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Help me pick a historical fiction book!

CognisseurCognisseur Registered User regular
edited December 2009 in Help / Advice Forum
Hi folks,

I want to get my girlfriend a book for the holidays, but I don't know which. She actually has a pretty specific genre she likes, so I thought maybe someone here could recommend a few titles.

She's into European historical fiction, especially something like Spain or Italy, and especially with a female main character. So she's read a bunch of stuff about various royal princesses and their adventures of being traded around like property or whatever the hell European princesses did. As you can tell, I'm not an expert in this field at all. I'm trying to use Amazon's categories, but it's providing limited success.

Any ideas?

Cognisseur on

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    VisionOfClarityVisionOfClarity Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Not exactly what you're looking for but how about The Handmaid's Tale?

    VisionOfClarity on
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    SheepSheep Registered User, __BANNED USERS regular
    edited December 2009
    For Whom the Bell Tolls
    Farewell to Arms
    The Sun Also Rises


    I think anything by Hemingway will work.

    EDIT

    Unless she wants something that's not quite Realist.

    Sheep on
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    JacksWastedLifeJacksWastedLife Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Hemingway would be a horrible choice if she likes female protagonists. You don't get much more of a male slant than Hemingway.

    I like Dumas myself. The Count of Monte Cristo, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Three Musketeers.

    The Count of Monte Cristo is probably the best bet. It has some great female characters. Mercedes, Haydee, and Valentine are great cross section of female roles.

    JacksWastedLife on
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    ServoServo Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited December 2009
    Well, once again Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose comes up. the only thing she might not dig about it is that it takes place in a monastary, so there's pretty much no women to speak of at all. otherwise, it's a semiotics mystery set in a monastary in italy during the 1300s.

    Servo on
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    Pure DinPure Din Boston-areaRegistered User regular
    edited December 2009
    So by historical fiction, do you mean something like this?

    http://www.amazon.com/Last-Queen-C-W-Gortner/dp/0345501853/ref=sr_1_35?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1261260567&sr=8-35

    Like the whole genre of books where the cover shows a painting of a womans dress, but her face is usually cropped out. Anyway, I thought the above book was pretty good, but that's not a genre I read a lot, so recommend speaking to a librarian if you can. It's their job to know what books are good to read.

    Pure Din on
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    ElinElin Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    The Golden Key is a fantasy novel, but is set in an alternate Italyesqe country. There are Dukes and such. It has quite a few strong female leads. There is magic however, not over the top wizards ... basically, there is a family with the ability to do magic through paintings. Pretty much my favorite book.

    Elin on
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    Angel_of_BaconAngel_of_Bacon Moderator mod
    edited December 2009
    Not sure how well this fits the bill, but Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle novels might work:

    Quicksilver
    The Confusion
    The System of the World

    The fact that they're these huge sprawling multi-protagonist affairs (Yes, one of the 3 main protagonists is a woman) make them somewhat hard to describe. Not a lot of princesses, but it does deal with Isaac Newton, pirates, English and French royalty, international relations, the progression from alchemy to modern science, mercenaries, religious conflict, etc, etc.

    Whether she likes it or not probably is going to depend on how much emphasis she wants on the historical setting (though to be honest, there a few anachronisms, and a lot of the dates and such are pushed around to make a more dramatic story- and there's an inexplicably immortal character in there just because I guess the author thought it would be funny to have one).

    If she wants a lot of emphasis on the setting and the history, she'll probably find it fascinating. If she just wants a more straightforward story that just happens to take place in a certain time period, she'll likely find it fairly meandering, and possibly boring. Hard to say until you try reading it; I just picked up the first book because I had read an interview with the author that was pretty entertaining, not knowing anything else about it really- and I totally loved it. If I had been going off of just a list of what was in it- like I did above there- I'd probably have thought it would wind up being a confusing, tedious mess. :P

    I'll second Dumas as well.

    Angel_of_Bacon on
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    ElinElin Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    There is also Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus. It's a bit sci fi, but it deals with people slightly in the future that have found a way to view the past. They then decide to try to go back and stop the big CC from murdering everyone in the Americas when he lands there. Pretty neat, and there is a lot of time in the Spanish Court. Also has strong female leads.

    Elin on
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    CristoCristo Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    I think she'll like the Aubrey-Maturin series.

    First book is Master and Commander, and it's written by Patrick O'Brien.

