Saturday, June 18, 2011

Darlene Williams Top Historical Fiction Novels (Part 1)

I recently reviewed goodreads Top 100 Historical Fiction books.  I found I had read only 43 out of the 100.  After 40 years of reading, I felt my score should have been much higher.  Part of the problem was some historical fiction books listed are novels that do not technically qualify as historical fiction.

I'm not about to deny novels, such as Les Miserables, The Counte of Monte Cristo, Tale of Two Cities and Jane Eyre, are phenomenal books; they are.  I encourage everyone to read the classics.  They just, unfortunately, do not fall within the historical fiction genre.

To be termed a historical fiction novel, the novel must be written at minimum of 50 years after the time or event in question.

I decided to put together a list of my top historical fiction books.  It is likely going to be a long list, so I'm going to break it down into separate blogs.  I suggest you print the blogs and save them as references for your next historical fiction novel choice.  I have a list on my desk of about 40 books I want to read.  Each time I see an interesting title, I add it to my list.

So, with no further ado, here are my Top Historical Fiction Novels - Part I - (in no particular order):

  1. Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
  2. The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George
  3. Helen of Troy by Margaret George
  4. Mary Queen of Scott and the Isles by Margaret George
  5. Elizabeth I by Margaret George
  6. Earthly Joys by Phillipa Gregory
  7. Virgin Earth by Phillipa Gregory
  8. Fallen Skies by Phillipa Gregory
  9. A Respectable Trade by Phillipa Gregory
  10. The Constant Princess by Phillipa Gregory
  11.  The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory
  12. The Boleyn Inheritance by Phillipa Gregory
  13. The Queen's Fool by Phillipa Gregory
  14. The Virgin's Lover by Phillipa Gregory
  15. The Other Queen by Phillipa Gregory
  16. The Red Queen by Phillipa Gregory
  17. The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory
  18. This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson
  19. Ironfire by David W. Ball
  20. Poison:  A Novel of the Renaissance by Sarah Poole

    If you haven't read these books, check them out and see if they grab your interest.

    I am not starring these books, as they may be been read years, if not decades, ago.  To review them now would be unfair unless I reread them.  I am categorizing my top historical fiction books by author to minimize the research time required to unearth the hundreds of books I have read.

    Meanwhile, so many novels await my attention!  I'm about half-way through Imprimatur by Monaldi & Sorti.  If this historical fiction novel doesn't sag in the middle or have a dissatisfying conclusion, it's looking like the rating is going to be great.

    Look for more Top Historical Fiction Novels in the upcoming weeks as I continue to research authors and titles.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    10 Facts About Myself

    Today's blog is definitely off topic about historical fiction novel reviews.  A friend challenged me to publish a blog including 10 facts about myself.  So, here goes:

    1. I abhor snakes.  I will, and have, run away from dead snakes.  On a recent bike ride with my husband, I asked him to tell me the curled up thing on the side of the road was a really thick green shoelace.  He quite cheerfully replied, "No, it was a snake."  No help there.
    2. Rats are tied with snakes for extreme phobias.  I grew up in a city with ditches that teemed with rats.  When we were moving into a new home, I parked my car on the road, next to a ditch, so the moving truck could park in the driveway.  Staring complacently, as if it knew my fear, was a rat on the other side of the ditch.  If I could have found another home within the hour, I would have.
    3. I spent the first 35 years of my life trying to conform to the definition of "normal" (I can hear the laughter already) and the last 13 years of my life reveling in the discovery of who I am and who I can be aspire to be.  Let's just say, I'm not normal and I'm perfectly okay with that.
    4. I am a writer (okay, that one was obvious), half-marathon runner (14 to date), endurance cyclist, singer (I sang my first solo performance 2 weeks ago so I feel I've earned that title) and gardener.  Great stress therapy, but, in actuality, a therapist would probably be cheaper.
    5. I just received an invitation to my high school graduation 30 year reunion.  Fortunately, I'm riding 200k on my bike for charity that weekend.  Definitely the lesser of the 2 evils.  I will feel much younger doing the bike ride.
    6. I am the mother of 21 and 24 year old sons (now that makes me feel old), a daughter, a wife, an auntie and niece.  I love all my roles.  My children are under strict instructions, however, that I am not to be a grandmother before I hit 50 and only after I have chosen their wives.  Does laughter mean: "Yes, Mom"?
    7. I have lived my entire live surrounded by males.  I am an only daughter and the mother of sons.  At least my dog is female.  
    8. I am stubborn as all hell and have no intention of changing my attitude, sometimes to the consternation of my husband.
    9. I didn't start talking until I was about 3 years old.  Apparently, I haven't stopped since.
    10. I am blessed with the most wonderful, supportive friends and family.  I thank God for all of you. xoxo

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Exit the Actress, by Priya Parmar Historical Fiction Review

    Exit the Actress, by Priya Parmar.  Historical Fiction Novel Review

    Touchstone, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., Published 2011, ISBN 978-2-5391-7117-2 ( ISBN 978-4391-7118-9 (ebook)), 325 pages.

