Tag Archives: historical fiction

Girl at Arms, by Jaye Bennett

Notwithstanding the remarkable youth of the historical Joan of Arc, I wouldn’t have automatically assumed her a ready subject for a middle grade novel. Of course it’s impossible not to admire her courage and determination, and I recognize that she must be considered in the context of her times. But let’s just say that her story has the potential to be a little … troubling.

For starters there are the voices. Not that I don’t believe in visions, but the question of whether God would employ them for the defense of a European monarch has always raised doubts in my mind. Then there’s the fact that Joan was leading armies into battle, which inevitably involves violence. And then there’s the ending: she gets burned at the stake. That alone was enough to make me a reluctant reader. Continue reading


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Alphabet of Dreams, by Susan Fletcher

What a felicitous find! I was searching for Susan Cooper’s young adult novels when this previously unknown-to-me work by Susan Fletcher caught my eye. What a surprise to learn that it concerns ancient Persia (a general interest of mine) and the Magi (Brian and I once brainstormed a novel not unlike Susan’s after a one-week visit to Iran)  and that the author lives just an hour and a half away!

All that excitement could have been preparatory to a disappointment, but it most definitely was not. Fletcher writes both engagingly and “elegantly” (in the words of a NY Times reviewer of Shadow Spinner). I am (alas) one of those readers who often skims over descriptive passages, but I sat spellbound while Fletcher’s magical metaphors conjured up mirages before my very eyes. Only they seemed much more substantial than mirages. Continue reading

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A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (post no. 1)

We read A Thousand Splendid Suns in two days while on a mini vacation. We had anticipated a grim story, and our expectations were fulfilled. But we stayed glued to the book, in part because of Hosseini’s gripping story telling and in part because, judging from the conclusion of The Kite Runner, we anticipated a glimmer of light at some point. It finally dawned, but it was a long time coming.

Due to the length of our review, we thought it best to avoid overtaxing our readers and discuss Hosseini’s latest release in two separate posts. This post is concerned primarily with the content and story of A Thousand Splendid Suns, while the next one will address stylistic matters. (Warning: plot revelations ahead.) Continue reading

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The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason

We were hooked after reading the first chapter of The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason during a one-night getaway to a B&B near Jacksonville, Oregon. We immediately put the book on reserve at the library, and once it came, Mason’s intriguing plot, tantalizing imagery, and mesmerizing style kept us turning the pages late into several nights. Ultimately, though, the book left us unsatisfied (warning: plot revelation ahead). Continue reading


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I was unfamiliar with Edward Rutherford until I stumbled across Russka earlier this year. Based on our reading of Russka and what I know if his other novels, he can be succinctly described as Britain’s James Michener. Russka opens with a “primitive” settlement and traces the descendents of this community down to the 20th century. In the process, Rutherford hits some of the high points (or call them low points, if you like) of Russian history. Rutherford appears to write from a markedly Anglophile point of view, particularly in his presentation of Russia’s “backwardness” and perhaps also in his choice of historical scenarios. I would be interested in hearing a Russian reader’s response to Russka. Continue reading

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