Reader Interviews – Carla from Ontario

Woman Reading - Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Woman Reading – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Tell us a little about yourself.     My name is Carla.  I am a 38 year old female living in Southwestern Ontario. (I call it the armpit between Windsor and London.) I am a Stay at Home mom right now. Previously I was a student. My favourite past times, include reading, writing, gardening (though I’m not very good at it) and I love dog shows. I currently own a CKC Champion Black Russian Terrier.

Please tell us about your reading habits and preferences.     I don’t really keep track of how many books I read in a year. If I really had to guess I’d say between 25 and 30. I read at night, which often results in me falling asleep. If I don’t fall asleep I end up reading way beyond my ‘if you don’t turn out the light you’ll regret it when the alarm goes off’. I like longer books but, if a story catches my interest, I will read a shorter book. I love Historical Fiction, but have been dabbling in some Fantasy and will read Horror if it catches my eye. I bought an e-reader but found I enjoy reading real books far more.

How do you decide which books to buy? What influences your purchases?    I found Michelle Moran on a dare from my husband. He dared me to leave the book store with one book. Her book, Nefertiti, was the one I left with and I was totally hooked. Many of my influences come from the back of books I’m currently reading. A lot also come from author’s own recommendations. Some also come from me going into the book store and saying, ‘gee, that sounds good’, I wonder…  Some of those turn out okay, others, not so much.

What do you like about historical fiction? What don’t you like?    Oh goodness, I like everything about Historical Fiction. I love that it can transport me to a Tudor Court, or an atrium in Greece, or a dais in Egypt or even a feast in Rome.   What don’t I like.. I don’t like that women were often treated badly, or that people were used as a bartering system.

What types of historical fiction do you prefer?    I’ll read about any period in History but I prefer reading about Ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and other Ancient civilizations. I also love reading about Henry the 8th and that particular time in Tudor History.

Do you have historical fiction books or authors you would recommend to other readers? Can you tell us why?

  • Michelle Moran
  • Kate Quinn
  • C.W. Gortner
  • Stephanie Thornton

Michelle’s writing has taken me to several places in several time periods. Her writing is always well researched, and the story she tells, while providing some neat historical points, is what keeps me coming back.

I was really impressed with the way I was able to see exactly what C.W. Gortner writes about when I read his books.

As for Kate Quinn, I threw a book of hers across the room because one of the characters was a big fat jerk. The book bounced off the wall and hit my sleeping husband … but I really enjoy her novels!!

I just finished one of Stephanie Thorton’s books, she made me cry and the choices her character had to make resonated with me because I’m a parent … she also made me snort a couple of times!

In today’s world, there are so many opportunities to talk and learn about books – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, book clubs – can you tell us about your experiences, where you go to talk or learn about books, why you enjoy discussions about books?    My main outlet for discussing books is Facebook. I enjoy the discussions because, much to my husband’s chagrin, it helps me to buy other books by authors I may not have heard of.  

What advice do you have for writers of historical fiction?    KEEP WRITING!!!!!!!!!!!  Write about more obscure characters as well. Many readers of Historical Fiction would like to know about ‘bit players’ in the court of King Henry VIII, or lesser known Pharaohs, Kings, concubines and so on. Keep cheesy sex scenes out as much as you can.  While some sex scenes are okay … don’t make them overly descriptive.

Is there anything else about reading historical fiction that you’d like to comment on?    Reading historical fiction, at least for me, gives me an opportunity to be a fly on the wall in the Tudor Court, or enjoy a feast in Rome, or sing with a Bard in Medieval England (pretending to sing is the only way you want me to sing!). I can be a spy, or a fool, or I can visit a Pharaoh on their dais, or in their burial chamber.  It keeps my brain working and it keeps the hope alive that one day I can go back to school and study for that History degree I wanted to get when I was younger.

Many thanks for participating, Carla. Parenting doesn’t leave much time for reading so I’m impressed that you still manage 25 to 30 books a year! I’m like you in wanting my reading to transport me back in time. 

2013 Favourite Historical Fiction Authors

Drum roll … here’s the 2013 list of favourite historical fiction authors.

Favourite HF Authors 1Of 2440 survey participants, 2075 people responded with one, two or three favourite authors. And a total of 1017 different authors were mentioned as favourites.

Trust me, that’s a lot of data to sort through particularly when you think of misspellings, use of initials or not, given name or surname written first! Names like Philippa, Iggulden and McCullough have many spellings – just to mention a few! And then I had to count them – well, actually, Excel counted them for me after my son-in-law showed me how to use the ‘countifs’ feature. Grateful thanks go out to him.

Favourite HF authors 2You will notice that we have 43 authors since five authors all had 21 mentions. A HUGE round of applause for these favourite authors.

Caveats: as I pointed out in the main report, the survey was initially publicized through the Historical Novel Society, a number of book review bloggers and my own efforts on Facebook and Twitter. From those original sources people then passed the survey link along all around the world. After about a week, in an effort to continue spreading the word, I posted on the Facebook pages of the 2012 top ten authors. As you can see from the results, Diana Gabaldon’s fans are incredibly enthusiastic about her writing and they came out in droves to vote!