    It's a brilliant series, comprising of 20 books so there's plenty for her to read. Unfortunately the 2 lead characters are men, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. But they're really awesome characters.

    Cristo on
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    Bionic MonkeyBionic Monkey Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited December 2009
    How about alternate history? I just finished Island in the Sea of Time, about a modern-day island that gets thrown back to the year 1250 BC by some weird event (which is never really explained, but doesn't need to be). Two main characters, one of which is a black, lesbian Coast Guard captain.

    Bionic Monkey on
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    BeckBeck Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    I liked Elise Blackwell's Hunger. It's more about emotion than history, though, but I thought it was a nice, short read.

    Beck on
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    The CatThe Cat Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited December 2009
    Further back in time, you've got Lindsey Davis' work, which is a private detective kind of thing set in Ancient Rome. The series starts with The Silver Pigs and is entirely awesome. It also has more of a female presence among the supporting characters than one would usually expect in the PI genre, so there's a good dose of romance and family stuff in between the action.

    The Cat on
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    The_Glad_HatterThe_Glad_Hatter One Sly Fox Underneath a Groovy HatRegistered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Servo wrote: »
    Well, once again Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose comes up. the only thing she might not dig about it is that it takes place in a monastary, so there's pretty much no women to speak of at all. otherwise, it's a semiotics mystery set in a monastary in italy during the 1300s.

    If you really want something fun and more set in historic events than ITNOTR, you should check out Umberto Eco's baudolino. It's far more accessable than ITNOTR because the main cahracters actually take part in history being made, instead of just having someone talk about it, like in ITNOTR.

    i liked ITNOTR but Baudolino was far more enjoyable. It's about a charlatany figure that was a key figure in many true events (the character, however, is inventend). Very enjoyable take on history and early christianity.

    The_Glad_Hatter on
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    ihmmyihmmy Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    My mother has read some of Philippa Gregory's work and says it's pretty good, she seems to specialize in historical fiction stuff

    ihmmy on
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    Sir CarcassSir Carcass I have been shown the end of my world Round Rock, TXRegistered User regular
    edited December 2009
    You may want to check out The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I've only read some of it, but what I read was pretty good. The main character is a man, but there are several female major characters.
    Wikipedia wrote:
    The Pillars of the Earth is a historical novel by Ken Follett published in 1989 about the building of a cathedral in Kingsbridge, England. It is set in the middle of the 12th century, primarily during the time known as The Anarchy, between the time of the sinking of the White Ship and the murder of Thomas Becket.

    The book traces the development of Gothic Architecture out of the preceding Romanesque Architecture and the fortunes of the Kingsbridge priory against the backdrop of actual historical events of the time. Although Kingsbridge is the name of an actual English town, the Kingsbridge in the novel is actually a fictional location representative of a typical market town of the time.

    It also has a sequel, World Without End.

    Sir Carcass on
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    mtsmts Dr. Robot King Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    there is a scanner darkly. french period piece.

    if you want historical sci-fi there is the His majesty's dragon/temmeraire series. napoleonic wars only with dragons

    mts on
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    TaGuelleTaGuelle Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Ivanhoe is filled with manly goodness but it has two strong female characters. Colleen McCullough (sp?) is also a brilliant historical fiction writer. She writes primarily about the roman republic so it is mostly about Roman men, but it's still brilliant writing and it does have some strong female characters. As a warning, she is unequivocally brilliant in her treatment of the material and the constant painstaking strives she takes for accuracy, but she is in love with Caeser. Not just a passing crush but full blown in love with him.

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    PhistiPhisti Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    If she's in it for the long haul - Michener, they sell his books by weight though.

    The Source was a decent book although there is no true "main character" as it's written as the fictitious history of a single location, all being discovered by a group of archeologists.

    Funky story though if she's into that sort of thing.

    Phisti on
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    CognisseurCognisseur Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Hi again folks!

    You all had good and interesting suggestions, but truth be told I don't really know how far along the literature vs 'cute easy read' my girlfriend prefers, so I wrote down a bunch of her book titles so maybe someone here will be able to make sense of it:

    Nefereti
    Cleopatra's Daughter
    Last Queen
    Constant Princess
    Borgia Bridge
    Leonardo's Swans
    Queen's Fools

    I know that she wasn't the biggest fan of all of them, but she has 2 by Phillip Gregory and 2 by Michelle Moran, so presumably she liked those authors, lol.

