Friday, August 26, 2022

Bookshelf, Summer 2022

Long, slow summer days leave plenty of time for reading, and here is a sampling of the books that crowd my real and virtual bookshelves at present. Most of these will give rise to New Books Network interviews, although Dunnett may be considered research, and I’ll be featuring Andrea Penrose’s latest here on the blog in a few weeks. Some of these I’ve already finished, but the interviews are still in process; others will take longer. And of course, there are other titles I could list—not least the fifty-seven cases of the cat detective Max and his good friends Dooley, Harriet, and Brutus. So far, I’ve read just four of those, but they are like delightful palate cleansers between heftier reads. And what do summer days need more than reading that evokes love and laughter?

Dorothy Dunnett, Spring of the Ram (Vintage, 1987)
As you can see from this lineup, I read a lot of recent historical fiction—hard to avoid when one hosts a podcast called New Books in Historical Fiction. But once in a while, I have time for books that have, shall we say, had time to ripen on the vine. Having just re-read Dunnett’s The Ringed Castle—the fifth of her six-part Lymond Chronicles, set in sixteenth-century Russia and therefore contemporary with my own novels—I remembered that she had also written another series about Lymond’s merchant ancestor in the late fifteenth century.

In this second installment of the House of Niccolò series, Nicholas de Fleury travels to Trebizond and Caffa, near the khanate of Crimea. Dunnett was unsurpassed in the art of historical detail and her ability to create a sense of place; her research was pretty good too. I’m hoping to pick up tips for a later Songs of Steppe & Forest novel that will feature an Italian merchant as its hero. And if I like this one, I will also read book 6, Caprice and Rondo, where Nicholas visits Danzig and has to choose whether to risk becoming embroiled with the Tatars of Ukraine and Crimea.

Laurie R. King, Back to the Garden (Bantam, 2022)
I love King’s Mary Russell novels, so having the chance to talk with her again about this new stand-alone was an instant draw. And I’m so glad it worked out, because the book is a joy.  Stay tuned for news of an interview in September, when the novel releases to the public, but here is a snippet of what to expect.

Inspector Raquel Liang of the San Francisco Police Department Cold Cases Unit has reached a crossroads in her career as the SFPD’s psychological investigator. When news comes of old bones found under a concrete slab at the spiffy Gardener Estate in San Mateo County, Raquel is assigned to find out what happened. Interspersed with Raquel’s search for information, King reveals the events leading up to the murder in 1979, when—for reasons explained in the novel—the now pristine Gardener Estate hosted a hippie commune devoted to organic gardening, free love, and a steady supply of mind-altering drugs. As we move back and forth between past and present, the complex story of one exceedingly troubled family slowly emerges, and a series of twists keep the reader riveted to the page.

Ellen Lohuis, Echoes of Home
(Black Peony Press, 2022)
Sequel to The Horse Master’s Daughter and A Pilgrim’s Heart, also released in 2022, this novel follows the series heroine, Nordun, north from late thirteenth-century Tibet to the lands ruled by the Mongols. She travels to support her lover, Karma, who is attempting to discover the circumstances that led to his being abandoned as a child. 

Nordun has spent much of her life training to become a Buddhist nun, and she is still learning to accept that her spiritual journey may require her to adopt a different path—as the heir of her father’s horse farm and as Karma’s wife. Here the obvious draw for me is the Mongol element, since these are the ancestors of my Tatar characters. But the series itself is fascinating, with lots of insights into Buddhist philosophy, as well as the care and raising of horses. I will be hosting an interview with Elles Lohuis sometime in the fall.

Bárbara Mujica, Miss del Río (Graydon House, 2022)
This novel follows the career of Dolores del Río, one of the first Mexican actresses to become a star in both Hollywood and her home country. Add to that a dramatic tale of the fictional María Amparo (Mara)—Dolores’s hairdresser, confidante, and wry chronicler—and you have a novel that breaks new ground in interesting ways. Mujica follows the lives of both women as they interact, overlap, and at times separate throughout Dolores’s career. But Mara has a story of her own, a tale even more compelling than Dolores’s, and it pulls us along to a dramatic finale and a satisfying conclusion. My interview with Mujica will post in early October.


