Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reay Tannahill, encore

Her obituary (many people have been googling for it) appeared in The Independent yesterday. It's very long, focusing on her classic nonfiction study Food in History (1973), but it also lists her published novels.

Her final novel, Having the Decorators In, was published the day before she died. I have a copy on hand, ordered from Book Depository, and hope to review it here eventually.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The post-Thanksgiving vacation update

I'll be back at work precisely ten hours from now, not that I'm counting, after six days off. Here are some deals and news from Publishers Marketplace and elsewhere.

Joyce Lebra's THE SCENT OF SAKE, about a 19th century Japanese woman who overcomes tremendous obstacles to build a sake empire and a family dynasty at a time when women were forbidden to do business, to Carrie Feron at William Morrow, at auction, by Natasha Kern at Natasha Kern Literary Agency (World).

Bestselling UK nonfiction author Titania Hardie's debut novel THE ROSE LABYRINTH, which centers on a mystery that begins in 17th century England with Elizabeth I's royal astrologer and unravels to present-day London, where a beautiful, brilliant young woman, still recovering from a heart transplant, embarks on a dangerous adventure in search of the secrets behind the Rose Labyrinth, to Judith Curr at Atria, with Sarah Branham editing, in a significant deal, by Robin Straus at Robin Straus Agency, on behalf of Quadrille Publishing and Andrew Nurnberg Associates (NA).

Read more about Michelle Moran's deal with Crown's Allison McCabe for her upcoming novel Cleopatra's Daughter on her website. (Congrats!)

The subject of Katie Hickman's The Aviary Gate (Bloomsbury USA, May 2008) sounds fascinating - take a look at the catalog description - but here we have Sir Frank Dicksee's Leila gracing the cover, again. You can find an image on the Scandalous Women blog. Gorgeous painting, yes, but we've already seen it on three other novels about women in the harem. Here's a reminder in case you don't remember which ones.

The Salt Lake Tribune reviews Ken Follett's World Without End. I spent part of the holiday weekend reading The Pillars of the Earth, mainly because I felt I ought to, and this seemed like a good time. I don't intend to watch Oprah talk about it, though.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Case study: Valerie Anand's The House of Lanyon

When I read this summer that Valerie Anand would have a new book out soon, a regional saga set on Exmoor in England's West Country in the mid-15th century, I immediately knew two things: (1) I had get my hands on a copy as soon as possible, and (2) many members of the American reading public wouldn't know what to do with it. Excitement and disappointment, simultaneously; I worried that such a novel wouldn't find its proper audience.

I read and reviewed The House of Lanyon for November's Historical Novels Review, and now that the issue is appearing in subscribers' mailboxes, I'm republishing the review at the end of this post. The House of Lanyon is much in the same vein as the earlier novels in Anand's Bridges over Time series, although (as far as I know) it's complete in a single volume. It's the story of several families, their relationships with the land and their neighbors, and their day-to-day lives on Exmoor beginning in the year 1458. The Lanyons rear sheep, grow corn, and sell wool; the Weavers, as one can guess, weave wool into cloth; and the Sweetwaters, the Lanyons' landlords, are minor gentry on social terms with Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon.

The House of Lanyon is, as far as I'm able to tell, historically accurate. The characters' names, realistic and frequently utilitarian, reflect the time. Readers will learn much about the operations of a medieval dyeworks, marriage customs in a rural village, and the construction of a proper manor house. These descriptive sections are the parts I enjoyed most. The novel's three families have lived on the same plots of land for generations. The Lanyons rarely venture beyond the nearest village, Clicket. They have no need to. They discuss political matters among themselves, but events in faraway London don't affect their daily lives, at least not until much later in the book. (I don't want to give too much away.)

In this lies the issue some readers may have (and are having) with this novel. It has no "marquee names" or "marquee events," not for a good long while. All of the major characters are fictional, and their lifestyles aren't glamorous. Regional British sagas are rarely published in the States anymore - I buy them from the UK - as they're not very popular here, aside from in the library market. I'm willing to bet that most of today's readers (the distinguished company reading this blog excepted, of course) haven't even heard of Bridges over Time. The second-to-last volume was published in the US in 1996, and the final volume never appeared here at all. If you haven't read it, you're missing out. Her Wikipedia entry lists the titles in order.

Do readers need historical figures, names of battles, and/or major historical events inserted into a novel in order to enjoy it as historical fiction? That's what worried me about the concept behind The House of Lanyon. And so when I read the Publishers Weekly review ("There's not enough historical detail to place the Lanyons in their time and place") and an Amazon review with similar sentiments ("What I was reading could, by changing a few sentences, have been [set] anywhere from, say 500AD to 2007, and the location almost anywhere in England, Canada, the U.S., etc") I both shook my head in amazement and nodded sadly. There's plenty of historical detail in the novel, but it's not of the right type, it seems - either that, or it's too subtle to be appreciated by these readers.

