What’s On Your Bookshelf? The HistFic Edition…

Since we last spoke I’ve been reading almost entirely historical fiction – or histfic as it tends to be called.

But what is historical fiction? Naturally, I went down the google rabbit hole and found that aside from being set in a particular historical time, histfic can be stories about:

  • real events and fictional people
  • fictional events and real people
  • real events and real people
  • fictional events and fictional people

Given that I’ve always been interested in history, fictional stories about the period help bring the facts to life and bring colour to the period and the people and behaviours and norms that inhabited that time. It’s in this that (for me) the appeal of histfic really is – especially if I know that the events and the characters are real. It’s why I adore TV shows like The Crown. Even if it’s not accurate (and we all know that they’ve been a tad creative with dates and event sequences) I like to think that it could be. I like to think that the words they say are words they might have said, that the way they reacted are ways they might have reacted.

My first three reads this month – all by Kate Quinn – were based on both real events and real people. Some events and characters are real, some are created, and some are embellished, but all were excellent reads that sent me down numerous rabbitholes as I googled the events and the characters involved.

As with all of Quinn’s novels, women are brought out of the shadows of war and away from the homefront and thrust into front-line positions beside men. In The Alice Network Eve Gardiner risks her life in the north of France as a spy; The Diamond Eye sees Mila Pavlichenko, a Ukrainian historian, transformed when the Nazis invade Ukraine and Russia into a sniper with over 300 kills under her belt ; and in The Huntress, Nina Borisovna is a pilot with the Russian Night Witches — so named by the Germans because they flew their ancient wooden biplanes by night to drop bombs on enemy encampments.

The Alice Network, set in WW1 is based on the true life of a WWI woman spy, Louise de Bettignies, and the spy network known as the Alice Network that existed in German-occupied France and Belgium.

The Diamond Eye is based on the true story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a Ukrainian woman who fought in World War II as a sniper. Her story, her visit to America, and her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt is a matter of record – Quinn brings it to life and embellishes it with a plot to assassinate President Roosevelt.

As much as I enjoyed The Alice Network and The Diamond Eye, The Huntress stayed with me long after I finished the book – although that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it more.

This one takes place in dual timelines – during the war and in the aftermath of the war with the backdrop of the Nuremburg trials. It’s the story of a ruthless Nazi war criminal known as Die Jägerin (The Huntress) who escapes to the United States in the wake of the war to start a new life in Boston, and the individuals who take it upon themselves to bring her to justice.

I rounded my histfic reading for the month off with the first two novels in the Billie Walker mystery series by Tara Moss.

Set in post-WW2 Sydney, Billie Walker runs a private inquiry agency (in Australia at the time the term private investigator was not allowed). Stylish, capable and fiercely independent, Billie is a character I’m looking forward to getting to know much beter.

Running through this one is also the theme of war criminals who somehow have managed to flee and start a new life elsewhere.

What else?

An Island Wedding, by Jenny Colgan

Anything by Jenny Colgan is an autobuy for me and this latest – which takes us back to the Scottish island of Mure -is no exception.

Liquid HistoryAn Illustrated Guide to London’s Greatest Pubs, by John Warland

I’m in the process of designing another London pub crawl for when we’re there in late October. After all, who can forget the great Twelve Pubs of Christmas Monopoly Board pub crawl/walking tour (with fun facts at every stop) from December 2019? (You can find the posts here and here.)

Anyways, this book is essential research.

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

A re-read for me, we’ve just finished reading this one in book club. I did, of course, then have to rewatch (for the umpteenth time – this being one of my top 5 all-time favourite movies) the 1995 movie with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet in the title roles. It truly does capture the novel beautifully and as always I was in floods of tears and sobbing almost as hard as Elinor was in the 2nd last scene.

Speaking of adaptations, I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth and watched the Netflix movie, Persuasion. While it absolutely doesn’t mirror the book (and the reviews have been terrible), I found myself enjoying the modern language against the sumptuous sets and costumes.

Richard E Grant was fabulous, Henry Goulding should play way more romantic heroes, Mary Musgrove was exactly as I would have pictured her, and I’ve already forgotten whoever it was that played Frederick Wentworth (so not worth waiting for IMHO). As for Dakota Johnson’s Anne Elliott? Even though Austen wrote her as the most sensibly mature of her characters, I think the younger Jane might have liked Anne to be a tad more ironic and playful. In short, I didn’t hate it and liked it a lot more than I thought I would.

Your turn…

Deb, Donna, Sue and I would love you to share what you’ve been reading. If you have a favourite spin-off or adaptation, I’d love to hear about that too. The linky is below – and it’s open until Monday evening (AEST).

