Saturday, September 24, 2016

Why Read Historical Fiction?

Why do we like to read historical fiction?

By Michelle Ule

Experts say if you want to learn about political history, read history books.

If you want to learn about social history and what life was like at a given time and place, read historical fiction.

While I happen to like reading history books, I find most of the fiction I gravitate toward is historical.

I suspect the same may be true of many of you.

By definition

Fiction take us out of current living for entertainment.

Historical fiction takes us back to a different time and place and, if read with an eye toward themes, can give us insight into our present.

Or not.

Regardless of your reasons, by reading historical fiction you gain knowledge.

My mother, for example, based all she knew about the Regency era in England on the novels she read.

She may not have been able to articulate Prime Minister William Pitt's political ideals, but she knew what the women wore, how they liked to spend time and what their concerns were.

Her knowledge, of course, was for members of the Jane Austen era and her character's peers and up into the aristocracy.

"But what about the poor people, the ones Dickens wrote about, Mom?" I asked.

She shook her head. "Their lives were very hard."

So she did know, though perhaps not in the nitty-gritty sense Charles Dickens described.

The history of historical fiction

It's been around a long time. William Shakespeare, for example, relied upon past histories to write his own plays--plays like Henry V and even Hamlet.

Many fine works are the result of altering an historical tale and adding fictional characters to explore themes and other ideas using basic facts.

I've used it myself in nearly all my historical novellas, particularly the two written out of family history events: The Dogtrot Christmas and An Inconvenient Gamble. 

The past true stories enabled me to embroider with descriptions and character studies to tell a deeper tale than what a straight recounting of events provided.

There really isn't anything new under the sun.

Our takeaway.

It's fiction therefore it isn't real, so what is our takeaway as a reader?

Universal truth is true, no matter the time or place.

Historical fiction, using its deep imagery and description can slip insights into our minds without cluttering them with the sense, "I need to learn something from this."

For example, "there's nothing new under the sun," which is a Biblical principle described by King Solomon, is proved every time you read an historical novel.

The events in which the characters find themselves feels familiar, if you strip them past whatever their time period.

Putting them into a different setting enables us to look at the human emotions and reactions without necessarily squirming until later.

So, when I read Scarlett O'Hara defiantly shaking her head and saying, "I'll think about that tomorrow," it can also be true of me.

But if I'm disapproving of Scarlett's behavior but recognize my own similar attitude, I can stop--and squirm.

(Use this argument only if you have people complaining about your reading habits).

Pure Entertainment?

If you read historical fiction for pure entertainment, good for you. 

There's nothing like a good book--no matter the genre!

Tweetables

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Scarlett O'Hara and Jane Austen as role models? Click to Tweet

Michelle Ule is the author of six published works. Her current project is a biography, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, which releases in October 2017. Read more about her at www.michelleule.com

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review: Three Sisters, Three Queens


Philippa Gregory
Touchstone Books, August 2016

About the Book

As sisters they share an everlasting bond. As queens they can break each other’s hearts.

“There is only one bond that I trust: between a woman and her sisters. We never take our eyes off each other. In love and in rivalry, we always think of each other.”

When Katherine of Aragon is brought to the Tudor court as a young bride, the oldest princess, Margaret, takes her measure. With one look, each knows the other for a rival, an ally, a pawn, destined—with Margaret’s younger sister Mary—to a sisterhood unique in all the world. The three sisters will become the queens of England, Scotland, and France.

United by family loyalties and affections, the three queens find themselves set against each other. Katherine commands an army against Margaret and kills her husband James IV of Scotland. But Margaret’s boy becomes heir to the Tudor throne when Katherine loses her son. Mary steals the widowed Margaret’s proposed husband, but when Mary is widowed it is her secret marriage for love that is the envy of the others. As they experience betrayals, dangers, loss, and passion, the three sisters find that the only constant in their perilous lives is their special bond, more powerful than any man, even a king.

My Review

I have read a number of books by Ms. Gregory and have enjoyed them all. This one didn't grab me as much as others like Lady of the Rivers and The Kingmaker's Daughters. At any rate, I did enjoy this story. With so little being known about the main character, Margaret Tudor, who became the queen of Scotland at the same time her brother, Henry VIII was king of England, the author had a lot of unknown details where she could use creative license to fill in the blanks. Other than the fact that she married three times, there was a lot of leeway for the author to create a background to explain why she might have married two more times.

The first time resulted in King James of Scotland. The other two were with clansmen, one with noble blood and one without. I found it interesting how she went from loving her sisters (Kathryn of Aragon by marriage and Mary Tudor, her younger sister) to hating or envying them quite a bit. Her attitude changed like the wind and she was full of pride, yet she had a softer side to her. I think the fact that it rarely came out made her less likable, though she was a strong woman. In the beginning she seemed a bit weak because of her human desire to be wanted and loved. Interestingly enough, the three sisters all had something in common. The first time each of them got married it was by contract and planned for political reasons. After being widowed, they each married for love and not for political reasons.

