Mostly Fiction BOOK REVIEWS


Facing History

Fiction based on real people & historical events

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by Ira Sher

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The Sound of
Building Coffins

by Louis Maistros
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The Commoner

by John Burnham Schwartz
IN Paperback!

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Figures in Silk

by Vanora Bennett
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The Kommandant's Girl

The Diplomat's Wife
by Pam Jenoff
IN Paperback!
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The Temptation of
the Night Jasmine

by Lauren Willig

Recently Published Books in Hardcover:

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Figures in Silk by Vanora Bennett - The year is 1471. Edward IV, who won the throne with the help of his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is restoring law and order after years of war. Under Edward IV, life in England begins to improve. Business is booming once more and the printing and silk industries prosper in London. When silk merchant John Lambert marries off his two beautiful daughters, their fortunes are forever changed. (March 2009) author page

Singer by Ira Sher - In the early 1980s, Milton Menger, a wealthy art dealer living in New Jersey, is called by an estranged friend, Charles Trembleman, with whom he’s had no contact in years. Charley is a traveling salesman for the Singer Sewing Company and his hands have just been badly burned in a motel fire near Memphis. He needs a driver so he can continue traveling and selling. Milty rises to the occasion. Together they embark on a journey across the South, visiting showrooms and staying in locally owned motels. Is it a coincidence that these motels keep going up in flames? Gorgeously written yet elusive book. (March 2009) author page

A Man of No Moon by Jenny McPhee - A fictionalized retelling of the tragic post-WWII love affair between Italian writer Cesare Pavese and American noir starlet Constance Dowling. (March 2009) author page

Honolulu by Alan Brennert - Richly imagined story of Jin, a young "picture bride" who leaves her native Korea - where girls are so little valued that she is known as Regret - and journeys to Hawaii in 1914 in search of a better life. (March 2009) author page

Shadow and Light by Jonathan Rabb - Berlin, between the two world wars. When an executive at the renowned Ufa film studios is found dead floating in his office bathtub, it falls to Nikolai Hoffner, a chief inspector in the Kriminalpolizei, to investigate. With the help of Fritz Lang (the German director) and Alby Pimm (leader of the most powerful crime syndicate in Berlin), Hoffner finds his case taking him beyond the world of film and into the far more treacherous landscape of Berlin’s sex and drug trade, the rise of Hitler’s Brownshirts (the SA), and the even more astonishing attempts by onetime monarchists to rearm a post-Versailles Germany. (March 2009) author page

A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr - A Quiet Flame opens in 1950. Falsely fingered a war criminal, Bernie Gunther has booked passage to Buenos Aires, lured, like the Nazis whose company he has always despised, by promises of a new life and a clean passport from the Perón government. But Bernie doesn’t have the luxury of settling into his new home and lying low. He is soon pressured by the local police into taking on a case in which a girl has turned up dead, gruesomely mutilated, and another—the daughter of a wealthy German banker—has gone missing.(March 2009) author page

The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles - In 1863, the War Between the States creeps slowly yet inevitably toward its bloody conclusion—and eastern thoughts are already turning to different wars and enemies. A soaring work of the imagination based on oral histories of the post–Civil War years in North Texas, Paulette Jiles's The Color of Lightning is at once an intimate look into the hearts and hopes of tragically flawed human beings and a courageous reexamination of a dark American history. (March 2009) author page

Paths to Glory by Jeffrey Archer - Some people have dreams that are so magnificent that if they were to achieve them, their place in history would be guaranteed. Francis Drake, Robert Scott, Charles Lindbergh, Amy Johnson, Edmund Hilary, Neil Armstrong, and Lewis and Clark are among such individuals. But what if one man had such a dream, and once he’d fulfilled it, there was no proof that he had achieved his ambition? Paths of Glory, is the story of such a man---George Mallory. Based on a true story. (March 2009) author page

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell - A fictional memoir of Dr. Max Aue, a former Nazi officer who survived the war and has reinvented himself, many years later, as a middle-class entrepreneur and family man in northern France. Max is an intellectual steeped in philosophy, literature, and classical music. He is also a cold-blooded assassin and the consummate bureaucrat. Through the eyes of this cultivated yet monstrous man, we experience the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazi genocide of the Jews in graphic, disturbingly precise detail. Winner of the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award, as well as the Académie Française’s Prix de Littérature. (March 2009)

