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Reading for Writers: Historical Fiction

Published on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 by

Hedda’s Hot Picks

Reading for Writers

This week I will be talking about historical fiction. Now as with many genres it seems there are many subsections such as historical romance, historical fantasy, or historical mystery. I won’t get into the definitions of historical fiction genres here but I will instead talk about good books to read!

One of the top books in historical fiction recently is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009), a Man Booker Prize winner. Mantel tells the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. Find an excellent in-depth review from Martin Rubin at the Wall Street Journal here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703746604574461110318457866.html

remarkablecreaturesTracy Chevalier’s newest book, Remarkable Creatures (2010) is going on my TBR list. Check out the description as well as a podcast interview and an excerpt from NPR, at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122128042. Chevalier who is known for her bestseller Girl With a Pearl Earring, says that she is surprised when her readers take the story as truth. Well, yes, when the historical fiction is well written and accurately portrays the time period, it makes us believe it is true. This newest tale is the story of Mary Anning, a real person, who during the early 1800s discovered some of the first dinosaur fossils.

Alice I Have Been (2010) by Melanie Benjamin sounds like an intriguing book. This is the story of young Alice Liddell who becomes friends with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. Of course we find that this friendship leads to the famous book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There is much more to the story however as Alice has a romance with Queen Victoria’s son and later marries a wealthy Reginald Hargreaves. Alice is troubled throughout with trying to escape from her past.

Another recommendation in newly published books is The Book of Fires: A Novel (2010) by Jane Borodale. A pregnant 17 year old in 1752 named Agnes escapes to London where she becomes the apprentice of a man who creates fireworks. Got your attention already? This book has been compared to Clare Clark’s The Nature of Monsters and Tracy Chevalier’s The Girl With a Pearl Earring. Sounds like it will be a winner!!

Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome (2010) by Robert Harris is a sequel to his Imperium. There will be another book yet to make this a trilogy. Harris writes with lots of action and suspense in a story set in the Roman times bringing to life the time period through showing more than telling. Read a more extensive review at NY Times.com: www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/books/review/Bruni-t.html

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (2010), is gathering steam among reviewers and bloggers. This book is getting lots of reviewer support from Kathryn Stockett of recent fame with her book The Help.The story takes place in 1940 and focuses on three women whose lives intersect due to events taking place just before America enters World War II. It is described as having many parallels to our lives today. It will be going on my TBR pile for sure. A woman’s point of view in a rich historical time period is my number one kind of read.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (2009) is her first novel since The Poisonwood Bible. She covers three decades in the life of Harrison Shepherd a writer of romantic adventure novels. The story moves from his teenage years in the 1920s to when he becomes a successful writer in the 1950s. Shepherd becomes involved with Diego Rivera, his artist wife Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky and the Russian Revolution. Later the story returns to the United States and portrays life in the U.S. through the Depression to World War II. The story exposes both the benefits and the costs of becoming a famous writer as well as a chance to explore the themes of workers’ rights, sexual equality and artistic freedom.

Heresy by S.J. Parris (2010) is another historical thriller about a plot to kill Queen Elizabeth I. This is described as having a fast-paced plot with a vivid historical atmosphere.

The Newest Releases

Diana Gabaldon who is popular with many readers, has book 18 in the Outlander series, An Echo in the Bone just released.

Maaza Mengiste, a new Ethiopian author brings us Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, which tells about survival during the Ethiopian revolution of 1974.

Anchee Min with  Pearl of China, (to be released in March) will be telling a story based on the life of Pearl S. Buck. I am going to be excited to read this as I think Pearl Buck was the first author who intrigued me to read all of her works and this was when I was 12. I also love Anchee Min.

Ariana Franklin’s A Murderous Procession, coming out in April, will be the 4th in the Mistress of the Art of Death series. I have to get going on those first three on my TBR pile!!

Alison Weir has The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (2010) getting rave reviews and also has Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of  Aquitaine set to come out in July.

Can’t forget to mention more great authors of the tales of the royals who have recent bestsellers such as Philippa Gregory, Michelle Moran, Jean Plaidy and Carolly Erickson.

Historical Fiction Sites of Interest:

Historical Novel Society


Historical Fiction Network


Historical Fiction- Masters of the Past


London Historical Fiction Book Group


Top Ten History Blogs


YA Historical Fiction


Reading the Past


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