Monday, January 21, 2008

Books I'm watching for in 2008

As is usual with this blog, this will be my rather eclectic take on upcoming historical novels... these are some of the 2008 books I'm personally interested in getting my hands on. I've been meaning to post on this topic for a while now, but things like, well, work and HNR proofreading, not to mention this stupid never-ending cold, got in the way.

There have been a few 2008 publications I've already read and can easily recommend. Check out Jeffrey Hantover's The Jewel Trader of Pegu (Jan.), a lyrically written story of love and self-discovery in a distant, exotic land (the Burmese kingdom of Pegu, circa 1598) if you'd like a change of pace from the usual historical novel fare. My review appeared in Booklist's 1/15 issue and is available in full at the website of Hantover's literary agency. I was also fortunate enough to receive an ARC, courtesy of a Random House giveaway, of Mary Doria Russell's Dreamers of the Day (March). If you can suspend your disbelief long enough to imagine that a spinster schoolteacher from Ohio would be temporarily allowed into the inner circle of Lawrence of Arabia, the Churchills, and Gertrude Bell, among others, you'll enjoy having a ringside seat at events surrounding the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, where plans for the modern Middle East were set in motion. The tone does get didactic in places, and I thought the last chapter was more "out there" than the final chapter of Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders, but overall it was a sheer pleasure to read. And speaking of Brooks, her brand new novel People of the Book (Jan.) is well deserving of the accolades it's been receiving. I read this on a friend's strong recommendation and was blown away by the power of her storytelling and her ability to make five distinct historical periods come alive equally well.

I read Patricia O'Brien's Harriet and Isabella (Jan.) from an ARC I got at last June's BEA - some advanced copies are arriving extremely early - and can thoroughly recommend it. I'll be conducting an interview with O'Brien shortly, so more information will be forthcoming, but it's a novelization of the rift that developed when half-sisters Harriet Beecher Stowe and Isabella Beecher Hooker took opposing sides during their brother's adultery trial. Forensic thriller Lawrence Goldstone's The Anatomy of Deception (Feb) takes you to the hospitals, graveyards, and grimy waterfront bars of 1889 Philadelphia, and Amanda Elyot's All for Love (Feb.) will introduce you to a royal mistress, Mary Robinson, who deserves to be known for far more than that. My review will be out shortly in February's HNR.

Now on to some books I haven't read yet, but plan to soon. Next on my TBR pile are a trio of novels: Jo Graham's Black Ships (March), an epic fantasy adventure set in ancient Greece; Sally Gunning's Bound (Apr.), a sequel of sorts to one of my best reads of 2006, The Widow's War, also set on colonial Cape Cod; and Pinkerton's Secret by Eric Lerner, who'll be stopping by to do a guest blog entry in early March. For a preview, visit the author's website.

Whoever said the French Revolution wasn't hot? I've heard positive things about Catherine Delors' Mistress of the Revolution (March), and have enjoyed reading about the author's publishing experience on her website (the query she wrote to find her agent is online). It's been wonderful to see two novels originally published in Spanish come to English-language markets in translation. This morning I received an ARC of Ildefonso Falcones' Cathedral of the Sea (Apr), and haven't decided if I want to review it myself or send it away. The back cover describes it as "an unforgettable fresco of a golden age in 14th century Barcelona" that was #1 on Spain's bestseller list for a full year. Decisions, decisions. Emilio Calderón's The Creator's Map, the deal for which appeared on PM in August 2006 (see old blog entry), will be out in July from Penguin Press (US) and in April from John Murray (UK). Also in April will be Ursula K. Le Guin's Lavinia, in which (per the publisher, Harcourt) "Aeneas’s wife Lavinia tells her side of the story in a novel that upends Vergil's Aeneid and breathes life into a woman’s version of the ancient world."

Robert Alexander's The Romanov Bride (May) will be the final installment of the author's loose trilogy about the Romanovs; this time his protagonist is the beautiful Grand Duchess Elizabeth (Ella), sister of Tsarina Alexandra, who met with a similarly tragic fate. The cover art for Pamela Billings Ewen's The Moon in the Mango Tree (May) caught my eye immediately, as did the unusual setting: 1920s Thailand (or, rather, Siam). It's based on the true story of the author's grandmother, a woman who abandoned a promising opera career to follow her missionary husband abroad. Karen Essex's long-awaited new novel Stealing Athena will appear this June; this time her dual subjects are Mary Nisbet, wife of the Earl of Elgin, and Aspasia, the mistress of Greek statesman Pericles. A last example of biographical fiction I'm looking forward to is Sandra Gulland's Mistress of the Sun (June in the US, Feb in Canada) about the life of Louise de la Vallière, an early mistress of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

That takes us halfway through the year, so I'll stop, but the HNS forthcoming books page lists plenty more titles, if none of these strikes your fancy. Historical fiction is clearly alive and well in 2008, and my job will be, among other things, to include as many such titles as possible in my manuscript-in-progress. I think I have my work cut out for me.


  1. It's always dangerous for my budget when you post one of these lists! There are several on there that I am definitely going to HAVE to read!

  2. I agree with Marg. Several great books to add to my Amazon wish list.

  3. Anonymous11:45 AM

    I just read one of your other recommendations: THE RELIGION--an excellent read! Willocks really did a great job with pulling the reader into the story. His battle descriptions are definitely not for the squeamish, though! Probably not something I would have found on my own, so thanks for putting that on your list of good reads.
    Some of these really sound quite interesting, too.

  4. I'm one of those normally squeamish readers, and went far from my comfort zone to read The Religion, but it was well worth it. I'll definitely be reading the sequel whenever it comes out.

  5. Forgot to mention that The Religion won a brand new ALA award - The Reading List, which has subcategories for various types of genre fiction. It won in the Historical Fiction category. Mistress of the Art of Death was another winner, in the Mystery category. Details here.

  6. Anonymous1:54 PM

    Indeed the French Revolution is hot!
    Thank you for mentioning my novel "Mistress of the Revolution" and my website. I also have a blog.

    By the way, one my characters, the Duke de Lauzun, later General Biron, was one of the lovers of lovely Mary Robinson, whom you mention in this post. It's a small world...

  7. Hi Catherine, and thanks for stopping by - I've added your blog to my sidebar.

    Lauzun makes a brief appearance in All for Love, though not much of that novel took place in France.

  8. I have "Mistress of the Revolution" on my wanted list and I am soooo happy about The Romanov Bride. There needs to be more Russian Historical Fiction!!!!!!!!!

    Love the blog!

  9. I've been drooling over the beautiful covers you posted. Thanks for the recommendations. The Ursula le Guin and the Karen Essex sound good. I also saw that Helen Dunmore's new novel Counting the Stars is out in the UK on 7 February, though I can't find it on It's about the Roman poet Catullus and his affair with Lesbia.

  10. Thanks, Ms I and Sarah - I hadn't heard about Helen Dunmore's new novel before. It's definitely going on my wish list.

    I see the cover has Leighton's Flaming June on it, although I don't think it's been as heavily depicted on UK book covers as it has in the US.

    I'd be glad to see more Russian historical fiction, too.