This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is a freebie…meaning YOU pick whatever topic your heart desires! Did you miss a topic you wanted to participate in or have a really specific topic that will probably never be a general Top Ten Tuesday topic? This week is for YOU!
I choose the same topic as Jamie; “The Best Historical Fiction Books.” So here they are in chronological order.
- The Red Tent (BCE) – This and Pope Joan are probably the first “adult” historical novels I ever read. It set a pretty high bar for others.
Told in Dinah’s voice, Anita Diamant imagines the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood–the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of the mothers–Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah–the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through childhood, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah’s story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past.
- Pope Joan (850s) – Still one of my favorite books regardless of genre or categories.
For a thousand years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die–Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter. Now in this riveting novel, Donna Woolfolk Cross paints a sweeping portrait of an unforgettable heroine who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.
Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against medieval social strictures forbidding women to learn. When her brother is brutally killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak–and his identity–and enters the monastery of Fulda. As Brother John Anglicus, Joan distinguishes herself as a great scholar and healer. Eventually, she is drawn to Rome, where she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous web of love, passion, and politics. Triumphing over appalling odds, she finally attains the highest office in Christendom–wielding a power greater than any woman before or since. But such power always comes at a price . . .
- The Name of the Rose (1327) – Not an easy read but completely fascinating.
In 1327, Brother William of Baskerville is sent to investigate a wealthy Italian abbey whose monks are suspected of heresy. When his mission is overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths patterned on the book of Revelation, Brother William turns detective, following the trail of a conspiracy that brings him face-to-face with the abbey’s labyrinthine secrets, the subversive effects of laughter, and the medieval Inquisition. Caught in a power struggle between the emperor he serves and the pope who rules the Church, Brother William comes to see that what is at stake is larger than any mere political dispute–that his investigation is being blocked by those who fear imagination, curiosity, and the power of ideas.
- The Other Boleyn Girl (16th Century) – Rekindled a love of Tudor England. And resulted in huge, HUGE fabric bills as I now do Tudor historical reenactment.
When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane and she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. Then Mary knows that she must defy her family and her king, and take her fate into her own hands.
- Outlander (18th Century and 1945) – Fun, easy, tome. I read this and all of the sequels until the last one. Too much time in between to remember the sprawling story.
The year is 1945. Claire Randall is traveling with her husband when she touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is hurled back in time to a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord 1743. Catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, she soon realizes that an alliance with James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, might be the only way to survive. Thus begins a work of unrivaled storytelling that has become a modern classic.
- The Drowned Maiden’s Hair (1909) – Lovely YA title. Orphans and Spiritualism and Ghosts, oh my.
Maud Flynn is known at the orphanage for her impertinence. So when the charming Miss Hyacinth chooses her to take home, the girl is pleased but baffled, until it becomes clear that she’s needed to help stage elaborate séances for bereaved patrons. As Maud is drawn deeper into the deception, playing her role as a “secret child,” she is torn between her need to please and her growing conscience —- until a shocking betrayal shows just how heartless her so-called guardians are. Filled with fascinating details of turn-of-the-century spiritualism and page-turning suspense, this lively novel features a feisty heroine whom readers will not soon forget.
- Trinity (1922-1923) – The horrible stories of the Irish Struggle made personal and approachable.
The “terrible beauty” that is Ireland comes alive in this mighty epic that re-creates that Emerald’s Isle’s fierce struggle for independence. Trinity is a saga of glories and defeats, triumphs and tragedies, lived by a young Catholic rebel and the beautiful and valiant Protestant girl who defied her heritage to join him. Leon Uris has painted a masterful portrait of a beleaguered people divided by religion and wealth–impoverished Catholic peasants pitted against a Protestant aristocracy wielding power over life and death.
- Water for Elephants (The Great Depression) – There are not enough words to tell you how much I loved this story. Seedy underbellies and shimmering circus life and a love story. Or is it two love stories.
Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski’s ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.
- King Rat (WWII) – I had to read this for high school. I have never reread it and it was easily one of the first I thought of for this list. Yup, it had an impact.
The time is World War II. The place is a brutal prison camp deep in Japanese-occupied territory. Here, within the seething mass of humanity, one man, an American corporal, seeks dominance over both captives and captors alike. His weapons are human courage, unblinking understanding of human weaknesses, and total willingness to exploit every opportunity to enlarge his power and corrupt or destroy anyone who stands in his path.
- The Poisonwood Bible (1959) – Kingsolver’s best book. The dissolution of an American missionary family in the middle of African beauty.
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.