Historical Fiction

Spiral

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I’ve just read The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, which I recommend. The action takes place mostly in a fictional Sussex village in the summer of 1914. The author brilliantly depicted the place, the people of the village and the time. I also enjoyed her writing style. The central characters are very well-rounded: a diplomat’s wife Agatha Kent who uses her own diplomatic talents to beneficent effect in the village; her nephew recent college graduate and aspiring poet Daniel Bookham who grows from a tiresomely wise-cracking, self-centered youth with a penchant for putting the less well-connected people in their places to an altruistic and democratic adult, albeit one who can still be petty in nursing his hurt feelings and unable to control his emotions under admittedly difficult circumstances; and her husband’s nephew – a serious and gentlemanly Hugh Grange who’s about to become a brain surgeon. (The young men refer to each other as cousins, which I found confusing, given that there’s no indication that Mr. and Mrs. Kent are also blood-related.) There’s also a plethora of well-developed supporting characters, ranging from the gentry to gypsies; I particularly enjoyed the cynical portrait of the American expat and celebrated writer Mr. Tillingham. This novel does have its faults – one other major character, the new Latin teacher Beatrice Nash, is considerably less well-realized than the others, and there are some plot weaknesses – but overall I found it to be a very good novel and definitely worth reading. Its main strength is its marvelous depiction of human nature and behavior in general.
 
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LRK

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I’ve just read The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, which I recommend. The action takes place mostly in a fictional Sussex village in the summer of 1914. The author brilliantly depicted the place, the people of the village and the time. I also enjoyed her writing style. The central characters a very well-rounded: a diplomat’s wife Agatha Kent who uses her own diplomatic talents to beneficent effect in the village; her nephew recent college graduate and aspiring poet Daniel Bookham who grows from a tiresomely wise-cracking, self-centered youth with a penchant for putting the less well-connected people in their places to an altruistic and democratic adult, albeit one who can still be petty in nursing his hurt feelings and unable to control his emotions under admittedly difficult circumstances; and her husband’s nephew – a serious and gentlemanly Hugh Grange who’s about to become a brain surgeon. (The young men refer to each other as cousins, which I found confusing, given that there’s no indication that Mr. and Mrs. Kent are also blood-related.) There’s also a plethora of well-developed supporting characters, ranging from the gentry to gypsies; I particularly enjoyed the cynical portrait of the American expat and celebrated writer Mr. Tillingham. This novel does have its faults – one other major character, the new Latin teacher Beatrice Nash, is considerably less well-realized than the others, and there are some plot weaknesses – but overall I found it to be a very good novel and definitely worth reading. Its main strength is its marvelous depiction of human nature and behavior in general.

Sounds interesting - thanks for the review; it's a time period that I find really interesting as well, so I'll keep my eye out for the book.:)
 

Spiral

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I’ve just read Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator by Homer Hickam, which I recommend. The author insists it’s a biographical novel about his parents, Homer Sr. and Elsie, who made a car trip in 1935 from their home in Coalwood, West Virginia, to Orlando, Florida, to find a suitable wild habitat for Albert, the alligator Elsie’s former Floridian beau Buddy Ebsen had given them as a wedding present. It reads like a picaresque novel in which Elsie and Homer unwittingly fall from one adventure into another, which expose them to all the prominent aspects of southern American life at the time (although not necessarily just Southern or just of that time): a shanty-town of people dispossessed by the Great Depression, union organizers who’re trying to improve the working conditions of the workers at a local sock factory, bank robbery, commercial fishing, smuggling, the coast guard, professional baseball, movie-making, murderers, railroad construction in the Keys, and a hurricane. They also meet John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and Buddy Ebsen on their travels.

