Anticipated Books (Summer-Autumn) 2015: Historical Fiction July-September

2015Welcome to the next post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2015. Like fantasy, there were too many historical fiction 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! 

July
kimvanalkemade-orphannumbereightKim van Alkemade – Orphan Number Eight (William Morrow)
A stunning debut novel inspired by true events, Orphan Number Eight tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage

In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a crowded tenement on New York City’s Lower Eastside. When tragedy strikes, Rachel is separated from her brother Sam and sent to a Jewish orphanage where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research. Subjected to X-ray treatments that leave her disfigured, Rachel suffers years of cruel harassment from the other orphans. But when she turns fifteen, she runs away to Colorado hoping to find the brother she lost and discovers a family she never knew she had.

Though Rachel believes she’s shut out her painful childhood memories, years later she is confronted with her dark past when she becomes a nurse at Manhattan’s Old Hebrews Home and her patient is none other than the elderly, cancer-stricken Dr. Solomon. Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon acknowledge, and pay for, her wrongdoing. But each passing hour Rachel spends with the old doctor reveal to Rachel the complexities of her own nature. She realizes that a person’s fate—to be one who inflicts harm or one who heals—is not always set in stone.

Lush in historical detail, rich in atmosphere and based on true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful, affecting novel of the unexpected choices we are compelled to make that can shape our destinies.

virginiabailey-earlyonemorningVirginia Baily – Early One Morning (Virago)
What does it mean to save a life?

A grey dawn in 1943: on a street in Rome, two young women, complete strangers to each other, lock eyes for a single moment.

One of the women, Chiara Ravello, is about to flee the occupied city for the safety of her grandparents’ house in the hills. The other has been herded on to a truck with her husband and their young children, and will shortly be driven off into the darkness.

In that endless-seeming moment, before she has time to think about what she is doing, Chiara makes a decision that changes her life for ever. Loudly claiming the woman’s son as her own nephew, she demands his immediate return; only as the trucks depart does she begin to realize what she has done. She is twenty-seven, single, with a sister who needs her constant care, a hazardous journey ahead of her, and now a child in her charge – a child with no papers who refuses to speak and gives every indication that he will bolt at the first opportunity.

Three decades later, Chiara lives alone in Rome, a self-contained, self-possessed woman working as a translator and to all appearances quite content with a life which revolves around work, friends, music and the theatre. But always in the background is the shadow of Daniele, the boy from the truck, whose absence haunts her every moment. Gradually we learn of the havoc wrought on Chiara, her family and her friends by the boy she rescued, and how he eventually broke her heart. And when she receives a phone call from a teenage girl named Maria, claiming to be Daniele’s daughter, Chiara knows that it is time for her to face up to the past.

This epic novel is an unforgettably powerful, suspenseful, heartbreaking and inspiring tale of love, loss and war’s reverberations down the years.

marinafiorato-kitMarina Fiorato – Kit (Hodder & Stoughton)
Dublin 1702. Irish beauty Kit Kavanagh has everything she could want in life. Newly married, she runs a successful alehouse with her beloved husband Richard. The wars that rage in Europe over the Spanish throne seem a world away.

But everything changes on the night that Richard simply disappears. Finding the Queen’s shilling at the bottom of Richard’s tankard, Kit realizes that her husband has been taken for a soldier.

Kit follows Richard’s trail across the battlefields of Italy in the Duke of Marlborough’s regiment. Living as a man, risking her life in battle, she forms a close bond with her wry and handsome commanding officer Captain Ross.

When she is forced to flee the regiment following a duel, she evades capture by dressing once more as a woman. But the war is not over for Kit. Her beauty catches the eye of the scheming Duke of Ormonde, who recruits her to spy upon the French. In her finery she meets Captain Ross once again, who seems just as drawn to the woman as he was to the soldier.

Torn between Captain Ross and her loyalty to her husband, and under the orders of the English Crown, Kit finds that her life is in more danger now than on the battlefield.

tessaharris-theanatomistsapprenticeTessa Harris – The Anatomist’s Apprentice (Constable)
The death of Lord Edward Crick has unleashed a torrent of gossip through the seedy taverns and elegant ballrooms of Oxfordshire. Few mourn the dissolute young man-except his sister, the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell. When her husband comes under suspicion of murder, she seeks expert help from Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a young anatomist and pioneering forensic detective from Philadelphia.

