The first was Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath, volume one of Sigrid Undset's trilogy (I'm saving the remainder for a later time). The second was Carla Kelly's Daughter of Fortune, her first novel, about a young woman's struggle for belonging and survival in the 17th-century Southwest. (It took me forever to purchase this book, because online booksellers kept sending me Allende's novel of the same title by mistake.) And the third, which I finished last night around 10pm, was John Harwood's The Seance, a superb Victorian ghost story about mesmerism, a decaying old mansion, a mysterious inheritance, and diaries that may hold the secret to a murder by occult means ... it reminded me quite a bit of Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale.
I'm doing a longer writeup for my March NoveList column, but I'll say here that I highly recommend it. It's deliciously morbid without being grim, and the author clearly knows what he's doing. He'll quickly anticipate your thoughts about where the plot is leading, but the novel, just like the seances themselves, is all about deliberate, elegant deception.
Besides, you can't go wrong with these covers. Victorian stencil art (UK) or Julia Margaret Cameron (US), take your pick.
You may not have noticed I haven't said anything specific about the storyline or characters. That too is deliberate. I hope this blurb intrigues you enough to want to read it anyway.
In other news, many literary awards were announced at the American Library Association's midwinter conference last week. Among them were those presented by the Reading List Council, honoring the best in genre fiction in seven categories -- one of which is Historical Fiction. For 2009, the winner was The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara, with the following titles on the shortlist: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell; The Given Day by Dennis Lehane; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows; and The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss. (Source: RUSA blog and the fictionmags mailing list.) I've read both the Russell and the Shaffer/Barrows; both are well deserving of their place on the shortlist.