POVone: The First Person Perspective

Rants and Reviews on Novels Written in the First Person Point of View

Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Book Review: Under the Same Blue Sky by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Author: Pamela Schoenewaldt
Title: Under the Same Blue Sky
Genre: Historical; Literary
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Number of Pages: 352
Narrator: Hazel Renner
Quality Rating: TBD

Under the Same Blue Sky by Pam Schoenewaldt

What’s It About?

Hazel Renner is the daughter of German immigrants, living in Pittsburgh at the onset of the first World War. As she grows, her family realizes that she possesses a miraculous gift of healing. Although she denies the ability and brushes it off as coincidence, her parents believe she is destined to become a doctor.

As the war breaks out and lines are drawn, German-Americans fall under scrutiny. Hazel’s family becomes increasingly torn between their new home and their heritage across the sea. To escape the chaos of the discrimination in the city, Hazel tries to find solace working as a teacher in a small town miles away. When the situation doesn’t work out, she goes off in search of the truth about her past–hidden from her as a child.

Hazel ends up working for a baron in a castle. The baron, also a German immigrant, feels the same tensions from the war as the rest of her family. In the castle, Hazel finds love in a man she remembers vaguely from her childhood. As the story progresses, the problems of the war raging across the sea manifest themselves in Hazel’s everyday life. As Hazel loses more and more to the war, she clings to the hope of having something left of herself as it draws to an end.

Should You Read It?

If you like historical fiction of the World War 1 era, you might enjoy this story. The focus is less about the war than it is about its effects on civilians. In particular, the racial discrimination that arises during wars between nations is a prevalent theme throughout. The gift of healing possessed by Hazel is not a significant plot point and serves more as a symbol regarding the brokenness of war. The story and its tone reminded me a lot of Jane Eyre. It’s essentially about a woman’s struggle to grapple with circumstances that are beyond her control. If that sounds interesting to you, you might find this to be a moving story.

Links and References

Author Information: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads

Book Reviews: Magical Realism, Peeking Between the Pages

Purchase: Buy It On Amazon.com

Other Books By Pamela Schoenewaldt: Swimming in the Moon (2013), When We Were Strangers (2011)

Book Review: At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Author: Sara Gruen
Title: At the Water’s Edge
Genre: Literary; Historical
Publication Date: March 31, 2015
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (Random House)
Number of Pages: 368
Narrator: Maddie Hyde (Pennypacker)
Quality Rating: 76.94

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

What’s It About?

As the second World War wages in the world around her, Maddie spends much of her time hanging around with her husband Ellis and his best friend Hank–who have avoided service for medical reasons. When they get a little carried away and make a scene at a high society New Year’s Eve party, Ellis’s father cuts him off from the family fortune. To get back at his dad, he and Hank drag Maddie to Ireland in search of the fabled Lochness Monster. Years ago, Ellis’s father achieved infamy by faking a siting of the beast, and Ellis intends to show him up by capturing footage of the real thing.

Once thy arrive at their destination, a small hotel in a rural area near the Loch, Ellis and Hank begin searching for Nessie and visiting people who have seen the beast–often leaving Maddie by herself at the hotel. As Maddie spends more and more time with the hotel staff, she grows increasingly fond of them–to the disappointment of Ellis, who insists that they are beneath her class.

When he returns from his expeditions, Ellis is always drunk and proceeds to cruelly insult Maddie in a variety of ways. His mistreatment of Maddie leads to many confrontations with the hotel staff, including disagreements with a man who has become specially interested in Maddie. As the story unfolds, secrets come to light about Ellis’s true character, why he isn’t serving in the war, and what he really thinks of his wife. All of this latent tension leads to a dramatic to conclusion in which the monster is revealed–although perhaps not the one they were looking for.

Should You Read It?

If you like the sort of story that centers around a woman’s struggle to escape a bad marriage, this will be right up your alley. Also central to the story is the theme of social expectations and the class divisions they create. Although the novel is set in Europe at the height of World War 2, the war is a minor theme. The rich depictions of Ireland and its people are emphasized more than the time period. Also, be advised that this isn’t really about a search for the Lochness monster–that point is merely a vehicle for the development of the deep relationship conflict that fills the pages.

