Weekend Links!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

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Here they are! All of the HF and general book links I enjoyed this week:

Sad news - we lost Barry Unsworth, a very well respected historical fiction writer this week. i made a point of stopping by the library today to pick up one of his books. I haven't read him yet - any thoughts?

On a positive note, Passages to the Past has an amazing giveaway. Even if I don't win, I just like looking at this gorgeous Catherine Parr earrings.

The first novel in Juliet Grey's Marie Antionette trilogy has been lost in my massive TBR pile and now the second book is already out! Read an interview with her here.

No one should miss the Historical Novel Society's fantastic multi-part series asking What is Literary Historical Fiction?

And, because I'll never tire of hearing more about Hilary Mantel and the last book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, here's another article on the new historical fiction hero Thomas Cromwell.

Armchair BEA - Introduction

Monday, June 4, 2012

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I'm very excited to be participating in Armchair BEA this year - book blogging has been good to me and I'm looking forward to discovering new bloggers! 

Please tell us a little bit about yourself? How long have you been blogging? I am a Washington, DC-based television producer. In my day job, I produce television programs on foreign policy issues and have been lucky enough to travel to Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey for my job.

I have been reading and loving historical fiction since the age of eleven when I found a copy of Legacy, Susan Kay's acclaimed novel about Elizabeth I at my small-town library in Vermont. When I was a teenager, my room was stuffed with Jean Plaidy paperbacks, the newest Margaret George and stacks of Sharon Kay Penman. I had a very strict policy of keeping to Medieval and Tudor times and wouldn't have dreamed of reading HF with a fictional main character! I've read hundreds of historical novels since then (check out my page "The List since 1995") and am excited to share my passion for reading with others.

I do read other types of books - literary fiction, history, travel and (increasingly this year) mystery and suspense. 

I started blogging in August of 2010 and have had nothing but fantastic interactions with readers, authors and publishers. 

What are you currently reading? I have a couple of different books going right now. I'm trying to wrap up Elizabeth Stors' The Wedding Shroud but I've also had Susan Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party on my TBR list for SEVERAL years and it's calling out to me right now. I've been extremely lucky with my reading this year - I've read 47 books since January and seem to keep picking up amazing books. Some of them (including non-HF reads) are: 

- Wild by Cheryl Strayed
- Tana French's Dublin murder mystery series
- Helen Dunmore's "The Siege" (about the Siege of Lenningrad during WWII
- The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

If you could eat dinner with a character, who would it be? I would have to say Elizabeth I - but preferably the Elizabeth from Susan Kay's Legacy. I finally got to visit London last year and see Elizabeth's tomb in Westminster Abbey and realized how much that book and Elizabeth I had influenced my love of history, reading and writing. 

What literary location would you like to visit? St. Petersburg, Russia. I studied Russian history and culture in college and would love to see the city of Tolstoy, Doestoevsky and Pushkin. Fingers crossed, that visit may happen at the end of this year. 

What non-book related thing would you like readers to know? I am a huge New York Yankees fan. Last year, I spent an entire month buying and selling tickets online trying to get to Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit game. I made it! I was there in the upper deck with my dad and brother on July 9th when Jeter hit a pitch into the right field bleachers! Great moment - my chest actually hurt for a day afterwards because I was screaming so loud! 

Time Travel & Historical Fiction

Saturday, June 2, 2012

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I've been away for a bit and couldn't decide whether my last two reads qualified for reviews here on Historical Fiction Notebook. Then I realized, what would make historical fiction lovers happier than any opportunity to travel in to the past?

My first read was Stephen King's well-reviewed 11/22/63 about a high school English teacher in Maine who stumbles into a "rabbit hole" in a grubby old diner in 2011 and finds himself in 1958.

In the acknowledgements, King thanks Jack Finney, author of the classic "Time and Again" for writing the ultimate time travel novel. I immediately picked up Finney's tale of an artist in 1970s New York City who travels back to the island of Manhattan in 1882.

For fun, I thought I'd do a dual review by comparing the two novels and the way they approach time travel:

Hero: 
11/22/63: Jake Epping, a divorced, childless high school teacher in his mid-thirties who doesn't seem to have a whole lot going on when a minor acquaintance decides to let him in on a big secret.
Time and Again: Si Morley, an artist at an advertising firm in New York City, in his late twenties. He was in the military and is a bit suspicious when a government contact approaches him with the offer of a lifetime.


