Carol Carr's debut is a hilarious, exciting, and sometimes naughty romp through the grimy lanes and elegant boardrooms of Victorian London, as seen through the eyes of India Black, proprietor of the Lotus House brothel. India gets drawn into an international mystery when a high-profile civil servant drops dead while visiting her place of business. Review forthcoming. Berkley Prime Crime, Jan.
The novels of Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts series - some contemporary, some historical - are slices of Americana that celebrate women's friendships and neighborly ties. Her latest is set in Water's Ford, Pennsylvania, in 1862, and follows the women of Elm Creek Valley as they cope with their changing roles. Meanwhile, letters from the men in their lives, off fighting for the Union, are read aloud at their quilting circle. Dutton, Feb.
The astute observations of Miss Dido Kent, spinster aunt and talented detective in early 19th-century England, were a highlight for me in Anna Dean's Bellfield Hall. In her followup investigation, the sudden death of her cousin Flora's neighbor turns out to be murder -- just as Dido suspected all along. Minotaur, Feb.
Margaret George takes her time in researching and writing her biographical novels (like the others, this one's nearly 700pp long), but they're worth waiting for. This is the historical epic that even those weary of Tudormania will want to read: the story of the later years of the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, as told by her flame-haired cousin and rival, Lettice Knollys. And did you know the author has a new blog? Viking, April.
Hart's fifth novel presents the deep and mysterious relationship between Edgar Allan Poe and Sissy Clemm, his cousin, child bride, and the love of his life, the woman whose death haunted his writings and nearly destroyed him. The blurb promises hints of the fantastic in its exploration of Sissy's innermost self in this world and the one that lies beyond. St. Martin's Griffin, Feb.
Following the international success of the Otori series, historical fantasy set in an alternate feudal Japan, Lian Hearn turns to mainstream historical fiction with an epic set in 1857, as Western powers begin pounding at the gates of isolationist Japan. Amid the tumult, a young woman prepares for marriage and studies medicine, yet the changing times lead her into an uncertain future. The cover is too frilly for my taste (too many blossoms, too few shadows?) but I've got this one on preorder from Book Depository. No US deal as yet. Quercus (UK), April; it's already out in Australia.
The Salem Witch trials are an event that historical novelists return to again and again. Hill is a British writer who's written several nonfiction works on the tragedies of Salem Village, and she's sure to bring a unique perspective to her fiction. A dark cover for this dark portrait of how a children's game sparks a town's rapid descent into madness. Overlook, March, and Duckworth (UK), June.
Cobbs Hoffman's self-published novel, In the Lion's Den, garnered a Director's Mention for the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction in 2009; it also won a San Diego Book Award. This is a reissue under the new title Broken Promises (see a related article from the SDSU News). A tale of loyalty and love, it reveals the little-known story of Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy Adams and father of novelist Henry Adams, and his involvement in the US Civil War. Ballantine, April.
Elizabeth Loupas's debut novel is many things at once: a magnificent portrait of an Italian city during the glorious Renaissance; a memorable depiction of Barbara of Austria, the intelligent second wife of Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara; and a creative retelling of Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess," as well as what might have come before and after the events in the poem. I've just finished reading a galley and will be hosting Elizabeth here for an interview next spring. NAL, March.
Karen Maitland's Company of Liars is a book I've come to appreciate more over time, for both its creepily twisting plot and the authentic-seeming worldview of its medieval characters. The Gallows Curse looks to evoke the same grim, strange atmosphere. In 1210, all of England has been placed under interdict, thanks to the religious schemings of King John. And in the village of Gastmere, a servant girl is dragged into a conspiracy to absolve the lord of the manor's sins. Penguin UK, March (no US details as yet).