Tag Archives: historical fiction

Mistress Shakespeare – Karen Harper

I saw this book at Barnes and Noble’s, then put it on my library list (because I am cheap, and support my local libraries!) and have kind of been “saving” it when I was in the mood for something good to read. It was! It was everything I wanted.

From Publishers Weekly
On November 27, 1582, the Worcester archives show a grant for a marriage license for one Anne Whateley and her groom, Wm Shaxpere. Yet several days later, William Shakespeare married a pregnant Anne Hathaway. Harper’s slack latest takes this mystery as its subject, imagining Anne Whateley as Shakespeare’s only true love. Friends from childhood driven apart by their families’ antipathy, Will and Anne rediscover each other as they come of age, and the young lovers plan to wed in spite of their families’ disapproval. When Will is forced into marriage with Anne Hathaway, Anne Whateley flees to London and throws herself into her family’s business, but the two reunite when Will arrives in London, and Anne becomes his tireless promoter. The novel’s chief pleasures derive from the easy intersection of Shakespeare’s work, the history of Elizabethan England and the life that the author imagines Shakespeare might have had. …

Of course I loved this! It has everything I am into. Alternative retellings, a female perspective on history, an account of the Plague, and “answers” to some of the Shakespearean mysteries, like why he left his wife his “second-best bed” in the famous will. I also loved the while history was white-washed a bit, the disgustingness and smells of a big city like London were described frequently. Beautifully written and indulged the romantic, goofy Shakespeare loving side of me.


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The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff

I think I promised I was done with polygamy books, but – it was a lie. I couldn’t resist picking this one up at the library. The premise is that it’s an intertwined story of the real life Ann Eliza – divorced wife of Brigham Young that caused quite a stir and may have contributed to the outlawing of polygamy and the fictional story of a “lost boy” of the Firsts (polygamist sect still living in Utah) and the story of his own mom who is suspected of killing her husband (of course, in a plural marriage).

I normally don’t love books with intertwined stories, but the twist of this book was that in addition to the two stories, there were (mainly fictional) articles from crusaders against polygamy and newspaper articles, etc.  It also used letters from Ann Eliza’s son, her father and the Master’s thesis from a modern BYU student. And that’s what I think I really enjoyed about the book – it gave more than just the point of view of the plural wife – but that of a husband, and of displaced boys.

I don’t think I am done with this subject yet. I still have to read “Under the Banner of Heaven”, but I would like to find some books about polygamy as told by men thrown out of the sect and of polygamous men. Anyone know of any? Fiction or non-fiction?

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Song of the Sparrow – Lisa Ann Sandell

What a pleasant surprise! I had this book on my “to read” list for awhile, and I don’t remember where I heard about it. All I knew was that it was YA historical fiction, and that the cover art was very pretty (I am a sucker for girls with flowing locks and flowers in their hair).

Song of the Sparrow

So, when the library told me it was in, I picked it up and shoved it in my bag for the subway ride. After a very, VERY long day at work, I settled in and cracked open the book. The prologue is a poem. I generally skip poems. First page  – another poem.

Oh no.

It’s a book written entirely in free verse poetry.

Don’t get me wrong – I like poetry. In moderation. A whole book? In a book that was meant to be some YA frivolity? Free verse? But, it’s late – I am too keyed up to sleep on the train and I decide to give it a few pages.

So, here’s my thing with poetry – I don’t understand it (expect a blog post on YouShouldOnlyKnow about this soon!). I can read it, and I can comprehend it, but I am not entirely sure what made this poetry other than seemingly randomly placed line breaks. So, I lucked out, and just read it as I would any other novel.

It’s the story of Elaine of Ascolat from the Arthurian legends. Awesome! I love alternative re-tellings of classic stories, and by coincidence, the only stories I know from the Arthurian traditions are these alternative ones. It was very pretty, and told of the unrequited love of Lancelot, the complicated emotions of Guinevere and some cool Pictish battles. I heart the Picts.

