Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Books for Fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton

The Duke and I | Julia Quinn | Author of Historical Romance NovelsI’m sure you’ve heard of Netflix’s show Bridgerton, based off of Julia Quinn’s best-selling romance novels revolving around the Bridgerton family. As someone who wrote a whole spiel about how much they’ve been loving historical romance novels lately, I felt like my time has arrived when the show started.

I won’t say much about the show other than to say that it was exactly what I was hoping for, which was a dramatic story filled with swoony romance and some shocking twists. While our physical copies of the book have some wait times, you can actually read the first book through Hoopla instantly! Now that we’re all more aware of the wonders of historical romance, I thought this would be a perfect chance to recommend some Regency era historical romance novels. I tried to focus on titles that we have available digitally, so you can read it instantly, and I tried to focus on authors with more than one book so if you particularly enjoy one, you can continue the series.

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLeanWicked and the Wallflower. This series is one of my absolute favourite historical romances and I just love all the books. While there are not many dukes involved, the novel still revolves around the London ton and has more than its fair share of ladies. It has themes of revenge, found family and a whole lot of swoon. This title is even on Hoopla so there’s no wait times and you can start reading it now (and I mean yes, you want to read it immediately)!

The Trouble with True Love by Laura Lee Guhrke. If you’re looking for an author with lots of books that you can dive into, you can’t go wrong with Laura Lee Guhrke. Even Julia Quinn recommends them! This book is about a woman who writes an advice column for the newspaper and the rake whose advice she takes for the column. The two enter a secret alliance but as we know with Bridgerton, that alliance can only stay platonic for so long.

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Fit for a Queen: In Conversation with Jennifer Robson

In Conversation with Jennifer Robson
On November 19, Vaughan Public Libraries is proud to present In Conversation with Jennifer Robson in partnership with our friends at Hoopla and HarperCollins. Pour yourself a cuppa and join us! 

the gown book coverIf, like me, you are still missing Downton Abbey, or are not-so-patiently waiting for the next season of The Crown (November 15 on Netflix!), why not sate your appetite with some historical fiction? Jennifer Robson’s The Gown is a fascinating peek into a largely overlooked part of history. I can tell you exactly what Kate Middleton’s and Meghan Markle’s wedding dresses looked like, but I could not tell you who designed them (upon googling: Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, and Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy, respectively). Even less could I tell you who made those gorgeous gowns by hand. 

The titular gown here refers to the one worn by then-Princess Elizabeth during her wedding to Prince Phillip. Robson’s novel follows three women: Ann and Miriam in 1947, and Heather in 2016. Ann and Miriam are both embroiders working for the prestigious British designer Norman Hartnell, tasked with creating a wedding gown befitting a future queen. In modern day, Heather is left behind an expensive piece of embroidered silk by her grandmother, and sets out overseas to piece together the life of this mysterious woman. Robson’s tale takes us from war-ravaged England to current-day Toronto and London, tracing the lives of these three very different women.  

Fans of historical fiction are in for a treat with The Gown; meticulously researched, the novel’s sense of place and time will envelop you, like the warm and welcoming glow of Hartnell’s workshop. And it’s no wonder Robson recreates this setting beautifully, as she is a scholar of the economic and social history of early 20th century Britain. Particularly apt is her doctoral thesis, which focused partially on the rationing of clothing during WWII. This academic background is seeped into her writing, in small details that bring a sense of tangible reality to this historical tale. Interestingly enough, one of the doubts of my reading experience was just how nice everyone at Hartnell is. I thought, there’s no way everyone gets along this well. Where’s the workplace drama? Where are the rude superiors? Surely, at a prestige fashion house like Hartnell, everyone would be posh and snobby? Not the case, it turns out! In an interview with the Thunder Bay Public Library, Robson recounts story from her on-the-ground research at the former Hartnell location in London, in which the head seamstress (overseeing the making of Elizabeth’s gown) “invited every woman in the sewing workroom to add a stitch to the princess’s gown; that way they could all rightly say they had helped to make it”.  

elizabeth wedding dress

Princess Elizabeth on her wedding day, 1947

Even in real life, Hartnell’s legacy’s shows up in heartwarming places. The most recent royal wedding took place in July of this year, between Princess Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi. Just as her grandmother—the current queen—was married following the devastation of the war, and thus had to ration the cloth for her own dress, Beatrice was married in the midst of a pandemic. Rather than source a new dress, Beatrice chose to rework an old gown of Elizabeth’sa 1960s Hartnell design. This sense of warmth, of teamwork and just general loveliness saturates every page of The Gown. Even when Ann is freezing in her little council house, in a winter so cold it might as well be Canadian, the coziness of the house, the hearth of the fireplace, and the kettle on the stove are a comfort to read about.  

Just in time for gloomy November, we’re happy to bring some much needed comfort into your homes. Robson will be interviewed by local writer, author, and podcaster Louise JohnsonJohnson has written for The Globe and MailFlare Magazineand The Huffington Post. If you are one of the millions of quarantine bread bakers, you might want to check out her article on the science behind the phenomenon. Johnson has also worked as a professional speaker for the University of Toronto and the Harvard Business Association, among others! Her bookish podcast, the Word Weaver Podcast, is available on Apple, Stitcher, and Spotify.  

