I’ve never read anything by the prolific historical fiction author Bernard Cornwell, but when I saw his newest, 1356, I thought I’d give it a try. I am not familiar with the Hundred Years War, and a story set in France before, during and after the famed Battle of Poitiers sounded like just the thing to alleviate my ignorance. Woven through the historical tale is a fictional account of both sides trying to find (and use) an ancient powerful sword, said to bring victory to whoever wields it, but the history overpowers that subplot. For anyone interested in military history, battle deployments and 14th century fighting techniques, this is your book—you will feel as though you are in the heat of the struggle. Fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir might want to avoid it, however; there are very few female characters, battles (preparation, fighting and its aftermath) predominate, and there is not a lot of character development. If historical military fiction fascinates you, this is your book!
Jen Lancaster, my favorite memoirist, has a new novel coming out at the end of the month. Here I Go Again is the story of Lissy Ryder, former high school queen and mean girl whose life has taken a sudden downward spiral—she’s lost her job, her husband has dumped her and she is back in her bedroom at her parents’ house wondering how things went so wrong. When she heads to her 20th high school reunion, she finds everyone she ever mocked, hurt or ignored back then has achieved substantial material success since graduation, and they all still hate her. Through circumstances too outlandish to explain, she finds herself back in high school, trying to change things so her life comes out differently in 20 years. This is escapism, pure and simple, but Jen Lancaster is snide, snarky and a ton of fun, as usual! Lancaster’s books are perfect vacation reading; if you are headed someplace warm this winter, take her along with you.
This year brings another escapist novel from Jojo Moyes, whose Last Letter from Your Lover was one of my favorites of 2011. In Me Before You, Louisa Clark, a young woman from a small British town, has her life all mapped out—she will work to earn money so she can marry her long-term boyfriend, then have children and settle down in the same town in which she was born. But when she takes a job a caretaker to a young, wealthy, severely disabled man, her outlook on life starts to change, and the world in which she’d spent her whole life starts to feel claustrophobic. After a rocky beginning, Louisa and Will become friends and more, but can such a mismatched couple find enduring happiness? Jojo Moyes is adept at producing contemporary fairy tales, but her happy endings are unpredictable. Make sure you have a box of tissues handy when you get to the end—you’ll need it!
A heads up for next month—local author Dennis Mahoney’s debut novel – Fellow Mortals – will be released on February 5. His book release party is on February 7 at 7pm at Market Block Books in Troy. Hope you can make it!
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.