All reviewers are entitled to their opinions, of course. Here's mine, below. If you've read the novel, I'd be curious to hear what you think - on the content itself, its marketability, and/or its audience. I'm also going to be watching the UK reaction to this novel, when it's published there by MIRA next April.

Valerie Anand, MIRA, 2007, $24.95/C$29.95, hb, 586pp, 9780778325024

In her afterword, Valerie Anand mentions it was her dream to pen a novel set on Exmoor, the rolling countryside and woodlands around Somerset. She combines a wonderful sense of place with an engrossing family saga set between 1458 and 1504, with the Wars of the Roses as a mostly distant backdrop.

The Lanyons are tenant farmers on land belonging to the Sweetwaters, minor gentry living on Exmoor. Relations between them have always been frosty, but true enmity sparks when two Sweetwater sons disrupt the funeral procession of family patriarch George Lanyon. Richard, George’s middle-aged son, swears to improve his family’s station in life henceforth. He begins by arranging his son Peter’s marriage to Liza Weaver, the well-dowered daughter of a neighboring family in the wool trade. After much heartache, both Peter and Liza abandon hopes of marrying their lovers and agree to wed one another. And Richard, for all his pride and bluster, closely guards a secret from his own past that could destroy everything he’s built.

Liza and Peter develop a strong marital bond, raising a family and suffering Richard’s ambition to rebuild Allerbrook Farm as a manor house that will put the Sweetwater residence to shame. They deal with business disputes, family squabbles, and personal losses as best they can, with outside events rarely intruding until Lancaster and York force everyone to take sides.

With its descriptions of local trades, customs, and family life, The House of Lanyon is a fascinating social history of the medieval West Country as seen through the eyes of sympathetic characters. Though nearly the entire book takes place on a small plot of land, I was never bored. The sort of novel you can comfortably wallow in for days, it’s a gift to readers who, like me, loved Anand’s Bridges over Time series and wanted more.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What's new and forthcoming

I spent most of the day (a cold, dismal, rainy Sunday) updating the HNS forthcoming books page, so now you can see what historical novels will be appearing through next August. Please take a look, so that I can feel the time spent was worthwhile!

It used to be that someone with a Livejournal site would pull a month's worth of listings from that page, repost them on her blog, and add snarky comments about my descriptions. Most of which come direct from publishers' blurbs, but some I make up. I thought it was hilarious, but do you think I can find that site now? no.

Other than that, I went out shopping to a couple places this afternoon, and we went to two open houses at the high-end neighborhood near us, just because we were curious (nosy). The houses are 2-3 years old and cost about twice as much as what we paid for ours, and they're gorgeous inside. I saw one big problem, though: the "open floor plan" style that's so popular around here doesn't leave much wall space for bookshelves.


Added later: I found the Livejournal site, which as it turns out isn't Livejournal at all but something similar. Scroll down. Thank you, Technorati.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Short and late post

I meant to post earlier, but things like work and writing got in the way. We were interviewing for a new cataloging librarian last week (which involved daily presentations) , plus I needed to get a first draft of my Christian fiction chapter finished. Aside from assigning keywords and annotating 2008 titles I don't know about yet, it's done. And long. 22,000+ words long. Pruning will be necessary.

Among other news:

I just posted November's issue of Historical Novels Review Online. The print issue should be out soon. Anyone seen it yet? It has a purty purple cover, and a feature article on historical graphic novels.

I'm looking for a few HNS members interested in joining the Historical Novels Review's North American review team. You should be able to write clearly and concisely and keep to deadlines. More specifically, I'd like to find reviewers able to cover novels set in a wide variety of historical periods/places (not just, for example, medieval England or ancient Rome, as we'll have little to offer you). Particularly needed are readers of historical romances, historical Westerns, and/or novels set in the 20th century, as many of our specialists in these areas have dropped out.

HNS members only, please, from either the US or Canada. (If you live in the UK or elsewhere, I'll pass your note of interest along to the British editors.) Email me for the guidelines.

Oprah's newest book club pick is Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth. Which I haven't yet read. You may not realize it's also an award-winning board game [per Library Journal].

On Loaded Questions, Kelly Hewitt is giving away an ARC of Lauren Willig's The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. She's hoping to run more giveaways in the future, so watch her blog for details. You may recognize George Romney's Study of Emma Hart as Circe gracing the cover.

Literary agent Dan Lazar of Writers House is actively interested in acquiring historical fiction.

