The Vale of Leven, Strathclyde, Scotland 1071
Catrìona stepped to the edge of the crag perched high above the vale. Wind whipped her auburn hair and umber cloak behind her as she raised her gauntlet and let the falcon fly free.
Spreading his long wings, Kessog soared into the air over the blue waters of Loch Lomond.
Her heart soared with him.
This land of tall peaks and deep lochs was her home. Gray clouds might hover over the tops of the mountains, but bright yellow wildflowers graced the steep slopes and the foothills were clothed in the green velvet of spring.
In the distance, the falcon shrieked as he arrowed toward the loch’s crystalline waters, then flew in tight circles over a flock of teals, seeking his prey. The clouds parted and a golden shaft of sunlight reflected off the ducks’ wings and shimmered in the waters of the loch.
Thoughts of her future filled her mind and her excitement rose in anticipation of the arrival of her intended, Domnall mac Murchada. This very day he would come by ship from his family’s lands in Leinster to meet with her father and seal their betrothal. Domnall’s home in Ireland was a place she had heard much about, but had never seen.
In her mind Domnall appeared a most handsome man, except for his nose, which was thin with a high ridge. His wavy light brown hair was always neatly combed and his darker beard invariably neatly trimmed. His eyes were pale blue. But it was not his appearance that had made her father choose Domnall. It was his noble Irish lineage and the trade between Leinster and the Vale of Leven.
During Domnall’s visits, she had been keenly aware of his pale blue gaze following her. In his eyes, she had glimpsed desire, flattered he wanted her and not just the trade with her father. Her cheeks flushed to think that one day she would bear his children.
In the distance, Kessog streaked toward a duck, but missed his strike.
Catrìona watched the falcon for a while until a sharp gust of wind made her shiver. She had a sudden urge to return to her father’s hillfort.
Bognor, West Sussex, England, April 1784
Except for the small waves rushing to shore, hissing as they raced over the shingles, Bognor’s coast was eerily bereft of sound. Lady Joanna West hated the disquiet she always experienced before a smuggling run. Tonight, the blood throbbed in her veins with the anxious pounding of her heart, for this time, she would be dealing with a total stranger.
Would he be fair, this new partner in free trade? Or might he be a feared revenue agent in disguise, ready to cinch a hangman’s noose around her slender neck?
The answer lay just offshore, silhouetted against a cobalt blue sky streaked with gold from the setting sun: a black-sided ship, her sails lifted like a lady gathering up her skirts, poised to flee, waited for a signal.
Crouched behind a rock with her younger brother, Joanna hesitated, studying the ship. Eight gun ports marched across the side of the brig, making her wonder at the battles the captain anticipated that he should carry sixteen guns.
She and her men were unarmed. They would be helpless should he decide to cheat them, his barrels full of water instead of brandy, his tea no more than dried weeds.
It had been tried before.
“You are certain Zack speaks for this captain?” she asked Freddie whose dark auburn curls beneath his slouched hat made his boyish face appear younger than his seventeen years. But to one who knew him well, the set of his jaw hinted at the man he would one day become.
Historical fiction! One of my favourite genres. When people ask me what historical novel they should read I find myself pondering for a good while after. Well, what type? What era? Which setting? There are just so many good historical books out there, how can I tell you just one. It’s not such a simple question so here are eight varied historical novels I recommend for different age groups. I definitely enjoyed them.
This true story of a Jewish girl and the boy she loved in Nazi Germany from 1938 to 1947 and the terrible problems they faced. This story is that of Garibaldi’s own grandmother and the very real atrocities committed against Inge and millions of others will shake you to the core. Though there was always a light turned on for Inge who managed to fall in love while at a camp. The photos of the family add to the atmosphere and the prose is wonderful to read. It is a history lesson that I recommend to teens and older and it will stick with you for years to come.
‘A Gathering Light’ by Jennifer Donnelly
A beautiful book about an event that changed the course of one girl’s life forever. Set in 1906 with the backdrop of the terrible murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette, an event that weaves the novel together, Mattie Gokey must find her way through adolescence and discover who she wants to be. Mattie herself is an interesting character who grows throughout the novel and her counterparts are just as entertaining to read about. Weaver in particular is an intriguing character. He faces deep racism from many of the white families and must cope with the adverse effect of these actions. Mattie starts a romance up with an ‘eligible’ boy, and that’s all women were ever meant to want, to be married to a good name. Mattie has other ideas about her how she wants her life to go and thus becomes a type of feminist to the readers. At it’s core, it is a feminist novel providing commentary on social status, race, and sex at the beginning of the 20th century. The prose is enjoyable and the descriptions are well written. I always recommend it.