Thomas arrived in England to study under its foremost surgeon, the aging Dr. Carruthers, and finds his unconventional methods and dedication to the grisly study of anatomy only add to his outsider status. Against his better judgment he agrees to examine Sir Edward’s decomposing corpse, examining his internal and external state, as well as the unusual behavior of those still living in the Crick household.

Thomas soon learns that it is not only the dead but also the living to whom he must apply the keen blade of his intellect. And the deeper the doctor’s investigations go, the greater the risk that he will be consigned to the ranks of the corpses he studies.

joannahickson-redrosewhiteroseJoanna Hickson – Red Rose, White Rose (Harper)
The powerful story of Cecily Neville, torn between both sides in the War of the Rosesin 15th century England. Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory.

In fifteenth century England the Neville family rules the north with an iron fist. Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, a giant of a man and a staunch Lancastrian, cunningly consolidates power by negotiating brilliant marriages for his children. The last betrothal he arranges before he dies is between his youngest daughter, nine-year-old Cicely, and his ward Richard, the thirteen-year-old Duke of York, England’s richest heir.Told through the eyes of Cicely and her half-brother Cuthbert, Red Rose, White Rose is the story of one of the most powerful women in England during one of its most turbulent periods. Born of Lancaster and married to York, the willowy and wayward Cicely treads a hazardous path through love, loss and imprisonment and between the violent factions of Lancaster and York, as the Wars of the Roses tear England’s ruling families apart. So nearly queen herself, Cicely Neville was the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of kings – and her descendants still wear the crown.

philipkazan-thepainterofsoulsPhilip Kazan – The Painter of Souls (Orion Fiction)
One man. One painter. One life. Or so you might think…

Beauty can be a gift…or a wicked temptation…

So it is for Filippo Lippi, growing up in Renaissance Florence. He has a talent – not only can he see the beauty in everything, he can capture it, paint it. But while beauty can seduce you, and art can transport you – it cannot always feed you or protect you.

To survive, Pippo Lippi, orphan, street urchin, budding rogue, must first become Fra Filippo Lippi: Carmelite friar, man of God. His life will take him down two paths at once. He will become a gambler, a forger, a seducer of nuns; and at the same time he will be the greatest painter of his time, the teacher of Botticelli and the confidante of the Medicis.

So who is he really – lover, believer, father, teacher, artist? Which man? Which life? Is anything true except the paintings?

An extraordinary journey of passion, art and intrigue, The Painter of Soulstakes us to a time and place in Italy’s history where desire reigns and salvation is found in the strangest of places.

joannelimburg-awantofkindnessJoanne Limburg – A Want of Kindness (Atlantic Books)
An ambitious, absorbing and authentic historical novel which reimagines Anne’s life from child princess in the glittering Restoration court to Queen of England.

Every time I see the King and the Queen, I am reminded of what it is I have done, and then I am afraid, I am beyond all expression afraid.

The wicked, bawdy Restoration court is no place for a child princess. Ten-year-old Anne cuts an odd figure: a sickly child, she is drawn towards improper pursuits. Cards, sweetmeats, scandal and gossip with her Ladies of the Bedchamber figure large in her life. But as King Charles’s niece, Anne is also a political pawn, who will be forced to play her part in the troubled Stuart dynasty.

As Anne grows to maturity, she is transformed from overlooked Princess to the heiress of England. Forced to overcome grief for her lost children, the political manoeuvrings of her sister and her closest friends and her own betrayal of her father, she becomes one of the most complex and fascinating figures of English history.

livimichael-rebellionLivi Michael – Rebellion (Fig Tree)
Margaret Beaufort and Margaret of Anjou – two women who will stop at nothing to place their sons on the English throne.

In exile in France with her young son Prince Edward, Margaret of Anjou at last gives up on promises of aid by King Louis and sets sail for England. There, she will return her husband Henry to the throne – and ensure young Edward will be its heir.

Meanwhile, Margaret Beaufort, separated from her son Henry of Richmond when he was an infant, sees the unrest surrounding the Lancastrian defeat as her chance to finally get him back. But the steps she takes to return her son imperil the kingdom and the throne’s current occupant – King Edward IV.

With rebellions tearing the country apart, how far will each woman go to further the interests of their sons? And who can stand in their way?

nualaoconner-missemilyNuala O’Connor – Miss Emily (Penguin Books)
Fans of Jo Baker and Lynn Cullen will love this novel that brings to life Emily Dickinson, her eccentric family, and the perils faced by her young Irish maid

A poet in seclusion. The friendship that will break open her world.

