Welcome to the next post in my Anticipated Books series for the first half of 2014. Like fantasy, there were too many books that caught my fancy for one post, so they’ve been split in two. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!
Ella March Chase – The Queen’s Dwarf (Thomas Dunne Books)
It’s 1629, and King Charles I and his French queen Henrietta Maria have reigned in England for less than three years. Young dwarf Jeffrey Hudson is swept away from a village shambles and plunged into the Stuart court when his father sells him to the most hated man in England—the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham trains Jeffrey to be his spy in the household of Charles’ seventeen-year-old bride, hoping to gain intelligence that will help him undermine the vivacious queen’s influence with the king.
Desperately homesick in a country that hates her for her nationality and Catholic faith, Henrietta Maria surrounds herself with her “Royal Menagerie of Freaks and Curiosities of Nature”—a “collection” consisting of a giant, two other dwarves, a rope dancer, an acrobat/animal trainer and now Jeffrey, who is dubbed “Lord Minimus.”
Dropped into this family of misfits, Jeffrey must negotiate a labyrinth of court intrigue and his own increasingly divided loyalties. For not even the plotting of the Duke nor the dangers of a tumultuous kingdom can order the heart of a man. Though he is only eighteen inches tall, Jeffrey Hudson’s love will reach far beyond his grasp—to the queen he has been sent to destroy.
Full of vibrant period detail and perfect for fans of Carrolly Erickson and Philippa Gregory, The Queen’s Dwarf by Ella March Chase is a thrilling and evocative portrait of an intriguing era.
Anna Hope – Wake (Transworld)
Five Days in November, 1920:
As the body of the Unknown Soldier makes its way home from the fields of Northern France, three women are dealing with loss in their own way: Hettie, who dances for sixpence a waltz at the Hammersmith Palais; Evelyn, who toils at a job in the pensions office, and Ada, a housewife who is beset by visions of her dead son. One day a young man comes to her door. He carries with him a wartime mystery that will bind these women together and will both mend and tear their hearts.
A portrait of three intertwining lives caught at the faultline between empire and modernity, Wake captures the beginnings of a new era, and the day the mood of the nation changed for ever.
Nancy Horan – Under the Wide and Starry Sky (John Murray)
At the age of thirty-five, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium to study art, with her three children and nanny in tow. Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her brood repair to a quiet artists’ colony in France where she can recuperate. There she meets Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who is instantly smitten with the earthy, independent, and opinionated belle Americaine.
A woman ahead of her time, Fanny does not immediately take to the young lawyer who longs to devote his life to literature rather than the law – and who would eventually write such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson’s charms, and the two begin a fierce love affair-marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness that spans decades as they travel the world for the sake of his health following their art and dreams eventually settling in Samoa where Robert Louis Stevenson is buried, with these words on his grave:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
(Requiem, Robert Louis Stevenson)
From the Normans in the north to the Byzantines in the south, battles rage across Europe and around its fringes. But in the east, an empire still mightier stirs, wielding a weapon to rule the world: gunpowder.
Seeking the destructive might of this ‘fire drug’, the mercenary Vallon – a man made as of grit and earth as much of flesh and blood – is sent by the defeated Byzantine emperor on a secret and near-impossible quest to the far off land of Song Dynasty China. Alongside a squadron of highly trained soldiers, Vallon is accompanied by the learned physician Hero, Wayland the English hunter, and a young, ego-driven upstart named Lucas. All have their own reasons for going, all have secrets.
It’s a quest that will lead them across treacherous seas and broiling deserts and into the uncharted land of mountains and plains beyond the Silk Road. Many will die… but the rewards are unbelievable.
Rebecca Mascull – The Visitors (Hodder & Stoughton)
Adeliza Golding is a deafblind girl, born in late Victorian England on her father’s hop farm. Unable to interact with her loving family, she exists in a world of darkness and confusion; her only communication is with the ghosts she speaks to in her head, who she has christened the Visitors. One day she runs out into the fields and a young hop-picker, Lottie, grabs her hand and starts drawing shapes in it. Finally Liza can communicate.
Her friendship with her teacher and with Lottie’s beloved brother Caleb leads her from the hop gardens and oyster beds of Kent to the dusty veldt of South Africa and the Boer War, and ultimately to the truth about the Visitors.
Rebecca Mascull’s first novel is the tale of a wonderful friendship, but it is also a thrilling adventure, a heartbreaking love story and a compelling ghost story.
Valerie Mendes – Larkswood (Orion)
Larkswood House. The very name suggests birdsong, peace and elegance. It is home to the Hamilton children – Edward, Cynthia and Harriet – who enjoy the freedom and excitement of privilege. But in the glorious summer of 1896, with absent parents and a departed governess, disaster strikes the family, leaving it cruelly divided.
