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January 10, 2023

4 Novels for Fans of Historical Fiction

by Susan Roberts

Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres and I have four new historical fiction book reviews.  They cover pre-WWI,  World War II, and Vietnam and they all feature strong women characters.  I highly recommend these books.

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Augusta by Celia Ryker

book cover of historical fiction novel Augusta by Celia Ryker
January 2023; Rootstock Publishing; 978-1578698356
ebook, print (230 pages); historical fiction

Augusta is a historical fiction novel based on the life of the author's grandmother.  Her grandmother was a tenacious woman who faced hardships during her life in the early part of the twentieth century.  The author's love of her grandmother and her family, in general, shines through on every page.  It's a short book but leaves the reader with respect for Augusta and the life she lived.

August was born in the Ozarks in the early part of the century.  She and her family worked on a farm and she was thrilled that she was able to stay in school long enough to graduate from the 8th grade.  Her brothers all had to drop out of school much younger so that they could work on the farm.  Not only did Augusta get to graduate but she also got her first store-bought dress for the graduation ceremony.  Soon after, her best friend's mother died and Augusta's parents decided that she should marry her best friend's father even though she was only 13.  She made the best of her life and had several children before their farm went bankrupt and her husband decided that they should move north to Detroit where he knew that he could get a factory job.  It didn't take long before he left Augusta with 2  small children to marry another woman.  She went to work as a waitress and met another man who loved her and her children.  They got married and had 2 more children.  When he started drinking and then just disappeared she had to make some heart-wrenching decisions to take care of her family and keep them fed and protected.  No matter how difficult the decisions she had to make were, they were always done to help her family.  

Take a bit of time and read this story.  It will leave you with admiration for this woman who had such hardship in her life and how hard she worked to provide a better life for her family.

Buy Augusta at Amazon
(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read the ebook for FREE)

The Lipstick Bureau by Michelle Gable

book cover of biographical fiction novel The Lipstick Bureau by Michelle Gable
December 2022; Graydon House; 978-1525804908
audio, ebook, print (448 pages); biographical fiction

Inspired by a real-life female spy, a WWII-set novel about a woman challenging convention and boundaries to help win a war, no matter the cost.

This new book by Michelle Gable gives a perspective of WWII that is different from many of the books about this era.  The book is based on the work done by the OSS Morale Operations department that was based in Rome near the end of the war.  Their job was to create so-called black propaganda to create confusion and loss of morale in the German armies.  The main character in this book is loosely based on the experiences of Barbara Lauwers, a Czech native who married an American and emigrated to the US in 1941.  

Nikola left her home to marry an American in 1941.  Her goal was to find out what happened to the family that she left behind and she believed that if she became part of OSS, she would have a good chance to get to Czechoslovak to find her parents and her brother.  She's assigned to the Morale Operations department in Rome to help create negative information to reduce the morale of the German soldiers.  The department is filled with a strange cast of characters and no one is really overlooking their plans.  Nikola was a person who would sooner do something now and if it comes to light, then ask forgiveness.  When there were no airplanes available to drop the negative information behind enemy lines, she came up with a plan to use German pow's to carry the information to areas where the troops would see them.  She was reckless enough not to care that using POWs was not allowed via the Geneva convention.  In some cases, her plans caused great danger to the people who were disseminating the information.

I found the background of the story very new and informative to me.  The story was told by Nikola in 1989 as she told the story of her life during WWII.  I never really connected to Nikola - I thought that she was too invested in breaking the roles so that her ideas could be used.  She was treated poorly by the higher-ranked officers because she was a woman.

Overall, I enjoyed this book because I learned things that I had never read before about the negative propaganda.  I didn't really like the Nikola of the 1940s and she was much more likable in the part of her story in 1989.

Be sure to read the author's notes at the end of the book to find out additional information about the OSS and the real people that the fictional characters were based on.