Eighteen-year-old Ada Concannon is the plucky new maid for the respected but eccentric Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite their difference in age and the upstairs-downstairs divide, Ada, newly arrived from Ireland, strikes up a deep friendship with thirty-six-year-old Emily Dickinson, the gifted middle child. Miss Emily is a bastion of support as Ada struggles to find her place in this new world, but Emily’s passion for words begins to dominate her life. She will wear only white and avoids the world outside the Dickinson homestead. When Ada’s safety and reputation are threatened, however, Emily must face down her own demons to help her friend, with shocking consequences. One of America’s most beloved and reclusive poets is vividly brought to life through her own voice in this brilliant novel.

elizaredgold-nakedEliza Redgold – Naked (St. Martin’s Griffin)
We know her name. We know of her naked ride. We don’t know her true story.
We all know the legend of Lady Godiva, who famously rode naked through the streets of Coventry, covered only by her long, flowing hair. So the story goes, she begged her husband Lord Leofric of Mercia to lift a high tax on her people, who would starve if forced to pay. Lord Leofric demanded a forfeit: that Godiva ride naked on horseback through the town. There are various endings to Godiva’s ride, that all the people of Coventry closed their doors and refused to look upon their liege lady (except for ‘peeping Tom’) and that her husband, in remorse, lifted the tax.
Naked is an original version of Godiva’s tale with a twist that may be closer to the truth: by the end of his life Leofric had fallen deeply in love with Lady Godiva. A tale of legendary courage and extraordinary passion, Naked brings an epic story new voice.

vanessatait-thelookingglasshouseVanessa Tait – The Looking Glass House (Corvus)
What happened before Alice fell down the rabbit hole?

Oxford, 1862. As Mary Prickett takes up her post as governess to the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, she is thrust into a strange new world. Mary is poor and plain and desperate for change but the little girls in her care see and understand far more than their naive new teacher. And there is another problem: Mary does not like children, especially the precocious Alice Liddell.

When Mary meets Charles Dodgson, the Christ Church mathematics tutor, at a party at the Deanery, she wonders if he may be the person to transform her life. Flattered by his attentions, Mary begins to believe that she could be more than just an overlooked, dowdy governess.

One sunny day, as Mary chaperones the Liddells on a punting trip, Mr Dodgson tells the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But Mary is determined to become Mr Dodgson’s muse – and will turn all the lives around her topsy-turvey in pursuit of her obsession.

chantalthomas-theexchangeofprincessesChantal Thomas – The Exchange of Princesses (Other Press)
Set in the French and Spanish courts of the eighteenth century, this novel is based on a true story about the fate of two young princesses caught in the intrigues and secrets of the moment

Philippe d’Orléans, the regent of France, has a gangrenous heart—the result of a life of debauchery, alcohol, power, and flattery. One morning in 1721, he decides to marry eleven-year-old Louis XV to the daughter of Philippe V of Spain, who is only four. Orléans hopes this will tie his kingdom to Spain. But were Louis to die without begetting an heir—the likeliness of which is greatly increased by having a child bride—Orléans himself would finally be king. Orléans tosses his own daughter into the bargain, the twelve-year-old Mlle de Montpensier, who will marry the Prince of Asturias, the heir to the Spanish throne.

The Spanish court enthusiastically agrees and arrangements are made. The two nations trade their princesses in a grand ceremony in 1722, making bonds that should end the historical conflict. Nothing turns out as expected.

August
kimdevereux-rembrandtsmirrorKim Devereux – Rembrandt’s Mirror (Atlantic Books)
Hendrickje, a girl from a strict Calvinist family leaves her provincial home to find work as a housemaid. She enters Rembrandt’s flourishing workshop five years after the death of the great artist’s wife, an event that continues to haunt him. It is a house full of secrets and desires, and Hendrickje soon witnesses a sexual encounter between Rembrandt and Geertje, his implacable housekeeper. She is shocked to the core by their intense carnality and yet, slowly, she is drawn to Rembrandt by the freshness with which he perceives the world and the special freedom he seems to possess.

But Rembrandt is a man of dark corners, strange passions and a ruthlessness born from his need to put his art first. A life with Rembrandt represents danger as well as the possibility of true love.

