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November 2, 2019

4 Books for Fans of Historical Fiction

by Susan Roberts


I enjoy reading historical fiction books especially if they mainly focus on women.  Here are several that I've read recently.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis

The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt
July 2019; Sourcebooks Landmark; 978-1492678861
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); southern fiction
"It's a question of what we own.  Do you own your own life?  If you have never had to ask that question, you are fortunate indeed."  (p 267)

Some bury their secrets close to home. Others scatter them to the wind and hope they land somewhere far away.

I read this beautifully written debut novel very slowly so that I didn't miss any of the lyrical writing and character development.  This novel is Southern fiction at its best.

The year is 1989 and Judith Kratt is 75 years old and living in the large family home in Bound, SC with Olva, a black servant who is also her only friend.  Judith has decided that she needs to make an inventory of all of the wonderful items in her home which is the original home of the Kratt family. She has no heirs but feels that she is the keeper of the Kratt family valuables and, just as important the family stories.

"Our memories orient us just like the furniture in the sunroom." 

As she begins to make a list of items, she ties them to stories in her family history and at the end of every one of the chapters, there is an ongoing list of items that she's mentioned in her stories. Her memories take her back to the early 1930s when many people are suffering due to the depression. Her father is the big man in town and owns most of the mills as well as a new department store. Judith is 15 the year that the store opens and lives with her parents, sister and brother. A tragic event during this time changes her life and the life of her family forever.

As Judith makes her lists in 1989, her past is gradually revealed and she is able to see her life and the effect that her attitudes as a child had on her life and the lives of the people around her. Will the knowledge that she gleans from her past help her make changes or will her focus stay only on the physical items in her house?

This is a  multi-layered story about loyalty, loss and family - not just the family that they are born into but the family created by people who love them.  So sit down on that porch swing with a large glass of sweetened ice tea and prepare to walk down memory lane with Miss Judith.

"Memory and history are bound up with one another. Where does one end and the other begin?"

Buy The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt at Amazon

The Winterkeeper by Anna Schmidt

The Winterkeeper
March 2019; Bucket Line Books; 978-1733722711
ebook, print (314 pages); coming of age
"At her mother's funeral, fourteen year old Millie Chase stood shivering in the snow covered graveyard and watched as workmen lowered the casket into the hole they'd managed to carve  out of the frozen earth.  A furry frost had already formed on the dirt walls. The minister said some words about dust to dust but Momma wasn't dust." (p 6)

The winterkeepers in Yellowstone National Park are among the last bearers of their tradition, men who live in isolated cabins surrounded by an open and frozen landscape, working to keep the park's buildings from collapsing under the stress of heavy snow.

The year is 1933 and the setting is Gardiner, Montana just outside the entrance to Yellowstone Park. The novel begins at the cemetery when 14-year-old Millie's mother is being buried. Millie and her mom had lived in Chicago and when her mom fell in love with Roger, they moved to Montana.

When her mother died, Millie was lost - she didn't know anyone or have any family to help her out. Millie didn't like her step-father and the feeling was mutual. She overhears a conversation between Roger and his lawyer and Roger is enraged to find out that her mother's family money has been left to Millie. When Roger finds that out, he wants the lawyer to do anything possible so that he can get his hands on the money. Millie decides to run away and try to find her mother's oldest friend who lived at Yellowstone park with her husband who is the winterkeeper at the park.

It's the middle of winter and Millie is frozen after she walks the 10 miles to their house in Yellowstone. No one is around so she hides in the bunkhouse until she is discovered by Nate - the husband of her mother's friend - who agrees to take her home to learn why she has run away and to keep her safe from her step-father. This is a dangerous decision for him because if anyone finds out what he's done, he will lose his job in a time that jobs are few and far between.

This is a beautifully written story full of fantastic characters. Millie is someone that you care about immediately - she is so brave and resourceful for someone so young. Nate is a wonderful character as is Ginny his wife. Nate and Ginny truly care about Millie and want to keep her safe. Her step-father is a scoundrel who only cares about Millie's potential money. Will Nate and Ginny be able to keep Millie safe??

You better have a blanket close when you read this. The descriptions of the snow and the cold in Montana made me cold to read about.

Buy The Winterkeeper at Amazon

The Tubman Command by Elizabeth Cobbs

The Tubman Command
May 2019; Arcade; 978-1948924344
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); American Literature
I enjoy reading historical fiction and enjoy it even more when I learn something new. Way back when I was in school, we learned about the brave things that men did during war times but never any mention of brave women who made a difference. I had always read about Harriet Tubman being involved with the Underground Railroad and helping many slaves to freedom. I never knew about her working behind enemy lines in the South to help the North win the Civil War. Her code name was Moses and she worked with the Union Army despite the sexism and racism that was shown to her. She worked with them to lead a group of free black scouts to raid a plantation in Beaufort and free slaves. The story about the raid is well told and very exciting as the group faces being found and killed by the plantation owner and overseer.

My only complaint about the book is that it is rather dry in parts and probably could have been a bit shorter but overall the excitement in some parts of the novels make up for the slower parts and my overall feeling is that this was a great look at a little known woman of American history.  The author added extra authenticity to the book by starting each chapter with a snippet of quotes taken from actual documentation of the time, from freed people, Army men, missionaries, etc.

The author did extensive research as Harriet Tubman couldn't read or write and of course, didn't leave a diary, so the author had to make some assumptions based on the information that was available from that time.

Buy The Tubman Command at Amazon

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

The Chelsea Girls
July 2019; Dutton; 978-1524744588
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); mystery
I read lots of historical fiction books but this is a time period that I haven't read much about in the past -- the early 50s when the government and McCarthy were trying to find and punish alleged communists in the entertainment business. I have read about what went on during this time period but this book makes it more personal and is about how it affected so many people in the entertainment business who were never able to find work again.

The three main characters of the book are:

  • Hazel Riley who was a playwright. After acting as an understudy on Broadway and spending time in the USO in Europe during WWII, she finds that her true talent is in writing plays and gets a chance to open her play on Broadway.  Will she be successful at a time when there are very few female playwrights?
  • Maxine Mead is an actress. She met Hazel in Europe and they became close friends. She is going to star in Hazel's new play but will her secret life cause problems?
  • The Chelsea Hotel is the third main character - it was New York City's creative oasis for the many artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and poets who called it home. As the witch hunt for communists in the entertainment industry gets more frenzied, it becomes apparent that it will affect the lives of Hazel, Maxine and the clientele at the Chelsea. Will any of them be able to survive?

I found reading about this time period to be very interesting and enlightening. This book shows not only the glamour of life on Broadway during this time but also the pain and degradation brought about McCarthyism and how it affected so many people. I enjoyed the two main characters and the friendship between them and was hoping for the best for both of them.

Buy The Chelsea Girls at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter.


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1 comments:

  1. my father in law turned me on to alternative fiction. thanks for sharing
    sherry @ fundinmental

    ReplyDelete

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