Genre: Historical Fiction Arc II – Tudor (1485) to World War II


Tuesday, Jan 31, 2017 9:45 – Noon
Jones Library, Amherst

Benchmark: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Fill out and bring your Reader Profile — great practice to put your reading preferences into words.

Tip for searching Novelist for Historical Fiction: Use Time Period Subject Headings

Historical Fiction Resources:

Notes on Discussion

RART Minutes, 31 January 2017

  1. Meeting begins at 10. Introductions. Approximately fifteen librarians in attendance.

  2. Molly made a Google group and Eliza made the first post. If you did not get a message you may not be part of the group and should ask Molly to subscribe you. The Google group is a good place to post articles about books or thoughts about books.

  3. Wolf Hall discussion. Some people did not get into Wolf Hall while others loved it a lot. Several people made a strong recommendation to listen to it on audio. The history behind the novel was discussed and how much was factual. Several people also enjoyed the PBS series and thought watching it helped them understand the novel.

  4. Next Meeting is March 21st at the South Hadley Public Library. Molly reviews how to pair a biography with biographical fiction on the same subject matter.

  5. Discussion of second titles. Titles include Pat Barker’s Regeneration, Code Name Verity, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, A Terrible Beauty, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Carter Family: Don’t Forget the Song (graphic novel), Bring up the Bodies (sequel to Wolf Hall), The Vintner’s Daughter, Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War

  6. Personal Profiles — attendees fill out Personal Reading Profiles and exchange. Each person should come up with five or so recommendations for next meeting.


Second titles:

Name: Anna Mickelsen
Title: The Night Watch
Author: Sarah Waters
Appeal Factors: Character development, interesting narrative structure

Summary/Thoughts: Set in London during and after World War II, the Night Watch focuses on the lives of several characters and their relationships in 1947, 1944, and 1941. Because the narrative moves backward in time, readers discover motivations and events in an unusual way. For those interested in everyday life during wartime, women’s relationships, and queer lives.

Name: Linda Wentworth
Title: A Star for Mrs. Blake
Author: April Smith
Appeal Factors: sense of place, characters,

Summary/Thoughts: Five women from very different walks of life–all gold star mothers–travel together on a government-sponsored trip to France to view the graves of their sons killed in WWI. Cora, a librarian from Maine, lost her only child in the war, and is assigned the job of coordinating the trip. The book describes a poignant moment in US history that is all but forgotten today.

Name: Jan Resnick
Title: The Summer Before the War
Author: Helen Simonson
Appeal Factors: Pace: moderate; Characters: compelling; compassionate, admirable; Story: character-driven; Language: compelling; beautiful; Tone: suspenseful, mostly upbeat; Frame: Rye, Sussex; 1914

Summary/Thoughts: “…spirited debate was the first casualty of any war.”
I picked up The Summer Before the War at random to fill my requirement for a second historical novel. I thought I would give it 50 pages and try the next in the stack. By the end of 10 pages, I was hooked. Finished the almost 500 pages in under 2 days because it was so hard to set aside. The characters have resonance and personality, the situations (especially the gender boxes people were assigned) are frustratingly recognizable, and the time and setting are well realized and especially poignant because the reader knows what is coming and the characters do not.

It is the summer of 1914 and Beatrice Nash arrives in Rye, Sussex, as a replacement teacher of Latin. After her father’s death, she is escaping from his snooty, condescending family and trying to find her way on her own terms.

Rye is a traditional stratified town of its day and hasn’t changed much in generations. Villagers are comfortable with its habits and seasonal patterns. Agatha Kent, wife of an influential man in the government and a local power in her own right, is one of Beatrice’s sponsors. Miss Nash has excellent credentials which were expected and is young and pretty which was not.

Agatha Kent and her husband have been very involved in the lives of their two now adult nephews and both are visiting for the summer. Hugh is finishing his studies as a surgeon and has been invited to join his mentor’s practice. Daniel is a charming poet with plans to start a magazine in Paris with one of his friends. Each of the three young people is poised on the cusp of something new, with certain challenges and expectations. The war changes all their lives.

Germany’s invasion of Belgium creates a refugee crisis (England accepted over 250,000 during the war.) The refugees coming to Rye are distributed among the population and bring a realization of war’s violence and disruption to their hosts. Eventually the nephews and other young men of the village enlist and are sent off to the front.

The Summer Before the War includes nuanced characters from the many levels of British society, their flaws, their charm and humor, and the misery of the poor and the outsiders. Their stories illustrate their humanity, their strength and, on occasion, their cruelty. The story of Belgian refugee Celeste is particularly touching. It is a story of people facing war as well as radical change to the way their lives have always been.

The dialogue is witty. This book should appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Kent Haruff, and Khalid Hosseini. There is much to admire and reflect upon. LibraryReads Favorites: 2016. This is an outstanding reading experience. Brava.

Readalikes: Kent Haruf, Khalid Hosseini, Angela Thirkell – Cheerfulness Breaks In, Louis De Bernieres – The Dust That Falls From Dreams, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles – The Dream Kingdom, Priya Parmar – Vanessa and Her Sister,
Melanie Benjamin – Alice I have Been, Fay Weldon – Habits of the House