Seen through the eyes of Hendrickje, Rembrandt’s Mirror explores the three women of Rembrandt’s life, and how to discover beauty in every wrinkle of humanity.

robertedric-fieldserviceRobert Edric – Field Service (Transworld Books)
Morlancourt, Northern France, 1920

In the aftermath of the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen, a small contingent of battle-worn soldiers remains in Northern France. Captain James Reid and his compatriots are tasked with the identification and burial of innumerable corpses as they assimilate the events of the past four years.

The stark contrast between the realities of burying men in France and the reports of honouring the dead back in Britain is all too clear. But it is only when the daily routine is interrupted by a visit from two women, both seeking solace from their grief, that the men are forced to acknowledge the part they too have played.

With his trademark unerring precision and lacerating honesty, Robert Edric explores the emotional hinterland which lies behind the work done by the War Graves Commission in the wake of the First World War.

dariofo-thepopesdaughterDario Fo – The Pope’s Daughter (Europa Editions)
In his ever first novel, Nobel laureate Dario Fo recounts the story of Renaissance Italy’s most powerful and immoral family and their favorite daughter, Lucrezia Borgia.

Lucrezia Borgia is one of the most vilified figures in modern history. The daughter of a notorious pope, she was twice betrothed before the age of eleven and thrice married—one husband was forced to declare himself impotent and thereby unfit and another was murdered by Lucrezia’s own brother, Cesar Borgia. She is cast in the role of murderess, temptress, incestuous lover, loose woman, femme fatale par excellence.

But there is always more than one version of a story.

Lucrezia Borgia is the only woman in history to serve as the head of the Catholic Church. She successfully administered several of the Renaissance Italy’s most thriving cities, founded one of the world’s first credit unions, and was a generous patron of the arts. She was mother to a prince and to a cardinal. She was a devoted wife to the Prince of Ferrara, and the lover of the poet Pietro Bembo. She was a child of the renaissance and in many ways the world’s first modern woman.

Dario Fo, Nobel laureate and one of Italy’s most beloved writers, reveals Lucrezia’s humanity, her passion for life, her compassion for others, and her skill at navigating around her family’s evildoings. The Borgias are unrivalled for the range and magnitude of their political machinations and opportunism. Fo’s brilliance rests in his rendering their story as a shocking mirror image of the uses and abuses of power in our own time. Lucrezia herself becomes a model for how to survive and rise above those abuses.

 

danagynther-thewomaninthephotographDana Gynther – The Woman in the Photograph (Gallery Books)
Set in the romantic glow of 1920s Paris, a captivating novel of New York socialite and model Lee Miller, whose glamorous looks and joie de vivre caught the eye of Man Ray, one of the twentieth century’s defining photographers.

1929, Montparnasse. Model and woman about town Lee Miller moves to Paris determined to make herself known amidst the giddy circle of celebrated artists, authors, and photographers currently holding court in the city. She seeks out the charming, charismatic artist Man Ray to become his assistant but soon becomes much more than that: his model, his lover, his muse.

Coming into her own more fully every day, Lee models, begins working on her own projects, and even stars in a film, provoking the jealousy of the older and possessive Man Ray. Drinking and carousing is the order of the day, but while hobnobbing with the likes of Picasso and Charlie Chaplin, she also falls in love with the art of photography and finds that her own vision can no longer come second to her mentor’s.

The Woman in the Photograph is the richly drawn, tempestuous novel about a talented and fearless young woman caught up in one of the most fascinating times of the twentieth century.

alicehoffman-themarriageofoppositesAlice Hoffman – The Marriage of Opposites (Simon & Schuster)
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro—the Father of Impressionism.

Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.

Building on the triumphs of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, set in a world of almost unimaginable beauty, The Marriage of Opposites showcases the beloved, bestselling Alice Hoffman at the height of her considerable powers. Once forgotten to history, the marriage of Rachel and Frédérick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.

dinahjefferies-theteaplanterswifeDinah Jefferies – The Tea Planter’s Wife (Penguin)
Dinah Jefferies’ unforgettable new novel, The Tea Planter’s Wife is a haunting, tender portrait of a woman forced to choose between her duty as a wife and her instinct as a mother…

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper steps off a steamer in Ceylon full of optimism, eager to join her new husband. But the man who greets her at the tea plantation is not the same one she fell in love with in London.

