Tag archives for Thomas Dunne Books

Anticipated Books (Winter-Spring) 2014: Historical Fiction January-March

2014Welcome 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!   Continue reading »

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Author Query – James MacManus [Blog Tour]

jamesmacmanus-blackvenusThis morning I posted my review for James MacManus’ novel Black Venus. As part of my stop of the blog tour I also was lucky enough to be able to ask the author some questions. Unfortunately, due to real life hitting me over the head, it completely slipped my mind to send in my questions on time. Fortunately, Veronica, the publicist organising the book tour had her own list of questions and was kind enough to share the answers to the questions that were closest to my own. So I still get to present you with a Q&A with James MacManus after all. Thank you, Veronica! And thank you to James MacManus for answering these questions.

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James MacManus – Black Venus [Blog Tour]

jamesmacmanus-blackvenusFor readers who have been drawn to The Paris Wife or Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Black Venus captures the artistic scene in the great French city decades earlier, when the likes of Dumas and Balzac argued literature in the cafes of the Left Bank. Amongst the bohemians the young Charles Baudelaire stood out—dressed impeccably thanks to an inheritance that was quickly vanishing. Still at work on the poems which he hoped would make his name, he spent his nights enjoying the alcohol, opium, and women who filled the seedy streets of the city.

One woman would catch his eye—a beautiful Haitian cabaret singer named Jeanne Duval. Their lives would remain forever intertwined thereafter, and their romance would inspire his most infamous poems—leading to the banning of his masterwork Les Fleurs du Mal and a scandalous public trial for obscenity.

Black Venus recreates the classic Parisian literary world in vivid detail, complete with not just an affecting portrait of the famous poet but also his often misunderstood, much-maligned muse.

When I read the synopsis for Black Venus, it immediately grabbed my attention, with its mentions of Paris, artists, and bohemians, I immediately thought Toulouse-Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge. It turns out I was thinking a couple of decades too late, as Baudelaire lived from 1821 until 1867 and Toulouse-Lautrec was only born in 1864, but the spark of interest had been lit. The subject matter of Charles Baudelaire and his muse Jeanne Duval would suggest a romantic story; however, James MacManus gives us anything but a conventional romance in his latest novel Black Venus. Instead he gives us a strange blend of fiction and history book, which while fascinating left me feeling largely unconnected to its protagonists.

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Anticipated Books (Winter/Spring) 2013: Historical Fiction

2013Today we’re doing some time travel for my Anticipated Books posts by looking at historical fiction. I rediscovered historical fiction in 2011 and 2012 only strengthened my love for the genre, so here’s another list that’s become a little longer. 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!

January
C.W. Gortner – The Queen’s Vow (Hodder & Stoughton)cwgortner-thequeensvow
‘I am Isabella, Queen of Castile…’

Isabella was the notorious warrior-queen who, along with her husband Ferdinand, transformed Spain forever. Popular belief has her as a religious fanatic persuaded into the horrific excesses of the Inquisition by her confessor, Torquemada; but C.W. Gortner paints a picture of her early life, showing us a headstrong, passionate girl who grew into the most powerful queen Spain ever knew and whose vision and imagination allowed Columbus to discover America.

katherinekeenum-wherethelightfallsKatherine Keenum – Where the Light Falls (Berkley)
At the dawning of the Belle Epoque, Paris attracts artists from everywhere, including Jeanette Palmer, daughter of a prominent Ohio family, who has left Vassar College under a cloud of scandal.

Amid the city’s great bohemian neighborhoods and studios, Jeanette meets an American Civil War veteran named Edward Murer. As she begins to achieve artistic success, Jeanette’s relationship with Edward begins to flourish—but he is plagued by addiction and personal demons. Just as the world opens its arms to Jeanette, she finds herself torn between pursuing a burgeoning career or following her heart.

Annabel Lyon – The Sweet Girl (Atlantic Books)annabellelyon-thesweetgirl
Pythias is her father’s daughter, right down to her hard, slate-grey eyes. Aristotle’s child should be content with a life of childbearing. But she is smart, able to match wits with a roomful of Athenian thinkers. Is she a freak or a harbinger of what women can really be?
When Aristotle finally dies, however, the orphaned sixteen-year-old Pythias quickly discovers that the world is not a place of logic, but one of superstition. To reach her full potential, Aristotle’s daughter will need every ounce of wit she possesses, but she must also learn, quickly, to nurture her capacity to love.

terencemorgan-shadowprinceTerence Morgan – The Shadow Prince (Macmillan)
One man’s impostor is another man’s king

Perkin Warbeck is an ordinary young man in fifteenth-century Tournai. The son of a port official, he loves nothing more than swimming, singing and fishing with his father. But Perkin has a secret. His real name is Richard, and he is the rightful Prince of England.

