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Posts Tagged ‘historical’

The three Bronte sisters wrote only a handful of books between them, but their influence is legion. Add in their peculiar lives in a Yorkshire parsonage, and you have the stuff of novels. Imagine moldering mansions, lonely children, crazy kin, starcrossed lovers, brooding heroes, poverty-stricken heroines, family secrets, a legacy of lies. The Brontes have been there, done that. There even are T-shirts.

But a good Gothic is hard to resist, especially if you first read Jane Eyre as an impressionable teenage girl. Reader, what a a story!

College professor and writer April Lindner is still enthralled. She makes her YA debut, Jane,  with a fond contemporary update of Jane Eyre.

Jane Moore, low on self-esteem and funds, has to drop out of Sarah Lawrence when her parents are killed in a traffic accident, and her selfish older siblings inherit the stuff that’s worth anything. Jane’s smarts, determination and lack of celebrity-awareness get her a job as nanny to brooding bad-boy rock star Nico Rathborn’s 5-year-old daughter. At Thornfield Hall, no less. Want to guess who lives in the attic?

Lindner faithfully follows the original story for the most part. It’s fun to see what details she changes to suit the times — after the wedding-day shocker, for example, Jane runs away and works in a soup kitchen with a handsome seminary student planning a mission to Haiti. That world-weary Mr. Rathborn (“call me Nico”) falls for pragmatic, good-hearted Jane isn’t all that incredible; her prissy moralizing after she’s already slept with him is more so.  Still, most jarring of all, is that well-read Jane Moore has apparently never heard of Jane Eyre, the book or many movie adaptation. Clueless.

Jane Eyre is referenced several times in the historical mystery The Distant Hours, by Australian Kate Morton. Following the successful formula of her previous novels — The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden — Morton leisurely layers Gothic details with classic romantic suspense, jumping back and forth among several time periods. The Distant Hours is a rich confection with lots of frosting.

“It started with a letter.” A letter, it turns out, that was lost for 50 years, and whose sudden arrival in the early 1990s stuns Edie Burchill’s mother, Meredith, who doesn’t want to talk about it. But the letter sets Edie on the trail of her mum’s history as a 13-year-old wartime evacuee at Milderhurst Castle, home of Raymond Blythe, author of a popular horror book, The True Tale of The Mud Man, and his three daughters. The elder sisters are twins, Percy and Saffy, and they have spent their youth looking after their increasingly demented father and their younger sister Juniper, who is subject to emotional spells and lapses of memory.

If all this sounds complicated, it is, because everyone, including all of the above, plus a handsome soldier and a former housekeeper, have secrets to spare. As kindly Mrs. Bird, manager of the B&B, says to Edie, ” ‘They can surprise us, can’t they, our parents? The things they got up to before we were born.’ ”  Edies agrees: ‘Almost like they were real people once.’ ”

Open Book: I purchased the e-book version of April Lindner’s Jane (Little, Brown), and received an advance copy of Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours (Atria) as part of a web promotion. While reading them, and rereading Jane Eyre, I consumed vast quantities of tea and quite enjoyed myself.

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Happy birthday, Thor!

I’ve started calling my brother “Thor’’  since his genealogy research last fall showed us as belonging to the Thor line of Pates. No, it doesn’t mean we’re descended from Vikings (although we might be) but from a Thoroughgood Pate who lived in Virginia or North Carolina during the 1700s. Supposedly “Thoroughgood’’ was a right popular name during the Revolutionary War era, although I don’t know if it was from a surname or one of those Christian virtue names, like Prudence (a paternal great-grandmother) or Endeavour (the closely guarded first name of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse).  I prefer “Thor.’’

Anyway, I sent Thor the first two novels in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series, The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horsemen, set in the ninth and 10th centuries when King Alfred and his heirs were battling to keep Wessex from the Viking conquerors. Cornwell writes vigorous, well-researched historical fiction, and I thought my brother would like these because we both liked Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe novels and because of our probable if incredibly distant ties to the Saxons and Danes.

I haven’t read this series yet, which is unusual because I almost always read the books I’m giving as presents. And I love giving books to friends and relatives, which made my recent holiday shopping both easy and fun as I tried to match book to reader.

My mom and I mutually gave one another Sue Grafton’s ‘U’ is for Undertow; last year we shared P.D. James’ The Private Patient. An aunt who likes lighter fare received Mary Kay Andrews’ The Fixer-Upper with firm endorsements from my me, my mom and her daughters (the other two-thirds of Caroline Cousins.) They got Jeanette Walls’ novel about her remarkable grandmother, Half-Broke Horses, because I knew they’d like it and because we keep talking about writing something about our remarkable grandmother, Nanny Love.

I took a chance with my uncle who likes Westerns and has already read Larry McMurtry, Robert B. Parker and all the Zane Greys and Louis L’Amours. I picked for him Larry Watson’s memorable coming-of-age tale, Montana 1948, and quickly re-read it before wrapping it up. My college sophomore niece thought she would like Jennifer Weiner’s breezy Best Friends Forever, which I enjoyed last summer, and after my nephew in the Army told me he was re-reading free classics on his I-Phone, he got a  paperback of  The Hound of the Baskervilles along with the DVD of the movie starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.

And then there was Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which may have been my favorite book of last year, sort of a collegiate Harry Potter writ dark. I knew my longtime friend Laura would love it because we love the Narnia books and Tolkien and T.H. White and fairy tales, and of course, J.K. Rowling. “Wow, this guy must really know every fantasy book going,’’ she marveled this morning, promising to put Grossman’s The Codex on her reading list. My book-gifter heart was thrilled.

I think that’s it. My mom’s birthday was last week. I sent her flowers and promised to put the new Anne Tyler, Noah’s Compass, in the mail – just as soon as I’ve read it.

(Open Book: I bought all the books mentioned above except for Best Friends Forever (Simon & Schuster), which I received in a web giveaway from the publisher. I also have my own copies of the books I gave away, except for the Cornwells, which I hope Thor will lend me.)

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