I recently finished reading a historical novel about a very interesting character – a real person, who was represented in a fictionalized account and I found it so captivating.
It made me interested in the person, and in the history of that time. Reading that book prompted really engaging conversations. Basically, I loved everything about the experience of reading the book and learning about this person and putting the time period into perspective. And it reminded me that this is not the first historical novel that has really captivated me like this.
I’ve read a few of them recently and over the years and enjoyed them so much. Reading fictional accounts of real people and events is a great way for me to learn about history and immerse myself in experiencing what happened and who lived in the past.
4 Mini Book Reports
Today I want to share 4 mini book reports with you as reading recommendations. Maybe these little book reports will inspire you to read these books. Or, maybe they’ll send you on the hunt for other books and stories that are more your style. Or, maybe, this just gives you something to read and think about today for the next 20 minutes and take no further action on.
The books I want to share with you have the common theme of strong women throughout history. But since these are all novels, maybe reading these books is more entertainment rather than education. Each of these books features one or more themes of motherhood to celebrate too.
Memoirs of Cleopatra
The first book that I want to tell you about is called the Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George. I read this book when I was in my twenties and way back before we had digital reading on devices and getting books digitally from the library. So I had, and still have, the physical copy of this book and it is so thick. It’s a very big and very heavy book. I remember reading it during the summertime. I don’t know exactly what year that I read it, but I remember getting such a summertime vibe as I read the description of Cleopatra’s teenage years in Egypt and the rest of her life too. And as I read the very descriptive narrative of Egypt during Cleopatra’s time, and then the story of how she came to power, how she came to be the ruler of Egypt, even though she was of Greek descent, how she met Julius Caesar and ended up with him, and had a child with him, and then ended up going to Rome with him.
And then what happened when he was betrayed and died and then a further romance in Cleopatra’s life and further children. And the fact that she was a military strategist and a government leader, while also being the topic of gossip and drama was so captivating and interesting. The story, of course, is a fictionalized account of Cleopatra’s life and relationships, but it described so many historical events which I just found so fascinating. Who knew I was interested in Greek and Egyptian and Roman history? Who knew that I cared, but I did. I loved the book. I completely lost myself in the sights and sounds and scents that were described. And I really, really fell in love with Cleopatra through this book. I was completely mesmerized by the idea of her. And it just gave me a sense that she was such a strong character with such intelligence and creativity and so many strong traits and talents.
And she was so intelligent and so independent. So she was, maybe, a prototype in my life, in my vision, in my eyes for the strong single mother who was working to take care of herself and her family and her role, which turned out to be leader of Egypt. So that’s pretty amazing.
Reading Beyond the 90s
Last summer, in 2020, I decided I wanted to revisit that summertime escape that I had experienced back in the nineties when I read her story for the first time. So I decided to reread the Memoirs of Cleopatra during some downtime.. And I loved the book again. I realized how much of the story and the details I had forgotten over the 20 year span between reading it the first time and the second time, but I didn’t finish it. I couldn’t find it in an electronic copy. I ended up reading that big, heavy physical copy that I had, and it was too heavy, not the subject matter- but literally, physically too heavy for me to hold and read since I’m so used to reading digitally now. Talk about 1st world problems, right?!
So I think I ended up going on to other things or finding other books, but maybe I’ll give it a try again this summer. I still haven’t been able to find a digital copy. But maybe I’ll work on my upper body strength and dive back in again and get reminded of all those sights and sounds and smells that were described to me when I read it and fell in love with the story and the character 20 years ago. And that book is Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George.
The Alice Network
A few years ago, I was in a book club and the book we decided to read was The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. I didn’t know anything about the book and I wouldn’t have probably chosen it for myself based on the description, but I read it and it was such an amazing book.
In its description it’s called a story of courage and redemption. It’s the story of 2 characters who had a very strong connection to wartime events in Europe. One was involved in World War 1 and the other character had a personal connection to WW2 based on a family member. The book travels backwards from after the end of WW2 to during the WW1 periods. You get to know about characters and what happened during both of those times in Europe.
During those two significant timeframes, the main character was so daring. She was intelligent. She was multilingual. She was brave. She put herself in harm’s way. She impacted the outcome of the world, basically. These weren’t real life characters, but the novel was based on or inspired by real life people and events.
It was just fictionalized, which I love. I love being able to read the thoughts and details and the little vignettes of what (could have) happened, even if it didn’t really happen in real life. I love reading a story in the context of real history, because that is a really interesting way for me to learn and get invested in and develop a personal interest in the past so that I can remember it. So, I loved that book. It was a spy novel. It was a book about strong women. It was a book about friendship. There is an element of a single mother in that book as well. I really enjoyed reading it and then talking about it with the book club and I’ve recommended it to many people since then, and now I’m recommending it to you! That’s The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The Only Woman in the Room
The next book to tell you about is the one I read most recently. It’s called The Only Woman in the Room and it was written by Marie Benedict. This book was described as the story of a brilliant woman scientist who was only remembered for her beauty. Which, now, of course with this book and other reminders and sources, is not the case anymore.
