historical fiction

NVCL Reads: Historical Fiction

Historical fiction has the power to transport its readers to other times and other places. From Nova Scotia to Ireland, from the 1600s to the Second World War, Colleen shares some Canadian historical fiction that’s sure to engross you.
brideofnewfranceBride of New France, by Suzanne Desrochers

In 1669, two young Parisian women, Laure and Madeleine, are sent across the Atlantic to New France as filles du roi, or “daughters of the king”. This haunting first novel explores the challenges that a French girl faces coming into womanhood in a brutal time and place. From the moment she arrives, Laure is expected to marry and produce children with a brutish French soldier who can barely survive the harsh conditions of his forest cabin. But through her clandestine relationship with Deskaheh, an allied Iroquois, Laure discovers the possibilities of this New World.*

birthhouseThe Birth House, by Ami McKay

This novel is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.  The novel was a # 1 bestseller in Canada, winner of three CBA Libris Awards, and nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.*


wonderThe Wonder: a novel
by Emma Donoghue

A small village in 1850s rural Ireland is baffled by Anna O’Donnell’s fast, which began as a self-inflicted and earnest expression of faith. After weeks of subsisting only on what she calls “manna from heaven,” the story of the “miracle” has reached a fever pitch. Tourists flock in droves to the O’Donnell family’s modest cabin hoping to witness, and an international journalist is sent to cover the sensational story. Enter Lib, an English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale who is hired to keep watch for two weeks and determine whether or not Anna is a fraud. As Anna deteriorates, Lib finds herself responsible not just for the care of a child, but for getting to the root of why the child may actually be the victim of murder in slow motion.

A magnetic novel written with all the spare and propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, The Wonder works beautifully on many levels—a simple tale of two strangers who will transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil in its many masks.*

wildrose
Wild Rose
, by Sharon Butala

Sophie was a sheltered girl from a well-off Montreal family in the 1880’s when she married hastily and went off to sparsely-populated southern Saskatchewan to begin her married life as a homesteader.  Before long she is abandoned by her husband and desperately struggling to survive with her young son.  Sharon Butala has been writing contemporary novels set on the prairies for over 30 years; this is her first historical novel.
winterseaThe Winter Sea , by Susanna Kearsley (alternate title “Sophia’s Secret)

Writer Carolyn McClelland is staying in a seaside cottage on the east coast of Scotland, where she is working on a book about the attempted Jacobite invasion of 1707.  Inexplicably drawn to Slains Castle, and not so inexplicably drawn to the charming, but somehow familiar, Stuart Keith, Carolyn is soon writing with an unusual speed and imagery which leads her to wonder whether her ‘fictional’ character of Sophia is really so fictional after all.  Carolyn soon realises that she is somehow channelling the memories of her distant relative and that her story has a life of its own.*

nightfallovershanghai
Nightfall Over Shanghai
, by Daniel Kalla

Local emergency doctor Daniel Kalla has written a terrific series about the Jewish community in Shanghai, China.  Starting in The Far Side of The Sky, after fleeing the Nazi takeover in Austria, the Adler family ends up in Japanese-occupied Shanghai to begin a new life.  Shanghai-born Sunny joins their family and through the two sequels, Rising Sun, Falling Shadow and Nightfall Over Shanghai, they endure loss and hardship through to 1945 when at last they hope to live freely once again.  There is talk of a movie and/or television series based on this trilogy and I can even see an opening for a fourth book.

-Colleen

* from the publisher’s description

NVCL Reads: Written by a Margaret

Margaret_Atwood_2015Whether you love her or loathe her, there’s no denying that when many of us think of Canadian literature, we think of Margaret Atwood.  And with a hit TV show — and the Trump administration in full (golf) swing — there’s no denying our Margaret’s work is enjoying a renaissance.  If you’re planning to read #NVCLreadsMargaret this summer, you may look no further than The Handmaid’s Tale, or you may want to get your hands on Atwood’s Angel Catbird graphic novels, or her books for children.  However, if you decide you’d like to branch out from Atwood, Canada has several awesome Margarets for you to choose from.

stoneangelThe next most obvious choice is Margaret Laurence, best-known for writing books you have been forced to read in high school (The Diviners, The Stone Angel) and loved anyway.     Her earlier works, like This Side Jordan, are set in Ghana, where the Laurences lived for a few years.

mr jonesMargaret Sweatman is yet another solid choice.  She’s even won the Margaret Laurence Award for fiction (thus effectively doubling her Margaret-ness).  We recommend Mr. Jones. “Set in a time of rampant paranoia, Mr. Jones peels back the veneer of Canadian politics to reveal a nation willing to sacrifice its own. It is a fearful time, a time of “peace” at the onset of the nuclear age.” (description from publisher)

Sweatman’s works also work for #NVCLreadsHistorical or #NVCLreadsWinner

momentary darkIf poetry (#NVCLreadsPoetry) is more your speed, try Margaret Avison’s Momentary Dark, “a celebration of the world, but not without edge and a quiet challenge to care for a damaged earth and all its citizens equally, including a veritable populace of city trees graciously and beautifully linking the earth and the sky” (description taken from the publisher).

