New Releases

It has been a quite awhile since I’ve had the spare time to simply peruse the aisle at my local Barnes and Noble. I was gratified to see many new HF titles on the “New Releases” shelves. The following caught my eye and will hopefully join the towering TBR pile in the near future:

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake: Weaving together the stories of three very different women loosely tied to each other, debut novelist Blake takes readers back and forth between small town America and war-torn Europe in 1940. (from

Purge by Sofie Oksanen:  When Aliide Truu, an older woman living alone in the Estonian countryside, finds a disheveled girl huddled in her front yard, she suppresses her misgivings and offers her shelter. Zara is a young sex-trafficking victim on the run from her captors, but a photo she carries with her soon makes it clear that her arrival at Aliide’s home is no coincidence. Survivors both, Aliide and Zara engage in a complex arithmetic of suspicion and revelation to distill each other’s motives; gradually, their stories emerge, the culmination of a tragic family drama of rivalry, lust, and loss that played out during the worst years of Estonia’s Soviet occupation. (from

The Confessions of Katherine DeMedici by C.W. Gortner: From the fairy-tale châteaux of the Loire Valley to the battlefields of the wars of religion to the mob-filled streets of Paris, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is the extraordinary untold journey of one of the most maligned and misunderstood women ever to be queen. (from

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliviera: Mary Sutter is a brilliant, head­strong midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine-and eager to run away from her recent heartbreak- Mary leaves home and travels to Washington, D.C. to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of William Stipp and James Blevens-two surgeons who fall unwittingly in love with Mary’s courage, will, and stubbornness in the face of suffering-and resisting her mother’s pleas to return home to help with the birth of her twin sister’s baby, Mary pursues her medical career in the desperately overwhelmed hospitals of the capital. (from

Private Life by Jane Smiley: Traverses the intimate landscape of one woman’s life, from the 1880s to World War II. (from

I was also thrilled to see HNS member Susan Higgenbotham’s The Stolen Crown, HNS member Mitchell James Kaplan’s By Fire, By Water, and Helen Hollick’s Pendragon’s Banner in the new releases trade paperback section, right at eye level!

The historical fiction genre is still going strong, I see, and I am sure at least part of its success is due to the continuous professional efforts of The Historical Novel Society in supporting HF writers and educating readers.

Review: The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

From August of 2002:

I just finished The Bronze Horseman on Saturday. It was an extraordinarily powerful reading experience, and I barely know where to begin.

I identified three major elements in this powerhouse of a book: romantic, historical, and philosophical. In the romantic sense, this was a classic romantic tragedy with the anguished, tormented, and tortured male soul who is soothed by the selfless, loving, accepting female, both fighting against the harsh realities and dominating values in their lives (whether family, cultural, or personal) to find peace. To break free. And of course, you have the heart-breaking climax that drags you under with loss and unbearable sorrow. Had the book focused solely on the romantic element, I would have remained utterly captivated.

The setting–the city of Leningrad under Stalin’s brutal regime and during the horrific siege during the second world war–composed the historical elements. Horseman illustrated in depth and vivid color the claustrophobia of the average Soviet’s living conditions and elicited surges of disgust (in this reader) at the senseless murders of citizens and the rampant paranoid ideology that permeated society. These themes culminated in the tragic fate that befell Alexander’s parents, and the effect this betrayal had on the rest of his life.

The most intriguing element of this book was the philosophical issues it brought to the surface. The words “love,” “sacrifice,” and “selflessness” have been trivialized in the English language, in our materialistic and self-serving American culture–do we truly understand the profound impact of these words? Perhaps after 9/11 we might have an idea. Perhaps. But this book opened my mind for the very first time to what it IS to love, to sacrifice, and to act in a selfless manner. And it was a deep and haunting experience where I was  confronted with my own discomfort…how far would I have gone under the same circumstances…would I have been capable of these complex emotions and actions if I were put to the same tests. I like to think I would pass, but would I truly?

I am convinced that this book was born of passion for the author’s mother country, for the characters, for the elements of her life. An immigrant to America at age ten, she was born in Leningrad herself. Interestingly, she wrote her first impressive novel about a rebellious and troubled teen in Kansas–which is how I originally found her work, having spent my teen years in that unhappy place. Once I read Tully, I was hooked on Ms. Simons emotionally blunt writing, but it was not the book the author was born to write, of that I was certain. The Bronze Horseman was. To me, Horseman seemed the culmination of a life’s purpose. An epic, as poignant and thoughtful as any classic I can think of. Anna Karenina. War and Peace. Any of the great Russian dramatists.

The sequel to Horseman, Tatiana and Alexander (or The Bridge to Holy Cross as published in Australia and New Zealand, as far as I’m aware) is also brilliant, but I will save that review for another posting.

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor. Read this book. It will astonish you.


I love the physical sensation of books–they way they feel in my hands, the way they smell, the satisfaction of turning the crisp pages of a newly minted tome. The idea of reading e-books is completely abhorrent to me. Reading on a cold, impersonal computer? Or even the vaunted iPad?  Call me old-fashioned  (especially as e-publishing seems to be quite the “in” subject at this year’s BEA) but NO WAY!

I am an avid collector and my home is overflowing with books–even when  I was a child, I was a book collector (amazing what a kid can scrounge out of desperation. . . ). I was a voracious reader back then, a trait that never left me and which I have transformed into my professional life, working as a content editor for a new academic press. My off-hours passion is reading and reviewing historical fiction . . . which has led me into the position of reviews editor for the Historical Novel Society’s online publication, HNS Online. Covering  new (and at times more “seasoned”) titles from subsidy-publishing, e-publishing, and self-publishing enterprises is like searching for gold in a stream or a needle in a haystack, but I work with a team of exceptionally talented reviewers who are willing to risk their time and attention in search of that hidden gem . . . which they discover more often than one would believe.  The downside of this job: telling an author honestly that I do not believe the “baby” is as appealing or as perfect as he or she imagines. Ouch. The upside: the delightful moments when I share good news with exuberant authors . . . my favorite part of the job.

To tell the truth, I am rather intimidated by the web presence of so many talented book bloggers–and I’m still a novice in this new world. But I do hope I can contribute something to the fray, and I look forward to getting to know some of you whose blogs are helping me out with the newbie’s “how to cope at BEA 2010” fears.

I am beginning with a couple of posts from the past, when I was struggling to keep any book club on its feet for more than two months. Three book club start-ups, three failures. Then I decided that maybe the book club idea wasn’t quite so hot and that I should focus on HNS work and my own leisure reading. I still hold out hope for the future, but I have conceded that a book club is not in the cards for the present.

The first was a contemporary book club, choosing novels from the “book club bestsellers list,” the selections  of which left us quite unsatisfied. We then disbanded and came together again as a “Classics” book club. Which lasted three books. . . woo hoo!!! We became impatient with our picks once again and disbanded (this is sounding like some Monty Python skit!), leaving me to start afresh with a meet up group for historical fiction. Which lasted all of two books, and the members lost interest. Maybe it was me, perhaps it was the books, but that was it for my attempts. Three swings and you’re out! There’s my history in a nut shell : )

So, welcome! Sit back and relax, have a cuppa and some healthy dark chocolate and enjoy your visit!