Category: Historical


Categories: Canadian, Historical, Lists

Top Fiction of 2012

Here is a selection from the Publisher's Weekly list
Best Books of 2012 Fiction.
For the full list, including reviews go to this link.

Andrew Miller

In his Costa Prize–winning novel, Miller has fun with the history of Les Innocents, a cemetery fouling the center of Paris. The book begins on the eve of the French Revolution as Jean-Baptiste Baratte, an ambitious engineer, is hired to get rid of the site casting a deathly pall over the city. "The place is to be made sweet again," says a minister, with the dead disposed of, down to the "last knucklebone."

Dear Life
Alice Munro
Munro depicts key moments without obscuring the reality of a life filled with countless other moments, told and untold. In her 13th story collection she again charts the shifts in norms after WWII. What's different is that Munro writes explicitly about her childhood. Read together, these stories speak to each other, accrete, and deepen.

The Coldest Night
Robert Olmstead
Olmstead's harrowing story of young Henry Childs's escape from love into war is poetic and brutal. "The men did not look human after war's subtraction: no eye, no ear, no nose, no face, no arm, no leg, no gut, no bowel, no bone, no spine, no muscle, no nerve, no breath, no heart, no brain, no faith." Olmstead powerfully evokes the hell of the Korean War on a man who thinks he has something to return to.

The Yellow Birds
Kevin Powers
(Little, Brown)
The war in Iraq through the eyes of a poet; the author an Iraqi veteran and a poet both, who's taken his experiences and his gifts to write a novel of friendship, loss, and the price of battle.

The Cove
Ron Rash
A mute stranger with a dangerous secret who's on his way to New York is rescued by the lonely "witch" of the haunted cove of the title in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina during WWI in this atmospheric gothic tale.

The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker
In this debut novel from a Columbia M.F.A.-graduate and former Simon & Schuster editor, the 11-year-old protagonist's blooming awareness of a boy is treated with as much respect as the end of the world. Walker has a surgeon's skill at ratcheting tension, parceling out in tiny portions the full impact of "the slowing" of the earth's rotation on the planet's unfortunate inhabitants. A triumph of vision and terrifying momentum.

See the entire list here.


New Fiction at RPL

Check out the New Fiction page
(click the Books, Movies, Music tab on the main Regina Public Library page. Then click on New Book Releases to see a selection of the newest books added to the collection.)

From the New Fiction selections:

In the Shadow of the Banyan
by Vaddey Ratner

Here's what the Booklist review had to say:

Ratner’s first novel recounts the harrowing experiences of Raami, the seven-year-old daughter of a prince, during the rise ofthe Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and her family’s capture and internment in work camps. What makes her novel especially remarkable is that it’s based on Ratner’s real experiences as a young girl of the Cambodian aristocracy under the Khmer Rouge. Her heartrending, mournful tale depicts the horrors ofthe killing fields and the senselessness ofthe violence there while still managing to capture small, beautiful moments. Raami is an imaginative girl, captivated by her father’s poetry, and it is through his words that she comes to understand the way stories become not only a vehicle for memory but also a source of power. By countering the stark reality of her experience with lyrical descriptions ofthe natural beauty ofthe country and its people, Ratner has crafted an elegiac tribute ofthe country she knew and loved. A note from and interview with Ratner further details her childhood in Cambodia and escape to the U.S.


Categories: Historical, What's New!

A Titanic Connection: New Fiction

The Dressmaker
by Kate Alcott

Here's what Booklist has to say:
Alcott’s debut brims with engrossing storytelling, marred by occasionally clunky writing. Tess Collins is an ambitious young woman who dreams of stepping out of her 1912 class restrictions and becoming more than a maid. She wants the world to know her talent as a dressmaker. Her fate is forever altered when she encounters the mercurial, imperious designer, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon and becomes that lady’s personal assistant on the ocean liner Titanic. The actual sinking of the great ship is treated briefly (which may disappoint some Titanic buffs). Tess is willing to do almost anything to realize her designing dreams, even if it means bowing to the increasingly irrational, grandiose whims of her over-privileged employer. As Tess’ personal dramas unfold, the ugly aftermath of the ocean tragedy and the roles passengers and crew members played are revealed by the disturbing official investigation, which Alcott takes almost verbatim from the transcripts of the U.S. Senate hearings. For fans of Sarah Jio, Susanna Kearsley, and immigrant tales.

* * *
Click here to see other fiction titles about the Titanic.