Andrea Penrose, Murder at the Serpentine Bridge (Kensington Books, 2022)
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane series. I discovered them by chance through an Amazon recommendation and a well-timed promotion, and I’ve never looked back. I interviewed the author last year when Murder at the Botanic Gardens came out, and I would gladly interview her again—except that there’s only so much you can say about a mystery series without giving away spoilers. So instead I’ll post an excerpt and short summary here in a couple of weeks when the book releases.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Interview with Liza Perrat

Although I know that the 1960s, even the late 1960s, technically qualify as historical fiction (set fifty years or more before the time of writing), it still knocks me back a bit when I see events I remember from my own childhood showing up in a historical novel. Such is the case for the student protests in Paris in 1968, which form the backdrop to Liza Perrat’s latest novel, Lake of Echoes.

I should mention that although Liza and I have never met in person, we became acquainted on GoodReads a decade ago and bonded because we were both publishing with writers’ coops. Hers, Triskele Books, is now in abeyance; mine continues, albeit with a changing list of authors. I consider her a friend. But when I recommend her books—Lake of Echoes is the sixth I have read and enjoyed; she has written another that I have not yet read as well as a short story collection—I do so unreservedly, as a blogger/reviewer/fellow writer, without considerations of friendship. As you’ll see if you read on, this latest novel has elements of mystery and suspense. What you can’t see from Liza’s answers is that the book is fast-paced and twisty, utterly gripping, and emotionally wrenching. Do yourselves a favor, and give it a read. You won’t regret it!

Lake of Echoes starts off a new historical series for you. What drew you to this particular story?

After writing a French historical trilogy, then three Australian-set drama novels, I hankered to return to a backdrop of rural France, where I live. I’ve always loved history, but wanted this book, the first in a new French village series, to take place more recently—i.e., the 1960s—rather than much further back, as in The Bone Angel trilogy. The 1960s in France was a time of interesting social change, revolution, and feminism. Given that I like to write about strong female characters, this seemed like a good time period.

Also, I have always been fascinated by psychopaths and cult leaders and by child abduction. So I was able to explore these themes in Lake of Echoes.

The background to your novel, France in 1968–1969, is tense even without the specific events that you introduce. Why are people so worried about communists and similar social movements?

The French Communist Party peaked in strength around the end of World War II, and by the time the German Occupation ended in 1944, the party had become a powerful force in many parts of the country. The party supported the May 1968 student riots and strikes. So during the period my novel takes place, the party was still strong, and people were fearful of not only the communists but the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

Tell us about Léa, your protagonist although not your only point-of-view character. She’s not in a great place at the beginning of the story.

Léa is exhausted from running her lakeside inn—L’Auberge de Léa, which is busier than ever during this summer holiday period. Whilst she is happy to have her independence and a venture of her own, she is disappointed and frustrated at her husband’s lack of both physical and moral support. This situation leads to the couples’ increasing arguments.

Her husband, Bruno, has agreed to her managing a country inn, but he’s not exactly supportive. What’s his story?

Bruno comes from the old school of men who believe a wife’s place is in the home, and her sole purpose in life is to take care of her family. Like so many men at that time, he cannot conceive of a financially independent woman.

And how does their daughter come to be missing?

During the summer school holidays Juliette frequently overhears her parents arguing and runs off, taking refuge in the auberge grounds. But one final argument is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, so she flees again. Unfortunately, a storm is raging, and young Juliette loses her way.

Although we don’t know until the end who The Lion is, we meet him early on. Without giving away spoilers, what can you tell us about him, and why did you decide to include his point of view and that of his twin sister, Alice?

He’s a narcissist who suffered from the death of his mother when he was just eight years old. He believes he’s The Lion, king of the animals, and superior to other people. This leads to his warped, deluded ideals and projects. His role in the story, as well as that of his twin, Alice, is very important, so I wanted to give his point of view in the hope the reader might better understand him. I also wanted to portray why Alice is under his thumb and acts the way she does.

This book has just come out. Are you already working on something new?

Ideally, I would like to write several stories in this Sainte-Marie-du-Lac series. I am currently mulling over a few ideas for book 2, which has the working title Lake of Widows.
Thank you so much for answering my questions!

Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog, C. P.

