In the first Penguin Classics translation in 40 years, Victor Hugo’s powerful novel of the June Rebellion of 1832 receives a compelling new treatment from Christine Donougher, winner of the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize.
The Times Literary Supplement praises the book as “a magnificent achievement. It reads easily, sometimes racily, and Hugo’s narrative power is never let down…[an] almost flawless translation, which brings the full flavour of one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century to new readers in the twenty-first.”
The Herald Scotland says, “Christine Donougher’s seamless and very modern translation of Les Misérables has an astonishing effect in that it reminds readers that Hugo was going further than any Dickensian lament about social conditions … [Les Mis] touches the soul.”
The cover of this Penguin Classics Graphic Deluxe Edition is a marvel in itself. It is illustrated by celebrated artist Jillian Tamaki, a Caldecott Award winner and contributor to the New York Times Book Review.
I have one copy of Les Misérables to give away. Simply comment below on whether you have read or seen Les Misérables, and share on social media by Thursday, March 5th at 9 PM ET. (US residents only, please.) Bonne chance!
Today marks the paperback release of Marci Jefferson’s fabulous novel, GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN. In it, Royalist exile Frances Stuart must walk a fine line between pleasing kings and protecting her family’s secret. Jefferson has received heaps of praise (including my own) for this passionate, historically rich novel, including:
“This small leap from the Tudors is a must-read for Alison Weir-Philippa Gregory fans.” – Booklist
“Jefferson’s intoxicating first novel superbly draws readers into the mischief and maneuverings, loyalties and treacheries, and lust and hostility of powerful 17th century kings and scheming court sycophants.” – Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
“Written with spirit and insight, the novel reveals both the glamour and the dirt of court life while peering into the soul of a woman who is one of the unsung heroines of English history.” – Historical Novels Review
I have one copy to give away. If you would like to win, please comment below on your favorite historical fiction author or time period by 9 PM ET on Thursday, February 26th, and share on social media. (US residents only, please.) Good luck!
“A wave arced over the slate waters and broke the stone at the edge of the property. One violent tempest and the cottage floor would be engulfed. She relished the wild beauty of the sea, the push and pull of currents, and the whirling eddies of cold water…She lowered herself to the short drop-off to the sea, removed her boots, and dangled her legs over the surf. Auguste was an unavoidable force. Warring against her emotions grew tedious and tiring…Dieu, she missed him.” Heather Webb, RODIN’S LOVER
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.
Consumed. This novel consumed me.
Webb’s powerful writing matches her passionate and tragic heroine, sculptor Camille Claudel. The conflicts and frustrations of a female artist at a time of rampant discrimination bring the pages to life, and the beautiful writing and narrative momentum make the book impossible to put down.
The cast of artists, writers, and notable historical figures will send one in search of photographs and images for hours, and Claudel will forever haunt the reader. Webb’s depiction of Claudel’s love affair with Auguste Rodin is cautionary, sympathetic, and wholly absorbing.
Look into Camille’s eyes on the cover, and see if you can resist her intense and untamed world…
“L’s imagination is back in Antibes. She bathes in the Baie des Anges and dances in the woods with unshowered, muscular girls in tunics, loose hair tumbling down their backs. They give nighttime shows, the flicker of oil lamps on their damp skin. Her muscles were firmer then. She spoke three languages. She was on the verge of something. Her thoughts were the color of moss and her head was teeming with them. The ideas were crawling all over her body like the fat worms she used to feed the rooster after the rain…” –Megan Mayhew Bergman, ALMOST FAMOUS WOMEN
From the acclaimed author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, a dazzling new collection that explores the lives of unforgettable women in history.
The fascinating characters in Megan Mayhew Bergman’s new stories are defined by their creative impulses, fierce independence, and sometimes reckless decisions. In “The Siege at Whale Cay,” cross-dressing Standard Oil heiress Joe Carstairs seduces Marlene Dietrich. In “A High-Grade Bitch Sits Down for Lunch,” aviator and writer Beryl Markham lives alone in Nairobi and engages in a battle of wills with a stallion. In “Hell-Diving Women,” the first integrated, all-girl swing band sparks a violent reaction in North Carolina.
Other heroines, born in proximity to the spotlight, struggle to distinguish themselves: Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde’s wild niece, Dolly; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s talented sister, Norma; James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia.
Almost Famous Women offers and elegant and intimate look at artists who desired recognition. The world wasn’t always kind to the women who star in these stories, but through Mayhew Bergman’s stunning imagination, they receive the attention they deserve.
Not since the arrangement of Sylvia Plath’s story collection, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, has an anthology so moved me. While the stories each stand on their own, there is a thread that connects them both thematically and, at times, literally. What is demonstrated over and over again in these long and short pieces are the heartbreaking consequences of the suppression of the powerful, wildish nature of women.
