Book Preview – The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

I have had Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel The Historian sitting on my To Read shelf for some time so while I recognized her name when her upcoming The Shadow Land came up in my possible preview pile, I hadn’t actually read her work before. The Shadow Land also fell into my recent inclination towards historic fiction that explores the nations of Europe in the aftermath of World War II so I jumped to preview it. Though it proved for me to be slow reading, the depiction of life behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s is a harsh one that the area struggles to deal with even in the decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Alexandra Boyd decided she needed a change so she signed up to teach English in Bulgaria but before she can even reach her hostel and start to settle in, things begin to go wrong. Assisting a middle-aged man and his elderly parents into a taxi, Alexandra soon discovers that one of their bags has gotten mixed in with her own. Containing the ashes of someone obviously dear to them, she sets about trying to find them again so she can return the urn and apologize for the mix-up. Her taxi driver, Asparuh who tells her to call him Bobby, offers to help her in her efforts to track the family down. Receiving an address from the police, Alexandra insists on returning the remains personally. As she and Bobby follow a trail of breadcrumbs, it becomes clear there’s more to the story of the man in the urn and his family than they realized. Continue reading

Book Preview – My Last Lament by James William Brown

Growing up, I read a lot of novels that centered on the Holocaust and World War II. Many of those novels were part of the public school curriculum and they frequently told tales of the persecuted and the brave people who tried to shelter them. While I still find myself drawn to historic novels set in that time period, in recent years I’ve found many more books that go beyond just the years of the war itself, just the Jews hiding in Germany and Austria and Poland, extending their stories into the years after the war officially ended and the world began piecing itself back together. Seeing examples of the lasting damage and turmoil across Europe after the Nazis had been defeated carries more weight for me now than it would have when I was in elementary and middle school. James William Brown’s upcoming My Last Lament is one such novel.

An old woman now, Aliki lives in the same village in Greece where she grew up but she is among the last of her generation and is the area’s last lamenter. An American student wanted to study and document her laments leaving a tape recorder behind so Aliki can record them when it’s convenient for her. In the process of trying to fulfill the student’s wishes, Aliki records the story of her own life beginning with her teenage days when her small village was occupied by German soldiers and two boys came into her life whom she would constantly find herself torn between. Takis is the young son of the woman who takes Aliki in after her father’s death and becomes a brother of sorts to her, though there is something strange and sometimes dangerous about him. Stelios is a little older than Aliki, a Greek Jew in hiding whom Aliki grows to love. But the lives of all three are threatened and tossed about as Greece reels in political unrest following the defeat and retreat of the Germans. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

witchfinder's sister - book coverOne of my favorite classes in college was a history course where our focus was on witches. We examined various outbreaks of witch scares in Europe and the American colonies, compared how they unfolded and the methods for dealing with the accused, we looked at who the accused tended to be and why they might have been accused (spoiler alert: mostly widows and single women who were in more independent positions than the men in their communities were comfortable with them having). So a novel like Beth Underdown’s upcoming The Witchfinder’s Sister should be right up my alley.

Having just lost her husband in an accident, Alice returns home to her brother, Matthew’s, home where their mother has also recently died. It has been several years since Alice has seen her brother who did not approve of her marriage and in their time apart it quickly becomes clear to Alice that much about him has changed. He has gained a noted position in their old community since he has become involved in taking down complainants’ accounts and questioning accused witches in the area. Alice is horrified but convinces herself that it will all blow over in the end while also piecing together the truth of what happened in her parents’ household that might be driving Matthew in his mission. Will she be able to save anyone from her brother? Continue reading

Book Preview – The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin

The Blind Astronomer's Daughter - book coverI was fascinated and thoroughly enjoyed The Stargazer’s Sister last year, a novel about Caroline Herschel, the sister of eighteenth century astronomer William Herschel who became a prolific astronomer in her own right. The description for The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter promised to explore similar themes in a similar setting. While there are elements of what I was expecting—hoping—to find in the novel, Pipkin goes beyond focusing on his titular heroine and not always with tremendous success.

Fictitious astronomer Arthur Ainsworth is determined to find a new planet in the heavens so he can name it for his late wife and honor her legacy. It is a mission he enlists his daughter, Caroline, to help him with as he transforms his Irish estate into an observatory and commissions work on a telescope to rival that of William Herschel in England. But there is more going on in Ireland and there are more secrets in Caroline’s past than she is aware of until her father, blinded by looking too often at the sun through his telescope, dies. She learns the truth of who she is and it upends everything she once thought about herself, her father, and his work. It will take many years for Caroline to pick up the pieces of her shattered self and reassemble them into someone new, just as Ireland threatens to rip itself apart in 1798.