A historically accurate novel on Godwine, father to the last Anglo-Saxon king of England Harold, who gained immense power for his family and proclaimed the Kingmaker. This historical figure led a very captivating life and Rochelle details it in this book. Godwine was father-in-law to Edward the Confessor, father of King Harold, raised by Canute the Great, all these people impacted his life and he impacted theirs. He was a commoner who rose to the status of earl, what a feat. If you want a novel full of information about the period and Godwine while also reading like a novel then this is the one for you. Some describe this as ‘fact-ion’, not quite non fiction and not quite fiction. A prior knowledge of the period is not needed either, which is great for people who haven’t even heard of Godwine! This book and the rest of the trilogy are well worth the time it takes to read them.
‘Heat and Dust’ by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
This powerful novel takes place in the 1920s and the 1970s in India, both before and after the rule of the British Raj. The lives of two women, Olivia and her step-granddaughter, play out. Though they live in India 50 years apart they have similarities in how their lives play out, how India changes them. Having the two eras shown in the book lets us see the social changes that occurred from the ’20’s to the ’70’s. Olivia was not expected to engage with India, not the culture and not the people, while in 70’s, the narrator can live freely and immerse herself in the culture. The parallels between the two women are fun to watch play out and the ending is good in the sense it divides people greatly, it’s a fun book for discussions and there are many opposing views. This novel is quite useful to write about in English Literature or other such school subjects so I definitely recommend to young adults and late teens.
‘The Lie Tree’ by Frances Hardinge
Another feminist book on our list! This Victorian era novel brought something to the table I had not seen before. The characters and the plot twists had me on the edge of my seat and the climax was fulfilling. Faith had spunk and she feels like a girl who isn’t like other girls, though it turns out other girls aren’t like other girls either. The prose is beautifully written and the tale flows seamlessly. As well as having many historical elements we get a murder mystery halfway through the novel, which should entice more than just a history fan. The role of the sexes during this period was one of imbalance and Hardinge shows us that and shows us how the woman fought back, though they fought back in a silent way.
This extraordinary tale of a young widow Mary Jackson in mid 19th century England and the choices she must make to protect her two children, herself, and everything she’s worked for. The power dynamics and the role of a woman in society, like ‘The Lie Tree’, during the Victorian period is a central part to the story. The affections from Mary’s boss leave her in a situation that reels you in. McBeath portrays the real gritty lives of Victorian women, the hardships and limitations. The characters are well structured and the atmosphere feels real. It is also ‘fact-ion’ as it is based on the real lives of McBeath’s ancestors. McBeath is working on the rest of the series which will all be based of her ancestors so if you enjoy this book you have more to look forward to.
‘The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips’ by Michael Morpurgo
This is a historic tale for younger readers and a favourite of mine. The amazing story of a cat who survived everything and shaped the lives of the people around him, specifically twelve year old Lily. The story is told through letters that an old Lily gave to her grandson from 1943 to D-Day. The town she grew up in had not been affected by World War II until the D-Day landing tests began and 3000 people were moved from their home in Slapton. This novel is a good way to introduce the themes of war and it’s impacts to children. The characters are incredibly realistic and well structured and compel you to keep reading. Even though this book is recommended to ages 8 to 13 I say adults and teens should read as well, it’s a quick read.
‘Bog Child’ by Siobhan Dowd
Set in 1981 in Northern Ireland this novel tells the story of a boy becoming a man. Fergus has a lot on his plate; his brother is in jail and on a hunger strike, he has uncovered an Iron Age body of what they assume to be a child execution, he is falling in love with the archaeologist’s daughter, and he needs to do well in his exams so he can become a doctor and leave Northern Ireland and the Troubles. There is a heavy politics aspect to the book which may be difficult for some readers and it’s quite helpful to have a prior knowledge of the Troubles as much is said in subtext and between the lines. Fergus as a character can capture my attention and keep it, his struggles and problems are very real; I can especially relate to the school related issues. The Irish history within the novel is useful to anyone studying the subject and provides a person’s experience rather than solely facts. The information about Celtic peoples in the Iron Age is also useful and rather interesting. This is Dowd’s most known piece and my favourite of hers. There are many mature themes so I recommend this for young adults and older.
Maybe it wasn’t true. “Come on, Junebug, it’s all right, don’t be afraid.” Grandma took my hand. Inside the house, a late afternoon shadow stretched like a long rectangular arm across the living room carpet. The Coke bottle Daddy used for an ashtray was stuffed with cigarette butts, and sat on the coffee table. Momma’s rocking chair waited for her; I pushed on the painted wooden arm to hear it squeak.
