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  • Miwa Messer 4:30 pm on 2017/09/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , historical fiction,   

    Authors Devin Murphy and Kate Quinn Discuss Research, Family History, and Murphy’s B&N Discover Pick The Boat Runner 

    “What was Jacob’s father thinking?” That was the first thing the booksellers who read for our Discover Great New Writers program wanted to know as they read Devin Murphy’s The Boat Runner, an assured, ambitious, harrowing debut about personal redemption and the power of love set during World War II. Like All the Light We Cannot SeeThe Nightingale, or The Book Thief, The Boat Runner, a Fall 2017 Discover pick, immerses the reader in the experience of war, in this case from the point of view of a teenager coming of age. Jacob, a privileged fourteen-year-old, enjoys a quiet life with family and friends, in a small Dutch town where much of the community’s life is centered on his father’s factory. As the book opens, no one is thinking of war, including the boy’s father, who naively sends Jacob and his brother to a Hitler Youth Camp in an effort to secure German business for his factory. After war breaks out, The Boat Runner follows Jacob over the course of four years, through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep into the secret missions of the German navy, where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life—and his life’s mission—forever.

    Recently Murphy spoke about his debut with Kate Quinn, whose latest novel, The Alice Network, is a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Summer Reading Pick and a USA Today bestseller, and brings together the story of a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and that of an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947 in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption. Here is their conversation.

    Kate Quinn: First of all, congratulations on your release! The Boat Runner is a terrific read.

    Devin Murphy: Thank you, Kate. I loved The Alice Network, so it’s an honor to talk to you.

    KQ: There are so many books about both World War I and II published today. My novel The Alice Network follows a secret network of women spies working in France during World War I; I was drawn to that story because it hadn’t been told before. The Boat Runner follows Jacob Koopman, a young Dutch boy who is fourteen years old on the eve of World War II—what drew you to tell that story?

    DM: I loved reading your Author’s Note about discovering the story of the Queen of Spies and how that launched you into your novel. My experience started with a set of pictures of boys at a Hitler Youth camp. These boys were exuberantly jumping over bomb fires to show their bravery, playing tug-of-war with gas masks on, and joyfully saluting the Führer. It was the gleeful look on their faces that horrified me. They were having fun. They believed in what they were told. This made me start to think about how brilliantly manipulative these camps were at indoctrinating a whole generation of boys into becoming Blitzkrieg soldiers. Then I found a picture of the German navy’s secret mission to create miniature, one-person submarines. The idea of being alone in the middle of the ocean in a vessel with orders to inflict such great violence made me zoom in on what it would be like to be one of those boys. At that moment, my novel burst to life for me.

    KQ: I understand you have a family connection to this history—your mother was born in occupied Holland in 1942, and your grandfather was an electrical engineer at Phillips who was forced into hiding to avoid conscription by the Germans. Not too dissimilar from Jacob’s father in The Boat Runner, who owns a lightbulb factory in a small village in Holland just across from the mouth of the Ems River in Germany. How did your own family history end up influencing the novel?

    DM: The story of my grandfather in hiding always fascinated me. There were rumors that he’d sought refuge in a monastery, gone to England, or been captured, but no one ever knew for sure. This meant my Oma, while caring for my mother and her three sisters during wartime, had to go out looking for her husband. Imagining the fear and uncertainty they all must have faced each day led me into their story, and I began to write about the deep complexities of life under occupation.

    KQ: What sort of research did you do when writing The Boat Runner?

    DM: I went to large museums and dozens of small veterans’ collections to feel weaponry and clothing, studied in every library within two days’ drive of me, and read philosophy, fairy tales, music, and mythology. I’ve always liked history, but during the writing of this novel for the first time I learned how to do research as a fiction writer. I stopped looking for facts and details to dress up a description, and instead sought out scenes and events that I could hold up and ask, Does this event reveal what it was like to be alive at this moment for my character?

    KQ: I see that you worked at sea for three years, which brought you to more than fifty countries across all seven continents! That’s an amazing background to bring to the world of novel writing. What was your job like? How did that experience influence the writing of The Boat Runner?