Distant and brooding, Laurence spends long days wrapped up in his work, leaving his young bride to explore the plantation alone. It’s a place filled with clues to the past – locked doors, a yellowed wedding dress in a dusty trunk, an overgrown grave hidden in the grounds, far too small for an adult…

Gwen soon falls pregnant and her husband is overjoyed, but she has little time to celebrate. In the delivery room the new mother is faced with a terrible choice, one she knows no one in her upper class set will understand – least of all Laurence. Forced to bury a secret at the heart of her marriage, Gwen is more isolated than ever. When the time comes, how will her husband ever understand what she has done?

marcijefferson-enchantressofparisMarci Jefferson – Enchantress of Paris (Thomas Dunne Books)
Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King’s opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.

The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini’s birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother’s dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie’s charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin’s ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin’s deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis’s love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

paulamclain-circlingthesunPaula McLain – Circling the Sun (Virago)
As a young girl, Beryl Markham was brought to Kenya from Britain by parents dreaming of a new life. For her mother, the dream quickly turned sour, and she returned home; Beryl was brought up by her father, who switched between indulgence and heavy-handed authority, allowing her first to run wild on their farm, then incarcerating her in the classroom. The scourge of governesses and serial absconder from boarding school, by the age of sixteen Beryl had been catapulted into a disastrous marriage – but it was in facing up to this reality that she took charge of her own destiny.

Scandalizing high society with her errant behaviour, she left her husband and became the first woman ever to hold a professional racehorse trainer’s licence. After falling in with the notoriously hedonistic and gin-soaked Happy Valley set, Beryl soon became embroiled in a complex love triangle with the writer Karen Blixen and big game-hunter Denys Finch Hatton (immortalized in Blixen’s memoir Out of Africa). It was this unhappy affair which set tragedy in motion, while awakening Beryl to her truest self, and to her fate: to fly.

ilkatampke-skinIlka Tampke – Skin (Hodder & Stoughton)
Imagine a world where everyone is born with a ‘skin’ name. Without skin you cannot learn, you are not permitted to marry, and you grow up an outsider amongst your own people.

This is no future dystopia. This is Celtic Britain.

It is AD 43. For the Caer Cad, ‘skin’ name determines lineage and identity. Ailia does not have skin; despite this, she is a remarkable young woman, intelligent, curious and brave. As a dark threat grows on the horizon – the aggressive expansion of the Roman Empire – Ailia must embark on an unsanctioned journey to attain the knowledge that will protect her people, and their pagan way of life, from the most terrifying invaders they have ever faced… and it is this unskinned girl who will come to hold the fate of her people in her hands.

SKIN is a full-blooded debut which invokes the epic storytelling of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, the rich historical detail of Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, and the genre-transcending magic of Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cavebear.

jonathanweisman-no4imperiallaneJonathan Weisman – No. 4 Imperial Lane (Grand Central Publishing)
It’s 1988 at the University of Sussex, where kids sport Mohawks and light up to the otherworldly sounds of the Cocteau Twins, as conversation drifts from structuralism to Thatcher to the bloody Labour Students. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, David Heller has taken a job as a live-in aide to current quadriplegic and former playboy, Hans Bromwell-in part to extend his stay studying abroad, but in truth, he’s looking to escape his own family still paralyzed by the death of his younger sister ten years on.

When David moves into the Bromwell house, his life becomes quickly entwined with those of Hans, his alcoholic sister, Elizabeth, and her beautiful fatherless daughter, as they navigate their new role as fallen aristocracy. As David befriends the Bromwells, the details behind the family’s staggering fall from grace are slowly revealed: How Elizabeth’s love affair with a Portuguese physician carried the young English girl right into the bloody battlefields of colonial Africa, where an entire continent bellowed for independence, and a single event left a family broken forever.

A sweeping debut by a seasoned political reporter, written in prose as lush and evocative as it is deeply funny, NO. 4 IMPERIAL LANE artfully shifts through time, from the high politics of embassy backrooms and the bloody events of a ground war to the budding romance found in pot-filled dorm rooms, and those unforgettable moments when childhood gives way to becoming an adult.

Reminiscent of Nick Hornby and Alan Hollinghurst, here is a book about the intersection of damaged lives; a book that asks whether it is possible for an unexpected stranger to piece a family back together again.

