Rich and immersive, transporting and informative, good historical fiction is a sumptuous treat. See the past re-written with our Historical Fiction collection. Here to take you to another time without the cost of building a time machine.
A scorching and beautifully written epic tale set in 1348, a time that sends a jagged screech of fingernails down the blackboard of history. Step away from the present into the midst of the Black Death, to overwhelming fear and confusion. The moated centre of one estate in Dorset appears to offer sanctuary, yet the treacherous play of human emotions wreaks havoc. I am a fan of Minette Walters, she has the ability to look behind and beyond the obvious, and she is eminently suited to this new genre. A lot of characters are introduced, yet there is no confusion, each was clear in my mind, known to me and vibrantly alive. The descriptions took me directly through the words and into this compelling story. ‘The Last Hours’ is the first of two novels, it quickly puts down roots and takes hold, ensuring a gripping, striking and remarkably readable tale. ~ Liz Robinson
May 2018 Book of the Month An intimate, beautifully told, occasionally rambunctious tale set in 17th century England. Ursula Flight was born at an inauspicious time, she tells her own highly entertaining, yet poignant tale from birth. Ursula bounded from the page into wondrous life, I could feel her emotions, her wild, kind, impetuous nature spoke to me. Anna-Marie Crowhurst has created a vibrant, stunning setting for Ursula, the countryside of her childhood is so beautifully imagined, I found myself looking around, smelling, touching, feeling. Ursula’s own writing is scattered through the novel, her thoughts, letters and plays allow direct contact with her, as when she writes she is free, and unencumbered by the morals of the time. I have to admit to feeling a certain amount of disquiet as I read, one part of me was in the present, living life with Ursula, the other part was wondering what would become of this spirited young woman. A blistering darkness slices through ‘The Illumination of Ursula Flight’ taking its turn in the orbiting dance of life alongside the colour and passion, which creates a truly wonderful captivating read, and I loved it.
A brilliantly conceived Viking epic set in eighth-century Sweden. Bernard Cornwall meets George R.R. Martin in this ambitious, masterful series. Action-packed, evocative and impressively grand in scope, this second installment of The Wanderer Chronicles is a veritable feast of character-driven Viking verve, fusing fantasy with history, and blending detail with brilliant broad brushstroke atmosphere. The time and place is 8th century Sweden. Viking Erlan Aurvandil has pledged to serve Sviggar, King of the Sveärs and enemy of Harald Wartooth, King of the Danes. Thus when Wartooth stirs the embers of an ancient feud, Erlan is bound by his oath to remain loyal to Sviggar. Alongside struggles of allegiance, and the brutalities of battlefield conflict, high-stake conflicts of the heart also come into play when the King’s daughter falls for Erlan. Further trying tests of loyalty ensue as the violence escalates, with both the battle scenes and personal struggles evoked with sword-sharp precision. Certainly recommended for fans of Bernard Cornwall and George RR Martin, this is a highly readable epic of Shakespearean proportions, with a lightness of touch and sense of otherworldly mystery dancing alongside the high drama of torn loyalties and tragedy.
To those around her she was a loyal subject. In her heart she was a traitor. The Queen of the title is Elizabeth Mortimer 1371-1417, married to Sir Henry Percy (known as Hotspur) and upon his death to Thomas de Camoys. This is another of the author’s excellent retelling of the lives of medieval women. Written in the first person, this untangles history in a highly readable manner. It seems Elizabeth loved her first husband who assisted Henry IV to dethrone Richard II and was killed in battle. But in fact Elizabeth wanted her nephew, eight-year old Edmond, to become King but she kept this to herself. Upon Hotspur’s death he was pronounced a traitor and Elizabeth arrested. The King then gave her a choice, marry de Camoys or go into a nunnery. She married de Camoys, he was in his sixties, and the books ends with her settling into a harmonious relationship. I think the strength of this is that it is written in the first person, highly enjoyable. ~ Sarah Broadhurst
War rages, but the women and children of Liverpool's Dr Barnado's Home cannot give up hope. An Orphan's War is a gripping saga about love and loss on the Home Front. A lovely, heartfelt, warming slice of saga fiction set during the Second World War. Maxine endures heartbreak at the beginning of the war, she then faces an impossible choice before finding herself a job at a Dr Barnardo’s orphanage in Liverpool. Maxine is a wonderfully thoughtful, loveable character, supported by the author, who with care and compassion covers some moving and poignant topics. I found myself visiting the effects of the war on the home front, and some previously unexplored and interesting areas. There is a gentleness to the writing as it walks some difficult paths, ensuring ‘An Orphan’s War’ is an engaging, generous read. ~ Liz Robinson
A forbidden love. A deadly secret. `An absorbing, well-researched story that brings to life an extraordinary period in history' GILL PAUL, bestselling author of The Secret Wife A fascinating, bold read, allowing you access to the Second World War from an unusual viewpoint. Magda Ritter tells her own story as she moves from Berlin to Hitler’s retreat The Berghof to act as the ultimate protector, Hitler’s food taster. Magda has to be prepared to give her life for the Fuhrer, yet she finds love and a social conscience in the most unlikely of places. V. S. Alexander writes with a beautiful simplicity, allowing the heart of the story to shine through. The words encourage you to imagine, to experience, to feel. Taking you into the heart of Germany during the Second World War, ‘Her Hidden Life’ is an absorbing and intriguing foray, that encouraged me to think and feel from an entirely different perspective.