I’m not sure how much of it is true. Buddy Ebsen was a real dancer/actor, and Elsie Lavender, later Hickam, did make a trip to Florida at the time he lived there, staying with her rich, at least by her standards, uncle. Everything else may well be fiction. The author says his mother had pictures of her pet fox and pet squirrel, but none of her pet alligator whom she loved like a son. There are pictures of a small artificial pond near the house in Coalwood where they used to live, but I think there’s a strong possibility that Elsie’s father built the pool for his grandsons rather than an alligator. There is also a bunch of photographs of Elsie in Florida, but always alone or with her uncle, not a single one with her husband or with Buddy Ebsen, either in 1928 or in 1935, despite the fact that the author claims his parents had a camera with them on their trip. All of this makes me highly suspicious that this is a historical novel which masquerades as a biographical novel. The author himself writes: "Carrying Albert Home is a family epic, which means it's a blend of fact and fiction, evolved from stories told by my parents, both of whom were West Virginians and knew how to make their tales tall as the hills that surrounded them on all sides." Perhaps, the author’s parents made up stories about Albert the alligator to entertain their kids when they were little, and long after the author grew up, he re-dressed these stories for an adult audience, fleshing them out with historical episodes, meetings with famous writers of the time who were connected to the place or the era, and introducing tension and psychological complexity to his parents’ relationship.

The latter is a somewhat surprising element of the novel, considering that the author wrote it about his own parents, or at least pretended to. According to the novel, Elsie didn’t get over Buddy who was very charming and with whom she always had fun in her carefree days in Florida, and her husband was forever trying to win her affection, to no avail, even when he risks his life to save her alligator. It is only when the couple make it to a movie-making set, and Elsie sees that other women there find her husband attractive that she changes her plan to ditch him as soon as he gets her to Florida. I suppose the author didn’t realize that he’d made his mother appear very shallow and self-centered, for everybody the couple meets in the novel is enraptured with her and says how special she is, because she’s very good-looking and likes to try new things. But as a reader, I didn’t find it sufficient to warm up to her. However, despite disliking one of the two main characters, I enjoyed the book as a whole for its wide panorama of the southern American life in 1935, for its fast-paced plot, and for Albert – an alligator who made happy yeah-yeah-yeah sounds when pleased and flopped on the ground for belly rubs, while wearing a toothy grin.
 

LRK

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Rosemary Sutcliff: "The Capricorn Bracelet"

From the Author's Note:

The stories in this book began as scripts about Roman Scotland, which I wrote for Radio Scotland to produce as part of a series called 'Stories from Scottish History'. I loved writing them, but I got very cramped and frustrated by all the things I wanted to put in but had to leave out because there wasn't room for them in a twenty-minute script. So I decided, when the B.B.C. had finished with them, to write them again, as a book, in which I could have all the space I wanted for what I had to leave out before.
You will not find much about battles or big-scale historical events in The Capricorn Bracelet - something, but not much, because it is not meant to be that kind of book (and you can read about the battles and big-scale historical events elsewhere, anyway). It is just a collection of stories about people and changing ways of life over three hundred years or so, seen for the most part through the eyes of six members of a soldier family serving on or north of Hadrian's Wall.
 

LRK

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Thomas Hardy: "The Trumpet-Major" (Re-read) - Historical novel set during the Napoleonic Wars.

From the author's Preface:

The present tale is based more largely on testimony - oral and written - than any other in the series. The external incidents which direct its course are mostly an unexaggerated reproduction of the recollections of old persons well known to the author in childhood, but now long dead, who were eyewitnesses of those scenes. If wholly transcribed their recollections would have filled a volume thrice the length of The Trumpet-Major.
Down to the middle of this century, and later, there were not wanting, in the neighbourhood of the places more or less clearly indicated herein, casual relics of the circumstances amid which the action moves - our preparations for defence against the threatened invasion of England by Buonaparte. An outhouse door riddled with bullet-holes, which had been extemporized by a solitary man as a target for firelock practice when the landing was hourly expected, a heap of bricks and clods on a beacon-hill, which had formed the chimney and walls of the hut occupied by the beacon-keeper, worm-eaten shafts and iron heads for pikes for the use of those who had no better weapons, ridges on the down thrown up during the encampment, fragments of volunteer uniforms, and other such lingering remains, brought to my imagination in early childhood the state of affairs at the date of the war more vividly than volumes of history could have done.
 

topaz emerald

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I don't read history books, but my husband does.....

he would recommend Tragedy and Hope by Caroll Quigley. The book is extremely thick, like a dictionary:laugh:

eta: this isn't historical fiction though.
 
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LRK

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K M Peyton: "The Edge of the Cloud" (Re-read) - The second book in the Flambards trilogy. (Yes, it's a trilogy as far as I'm concerned!) This takes place away from Flambards, and is set in the few years leading up to the First World War.
 

