Monday, July 31, 2006

Publishing news du jour

I really ought to come up with more creative titles for these posts where I just include news bits and such... anyway, here are some things Publishers Marketplace had to report recently. I also added a bunch of new links to blogs I've been following (on the sidebar).

Harry Turtledove's THE BATTLE OF TEUTOBERG FOREST, about one of the most important battles in history, in which German tribes repelled the Roman legions; it was Rome's Vietnam and marked the limits of their expansion, sold to Marc Resnick at St. Martin's, in a nice deal, by Russell Galen at Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency (NA).
[Someone posted on the HNS list last year, asking for books about this battle; I wasn't able to find many. I bet this one'll be popular.]

Journalist Vanora Bennett's PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, the story of Sir Thomas More's ward, a woman torn between Hans Holbein, who arrives to paint the More family's portrait, and her former tutor, with the shadow of More hanging over all of their lives as the Reformation sweeps into full swing and King Henry VIII contemplates a rift from the Catholic Church as Protestant heretics grow increasingly bold, sold to Laurie Chittenden at William Morrow, in a pre-empt, for publication in 2007, by Eric Simonoff of Janklow & Nesbit.
[Wow, that's all one sentence]

Ildefonso Falcones's THE CATHEDRAL OF THE SEA, set in 14th century Barcelona, telling the lives of the citizens caught up in the 80-year construction of the Church of Santa Maria - those who devoted their lives to building it, or who sheltered there as political or religious refugees, to Jane Lawson at Doubleday UK, in a nice deal, by Sandra Bruna Literary Agency.

Finally, although you won't see anything about this on Publishers Marketplace, my editor's been asking me about a 2nd edition of Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre, since the field's been so hot lately. Looks like I'll probably be starting work on it this fall... most likely a supplement rather than a full-fledged 2nd edition, though, so it doesn't end up being 800+ pages like the previous one. I better get my typing gloves ready...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Picking five favorite historical novels is difficult

... but I couldn't resist making the attempt. Following the lists posted by Carla Nayland, Susan Higginbotham, and Elizabeth Chadwick, here's my contribution. This wasn't an easy decision. I rarely read any novels more than once, and in thinking of which five titles to include here, I decided to list those novels that stood up to multiple rereadings. You can call this my selection of "desert island novels," in a sense. It's quite an eclectic list, now that I think about it. These are in no particular order.

(1) Sharon Kay Penman's Welsh trilogy: Here Be Dragons, Falls the Shadow, and The Reckoning.
It comes as no surprise to me that Penman's novels have appeared on the lists of several other HF bloggers. For me, nobody brings the personalities and politics of royal medieval England and Wales to life quite as well as Penman. Of the three, Here Be Dragons is my favorite, since I particularly enjoy reading novels about royal women of whom little has been written, and I thought Penman did a superb job bringing the story of Joanna, bastard daughter of King John, and her husband Llywelyn Fawr to life. Excellent evocation of the historical setting, characterizations, and plotting; what more can be said?

(2) Alison McLeay, Passage Home (UK title, The Wayward Tide) / Sea Change (UK title, Sweet Exile).
These are my sentimental favorites - old-fashioned romantic epics in the best sense of the term. In The Wayward Tide (I prefer the British titles), Rachel Dean, a girl living with her dysfunctional family on the Newfoundland coast in 1827, develops an immediate bond with a restless wanderer named Adam Gaunt. She follows him first to Liverpool and then to the frontier West, learning the hard way that men can't be held against their will. Sweet Exile begins a generation later with Kate Summerbee, daughter of a Mississippi riverboat captain, whose life becomes intertwined with those of Adam Gaunt and his son Matthew. Few British authors write about America, but McLeay has the setting as well as Kate's warm, humorous Southern voice down pat. Both Rachel and Kate are survivors, strong-minded yet true to their time, and Adam Gaunt makes for an ideal romantic hero, humanly flawed yet larger than life. Plus, in the course of both novels, McLeay courageously pulls off plot-wise what few authors of romantic fiction would dare try. For me, these novels can't be beat for their sweep, emotional impact, and sheer entertainment. It's disappointing to me that McLeay's subsequent novels, while enjoyable, didn't live up to the promise of the first two.