This would also work for #NVCLreads200 and  #NVCLreadsPoetry

cougar annieAnd finally, if you like your Margarets with a healthy dose of non-fiction, you might want to check out Margaret Visser, Margaret Horsfield, or Margaret Macmillan.  In her Massey Lecture, Beyond Fate, Visser “investigates what fate means to us, and where the propensity to believe in it and accept it comes from.”  Horsfield meanwhile takes local history as her muse, writing extensively about Tofino and Clayoquot Sound.  Like Horsfield, Macmillan is inspired by history.  She focuses mainly on the late 19th and early 20th century, and is best known for her book 1919: Six Months That Changed the World.

 

Whatever your reading tastes, we’ll bet there’s a Canadian Margaret for you.

-Patricia

**For those of you just joining us for NVCL Reads: Canada 150 bingo, please download your bingo card from our website.  Five lucky winners will each receive a $25 gift card to a local bookstore!

Mikale’s Fall Picks 2016

teabooks

Short, crisp rainy days. Slow-cooked root vegetables spiced with nutmeg and coriander. Crispy home-made bread. Wool sweaters. Tea. Thick books.After a whirlwind summer, there are not enough cliched nouns to describe how much I love and relish the fall season.

This is the time of year where I typically pull-back from my social calendar, take a break from weekend adventuring and settle in for some serious nesting. It also happens to be one of the greatest seasons for literary fiction as publisher’s unleash many of their heavy-hitters for awards season and early Christmas shopping. The only issue I had choosing this fall’s picks was limiting the list to a reasonable number because so many of my favourite authors are releasing new titles, and each book looks so, so good.

And thus begins a new season of glorious hibernation….at least until ski season.

 

The Course of Love by Alain de Bottoncourse-of-love

If we have crossed paths in the past couple of weeks then you’ve probably already heard me raving about this book. It is essentially a cross between a novel and literary essay, as we follow Kristen and Rabih through the ebbs and flows of their long-term monogamous relationship. The story is told in two parallel voices: one follows the two central characters as they navigate “happily every after” and the challenges which blossom after love’s original conception– raising children, adultery, laundry etc.. The other voice  objectively analyzes each of the character’s thought patterns and actions with remarkable clarity and psychoanalytic prowess.  I truly loved this book, and look forward to reading it again–albeit next time on my own copy so that I can scribble in the margins and underline my favorite passages.

wenjack.jpgWenjack by Joseph Boyden

Nearly 50 years after his tragic death, 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack’s story may finally be getting the attention it deserves.  As noted in this recent Maclean’s article,  this year three Canadian artists are using each of their respective mediums to shed light on the Residential School experience using Chanie as their voice and focus. Boyden, alongside Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie and graphic novelist Jerry Lemire,  mobilize the incredible power of narrative and one boy’s tragic story to illuminate this horrific chapter in the history of Canada’s First Nations peoples.  In Wenjack, Boyden has created an imagined re-telling of Chanie’s last hours alive as he runs away from a North Ontario Residential School realizing too late just how far away home is.  Like all of Boyden’s novels, Wenjack is already being touted as a literary masterpiece full of haunting landscapes, imagery and characters.

By Gaslight by Steven Price bygaslight

Back in 2014 Victoria, BC authorSteven Price made literary headlines when his latest novel, By Gaslight caused a highly competitive auction at the Frankfurt Book Fair before being sold for a rumored record-breaking advance. Since then, anticipation has been building among readers everywhere to get a chance to dive into this Victorian period piece and see what all the fuss is about. At nearly 800 pages, it is a spellbinding thriller embedded with dark, poetic imagery and detailed descriptions.

 spawninggroundsThe Spawning Grounds by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

I have been a fan of Anderson-Dargatz since picking up her brilliant debut novel Cure for Death by Lightning many moons ago. Since then, the author has written numerous other beautiful novels which each with a distinct sense of place rooted in our beautiful province and the struggles which erupt as nature and man intertwine and collide. Her latest novel weaves multiple-generational stories of settlement along a fictional river in south-central B.C., not far from Kamloops. The Spawning Grounds has been receiving excellent reviews as an instant BC classic with a supernatural twist.

