New interview on New Books in Historical Fiction with the writer Ana Johns, whose wonderful debut novel just came out with Park Row Books.
My summer reading list is the subject of today's post. Find the full lineup at "Bookshelf, April 2019."
Interview with me, conducted by fellow author Joan Schweighardt. If you've ever wondered how I came to write an entire series based in 1530s Russia, of all places—never mind how I came to write fiction—this is your chance to find out for free. Just click on the link.
Christoval Alvarez, an immigrant to England from Portugal and a "New Christian" forced to convert from Judaism to escape the Inquisition, already juggles the expectations of opposing cultural worlds. He wants nothing more than to become a learned physician like his father, but his gift for mathematics attracts the attention of Sir Francis Walsingham's code-breaking operation. Mary Queen of Scots, although under house arrest, has been in treasonous communication with agents in France who would like nothing better than to replace Protestant Elizabeth with another Catholic queen. Walsingham's men have discovered the route these communications take, but the messages are often not only in code but in French or Spanish.
Christoval's abilities give him the background he needs to decipher the coded messages, and his past experience of the Spanish invasion of Portugal—during which he lost his mother and siblings—ensures that he has motivation to help. He agrees, even though the work takes him away from the hospital.
Besides, Christoval has a deeper secret, known to a man he distrusts, that prevents him from refusing Walsingham's demands, no matter the threat they pose to health, life, or happiness.
A thoroughly enjoyable series, with a compelling main character of surprising complexity, given that Christoval is only sixteen at the beginning of the book. And some of the writing is just beautiful.
I’ve already started on book 2 and look forward to reading the other books in the series.
Full disclosure: I interviewed the author for New Books in Historical Fiction and have developed a social-media-style friendship with her as a result, but I bought these books in the regular way, and the review (like all my reviews) expresses my honest opinion.
I haven't rated this book, because I expect to interview the author in September, and it's not yet decided which book I will feature.
In brief, Catherine Havins, a young nun in 1535 England, faces an uncertain future after King Henry VIII decides to dissolve all monasteries and convents in his kingdom. Not only do Catherine and her fellow nuns support the divorced queen, Katherine of Aragon, who has shown kindness to them in the past, but Catherine feels an obligation to her prioress, who adopted her as a foundling infant and raised her. Matters only get worse when the convent's altarpiece goes missing and the new would-be owner sends his disturbingly attractive younger brother to reclaim it. Then smallpox breaks out....
The characters are well drawn, the story compelling, and the historical detail gloriously rendered by the author, a professor of Renaissance literature. Also, whatever BookLikes and GoodReads think, the hardcover sent to me for the interview is only 224 pages—little more than a literary snack for a group like this!