LRK

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Trygve Gulbranssen: "Beyond Sing the Woods" (I read it in Swedish as "Och bortom sjunga skogarna" - the original Norwegian title is "Og bakom synger skogerne") - Norwegian historical novel taking place mostly in the late 18th century, and follows a family during ups and downs; it's set in an unspecified location, but the family live in a forested area and it depicts their uneasy relations with the people living on the plains.
 

skylark

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I've become totally obsessed with the Outlander tv show. Has anyone read the books? Are they worth reading? There's a truism in moving pictures that the best shows are made from the worst books, and that great books seldom make great shows. Is that the case here?

Hi Weak Ankles ... how do you feel about a reply two and a half years late? :laugh2:

Did you take the plunge and start reading the books between seasons of the show? If so, how would you answer your question? Actually I envy you .... I wish I'd seen the show before reading the books, but it was far too late; I read the first 4 back in the late 90s.

My answer is halfway timely, don't you think? :laugh2: since it's now the middle of season 3 on showtime. I don't have cable tv at this location, but after reading a few favorite reviews of season 3 early episodes, I think I might look into how to stream them. Are you liking this season?

Someone said earlier in this thread they recommend stopping after reading the first 3 books. Except for stretching it to the 4th, Drums of Autumn, because I love Roger, I concur. I pre-ordered the 5th book, and I've been fighting angry with the author ever since; she let it be published essentially unedited by her, which it badly needed, and un-proofread by anyone. I had other problems with the books which I won't go into unless you ask. And it's a big advantage to have 8 books to read, as opposed to having to wait 5 years between books, which always have multiple cliff-hangers. But there's certainly something compelling about the story.
 

skylark

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This is probably my favorite genre! Of course Kenneth Follett's novels top my list. ...
What are yours?

So many favorites, this one leaps out: Girl in Hyacinth Blue, by Susan Vreeland. It follows a (fictional) painting by Vermeer in reverse order. It starts in present day, then every chapter takes us to a different owner of the painting a generation back.

My favorite Ken Follett book is Hornet Flight. It takes place in Denmark during WWII, with a 15-year-old engineering student who builds a steam engine for his motorcycle, because he can't get petrol once the Germans have invaded. Somehow most of my favorites of his are in that era; he seems to have this dynamic connection with it. But I also loved his recent trilogy from before WWI through the Cold War.
 

LRK

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Terry Pratchett: "Dodger"

From the back cover:

Dodger is a tosher - a sewer scavenger living in the squalor of Dickensian London.

Everyone who is nobody knows him.
Anyone who is anybody doesn't.

He used to know his future: it involved a lot of brick-lined tunnels and plenty of filth. But when he rescues a young girl from a beating, things start to get really
messy.

Now everyone who is anyone wants to get their hands on Dodger.


The main characters are fictional, but the book features guest appearances from some real historical personages, as for example Dickens - "Mister Charlie, a gentleman known as a bit of a scribbler" - Henry Mayhew, the author of "London Labour and the London Poor" who is thanked in the dedication of the book, Benjamin Disraeli &c.
 

LRK

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Mona Gedney: "A Love Affair for Lizzie" - Cosy, feel-good Regency.
 

LRK

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Joy Reed: "Lord Caldwell and the Cat" - Another light & fun Regency.
 

Jaana

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I've become totally obsessed with the Outlander tv show. Has anyone read the books? Are they worth reading? There's a truism in moving pictures that the best shows are made from the worst books, and that great books seldom make great shows. Is that the case here?

I have seen three seasons from the series on tv and I have the first book. I don´t think I´ll buy more of the books but will watch the next season on tv, which will be the last one, I´ve understood.

In my opinion the first season was just wonderful, but the rest less interesting so far. The actors are wonderful though!!!
 

merrywidow

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If you are a fan of Regencies, don't overlook author Georgette Heyer. My favorite after Jane Austin.
 

LRK

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If you are a fan of Regencies, don't overlook author Georgette Heyer. My favorite after Jane Austin.

Georgette Heyer is the Queen of Regencies.:) Which is your favourite? Mine's "Devil's Cub", although strictly speaking, of course, it's Georgian.
 
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