Manda Scott – Into the Fire

mandascott-intothefireThere is a secret, hidden within a body, burning within the flames, that will change it all.

A man’s charred corpse is found in the latest of a string of arson attacks in the French city of Orléans. His is the first death. An extremist group claim responsibility but their whereabouts cannot be found. Police inspector Capitaine Inès Picaut and her team must track them down before more people die. Their only clue? The name of a woman who has been dead for over 500 years: Joan of Arc.

She is one of the great enigmas of history – a young woman who came from nowhere to lead the armies of France to victory against England. And who died the same fiery death as the man whose body has just been discovered.

As more fires rage in Orleans and the death toll mounts, Picaut must look to the past and the secrets which lie buried there to unravel the mysteries of the present. As the clock counts down, she must challenge some fundamental truths to save those closest to her…

Manda Scott’s latest novel, Into The Fire is an interesting version of historical crime fiction: there is historical fiction, there is crime fiction, but they aren’t set in the same time. I found this notion intriguing, especially since the storyline set in the past dealt with Joan of Arc. Of course I knew about Joan of Arc, most European children get taught her story in school, but never much more than your basic facts—miraculous peasant girl turned saviour of the French against the English, who was then burned for her trouble. Yet of the surrounding circumstances – who was fighting who and why – I was largely ignorant. So the chance to learn more about that era and about Joan’s story was one I couldn’t pass up and that is leaving aside the modern-day thriller aspect.  Read More …

Lydia Syson – Liberty’s Fire

lydiasyson-libertysfireParis, 1871. A new revolution.

Life since the war has been tough, but Zéphyrine finds inspiration in the hope offered by the city’s radical new leadership. And she has fallen in love.

Dashing young violinist opens Zéphyrine’s eyes to another new world. He in turn is swept away by her passionate beliefs.

But not all their friends are convinced. With the enemy at the gate and the barricades rising, can love and friendship both survive?

Lydia Syson’s Liberty’s Fire is set in a turbulent era of French history following after a war that is often overlooked between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War—even if it was perhaps the last major war in the West that was fought without modern, by which I mean motorised, artillery. The French-Prussian war is often just a footnote or just a string of dates to learn in history class and Liberty’s Fire taught me more about how the aftermath of this war rocked the French Republic than six years of history classes in grammar school ever did. I’d never realised that there were more revolutionary periods than just the French Revolution in France for one or that Paris for a time was such a socialist commune as it was in the book.  Read More …

Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman – Winter Siege

arianafranklin-wintersiegeIt’s 1141 and freezing cold.

Gwil, a battle-hardened mercenary, is horrified to stumble across a little girl close to death. She has been attacked, just one more victim in a winter of atrocities. Clutching a sliver of parchment, she is terrified – but Gwil knows what he must do. He will bring her back to life. He will train her to fight. And together, they will hunt down the man who did this to her.

But danger looms wherever they turn. As castle after castle falls victim to siege, the icy Fens ring with rumours of a madman, of murder – and of a small piece of parchment with a terrible secret to tell, the cost of which none of them could have imagined . . .

Before Winter Siege I’d actually only read one book by Ariana Franklin, to wit Mistress of the Art of Death. I loved that book, its setting and its characters and was sad to learn that had passed away only a few weeks before I read the book. When I later discovered that her daughter, Samantha Norman, had finished her last book and that it would still be published, I really wanted to read it, especially since it is set in a time period that holds a special place in my heart. The Anarchy, as the period is known, is the one that first drew me to reading historical crime fiction through the mysteries of Ellis Peters’ Cadfael books. While set in the same period as Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar books, Winter Siege stands apart from that series and familiarity with her other books isn’t necessary to enjoy this one.  Read More …

Kate Forsyth – The Wild Girl

kateforsyth-thewildgirlOnce upon a time there were six sisters. The pretty one, the musical one, the clever one, the helpful one, the young one . . . And then there was the Wild one.

Dortchen Wild has loved Wilhelm Grimm since she was a young girl. Under the forbidding shadow of her father and the tyranny of Napoléon’s army, the pair meet secretly to piece together a magical fairy tale collection.

The story behind the stories of the Brothers Grimm.

In 2013 I read and reviewed Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, which is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale retelling interwoven with the historical life of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, one of the first female writers of literary fairy-tales. I absolutely adored the book, even nominating it for a World Fantasy Award that year. So when I learned that Forsyth’s next book was a story about the girl that told Wilhelm Grimm many of the stories he and his brother gathered in their collection of folk tales I was quite excited. I was also lucky enough to get a review copy for it. Unfortunately, The Wild Girl fell prey to the reviewer’s curse of too many books, too little time and languished on my review pile. For this year’s historical fiction month I decided I would make sure to read it. A decision that proved to be a good one as The Wild Girl was every bit as magical and powerful as Bitter Greens was from its arresting opening scene until its final glorious line.  Read More …

Guest Post: Lyndsay Faye – A Study in Seamstresses

lyndsayfaye-thefatalflameSome of my favourite historical crime novels of the past few years have been Lyndsay Faye’s Timothy Wilde books. Set in in late nineteenth-century New York City and featuring one of the first copper stars, who would later go on to become the NYPD, both Gods of Gotham and Seven for a Secret blew me away. Their protagonist, Timothy Wilde has captured my heart and I can’t wait to read his next adventure, The Fatal Flame. The book was published last month and I’m really stoked to have Lyndsay Faye visit the blog today and talk about seamstresses and their role in women’s struggle for equality and independence.  Read More …

Delia Sherman – The Freedom Maze

deliasherman-thefreedommazeAMERICA, 1960: thirteen-year old Sophie is frustrated. Her mother has sent her to spend summer with Grandmama on their family’s old estate in sweltering southern Louisiana. Bored, lonely and far too hot, Sophie starts exploring. When she discovers an overgrown maze, she makes her way inside. Lost among its pathways she finds a magical creature who promises her the adventure of a lifetime . . .

