Sunday, August 31, 2014

Upcoming Releases in History Books

Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison
Release Date: October 28, 2014

The profoundly inspiring and fully documented saga of Joan of Arc, the young peasant girl whose "voices" moved her to rally the French nation and a reluctant king against British invaders in 1428, has fascinated artistic figures as diverse as William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, Carl Dreyer, and Robert Bresson. Was she a divinely inspired saint? A schizophrenic? A demonically possessed heretic, as her persecutors and captors tried to prove?

Every era must retell and reimagine the Maid of Orleans's extraordinary story in its own way, and in Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured, the superb novelist and memoirist Kathryn Harrison gives us a Joan for our time—a shining exemplar of unshakable faith, extraordinary courage, and self-confidence during a brutally rigged ecclesiastical inquisition and in the face of her death by burning. Deftly weaving historical fact, myth, folklore, artistic representations, and centuries of scholarly and critical interpretation into a compelling narrative, she restores Joan of Arc to her rightful position as one of the greatest heroines in all of human history.

Severed by Frances Larson
UK Release Date: November 6, 2014
US Release Date: November 17, 2014

A serious and seriously entertaining exploration of the dark and varied obsessions that the “civilized West” has had with decapitated heads and skulls.

The human head is exceptional. It accommodates four of our five senses, encases the brain, and boasts the most expressive set of muscles in the body. It is our most distinctive attribute and connects our inner selves to the outer world. Yet there is a dark side to the head’s preeminence, one that has, in the course of human history, manifested itself in everything from decapitation to headhunting. So explains anthropologist Frances Larson in this fascinating history of decapitated human heads. From the Western collectors whose demand for shrunken heads spurred massacres to Second World War soldiers who sent the remains of the Japanese home to their girlfriends, from Madame Tussaud modeling the guillotined head of Robespierre to Damien Hirst photographing decapitated heads in city morgues, from grave-robbing phrenologists to skull-obsessed scientists, Larson explores our macabre fixation with severed heads.

The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War by Don H. Doyle
Release Date: December 30, 2014

When Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, he realized that the Civil War had taken on a wider significance—that in Europe and Latin America people were watching to see whether the democratic experiment in “government by the people” would “perish from the earth.”

In The Cause of All Nations, distinguished historian Don H. Doyle explains that the Civil War was more than an internal American conflict; it was a struggle that spanned the Atlantic Ocean. This book follows the agents of the North and South who went abroad to tell the world what they were fighting for, and the foreign politicians, journalists, and intellectuals who told America and the world what they thought this war was really about—or ought to be about. Foreigners looked upon the American contest as an epic battle in a grand historic struggle that would decide the fate of democracy as well as slavery for generations to come.

The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor
Release Date: September 21, 2014

Amazons—fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world—were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Pompey tangled with Amazons.

But just who were these bold barbarian archers on horseback who gloried in fighting, hunting, and sexual freedom? Were Amazons real? In this deeply researched, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated book, National Book Award finalist Adrienne Mayor presents the Amazons as they have never been seen before. This is the first comprehensive account of warrior women in myth and history across the ancient world, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Great Wall of China.

Mayor tells how amazing new archaeological discoveries of battle-scarred female skeletons buried with their weapons prove that women warriors were not merely figments of the Greek imagination. Combining classical myth and art, nomad traditions, and scientific archaeology, she reveals intimate, surprising details and original insights about the lives and legends of the women known as Amazons. Provocatively arguing that a timeless search for a balance between the sexes explains the allure of the Amazons, Mayor reminds us that there were as many Amazon love stories as there were war stories. The Greeks were not the only people enchanted by Amazons—Mayor shows that warlike women of nomadic cultures inspired exciting tales in ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Central Asia, and China.

Fashion in the Time of William Shakespeare: 1564-1616 by Sarah Downing
UK Release Date: September 10, 2014
US Release Date: October 7, 2014

Garments and accessories are prominent in almost all of William Shakespeares plays, from Hamlet and Othello to A Midsummer Nights Dream and Twelfth Night. The statement 'Clothes maketh the man was one that would have resonated with their audiences: the rise of England's merchant class had made issues of rank central to Elizabethan debate, and a rigid table of sumptuary laws carefully regulated the sorts of fabric and garment worn by the different classes. From the etiquette of courtly dress to the evolution of the Elizabethan ruff, in this vibrant introduction Sarah Jane Downing explores the sartorial world of the late-16th century, why people wore the clothes they did, and how the dizzyingly eclectic range of fashions (including ruffs, rebatos and French farthingales) transformed over time.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Neverhome by Laird Hunt

Received advanced review copy from publisher via NetGalley. My opinions are my own.
Release date: September 9, 2014

In this American Civil War gender bender, Constance is everything a soldier is expected to be: strong, brave, hardworking, and an excellent shot. Her husband has less of these qualities and so when war breaks out, she feels it her civic duty to take his place as a soldier. Dressing like a man and calling herself Ash, she signs up with the Union army. Despite their unconventional gender role reversal, the two share a deep love.

The first half of this is an eventful yet slow paced novel about Ash's experience in becoming and living life as a soldier and a man. While there are a few exciting moments, there is not much of a plot in the first half of the book, which is not necessarily a criticism. It is mostly Ash's internal thoughts and feelings about how her experience is changing her, and yet how it also has always suited her, almost as a calling. Ash frequently has memories of and even an internal dialogue with her deceased hard-as-nails mother, as a way of helping her sort her thoughts.