Links and References

Author Information: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, NPR Interview

Book Reviews: Boston Globe, Kirkus Reviews, Chicago Tribune, That’s What She Read

Purchase: Buy It On Amazon.com

Other Books By Sara Gruen: Ape House (2010), Water for Elephants (2006), Flying Changes (2005)

Book Review: The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

Author: Anna Freeman
Title: The Fair Fight
Genre: Literary
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Publisher: Riverhead (Random House)
Number of Pages: 480
Narrators: Ruth, George, and Charlotte

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

What’s It About?

Ruth is born into a European brothel toward the end of the eighteenth century. Although relatively unnattractive, her tenacity quickly gives her another use with her benefactor–as a fighter. At a young age, she begins competing with both male and female fighters in public fights for the entertainment of eager onlookers.

Meanwhile, George is a gentleman in the more elite class, struggling to find his place in society while maintaining a relationship with his male lover. His lover’s sister, Charlotte, is the only other survivor of a family stricken by small pox.

Worlds collide when Charlotte is married to Ruth’s benefactor. Each character, in seeing the predicaments of the others, begins to see their worlds in a new light and must struggle to find their place in a world full of social expectation.

Should You Read It?

If you enjoy historical fiction, particularly that of post renaissance and pre industrial Europe, you’ll probably greatly enjoy this story. It is very much setting-driven, with rich descriptions of the era down to comments on the landscape, social structure, and forms of dialogue. Aside from that, this work has minor feminist underpinnings–with subtle commentary on female repression. While most of the story consists of dialogue and introspection, there are a few action-filled “fight” scenes. So, while there is a bit of movement, I would recommend this primarily for those who are interested in more high brow literary works.

Links and References

Author Information: Website, Twitter, Goodreads

Book Reviews: New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, The Independent

Purchase: Buy It On Amazon.com

Other Books By Anna Freeman: The Fair Fight is Anna Freeman’s debut novel.

Book Review: The Given World by Marian Palaia

Author: Marian Palaia
Title: The Given World
Genre: Literary
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Number of Pages: 304
Narrator: Riley

The Given World by Marian Palaia

What’s It About?

Riley is a young girl living in rural Montana. As she enters her teenage years, her older brother–whom she cherishes dearly–goes off to the war in Vietnam. Upon receiving notification that he had died in combat, her life spirals out of control. Her parents grow cold and distant, and Riley gets into drugs to numb the pain.

When she’s seventeen, Riley becomes pregnant with the child of a man who goes off to the war in Vietnam and–like her brother–never returns. Unable to bear the loss, Riley leaves the baby with her parents and leaves Montana. Traveling as far west as she can go, she winds up settling in San Francisco.

Over the course of her adult life, Riley wonders around in search of herself and her place in the world. In her travels, she meets new friends and experiences new things. All along, the question looms heavily in her mind–will she have the courage to return home? Will she go back to Montana and face what she’s left behind?

Should You Read It?

The story is told in alternating first and third person perspective, with the former revealing Riley’s feelings about her circumstances and the latter shedding light on how Riley’s life fits in with the lives of those around her. The novel is largely character-driven, rather than plot-driven. Great emphasis is placed on how inescapable circumstances rule the lives of Riley and the cast of characters she encounters throughout her life. With the major theme built around the struggle to overcome tragedy and find meaning, the tone is one of aimless searching, grasping, and hoping. If all of this sounds interesting to you, I would give it a shot.

Links and References

Author Information: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads

Book Reviews: Kirkus Reviews, SF Gate, Meanderings and Musings

Purchase: Buy It On Amazon.com

Other Books By Marian Palaia: The Given World is Marian Palaia’s debut novel.

Book Review: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Author: Cynthia Swanson
Title: The Bookseller
Genre: Literary
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Number of Pages: 352
Narrator: Kitty Miller
Amazon.com Reviewer Grade: B, Very Good; of the first 119 reviews, the average reader rating was 86.22%.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

What’s It About?