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Book Review – The Unseen World by Liz Moore

unseen world - book coverThe Unseen World by Liz Moore—available in stores today—is another case of a fantastic description that, when I started actually reading the book, wasn’t really what I was expecting. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing, as the novel had strong thematic resonance, but it did take me a while to get invested in it—more so because of its pacing and organization. Weaving the early days of artificial intelligence development and computer programming with a deeply emotional personal tale, The Unseen World is a layered glimpse into the past while also looking forward to the possibilities of the future.

Ada Sibelius has lived an unusual life for a fourteen-year-old girl in 1980s Boston. Raised by her single father, she has spent much of her life with him at the computer sciences lab he directs, learning what he taught her and contributing to the lab group on their developing projects despite her youth. But when her father’s health begins to cause problems and confusion, Ada is forced into a more traditional school (a private Catholic school as opposed to public school, but a school where she must interact with her peers in age) where she must face the fact that she isn’t familiar with the social morays of being a teenager. As her father’s health and mental state continue to deteriorate, Ada learns that he had more secrets than anybody knew—secrets that cause Ada to question her own reality and identity as she struggles to unearth the truth. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Virgin’s War by Laura Andersen

virgin's war - book coverI had been looking forward to getting a chance to preview the final novel in The Boleyn Trilogy’s sequel trilogy from Laura Andersen. The Virgin War, while not quite as tight narratively as The Boleyn Reckoning (the final novel of the original trilogy) packed almost as much of an emotional punch and did so while having far more narrative threads in play and delving further and further into the realm of speculation as this alternative history continues to take its inspiration from actual historical events and movements.

The inevitable war between England and Spain draws closer but Elizabeth I and her daughter, Anne Isabella (Anabel), Princess of Wales, have long been laying the groundwork for a counter to the anticipated Spanish attack on English soil. Elizabeth’s former husband, Philip of Spain (and Anne’s father) is driven to pursue the war from a desire to save his daughter’s soul by restoring her to the true faith… and because his latest wife and mother to his young twin sons, Mary Stuart, has a huge grudge against Elizabeth. With a political marriage proposed between Anabel and James VI of Scotland in the works, Anabel has been winning support for herself in the north of England while she and her mother have fed the public belief that they have fallen out with one another and that the young princess is malleable as far as Spanish influence is concerned. Involved in many of the machinations and assisting the Tudor women are the members of the Courtenay family as all involved work to balance their emotional struggles with the need to do what must be done to protect and preserve England.

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Book Preview – Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor

book cover - into the dimDescribed as a young adult Outlander—and being a fan of that series as well as young adult fiction—Janet B. Taylor’s upcoming Into the Dim immediately caught my eye. The first book in what promises to be an interesting time-exploration series aimed at teens, Into the Dim offers explorations of parent/child relationships, the links between cause and effect, and how much say people have in defining themselves.

It’s been eight months since Hope Walton’s mother was presumably killed in an earthquake overseas. Her mother’s sister—whom she’s never met—invites Hope for a visit to the family’s ancestral home in Scotland and promises Hope she will learn more about herself and the mother she still mourns. Hope’s low expectations are turned on their head when she discovers that the family secrets involve an underground cavern where the ley lines of the earth converge to allow time travel. What’s more, Hope’s mother isn’t dead after all, simply marooned in the past by a rival band of time travelers who make a profit off of stealing artifacts regardless of the impact such interference has on history. Hope and two companions are to be sent back to find and bring her mother home safely but before she leaves, Hope encounters a strangely familiar young man who turns out to have an unexpected connection to her.

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Book Preview – The Vatican Princess by C. W. Gortner

vatican princess - book coverFollowing my enjoyment of Médicis Daughter and still waiting for the next in Laura Andersen’s Tudor Legacy series to become available, I’d been looking for something else in the fifteenth or sixteenth century royal court, intrigue and drama niche. When I saw that there was an upcoming novelization of the life of Lucrezia Borgia—C. W. Gortner’s The Vatican Princess—I figured that would fit the bill. While it certainly was full of political and personal maneuvering and drama, I realized that it wasn’t quite what I was looking for but not for the reasons I’d expected.