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Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

23 thoughts

  1. Awesome reads, Jo!
    I read The Huntress a couple of years ago. It still plays out vividly in my mind.
    Like you, I recently watched the Netflix version of Persuasion. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I agree that Dakota Johnson’s Anne Elliot perfectly fit that version (and that a young Jane Austen likely would have approved). I also agree that Mia McKenna-Bruce was absolutely fabulous as Mary Musgrove — totally as I pictured her. I didn’t mind Cosmo Jarvis as Wentworth (he’s also starred in Raised by Wolves, Lady McBeth, Calm with Horses, Peaky Blinders…and he’s a musician). He totally nailed the hopeless puppy love stare! Although I enjoyed Henry Golding in Crazy Rich Asians, I didn’t love him in this role. I’ve been afraid to watch Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility. But since you, Sue and Deb have rated it so highly, I will give it a try. Stay tuned!

  2. I love historical fiction but I find that I’m getting weary of novels set in and around the second world war. Maybe after avoiding them for a while, I’ll be ready to plunge into that era again so I’ll make a note of Tara Moss’s books. I’m happy to read your take on Persuasion… I’ve been debating watching it. I liked Bridgerton, so maybe I’d like that one too.

    1. I reckon if you separate it from the book you’ll enjoy it – I certainly did (and watched it again over the weekend just to be sure…)

  3. Hi Jo I’m always happy to discuss historical fiction, my favourite genre. I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned but they are all on the kindle ready for when I’m away on holidays. The Huntress is at top of my TBR pile for when I get back home.

  4. HistFic..new to me but makes sense! Talking of sense, I am doing the memory lane thing again movie wise till i have watched the NEW Downton Movie with B. I am in the midst of the Pride and Prejudice with you know who and Jennifer Ehle. Always new things to see and notice…and Sense and Sensibiiity await. This time round I am completely non-fiction based but admit to re-listening to The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart as I drive around the ‘hood. Hope your weather is better than ours…..wintry, windy and rainy. Thanks for the link up. Denyse

  5. I really enjoy Histfic too Jo and one of my favourite authors is Karen Brooks (an Aussie). I’ve read a few Kate Quinn’s books and really liked them. I’m hoping to watch Persuasion this weekend and I appreciate your take on it (and Donna’s too). So many books to get into and so little time – but I’m planning on getting some read while on my long=haul flight next week! Great to read your post 🙂

  6. I have The Diamond Eye waiting for me to pick up at the library; I have really enjoyed all of Quinn’s other books. I too read An Island Wedding and thought it was super cute.

  7. Jo, I just left a similar comment about Persuasion on Donna’s blog but I’ll repeat it here. I thought the fourth wall filming technique, the use of modern language, the rainbow cast of characters and particularly Dakota Johnson updated the movie in a way that will appeal to new Austen fans. A few die-hard purists may not appreciate the liberal adaptation, but I loved it.

    I also saw the movie adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing this week and enjoyed it very much. Some of my fellow book clubbers didn’t give it high marks, but I thought it was beautifully done. Highly recommend.

    My book club is reading the Alice Network, but like Janis, I am kind of done with WWI novels for a while. I will download Island Wedding which sounds a bit more fun. Thanks for the recommendations.

    1. I haven’t read a lot of WW2 stuff (or war fiction in general) so I’m still enjoying it. Having said that I’m going in a completely different reading direction this month. as for Persuasion, I think a young (healthier) Jane would have enjoyed this Anne Elliott…

  8. That’s a lot of reading (as usual) for the month for you Jo – the book covers for Tara Moss are beautiful, probably because she’s very aesthetically pleasing IRL. And as far as Henry Goulding goes, he can play a romantic lead any day for me – I thought he was especially cute in Crazy Rich Asians.

  9. Great reviews Jo. I’ll have to check out The Huntress. I thought Persuasion on Netflix was pretty bad, why can’t they use an English actress? Not nearly as good as Bridgerton. I loved the scenery and costumes though and Richard E. Grant was hilarious.

  10. Hi Jo, it does seem to be a popular trend at the moment to feature women in Histfic which is great and about time. For those looking for different historical settings I have enjoyed Philippa Gregory (Henry the eighth period) and Tracy Chavaliar (Girl with a pearl earring fame) who covers women in many different periods of history.

  11. I had no idea that historical fiction could also be fictional events with fictional people — wouldn’t it just be regular fiction? I always thought hisfic was real events as the backdrop with fictional people. My earliest reads on histfic were the American Girl books.

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