Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss
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…

From Grit To Glamour: Between The Wars
History / June 23, 2016

Who doesn’t love to peek into the lives of the rich, famous and influential? To spark your summer reading, this month we will take a look at protagonists (some real historical figures, some fictional) who strive for fame, fortune, and glory in the chaotic decades after the devastation of World War I. We begin with Hazel Gaynor’s THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY. Dolly Lane dreams of dancing on the London stage, but World War I intervenes, bringing with it passionate love and devastating loss. Trying to piece her life back together after the war, she takes a job as a chambermaid at London’s luxe hotel, The Savoy, where she daily observes the rich, rebellious, and unconventional New Women of the Jazz age. Her life on the sidelines ends when she responds to a songwriter’s advertisement for a “muse.” Introduced to the world of the London theatre and into friendship with famous actress Loretta May and her brother Perry, Dolly finds herself poised between two worlds and two men—one ordinary and familiar, one full of dangerous glamour. Does she have the courage to seize the new—or will ties from the past pull her back? THE GIRL FROM SAVOY by Hazel Gaynor…

Merrie Olde England
History / May 29, 2016

In May, thoughts turn to the May Pole dances and Spring celebrations in Merrie Olde England. This month’s selections illumine the worlds of court and entertainment, revealing the sometimes stark reality of life for women in England in the 18th century—both high-born and commoner. Beginning with the political, we have MISTRESS OF THE COURT by Laura Purcell. Married off to the dissolute, violent son of distant relations, Henrietta Howard endures a life of increasing hardship until, to evade her husband’s creditors, the two escape to Hannover. There, they ingratiate themselves with the heirs-in-waiting to the British throne, Prince George and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach. Henrietta becomes a Woman of the Bedchamber, her husband one of the prince’s staff. But the prince has more in mind for Henrietta than attending his wife, and to buttress herself against her abusive husband, Henrietta reluctantly yields to him. So begins a relationship with the man who will become King George II that spans decades, embraces a sort of friendship with Queen Caroline, and ends finally with Henrietta building a life for herself as a woman of style and intelligence who counted Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift among her friends and built Marble Hill…