Liza Perrat is the author of the Bone Angel trilogy, which follows three women from one French family during the French Revolution, World War II, and the Great Plague of 1348. All three books can be read as stand-alones.  She has also written a second historical series set in 1960s Australia: The Silent Kookaburra, The Swooping Magpie, and The Lost Blackbird.

Find out more about her at, where you can sign up for her occasional newsletter about new book releases and receive a FREE copy of Friends & Other Strangers, her award-winning collection of Australian short stories. If you enjoy Liza’s books, follow her on Bookbub.

You can also learn more about The Bone Angel trilogy from my 2017 “Interview with Liza Perrat” and the Australian trilogy at “Changing Times.”

Friday, August 12, 2022

Medicine, Herb Lore, Witchcraft, and Race

It’s a curious coincidence—but only a coincidence—that this summer I happen to be featuring two widowed novel heroines named Maddie who practice medicine. The first, Anne Louise Bannon’s Maddie Wilcox, earned a medical degree in Boston (possible but difficult for a woman in the 1860s) before accepting what turned out to be an unhappy marriage to a friend of her father’s and accompanying her husband west to Los Angeles, then little more than a cow town, where her unsatisfactory husband fortunately met his end in short order. Widowhood frees this Maddie to make a life for herself as a winemaker—a big industry in LA in the 1870s, before the vineyards moved north—although she uses her professional qualifications to help those around her and supplement her income. Her doctoring skills also bring her into contact with suspicious deaths, which she then solves, as described in my New Books Network interview with her creator.

Adele Holmes’s Maddie Fairbanks—the main character in Holmes’s debut novel, Winter’s Reckoning—has a somewhat different history but faces similar issues. Like Maddie Wilcox, Maddie Fairbanks grew up in Boston and left that city to be with her husband in Jamesville, a small town in the Appalachian Mountains, but she married for love and regrets her husband’s death. Again like Maddie Wilcox, Mrs. Fairbanks faces prejudices against women and even more severe instances of racial discrimination, aimed not at herself but at people she is close to, because certain men of the town don’t approve of her belief in integration and equality. By 1917, when Holmes’s novel opens, the Ku Klux Klan is resurgent, making the costs of opposing segregation a matter, literally, of life and death.

Unlike Mrs. Wilcox, however, the medicine Maddie Fairbanks practices is herbal, the result of a long tradition of female healers in her family who sometimes suffered from persecution as witches because of their knowledge. As Adele Holmes and I discuss in our recent New Books Network interview, this family tradition, combined with the forty-year time gap and a different geographical location, intensifies the threat to Maddie Fairbanks when she chooses to confront Jamesville’s newest resident, a charismatic preacher of dubious qualifications who is determined to put Maddie in her place.

As ever, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction:

Madeline (Maddie) Fairbanks has created a satisfying life for herself in Jamesville since the death of her husband, Samuel, one of the town’s leading citizens. An herbalist from a long line of female healers, she provides medical care to local residents at all levels of society, traveling into the hills and from house to house with Renetta Morgan, her young assistant. Although Ren is black and Maddie white, the townsfolk accept their partnership, since the only alternative is a circuit-riding doctor who appears a few times a year. Race relations in Jamesville are tense, with restrictions on who can walk where and which door to the general store serves which type of customer, yet for the most part, Ren and Maddie manage to skirt the rules without drawing undue attention to themselves.

Then Carl Howard arrives in town. At first, he intends merely to pass through, but when he discovers that the town is waiting for a vicar who has not appeared on schedule, Carl sees an opening and announces that he is the reverend assigned to Jamesville’s Protestant church. On his first Sunday, he preaches a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon condemning outspoken, independent women and racial integration. Maddie opposes his point of view, and he fights back by declaring her interest in herbal medicine the equivalent of witchcraft. Before long, the two are at loggerheads, Ren is caught in the middle, and the Ku Klux Klan is riding the wave of Carl’s approval to threaten the people of Jamesville.

In Winter’s Reckoning, Adele Holmes has created an unflinching portrayal of how one narcissistic individual can wreak havoc on an entire community, fanning the flames of underlying conflicts until they explode into violence and hatred. But she also shows how the strength of family, friends, and a powerful, committed heroine can overcome such challenges—producing a novel as heart-warming as it is thought-provoking.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Interview with Jessica Ellicott

In a time when even e-mail has become old hat—replaced by texting, instant messaging, and ever-changing social media—the idea of mischief delivered several times a day through letters (or, for that matter, a postal service so functional that it can deliver several times a day) seems rather quaint.