More than forty years later, on the eve of the Second World War, Louisa Hamilton, newly presented at court but struck down with glandular fever, is sent to Larkswood to recuperate. There, for the first time, she meets her grandfather, Edward, home after decades in India.
But as Louisa begins to fall under the spell of Larkswood, she realises it holds the key to the mystery that shattered her family two generations before. Will she find the courage to unravel the dark secrets of the past? And can Larkswood ever become home to happiness again?
Sally Beauman – The Visitors (Little, Brown and Company)
Sent abroad to Egypt in 1922 to recover from the typhoid that killed her mother, eleven-year-old Lucy is caught up in the intrigue and excitement that surrounds the obsessive hunt for Tutankhamun’s tomb. As she struggles to comprehend an adult world in which those closest to her are often cold and unpredictable, Lucy longs for a friend she can love. When she meets Frances, the daughter of an American archaeologist, her life is transformed. As the two girls spy on the grown-ups and try to understand the truth behind their evasions, a lifelong bond is formed.
Haunted by the ghosts of her past, the mistakes she made and the secrets she kept, Lucy disinters her past, trying to make sense of what happened all those years ago in Cairo and the Valley of the Kings. And for the first time in her life, she comes to terms with what happened after Egypt, when Frances needed Lucy most.
Marci Jefferson – Girl on the Golden Coin (Thomas Dunne Books)
In 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns Frances Stuart and her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and goes to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches the Sun King’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty—she has Stuart secrets to keep and her family to protect. King Louis XIV turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He sends her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and help him form an alliance with England. The Queen Mother likewise orders Frances to become her son’s mistress, in the interest of luring him away from the Protestant mistress he currently keeps.
Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal, determined to keep her family from shame. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him and the two embark on a tenuous relationship. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. A startling discovery will leave her with no other choice but to break his heart, while the fate of England hangs in the balance.
Lady-in-waiting Lucy Morgan is once again torn between her dangerous attraction to William Shakespeare and her loyalty to Queen Elizabeth I.
England is facing its gravest threat yet. The Spanish have declared war, and Elizabeth finds herself attacked by sea – and by Catholic conspiracy from within her own court. Master Goodluck goes undercover, tasked with discovering the identity of this secret assassin, leaving his ward Lucy not knowing if the spy is alive or dead.
Meanwhile Queen Elizabeth is growing old in a court of troublesome young noblemen, while Lucy is struggling to love a man whose duties lie elsewhere.
When the final challenge comes, these two women must be ready to face it. But there is one last surprise in store for both of them …
James Long – The Balloonist (Quercus)
Lieutenant Willy Sholto, invalided out of the Royal Flying Corps, has been delegated the most dangerous job on the Western Front – a balloon observer hanging under a gasbag filled with explosive hydrogen, four thousand feet above the Ypres Salient, anchored by a slender cable.
Swept across enemy lines after his balloon is damaged, Willy is hidden by Belgian farmers, whom he grows close to during his stay. With their aid, he manages to escape across the flooded delta at the English Channel and return to his duties. But once he’s back in the air, spotting for artillery and under attack, Willy is forced to make an impossible decision that threatens the life of the woman he has come to love.
Helen MacInnes – Home is the Hunter (Titan Books)
After years of war and still more years of travelling, Ulysses finally returns to his beloved Ithaca, penniless and alone. Rather than the joyous welcome he had hoped for, he finds his palace full of quarrelling suitors, all scheming to possess his wife and his land. Meanwhile the beautiful Penelope is speculating on why it should take any man seven years to get home. As the couple find their way back to each other, Homer becomes increasingly irritated that they are not adhering to the plot of his new book, and Athena, the Goddess of Reason, has had enough of irrational mortal behaviour.
Finally, what really happened on that historic day in 1177 BC can be revealed…
A delightful play and a very different work from renowned thriller writer MacInnes.
To a struggling author called Arthur Conan Doyle, it is an inspiration.
To Violet Petra, the most infamous mystic of her age, it is a reminder.
To the death-obsessed Victorian public, it is a preoccupation.
And to one family, tied to the sea for generations, it is a tragedy.
In salons and rough seas, séances and the mind of a genius, Valerie Martin looks behind the myth and brings an extraordinary story to life. Engrossing and mesmerising, intricate and endlessly intriguing, THE GHOST OF THE MARY CELESTE is an examination of love, nature and the fictions that pass as truth.
