My Favorite Historical Fiction

As someone with a (totally super useful) degree in Art History and Archaeology, history is something that I have had a passion for since I was a child. I can’t pinpoint it exactly but I know that there was definitely a combination of mummies and Laura Ingalls Wilder that fed into it. Yes, folks, I’ve been weird for at least 25 years plus.

It turns out that historical fiction is a super broad category. There are some that are pretty solidly based in historical record, some are a little more on the paranormal side, some are based in history, but not anything that really happened. While I’m definitely into paranormal, I’ve decided to exclude those from this particular list. I’m going for books that are based (however loosely) on real events.

The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes By His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George

Look at this badass motherf@#$er.

I know I have mentioned more than once how much I am fascinated by the Tudors. Honestly, many of the books on this list will really just reinforce that. This book in particular is probably my favorite fictional account of Henry VIII. Because it is written from the point of view of both Henry and his fool, whom considered him a friend, it is an unusually sympathetic portrayal of the king.

With the paperback coming in just shy of 1000 pages, it’s not really something I would recommend to the casual reader. However, for a hardcore Tudor-phile (is that a thing?) like me, it’s fantastic. Detailed and immersive it’s just the thing if you want to slip back in time for a little while.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory

This was always one that never felt entirely accurate to me. However, what it might have lacked in authenticity, it more than made up for in sheer entertainment value. If you like your history on the (sort of) racy, gossipy side, this is definitely for you.

The Constant Princess by Phillipa Gregory

Yes. More Tudors. I’m not even going to pretend to be sorry. They were amazing.

Speaking of amazing, if you want a strong woman, Katherine of Aragon is your girl. While I may not have always agreed with her choices, you have to admire her tenacity and strength. This book in particular provides an interesting and unusual motivation for the Spanish princess. Definitely worth a read for those with an interest in the topic or just badass women in general.

Lust for Life by Irving Stone

Prior to reading this book, I can’t say that I was really all that interested in the life of Vincent van Gogh. Sure, I liked his paintings, but who doesn’t? Oher than the incident with the ear, who cares?

But this book was fantastic, touching and emotional. Truly, I can say it got me interested in van Gogh personally. Read it and then watch the Doctor Who episode Vincent and the Doctor and the movie Loving Vincent. They did a movie for Lust for Life with Kirk Douglas in 1956, but I haven’t seen it yet. Either way, immerse yourself. And go see a van Gogh in real life. They are incredible.

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These books have been a little maligned in the last year, but they still hold an important place in my heart. I remember wanting to dress up like her for Halloween. My mom made me a dress, bonnet and pantaloons and I was in seventh heaven. Certainly this is probably where I can pinpoint my current love of dressing up in a historical context (hello, renaissance fairs!).

For me, these books are especially fun because I grew up not far from Rocky Ridge Farm and have had the chance to visit several times. I still highly recommend these books.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Mackenzi Lee)

As Henry “Monty” Montague prepares to set out on his Grand Tour with his best friend (and secret crush) Percy, he fears his days of pleasure are fast approaching an end. He is expected to return from the trip more mature and ready to learn how to take over the family estate. On his trip Monty’s father expects him to be on his best behavior or disinheritance looms. Monty has different ideas and plans to drink, party and flirt with Percy the whole way across Europe. When their trip takes a sudden dangerous turn, Monty will find himself calling everything about his life into question.

I first discovered The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue a few months ago. One of the many bookish sites I follow on Facebook was advertising the first four chapters of a new YA novel. Why not? I thought to myself. I was in love before I finished the first chapter and the next several months of waiting were absolute torture.

Completely worth it. Mackenzi Lee certainly did not disappoint. This book was fresh, fun, fabulous and full of heart. It’s not often that I can say a book genuinely had me laughing out loud at points, tense with anticipation at others and in tears at the end. When it first arrived I was surprised at it’s length and was a little worried about finishing it within the deadline I set for myself. Turns out, there was no need to be concerned. I finished it in just slightly over 24 hours. It would have been faster, but I still have to go to work.

If there is anything I like in a historical fiction book, it’s a rakehell, and I was not left wanting. Monty is the lovable kind of rake that warms my heart. Percy is dreamy and sweet while Monty’s sister Felicity is sharp and sarcastic. All in all, a group that suits each other and the story well.

