Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Reviews: Historical fiction

I've been having a lovely time reading away over the past month (and madly trying to make the most of easy access to all the lovely books I can borrow from the library before I finish up).  By coincidence they are all historical fiction - I'm going to move chronologically through as I tell you about them.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks is set in Martha's Vineyard in the early days of colonial life (1660's).  Bethia is the daughter of a English minister (ahh, always the minister's daughter, nothing new there - what is with the obsession with the minister's daughter?) and of course, is wayward (they always are - minister's daughters who follow the conventional path are so, yawn, well, nothing to go on with is there?) and develops a friendship with a local native boy, Caleb.  As with all of Brook's books, nothing is simple and the story has lots of deaths, fights, twists and turns and is quite the saga.  I still think Brooks likes to keep writing until everything is neatly wrapped up (she did this in Year of Wonders) and sometimes I wish she'd just let trust readers a little to use their own imaginations.  However, I did like this book, and by the time I got over my initial grumpiness with the predictable 'good girl gone bad' line, it had improved.  Read it - you'll enjoy it and learn stuff.

Sarah Thornhill is by Kate Grenville.  Set on the Hawkesbury in early colonial Sydney, Sarah Thornhill is the youngest daughter of the main character in The Secret River.  Sarah Thornhill is the third book in Grenville's trilogy about colonial Sydney (the first being The Secret River and the second The Lieutenant).  I loved The Secret River but I was less enthralled by the later two.  I felt that with both of the later books she was stretching all the research she had done for the first book to make the most of her work (outlined in Searching for the secret river).  Even still, Grenville tells a good yarn, so it's an easy read and there are enough interesting characters that it is worth reading.  And frankly, I haven't read much on early Sydney, so from an historical point of view it is also interesting.

Far to Go by Alison Pick is set in Czechoslovakia in 1938 in the lead up to Hitler's invasion.  Telling the story of the Bauer family and their nanny Marta, it conveys the slow transition from normal life, to the horrible realisation for the Jewish Bauer family, that life as they know it, is ending.  Far to Go also tells the story of the Kindertransport where small children from Jewish families where allowed to be sent to the UK to live with British families - most of whom never saw their parents again.  I have read a lot of fiction about the holocaust in Germany (including, more recently, the brilliant The Book Thief) but I can't remember reading anything about Czechoslovakia before.  This is a great book - well written, moves along.  Highly recommend it.

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman is set in more recent history.  Set against the backdrop of the dotcom boom of the late 90's and later in the book, 9/11, it tells the story of sisters, Emily and Jess. Emily is the director of a successful dotcom company and is on the verge of becoming unbelieving wealthy.  Younger sister Jess is at Berkeley pursuing a never ending fellowship in philosophy and working in a second hand bookshop. Of course they are completely different, but with the early death of their mother, quite dependant on each other.  It tells the story of their relationships - with their father, each other, boyfriends, friends.  Everything really.  It just meanders along.  But at the heart of it is a love story that keeps you with it.  I liked this book - perfect holiday fiction.

2 comments:

One for a wish.. said...

I recently read Sarah's Key - set in France during World War 1 - which tells the story of the Jews experience there. Very interesting if you've got the time for another read! I thought it was interesting in the way it provoked the question - is it beneficial for all secrets to be revealed in a family?

Karen said...

Thanks for all these reading suggestions, I love hearing what people are enjoying (or not...!)

I am about tenth in the reservation queue at our library for a book called Foal's Bread, it sounds a bit horse-related (not something I'm particularly interested in) but it's set in northern NSW in the pre-WWII era, which is a setting/time I'm interested in reading more about. Written by an author called Gillian Mears, I think this may be her first book?

I won't be reviewing it for a while but it sounds interesting...you may enjoy that one too oneforawish since you're a northern NSW girl??