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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Upcoming: FOUR LOST CITIES: A SECRET HISTORY OF THE URBAN AGE by Annalee Newitz (WW Norton)

NewitzA-FourLostCitiesUSPerhaps best known to readers of CR as the author of the acclaimed novels Autonomous and The Future of Another Timeline, Annalee Newitz is taking a different tack for their next book: Four Lost Cities. I first learned of this book from a podcast interview with the author, quite some time ago. (I wish I could remember which one.) It is a book that explores four abandoned cities and tries to ascertain why their inhabitants abandoned them. Here’s the full synopsis:

A quest to explore some of the most spectacular ancient cities in human history — and figure out why people abandoned them.

In Four Lost Cities, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz takes readers on an entertaining and mind-bending adventure into the deep history of urban life. Investigating across the centuries and around the world, Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy’s southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia, which stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today.

Newitz travels to all four sites and investigates the cutting-edge research in archaeology, revealing the mix of environmental changes and political turmoil that doomed these ancient settlements. Tracing the early development of urban planning, Newitz also introduces us to the often anonymous workers — slaves, women, immigrants, and manual laborers — who built these cities and created monuments that lasted millennia.

Four Lost Cities is a journey into the forgotten past, but, foreseeing a future in which the majority of people on Earth will be living in cities, it may also reveal something of our own fate.

Annalee Newitz’s Four Lost Cities is due to be published by W. W. Norton in North America and in the UK, on February 2nd, 2021.

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Review: THE PEOPLE, NO by Thomas Frank (Metropolitan Books)

FrankT-ThePeopleNoThe interesting, if flawed history of American populism and its corruption by the elite

Rarely does a work of history contain startling implications for the present, but in The People, No Thomas Frank pulls off that explosive effect by showing us that everything we think we know about populism is wrong. Today “populism” is seen as a frightening thing, a term pundits use to describe the racist philosophy of Donald Trump and European extremists. But this is a mistake.

The real story of populism is an account of enlightenment and liberation; it is the story of American democracy itself, of its ever-widening promise of a decent life for all. Taking us from the tumultuous 1890s, when the radical left-wing Populist Party — the biggest mass movement in American history — fought Gilded Age plutocrats to the reformers’ great triumphs under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Frank reminds us how much we owe to the populist ethos. Frank also shows that elitist groups have reliably detested populism, lashing out at working-class concerns. The anti-populist vituperations by the Washington centrists of today are only the latest expression.

Frank pummels the elites, revisits the movement’s provocative politics, and declares true populism to be the language of promise and optimism. The People, No is a ringing affirmation of a movement that, Frank shows us, is not the problem of our times, but the solution for what ails us.

I’ve been a fan of Thomas Frank’s writing for some time, now. His books have offered plenty of interesting and incisive examinations and critiques of American politics, culture, and economics. In The People, No, he turns his attention to “populism”: a term that has become quite ubiquitous in the age of Trump, but it is a term that is widely misunderstood. Frank provides a history of this movement, and explains how it has been twisted for nefarious ends. Continue reading

Upcoming: IF THEN by Jill Lepore (Liveright)

LeporeJ-IfThenA new Jill Lepore book is always something to celebrate! And this latest looks quite different from the author’s previous histories. In the past, Lepore has covered topics such as the storytelling tradition in America (The Story of America), The Secret History of Wonder Woman, and has also tackled the Herculean task of writing a single-volume history of the United States (These Truths). If Then is a history of a data company established during the Cold War and how its influence can still be felt today. Here’s the synopsis:

A brilliant, revelatory account of the Cold War origins of the data-mad, algorithmic twenty-first century, from the author of the acclaimed international bestseller These Truths.

The Simulmatics Corporation, founded in 1959, mined data, targeted voters, accelerated news, manipulated consumers, destabilized politics, and disordered knowledge — decades before Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Cambridge Analytica. Silicon Valley likes to imagine that it has no past, but the scientists of Simulmatics are the long-dead grandfathers of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Borrowing from psychological warfare, they used computers to predict and direct human behavior, deploying their “People Machine” from New York, Cambridge, and Saigon for clients that included John Kennedy’s presidential campaign, the New York Times, Young & Rubicam, and, during the Vietnam War, the Department of Defense.

Jill Lepore, distinguished Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer, unearthed from archives the almost unbelievable story of this long-vanished corporation, and of the women hidden behind it. In the 1950s and 1960s, Lepore argues, Simulmatics invented the future by building the machine in which the world now finds itself trapped and tormented, algorithm by algorithm.

I’m really looking forward to reading this. I would also highly recommend The Story of America and The Secret History of Wonder Woman. If you are looking for a single-volume history of the United States, then These Truths is certainly one to consider (I’ve typically found that genre rather unwieldy, but Lepore’s book is excellent).

If Then is due to be published by Liveright in North America and in the UK, on September 15th, 2020.

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Quick Review: IMPERIAL TWILIGHT by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf/Atlantic Books)

PlattSR-ImperialTwilightUSA fascinating re-examination of the causes and consequences of the Opium War

As China reclaims its position as a world power, Imperial Twilight looks back to tell the story of the country’s last age of ascendance and how it came to an end in the nineteenth-century Opium War.