This list includes my favourite Titanic novel:
From Time to Time by Jack Finney

Summary: Simon Morley, whose logic-defying trip from the present day back to the New York City of the 1880s in Time and Again has enchanted readers for twenty-five years, embarks on another trip across the borders of time.
This time Reuben Prien at the secret government-sponsored Project wants Simon to visit New York in 1912. Simon's mission: to protect a man who is traveling across the Atlantic with vital documents that could avert World War I. So one fateful day in 1912, Simon finds himself aboard the world's most famous ship...the Titanic.

posted by Sharon


Categories: Canadian, Historical

Howard A. Norman: What is left the daughter

What is left the daughter by Howard A. Norman

Here's what Booklist had to say: /* Starred Review */ A victim of unrequited love, Wyatt Hillyer has lived a half-life. Now that his daughter, whom he does not know, is turning 21, he is determined to give her the only bequest he can, his story. And what a staggering tale of cruel coincidences it is. Norman continues his bewitching Canadian cycle of novels (The Bird Artist, The Museum Guard, The Haunting of L) shaped by mysterious confluences and devastating loss, unsought premonitions and messages from the dead. Like The Museum Guard, this haunting saga takes place in Nova Scotia during WWII.

Wyatt’s descent into sorrow begins with his parents’ scandalous deaths. Given shelter by his practical and wise Aunt Constance and gruff Uncle Donald, teenage Wyatt falls hopelessly in love with their book-struck adopted daughter, Tilda, who unnerves everyone by becoming a professional mourner and marrying a German exchange student while German U-boats prowl the coast. An operatic sequence of bloody tragedies ensues, leaving Wyatt soul-battered and penitential. Norman’s piquant insights into life’s wildness, human eccentricity, and love’s maddening persistence are matched by rhapsodic and profound descriptions of everything from perfectly baked scones to pelting rain and the devouring sea, while anguish is tempered with humor, thanks to rapid-fire banter and marvelously spiky characters.

* * *
Read-alikes suggested by NoveList:

The final solution
Chabon, Michael

Captain Corelli's mandolin
De Bernieres, Louis

The sealed letter
Donoghue, Emma


Patrick deWitt wins the Governor General's award for fiction for The Sisters Brothers

Go to the Canada Council for the Arts site for the full list of winners.

Patrick deWitt
The Sisters Brothers

Brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters are at the centre of this “great greedy heart” of a book. A rollicking tale of hired guns, faithful horses and alchemy. The ingenious prose of Patrick DeWitt conveys a dark and gentle touch.


Categories: Historical, What's New!

About Magicians

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

A fierce competition is underway, a contest between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in "a game," in which each must use their powers of illusion to best the other. Unbeknownst to them, this game is a duel to the death, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. NoveList

Here's what Booklist had to say:
/* Starred Review */ This big and — no, not bulky — compelling first novel ushers in a menacing tone with its first sentence: The circus arrives without warning. Why would a circus arrive so quietly in town, and why would anyone need warning about this particular one? The time span here is 30 years, from 1873 to 1903, and the settings range from America to Europe. To a famous magician is delivered a little girl who, as it turns out, is his child, and fortunately for his future, she is possessed of magical powers. As it also happens, this magician has an archrival, who, in the face of the first magician’s jackpot in the form of his little girl, seeks a young person for him to train to rival her. What the two magicians did not anticipate, as the years pass and the two young people, the girl and the boy whom the second magician found, are honed in their specialty for performance’s sake and to outplay the other one, is that the young persons, when of an age, would meet and, surprising or not to the reader, fall in love. How will their destiny play out now? With appeal for readers not particularly geared to fantasy but who plainly enjoy an unusual and well-drawn story, this one will make a good crossover suggestion.

* * *

Want more fiction about magicians?

Carter Beats the Devil
by Glen David Gold

In 1920, Charles Carter, known as Carter the Great, who became a master illustionist out of loneliness and desperation, creates the most outrageous stunt of all, involving President Harding--one that could cause his downfall. NoveList


Categories: Historical, What's New!

New Fiction at RPL

Check out the New Book Releases Page on the RPL website.

New Fiction for June includes:

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Here's what the Booklist review had to say:
* Starred Review */ Brooks, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her Civil War novel, March(2006), here imagines the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.
The story is told by Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a preacher who traveled from England to Martha’s Vineyard to try and “bring Christ to the Indians.” In 1660, when Bethia is 12, the family takes Caleb, a Wampanoag Indian, into their home to prepare him for boarding school. Bethia is a bright scholar herself, and though education for women is discouraged, she absorbs the lessons taught to Caleb and her brother Makepeace like a sponge. She struggles through the deaths of her mother, a younger sister, another brother, and her father.
When Caleb and Makepeace are sent to Cambridge, Bethia accompanies them as an indentured servant to a professor. She marries a Harvard scholar, journeys with him to Padua, and finally returns to her beloved island.
In flashbacks, Brooks relates the woes of the Indian Wars, the smallpox epidemic, and Caleb’s untimely death shortly after his graduation with honors. Brooks has an uncanny ability to reconstruct each moment of the history she so thoroughly researched in stunningly lyrical prose, and her characters are to be cherished.


Categories: Historical, Award Winners

2011 Historical Fiction Reading List Winner

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) announced the winners of its annual Reading List awards in several categories, including Historical Fiction, for books published last year.