Thought to have been murdered with his brother, Edward, in the Tower of London, he was covertly taken to the continent and placed with an adoptive family under an assumed identity. But when his enemies seek him out he must flee, and embarks on a new life of derring-do, sailing the high seas with the era’s greatest adventurers. But Richard cannot avoid his fate forever. He knows he must return to England, to assume the throne that is his birthright. But what for Richard is a homecoming, for the new king, Henry Tudor, is nothing less than an invasion, and ‘Perkin’ slowly comes to learn that the price of his goal is the blood of innocent men.

February
Tara Conklin – The House Girl (William Morrow)taraconklin-thehousegirl
Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

It is through her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers Josephine Bell and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her house slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit—if Lina can find one. While following the runaway girl’s faint trail through old letters and plantation records, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her?

Moving between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing, suspenseful and heartbreaking tale of art and history, love and secrets, explores what it means to repair a wrong and asks whether truth is sometimes more important than justice.

Elizabeth Gill - Miss Appleby's AcademyElizabeth Gill – Miss Appleby’s Academy (Quercus)
Emma Appleby’s ordered and loving existence in New England comes to an abrupt and painful end with the death of her father. Emma plots her escape to the town in England where he was born. Opening an academy, she sets herself up in competition with the local school, provoking a savage response from the community. But she will not be deterred – even when her past catches up with her.

Victoria Lamb – His Dark Lady (Transworld)victorialamb-hisdarklady
Secrets, spies and murderous plots besiege Shakespeare’s Muse and the court of Elizabeth I

London, 1583

When young, aspiring playwright William Shakespeare encounters Lucy Morgan, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting, his life is turned upside-down as the two fall passionately in love, He declares Lucy the inspiration for his work, but what secret is Will hising from his muse?

Meanwhile, Lucy has her own secret – and one that could destroy her world if exposed. For she bore witness to the clandestine wedding of the Queen’s cousin Lettice Knollys to Robert Dudley, rumoured to be the Queen’s lover. In a court where any slight against the monarch is considered treasonous, what will happen if Lucy’s secret is revealed?

With England in perilous times, Queen Elizabeth’s health begins to deteriorate, her throne under siege from Catholic plotters and threats of war with Spain. Faced with more than she can cope with, she longs for a confidante. But who can she turn to when those closest to her have proved untrustworthy?

Times have never been so precarious. And these two women, with polar-opposite lives, soon find that they are both in danger…

lynnshepherd-atreacherouslikenessLynn Shepherd – A Treacherous Likeness (Corsair)
This compelling follow-up to the acclaimed Tom-All-Alone’s sees the return of Charles Maddox in a new literary mystery that is inspired by the Young Romantics – the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife, Mary, author of Frankenstein, and Lord Byron, famously ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’. Beginning in London in 1850, the story takes the reader back through time and across Europe, to reveal the dark secrets and tangled lives of a dazzling but doomed generation. Drawing on rigorous research, Lynn Shepherd finds new and explosive answers to questions that even modern biographers of the Shelleys still cannot explain.

March
C.C. Humphreys – Shakespeare’s Rebel (Orion)cchumphreys-shakespearesrebel
London 1599, a city on the brink of revolution…

He is Queen Elizabeth’s last, perhaps her greatest, love – Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex. Champion jouster, dashing general…and the man that John Lawley, England’s finest swordsman, most wishes to avoid. For John knows the other earl – the reckless melancholic – and has had to risk his life for him in battle one time too many.

All John wants is to be left alone to win back the heart of the woman he loves, be the kind of father that his son can look up to, and arrange the fight scenes for the magnificent new theatre, the Globe. To realise these dreams, John must dodge both Essex and his ruthless adversary for the queen’s affections, Robert Cecil, and remain free to help his oldest friend Will Shakespeare finish the play that threatens to destroy him: THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET.

But John is doomed by his three devils: whisky, women and Mad Robbie Deveraux. Despite every effort to evade the clutches of Elizabeth and her cohorts, John is soon enmeshed in the intrigues of court and dragged into the seemingly hopeless war in Ireland, forced to play his part in a deadly game of power and politics, conspiracy and rebellion.

From the scaffold of the Globe to the one in the Tower. From ambush in Ireland to even greater menace in Whitehall, John Lawley must strive to be – or not to be – the man who might just save England.

April
richardblake-theghostsofathensRichard Blake – The Ghosts of Athens (Hodder & Stoughton)
It is 612 AD and Aelric &8211; senator of the Roman Empire, fresh from a bloodbath in Egypt – is forced to divert the Imperial galley to Athens.

