Posts Tagged 'historical fiction'

The Pink Suit: a novel. By Nicole Mary Kelby

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby brings us back to the days when people were talking about grassy knolls, conspiracies in Dallas, and the days that led up to the loss of the USA’s 35th president. The story is told from the perspective of an Irish seamstress living in a New York boutique, creating the knockoff dresses that allowed Jackie Kennedy to wear French style with an American label. Seamstress Kate and her sweetheart, Patrick, are wonderful, and the story talks about what happens when an immigrants desire to live in the American dream is stood on its head. This book was a real treasure to read, and overshadowed the other books I picked up at the library. The owners of the dress boutique are well-drawn, slightly comic characters. The immigrant neighborhood where Kate lives is lovingly described, as are her family. Kate is a made up character, but you feel like you’re with her, fussing about making hundreds of fabric feathers for one patron or figuring out how to get the president’s wife’s body double away from the paparazzi.

Things I learned (because I’m too young to have seen original footage, and our television was black-and-white anyway): the dress worn by Jackie was pink, not blue. There was quite a shifty world of knockoffs that were done in America with the permission of the French fashion houses, as well as sometimes outright stolen designs. Pictures of Jacqueline Kennedy through the years are available here, through a slideshow at the Cut.

Reading — The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

Charles Belfoure’s book, The Paris Architect, is an intriguing study of how much one character and his life can change under extraordinary circumstances. Lucien starts out as a shiftless character, out to save his own skin and manipulate others in the heartless world of Nazi-occupied Paris. And then he’s offered one plum job by a wealthy man eager to save a friend. Highly interesting bit of character development, and not just the growth of Lucien, who is the title character.

I met the writer at the Baltimore Book Festival, and he signed my book while all the other authors at the same table told me, “I read that last night. It was so good.” Because of the book’s setting, there is violence. But there are also sparks of amazing human goodness, and the slow progression to a world righting itself with a very satisfying ending.

Check out the book’s link here: http://theparisarchitect.com/

Ghost story for a cold winter’s night

winterbooThe others have slipped away into darkness.”

Kate Mosse’s book, The Winter Ghosts, is a short read (about 260 pages) — Half ghost story and half historical fiction. I finished it in one day, pausing to knit a row or two on my current project when I got too nervous that things might go badly for the main character, Freddie. The progression from half-heard sentences (or omens) to full discovery, and the protagonist turning his shattering grief from WWI into something with purpose… is handled quite well in this elegant little story. It didn’t suffer from being read on a warm September afternoon. But low lamplight during a blizzard would add to the chill of reading ghostly words.

The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean

Imagine hours in your favorite museum, days studying the artwork in front of you. Then imagine having to build your own inner “museum” for the different rooms in a very large museum. I’m madonnasleningradnot sure anyone beyond a curator or a museum guard has done this. I did work at a small museum, and we had to memorize where things were, because objects would walk during tours, even with all the passive methods of discouraging collectors (or children) from walking off with small wire eyeglasses or fountain pens.

If you can imagine how overwhelming that would be (and how much extraneous detail I have about one museum’s collection… because I can’t forget it all), you will understand why I rooted for Marina, the main character from The Madonnas of Leningrad. Debra Dean‘s story of memory, and memory palaces that come to life for others, while describing days of great privation in the USSR during WWII, gave me a new way to think of that era. You see young Marina growing in the USSR, as her present-day self in the USA dims. And through it all, the Hermitage is brought to life through a curator’s imagination, even after the paintings and statuary have been stored in safety.

Again, another gem borrowed from the library, printed back in 2006. Harper Collins has a lovely feature where you can Browse Inside the book here.

So, does anyone else have a favorite book (maybe not WWII related) that I should look for at my library?

A trip to western Pennsylvania

I’ve just turned the final page on Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh, and I feel like I’ve woken up after a long dream. Sparse, economical prose builds up a history of a coal mining town from the perspective of one family, beginning in 1944 and sweeping along. Historical events are alluded to, but only to show that time has passed, sort of as an afterthought. It reminds me of what living in a company town was like even in the 1970s, when change happened far away but not where I lived. [Clothing styles changed in my town changed — it’s not like they could keep fashion out of any town — but nothing changed quickly except the pictures of the President after an election.] Of course, I didn’t live in a coal town, so others might quibble more with the historical accuracy.

All in all, an enjoyable book, filled with enough unexplained mysteries to make me wonder if there’s another story out there that the writer has yet to tell.

Amazing what a trip to the corner library will unearth. My next book vacation is set in Corwall, with plenty of adventure in store.

Why I Like Books About Books

Recently I discovered The Vault by Peter Lovesey. Sadly, I was less interested in the actual mystery story as I was about the excitement of what it would be like to find sketches done by Mary Shelley that show the writing process of Frankenstein.

I’ve moved on to The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay. It’s set in a used bookstore in NYC, with a protagonist from Tasmania. I’m more excited at the thought of a mysterious manuscript being found than in the 18-year old protagonist’s realization of amazing things about herself and her coworkers. Sad, but true.

Perhaps I should hold Shakespeare and all his plays within a play responsible for this. I’m more interested in the books within books. Sometimes I’m interested in the characters and relationships when their motives make sense. But often, the character trait to which I can relate is bookishness.

I grew up in a house decorated with books. Yes, there were pictures and needlepoint hangings on the wall. I grew up reading cookbooks for fun, paging through sermons in the spare bedroom, and reading Mom’s old Nancy Drew stories and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies in the upstairs hall. I loved historical fiction, Victorian novels, or Lady Gregory. I still have a passion for Victorian authors, like Wilkie Collins. A lot of what has motivated my job choices can be summed up in two words: reading material.

There is magic at work in a bookstore, surrounded by text and all those voices clamoring for attention — poets, playwrights, and novelists. It’s close to the thrill of working behind the scenes in a historical museum, surrounded by artifacts of other people’s lives. Or a bit like camping and waking up early surrounded by trees and a lake, wondering how many people of the past have seen the same scene you’re seeing.

So, how about you? What styles of books fascinate you?


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