Buy The Lipstick Bureau at Amazon

Life Dust by Pam Weber

book cover of southern fiction novel Life Dust by Pam Weber
October 2022; She Writes Press; 978-1647420918
ebook, print (312 pages); southern fiction

Never underestimate the impact of what we leave behind, the power of life’s dust.

This historical fiction novel looks at a more recent turbulent time in American history - the 1970s and the Vietnam War.  It's the parallel story of a young engaged couple - Andy is a lieutenant in the military and has deployed to Vietnam and assigned a platoon to do long-range reconnaissance in the Vietnamese jungles and Nettie is training to be a nurse at a busy hospital.  They both face daily trials in their jobs as they worry about each other and whether they will ever be reunited.    The chapters alternate between the two main characters and highlight Andy's day-to-day life of trying to stay alive and keep his platoon safe while Nettie works through hospital politics at home.

Nettie loves her training at the hospital and enjoys helping other people.  When she inadvertently walks in on the director of nursing and a hospital employee having a tryst in an unused area of the hospital, the nursing director begins to go out of her way to discredit Nettie and remove her from her training.  As she fights against this injustice, she makes friends with an older man who is dying but still has lessons that he wants to teach her about life.

Andy's days are much more precarious.  Facing the heat and the bugs and leeches, he spends his time trying to keep his platoon out of danger while they are gathering information for the officers.   Even as Andy and Nettie are apart they think of each other often and pray that they will soon be together to start their life as a married couple.  Both characters believe in the power of God to get them through their situations and live their lives as good and decent people who care about others.

Because of my age, it is difficult for me to view the Vietnam era as historical fiction even though it does fit the 50-year criteria.  This book brought back a lot of memories about what life was like back then and even went into issues such as the protestors and the mistakes that were being made by the military in their quest to win the war. Overall, this was a beautifully written book about two people in love who are facing the daily trials of life with love4 and faith that they'll soon be together again.

Note:  I was unaware that this was the third book in a trilogy but was able to read it as a standalone with no problems.  The first two books are The Wiregrass and Moon Water.  Nettie is the main character in all three books.

Buy Life Dust at Amazon

The Mitford Affair by Marie Benedict

book cover of historical fiction novel The Mitford Affair by Marie Benedict
January 2023; Sourcebooks Landmark; 978-1728229362
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); historical fiction

An explosive novel of history's most notorious sisters, one of whom will have to choose: her country or her family?

The Mitford family was a prominent part of English society in the years between World War I and II.  The six sisters were considered the Bright Young Things of their time and they were all outspoken and strong women and were very close.  Marie Benedict has written a historical fiction novel about this real family and the scandals that they created as England went to war with Germany. Journalist Ben Macintyre referred to the sisters as "Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess, and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur"

Even though there were six sisters, the novel predominately focuses on three of them
  • Diana was a beautiful woman who was married to the heir of the Guinness fortune  She gave up her prominent place in society and divorced her husband to have an affair with the charismatic fascist leader who was still married.  
  • Unity was the sister who became a Nazi and was rumored to be the mistress of Hitler.  She moved to Germany and was enthralled with Hitler and his leadership of Germany.  She made no secret of her love of Hitler and his government.  
  • Nancy was the most normal of the three sisters and despite the fact that they had been close as children, their closeness waned after Diane and Unity became so political.  Nancy was a novelist who often poked fun at her sisters and other important people in society in her books.  She had some interest in the fascist movement in England but when the war became imminent, she made a choice to support the English government and helped the government when her two sisters were accused of being spies. 

The author did extensive research into the sisters and the political climate that existed in England between the two world wars.  This is a story about family and the love between sisters but more importantly, it's about one sister making a choice between her loyalty to her family and her loyalty to her country. 

Buy The Mitford Affair at Amazon

Susan Roberts grew up in Michigan but loves the laid-back life at her home in the Piedmont area of North Carolina where she is two hours from the beach to the east and the mountains in the west.  She reads almost anything but her favorite genres are Southern Fiction and Historical Fiction.  

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