In the second half, it is a more adventurous tale of her journey home, and the people she meets along the way. While it's well written in a style that resembles an authentic civil war era and farm worker tone, it lacks a little bit of an emotional connection with the characters. There are also some strange scenes which I'm still not sure what they meant, and that could be either a good or bad thing. However, it is very thought-provoking and a lot is left to interpretation.

Upcoming Releases in Historical Fiction

The Seven Sisters: A Novel by Lucinda Riley 
Release Date: May 5, 2015

Maia D’Apliese and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, “Atlantis”—a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva—having been told that their beloved father, who adopted them all as babies, has died. Each of them is handed a tantalizing clue to her true heritage—a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of her story and its beginnings.

Eighty years earlier in Rio’s Belle Epoque of the 1920s, Izabela Bonifacio’s father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into the aristocracy. Meanwhile, architect Heitor da Silva Costa is devising plans for an enormous statue, to be called Christ the Redeemer, and will soon travel to Paris to find the right sculptor to complete his vision. Izabela—passionate and longing to see the world—convinces her father to allow her to accompany him and his family to Europe before she is married. There, at Paul Landowski’s studio and in the heady, vibrant cafes of Montparnasse, she meets ambitious young sculptor Laurent Brouilly, and knows at once that her life will never be the same again.

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
Release Date: April 7, 2015

The highly anticipated, brand-new timeslip romance from New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread-its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal's cipher.

But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal's reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn't hold the secrets Sara expects. As Mary's tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take... to find the road that will lead her safely home.

The Empty Throne (Saxon Series/The Warrior Chronicles #8) by Bernard Cornwell
UK Release Date: 23 Oct 2014
US Release Date: January 6, 2015

In the battle for power, there can be only one ruler.

England is fractured, torn apart more by internal fighting than the threat of Viking invasion. The ruler of Mercia is dying, leaving no legitimate heir. His wife is a formidable fighter and great leader, but no woman has ever ruled over an English kingdom. And she is without her strongest warrior and champion, Uhtred of Bebbanburg. So the scene is set for an explosive battle between elders and warriors for an empty throne.

The vacant throne leaves a dangerous opportunity for the rival West Saxons to seize Mercia. But Edward of Wessex is distracted by the succession of his own throne, with two heirs claiming the right to be West Saxon king. And while the kingdoms are in disarray, the Vikings, this time coming from the west, will go on the rampage once more.

Rodin's Lover: A Novel by Heather Webb
Release Date: January 27, 2015

A mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Époque France

As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness.

Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Matching Covers: Double Dress

This one is interesting because 'The Queens Pawn' has two dresses in it, each found on a different cover.


The green dress can also be found in red and blue:

This doesn't look like the exact same dress (no fur on the sleeve) but it does look remarkably similar. Maybe it is the same but has been photoshopped:

Also not the same dress (looks it but upon close inspection is not) but similar enough to be worth noting:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Kindle Deals (US & UK)

All listed US Kindle books are under $4:


All listed UK Kindle books are under £4:


See more Philippa Gregory Kindle books on sale here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Twice widowed Katherine Parr finds herself the unwilling object of Henry VIII's affections and is forced to marry him while her heart lies with playboy Thomas Seymour. Being queen has it's advantages but passionate Reformer Katherine must tread carefully in a court that is still half Catholic and will jump at the chance to see her become the third beheaded queen of Henry VIII.

As much as present tense narrative is still my unfavored form of story telling, it's refreshing to see an author making use of showing, rather than too much telling. For the most part, the characterization was well done, especially with Elizabeth and I would have liked to see more of her. But I did have trouble understanding how an intelligent and experienced woman like Katherine could fall for a douchebag like Thomas Seymour (it's really the only word to describe him). I am not just saying that because I had the benefit of knowing what Thomas would later do - in fact, in the beginning I wondered if the author would take a nontraditional approach and portray Seymour as a misunderstood victim of rumors. But he is just not a likable character and I couldn't understand why Katherine loved him. It even seems like Katherine herself couldn't understand it - behavior she admitted would otherwise by annoying, on him was "adorable". So although this is a good, quick read, it won't satisfy a thirst for real romance, at least not with Katherine. Katherine's trusted servant and friend Dot and her love interest William Savage will have to suffice.

One thing that puzzled me is why the narrative kept referring to Katherine's sister Anne as "Sister Anne". At first, I thought she was a nun but she is married with children. It's not like there were lots of other "Anne's" in the story that the author needed a way to distinguish her, though there was a few mentions of Anne Boleyn, it's not like she was a present character. It really should have been "her sister Anne" or "sister Anne". I still can't figure out why "sister" was being capitalized, as if it were a title.

Apart from these two complaints, it was an enjoyable read and I do think the author did well to make this an exciting and interesting story. Of all of Henry's wives, Katherine Parr's story may appear among the most uneventful on the surface but this novel is anything but uneventful. I appreciated the inclusion of some theology of the characters, since so many contemporary historical novels don't seem to truly understand how important the religious conflict was at the time. They may make mention of this person being Catholic and that person being Reformed but they don't seem to realistically include theological discussions and arguments being had.

So although I had a few issues to pick at, I was surprised to wind up enjoying this, considering I don't normally like present tense novels. If you're looking for one about Katherine Parr, this is a good option.

Matching Covers: With or Without The Oversized Collar

Without, please...

Who did it best? "May Bride" looks the most professionally done but I don't love the red hues. So I would next go for "My Lady Viper".

New addition: Taste of Treason is quite good too, if a litle fantasy looking.


This is interesting - it appears to be the same model but without the dress and hair:

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