing, but reading about giant lymph node pustules? That rupture? It really brings the icky home. Fans of historical fiction, plague stories, and things that are awesome should definitely check out Year of Wonders

Alright Bookworms. Let’s talk. If your town looked like it was going to be plagued out would you try to run, or would you stay put in the interest of the greater good? (Look at us today with the ethical dilemmas! We’re growing here, I can tell.)

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I’ll use it to invest in a flu shot or something. Ain’t nobody got time for that.*

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Nov 03

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

Historical Fiction, World War II 17

Ahoy Bookworms!

One of my favorite things about reading, particularly when I read historical fiction, is learning new things. I mean, you THINK you know all there is to know about WWII and its aftermath and BAM. Something new. Did you have any idea that enough Australian women married British service members to necessitate a post-war trip hauling 650+ war brides to England in an aircraft carrier? And that was just ONE of the ships. Thank you, Jojo Moyes, for teaching me these things. *And thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a complimentary copy of The Ship of Brides for review consideration.*

shipofbridesThe Ship of Brides focuses on four Australian war brides who are making the pilgrimage to England aboard the Victoria. Everyone on board (brides and crew) are held to strict behavioral standards. Let’s face it, attempting to keep hundreds of young brides who haven’t seen their husbands in ages (and who likely didn’t know them all that well to begin with) AND hundreds of young sailors who just finished fighting a war to keep their hands off each other was going to require some discipline, you know?

Margaret, Frances, Avice, and Jean end up being bunk mates. Margaret is enormously pregnant and facing a new life on a new continent with a husband she barely knows, AND motherhood. Jean is all of 16 years old. She’s flippant, flirty, and a bit of a party gal. Avice is an uber snob from a fancy schmancy family. She spends her time looking down her nose at everyone and making me want to smack her. Frances was a nurse during the war and has a past full of SECRETS, I tell you! These four are stuck together on a boat, sharing a tiny room, in equatorial heat for SIX WEEKS. I’ll let you imagine that cesspool for a minute and then try to figure out just how well they all got along, mkay?

So, you know I love Jojo Moyes. I’ve read and enjoyed Me Before You (review), The Girl You Left Behind (review), Silver Bay (review), and One Plus One (review). I liked The Ship of Brides overall… It’s just that my Jojo Moyes standards are SO HIGH. The book started out kind of slowly for me and I found it dragged a bit. Then all the juicy tidbits were stuffed into the last few pages. It’s a great story, I just thought the pacing could have been better. Still, if you like historical fiction, WWII, or Jojo Moyes, you should DEFINITELY check this out!

Talk to me Bookworms. Since this book takes place on a boat, why NOT talk about cruises? Have any of you been? Do you recommend them? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. Maybe I’ll hoard the cash and buy a cruise.*

 

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