It is the year 1000 and Red Orm, a native of Scania, goes a-viking. This book of historical fiction follows Orm's adventures through the life of Europe in the later Viking Age, from Andalusia to Denmark to Ireland to England, all against the backdrop of pragmatic Norse paganism's encounters with Islam and creeping Christianisation.
In my career as a reader I have encountered only three people who knew The Long Ships, and all of them, like me, loved it immediately. Four for four: from this tiny but irrefutable sample I dare to extrapolate that this novel, first published in Sweden during the Second World War, stands ready, given the chance, to bring lasting pleasure to every single human being on the face of the earth. -- from the Introduction by Michael Chabon
Houdini and Doyle: The Maggie's Redress Season 1, Ep 1
American Harry Houdini is in England, where he and Arthur Conan Doyle team up with the first lady on the local police force, Constable Stratton Adelaide. In their first adventure together, they investigate the murder of a nun from one of the notorious Magdalene Laundries. A witness claims that the murderer was a young woman tormented by the nun - but she's been dead for 6 months.
"Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. ... [W]hile what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. " -Amazon.com [more inside]
"[Elizabeth] Gilbert, the author of the phenomenally successful memoir Eat, Pray, Love (2006), returns to fiction with her first novel in 13 years, and what a novel it is! Taking her sweet time and digressing at will into areas ranging from botany to spiritualism to illustration, she tells the rich, highly satisfying story of scholar Alma Whittaker. Born to Henry Whittaker, “the richest man in Philadelphia,” who rose from his station as the son of a lowly gardener to an import tycoon, Alma has the benefit of wealth and books, spending hours learning Latin and Greek and studying the natural world. But her plain appearance and erudition seem to foretell a lonely life until she meets gifted artist Ambrose Pike. Their intense intellectual connection results in marriage, but Ambrose’s deep but unorthodox spiritual beliefs prevent them from truly connecting. Alma, who has never traveled out of Philadelphia, embarks on an odyssey that takes her from Tahiti to Holland, during which she learns much about the ways of the world and her own complicated nature. Gilbert, in supreme command of her material, effortlessly invokes the questing spirit of the nineteenth century, when amateur explorers, naturalists, and enthusiasts were making major contributions to progress. Beautifully written and imbued with a reverence for science and for learning, this is a must-read." - Booklist [more inside]
In 1066, the world ended.
"when i woc in the mergen all was blaec though the night had gan and all wolde be blaec after and for all time. a great wind had cum in the night and all was blown then and broc. none had thought a wind lic this colde cum for all was blithe lifan as they always had and who will hiere the gleoman when the tales he tells is blaec who locs at the heofon if it brings him regn who locs in the mere when there seems no end to its deopness."[more inside]
"England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph? In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage." -- Amazon summary [more inside]
"Hill presents a detailed annotated version of Wilder's autobiography, written between 1929 and 1930, which served as the basis for the ever-popular and successful "Little House" books. A successful columnist and editor, Wilder chronicled 16 years of the Ingalls family's moves through Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakota Territory in the late 19th century, offering vivid descriptions of the land and people as well as the ups and downs of frontier life. Though daughter Rose Wilder Lane heavily edited the manuscript, it was never accepted for publication. Wilder eventually fictionalized many of the incidents described here for her "Little House" series and strove to portray the spirit of the time and to illustrate the courage and adaptability of the people who settled the frontier. Using census data, newspapers, and other primary documents, this volume is heavily annotated and puts into perspective the original autobiography and how that manuscript evolved into the fictional stories. ... "Little House" devotees will appreciate Hill's thorough examination of Wilder's life and times." -- School Library Journal [more inside]
Welcome to Historical Fiction book club! I've chosen nine months of books, touching on a variety of historical periods, tending towards the more literary end of the historical fiction spectrum but trying to include a variety of styles. We will discuss each book over the course of a month; on the first day of the month spoilers are permitted, be forewarned. The major selection criterion for the initial set of books is that I've read them in the last calendar year and so remember enough about them to discuss them, and I think they'll appeal to MeFites. (If I left out your recent favorite, I probably just haven't read it yet, and I'm happy to do so!) Within, find out our upcoming books! [more inside]