Archive for the 'Historical Fiction' Category

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Friday afternoon, I hoped to write a review about Kevin Powers’ book, The Yellow Birds.  Luckily, or unluckily, the West Deptford Free Public Library’s copy of the book was checked out, leading me to recall hearing the author was speaking in the tri-state area.  Let’s not discuss my guilt for not getting over to the Free Library of Philadelphia for Kevin Powers’ May 16, 2013 Author Event.  It is really neither here nor there as a podcast of the event is available online. The Free Library of Philadelphia has done a wonderful service archiving recent Author Events.

The Yellow Birds

I became immersed in the author’s story a few months ago while reading the book and again on Friday, May 24, 2013, as I listened to the veteran’s podcast.  Reading The Yellow Birds offered me a glimpse into a cathartic journey resolving personal conflict without naming the steps.  I was particularly impacted by the passage chronicling an active soldier’s reaction to a medic’s demise on the battlefield.

Listening to Kevin’s voice urged me toward continued faith in peaceful resolution.


I thank the author for protecting us.   


This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Summer Reading Review by Chrisitne L.


This Duchess of Mine delivers regency with a medical twist.  The hero has arrhythmia and the book explains how they discovered digitalis which is refined and in use today.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Monday, April 20th, 2009

My education concerning little-known events of WWII continues as a result of reading Tatiana de Rosnay’s enlightening and fascinating book about a “notorious act of French collaboration with the Nazis.” I was aware of the Vichy Regime in France led by Marhsal Petain, who collaborated with the Nazis between 1940 and 1944, when the allies landed in Normandy. What I had not known was the extent of involvement of ordinary citizens who chose to ignore the crimes against humanity that were being perpetrated around them. Of course, there were good people who did not agree with the Nazis’ treatment of Jews, but often even they did nothing for fear of retaliation against themselves or their families., “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke was not referring to World War II, but his quotation is never out of date.

It is ironic that I, who think of myself as fairly well versed in recent history, should get so much of my missing education not as a result of reading scholarly tomes but rather fiction. For the second time in a single week I have acquired knowledge of a facet of the BIG WAR, the war that defined my early childhood, from a novel that delves into just one event of that conflict. This time it is the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, a Nazi attempt to gather together as many Parisian Jews as possible into a single place on a single day so that later they could be dispersed to various prison camps and extermination centers. This process would be nearly impossible to accomplish without the complicity of the French people, some of whom cooperated wholeheartedly and some who simply refused to see what was taking place around them.

The early chapters of the book alternate between events unfolding in 1942, the year of the roundup and a time when sixty years later when an American writer living in Paris is given an assiginment that leads her back to a past she knows nothing about. Her investigation into that past takes her to places long buried in her husband’s family history. He wants to leave the past buried, but she is determined to uncover the secrets at any cost. Her determination to discover the past changes her future in unimagined ways, and the reader is swept up in the journey from the ghosts of the past to the unknowns of the future.

The author reminds readers at the outset that her novel is just that–a novel and not a historical work. But for me, the book called for further investigation, and I learned that indeed there was a “Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup,” and I wanted to read more about it. i invite you to read the novel and then, if your interest is piqued, as was mine, to read further. This book is a “must read,” if not for its historical associations, then for its own merits as a first-rate novel.

Ann Dow

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

When I first heard the title, I immediately dismissed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as too silly for consideration as a book I’d want to read. I forgot that old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” (or its title) either for that matter. Only when I realized that more and more people were talking favorably about the book did I decide to give it a try. It was a wise decision!

It took only a few pages of reading for me to recognize that I was not going to discover new recipes, but I was going to discover some historical facts about WWII that had previously eluded me. Through a series of exchanges of letters between a London author and the inhabitants of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands that lie in the British Channel separating England and the coast of Normandy, the reader becomes aware of the role this island and its neighbors played in the war. The Islands are not part of the British Common-wealth but are British dependencies, and their residents suffered as much as citizens of London and other parts of the Empire. Not only did they become the only part of England to be occupied by the Germans, but they for five long years they were totally cut off from news of the rest of the world because all means of communication were severed. Food, which had been plentiful in this agricultural community, was confiscated for use of the German Army, and the residents nearly starved.

The exchange of letters takes place in 1946, a year after the war’s end, and things are beginning to return to something approximating normal, but they will never be the same. These letters provide catharsis for the members of the GL&PPPS and enlightenment for the lady author who responds. The reader shares the joy that evolves on both sides of the chain as each party tells of personal experiences and each changes as a result of the friendships that develop across the channel.

Prior to reading the book, I had a vague idea of the hardships endured by the Channel Islanders, but my knowledge was extremely limited. It took me just a day to finish the book, and it was indeed a day well spent, both for the delight and the enlightenment. Treat yourself to a few hours of pure charm.