Revelation by C.J. Sansom - The year is 1543 and King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, a woman sympathetic to reform, whom he wants for his sixth wife— much to the dismay of Archbishop Cranmer and the embattled Protestant faction at court. Meanwhile, Matthew Shardlake is working to defend a teenage boy, a religious fanatic who is being held in the infamous Bedlam hospital for the insane. When an old friend of Shardlake’s is murdered, he vows to bring the killer to justice. His search leads him back to Bedlam but also to Catherine Parr... (February 2009) author page/ author page

The Women by T.C. Boyle - A dazzling novel of Frank Lloyd Wright, told from the point of view of the women in his life. (February 2009) author page

coverThe Accordionist's Son by Bernardo Atxaga - As David Imaz, on the threshold of adulthood, divides his time between his uncle Juan’s ranch and his life in the village, where he reluctantly practices the accordion, a tradition that his authoritarian father insists he continue, he becomes increasingly aware of the long shadow cast by the Spanish Civil War. (February 2009) author page

Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly - An Irish family's epic journey, capturing the tragedy and triumph of the Irish-American experience, beginning in 19th century Ireland, the Great Famine, and the emigrant experience in America. (February 2009)

DroodDrood by Dan Simmons - On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens--at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world--hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever. Just as he did in The Terror, Dan Simmons draws impeccably from history to create a gloriously engaging and terrifying narrative. (February 2009) author page

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig - “Pride and Prejudice lives on” in Lauren Willig’s acclaimed Pink Carnation series, which continues with another deliciously lighthearted, romantic, and suspenseful novel. Willig introduces to her series the most elusive spy of all time, whose calling card is the faint whiff of jasmine in the cold night air. (January 2009) author page

Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth - A thriller set in 1914, brings to life the schemes and double-dealings of Western nations grappling for a foothold in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire. (January 2009) author page

The Fall of the Templars by Robyn Young - Chronicles an era few people know about—what happened when the Templars returned from the Crusades and found that the monarchs of Europe did not want an army of religious warriors back on European soil.(January 2009) author page

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell - An action-packed epic about King Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. (January 2009) author page

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Mary McCullough - Everyone knows the story of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. But what about their sister Mary? At the conclusion of Jane Austen's classic novel, Mary, bookish, awkward, and by all accounts, unmarriageable, is sentenced to a dull, provincial existence in the backwaters of Britain. Now, master storyteller Colleen McCullough rescues Mary from her dreary fate in this page-turning sequel set twenty years after Austen's novel closes. (December 2008)

A Mercy by Toni Morrison - Reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart, like Beloved, it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter—a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment. (November 2008) author page

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh - At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean; its purpose, to fight China’s vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners. (October 2008) author page

The Eleventh Man by Ivan Doig - Driven by the memory of a fallen teammate, TSU’s 1941 starting lineup went down as legend in Montana football history, charging through the season undefeated. Two years later, the "Supreme Team" is caught up in World War II. Ten of them are scattered around the globe in the war’s various lonely and dangerous theaters. The eleventh man, Ben Reinking, has been plucked from pilot training by a military propaganda machine hungry for heroes. (October 2008) author page

City of God: A Novel of Passion and Wonder in Old New York by Beverly Swerling - (October 2008) author page

The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss - Ethan Saunders, once among General Washington’s most valued spies, now lives in disgrace, haunting the taverns of Philadelphia. An accusation of treason has long since cost him his reputation and his beloved fiancée, Cynthia Pearson, but at his most desperate moment he is recruited for an unlikely task–finding Cynthia’s missing husband. To help her, Saunders must serve his old enemy, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who is engaged in a bitter power struggle with political rival Thomas Jefferson over the fragile young nation’s first real financial institution: the Bank of the United States. (September 2008) author page

Blood Alone by James R. Benn - Third in the Billy Boyle WWII mysery series. (September 2008) author page

