Friday, May 14, 2010

Book pile, with cat

In some ways this is a filler post as I work on another visual preview, but I thought I'd give a glimpse of some recent arrivals. Tortie is diligently guarding the books from the other cats until I can put them away on shelves (the books, that is). These are a combination of Book Depository preorders that just arrived, PaperbackSwap trades, and Bookcloseouts purchases, though one (Anne Fortier's Juliet) came from the publisher. I'm deliberately winnowing down my to-be-reviewed pile so I can get caught up on these and other reads. Here they are in order.

Hue and Cry is a mystery about a young lawyer in St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1579, first in a series. This is the new paperback release, and the beautiful cover says "historical mystery" all over it; the lettering towards the bottom of the image is strategically placed.

The Return
by Victoria Hislop tells the story of a modern woman who visits the Alhambra and gets caught up in a tale of the Spanish civil war after coming across some old photographs; a multi-period story. Mine is the UK trade release, though it also came out in the US a few months ago. Amazingly, someone put their signed copy up on PBS, and their loss is my gain. I'm looking forward to this one.

For BEA goers, Anne Fortier's Juliet is one of the titles that will be showcased at the Editors' Buzz panel on Tuesday 5/25 from 4:30-5:30pm. From the back, it's a multi-period historical novel "on the scale of The Thirteenth Tale and The Birth of Venus" about a modern-day young woman. She begins a perilous journey into the history of her 14th-century ancestor, Giulietta, who loved a young man named Romeo. More details at

I bought William Newton's Mistress of Abha because of the fascinating setting, the Middle East in the early 20th century: "a tale of empires, wild daring, devastating love, and an utterly surprising heroine." This is the UK hardcover, from Bloomsbury UK, and I discovered afterward that it'll be out from Bloomsbury USA this fall.

Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna is a novel I've been anticipating for a while; I thought I'd preordered the paperback so was delighted when a beautiful hardcover showed up. It's been described as a Gone with the Wind for India.

Carol Thomas's Sea Between and Deborah Challinor's Isle of Tears both come from HarperCollins New Zealand so may be a little harder for those outside NZ and Australia to find, but geography isn't a deterrent for me when it comes to finding new historical places to read about. I've never read Challinor (her White Feathers, set during WWI, is also on this pile) but she's a bestselling author in NZ, which sounded promising. Her Isle of Tears is a family saga about a woman trying to survive in both the Maori and Pakeha (of European origin) worlds of 1860s Auckland. Sea Between is the story of Charlotte, an activist for women's rights in 1860s Canterbury, NZ.

I was amazed to get Indu Sundaresan's Shadow Princess on PBS so soon after its publication, but who am I to complain? It's the story of two royal sisters of the Mughal empire, Jahanara and Roshanara, and their rivalry after their father's death. I'm sure it will be informative to read an Indian author's perspective on Indian history (the same holds true for Tiger Hills).

On to the next column of books. Imogen Robertson's Instruments of Darkness is billed as an atmospheric mystery set in 1780 Sussex. Mitsugu Saotome's Okei: A Girl from the Provinces, set in Japan's Aizu mountains in the late 19th century, describes itself as an epic tale of romance for fans of The Last Concubine. First published in Japan in 1974, this is the first English translation, from the UK's Alma Books.

Eleanor Herman's Mistress of the Vatican , "the true story of Olimpia Maidalchini, the secret female pope," is the only nonfiction book in the bunch, but from the first few chapters, it reads like a lively novel. My copy of Warwick Collins' The Sonnets says on the front cover that it's a signed and limited edition of 1000 copies, and so it is. Huh, I didn't notice this until just now; the inside page lists it as number 318. Why do people give these books up? Written from Shakespeare's perspective, it recounts the three years (1592-94) when the London theatres were closed by the threat of plague.

Xu Xiaobin's Feathered Serpent, described as "one of the foremost works of 20th-century Chinese literature," is a literary family saga spanning five generations of women from the 1890s to 1990s. I seem to have many Asian settings in this pile. The next is David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, at right. I preordered this from Book Depository long before I received it from Booklist to review. This has happened a few times, and I'm so glad the assignment obliged me to read it early, because it's a literary masterpiece. Its unusual setting is Dejima, a man-made island in Nagasaki harbor that served as a trading outpost for the Dutch during Japan's isolationist period. If you're fond of literary fiction, you might want to make plans to read it. (Booklist starred my review, and the novel deserves it.) This means I have two copies, but I like the UK cover better.

James Houston's Bird of Another Heaven centers on a half-Indian, half-Hawaiian woman who became a confidant to Hawaii's last king in the late 19th century, as seen from the viewpoint of her great-grandson. I haven't heard much about this book (from '07) but the setting intrigues me.

Last is Maria McCann's The Wilding, an Orange Prize nominee, set a generation after the English Civil War. Cat from Tell Me a Story liked the author's descriptions of English rural life and the process of cider making. It sounds delicious.


  1. What a lovely pile and what a lovely cat! I haven't heard of any of these books (which I suppose is not that surprising since I don't read a lot of HF). Enjoy!

  2. Is it greedy of me to say I want to read all of these?

  3. Tiger Hills is on my wish list.
    I can't wait to read your review!

  4. Marg, I wouldn't call you greedy considering that I'd say the same!

    Tortie appreciates the compliments. I keep telling her she's the prettiest cat in the house, but I'm not sure she believes me. She thinks the kittens are competition.

  5. Maria, Tiger Hills is the one I'm picking up after I finish the remaining 50 pages of my current read. It's been calling to me for a while!

  6. Thanks for the descriptions of all these books! I have not heard of most of them. I'm particularly interested because these novels are not about European royals. Don't get me wrong; I love Restoration and Tudor tales. but it's exciting to get a little variety. I'll have to seek out "Bird of Another Heaven" because the little Hawaiian history I picked up on my visit was fascinating. Similarly, I read a ton of Native American- themed historicals growing up, so "Isle of Tears" might provide perspective on the lives of members of another native culture.

  7. I've just finished The Wilding this morning over coffee in bed :O)
    I had started it then laid it aside to read The Book of Human Skin.
    I didn't like her previous book, As Meat to Salt but this one I really enjoyed.

  8. I've just read two other novels about British royals so thought I'd feature some other titles. I read all over the map, though novels set in distant lands - to me, anyway! - are harder to come by. If you're interested in Hawaiian history, I highly recommend the historical novels of Alan Brennert, Honolulu and Moloka'i.

    As Meat Loves Salt is another I picked up not too long ago... I didn't do so when the book first came out because its grimness sounded unappealing, but enough people have convinced me to try it anyway.

  9. Yay tortie!!

    I'm keen to see what you think about The Mistress of Abha.

  10. Love the Cat photo =) Territorial, are we? And what a great stash of books, I shall have to delve deeper.

  11. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Oh how I wish I had never read about Book Depository on this blog!! BookCloseouts, especially when they are having a clearance, is bad enough for my bookshelves . . .