Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category

Unmentionables

Author Laurie Lowenstein

Author Laurie Lowenstein

Unmentionables is the first published novel by author Laurie Lowenstein. The publisher has placed it in the historical fiction category. I’m not so sure about that; I think it’s more “fiction” than”historical”. But that’s a minor point.

As the novel opens, we meet Marian Elliot Adams, a speaker on the “Chautauqua” circuit, who is traveling the midwest to promote sensible dress for women; specifically she is a proponent of women discarding heavy, constricting, undergarments in order to fully participate in a more robust, healthful life. In the small town of Emporia (Illinois? The first clue is that one of the characters is the President of the Western Illinois Savings and Loan, but it was a bit confusing at first to figure out where the action was taking place), Mrs. Elliot Adams’ message is not well received by all. The year is 1917, but Emporia seems stuck in the nineteenth century.

Leaving the stage after her speech, Marian falls and hurts her ankle. So she is forced to linger in Emporia. While there, she interacts with numerous townspeople and, just as they are affected by her and her modern ways, Marian is affected by them.

Marian becomes friendly with Deuce Garland, the publisher of Emporia’s newspaper. She also meets Deuce’s step-daughter Helen, who is working at the newspaper following her high school graduation. Marian encourages Helen to follow her dream of moving to Chicago. Marian also encourages Deuce to print controversial stories and editorials that displease his wealthy father-in-law, who is the real owner of the newspaper.

When Marian completes her summer speaking circuit, she  volunteers for a Red Cross relief effort in rural France. She and Deuce continue to develop their relationship via mail. Meanwhile, Helen is struggling to find her place in Chicago.

Generally, I enjoyed this novel. However, the action was a bit disjointed. While it seemed necessary for Marian and Deuce’s relationship that they be separated, the choice of Marian going off to France was odd. It seemed as if there were three main centers of action-Chicago, Emporia, and France. It was difficult to tell when different events were occurring; then all of a sudden it seemed an entire year had passed. But it was a quick and engaging read nonetheless. Once again, many thanks to LibraryThing and its Early Reviewer program for sending this book to me.

In USA:

Softcover edition-to be published-Kaylie Jones/Akashic Books-January 2014

Unmentionables

Wolf Hall

Oh those crazy Tudors! Wolf Hall by British author Hilary Mantel won the Man Booker Prize in 2009. It covers some of the same ground as some of the novels of Philippa Gregory, but from a different perspective and in a much different way.

The action in Wolf Hall spans the years of the reign of Henry VIII from the end of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon through his marriage to Anne Boleyn. It is told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who rose to become an influential and respected adviser to the King. The novel also contains flashbacks to Cromwell’s earlier life, and we learn how his unlikely ascendancy occurred.

The Henry VIII of this novel is not the selfish and brutal man of Philippa Gregory’s books. He is much more human and multi-dimensional. And Thomas Cromwell is much more complex than the actual history would indicate. Mantel has done much research, but also takes considerable license in fleshing out these famous characters. It does make for very good reading.

The Wolf Hall of the title refers to the estate of the Seymour family. While the Seymours are not major players in this novel, we do know that shortly after the death by beheading of Anne Boleyn, Henry married Jane Seymour.

This is an intriguing and interesting book. It is very long, and not so easy reading. But I recommend it highly if only, as I did, to get the comment from the librarian-“you finished it?”

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Henry Holt & Co.-2009
Softcover edition-Picador-2010

Wolf Hall: A Novel

Two by Philippa Gregory

No, I am not becoming a Philippa Gregory groupie. I had purchased The Boleyn Inheritance to read on vacation. Thanks to an hour and a half flight delay, I finished it ahead of schedule and needed another airplane book. Juan Santamaria Airport  (San Jose, Costa Rica) had limited options. And paperbacks that normally cost $12-$14 were selling for $22-$24. So I went with a book that wouldn’t be much of a gamble, and was in the less expensive range. Hence, The Other Queen.

Both works of historical fiction follow the same format: a story unfolding from the viewpoint of three characters at the same time. The chapters are short which, in my opinion, makes a great vacation book. It does seem a bit disjointed at times, though. And also tiresome given that the two books combined total over 1000 pages.

The Boleyn Inheritance tells the story of Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, the fourth and fifth wives of Henry VIII.  Also involved in their tale is Jane Rochford, the widow of Anne Boleyn’s brother George. Jane serves as lady in waiting and confidante to both queens.

The Other Queen begins 25 years after the end of The Boleyn Inheritance. Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne of England for ten years. She has imprisoned her rival for the throne of England, Mary Queen of Scots.  This story is told by Mary, as well as her captors, George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick.

As with her other books, Philippa Gregory has done a tremendous amount of historical research. She paints a vivid picture of life among the nobility in sixteenth-century England. After reading a number of these books, I do understand English history a bit more. At least now I know the difference between the Tudors and the Stuarts and why they were rivals for the throne.

I do recommend both of these books, but not one right after the other.  And now I have to read the two books that cover the time span in between. My “must read” list keeps getting longer. I have three books on my nightstand, and another on reserve at the library. Well-I’d better get to it!

The Boleyn Inheritance
Published in hardcover-Touchstone-2006
Softcover edition-Touchstone-2006

The Other Queen
Published in hardcover-Touchstone-2008
Softcover edition-Touchstone-2009

The Boleyn Inheritance

The Other Queen: A Novel