But it’s supposed to be quaint. Jessica Ellicott’s Beryl and Edwina Mysteries follow the adventures of a pair of school friends, reunited years later in 1926. Beryl Helliwell needs housing in a hurry, and who better to provide it than her old school pal Edwina Davenport? Even though Beryl’s choice means abandoning world travel for life in a quiet English village, she soon discovers that more goes on under the surface of that village than anyone would suspect.

Six cases later, we get to Murder through the English Post, where a series of anonymous letters threatens to expose old tensions in the village and spark new ones. Jessica Ellicott was kind enough to answer my questions, so read on to find out more.

This is your sixth mystery featuring Beryl Helliwell and Edwina Davenport, as well as the adorable Crumpet. What inspired you to start this series?

I have always loved mysteries set in England, especially those set during the Golden Age of Detection. I also enjoy books about friendships between women. My best guess is that the series sprang into mind from those preferences in the magical way that such things do!

You have two leads. Tell us first about Beryl. Who is she, and what is she like as a personality?

Beryl is an American adventurer who has become a celebrity by her verve and panache. She hasn’t met a speed record she wouldn’t like to break, and she is up for most any sort of experience that does not involve tending children. She is an outgoing and exuberant soul who has little experience staying put.

Edwina’s background and personality are quite different. How would you describe her?

Edwina is the sort of person who helps make a community work. She is a genteel woman who knows just which words to say to soothe ruffled feathers or to inspire confidences. She is open to change so long as she can feel convinced of the merit of it.

And what brought these two together?   

Beryl and Edwina first met at Miss DuPont’s Finishing School for Young Ladies. They were reunited years later when Edwina faced financial difficulties and decided to advertise for a lodger. Fortunately for her, Beryl was looking for a room to let. They’ve been living and working together ever since.

No novel set in an English village would be complete without a dog. Tell us a bit about Crumpet and his role in the books.

Crumpet is Edwina’s faithful shadow. He loves to take her on long rambles throughout the countryside, which can offer her a convenient excuse for a bit of surveillance. While he is not central to the novels, he is a cheerful little fellow to include in the stories.

The current  mystery, as the title suggests (and it’s a great title, by the way), involves letter writing, which is almost a lost art these days. Set the situation up for us, please.

I am delighted that you like the title! I had not yet written a novel centering around a poison pen campaign and was eager to do so. This mystery involves a deluge of such letters, which expose secrets and point fingers at most of the residents of Walmsley Parva. Ultimately the ugly accusations and insinuations lead to murder.

Beryl and Edwina’s relationship with the local police officer, Constable Gibbs, seems to have improved quite a bit since Murder in an English Village. But the constable is an interesting character in her own right. Why cast a woman in this role, given that the series begins in the 1920s? And how does Constable Gibbs approach her job?

I was intrigued by the jobs women performed during World War I and how the end of that conflict impacted the trajectory of those careers. Women were generally forced out of positions as constables after the men came home, and I was interested in imagining the sort of woman who would not be set aside. Constable Gibbs dedicated herself to serving her tiny community with the same sort of professional rigor as an officer in a more populated locale. Her fellow villagers generally appreciate her performance, and besides that, given her forceful personality, no one thought it wise to ask her to vacate her position!

This novel just came out. Do you already have another in the works?

I am working on the seventh Beryl and Edwina mystery right now. In it the sleuths return to the finishing school where they first met. The school’s head, Miss DuPont, has asked for their help in discovering who is behind a series of incidents that appear intended to damage the school’s reputation and sabotage her business. Both of them are too well-mannered, thanks in part to Miss DuPont, to leave a lady in the lurch, so they cancel their plans and head directly for London.
Thank you so much for answering my questions!

Agatha award nominee Jessica Ellicott lives in northern New England, where she indulges her passion for all things British by writing the Beryl and Edwina Mysteries. She also writes mysteries under the names Jessica Estevao and Jessie Crockett. Her books have twice received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly as well as one from Library Journal. Her first novel won the Daphne du Maurier award for mystery. Find out more about her at