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Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

Reading Guide: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT by Erich Maria Remarque

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Remarque_AllQuiet This month we are revisiting one of the greatest war novels of all time. Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece, All Quiet on the Western Front, is reissued in trade paperback. If you or your book club are looking for great literary fiction this fall, then look no further because Random House Reader’s Circle has the exclusive book club materials to get your discussion going.

“The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first rank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm, and sure.”—The New York Times Book Review

Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Kantorek the schoolmaster convinced Paul Bäumer and all his schoolmates to enlist, but Paul’s actual wartime experiences prove to be very different than expected. What effect do you think this had on Paul’s faith in the adult world?

2. As their comrade Kemmerich lies dying in the infirmary, Paul and the other soldiers gather around him to offer encouragement and comfort. But they’re also very concerned about who will get Kemmerich’s boots once he dies. What is the significance of this?

3. Paul muses: We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. What makes this so poignant?

4. What did you make of Himmelstoss’s treatment of the soldiers, and vice versa? How did Paul’s opinion of him change over time?

5. Paul imagines that even being back in the time and place of his happiest memories would be like gazing at the photograph of a dead comrade. Those are his features, it is his face, and the days we spend together take on a mournful life in memory; but the man himself it is not. What did you make of his alienation?

6. When Paul is caught in a trench with a soldier from the other side, he wants to help the man’s family after the war. But later, back among his comrades, he says: “It was only because I had to lie there with him so long . . . After all, war is war.” What does he mean by this?

7. What do you think Paul and his friends hoped to gain on their visits to the French women across the canal? Why is he so disappointed when he realizes that his brunette companion is unimpressed by the fact that she’ll never see him again?

8. Paul’s descriptions of the Russian prisoners of war show evidence of compassion. How have Paul’s attitudes towards the enemy changed over the course of the book?

9. What did you think of the ending?

10. Remarque’s second novel, The Road Back, is about veterans in postwar Germany. If Paul had not died, how do you imagine he would have dealt with the postwar world?

11. A hundred years after WWI, what has changed? What has stayed the same?

12. What do you think Remarque was ultimately trying to say about war?

Discussion Questions: THE SOLITARY HOUSE by Lynn Shepherd

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Shepherd_The Solitary HouseThe Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd hit bookshelves in paperback on July 30th and we have discussion questions for you and your book club. Don’t forget to check the back of your copy for more exclusive content from Random House Reader’s Circle.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Did the author’s rendering of London remind you of any other city you’ve been in? What do you think defines a city? What qualities do you attach to cities?

2. In reading The Solitary House, how do you see the separation of the classes playing into the story? Do you think there are similarities in how people of different income brackets are divided today?

3. What image that the author uses to describe the streets of London strikes you as being the most vivid?

4. When we first meet Charles Maddox, the author describes him as a “sentimental young man.” Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?

5. Is detection a science? What methods do Charles Maddox and Maddox use that would lead you to believe that it may or may not be?

6. What qualities do you associate with a book being “Dickensian”? Do you think The Solitary House, beyond using characters created by Charles Dickens, is a Dickensian thriller?

7. Compare and contrast Charles Maddox with the detectives of contemporary mysteries.

8. How do the multiple narrative viewpoints influence your reading of this mystery? Is there any one viewpoint more reliable than the others?

9. Explore the role that notes play in this novel. How does it compare with today’s use of technology, from email to tweets, as a method of communication? Of danger?

10. Discuss the many meanings of the term “solitary house.”

11. How does the author work the concept of discovery into this novel? For example, one of the ways is in chapter four, when Charles listens to the lecture on “A Scientific Journey through Africa.” How do you see the various characters exploring this ever-growing understanding of their world? Compare it to today, when the Internet has made it possible to “explore” previously undiscovered realms.

12. Explore the ways in which the author references both Bleak House and The Woman in White.

13. Why do you think Charles rejected following his father into medicine and instead followed his uncle into detection?

14. Discuss the relationship of Charles Maddox and his uncle. Is it the traditional mentor /mentee relationship? Does Maddox have anything to learn f rom his protégé, or is the training one way?