Nutshell by  Ian McEwan nutshell

Aside from the fact that Ian McEwan is undoubtedly one of our country’s strongest writers, his new novel sounds so fantastically bizarre that it’s hard to resist. Set within a mother’s womb, the story is told from the perspective of what McEwan describes as “a rather old fetus nostalgic about the times when he was small enough to float freely around in the womb” in this Globe and Mail interview, who bares witness to murder, deceit and all other matters of thriller intrigue. Again, impossible to resist.

Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon

moonglowReading Chabon is to read magic. Ever since The Adventures of Kavalier and ClayI have been a loyal Chabon-ist, and felt that his novels sparkle with an electric sense of playful history. In his latest book, Chabon blurs the lines between fiction, memoir and biography as he tells the story of his grandfather, whose life as an engineer, veteran, and felon offers an entree into themes of heroism and imagination.  Although the author tends to obsess over detailed side plots, such as the craft of comic making in the 1940’s in Adventures, and has at times been accused of losing track of the central story, I find these tangents  fascinating.

 

Happy nesting!

-Mikale

Treating Your Game of Thrones Withdrawal

So now that I have a literary plan in place for treating my husband’s upcoming Tour de France withdrawal, I’ll now turn towards my own current source of withdrawal – the end of the Game of Thrones season.  Here’s a list of the books and series that I’ll be reading/re-reading while waiting for 2017’s season to come!

 

halfaking halfworld halfwar
The Shattered Sea Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie

If it’s the tales of revenge and all those morally grey characters in Game of Thrones that appeal to you, give Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy a shot. It follows Yarvi, crippled from birth and seen as only “half a man” in the eyes of his father (that sounds familiar…), on an epic quest – first for survival and then for revenge – which threatens to plunge the entire world into war.  I warn you though, it’s addictive, so be prepared to lose some sleep.  This series is complete, so there’s no worry about long waits between installments.

 

lamora1 lamora2 lamora3 lamora4
The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence, by Scott Lynch

If it’s the witty dialogue and roguish characters that suit your fancy, I highly recommend Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series. Like GoT it starts off very low-magic, at least for a fantasy world. The story follows Locke Lamora from his childhood in a gang of child-thieves – who gets kicked out for liking to steal too much (and from the wrong people) – through his development into a highly accomplished con artist. With the Gentlemen Bastards, they pull off incredibly complex, long-term cons in order to steal from the rich and then keep it all for themselves.  This series offers a great mix of humour, fantasy, and action that I will happily re-read again and again. Another warning for this one though: the series isn’t complete yet, and it’s always long – but worthwhile – wait for new installments.

 

kingdoms1 kingdoms2 kingdoms3
The Inheritance Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin

If it’s GoT’s issues of inheritance and dangerous family politics that are up your alley, then check out Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. The first book follows Yeine, granddaughter to the head of this world’s ruling family, who, despite her mother abandoning her position to be with her father, suddenly finds herself named the heir. She’s then thrust into a dangerous political situation that’s made even more deadly by the machinations of the gods that her family has had enslaved for generations, and by the secrets of her own past that even she was unaware of.  The next two books each follow other characters in the same world, and all told the series spans 400 years. It’s challenging, unique, and thoroughly engrossing.

roses
Dragons and zombies aside, Game of Thrones is loosely based on the War of the Roses, fought over the English throne from 1455-1485 between the houses of York and Lancaster. So, if you’re looking for something outside the fantasy genre that will still help fill the GoT void, check out some of these other titles about or based on the historical events.

 

lancaster bloodsisters
Lancaster Against York, by Trevor Royle and Blood Sisters, by Sarah Gristwood

If you’d like some non-fiction, try Royle and Gristwood’s books. Like Game of Thrones, the War of the Roses is an epic story, with a huge cast, shifting allegiances, multiple monarchs, and even a great historical mystery. Lancaster Against York does an excellent job of clearly laying out all the events and players, particularly each of the 6 kings who ruled during the conflict. Blood Sisters instead focuses on the 7 most influential women during this period, who in many cases were every bit as calculating and ruthless as their male counterparts.

 

roses1 roses2 roses3 roses4
Wars of the Roses Series, by Conn Iggulden

This is an historical fiction series, following the events of the War of the Roses from the death of Henry V and the coronation of the young, frail Henry VI, through the battles and political intrigue, to the founding of the Tudor dynasty that finally ended the war.  Try this one if you’re looking for close-to-accurate historical fiction.

 

cousins1 cousins2 cousins3 cousins4 cousins5 cousins6
The Cousins’ War Series, by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory plays it looser in terms of historical accuracy with the Cousins’ War series, but it’s nevertheless extremely enjoyable. Her series also follows the events of the War of the Roses, but from the point of view of the women involved. The series as listed here is in publication order, but many reader’s recommend starting with The Lady of the Rivers as its events are chronologically the earliest.

I hope that helps with your withdrawal, and let us know what you’re reading to pass the time between seasons!

– Kat