    Exit the Actress is Priya Parmar's debut historical fiction novel.  The central character is Eleanor Gwyn, an oyster girl who won a position as orange girl at the King's Company Theatre.  From this lowly occupation, Eleanor ascended the stage, after a great deal with training, with incredible success (and a few flops) and, ultimately, become the mistress of King Charles II of England.

    Priya Parmar chose to write Exit the Actress in a unique style, interspersing Eleanor's (who preferred to be called "Ellen", but was dubbed "Nell" or "Nelly" by theater patrons and the press) journal entries with London Gazette Gossip Sheets penned by the mysterious Ambrose Pink in flowery language ("Cherish it, my petals!"), Official Notations for Privy Council Meetings written by Secretary of State Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, correspondence between Charles II, his beloved sister, Minette, and his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria and letters between Eleanor's grandfather and great-aunt.

    In addition, recipes, such as Venetian Ceruse and Plague Water, from the Lady's Household Companion are inserted at appropriate times in the plot.

    Many peripheral characters inhabit Exit the Actress.  Ellen's mother, Nora, sister, Rose, her grandfather, Dr. Edward Gwyn, her great-aunt, Margaret, and the ghost of her long deceased father, Thomas, cause deep concern for Ellen for both their well-being and financial support.  She is horrified by her mother's alcoholism and her sister's prostitution.

    The King's Company actors Theo Bird, Nick Burt, Charles Hart, Peg Hughes, Teddy Kynaston (the last cross-dressing stage actor in England), John Lacy, Becka Marshall and  Thomas Killigrew (manager) and John Dryden (playwright) are prominent in Ellen's life and she considers them her "theater family".  When crises arose, theater family meetings were called to determine resolutions.

    Finally, royalty and courtiers who were involved intimately in Ellen's life were:
    • Charles II;
    • his wife, Queen Catherine of Braganza;
    • Ellen's nemesis, Barbara Castlemaine;
    • Charles Blackhurt, Earl of Dorset and Middlesex;
    • Sir Charles Sedley;
    • George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham; and
    • Johnny Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.

    Thankfully, Priya Parmar included a list of characters at the front of Exit the Actress; otherwise, I would have been lost with the numerous characters.

    Exit the Actress chronicles Ellen's life from the time she is 12 years old until she is pregnant with her first child by Charles II and stages her farewell performance.   Priya Parmar imbues Ellen's well-known love of living life to the fullest, singing, dancing, acting outrageously and surrounding herself with the Wits of the day (also referred to as the "Merry Gang" and "Bad Boys").

    Where Exit the Actress differs from many historical novels about Ellen is that she is attributed with emotions not commonly associated with her.  Doubts, self-recriminations, strong principles, her fierce ambition to remain independent, her desire to love the man, Charles II - not Charles the King - her refusal to participate in political intrigues and her loyalty to her family and lovers.

    During her lifetime, Ellen had three lovers, all named Charles:  Charles Hart (actor), Charles Blackhurst (Earl of Dorset and Middlesex) and King Charles II.  She remained faithful to each of her lovers during the relationships, even continuing that faithfulness after the death of Charles II until her own death two years later.

    George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, spent prodigious amounts of money to groom Ellen as Charles II's next mistress in hopes of promoting his own position at Court.  His cousin, Barbara Castlemaine, did nothing to gain him further royal rewards, so he put all his hopes (and money) into Ellen.

    Priya Parmar infused Exit the Actress with a wry sense of humor.  I often found myself smiling or chuckling at acerbic thoughts and comments by various characters.  "Taxes, Charles, taxes create revenue.  This should not be difficult for you to grasp.  You are king - rule, for God's sake!"  (Letter from Queen Henrietta Maria to her son, King Charles II.)

    Although the format of Exit the Actress may be somewhat unconventional, I found it a delightful read.  The ancillary letters, gossip sheet, etc., made it possible to gain insight into events of the day that Ellen could not reasonably have known or, if she had, included in her journal entries.

    The author fictionalized Ellen's journal entries.  The only extant documents related to Ellen Gwyn are some rather exorbitant accounts for clothing and shoes.  However, the characters and events (i.e. plague and Great Fire of London) described in his historical novel are factually based.

    Rating:  4 Stars **** (Excellent)