    DM: When I was nineteen I took a job as a deckhand on a small tourist boat in Alaska for a summer. I tied lines, painted the decks, and kept night watch. I’d never been at sea before, but loved it right away and realized that working on ships would let me see the world. I worked as a bartender, deckhand, purser, waiter, steward, assistant hotel manager, and cruise director, and eventually worked my way up to being an expedition leader on small vessels that traveled to the most exotic places on earth. Being so far from home for years left me feeling isolated from friends and family. I longed for some form of connection and found it by delving into my family’s history. Now I see that in many ways those years were a search for stories to write.

    KQ: And finally, for readers who turn the last page of The Boat Runner and need something just as good to read, what are your favorite World War II novels?

    DM: Years ago, my wife and I both read, and loved, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. She offhandedly said I could write something like that if I did some research. I took her words as a bit of a challenge, so that book has a special place for me. I also loved City of Thieves, by David Benioff, and classics like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

    The Boat Runner and The Alice Network are available now.

    The post Authors Devin Murphy and Kate Quinn Discuss Research, Family History, and Murphy’s B&N Discover Pick The Boat Runner appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Tara Sonin 4:01 pm on 2017/07/12 Permalink
    Tags: fever 1793, , historical fiction, , , pope joan, speculative fiction, the english patient, the red queen   

    50 Best Works of Historical Fiction 

    Here’s your all-access pass into the ultimate historical fiction guide: revisionist history, speculative history, and good old-fashioned historical fiction can all be found here, spanning Biblical Ages through to the early new Millennium.

    All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
    A young blind girl flees Paris carrying a precious jewel while an orphan joins the Hitler Youth; when their paths collide, the course of history changes forever.

    The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
    Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, are bound together by love and war when Vianne’s husband is sent off to fight, and they must contend with a Nazi soldier quartering inside their home. Isabelle finds herself drawn to the soldier despite the brutality that surrounds them, and over the years that follow, must reconcile herself to the choices she made during the war. (Isabelle is based on a real woman, Andree de Jongh, who helped the Allies escape from Nazi-occupied territory.)

    Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
    If you could prevent one of the greatest massacres of human history, would you? This is the question Claire asks herself when she finds herself thrown back n time from the days following World War II back to the 1700’s in Scotland, just before the days of the Jacobite Rebellion…which failed, and caused the desiccation of the Highland culture. Claire survived one war, a war she could not change…and when she falls for Jamie Fraser, she realizes she will do anything—even risk the present, and the man she left behind—to change it.

    The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory
    The War of the Roses takes center stage in the story of Elizabeth of York, who marries Edward of Lancaster, ending a familial battle…but starting another, as the Tudors conspire to remove her husband from the throne. A sweeping romance with well-researched, if slightly embellished, history.

    The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick
    A chilling question is answered in this speculative novel about what would have happened if Hitler and the Japanese had won World War II. One girl is caught at the center of the conflict when she sees a mysterious tape that shows an alternate reality….in which they lost, and then seeks to make that version of history a reality.

    Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
    If you love examining history from every possible angle, you will love this epic exploring the years of Henry VIII’s reign from the perspective of one of his most trusted advisors, Thomas Cromwell. That is, until he became an enemy.

    The Red Queen, by Philippa Gregory
    The White Queen’s enemy has her story told in this Philippa Gregory novel; Margaret Beaufort has given her life to ensuring that her son, Henry Tudor, will sit on the English throne.

    The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
    A revisionist history of one of the greatest stories ever told—The Bible itself. The story of Dinah, Jacob’s abandoned daughter, is finally told in this devastating and romantic tale.

    Ahab’s Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund
    She is mentioned only once in Moby Dick, but in this revisionist novel, Ahab’s Wife, Una, has an entire novel devoted to her upbringing and marriage to Ahab. From escaping a tumultuous religious upbringing, the loves of her childhood and adolescence, to her fascination with—and devastation suffered upon— the sea, Una’s adventure rivals the very captain to whom her story is titled.