The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Summary: In this sweeping yet intimate portrait of a Hungarian Jewish family in Europe, two lovers become enmeshed in the turmoil of the Holocaust. With gorgeous prose and an exquisite evocation of Paris and Budapest, Orringer writes movingly of their strength and the bittersweet power of hope and love.


Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres

Summary: It is 1941 and Captain Antonio Corelli, a young Italian officer, is posted to the Greek island of Cephallonia as part of the occupying forces. At first he is ostracized by the locals, but as a conscientious but far from fanatical soldier whose main aim is to have a peaceful war, he proves in time to be civilized, humorous – and a consummate musician. When the local doctor’s daughter’s letter to her fiancé – and members of the underground – go unanswered, the working of the eternal triangle seems inevitable.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

Summary: In 1942, Englishman Will Truesdale falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong to work as a piano teacher and also begins a fateful affair. As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine, impossible choices emerge-between love and safety, courage and survival, the present, and above all, the past.

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

Summary: It is September 8, 1943, and fourteen-year-old Claudette Blum is learning Italian with a suitcase in her hand. She and her father are among the thousands of Jewish refugees scrambling over the Alps toward Italy, where they hope to be safe at last, now that the Italians have broken with Germany and made a separate peace with the Allies. The Blums will soon discover that Italy is anything but peaceful, as it becomes overnight an open battleground among the Nazis, the Allies, resistance fighters, Jews in hiding, and ordinary Italian civilians trying to survive.


Categories: Historical, Staff Picks

Review: Captive Queen

Captive Queen by Alison Weir

Linda's Review: The Library Journal’s review of Alison Weir’s most recent work of fiction says, in part: "Historian Weir's third novel (after Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth) details the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122–1204), the mother of much of medieval European royalty. Beginning with her first marriage to King Louis of France and following her during her scandalous marriage to King Henry II of England, the novel portrays Eleanor's difficulties as a leader and her efforts to reconcile her love of personal freedom with her love for Henry. Exceedingly well written and researched, this will more than satisfy and enchant historical novel fanatics. Weir's attention to detail, engaging dialog, and engrossing depiction of Eleanor's life make the novel an invaluable addition to the genre."

I find nothing to disagree with in this review. Even when one has a good idea of where the story is heading, it’s a page-turner. And it did keep me turning pages, often back to the map and genealogy chart at the beginning of the book. They were an invaluable resource when trying to keep track of all the family connections of the various characters, and of a France that looks very different from the 21st century version.

Colourful, dramatic, nuanced, are all words that describe Weir’s portrait of a fascinating woman often frustrated, since her position in society as a mere woman puts her at odds with her natural abilities for governing and statesmanship.

Weir freely admits that she drew on the movie “The Lion in Winter” (a personal favourite), as well as on “Becket”, when imagining the dialogue for this novel, so if either of those interest you, that’s another reason to check out this book.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, especially of fiction that is well-researched and highly believable, this is the book for you.


Categories: Historical, Lists

If you like Sarah's Key, try these books

## Related post:
Fiction Files Review of Sarah's Key
Description: On the sixtieth anniversary of the 1942 roundup of Jews by the French police in the Vel d'Hiv section of Paris, American journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article on this dark episode during World War II and embarks on investigation that leads her to long-hidden family secrets and to the ordeal of Sarah, a young girl caught up in the raid. NoveList

The reading guide at the back of the trade paperback edition of Sarah's Key includes a list of recommended reading. Here are the fiction selections:

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
A professor of German history begins a long journey back into a past she has pushed aside, returning to Germany to reopen the wounds of her own life--as well as that of her mother--as a child living in Nazi Germany. NoveList

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
A story of life in France under the Nazi occupation includes two parts--"Storm in June," set amid the chaotic 1940 exodus from Paris, and "Dolce," set in a German-occupied village rife with resentment, resistance, and collaboration. NoveList

* * * * * * * * * *
Also check out NoveList * suggestions. On the NoveList home page, click on Historical Fiction along the left side. One of the choices is The Holocaust. This list includes:

The Kommandant's Girl by Pam Jenoff
Becoming a spy for the resistance after the Nazi's invade Poland, Emma Bau, taking on a new identity as a gentile, becomes a high-ranking Nazi official's assistant and, leading a double life, compromises her marriage vows, her safety, and the lives of those she loves for the cause.

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
In September 1943, Claudette Blum and her father flee across the Alps into Italy with other Jews seeking refuge, only to find an open battle ground among the Nazis, Allied forces, resistance fighters, and ordinary Italians struggling to survive.

* * * * * * * * * *

And I recommend a favourite of mine from years ago:
Anya by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Before she goes to America, the Polish Jew Anya who has escaped several times during World War II, always searches for her little girl, given to Gentiles at the start of the war. NoveList

* * * * * * * * * *
* How to find NoveList
On the Regina Public Library webpage select the tab E-Library Services.
Note: Access to any of these databases requires a valid Regina Public Library card number.
Choose the Books and Literature category and scroll down to NoveList (or pick NoveList in the alphabetical list of databases)
Sign in with your library card number and your last name.

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