Friday, March 9, 2018

Bookshelf, March 2018

Between the double-barreled nor’easter that knocked out my power last Friday and my Internet and cable connections for the entire weekend (so much for the Oscars) and general overwork, I haven’t spent much time on social media recently—even to alert people to last week’s blog post. I had to reschedule my planned New Books in Historical Fiction (NBHF) interview with John Bell, so I don’t have that to post about, and while a lot of books have come my way, I’ve had little time to read them due to evenings spent going through Song of the Siren and The Shattered Drum. So with heat, light, and Internet restored—at least until the next storm blows through—it seems like the perfect time for a bookshelf post. Here, more or less in order, are a few of the titles on my short list (I have at least twice as many contenders waiting in the wings for a future post).

John Richard Bell, The Circumstantial Enemy (Endeavour Books, 2017)
Technically, I’ve read this one, but until I complete the interview with the author, it’s still front and center in my brain. Tony Babic, a twenty-year-old Croatian pilot whose main goal in life is to get out of the air force after witnessing a tragic accident, is instead pressed into flying for the Luftwaffe against the USSR. Meanwhile, his close friend and the woman they both love become caught up in Tito’s drive to unite Yugoslavia under the communist flag. After a series of adventures, Tony ends up in a US POW camp for German and German-allied prisoners. A very different but equally engrossing take on the Second World War from that adopted by Gwen C. Katz in Among the Red Stars, the subject of my previous NBHF interview.


Claudia H. Long, Chains of Silver (Five Directions Press, 2018)
Since I edited and typeset this book for my own writers’ coop, Five Directions Press, technically I’ve read it too, even though its formal release date is next Thursday, March 15. But my interview with this author, which was supposed to follow the one with John Bell and will now precede it due to the vagaries of weather and electricity, is also still in play; in fact, I need to revisit the book to draw up draft questions this weekend. 

Like two of Claudia Long’s previous novels, Josefina’s Sin and The Duel for Consuelo, this story takes place in colonial Mexico—here among the hidden Jewish community, under pressure from the Catholic Church during the last days of the Inquisition. Marcela Leon, sent to Consuelo’s hacienda for protection after her own parents’ arrest, finds it difficult to understand the danger that faces her. Marcela is, after all, only fourteen years old. Her fiery personality and teenage indiscretion lead to her exile as a housekeeper to a priest in the northern mining region of Zacatecas, where she grows up to become one of the town’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens. But it takes a series of family tragedies before Marcela truly understands the secret of how her parents, especially her mother, endured persecution and finds the strength to make peace with her past. 

Damian Dibben, Tomorrow (Hanover Square Press, 2018)
One of the publicists with whom I’ve worked on setting up interviews sent me this novel unsolicited, and I immediately fell in love with the concept. A dog, known only as “my champion” or “my hero” and from the cover picture a chocolate Labrador (although dog breeds are in fact a later development), lives with his master, an alchemist, in Denmark in 1602. Somehow the dog becomes immortal, as his master and his master’s antagonist also are, but he winds up alone. Like the faithful hound he is, he travels all over Europe for the next two centuries, visiting the canals and palaces of Venice, the court of Louis XIV at Versailles, the battlefields of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, and more. Along the way, he acquires a certain canine wisdom. I’m only about fifty pages in, so I don’t know how the story will develop, but the writing sparkles and the idea is simply irresistible. More about this one in next week’s post. The book is due out March 20.

Adrienne Sharp, The Magnificent Esme Wells (Harper, 2018)
Another novel, this time solicited, from one of the publicists I’ve contacted for NBHF interviews. I’m currently about halfway through and loving this author’s previous book, The True Memoirs of Little K (2010), about the life of the prima ballerina assoluta Mathilde Kschessinska and her (heavily fictionalized—the title is a joke) prolonged affair with the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II. The Magnificent Esme Wells takes place in Hollywood and Las Vegas during the days of Bugsy Siegel. Esme’s mother is a showgirl in the movies, her father a gangster, but they both dream of making it big in their respective realms. In the middle is Esme, trying to make sense of it all. 

Due for release in early April, this book will be the subject of a future NBHF interview. In the meantime, don’t miss the earlier novel, especially if you're a ballet fan or a Russia fan. Mathilde spends most of her time plotting how to get back in the tsar’s good graces and defeat her self-perceived rival, Empress Alexandra (Alix), so you need not be a ballet fan to love the book. But if you are a fan of the Russian Imperial Ballet and enjoy reading about strong-minded women bent on pursuing their interests and defending their children, you absolutely must seek out this book. Besides, is that cover not reason enough to justify purchasing the book?

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