The 18th century has long held my interest (I have a BA in art history with a focus in 18th century painting, super useful, but that’s another story…). Art related to the Grand Tour was definitely something I studied, but it was honestly a little dry. This brought it to full, dramatic life. While Monty, Percy and Felicity’s Tour was certainly out of the ordinary and full of danger, it was still a fun romp through 18th century Europe.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I finished it less than an hour before writing this and I already am looking forward to reading it again. Read it. Read it now. It’s witty and fast-paced, certainly a book to devour.

 

The Devil’s Bible Saga (Michael Bolan)

I received free copies of The Devil’s Bible saga from the author in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the books.

The story opens as the Duke of Brabant lay dying. The succession is supposed to be split between the three sons of the Duke, giving them all a chance to be leaders. After he slips away, the eldest brother Reinald reveals that their father changed his will on his deathbed and he is now the sole heir to the duchy.¬† He makes it quite clear that he will brook no defiance from his siblings. Willem and Leo, along with their headstrong sister Isabella choose to leave their home and pursue their own destinies rather than submit to their brother’s will. The form a war party for hire and proceed to be very successful throughout the Thirty Years War. Reinald, meanwhile follows a much more sinister path: he joins forces with a group intent on bringing about the apocalypse by killing as many people as possible.

What a thoroughly enjoyable series! A little history, a little fantasy and totally binge-able! The series consists of three books, The Sons of Brabant, Hidden Elements and The Stone Bridge.¬† My little summary above? Barely scratching the surface. There is a great deal going on, but it’s all told fairly compactly, which is something I really liked. I read the whole series in under a week, partially because they are not super long, partially because I couldn’t put them down. He doesn’t waste a lot of time dragging out pointless conversations or endless, overdone descriptions. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.

While The Sons of Brabant was a great book, my favorite was definitely Hidden Elements. Within the first two pages my jaw was on the floor and I could barely stop to sleep, eat and go to my day job. And The Stone Bridge can certainly hold it’s own with the other two: happy, sad, spectacular.

The characters are also pretty fantastic. The bad guys range from sinister to absolutely deplorable, some make your skin crawl. The heroes are just as fleshed out. Isabella was my particular favorite. She’s totally ass-kicking and I thought an amazingly well written female character.

One thing is for certain, Michael Bolan tells one hell of a story. And I cannot wait to read more.

 

Victoria (Daisy Goodwin)

I received a copy of Victoria free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This didn’t change my opinion of the book.

51e3y0cfeyl

Many of you know I have a passionate fascination with the British monarchy. For the most part though, I have mostly focused on the Tudors, with a few forays into Eleanor of Aquitane and then the more recent royals (The King’s Speech started that… what can I say?). For some reason, I never really got into Queen Victoria. Lately, though, for some reason, I’ve felt like maybe I should. When I found this book, it seemed like a good place for me to start.

Victoria begins very shortly before the death of William IV, with the teenage Victoria just breaths away from the throne. She has spent her life closely guarded and isolated by her mother, the Duchess of Kent and the domineering Lord John Conroy. She’s not even able to walked down the stairs unattended. When the king dies, she immediately begins to come into her own, shedding the name she hates, Alexandrina- or Drina to her mother-, and becomes Victoria. She causes further rift with her mother when she demands a room of her own and insists that she will meet with her ministers alone.

Victoria becomes particularly close to the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who would eventually become her private secretary. As their relationship grows closer, it also grows rather more controversial. Lord Melbourne, like many others, pushes her to marry her cousin, Prince Albert of Coburg, but she insists she is not interested.

I really love this book as a dramatic introduction to Queen Victoria. It made an intimating woman seem much more accessible. While she was every inch a queen, she was also an inexperienced teenager. It made her feel more real to me, just the idea of her being a real teenager, pretty much like anyone else.

Everything I’ve read since this doesn’t indicate to me that there was anything romantic between the young queen and her prime minister. I have to assume this was a little dramatic license to help spice up a work of fiction. Still, I can’t be too irritable about it, the whole thing was well done. I can give up a little accuracy for some entertainment, in this case.

Daisy Goodwin has also written a series for TV as well. It’s out on the other side of the pond, but we here in America have to wait until January to see it. It does have Jenna Coleman as Victoria, though, so as an enormous Doctor Who fan, I of course want to check it out. The pictures I’ve found online look fantastic.