Ann Dow

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

People of the Book is a novel about the Sarajevo Haggadah. Based on fact, the story alternates chapters about Hanna Heath, an Australian rare book conservator, and the history of the Book’s creation told in reverse chronology. We follow the manuscript backwards from Sarajevo in 1996 to Vienna 1894, from Venice in 1609 to Tarragona, Spain in 1492, and lastly to the creation of the illuminations in 1480 in Seville.
The amount of historical detail makes the characters and places come alive in this book. I wanted to learn more of the background surrounding this story so I also read the 2007 New Yorker article by Geraldine Brooks that was the basis for this novel. I would also recommend Brooks’ other fiction. Year of wonders is a book about the Plague, and March is about the father of Little Women. Both of these historic novels also have the ability to draw you into another time and place.

The Wedding Dress

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

Book Report:  The Wedding Dress by Virginia Ellis This light-hearted, dreamy story revolves around three sisters concentrating on making a wedding gown for the youngest girl who longs to marry but has no prospects.  The setting is post Civil War at a time of few surviving men.  Yet the sisters, to detach from a destitute, forbidding present and future, focus on plans for the youngest to attain a normal life.  Their parents are both gone; the two eldest are supposedly widows as a result of the war’s devastation.  Little gifts and wise purchases provide the material, lace, buttons and thread for the dress.  The sisters support one another, care for each other and in that is their strength and success.  The main character, the middle sister, Julia, sees visions of the war dead and believes in her dreams, wondering of the meaning and planning for the future.  I LOVE this character.  She is so real, warm, emotional and describes the others through her eyes.  Virginia Ellis might have patterned her on her own self. The eldest, Victoria, is loyal, sturdy and supportive.  Clare, the youngest, sensitive and beautiful, is a lover of animals, especially horses. She actually sings to a mule to inspire it to move ahead. The historical background is aptly described including the farm, the woods, game and domestic animals.  It’s clear how very hard it is to survive on land after the Civil War.  Losses of others scare the girls deeply.  Stories of battles are recounted by a young officer visiting the middle sister with news of the demise of her late husband and the returning, now blind husband of the oldest sister, Victoria.  The social customs are real to the reader as they are portrayed in visits of the reverend, the soldiers and others. Julia bravely tries to convince the young officer to marry her youngest sister, only to find (to Clare’s relief and delight) he is interested in her. The ending is charming and wholesome.  This book is a delight to read. Joan Badie

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Reviewed by Rose

This story is a historical memoir of science, faith and love. Galileo upholds each and everyone. Sobel is a brilliant story teller. She credits Galileo with astronomy, history, navigation, and more which of course is factual.

In this story, Galileo believes the sun is the center of the Universe which is depicted and defined as “heresy.? Find out who it is that opposes this reasoning. The story deals with the “Bubonic Plague.? There is quite a lot of discussion on his book, “Dialogue? published in 1633. His children play a very important role; he has two daughters and one son. His most affectionate and caring daughter is S. Marie Celeste who is in the convent and writes to her father just about daily.

There is much I have not revealed. Keep in mind this story takes place from late 1500 to about 1645. The book is an education. It’s a real gem and I disliked it coming to an end.

Recessional by James Michener

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Reviewed by Joan Badie 

Recessional by James Michener is a fascinating weave of seniors’ lives in The Palms, an assisted living, retirement apartment complex.  It also features a doctor’s story of dreams and disillusionment with the legal system and his subsequent romance with a double amputee.  Michener does his work well, as usual. 

The book is most enjoyable, yet leaves one with a tinge of sadness as “Recessional” does deal with the inevitable recessional of us all in our later years. 

Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Reviewed by Patti Brown

Charity Girl is a wonderful and sensitively written book by Michael Lowenthal.  It is a story told through the eyes of Frieda Mintz, who gets caught up in a secret hidden thoughout Would War I.  It is about Frieda’s experiences as a low paid working girl trying to find undependence only to be caught up in the moral issues of the day.

It is an eye opener of a book and holds the reader’s interest.  History buffs will find this book insightful. 

Alice’s Tulips by Sandra Dallas

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Reviewed by Betty Tarquinto

In Alice’s Tulips, Charlie Bullock has joined the Union Army leaving his young wife Alice with his austere mother.  Alice’s hardships helping her mother-in-law maintain the family farm during the war are related in letters to her sister.  At the beginning of the novel her admonition to Charlie “to promise he would come back with both his legs” foreshadows a shocking conclusion.  This book is rich with details of quilting, farming and daily life in the 1860’s.  It’s also a moving account of the struggles endured by the families of Civil War soldiers.