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Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

Historical Fiction Review – The Winter Sea

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

When thinking about this review I had a difficult time deciding what category to put it in…The Winter Sea is historical fiction, with the feel of chick lit and modern day fiction and a little fantasy thrown in for good measure.  I decided to go with historical fiction due to the presence of actual historical figures and events that were integral to the success of the novel.  But with all of that said, I hope the readers who claim not to be fans of historical fiction will still give it a chance.

Carrie McClelland is an author conducting research regarding the efforts to restore James Stewart (the young King James) to his throne in Scotland.  Beginning her research in France, where James was living in exile, she soon realizes she actually needs to be in Scotland and changes the perspective of her story.  Through historical research and family connection, Carrie creates the story of Sophia and her place at Slains Castle, her relationships with various supporters of King James, and her love story that transcends war and exile. The depth of Carrie’s connection to the story, and the way in which the truth is revealed to her, leaves her questioning what she has long believed of her family history.

I think Kearsley has a winner with this novel.  She used an interesting format (chapters set in the present day and chapters that were from Carrie’s historical novel that she is writing) and I liked the mirroring of the past in the present. Kearsley carefully weaves together the past and present and makes sure all of the details connect between the past and present. Kearsley created an ethereal love story that left me feeling hopeful and fulfilled with both stories being told.  For creating fantastic characters and leaving me satisfied with the story but still wanting more, I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Invention of Wings

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I have a ‘love/hate’ relationship with Sue Monk Kidd.  Well, maybe hate is strong word.  Perhaps it’s better to say I have a ‘love/don’t really love’ relationship with Sue Monk Kidd.  I loved her first novel The Secret Life of Bees.  It was such an honest, earthly, coming of age story.  And then came The Mermaid Chair and I was so disappointed.  I had a hard time finishing that book, to be honest.  So when a friend recommended The Invention of Wings I thought, ‘Ok, Sue, what’s it going to be this time? Should I give you another try?’ My mind told me to go with my friend’s recommendation and I am so glad I did!

The Invention of Wings is the story of Sarah Grimké and Hetty “Handful” Grimké, beginning in 1803 and Sarah’s eleventh birthday.  Sarah’s family has long owned slaves and for Sarah’s eleventh birthday she is given Handful.  Sarah, even at age eleven, feels she should not be given a person as property and tried to reject the gift.  In the end, Handful remains with the family, owned by Sarah’s mother, but Handful serves Sarah.  A friendship of sorts develops and Sarah grows into a woman of conviction and her choices put her on a course to defy her family and follow her conscience.

Hetty “Handful” Grimké is the daughter of Charlotte, a strong woman who belongs to the Grimké family and talented seamstress.  She instills a strength and quiet rebellion in Handful and wants nothing more than for Handful to one day be free of her slavery bonds.

The stories of Sarah and Handful cross decades as both women search for understanding and truth during their lives.  Sarah’s defiance of her family’s traditions and beliefs separates her from Handful and during that separation Handful experiences her own defiance and search to make a difference.

Told from both character’s perspectives, The Invention of Wings is a story of strength and resilience but it is also about the role of guilt in the lives of the two women and how that impacts their decisions and relationship to one another.  I am so glad I have Kidd another chance and read The Invention of Wings and I hope others will read it, too.  I am happy to say I give The Invention of Wings 5 out of 5 stars!

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Historical Fiction Review – Leaving Independence

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Leaving Independence by Leanne W. Smith

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I am always in the search of a great western.  Leaving Independence is a story of Abigail Baldwyn’s journey on the Oregon Trail with her children.  Abigail believed her husband Robert was killed in the Civil War but when she finds out he is alive and intentionally didn’t come back to his family, her grief changes to anger and then to resolve to find him.  While taken aback by the tone of her husband’s letter, she uproots herself and her children to travel west to, hopefully, be reconciled and reunited with him

Leaving Independence is full of the usual western genre suspects: the mysterious stranger, the strict religious believer, the rough cowboy, the damsel(s), etc.  But what category does Hoke Matthews fit in?  Hired to lead one of the companies during Abigail’s trip on the Oregon Trail, Hoke seems to be a man of integrity with loyal friends and the respect of the others; however, he is very secretive and generally keeps to himself.  Abigail and her children soon bond with Hoke and as the trail gets closer to Abigail’s husband,  Hoke begins to realize he has developed feelings for the family. But what will happen when Abigail and Robert are reunited?

Much of Leaving Independence is rather predictable.  In addition to the usual cast of characters, there are the usual trail complications: dangerous water crossings, weather difficulties, snakebites, illness, etc. Smith provides a story with characters that were fun to read about but the story left me a little unsatisfied with the quick conclusion.  I’m not sure this will make it on to my list of great westerns, it was an enjoyable read. 3 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

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Historical Fiction Review – Mistress of the Revolution

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

I was hooked by Mistress of the Revolution from the first page.  Told in memoir style, Delors delivers a novel that feels like a real life experience.  I was swept back in time to France in the years leading up the French Revolution and thought it was engrossing and told from a unique point of view.

