Friday, April 9, 2010

H is for Historical Fiction

This is a convenient letter for today's post in the A to Z Blog Challenge, because I'm rereading The Scarlet Letter these days. I bet you're wondering why, since I recently told you I was on a thriller reading binge.

I'm working my way through The Scarlet Letter because I want to focus on Paula Reed's new release Hester as soon as possible. Here's the short synopsis from

"Upon the death of her demonic husband, Hester Prynne is left a widow, and her daughter Pearl, a wealthy heiress. Hester takes her daughter to live a quiet life in England--only to find herself drawn into the circle of the most powerful Puritan of all time, Oliver Cromwell. From the moment Hester donned the famous scarlet letter, it instilled in her the power to see the sins and hypocrisy of others, an ability not lost on the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. To Cromwell, Hester’s sight is either a sign of sorcery or a divine gift that Hester must use to assist the divinely chosen in his scheming to control England. Since sorcery carries a death sentence, Hester is compelled against her will to use her sight to assist Cromwell. She soon finds herself entangled in a web of political intrigue, espionage, and forbidden love. Hester will carry readers away to seventeenth century England with a deeply human story of family, love, history, desire, weakness, and the human ideal."

The Scarlet Letter is much harder to read than I remember. The last time I tackled the book was in high school, and I probably did most of my reading during the day. Now I'm trying to read it in small bursts right before I go to bed, and my brain is not taking it in. Believe it or not, sometimes I feel as though I'm reading gibberish.

Paula told me I could read Hester without going back to the Hawthorne novel because she laid the historical groundwork and background out for her readers. I should trust her advice. I should skip Hawthorne's tale and go directly to Hester. I think I will, but I might wait until my company with one-year-old granddaughter travels on. It's hard to find more than ten minutes of reading time these days.

Speaking of historical fiction, I recently won another novel that I can't wait to read. Kelli Stanley's City of Dragons is set in 1940 San Francisco. Here is the publisher's synopsis as posted at barnes&

"February, 1940. In San Francisco's Chinatown, fireworks explode as the city celebrates Chinese New Year with a Rice Bowl Party, a three day-and-night carnival designed to raise money and support for China war relief. Miranda Corbie is a 33-year-old private investigator who stumbles upon the fatally shot body of Eddie Takahashi. The Chamber of Commerce wants it covered up. The cops acquiesce. All Miranda wants is justice--whatever it costs. From Chinatown tenements, to a tattered tailor's shop in Little Osaka, to a high-class bordello draped in Southern Gothic, she shakes down the city--her city--seeking the truth. An outstanding series debut."

Sounds like an excellent story to me. So perhaps I'll shift from thrillers to historical fiction for a while. Historical mysteries are especially hard to beat. There are many to choose from, but here's an author I read last year that you might want to check out. David Fulmer's Valentin St. Cyr mysteries are set in New Orleans in the early 1900s. Here's the story line for the first book in the series, Chasing the Devil's Tale, from

"Storyville, 1907: In this raucous, bloody, red-light district, where two thousand scarlet women ply their trade in grand mansions and filthy dime-a-trick cribs, where cocaine and opium are sold over the counter, and where rye whiskey flows like an amber river, there's a killer loose. Someone is murdering Storyville prostitutes and marking each killing with a black rose. As Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr begins to unravel the murder against this extraordinary backdrop, he encounters a cast of characters drawn from history: Tom Anderson, the political boss who runs Storyville like a private kingdom; Lulu White, the district's most notorious madam; a young piano player who would come to be known as Jelly Roll Morton; and finally, Buddy Bolden, the man who all but invented jazz and is now losing his mind. No ordinary mystery, Chasing the Devil's Tail is a chilling portrait of musical genius and self-destruction, set at the very moment when jazz was born."

This is a fascinating story with a variety of interesting characters. Fulmer mixes historical fiction and mystery with top-notch writing.

