Sunday, May 31, 2009

A few photos from BEA and elsewhere

This was me about an hour ago, at my scheduled blogger signing at booth #4077 (cue theme music). Levi Asher of Literary Kicks, whose site/blog has been around for 15 years, is the blogger at left. I spent an entertaining hour talking to visitors about Reading the Past, historical fiction recommendations, and blogging in general. I've been to a few BEAs as a librarian and book review editor, but this was my first official appearance as a blogger. Thanks to Firebrand Technologies for hosting all of us.

The show's clearly winding down. Didn't pick up any galleys this morning, and yesterday I acquired just three, including Sherry Jones's The Sword of Medina and Shandi Mitchell's Under This Unbroken Sky, out from HarperCollins in Sept, about life on the Canadian prairie during the Depression. The third was for a nonfiction book called Shelf Discovery, given out at the book blogger panel yesterday afternoon, essays about "the teen classics we never stopped reading." It's amazing how many of the books profiled in there (Jane-Emily, lots of Judy Blumes, Jacob Have I Loved) were favorites of mine, too.

I spent most of yesterday in sessions; the book blogger panel was lots of fun (and introduced me to a bunch of new blogs). I caught up with NoveList colleagues at the morning session on writing annotations then sat in on a panel discussion on book reviewing in 2010.

And last night, somehow we ended up here... after a major subway rerouting due to Obama's impromptu visit to NYC.

I took home ten historical novels; carrying the bag on the subway was an adventure, but who could resist?

Friday, May 29, 2009

BEA report, day 1

I'm here at the official librarians' hotel at BEA in midtown Manhattan, completely exhausted after walking the exhibit hall all morning and then across Central Park and back during the afternoon (Mark and I decided to visit the Met, where I hadn't been since a 9th grade field trip). The day started out not so good, not just because of the crappy weather (50s and rainy) but also because of noise in the hallway in the early morning. I'm assuming that the woman yelling and slamming doors at 4:30am was not a librarian. The weather's cleared up, though, and after a large diet coke in the Ballfield Cafe in Central Park about an hour ago, I'm more awake than I should be.

Here's what I accumulated history- and historical fiction-wise during my exhibit hall wanderings this morning. I'm being very cautious to take only those books which interest me, since I'm hoping to fit everything in our suitcases rather than mail boxes home as usual. (click photo to enlarge)

Leila Meacham's Roses, 2nd from left, is a saga spanning three generations in a small East Texas town during the 20th century, out from Grand Central in January 2010. Next to it, Maureen Lindley's The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel, from Bloomsbury USA in Sept, is based on the real-life story of a Chinese princess turned spy in the early 20th century. (If you've read Ian Buruma's The China Lover, Eastern Jewel made an appearance there too.)

Robert Hicks's A Separate Country, which I previewed earlier this week, does in fact incorporate a female narrative. It alternates between the viewpoints of several characters, one of whom is Anna Marie Hood, wife of the novel's subject.

This BEA is noticeably scaled down from the usual show. There are fewer exhibitors (some of the publishers I work with for the HNS aren't here) and fewer galleys. Normally I'd be sending a 40-lb box home every day of the show, full of historical fiction and history titles for fall and winter, but today I picked up all of eight books, along with some duplicates to send out for review for Nov's Historical Novels Review. The only autographing sessions I attended were for Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts, at the Random House booth, and Diana Gabaldon's upcoming An Echo in the Bone (preview booklet, not the full galley). I debated waiting in line for the Dracula sequel in the main autographing section downstairs, but the line was hellacious long.

Tomorrow my plan is to take my time and speak with publishers more; I was too tired and dizzy from lack of sleep this morning to feel sufficiently coherent. There are a number of program sessions for librarians tomorrow as well, plus the blogger session at 2pm, which I hope to attend.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A visual preview of the fall season, part two

I really ought to be packing... I'm flying out tomorrow morning and hope to blog from BEA as time permits. In the meantime, here's another group of ten historical novels that will be out in late August and after.

Bradshaw, best known for her well-researched historicals set in ancient Greece and Rome, turns to the English Civil War with a novel about a young woman starting afresh in London, 1647. Severn House, November.