As one of the most potent turning points in the country’s modern history, the Opium War has since come to stand for everything that today’s China seeks to put behind it. In this dramatic, epic story, award-winning historian Stephen Platt sheds new light on the early attempts by Western traders and missionaries to “open” China even as China’s imperial rulers were struggling to manage their country’s decline and Confucian scholars grappled with how to use foreign trade to China’s advantage. The book paints an enduring portrait of an immensely profitable — and mostly peaceful — meeting of civilizations that was destined to be shattered by one of the most shockingly unjust wars in the annals of imperial history. Brimming with a fascinating cast of British, Chinese, and American characters, this riveting narrative of relations between China and the West has important implications for today’s uncertain and ever-changing political climate.

Stephen R. Platt’s Imperial Twilight is a substantial, highly readable history of the causes and consequences of the Opium War. This is an extremely fine history: exhaustive, fascinating, and engaging from beginning to end. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: DESTINATION SHANGHAI by Paul French (Blacksmith Books)

Destination Shanghai_18mm spineA fascinating collection of short biographies

18 true stories of those who went…

For the privileged a cosmopolitan pleasure ground; for the desperate a port of last resort.

A pot of gold at the end of an Oriental rainbow; a thick slice of hell denounced from the pulpit.

The start of a journey for many; the end of the road for some.

A place to find fame, or to seek anonymity; rogues, chancers, showgirls, criminals…

For so many people from so many lands, there was one phrase that sent a tingle of hope or a shiver of anticipation down every spine: “DESTINATION SHANGHAI”

Ever since I read his contributions to Penguin’s series of short China Specials, I’ve been a big fan of Paul French’s books. He has a gift for bringing history alive, and writes in an engaging style. In Destination Shanghai, the author offers a collection of short biographies of people who found themselves in Shanghai at one point or another. Destination Shanghai is an excellent, illuminating read. Continue reading

Excerpt: A HERO BORN by Jin Yong (MacLehose Press)

yongj-1-aherobornukToday, we have an excerpt from A Hero Born, the first novel in Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes. The second novel in the series, A Bond Undone is also out now in the UK, published by MacLehose Press. Here’s the synopsis for A Hero Born:

China: 1200 A.D.

The Song Empire has been invaded by its warlike Jurchen neighbours from the north. Half its territory and its historic capital lie in enemy hands; the peasants toil under the burden of the annual tribute demanded by the victors. Meanwhile, on the Mongolian steppe, a disparate nation of great warriors is about to be united by a warlord whose name will endure for eternity: Genghis Khan.

Guo Jing, son of a murdered Song patriot, grew up with Genghis Khan’s army. He is humble, loyal, perhaps not altogether wise, and is fated from birth to one day confront an opponent who is the opposite of him in every way: privileged, cunning and flawlessly trained in the martial arts.

Guided by his faithful shifus, The Seven Heroes of the South, Guo Jing must return to China — to the Garden of the Drunken Immortals in Jiaxing — to fulfil his destiny. But in a divided land riven by war and betrayal, his courage and his loyalties will be tested at every turn.

This extract opens near the beginning of the volume with the Song patriots, Ironheart Yang and Skyfury Guo, and their wives exchanging the latest troubles of the Imperial Court by the fire. The dynamics of their simple gathering change, however, when Yang and Guo spot a mysterious passerby and invite him in for a drink.

Continue reading

Upcoming: DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Doubleday, Ballantine, & Hutchinson)

ReidTJ-DaisyJones&TheSixUSI first spotted Daisy Jones & the Six quite some time ago in a Random House catalogue, and have been eager to read it ever since — I’m a big fan of music memoirs, so the concept of a memoir about a fictional band I thought, if pulled off well, could be really interesting. After reading the synopsis, I decided to look for anything else by Taylor Jenkins Reid that was already available. Earlier this month, Amazon published a new short story by the author, Evidence of the Affair, which I thought was really good and an excellent introduction to the author’s writing.

Here’s the synopsis for Daisy Jones

A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup.

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity… until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

Daisy Jones & the Six is due to be published in March 2019 in Canada by Doubleday, the US by Ballantine Books, and in the UK by Hutchinson. The author’s previous novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo also sounds really interesting, and I’ve bought that as well.

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Upcoming: HEROES by Stephen Fry (Penguin)

FryS-HeroesUKHCMythology was a big part of my childhood: Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse… I loved it all. I remember we had a particular hardcover book of mythology, heavily illustrated that covered the first three. I read that book over and over again, poring over the details and adventures of the heroes, villains and gods. I loved it, and is most likely the root of my interest in fantasy fiction. (I cannot for the life of me remember what the book was called, though, nor who published it. I’ve been trying to remember for years, but the details escape me completely.)*

I am also a big fan of Stephen Fry‘s work — his comedy, films and also his memoirs (strangely, I haven’t read any of his novels, yet). I bought his critically-acclaimed Mythos a little while ago. Like so many of the books I buy, I have yet to get around to reading it — but it is rapidly climbing my TBR mountain. Penguin recently announced Fry’s upcoming, companion book, Heroes, which I think it also sounds great. (I think the cover was officially unveiled today.) Here’s the synopsis:

There are Heroes — and then there are Greek Heroes.

Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes.

In this companion to his bestselling Mythos, Stephen Fry brilliantly retells these dramatic, funny, tragic and timeless tales. Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta — who was raised by bears — outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera.

Filled with white-knuckle chases and battles, impossible puzzles and riddles, acts of base cowardice and real bravery, not to mention murders and selfless sacrifices, Heroes is the story of what we mortals are truly capable of — at our worst and our very best.

Really looking forward to reading this. Heroes is due to be published by Penguin in the UK, on November 1st, 2018.

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* If you think you might know which book I’m referring to, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments. I really want to find this book!