Told from Lucrezia’s first person perspective, The Vatican Princess begins with the conclave during which her father, Rodrigo Borgia, is elected as Pope and becomes Alexander VI. She is only getting ready to turn thirteen at the time of her father’s ascension to the papacy and while she doesn’t get along too well with her mother or her brother, Juan, she is quite close to her oldest brother, Cesare who is vocal about his resentment for the being pushed by their father to join the church. The rivalry between Cesare and Juan is established early and Lucrezia finds herself at the center of it inadvertently, paying a high price for being female in a man’s world. A political pawn expected to marry where and when her father bids, Lucrezia learns just how far her family is willing to go to protect itself and how much being a Borgia means to her.

Now, Lucrezia Borgia is one of those women whom history painted as a femme fatale, manipulative, depraved, and any other unflattering thing that ever has been or could be said about women. In the last few years, maybe even a decade or two, she’s been approached academically and opinions of her have been revised to suggest she was less an active participant in the infamous Borgia plotting and depravity and more a pawn used to solidify alliances and doing as she was bid by the powerful men in her life—the truth likely lies somewhere between an adept puppet-master and completely innocent victim. In Gortner’s novelization, the victim angle is hit a little hard for my taste.

That’s not to say that Lucrezia Borgia wasn’t very much a victim of her father’s and brother’s machinations, but many of the gaps in the historical narrative—primarily details surrounding a possible/probably pregnancy at the time of her annulment from her first husband—are filled in such a way that emphasizes her passivity of Lucrezia, flattening her as a character and, in my opinion, weakening a novel that is supposed to center around her (these changes feel like they were contrived to shock the reader as much as possible and that they serve a story that isn’t really hers and with her as the central character and narrator of the novel, it was a choice I really didn’t care for).

I can’t help drawing comparisons to Médicis Daughter where Marguerite de Valois is in a very similar situation, surrounded by manipulative family with a great deal if not total control over her life. In that novel, despite the mistakes Margot makes when she does trust her family, she isn’t a passive character always sixteen steps behind everyone around her. But in The Vatican Princess, that’s exactly how it feels to be trapped in Lucrezia’s perspective and only so many excuses can be made for her age at the time—in the beginning when she’s thirteen or fourteen, maybe but beyond a certain point it stops being believable, especially for how educated she’s portrayed as being. Despite being ostensibly about Lucrezia Borgia, The Vatican Princess is more an examination of Cesare Borgia as told by Lucrezia.

The Vatican Princess by C. W. Gortner will be available February 9, 2016.

Book Preview – Fallen Land by Taylor Brown

book cover - fallen landI honestly don’t remember what it was about the description for Taylor Brown’s upcoming Fallen Land that caught my attention—there’s a pretty good chance it was the Civil War setting and the mention of Sherman’s march to the sea. As far as historic fiction set during that time period goes, you usually get books where the characters are deeply engrossed in the actions of war—the battles, the army maneuvers, the women and children left behind to cope with occupation, etc. Fallen Land follows characters who manage to remain largely on the outskirts of those kinds of things—they’re obviously still impacted, but the war itself is a backdrop rather than the driving force of the plot.

Callum is a teen who has taken up with the Colonel and his band of Confederate-leaning guerilla fighters who raid where and when they can. When the band stumbles across the house where they find seventeen-year-old Ava alone, she becomes the target of some of Callum’s companions’ violent desires. Callum intervenes to protect her and is nearly killed for his trouble. The first opportunity he gets, he heads back to look for her, stealing the Colonel’s horse to do so and bringing him and his men after him. During an altercation with them at Ava’s house, the Colonel is killed and Callum and Ava decide to head south together since neither of them have anything left where they are. It doesn’t take long for them to learn that the Colonel’s men—along with his slave-hunter brother—aren’t going to let the matter drop and are still on their trail. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown

the stargazer's sister - book coverIt’s no secret that women are underrepresented in STEM fields, both currently and historically. You would think that a greater effort would be made to acknowledge and educate the public about those women who have contributed in those fields—and there are some groups who are trying. Novels like Carrie Brown’s upcoming The Stargazer’s Sister will help to further the growing awareness and interest in bringing modern recognition to women who have been historically marginalized—women like astronomer, Caroline Herschel.