15. What qualities do you think a good detective has? Why do you think Tulkinghorn hires Charles, and does Charles meet or exceed Tulkinghorn’s expectations? How?

Giveaway Opportunity: THE BOLEYN DECEIT by Laura Andersen

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Andersen_The Boleyn DeceitBook club members like you were huge supporters and big fans of Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn King. Now, Andersen returns to the page with the second book in her captivating and sumptuous series with The Boleyn Deceit. Enter below for your chance to be a lucky winner to win an advance copy of this new novel!

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“A sumptuous, vividly imagined novel of a Boleyn king’s fateful rise to power amid the treacherous glamour of the Tudor court.”—C. W. Gortner, author of The Queen’s Vow

The regency period is over and William Tudor, now King Henry IX, sits alone on the throne. But England must still contend with those who doubt his legitimacy, both in faraway lands and within his own family. To diffuse tensions and appease the Catholics, William is betrothed to a young princess from France, but still he has eyes for only his childhood friend Minuette, and court tongues are wagging.

Even more scandalous—and dangerous, if discovered—is that Minuette’s heart and soul belong to Dominic, William’s best friend and trusted advisor. Minuette must walk a delicate balance between her two suitors, unable to confide in anyone, not even her friend Elizabeth, William’s sister, who must contend with her own cleaved heart. In this irresistible tale, the secrets that everyone keeps are enough to change the course of an empire.

Enter below for your chance to win!

Giveaway Opportunity: THE SOLITARY HOUSE by Lynn Sherpherd

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Shepherd_The Solitary House“A Victorian tour de force . . . a must-read.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Okay all of you historical fiction readers… we have a title for you! Following in the footsteps of her Murder at Mansfield Park, a brilliantly imagined novel during the Jane Austen era, Lynn Shepherd returns to the page with The Solitary House. This spellbinding new novel follows an unforgettable duo of detectives in the gaslit world of the famous Charles Dickens. Both historical fiction and suspense readers and fans of great classics such as Woman in White and Bleak House will love Shepherd’s latest triumph, The Solitary House.

London, 1850. Charles Maddox had been an up-and-coming officer for the Metropolitan police until a charge of insubordination abruptly ended his career. Now he works alone, struggling to eke out a living by tracking down criminals. Whenever he needs it, he has the help of his great-uncle Maddox, a legendary “thief taker,” a detective as brilliant and intuitive as they come.

On Charles’s latest case, he’ll need all the assistance he can get.

To his shock, Charles has been approached by Edward Tulkinghorn, the shadowy and feared attorney, who offers him a handsome price to do some sleuthing for a client. Powerful financier Sir Julius Cremorne has been receiving threatening letters, and Tulkinghorn wants Charles to—discreetly—find and stop whoever is responsible.

But what starts as a simple, open-and-shut case swiftly escalates into something bigger and much darker. As he cascades toward a collision with an unspeakable truth, Charles can only be aided so far by Maddox. The old man shows signs of forgetfulness and anger, symptoms of an age-related ailment that has yet to be named.

Intricately plotted and intellectually ambitious, The Solitary House is an ingenious novel that does more than spin an enthralling tale: It plumbs the mysteries of the human mind.

Enter below for your chance to win a copy of The Solitary House- complete with exclusive reading materials for you and your book club!

For more information, visit the author’s website or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

“Intellectually enthralling, with dark twists at every turn . . . a haunting novel that will have you guessing until the last pages.”—Historical Novels Review

A Reader’s Guide: THE BOLEYN KING by Laura Andersen

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Andersen_The Boleyn KingTHE BOLEYN KING by Laura Andersen: A Reader’s Guide

An Interview Between Anne and Minuette
30 April 1554
Hever Castle

We are here with Queen Anne in a brief pause before this summer’s festivities. Even briefer than I expected it to be, since William has decided to send me to Mary’s household. The queen, in a burst of sentimentality I would never have predicted, has asked me to sit with her this afternoon and speak of the past. I think she sometimes wishes to mistake me for my mother—at least, I have the sense that she has not had a friend to confi de in for many years. And I am curious enough to take advantage of my likeness to my mother.

