Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Book Review: Hawaii, by James Michener

index (1)First published in 1959 and clocking in at well over 900 pages, this novel has stood up to the test of time. Michener, as was his pattern in his series of historical novels, starts with a section on the geological history of Hawaii which I skimmed through. He then tells the history of Hawaii through the stories of various families who came to the islands. The first, a Polynesian group, travel in canoes from Bora Bora, a journey of thousands of miles which they undertook in the ninth century. They find the islands beautiful and fertile and are the first people to live there. The author then jumps ahead to the New England based missionaries who come to Hawaii in the 1820s along with the whaling ships with their crews with their years long voyages. Their descendants become the economic and social ruling class who imported the Chinese and Japanese laborers to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations. The laborers’ children and grandchildren had to struggle to be accepted as full members of Hawaiian society and experienced many problems of racism in their fight. I found this book interesting and an easy way to absorb the history of our 50th state.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

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Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession, by Charlie Lovett

Part rare book mystery, part love story, this is a fun, lighter read for fans of Possession or Shadow of the Wind. The historical side of the mystery is the more interesting part. Peter Byerly, an antiquarian bookseller, moves to rural England following the death of his wife, and finds an old portrait resembling her. Researching the portrait’s origins leads him to a book that might prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays. But is the book a forgery?

RATING: * * *  A good read

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Reviewed by: stc

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Review: Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan

This is Jordan’s first novel and winner of the 2006 Bellweather Prize for socially engaged fiction. The prize was established in 2000 by novelist Barbara Kingsolver and is funded by her. Mudbound is set in the years right after the end of World War II and centers on Laura and Henry McAllan and their family. Henry, a World War I veteran, without informing his wife, buys a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta and takes Laura and their two small daughters to live there with his father and troubled veteran brother, Jamie. Henry farms the land with the aid of sharecropper families both black and white. My book club, in general, liked this book although the plot is rather depressing and emphasizes the terrible racial injustices endured by black people in the South as well as the problems of returning veterans finding a place in society after the horrors of war that they witnessed.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

What happens to a woman’s life when she has no means of support, no one to help her, and no place to go to escape? And it’s winter in rural Iceland, 1828. Based on a historical events, Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, convicted of brutally killing two men. It’s also the story of Tóti, the young priest sent to help her prepare for her execution, and the family charged with housing her at their farm until execution can be arranged. As they live and talk with Agnes, they–and the reader–come to appreciate that her story is more than what is found in the court proceedings, and that Agnes is not just a villain, but also a victim.  Beautifully evoking a lack of choices in a bleak and cold landscape, this debut novel will make you appreciate privacy, central heating, and snowplows.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: stc

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Review: The Light in the Ruins: A Novel, by Chris Bohjalian

Vermont based, award winning novelist Chris Bohjalian tackles World War II Italy in this historical novel, focusing on the Rosati family, of “noble lineage” and owners of the Villa Chimera and the Eutruscan tombs found on the property. The Rosatis become too accommodating to the German forces in their area who are first allies and later occupiers. The story alternates between 1943 and 1955 when someone begins to kill off the remaining Rosati family members in a gruesome fashion. One of the detectives investigating the case was on the Partisan side during the war and she paid a high price for her part in fighting the Nazi forces. Bohjalian is a terrific writer and has tackled a variety of subjects in his seventeen novels. One of my book club members said historical novels are her favorite way of learning history.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Lacuna: A Novel, by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver sets this novel in the mid-twentieth century. The main character, Harrison Shepherd, moves between Mexico and the United States as he grows up. While in Mexico he is employed by the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and later Leon Trotsky who has fled from the USSR after his falling out with Stalin. In the United States he is at the fringes of the 1933 Bonus March in Washington D.C. where the marchers are met with a harsh reaction by the government. Later Harrison is caught up in the net of the House Un-American Activities Committee which was investigating alleged disloyal and subversive activities by American citizens at the start of the Cold War. I found this novel a little slow starting but filled with fascinating, historically accurate details.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Mission to Paris, by Alan Furst

Set in Paris in late 1938 and early 1939, this novel has the same ominous, foreboding tone as the nonfiction In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Furst’s main character is Hollywood leading man Fredric Stahl, originally from Austria but now making films for Warner Brothers in California. Stahl is in Paris because he was lent to Paramount France to make a swashbuckling French film. The German Reich Foreign Ministry has its eye on Stahl and tries to pressure him into participating in their campaign of political warfare against the French to weaken French morale and see eventual conquest by Germany as inevitable. Library Journal calls this author “a master of historical espionage” and compares him to Graham Greene and John Le Carre.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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