historical fiction

Author Rating: A

Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins, or Anthony Hope as he was known to his readers, was born February 9, 1863, a young contemporary of Thomas Hardy. While Hardy is remembered and celebrated today, Hope is largely forgotten as a writer. I only discovered him by chance while looking through Andy Minter‘s Librivox catalog. I am delighted to have discovered Hope. His writing is quick and engaging.

His tenth novel, published in 1893, The Prisoner of Zenda put Hope firmly on his contemporaneous public’s map and then further popularized when it was made into a movie in 1913, again in 1922 and 1937. Even though he’s forgotten as a writer, his storytelling has influenced movies and TV shows well into the late 20th century. Hope published 32 novels by 1925 and died July 8, 1933.

The Prisoner of Zenda: being the history of three months in the life of an English gentleman (Listened 09/2016) Recommended

Rupert of Hentzau: being the sequel to a story by the same writer entitled the Prisoner of Zenda (Listened 11/2016) Recommended

I listened to both of these as audio recordings, read by the wonderful Andy Minter who brings the stories alive with his deft chracterizations.

The two novels are set in the imaginary central European country of Ruritania, where adventure and true love and heartbreak await.


Author Rating: A

When I indicate “read” in this instance, I actually mean listened to Librivox recordings. I am very surprised that I have never read anything by Burnett (1849-1924). She was left out of what I thought was a comprehensive study of 19th century English literature. I guess the men who organized the list of who is important did not consider her or her subject matter important. Perhaps because, according to the Washington Post at the time of her divorce in 1898, she had “advanced ideas regarding the duties of a wife and the rights of women.” (Gretchen Gerzina, Frances Hodgson Burnett: the unexpected life of the author of The Secret Garden, pg 204)

While Burnett is best known for what are considered children’s stories, she is much more than that. Further, what are deemed “children’s stories” are belittled by that categorization. Her stories are beautifully rendered studies of the lives of women.

The Secret Garden (read 81/2014) Recommended

I listened to the Librivox reading by Caroline Griggs. It is a wonderful story, and Ms. Griggs was a perfect reader. This is not a book to be ignored because it is labeled “children’s literature.”

The Shuttle (read 9/1/2014)

A novel set during the late 19th century when young, wealthy American women were marrying titled but often poor Englishmen. The “shuttle” is a reference to the back-and-forth trans-Atlantic trips made by the rich American women and their would-be titled English suitors. The heroine is Bettina “Betty” Vanderpoel, who travels to England to find her sister who married one of those poor but titled gentlemen and had seemingly forgotten her American family. Betty is a strong, delightful character who, through intelligence and compassion, rights wrongs and finds true love. Burnett is masterful.

The Making of a Marchioness and The Methods of Lady Walderhurst (aka Emily Fox-Seton (read 8/10/2014)

Burnett’s two novels describe the difficulties of women and their limited options. I listened to a Librivox recording, and although these are two novels they are run together into one under the title Emily Fox-Seton.

A Lady of Quality (read 8/20/2014)

Also listened to a Librivox reading. This is a historical novel set in, I believe, the 16th century. Somewhat reminescent of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew,the story opens with the tragic death of Clorinda’s mother who had borne her lord and master many girls but no male heir. Clorinda grows up to turn her father’s opinion of women on its head.

Author Rating: C

1876 (read 3/24/2013) Not recommended

“Gore Vidal is a great writer.” You’ve heard that, right? If the rest of his works are of this caliber, he’s highly overrated. I threw it down after getting 1/3 of the way through. Nothing happens! A guy and his widowed daughter get off a boat in New York, they stay in a fancy hotel while he looks for work as a writer. Time goes by and he gets jobs, but we never see anything happen. Every other sentence is “I’m just like Rip Van Winkle, oh, I shouldn’t say that, it’s boring.” I was hoping to learn something about American history while being entertained but I was neither entertained nor enlightened.

Author Rating: Not Yet Read

A trilogy of historical fiction about Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power in the court of Henry VIII of England. The first novel won both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.  In 2012, The Observer named it as one of “The 10 best historical novels.”

Author Rating: Unknown

I’ve seen the movie Catch-22 but I’ve never read the book.  After reading this review, I’ve put it on my short list.

Author Rating: A

Mason and Dixon (recommended, read 5/3/11)

This is not a novel for everyone. It can be difficult going because it is written in Pynchon’s imagined colloquial 18th century English. It tells the story of the lifelong partnership and adventures of English surveyors Charles Mason (1728-1786) and Jeremiah Dixon (1733-1779), starting with their attempt to reach Sumatra to observe the 1761 Transit of Venus and continuing through their work on what became known as The Mason-Dixon Line in an uncharted pre-Revolutionary America.

There is much to be learned about attitudes and events in colonial America between the covers of this book that is eye-opening, and it’s also just plain entertaining.

V. (Not yet read)

The Crying of Lot 49 (Not yet read)

Gravity’s Rainbow (Not yet read)

Slow Learner (collection of early short stories) (Not yet read)

Vineland (Not yet read)

Against the Day (Not yet read)

Inherent Vice (Not yet read)

Author Rating: D

Cryptonomicon (read 5/31/11) AVOID

What a disappointment! Wasted hours I’ll never get back!

I suffered through 170 pages, hoping beyond hope that this would improve because it came so widely and enthusiastically recommended, but it is among the worst of the worst. Neal Stephenson is in desperate need of an editor, but the world would have been a better place had the publisher declined this waste of paper in the first place. I understand why it is over 900 pages long — when Stephenson isn’t repeating himself endlessly, he’s filling pages with number strings in an apparent attempt to numb the reader into a coma with complex math.

Seriously, your time is better spent sitting in a dark room with a blanket over your head than reading this book.

The Baroque Cycle:

Quicksilver (not yet read)

The Confusion (not yet read)

The System of the World (not yet read)

(Wikpedia) [A] series of novels by American writer Neal Stephenson. It was published in three volumes containing 8 books in 2003 and 2004.The story follows the adventures of a sizeable cast of characters living amidst some of the central events of the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Europe. Despite featuring a literary treatment consistent with historical fiction, Stephenson has characterized the work as science fiction, due to the presence of some anomalous occurrences and the work’s particular emphasis on themes relating to science and technology. The sciences of cryptology and numismatics feature heavily in the series.

The books travel throughout Early Modern Europe between the Restoration Stuart Monarchy until the beginning of the 18th century. Though most of the focus is in Europe, the adventures of Jack do take him throughout the world and the fledgling British colonies in North America are important to Daniel Waterhouse. Quicksilver takes place mainly in the years between the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in England (1660) and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Confusion follows Quicksilver without temporal interruption, but ranges geographically from Europe and the Mediterranean through India to Manila, Japan, and Mexico. The System of the World takes place principally in London in 1714, about ten years after the events of The Confusion.

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