Welcome to another post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2015. This is the second half of my historical fiction list. There were just so many books that caught my fancy that I split them 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!
Jillian Cantor – The Hours Count (Riverhead Books)
A spellbinding historical novel about a woman who befriends Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and is drawn into their world of intrigue, from the author of Margot.
On June 19, 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for conspiring to commit espionage. The day Ethel was first arrested in 1950, she left her two young sons with a neighbor, and she never came home to them again.
Brilliantly melding fact and fiction, Jillian Cantor reimagines the life of that neighbor, and the life of Ethel and Julius, an ordinary-seeming Jewish couple who became the only Americans put to death for spying during the Cold War. In 1947, Millie Stein moves with her husband, Ed, and their toddler son, David, into an apartment in New York’s Lower East Side. Her new neighbors are the Rosenbergs. Struggling to care for David, who doesn’t speak, and isolated from other “normal” families, Millie meets Jake, a psychologist who says he can help David, and befriends Ethel, also a young mother. Millie and Ethel’s lives as friends, wives, mothers, and neighbors entwine, even as chaos begins to swirl around the Rosenbergs and the FBI closes in. Millie begins to question her own husband’s political loyalty and her marriage, and whether she can trust Jake and the deep connection they have forged as they secretly work with David. Caught between these two men, both of whom have their own agendas, and desperate to help her friends, Millie will find herself drawn into the dramatic course of history.
As Millie—trusting and naive—is thrown into a world of lies, intrigue, spies and counterspies, she realizes she must fight for what she believes, who she loves, and what is right.
Lynn Cullen – Twain’s End (Gallery Books)
From the bestselling and highly acclaimed author of the “page-turning tale” (Library Journal, starred review) Mrs. Poe comes a fictionalized imagining of the personal life of America’s most iconic writer: Mark Twain.
In March of 1909, Mark Twain cheerfully blessed the wedding of his private secretary, Isabel V. Lyon, and his business manager, Ralph Ashcroft. One month later, he fired both. He proceeded to write a ferocious 429-page rant about the pair, calling Isabel “a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded and salacious slut pining for seduction.” Twain and his daughter, Clara Clemens, then slandered Isabel in the newspapers, erasing her nearly seven years of devoted service to their family. How did Lyon go from being the beloved secretary who ran Twain’s life to a woman he was determined to destroy?
In Twain’s End, Lynn Cullen reimagines the tangled relationships between Twain, Lyon, and Ashcroft, as well as the little-known love triangle between Helen Keller, her teacher Anne Sullivan Macy, and Anne’s husband, John Macy, which comes to light during their visit to Twain’s Connecticut home in 1909. Add to the party a furious Clara Clemens, smarting from her own failed love affair, and carefully kept veneers shatter.
Based on Isabel Lyon’s extant diary, Twain’s writings and letters, and events in Twain’s boyhood that may have altered his ability to love, Twain’s End explores this real-life tale of doomed love.
Laurie Graham – On the Night in Question (Quercus)
Dot Allbones was the youngest of her large Midlands family. With no beauty, and few prospects, she was lucky to discover a lucrative talent – she can make people laugh. Now the queen of London’s music hall stage, Dot feels she’s not done badly. She has her audience, her independence, and enough money for champagne: a good life.
Pretty, popular orphan Kate Eddowes was an unlikely childhood friend for Dot. The older girl’s beauty was bound to take her places, and sure enough Kate soon left, lured away by love and the prospect of adventure.
A chance encounter on a London street years later makes it clear that Kate’s life has not gone according to plan. Though poor and alone, she retains her indomitable spirit. But this is Whitechapel in 1888, and the shadowy streets are no place for a desperate woman to wander . . .
With her inimitable sharpness and wry wit, Laurie Graham brings to life the bustling pleasures and not-so-hidden dangers of life in a crowded city with its extremes of poverty and wealth. And all the while, in the shadows, lurks the lacerating threat of the Ripper.
