Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A visual preview of the summer season, part 1

A new season and a new preview, with some great-sounding books on offer.  Many of these are by authors whose past works I've been enthused about.

If you haven't read or heard of Annamaria Alfieri's superb City of Silver, it may be time to change that. Set in the Peruvian city of Potosí in 1650, it swirls together the counterfeit silver trade, a young woman's supposed suicide, and racial tensions between Spaniards and natives. Invisible Country, the author's second South American mystery, moves two centuries ahead to 1868, when Irish courtesan Eliza Lynch was busy beguiling Paraguay's president, Francisco López.  One of López's allies gets offed in this offering.  Minotaur, July.

Amirrezvani's The Blood of Flowers was a major literary hit in 2007 for its portrayal of a female rug designer's quest for personal freedom and artistic expression in 17th-century Persia.  Equal of the Sun is set in the royal court of Iran in 1576, and is based on a surprising friendship between the Shah's daughter and a eunuch after her father's unexpected death.  Scribner, June.

Anton continues on her path of reanimating the lives of lesser-known women from early Jewish history.  Subtitled "a novel of love, the Talmud, and sorcery," this first volume in a series tells the story of Hisdadukh, the youngest child of a wise and famous rabbi in 3rd-century Babylonia, a world of political and religious turmoil. Expect lots of interest from reading groups. Plume, August.

A few authors posted this pic on Facebook yesterday, and I just had to stop and gaze at it.  Bohjalian is making a return to historical fiction (his Skeletons at the Feast, from 2008, followed a group's lengthy, traumatic flight from Nazi Germany).  Following the Armenian genocide of 1915, a young Mount Holyoke grad travels to Syria to care for ill refugees.  An alternating tale in the present day reveals her granddaughter's story and uncovers a long-lost family secret.  Doubleday, July.

The Woman at the Light is a debut novel set on an island off Key West in 1839.  After her husband's disappearance at sea, Emily Lowry takes his place tending the lighthouse while caring for her three children.  Then a runaway slave comes into her life.  This was one of my LibraryThing Early Reviewers picks, and I chose it not just because of the setting but also because of the many four- and five-star Amazon reviews - which were based on the original self-published edition.  St. Martin's Griffin, July.

When the author told me her next book would be a time-slip novel, I knew I had to add it to my wishlist.  Since then, Courtenay won the 2012 Romantic Novelists' Association's historical novel prize for Highland Storms, set in 18th-century Scotland.  The Silent Touch of Shadows contains many of the elements that appeal to me in fiction: a genealogical mystery, a multi-time structure, and a modern woman's visions of a couple from England's medieval past.  Choc Lit (UK), July.

The woman on the cover should be easy to recognize even without half her head.  Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, is the shadow queen in Dean's biographical novel about the infamous American divorcee who seduced Edward VIII away from his throne.  It begins with her poverty-stricken girlhood in Baltimore, and based on the blurbs, portrays her as a survivor.  The UK title is Wallis: The Shadow Queen. Broadway, August; HarperCollins UK, May.

Downer is an author I haven't read before; she specializes in Japanese historical settings in both her fiction and nonfiction.  Across a Bridge of Dreams is billed as a romantic wartime epic set in the 1870s, just following the country's civil war, and is based on the historical story of the last samurai.  Bantam UK, June.

With their glittering imagery of Gilded Age decadence and social differences, many of today's historical novels are described as Whartonesque... so it's logical that we now see a work of biographical fiction about Edith Wharton herself.  Jennie Fields' novel aims to provide insight into the personality of one of New York's most famous novelists in its depiction of her affair with a younger journalist, and the effects it had on her friendship with her literary secretary, Anna Bahlmann.  Pamela Dorman/Viking, August.

Look to Marina Fiorato for women's fiction with an Italian historical flair.  I enjoyed The Daughter of Siena when I reviewed it last May, and the cover art gods are smiling on her books once more.  The Venetian Contract begins as the plague arrives in Venice in 1576, a revenge gift from the Ottoman Turks following their defeat at the Battle of Lepanto.  The stories of a brilliant architect, a plague doctor, and a female harem doctor intertwine.  John Murray (UK), June; pb in August.

There have been few historical novels written about Isabella of Castile, though her daughters Juana (the so-called mad queen) and Katherine (Henry VIII's first wife) have gotten more attention.  Gortner's biographical novel begins with Isabella's youth and follows her path as a wife, political leader, defender of the faith, and supporter of Columbus's exploratory vision.  Look for an author interview here later this summer. Ballantine, June.

We've talked about the popularity of WWII novels featuring women; Gregson's latest carries this trend forward to a relatively unexplored setting.  When Welsh singer Saba Tarcan travels to Cairo as part of a tour to entertain the troops, she's recruited for the British Secret Service - complicating her relationship with her fighter pilot beau.  Touchstone, June.


  1. Great post Sarah, I've added quite a few books to my wishlist :)

  2. That's quite the line-up. The Woman at the Light sounds especially intriguing, given its self-pub success. And I love some of those covers.

  3. New Amirrezvani!! I am so excited!!

  4. Glad to hear it, Sam :)

    Hi Lucy, those reviews must have been one reason it got picked up by a larger press in the first place. It intrigued me, and the setting did too.

    Kailana, I see you're another fan! Her new book is one I'm especially excited about.

  5. I am green with envy over the lists! Have made a note of quite a few of them.

  6. You know I love these visual previews! I already knew about the Isabelle book otherwise I would have been excited to see that one listed!

    The two that did get me excited were the new Amirezvani book and new Gregson! I was just looking at her woefully out of date website the other day to see if she had a new book coming out soon!

  7. Glad to hear it, Mystica!

    I was hoping you'd comment, Marg, since I was curious to hear what you thought of this quarter's picks. You're right, Gregson's website is quite out of date! I have both of her earlier books and really ought to find time to read one of them...

  8. Oooh, "Jasmine Nights" looks really interesting. I have a planned novel on the back burner that also takes place in WWII-era Cairo. I look forward to reading Gregson's take on the period.

  9. That sounds fascinating about your novel. I've been traveling to different parts of the WWII-era landscape via fiction lately, and there isn't much set in Cairo.

  10. Anonymous12:25 PM

    I was at PLA last week and got lots of galleys and some books. Two trends illustrated both here and from what I saw at PLA - the continuation of titles set during WWII and in Venice/Italy 15th/16th centuries, and the proliferation of books featuring "actual people" (e.g. the Edith Wharton title).

    I've also noticed a few regarding The Abdication, including some NF (a bio of Wallis Simpson, and Juliet Nicolson's THE ABDICATION, to be published in a month or two).

    I'm hoping Christina Courtenay shows up on this side of the pond - I'm still looking for titles set in 17th/18th century Scotland. And the Swedish part is a bonus too.

    Sarah Other Librarian

  11. I really, really wish I'd been at PLA. Maybe next time; I opted for BEA this year instead.

    What other Venice/Italy titles did you see there, out of curiosity? I have a review of Donna Russo Morin's The King's Agent scheduled for late April, and it fits. Ten years ago it was tough to interest anyone, esp. women readers, in WWII fiction. Things have changed a lot.

    We aren't at a major anniversary of the abdication, not like we are for the Titanic, but that may all tie in with the WWII-era interest as well. Or the interest in anything British & 20th century, really (how many times have I seen a book compared to Downton Abbey this week?!).

    I bet the new Courtenay will have the same US distributor as her other ones, though there's been a 6-month delay for the US release for those.