    The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
    History reinvents itself completely in this by now classic novel of adventure as Robert Langdon finds himself on a quest to solve a murder even more captivating than Mona Lisa’s smile. Utilizing art, biblical lore, and the famous men and women of history, this novel has entranced readers by unraveling a mystery that, if you look close enough, could be more truth than fiction.

    The Accidental Empress, by Allison Pataki
    One of my favorite historical figures takes center stage in The Accidental Empress; young Elisabeth ‘Sisi’, the Duchess of Bavaria, marries Franz Joseph, Emperor of the Hapsburg Empire…who was supposed to be her sister’s husband. Finding herself in love but vastly unprepared for the costs of ruling, Sisi must constantly weigh her loyalties to herself, her family, and the man she loves.

    And I Darken, by Kiersten White
    We’ve all hear the myths of Vlad the Impaler…but what if Vlad were a woman? This historical YA novel takes place during the Ottoman Empire, where Lada Dragwyla is a vicious, brutal princess living in enemy territory. Her only loyalty is to her brother, Radu, but events transpire that cause their relationship to fracture…namely, that they both love the heir to the Empire they are held captive in.

    Legacy of Kings, by Eleanor Herman
    Another “what if?” is answered in this YA novel by New York Times bestselling historian Eleanor Herman…what if we knew what Alexander the Great was like as a teenager…and furthermore, what if he had magical powers? (The villain…and villainess…in this series are ones to take the books!)

    Traitor Angels, by Anne Blankman
    Paradise Lost is a famous part of history—but what if it was almost lost completely, and its author, John Milton, executed? Anne Blankman’s latest YA novel has Milton’s daughter, Elizabeth, rewrite history as we know it by seeking to save her father from execution by following the clues hidden in his manuscripts.

    Alex and Eliza, by Melissa De la Cruz
    Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have been entranced by the love story of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schyler (as told in the musical, of course!), so you won’t be able to turn down another opportunity to travel back in time to when these young patriots fell in love amidst the backdrop of the Revolutionary War…We think this New York Times bestselling novel will definitely keep you satisfied.

    Longbourn, by Jo Baker
    A retelling of fictional history takes place in Jo Baker’s novel about Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the orphaned housemaid, Sarah. Jane Austen’s novels were known for portraying (and sometimes mocking) the societal behavior of the varying classes, but this novel takes it a step further, showing the loves and losses of the low working class in Regency England.

    Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
    Inspired by The Odyssey, this civil war novel tells of the journey made by a wounded confederate deserter as he journeys towards home and the love of his life, only to be confronted by obstacles, other women, and tragedy on his quest.

    Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel
    The ominously titled sequel to Wolf Hall shows another perspective to the fall of the infamous Anne Boleyn. Told from the perspective of the king’s most trusted advisor, Thomas Cromwell, it spans the course of The Beleaguered Queen’s trial and execution while Cromwell advocates for his own religious doctrine.

    Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
    If there’s one historical novel to read this summer, it’s George Saunders’ acclaimed (and 166 actor audiobook narrated!) Lincoln in the Bardo; a retelling of one of Lincoln’s less told moments in history. Inspired by the true story of Lincoln’s son’s death, this sweeping epic gives voice to one of America’s foremost figures on grief, love, and the meaning of life.

    Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson
    Laurie Halse Anderson’s historical novel about the 1793 fever epidemic that killed over five thousand people in PA is a peek inside one of history’s forgotten moments. Mattie cook, a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and grandfather, does her best to flee the city with the latter in tow.

    Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
    If only we could know the reason behind Mona Lisa’s Smile, or what Van Gogh thought as he painted The Starry Night—in this novel, we meet the subject of the famous and mysterious painting by enigma Johannes Vermeer. Griet is sixteen years old in the 1600s when she is hired by the painter—with whom her relationship becomes intimate and complex when he takes her on as a model.

    The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje
    An historical novel written about an injured man in Italy during World War II, and the impact he had on those around him. The man cannot remember who he was or how he became so badly burned. Hanna, a Canadian nurse, is caring for him, tries to get him to recall his past…and the truth about what they learn changes them forever.