The point of view of Margaret Tudor provided an interesting perspective on how Kathryn of Aragon may have been perceived by many in England. She was loved by the people because of her commitment to the king, her husband King Henry VIII, despite how he treated her toward the end. I found it interesting how Margaret Tudor was granted a divorce from her unfaithful and power-hungry husband of the Douglas clan before her brother King Henry VIII sought his divorce (though they were requested for different reasons) and how that would reflect on the Tudors as well as the perspective of the time: marriage was for life when it came to royalty. And yet they each broke their marriage contracts.

Interesting book with one main character, Margaret Tudor. I always wondered what her life might have been like, and Ms. Gregory provided some details that painted a picture, though it is obviously fiction.

Michelle Szymanoski
Michelle Sutton author—Healing Hearts

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Review~Resurrection of Hope by Tamera Lynn Kraft

Resurrection of Hope by Tamera Lynn Kraft
Desert Breeze Publishing, July 2016
$7.99, 92 pages

About the Author:

Tamera Lynn Kraft has always loved adventures. She loves to write historical fiction because there are so many stories in history. She has two novellas published, Soldier’s Heart through Helping Hands Press and A Christmas Promise through Pelican Book Group. Tamera has recently celebrated her thirty-fifth anniversary with her loving husband. She has two grown and married children and two grandchildren.

Tamera has been a children’s pastor for over 20 years. She is the leader of a ministry called Revival Fire For Kids where she mentors other children’s leaders, teaches workshops, and is a children’s ministry consultant and children’s evangelist. She has curriculum published and is a recipient of the 2007 National Children’s Leaders Association Shepherd’s Cup for lifetime achievement in children’s ministry. Visit her online: 

From Amazon:

She thought he was her knight in shining armor, but will a marriage of convenience prove her wrong? 

After Vivian’s fiancé dies in the Great War, she thinks her life is over. But Henry, her fiancé’s best friend, comes to the rescue offering a marriage of convenience. He claims he promised his friend he would take care of her. She grows to love him, but she knows it will never work because he never shows any love for her. 

Henry adores Vivian and has pledged to take care of her, but he won’t risk their friendship by letting her know. She’s still in love with the man who died in the Great War. He won’t risk heartache by revealing his true emotions. 

My Review:

The message of hope for two wounded people is beautifully told in this novella set in post WWI Ohio. Vivian and Henry both have pasts that causes them to pull back from intimacy. For Henry this extends to everyone, not just his wife. Flawed as these characters are, they keep trying to trust God and listen for his direction. But just as they are about to give up on each other, tragedy hits and they finally hear God's voice. An uplifting story that I highly recommend.

This book was provided to me free by the author in exchange for my honest review, which I have given.

Reviewed by Cindy Thomson, www.cindyswriting.com




Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review: Nothing but Echoes


Anne Montgomery
Anne Montgomery
Sara Book Publishing, January 2016

About the Book

The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician...and uncovers more than she bargained for.

In 1939, archaeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate beadwork, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.

Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on the magician shows that he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover the magician’s origin carries her back to a time to when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archaeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.

My Review

I chose this book from a pile I had scheduled to read and figured if it held my interest I’d keep going. Well, I finished the book so it obviously kept me reading. It was set up to alternate from the past (1098 AD Arizona) to the present day. As the reporter tried to investigate the history of the magician, there was a parallel story alongside the present day that showed what happened in the past with the native people settled in that area. I found it interesting how the author sort of gave you a lesson on migration and trying to assess where people groups originated from based on beadwork and artifacts. That was really interesting. There were some colorful characters in both the past and present era. I loved how the author gave the disabled child (who had one leg much shorter than the other) a talent for carving items out of wood and for painting pottery.

The author’s writing was good and nicely descriptive. There were some point of view switches mid scene but they weren’t jarring and didn’t pull me from the story. I found some of the odd incidences with spirits from the past a bit confounding though I think I understood what the author was trying to show (what comes around goes around maybe?). Also, the story had nice pacing for the majority of the book, yet it felt a bit rushed at the very end.

Regardless, I did enjoy the story and especially the fact that most of it occurred in Flagstaff and/or around NAU, where my sons both attended college in the past. The way the author told the story was unique. Since the setting was in Arizona and I’ve visited many of the places in the story, I found it especially fun to read. Some of her descriptions really gave me a sense of time and place, like the sound of the wind whispering through the pines. Ahhh. It’s gorgeous in Northern Arizona.

If you enjoy stories about ancient American cultures and archaeology, you will enjoy this book.