From the early days of her life, Caroline “Lina” Herschel was close to her older brother, William. Despite the difficulties of growing up in an overcrowded and underfunded family, Lina took to her brother’s instruction and educational guidance with passion and amazement. Circumstances separating them and her own illnesses strained her relationships with some members of her family, but when William—having settled in England—agreed to bring her over to rescue her from living miserably with her unappreciative and malicious mother, Lina vows to do anything and everything she can to assist William in his life’s work. She shares much of his obsessive nature but is better at remembering things like eating and sleeping, and the working relationship they develop enables William to build increasingly larger telescopes and discover hundreds of new stars, comets, and even a planet (Uranus). But as time goes by, Lina becomes more aware of the dynamics in their relationship and that she wants to be something—someone—more than just her brother’s assistant. Continue reading

Book Preview – Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

medicis daughter - book coverI have long been fascinated by historic fiction centered around the Tudor Court in England. It’s an interesting period in history for so many reasons and the political, religious, and romantic intrigue are legendary. But with so much attention paid to the Tudors it’s easy to forget the cutthroat situations of other royal courts in Europe. When I saw Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot as an upcoming release–a novel centered around Marguerite de Valois, the youngest daughter of Catherine de Médicis—I was eager to see how another royal court of the period compared on the page (Catherine de Médicis, her husband, and his mistress also featured in It Ended Badly so with the names fresh in my mind, the premise caught my attention quickly).

Marguerite—Margot—is only about ten years old when she is finally invited to join her mother’s household in her older brother, Charles’ royal court. Initially close to her other older brother, Henri—later the Duc de Anjou—she slowly learns to navigate the flirtations and manipulations of French court, eager to do her duty to her family, her king, and her faith. The French Wars of Religion impact life at court for all but for Margot perhaps most. Though the court and her main companions are all strictly Catholic, there are other factors at play—family loyalties and plays for power and influence. Margot—struggling to build a future that suits herself—finds herself used and abused by her closest family and friends. But as she grows, she learns, and when the time comes Margot can and will take a stand against her mother and the formidable power she wields. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Dream of the City by Andrés Vidal

dream of the city - book coverI read through the description for The Dream of the City by Andrés Vidal and immediately wanted to preview this book. Originally published in Spanish in 2012, next week it will be released in English. The description paints a picture of contrasts—the beginning of World War I in Europe with the destruction that entailed juxtaposed against the construction of Gaudí’s Temple of the Sagrada Familia, the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie as workers pushed for better conditions, the seven virtues against the seven deadly sins. While elements of these are all present in the resulting novel, the fabric they weave is loose and porous.

Following an accident at work that leaves his father disabled, Dimas Navarro’s outlook is cynical and he is determined to make a way for himself that will provide for both his father and adopted younger brother—while he understands his fellow workers’ plight, he thinks their hopes for accomplishing any meaningful changes are unrealistic and when an opportunity to demonstrate his own ingenuity and problem-solving presents itself, he grabs it to pull himself out of a life of bare existence. He works his way up to become the right-hand man of the oldest son and heir for a local jeweler. Still resentful of the bourgeoisie, he can’t help but covet what they actually have and strives to prove himself equal to them—but his employer’s younger sister, Laura Jufresa, forces Dimas to confront these aspirations in unusual and unexpected ways. Though she grew up in bourgeois society, Laura developed an artist’s understanding of the world from her father and studied in Rome to develop her talents. Working as a designer in the family’s business, her idealism and respect for artistic form above profitability clashes with her brother—and Dimas’ employer—Ferran. In addition to her work in the family business, Laura spends time volunteering with the construction of her idol, Antoni Gaudí’s la Sagrada Familia temple. Continue reading

Book Preview – Not That Easy by Radhika Sanghani

not that easy - book coverOne of my favorite books last year was Radhika Sanghani’s debut novel, Virgin, the tale of twenty-one-year-old university student, Ellie Kolstakis, and her mission to lose her virginity. Sanghani and Ellie are back in the upcoming sequel, Not That Easy and it is just as honest, hilarious, and heart-felt as Virgin was.

Having graduated from Uni, Ellie and some friends have found a flat to share in London. Ellie finds she’s less thrilled with the realities of her unpaid internship at London Mag where she finds herself fetching lattés and handing off the grunt-work research for articles rather than writing them herself. And despite having lost her virginity, she still feels like she’s leagues behind her friends who have been having casual sex for years. Tired of her complaining, her friends suggest she try her hand at internet dating. Game for anything that might finally get her laid again, Ellie agrees and when her boss catches her checking her profile at work, Ellie gets an added incentive for pursuing internet dating: her boss wants her to write a weekly column about her internet dating misadventures. But how long will it take for things to fall apart on Ellie? Apparently, not long.