    Pope Joan, by Donna Woolfolk Cross
    Another novel in which a hidden truth about history is revealed and explored—based on the true story of the woman who concealed herself as a man and rose so high that she became Pope. The dark ages are meticulously and dramatically brought to life, as is the hidden story of a woman who assumes her brother’s identity and ascends to the ultimate throne.

    March, by Geraldine Brooks
    Where was Mr. March, the father of the famous Little Women? That’s what Geraldine Brooks’ novel explores, revealing that Mr. March was on the battlefield of the civil war in 1862, but kept secrets from his family that never made into the letters he sent home to them.

    The Tutor, by Andrea Chapin
    An enigmatic and often explored figure, William Shakespeare gets another historical treatment, this time as the tutor of young widow abandoned by her only family when he is accused of murder. In this fictional retelling of Shakespeare’s time, only one woman learns the truth behind the words of a genius—and the cost of loving him.

    The Tea Rose, by Jennifer Donnelly
    It is the turn of the century in London, and Fiona Finnegan loves Joe Bristow. But in Jennifer Donnelly’s achingly beautiful historical epic, happiness is short lived, and Fiona winds up fleeing the city for her life. Ending up in the rough and tumble streets of New York City, Fiona finds her way from the bottom of the heap to the peak of the tea industry, where the past has been set to steep and soon comes back to burn her.

    The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
    The myths of King Arthur’s Camelot were told and retold for centuries before this novel was written, finally giving voice to the women in the story, including ingrained, the king’s mother, Viviana, the Lady of the Lake, Guinevere, his queen, and Igraine, the villain.

    11/22/63, by Stephen King
    Revisionist history as only Stephen King can write it: in which a time traveler attempts to prevent the assassination of JFK.

    The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman
    The mother of impressionist painter Camille Pissarro finally has her story told—after a lifetime of bending to the will of others, including a protective mother, a father who married her off to save his own skin, and a husband she does not love, the chance at a love affair awakens something in her, and will ultimately change history

    Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent
    Based on a true story, a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829 awaits execution—but the story people have heard is not the one she knows in her heart to be true.

    Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks
    A beautiful story of friendship between to people of foreign cultures: Bethia, a young puritan in the 1600s, meets Caleb, he son of a Native American chieftain…who could go on to become Harvard’s first native graduate, but not before risking it all, including his life, for Bethia.

    Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
    The Handmaid’s Tale may be all the rage now, but there are more Margaret Atwood books to love! In Alias Grace the true story of Grace Marks, a young woman accused of murdering her employer, housekeeper, and mistress in 1843 comes to life. Except Grace claims no memory of the murders, and when a bourgeoning mental health professional claims he can help her find the truth, no one is prepared for the cost.

    The March, by E.L. Doctorow
    Ragtime author E.L. Doctorow tells the true story of general Sherman’s march of union soldiers during the civil war in this sweeping epic of glory and gore.

    The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, by Enid Shomer
    History is reimagined as Florence Nightingale, famed war nurse, and Gustavo Flaubert, renowned author, traveled down the Nile river at he same time…before either of them had become what history wrote for them. Based on the true story of their individual journeys, this novel has them meet, and wonders at the possibility of what would have come of a friendship between the two.

    The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters
    Sarah Waters’ historical novel about four Londoners moves backwards starting in 1947, and ending in 1941, as we see how their their raucous, tumultuous lives intersect—and then change—in the wake of a massive historical event.

    Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes
    Victorian era Britain comes to life as infamous writer sir Arthur Conan Doyle teams up with George, unknown country lawyer, to solve a heinous crime: that George had been imprisoned and treated cruelly by society for the color of his skin.

    Prisoner of Night and Fog, by Anne Blankman
    Another historical epic retold by Anne Blankman, this time by the adopted niece of Adolf Hitler in 1930’s Germany. When she learns that her father did not die, but was murdered—and that uncle “Dolf” could have been behind it, Gretchen teams up with a Jewish reporter to find the truth.

    Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin
    Another revisionist history novel in which the Germans and Japanese won world war Il- this time in YA form! Yael, a former death camp prisoner, is part of the resistance to defeat hurler, and to do she has one task: compete in the motorcycle race established by the axis and get an audience with Hitler’s- her one chance to kill him. But secrets and special abilities abound in this world, and nothing is what it seems.

    My Lady Jane, by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows
    This historical novel written by three YA authors takes the tragic story of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for less than a month before her execution, and gives it a comedic—and magical—twist.

    Da Vinci’s Tiger, by L. M. Elliott
    Ginevra de’ Benci is one of history’s forgotten figures, and yet her form has been immortalized by painter Leonardo da Vinci. Her story follows her arranged marriage, introduction to Venetian court, and her complicated relationship with the painter.

    Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
    This classic children’s novel won the coveted Newbery award for telling the story of two girls of different faiths during World War I who form an unbreakable bond and risk everything to save one another from the costs of war.

    The Devil’s Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen
    Another classic about a girl who travels back in time to learn about what happened during the Holocaust and better appreciate her own fortune in the present.

    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
    An alternative version of history in which magic once existed and returns in the 19th century with Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell. As the two men engage in magical practice and interfere in the Napoleonic Wars, the costs of magic rise and rise, until they become too high.

    Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
    A steampunk historical novel about the eve of World War I where the German Clankers and English Darwinists fight against each other with one major season on between them: the Leviathan whale ship. When two fighters on opposite side of the war meet and find themselves aboard the Leviathan, they change the course of the world.

    Voyage, by Stephen Baxter
    What if JFK survived his assassination attempt…and what if the United States traveled to mars? This novel tracks the space successes and failures of the US as a result of this changed history, from the perspective of the scientists and astronauts at the center of the space race.

    The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson
    This novel is another revisionist history, imagining what would have happened if the epidemic of Black Death in the Middle Ages had not killed 3% of the English population…but 99% of it. An epic spanning centuries, this novel explores generations of people moving to Europe to repopulate it, the revised discovery of the Americas and the Native American resistance to colonization…but there’s a twist: he stories are connected by a group of people, all reincarnated over the years.

    Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
    This famous sci-fi novel imagines what would happen if we lived in a dystopian version of the 1990’s, in which organs are harvested to keep certain classes of people alive longer. Three friends form everlasting bonds, but are subsequently severed from each other as the reality of their circumstances set in.

    The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
    There isn’t a dull moment in this ambitious story, which chronicles the building of a cathedral in a town in England in the 12th century (during a period known as The Anarchy).

    Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, by Sena Jeter Naslund
    One of history’s most infamous, polarizing, and captivating figures: Marie Antoinette certainly lived a life of abundance. But was it always a happy one? Beautifully written, the story of a girl who always had hope even when she lost everything- and caused a revolution that cost her her own life.

    When Christ and His Saints Slept, by Sharon Kay Penman
    The history of England’s throne is bloody and full of conquests and disputes. This envisioning of the medieval era just before the great Plantagenet scions finds Margaret, countess of Anjou and the rightful heir to the throne, suddenly without her crown as her male cousin usurps her title. The two decades that followed paved the way for even more bloodshed as they grappled for power while their country suffered.

    The post 50 Best Works of Historical Fiction appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Tara Sonin 6:45 pm on 2017/01/11 Permalink
    Tags: , binge-watch, historical fiction, ,   

    Fall in Love with PBS’s Victoria (and 6 More Historical Dramas to Binge!) 

    If, like myself, you’re a sucker for historical dramas, you’ve been chomping at the bit for the next big hit—especially now that Downton Abbey has made its final bow. (RIP, but at least Lady Edith got her happy ending, am I right?) That means the moment you heard about PBS’s miniseries Victoria–based on the book by Daisy Goodwin and starring Dr. Who’s Jenna Coleman!—you, also like me, have been waiting with bated breath caught in the tight confines of a corset.

    Well, call me your majesty, because I have the scoop on Victoria for you! PBS sent me a screener, I devoured it like a box of chocolates, and it is everything you could want in an historical drama and then some. Here are six period dramas you can watch and, of course, my thoughts on Victoria herself, which premieres on PBS January 15.

