WTBE Historical Novel Reading Group

Book Selections, 2018-2019

Except for September 2019, we meet the second Monday of each month through June 2019 at 12:30 in the TBE Library.

September 17. Rachel Kadish, The Weight of Ink, Amsterdam, London, 2017.
“Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history. Here is a quotation from an interview with the author:
“What, I wondered, would it take for a woman of that era, with that kind of capacious intelligence, not to die without writing a word? For one thing, she’d have to be a genius at breaking rules. My novel The Weight of Ink reaches back in time to ask the question: what does it take for a woman not to be defeated when everything around her is telling her to sit down and mind her manners? I started writing with two characters in mind, both women who don’t mind their manners: a contemporary historian named Helen Watt and a seventeenth century Inquisition refugee named Ester Velasquez.”

October 8. Ruth Downie, Medicus. (Gaius Petreius Ruso, #1) London, 2007, by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC .
What I love about this book and the ones that follow is the humor, in the vein of comic relief. Ruso and his female slave begin their relationship viewing each other with comical suspicion and bias.
“Gaius Petrius Ruso is a divorced and down-on his luck army doctor who has made the rash decision to seek his fortune in an inclement outpost of the Roman Empire, namely Britannia. His arrival in Deva (more commonly known as Chester, England) does little to improve his mood, and after a straight thirty six hour shift at the army hospital, he succumbs to a moment of weakness and rescues an injured slave girl, Tilla, from the hands of her abusive owner.

Who are the true barbarians, the conquered or the conquerors? It’s up to Ruso—certainly the most likeable sleuth to come out of the Roman Empire—to discover the truth. With a gift for comic timing and historic detail, Ruth Downie has conjured an ancient world as raucous and real as our own.”
Published in the UK as Medicus (Ruso) and the Disappearing Dancing Girls. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4278.Medicus

November 12. Anita Mason, The Right Hand of the Sun. John Murray Publishers Ltd, 2008 Paperback, 501 pages
“Two interpreters assist Cortez during his conquest of the Aztecs, but they have their own, very different agendas.
Muluc is a Spaniard, shipwrecked amongst the ‘winic’ for ten years and grown to respect their ways and forget his Christian upbringing. Cortez considers him to have ‘a sort of soft reticence that is not Spanish’.
Marion is a native who becomes Cortez’s mistress as well as interpreter. Originally a slave, she invents a grand past for herself that Muluc sees through but Cortez overlook …more “

December 10. Beverley Swerling, City of Dreams. A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and early Manhattan. New York, Simon and Schuster, 2001. Paperback, 2002. Available on Kindle.
“In 1661, Lucas Turner, a barber surgeon, and his sister, Sally, an apothecary, stagger off a small wooden ship after eleven weeks at sea. Bound to each other by blood and necessity, they aim to make a fresh start in the rough and rowdy Dutch settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam; but soon lust, betrayal, and murder will make them mortal enemies.”

January 14. Ann Epstein, Tazia and Gemma, 2018.
“Spanning 1911 to 1961, Tazia and Gemma is told from the perspective of an unwed mother, whose tale moves forward in time, and her daughter, whose search for her father moves backward. Tazia, a pregnant seventeen-year-old Italian immigrant and survivor of the Triangle Waist Company fire, flees New York, leaving her married lover to think she miscarried the baby he urged her to abort.”

February 11. Barbara Hanbly, A Free Man of Color (Benjamin January, Book 1) 1997. Mass Market Paperbound – 432 pages – 978-0-553-57526-2
Open Ebook – 201 pages – 978-0-307-78527-5

“In her breakout from fantasy and Star Wars novels, Hambly (Mother of Winter) chronicles the adventures of piano teacher and surgeon Ben January, a free man of color. The plot is a whodunit involving the murder of Angelique Crozat, a beautiful but grasping octoroon who was the ex-mistress of a recently deceased Creole (white),
The setting, 1833 New Orleans, is vivid and ornate. Riverboat dandies and roughshod frontiersmen rub elbows with dueling gentlemen of the landed aristocracy as their splendidly gowned wives and colored mistresses celebrate Mardi Gras, oblivious to the squalor, fever and plague around them. Social and sexual mores are lax. Racial bigotry is the norm in a society that classifies people according to an elaborate scale of color and bloodline (octoroon, quadroon, musterfino, etc.). Hambly pays rich attention to period detail–fashion, food, manners, music and voodoo. Her characters, however, speak and think with decidedly modern accents, a departure from period verisimilitude that’s easily justified on grounds of rhythm and pace. The tale lacks some of the moral gravity implied by the title, but it works as an escapist entertainment flavored liberally with the sights, textures, sounds and tastes of a decadent city in a distant time.” planter(https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-553-10258-1).

March 11. Susan Elia MacNeal, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Bantam Paperback, 2012, 358 pages. Kindle edition available.
In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character, Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.
London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for code-breaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

April 8. Michael Crichton, Dragon Teeth. (reviewed in AARP Magazine June 2018, 16) To read e-books on the BookShout App, download it on: iPhone/iPad or Android
“Michael Crichton, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Jurassic Park, returns to the world of paleontology in this recently discovered novel—a thrilling adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting. The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate Americas western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveying, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars.”

May 13. Barbara Cleverly, The Last Kashmiri Rose, (Joe Sandilands Book 1) 2001. Available in Kindle Edition https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004NNUZ50/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
“In 1922 India, a land of saffron sunsets and blazing summer heat, an Englishwoman has been found dead, her wrists slit, her body floating in a bathtub of blood and water. But is it suicide or murder? The case falls to Scotland Yard inspector Joe Sandilands, who survived the horror of the Western Front (WWI) and has endured six sultry months in English-ruled Calcutta. Sandilands is ordered to investigate, and soon discovers that there have been other mysterious deaths, hearkening sinister ties to the present case.”
June10. Charles Frazier, Varina. Published April 3rd 2018 by Ecco . Kindle Edition, 368 pages.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40389469-varina?ac=1&from_search=true
“In his powerful fourth novel, Charles Frazier returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain, vividly bringing to life the chaos and devastation of the Civil War. With her marriage prospects limited, teenage Varina Howell agrees to wed the much-older widower Jefferson Davis, with whom she expects a life of security as a Mississippi landowner. He instead pursues a career in politics and is eventually appointed president of the Confederacy, placing Varina at the white-hot center of one of the darkest moments in American history—culpable regardless of her intentions.
The Confederacy falling, her marriage in tatters, and the country divided, Varina and her children escape Richmond and travel south on their own, now fugitives with “bounties on their heads, an entire nation in pursuit.”
Intimate in its detailed observations of one woman’s tragic life and epic in its scope and power, Varina is a novel of an American war and its aftermath. Ultimately, the book is a portrait of a woman who comes to realize that complicity carries consequences.”

Future possible selections: If you have any of these and can recommend them, please let us know.
Kate Mosse, Sepulchre, 2007. (author of Labyrinth).
Anne Fortier, Juliet, 2010. (I enjoyed reading this, but it has received mixed reviews)
B.A. Shapiro, The Muralist,2015. She also wrote, The Art Forger.

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