I'm working on my history of overdue book reviews, and finding several much-enjoyed historical tales in the mix.
This reminds me of my oft-repeated vow that I could never write historical fiction. As a teen I tried to write a child's life from alternating points of view--parent and kid. I was really enjoying myself. But big brother, then a college student studying history, very kindly took an interest and offered to help. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with too many forgotten facts to know what to do with. I buried the lot in my cardboard box where the novel languishes still, beneath the guest room bed.
But I do write historical fiction. I broke my own rule, and I write about children in Biblical times, Old Testament and New, adding whatever history and science I can find to fill out the tale. I broke my own rule with a fantasy story about a mystical cat setting sail from Ireland to America with its girl in Passage--that's my first and only-published Hemlock story (find it in Hero's Best Friend from Seventh Star Press). I break my own rule each day when I work on my novels too, because today's adults are surely yesterday's children, his story and hers being part of tomorrow's history. And breaking rules has made me, perhaps, a better reader of historical fiction, since now I'm inspired to check the occasional fact and question--does it really sound as if the world could have been like that?
These books didn't need much fact-checking. They convinced me of their truth--even the one that thoroughly confused me. So here are my reviews. Find a mug and choose your brew:
Red Cloud’s War by Paul Goble is a beautiful example of historical fiction for kids. Gorgeously and intriguing illustrated, written in simple but evocative language, and offering a pleasingly honest view of events that must surely inspire thought and conversation, it tells the story of prospectors hunting gold, governments hunting order, and a local population simply seeking to retain their land and hunting grounds. The result is a battle won by Red Cloud's band, and a story told with no attempt to indoctrinate or lecture, but lots of pleasingly human emotion and care. Enjoy with some rich elegant 4-star coffee, and expect to share and enjoy it again and again.
The Woods Edge by Lori Benton offers a very different look at Native Americans and white settlers, at the time of the war of Independence. A soldier yields to temptation and steals a baby when his own child dies. But the baby is a twin, and both families will suffer the consequences of separation, hidden guilts, and lost hopes before tale's end. Romance, family life, and Christian faith are nicely and convincingly intertwined in a well-researched novel that completes its own story while leaving the door open to more. Enjoy with a well-balanced smooth full-flavored 3-star coffee.
The tragedy of Fidel Castro by Joao Cerqueira combines magical realism and bleakly cynical humor in a tale of more recent history, pitchining god, Castro and JFK into a surreal battle for the future of the world. Filled with long passages of introspection, it's a long slow read, but there's plenty to intrigue if the cynically surreal is your style. Enjoy with a mug of bold, dark, intense 5-star coffee.
Crossing oceans to New Zealand, The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns invites readers, via a set of intriguingly interlinked short stories, into the lives of settler women and others in historical New Zealand. Reminiscent of Elizabeth's Strout's Olive Kitterige, the author manages to build a complete, convincing and enthralling narrative from these separate tales, imbuing them with that curious sense of discovery, dismay and hope that makes for a truly wonderful read. Enjoy with some rich, elegant 4-star coffee.