Wednesday, November 20, 2013

December Historical Fiction Preview


The Wealth of Jamestown by Barbara N. McLennan (Dec 1st)
The history of Virginia reflects the character and goals of the people who lived there, including the women who often ran the plantations and made the deals that became the foundation of the wealth and the basis of the laws.  William Roscoe, young Virginia planter and sheriff, and Sarah Harrison, daughter of one of Virginia’s wealthiest planters, are engaged and in love, but Sarah is forced by her father for business reasons to break the engagement and marry James Blair, Commissary of the Church of England. She retains her dowry and wealth, and while Blair goes to England to lobby for a college of which he’d be President, she continues her relationship with William. She has a baby to be raised by her brother as Benjamin Harrison IV, and continues accumulating property. She and William come to own two sailing ships, and William begins trade with pirates in the new city of Charles Towne. Blair returns to Virginia and raises disputes with Governor Andros and his council. Blair goes back to London and accuses Andros of various offenses before an ecclesiastical court there. With the war with France finished, Andros decides to retire and return to England. Blair takes credit for removing the governor and selecting the new governor. He returns to a colony that is bursting with wealth and growth and excitement, over which he wants to exercise power, but which he doesn’t understand.

The Spook Lights Affair (A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery) by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini (Dec 3rd)
In 1895 San Francisco young debutantes don’t commit suicide at festive parties, particularly not under the watchful eye of Sabina Carpenter. But Virginia St. Ives evidently did, leaping from the foggy parapet at Sutro Heights in a shimmer of ghostly light. The seemingly impossible disappearance of her body creates an even more serious problem for the firm of Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services. Sabina hadn’t wanted to take the assignment, but her partner John Quincannon insisted that it would serve as entrée into the world of the city’s ultra rich and powerful. That meant money, and Quincannon loves the almighty dollar. Which was why, on his own, he is hunting the bandit who’d robbed the Wells, Fargo office of $35,000. Working their separate cases (while Sabina Carpenter holds John Quincannon off with one light hand), the detectives give readers a tour of The City the way it was. From the infamous Barbary Coast to the expensive Tenderloin gaming houses and brothels frequented by wealthy men, Quincannon follows a dangerladen trail to unmask the murderous perpetrators of the Wells, Fargo robbery. Meanwhile, Sabina works her wiles on friends and relatives of the vanished debutante until the pieces of her puzzle start falling into place. But it’s an oddly disguised gent appearing out of nowhere who provides the final clue to the solution of both cases – the shrewd “crackbrain” who believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes.

The Vanishing Thief (A Victorian Bookshop Mystery) by Kate Parker (Dec 3rd) 
At 30, Victorian bookshop owner Georgia Fenchurch knows she’s considered a middle-class old maid. That’s all right with her. She has the bookshop she inherited when her parents were murdered before her eyes, providing her with a living and something to keep her busy during the day. At night, she has another occupation. Driven by her need to see people rescued and justice done, she works with the Archivist Society. In the foggy London of coal fires and carriages, glittering balls and Sherlock Holmes, the Archivist Society digs through musty records searching for the truth. They also don disguises and assume identities as they hunt for missing people, stolen treasures, and cunning murderers. Between her efforts for the Archivist Society and her management of the bookshop, Georgia doesn’t have time to be lonely. When a respectable middle-class woman comes into her bookshop complaining that a duke has abducted her next door neighbor, Georgia thinks the investigation will be a short one. Instead, she finds herself embroiled in theft, blackmail, lies, secret marriages, and murder. The man Georgia is asked to find may be royalty, may be dead, and is definitely missing. The woman who hired her won’t reveal the truth. The accused duke may be a victim or a killer, but he certainly is involved in the hunt for the missing man. And every aristocrat who knew the missing man seems to be hiding their own dangerous lie.  As Georgia crosses London searching for the missing man, she finds herself staring into the face of the one person she has wanted to capture for a dozen years. The one who got away. The man who killed her parents.

Covenant with Hell: A Medieval Mystery by Priscilla Royal (Dec 3rd)
Still troubled by the events in The Sanctity of Hate, Prioress Eleanor goes on a pilgrimage in the spring of 1277 to a famous East Anglian shrine. There are rumors that King Edward may also come here soon to seek God’s blessing for his invasion of Wales. Lurking in this sacred place, however, is an assassin hoping to murder a king. Soon after Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas arrive, a nun falls to her death from the priory bell tower. Brother Thomas finds the body, leading some to fervently pray that the monk and his prioress do not grow curious. But the pair quickly grasps that this nun’s death was not a simple tragedy. The circumstances point to murder, but this slaying is further tainted with treason. Amongst the pilgrims, merchants, and religious, too many betray an interest in this death, including a canny street child. At least one of that number is most certainly a killer. Can Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas succeed in exposing the assassin or will they also fall victim to one who has made a covenant with hell?

