Monday, May 26, 2008

End of weekend roundup

So, I spent part of the last couple of days rereading books from Maureen Peters' Falcon Saga, and I'd forgotten how truly evil some of her characters were (talk about characters you love to hate, yow). They're still good reads.

Just a few small things I wanted to post before I forgot:

A couple posts back, people were wondering what Carolly Erickson's The Tsarina's Daughter was about. According to St. Martin's Press's fall catalog, it is indeed about Tatiana - the cover told the truth for a change - and is what I'd properly call an alternate history, although it's not labeled as such. The blurb begins as follows: "Daria Gradov is an elderly grandmother living in the rural West in the 1980s. What neighbors and even her children don't know, however, is she began her life as the Grand Duchess Tatiana, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra..." Then it describes her romance with a young soldier. By now, I believe three of the Romanov daughters have had fictional escapes, all but Olga (who never made it out of Catherine Gavin's The Snow Mountain alive).

Yesterday I received a request from a researcher in search of the real name of pseudonymous novelist Alexandra Hamilton, who wrote an obscure trilogy about Nefertiti for the British publisher Muller in the late 1970s. According to jacket blurbs, Alexandra Hamilton was the byline for a well-known author at the time. The researcher's been trying to hunt down her identity for the past couple of decades, and I wasn't able to find discover anything, so if anyone reading this knows who she is, please leave a comment. The novels are, for the record: Nefertiti: The Beautiful One; Nefertiti: The Devious Being, and Nefertiti: The Lady of Grace. I own them but haven't read them.

On Friday I updated the HNS forthcoming books page with fall titles from Macmillan (which includes St. Martin's, Tor/Forge, FSG, Minotaur, Picador, and a couple other publishers/imprints) and Soho Press. Soho has a fascinating list if you're into mysteries with an international flair. There's something weird going on with the HNS page now, it's not showing the right-hand borders, which means I need to go play with it.

Also, for anyone going to BEA this week, if you have the chance to grab Selden Edwards' The Little Book at the Penguin booth, I recommend you do so.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Maureen Peters, 1935-2008

News about the death of prolific historical novelist Maureen Peters was sent to me by my dad, mystery critic Steve Lewis, by way of Al Hubin and John Herrington, compiler of a bibliography on Robert Hale titles. Mr Herrington had heard the news from Hale, her current publisher, who reported that she died last month.

I've gone searching for an obituary online and in various library databases but haven't found one yet. Per Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, she was born in Caernarvon, Wales, on March 3, 1935, and was married and divorced twice; she has two sons and two daughters. In addition to the novels written under her own name, which were historical fiction, she also wrote as Veronica Black, Catherine Darby, Belinda Grey, Elizabeth Law, Levanah Lloyd, Judith Rothman, and Sharon Whitby.

Her novels, which easily number over one hundred, fall into many categories: biographical fiction on royalty (written under her own name), Gothic romances, family sagas, Mills & Boon series titles, contemporary mysteries (her Sister Joan series was written as Veronica Black), and more.

Maureen Peters always knew how to tell a great story, even though her historical backgrounds were sometimes sketchy and her characterizations of real-life figures could be quite imaginative and unconventional. She wrote about many royal women that few if any other historical novelists took as subjects, such as Isabella/Hawise, first wife of King John (Lackland's Bride) and Joanna of Navarre, second wife of Henry IV (Witch Queen).

I collect the novels she wrote about royalty, but my favorites remain those in her 12-volume Falcon Saga (written as Catherine Darby), published in paperback by Fawcett Crest in the 1970s and 80s. Spanning Henry VIII's England through World War II, the first nine novels traced the lives of a single family, the Falcons, who owned the estate of Kingsmead in the small village of Marie Regina in Kent. The final three novels were set in the 14th century and looked at the lives of earlier generations of Falcons. These three were also considerably longer and more detailed than the others, in terms of historical content.

The Falcon Saga books weren't Gothics in the traditional "woman in danger" sense, although they were marketed as such, but rather dark family sagas. In each generation of Falcons was born a woman with a birthmark shaped like a half-crescent moon, proving her to be a true descendant of her Tudor-era progenitor, the witch Margred. Themes of illicit passion, family rivalry, witchcraft, revenge, and even reincarnation permeated the novels... Yes, some situations were outlandish, but I also clearly remember her vivid re-creations of the Great Fire of London, the WWII home front, and the Welsh hills where some of her characters (those from the nicer branch of Falcons!) resided. When I was in my teens, I read them so many times that I can still remember most characters' names and their placements on the giant Falcon family tree. Even though I haven't picked one up in at least a decade, I was able to do this write-up from memory.

Anyhow, I still have fond memories of reading these novels, as well as those in her Moon Chalice Quest series. I never got around to reading her newer Robert Hale novels; she moved from writing biographical fiction (most recently on the Brontes) to Victorian mysteries and also to other historical fiction set in 19th-century Britain and the USA. One of my fellow HNR editors selected her latest novel as an Editors' Choice title for May's issue.

