Life After Life – Does the course of your life depend on fate or do you have control based on the choices you make? Ursula Todd is born on a snowy winter day in 1910 .. and then dies before she can take a breath. Or does she? The very same day, she is born, the doctor arrives in time, and Ursula lives. We follow Ursula’s childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as Kate Atkinson weaves in key historical events from the early to mid 20th century – World War I, the Spanish influenza epidemic, and then World War II, both in London during the Blitz and Germany in the ‘30s and ‘40s. We witness Ursula’s birth and death over and over again — in each timeline she makes different decisions that lead to wildly different life paths. Or is it fate acting upon her? A highly enjoyable read for fans of British historical fiction and alternative histories. The audiobook, read by Fenella Woolgar, brings the characters to life. (Submitted by Beth)
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As a fan of both historical fiction and supernatural horror, when I heard there was a new novel out about the Donner Party, I knew I had to read it. Enter Alma Katsu’s new novel, The Hunger. Set in 1846, this novel is based on the true story of the Donner Party, a doomed group of 100 people heading to California’s fertile valley farmland by way of wagon train. As tragedy after tragedy laid waste to the group, only a handful ever made it.
The Donner wagon train contains two large wealthy families, a beautiful woman rumored to be a witch, a large Mormon family without a patriarch, and some single men, who are all leaving their family farms in Illinois hoping for a better life. As Katsu weaves her story around their lives and voices, the reader gets a good sense of just how hard it was for people on the trail to make it: they must give birth on the trail, tend to the sick, hunt their food, gather their medicine from plants, and deal with the physical act of walking nearly 12 hours per day. Though many of the group start off as strangers to one another, the reader comes to find their lives and sins are intimately connected, revealed through haunting glimpses into all of their shady pasts. As the group members begin to become aware of these connections, their camaraderie is quickly worn away. These divisions spell their doom as their environment grows more barren and a supernatural evil begins to prey on them. (No spoilers!)
This book is not for the faint of heart. It showcases the best, as well as the worst, parts of human nature when faced with a raw survival situation. Despite the difficult subject matter, I found this to be an extremely captivating read, and eager to read more about the Donner party (perhaps my next read will be a non-fiction account of this tragedy, The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party, by Daniel James Brown). Katsu changed a lot of the real story, but she used many real life events that happened to these real people and seamlessly added a supernatural evil. The result is totally thrilling and cinematic. I eagerly await a film adaptation! (Submitted by Mandi)
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This book came to my attention a few years ago but I didn’t have a chance to read it until now. I really liked it and I’m torn between being sorry that it took me so long to get to it and glad that I finally did.
It fits into so many categories, historical fiction, romance (I use this one cautiously), and a mystery though it isn’t classified as one. Notice I didn’t say it was a ghost story but it is loaded with atmosphere especially as it takes place in 18th century Cambridge, England. The author shows a cloistered, mostly male, world of the academics which was political, religious and blasphemous mix, but he also offers a glimpse into the life of the people who serve that world and the Cambridge of that time. I can’t wait to read more of this author’s works. (Submitted by Renee)
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The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon is a great historical novel based on true events. It’s about Alexander III of Macedon (also known as Alexander the Great) who was a young and a powerful Greek emperor who ruled the largest Western empire of the ancient world. He was only in his early 20’s when he became a king, and died at the age of 32. In his teen years he was tutored by the legendary Greek philosopher Aristotle. This novel is re-imagination of what it was like for Aristotle to tutor this clever young man whose limitless ambition was also alarming. Consequently, Aristotle aimed to give Alexander the “Golden Mean” to become a prominent leader without losing control over his desire for power. (Submitted by Jamila)
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This book grabs your attention on the first page and never lets it go: “Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love” (unnamed narrator, p.1). The narrator of the novel may at first seem beyond redemption: he’s a drug addicted, porn producer who pursues vices at every corner until he is brutally maimed by fire in a car accident. The book follows his slow and painful recovery in the burn ward and the people he meets along the way including the beguiling and mysterious sculptress, Marianne Engels, who claims that they were lovers in medieval Germany, when she as a nun and he was a mercenary. The author seamlessly weaves other tragic tales of love – parental love, unrequited love, self-love – throughout the narrative and introduces us to captivating characters from around the world – Japan, Iceland, England, and Italy. While this novel falls squarely within the historical fiction genre, it also touches upon the idea of time as circular, amorphous and includes magical, mystical and surreal elements. I heartily recommend this novel to all readers passionate about deeply drawn characters, multicultural themes, and page-turning prose that you just can’t put down! (Submitted by Andrea)
America’s First Daughter is a fine specimen of historical fiction genre: superbly researched historic facts, artfully woven together events and people, and seamless delivery of the story. From the first page to the last, you can hear the clear and powerful voice of Martha (Patsy) Jefferson, the daughter of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of the United States of America and the author of The Declaration of Independence. It was hard to believe that the book is written by two authors: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. Their literary symbiosis created a stunningly good book that has one voice, one story, and a sense of wholeness. Bravo!
The novel focuses primarily on Patsy Jefferson, yet there is naturally much attention and exposure given to Thomas Jefferson as well. There are plenty of moments where you may find yourself struggling to solve, alongside with characters, the many philosophical, psychological, and moral issues that come up in life. You will reflect on what it is really like to be a president’s daughter.
From Parisian balls to dish scrubbing, from being admired by the finest men in high class society to ending up with a drunkard husband, from having a loving mother and sisters to losing them, from having a role-model of a father to worrying sick about her father’s reputation, Patsy Jefferson, like a Statue of Liberty that came alive, with stone strong determination overcomes all obstacles and gracefully contributes another chapter to the history of America and its people. (Submitted by Mariya)
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