ANNE: Well, Genevieve, what shall we speak of? My opinion of the English wool trade, perhaps? The fallacies in Bishop Bonner’s arguments against Protestant reforms? Last year’s failure by the French to invade Tuscany?

MINUETTE: You are teasing me, Your Majesty.

A: Don’t let my children know. They would not respect me so well if they thought I could tease. Very well, it is the personal you are interested in. As is every seventeen-year-old girl.

M: What personal things interested you at seventeen?

A: At seventeen I had already been years at European courts, in the Netherlands and France. You and I are not entirely dissimilar, for the companion of my girlhood was Princess Claude, later Queen of France. But my world was somewhat more expansive than yours. You’ve never left England, the farthest you’ve ever gone is . . . York?

M: As you know very well. Did you miss your family all those childhood years away?

A: Well, I was often with my sister, Mary. Also, during those years on the continent, my father was a frequent visitor on royal business. I suppose it was my mother I knew the least in those years.

M: And now? There’s only—

A: Only George left. But honestly, we two were always the ones who understood each other. He is the only one who never saw me as a means to an end. For George, I have been an end in myself. That is as family should be and so rarely is. It is a pity you have no siblings.

M: It is difficult to miss what one has never had. I have my friends, and I cannot see how even siblings would be dearer to me.

A: Perhaps you are the fortunate one in that. You can choose your loyalties and not have any thrust upon you by blood. So tell me, Genevieve, what loyalties will you choose beyond your friendships with my children and Dominic Courtenay? I am given to understand that there is a young man who grows daily more enamoured. But that is only to be expected; you are a young woman poised to break men’s hearts. The question is, are you as taken with him?

M: I hardly know, Your Majesty. It is . . . How does one fall in love? In an instant, or through time and experience?

A: You are young, aren’t you? To fall in love is simple. To hold that love . . . Well, that’s the trick. Men fall in love in a rush of desire. Women are more practical. We have to be, since we are so often at the mercy of men’s desires.

M: Are you saying you’ve never been in love?

A: I’m saying that’s a question you know better than to ask. Did I not
teach you discretion?

M: You also taught me boldness. There are still stories of how your father and Wolsey forced you and Henry Percy to separate against your wishes.

A: Youth is made for hopeless romance.

M: So you’re saying it was a romance.

A: I’m saying it was hopeless. It is an important distinction for a woman
of the court to make. Do not trust men with your heart— or anything
else.

M: How does one know whom to trust?

A: Have you learned nothing in your years at court? Trust is for saints and madmen; all else must look to themselves. A lesson I would have you learn from me, and not through hard experience.

M: Why is it that everyone thinks I am so likely to be taken advantage of? Just because I am not Elizabeth does not mean I am stupid.

A: Not stupid, no. But you have a quality very like your mother: the disposition to see the good in everyone.

M: Is that what you liked about her? I assume you liked something about my mother, since you appear to have had so few women friends in your life.

A: Friendship is a luxury for a carefree life, the kind I only had in my
youth. Once caught in the snares of royal politics, I needed friends
who were useful and women’s usefulness will always be limited. And
you needn’t pity me for that. Tell me, Genevieve, excepting Elizabeth,
do you have any women friends?

M: I thought I did. . . . Perhaps you are right. Do you think—if you had known the cost of what was to come—you would have made the same choices when the king fell in love with you?

A: That is presupposing I had a choice.

M: One always has a choice.

A: Ah, the righteousness of the young and untouched. You’re right, I could have chosen my sister’s path: king’s mistress for a time, to be discarded when no longer wanted and married off to a man who would always know he was taking the king’s leavings. That was not a choice I could live with.

M: So you have no regrets? You would not change anything if you could?

