Lynn Cullen follows up her sparkling debut novel, last year’s The Creation of Eve, with a historical novel just as intricately detailed and gorgeously written. In Reign of Madness, Cullen finds her muse in Juana of Castile, the unlikeliest of monarchs in early-sixteenth-century Spain. As the third child of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, Juana became queen only after the untimely deaths of the siblings in line ahead of her. After being betrayed by her husband, her father, and then her firstborn son, “Juana the Mad” spent the last forty-six years of her life confined in the palace. From such rich history, Cullen imagines an even richer fiction. “A birdcage might be gilded, but it is still a cage,” she writes. Though she cannot solve the mystery of whether Juana was truly mad or what exactly happened to her between her fairy-tale beginnings and grotesque demise, Cullen has created another masterstroke of historical romance. In full service to the story, perfect sentences are strung together like so many pearls: “Drums were thumping in the distance like the heartbeat of God.”
Patti Callahan Henry, who lives with her family on the Chattahoochee River, dives into the murky depths of mother-daughter relationships in her latest confection. After her controlling mother dies, Ellie begins to seek some of life’s harder truths. With the help of a documentary filmmaker who happens to be her ex-boyfriend—this is chick lit, after all—Ellie begins to piece together her mother’s tale of unrequited love as she ponders her own troubled marriage.
HOT, SHOT, AND BOTHERED (Touchstone)
Macon author Nora McFarland serves up the second installment of a madcap mystery featuring Lilly Hawkins, a TV news photographer and amateur sleuth in Bakersfield, California. While covering a massive wildfire, the irrepressible Lilly is distracted and ultimately consumed by the accidental drowning of a girl she used to know.
Photograph by Amy Gibbons