The sequel to The Jewel of Medina, set in 7th-century Arabia. (Same cover art as Nicole Galland's Crossed, but in reverse.) This is one of the very few historical fiction titles being promoted at this year's BEA; I understand the author will be there and wonder how long her signing line will be. Guess I'll find out. Beaufort, October.

From the author of The Red Tent, the story of four women who lived through the Holocaust and meet as refugees in a British internment camp in Palestine. Scribner, Sept.

A literary romantic epic set during the early days of the American Civil War in Kansas Territory. Mackey's latest has the same title as Sally Gunning's excellent novel of colonial Cape Cod, which surprises me; titles can't be copyrighted, but readers may confuse the two. Berkley, Sept.

The story of Shira of Ashkenaz, wife of Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg, who preserved her family's traditions during the rise of anti-Semitism in 13th-century Europe. The protagonists are the authors' ancestors; visit Cameron's website for more details. Pocket, Sept.

Historical suspense set in 1888 Whitechapel, about a female pickpocket, Grace Hammer, whose past is about to catch up with her and her family. The cover has an urban fantasy look to it. Norton, Sept.

Haeger writes lush historical fiction with a touch of romance. This is the story of Catherine Howard's brief, heartbreaking time as Henry VIII's fifth wife, a period brought to a close after her enemies discover her scandalous past. NAL, November.

A headless woman cover for the new novel by Hicks (Widow of the South), a biographical novel of controversial Confederate general John Bell Hood that focuses on his postwar life in New Orleans.

Per PW, this debut novel, set in New York City in 1901, revolves around a young workman on the first subway lines beneath the city and a beautiful mathematical prodigy, as the two are drawn into a tangle of overlapping intrigues -- which may include time travel. Putnam/Amy Einhorn, Dec.

The tagline on the cover reads "the most enchanting historical epic since The Mists of Avalon." In this sweeping epic adventure set in Iceland of 1000 AD, as Christianity threatens the old ways, Freya embarks on a journey to save her people. The website is Plume, August; previously published in the UK.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Reviews of obscure books: Jean Clark's Untie the Winds

Clark, Jean. Untie the Winds. NY: Kensington, 1978. 498pp. Prev. published in hardcover, 1976. Out of print, copies readily available via PaperbackSwap and cheaply via ABE.

After reading the comments on Christine Blevins's guest post, most of which dealt with American history, I've been thinking of historical fiction about my own home state -- and how very few examples there are. One of my favorite settings is colonial New England, but how many historical novels set in early Connecticut can you name?

Aside from the children's novel The Witch of Blackbird Pond, that is... this is the edition I read in elementary school.

Anya Seton's The Winthrop Woman, about a historical woman who was once an early resident of New Haven Colony, is another. But I wasn't able to think of many more. With this in mind, I picked up the 1976 paperback edition of Jean Clark's Untie the Winds with interest, despite the bodice-buster artwork and back cover blurb which promised a story about: "The ravishing rebel. The tender teacher. Passion and principle." Ugh.

What can I say, it was the 1970s, but this mainstream historical novel is horribly served by its packaging. The red square is not a weird variation of the scarlet "A," I should add, but a price sticker I didn't remove for fear it would damage the book!

The title, also, seemed to be one of those abstract romancey statements, something that sounds good on paper but has no real meaning. How wrong I was. The line was originally spoken by Macbeth to the three witches in Shakespeare's play: "Though you untie the winds and let them fight against the churches..."

Fittingly, Untie the Winds tells the story of one woman, Ann Eaton, and her fight against the Puritan church and the local justice system in New Haven Colony in the 1630s and 1640s. Ann Lloyd Yale Eaton was a real person, an Englishwoman who became the wife of the colony's first magistrate and governor, Theophilus Eaton. Through her son from her first marriage, Ann became the grandmother of Elihu Yale, the philanthropist after whom Yale College (now University) was named. It's nowhere near a historical romance, and in fact there's barely a single love scene in the book, despite what the back cover would have you think about her sensuous nature and her illicit romance with lusty schoolteacher Ezekial Cheever.