(3) Barbara Vine, Anna's Book (UK title, Asta's Book).
This is a masterpiece of historical suspense, set in London in the earlier and later parts of the 20th century, as Ann Eastbrook tries to uncover the truth about the birth of her late aunt Swanny, and its relationship to the ghastly murder of a young woman decades earlier. In alternating sections, Ann's grandmother Anna Westerby, a Danish immigrant in 1905 London, meticulously records events from her day-to-day life in a series of journals. Not coincidentally, Ann discovers that the journal pages corresponding to the dates of Swanny's birth are missing. This is an excellent historical puzzle that details the struggles and prejudices faced by newly arrived immigrants in the early 20th century. As a character, Anna isn't likable at all, yet it's hard not to sympathize with her plight. The pieces of the mystery fit together perfectly; the novel's execution is nothing less than brilliant. Despite knowing the ending, I'm still able to read it over and over.

(4) Catherine Gavin, The Snow Mountain.
How inappropriate of me to choose a novel based on a premise that, as we know, historically did not happen. I should be ashamed of myself. The love story that Gavin creates for Russia's Grand Duchess Olga, the 23-year-old daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra who, along with her family, was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, is totally fictional. Still, it's a very moving tale, and I enjoy this novel for the way it gives insight into the personalities of four young women normally thought of as children, but who were really adults and young adults perfectly capable of knowing their own minds. Olga's romance with a Russian soldier who serves her family can't help but be overshadowed by the reader's knowledge of her tragic, unavoidable end.

(5) Morgan Llywelyn, The Wind from Hastings.
Llywelyn's first novel was the only one she set in Wales, and I don't think it's the best she's written; that honor belongs to 1916, in my humble opinion. Yet it's on my favorites list because it's one of the first historical novels I ever read - it was published in 1978 - and it does a wonderful job of portraying a well-known historical era, events leading up to the Battle of Hastings, from a different point of view. In keeping with the times, Edyth of Mercia has no say whatsoever in who she marries, and her true character reveals itself when she finally accepts her fate as wife and queen to Harold Godwineson, the murderer of her first husband, Griffith of Wales. Llywelyn wrote this novel in a deceptively simple style, and her novel is both moving and thought-provoking.

Numerous runners-up as follows, in alphabetical order.

Jane Alison, The Love-Artist
Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
Robert Goddard, Painting the Darkness
Hella Haasse, In a Dark Wood Wandering
Cecelia Holland, Railroad Schemes and Rakossy
Margaret Irwin, The Bride
Catherine Jinks, The Notary
Katherine Neville, The Eight
Orhan Pamuk, My Name Is Red
Iain Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost
Rebecca Ryman, Olivia and Jai
Nigel Tranter, The Master of Gray trilogy
Richard S. Wheeler, Second Lives
Janice Woods Windle, Hill Country

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Saturday's trip to the remainder store

Observant readers may notice that yesterday's post (on the book without a plot) is gone. No big deal; I just decided I didn't want to repeat myself too much when I wrote the review.

Mark and I went up to Champaign this afternoon, though walking around in this 90-degree heat wasn't much fun. After lunch, we stopped and looked around a bit at the B&N, where I made a mental list of some books I want to buy. Then, after giving up on the Showcase of Homes on the western side of Champaign (not the most attractive area; right next to the water treatment plant), we headed back home on I-57 South, stopping at the local outlet mall in Tuscola along the way. The mall is outdoors, and it's about half vacant - I'll be surprised if it's still there in five years. For now, though, it still boasts a Book Warehouse, one of those chain remainder stores you often find in such venues.

I haven't bought anything there in a couple years (and, I know, I should feel guilty for buying anything there at all, given that authors don't get royalties off remaindered books). Besides, the stock hardly ever changes. Today, though, they had a number of fairly new titles on the shelves, marked down to $6.99 each. One of them was Azhar Abidi's Passarola Rising, which I reviewed for Booklist in January - a mere six months ago. It made it on the cover of Viking's winter catalog, by which I assume it was supposed to be a big hit. Well, it apparently wasn't, despite being a charming little historical fable that reading groups would likely appreciate. This may be a title that will do better in paperback; the fact that Amazon only boasts two reader reviews for it (one by Klausner) is a sign that it hasn't been widely read. The remaindered Passarola Rising sat next to piles of several other recent historical novels which I recognized as having been published in February and March.