TaraShea Nesbit – The Wives of Los Alamos (Bloomsbury USA)
Their average age was twenty-five. They came from Berkeley, Cambridge, Paris, London, Chicago—and arrived in New Mexico ready for adventure, or at least resigned to it. But hope quickly turned to hardship as they were forced to adapt to a rugged military town where everything was a secret, including what their husbands were doing at the lab. They lived in barely finished houses with P.O. box addresses in a town wreathed with barbed wire, all for the benefit of a project that didn’t exist as far as the public knew. Though they were strangers, they joined together—adapting to a landscape as fierce as it was absorbing, full of the banalities of everyday life and the drama of scientific discovery.
And while the bomb was being invented, babies were born, friendships were forged, children grew up, and Los Alamos gradually transformed from an abandoned school on a hill into a real community: one that was strained by the words they couldn’t say out loud, the letters they couldn’t send home, the freedom they didn’t have. But the end of the war would bring even bigger challenges to the people of Los Alamos, as the scientists and their families struggled with the burden of their contribution to the most destructive force in the history of mankind.
The Wives of Los Alamos is a novel that sheds light onto one of the strangest and most monumental research projects in modern history. It’s a testament to a remarkable group of women who carved out a life for themselves, in spite of the chaos of the war and the shroud of intense secrecy.
Juilene Osborne-McKnight – Song of Ireland (Tor)
The Danu. The “little people.” Everyone who is Irish knows of this mystical race. Many doubt they ever existed. However, there are as many today who claim that they are still among us. What if the Danu were not myth but were based on historical evidence?
Song of Ireland is Juilene Osborne McKnight’s tale of the coming of the Celts to Eire and what they find there: a land of abundance and beauty that the Celts would make their own. But the Danu have secrets of their own, and those who wish to conquer find that it is not only their sword hands being challenged but their hearts. And the coming battle to claim a new world may change both races forever.
Tim Pears – In the Light of Morning (William Heineman)
Both a war novel of the first order and a love story of devastating power, In the Light of Morning is a magnificent new work by one of Britain’s finest writers, Tim Pears, the highly acclaimed author of Disputed Land and Landed.
It is May 1944 and in Eastern Europe the Second World War is reaching a dramatic and bloody crescendo. High above the mountains of occupied Slovenia an aeroplane drops three British parachutists – brash MP Major Jack Farwell, radio operator Sid Dixon, and young academic Lieutenant Tom Freedman – sent to assist the resistance in their battle against the Axis forces.
Greeted upon arrival by a rag-tag group of Partisans, the men are led off into the countryside. It is early summer, and the mountains and forests teem with life and colour. Despite the distant crackle of gunfire, the war feels a long way off for Tom. The Partisans, too, are not what he was expecting – courageous, kind, and alluring, especially Jovan, their commander, and the hauntingly beautiful Marija. Yet after a series of daring encounters, the enemy’s net begins to tighten. They find evidence of massacres, of a dark and terrible band of men pursuing them through the wilderness. As the Partisans stumble their way towards a final, tragic battle, so the relationships within the group begin to fray, with Tom finding himself forced to face up to his deepest, most secret desires.
Nancy Richler – The Imposter Bride (St. Martin’s Griffin)
In the wake of World War II, a young, enigmatic woman named Lily arrives in Montreal on her own, expecting to be married to a man she’s never met. But, upon seeing her at the train station, Sol Kramer turns her down. Out of pity, his brother Nathan decides to marry her instead, and pity turns into a deep—and doomed—love. It is immediately clear that Lily is not who she claims to be. Her attempt to live out her life as Lily Azerov shatters when she disappears, leaving a new husband and a baby daughter with only a diary, a large uncut diamond – and a need to find the truth
Who is Lily and what happened to the young woman whose identity she stole? Why has she left and where did she go? It’s up to the daughter Lily abandoned to find the answers to these questions, as she searches for the mother she may never find or truly know.
Jennifer Vanderbes – The Secret of Raven Point (Scribner)
1943: When seventeen-year-old Juliet Dufresne receives a cryptic letter from her enlisted brother and then discovers that he’s been reported missing in action, she lies about her age and travels to the front lines as an army nurse, determined to find him. Shy and awkward, Juliet is thrust into the bloody chaos of a field hospital, a sprawling encampment north of Rome where she forges new friendships and is increasingly consumed by the plight of her patients. One in particular, Christopher Barnaby, a deserter awaiting court-martial, may hold the answer to her brother’s whereabouts—but the trauma of war has left him catatonic. Racing against the clock, Juliet works with an enigmatic young psychiatrist, Dr. Henry Willard, to break Barnaby’s silence before the authorities take him away. Plunged into the horrifying depths of one man’s memories of combat, Juliet and Willard are forced to plumb the moral nuances of a so-called just war and to face the dangers of their own deepening emotional connection.
