Excerpt: A HISTORY OF DELUSIONS by Victoria Shepherd (Oneworld)

ShepherdV-HistoryOfDelusionsUKHCToday, we have an excerpt from A History of Delusions by Victoria Shepherd, an intriguing history of delusions. Here’s the synopsis:

The Glass King, a Substitute Husband and a Walking Corpse

    • The King of France – thinking he was made of glass – was terrified he might shatter… and he wasn’t alone.
    • After the Emperor met his end at Waterloo, an epidemic of Napoleons piled into France’s asylums.
    • Throughout the nineteenth century, dozens of middle-aged women tried to convince their physicians that they were, in fact, dead.

For centuries we’ve dismissed delusions as something for doctors to sort out behind locked doors. But delusions are more than just bizarre quirks – they hold the key to collective anxieties and traumas.

In this groundbreaking history, Victoria Shepherd uncovers stories of delusions from medieval times to the present day and implores us to identify reason in apparent madness.

Now, read on for the excerpt…

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Excerpt: THE EMPRESS AND THE ENGLISH DOCTOR by Lucy Ward (Oneworld Publications)

WardL-EmpressAndTheEnglishDoctorToday, we have an excerpt from The Empress and the English Doctor by Lucy Ward, an account of how Catherine the Great worked to combat the smallpox epidemic that was ravaging not only Russia but most of Europe. Here’s the synopsis:

A killer virus… an all-powerful Empress… an encounter cloaked in secrecy… the astonishing true story.

Within living memory, smallpox was a dreaded disease. Over human history it has killed untold millions. Back in the eighteenth century, as epidemics swept Europe, the first rumours emerged of an effective treatment: a mysterious method called inoculation.

But a key problem remained: convincing people to accept the preventative remedy, the forerunner of vaccination. Arguments raged over risks and benefits, and public resistance ran high. As smallpox ravaged her empire and threatened her court, Catherine the Great took the momentous decision to summon the Quaker physician Thomas Dimsdale to St Petersburg to carry out a secret mission that would transform both their lives. Lucy Ward expertly unveils the extraordinary story of Enlightenment ideals, female leadership and the fight to promote science over superstition.

On with the excerpt!

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Guest Post: “Accuracy & Writing Historical Fiction” by Adrian Goldsworthy

GoldsworthyA-CoV1-FortHCI have always loved history, was lucky enough to study it at the highest level, and after teaching for a while have been even luckier to make a living writing non fiction history books. At the same time, I have always loved historical novels. At their best they give a flavour and feel for a place and an era much faster than reading conventional history. So when I came to write historical novels, accuracy was very important to me. A novel will only work if readers get caught up in the plot and want to spend time with the characters, but the world it conjures up has to feel real, at least on its own terms, and that is as true of fantasy or science fiction as it is for stories set in the past. The world of the story has to be convincing enough for readers to visit it in their imagination. Many readers and authors do not care too much if that world bears little or no relation to the reality of the past as long as it is consistent. That is fine, after all, reading should be about pleasure and we all have different tastes. However, I am a professional historian and find it hard to switch off, which makes me an unrepresentative reader, and I only stick with a novel if I feel that the research behind it and the author’s sensitivity for the period are good. Since, like most authors, I write books – whether novels or non fiction – that I would like to read, that is how I try to write my stories. So each novel begins with research. Continue reading

Excerpt: LAST FLIGHT TO STALINGRAD by Graham Hurley (Head of Zeus)

HurleyG-LastFlightOfStalingradWith Last Flight to Stalingrad, Graham Hurley continues his Spoils of War series of World War II related novels. Each of which seems to be a stand-alone, so I don’t think they need to be read in order. This one caught my attention, and I’m looking forward to reading it soon. Head of Zeus were kind enough to provide an excerpt to share with CR readers. Here’s the synopsis:

Berlin, 1942.

For four years, the men in field grey have helped themselves to country after country across Western Europe.

For Werner Nehmann, a journalist at the Promi – the Ministry of Propaganda – this dizzying series of victories has felt like a party without end. But now the Reich’s attention has turned towards the East, and as winter sets in, the mood is turning.

Werner’s boss, Joseph Goebbels, can sense it. A small man with a powerful voice and coal-black eyes, Goebbels has a deep understanding of the dark arts of manipulation. His words, his newsreels, have shaken Germany awake, propelling it towards its greater destiny and he won’t let – he can’t let – morale falter now. But the Minister of Propaganda is uneasy and in his discomfort has pulled Werner into his close confidence.