Not a huge surprise, really - just another sign that shelf life for books isn't anywhere near as long as it used to be.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Historical film news

On the off-chance you're not sick of TOBG movie discussions by now: British historian slams Portman's period piece. David Starkey has commented on the choice of American actors for the film of The Other Boleyn Girl. I'd say ouch, but this is not a big surprise. Still, I confess I don't get this one remark of his, so maybe someone can enlighten me: "It's another example of how all historical figures have to be portrayed on screen with American accents to appeal to an American audience." I don't think this is really true - Americans generally love to hear British accents in the movies. I also assumed Portman et al would be sporting British accents for the film, like Gwyneth Paltrow did in Shakespeare in Love. Plus, um, Eric Bana is Australian. Comments, anyone? Would you rather have seen British actors, and if so, whom?

Yet another: Hollywood stars head to Britain. A brief note on Cate Blanchett's upcoming reprisal of her Elizabeth I role in The Golden Age, among other things.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Albany HNS conference news

Um, that wasn't really supposed to be a rant yesterday, but I'm guessing it came across that way. I've talked about my dislike of spoilers here before, and that was a classic example.... but in retrospect, I probably sounded like I didn't have enough caffeine. (Which would be true.) Anyway.

This morning I posted the call for presenters for the next Historical Novel Society conference, to be held in Albany, NY, next June 8-10, 2007. This form is for potential speakers only... general registration will open around November 1st. But we sold out last time, so if you're interested in going, mark your calendars!

The conference is less than a year away - hard to believe - and I hope to meet some of you in person there. (Blogger table at dinner?) I'm the registration coordinator/budget person for this go-round, plus I'm doing the website work as usual. My friend and fellow board member Trudi Jacobson is the program chair, so any detailed programming-related questions can go to her (details on the form), or you're welcome to post general comments here, too.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Spoiler alert

Normally I use this space to point out upcoming historical novels, interesting new websites, etc., but today I'm doing the opposite - advising readers to avoid something. I've noticed that Barry Unsworth's The Ruby in Her Navel, subtitled "a novel of love and intrigue in the 12th century," has repeatedly come up in my "if you liked XX, try this one" Amazon recommendations for historical fiction. That's why I'm mentioning this now, even though the book won't be published until October (US/Canada) and September (UK). Here's a link to the catalog description at Random House's site, should you be interested.

I read this novel myself last month in ARC and would recommend it; the review hasn't been published yet, so that's all I'll say for now. That's all well and good, but there's a problem. The Publishers Weekly review - which is the first piece of narrative text anyone sees on the Amazon page - gives away the entire plot, by which I mean THE ENTIRE PLOT. Ahem. Okay, maybe there's a tiny bit they didn't reveal, but if you enjoy suspenseful literary novels set in medieval times, don't read the PW review, or your reading experience will be at least partly ruined. And while I'm complaining, I'll also mention that the review gets two major facts wrong. (So there?)

Seriously, I hate this sort of stuff.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Da Vinci Encore...

From today's Publishers Marketplace:
Robin Maxwell's COMPANIES OF NIGHT, which imagines the early, formative years of Leonardo Da Vinci as seen through the eyes of his mother, Caterina, [sold] to Kara Cesare at Dutton, by Kimberly Witherspoon and David Forrer at Inkwell Management (NA).
Also, in the interest of fairness, here's a link to a much more enticing blurb for the novel I blogged about yesterday - taken from the St. Martin's Press reading groups site. It's amazing what a difference a good synopsis makes, isn't it? Note the title change, too, for the upcoming US edition (to be published this October).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

It's baffling...

... how any novel could have made it up to #11,000 in Amazon UK's sales rankings with a synopsis like this. Good lord. I hope, for the author's sake, that that blurb didn't really make it onto the dust jacket.

I understand that the publisher was informed about it two months ago, but it remains unchanged, so I'm not sure what to think.

