Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss
Art and Passion
History / October 16, 2017

It’s a cliché that artistic people feel more intensely than non-artist types, are more driven by their passionate vision—and frequently live tragic lives. But in the process, they create work that enlightens and enthralls millions of viewers, listeners and readers. The novels we’ll look at here fully support the cliché. Whether the artist be painter, composer, or writer, the passion that consumes them often also brings heartache and disaster. While exploring the inner lives of these artists, the authors telling their stories also give us a vivid portrait of the age and the milieu that shaped them. What more can a reader ask of historical fiction? We begin with music in Janice Galloway’s CLARA, a novelization of the relationship between Robert and Clara Wieck Schumann. Clara’s demanding father, a piano teacher, set out to turn his talented daughter into a celebrated concert pianist—and succeeded. But his control over her began to weaken when pianist Robert Schumann became his student—and Clara fell in love with this man ten years her senior. Wieck vehemently opposed the love affair, refusing to permit them to wed after they became engaged when Clara turned 18. A court battle ensued, and two years later the couple…

War And Remembrance
History / August 17, 2017

Inspired by the release of the new film “Dunkirk,” which explores the rescue of the trapped British Expeditionary Force (by every vessel the British could muster, from Royal Navy warships to fishing boats to ferries,) this month we’ll look at fiction set in World War II. One of my favorite dramatizations of Dunkirk was an episode of the BBC series “Foyle’s War,” which shows this dramatic event from the home-front perspective. Our first two selections also show the war from the view of the British home front. In Jennifer Robson’s GOODNIGHT FROM LONDON, American Ruby Sutton feels her journalistic career is on the fast track when, in the summer of 1940, she wins the job as staff writer for a newsmagazine in London. She’s just started to adjust to living in a new country—and dealing with some of her colleagues’ resentment of her for being both a woman and an American—when the nightmare known as the Blitz begins. As the nightly bombings stretch from weeks into months, Ruby learns the depths of her own strength, the true meaning of friendship and community, and the heartache of love in wartime. Inspired by events in the life of the author’s grandmother, GOODNIGHT…

Enterprising Women
History / June 21, 2017

For many historical fiction fans, one of the draws of the genre is watching woman of past confront challenges and restrictions to open up new opportunities for themselves.  In honor of the recent birthdays of some extraordinary women—my mother-in-law, my stepmother and my daughter—this month I showcase a group of enterprising women who dare to dream of doing something more than filling a woman’s conventional place in society. We begin chronologically with THE DARING LADIES OF LOWELL by Kate Alcott.  Searching for independence and a better future, in 1832 farm girl Alice Barrow moves to Lowell to become one of the “mill girls.”  Though the hours are long and the work grueling, she finds a new best friend in outspoken, feisty Lovey Cornell, camaraderie with the other mill girls, and intellectual stimulation in attending lectures at the Lyceum and working on the mill’s literary magazine—where she catches the attention of mill owner’s son Samuel Fiske.  As working conditions become more dangerous and the workers protest, Samuel invites Alice to represent the other mill girls at a meeting with his family.  But when her friend Lovey is found strangled and she suspects the Fiske family of withholding information about the crime,…

Lives Of The Rich And Famous
History / May 3, 2017

Spring always brings a sense of anticipation. The cold and gloom of winter brighten into the season of warmth and rebirth, where new life seems full of limitless possibilities, encouraging the idea that hard work can lead to success, maybe even to fame and fortune. Inspired by the return of spring, the heroines of the novels we’ll look at this month all reinvent themselves to become, or be associated with, the rich, famous and powerful. We begin chronologically with THE DREAM LOVER by Elizabeth Berg. In the late 1800’s, a young woman breaks away from a painful childhood and a failed marriage to establish herself under a new name and a new identity in Paris. Aurore Dupin has always dreamed of being a writer, and in a heady atmosphere of artistic, intellectual and social change, she takes the name “George Sand” and never looks back. Her unconventional, iconoclastic spirit finally free of restraint, she becomes one of the most famous and controversial figures of the age, taking as friends and lovers such leading lights as Frederick Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval and Alfred de Musset. Berg brings to life both her fascinating subject and…

The Imperial View
History / April 9, 2017

Inspired by the lush PBS mini-series “Victoria,” this month we’ll look at fiction that explores the world of imperial rulers—and check out the life of one who had more influence on the next generation of royals than the hand that held the scepter. First, we follow the early life of the great queen herself in VICTORIA: A NOVEL OF THE YOUNG QUEEN by Daisy Goodwin. Creator of the soap-operetic PBS series, author Goodwin drew upon Queen Victoria’s diaries to create an intimate picture of the woman behind the legend who gave her name to an era. Goodwin’s meticulously-researched volume gives new insight into a girl of sheltered, restricted upbringing who becomes queen a month after her eighteenth birthday. From her mother’s advisor and political strategists who seek to minimize and bypass her to the early faux pas, assassination attempts and, of course, the great love of her life, Albert, Goodwin’s novel illuminates the vibrant, passionate woman beneath the dour widow’s weeds. VICTORIA by Daisy Goodwin A Novel of a Young Queen “They think I am still a little girl who is not capable of being a Queen.” Lord Melbourne turned to look at Victoria. “They are mistaken. I have not…

