Friday, December 2, 2011

Katie's Top 5 Historical fiction for the Holiday Season

Now that we have had our first “official” snow of the season (crazy!), it seems only appropriate to reprise our cool weather historical fiction feature as we go through November and the holiday season. In keeping with the “world travel” theme we’ve had on TATAL this year, I give you a round up of some great books from far flung places and past times.

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Australia 1960s
Described as the Australian To Kill a Mockingbird, this new release owes much to the works of Harper Lee and Mark Twain. We meet Charlie Bucktin on a summer night when Jasper Jones, resident bad boy and town scapegoat, appears at his bedroom window seeking help. What follows is a recounting of the summer that Charlie loses his innocence in so many ways--discovering a town’s prejudices, the dark nature of humanity, the imperfection of families, and the joy of first love. Beautifully balanced by its suspensful tone and laugh-out-loud witty dialogue, Jasper Jones is not only the best historical fiction book I’ve read recently, but also one of the best books in general that I’ve picked up in quite some time.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septys
Soviet Union 1940s
Every once in a while a book comes along that is so heartbreaking in its honesty that any attempt to review it seems almost inadequate. Between Shades of Gray is that sort of book. I just want to shove copies into strangers hands and plead with them to read it. Lina’s story is not an easy one (to read or to tell), but it is an important one. We follow her from the arrest of her family in Lithuania by Soviet forces, across vast stretches of countryside, to their eventual exile in Siberia. This book doesn’t sugarcoat the plight of Stalin’s victims who were sent to the middle of nowhere to suffer and just as often to die, but through Lina’s strength and fighting spirit, Ruta Sepetys reminds us that hope can survive in the most hopeless of circumstances.

The Queen of Hearts by Martha Brooks
Canada 1940s
Marie-Claire is the oldest of her siblings. And the strongest. And the most independent. (And one may also argue the most stubborn.) She is used to having her freedom and being in control. But after taking these things for granted for 15 years, they are abruptly torn from her--along with her parents and siblings--when she is diagnosed with tuberculosis. Set against the backdrop of the Canadian plains in 1942, most of the action in this book takes place in the sanatorium near Marie-Claire’s hometown, where TB patients come to either get healthy or die. In a time when TB was often a death sentence and a war was waging across the ocean, we follow Marie-Claire as she struggles to regain her health, save her family, forge friendships, and fall in love. This book is achingly lovely in its simplicity and truly unique in its subject matter. It’s a quick read that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey
England 1870s
This book is for those of you who love your historical fiction with a side of the paranormal. Spiritualism and communicating with spirits of the dead was a popular activity of the Victorian era, with a medium often providing  evening entertainment at social gatherings. Set in 1870s England, we meet Violet, the daughter of a spiritual medium who is much in demand among the upper class, which is how Violet and her mother end up at the country party of an earl. But when Violet ends up being the one who can actually see dead people and those dead people include a girl who mysteriously drowned on the earl’s estate the year before.... well, you can bet things are about to get a bit more interesting than your average Victorian garden party.

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury
England 1810s
Let’s take a moment to admire the cover of this book--gorgeous, right? Different is good sometimes. Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, Wrapped is a mystery, a trip to Regency London, an adventure, history lesson, and a love story all wrapped up (pun intended) in one book. Agnes--our plucky heroine--starts quoting Jane Austen on page 2, which pretty much secured my kinship with her forever (and gives you a good idea what sort of book this is). On the cusp of her first season, the multilingual Agnes isn’t quite sure where she fits into society--future society wife or adventurer extraordinaire? When a mummy unwrapping party goes horribly wrong, it’s up to Agnes with the help of an assistant from the Egyptology section of the British Museum to get to the bottom of things and maybe help defeat Napoleon in the process. A fun, light read, especially for fans of Sarah MacLean’s The Season.

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