Monday, July 09, 2012

For History Fans

When I read "adult"  books (not that kind of adult books...well, The Queen's Lover came pretty close, but we'll get to that later), two of my favorites are historical fiction and history/biography.  History/historical fiction fans are in for a treat:

The Chaperone

The Chaperone is faaaaantastic.  It encompasses many major events and personalities of the twentieth century--orphan trains, Margaret Sanger, Jazz Age New York City, early Hollywood and silent movies, the suffragette movement, race relations, sexual identity politics--yet Laura Moriarty manages to balance them in a believable and unforgettable manner.  Wichita homemaker Cora Carlisle chaperones a sassy, independent teenage Louise Brooks while she is a young dance student in New York.  Cora's stay in New York provokes unpleasant memories of her childhood, which are eventually revealed through flashbacks.  I can't reveal much without spoiling key elements of the story; it's a remarkable read.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

I can't tell you how many times I've had to return this book without having finished it. After reading Eva Stachniak's impressive The Winter Palace, I was determined to read this lauded biography of Empress Catherine II of Russia.  I was a bit hesitant to read it, though, because Stachniak's companion novel, Empire of the Night, will be told from Catherine's point of view, and I thought that it might be better to wait until I read that one (The Winter Palace, which covers Catherine's arrival in Russia to the coup that led to her reign, is told from her Polish maid's point of view).   As Stachniak is still writing that novel, I figured that I would have a long wait.

Now, Massie's biography has had a perpetual hold request list ever since we received it (I'm guessing late 2011/early 2012), so I kept having to return it so that others could take a whack at it. I thought I was going to have to do the same thing again this go around, but a day of 104 degrees offered me a good excuse to finally finish this nearly 600+ page history of the fascinating Russian empress (the actual narrative stops short of 600; the remaining pages are endnotes).  Robert K. Massie is a master biographer; being familiar with his Nicholas and Alexandra and The Romanovs, I knew that his biographies and histories read like novels.  The length may be intimidating, but once you become acquainted with Catherine, the pages seem to melt away.

The Queen's Lover

Told from the perspective of Swedish Count Axel von Fersen, The Queen's Lover is a bawdy (even for literary historical fiction, which can be ribald when the subject concerns royalty) and occasionally violent (we are talking about the French Revolution here, which had a whole new crazy kind of violence and insanity) tale set mainly during the hysterical peak of the French Revolution and the age of the guillotine. So, sensitive readers should be warned, but the title and subject matter should clue you in before you start reading it, n'est-ce pas?

I'm currently reading The Presidents' Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity ; I wasn't entirely sure that I would enjoy this account of the relationships between presidents and their predecessors.  I enjoy presidential history, but this seemed to be incredibly specific and narrowly focused presidential history.  It's received a ton of attention, so I hopped on the waiting list and figured that I would at least take a look at it.   I am completely sucked in; it's a fabulous read.  One more adult nonfiction book with a hold, and then it's back to children's/YA for a while.  And hopefully I've learned my lesson about putting too many books on hold--it never fails that they come in at the same time. :-)

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