Indignation by Philip Roth - Against the backdrop of the Korean War, a young man faces life's unimagined chances and terrifying consequences. (September 2008) author page

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane - Set in Boston at the end of the First World War (September 2008) author page

What Happened to Anna K by Irina Reyn - A mesmerizing debut novel that reimagines Tolstoy's classic tragedy, Anna Karenina, for our time. (August 2008)

The Creator's Map by Emilio Calderon - Through the eyes of a Spanish architect in Rome, the dark period surrounding the rise and fall of Fascism roars to life, as the architect, a passionate young librarian, and an Italian prince become entangled in a web of intrigue, love, and deceit involving a fateful map whose secrets are powerful enough to destroy them. (July 2008)

America, America by Ethan Canin - A stunning novel, set in a small town during the Nixon era and today, about America and family, politics and tragedy, and the impact of fate on a young man’s life. (June 2008)

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon - (May 2008) author page

Exiles by Ron Hansen - (May 2008) author page

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman - Alabama, 1931. A posse stops a freight train and arrests nine black youths. Their crime: fighting with white boys. Then two white girls emerge from another freight car, and fast as anyone can say Jim Crow, the cry of rape goes up. (April 2008) author page

Pinkerton's Secret by Eric Lerner - This romantic adventure conjures up the passionate life story of the Civil War era's legendary private eye, Allan Pinkerton, recounting dramatic exploits and his clandestine love affair with his female partner. (March 2008) author page


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Related to this Bookshelf:

The Summer Snow by Rebecca Pawel
Explorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills
The Book of Salt by Monique Troung


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About this Bookshelf:

"A true history of human events would show that a far larger proportion of our acts as the results of sudden impulses and accident, than of the reason of which we so much boast."
- Albert Cooper

Facing History, reading between the livesFor some time, I've known that it would make sense to separate out the books/authors whose subject matter is based on real people or historical events. In discussions with some of the reviewers, it was agreed that calling the bookshelf "Historical Fiction" might be misconstrued as intending to mean historical romantic fiction - a subgenre that we let other sites with more expertise (and interest) make recommendations. So we needed a term that would encompass both biographical fiction and that which explores a specific event. I lit on the idea of calling the new bookshelf "Facing History" as a way to express how we feel reading these types of novels. The authors, in their research and due diligence often paint a multifaceted face on a person(s) or event(s) in history. By choosing to portray the person/event as fictional rather than as nonfiction, it gives the writer/reader a chance to explore or re-imagine things giving, perhaps, a different twist on events than one might have expected. Then again, it is my personal belief that fiction can speak far more truths than nonfiction. Certainly, I find more pleasure when I face history through fiction than nonfiction.

Thus, this is the bookshelf where you will find fiction that is expressly written to capture the life or times of a person, people or events. They are not necessarily historical novels, but they are usually well researched and it remains fiction because the author re-imagined a life more than just recreates it. Some will clearly be about a person, such as Dancer by Colum McCann. Others will be set at a specific period of time and will include real people mixed in with fictional (Forever by Pete Hamill, Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund, or Three Farmers on their Way to Dance by Richard Powers, etc.); still others will be a fictional account of a real event in history, for example, The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve or Susannah Morrow by Megan Chance.

There are books on other bookshelves that you might think should also be on this one since so much of fiction does intertwine bits of real life past and present. I agree. Mind you it is not a science and most days it is a far cry from an art to determine how to organize this site. Should books on World War II and/or the holocaust be on this shelf or the Around the World bookshelf? I chose to leave them on Around the World. Certainly, the majority of the Latin American and even The Wild West novels are essentially biographical and historical fiction. But again, I left those where they sit. Some novels on the Murder Mysteries bookshelf and Contemporary bookshelf, could also be moved here. To make decisions, I tried to apply filters, like asking is it specifically about a life or an event and not just an historical setting, does it include real people mixed with fictional. But then I'd move the author/book and then I'd move it back. I realized I had one overriding filter -- the reading experience -- which bookshelf most reflects this.

By the way, for real life (nonfiction), visit True Adventure

Judi Clark, Editor
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