I'm drowning in piles of recent acquisitions, but what else is new. When people give me birthday money to spend, you can probably guess what I go out and buy.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday news and deals

Sad news: Susan Hicks (aka Elizabeth Chadwick) posted on the HNS e-list this morning that prolific Scottish historical novelist Reay Tannahill, who had been in ill health for several years, has died. I haven't seen obituaries yet, but will post links once I have them.

Pauline Gedge recently did an interview for the CBC's Words at Large. Her latest novel of ancient Egypt, The Twice Born, was published in September by Penguin Canada.

Geoffrey Edwards talked to the Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) about winning an online contest that resulted in publication of his novel Fire Bell in the Night. You can find the HNS review of Fire Bell here.

A lengthy profile of Deborah Challinor, who chronicles New Zealand's history in fiction, that also discusses that country's burgeoning interest in historical novels.

From Publishers Marketplace:

Romanian rights to Kathleen O'Neal and Michael Gear's TO CAST A PEARL, portraying Jesus Christ as a real, historical figure and the monks who struggle to preserve this truth in the face of the Church's violent opposition, to Rao, by Teri Tobias with Andrew Nurnberg Associates, on behalf of Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. [The Gears' website has more, including details on US (June 2008) and German publication.]

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear's PEOPLE OF THE CLIFFS and PEOPLE OF THE DAWNLAND, a continuation of the PEOPLE series, to Bob Gleason at Tor, in a significant deal, by Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates (world English).

THE ILLUMINATOR author Brenda Rickman Vantrease's NO SEASON FOR GRACE, exploring a young woman's attempts to smuggle English Bibles into Henry VIII's England under the vengeful eye of Sir Thomas More whose ties to the Pope make such actions completely heretical; as the king's interest in Anne Boleyn accelerates, his distaste for More's faithful ties to the Vatican will lead them onto a collision course towards death and redemption, again to Hope Dellon at St. Martin's, in a six-figure deal, for publication in fall 2009, to Harvey Klinger (World).

Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley's CLEOPATRA: LAST QUEEN OF EGYPT, to Lara Heimert at Basic, in a very nice deal, in a pre-empt, for publication in Fall 2008, by George Lucas at Inkwell Management, on behalf of Profile Books (NA). [this is nonfiction]

And more Egypt:

Esther Friesner's untitled about Nefertiti, to Mallory Loehr at Random House Children's, in a good deal, in a two-book deal, for publication in Spring 2010 and Spring 2011, by Russell Galen at Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency (World).

Charles Coleman Finlay's THE MINUTEMAN'S WITCH trilogy, a supernatural account of the Revolutionary War, in which there are bigger things at stake than American independence, to Chris Schluep at Ballantine, in a nice deal, for three books, by Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates (World).

Tallgrass author Sandra Dallas's PRAYERS FOR SALE, about the unlikely friendship that develops - much of it over a quilt frame - between an octogenarian Civil War widow facing her final days living in the Colorado mountains and a fresh, young bride just arrived in town, to Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martin's, in a very nice deal, by Danielle Egan-Miller of Browne & Miller Literary Associates (NA).

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The ever-changing bookshelf

The bookcase by my computer desk has a new look this afternoon, thanks to some Amazon certificates, Borders purchases, and publisher freebies.

And after reading several historical novels in quick succession (three in a week is a record for me lately) I've picked up Susan Fraser King's Lady Macbeth, which arrived as an ARC last week. I wasn't sure I'd get one, as the HNS reviewer got her own copy. I'm pleased.

One of my recent purchases, 2nd shelf far left, is the omnibus edition of Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter, which was translated recently by Tiina Nunnally (whose name I've seen on many translations from Scandinavian languages). You can read more about Ms. Nunnally and her literary efforts in an article from the Seattle Times. I already own Kristin Lavransdatter, in three Bantam paperbacks dating from the 1980s, but never managed to get through it. The article explains why others had the same difficulty: the original translation used a clunky, faux-medieval prose style. My recent reading (and enjoyment) of GWTW inspired me to try again with this one, as this is a historical novel/trilogy I feel I should read.

We were in Chicago briefly this weekend, and I have to say that the Borders at Water Tower Place has a better selection than any bookstore I've been in for a while. I bought two paperbacks I'd never seen anywhere else: Brian John's House of Angels (3rd shelf from bottom, far left, blue headless woman cover which I really like), 2nd in a family saga set in 18th century Wales, and Christine Lemmon's Portion of the Sea (same shelf, far right), a contemporary/historical family saga about several generations of women on Sanibel Island.

The gallery of reusable cover art has been updated with a few new entries.

It's 5pm here, and nearly dark. Welcome to the end of Daylight Savings Time.