Michelle Sutton author—Healing Hearts

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Review: A Study in Death


Anna Lee Huber
AStudy in Death (A Lady Darby Mystery, Book 4)
By Anna Lee Huber
Berkley, July 2015

About the Book

Scotland, 1831. After a tumultuous courtship complicated by three deadly inquiries, Lady Kiera Darby is thrilled to have found both an investigative partner and a fiancé in Sebastian Gage. But with her well-meaning—and very pregnant—sister planning on making their wedding the event of the season, Kiera could use a respite from the impending madness.

Commissioned to paint the portrait of Lady Drummond, Kiera is saddened when she recognizes the pain in the baroness’s eyes. Lord Drummond is a brute, and his brusque treatment of his wife forces Kiera to think of the torment caused by her own late husband.

Kiera isn’t sure how to help, but when she finds Lady Drummond prostrate on the floor, things take a fatal turn. The physician called to the house and Lord Drummond appear satisfied to rule her death natural, but Kiera is convinced that poison is the real culprit. Now, armed only with her knowledge of the macabre and her convictions, Kiera intends to discover the truth behind the baroness’s death—no matter what, or who, stands in her way.

My Review

When Lady Drummond’s physician immediately pronounces apoplexy as the cause of her sudden and violent demise, Lady Kiera Darby suspects otherwise. Lord Drummond is known to be a brutish husband, but is he the only suspect? Kiera suspects poison after considering Lady Drummond’s symptoms, but how was it administered and why?

With the help of the colorful Bonnie Brock, Gage and Kiera must uncover the source of the poison and most importantly, find a suspect, when it seems that everyone but her moody husband adored her. Back at Cromarty House, Kiera’s sister Alana faces a potentially dangerous confinement with her fourth child but busies herself over planning Gage and Kiera’s upcoming wedding.

This is the fourth book in the Lady Darby Mystery Series, and Kiera’s multi-layered personality really shines. Kiera is loyal, smart, and committed, but unlike so many literary sleuths, Kiera has deep secrets, sharp edges, and flaws. Gage and Kiera must learn to ignore their secretive instincts and trust one another, both as investigators and spouses, and that is a complicated and often painful journey, as life always is.

Kiera’s new friendship with a character from an earlier book, Lady Stratford, is delightful and I hope her character reappears in future books. This series has all the elements: a vibrant female lead, worthy opponents, and a realistic romance. It’s just a shame that I have to wait a year before joining Kiera again.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: A Grave Matter


Anna Lee Huber
A Grave Matter (A Lady Darby Mystery, Book 3)
By Anna Lee Huber
Berkley, July 2014

About the Book

Following the death of her dear friend, Lady Kiera Darby is in need of a safe haven. Returning to her childhood home, Kiera hopes her beloved brother Trevor and the merriment of the Hogmanay Ball will distract her. But when a caretaker is murdered and a grave is disturbed at nearby Dryburgh Abbey, Kiera is once more thrust into the cold grasp of death.

While Kiera knows that aiding in another inquiry will only further tarnish her reputation, her knowledge of anatomy could make the difference in solving the case. But agreeing to investigate means Kiera must deal with the complicated emotions aroused in her by inquiry agent Sebastian Gage.

When Gage arrives, he reveals that the incident at the Abbey was not the first—some fiend is digging up old bones and holding them for ransom. Now Kiera and Gage must catch the grave robber and put the case to rest before another victim winds up six feet under.

My Review

Anna Lee Huber returns with the third Lady Kiera Darby mystery in the series, A Grave Matter. In the two months since her beloved friend’s death, Kiera returns to her childhood home in the Border region of Scotland to grieve. At a Hogmanay ball (New Year’s Eve) at the home of her aunt and uncle, a servant rushes in at the stroke of midnight to announce a murder and a grave robbery at nearby Dryburgh Abbey.

Kiera jumps in to investigate and eventually must call upon inquiry agent Sebastian Gage to assist her once more. When a ransom note arrives for the stolen bones, Kiera and Gage help the deceased’s family members try to identify the culprits. But as more families report snatched bodies, the two investigators uncover a conspiracy that involves some of Edinburgh’s most notorious criminals and a descendant of a particularly notable family. As Kiera and Gage follow the twists and turns of the investigation, Kiera must come to terms with the complicated feelings she has for Gage and let go of the hurt and distrust caused by her late husband.

Suspenseful, full of romantic tension and Kiera’s trademark wit, Huber tells another dynamic story of mystery, intrigue, and love in nineteenth-century Scotland. Kiera and Gage’s relationship is irresistible and adds its own spark to the already precarious positions the two find themselves in. Truly delightful, this is one is impossible to put down. Highly recommended!




Monday, August 22, 2016


We'll always be thankful for our introduction to A Town Like Alice.