St Andrews in the 16th century is once again brought to captivating vibrant life. With allegations of ghosts, witches, the Spanish Armada and high jinks, the year 1588 is full of life… and death. If you adore the ‘Hew Cullan Mystery’ series then you are in for an absolute treat, as in this ‘Calendar of Crime’ are five different books. They may be short, but each packs a punch as Hew uses his investigative skills in an attempt to solve 5 different mysteries. Shirley McKay sets you so completely in that time that awareness settles over you like a cloak as you read. The very different tales take place in various parts of town, and while the same core characters travel with you through the year, you also greet new ones along the way. The historical notes section and glossary at the end is an interesting read in itself. You can dip in and out of ‘1588: A Calendar of Crime’ and read it as five fascinating stories, or completely immerse yourself in it as I did, and read it one satisfying sitting.
April 2018 Book of the Month Oh wow, this is a slicing, chilling, whammy of a read that has left me reeling. In 2015 an actress is abducted, the case has all the hallmarks of a murderer who was locked up in Broadmoor ten years previously, then a body appearing to link to the abduction and murders is found in Sweden. The second in the 'Roy and Castells' series continues with sharp, fast-paced drama. I really do recommend starting at the beginning with the fabulous ‘Block 46’, you need to get to know the characters, as to try to step into the middle of the storyline would be almost impossible. The translation is spot on, at no time did I stop to consider this originated in a different language. Set in two countries, and two storylines, with one story steadily advancing through the years, I found myself on full alert and at times racing to keep up. There are sections that are so horrifyingly descriptive they are almost impossible to read, yet the story is so gripping, it is impossible not to. Johana Gustawsson delivers morsel upon morsel of information, and stomach-churning shivers raced down my body. An inkling of what is happening zipped into my thoughts, however I couldn’t have even begun to imagine the final outcome. ‘Keeper’ isn’t an easy read, it isn’t meant to be, it is thought-provoking, challenging, and an absolute knock-out…I’m still in shock - highly recommended.
March 2018 Book of the Month I am William Lee: brute; liar, and graveside thief. But you will know me by another name. A fiery, emphatic and intense glimpse into the missing years of Heathcliff. Leaving Wuthering Heights and naming himself William Lee, Heathcliff travels through the north of England, revenge forming on his mind. If you haven’t read ‘Wuthering Heights’ there is no need to look away, this could be the entrance to that fascinating world. I do feel you need to be aware that obscenities crop up, in fact sometimes litter the pages, and while this may put people off, I would advise looking beyond the surface to what lies beneath. The book opens with anger and deep rooted pain, William’s thoughts flare into being, the searing honesty and heat almost made me flinch. Michael Stewart allows William’s innermost being to spill onto the pages, William is so matter of fact about pain and suffering, about the world around him, the stark reality of the times seared their way onto my soul. And then there are the descriptions, the beautiful, eloquent descriptions of the countryside, the rural life, the old words. While rage, hurt and confusion swirl in a maelstrom of emotion, tenderness, love, and compassion lie waiting, biding their time. Yes ‘Ill Will’ is provocative, it is a disturbing, striking read, yet also strangely beautiful, and personally, I loved it.
Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 | Shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards 2017, First Novel Award May 2017 Debut of the Month. This magnetic debut evokes the social and emotional landscapes of interwar England with an abundance of originality. With the country battered and drained by the Great War, orphan Lucy Marsh finds herself in an extraordinary place, and in the company of even more extraordinary people, when an old army truck trundles her to woods on the edge of London. Here Lucy feels that anything could happen: “She might shake hands with a ghost or dance alongside a lion or spoon trifle into the mouth of a storybook dwarf”. But what Lucy really encounters is every bit as remarkable as her imaginings, for it’s here that she meets the “funny men”, four former soldiers disfigured by war, each named after one of Dorothy’s Emerald City-bound cohorts. The novel is a rich tapestry that interweaves the social fabric of interwar England with fairy tale touches. Lucy comes to feel that “the world is confusing, but the forest is not”, poignantly conveying the strangeness of the period. The author has a fabulously visual style, and I loved the ensemble of characters - some haunted, some scarred, all of them nimbly conjured by a debut author with considerable talent. The Costa Judges say: ‘A perfectly-paced, unsettling yet strangely uplifting tale about fractured lives and broken people.’
The Song of Achilles was a beautiful and evocative retelling of a Greek myth which well deserved its praise and prize. It is possible that this second offering is even better. The language is poetic with not a word wasted, a real joy to read. I remember Circe was one of the challenges met by Odysseus, the one who turned men into pigs. The beautiful character who narrates this story is that same “wicked witch” but a far cry from how Homer portrayed her. She is lovely, misunderstood, wilful and brilliant, a strong woman slowly growing into her power. Many famous mythical figures pepper these pages; Jason, Prometheus, the Minator … but don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them all, this spellbinding story gives you all you need to know. If you are familiar with the myths you will find new life in them in this enchanting retelling. I really cannot praise it enough. It is a special book, bridging romance, fantasy, poetic literature and feminist writing to create a work of high standard with wide appeal. I loved it and I think you will too.
`With all the vivid history that is his trademark, Bernard Cornwell transports the readers to the playhouses, backstreets and palaces of Shakespeare's London with added depth and compassion' Philippa Gregory In the heart of Elizabethan England, young Richard Shakespeare dreams of a glittering career in the London playhouses, dominated by his older brother, William. But as a penniless actor with a silver tongue, Richard's onetime gratitude begins to sour, as does his family loyalty. So it is that Richard falls under suspicion when a priceless manuscript goes missing, forcing him into a high-stakes game of duplicity and betrayal, and through the darkest alleyways of the city. In this richly portrayed tour de force, Fools and Mortals takes you among the streets and palaces, scandals and rivalries, and lets you stand side-by-side with the men and women of Bernard Cornwell's masterful Elizabethan London.
March 2018 Book of the Month Oh my, this is a fascinating, darkly powerful novel with biting attitude, set in Victorian Edinburgh. In the laboratory above a newly opened pharmacy, a wonder-drug is created, as the pharmacist experiments, his wife of six months discovers a world she couldn’t have imagined. Kindness and love sit at the very heart of this novel, however light can be so easily doused, and a bleak and twisted shadow menaces the pages. This may be a blistering Victorian drama, yet the characters feel so very real, their thoughts and feelings could easily be exposed today. Vanessa Tait writes with a provocative, combative pen, my mind flinched, my heart ached, and yet hope existed within the very centre of my being. Raw, elemental and disturbing, The Pharmacist’s Wife is an entirely captivating, enthralling read - highly recommended.