AMERICA, 1860: Sophie is transported a hundred years into the past to the Oak River plantation in its heyday. Her own ancestors mistake her for a slave girl and set her to work alongside the hundreds of other slaves who tend to the fields, the house, and the white family’s every whim. As the reality of slave life becomes horribly clear, Sophie starts to wonder how long she’ll survive; and how – or if – she will ever get back home.

The Freedom Maze is a very special novel about slavery, survival and the many paths to freedom.

As I had heard and read a lot of praise for Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, I was excited to receive a review copy for the UK edition. And I was in no way disappointed by the story. The Freedom Maze was every bit as magical as I’d expected. This novel packs a lot in a slim package and I hope I can do it justice.  Read More …

Alison McMahan – The Saffron Crocus [Blog Tour]

alisonmcmahan-thesaffroncrocusVenice, 1643. Isabella, fifteen, longs to sing in Monteverdi’s Choir, but only boys (and castrati) can do that. Her singing teacher, Margherita, introduces her to a new wonder: opera! Then Isabella finds Margherita murdered. And now people keep trying to kill Margherita’s handsome rogue of a son, Rafaele.

Was Margherita killed so someone could steal her saffron business?

Or was it a disgruntled lover, as Margherita—unbeknownst to Isabella—was one of Venice’s wealthiest courtesans?

Or will Isabella and Rafaele find the answer deep in Margherita’s past, buried in the Jewish Ghetto?

Isabella has to solve the mystery of the Saffron Crocus fast, before Rafaele hangs for a murder he didn’t commit, though she fears the truth will drive her and the man she loves irrevocably apart.

Alison McMahan’s The Saffron Crocus drew my attention because of the setting in Venice. I love books set in Venice during its heyday and The Saffron Crocus sits squarely in that box. And factoring in that the story isn’t just a historical, but a murder mystery and YA to boot, accepting this review copy was a no-brainer. And while the book was a fun read with some great twists, I did have my issues with it.  Read More …

Norah Vincent – Adeline

norahvincent-adelineOn April 18, 1941, twenty-two days after Virginia Woolf went for a walk near her weekend house in Sussex and never returned, her body was reclaimed from the River Ouse. Norah Vincent’s Adeline reimagines the events that brought Woolf to the riverbank, offering us a denouement worthy of its protagonist.

With poetic precision and psychological acuity, Vincent channels Virginia and Leonard Woolf, T. S. and Vivienne Eliot, Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington, laying bare their genius and their blind spots, their achievements and their failings, from the inside out. And haunting every page is Adeline, the name given to Virginia Stephen at birth, which becomes the source of Virginia’s greatest consolation, and her greatest torment.

Intellectually and emotionally disarming, Adeline—a vibrant portrait of Woolf and her social circle, the infamous Bloomsbury Group, and a window into the darkness that both inspired and doomed them all—is a masterpiece in its own right by one of our most brilliant and daring writers.

Virginia Woolf is one of the icons of twentieth century British literature. She and her fellow writers of the Bloomsbury Group are some of the most influential authors of the previous century and every student of English Literature has been assigned at least one of their works to read for class. As was I. As it was, I liked some of the Bloomsbury Set’s works, and those of their contemporaries, I had to read better than I did others—couldn’t get through Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, really enjoyed Eliot’s The Waste Land and Woolf’s Into the Lighthouse, and adored E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View and Howard’s End. So when I discovered that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was publishing Adeline by Norah Vincent, a historical novel about Virginia Woolf focusing on her mental state and the events that drove her to choose her final journey into the Ouse, I was intrigued to read it and when I was offered a review copy I happily accepted.  Read More …

Katherine Clements – The Silvered Heart

katherineclements-thesilveredheart1648: Civil war is devastating England. The privileged world of Katherine Ferrers is crumbling under Cromwell’s army and, as an orphaned heiress, she has no choice but to marry for the sake of family.

But as her marriage turns into a prison and her fortune is forfeit, Katherine becomes increasingly desperate. So when she meets a man who shows her a way out, she seizes the chance. It is dangerous and brutal, and she knows if they’re caught, there’s only one way it can end…

The mystery of Lady Katherine Ferrers, legendary highwaywoman, has captured the collective imagination of generations. Now, based on the real woman, the original ‘Wicked Lady’ is brought gloriously to life in this tale of infatuation, betrayal and survival.

After her wonderful debut novel The Crimson Ribbon, which focused on the Parliamentarian side of the English Civil War, Katherine Clements presents us with an account of those on the losing side with her second novel The Silvered Heart. Using the story of the legendary Wicked Lady as a frame, Clements tells the story of Lady Katherine Ferrers, a noblewoman who lost everything due to the Civil War and as a consequence was reputed to have turned to highway robbery. It makes for an exciting story, but one that delivers a surprisingly strong emotional punch as well.  Read More …

Author Query – Katherine Clements

katherineclements-thesilveredheartLast year Katherine Clements arrived on the scene as an exciting new voice in historical fiction. As I knew I wanted to include Katherine’s books in this year’s historical fiction month on the blog, I decided to go for a triptych. So this is the second of three Katherine Clements posts, after yesterday’s review of The Crimson Ribbon and before tomorrow’s review of The Silvered Heart. Katherine chooses to write in a fascinating era of British history, the Civil War, and I was very much looking forward to asking her more about that and about her research. She also shared a surprising tidbit about Kate’s silvered heart pendant in her latest book. Enjoy the interview and don’t forget to check back tomorrow for my review of The Silvered HeartRead More …