Reading this book was also such a surprise for me. I didn’t seek out another war related book, or a historical fiction novel but something drew me to it. It is the fictionalized account of the actress, Hedy Lamarr. I’ve probably heard her name. I wouldn’t be able to identify her in a photo lineup of actresses from the thirties and forties.
But I just found the story so fascinating. It starts out with her as a teenager in Austria, where she was from in her early acting days. It follows her through her involvement with a character who actually ended up being pretty involved with the Nazis. Then, the story describes her escape from that environment and from that relationship and how she made her way to the United States and how she made her way into Hollywood and became a famous Hollywood actress. And that’s not all she was, she was also an inventor and, I would say a humanitarian and she was also a single mother.
Historical Evens in Austria
This book was so interesting to give specific details about what was happening in the lead up to the second world war in Europe with a firsthand account from this fictional character. She narrated what it felt like to be a Jewish woman in a country that was starting to turn its back on its own Jewish citizens. And then what was it like for her to immigrate to the United States and to try to get her mother out of Austria and into safety as the second world war was really gearing up and as her homeland turned to distrust, hatred and abuse towards its own Jewish people.
I loved the book. It was a pretty quick and easy read for me. I highly recommend it for a little bit more modern day history in a fictionalized way. After I read it, I read some of the reviews and found some criticism that the author took too much creative license with the story and misrepresented some major plot points. But, as someone who knew nothing about Hedy Lamarr prior to reading this novel, I completely forgive the author for any stretching of the truth of events in this story – because her fictional account got me interested in the real person who really lived and I learned about real events in history that I would have had no knowledge of otherwise.
And so now we’ve gone from, Egyptian and Roman times to the, European continent with the first and second World Wars. Let’s move up to the Cold War.
The Secrets We Kept
The book The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott takes place in the United States and in the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1950s. It’s two stories in one, which I really, really love. The juxtaposition of the different characters and different places in the world kept me engaged. This was the story of two very interesting women. Two stories told and threaded throughout the same novel: one woman was the mistress of Boris Pasternek, the author of the bookDr. Zhivago, and the other woman was a young typist for the CIA.
I remember hearing about the book (and movie) Dr. Zhivago as a child. And later, as a teenager I finally watched that movie. It was a movie that my parents talked about were interested in. When I finally did watch it, I remember thinking it was very long and very sad, but also, in a way, kind of a romantic movie.
So this book told the story of the mistress of that author of the book that eventually became that famous movie. In learning about the mistress, we also saw what was happening in the Soviet Union at the time of the writing of Dr. Zhivago and how the author and his mistress and the family basically feared for their lives and their freedom. We learned about a prison camp and what happened to people who didn’t agree with the government in those times. And then the other side of the story takes place in the United States. We meet a young woman whose family immigrated from Russia, and she ended up getting a job in the secretarial pool for the CIA.
CIA Typists and Spies
And not only is she a secretary, where you get to see her relationship and her conversations with other coworkers who are basically the behind-the-scenes eyes and ears on the administrative side of the intelligence world in the U S in the 1950s, but she also gets some special assignments. So it’s very interesting to think of and see what she does. Plus there’s another character who has even more special assignments. Basically, it’s another spy book! And all of these very interesting, strong women are all, yes, fictional, but also in some cases, based on real characters and are based on who would have existed during that time.
So all of these books that I just mentioned right now were completely enjoyable, they provided a great escape for me with plenty of real life events mentioned and referenced in those stories. So reading them was also a great way for me to learn about history.
Common Concepts of War, Invasion and Resistance
I didn’t mean to collect a list of books about different battles and wars and governmental types, but I did think it was interesting as I was recalling all of these books that many of them talked about a country that was being invaded or taken over by different types of governmental systems. The Romans basically took over Egypt, and, of course, many other countries, that’s where we get the term Roman Empire. And then, the reasons leading up to WW1 and WW2 were countries, trying to invade and take over other countries. And then the idea of the Soviet Union touched on how it was taking over its own citizens and imprisoning its citizens and not allowing freedom of expression and freedom of speech even for its most celebrated and revered writers. So reading about these women, in a fictional setting, was all very educational. And I recommend all four of those books.
Of course the topic of resistance came up in each of the stories- but often from the battle-related meaning of the word- resisting. Like resisting an invasion, or resisting a government regime or the resistance during a war.
So maybe that’s one of the reasons I decided to group all these books together in mini-book reports for you today, since the topic of resistance is so interesting to me.
Have You Read Them?
Have you heard of any of these stories, or characters or events? Have you read any of these books?
Do you have any resistance to reading historical fiction?
I will mention I was surprised to read so many disappointed critical reviews by readers who did not appreciate the fictionalized aspects of these stories, and events and women.
So if 100% historical accuracy is important to you, these books may create some resistance for you in reading them.
Maybe today’s post gives you some book ideas if you decide to take a day off to read.
Or, maybe you could start a 2-person book club. I’ll be curious to hear what you decide to do with these recommendations.
Comments and Links
Let me know if you liked this mini-book report style of post. Her are inks to each of the books I mentioned in case you want to read them for yourself .. or in case you want to give one of these books to a strong woman you know as a gift!
I may also earn a small commission from qualifying purchases (which could happen if you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase). This does NOT result in any additional cost to you.)