In luminous prose, Vanderbes tells the story of one girl’s fierce determination to find her brother as she comes of age in a time of unrelenting violence. Haunting, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting, The Secret of Raven Point is an unforgettable war saga that captures the experiences of soldiers long after the battles have ended.
Louise Walters – Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase (Hodder & Stoughton)
Roberta likes to collect the letters and postcards she finds in second-hand books. When her father gives her some of her grandmother’s belongings, she finds a baffling letter from the grandfather she never knew – dated after he supposedly died in the war.
Dorothy is unhappily married to Albert, who is away at war. When an aeroplane crashes in the field behind her house she meets Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski, and as their bond deepens she dares to hope she might find happiness. But fate has other plans for them both, and soon she is hiding a secret so momentous that its shockwaves will touch her granddaughter many years later…
Paula Brackston – The Midnight Witch (Thomas Dunne Books)
Lilith is the daughter of the sixth Duke of Radnor. She is one of the most beautiful young women in London and engaged to the city’s most eligible bachelor. She is also a witch.
When her father dies, her hapless brother Freddie takes the title. But it is Lilith, instructed in the art of necromancy, who inherits their father’s role as Head Witch of the Lazarus Coven. And it is Lilith who must face the threat of the Sentinels, a powerful group of sorcerers intent on reclaiming the Elixir from the coven’s guardianship for their own dark purposes. Lilith knows the Lazarus creed: secrecy and silence. To abandon either would put both the coven and all she holds dear in grave danger. She has spent her life honoring it, right down to her charming fiancé and fellow witch, Viscount Louis Harcourt.
Until the day she meets Bram, a talented artist who is neither a witch nor a member of her class. With him, she must not be secret and silent. Despite her loyalty to the coven and duty to her family, Lilith cannot keep her life as a witch hidden from the man she loves.
To tell him will risk everything.
Justin Cartwright – Lion Heart (Bloomsbury USA)
Richard Cathar recalls his recently deceased father, Alaric, as a delusional hippie, one who fancied himself an intellectual and a historian. One of many far-fetched claims was that he had discovered—and then lost—documentation of a meeting between his hero, Richard the Lionheart, and Robin Hood after the Third Crusade.
In a quest to sort out the fact and fiction of his father’s life, Richard (named for the legendary king) leaves London and travels to Jerusalem, where he falls in love with the mysterious Noor, a journalist who herself has many secrets. Back in England, he continues his research, finding his own evidence that Richard the Lionheart recovered the True Cross from Saladin. Again he sets out, this time on the trail of the True Cross, which leads him through the Middle East and Europe—and to the powerful sense that myth and history may be inseparable.
Justin Cartwright’s latest novel is an utter original. Full of insight into the life and times of Richard the Lionheart, it is exciting, deeply moving, funny, and profound.
Suzannah Dunn – The May Bride (Little, Brown and Company)
Jane Seymour is a shy, dutiful fifteen-year-old when her eldest brother, Edward, brings his bride home to Wolf Hall. Katherine Filliol is the perfect match for Edward, as well as being a breath of fresh air for the Seymour family, and Jane is captivated by the older girl. Over the course of a long, hot country summer, the two become close friends and allies, while Edward is busy building alliances at court and advancing his career.
However, only two years later, the family is torn apart by a dreadful allegation made by Edward against his wife. The repercussions for all the Seymours are incalculable, not least for Katherine herself. When Jane is sent away, to serve Katharine of Aragon, she is forced to witness another wife being put aside, with terrible consequences. Changed forever by what happened to Katherine Filliol, Jane comes to understand that in a world where power is held entirely by men, there is a way in which she can still hold true to herself.
Damon Galgut – Arctic Summer (Atlantic Books)
In 1912, the SS Birmingham approaches India. On board is Morgan Forster, novelist and man of letters, who is embarking on a journey of discovery. As Morgan stands on deck, the promise of a strange new future begins to take shape before his eyes. The seeds of a story start to gather at the corner of his mind: a sense of impending menace, lust in close confines, under a hot, empty sky. It will be another twelve years, and a second time spent in India, before A Passage to India, E. M. Forster’s great work of literature, is published. During these years, Morgan will come to a profound understanding of himself as a man, and of the infinite subtleties and complexity of human nature, bringing these great insights to bear in his remarkable novel.
At once a fictional exploration of the life and times of one of Britain’s finest novelists, his struggle to find a way of living and being, and a stunningly vivid evocation of the mysterious alchemy of the creative process, Arctic Summer is a literary masterpiece, by one of the finest writers of his generation.