And here, amid the power struggle between the Nazi Chieftains, Werner will make his mistake and begin his descent into the hell of Stalingrad…

Now, on with the excerpt…

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Excerpt: A TIME FOR SWORDS by Matthew Harffy (Head of Zeus)

HarffyM-ATimeForSwordsNext week, Head of Zeus is due to published A Time for Swords, a new historical thriller by Matthew Harffy. The publisher was kind enough to provide us with an excerpt to share with CR readers. First, though, here’s the synopsis:

When the Vikings attack, a novice monk’s life is changed forever in Matthew Harffy’s new historical adventure.

Lindisfarne, AD793.

There had been portents – famine, whirlwinds, lightning from clear skies, serpents seen flying through the air. But when the raiders came, no one was prepared.

They came from the North, their dragon-prowed longships gliding out of the dawn mist as they descended on the kingdom’s most sacred site.

It is 8th June AD 793, and with the pillage of the monastery on Lindisfarne, the Viking Age has begun.

While his fellow monks flee before the Norse onslaught, one young novice stands his ground. He has been taught to turn the other cheek, but faced with the slaughter of his brothers and the pagan desecration of his church, forgiveness is impossible.

Hunlaf soon learns that there is a time for faith and prayer… and there is a time for swords.

And now, on with the excerpt…

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Excerpt: SHADOW OF THE HAWK by David Gilman (Head of Zeus)

GilmanD-MoW7-ShadowOfTheHawkThe seventh book in David Gilman‘s Master of War series, Shadow of the Hawk, is due out next week. Head of Zeus were kind enough to provide an excerpt to share in advance of its release. Here’s the novel’s synopsis:

Winter, 1364.

The King is dead.

Defeated on the field of Poitiers, Jean Le Bon, King of France, honoured his treaty with England until his death. His son and heir, Charles V, has no intention of doing the same. War is coming and the predators are circling.

Sir Thomas Blackstone, Edward III’s Master of War, has been tasked with securing Brittany for England. In the throes of battle, he rescues a young boy, sole witness to the final living breaths of the Queen of Castile. The secret the boy carries is a spark deadly enough to ignite conflict on a new front – a front the English cannot afford to fight on.

So Blackstone is ordered south to Castile, across the mountains to shepherd Don Pedro, King of Castile, to safety. Accompanied only by a small detachment of his men and a band of Moorish cavalrymen loyal to the king, every step takes Blackstone further into uncertain territory, deeper into an unyielding snare.

For the Master of War, the shadow of death is always present.

The excerpt is after the break.

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Upcoming: WATCHING DARKNESS FALL by David McKean (St. Martin’s Press)

McKeanD-WatchingDarknessFallI’ve been reading a lot of German history for work, this year. Starting from the formation of a unified Germany, and stretching to the end of the Cold War, it’s been an interesting exercise. I’m always on the look-out for new books that offer something slightly different to recommend to students and others who might be interested. There are, of course, entire libraries available covering Hitler’s rise and WW2. Many of these books follow a similar approach, which is fine but a tad repetitive. So, when I spotted David McKean‘s Watching Darkness Fall on Edelweiss, it caught my attention: it is an account of FDR’s ambassadors in Europe’s response to Hitler’s rise. I’m really looking forward to reading this. Here’s the synopsis:

The story of how the United States government underestimated the deadly rise of fascism before World War II.

As German tanks rolled toward Paris in late May 1940, the U.S. Ambassador to France, William Bullitt, was determined to stay put, holed up in the Chateau St. Firmin in Chantilly, his country residence. Bullitt told the president that he would neither evacuate the embassy nor his chateau, an eighteenth Renaissance manse with a wine cellar of over 18,000 bottles, even though “we have only two revolvers in this entire mission with only forty bullets.”

Watching Darkness Fall will recount the rise of the Third Reich in Germany and the road to war from the perspective of five American diplomats in Europe who witnessed it firsthand: Joseph Kennedy, William Dodd, Breckinridge Long, William Bullitt, and George Kennan, who all served in key Western European capitals — London, Berlin, Rome, Paris, and Moscow — in the years prior to World War II. In many ways they were America’s first line of defense and they often communicated with the president directly, as Roosevelt’s eyes and ears on the ground. Unfortunately, most of them underestimated the power and resolve of Adolph Hitler and Germany’s Third Reich.

Watching Darkness Fall is a gripping new history of the years leading up to and the beginning of WWII in Europe told through the lives of five well-educated and mostly wealthy men all vying for the attention of the man in the Oval Office.

David McKean’s Watching Darkness Fall is due to be published by St. Martin’s Press in North America and in the UK, on November 2nd, 2021.