For more background information on Ms. Peters and her works, see:

  • Author of Many Names, an interview with the BBC from January 2007. There are some mistakes in it: a pseudonym was Catherine Darby (not Derby), and her series was the Falcon Series (rather than Fallon). Her description of this series was rather tongue-in-cheek!
  • Details on her Sister Joan series, with a short bio on the author, from Clerical Detectives.
  • My review of her novel Song of Marguerite, from this blog last year.
  • Daphne's reviews of Witch Queen and The Queen Who Never Was from Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff.
  • Fantastic Fiction's bibliographies of Catherine Darby and Maureen Peters novels, with covers when available.
  • The editors' choice review of her novel Sun of Silver, Moon of Gold (Hale, 2008), from the current issue of the Historical Novels Review. Scroll down toward the end.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The epitome of tackiness

The garish depiction of a barely clothed Catherine de'Medici (as Jean Plaidy's Madame Serpent) on Susan's blog inspired me to go through my collection in search of equally tacky historical novel art.

Depending on your perspective, these are either the best examples I could find, or the worst. The tag lines on the covers are often as amusing as the artwork itself.

From the back cover: "The tormented love story of the Christian Knight and the wench of Islam unfolds against the bloody struggle for the Holy Land, in this lusty novel of the Crusades."

The story of Khurram, Princess Arjumand, Nur Mahal, and Parviz. "Lust, wealth, and ambition ruled their lives."

"Her mother changed the destiny of Rome when she ordered a handsome young slave to the bedside of the sleeping fifteen-year-old girl."
"From the lusty court of Queen Bess to the treasure-laden jungles of the New World, Shawn MacManus pursued adventure, fortune, and a treacherous Spanish beauty, Doña Elvira."

"Bianca, the beautiful wife of Don Luis, melted with love in Kit's arms."

"Whispered about by tavern tarts and court wenches, despised by the Queen, Frances Walsingham went on to bear another man's child and recklessly risked her very life for the love of the fabulous Irishman Rickard de Burgh."

"Percy Hotspur, Duchess of Harford, who lived and loved with wild abandon."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A visual preview of the fall season

I know I haven't been here much lately. I've been working on an article (about historical fiction, naturally) that I want to get written and turned in before continuing with my book manuscript. However, I've set myself quite a challenge with this article, structure-wise, and it's been slow going.

In the meanwhile, I thought I'd give readers a heads-up on historical fiction titles forthcoming in the autumn, ones that I could find cover images for. Also, the HNS forthcoming books page has been updated through December, but since some large catalogs aren't posted yet (Random House, St. Martin's, Simon & Schuster, among others), it's still incomplete.

The covers link to the Amazon page for the books.

From the author of the bestselling Beneath a Marble Sky, a new novel about a group of castaways on a remote Pacific island during World War II. A wounded Japanese soldier grows closer to the American woman he had rescued. From NAL in September.

The first historical novel from two acclaimed historians. Set in Boston on the eve of the American Revolution, it "weaves together the fictional stories of a Scottish portrait painter and notorious libertine Stewart Jameson, and Fanny Easton, a fallen woman from one of Boston’s most powerful families." Spiegel & Grau, December.

The long-awaited final novel in Penman's trilogy about Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their brood. I'll drop everything to read this one when it arrives. From Putnam in October.

Two fictional sisters, Maddalena and Chiaretta, left at the foundling hospital at Venice's Pieta become the pupils of Antonio Vivaldi. From Hyperion/Voice in September. Look for an interview with the author in May's HNR.

A reissue (with new cover) of one of Seton's lesser-known novels, originally published in 1950. Amanda Lawrence, an East Coast debutante, moves to the Arizona desert with her part-Apache husband, Dart, a mining engineer. She feels bored and neglected until a map to a lost mine surfaces. From Chicago Review Press in September.

The Spanish Civil War (and Spain in general) seems to be growing in popularity as a setting. In this first novel, a literary love story, the war is seen from the viewpoint of Guernica's Basque residents. From Bloomsbury USA in September. I generally love "landscape" covers, including this one.

The story of Martha Carrier, one of the first women hanged for witchcraft in Salem, and that of her daughter, Sarah, forced to stand alongside her mother as hysteria grips their village. The author is a tenth generation descendant of her heroine. I glom onto historical novels set in colonial America and got this ARC thanks to a Publishers Weekly giveaway. Out from Little, Brown in September.

From Berkley in October: a novel set in London, three days after Mary Stuart's execution. Lady Janet de Ros, Scottish wife of an English merchant, travels to Edinburgh to prove that Mary was innocent of murdering her husband, Lord Darnley. The author wrote The Spanish Bride, about Catherine of Aragon, under the pseudonym Laurien Gardner.

Decades after the mysterious disappearance of the Cenergite manuscript (called "Revelation of Fire") from a Moscow archives in 1938, two researchers reconstruct its history over the previous two centuries. From the Permanent Press in September.

Courtroom drama, based on a scandalous real-life London divorce case from 1864. From Harcourt in September; it appeared from HarperCollins Canada last month.

Literary saga about sixty years in the life of a Brahmin woman, left widowed at age eighteen in early twentieth-century India, and based on the life of the author's grandmother. Harcourt, September; already out in Canada.

A new biographical novel/literary invention from the author of novels about Josephine and Marie Antoinette. I'm not sure yet who this is about. Grand Duchess Tatiana is on the cover. She was the most photogenic among Nicholas and Alexandra's daughters, so that may or may not mean anything. St. Martin's, October.

More culinary romance from the author of The Wedding Officer; from Bantam in August. Set in London and Abyssinia in 1895.

I can take a wild guess at the subject based on the title. From Crown in late December, a tumultuous romp about a beautiful young woman in the Tudor court.