Another intensely vivid and expressive tale from Dinah Jefferies, on this occasion set in 1930’s Ceylon. All of Dinah’s books can be read as standalone novels, however ‘The Sapphire Widow’ is visited by characters from ‘The Tea Planter’s Wife’ so perhaps start there (though you certainly don’t have to). Louisa Reeve has her life torn apart after the unexpected death of her husband, as she tries to understand the hidden part of the man she loved, she finds a potential new life opening up before her. Dinah has the ability to create beauty and pain with the written word, to evoke feelings and to open minds. The pages waft scent, flavour, sound, I could almost stop, breathe in, and let the words settle around me. The story flows allowing you unfettered access, unease skittered across my awareness, heightening my anticipation and concern. ‘The Sapphire Widow’ is a gorgeous captivating tale full of emotion, and it took me outside of myself into a different world. ~ Liz Robinson
Sisters Margaret and Annie lost their mother years ago, they long for her every day. Their protective and devout father keeps the girls close. But he can't protect them all the time . . . When a scandal rocks this family unit to their core, the girls are forced to leave their home under a shadow of secrecy. The girls arrive in the Birmingham's famous jewellery quarter one stifling August evening to stay with their uncle, goldsmith Ebenezer Watts. Annie takes up work at a nearby factory, but it's not the work that interests her. Her kind and soft nature, means that her attention is drawn to the immediate need of her impoverished colleagues and the wretched lives they lead. Meanwhile, Ebenezer employs Margaret as a chain maker. When Margaret meets silversmith Philipp Tallis, she is drawn to him instantly. Margaret is forced closer to this mysterious man in the cramped workshop, as they create objects of beauty. But what is it the Sisters of Gold are hiding? Even though they've escaped their past once, it can't stay hidden forever . . .
To give them hope she must tell their story It's 1946. The war is over, and Juliet Ashton has writer's block. But when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey - a total stranger living halfway across the Channel, who has come across her name written in a second hand book - she enters into a correspondence with him, and in time with all the members of the extraordinary Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Through their letters, the society tell Juliet about life on the island, their love of books - and the long shadow cast by their time living under German occupation. Drawn into their irresistible world, Juliet sets sail for the island, changing her life forever.
Just gorgeous, this is a story to shine a light in the darkness, even in moments of despair. Constantinople in 1921 is a confusing, often frightening place to be, in the first few pages, two reports from 1918, perfectly sum up the two opposing sides, each report almost interchangeable. Nur’s house is in the hands of the British and being used as a hospital, she finds her thoughts on the occupiers altering and conflicted when she takes an orphan in her care to be treated by George Munroe. Five separate yet entwined stories exist side by side, different time frames ensure the past spears the present, while the future whispers to the past. Lucy Foley has developed a beautiful writing style, the vivid colour stamps its impression on the pages, conjuring taste, touch, smells and sounds, as well as creating a feast for your eyes. As the book began to come to a close, it felt as though two trains were on an inevitable collision course. The sweeping horror of war and occupation, both momentous and insidious, is clearly felt, yet it is the intimate, the individual connections, that were the highlight of this read for me. ‘Last Letter from Istanbul’ caresses, sparks and skewers thoughts and feelings, it is a truly penetrating and captivating read - highly recommended.
Powerful, sweeping and elegantly composed, this compelling novel takes in Burma’s history from the 1940s to the 1960s and draws on the author’s personal history to remarkable effect. When Benny settles in Ragoon, part of the British Empire, he falls for Khin, who belongs to the persecuted Karen minority group, and they go into hiding when WWII erupts. The end of the war heralds fresh dangers when the nationalists take control. Then, when the Karen people – and other ethnic groups - are refused their desire to self-govern, a brutal, long-running civil war breaks out and Benny and Khin’s firstborn child - the first ever Miss Burma beauty queen - is thrust into a world of conflict, uncertainty and contradictions. The historical details are enlightening, yet this expansive, lyrical novel also explores universal themes - identity, desire, patriotism versus self-determinism - that transcend the particulars of time and place. This is an intensely illuminating, riveting accomplishment.
A captivating and convincing novel set during the Second World War, based on archived documents and letters, detailing the relationship between married US General Eisenhower and his driver Kay Summersby. In 1942 the two meet, and Eisenhower quickly places Kay at the heart of his team, as rumours spread, they become ever closer. The lines between fact and fiction blurred as I read, the relationship felt substantial, real, and before my eyes I witnessed Kay supporting Eisenhower as he made critical decisions about the war. James MacManus creates an intimate, penetrating story, yet the huge arena of war dominates, highlighting the connection between the two. Clear and precise, everyday life is set before you, and small in-depth details encourage a vivid picture to emerge. Ike and Kay focuses on an intriguing relationship, a relationship that was tolerated, even encouraged in order to get the job done, oh what a fascinating tale it is.