From conjoined twins, to poet’s sisters and orphans, to aged artists, Bergman writes with conviction and immediacy on the specific and morbidly fascinating issues facing her characters. The prose is potent, crisp, and full of energy; it demands you lean forward in your chair. And yet, when each story ends, the reader feels as if she wants more. She cannot stop looking over her shoulder, wondering what became of the historical figures who appear in brief and poignant succession.
I was pleased Bergman included an Author’s Note that explains where her interest in each woman began. It is full of pertinent back story and suggestions for further reading, which I will pursue.
If you enjoy short fiction about characters of high color, scandal, and individuality, I highly recommend ALMOST FAMOUS WOMEN. It would be especially good for book clubs, because these fearless females beg to be discussed.
For more on the author and her upcoming events, here is her website: http://www.mayhewbergman.com/
“Even in death, the Duke was reluctant to leave these rooms: his last wish was that his body should remain there until the day of his funeral…The Duke had specifically asked that all but his family and his closest friends should be barred from his last resting place…On 27 April, three days after he was buried, someone broke into them.” Catherine Bailey, The Secret Rooms
British historian Catherine Bailey was given unprecedented access to the archives of Belvoir Castle. As she chronicled her findings, she was surprised to find that the 9th Duke of Rutland had removed artifacts and materials from three periods of his life. Her findings led her to uncover family secrets that he desperately wished to hide, even up to the moment of his death.
“The family’s downfall was unthinkable. William, Earl Fitzwilliam, had left a great fortune. Four sons–each named William after him–survived him. The coal industry was booming: the family’s wealth and power seemed as solid and unshakeable as the foundations of their vast house….Yet the Fitzwilliams and the thousands who worked for them were about to become the central figures in an approaching catastrophe…What was unthinkable on that day in February 1902 happened.” Catherine Bailey, Black Diamonds
In a house so large that guests were given tins of colored confetti to find their way back to their rooms, secrets lurked, placing its legacy on unstable ground. Historian Catherine Bailey sets a course to find out the truth behind the heirs of Wentworth House, the scandals that rocked the family, and the decline of one of the grandest families in England.
If you are as obsessed with Downton Abbey as I am, you are in for a treat with these two works of narrative history. The texts read like novels, and are full of fascinating facts, maps, family trees, and photographs. Indulge in the books while the popular program airs in the US, or wait to savor them to fill the void at Downton Abbey’s conclusion.
To win both books, simply comment below about your favorite Downton Abbey storyline, or related period piece. Enter by 9 PM ET on Monday, February 2nd, and share on social media. (US residents only, please.) Good luck!
“As much as he might protest, at heart it was true. To save himself, he’d killed what was once best in him, and to his shame discovered he’d saved nothing.” Stewart O’Nan, WEST OF SUNSET
In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a troubled, uncertain man whose literary success was long over. In poor health, with his wife consigned to a mental asylum and his finances in ruins, he struggled to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood. By December 1940, he would be dead of a heart attack.
Those last three years of Fitzgerald’s life, often obscured by the legend of his earlier Jazz Age glamour, are the focus of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeously written novel. With flashbacks to key moments from Fitzgerald’s past, the story follows him as he arrives on the MGM lot, falls in love with brassy gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, begins work on The Last Tycoon, and tries to maintain a semblance of family life with the absent Zelda and daughter, Scottie.
Fitzgerald’s orbit of literary fame and the Golden Age of Hollywood is brought vividly to life through the novel’s romantic cast of characters, from Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway to Humphrey Bogart. A sympathetic and deeply personal portrait of a flawed man who never gave up in the end, even as his every wish and hope seemed thwarted, West of Sunset confirms O’Nan as “possibly our best working novelist” (Salon).
I admit to being Fitzgerald obsessed, but that often works against novels I read on people I admire or who I know a lot about. That was not the case with WEST OF SUNSET.
From its start, when Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald meet for an outing from her asylum in North Carolina, the novel creates a tender, sympathetic portrait of two thoroughly wrung out and exhausted people. The reader watches this couple who, in spite of their dizzying highs and crushing lows, could be like any other couple who have weathered years of love and heartbreak. But as the focus moves to Scott, one begins to understand the Gatsby-esque capacity he had for hope that makes him extraordinary.
In a desperate attempt to keep his wife in the best institution possible and his daughter in the best school possible, Scott travels to Hollywood to join the legions of writers hoping for credit in a screenplay. O’Nan seamlessly weaves in memories and letters, establishing a Fitzgerald so enamored with his youth and his past that he places the burden of it on the shoulders of gossip columnist, Sheilah Graham. As their relationship progresses, we see the gradual regression of a man who has taxed his body and soul beyond measure.
Through O’Nan’s sensitive and restrained portrayal of Scott, I have a new understanding of Scott’s personal hell, and how black-outs and benders are truly liked skipped heartbeats in the lives of alcoholics. The depiction of the false and changeable illusion of Hollywood dreams can be seen in the opulent sets and the capricious starts and stops to productions. The beauty of the natural landscape, however, and the warmth of Sheilah and others like her, create a balance for the reader.