Daughters of the Nile by Stephanie Dray (Dec 3rd)
After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has risen to prominence as the most powerful queen in the empire. Ruling over the exotic land of Mauritania, she intends to revive her dynasty. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands to keep her children with him in Rome, Cleopatra Selene is drawn back into the web of imperial plots that she vowed to leave behind.

Light Up in Wonder by Patrick Gooch (Dec 4th)
When Sam Lockhart is captured on film by George Albert Smith, the result alters both their lives. The year is 1896, and cinematography is in its infancy. Smith, a showman and illusionist, believes moving pictures could add to his Brighton-based theatrical acts. Lockhart and Smith soon gain a reputation for producing entertaining films. Sam travels to New York to find a new distributor, and is helped by Carl Laemmle, a German émigré. Laemmle foresees the future. Instead of investing his savings in a clothing store, he buys two nickelodeons. When a number of small film producers band together, an organization is created called the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. Carl Laemmle emerges as president, and makes the decision to move to California and establish Universal City. Light Up In Wonder highlights the romance and the exhilaration felt with the advent of motion pictures. It also exposes the less welcome aspects: the in-fighting, greed, and conflict when this exciting, new form of entertainment first caught the public's imagination.

The English Girl by Margaret Leroy (UK Release Dec 5th
When seventeen-year-old Stella Whittaker is offered the chance to study at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna it's a dream-come-true, made possible by old family friends, Rainer and Marthe Kraus, who offer her a room in their apartment. Seduced by the elegant beauty of the city, Stella explores the magnificent palaces, gardens and fashionable coffee houses, and after a chance meeting in an art gallery, falls in love with Harri Reznik, a young Jewish doctor. But as the threat of war casts a dark shadow over Europe, Stella soon discovers that both the household where she lives, and the city she has come to call home, are not as welcoming as they once seemed. And at the dawn of this terrifying new world, no one is safe. An exquisitely crafted novel about a young woman who risks everything for love.

Carolina Gold by Dorothy Love (Dec 10th)
Charlotte Fraser returns to her late father's once-flourishing rice plantation on the Waccamaw River, determined to continue his tradition of growing the special kind of rice known as Carolina Gold. But Fairhaven Plantation is in ruins, the bondsmen are free, and money is scarce. To make ends meet, Charlotte reluctantly accepts a position as tutor to the young daughters of Nicholas Betancourt, heir to the neighboring Willowood Plantation. Then Nick's quest to prove his ownership of Fairhaven sends Charlotte on a dangerous journey that uncovers a family mystery . . . and threatens all that she holds dear.

The Housemaid’s Daughter by Barbara Mutch (Dec 10th) 
Duty and love collide on the arid plains of central South Africa. Previously released as 'Karoo Plainsong' this is a fully revised debut novel. Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa and marry the fiance she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a harsh landscape, she finds solace in her diary and the friendship of her housemaid's daughter, Ada. Cathleen recognizes in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own husband and daughter. Under Cathleen's tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist, and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide. When Ada is compromised and finds she is expecting a mixed-race child, she flees her home, determined to spare Cathleen the knowledge of her betrayal, and the disgrace that would descend upon the family. Scorned within her own community, Ada is forced to carve a life for herself, her child, and her music. But Cathleen still believes in Ada, and risks the constraints of apartheid to search for her and persuade her to return with her daughter. Beyond the cruelty, there is love, hope - and redemption.

The Midwife's Tale: A Mystery by Samuel Thomas (in PB Dec 10th)
It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer. Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.

The New Countess by Fay Weldon (Dec 17th)
England, 1903. Lord Robert and Lady Isobel Dilberne and the entire grand estate, with its hundred rooms, are busy planning for a visit from Edward VII and Queen Alexandra just a few months away. Preparations are elaborate and exhaustive: the menus and fashions must be just so, and so must James, the new heir and son of Arthur Dilberne and Chicago heiress, Minnie O'Brien. But there are problems. Little James is being reared to Lady Isobel's tastes, not Minnie's. And Mrs. O'Brien is visiting from America and causing trouble. Meanwhile, the Dilbernes' niece, Adela, is back and stirring up hysteria in the servants' hall by claiming the house is cursed. The royal visit is imperiled, but so are the Dilberne finances once more. His Lordship is under tremendous stress, and the pecking order will soon be upset as everything at Dilberne Court changes.

Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd (in PB Dec 17th)
London, summer 1920. An unidentified body appears to have been run down by a motorcar and Ian Rutledge is leading the investigation to uncover what happened. While the signs point to murder, vital questions remain: Who is the victim? And where, exactly, was he killed? One small clue leads Rutledge to a firm built by two families, famous for producing and selling the world’s best Madeira wine. Lewis French, the current head of the English enterprise, is missing. But is he the dead man? And does either his fiancée or his jilted former lover have anything to do with his disappearance—or possible death? What about his sister? Or the London office clerk? Is Matthew Traynor, French’s cousin and partner who heads the Madeira office, somehow involved? The experienced Rutledge knows that suspicion and circumstantial evidence are not proof of guilt, and he’s going to keep digging for answers. But that perseverance will pit him against his supervisor, the new acting chief superintendent. When Rutledge discovers a link to an incident in the French family’s past, the superintendent dismisses it, claiming the information isn’t vital. He’s determined to place the blame on one of French’s women despite Rutledge’s objections. Alone in a no-man’s-land rife with mystery and danger, Rutledge must tread very carefully, for someone has decided that he, too, must die so that cruel justice can take its course.

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding (in PB Dec 17th)
It is the early 1950s. A nameless man is found on the steps of the hospital in Iasi, Romania. He is deaf and mute, but a young nurse named Safta recognizes him from the past and brings him paper and pencils so that he might draw. Gradually, memories appear on the page: The man is Augustin, son of the cook at the manor house that was Safta’s family home. Born six months apart, they had grown up with a connection that bypassed words, but while Augustin’s world stayed the same size, Safta’s expanded to embrace languages, society, and a fleeting love one long, hot summer. But then came war, and in its wake a brutal Stalinist regime, and nothing would remain the same.

The Devil’s Breath by Tessa Harris (Dec 31st)
A man staggers out of his cottage into the streets of Oxfordshire, shattering an otherwise peaceful evening with the terrible sight of his body shaking and heaving, eyes wild with horror. Many of the villagers believe the Devil himself has entered Joseph Makepeace, the latest victim of a "great fog" that darkens the skies over England like a Biblical plague. When Joseph's son and daughter are found murdered--heads bashed in by a shovel--the town's worst suspicions are confirmed: Evil is abroad, and needs to be banished. A brilliant man of science, Dr. Thomas Silkstone is not one to heed superstition. But when he arrives at the estate of the lovely widow Lady Lydia Farrell, he finds that it's not just her grain and livestock at risk. A shroud of mystery surrounds Lydia's lost child, who may still be alive in a workhouse. A natural disaster fills the skies with smoke and ash, clogging the lungs of all who breathe it in. And the grisly details of a father's crime compels Dr. Silkstone to look for answers beyond his medical books--between the Devil and the deep blue sea. . .

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb (Dec 31st)
Readers are fascinated with the wives of famous men. In Becoming Josephine, debut novelist Heather Webb follows Rose Tascher as she sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris, eager to enjoy an elegant life at the royal court. Once there, however, Rose’s aristocratic soldier-husband dashes her dreams by abandoning her amid the tumult of the French Revolution. After narrowly escaping death, Rose reinvents herself as Josephine, a beautiful socialite wooed by an awkward suitor—Napoleon Bonaparte.

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson (Dec 31st)
Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother’s rigid expectations forbid Lily from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front. Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lily is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward’s best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lily’s dreams. She doesn’t care that Robbie grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lily is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart. In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?

Netherwood by Jane Sanderson (Dec 31st)
Eve Williams is about to discover just how the other half really live... Above stairs: Lord Netherwood keeps his considerable fortune ticking over with the profits from his three coal mines in the vicinity. It’s just as well the coal is of the highest quality as the upkeep of Netherwood Hall, his splendid estate on the outskirts of town, doesn’t come cheap. And that’s not to mention the cost of keeping his wife and daughters in the latest fashions—and keeping the heir, the charming but feckless Tobias, out of trouble. Below stairs: Eve Williams, is the wife of one of Lord Netherwood’s most stalwart employees. When her ordered existence amid the terraced rows of the miners’ houses is brought crashing down by the twin arrivals of tragedy and charity, Eve must look to her own self-sufficiency, and talent, to provide for her three young children. And it’s then that ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’collide in truly dramatic fashion...

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