Tuesday Top Ten

historical fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers create their own lists based on the chosen topics and post links to our lists. It’s a way of all sharing our thoughts and our love of books.  And who doesn’t love lists??

So this week’s challenge was to list the top ten books in a specific genre.  I chose historical fiction since it’s a genre that I never thought I really liked until it quickly became one of my favorites over the past couple of years.

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – The most touching book I have ever read, it takes place during WWII in Germany and provides unique perspective and an even more unique narrator.
  2. The Son by Philipp Meyer – The history of Texas, from 1836 through the present day, from the attack of Native Americans through the rollercoaster of the oil industry.
  3. Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies – From early-1800s New York City to the farms of upstate NY to San Francisco during the Gold Rush this is the story of a woman and her life.
  4. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys – A coming of age story in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950.
  5. Codename Verity by Elizabeth Wein – The story of two women, two friends, a pilot and a spy, during WWII.
  6. Brewster by Mark Slouka – A beautifully written story of friends growing up in upstate New York in 1968.
  7. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – The last public beheading to take place in Iceland in the early 1800s.  A devastatingly beautiful story.
  8. A Good American by Alex George – The story of immigrants to America in 1904 and their lives, and the lives of their descendants, as told by their grandson.
  9. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – Ursula’s story allows you to travel through various scenarios throughout the early to mid-1900s as she is born and dies again and again.
  10. Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert – Epic in scope, from the mid-1700s through most of the 1800s, this story also travels the globe, from England and American and Amsterdam to Tahiti and the jungles of the world.
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Belle Cora

belle coraBelle Cora is a fictionalized story of a real-life madam during San Francisco after the Gold Rush.  Told as her memoir, the elderly dowager living on Nob Hill in San Francisco recalls the journey of her life.

Belle Cora was born Arabella Goodwin in New York City, the daughter of a well-to-do merchant, in the early 1800s.  When she is orphaned at a young age, she and her younger brother are separated from the rest of their family and sent to live with unknown relatives on a farm in upstate New York.  While much happens during their time there, most pivotal to Arabella is falling in love with Jeptha, a neighboring farm boy, and making an enemy of her cousin Agatha.  Throughout much of her life both the love and the hatred will remain constant.

From the farm in upstate NY, Arabella goes to work in a textile mill, eventually finding her way back to New York City where she becomes a prostitute out of desperation.  Before long though she learns to love the money and the power over men, she learns to play their games and becomes influential in local politics as she becomes a madam.  But life has a way of surprising you, and before too long she is headed west to San Francisco during the Gold Rush.  There she will spend much of the rest of her life, influenced by the politics and culture of that time and place, eventually heading back east where she is impacted by the Civil War before finally returning to San Francisco to live out her remaining years.  Through the course of her life Belle Cora (known by many different names) will be a prostitute, a mother, a murderess, a millworker, a farm girl, a wife (three times), the granddaughter of a wealthy and influential man, a missionary, and a respected society matron.

Belle Cora is a sweeping historical saga and the descriptions of life in those places and times was woven seamlessly into the story, adding to it, not detracting with unnecessary textbook detail.  The authenticity, humor, weakness, strength and sadness of Belle Cora’s voice is consistent throughout, adding depth to the narrative. While I did not always like the character of Belle Cora, or agree with her choices, I found her intriguing and admired her strength in situations that would’ve been difficult for any woman at any time in history.  While her infatuation with Jeptha was a puzzler for me at times, I did love Charles Cora, a slick gambler who treated her with more respect and honesty than most.  Honestly, the book did move a little slowly for me about two-thirds of the way through, but it picked up again and I raced through to the end, glad to have been taken along on her trip down memory lane.

Title: Belle Cora
Author: Phillip Margulies
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 608
Publication: Doubleday, January 2014

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