While focusing on Ann and the problems her philosophical rebellion caused within her marriage, Clark establishes the political and historical context by alternating between the viewpoints of five different characters. These are Ann herself; her husband Theophilus; Rev. John Davenport, spiritual leader of the colony; Ezekial Cheever, a teacher who expresses public support for Ann's unorthodox views; and Lurinda Collings, the Eatons' indentured servant (a fictional character).

Ann is a strong, principled woman who loves her husband but refuses to tolerate injustice, such as the Colony's execution of a Quinnipiac Indian for a crime committed out of its jurisdiction and without benefit of a trial by jury. She walks out of the meetinghouse during Rev. Davenport's service as a protest against infant baptisms, as babies are too young to decide for themselves about Church membership. Her refusal to confess her sins and repent of her actions leads to her excommunication in 1644, something her husband does nothing to prevent.

Already middle-aged with grown children when the novel begins in 1638, upon her ship's arrival in the land of the Quinnipiacs, she's not a typical historical novel heroine, but her story is a compelling one. Through her eyes and others, we see early New Haven take shape from a settlement in the wilderness along the Connecticut shoreline to a lively colony, based in Biblical principles, that steadily grew as it annexed nearby towns (called "plantations") and formed a united confederation with other British colonies in New England.

From what I've been able to discern, Ann's story as presented here is grounded in historical fact, with the probable exception of her unconsummated love affair with Cheever (a very minor part of the book). Even the appearance of a phantom ship off the coast in 1646, an event made famous by Longfellow's poem, is recorded as part of New Haven history and legend. Ann's life doesn't always follow a dramatic arc (most people's lives don't), which detracts from the narrative tension at times. After her excommunication, the focus moves from her to Lurinda's romantic escapades, which are completely fictional and not nearly as interesting to read about.

Overall, Untie the Winds is well worth picking up if you like this period of history. Despite being from Connecticut, I knew next to nothing about the New Haven colony beforehand but have been happily googling for information about it since I turned the final page. A clearly written, fascinating novel about the founding of one of the lesser-known English colonies in America, one woman's brave dissent against Puritan theocracy, and the price she paid for it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Giveaway winner

Good morning, everyone! I was up at 7:30am, on this first day of a holiday weekend, because of my neighbor's annoying habit of getting his lawn mowing done early. He has a huge lawn, so he's still at it.

It's time to announce the winner of the Tory Widow giveaway, which turned out to be a most excellent contest. I'd like to thank Christine for offering the opportunity and for thinking up such a great question, as it resulted in responses that were not only fascinating to read but educational as well. We had seven countries represented: the US, Australia, Canada, Finland, the Philippines, India, and Singapore, the country named after a lion. I spent some time cruising the web for country name etymologies and hope I'm right on this last one!

And the winner is... Kelly, from 101 Journeys in 1001 Days, who wrote about the pillars of the original Capitol building in Washington, DC. I've sent an email your way, and I hope you enjoy the book and goodies.

Thanks to everyone for your contributions and participation!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Guest post / giveaway from Christine Blevins: A Novel Idea

Historical novelist Christine Blevins, who I interviewed for Reading the Past last September, is stopping by with a guest post on unexpected finds during the research process and her fascination with early American history. She's also offering a giveaway. Welcome, Christine!

A Novel Idea

Research. I do an awful lot of it, entailing trips to sights, museums, and libraries, trawling the internet, tons of reading and the keeping of copious notes. As part of my process, I keep a series of scribbled-in notebooks.

In this constant quest for the choice tidbits I feel make my stories come alive, I sometimes bump into a tasty morsel that is altogether unrelated to the project at hand – but irresistible nonetheless. What do I do with it? I jot it down.

My debut novel, Midwife of the Blue Ridge, is a tale set in 1763 about a young midwife who makes her way as an indentured servant from the Scottish Highlands to colonial Virginia. When I was in the early stages of in-depth research for Midwife – concerning 18th century ocean travel specifically – I jotted down this unrelated fact:

The British Army controlled New York City for almost the entire war? Really? An invading force occupied the whole city for seven years? Wow…

With less then 300 years under our belt as a nation, the United States has, admittedly, a paucity of history when compared to other countries and cultures, and you’d think it would be easy for us Americans to know our history inside and out. The War of Independence is a massive event, and we begin learning about the birth of our nation from the moment we attend our first Fourth of July celebration. From the time we enter kindergarten to when we graduate high school, information about significant events like the Boston Tea Party, the writing of the Declaration, the winter at Valley Forge, and famous battles at Lexington, Concord, Saratoga and Yorktown has been drummed into us – the facts and dates etched on, and sometimes lost in the wrinkles of our brains.