Drop back tomorrow for the letter I in the A to Z Blog Challenge -- I'm going to post about an annoying habit some writers have and why Hawthorne could have used a good critique group while writing the The Scarlet Letter.


Grammy said...

Hi, Patricia,
Your synopsis of the mysteries is most engaging, and I may find myself running to the library soon to check them out. I love historical fiction as well as the modern day fiction and mysteries. Thanks for that information. I'll be back.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I haven't read "The Scarlet Letter" since high school, either. I remember enjoying it, but enjoying Hawthorne's short stories better (like "The Birthmark.")

Mystery Writing is Murder

Talli Roland said...

Ooh, I can't wait to read about the annoying habits! I'm sure I'll recognise many from my own writing.

I've never read the Scarlet Letter but I'm thinking now I should give it a go!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Historical fiction is great! As are, of course, historical mysteries. I loved Margaret George's 'The Autobiography of Henry VIII'. Then there are Edward Rutherfurd's wonderful "Sarum' and 'London'. Is there a theme here? I suspect so...

Ann Elle Altman said...

My sister really wants me to read The Scarlett Letter. I promised her I would get to it. I like historical fiction but you're right, you need to often read it when awake.


Ann Elle Altman said...

I love historical fiction. I promised my sister that I would read The Scarlett Letter but haven't got to it yet. You're right, you need to read Historical fiction when you're awake.


Karen Walker said...

I love historical fiction and Hester sounds just wonderful. Might have to get that one.

Liz said...

I haven't read "Scarlet Letter" since high school either (though I've always enjoyed the reference in "Music Man," when Harold sings, "I hope, and I pray, for Hester to win just one more 'A.' ")-- not sure I want to either! I'm just been reading a great book of historical fiction, "Confucius Jade," (by Frederick Fisher) set in China and involving a fabulous jade carving with mystical properties, that 3 disparate people all want to acquire. And of course along the way not only do you get a great page-turner but you also learn something about China and about Confucius, his teachings and philosophy.

Anonymous said...

I love historical fiction. Its fun to read when the author not only performs their due dilligence in research, but is able to communicate the setting of the time so that it engages the reader.

Stephen Tremp

Linda L. Henk said...

I don't remember ever reading The Scarlet Letter. If I did, the story didn't stick. I shall await your post about annoying habits...none, I am most positively certain of, that I, personally, have myself.

Lisa said...

Historical fiction is some of my favorite reading. I especially like books written by the Brontes. The three books sound like good ones, but I am especially interested in Hester.

Great post!

Jemi Fraser said...

I remember the basic story line of the Scarlet Letter. I also seem to remember thinking it was a pretty good tale. But that's all I remember. :) Don't think I'll bother giving it a re-read!

Paula Reed said...

For those of you thinking about giving The Scarlet Letter another go--you may want to skip the introduction ("The Custom House"). If you love the book, go back and read that afterward, but 20+ years of teaching The Scarlet Letter have taught me that it loses most readers' interest in the novel right away. Consider just going straight to chapter one.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Good advice, Paula. I made it to the 2nd page of The Custom House and decided I'd best jump to the heart of the story.

Becky said...

I am embarrassed to say that I have never read The Scarlet Letter, but do plan to one day. I am really into books that tell a story about true strong women of our history. I just finished reading a great historical fiction- "Her Mother’s Hope" by Francine Rivers. It is a fabulous story about four generations of mother's/daughters and is based off the true life stories of the author's heritage. The book is the first of a two-part saga. Can't wait to read the second one.

Molly said...

Oh, Patricia, 'The Scarlet Letter' is one of my all time favorites! 'Hester' sounds like it's worth a read, but I'm hesitant after my dislike of 'Cosette'. We shall see. =)

One book you might want to put on your "Must Read Historical Fiction" list is Bedlam South by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson. It's set in the Civil War AND an insane asylum, which is a combination that works on a very seamless level. There's a well researched and authentic feel to the novel, and I'm always one for a good plot-twisting, unexpected ending! =)

Take care, and thanks again for the head up on 'Hester'!