Lisa Hilton – The Stolen Queen (Corvus)
The year is 1199, and King Richard the Lionheart is dead, leaving his brother John to inherit both his French and English lands. Young Isabelle of Angouleme is betrothed to the son of her father’s enemy, Hugh de Lusignan, and taken to his castle to be educated, where she is initiated into the ‘Old Religion’. Isabelle is then told that she is to be married not to Hugh de Lusignan but to King John of England, in a complex and treacherous plot to gain the English succession. The Lusignans envisage an empire ruled by their young puppet queen, which will eventually oust Christianity and restore the Old Religion to Europe. But when Isabelle takes matters into her own hands, passions will rage and dynastic fortunes will rise and fall. Set against the vivid backdrop of the great political struggles of medieval Europe, The Stolen Queen will delight lovers of intrigue and adventure.
Before Caesar and the carpet, before Antony and Actium, before Octavian and the asp, there was Arsinoe.
Abandoned by her beloved Cleopatra and an indifferent father, young Arsinoe must fight for her survival in the bloodthirsty royal court when her half-sister Berenice seizes Egypt’s throne. Even as the quick-witted girl wins Berenice’s favor, a new specter haunts her days-dark dreams that have a habit of coming true.
To survive, she escapes the palace for the war-torn streets of Alexandria. Meanwhile, Berenice confronts her own demons as she fights to maintain power. When their deposed father Ptolemy marches on the city with a Roman army, both daughters must decide where their allegiances truly lie, and Arsinoe grapples with the truth, that the only way to survive her dynasty is to rule it.
Jeffrey Lent – A Slant of Light (Bloomsbury UK)
Malcolm Hopeton is on trial for his life – he has committed a horrific act that reverberates through the community of the Four Corners as it emerges from the shadows of the American Civil War.
Becca Davis has been keeping house for the widowed August Swartout for four years when she receives word that her brother Harlan has been injured in a tussle with the infamous murderer. But when Harlan comes to the house to recuperate, Becca and August are surprised. Not only does Harlan forgive his attacker, but he is ready to stand at his trial and plead in his defence.
Soon, Enoch Stone, the local lawyer, comes knocking. Sensing an opportunity to advance his own position, he has taken on Hopeton’s case. As the truth behind the violence comes to light and the townspeople become caught up in the events, notions of honour and integrity, theft and revenge will be sorely tested. And they will each come to realise that the world they thought they knew can never be the same again.
A Slant of Light is a powerful novel of lust and love, loss and war, prophets and followers: of the moments that shatter our lives and the ways in which they are remade.
Julian Stockwin – Tyger (Hodder & Stoughton)
The greatest naval trial in the Georgian period is underway at Portsmouth with the court martial of Sir Home Popham, Captain Sir Thomas Kydd’s commanding officer in the doomed occupation of Buenos Aires. Kydd has some sympathy for Popham’s unauthorised action but his support for his former commander leaves him athwart some very influential people in the Admiralty.
With his frigate L’Aurore unfit for sea, Kydd is given a commission that some hope will destroy his career. Tyger has recently mutinied but instead of having her company dispersed around the fleet as is customary, the ship is pressed into immediate service in the North Sea. Kydd faces a crew still under some malign influence.
Enemies aboard and on the high seas are just the start of the problem. Soon he will have to take his untested and untrustworthy crew into the Baltic and there they will get entangled with Napoleon’s invasion of Prussia. The stakes are desperate, the task seemingly impossible and the French implacable. But the only way for Kydd to avoid disgrace is to gamble his reputation and crew on a crazy mission to snatch a Prussian division out of the jaws of Napoleon’s advancing army. Will he return home once more a hero, or himself face a court martial?