A: I won, didn’t I? No one thought I would. Men lined up to watch me fall: Wolsey, Cromwell, my uncle Norfolk, the entire hierarchy of the Roman church. But here I am—the widow of one king and mother of another king. The English Church is fi rmly planted, no more to be uprooted by Popish interference. And for all her righteousness and piety, it is not Catherine’s blood but mine that will run through the English throne for generations to come.

M: Catherine is gone, but Mary survives and many call her Henry’s only true heir. If it were in your power, what would you do with Mary?

A: It is in my power, and to be ignored is a far more powerful statement than even to be punished. Mary will fade away in obscurity until history has quite forgotten her.

M: Politics, princes, popes . . . you are right, Your Majesty, I am less interested in those things than in the personal. In all that surrounded your marriage, I am mostly interested in just one thing: Did you love him?

A: What makes you think I will answer that?

M: Because no one ever asks you, and I think you like the personal, as well.

A: I loved the man who called me darling, who wrote out the great fervour of his passion, who defi ed his councilors to have me, who dared to claim our love as the only requisite for a proper marriage. . . . That man I have always loved. As your mother knew very well, for she asked me the same question more than once during the years Henry and I
waited.

M: So I get my impertinence from my mother?

A: It is not impertinence when the motive is genuine concern. Like your mother, your heart is in everything you do. Perhaps you will be the happier for it—or perhaps it will leave you desolate.

M: Perhaps both, in which case I think I would count the happiness
worth the desolation. As, I suspect, you have done.

A: And with that, I believe we are fi nished. Thank you for the talk,
Genevieve. It has been most . . . invigorating.

Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. If “History is written by the victors,” what do you think is the biggest impact of changing a story?
2. William says, “I will be the best because I’ve earned it. I don’t need you to hand me my victories.” (page 12) Do you think this is true? Is William a self-made man? Does your opinion change of him by the end of the book?
3. Why do you think their reputation within the court is so important to people like William and Elizabeth? Why are even conjecture and rumor dangerous? Do you think Minutte and Dominic feel the same way?
4. William and Elizabeth are of royal parentage. Dominic is the son of a supposed traitor. Minuette is the daughter of a trusted servant and confidante. How much do you think parentage matters to these characters? Where does it affect them most in life? How
have they each overcome the generation before them?
5. The rift between Protestants and Catholics is a huge divide in
The Boleyn King. Compare and contrast it to today’s societal divisions in America, such as Republicans and Democrats, or even between the suburbs and the city.
6. In tweaking history for this story, the author opens up a world of possibilities. What historical event do you think would have the greatest impact if changed? What would that impact be?
7. In the context of this story, what qualities do you think make for an ideal servant? An ideal ruler?
8. In an age where social standing is of the utmost importance, what do you think is the most important reason for a person to be married? Why? Does your opinion change for royalty versus commoners?
9. Do you think members of royalty can have friends? What about someone like a present-day world leader? Could you be friends with your boss, or your employees, the way William and Dominic are friends?
10. Compare and contrast how each of the four main characters deal with the ideal of castle intrigue.
11. What would be the most unnerving secret message that you could receive? In what manner?
12. Compare and contrast what is deemed public in this novel versus what is deemed private. How does that compare to today’s Internet culture?
13. What is said in letters in this novel versus what is said out loud? Which do you think has more impact? Which method of communication is more important to you?

Enter for your chance to win ENCHANTMENTS by Kathryn Harrison

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Harrison_Enchantments_TP “A sumptuous, atmospheric account of the last days of the Romanovs from the perspective of Rasputin’s daughter, [told] with the sensuous, transporting prose that is Kathryn Harrison’s trademark.”—Jennifer Egan

St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin’s body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to her son, the headstrong prince Alyosha, who suffers from hemophilia. Soon after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and the Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha find solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, and to distract the prince from the pain she cannot heal, Masha tells him stories—some embellished and others entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s exploits, and their wild and wonderful country, now on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. In the worlds of their imagination, the weak become strong, legend becomes fact, and a future that will never come to pass feels close at hand.