Two applejacks left over from Friday sat in a plate on the kitchen stove; this time of day the house should smell like fresh made sweet tea and supper cooking. I looked on the back porch, but nobody was there either. In the bathroom, I touched the last pencil line where Momma marked my height every year on my birthday. In their bedroom, I lay on the pillow to smell her. My head knew they were gone, but my eight-year-old heart didn’t yet.
Grandma sat beside me, tears rolling down her face; she’d cried a lot in the last two days. “Let’s go find what you want to carry home.”
In my room, I got the cigar box from my closet while Grandma packed clothes in paper bags. When her arms were loaded, she stood at the door. “Ready to go?”
“In a minute.” I went back to Momma and Daddy’s room, looked in her jewelry box and found the silver gum wrapper necklace I’d made for her in school. “Okay.” I stopped at the bottom of our steps and picked one of the red roses Momma had planted in the spring.
Of all the events that happened in the months after I met Sol, the first I remember is the day he sent me twenty-five roses. The bouquet was the first gift I received from him – in fact, the first flowers from any man. When Sol didn’t call me after the incident in the library, I worried that my angry outburst had given him second thoughts. For three days, I waited in agony for his call. I blamed myself and once again regretted how I often acted without thinking.
My mother was at home that afternoon working on a dress for a wealthy client in Westmount. Thinking back, I imagine her kneeling on the floor cutting out a pattern with her large shears, her tongue poking out to the side from between her lips. The doorbell rings. She stands and smoothes her house dress, wondering if it is Mrs. LeClerc, our next door neighbor. Opening the door, she sees a truck with a sign ‘Robichard Fleuristes de Montréal.’
“Fleurs pour Rebecca…ah,’ the delivery man examines the invoice, “Wiseman. Signer ici.”
Of course, I don’t know if the man hesitated, but in my imagination he does. My mind always enhances my memories until sometimes I can’t remember what is real and what I make up. I blame this exaggeration on my life-long habit of reading one or two books a week.
My mother tried to act as if nothing unusual had happened. I could see she was excited, but guessed she had a new commission for a dress. “Come,” she said and taking my hand, led me into the dining room. I smelled the roses before I saw them. The bouquet filled a deep blue vase in the middle of the table. The late afternoon sunlight, coming through the windows, seemed to illuminate only the roses. The red color of the delicate petals was hypnotic.
“From Dad?” Had I forgotten my parents’ anniversary?
She looked at me as if I’d asked a stupid question. “No, they’re for you. From Sol.”
My mother laughed, clasping her hands under her chin in delight. “Of course. How many Sols do you know who’d send you flowers?”
My hands trembled as I took the card from its place between two roses. I was annoyed I couldn’t be calm and sophisticated as if this gift were only to be expected.
A rose for each day of our budding friendship.
THE UNOFFICIAL STORY
By Annalisa Passarelli
Telegraph Hill. San Francisco. April 28, 1906.
It was just this morning that I finally started to convince myself I am still alive. Today, a week after the inferno burned out, a victim of its own success, the fire clap has even begun to fade from my ears and people may no longer have to shout into my charred face, nose to nose, to be heard. These welcome changes coincided with a knock on the door, the throbbing in my ears still spirited enough that I nearly missed the knocking. I shuffled through inch-deep ash, little clouds erupting with every step, and jerked open the brittle door to find an overdressed man named Mr. Appleby waiting on the puffy stoop. He cringed at the sight of me, lowered the handkerchief he had been clutching to his nose to ward off the acrid smell of burnt everything, and explained he had been sent by the California State Historian at Sacramento.
He stared into his bowler hat and began to recite the statistics, though the statistics alone, I assure you, do not sufficiently convey the horror. Three hundred miles of California coastline reconfigured, entire buildings swallowed up, whole towns reduced to rubble in a trail of destruction stretching from Point Arena to Monterey, thirty thousand buildings incinerated, a few hundred million dollars in smoke and ash. As best I heard, anyway.
He then offered an honorarium that sounded like one thousand dollars, asking me to consider a position as one of six writers chosen to report the Official Story in the events that transpired here on April 18, 1906, and in the three terrible days that followed.
After aiming one browned ear, then the other, straining for detail, I had my cracked lips parted and my swollen tongue dislodged from its sandy mooring and was about to mutter “yeth”, when he repeated the phrase “Official Story.” He looked up apologetically, braving the sight of me as chivalrously as horror permits.
He added, again quite apologetically, that all of the elements required for this Official Story would come from the office of our mayor, the ever-grinning marionette Eugene Schmitz, suggesting that the six writers would be encouraged to add “little dashes of color” and “some inspiring bits of human interest” which would then be reviewed by the charlatans anointed to the Official Information and Oversight Committee. For some reason that portion of Mr. Appleby’s tale came through quite clearly.