I think for many of us, our country’s astounding history can easily become a boring series of tired facts memorized to pass a test or give a report. And because of that, we might lose sight of the magnitude of what really happened here – the fact that average, everyday people rose up and rebelled against their sovereign King – that regular people decided to take up arms and wage an impossible war against the world’s mightiest superpower. Add into that mix the development of a radical form of government and one can’t help but be reminded of how thrilling – how romantic – and how incredibly crazy the American Revolution really was!

And the British occupied New York City from 1776 to 1783? This was a revelation for me. In an instant I was boosted into a whole new realm of thinking. How different the wartime experience must have been for the people of New York City? How did rebellious New Yorkers manage to live day-to-day among their oppressors? How did the British cope with the rebels in their midst? Oh, I was intrigued. Not only did I jot the fact down – I double-bubbled it! That short little note scrawled in the top margin of a red notebook wound up being the embryo of my recently published novel, The Tory Widow.

In The Tory Widow, Anne Merrick’s adventure begins on the steps of St. Paul’s Chapel just after her marriage to a much older man. News of the Stamp Act’s repeal sweeps through the city and prompts a triumphant street celebration where she becomes the recipient of a wild, celebratory kiss from a handsome young stranger.

Ten years later, Anne has lost both her husband and child to smallpox. Blood is shed at Lexington and Concord, and thousands are dead and wounded at the Battle of Breed’s Hill. Against this backdrop of civil strife and revolution, Widow Merrick struggles to maintain her printing business. With British warships menacing New York’s harbor, true loyalties are questioned. The Sons of Liberty scour the city, pursuing and punishing supporters of the Crown. As the widow of a known Tory, Anne Merrick draws the attention of these fanatic Liberty Boys – one of whom she recognizes as the same man who’d kissed her on the steps of St. Paul’s years before.

When the Continental Army arrives to stem any British invasion, New York transitions into an armed camp. In spite of the widow’s apparent Tory leanings, Liberty Boy Jack Hampton finds he is drawn to Anne Merrick, and she finds it hard to resist the ardent patriot. Jack leads Anne to rediscover her true ideals, but their tenuous connection is severed when the Redcoats invade and occupy the city. In order to survive, Anne Merrick draws upon her Tory reputation to infiltrate British military society and work for the patriot cause. With cunning, stealth and courage her only weapons, Anne fights for her new country, and the man she loves.

Up the Rebels!!
Enter to win a signed copy of The Tory Widow, plus a Revolutionary survival kit: lavender water, a hankie, and a packet of Liberty Tea. Leave a comment with your favorite fact about your country’s history. The giveaway is open to anyone, anywhere. The deadline is this Friday, May 22nd.

Author Christine Blevins writes what she loves to read – historical adventure stories. Her debut novel Midwife of the Blue Ridge takes the reader to the wilds of 18th century colonial America, and was inspired by information unearthed while researching family history. Her second novel, The Tory Widow begins in New York City at the eve of rebellion. A native Chicagoan, Christine lives in Elmhurst, Illinois, along with her husband Brian, the younger two of four children, and The Dude, her ridiculously lovable golden-doodle. She is presently at work on the second novel in her Revolutionary War trilogy titled Hearts of Oak, due to be published in 2010, by Penguin/Berkley.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Conference schedule

I'm buried in HNS conference preparations, something that will undoubtedly continue through mid-June, but I thought I'd post about the conferences I'll be attending and/or speaking at over the next couple of months. If you'll be at any of these events, please stop by and say hello!

BookExpo America, NYC, May 28-31

I'll be roaming the Javits Center for three days, talking to publishers, sitting in on author panels, and acquiring ARCs of historical fiction titles for summer and fall. On Sunday 5/31 from 10-11am, you'll find me at the Firebrand Technologies booth (#4077) doing a blogger signing. There are 40 other bloggers on the schedule, and though it's not really a signing per se, we'll all be there to meet readers, publishers, and other bloggers. (That said, if anyone wants to drag my 4-lb tome through the exhibit hall, I'll happily sign it for you.)