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Book Preview – It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright

it ended badly - book coverWhen I stumbled across the description for Jennifer Wright’s upcoming It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History, I could not help myself; I had to see if I could get my hands on a copy to preview. Mostly it appealed to my inner history nerd but it also just sounded like an amusing way to frame these historically tragic, vicious, dramatic, and tumultuous relationships. Looking to put modern failed relationships into perspective for forlorn or despairing readers – or anyone who has been through a rough break-up and may be ashamed of their behavior in the days or weeks following it – Wright’s approach is definitely entertaining.

I was only familiar with a handful of the specific relationships mentioned but I had heard of almost all the major players Wright chose to feature. Giving brief biographies of the figures along with many modern analogies and references, the featured couples’ relationships are dissected from beginning to messy, messy end. The relationships are listed in the Table of Contents with descriptions based on any newly single readers’ possible situations: “If you ever made the same mistake twice” (Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard), “If you were dumped” (Edith Wharton and Morton Fullerton), or “If you want to believe it will all work out for the best in the end” (Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor). Continue reading

Book Preview – The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango

9781476795553_p0_v2_s260x420Sascha Arango’s upcoming The Truth and Other Lies is one of those books where the description did exactly what it was supposed to do: it made me want to read the book. A meandering examination of an unenthusiastic criminal mind, The Truth and Other Lies was ultimately a disappointment. There were so many elements that had tremendous potential but fell steamroller-flat for me.

Henry Hayden is an international best-selling author with more than just a closet full of secrets, the first of which is that he didn’t write a word of the novels he’s published as his own – those were entirely the work of his wife, Martha. Her support of their arrangement is put in danger when Henry’s mistress (“his” editor), Betty, turns up pregnant and pushes him to come clean with Martha and leave her once and for all. But when Henry attempts to solve his Betty problem one his own, a series of events begins unfolding that forces him to follow the self-preservation instincts that grew out of his dark past. Continue reading

Book Preview – Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy

9780525955078_p0_v1_s260x420It was in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that he famously said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s those unhappy families – and particularly those spanning multiple generations – whose stories are so often told. In the case of Lori Roy’s upcoming novel, Let Me Die in His Footsteps, the lives of several families have been haunted by events from sixteen years earlier. But while no ones spoken about those events in more than whispers or rumors, they’re about to be resurrected and dealt with once and for all.

In 1936, Joseph Carl Baine was the last man in Kentucky to die by lawful public hanging. Sixteen years later, the legend surrounding Juna Crowley and the role she played in his death has only grown. Annie Holleran knows that she makes people nervous because her Aunt Juna isn’t really her aunt, but rather her mother and that she might have the same evil in her that everyone says Juna had. As Annie comes of age, old Mrs. Baine dies and one of her sons returns, dragging the events of the past into the present in ways that disrupt life in the Holleran house and beyond. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Virgin’s Daughter by Laura Andersen

9780804179362_p0_v1_s260x420I loved last summer’s conclusion to Laura Andersen’s Boleyn Trilogy and was thrilled to find that she’s starting what appears to be another trilogy in that same alternative history universe. The upcoming The Virgin’s Daughter continues with the characters and premise set up in the original trilogy (what might have happened if Anne Boleyn had borne Henry VIII a son who lived to rule?) but with its main focus on the next generation.

Rather than starting from scratch and simply positing the idea of Elizabeth I marrying with history as it happened originally (with Henry VIII still having had six wives, etc.), Andersen continues with the history as she envisioned it in the original trilogy. This means that the reader gets to see Minuette and Dominic but the main focus is on the next generation, particularly Lucette, Minuette’s daughter who may or may not have been fathered by the late king, William and whose relationship with her parents has been difficult since learning that possibility from the queen herself at age fifteen. Now in her twenties, Lucette has been charged with a special request from her queen: going to her family’s friends in France (the LeClercs) to play the spy and uncover information concerning the Nightingale plot, presumed to be about assassinating Elizabeth. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

9780399173394_p0_v1_s260x420My junior year of high school we were unfortunate in that we lost two students during the school year – a senior over Thanksgiving break and a junior over April vacation. In the week that followed those tragic deaths (one car accident, one skiing accident) the school put up large memory walls in the halls for everyone who wanted to be able to write their thoughts, prayers, and memories on to help with the healing process. Reading the upcoming The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North reminded me a lot of those strange days, trying to figure out what we were feeling and how to convey it particularly when the strongest memories of those lost are not always pleasant or comforting. Sophie Stark is a brutally honest examination of the idea that it’s the people we love most who can hurt us the most… and vice versa.