By Michelle Ule

Long ago, we watched PBS' Masterpiece Theater religiously. It didn't matter what they produced on Sunday nights, we watched it.

We only had a couple television stations in those days before cable, and we had little money during my husband's early years in the military. Sunday nights at 9 were special.

 We found many programs we loved over the years (Poldark I and II come to mind), but the one that has given us the most pleasure over all the years since then came from a story written by Neville Shute: A Town Like Alice.

An Unusual WWII story

It began simply enough with a London lawyer driving his car through the gloom of a Scotland night to the home of a reclusive bachelor who needed to write his will in the early 1930s.

 A bachelor himself but more modern, narrator Noel Strachan took down the notes and made note of the heirs.

He raised his eyebrows when his client insisted that everything went to his nephew then living in Malaya with his family, but if for some reason the then-schoolboy predeceased his younger sister, the money could go to her--when she was 35!

 Strachan didn't approve, but it seemed so unlikely a thing to happen, he wrote the will, the Scotsman signed it and everything went back to sleepy normal.

 Except a war erupted and the world changed.

 The Scottish bachelor died five or so years after the war and Strachan went hunting for the heirs.

The nephew had died building the railroad as depicted in The Bridge over the River Kwai. The men were sent off to the railway where many died.

 The search changes his life and opened his eyes to so much his staid suits and organized life didn't expect.

Watching Noel grown and change is poignant and wonderful.

Jean


 Jean Paget, then working for a shoe manufacture back in England was the sole heir.

 Noel took  a liking to the lonely thirty year old and saw himself as a man about the world who could introduce her to the great things of life: fine dining, literature, plays and the opera.

Good natured, she went along and enjoyed the outings, one day insisting he join her at a local ice skating rink, where she lets down for a moment, reflecting, "I used to dream about ice skating out there."

Noel may not have realized how lonely he was himself, but asked her to tell him about her life during the war in Malaya.

 Oh, my. What a tale she told.

 Simple?

Unfamiliar with the world?

No, like so many post-war, she had been broken by her experiences and knew far more about life, love, suffering and the joy of giving than Noel had ever imagined.

Joe

When the Japanese forces came up river and seized all the men in the ex-pat community where Jean worked as a secretary and lived with her brother, they separated the British men from the women and children.

Image result for a town like alice The women and children were sent to a Japanese internment camp--but they had to walk there.

 And so began a year-long saga of walking through the Malayan heat and humidity from one Japanese officer to another--constantly being turned away.

 They died, one by one, until just a small band were left and encountered, two Australian prisoners who knew how to drive and repair trucks.

 Joe Harmon was a wiley sort, as he and his mate drove up and down the roads moving supplies for the Japanese.

 He fell for Jean, though he thought her married since she had a "little nipper" with her (the orphaned child of a friend), but he wanted to help the women and stole the items they needed.

They were thin and wracked by malaria.

He snatched food and medicines where he could, siphoned gas from the truck tanks to sell and helped them for some time.

Until one day, he outrageously stole the local commander's prize chickens.

When they found Joe, the Japanese crucified him.

Recognizing her did it to impress her, Jean was crushed.

After the War

Her story shocked Noel.

She told him that night she had decided what to do with her substantial inheritance. Jean wanted to return to Malaya and build a well.

She wasn't old enough to command her fortune.

Would Noel okay the funds?

He heard a little more of the story and why she wanted to build a well for a small fishing village that ultimately sheltered the women and let them work in the rice paddies for the rest of the war--thus saving their lives.

Recognizing at this point the change in his own life if she went, he agreed to see her go--as long as she promised to come back.

Of course she would come back. There was nothing for her other this desire to bless the village which had blessed her.

He saw her off, received wonderful letters of her adventures, and one day Joe Harmon walked into his London office.

The rest of the story?

Glorious and oh, so satisfying.

 Neville Shute 

 My husband and I both love this story and bought the DVD from PBS, which we enjoy just as much.

But we also love all the books by Neville Shute, laughing that they are love stories in which the hero is always an engineer like my guy. (Not always, but mechanical forces often show up).

Our favorite book of his is probably Trustee from the Toolroom, but it's no so famous or easy to find as A Town Like Alice.

 Treat yourself to either the book or the movie.

Love, war, engineering, England, Australia and an immensely satisfying ending.

Oh and that town? Alice Springs is in Australia.

You can view the trailer here.

 Tweetables

A Town Like Alice: love, WWII, the far east and an engineer. What could be better? Click to Tweet

Our favorite WWII love story, the astonishing A Town Like Alice. Click to Tweet       

Michelle Ule is the best-selling author of six novels/novellas and the biographer of the forthcoming (Baker Books, October 2017). Learn more about her at www.michelleule.com
Mrs. Oswald Chambers