(p.s. Since a couple people have emailed to point out the popularity of the author, and the reason the book's likely selling, I feel obliged to add - I know this, I was just being sarcastic :-), but you have to admit - that blurb is ridiculous, no?)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Saturday's bits and pieces

Some good news today: the campus email/web shutdown was postponed, so I won't have to spend today (one of my 2 summer weekend days to work the ref desk) helping patrons use the print journal indexes (which they hate) and trying to keep myself occupied with non-Internet pursuits for eight hours. Also, the 90+ degree (and 80%+ humidity) heat wave of the past week finally broke, which is a big relief, because the heat just exhausts me. On the other hand, today I'm expecting a couple patrons in the library whose problems really require the help of either a personal counselor or attorney, neither of which I am, am qualified to act as, or have any desire to be. So today shall be, I expect, "interesting" if not challenging.

Some bits and pieces of historical novel fare.

It's finally been revealed who will be playing Mary Boleyn (opposite Natalie Portman as Anne, and Eric Bana as Henry VIII) in the upcoming film version of The Other Boleyn Girl. I think Scarlett Johansson's a decent choice; what think you? But I'm puzzled by the choice of Rue McClanahan to play Lady Jane Rochford... that'll make for quite an age difference between Anne and her sister-in-law, who were relatively of the same age in "real life," and it makes me wonder what other changes will be made to Gregory's novel for the film (and to history, for that matter).

A link to this story has been passed around the web so many times over the past several days that nearly everyone's probably seen it, but what the heck: here's USA Today's profile of Kathleen McGowan, in which she reveals she's the descendant of a secret marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the subject of her upcoming novel The Expected One. I read it a few months ago in ARC, and while it's a creatively told story overall, it does take quite a while to hit its stride, and I don't think critical reception will be favorable. On the other hand, with a backstory like this, people will be talking about it widely anyway, if not reading it. The author photo in the article isn't flattering at all, incidentally. She signed my ARC at BEA in June, and she's more attractive than the photo makes her out to look.

And in her online newsletter, Jennifer Donnelly writes about her upcoming novel The Winter Rose, sequel to The Tea Rose (an Irish-American romantic saga that came out 2 or so years ago, and which I really enjoyed). Looking forward to the new one. I found it listed on Amazon UK, with a November 2006 publication date, and Donnelly mentions that it'll be appearing from Hyperion in the US next spring.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lightening things up a bit

The other day, I had a brief e-mail exchange with a publicist about one of their house's upcoming novels - one that was being promoted as a humorous historical, something they felt was unique for the genre. "Have you read many historicals with a funny side to them?" he asked me, and I pondered the question. To my surprise, I really had not, although I hadn't thought about it much previously. I even took a quick browse through my bookshelves, but it was difficult to come up with more than a couple dozen titles, out of the thousands that I own and/or have read, that I'd consider truly humorous.

I know humor is often a matter of personal taste, but even with my rather sarcastic sense of humor in mind, I like to think I'd have recognized it in historical fiction if I saw it. To me, it seems much more common in other genres. In romance, it's easy to find examples, from the witty repartee of Regency couples (and these do count as historical fiction in my book, but what of titles outside this category?) to the wacky adventures of many heroines in contemporary romance. There's plenty of humor in mystery, fantasy, sf as I recall. But when it comes to non-genre-crossing, "straight" historical fiction, it seems quite rare. Am I wrong?

Possible reasons for this phenomenon, and more than one could be right:

(1) Historical novelists are a staid, humorless lot. (No, I don't really believe this)

(2) History is a Serious topic, filled as it is with battles, death, pestilence, arranged marriages, class conflict, etc., and adding humor to one of these topics would feel disrespectful and horribly inappropriate.

(3) Many historical novels are either biographical or about particular historical events, and sometimes people's lives (or particular happenings) just weren't funny. Not much you can do about that.

(4) Similarly, many historical novelists use their work to explore the Mysteries of the Universe, the Meaning of Life, and other philosophically deep and profound topics, and those tend not to be funny, either. Or they're not treated as such.

(5) Humor is something that's relatively hard to do well in fiction; it has to come naturally or it just doesn't work. One has to have the personality and writing ability to carry it off.