September
kareemabsuljabbarannawaterhouse-mycroftholmesKareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse – Mycroft Holmes (Titan Books)
“When I say, therefore, that [my brother] has better powers of observation than I… I am speaking the exact and literal truth.”—Sherlock Holmes. This story occurs when Mycroft, an athletic Cambridge graduate, assisted the Secretary of State. He becomes embroiled in a mystery in Trinidad—based on actual history.

sallychristie-thesistersofversaillesSally Christie – The Sisters of Versailles (Atria Books)
A sumptuous and sensual tale of power, romance, family, and betrayal centered around four sisters and one King. Carefully researched and ornately detailed, The Sisters of Versailles is the first book in an exciting new historical fiction trilogy about King Louis XV, France’s most “well-beloved” monarch, and the women who shared his heart and his bed.

Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.

Set against the lavish backdrop of the French Court in the early years of the 18th century, The Sisters of Versailles is the extraordinary tale of the five Nesle sisters—Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne—four of whom became mistresses to King Louis XV. Their scandalous story is stranger than fiction but true in every shocking, amusing, and heartbreaking detail.

Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best foot—and women—forward. The King’s scheming ministers push Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, the four sisters—sweet, naïve Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne—will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.

In the tradition of The Other Boleyn Girl, The Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Based on meticulous research on a group of women never before written about in English, Sally Christie’s stunning debut is a complex exploration of power and sisterhood—of the admiration, competition, and even hatred that can coexist within a family when the stakes are high enough.

alexandracurry-thecourtesanAlexandra Curry – The Courtesan (Dutton)
An astonishing debut novel inspired by the life of the legendary Qing dynasty courtesan, Sai Jinhua.

The year is 1881, the era of China’s humiliation at the hands of imperialist Europe. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left alone and unprotected, her life transformed after her mandarin father’s summary execution for the crime of speaking the truth. As an orphan, she endures the brutal logic of a brothel-keeper, who puts her to work as a so-called money tree, and she survives the worst of human nature with the friendship and wisdom of the crippled brothel maid.

When an elegant but troubled scholar takes Jinhua as his concubine, her world begins to expand. “A thousand changes lie ahead,” he announces, and Jinhua accompanies him, now emissary to Prussia, Austria-Hungary, Holland, and Russia, to the land of “foreign devils”: Vienna. This place of strangeness delights and surprises her, and ultimately brings her to the “Great Love” that she had only read about in stories.

Sai Jinhua is an altered woman when she returns to a changed and changing China, where a terrible clash of East and West is brewing, and where her western sympathies will ultimately threaten not only her own survival but the survival of those who are most dear to her.

The Courtesan is a timeless tale of friendship and sacrifice, temptation and redemption; the story of a woman’s journey to discern what is real and abiding, and a book that shines a small light on the large history of China’s relations with the West.

sandradallas-thelastmidwifeSandra Dallas – The Last Midwife (St. Martin’s Press)
It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn’t imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.

But everything changes when a baby is found dead…and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.

She didn’t commit the crime, but clearing her name isn’t so easy when her innocence is not quite as simple, either. She knows things, and that’s dangerous. Invited into her neighbors’ homes during their most intimate and vulnerable times, she can’t help what she sees and hears. A woman sometimes says things in the birthing bed, when life and death seem suspended within the same moment. Gracy has always tucked those revelations away, even the confessions that have cast shadows on her heart.

With her friends taking sides and a trial looming, Gracy must decide whether it’s worth risking everything to prove her innocence. And she knows that her years of discretion may simply demand too high a price now…especially since she’s been keeping more than a few dark secrets of her own.

With Sandra Dallas’s incomparable gift for creating a sense of time and place and characters that capture your heart, The Last Midwife tells the story of family, community, and the secrets that can destroy and unite them.

annefortier-thelostsisterhoodAnne Fortier – The Lost Sisterhood (Ballantine Books)
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Juliet comes a mesmerizing novel about a young scholar who risks her reputation—and her life—on a thrilling journey to prove that the legendary warrior women known as the Amazons actually existed.