Reserve your spot for In Conversation with Jennifer Robson today! You can check out a copy of The Gown from your local library branch in paper format, or digitally on Hoopla and Overdrive! 

Austen-tatious Adaptations

Photo of Jane Austen“It is a truth universally acknowledged…” that Jane Austen’s works have been adapted what seems like countless times, whether it’s a film adaptation of one of her novels or a modern retelling of one of her books, written by another author. There are also books written about Jane Austen and her family, as well as books about groups of Jane Austen fans. As an Austen fan myself, I often eschew any “updates” on Austen’s works. After all, what could be better than re-reading Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time? That being said, like many, I’ve spent a lot of time at home these last few months, and from the latest film version of Emma that came out earlier this year to binge-watching the TV series Sanditon, based on Austen’s unfinished novel of the same name, it feels like Austen is all around me. If you’re feeling inclined to go down the rabbit hole of endless Austen, here are a few recommendations. You can find Austen’s works in the VPL catalogue.

 

Sense and Sensibility (1811)

Book cover of Sense and SensibilityIn Sense and Sensibility, the three Dashwood sisters and their widowed mother must leave Norland Park, the estate on which they grew up, after their half-brother, John, inherits it upon their father’s death. With little money, they find a cottage to rent. Marianne attracts the attention of Colonel Brandon. However, she finds herself infatuated with the charming John Willoughby. Meanwhile, Elinor forms an attachment with Edward Ferrars, but things get awkward when she learns of his prior engagement.

 

 

On film:DVD cover of Sense and Sensibility

The novel was adapted in 1995, with Emma Thompson as Elinor, Kate Winslet as Marianne, Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars, Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon, and Greg Wise as John Willoughby. You can find the DVD here. The novel was also adapted in 2008 by BBC, starring Hattie Morahan (Elinor Dashwood), Charity Wakefield (Marianne Dashwood), Dan Stevens (Edward Ferrars), Dominic Cooper (John Willoughby) and David Morrissey (Colonel Brandon). A retelling of the story, From Prada to Nada (2010), features two sisters who are forced to move in with their estranged aunt when their father dies and they are left with no money.

In print:

Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh

Book cover of Ordinary GirlsIn this YA retelling of Sense and Sensibility, Plum Blatchley is quiet and introspective, while her older sister, Ginny, has a flair for the dramatic. The two often get on each other’s nerves, but when their family is faced with financial ruin, they must support each other as they navigate the trials of growing up.

 

 

 

Pride and Prejudice (1813)

Book cover of Pride and PrejudicePerhaps the best known and most frequently adapted of all Austen’s works, Pride and Prejudice is the story of Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters and their romantic entanglements. When Elizabeth meets the wealthy Mr. Darcy, she finds him rude and prideful. But as she gets to know him, her feelings begin to change.

 

 

 

On film:Cover of Pride and Prejudice DVD

The 1995 miniseries starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet is the adaptation against which all future Pride and Prejudice adaptations will be judged, because it is just that good. A more recent film starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden was released in 2005. The Austen classic got a Bollywood update in Bride & Prejudice (2004) with the stunning Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as the Elizabeth Bennet character, Lalita Bakshi, and Martin Henderson as William Darcy.

In print: Too many versions to count, with Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary among the most popular. Here are two recent adaptations:

Book cover of Ayesha at LastAyesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin 

Ayesha Shamsi dreams of becoming a poet. Instead, she must put this dream on hold and take a teaching job in order to pay off her debts to her uncle. She is lonely, but she does not want an arranged marriage. When she meets handsome and intelligent Khalid, she is attracted to him, but finds him too conservative and judgmental. Khalid is also struggling to figure out what he wants, and he can’t get Ayesha out of his head.

 

Book cover of Pride

Pride by Ibi Zoboi 

Zuri Benitez is proud of her Afro-Latino heritage and her Brooklyn neighbourhood. When the wealthy Darcy family moves in, Zuri fears the impact that gentrification will have on the neighbourhood. At the same time, Zuri finds herself fighting her attraction to the handsome, snobbish Darius Darcy, while her older sister, Janae, falls for Darius’s brother Ainsley.

 

Mansfield Park (1814)

Book cover of Mansfield ParkMy least favourite Austen novel, Mansfield Park is the story of young Fanny Price, who at age 10 is sent to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle. She is treated unkindly by everyone except her cousin Edmund. While there, she meets the Crawford siblings. Henry Crawford decides to make Fanny fall in love with him, for his own amusement, while Mary forms at attachment with Edmund but spurns his lack of finances.

 

 

On film:DVD cover of Mansfield Park

The 2007 adaptation by ITV stars Billie Piper as Fanny. There is also a 1999 version starring Frances O’Connor as Fanny and Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund.

