Best Books for Summer – Historical Fiction

It seems I’ve developed a trend lately: ask for (and receive) a multitude of books at Christmas and then spend the next year trying to read them all before I start the cycle over again. This past Christmas was chocked-full of historical fiction for me and I plan to read the following over the summer while lounging by the lake or tucked into a hotel room at night.

The Forest Laird – Jack Whyte

Few books have got me quite as excited as this tale of William Wallace. Whyte has carried me vast distances through space and time with his “A Dream of Eagles” series (about the founding of Camelot from a Roman viewpoint) and more recently The Templar Trilogy (about, of course, the Knights Templar). His brilliant powers of research and his ability to take a myth and make it plausible in reality have enabled me to live and breathe with his characters. So much so that at the end of the “A Dream of Eagles” series I wept as though I were saying good-bye to a dear friend. Combine Whyte’s unique gift with the legend that is William Wallace and you can’t go wrong.

The Dead Republic – Roddy Doyle

I’ve been a fan of Doyle’s since 1993 when I read his Booker Prize-winning novel, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. His dark, sarcastic humor and blatant honesty have always appealed to me and this latest trilogy about the history of Ireland in the 20th century is no exception. Being Irish himself, there is a lyricism and rhythm to his writing that few can match and I am confident The Dead Republic will be the exciting climax to a story that began with A Star Called Henry and continued with Oh, Play That Thing.

Brendan – Morgan Llywelyn

Staying in the Irish vein, I was pleased to see that Llywelyn has gone back to her more mythical subjects and is now tackling Saint Brendan the Navigator, who guided a group of monks on a journey across the ocean in search of Paradise. This novel promises to be brimming with mysticism, faith and the glorious details that always make Llywelyn’s characters come alive.

The Warrior’s Princess – Barbara Erskine

Weaving together time travel, historical fiction and suspense, Erskine is the queen of making the skin crawl on the nape of your neck. The Warrior’s Princess takes place on the Welsh borders, where a modern-day character seeks refuge at her sister’s house, only to be haunted by the cries of a “mysterious child.” As she investigates the history of a princess who lived in the area 2000 years before, she winds up in Rome on her quest to uncover the truth about the princess’ time as a Roman prisoner.

And then, just because I can’t resist when new books come out after Christmas, I’m adding these two to the list:

The Rose Garden – Susanna Kearsley

Similar in style to Erskine, Kearsley is one of Canada’s own and we should be terribly proud of that fact. Her ability to connect modern characters with stories of the past is gripping and I often find myself having to forcibly slow down while reading so I don’t “consume” her books in one sitting. (Thereby ignoring all those around me at inopportune times.) The Rose Garden again blurs the line between “now” and “then” with the central character able to speak to (and fall in love with) ghosts from the 17th century.

Elizabeth I – Margaret George

I suppose it’s only fitting that George, after showing us a poignant, intimate portrayal in Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles should now turn her attention to Mary’s key rival to the south, Elizabeth the first. George has a unique talent for finding another character close to the infamous historical figure (or using the first person perspective of the historical figures themselves) and relaying the story through their eyes. Here, she uses Elizabeth’s lookalike cousin, Lettice Knollys, to tell us how things really were in the court that was filled with characters such as Shakespeare, Dudley, Marlowe and Drake. Rich imagery and carefully-constructed suspense always fill George’s pages and this novel is greeted with much anticipation this summer.

From medieval Scotland to Roman conquests, Elizabethan courts and 1950’s Ireland, the summer of 2011 promises to be full of interesting characters and long, flavorful reads.