He finds a demoralized and corrupt provincial city threatened by and an army rumoured to contain twenty million starving barbarians.

Not to mention an explosive religious dispute, an unexplained corpse, and hints of something worse than murder…

He will have to call upon all his formidable intellect and lethal ingenuity to survive his enemies inside and outside the city walls…

Iain Gale – Keane’s Company (Heron Books)Iain Gale - Keane's Company
James Keane, officer in the 27th Foot, card sharp, ladies’ man and one of the finest but most rebellious soldiers in the British army, is under threat of court martial for disobeying Wellesley’s strict rules. Buthis special, even ungentlemanly, skills have caught his general’s eye, so he is selected to form a unique unit which will work behind enemy lines.

Keane’s next task is to hand-pick his band of men, some from prison for their aptitude at lock-picking and forgery as well as fighting skills, and form them into an effective unit before being sent on their first intelligence-gathering special mission, this time to link up with a lethal Spanish guerrilla leader.

Stealing into Oporto, Keane’s men have to hold a vital post over the river a crossing against overwhelming forces, before being detached once more into the high mountains on another mission where the strains of the diverse characters of the unit test Keane’s leadership skills to the uttermost.

timleach-thelastkingoflydiaTim Leach – The Last King of Lydia (Atlantic Books)
Croesus, once the richest man of the ancient world, remembers how he once asked the old philosopher, Solon, who was the happiest man alive? Croesus used to think it was him. Yet his wealth could not remove the spear from his dying son’s chest; could not make him as wise as his own slave; could not bring his wife’s love back; could not stop his army being torn apart, his kingdom defeated.

As the old philosopher replied, a man’s happiness can only be measured when he is dead. And Croesus is about to be burned alive.

Imogen Robertson – The Paris Winter (Headline)imogenrobertson
Paris, 1909, Grieving the loss of her father, Maud travels to Paris to paint. Slipping into poverty, she is hired as a companion to young, beautiful Sylvie. But Sylvie is a prisoner in her own home, controlled by her addiction to opium. As Maud uncovers the secrets within this world of luxury, she is both fascinated and repelled by what she finds. Will she be able to resist the temptations of Paris and the seductions of wealth?

David_ThomasDavid Thomas – Killer at the End of the Line (Quercus)
Berlin, 1941: The battered remains of a woman: the seventh victim of a serial killer who has cast a pall of terror over the city. With SS-General Heydrich demanding immediate results, detective Georg Heuser races to catch the killer before he strikes again.

Minsk, 1942: Thousands of Jews arrive in cattle trucks. Among the policemen about to commit some of the most terrible crimes is detective Georg Heuser.

Koblenz 1962: One young lawyer closes in on her prey, and wonders – just how bad can a good man become?

Eva Weaver – The Puppet Boy of Warsaw (Weidenfeld)
Mika, a Jewish boy, inherits a coat from his grandfather and discovers a puppet in one of its many secret pockets. He becomes a puppeteer in the Warsaw ghetto, but soon his talent is discovered and Mika is forced to entertain the occupying German troops instead of his countrymen. There is one soldier, Max, with a heavy conscience, and when Max is handed one of Mika’s puppets, a war-torn legacy is passed from one generation to another.

Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni (HarperCollins)helenewecker-thegolemandthejinni
A marvelous and absorbing debut novel, an enchanting combination of vivid historical fiction and magical fable about two supernatural creatures in turn-of-the-century immigrant New York.

 

 

 

May
christiancameron-theillmadeknightChristian Cameron – The Ill-Made Knight (Orion)
William Gold comes into the world as his family slides down the social ladder. His head filled with tales of chivalry, instead he is branded a thief, and must make do with being squire to his childhood friend Sir Robert, a knight determined to make a name for himself as a man at arms in France. While William himself slowly acquires the skills of knightly combat, he remains an outsider – until the Battle of Poitiers when Sir Robert is cut down by the greatest knight of the age, Sir Geoffry de Charny, and William, his lowly squire, revenges him. But with his own knight dead, no honour acrrues to William for this feat of arms, and he is forced to become a mercenary. Scavenging a mis-matched set of armour from the knightly corpses, he joins one of the mercenary companies now set to pillage a defenceless France, and so begins a bloody career that sees William joining forces with the infamous Sir John Hawkwood and immersing himself in a treacherous clandestine war among the Italian city states. But paradoxically it is there, among the spies, assassins and hired killers serving their ruthless masters, that William finally discovers the true meaning of chivalry – and his destiny as a knight.