    Hope this helps and someone here turns out to be an expert on this subgenre my girlfriend seems to like!

    Cognisseur on
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    SolandraSolandra Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Elin wrote: »
    There is also Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus. It's a bit sci fi, but it deals with people slightly in the future that have found a way to view the past. They then decide to try to go back and stop the big CC from murdering everyone in the Americas when he lands there. Pretty neat, and there is a lot of time in the Spanish Court. Also has strong female leads.

    I'll second this one as awesome.

    Solandra on
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    AmytheLibrarianAmytheLibrarian Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Hi, I'm a librarian and I pretty much do this stuff every day, so here are my suggestions.

    I was going to say Philippa Gregory as soon as you said historical fiction princessy stuff, but you posted again and looks like she's been there done that.

    Gregory has a new book out this year (Aug. 2009) called The White Queen. If you're worried you could always purchase that.

    There's a great site called Literature Map (www.literature-map.com) where you can find similar authors to ones you like in this neat cloudy-thingy. The closer an author's name is to the central author, the more alike they are. Here is the entry for Philippa Gregory's read-alikes: http://www.literature-map.com/philippa+gregory.html. You could try some of those authors.

    That said, I think this next choice is going to be the most helpful. There is a snazzy database called NoveList that librarians use to hook people up with great books based on what they already like. I found a Philippa Gregory read a-like article. It explains why people like Gregory's stuff, and lists a bunch of authors (with specifics of what they write) who are similar. Who knows, your public library might subscribe to it :)

    It's kinda long so I stuck it in the spoiler tag here.
    NoveList Read-alike List
    NoveList/EBSCO Publishing © 2006
    Philippa Gregory
    by John Charles
    Genre: Historical Fiction
    Psychological Fiction

    Philippa Gregory has a passion for the past, and she has effectively translated this interest into a number of Historical novels that brilliantly blend fact and fiction together into captivating stories. While Gregory's meticulous research and dedication to historical accuracy provide the solid foundation for her Historical Fiction, readers equally enjoy her lively writing style and gift for creating fascinating characters. Though best known for her Historical Fiction, Gregory has also used her gifts for creating strong characters and compelling stories to write several contemporary novels of Psychological Fiction.

    Characters are one of the key appeal elements of Gregory's books. For many of her Historical novels, Gregory delights in selecting someone on the "margins" of history as her protagonist, and then using this character to let readers experience all the passion, drama, glamour, and intrigue of a particular time and place. A perfect example of this type of "marginal" character is found in The Queen’s Fool. The book's heroine is Hannah Green, a young Jewish woman with a special gift, who, after fleeing persecution in Spain, becomes a court fool for Queen Mary of England and then later her sister Queen Elizabeth. Through Hannah, Gregory gives readers a slightly different and more sympathetic, but still historically accurate, version of Mary, one of England's most misunderstood queens.

    Unlike some Historical novelists, Gregory does not gloss over history's darker moments, and therefore, her books are probably not the best choice for readers who prefer their history with a happily ever after ending. For example, in Gregory's The Wise Woman, the brutal struggles between the church and state in 16th century England play an important role in this dark story as the book's protagonist Alys, a young woman who was raised by a local wise woman, struggles to survive in a time when being accused of witchcraft could mean death. While Gregory's books can be filled with a generous measure of gritty violence, dark passions, dangerous intrigues, and occasionally less than honorable characters, this gives her Historical Fiction its strong sense of realism.

    Historical Fiction is Gregory's best-known genre, but she has written other kinds of books too, including children's novels and contemporary fiction. Some of these books are only available in Great Britain, but a few, including The Little House and Zelda’s Cut, were also published in America. Zelda’s Cut is the story of a married author best known for her literary fiction, who writes a "trashy" novel under a pseudonym to earn some money and falls in love with her editor. The Little House centers on a woman who is financially forced into moving close to her husband's family and soon loses control of everything in her life — including her new baby — to her domineering mother-in-law. Both of these novels have the same kind of strong characterization and powerful storytelling found in all of Gregory's books, but they also offer satisfying psychological contemporary plot twists, and thus may appeal to readers with different tastes than those who enjoy Gregory's Historical Fiction.

