Welcome to the Reviewer Spotlight, where dedicated book reviewers share their thoughts on reading and reviewing historical fiction! Today's guest is
Melissa from Confessions of an Avid Reader!
Melissa from Confessions of an Avid Reader!
Why do you read historical fiction?
I love history and think reading historical fiction is an entertaining way to learn about people, places, and events of the past.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley, which is classified as historical fantasy.
What makes a great read for you?
When it comes to historical fiction I look for historical accuracy, a strong sense of time and place, well-developed characters and a great story. All four elements combined make a great read.
My biggest turnoffs are implausible and inconsistent plots/characters, and historical characters that have modern values, attitudes, and sensibilities.
Where do you stand on the fact vs. fiction debate within the genre?
I definitely fall in with those readers who prefer historical fiction to be as accurate as possible, but I understand that sometimes liberties need to be taken to progress a story. As long as these liberties aren’t significant – keeping a historical figure alive many years after they died, for example – and are mentioned in an author’s note, I can usually live with them. That said, just because a novel is historically accurate doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to love it – the story also has to be solid, with well-developed characters and a strong sense of time and place. Conversely, I won’t automatically hate a novel if an author does take significant liberties with history. However, I may not enjoy it as much as one that is historically accurate.
I generally have no issue with speculation on the part of an author when facts aren’t known (or are fuzzy) so long as the speculation is plausible.
Are there any subjects that are overdone?
I definitely think the Tudor period has been overdone, especially Henry VIII and his wives.
Are there any subjects you’d like to see more of?
As an English history enthusiast I’d like to see more novels set during the Plantagenet, Wars of the Roses, late Georgian/Regency and Victorian periods. I would like to see more historical novels set in Scotland. While lots of historical romance novels are set there, I’ve not come across a lot of regular historical fiction that is. As a Canadian, I’d also love to see more historical novels that feature Canadian history. I think the War of 1812 could use some historical fiction coverage, for example.
I’d also like to see more historical novels that feature lesser known historical figures or events. For example, I’d really like to read something that features Empress Matilda’s half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester, as a central rather than secondary figure.
Do you read any of these historical fiction sub-genres: mystery, inspirational, fantasy, romance? Why or why not?
I read historical mysteries and historical fantasy, mainly because I’m a fan of both the mystery and fantasy genres in general, and I enjoy the added historical elements.
I’m not a fan of the romance genre, historical or otherwise, so that is why I don’t read within that particular sub-genre. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything from the inspirational sub-genre, not because I have an aversion to it, but rather I just don’t often come across it in my quest for new reads.
What’s the last historical fiction book you read and loved?
The two best historical fiction novels I’ve read recently are Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freemen, the historical component of which is set in Scotland and Australia during the 1920s-1950s, and The Wedding Shroud by Elisabeth Storrs, which is set in ancient Etruria during the 4th century BC.
I literally just finished Sharon Kay Penman’s latest, Lionheart. While it’s not my favourite of Penman’s novels, I still think it is a great work of historical fiction.
What’s the last historical fiction book you read and hated?
If a novel isn’t working for me I generally stop reading it. As a result, I can’t think of any novels I’ve recently read (and completed) that I hated. There have been a few novels I have been disappointed in, however, the most recent being India Black by Carol K. Carr. While this book is popular, I couldn’t get past the implausibility of either the plot or the level of knowledge of the main character. The book wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t the book for me.
What’s your favorite time period to read about?
It changes, but at the moment it is the Plantagenet and Wars of the Roses periods of English history.
Who are your favorite historical fiction authors?
My favourites are Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick. I also really enjoy Margaret George, Susan Higginbotham, Patrick O’Brian, Ken Follett and Michelle Moran.
How often do you read?
I read at least a few hours every day. If a day goes by where I don’t have an opportunity to read I feel as if I’m missing something.
Do you read print books, ebooks, or both? Which is your preference?
I read both, but my preference is for print books. As convenient as e-readers are, nothing will replace print books for me.
Do you have a favorite place to read?
I’m fortunate to have a home library, so most of my reading is done in there.
Where do you post your reviews?
I post my reviews on my blog, Confessions of an Avid Reader, as well as on Shelfari. I’m new to Goodreads, but will also post my reviews there in future.
Do you write a review for every book you read?
No, mainly because I read an average of 80 books a year. I simply don’t have the time or inclination to review that number of books.
Do you read other reviews of a book you’ve read before you write yours?
Not usually, as I don’t want other reviews to influence my own.
Do you read your friends’ reviews of books you’ve also reviewed? If so, do you find that your thoughts tend to be similar or dissimilar?
I definitely read my friends’ reviews of books I’ve also reviewed. While there are exceptions, in general my thoughts tend to be similar to theirs.
Do you have any pet peeves about book reviewing in general?
The trend to give every book five-stars, and authors who have friends/family review their novels.
Have you ever stopped following someone because of a review they’d written?
No. Every reader has his or her own unique take on what makes a book good or bad. What works for one reader may not work for another. I respect other people’s opinions on books, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them.
In general, I follow people because they have reading tastes similar to my own, and because I think they write quality reviews. If, however, a review comes across as more of an attack on an author than as a thoughtful critique of a novel, I may stop reading an individual’s reviews if it happens frequently.
Where do you think readers can find the most trustworthy reviews?
I have a good group of online friends both in the blogging world and through book-related social media sites, and I know their reading preferences and tastes. In general, these preferences tend to fall in line with my own so, while we may not agree on every book, I trust the reviews of my friends enough to base my own reading decisions on.
Some of my favourite blogs for reviews dedicated specifically to historical fiction include:
My other favourite blogs, which feature more than just historical fiction, include:
How much weight do you give to reviews when choosing whether to read a book?
I don’t give much weight to reviews unless I know the reviewer.
What do you like best about being a book reviewer?
Sharing my love of books with other readers, and, hopefully, being able to help readers decide whether or not to give a specific book a try.