Other must-dos on my list will be walking through Central Park, visiting The Strand, and having dinner at Mitali East, which has the best Indian food we've ever had anywhere. If you lived where I live, you'd understand why dining out at good restaurants is a highlight of any conference trip.

Historical Novel Society conference, Schaumburg, IL, June 10-15

As one of the organizers, I'll be arriving early and staying late, and I'm looking forward to meeting many authors and readers there. From 8:30-9:30am on Saturday 6/13, three readers' advisory librarians - Georgine Olson, Joyce Saricks, and myself - will be talking up our favorite recent reads and hopefully convincing you all why you should read them too. In the sessions opposite mine, Brenda Rickman Vantrease will be discussing point of view, and a great trio of authors and fellow bloggers (C.W. Gortner, Michelle Moran, and Karen Essex) will be speaking about building a career in the historical fiction world. Tough decisions! I'll also be participating in the group book-signing on the Saturday afternoon from 4-5pm.

American Library Association annual conference, Chicago, July 10-14

Besides attending as many programs (and eating in as many ethnic restaurants) as I can squeeze into four days, I'll be speaking at the New Members Round Table's President's Program, discussing job hunting in a down economy with two other panelists. At some point I'll undoubtedly be reviewing librarian resumes at the Placement Center. The rest of my schedule's not set, so drop me a line if you'd like to meet up!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A visual preview of the fall season, part one

There are a lot of forthcoming titles to preview, so I'll be posting about them in multiple installments. The common element within this grouping should be obvious; let's call them the Daughters of Autumn...

The struggle between traditional values and modernity, as seen from the viewpoint of a young woman in occupied Korea in the early 20th century; inspired by the life of the author's mother. Henry Holt, Aug.

It's been ages since anyone's written a novel about Cleopatra Selene (and the version I'd read wasn't all that good), so I'm looking forward to this one. Nice cover, too; the red makes a statement! Crown, September.

Li X’ia, daughter of an elderly spice farmer and his teenage concubine in early 20th-century China, evades her father's plans for her and flees, vowing to fulfill her mother's dreams of becoming a scholar. St. Martin's Griffin, Sept.

Mary Tudor's life story, as seen through her own eyes. Lee has previously written other novels set in 16th-c England (A Question of Guilt, plus The Spanish Bride as Laurien Gardner). NAL, Dec.

I'm not a big fan of prehistoric fiction; Auel's novels never did it for me, though I enjoyed Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's Reindeer Moon and The Animal Wife. This one looks to be different, plus I love the cover. It's set amid a matriarchal culture in southeast Africa half a million years ago. S&S, Aug.

A YA historical about Albia, the (imagined) daughter of Macbeth and his lady, who is raised in the woods by three strange sisters; from the author of Ophelia. Do YAs prefer more modern-looking covers? This doesn't say "historical" to me at all. Bloomsbury Children's, Oct.

An interpretation of Jane Austen's Lady Susan which transforms the short epistolary novella into a full-fledged novel about two aristocratic women, Susan and her daughter Frederica, who navigate their place in Regency society. Co-written by a mother-daughter team, with letters reproduced from the original. Crown, Oct.

Abigail Adams turns detective in the first volume of a new historical mystery series set in Revolutionary-era Boston. Berkley, Sept.

The imagined story of Harriet, daughter of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, who leaves Monticello at age twenty-one and, with her red hair and light skin, easily passes for white. This reissue is the sequel to Chase-Riboud's classic Sally Hemings (reissued by Chicago Review Press in April), the novel which brought renewed attention to this enigmatic woman. Chicago Review, Sept.

Third in a trilogy about the intelligent, talented daughters of medieval Talmudic scholar Rashi. Rachel, her father's favorite, finds her life torn apart during the First Crusade. Plume, August.

The Crusades as seen from the viewpoint of Khalidah, a young Bedouin woman; this is an engrossing literary novel set in 12th-century Arabia, a time and place many Western readers know little about. I read it from the UK edition last year. Berkley, Oct.