Tag Archives: historical fiction

The Bastard by John Jakes

I first read The Kent Family Chronicles by John Jakes when I was in high school. EarlierThe Bastard this year after Jerry and I watched Sons of Liberty on History Channel I got a hankering to read the first book in the series again so I ordered a copy of The Bastard.

The first thing that struck me when I got the book was the length. It’s 528 pages. I can’t imagine reading a book that long when I was 16 but I clearly did because much of the story came back to me the second time and I enjoyed it just as much, if not more.

The first half of the book takes place in Europe starting in 1770. Phillipe Charboneau, the main character, is 17 years old and learns that he is the illegitimate son of a nobleman and heir to his fortune. Unfortunately Phillipe’s attempt to claim his father’s money doesn’t go over well with the rest of the family. They are a vengeful set so Phillipe changes his name to Philip Kent and travels to the American colonies. He lands in Boston in 1773, just in time to become involved with the rebel uprising that sparked the Revolutionary War.

In addition to having romantic relationships with large breasted women on both continents, Philip becomes acquainted with several historical figures including Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. Through his association with these people as well as dramatic events in his own life, Philip experiences significant historical events firsthand. He helps throw tea into Boston Harbor. He joins the militia and is one of the minute men during the retreat of the British at the Battle of Lexington.

The development of Philip’s character is interesting. He seems more like a conduit to tell a story and after 500 pages I still did not feel like I “knew” him like I did the other people in the book like Anne Ware and Marie Charboneau. That said, Philip certainly does grow and mature in the 5 years that cover the story. Jakes also very cleverly parallels Philip’s own character and inner struggles to the development of the colonies themselves. In fact, a thought that Philip has sums up the theme of the novel quite nicely and gets my award for favorite quote:

“…if America as a whole dared to seek what Sam Adams openly desired – total independency – she would be, in a sense, what he had been from the beginning: a bastard child thrust into a dangerous world alone and unprotected.”

I enjoyed this book very much. While I do have some interest in the characters and their personal stories, I loved the tie in to American history and how it relates to the characters lives. I look forward to reading the rest of the series and can see myself keeping the books around so I can read them again. I give this a Shrimp Coma Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund

Abundance bookI’ve mentioned before that I like reading historical fiction. Of this genre, my favorite is fiction based on real historical icons. Therefore, when I saw Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund I snatched it up.

I’ve been a fan of Marie Antoinette ever since high school French class when Mrs. Berard spent a week lecturing us on the French Revolution in French. Because I was a horrible student I had to spend extra time with Mrs. Berard after class so she could explain everything to me again in English which had me entranced. Prior to the help in English, the only thing I remembered was that the infamous quote “Let them eat cake” was actually “Qu’ills mangent de la brioche.” Brioche is not really cake, but actually a fancy sweet bread made with lots of eggs. According to Mrs. Berard, Marie Antoinette said this during the Paris bread riots.

Most modern day historians now agree that Marie Antoinette did not in fact insensitively suggest that the hungry peasants of Paris should eat brioche if they were out of bread. This includes Sena Jeter Naslund. In fact, the quote is not even addressed in the book. A tiny part of me wishes that it was. Otherwise, I loved the book.

In Abundance, we get an intimate and picturesque look at the life of Marie Antoinette that does seem very believable. One of Naslund’s sources was letters exchanged between Marie Antoinette and her mother. Many letters appear in the book and while I do not know if they are the actual depictions, I’d like to believe that the tone was at least duplicated. Even as the character develops, which Naslund does very well, she maintains her sense of youthful sweetness and naiveté.

In addition to Marie Anotinette, the reader also gets a good picture of the other people in her life, including her husband, Louis XVI. When we first meet him he is portrayed as dull and awkward but grows into a thoughtful and sensitive man as the marriage progresses. According to Naslund and several other historians, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s marriage was not consummated for several years. (Note: Mrs. Berard left this part out entirely.) Marie Antoinette’s frustration, as portrayed in this book, became my own and I am now interested in reading biographies of Louis XVI. I have yet to find anything that speculates that he was gay so I’m dying to know: what the hell was his problem?

If you paid attention in history class (or like me, you had to get your French teacher help translate your notes) you know Marie Antoinette’s fate. Maybe because of the spoiler, the end chapters about the last year of her life were my favorite.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It is a deep intimate portrait of one of my favorite historical figures with plenty of new details I will pick up in subsequent readings. I give this one a shrimp coma Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 19th WifeThe 19th Wife by David Ebershoff has two of my favorite things: historical fiction (yay!) and polygamy (wheee!)

I love me some Sister Wives on TLC and was also a fan of Big Love. But even before these shows I was interested in polygamy when Jerry told me one of his relatives is believed to have left his family to help found a polygamous community on the boarder of Utah and Arizona, Colorado City.

Jerry and I have driven through Colorado City. Just like on TV, the women wear long cotton skirts and I Colorado City 4swear a pickup truck followed us. It was a creepy place. When Jerry stopped at outside the general store and suggested we look around I refused to get out of the car. I was brave enough to visit the graveyard though. Sure enough, there are a lot of Jessops who live and lived in the town.

Parts of The 19th Wife is in fact based on Colorado City. The book is actually two stories that alternate. One is the story of a modern polygamous family and the other is the fictitious story of Ann Eliza Webb, Brigham Young’s 19th wife.

In fact, Brigham Young, second president of the Latter Day Saints, did have several wives including Ann Eliza Webb who divorced him and later became a critic of polygamy. Ann Eliza’s story as told by Ebershoff is an interesting one as she was part of the first generation born into the Mormon church. The story, told through fictitious memoirs and college papers, focuses on the incredible faith Ann Eliza and her contemporaries had in their church and its leader. I like to think that the portrayal of Brigham Young as a charismatic leader with a gift for logistics and organization is accurate. Once he begins to promote plural marriage, of course, the reader’s perception of his character begins to sour, as does Ann Eliza’s. I have no idea how accurate the story of how Ann Eliza becomes Brigham Young’s wife is. It borders on the level of an HBO TV series which of course makes the story interesting.

Colorado City 1The modern day portion of the story is a murder mystery. Jordan Scott, a young gay man who was banished from the town when he was a adolescent, returns when he finds out his mother, BeckyLynn, is accused of killing his father. Like Ann Eliza, BeckyLynn is also the 19th wife. As Jordan helps investigate his mother’s case he comes to terms with his relationship to the church and with the people he has in his life. As readers, we get the added bonus of learning what it’s like to grow up in a modern day polygamous/FLDS community.

The ending of both stories are satisfying with Ebershoff cleverly tying them together. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a solid, compelling read. If you are interested in the history of polygamy or the Mormon church, even better!