Comparing to last year: (click here for the 2012 list)

  • The top 6 remain the top 6!
  • 31 authors are on both 2013 and 2012 lists
  • 12 authors are new to the top 40 list
  • 9 authors slipped off the list

Is the methodology statistically accurate?

As I mentioned in the main survey report, I am not a statistician and I’m sure some will argue that the results are skewed based on how those responding heard about it. But don’t forget, 2075 took the time to offer the names of their favourite authors.

In addition, many authors are on both lists (2012 and 2013) and of those authors who slipped off the list, most are not far behind the cutoff point. In addition, some who are new to the 2013 list were not far behind the cutoff for last year’s list.

Let me repeat what I said earlier in this post, a huge round of applause for these terrific authors.

Do men and women have different favourites? Is geography or age a factor in choosing favourite authors? Does it make a difference if you’ve recently released a new novel? I’ll return with some thoughts on these and other aspects when time permits.

Comments welcome as well as any thoughts on further analysis and the popularity of these authors.

P.S. For a look at gender differences in favourite authors, check here.

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is available in paperback from Amazon (USCanada and elsewhere), and in e-book formats from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and on iTunes.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Madame Tussaud by Michelle MoranOver the past few days, I read Michelle Moran’s MADAME TUSSAUD from cover to cover. An exciting story of the French Revolution presented from Marie Grosholtz’ point of view. (Marie ultimately becomes Madame Tussaud). Here’s my perspective on how it stacks up against the ingredients of successful historical fiction I developed several months ago.

Superb writing – Moran’s prose, pacing, emotional resonance, and plot twists are wonderful. In the first few chapters I was impressed with how each chapter gradually introduced the main characters and set the political and social context of that era. The author’s prose is straightforward; it flows easily and is descriptive without going over the top. During the height of the power struggle which brought so much sorrow to so many people, the pacing lagged a bit but that is my only complaint. Rating 8/10

Dramatic arc of historical events – we follow the buildup to revolution, its heady early days and then the descent into tyranny and terror at the hands of Robespierre and others who began their conflict with royalty wanting only the best for French citizens. Throughout, Marie Grosholtz and her family struggle to survive the tangled path of conflicting loyalties to both crown and the new French state until circumstances spin out of control. Moran’s use of present tense adds to the tension as though we are experiencing the events alongside Marie.  Rating 9/10

Characters both heroic and human – the characters that stand out for me are Marie Grosholtz (Tussaud), Philippe Curtius, Henri Charles (the love interest for Marie) and Princesse Elizabeth (sister to King Louis XVI). Moran makes each of them totally believable and each a hero in their own way. Dramatic scenes with minor characters such as Marie Antoinette, Jean-Paul Marat, Maximilien Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and the Marquis de Lafayette are very effective although occasionally I lost track of players with more minor roles. Rating 8/10

Immersed in time and place – Moran gives us superb descriptions of Versailles, court fashion, Paris streets and public executions. She brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of late 18th century Paris and offers small historical details to help us understand the customs of that time. She also introduces us into the world of wax making and the role that Salan de Cire plays in bringing news to ordinary citizens. Rating 8/10

Corridors of power – as events unfolds, the royal corridor of power gives way to revolution and the revolutionaries. When Marie goes to Versailles to tutor Princesse Elizabeth, we are shown how that world operates. Given that the novel is told from Marie Grosholtz’ point of view, Moran describes the happenings of the National Assembly, the Legislative Assembly and the Committee of Public Safety primarily through conversations with people who were present. This approach did not work as well for me. Rating 7/10

Authentic and educational – Moran places the reader at a time of great chaos and change and traces the events that occurred from 1788 to 1794. Her novel allows the reader to understand the hardships faced by ordinary French men and women, the privileges enjoyed by royalty and nobility, and the revolutionary zeal that overtook France and, in particular, Paris. She includes all major events that occurred from the rise of the Third Estate to the fall of Robespierre. At times the forward action slows with a bit too much history. Rating 8/10

Ageless themes – here are a few of the themes that jumped out for me: neighbours turning against neighbours, the corruption of power, the violence of an unleashed mob, the desire to live trumps morality, freedom and justice for the common man, the vast separation between rich and poor. Rating 8/10

High stakes – not only does every character fear for his or her life but a country’s future is at stake. Michelle Moran dramatizes these stakes extremely well. Rating 9/10

Sex and love – Henri Charles is in love with Marie Grosholtz, however, I felt that this attribute did not contribute as well as it might have to the novel’s success. Rating 6/10

Dysfunctional families –  if we were to consider the country as a family, then France is highly dysfunctional in Madame Tussaud. Beyond that, we have the Duc D’Orleans willing to depose his cousin Louis XVI and the estrangement of Edmund, Marie’s eldest brother, from the Grosholtz family. Rating 9/10

A few other comments:

  • the prologue is distracting and did not grab this reader’s attention.
  • scenes concerning French fashion and court life give detail without being overdone
  • immediacy of events associated with the French revolution comes through very well
  • despite knowing which characters would not survive, I found myself hoping otherwise
  • the ending left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied. Yes, the revolution was over but by then I was so attached to Marie/Madame Tussaud I wanted more about her struggle to rebuild her life.

Overall – 8/10 

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.