An emotionally tough read that tells a story which must not be forgotten. Based on the lives of two of the central characters, Sophia and Misha, it centres on an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War and of the work of Dr Janusz Korezak, the Good Doctor of the title. The story begins in 1937 when Poland is independent. The anti-Jewish bigotry festering in fascist Germany is slowly spreading throughout Central Europe but life is still pleasant in Warsaw. Misha and Sophia are in love. There is a charming chapter when, in July 1939, the children from Korezak’s orphanage are taken to the country for a month of games and fresh air; an idyllic time and a poignant contrast to the horror to come. I do not need to tell you what happens, just to mention the word Treblinka is enough. Getting there in August 1942 is harrowing yet compulsive reading as we follow the adventures of Misha and Sophia and indeed the wonderful Dr Korezak. There is a postscript about the site today where a large stone monolith commemorates the awful events carried out there. It is surrounded by smaller stones each representing a village, town or city from which the Jews and Romanies were taken. Only one stone has the one word, Korezak.
A truly gripping and compelling novel exploring the fascinating life of Joan of Kent, as she grew from a wilful child to a shrewd and capable woman, through to the time her son became Richard II. Joan tells her own story, creating a delicious intimacy, we meet her in 1340, when she secretly marries at the age of 12, an inconceivable age, yet this is a woman who proves again and again that she knows her own mind. The awareness of the lines between fact and fiction blurred as I read, and I found myself escaping into and just thoroughly enjoying this novel. By the end I was so enamoured with Joan, I was left with a hunger for more information about her life beyond the end of the book. Anne O’Brien chooses some extraordinary and intriguing women from history to place within her tales and ‘The Shadow Queen’ more than lives up to expectations, what a splendid read this is.
In a Nutshell: Centuries-old sisters wreak revenge An ancient curse haunts a contemporary town, with a seventeen-year-old heroine at the very heart of its darkness. Two centuries ago, three sisters accused of witchcraft were drowned as punishment for their alleged sorcery. And every year, the sisters rise from the waters to inhabit the bodies of three local girls, set on seducing and drowning boys in revenge. This annual act of vengeance has become something of a macabre tourist attraction, with hundreds of visitors descending on the insular town of Sparrow ahead of the sisters’ return. 18 year-old Bo is among them this year, but he’s not Sparrow’s usual kind of tourist, as Penny discovers. But then Penny’s not your usual kind of local, either. She’s an outsider who lives with her grief-stricken, fortuneteller mom on an island off Sparrow. When Bo and Penny’s lives collide on the night the sisters rise from the depths, a thrillingly lyrical tale unfolds and crashes to a pulse-quickening crescendo as an age-old tempest of emotional turmoil plays out against the wild winds of a Pacific storm. Weaving folkloric elements into a contemporary setting is no easy feat, and here this has been accomplished with panache - the writing is as beguiling as the Swan sisters themselves and makes for an exhilarating devour-in-one-sitting reading experience.
My goodness me did these two have a passion, a chemistry that burned so bright it was painful to behold. They, Lucy and Gabe, met on 11 September 2001 in New York as the world changed and so did their lives. We follow them through Lucy’s conversation with Gabe over thirteen years as each has a dream that needs to be fulfilled, a dream of doing something important in the world. Together or separately they know not but follow that dream they must. We discover a lot about Lucy’s life, little about Gabe’s except when it crosses Lucy’s. She marries Darren, has two children, is happy and loves him. But there are many types of love and the one that burns for Gabe is wild fire and will not die. This is extraordinarily romantic, the stuff that goose bumps are made of and a joy to read. Evocative, moving and intense it is a very impressive work. The author has written several children’s book, this is her first adult novel. If you like Jill Santopolo you might also like to read books by Lisa Jewell, Jojo Moyes and David Nicholls.
Once Upon a Time…
With authors like the two-time Man Booker Prize winning Hilary Mantel among its illuminati, it’s no wonder that Historical Fiction is arguably more popular than ever. Follow the lives, loves, betrayals, deaths, trials-and-tribulations of those that went before us.
Whether you follow Sebastian Faulks and P.S Duffy to the hell and displacement of the Front in WWI, Philippa Gregory to the intrigue, immorality and perils of the court of Henry VIII, or get rocked on the high seas of the King’s Navy in Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander, there is a wealth of exceptional storytelling to dive headfirst into. Where will you let our time machine take you today?
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