Ian Thornton – The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms (The Friday Project)
Johan Thoms (pronounced Yo-han Tomes) was born in Argona, a small town twenty-three miles south of Sarajevo, during the hellish depths of winter 1894.Little did he know that his inability to reverse a car would change the course of 20th Century History forever…
Johan Thoms was born in a small town south of Sarajevo in 1894. He grows up to become a bright and intelligent university student with the world at his feet. However Johan’s gentle gliding comes to an abrupt halt on a Sunday in June, 1914. While driving the car carrying Archduke Franz Ferdinand on his state visit to Sarajevo, Johan makes a wrong turn, and his botched attempts to reverse leave the Archduke and his pregnant wife Sophie open to the bullets of a nearby lunching assassin. The two die in each other’s arms.Johan believes that the enormity of the death and destruction to follow is his fault. As each passing year burdens Johan with further guilt, he seeks solace in his writing and in the makeshift family he assembles around himself. With everyone from emperors to hooligans, from Dorothy Parker to Ernest Hemingway at his side, Johan winds his way through Europe and the Twentieth Century, leaving his indelible mark, all while being pursued by his ever-determined lost love Lorelei.This is an ambitious first novel, written with shades of Kundera and Cervantes yet with a charming identity all its own.
Adriana Trigiani – All the Stars in the Heavens (Harper)
In this spectacular saga as radiant, thrilling, and beguiling as Hollywood itself, Adriana Trigiani takes us back to Tinsel Town’s golden age—an era as brutal as it was resplendent—and into the complex and glamorous world of a young actress hungry for fame and success. With meticulous, beautiful detail, Trigiani paints a rich, historical landscape of 1930s Los Angeles, where European and American artisans flocked to pursue the ultimate dream: to tell stories on the silver screen.
The movie business is booming in 1935 when twenty-one-year-old Loretta Young meets thirty-four-year-old Clark Gable on the set of The Call of the Wild. Though he’s already married, Gable falls for the stunning and vivacious young actress instantly.
Far from the glittering lights of Hollywood, Sister Alda Ducci has been forced to leave her convent and begin a new journey that leads her to Loretta. Becoming Miss Young’s assistant, the innocent and pious young Alda must navigate the wild terrain of Hollywood with fierce determination and a moral code that derives from her Italian roots. Over the course of decades, she and Loretta encounter scandal and adventure, choose love and passion, and forge an enduring bond of love and loyalty that will be put to the test when they eventually face the greatest obstacle of their lives.
Anchored by Trigiani’s masterful storytelling that takes you on a worldwide ride of adventure from Hollywood to the shores of southern Italy, this mesmerizing epic is, at its heart, a luminous tale of the most cherished ties that bind. Brimming with larger-than-life characters both real and fictional—including stars Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, David Niven, Hattie McDaniel and more—it is it is the unforgettable story of one of cinema’s greatest love affairs during the golden age of American movie making.
When Lapérouse leaves France in the Spring of 1785 with two ships under his command, he knows that he sails with the full backing of the French government. This is to be a voyage of scientific and geographical discovery – but every person on board has their own hopes, ambitions and dreams.
As the ships move across vast distances in their journey of nearly four years, the different characters step forward and invite us into their world. From the remote Alaskan bay where a dreadful tragedy unfolds, to the wild journey Barthélemy de Lessups undertakes from the far east of Russia to St Petersburg, the reader sees the emotional, physical and mental toll exacted by such an endeavour.
Landfalls marks the launch of a brilliant new writer, who creates an unforgettable world through a web of voices and narratives.
Geraldine Brooks – The Secret Chord (Little, Brown)
With more than two million copies of her novels sold, New York Timesbestselling author Geraldine Brooks has achieved both popular and critical acclaim. Now, Brooks takes on one of literature’s richest and most enigmatic figures: a man who shimmers between history and legend. Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.
The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected. We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him – from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikal, Avigail and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthral her many fans.
Bombay, 1857. India is simmering with discontent, and Jack Lark, honourably discharged from the British Army, aims to take the first ship back to England. But before he leaves, he cannot resist the adventure of helping a young woman escape imprisonment in a gaming house. He promises to escort Aamira home, but they arrive in Delhi just as the Indian Mutiny explodes.