Bottom Line? If you want to time travel, make sure you don't have much of a life, family or friends. It'll make the whole process a lot easier.

Method of Time Travel: 
11/22/63: A "rabbit hole" in the storage closet of a small-town diner. At one point, a character explains that these rabbit holes are all over the world but disappearing. That's all the explanation that's given but in an interesting twist, the rabbit hole gives only one shot. When you come back out into your own time, it's only two minutes later. If you go back into the rabbit hole, you reset everything that happened in your last visit and you enter the timeline at the exact same moment.
Time and Again: One of those tricky government projects hidden on the books yet spending millions of taxpayer dollars. This scenario didn't work as well for me. It basically involved a really complicated bunch of set-dressing, a location that hasn't changed in awhile and self-hypnosis. The mechanism for time travel seemed both unnecessarily complicated and too simple.

Wonder and Awe: 
11/22/63: Of course, the best part of a time travel book is getting to come along with the narrator while they discover a time long gone. King does a pretty good job of this - although he's working with a shorter span of time than Finney does - by focusing on the little details. The cost of a root beer, the slang words that are in use and especially the music. I could hear the late 50s and early 60s playing in my head while reading.
Time and Again: Finney wins big on this one. He basically gives up on plot development for long sections of the novel and just luxuriates in descriptions. Some readers might be annoyed by this but I loved it! Moreover, Finney nails the most important part: the psychology of why a past time is so different from our own. He looks at the faces of people from the 1880s and tells the reader why their time was both better and worse.


Crazy Moment: 
11/22/63: Jake gets the ultimate bad apartment when he rents a place below Lee Harvey Oswald. I thought I had terrible roommates but Jake wins for having to listen to Oswald beat his wife and go off on crazy conspiracy theories.
Time and Again: Si does a double-take when he sees the arm and torch portion of the Statue of Liberty sitting in a New York City park waiting to be taken out to the harbor and assembled. It's a beautiful way of showing how much is familiar in New York and just how much has changed.

Was it better?
11/22/63: Peace, quiet and innocence - Jake decides the early Sixties had it all except when it comes to rights for women and minorities.
Time and Again: Finney does a great job of making the 1880s seems sweet and innocent but not too perfect. He also gives the reader reasons why it was that way not just the old "weren't the old days great?" bit.

"The Terminator" Timeline Theory: 
11/22/63: So the immediate question with time travel is: how much can be changed? King wins on this point. In his novel, the past is "obdurate" and does not want to be changed. Any time Jake tries to change events, circumstances conspire to stop him - even in the matter of a life that may seem small. King also subscribes to the butterfly effect: a good change in one place can cause some very bad things in another.
Time and Again: Finney comes from the "twig in the mighty stream" school. Si doesn't seem to change a whole lot. Even when he wanders around New York letting slip details from the 20th century and getting involved in major fires and blackmailing schemes.

Past Love Interest:
11/22/63: Sadie, a teacher at high school north of Dallas in the 1960s. Once Sadie comes on the scene, the book starts to lose steam. It was almost guaranteed that whenever I picked up the book hoping Jake would be stalking Lee Harvey Oswald, I'd have to wade through chapters and chapters about his relationship with Sadie. A big disappointment.
Time and Again: Julie, the niece of Aunt Ada who runs a boarding house and rents a room to Si Morley. She's a bit hastily sketched but acts believably according to her time. I didn't like how fast Si abandons his present-day girlfriend for her but hey - time travel is stressful. You might need someone on the other side.

Although, I think I liked King's take on time travel and his theory on just how much a time traveler can change, I enjoyed Finney's book more. Where King got bogged down in a silly relationship sub-plot, Finney managed to keep the focus on the basic reason for a time travel novel - the wonder and awe of seeing another time.

I'm not that familiar with New York City but I would imagine that anyone who is would be delighted by detailed depiction of old New York. I don't want to spoil too much but I also found that Time and Again (written in the 1970s) contained some chillingly prophetic images and situations for someone reading in the year 2011.

I would encourage readers to pick up both books - especially Finney's Time and Again. You won't be disappointed!