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Everything Old is New Again October 15, 2010

Posted by stacey in Genre Book Discussion, Historical Fiction.
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I have to mention that this book discussion was unexpectedly lively, especially considering we were sharing books in which the most current time period was set nearly sixty years into the past! There was a dramatic reenactment inspired by one of the books, interesting factoids shared about WWII for a few of the others, and everyone enjoyed the book they read. I mean really, how often can you get all goodness of that from one group of books -and the people who read them? I guess it could have been an unusually lucky selection of titles, but I’m leaning more towards the idea that we all like historical fiction more than we might all like some of the other genres. What do you all think? Read what everyone is saying about their book and give a little ponder why don’t you?

Janet: Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada was written in 1947 and translated into English in 2009. This book is about what life was like for the residents of Berlin while it was under Nazi control. Eva and Enno Kluge, the Persicke family, Frau Rosenthal, Otto and Anna Quangel, Emil Borkhausen, Inspector Escherich, Trudi and Karl Hergesell were the main characters that throughout this book would come and go into each other’s lives as the larger story was told. The main focus of this book centered on the ongoing act of resistance that Otto and Anna Quangel began after their only son was killed in the war. However, Hans Fallada’s greatest achievement was telling the reader how day-to-day living was miserable, unbearable and usually led to each character facing death alone.

Ann: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Juliet Ashton, a writer, is at odds after the war (World War II), but a letter from a man on the island of Guernsey peaks her interest in the island and its occupation by the Germans during the war. Charming and sweet, but also brings you face to face with the horrors of World War II. Guernsey sounds like such a fascinating island, I’m ready to pack my bags and go visit.

Dori: The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer begins in 1937 when Andras leaves his close-knit family in Hungary to study architecture in Paris on scholarship. There, he falls in love with the city and with Klara, a dance teacher and fellow Hungarian immigrant with a mysterious past. Both Jewish, they and their friends become victims of anti-Semitism when the Germans occupy France. After the war begins, they are forced to return to Budapest to face the horrors of World War II. Well-researched and emotionally stirring, this epic novel is a story of art, family, love and the sweep of history.

Megan: Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials by Stephanie Hemphill
In Salem Village Massachusetts in 1692 a series of illnesses are blamed on witchcraft. A group of teenaged girls, known as the Afflicted, begin to accuse their neighbors of being witches. For months the village leaders not only allow, but encourage Ann Putnam, Mercy Lewis, and Margaret Walcott to lead them on a witch hunt that has deadly consequences for 20 of the more than 200 accused people. Told in verse, this fictionalized account of real events offers a frightening glimpse into the minds of three of the accusers.

Julie: Both The Boys from St. Petri by Bjarne Reuter and Hornet Flight by Ken Follett put the history spotlight on Danish resistance during WWII. Denmark’s rescue of Danish Jews during the occupation has been the topic of several books, but the efforts to thwart Nazi operations are not as often written about. These are two excellent stories of espionage during that era.

Carol: Jane Smiley’s novel, Private Life takes place between the Civil War and World War II. In this historical context, readers meet Margaret Mayfield who is born in small-town Missouri in the 1870s. Margaret’s mother raises three daughters alone—thrilled when she marries them off. Margaret is last, at 27, when she weds Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early, a naval officer, astronomer, and rumored genius. Sadly for Margaret, life with the ‘genius’ is unbearable, and in an era where divorcing is not an option, Margaret quietly plays the role of the good wife. Private Life is a compelling read that details some ugly parts of our country’s past, where among other things, many stayed unhappily married.

Emma: Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen is the story of a wedding and murder at Castle Bran in Transylvania. Set in 1932, Lady Georgiana Rannoch (Georgie) is asked to represent the royal family by attending the wedding of former classmate Princess Maria Theresa of Romania to Prince Nicholas of Bulgaria. At a dinner before the nuptials Field Marshal Pirin, head of the Bulgarian army and a close adviser to his country’s king, is poisoned and someone tries to frame Georgie for the murder. A very entertaining historical mystery.

Rosemary: Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons is for readers who enjoy the leisurely unfolding of character and plot in their fiction. The Rosenblums emigrate to England during WWII. Mrs. Rosenblum is devastated by this move from Berlin. Although Jack is truly unaware of it, their marriage is in tatters. Sadie is consumed by guilt and anger over her leaving her entire family in Germany. She cannot understand why Jack can forge ahead with his life. The key to some of Jack’s good cheer and energy is found in a pamphlet given to him by the British government on how to become an Englishman. Jack follows the instructions to the letter. He is convinced that he will be welcomed by his fellow villagers. When his application for membership to the local golf club is denied, he decides to build his own. What ensues is sometimes funny and often heartbreaking, but it is always the quintessential Mr. Jack Rosenblum.

Evelyn: Juliet: A Novel by Anne Fortier. When their Aunt Rose dies, twins Julie and Janice Jacobs inherit everything, but not equally. Janice gets the estate, and Julie gets a key for a safe deposit box that belonged to her dead mother in Siena, Italy. Soon Julie learns that her birth name was Guilietta Tolomei and that she has a namesake ancestor who lived in Siena in 1340. Inside the safe deposit box are five versions of the play Romeo and Juliet–all previous to Shakespeare’s version. Could it be possible that her ancestor was the original Juliet? This first novel is captivating. I loved both stories–the one set in 1340 and the one in the present. Lots of historical details add to the story.

Stacey: Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati is the story of Elizabeth Middleton, an English spinster who’s come to live with her well-established father in Paradise, New York. Elizabeth’s dream is to teach the children of this small community but her father wants to use her as a pawn in marriage to pay off personal debts, but keep his land in the family. When she meets Nathaniel Bonner, the son of Hawkeye Bonner, the decisions Elizabeth has to make get more difficult and confusing. Can Elizabeth help the Native people reclaim their mountain from her father, are her feelings for Nathaniel being honestly returned, and can she accomplish her goal of starting a school for the local children? This will appeal to anyone who enjoys a fast-paced, adventurous, informative, romantic, and fabulous book! It’s also the first in the series that was just completed with book number six, The Endless Forest. And sometimes it’s nice to know that there’s an honest-to-gosh ending to a series, no matter how much you like them, don’t you think?

I’m not sure we’ll be able to top this experience, but we’ll give it a shot with Adventure books! We’ll be looking for books that have fast-moving plots, unusual locations, and unstoppable heroes (or why not a heroine?)! Sort of like an action movie, but better –because it’s a book! Enjoy the challenge!

— Stacey

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