As both sides commit horrific slaughter and the siege of Delhi begins, Jack realises that despite the danger he cannot stand by and watch. At heart, he is still a soldier…
TWAIN AND STANLEY ENTER PARADISE follows famed 19th century journalist-explorer Henry Stanley, his wife, the painter Dorothy Tennant, and Stanley’s long friendship with Mark Twain, as they venture to Cuba in search of Stanley’s father. Told through a fictitious manuscript and imagined correspondence between Stanley, Tennant, and Twain, Hijuelos captures not only the general style of educated 19th century, but manages to pull off the seemingly impossible task of channeling Mark Twain himself. The manuscript–in the works for decades–was found by Hijuelos’s widow after his death.
David Kirk – Sword of Honor (Doubleday)
In the epic historical novel Sword of Honor, David Kirk continues the saga of Musashi Miyamoto, the greatest samurai in Japanese history, as he journeys to the ancient city of Kyoto to fight for his life and his ideals
Having survived the cataclysmic battle of Sekigahara, which established the mighty Tokugawa Shogunate, young Musashi Miyamoto travels through Japan determined to proclaim his revolutionary epiphany that the “way of the sword,” the ancient code that binds samurai to their masters, needs to be abolished.
But during the battle Musashi insulted an adept of the powerful Yoshioka School, and a price has been put on his head. Musashi travels to Kyoto, domain of the Yoshioka, for a reckoning. He has taken up with Ameku, a beautiful blind woman branded as a witch; his burgeoning love for her will make him vulnerable.
Mushashi intends to deal a crushing blow to the traditional samurai dogma by destroying the Yoshioka warriors, but Musashi will learn that his spectacular gifts with the sword are no match for the cunning of powerful lords. The wily Tokugawa governor, still struggling to establish dominance in Kyoto, sees in Musashi just the weapon he needs to overcome the rebellious Yoshioka.
Sword of Honor seamlessly blends meticulous research, mesmerizing action sequences, and a driving narrative to bring this extraordinary figure to life.
The Falcones are an immigrant family living in New York City in 1920. Their patriarch, Tony, is a respected policeman. His sons, Tommy and Mario, both served in the Great War and are now upstanding citizens-a cop and a priest. But their cousin Nilo has a dark past, and he fled to America after causing several deaths in a fight in Italy.
Nilo soon falls in with Don Maranzano, a Mafia boss who comes from his hometown in Italy. Maranzano grooms Nilo as a “real estate broker,” but after a few months, Nilo is offered the chance to do some serious work. He becomes a useful still-wrecker, assassin, and skilled criminal. The papers give him the name “Kid Trouble.” Tommy and Mario try to turn a blind eye, but it’s hard to hide his underworld affiliations.
As conflicts in the city begin to erupt into a violent war involving gangsters from all parts of the country, Tommy and Mario struggle to stay out of the dark world into which Nilo has dragged the family. But when things take a turn for the worse, the Mafia may be the only place for them to go.
It is the late 18th century and a young Sicilian nobleman, Vitellio Scarpia, finds himself penniless and in disgrace on the streets of Rome. After leaving his home to pursue a military career, his impulsive and undisciplined nature has led to his expulsion from Spanish royal guard, and he must now seek his fortune in Italy; a fortune inseparably bound up with the ruler of the Eternal City, the Pope.
Scarpia enrols in the Papal army and becomes the lover of an alluring countess who introduces him into Roman society with its blend of religiosity, sophistication and intrigue. Half-enthralled, half-appalled, Scarpia enjoys the life of the decadent city, learning in due course that as an unsophisticated provincial he is no match for the worldliness of Rome.
Patronized by a powerful Cardinal, Scarpia is sent on a mission to Venice, where he encounters the beautiful, exquisitely gifted singer, Floria Tosca. As the armies of revolutionary France invade Italy, and war and revolution engulf the whole peninsula, the lives of the two become fatefully entwined.
Piers Paul Read brilliantly reimagines the infamous villain of Puccini’s opera, Tosca, telling a story that shines a light into the dusty corridors of history and the dark corners of the human soul.