In print: Perhaps not surprisingly, there aren’t as many retellings of Mansfield Park, but I did find one:

Book cover of Murder at Mansfield ParkMurder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd 

In this twisted take on Mansfield Park, Fanny Price is now a rich, spoiled heiress who is disliked by her neighbours and torments the bright and witty Mary Crawford. When Fanny is found murdered, Mary sets out to solve the crime.

 

 

Emma (1815)

Book cover of EmmaBeautiful and charming Emma Woodhouse considers herself something of a matchmaker and believes she knows best. In her father’s eyes she can do no wrong. Family friend Mr. Knightley is the one person who can find fault with Emma. When Emma’s attempts to find a husband for her friend Harriet go horribly awry, she is forced to acknowledge her own mistakes and her heart’s true desire.

 

 

 

On film:DVD cover of Emma

An adaptation of Emma was released earlier this year, with Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role. You can place a hold through the catalogue. Gwyneth Paltrow played Emma in 1996, but my favourite screen adaptation is the 2009 BBC miniseries starring Romola Garai, with Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. Of course, no list of Emma adaptations would be complete without mentioning Clueless (1995). Alicia Silverstone’s Cher takes over the role of Emma, and Paul Rudd’s Josh serves as a stand-in for Mr. Knightley.

In print:

Book cover of Polite SocietyPolite Society by Mahesh Rao 

Smart, beautiful, and more than a little bored, Ania Khurana has successfully found a match for her spinster aunt. Next up, her sweet but helpless friend Dimple. When the arrival of her aunt’s handsome nephew from America causes a stir in Delhi, Ania gets caught up in the intrigues of Delhi’s high society, and must confront her feelings for childhood friend, Dev.

 

 

Northanger Abbey (posthumously, 1817)

Book cover of Northanger AbbeyWhen Catherine Morland, an avid reader of Gothic novels, travels to Bath, she is introduced to Henry Tilney. The Tilney family invite her to stay at their home, Northanger Abbey, and Catherine’s overactive imagination leads her to expect something out of one of her novels. Over the course of the book, Catherine gains a better understanding of herself and the world around her.

 

 

On film:DVD cover of Northanger Abbey

The 2007 ITV adaptation stars Felicity Jones as Catherine and JJ Field as Henry.

In print:

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid 

Book cover of Northanger Abbey by Val McDermidSeventeen-year-old Cat Morland is invited to attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with her neighbours. There, she meets Henry Tilney and his sister, Eleanor. When she is invited to their family home, Northanger Abbey, her imagination runs wild as she imagines dark secrets lurking in every corner.

 

 

 

Persuasion (posthumously, 1817) 

Book cover of PersuasionEight years ago, Anne Elliot rejected Frederick Wentworth’s proposal due to his uncertain future and lack of finances. When Frederick returns to town, Anne finds that she is still in love with him. But is it too late for a second chance at love?

 

 

 

On film:DVD cover of Persuasion

The 1995 adaptation stars Amanda Root as Anne and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth.

In print:

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev (On order. An eBook can be found on OverDrive)

Recipe for Persuasion book coverWhen Chef Ashna Raje is asked to join the cast of reality TV show Cooking with the Stars, it seems like the perfect opportunity to save her struggling restaurant. Until she is paired with Rico Silva, soccer star and Ashna’s first love whose heart she broke when they were teens. Dev is also the author of Austen adaptation Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors.

 

 

 

The Stars We Steal by Alexa DonneBook cover of The Stars We Steal

Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg has a title and a spaceship, but her family is in need of money and they expect her to marry a wealthy man. The return of Leo’s ex-fiancé, Elliot, whom her family disapproved of because of his lower status, could change everything. Now wealthy, Elliot is the most eligible bachelor of the Season. Leo finds herself falling in love with Elliot all over again, but is it too late?

 

Lady Susan (posthumously, 1871) 

Book cover of Lady SusanLady Susan is Austen’s epistolary novel about a charming yet amoral widow who is determined her daughter should marry the rich man her mother has chosen for her. Lady Susan was recently adapted into the movie Love and Friendship starring Kate Beckinsale.

 

 

 

The Watsons Cover of streaming e-audiobook of The Watsons and Sanditon

Austen began writing The Watsons, about three sisters searching for husbands, in 1804 but later abandoned it. A streaming e-audiobook is available on Hoopla.

 

Sanditon 

DVD cover of SanditonJane Austen started writing Sanditon in 1817 but was unable to finish due to her declining health. The novel begins with Mr. and Mrs. Parker experiencing a carriage accident on the way to the Sanditon, a seaside town that Mr. Parker hopes to turn into a fashionable resort. While their carriage undergoes repairs, they stay with the Heywood family. Oldest daughter Charlotte Heywood takes an interest in Sanditon, so the Parkers invite her to come with them as their guest.  While there, Charlotte meets many interesting people, including Mr. Parker’s business partner, the wealthy widow Lady Denham, and his attractive brother Sidney. Sanditon was recently turned into a TV series, though sadly there is only one season.