Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

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I absolutely love reading reworks of the classics told from an alternate point of view, and “Mr. Rochester” definitely caught my attention. “Jane Eyre” is one of my absolute favorites and Mr. Rochester ranks right up there with Mr. Darcy as far as I am concerned. “Mr. Rochester” is an imagining of the life of Edward Rochester, from his days as a young boy in boarding school, to his formative years as a young man learning the business world at a mill, to his time in Jamaica running his father’s sugar plantation. I love how Ms. Shoemaker was able to weave in what we know about the Rochester family, his turbulent love/hate relationship with Bertha, and his caring for Adele into his backstory leading up to the arrival of his dear Jane at Thornfield Hall. It was faithful to the tone of “Jane Eyre” and beautifully told, helping us to understand a bit more why Mr. Rochester had so many rough edges that only Jane could smooth down.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

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Special thanks to William Morrow for providing me an Advance Reader’s copy of this novel.

I adore historical fiction, especially during World War II, so when I received this in the mail, I was extremely excited to get a first look at it. It offers a female perspective of World War II which I highly enjoyed. “The Women in the Castle” tells the story of three very unique women, Marianne, Benita, and Ania, who are all deeply affected not only by the war raging around them, but by the losses of their husbands during it. Each woman approaches her struggle in different ways. Marianne looks for the deeper meaning of her husband’s sacrifice and tries to carry on his good work as the war ends and Germany rebuilds. Benita is desperately searching for love that she feels has been denied to her. And Ania keeps everything close to the cuff, until one day her secrets come raining down on her.

The powerful message of this book highlights the bonds of female friendship along with the shared sadness, loss and strength that woman of this time lived through. The ability of these three woman to create their own extended family in the aftermath of the war and keep each other safe was extremely uplifting when the overall tone of Germany at that time was one of defeat.

This novel had five parts and I was so pleased to see that the final part left me with the closure I needed. Seeing each of these women’s stories come full circle in so many ways left me extremely satisfied with the ending and in understanding the effect that they all had on each other and their individual families. For lovers of historical fiction, this one cannot be missed!

Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra

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This is well executed historical fiction from a YA perspective.  If you love Jane Austen, the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, or Ruta Sepetys, you will definitely want to try this book.  A very smart young lady named Leonora, or Leo for short, struggles with a terrible stammer that causes her to compensate by becoming a spot-on mimic of other people’s voices.  Charmed by a seemingly handsome, rich and good Lord, Leo gets swept up into an opium plot that threatens to literally blow up London.  Suspenseful, fast paced, and action packed, this book was a lot of fun to read and kept me guessing, as well as hoping that Leo would find her happily every after.

Texas Book Festival – Day Two!

Day one was exciting for me, but day two was going to be even better.  After a great night’s sleep, I dove into the festival head first again!

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First stop this morning was to see Paulette Jiles and Stephen Harrigan present “Old News Made New.” Ms. Jiles’ new book “News of the World” has been nominated for the National Book Award and is the best example of historical fiction I have read in a long time.  Their reflections on their research and story ideas were fascinating.  I greatly enjoyed Paulette’s book and am looking forward to digging into Mr. Harrigan’s “A Friend of Mr. Lincoln” this week!

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After browsing all of the fun merchant tents and picking myself up a bookish item or two, I made my way to The Capitol building and greatly enjoyed Jade Chang, “The Wangs vs. the World” and Rufi Thorpe, “Dear Fang, With Love.”  They each read from their books and kept us all laughing and engaged while discussing their humorous looks at the “family road trip, redefined.”  It was lovely to get to speak to Ms. Chang.  As the mother of a 22 year old man myself, her character of Andrew in “Wangs” truly resonated with me and she was a delight to speak with.