What else? This is disregarding, of course, the unintentionally funny historical - those with horrible anachronisms, lame dialogue, etc., etc.

Anyway, it has been interesting for me to note some titles I'd read that I thought were truly funny in places, and recognize how often these authors are praised for their unique voice. I enjoyed reading Jane Harris's debut novel The Observations, with its wisecracking, self-deprecating heroine, fearlessly optimistic despite her truly rough past; Bernard Cornwell's The Last Kingdom (and undoubtedly others I haven't read), for his gleefully dry British wit; Karen Mercury's The Hinterlands, which puts its characters in hilarious situations; and James Morrow's The Last Witchfinder, loftily narrated by Newton's own Principia Mathematica, with its sarcastically sly observations on the book world (and which serves as a counterpoint to the sobering main topic of the book, the witch trials of the 17th century). I'll also add Catherine Jinks's incredibly funny medieval novel The Notary, in which the eponymous narrator does his best to keep his lustful nature under control while investigating a murder alongside a Dominican monk. (More on this title later; it's Australian-only, as far as I know.)

Maybe your experience is different from mine, however, and if so, I'd love to hear your recommendations and/or thoughts on the subject. (I believe this topic was touched upon in someone else's blog within the last couple months, but for the life of me, I can't find the relevant entry.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

HNS Editors' Choice books for August

These are online at the Historical Novel Society website now. 17 titles this time, out of a total of 250-odd for the issue (it's going to be a big one). I haven't posted the complete table of contents yet, because last time I posted them early, we started getting requests from publicists and authors right away - and the editors don't have the issue in hand yet. Barring any problems, the issue will probably be back from the printer within a couple weeks.

My personal pick this time was Gretchen Craig's Creole family saga Always and Forever, and yes, the price is correct on the review - $3.99 for U.S., $5.99 for Canada. Zebra has been pricing its debut novels very competitively. How can you go wrong at that price? Also on the list is Sarah C's review of Ruth Downie's Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls. Anyone read any of the others?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Bibliomaniac's Prayer

(A little gem I recently discovered... very appropriate, too. Today we travel north to Champaign, where bookstores await. -- slj)

Keep me, I pray, in wisdom's way
      That I may truths eternal seek;
I need protecting care to-day,--
    My purse is light, my flesh is weak.
So banish from my erring heart
    All baleful appetites and hints
Of Satan's fascinating art,
    Of first editions, and of prints.
Direct me in some godly walk
    Which leads away from bookish strife,
That I with pious deed and talk
    May extra-illustrate my life.

But if, O Lord, it pleaseth Thee
    To keep me in temptation's way,
I humbly ask that I may be
    Most notably beset to-day;
Let my temptation be a book,
    Which I shall purchase, hold, and keep,
Whereon when other men shall look,
    They'll wail to know I got it cheap.
Oh, let it such a volume be
    As in rare copperplates abounds,
Large paper, clean, and fair to see,
    Uncut, unique, unknown to Lowndes*.

--Eugene Field (1850-1895)

*William Thomas Lowndes (17xx-1843), compiler of the Bibliographer's Manual of English Literature (1838).

Friday, July 14, 2006

The double-stacking has begun

Alas, it's a sad day in Bookland when I have to resort to hiding one shelf of books behind another in an effort to conserve space. Especially on my fancy glass-door bookshelf, pictured at left... I like this one not only because it's impressive-looking, but also because it keeps dust and, well, cat fur out of places they don't belong. (The three cats here love books... though not in a good way. One loves to rub up against them, which bends the edges of paperbacks; one sits on them; and then there's Tortie, who likes to perforate cardboard covers with her teeth. I've learned not to leave books out in piles for very long, lest they be tortified.)

I've also, unfortunately, had to begin storing some books horizontally on top of other shelves of books. Not ideal, I know, especially for the books underneath, but at least these are fairly light. Over the past couple days I've been trying to gather up all my older Hale novels and fit them into this cabinet, since they're all the same size, and two shelves' worth fit inside perfectly - I can still get the doors closed without major hassles. But eventually all the fuzzy-wuzzies and beanie babies on the top shelf will have to vacate, in favor of more books.