    I confess, I knew next to nothing about Queen Victoria before starting this series. But in the first episode, we learn a lot: Alexandrina Victoria, as she is still named, is still a teen, but has known since she was very young that she would become queen when the king, her aging uncle, dies. When we first meet Victoria, she finds out that day has come, and in Coleman’s hands, her transition from young girl into monarch with the burden of the world on her shoulders is subtle and nuanced. She resents the influence others try to have on her, rejecting her mother and Sir John Conroy, who wish to control her, and forming a perhaps inappropriate, but super fun to watch, attachment to her prime minister instead. One moment Victoria is composed and eloquent, and the next…she gets too drunk at a coronation ball and flirts with her most trusted advisor, Lord M. The tension between them is almost instant, and makes it immediately that Victoria’s personal happiness will often be at war with her monarchical duties. Full of lush ball gowns, gilded palaces, and some great upstairs-downstairs drama, this miniseries is your first 2017 obsession. I can’t wait to see what Victoria will do next.

    I JUST discovered this historical drama based on a series of novels about a British soldier named Ross Poldark who comes back to his small seaside town of Cornwall after fighting on the losing side of the Revolutionary War to find many things have changed. His father has died, leaving his mine and inheritance in shambles. And even worse, the woman he loves—the woman who promised to wait for him—is engaged to his cousin. Ross decides to spurn the gentry class that has betrayed him and open one of the barren mines, giving hope to the poor in Cornwall…and along the way, he meets a pauper girl, Demelza, and finds a second chance at love. Poldark is a gasp- and swoonworthy drama about legacy, class, love, and the catastrophe (and joy) that can happen when they all collide. (Also, Ross Poldark is gorgeous. You’re welcome.)

    The White Queen
    Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, this historical drama begins in the midst of the War of the Roses between the Lancasters and and the Yorks—and features three women caught in the middle of the bloodshed, beauty, and love. Elizabeth Woodville’s husband fought and died for King Henry, but when he is defeated, she marries King Edward as part of a deliberate (and possibly magical) plot to gain power. Margaret Beaufort’s son was supposed to succeed Henry on the throne, but with him gone, she plots in the darkness to take back her power. And Anne Neville, daughter of the King’s most trusted advisor-turned betrayer, becomes first a pawn in her father’s game to take the throne, and then a villain herself. Soapy, sexy, and full of drama!

    How could I not put Outlander on this list? When Clare Fraser inadvertently travels back in time from 1945 to the 1770s, leaving her husband behind, she’s soon forced into matrimony (for her own protection) with Highland warrior Jamie Fraser, and is torn between the world and man she’s growing to love and the magic and duty that pulls her back toward her old life. The third season of the TV adaptation arrives in spring, so make sure you binge seasons one and two before Jamie Fraser’s perfect face graces our TV sets again.

    Forsyte Saga
    This is one of my favorite lesser-known historical dramas, which opens in 1874 and chronicles a family’s downfall when issues of class, love, and most importantly, vengeance, come to a head. Damien Lewis plays Soames Forsyte, who becomes obsessed with Irene Heron, despite her lower class. After a loveless, abusive marriage, betrayals, and decades of separation, he cannot let her go. Forbidden love runs rampant in this series, and you will love every second of hating the villainous Soames.

    Wolf Hall
    We’ve all heard of The Tudors, of course, but Wolf Hall, based on the book by Hilary Mantel, tells the story of King Henry’s divorce from Katherine and resulting marriage to Anne Boleyn from a different perspective: that of his adviser, Thomas Cromwell. Thomas is an historical antihero of a different sort—he did not grow up in the gilded halls of Buckingham Palace. He’s the son of a poor man, who rose up in the esteem of the Cardinal…and who, when the Cardinal fell from grace, rose from the ashes to take his place as King Henry VIII’s most trusted adviser. Full of class tension with five-star acting from Damian Lewis as the King and Claire Foy (who now stars as Queen Elizabeth on Netflix’s The Crown!) as Queen Anne. Rich and beautifully created, with drama in spades.