Some other stuff I liked? It brought in Tristan, of “Tristan and Isolde” fame. Double alternative re-tellings. Score! Stuff I wasn’t so fond of? This story had a happy ending. The “real” story has a rather tragic one. I wouldn’t mind them doing some sort of twist, that would explain this happy ending, but acknowledging the more traditional one, but this was kind of a re-write of fake history. Kind of a cop-out for my tastes.

I did a little reading about the author, and apparently she was inspired by a painting of Elaine (The Lady of Shalott) by John William Waterhouse. I wonder how the aforementioned cover art was chosen.



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The Seduction of the Crimson Rose – Lauren Willig

Okay. I am now caught up on my flowery spies.

Carolann was right – I would have been totally lost reading this one, if I hadn’t read the others. And I liked it! It wasn’t my favorite, and it surprised me by not having a deflowering scene. But of course, there was an improbale love match, and ends in marriage – virtue intact. A lot of storylines appear to have gotten wrapped up, so now I am genuinely curious to see where it will go in the next one, but I am taking a break from Ms. Willig.

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The Deception of the Emerald Ring – Lauren Willig

My apologies. I started this series and read two books and forgot to write about them. I liked the first in the series, so it explains why I also enjoyed the 2nd and 3rd – because it is almost exactly the same story as the first, and the two of them are almost identical to one another. It’s one of those dual-dealies. There is a modern love story thats going in random chapters, along with the love story of the flowery spies.  Essentially – girl doesn’t quite fit into the high society norm. An unlikely man comes along, despite their best intentions they fall in love. There is an elaborate deflowering scene (hehehe) and they live happily ever after. Story then picks up with a character mentioned in the previous book.

The modern day love story lost some steam though. Carolann assures me that while the first book was good, the fourth was really, really good, but I have to read the 2nd and 3rd in order to understand. So, I am ready! Bring on the Seduction of the Crimson Rose.

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The Masque of the Black Tulip – Lauren Willig

Doesn’t say much about this book that I forgot to blog about it. Not that I didn’t like it – it was just very, very familiar. So familiar in fact, that I can give the review in my next post.

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The Secret History of the Pink Carnation – Lauren Willig

I don’t know why its taking me so long to post my newly-read books lately, but it is. I read this almost two weeks ago and sadly, it was the last book I read for awhile. (I got a pretty bad cold and the siren call of both House and Law and Order was too strong.)

My sweet and faithful reader Carolann recommended this one to me, because I liked the Gemma Doyle trilogy, but was bored by the “otherworldliness” of it all.

Booklist describes it:

Willig’s imaginative debut is the story of Eloise Kelly, who is trying to uncover the identity of the Pink Carnation, a British spy a la the Scarlet Pimpernel who infiltrated Napoleonic France, for her Ph.D. dissertation. But it is also the story of Amy Balcourt, a young woman of French descent raised in England, whom Eloise learns about when she gains access to the papers kept by Arabella Selwick-Alderly, the descendant of another dashing spy, the Purple Gentian. Amy sets off to join her brother, Edouard, in France, with the hope of joining the league of the Purple Gentian. On her journey over she meets Lord Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian himself, and though sparks fly between the two, he feels he can’t reveal his secret identity to her. Eloise is engrossed in Amy’s story, even as Arabella’s infuriating but handsome nephew, Colin Selwick, tries to bar her access to the papers. Readers should expect more of the swashbuckling past than the scholarly present, but Willig’s story is a decidedly delightful romp. Kristine Huntley Copyright © American Library Association.

I really wish I knew a bit more about the Revolution, and I could have done without the kind of simpery story of Eloise, but I really enjoyed this and didn’t miss magical fairies or hidden realms at all. I hope I am not maturing. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series, but can’t help but feel its a substitute for something a little meatier. I don’t know if what I am looking for will show up in historical fiction. I may have to read good old fashioned history books, but I sadly tend to find that I don’t learn enough about the culture from anything as dry as non-fiction. (This may be why my career as an archaeologist never got off the ground. Studies never quite lived up to Clan of the Cave Bear.)

Can anyone recommend any good non-fiction about girl’s finishing schools and women during the Victorian era?

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