Using a series of first person narratives from the people in Sophie Stark’s life that had the greatest impact on her life, the story begins in the middle with Allison explaining how she met Sophie and how the two of them fell into a relationship while making a movie. It is through film that Sophie feels the most connected to those around her, that she feels best able to communicate – unfortunately, she is willing to do whatever it takes to make her films the best they can be, even when the cost might be her personal relationships. Jumping back and forth in time from Sophie’s days in college through her final days, the characters and the reader are all left wondering just how much anyone understood Sophie. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

9781594204920_p0_v2_s260x420Books about books tend to rank pretty high on my list of preferred subjects. Usually these tend to be novels about the lives of famous authors but I also appreciate when writers manage to write books about books without following the easy path. Whether it’s a portrait of a famous writer told from some outsider’s perspective or follows a book’s legacy through the ages, these types of books speak to this bibliophile’s soul. Matthew Pearl rarely approaches his novels about novels directly. I was first captivated by Pearl’s The Dante Club, in which several famous poets unravel a mystery surrounding Dante’s The Inferno (and it remains my favorite of Pearl’s novels). His upcoming The Last Bookaneer continues Pearl’s legacy of paying tribute to not only the great writers of the nineteenth century, but the publishing industry itself at a time when so much was changing in the world at large.

Mr. Clover is a young African-American man working as a waiter for a rail company based out of New York City. Growing disillusioned with his job and life in New York, Mr. Clover, a bit of a bookworm, is really only close to Mr. Fergins, an old Englishman with a book cart he brings aboard the trains in the hopes of selling to the riders. When a delay allows the two men to talk at length, Mr. Fergins begins telling Mr. Clover of his days as a bookseller in England and his adventures working with the bookaneers, the men and women with a knack for acquiring manuscripts for publishers in the days before copyright laws extended across the ocean. Eventually, the copyright laws were set to change and the bookaneers’ days were numbered, but there was time for one last job involving Robert Louis Stevenson’s final manuscript, a job whose glory the remaining great bookaneers were racing and competing to claim. Continue reading

Book Preview – Spy of Richmond by Jocelyn Green

9780802405791_p0_v1_s260x420My affinity for historic fiction tends to seek out an inordinate number of books set during the American Civil War. Spy of Richmond by Jocelyn Green will be the fourth in her Heroines Behind the Lines series, focusing on the extraordinary lives of women during the Civil War. The books do not need to be read in any order, as there is only a little overlap between the stories (Spy of Richmond is the first I’ve read of the series, but I understand several of the characters first appeared in the second of the series, Widow of Gettysburg).

Sophie Kent is a daughter of Richmond but her Yankee mother insisted on her receiving an education in the north. In part because of this education, Sophie has expressed many opinions disagreeable to her father and neighbors, particularly after the start of the war. There are many who suspect her of more than simple sympathies but after the death of her mother, Sophie takes steps to actively assist the Union put an end to slavery and the war.

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Book Preview – Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne

9781459728189_p0_v3_s260x420I was instantly intrigued when I stumbled across the short description of Mary Jennifer Payne’s upcoming Since You’ve Been Gone and read that it was about a teenage girl already coping with the constant uprooting that comes from fleeing an abuser who then must decide what to do when her mother – her main protector – goes missing. The plight of domestic abuse victims and the difficulties of resolving the situation when the system to do so has a nasty habit of protecting the abusers is one that gets mentioned from time to time, but rarely examined or portrayed in great depth. I was looking forward to a novel for young adults that would help young people to learn about the complexities of such abuse and inspire them to fight back, to seek ways to fix the broken system.