“Part love story, part history, this novel is a tour de force [told] in language that soars and sears.”—More

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Enter for your chance to win THE WINTER PALACE by Eva Stachniak

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Stachniak_The Winter Palace “Awash in period details and as gripping and suspenseful as any thriller, The Winter Palace gives us a unique look at the making of a queen. Eva Stachniak allows us to peep through keyholes and overhear whispers as we navigate the intrigues of Imperialist Russia along with Sophie, the princess who became Catherine the Great. I loved this book, and this glimpse into a world of silk and shadows, grandeur and gossip.”—Melanie Benjamin, author of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

From award-winning author Eva Stachniak comes this passionate novel that tells the epic story of Catherine the Great’s improbable rise to power—as seen through the ever-watchful eyes of an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne.

Her name is Barbara—in Russian, Varvara. Nimble-witted and attentive, she’s allowed into the employ of the Empress Elizabeth, amid the glitter and cruelty of the world’s most eminent court. Under the tutelage of Count Bestuzhev, Chancellor and spymaster, Varvara will be educated in skills from lock picking to lovemaking, learning above all else to listen—and to wait for opportunity. That opportunity arrives in a slender young princess from Zerbst named Sophie, a playful teenager destined to become the indomitable Catherine the Great. Sophie’s destiny at court is to marry the Empress’s nephew, but she has loftier, more dangerous ambitions. What Sophie needs is an insider at court, a loyal pair of eyes and ears who knows the traps, the conspiracies, and the treacheries that surround her. Varvara will become Sophie’s confidante—and together the two young women will rise to the pinnacle of absolute power.

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The Jubliee Isn’t Over! Enter for a Chance to Win an Advance Copy of PRINCESS ELIZABETH’S SPY by Susan Elia MacNeal

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

MacNeal_Princess Elizabeth's Spy Susan Elia MacNeal introduced the remarkable Maggie Hope in her acclaimed debut, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. Now Maggie returns to protect Britain’s beloved royals against an international plot—one that could change the course of history.

As World War II sweeps the continent and England steels itself against German attack, Maggie Hope, former secretary to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, completes her training to become a spy for MI-5. Spirited, strong-willed, and possessing one of the sharpest minds in government for mathematics and code-breaking, she fully expects to be sent abroad to gather intelligence for the British front. Instead, to her great disappointment, she is dispatched to go undercover at Windsor Castle, where she will tutor the young Princess Elizabeth in math. Yet castle life quickly proves more dangerous—and deadly—than Maggie ever expected. The upstairs-downstairs world at Windsor is thrown into disarray by a shocking murder, which draws Maggie into a vast conspiracy that places the entire royal family in peril. And as she races to save England from a most disturbing fate, Maggie realizes that a quick wit is her best defense, and that the smallest clues can unravel the biggest secrets, even within her own family.
This giveaway has now ended. Thank you to all who entered!

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Enter for the chance to win DAYS OF SPLENDOR, DAYS OF SORROW by Juliet Grey

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Grey_Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow “Fans of historical fiction will eat this one up. It’s engaging, smart and authentic.”—January Magazine

A captivating novel of rich spectacle and royal scandal, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow spans fifteen years in the fateful reign of Marie Antoinette, France’s most legendary and notorious queen.

Paris, 1774. At the tender age of eighteen, Marie Antoinette ascends to the French throne alongside her husband, Louis XVI. But behind the extravagance of the young queen’s elaborate silk gowns and dizzyingly high coiffures, she harbors deeper fears for her future and that of the Bourbon dynasty.

From the early growing pains of marriage to the joy of conceiving a child, from her passion for Swedish military attaché Axel von Fersen to the devastating Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Marie Antoinette tries to rise above the gossip and rivalries that encircle her. But as revolution blossoms in America, a much larger threat looms beyond the gilded gates of Versailles—one that could sweep away the French monarchy forever.

Win a copy of Ellen Feldman’s novel NEXT TO LOVE!

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Next to Love TPFor fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Postmistress, and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave set during the years of World War II and its aftermath.

Set in a small town in Massachusetts, Next to Love follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible—while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America—from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities—and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.

Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.

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