There are many novels written about famous people, and one of the pitfalls is a possibility of the narrative to lapse into biographical telling. O’Nan never does this. Because of his graceful writing and well-drawn characters, WEST OF SUNSET could be about the Fitzgeralds or anyone. It is a masterpiece worthy of a screenplay, worthy of its esteemed subjects, and destined to become a classic. I give WEST OF SUNSET my highest recommendation.
I have a copy of the novel to give away. Please comment below by Wednesday, January 21st, 9 PM ET, with your favorite novel about or by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and be sure to share on social media. (US residents only, please.)
“This is the life of the most famed female illusionist in the world, very nearly the only one in existence, the life I have made for myself through luck and talent and sheer will. This is the life I have decided to leave behind. This is the life I will end. Tonight, I will escape my torturer, once and for all time. Tonight, I will kill him.” ~Greer Macallister, The Magician’s Lie
Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband’s murder — and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.
The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.
But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless-and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.
I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of this novel for potential endorsement. I only offer a blurb if a novel absolutely captivates me, I can’t put it down, and I cannot stop talking about it. The Magician’s Lie is one of those novels. My blurb:
“Greer Macallister handles the reader with the command and brilliance of a world class ringmaster. THE MAGICIAN’S LIE is a mesmerizing novel of illusion, secrets, and suspense. Bravo!”
But don’t just believe me. The Magician’s Lie has received honors such as the Indie Next Pick, a PW Starred Review, the January Midwest Connections Pick, a People Magazine recommendation, an Oprah.com pick, and the January 2015 Library Reads List!
Sourcebooks was kind enough to provide a copy of The Magician’s Lie for a giveaway, which I will mail to a blog reader who comments below, and shares this post on social media. Please let me know your favorite work of historical suspense, or why you are interested in The Magician’s Lie, and comment by 9 PM ET on Friday, January 16th. (US residents only, please.)
For more on the author and her upcoming book tour, click here, and good luck!
“No one but Night, with tears on her dark face,
Watches beside me in this windy place.”
~Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Night Is My Sister”
Inspired by the works of the troubled, Bohemian poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, I wrote FALLEN BEAUTY in the dark of winter, and it should be read in the dark of winter. It is a book about how cruel we can be to one another, how our judgements are often condemnations of our own guilty secrets, and how love between friends and companions may grow in unexpected places.
I have a copy of FALLEN BEAUTY to giveaway. Please comment below on your favorite poem by Millay, or your thoughts on winter, and share the post on some form of social media to be entered into the drawing. The giveaway will close at 9 PM ET on Tuesday, January 13th, and is open to residents of the US and Canada.
Every year I try to hold this post until the absolute end of 2014, but I realized readers might need some last minute gift ideas for holiday shopping. This is the (agonized over) list of my favorite historical fiction this year. Some of the books were not necessarily published in 2014, but that is when I read them.
My criteria for making the list:
*I read it obsessively.
*I can’t stop thinking about it.
*I can’t stop recommending it.
I did read quite a few novels set in contemporary time that would have made this list if my blog were not dedicated to historical fiction, but I must keep to my rules. If you’d like to know what else I loved, visit my Goodreads book reviews. (I do not review books I did not enjoy, so you will only see 4-5 star recommendations.)
Here we go, and in no particular order:
1. The Garden of Letters, Alyson Richman
2. The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton
3. All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
4. The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
5. The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Beatriz Williams
6. Mrs. Hemingway, Naomi Wood
7. The Age of Desire, Jennie Fields
8. Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline
9. The Paris Winter, by Imogen Robertson
10. The Beautiful American, Jeanne MacKin
Please let me know if any of these were your favorites, or what you would add to the list. If you comment, you will be entered into a giveaway for a copy of Sue Monk Kidd’s marvelous novel, THE INVENTION OF WINGS. I’ll pick a winner on Friday, Dec. 26th. Happy Reading!
”There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .“
On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office—leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.
But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .
Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand—and fear—the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?
Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.
This book has been recommended to me by a number of friends, who obviously know me well, for it has all of the ingredients of what I consider a great novel: an historical setting, a commanding use of language, originality, and tragedy.
In this debut, Jessie Burton creates a world like that of the doll house or cabinet given to the protagonist–the young, impulsive bride of a rich Dutch merchant. Nella has a stubbornness and curiosity about her that align the reader with her as she reacts to her new family, and we learn things as she does. The confusion about her circumstances, her husband’s treatment of her, and the unusual people who live in the house and town, along with the very high stakes that result when secrets begin to be revealed, make this novel impossible to put down. There are shocking moments and devastating consequences to characters’ choices, but Burton does what the best novelists do: she includes hope.
While there are some questionable contemporary feelings toward societal issues in her historical characters, Burton does manage to make them believable because of the humanity of those she represents, and through her intense research into the time and place. This is a book that begs to be discussed, so I particularly recommend it to book clubs.
If you enjoyed GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING, think of THE MINIATURIST as similar in region and tone, but with a serious edge. Prepare to be devastated in the best possible way.
Have you read this? I’d love to hear what you think.