Sarah Dunant – Blood and Beauty (Virago)sarahdunant
By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and in the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: he is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women and power must use papacy and family to succeed.

His eldest son Cesare, a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest – though increasingly unstable – weapon. Later immortalised in Machiavelli’s The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. His daughter Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages: from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.

philipkazan-appetitePhilip Kazan – Appetite (Orion)
Nino knows that having a passion is the key to surviving in Florence without losing yourself completely. But Nino’s greatest gift will be his greatest curse; every flavour, every ingredient comes alive for him as vividly as a painting. His desire to create the perfect recipe and his love for Tessina soon lead him into danger, and Nino is forced to battle his deadly sins.

Giles Kristian – Brothers’ Fury (Transworld)gileskristian-brothersfury
Rebel Cast out from his home, rejected by his family, Tom Rivers returns to his regiment. But his former commander believes the young hothead’s recklessness and contempt for authority has no place in his troop. And yet to a spymaster like Captain Crafte, Tom’s dark and fearless nature is in itself a weapon to be turned upon the hated cavaliers. For who else would dare to infiltrate Oxford, now the Royalist capital, to destroy the King’s printing press and strike a blow at the very heart of the enemy?

Renegade Raw with grief at the death of his father, Edmund Rivers rejects the peace talks between Parliament and the King. Instead, he leads a ragged but hardened band of amrauders across the moors, appearing out of the frozen world to fall on unsuspecting rebel columns like wolves. But Prince Rupert, who recognizes in Mun a fellow child of war, has other uses for him, from stealing an enormous gun, to burrowing through mud beneath the walls of Lichfield. The only peace the enemy will get from Mun Rivers is that of the grave.

Huntress Her heart broken from the loiss of her beloved Emmanuel and her father, Bess Rivers must make the hardest decision of her life. Leaving her new-born son behind she rides from Sheer House seeking Lady Mary’s estranged father, for she hopes he will help her re-unite what is left of her broken family. Risking her own life on the road, Bess will do whatever it takes to find her brother Tom and secure his Royal pardon – can she douse the flames of her brothers’ fury and see them reconciled?

jamesmacmanus-blackvenusJames MacManus – Black Venus (Thomas Dunne Books)
For readers who have been drawn to The Paris Wife or Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Black Venus captures the artistic scene in the great French city decades earlier, when the likes of Dumas and Balzac argued literature in the cafes of the Left Bank. Amongst the bohemians the young Charles Baudelaire stood out—dressed impeccably thanks to an inheritance that was quickly vanishing. Still at work on the poems which he hoped would make his name, he spent his nights enjoying the alcohol, opium, and women who filled the seedy streets of the city.

One woman would catch his eye—a beautiful Haitian cabaret singer named Jeanne Duval. Their lives would remain forever intertwined thereafter, and their romance would inspire his most infamous poems—leading to the banning of his masterwork Les Fleurs du Mal and a scandalous public trial for obscenity.

Black Venus recreates the classic Parisian literary world in vivid detail, complete with not just an affecting portrait of the famous poet but also his often misunderstood, much-maligned muse.

Madeleine E. Robins – Sold for Endless Rue (Forge)madelineerobins-soldforendlessrue
This captivating historical answers the question, “Why did Rapunzel’s mother lock her in the tower?”

After a blighted childhood, young Laura finds peace and purpose in the home of a midwife and healer. Later, she enrolls in Salerno’s famed medical school—the first in the world to admit women. Laura and her adoptive mother hope that Laura can build a bridge between women’s herbal healing and the new science of medicine developing in thirteenth century Italy.

The hardest lessons are those of love; Laura falls hard for a fellow student who abandons her for a wealthy wife. Worse, her mother rejects her as “impure.” Shattered, Laura devotes herself to her work, becoming a respected medico. But her heart is still bitter, and when she sees a chance for revenge, she grabs it—and takes for her own Bieta, the newborn daughter of a woman whose husband regularly raided the physician’s garden for bitter herbs to satisfy his pregnant wife’s cravings.

Determined to protect her adored daughter from the ravages of the world, Laura isolates the young woman in a tower. Bieta, as determined as her mother, escapes, and finds adventure—and love—on the streets of Salerno.

Bieta’s betrayal of her mother’s love comes at a terrible price as lives are ruined and families are torn apart. Laura’s medical knowledge cannot heal her broken heart; only a great act of love can bring everyone forgiveness and peace.

mjrose-seductionM.J. Rose – Seduction (Atria)
In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus–and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.

Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey–wher Hugo conducted the séances–hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different–Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.