In her bestselling novel, Juliet, Anne Fortier entwined the past and present to retell history’s greatest love story—the way it really happened. In The Lost Sisterhood, she takes on another fascinating historical myth—the warrior women called the Amazons—and shows us they were not mythical, but a real band of but brave priestesses-in-training who banded together to rescue their kidnapped companions. While their desperate trek unfolds in the past, we follow Diana, a modern-day scholar who has always been fascinated by the Amazons, as she embarks on a trek of her own. Led by enigmatic Middle Easterner Nick Barran, Diana searches for traces of a fabled Amazonian treasure in the wastelands of the Sahara. Sweeping from England to North Africa to Greece and the ruins of ancient Troy, The Lost Sisterhood is a breathtaking, passionate adventure of two women on parallel journeys, separated by time, who must fight to keep the lives and legacy of the Amazons from being lost forever.

katekerrigan-thedressKate Kerrigan – The Dress (Head of Zeus)
Lily Fitzpatrick loves vintage clothes – made all the more precious because they were once owned and loved by another woman. Thousands follow her vintage fashion blog and her daily Instagram feed. But this passion for the beautiful clothes of the past is about to have unforeseen consequences, when Lily stumbles upon the story of a 1950s New York beauty, who was not only everything Lily longs to be, but also shares Lily’s surname.

Joy Fitzpatrick was a legend. But what was the famous dress which she once commissioned – said to be so original that nothing in couture would ever match it again? What happened to it – and why did Joy suddenly disappear from New York high society?

Kate Kerrigan’s enthralling novel interweaves the dramatic story of Joy, the beautiful but tortured socialite and that of Lily – determined to uncover the truth and, if possible, bring back to life the legendary dress itself.

neiloliver-masterofshadowsNeil Oliver – Master of Shadows (Orion Fiction)
In fifteenth-century Constantinople, Prince Constantine saves the life of a broken-hearted girl. But the price of his valour is high.

John Grant is a young man on the edge of the world. His unique abilities carry him from his home in Scotland to the heart of the Byzantine Empire in search of a girl and the chance to fulfil a death-bed promise.

Lena has remained hidden from the men who have been searching for her for many years. When she’s hunted down, at last she knows what she must do.

With an army amassing beyond the city’s ancient walls, the fates of these three will intertwine. As the Siege of Constantinople reaches its climax, each must make a choice between head and heart, duty and destiny.

neilspring-thewatchersNeil Spring – The Watchers (Quercus)
At the height of the Cold War, officials at the Ministry of Defence conducted a highly secret investigation into unusual events that occurred along a strip of rugged coastline within the Pembrokeshire National Park nicknamed ‘The Broad Haven Triangle’.

The events made national headlines: lights and objects hovering in the sky, ghostly figures peering into farmhouse windows, cowering animals, and poltergeists plaguing a terrified family of witnesses.

Thirty years later, official files pertaining to these occurrences were finally released for public scrutiny at the National Archives. The disclosure prompted a new witness to come forward to speak of what he knew. His testimony rocked the very foundations of the British Government.

This is his story.

janethynne-thescentofsecretsJane Thynne – The Scent of Secrets (Ballantine Books)
Rich with political intrigue and authentic period details, this historical crime novel—the first of three—is perfect for fans of Jaqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, Robert Harris, and Susan Elia MacNeal. In Berlin, 1933, British actress Clara Vine finds herself dangerously involved with the British intelligence service.

Clara Vine, a half-Jewish Anglo-German, uses her unique access to the upper echelons of pre-war Nazi society to spy for her native Britain. The novel richly fuses fact and fiction with a cast of real Nazis and their British admirers, such as the Mitford sisters and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Clara Vine, through her friendship with Eva Braun, finds herself enmeshed in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The setting of pre-war Germany is a treasure trove, and the irresistibly fresh perspective of Nazi wives puts a new spin on an ever-fascinating era, fraught with glamour, political tension, tragedy, and romance.

catrionaward-rawbloodCatriona Ward – Rawblood (Weidenfeld & Nicolson Fiction)
She comes in the night.

She looks into your eyes.

One by one, she has taken us all.

In 1910, eleven-year-old Iris Villarca lives with her father at Rawblood, a lonely house on Dartmoor. Iris and her father are the last of their name. The Villarcas always die young, bloodily. Iris believes it’s because of a congenital disease which means she must isolate herself from the world. But one sunlit autumn day, beside her mother’s grave, she forces the truth from her father: the disease is biologically impossible. A lie, to cover a darker secret.

The Villarcas are haunted, through the generations, by her. She is white, skeletal, covered with scars. When a Villarca marries, when they love, when they have a child – she comes and death follows. When Iris is fifteen, she breaks her promise to remain alone all her life, and the consequences are immediate and horrific.

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