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The last event for the day was the one I had been anticipating all weekend.  Truly my favorite book this year has been Amor Towles’ “A Gentleman in Moscow” and one of my past favorites has been Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”  To have a chance to hear two of my favorite writers together was something not to be missed.  Ms. Semple read from her new book “Today Will Be Different” and had us all hanging on her every word.  Mr. Towles’ presentation on how he imagined The Count in “A Gentleman in Moscow” was so well researched and his background history on the Russian Revolution added even more dimension to a story I have fallen in love with.  If you haven’t read this book yet, get it now, immediately.  You will not be sorry.  The Count is sure to be an enduring character in literary history for years to come.

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After off and on rain showers all weekend, the festival closed with the most gorgeous rainbow over the grounds of the Capitol, proving that reading, is indeed, heavenly!  So long Austin!  See you next year!

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

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Marie Benedict takes a woman who many consider a footnote in history as Einstein’s first wife, and creates excellent historical fiction.  A gifted physicist in her own right, was Mileva Maric more of an influence and collaborator with Einstein on his theory of relativity than we know her to be?  Mileva meets Albert Einstein in school where she is the only female physics student.  Her dream is to be a physics professor and she knows the only way to accomplish this is to study hard and don’t allow herself to get romantically attached to anyone.  However, Einstein’s charm and personality woos her onto a completely different role and path – wife and mother.

Benedict masterfully weaves location, facts and science into her supposition about the true talents and gifts of Mileva Einstein. She perfectly captures the time and setting that accurately treated women as secondary in both intelligence and status to their male counterparts.  And she truly built a well rounded character in Mileva, a woman conflicted with love of career and science, but also an emotional one who loves Albert and their children with every ounce of her soul.  One must wonder if Mileva hadn’t fallen under the spell of Albert Einstein, would we would today be discussing Maric’s Theory of Relativity?

The Spider and the Stone by Glen Craney

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One of the issues I usually have with historical fiction is that often the scenarios and backdrops described in a story don’t quite have the historical accuracy and detail that they really need in order to effectively blend in the fictional aspect.  This book does not have this problem in any way.  Craney’s extensive research and attention to detail comes through during the entire book.  His vivid descriptions of the passion of the Scottish people were emotional and powerful.   The battle scenes are exciting and well written.

As this was my first time visiting this specific period of history, I found that I had very little trouble following the events described,  and was completely wrapped up in this book as it drew me in.  I had actually set aside some time from my schedule in order to be able to read through this in one sitting and I am so glad I did. It is a perfect blend of history, adventure, love, and faith.  I look forward to reading more of Mr. Craney’s books in the future!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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I don’t know what else to call this book other than perfection. Amor Towles has created an entire world within the walls of the Metropol Hotel.

After having been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the Metropol Hotel after the Communist Revolution, Count Rostov, a former aristocrat, finds himself having to make an entirely new world and life for himself while confined in the luxurious building. And he does it with grace and charm and manners that completely befit his former life as a Count.

This book oddly enough reminded me so much of “The Little Princess.” Its cast of characters make you smile throughout the entire book and the ending is nothing short of exactly what I was hoping for. Go and get this book immediately. Buy it, download it, borrow it from the library. When I literally hug a book after I finish it, you know you cannot go wrong.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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I usually tear through the books I receive for review so that I am able to talk about them as soon as possible.  I waited on this one knowing it would be a difficult and brutal look at the horror of slavery.  But when Oprah got the publication of this book moved up by weeks for her latest Book Club pick, I knew I could sit on it no longer.

I can usually finish a book of this size in two days tops, but this one I needed time to digest and take in slowly.  The story of Cora, a slave who risks it all to escape an abusive master, cut me to my core.  There were several parts of the book that required me to put it down and walk away from it for awhile as I processed the events described on the pages.  The systematic dehumanization of blacks in the US is so clearly outlined by the reactions and experiences of Cora and the other slaves in the story.  The expectation of being treated like property, the expectation of violence against them, the expectation by whites that they were not intelligent. Cora overcomes so many trials and near death experiences that she becomes very aware that she is more than a wealthy land owner’s property.  She has worth, a mind, and a faith in herself that comes through as the story progresses. Definitely worthy of the attention it is garnering especially considering the state of the country right now.  This is historical fiction written to perfection.