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Book roundup: Historical fiction

Flight From Berlin

By David John

Harper, 384 pp., $24.99

* * * ½ (out of four)

Experiencing Olympics withdrawal? Try this gold-medal romantic thriller, set during the 1936 Games in Berlin. Gorgeous, spunky American swimmer Eleanor Emerson (modeled on real-life athlete Eleanor Holm), who is tossed from the team for "bad behavior," falls for British journalist Richard Denham, who the Nazis believe has a secret dossier that could damage Hitler. Cameos by the Fuehrer himself and other historical figures such as infamous ambassador's daughter Martha Dodd heighten the drama. Add an attempted getaway in the Hindenburg, and you've got an explosive page-turner tailor-made for the beach. —Jocelyn McClurg

The Kingmaker's Daughter

By Philippa Gregory

Touchstone, 417 pp., $26.99

Famous thanks to her tale of the two Boleyn girls, Philippa Gregory returns with another sister act. The result: her best novel in years. Isabel and Anne Neville are the richest heiresses in 15th-century England, daughters of the powerful Earl of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker because of his role during the War of the Roses. The sisters are in the thick of history — battles, marriages, invasions, intrigue, poison. Eventually, Anne marries the future Richard III. Yes, that Richard. Was he a loyal uncle or the usurper who killed the princes in The Tower? Gregory offers her verdict in this, one of history's most fascinating cold cases. —Deirdre Donahue

The Shadow Queen: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

By Rebecca Dean

Broadway, 423 pp., $15, paperback original

Even Brits determined to keep hating "that woman" might murmur "you go girl!" by the final page of Rebecca Dean's engrossing The Shadow Queen. Based on Wallis Simpson's life, the novel sympathetically depicts how a penniless, fatherless girl used brains, guts and charm to become the glam American divorcée for whom a king gave up his throne in 1936. (Shadow ends in 1931.) Wallis' Baltimore childhood was difficult, but her first marriage in 1916 at age 20 to an abusive, hard-drinking Navy aviator was a nightmare. Dean captures Wallis' shame and the steel it required for her to seek a divorce, scandalizing her family. —Donahue

The Twelve Rooms of the Nile

By Enid Shomer

Simon & Schuster, 449 pp., $26

In 1850, Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert toured Egypt with near-exact itineraries along the Nile. Did these two fascinating characters glimpse each other? Maybe. But did they meet? Enid Shomer's debut novel begins where historical documentation leaves off, imagining a strong friendship between the lost, pre-Madame Bovary Flaubert and the earnest 29-year-old Nightingale searching for a purpose, long before her pioneering nursing work in the Crimean War. The duo meet when Nightingale confronts Flaubert after he boyishly shoots a bird along the crowded travel route, frightening bystanders. Far-fetched, yes, but under Shomer's poetic care, it all seems so … plausible. —Lindsay Deutsch

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©2012 USA Today

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