    Hollow Crown
    If you’re into British history, you’ll love this adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays starring some of Britain’s best actors, including Tom Hiddleston, Ben Whishaw, and Jeremy Irons (with cameos by Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery and Hugh Bonneville, as well as Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch!). The Hollow Crown follows four of England’s most infamous monarchs as they try to keep power out of the hands of their enemies. This series is great if you’re into battle scenes and performances so perfect you won’t mind that romance takes a backseat.

    The post Fall in Love with PBS’s Victoria (and 6 More Historical Dramas to Binge!) appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Sarah Skilton 5:30 pm on 2016/10/12 Permalink
    Tags: ann parker, historical fiction, , , wild wild west   

    Ann Parker’s Silver Lies Series Is The Best Historical Fiction You Haven’t Read Yet 

    Ann Parker’s What Gold Buys came out last month, the fifth book in her captivating Silver Lies mystery series set in the high-altitude Old West town of Leadville, Colorado, in the early 1880s. If you haven’t heard of Ms. Parker or her work, now’s the time to ante up and go all in. Leadville isn’t exactly lawless, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so; the authorities are easily led astray and it’s the most dangerous place this side of Deadwood. Leadville’s silver mines attract all sorts of unsavory prospectors and business folk, and the red-light district is there to feed their after-dark needs. Smack in the middle of this moral gray area sits the Silver Queen Saloon, bridging the gap between respectable and not-so-much. Why not set a spell and learn why this series should become your next addiction?

    Despite the era, the books have a feminist bent. The books are centered on smart, tough-as-nails Inez Stannert, a grifter-turned-saloon owner who runs a semi-legal card game in the saloon’s upper sanctum. Having been cut off from her wealthy family back east after eloping with her shady husband, Mark, Inez now finds herself wondering if her family was right about him. Each book contains a different murder mystery, backlit by the suspicious disappearance of Inez’s husband. Though she has no intention of remarrying (and thus losing her independence), she’s currently being romanced by an attractive, possibly dangerous newcomer, Reverend Sands, who may have come to town under false pretenses.

    A diverse ensemble cast fills out the books. Inez’s saloon co-owner Abe Jackson, a black man torn between loyalty to Mark and loyalty to Inez; the successful and mischievous brothel madam, Frisco Flo, and her prostitutes; surveyors looking to strike it rich; and real-life outlaws and political figures such as Bat Masterson and general Ulysses S. Grant guarantee there’s never a dull moment.

    Parker has clearly done her research. The author’s ancestors apparently lived in Leadville, and include a blacksmith and a gandy dancer, so reading the books is a fully immersive experience and a true escape from the modern world. You’ll practically be able to taste the homemade biscuits offered up by Mrs. O’Malley at the Silver Queen, smell the muck and filth from the State Street boardwalk, and feel the stiff fabric of the “Sunday best” polonaise, petticoats, and dresses worn by the women of the time.

    Truths about the era are nuts, er, I mean fascinating. PTSD from the Civil War plagues the men who lived through it. Railroad saboteurs run rampant. Mysterious fires, deadly duels, impersonations, fakery, quackery, and con artistry abound. Horrifyingly, bacteria is considered a theoretical concept at best, so doctors reuse bandages and medical equipment without washing them first, and Cherry Pectoral containing morphine and alcohol is given to infants. You’ll be shocked by several tidbits of American history, delivered in organic, tantalizing doses alongside the murders and mayhem.

    The whodunits are clever and plausible. In Silver Lies, the series’ opener, Inez is compelled to find out the truth about local assayer Joe Rose’s death, seeing as his body was left right outside her place of business. Its sequel, Iron Ties, concerns the near-murder of Inez’s friend Susan, a local photographer. Leaden Skies tackles politics, prostitution, fire insurance, and women’s suffrage. Mercury’s Rise finds Inez investigating the possibly bogus Miracle Waters of Manitou. What Gold Buys concerns the death of a soothsayer. Taut and perfectly paced mysteries are one of the series’ biggest strengths.