Robert Wilton – Traitor’s Field (Corvus)robertwilton-traitorsfield
It is 1648 and Britain is at war with itself. The Royalists are defeated but Parliament is in turmoil, its power weakened by internal discord.

Royalism’s last hope is Sir Mortimer Shay, a ruthless veteran of decades of intrigue who must rebuild a credible threat to Cromwell’s rule, whatever the cost.

John Thurloe is a young official in Cromwell’s service. Confronted by the extent of the Royalists’ secret intelligence network, he will have to fight the true power reaching into every corner of society: the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey.

June
elizabeth-chadwickElizabeth Chadwick – The Summer Queen (Sphere)
Eleanor of Aquitaine is a twelfth-century icon who has fascinated readers for 800 years. But the real Eleanor remains elusive.

This stunning novel introduces an Eleanor that all other writers have missed. Based on the most up-to-date research, it is the first novel to show Eleanor beginning her married life at 13. Barely out of childhood, this gives an entirely new slant to how Eleanor is treated by those around her. She was often the victim and her first marriage was horribly abusive.

Overflowing with scandal, passion, triumph and tragedy, Eleanor’s legendary story begins when her beloved father dies in the summer of 1137, and she is made to marry the young prince Louis of France. A week after the marriage she becomes a queen and her life will change beyond recognition . . .

Laurie Graham – The Liar’s Daughter (Quercus)Laurie_Graham
Nan Brunty’s mother George keeps an alehouse in Deptford, named the Duchess of Brunty, the title she claims would have been hers, had Nelson survived.

Eighteenth century Admiralty Regulations forbade women living on board ship, but many found ways around this. George served on a number of ships, both as a man and unmasked. As Nan narrates her mother’s history she becomes obsessed by the idea that Nelson could have been her father. She meets a young man, Baltic Nelson, who clings to the same belief. Could her mother’s wild stories really be true?

edwardrutherfurdEdward Rutherfurd – Paris (Hodder & Stoughton)
Edward Rutherfurd, the world’s greatest writer of historical epics, turns his attention to Paris and the lives of the men and women who, in two thousand years, transformed a humble Roman trading post on the muddy banks of the Seine to the most beautiful and celebrated capital in the world.

From its founding under the Romans to the timeless love story of Abelard and Heloise and the martyrdom of Joan of Arc; from the gilded glories of the Bourbon kings to the horrors of the French Revolution; from the glittering Napoleonic empire to the Nazi occupation and the incredible efforts of the French Resistance: PARIS brings the sights, scents, and tastes of the City of Lights to sumptuous life.

Henry Venmore-Rowland – The Sword and the Throne (working title) henryvenmorerowland(Transworld)
AD 69. Aulus Caecina Severus has thrown in his lot with the hedonistic Vitellius and prepares his legions for a gruelling march over the Alps.

Driven by the desire to repay the treachery of his former patron, the Emperor Galba, and to keep his rival Valens in check, Severus leads his army against barbarian rebellions and against the mountains themselves in his race to reach Italy first. With the vast Po valley almost in sight, news reaches the army that Galba has been killed in a coup, and that Otho has been declared Emperor by the Praetorians who he had bribed to murder their own emperor.

But there is no turning back for Severus, even if he wanted to. The Rhine legions want their man on the throne, and they won’t stop until they reach Rome itself. Even once Otho is defeated, the battle for supremacy between Severus and Valens is far from over. The politics of the court and the mob is the new battleground, and Severus needs the help of his wife Salonina and his freedman Totavalas in this constant game of thrones. When stories spread of a new power in the east, Severus has to decide where his real loyalty lies: to his Emperor, to his city or to himself?

kateworsley-sherisesKate Worsley – She Rises (Bloomsbury)
It is 1740 and Louise Fletcher, a young maid, has been warned of the lure of the sea for as long as she can remember—after all, it stole away her father and brother. But when she is offered work in the bustling naval port of Harwich serving a wealthy captain’s daughter, she leaps at the chance to see more of the world. There she meets Rebecca, her haughty and fascinating mistress.

Intertwined with Louise’s story is that of fifteen-year-old Luke, who is beaten and press ganged, sent to sea against his will on board the warship Essex in the service of His Majesty’s Navy. He must learn fast and choose his friends well if he is to survive the brutal hardships of a sailor’s life and its many dangers, both up high in the rigging and in the dark decks down below.

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John Ajvide Lindqvist – Little Star

A man finds a baby in the woods, left for dead. He brings the baby home. The man’s son, Jerry, teaches the child music. Deciding he can’t let the girl’s uncommonly beautiful voice go unheard, Jerry enters her in a singing competition. Miles away another young girl sees the performance on television. When the two girls meet, a terrible force is ignited that catapults this duo to a top spot in the horror Hall of Fame.