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER—Alienor of Aquitaine
History / February 9, 2017

As frost immobilizes the ground and chill winds blow, I think of cold castles and harsh rulers—which brings to mind the medieval period, and one of my favorite historical characters. In an era where women were chattels disposed of by fathers and husbands, to use wits and beauty and sheer drive to carve out a place of power and prominence is truly amazing, and Alienor (Eleanor) of Aquitaine did just that. Heiress to the wealthiest duchy in France, wife of two kings, mother of two more, loved, betrayed, and imprisoned by Henry for treason, her life would be considered romantic hyperbole—if it weren’t true. Beginning with the most recent novel, one full of “intimate” detail, we have BELOVED ENEMY: THE PASSIONS OF ELEANOR OF ACQUITAINE (QUEENS OF LOVE AND WAR BOOK 2) by Ellen Jones. Beginning the tale in 1130, with an eight-year-old Alienor dealing with the death of her mother and brother, it moves forward to June 1137, when her father dies, leaving her Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou. Swept into an unhappy marriage with King Louis VII of France, eventually an annulment is procured, allowing her to wed her lover and love of her life, Henry…

The Mystery Of The East
History / November 18, 2016

We’ll continue our exploration of the exotic this month with a group of novels set in the Far East, in lands full of beauty, rich in history and culture. Beginning farthest back in time and at the highest social level, we have two views of the only female Chinese emperor, Wu Tse-tien. Weina Dai Randel’s more favorable picture of the Iron Empress, THE MOON IN THE PALACE (EMPRESS OF BRIGHT MOON DUOLOGY BOOK 1) begins soon after young Mei is first brought to the palace, only one of many beautiful concubines scheming to attract the attention of the One Above All with their beauty, their gifts of jade and calligraphy, or their seductive talents. Mei’s curiosity and intelligence win her few friends among the competing concubines, but they do make an impression on the Emperor. As she is poised to become the favorite, a bitter rivalry erupts that will require all her skill and wit to survive. THE MOON IN THE PALACE by Weina Dai Randel The Empress of Bright Moon #1 There is no easy path for a woman aspiring to power A concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor’s attention….

History ReFreshed | Sheiks And Harems
History / September 22, 2016

With the PBS series “Indian Summers” now running, this month we’ll stay with the exotic and look at a genre of books that has proven perennially popular, both with romance readers (there seem to be new Sheik books out every month, contemporary or historical) and historical fiction fans—novels set in the mysterious and titillating world of the seraglio. We begin the journey with a two-book series by Zia Wesley fictionalizing the life of a real woman, Aimée Dubucq de Rivery. Born on the island of Martinique, young Aimée and her cousin have their fortunes told by an old woman, who prophesies that both will become queens. The cousin becomes Josephine, Napoleon’s first Empress. In an even more unbelievable turn of events, Aimée becomes the favorite of a Sultan. In the first book, THE STOLEN GIRL (THE VEIL AND THE CROWN BOOK 1) we see Aimée’s early life, from her childhood in Martinque through the journey to Paris, where she attempts, without any luck, to marry into the Parisian elite. Resigned to spinsterhood, she decides to become a nun, but before entering the convent, takes ship to Martinique to visit her family one last time. On the voyage back, her ship…

History ReFRESHed | A RETURN TO “INDIAN SUMMERS”
History / August 24, 2016

With the lush PBS Masterpiece series “Indian Summers” soon to begin Season Two, it’s time to look at another round of novels that explore the exotic, complex world of the British Raj in India and the struggles for Indian independence. Beginning with the earliest-set book, we have THE LINNET BIRD by Linda Holeman. Born Linny Gow in the slums of Liverpool in the early 1800’s, forced into prostitution at age eleven by her stepfather, the tenacious and enterprising Linny manages to escape that life, reinventing herself as a seemingly respectable middle-class young lady. Her friendship with a merchant’s daughter puts her into position to accompany the girl to India as part of the “fishing fleet,” young women of good birth but no fortune who sail to the subcontinent in search of husbands. With the threat of discovery always looming over her, Linny snares wealthy British officer Somers Ingram as a husband, only to discover that violence and danger can lurk in other places besides the back alleys of Liverpool. But Linny hasn’t traveled this far to yield to unpleasant circumstance; using all her inventiveness and tenacity, she will find a way to claim the freedom—and love—she’s always wanted. THE LINNET…

Blockbuster Summer Of World War II Hits
History / July 27, 2016

With children out of school and folks going on vacation, summer is traditionally the time for blockbuster movies, usually action-adventure or comic-book-hero sagas designed to snag the interest of kids and families. Then there are “blockbuster books”—novels that strike the popular imagination and become runaway bestsellers. Though I tend not to like those extremely popular books, since several are set in one of my favorite time periods—World War II—for this month’s column, we’ll take a look at a few that have garnered rave reviews. First we have ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr (24,150 Amazon reviews.) This instant New York Times bestseller from the award-winning Doerr presents the story of a blind French girl and a German boy who meet in occupied France, both struggling to survive the destruction and privation of war. Daughter of a lockmaster at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, when Marie-Laure goes blind at the age of six, her father builds her a miniature of their neighborhood to memorize by touch so she can find her away around. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and she flees with her father to take refuge with a great-uncle in a house…