Jordan Walsh dreams of being a journalist like her parents and her brother. But it’s 1955, and the men who dominate the newsroom of the Chicago Tribune have no interest in making room for a female cub reporter. Of course, that all changes the moment she gets her hands on some confidential information from Mayor Daley’s office. Now everyone is hanging on Jordan’s every word. But even if she succeeds in landing on the front page, there’s no guarantee she’ll remain above the fold…
In twelfth-century Scotland, far removed from the courtly manners of the Lowland, the Winter Isles are riven by vicious warfare, plots and battles.
Into this hard, seafaring life is born a boy called Somerled. The son of an ageing chieftain, Somerled must prove his own worth as a warrior. He will rise to lead his men into battle and claim the title of Lord of the Isles – but what must he sacrifice to secure the glory of his name?
The Winter Isles is an astonishingly vivid recreation of the savage dynastic battles of medieval Scotland: an authentic, emotional, powerful read.
Rudolf and his wife Verena, still reeling from the loss of their second son, don’t know how to function in the post-war world. Stoneythorpe Hall has become an empty shell with no servants to ensure its upkeep.
Celia, the de Witt’s youngest daughter, is still desperate to spread her wings and see more of the world. To escape Stoneythorpe and the painful secrets that lie there, she moves to London and embraces life and love in the Roaring Twenties.
Ronald Wright – The Gold Eaters (Riverhead Books)
A sweeping, epic historical novel of exploration and invasion in sixteenth-century Peru, of slaves and conquerors, and above all, an enduring love that must overcome the forging of an empire.
Plucked from his small fishing village and captured by the conquistadors looking to plunder the gold of Peru, young Waman is the everyman thrown into extraordinary circumstances, caught up in history’s throes. He finds himself at every major moment in the empire-building of the Spanish explorers, including Francisco Pizarro, and in the culture clash and violent overthrow of the Incan leaders. He becomes an indispensable translator between the two worlds, who must learn political gamesmanship in order to survive and so that he can one day find the love of his life and be reunited with his family.
Based closely on real historical events, The Gold Eaters draws on Ronald Wright’s expert knowledge of sixteenth-century South America, as well as his imaginative ability to bring to life an unforgettable epoch and a world forged anew from violence and upheaval.
Maggie Joel – Half the World in Winter (Corvus)
It is London, 1880, and Lucas Jarmyn struggles to make sense of the death of his beloved youngest daughter; his wife, Aurora, seeks solace in rigid social routines; and his eighteen-year-old daughter Dinah looks for fulfilment in unusual places. Only the housekeeper, the estimable Mrs Logan, seems able to carry on.
A train accident in a provincial town on the railway Lucas owns claims the life of a young child and, amid the public outcry, her father journeys to London demanding justice. As he arrives in the city on a frozen January morning he finds a family with a terrible secret tearing their lives apart.
Alyssa Palombo – The Violinist of Venice (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d’Amato adores music-except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family’s palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.
Adriana’s father is intent on seeing her married to a wealthy, prominent member of Venice’s patrician class-and a handsome, charming suitor, whom she knows she could love, only complicates matters-but Vivaldi is a priest, making their relationship forbidden in the eyes of the Church and of society. They both know their affair will end upon Adriana’s marriage, but she cannot anticipate the events that will force Vivaldi to choose between her and his music. The repercussions of his choice-and of Adriana’s own choices-will haunt both of their lives in ways they never imagined.
Spanning more than 30 years of Adriana’s life, Alyssa Palombo’s The Violinist of Venice is a story of passion, music, ambition, and finding the strength to both fall in love and to carry on when it ends.
Sophie Perinot – Médicis Daughter (Thomas Dunne Books)
Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to her mother’s household, where her education begins in earnest. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Catherine de Médicis is an intimidating and unmoving presence in France-a powerful force in a country recovering from the first of many devastating religious wars. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her manipulative family.
Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot’s heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, a Huguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother’s schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot’s wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul.
Médicis Daughter is historical fiction at its finest, weaving a unique coming-of-age story and a forbidden love with one of the most dramatic and violent events in French history.