Last year I decided I needed to man up (woman up?) and get over my wussiness regarding horror. One of the books I read in that pursuit was John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Harbor. To my utter surprise I loved it. Yes, it was scary, yes it was utterly, dreadfully creepy, but I loved it to pieces. At the time, Little Star had already been released in the UK – I had read the US edition – and from some of the reviews I’d already read and some conversations on Twitter, I knew that at some point I really wanted to read this book. Imagine my excitement when I received an ARC for the American edition in the mail earlier this year! Since I always try to put up reviews close to their publication dates – and the past months have been busy for various reasons – I put off reading the book until last week, when I finally dove in to the strange and twisted tale Lindqvist has spun in Little Star. It was everything it was promised to be and more.

Lindqvist doesn’t rely on gore to make his tale horrific; he gets there by masterfully displaying the deepest and darkest foibles of human nature. In the case of Little Star, there is nothing quite as scary as the mind of a teenage girl – oh lord, grant me strength in ten years time! – and  Lindqvist plumbs the depths of said teenage psyche to great effect, playing off a completely strange and unrelatable teen girl against one that is eerily familiar if taken to the extreme limits of plausibility. This contrast between the two storylines in roughly the first half of the book is created with consummate skill and one has to look closely to see the seeds that the author plants in them; seeds that he’ll later use to entwine two to a whole that only amplifies the horror of the situation and left me feeling powerless because the reader can’t intervene in Teresa’s descent into madness, even if she might recognise the signs of what is going on with her.

The titular Little Star is Theres. She’s a fascinating and contradictory character; how can you not sympathise with an abandoned baby – an innocent, discarded – found and raised in captivity and isolation in a situation reminiscent, but quite different, of that of Natascha Kampusch and Elizabeth Fritzl? At the same time there is something off about Theres, or Little One as she’s called for much of her early life, from the beginning, and it’s hard to put a finger on what that is and on whether it’s inherent to her genetic makeup or created by the way she is brought up and the lies she’s been told by Lennart to keep her in line. I loved the way she transforms herself into something resembling a guru to this tribe of teenage girls, by empowering them in the most frightening of ways, by indoctrinating them to the way of thinking she’s been taught by Lennart and the experiences of her early life.

If Theres is alien to the human experience, Teresa is all too familiar with it. As such, Teresa’s journey in the book is the scarier of the two. She starts out a seemingly normal child. One that asks somewhat strange questions, but children are wont to ask the weirdest and sometimes deepest questions out of the blue. Still, she seems normal, if shy, until puberty and then her slow descent begins. It starts with her best friend moving away, just as she reaches the cusp of puberty and her body starts changing. These changes are unkind to her to say the least – Teresa turns into a bit of an ugly duckling it seems – and combined with the loss of her best friend and the move to secondary school, it serves to isolate her and make her the prime target for the class bullies. What makes Teresa’s story scary is that it’s so believable, it’s easy to see how a young girl could get so isolated and depressed at that age—we hear or read about teenagers like that all the time. It’s also easy to imagine the kind of idolising devotion Theres inspires in Teresa; one has only to think of the screaming girls at any given Bieber concert to prove the point. I connected more to Teresa than I did to Theres, as Theres was too other to comfortably form an attachment too, and I kept hoping against hope that she’d come to her senses and see what was happening to her.

Throughout the novel Theres personifies control. Despite everything, she is in control of first Laila and Lennart, the people who keep her, by dint of their fascination with her vocal gift and later of Jerry, her ‘adoptive’ brother, who feels a kinship and love for her he hasn’t felt for anyone else. Ultimately she controls Teresa and their pack of girls by giving them a sense of control over their emotions and their lives, a sense which is ultimately an illusion. Lindqvist plays with Theres’ apparent and real positions of power; for most of the novel she seems submissive and powerless, even if she is subconsciously pulling everyone’s strings. She exudes a weird sense of fascination, enthralling everyone who comes into her sphere.