Starting in 1815 with a moment of reminiscing, the reader is quickly plunged back to childhood years of Gabrielle de Montserrat.  From a noble family who no longer possesses the wealth and status they desire, Gabrielle is used as a bargaining chip to hopefully increase their family wealth and position.  Thus the reader joins Gabrielle in her heartbreaking life journey. Love is gained and lost, along with Gabrielle’s innocence. Thrust into circumstances that are far, far from ideal, Gabrielle has seemingly impossible decisions to make about her survival and connections.  While she has few willing to come to her rescue, Gabrielle finds a way to forge new friendships and connections to make ends meet in the years leading up to the French Revolution.  But what will happen when politics and her personal life converge?  Will her connections save her or will she be another person caught up in corruption and greed?  Delors created a story that kept me interested and unsure of what would happen next to Gabrielle.

While it seems the author did extensive research and there was a lot of information later in the book about the politics behind the revolution, Mistress of the Revolution didn’t read like a history lesson.  Delors found a deft way to balance history and intrigue with love and hope with one character’s resilient spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

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Historical Fiction Review – Sacajawea

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

During a recent trip to South Dakota I discovered the novel Sacajawea in the Mt Rushmore gift shop.  I was intrigued and decided to give this massive paperback tome a try.  I love South Dakota and I am very interested in our country’s westward expansion and native cultures.

By all accounts, Sacajawea’s life started out pretty idyllic but it didn’t take things long to quickly unravel.  She experienced separation from her family, was traded as a commodity, treated badly and without respect by several key people in her life, and experienced many personal losses and disappointments.  When Sacajawea had the opportunity to join the harrowing Lewis & Clark expedition she was able to reconnect and honor many parts of her cultural heritage, while at the same time she came to appreciate some of the customs of the white explorers.  Much of Sacajawea’s life was tumultuous and uncertain but, based on all that is known of her, she was strong and resilient.

One thing cannot be denied about Waldo’s novel: extensive research was conducted to craft this novel.  The notes were lengthy but added a lot of depth to the novel.  I appreciate this level of research and attention to detail.  Even with this extensive research, there is much that is not known about Sacajawea’s life after the expedition.  There are various accounts of the direction her life took after the expedition and where and how she died.  Waldo presents one widely accepted version of Sacajawea’s later life and this, I think, is where the novel loses some of its traction; I think the first three quarters of the novel are stronger and more clearly presented.

From a historical perspective, Sacajawea is a wonderful novel that gives a voice to one of the most iconic women of American culture.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of the American west.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – Colonel Brandon’s Diary

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

 

Colonel Brandon’s Diary by Amanda Grange

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

I love Jane Austen’s novels.  I have read each one more than once and I wish there were more.  I am forced to go to Austen retellings and continuations by other authors.  Amanda Grange has a series of novels that provide retellings from the heroes’ points of view.   I recently picked up Colonel Brandon’s Diary from one of my (too many?) ‘To Read’ bookshelves.

What I enjoyed about this book is I think it made Colonel Brandon more relatable.  In Sense and Sensibility he seems so serious and hard to get to know at times. This novel sheds some light on his possible thoughts and reasons for his actions.  Grange presents a Brandon with a gentle, caring spirit, which I think we see in Austen’s novel but not to this extent.

Robbed of happiness in love at a young age, Brandon thinks he is destined to be alone until his path crosses with that of Marianne Dashwood.  Brandon continues to try to right the wrongs of the past and make up for things he think went wrong because of his decisions (or indecision).

While I don’t think Grange’s novel possesses the depth of Austen’s novels, I think Grange does pay good homage to the characters and the spirit of Austen’s novels.  I think this novel series of heroes’ diaries is a fun way to revisit some favorite Austen characters.  I have also read Captain Wentworth’s Diary and Mr. Knightley’s Diary from Grange’s diary series and I liked Colonel Brandon’s Diary the best of the three.  If you’re a fellow Austenite, you may want to give this series a try.

Historical Fiction Review – Ross Poldark

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall (1783-1787) by Winston Graham

 

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

I am a huge fan of almost anything shown on Masterpiece Classic.  I get a lot of my reading suggestions through these television programs.  This year a new version of Poldark was added to the Masterpiece schedule and it was a huge success.  When I learned more and discovered it was based on a book series, I had to do some research.  Much to my joy, there are twelve books in the Poldark Saga!

In the first installment, Ross Poldark is just returning from fighting for the British in the Revolutionary War.  He is battered and tired and ready to settle back into a life in England.  Ross is looking forward to being reunited with his love Elizabeth but his return is not the happy one he envisioned.  Elizabeth is no longer his love, his father has passed away, and his homestead is in shambles.  Thus begins the battle to bring order and purpose back to his life under unexpected and dismal circumstances.  Ross must deal with family drama and ridicule from many in the district.  He doesn’t live up to the expectations many people have for him and is forced to forge his own path without their stamp of approval or assistance.  Graham gives Ross a rich voice with dialogue that is witty and direct, a style that was often avoided in those times because of tradition and social graces.

Ross has definite flaws and I found myself occasionally getting frustrated with him but he is also very mindful and, at a time when others are warped and controlled by greed, he remains a step above.  I absolutely love his cousin Verity and hope she is a prominent character in the future novels. Set in Cornwall, the landscape and descriptions of the mines and mining practices of the time were very interesting and not belabored (I’m thinking of the utterly painful pages and pages of descriptions of Russian farming practices in Anna Karenina).  I really enjoyed this first novel in the series and I look forward to learning more about the future of the Poldark family.  5 stars for Ross Poldark!