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Quick Review: STRANGERS ON THE PRAIA by Paul French (Blacksmith Books)

FrenchP-StrangersOnThePraiaAn interesting and well-written history of the Wartime immigrant experience in Macau

Based on true stories and new research, Paul French weaves together the stories of those Jewish refugees who moved on from wartime Shanghai to seek a possible route to freedom via the Portuguese colony of Macao – “the Casablanca of the Orient”.

The delicately balanced neutral enclave became their wartime home, amid Nazi and Japanese spies, escaped Allied prisoners from Hong Kong, and displaced Chinese.

Strangers on the Praia relates the story of one young woman’s struggle for freedom that would ultimately prove an act of brave resistance.

It should come as no surprise to long-time CR readers that I’m a fan of Paul French’s work. He has carved out a niche for himself as one of the best historians of inter-war China and, in particular, Shanghai. In Strangers on the Praia, he takes a slightly different tack, and gives readers a short, engaging look at the life of refugees in wartime Macao. Well-written, informative, and an excellent read. Continue reading

Upcoming: ISLAND REICH by Jack Grimwood (Michael Joseph)

GrimwoodJ-IslandReichUKI’ve been a fan of Jack Grimwood‘s writing for some time. I enjoyed his  Assassini series (an atmospheric horror/vampire trilogy), and was intrigued when he decided to move into historical thrillers. His first Cold War thriller/mystery, Moskva was great, and introduced readers to Tom Fox (who also appears in Nightfall Berlin). This year, Penguin are due to publish a new stand-alone World War II mystery, Island Reich, which also sounds really interesting:

An unlikely spy.

July 1940. As Britain braces itself for invasion, ex-Tommy and safecracker Bill O’Hagan is glad to have escaped the battlefield. But when a job goes wrong, he finds himself forced to serve his country once more.

A former king.

Spurned by his government and fearing for his life, the Duke of Windsor flees to Portugal with the woman for whom he abdicated the throne, Wallis Simpson. As a web of Nazi trickery threatens to ensnare him, his fate and the fate of Britain rest on one man.

The fate of a nation in their hands.

Dropped on an occupied Channel Island without backup, Bill must crack an enemy safe and get its contents to safety. Failure will devastate any hope Britain has of winning the war.

But with the layers of deception and intrigue drawing ever more tightly around them, Bill and the Duke both learn they aren’t the only players in this game. And Berlin – which has the Duke in its own sights — is plotting its greatest move yet…

Jack Grimwood’s Island Reich is due to be published by Penguin in the UK, on May 27th, 2021. (Couldn’t find any information about a North American release, at the time of writing.)

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Upcoming: THE PRINCESS SPY by Larry Loftis (Atria)

LoftisL-PrincessSpyUSI spotted this in a Washington Post article, “What to read in 2021 based on what you loved in 2020” (which has some interesting suggestions, in general). I recently picked up Ben MacIntyre’s Agent Sonya, a book about Ursula Kuczynski Burton, a Russian “spymaster, saboteur, bomb-maker and secret agent”. In the aforementioned WaPo article, Angela Haupt recommends The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis as a comparable 2021 release. After reading the synopsis, I’m intrigued:

A hidden history of an ordinary American girl who became one of the OSS’s most daring spies in World War II before marrying into European nobility…

When Aline Griffith was born in a quiet suburban New York hamlet, no one had any idea that she would go on to live “a life of glamour and danger that Ingrid Bergman only played at in Notorious” (Time). As the US enters the Second World War, the young college graduate is desperate to aid in the war effort, but no one is interested in a bright-eyed young woman whose only career experience is modeling clothes.

Aline’s life changes when, at a dinner party, she meets a man named Frank Ryan and reveals how desperately she wants to do her part for her country. Within a few weeks, he helps her join the Office of Strategic Services — forerunner of the CIA. With a code name and expert training under her belt, she is sent to Spain to be a coder, but is soon given the additional assignment of infiltrating the upper echelons of society, mingling with high-ranking officials, diplomats, and titled Europeans, any of whom could be an enemy agent. Against this glamorous backdrop of galas and dinner parties, she recruits sub-agents and engages in deep-cover espionage to counter Nazi tactics in Madrid.

Even after marrying the Count of Romanones, one of the wealthiest men in Spain, Aline secretly continues her covert activities, being given special assignments when abroad that would benefit from her impeccable pedigree and social connections.

Filled with twists, romance, and plenty of white-knuckled adventures fit for a James Bond film, The Princess Spy brings to vivid life the dazzling adventures of a remarkable American woman who risked everything to serve her country.

Larry Loftis’s The Princess Spy is due to be published by Atria Books in North America and in the UK, on February 9th, 2021.

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