    With the exception of Gregory's "Lacey" trilogy and her linked duo Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth, which are best read in order, readers can start with any of her Historical novels. A particularly excellent introduction to Gregory's beguiling brand of Historical Fiction is The Other Boleyn Girl, the captivating story of Mary Boleyn, who served as mistress to Henry VIII before her more famous sister Anne captured the King's favor. In The Other Boleyn Girl, readers are given a vivid look at the glittering and treacherous world of the Tudor court as Mary finds herself caught between her family's ambitions and her own happiness. Readers wishing to learn more about Gregory and her books will find her website www.philippagregory.com to be a most useful source of information about this exceptional storyteller.

    Read-alikes:

    Before there was Philippa Gregory there was Jean Plaidy. One of the pen names of prolific English author Eleanor Hibbert, who also wrote as Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr, Plaidy was one of the best known authors of Historical fiction of the twentieth century. Like Gregory, Plaidy was fascinated with the past, and she wrote a number of excellent novels featuring some of the most famous people in history as characters. Readers who loved the character-rich feel of Gregory's The Constant Princess will want to try Plaidy's trilogy: Katharine The Virgin Widow, The Shadow of the Pomegranate, and The King’s Secret Matter, which recounts in spellbinding detail the life of Katharine of Aragon and her struggles to remain Queen of England.

    Elizabeth Chadwick's Historical novels have the same kind of excellent use of history, vividly detailed settings, and realistically complex characters found in Gregory's books. Chadwick often includes a generous measure of romance into her captivating stories, and thus her books are a particularly good choice for Historical Fiction readers who also enjoy Historical Romances. Suggest Chadwick's The Winter Mantle, the story of an English Earl who falls in love with the niece of William the Conqueror, to readers looking for a sweeping story of passion, intrigue, love and loss set in Medieval England.

    Readers who revel in the kind of expertly evoked settings found in Gregory's books, will definitely want to give Margaret George's Historical novels a try. Like Gregory, George is passionate about history and her vibrant, detail-rich, and frequently leisurely paced books, are an excellent suggestion for readers who enjoy immersing themselves in a past time and place. Suggest George's The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers, in which the English king recounts through his own diary the "true" story of his life, to those readers who enjoyed any of Gregory's books about the Tudors

    Like Gregory, Rosalind Laker is an author who knows how to blend fact and fiction into a fascinating story. History forms the solid foundation for all Laker's novels, whose settings have ranged from 16th century Holland to 20th century France and Italy, to which Laker adds a mix of her own colorful characters and real historical figures, thus giving her books a similar sense of appeal to Gregory's entertaining style of Historical Fiction. Start readers off with either Circle of Pearls: A Novel, the story of a family of 17th century English women whose legacy is a beautiful gown of pearls, or To Dance with Kings: A Novel of Versailles, another sweeping saga of four generations of French women whose lives become caught up with those living in the glittering palace of Versailles during the reigns of Louis XIV to Louis XVI.

    Australian author Posie Graeme-Evans is a newcomer to the Historical Fiction genre but she is quickly winning over readers with her engaging style of Historical novels. The Innocent and The Exiled, the first two books in a trilogy by Graeme-Evans, have already been published in the United States, where they soon found favor with readers who like their Historical Fiction served up with a strong measure of passion, intrigue, and lots of colorful historical detail. Readers will want to begin with The Innocent, which introduces Graeme-Evans' protagonist, a young peasant girl named Anne, whose knowledge of herbs will bring her to the attention of the queen of England, and whose beauty will capture the interest of King Edward IV.

    Readers who enjoy both Gregory and Plaidy might find some good suggestions in the Read-alikes article on Jean Plaidy.

    John Charles is a reference librarian and fiction selector for the Scottsdale(AZ) Public Library System and is the co-author of The Mystery Readers’ Advisory: The Librarian’s Clues to Murder and Mayhem (ALA 2002).

    Good luck on the book buying. Hope that helps :D

    AmytheLibrarian on
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    KyleWPetersonKyleWPeterson Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Easy, The Plot Against America.

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    DjinnDjinn Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Wolf Hall, a work of historical fiction about the machinations of the court of Henry VIII, recieved rave reviews and won the Man Booker prize this year. Its my book of the year.

    Djinn on
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    RohanRohan Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Elin wrote: »
    The Golden Key is a fantasy novel, but is set in an alternate Italyesqe country. There are Dukes and such. It has quite a few strong female leads. There is magic however, not over the top wizards ... basically, there is a family with the ability to do magic through paintings. Pretty much my favorite book.

    Seconding this... fantastic book.

    Rohan on
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