Friday, September 27, 2019

Bookshelf, Fall 2019

Yes, indeed, fall is here, and a new crop of books has arrived to keep my shelves nice and full. In addition to Sofia Grant’s Lies in White Dresses (on which more next week, when that interview posts), Talia Carner’s The Third Daughter (interview completed this week, not sure yet when it will go live on the New Books Network), and Georgie Blalock’s The Other Windsor Girl, scheduled for a written Q&A here in early November, I have the following titles lined up—all eventually destined for interviews, or so I hope.

Order is alphabetical, as we’re still working out details of the schedule. So far, I’ve had time to read only one. To find out which one, read on.

Like half the rest of the world, I discovered Tracy Chevalier through The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Loved the book, even more than the movie, and squealed with glee when her publicist wrote to me about her latest novel, A Single Thread, set in Britain in 1932. Here Violet Speedwell, one of the many women left alone by the Great War, chooses to move to Winchester rather than spend any more of her life caring for her embittered mother. There Violet becomes involved with a society of embroiderers associated with the cathedral. But as she settles in, the specter of a new war threatens, placing everything she has worked for at risk.

Yes, another Uhtred novel—no. 12, I believe. But really, can one ever have too much Uhtred? In Sword of Kings, King Edward (successor to Alfred the Great) is dying. Uhtred wants nothing more than to stay and guard Northumbria, his home and now the last outpost standing against the Saxon kings’ complete control of England. Apart from anything else, he’s getting on in years, and war doesn’t have the appeal to him that it did in his teens and twenties.

But once again, the oath he has sworn to Aethelstan calls Uhtred south and into the battle among the rival candidates for Edward’s throne.

Although its title, Bound in Flame, sounds like a bodice ripper, the cover images of Kathryne Kayne’s new novel redirect us to Hawai’i in 1906-9. There a young woman, Letty Lang, struggles to reconcile her love of animals, her campaign for female suffrage, a romantic relationship that she may have to protect from her own otherworldly powers, and a special tie to her native land, recently and forcibly annexed by the United States. The flames represent, more than anything else, the island’s many volcanoes—but perhaps also the fire of Lily’s own nature. This first volume in a new series about the ranching women of early twentieth-century Hawai’i, stands out for me because so few writers have chosen to tackle this subject in fiction.

I heard about Lara Prescott’s debut novel, The Secrets We Kept, on NPR Weekend Edition, during the author’s interview with Scott Simon, one of my heroes. When I saw it listed again on a list of most awaited fiction for the fall of 2019, I knew I had to follow up. Doctor Zhivago, the CIA in the United States and Russia, female typists working for the CIA? How could a historian of Russia resist? I’ll be talking to the author, I hope, sometime in December and January, after her hectic book tour calms down.


In January of this year, I featured The Black Ascot, by the ultra-productive mother-son team that publishes as Charles Todd, on this blog. I loved that book and was amazed to realize that it was no. 21 in a series I’d never heard of, never mind that the author(s) also had a second series centered on a World War I nurse named Bess Crawford, with ten books, and a couple of stand-alone novels as well. So when their publicist pitched me on Bess no. 11, A Cruel Deception, I knew I had to follow up. This is the one book I just finished, in advance of an interview in mid-October, and I really enjoyed it.

Here the war has ended, and Bess’s matron sends her to France to find out what has happened to the matron’s son. Bess assumes the worst, and she’s not far off track there, but the solution to the puzzle takes her in directions that are at once not anticipated at the beginning and completely in line with what we now know about the experience of soldiers stuck in the trenches for far too long. 

Bess is smart and independent, empathic and caring, blunt when it counts and tactful when she needs to be—a heroine I want to learn more about, as soon as I shrink those book piles down to a reasonable size....

Image: Cat watching sunset from Pixabay (no attribution required).

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