Edie and her mother have been running and hiding from her father for years. Edie is surprised when their latest move takes them out of Canada altogether and back to her mother’s native London – and another new school. Her first day is rough as Edie quickly manages to become a target of bullies. Her mother’s excitement over a new job – despite the fact that it means working nights and leaving Edie on her own a lot – helps Edie get through those first days. When Edie is late for school the morning after her mother’s first shift at her new job, she realizes her mother hadn’t been home. She doesn’t begin to panic until later that day when she notices that her mom still hasn’t been to the apartment. Going to the police could mean being placed in the foster system or worse, being sent right into the arms of her father. So Edie decides to find her mother on her own, even if that requires combing the streets of a large and unfamiliar city. Continue reading

Book Preview – Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

9780804176378_p0_v3_s260x420Throughout history pockets of particularly creative people emerge. Groups of friends who share ideas and philosophies with each other and then turn those ideas and philosophies loose on the world. This is how we end up with schools of thought and trends, particularly in literature and art. There is a lot of overlap between literature and art, but when taking classes that focus on one or the other, it is possible to get an incomplete picture of those groups of friends who encourage and challenge one another. As a lit major, I am pretty familiar with the writers of the early twentieth century in American and England, or at least with their works. And there was one semester when I had to take an art history course to fulfill credits and the only one available was an early modern art one. It wasn’t until reading Priya Parmar’s upcoming novel, Vanessa and Her Sister about the sisters at the heart of the Bloombury Group that the full extent of the overlap became clear.

As the oldest sister, Vanessa Stephen worries endlessly about her siblings, particularly her younger sister, Virginia. As the four Stephens move into a new home in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London and her brother, Thoby, begins inviting a circle of his friends around for regular evening discussions of literature and art, Vanessa watches Virginia closely. Having had and recovered from one mental breakdown, Virginia abhors most change and is very attached to her siblings. When dynamics in the group shift as romances arise and fizzle, marriages and children enter the mix, Virginia tests Vanessa’s patience and trust. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

9780802123213_p0_v4_s260x420Anyone who has ever seen my bedroom knows that I am a bibliophile. I can’t afford to be a picky bibliophile, looking for rare editions or signed copies of famous titles by famous authors, but I completely understand the urge to collect at that level. Bradford Morrow’s upcoming The Forgers delves into the world of rare booksellers and buyers but through the eyes of Will, a semi-reformed forger. With so much money, prestige, and reputation at stake, the idea that there are people out there who would kill or maim over authenticity is believable and Will’s narration of his experiences is engaging and will make you look twice the next time you sign your name.

The book opens with the death of the narrator’s girlfriend’s brother. After suffering a damaging blow to the head and the separation of both hands from his body, Adam Diehl dies before he can give any clues as to who is behind the attack. But the documents and rare editions, many signed by notable authors, show that Adam was involved in more than just trading difficult to find books. The world of forgery is one that Will knows all too well having been exposed early in his relationship with Meghan, the victim’s sister. Tracing Will’s efforts to move on with Meghan after her brother’s death, someone else seems keen on dragging Will’s past back into the present. But just who is the man behind the threats and how dangerous is he? Continue reading

Book Preview – The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh O’Brien

9781596439382_p0_v1_s260x420Caragh O’Brien’s upcoming novel, The Vault of Dreamers touches on the modern obsession with reality television as well as the importance (and current undervaluation) of art in our lives and especially the lives of children. The Vault of Dreamers begins with a strong and intriguing premise but slowly loses traction as it progresses to its vague and uncertain, albeit action-packed climax, leaving the novel rife with unfulfilled potential.

Rosie is part of the incoming sophomore class at the prestigious and famous Forge School. Each year one hundred students with hopes for specializing in different artistic disciplines from performing arts like acting and music through visual arts like painting, photography, and film making are narrowed down to fifty in front of a nation of viewers. With one day to go before the fifty cuts are made, Rosie’s ranking with the audience is unimpressive and it looks like she’ll be going home. So she skips the mandatory sleeping pill and sneaks out of bed, only to see things that make her wonder whether the school’s staff is up to something during those hours when the viewers aren’t watching. Continue reading

Book Preview – Neverhome by Laird Hunt

9780316370134_p0_v1_s260x420A combination of my fascination with the American Civil War and my feminist leanings made the description for Laird Hunt’s Neverhome stand out in my mind. Neverhome takes a look at the life and struggles of a Civil War soldier both on and off the battlefield but with a twist that raises the stakes: this particular soldier is a woman.

Constance Thompson has the itch to do her part for the Union forces. Most women would be content to send their husbands off to fight while they stay home and support them from afar, sending them care packages and joining local support groups, nursing, raising funds, or gathering supplies. But Constance has always had a more hands on approach to solving her problems and is a pretty good shot. Dressing as a man and adopting the moniker of Ash, Constance leaves her husband to take care of their farm while she crosses state lines to enlist.

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