Historical fiction can be an effective way for anyone trying to get basic knowledge of a period. When facts are revealed as a story they are easier to understand and remember. A great introduction to the beginning years of Queen Victoria’s reign is the novel Victoria by Daisy Godwin. Victoria inherited the throne when she was only eighteen years old. Although she knew she would be queen, she had been given very little exposure to the politics of reigning. Her widowed mother insisted that she was protecting her by keeping Victoria almost secluded. Victoria’s diaries and court observations are used as sources that show us someone who would now be defined as a rebellious teenager. At the very beginning of her reign she asserted herself by distancing herself from her mother and making her own choice as to the name she wished to be known by. She did commit several political missteps and the author depicted the known facts in a very plausible manner, giving Victoria what would seem like understandable motivations. My occasional dissatisfaction with historical fiction is when an author seems to place contemporary values in a different era and that did not happen in this novel.
The central character in King of Fear by Drew Chapman is Garrett Reilly, a bond trader who had worked for the government on a secret project which made use of his unique ability to work with numbers. He is no longer working for the government and is mourning the death of his mentor who gave him his position on Wall Street. When a woman assassinated the president of the New York City Federal Bank, she claimed she had been directed by Reilly to do the shooting. This is the beginning of an effort to destroy the American economy. With every federal agent in the country searching for Reilly, he managed to reassemble his team to find out who is trying to destroy America and why. This is a very exciting novel that describes the ways that determined hackers can destroy a nation’s infrastructure. The people on Reilly’s team all have interesting character defects, several that make them effective at anti-terrorism. All sorts of tricky ways to get information are revealed.
What if you only had a week to understand the secrets of the past that have left your mother with severe depression and yourself prone to panic attacks? A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore is the story of two young women caught up in the glamour and tragedy of Paris. Kitty Travers left England in 1937 to study piano in Paris. In 1961 her daughter, Fay Knox is playing the violin as part of a week-long symphonic tour of Paris. Fay remembered a trip to Paris as a schoolchild when she had experienced what felt like flashbacks even though her mother told her that she had never been to France. Just before Fay left, her mother told her to talk to Mother Superior Marie at St. Cecelia. The novel alternates between Kitty and Fay as they each fall in love in the romantic city. The book portrays the particular attractions of Paris during each era. The dangers of wartime are a part of the story that Fay needs to understand so she can help her mother heal.
Julia Keller’s novel, Sorrow Road entwines secrets from 1938 with a present day death in an Alzheimer’s care facility. Bell Elkins and Darlene Strayer both grew up in Appalachia and both went to Georgetown Law School. Bell is a county prosecutor in Aker’s Gap, West Virginia while Darlene is a federal prosecutor based in northern Virginia. Although Darlene rarely comes home, she has met with Bell to ask her to investigate her father’s death at the Thornapple Terrace, an Alzheimer’s facility. When Darlene has a fatal car accident going down the mountain after their meeting, Bell is left trying to understand what she needs to investigate. What could possible motivate anyone to murder an Alzheimer’s patient, other than a mercy killing? Bell’s life is further complicated when her adult daughter, Carla returns home. Murder almost always has roots in the past, but this story lets the past motivate the present in several ways. Practically every character is strongly influenced by past choices and actions. The brutal winter weather is so well portrayed that it can be felt as strongly as the actions of the characters. Winter puts particular pressures on small rural towns with dangerous roads that impact the story. The poverty of rural West Virginia is a motivator for several acts of violence. The connections will elude the reader until the end of the novel.
In bestselling author Robyn Carr’s latest novel, Emma and Riley are childhood friends through high school. Things fall apart when Emma goes off to college and leaves Riley behind with Jock, Emma’s boyfriend.
Fast forward several years. Emma is reeling from the betrayal of her husband and subsequent suicide. Emma, with nothing to her name, comes home. Riley now owns a very successful cleaning business, and reluctantly hires Emma. But Emma can’t escape her past and has a difficult time, until she re-unites with Adam, Riley’s brother. Let’s just say this makes for an uncomfortable family dynamic.
For a romance novel, this book packs a little of everything between the covers. Pain, loyalty, friendship, hardship and of course – love.
What people are eating is a reflection of their society. A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe explores what people were or were not able to eat during the Depression. It also covers various ways that the government attempted to provide relief to its citizens who were often in crisis. I had not realized that before this period, the federal government had no involvement in the nutrition of its citizens. This was also an era of discoveries of how vitamins and minerals worked to promote good health. When US citizens were so desperate for food, some actually dying of starvation, the government was forced to step up. Different methods of relief were tried at different times. When farm crops were abundant, the federal government bought up the surplus and turned it over to various organizations for distribution to the disadvantaged. The Red Cross frequently had a role in this. The Depression was also an era that ushered in the school lunch program. Research was done that showed how poorly children learned when they were hungry. These two food historians have uncovered so much information about how people and government coped with hunger. Recipes are even included.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer was a truly cautionary tale of a non-fiction book about a disastrous storm that took place when many climbers were attempting to ascend Mt. Everest. The Summit by Harry Farthing is a fictional novel of two men who attempt Mr. Everest, separated by seventy years. Neil Quinn is a successful climbing guide for Mt. Everest who has been to the top eight times. His current client is very challenging. Nelson Tate, Jr. is a sixteen-year-old who has already summited six of the seven highest peaks in the world. Quinn has been hired by Nelson’s very wealthy father to get him to the top. After the young man died on the mountain, Tate, Sr. ensures that Quinn is blackballed as a climbing guide. Quinn returns to Europe and tries to understand how he came down the mountain with an ice axe marked with a Nazi swastika. Some incredible characters based on real life figures point him in the direction of Josef Becker, a climber sponsored by the Nazis who had tried to climb Everest before WWII. The novel alternates the feats of these two climbers. The story is often literally cliff hanging, but it also is a fictional historical detection of one of the legends of Everest. The book an exciting depiction of mountain climbing, but also a vivid portrait of the era when the Nazi government attempted to display German superiority.