Kitty Miller is a thirty-something year old bookseller from the 1950s working in a small Denver bookshop she owns with her best friend. As business starts to slow and the success of the bookstore is threatened, she begins having vivid dreams about another life–the life she would be living eight years in the future had she taken a different path.

In this other life, she is married to her dream guy and she has three children. She’s a family woman. Every night, when she goes to sleep, she enters into this dream life. When she wakes up, she’s back in the real world.

At first, everything seems perfect about her dream life–like it’s everything she ever wanted. As time goes by, though, she realizes that some things are missing from her dream life that would make it the perfect world. Soon, the dream even becomes somewhat of a nightmare.

As her dreams become more vivid, Kitty finds it increasingly more difficult to determine what’s real. She knows her brain is inventing one of her worlds, but which one? And why is she caught between these worlds?

Should You Read It?

This story is built around a psychological mystery with a touch of magical realism. While set in the 1950s and 1960s, the writing style, characterization, and dialogue are more or less contemporary. The theme involves the difficulty in coping with tragic circumstances and coming to terms with the way life works out. At its heart, The Bookseller is literary work dealing with the central character’s regrets and repressed memories, but the mystery through which these concepts are revealed to the reader make it an engaging read.

Links and References

Author Information: Integrity Modern (Author Website), Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Denver Post Interview

Book Reviews: Kirkus Reviews, My Novel Opinion

Purchase: Buy It On Amazon.com

Other Books By Cynthia Swanson: The Bookseller is Cynthia Swanson’s debut novel.

Book Review: The Figaro Murders by Laura Lebow

Author: Laura Lebow
Title: The Figaro Murders
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Publication Date: March 31, 2015
Publisher: Minotaur (St. Martins)
Number of Pages: 336
Narrator: Lorenzo Da Ponte
Amazon.com Reviewer Grade: I, Insufficient data; there are not enough ratings to accurately gauge the average reader rating.

The Figaro Murders by Laura Lebow

What’s It About?

Priest and poet Lorenzo Da Ponte narrates his tail of getting mixed up in a murder plot while trying to help an old friend. As he is being hauled off to debtor’s prison, the friend asks Da Ponte to look for his birth mother–who he believes to be wealthy based on a fancy token she left behind for him. As Da Ponte seeks out his friend’s birth mother, he crosses the path of a tempestuous teenage boy and–out of annoyance–yells at him. Soon after, Da Ponte is arrested for the murder of that boy.

Insisting his innocence, Da Ponte is offered a deal. If he doesn’t want to go to prison for the murder of the boy, he can infiltrate the boy’s household in an effort to help the authorities root out the actual murderer. To keep up appearances, he also assumes the role of tutor for a young lady of the house–all the while continuing his work as a poet.

Throughout the story, Da Ponte tells of his struggle to balance the various components of his life. He is investigating a murder, working with Mozart (yes, that Mozart) on the development of a legendary opera, and trying to discovery the mystery of his friend’s birth bother–all the while trying to keep his own past from coming back to haunt him.

Should You Read It?

If you are into the Renaissance period of history, you will love this book. The descriptions of the urban landscape, as well as the everyday lives of the people Da Ponte encounters, are rich and lively. Wolfgang Mozart, a friend and colleague of the narrator, plays a central role as a minor character. If you’re into murder mysteries, you might like this as well. The descriptions are grisly or graphic, but there is quite a bit of secrecy and betrayal. It’s a good “whodunit” story. While descriptions of the setting are true to the time period, the voice of the narrator has a contemporary ring to it–rhythmic and slightly tongue-in-cheek, not so old-fashioned and verbose. Bottom line: if you like historical mysteries, you’ll love The Figaro Murders.

Links and References

Author Information: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads

Book Reviews: Kirkus Reviews, Dear Author, Publishers Weekly

Purchase: Buy It On Amazon.com

Other Books by Laura Lebow: The Figaro Murders is Laura Lebow’s debut novel.