At the close of Little Star two questions remained for me: what happens to Jerry and why was Theres dumped as an infant? Was she inherently flawed, even evil, and did her upbringing just (re)enforce this or was she made into what she was by the way she was treated from infancy? It’s the age-old discussion on nature versus nurture and once again, inevitably, we are left without the answer. In the end, I think I prefer not knowing Jerry’s fate and the truth behind the mystery of Theres’ nature; it leaves us the space to hope–hope for a happy ending for Jerry and hope that Theres wasn’t just a product of her upbringing, that there has to be a crack for abuse to shatter someone’s humanity so completely. Little Star leaves us with plenty of gristle to chew over and Lindqvist’s tale will haunt me for a while longer. I think I can now also safely say that Lindqvist has single-handedly cured me of my horror of Horror. Little Star is another stunning novel and Lindqvist is truly a name to be reckoned with in his field and beyond.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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Anticipated Books (Summer/Fall) 2012: Popular fiction and Horror

The next of my Anticipated Books (Summer/Fall) 2012 is all about popular fiction and horror. The popular fiction titles are really genre benders with a lot of historical fiction/fantasy/horror flavours. I’m obviously not much of a horror reader, but I received Lindqvist’s Harbor for review last year and loved it and I’ve heard nothing but good about Little Star. The other posts will follow next Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with the Anticipated Reads post up on the Sunday following.

Popular Fiction
September

Ami McKay – The Virgin Cure (Orion)
‘I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.’ So begins THE VIRGIN CURE, a novel set in the tenements of lower Manhattan in 1871. As a young child, Moth’s father smiled, tipped his hat and walked away from her forever. The summer she turned twelve, her mother sold her as a servant to a wealthy woman, with no intention of ever seeing her again.

These betrayals lead Moth to the wild, murky world of the Bowery, filled with house-thieves, pickpockets, beggars, sideshow freaks and prostitutes, where eventually she meets Miss Everett, the owner of a brothel. Miss Everett caters to gentlemen who pay dearly for companions, and the most desirable of them all are young virgins like Moth.

Through the friendship of Dr Sadie, a female physician, Moth learns to question and observe the world around her, where her new friends are falling prey to the myth of the ‘virgin cure’ to heal the incurable and tainted. She knows the law will not protect her, that polite society ignores her, and still she dreams of answering to no one but herself. There’s a high price for such independence, though, and no one knows that better than a girl from Chrystie Street…

Douglas Nicholas – Something Red (Emily Bester Books)
During the 1200s in northwest England, in one of the coldest winters in living memory, a formidable middle-aged Irishwoman and the troupe she leads are trying to drive their three wagons across the mountains before the heavy snows set in. Molly, her powerful and enigmatic lover, her fey granddaughter, and her young apprentice, soon discover that something terrible prowls the woods. As the group travels from refuge to refuge, it becomes apparent that the mysterious evil force must be faced and defeated—or else they will surely die.
An intoxicating and spirited blend of fantasy, mythology, and history, Something Red features the most fascinating of characters including shapeshifters, Irish battle queens, Norman knights, Templars, pilgrims, Saracens, a Lithuanian noblewoman, warrior monks, strong—even dangerous—women, and ten murderous mastiffs, as well as an epic snowstorm that an early reader described as “one of the coldest scenes since Snow Falling on Cedars.”

October

K.W. Jeter & Gareth Jefferson Jones – Death’s Apprentice (Thomas Dunne Books)
Forget about Once Upon a Time . . .

Built on top of the gates of Hell, Grimm City is the Devil’s capital on earth. A place where every coffee shop, nightclub and shopping mall is the potential hunting ground for a ghost, a demon, or any of the other supernatural entities that inhabit the Grimm City world.

Death’s seventeen-year-old apprentice, Nathaniel, comes into his own as he leads an uprising against the Devil with the help of a half-dead wraith and a giant hitman. What results is a bloody, brutal revolt that calls upon the loyalties of both the living and the dead.

Based not only upon the Brothers Grimm well-known fairy tales, but also upon their “unknown” sagas and essays, Grimm City is the first novel to be based upon the entire Grimm canon. Such a comprehensive, in-depth adaptation of the works of the Brothers Grimm has never been published before!

November

Essie Fox – Elijah’s Mermaid (Orion)
Since she was found as a baby, floating in the Thames one foggy night, the web-toed Pearl has been brought up in a brothel known as the House of Mermaids. Cosseted and pampered there, it is only when her fourteenth birthday approaches that Pearl realises she is to be sold to the highest bidder.
Meanwhile, the orphaned twins, Lily and Elijah, have shared an idyllic childhood, raised in a secluded country house with their grandfather, Augustus Lamb. But when Lily and Elijah go on a visit London, a chance meeting with the ethereal Pearl will have repercussions for all of them, binding their fates together in a dark and dangerous way…
In this bewitching, sensual novel, Essie Fox has written another tale of obsessive love and betrayal, moving from the respectable worlds of Victorian art and literature, and into the shadowy demi-monde of brothels, asylums and freak show tents – a world in which nothing and no-one is quite what they seem to be.

