There’s nothing like a good historical novel, one that’s well-researched as well as filled with fascinating characters (real life as well as fictional) and a complex, enthralling plot. I know this is probably heresy for someone with a degree in history to admit, but you can learn as much about a historical period and even, sometimes, a historical event by reading a good novel as you can by reading nonfiction, and it can be a lot more fun.

We have a couple of new historical novels in the library this week, worth checking out.

First, we have The French Prize, by James L. Nelson, just released on July 14.  Set in 1799,  after the American Revolution, when the new nation is caught in an undeclared war with France, the novel takes us to sea in a merchant ship captained by Jack Biddlecomb, on its way from Boston to Barbados. Unfortunately for the new-minted captain, he’s sailing into a world of trouble, starting with two unpleasant and difficult passengers aboard the ship, and getting worse as the French are prowling the waters, trying to capture merchant vessels.  Nelson is an acclaimed author of naval history, and his work has been favorably compared to Patrick O’Brien’s beloved series.

The Last Pilot, by Benjamin Johncock, is set in a more recent, more easily recognizable period of American history: the time beginning after World War II and continuing through the 1960’s.  The protagonist, Jim Harrison, is an Air Force test pilot in the 1950’s, trying to break the sound barrier and beat the Soviets, in a milieu familiar to readers of The Right Stuff. He loves his job and his fellow pilots, but leaves when his long-awaited daughter is born, only to return, this time to the newborn space program, after a family tragedy.  With the beginning of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the space race as a background, the book brings history to life in the spare, elegant prose of a born writer.

Spend some time this month immersed in the past.  You won’t regret it.


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