This has opened up some space on the shelves downstairs, but it doesn't solve the overall storage issue. I've detected one space downstairs where another stack of shelves just might fit (in my husband's office), but it may be time to ruthlessly weed my collection, picking out books I know I'll never read and donating them to the library and/or annual book sale. I'm not sure why I feel the need to keep so many around the house when I work in a building with a million volumes, plus ready access to interlibrary loan. It's a problem. Not sure exactly what to do to solve it, though.

p.s. Happy Bastille Day, everyone. Anyone else ever listened to the lyrics of La Marseillaise? Talk about bloody imagery. The Star Spangled Banner is pretty tame in comparison. "Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons" - indeed. In 9th grade French class, we really didn't know what we were singing about, I realize now.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Novels of three legendary queens

I'm gearing up for a longer post one of these days. Problem is, I'm swamped with my real job (which at the moment involves communicating with publishers and vendors about my library's access to electronic journals) and proofing the August issue of the HNR, which will be four pages longer than last time... lots and lots of reviews.

In the meantime, I heard via the gals at (where I lurk on occasion) that Margaret George's next novel will be on Elizabeth I; on her website, she says she'll be heading to England to do research on the later years of Elizabeth's reign. Hmm, popular subject, Queen Elizabeth. On one hand, I've been very impressed by most of George's novels (except for Mary, Called Magdalene, which started off well but which I ultimately didn't care for), and I'll read anything she writes. On the other hand, Elizabeth I is the most common historical fiction subject by far, and I'm wondering whether there's anything new to be said. I'll be interested to see George's take on her, in any case.

(Notes for the curious: in WorldCat, an electronic catalog of worldwide library holdings, no less than 316 English-language novels are listed with "Elizabeth I-Queen of England, 1533-1603" as a subject heading. Including some duplicates to account for multiple editions of the same title, no doubt. The most popular is the hardcover US edition of Victoria Holt's My Enemy the Queen, with a whopping 1,635 owning libraries.)

My review of her upcoming novel Helen of Troy was finally posted on Amazon, if anyone's real curious about that. It's interesting. Some reviews that I've read talk about the Trojan War lasting 10 years, which is traditional; but in the review, I gave the length as 20 years, which is the length of time Helen remained in Troy, as the Spartans et al declared war on Troy not long after Helen and Paris fled. It's all in the author's afterword.

Lastly, a deal from Publishers' Marketplace:

Michelle Moran's historical novel NEFERTITI, to Allison McCabe at Crown, in a pre-empt, by Anna Ghosh at Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency (NA).

To quote, it's "the story of Nefertiti's life told by her younger sister Mutnodjmet." A most refreshing subject, as there have been comparatively few novels written about Nefertiti, and none of them recent. Read more about this upcoming novel here (the author's Publishers Marketplace page) and here (her website, which looks like it's partly under construction, but the PM page links to it). We should be able to read Nefertiti in print a year from now.

Friday, July 07, 2006

POD titles worth reading:
Sophie Ferrer's The Jewess of Kaifeng

I thought I might use this space to cover, on occasion, some historical novels that were published the POD route. I reviewed Sophie Ferrer's The Jewess of Kaifeng for the Historical Novels Review three years ago, when the print magazine was still covering POD titles the editors felt were worthwhile. (They're included in the online magazine now.)

I bought Ferrer's novel on a whim, after browsing the Xlibris bookstore for historical fiction - which I still do on occasion. The first sentence grabbed my attention: "Macao, 1690. In the flickering candlelight, they looked more like ghouls than men of God." A setting I knew nothing about, and with that opening, I wanted to read more.

Here's an excerpt from the first chapter. My original review follows (from the Historical Novels Review, Issue 25, August 2003).