    The post Ann Parker’s Silver Lies Series Is The Best Historical Fiction You Haven’t Read Yet appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Ester Bloom 6:40 pm on 2016/09/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , historical fiction,   

    Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder Will Make You Believe 

    As award-winning author Emma Donoghue made clear in her breakthrough novel Roomshe is a master of tight spaces: both the physically cramped confines of a single small area in which a woman and her young child are held prisoner, and the inside of a character’s mind. With her latest novel, The Wonder, set mostly in a small cottage in a rural, poverty-stricken town in 1800s Ireland, Donoghue revisits some of the literal and psychological terrain she has explored in earlier works, with fresh, surprising results.

    Room was noteworthy in part because it so ably captured a child’s point of view without being precious or twee, and, even once its premise was made clear, without piling on salacious detail for the sake of shocking readers. But the book became a hit because, at a time when much of realist literature suffered from an almost fatal self-seriousness, it refused to be cynical, slow-moving, or depressing: Donoghue rewarded readers’ investment in her characters with a thrilling escape attempt and a happy, though still complex and believable, ending.

    Here she takes up that pattern again. Donoghue’s philosophy seems to be that a story does not need to be dour to be important, and that change is always possible. Even within the most desperate situation, if there’s life, there’s hope.

    When The Wonder beginsthat there is life, or rather that it will continue, is by no means certain. English nurse Lib Wright, who trained and served under Florence Nightingale herself, has been called to examine and oversee an Irish girl named Anna O’Donnell, whose family says she has been existing without food. To an effusive local doctor and other residents of her village, who have so recently survived famines and plagues, she is perhaps a saint and certainly an inspiration. To the skeptical Lib, however, Anna’s a pious faker whose deception needs to be uncovered.

    At first, Donoghue deploys the contrasts with a heavy hand. Lib is experienced, while the countryside is provincial. Lib is fixedly secular, the countryside oppressively religious. Lib is pointed forward toward progress and science, the countryside pointed backward toward tradition and superstition. Each entity is as hostile to the other as a cat in an alley. A reader familiar with Diana Gabaldon may half expect the townspeople to start muttering curses at the “Sassenach” in their midst.

    Yet Anna herself, despite being the golden child of her neighborhood—and, as her fame spreads, of Ireland as a whole—is not a distillation of her community’s values. She is her own person, a kindhearted and quick-witted individual who enjoys riddles and the natural world, and, it transpires, Lib’s company. She is artless, and her artlessness disarms even her battle-hardened nurse.

    Anna, Lib realizes, is no Abigail Williams, a young woman intent on destruction because she has nothing to lose, using religious fervor as her tool because she has access to no other. In fact, Anna is neither Lib’s enemy nor the proper target of her investigative powers. Someone else is. But who?

    As Lib delves deeper into the mystery of how and why Anna seems to be existing without food, Anna’s health begins to fail, and Lib realizes she is racing against time as well as a power structure that may not care if one girl dies, so long as certain myths and assumptions are maintained. Lib gets an unlikely assist from a good-natured and intelligent reporter up from Dublin, who represents a more modern Ireland; he helps infuse the last quarter of the book with sexual tension as well as some real momentum.

    Superficially, The Wonder could be read as anti-Catholic, or even perhaps anti-religion in general. Lib arrives impatient with repetitive Latin ritual and with the ineffectual village priest, as well as the nun helping her watch Anna. She only becomes more impatient as Anna declines and people of faith don’t act. But Lib is not always as “right” as her name would suggest: she has a lot to learn, from her charge and about life itself. And whether or not Anna’s interpretation of scripture is misguided, it is earnest, even inspiring.

    Anna’s religiosity also seems, at least in part, to echo the philosophy of the author. Donoghue is well-acquainted with the cruelty of man and the unfairness of fate, but in her wise, humane, and lovely books, as in traditional Catholic belief, the one unforgivable sin is despair.

    The Wonder is on sale September 20, and available for pre-order now.

    The post Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder Will Make You Believe appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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