Horror

John Ajvide Lindqvist – Little Star (October, Thomas Dunne Books)
A man finds a baby in the woods, left for dead. He brings the baby home. The man’s son, Jerry, teaches the child music. Deciding he can’t let the girl’s uncommonly beautiful voice go unheard, Jerry enters her in a singing competition. Miles away another young girl sees the performance on television. When the two girls meet, a terrible force is ignited that catapults this duo to a top spot in the horror Hall of Fame.

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John Ajvide Lindqvist – Harbor

One ordinary winter afternoon on a snowy island, Anders and Cecilia take their six-year-old daughter Maja across the ice to visit the lighthouse in the middle of the frozen channel. While they are exploring the lighthouse, Maja disappears – either into thin air or under thin ice – leaving not even a bloody footprint in the snow.

Two years later, Anders a broken man, moves back to his family’s abandoned home on the island. He soon realizes that Maja’s disappearance is only one if many strange occurrences, and that his fellow islanders, including his own grandmother, know a lot more than they’re telling. As he digs deeper, Anders begins to unearth a dark and deadly secret at the heart of this small, seemingly placid town.

Harbor was an intriguing novel. When I started it, I was a little apprehensive, as I was afraid I would be too scared – remember, I’m a wimp when it comes to reading horror – but while thrilling and frightening, it didn’t give me nightmares. Instead its horror started with a creeping feeling of unease, of something off and, slowly, the true threat only becomes fully clear towards the end. I found myself eager to return to its pages each night and read until I had to turn off the light due to my eyes falling closed.

One of my favourite elements of this novel were the narrative structure and Lindqvist’s prose. The book is set up in a double narration with switching points of view between Anders and his grandfather Simon, with interspersed breaking of the fourth wall by an unknown narrator and short pieces from the point of view of other Domarö inhabitants. I love these kinds of twined narratives, as they provide not just a way for the author to give us more information about what’s going – as the saying goes: two heads always know more than one – but they also provide opportunities for miscommunication or non-communication between characters, where the reader knows more than the protagonists. Coincidentally, it can also lead to a frustrated outcry of “Why don’t they just talk to each other?”, but Lindqvist never falls in that trap. Yes, there is non-communication, but he allows Simon to decisively put an end to that. Lindqvist’s prose, through the translation of Marlaine Delargy, is clean and clear; no purple prose here, though his descriptions of the stark and isolated landscapes and the small island community are lovely, if at times chilling.

I loved the character of Anders and I found the way Lindqvist describes his dealing with the loss of his daughter fascinating. The idea of losing one of my children – I’m already counting B2 as such, even if she isn’t born yet – or my husband is my biggest nightmare and I thought Lindqvist dealt with both the madness of grief and the reshaping of memories beautifully. Anyone can picture what grief can drive someone too, whether drinking, like Anders, drugs, depression or self-harm. But I found Anders’ reshaping his memories of Maja far more poignant, especially his inability to realise that he’s done so until he’s confronted about it by his grandparents. I think it’s also something a lot of people don’t realise—both that this is a natural reaction and that they’ve probably done the same with some of their own memories. All of this combined makes it hard to figure out whether what Anders thinks he’s experiencing is true or whether they are delusions he’s suffering due to too much alcohol consumption or grief.

The other main narrator is Anders’ sort of grandfather. He’s been together with Anders’ grandmother Anna-Greta for fifty years, though they never got married and is as much a grandfather as Anders has ever known. Despite having lived on Domarö for over half a century and being partnered with the unofficial leader of the island, Simon is still an outsider in many ways, as he finds out when he discovers the island’s secret. But Simon is also more than just an old, retired stage magician, he has real magic, though what kind and how he came by it, is something best left for the reader to discover themselves. I really liked Simon, he is kind, strong and tenacious and I loved his relationship with Anna-Greta.

Domarö and the sea are characters in and of themselves and are maybe the most frightening things in the book. Water can be the most destructive force on earth. It is everywhere and can penetrate everywhere. Water is patient and we humans cannot live without it. The Dutch have learnt to live with the fear of the encroaching water, to literally dam it out and in some ways to harness its amazing power, but we also know that water cannot be tamed and must always be respected. The inhabitants of Domarö respect and fear the sea in the same way, but in their need to placate the sea, they takes desperate and gruesome measures.

Harbor is a stunning story, which made for compelling reading. If you are looking for an intelligent, spooky and mostly non-gory horror tale, this third offering by Lindqvist is just the ticket. I know this first taste of his writing has left me curious for more. I have already read Niall’s review of Lindqvist’s latest book Little Star and that sounds as good or even better as Harbor and I look forward to checking that out in the future.

This book was sent to me for review by the publisher.

By Published Posted in horror, mystery, review | 5 Comments

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