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February 10, 2021

3 Novels of Historical Fiction to Read

by Susan Roberts

Historical Fiction is a genre that helps take my mind off problems of today and immerses me in stories of the past. I have reviews of three excellent books today that take place in the United States, Singapore, and Warsaw.

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Under a Gilded Moon by Joy Jordan-Lake

Under a Gilded Moon
December 2020; Lake Union; 978-1542019415
audio, ebook, print (391 pages); mystery
"But right now, in this moment, these mountains made her feel small. Humbled. And awed. Reminded her she was connected to these people beside her - and to the people connected to them, in endless waves. Like the mountains themselves. On and on, far beyond where the eye could see."
(loc 5421)

In the late 1800s, George Washington Vanderbilt, part of one of the richest families in the United States, started building Biltmore Estate. Many of his rich friends and family didn't understand why he built it in the NC mountains - a poor and isolated part of the country. Biltmore House is the largest privately-owned house in the US and is a symbol of the goals that the rich people could make happen in direct opposition to the poor people who lived in the area and worked the land to put food in their mouths.

Under a Gilded Moon shows the dichotomy between the rich and the poor.  George Vanderbilt and his friends are rich and they show it - from their beautiful clothes to the expectations of what they are due from life.  On the other side, this novel has Kerry.  She grew up in the area but had gotten a scholarship to a school in NY but was called to return home due to her father's impending death.  When she got home, she knew that she needed a job to keep food on the table for her twin brother and sister and the only job she could find was as a maid at the Biltmore House.  While there, she got pulled into the investigation of a reporter who had been murdered, an Italian who is hiding something, and others who seem to be keeping major secrets.  The more she learns, the less she knows who to trust.

One of my favorite parts of the novel was the description of the scenery in the Blue Ridge Mountains. At times I felt like I was in the mountains enjoying the beautiful views. This is a story of innocence and corruption that exists no matter what level of society you are in. There's mystery, beautiful scenery, family, and a bit of romance.  It's definitely a book to read while you are wrapped up in a blanket on a cold winter day.

Note:  Be sure to read the author's historical notes at the end of the book to find out more about some of the people in the novel and the real characters that the story was based on.

Buy Under a Gilded Moon at Amazon
(The ebook is a free read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.)
Biltmore Estate is a historic house museum and tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina. Biltmore House, the main residence, is a Châteauesque-style mansion built for George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately-owned house in the United States, at 178,926 square feet of floor space. Still owned by George Vanderbilt's descendants, it remains one of the most prominent examples of Gilded Age mansions. Biltmore House is one of the most popular tourist sites in NC.  Get more information and be sure to read about Donna's trip to the house in 2017. 

A Better Life by Isobel Scharen

A Better Life
January 2020; M-Y Books; 978-1912875382
ebook, print (404 pages); Asian
A Better Life
is a powerful historical story that takes place during WWII and set in Singapore.  I don't think that I've ever read a book about the repercussions that the people went through after the Japanese invasion especially on people who were English.

In 1949, Ada, a young Englishwoman living in Singapore, is getting ready to marry Michael, a well-educated Anglo-Indian from a wealthy family.  When the Japanese invade, she is sent to a prison and leaves her baby daughter with her husband's family because her husband has disappeared trying to help the resistance. The thoughts of being with her daughter again are the only thing that keeps her alive under horrendous conditions.  Once the war is over and she is released, she realizes that she has to leave the country to find the peace that she needs to get to know her daughter again and have a good life.

This beautifully written story had a wonderful, well written main character.  Ada was brave and resilient and risked her life to get back to her young daughter.  She showed a mother's deep devotion to her child.  The setting in Singapore was very interesting for me because it was a place that I don't think I've ever read about before - at least during this time period.  The novel is gritty but truthful and shows how far one woman will go to have a better life for her and her beloved daughter.

Buy A Better Life at Amazon

Irena's War by James D. Shipman

Irena's War
November 2020; Kensington; 978-1496723888
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); biographical
"Too late, Irena realized her terrible mistake. In the early dawn light, she had failed to recognize the color of the uniforms. These men were not Poles, they were Germans. The enemy was here.  Her supplies were lost, along with Warsaw. The Polish war was over."
(p 16)

I enjoy reading historical fiction and it's an added bonus for me if the story is based on real people.  This novel is an interesting look at Irena Sendler and the heroic efforts that she took to help the people in the Warsaw Ghetto and helped to save thousands of children from certain death.

Irena's War begins in September 1939, when the Nazis swarm into Warsaw and take over Poland.  Before the war started, she was a social worker whose main job was to distribute food to the people of Warsaw.  She had a network of farmers who provided fresh food and volunteers who worked in the soup kitchens.  She was afraid that her efforts to feed the people would come to an end when the war started and was surprised to be offered a job by the Germans to keep working to provide food to the poor. She's not sure if she wants to work for the Germans but decides that keeping the Polish people fed is her main task and decides to accept the job.  She's instructed not to provide food for Jewish people but she soon learns how to forge documents so that the Jewish people can receive food. When she is no longer able to help those who need it most, she volunteers to work as a health care person in the Ghetto. She begins to work with the Resistance and starts helping children escape. She brings them out in garbage bins and she brings them out through the sewers and overall she was successful in saving over 2,500 children from the ghetto working with the Polish resistance.  When she is captured by the Germans, she goes through extreme torture as they try to get her to name the people in the resistance but even with the inhumane treatment, she managed to give them false information and was able to escape.  

Irena Sendler was a strong woman who was able to help many during the War. In 1965, Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial organization, named Sendler as Righteous Among the Nations for her work saving Jewish children. In 2003, Poland honored her with its Order of the White Eagle. In 2008, Sendler was nominated for (but did not win) a Nobel Peace Prize. She died in 2008.

James Shipman is a new author for me and after reading Irena's War, I plan to read some of his earlier books.  If you enjoy reading about strong women who work to change their world, this is a book that you don't want to miss.

Buy Irena's War at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina with her husband of over 50 years.  She grew up in Michigan but now calls North Carolina home. Since her travel plans had to be canceled for this year, she is starting to make plans for travel in 2021. 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 historical fiction. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter.

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