Sophie Ferrer, Xlibris, 2003, $20.99, pb, 184pp, 1401065295
This well-written historical adventure/romance set in 17th century Macao and Kaifeng probably won’t find a mainstream publisher due to its unique and "unmarketable" setting. However, I’d love to be proven wrong. In 1690, Father Nicolo Pasio, Jesuit friar and occasional assassin, is given orders to infiltrate the Jewish enclave in the Chinese city of Kaifeng in order to steal its sacred Torah. Because Jews first settled in Kaifeng long before the birth of Christ, their scriptures may contain the most authentic version of the Old Testament in existence. But Nicolo has a secret that he dares not reveal to his Jesuit leaders, and his growing love and respect for Rebecca, a Chinese Jewess who closely guards her people’s heritage, cause him to rethink his loyalties. There’s sufficient action to keep the pages turning, and Ferrer’s characters are more finely drawn than those of most adventure novels. No one could have been more surprised than I to learn that the ancient Jewish settlement of Kaifeng is recorded as historical fact. This is a large-format paperback with small print, slightly more expensive than usual, but I believe it to be worth the money. -- Sarah L. Johnson

I should add, you can buy it at the Xlibris bookstore for $3 less than Amazon, and the author will undoubtedly get more royalties, too.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

New links of interest

Today I handed in my file for the latest HNR issue, along with my publishing column, so I haven't had much time to blog of late. But I have been keeping an eye out for historical novel news, websites, blogs, etc. Here are some interesting sites to explore.

Website of Sam Barone, author of Dawn of Empire, an early Bronze Age (Mesopotamia, circa 3158 BCE) historical adventure out in August from William Morrow - and next January from Century, for UK readers. Spotted this one via AuthorBuzz.

Blog from Shakespearean actor David Blixt, author of the forthcoming The Master of Verona (St. Martin's Press, summer 2007) . According to his press release, the novel "explains the origin of the famous Capulet-Montague feud from Shakespeare's play Romeo & Juliet. "

Article on literary jewels dug from the layers of history, from the Times. A bunch of historical novels discussed here.

Website for John Speed and his first novel The Temple Dancer, a novel of 17th century India (St. Martin's Press, August). I love the "Cover Concepts" section here, under "Pleasures and Delights." View possible choices for the novel's cover, along with comments from the author on the rejected versions. Then check out "Cover Evolution," which is a multimedia demo of how the final cover design was created. It takes a while for the software to load, but it's fascinating stuff - watch how a woman from a classic European painting is transformed into the temple dancer of the title. A couple reviewer friends who read ARCs gave it the thumbs-up, and I'm looking forward to getting a copy myself.

As for me, I'm around halfway through Morgan Llywelyn's 1916 in preparation for a "readalike" article on her and her novels. The other Llywelyn novels I've read go much further back in Irish/Welsh history - Lion of Ireland (11th C), The Wind from Hastings (1066; my personal favorite), Grania (16th C) - but I'm really enjoying 1916 as well. It's all about events leading up to the Easter Rising, as if you couldn't guess from the title. And since there look to be three (and soon to be four, if you count the upcoming 1999) more novels in her ongoing Irish Century series, if I read the rest, I'll be kept busy reading for a while.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fergie's historical novel

I just saw this bit on Miss Snark's blog about Sarah Ferguson's historical novel deal (as reported in Ladies' Home Journal) and went looking around for confirmation. St. Martin's Press is said to be the big NY publisher who bought the rights to Hart Moor, a novel based on the life of one of her 18th century Irish ancestors, the red-headed Lady Margaret Hart Moor.

Details here and here and here. Apparently this is old news; these articles date from over a year ago. Can't find it on Publishers Marketplace, though.

None of Hart Moor is written yet; it was reportedly sold based on an idea alone. So we'll all have to be patient.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Write them while they're hot

We all know that trends in fiction come and go, and authors usually can't write fast enough to keep up with them. But if you have a historical novel manuscript on one of these hot topics languishing in a bottom drawer, why not dust it off and try to find a publisher now? You don't want to miss the boat.

Mary Magdalene
Knights Templar
Jane Austen
biblical women
Royal women - extra points if they're one of Henry VIII's wives, or Marie Antoinette
Male artists and their women
Edgar Allan Poe
Psychiatry and/or madness
Old New York
Historical vampires
Regency/Napoleonic spy novels - extra points if chick lit

Think about it. How many current historical novels fit into one of these categories -- or, even better, more than one?

(Inspired by a Dilbert cartoon from last week that's making the rounds)