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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.
Tobi and Ella's childhood in East Berlin is shrouded in mystery. Now adults living in London, their past in full of unanswered questions. Both remember their family's daring and terrifying attempt to escape, which ended in tragedy; but the fall-out from that single event remains elusive. Where did their parents disappear to, and why? What happened to Heiko, their little brother? And was there ever a painting of three blue horses? In contemporary Germany, Aaron works for the archive, making his way through old files, piecing together the tragic history of thousands of families. But one file in particular catches his eye; and soon unravelling the secrets at its heart becomes an obsession. When Ella is left a stash of notebooks by her mother, and she and Tobi embark on a search that will take them back to Berlin, her fate clashes with Aaron's, and together they piece together the details of Ella's past... and a family destroyed. Devastating and beautifully written, funny and life-affirming, Confession with Blue Horses explores intimate family life and its strength in the most difficult of circumstances.
A fascinating and thought-provoking debut novel where the author focuses on the intimate lives of a family, which in turn opens up the Frankfurt Trials after the Second World War. Set in 1963 Germany, Eva Bruhn is hired as a translator for a war crimes trial, as she learns more about the war, her thoughts expand and she begins to question her parents and examine her childhood. Told in four parts, there are no chapters and I found myself constantly on edge and alert as events, characters and time moved backwards and forwards. The story takes its time to develop, allowing access to the family dynamics and Eva’s transition to understanding. Author Annette Hess is a successful screenwriter (which shows), in her note at the end she thanks the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt where she researched the first Auschwitz trial. She directly quoted from a number of participants at the trial, and merged other statements, so bringing an incredible feeling of reality to a compelling novel. Originally published in German, the translator Elisabeth Lauffer talks of her sense of responsibility to do justice to the story, to translate faithfully and thoughtfully the testimonies of Auschwitz survivors. This is an incredibly moving novel, it examines pack mentality and highlights how quickly humanity can collectively move on, while individual memories are left forever scarred. For a number of reasons The German House isn’t an easy read, it is powerful though, and I have chosen it as a Liz Robinson pick of the month.
Wow. This is an amazing tale packed with drama on and off the stage. a circular tale of Colonel Tearwood's American Theatre Company. A plot filled with love, loss, anger, jealousy and drama, that I don't think I can sing the praises of enough! How Beautiful They Were is incredibly well-written and drew me in from Jeremiah's introduction to the spectacular candlelit finale. It reminded me quite a lot of The Phantom of the Opera - the idea that life reflects art with secrets, betrayals and deaths happening in the world around the theatre. I thought the setting in 1850s America and the side story / undertone of racism was poignant and very well handled. I've loved following the story of John James Beaufort, my heart broke along with his in the early stages and I was fascinated to see what would become of him on his voyage to America. The adaptations of notable works into plays that reflected their life and surroundings in America and as a way to expose crimes and tell each character's stories was marvellous and when Wuthering Heights was mentioned I couldn't wait to see how it was interpreted. La piece bien faite indeed! Charlotte Walker, A LoveReading Ambassador
Gosh, this is an absolute treat of a debut novel, so different, so compelling, so fabulously readable! Circling a past that isn’t actually that long ago, the Cold War battle between the USA and USSR intertwines with the background tale to the novel that became Doctor Zhivago. The prologue wonderfully and thoroughly sets the scene. The story spins and spins again, and as several tales are told from different perspectives, we hear from an unknown voice in the typing pool, from a muse, from a carrier… Women take centre stage, even when in a supportive role. Lara Prescott kept my attention as taut as razor wire throughout, the words ganging up to give my thoughts little shoves. I have been left with a thirst for more information about the history of this time, yet thoroughly satisfied by the tale on offer. The Secrets We Kept is many things, spy story, love story, cold war story, it is also an eloquent, surprising read and highly recommended.
The Old Bailey, 1826 and Frannie Langton stands in court accused of the brutal murder of her former master and mistress. But “there was love between me and her”, she tells the court as she relates her story from 1812, when she worked at Paradise plantation, Jamaica. With the skills of reading and writing “packed inside” her, “dangerous as gunpowder”, Frannie is taken to London and sent to work for a man named George Benham. His wife, the beautiful, eccentric Madame Marguerite Benham “stirred a feeling of wanting” in Frannie, and she becomes Madame’s lady’s maid and secretary - and more. But theirs is a complex, volatile relationship. “The truth is there was love as well as hate,” Frannie acknowledges. “The truth is, the love hurt worse”. Speaking at her trial, during which she recounts the inhumane racial experimentation undertaken by the master of Paradise, Frannie asks, “Sirs, I wonder...in the whole sum of human history, by what order have you white men been wrong more than you’ve been right?” She also questions the privileges and entitlements of gender: “how confident a man must be to write down his musings, expecting anybody else to be interested in reading them”. Ablaze with drama, detail, tension and wit, and wise on the nature of agency and freedom, this comes highly recommended for fans of Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women and Sarah Waters. According to Frannie, “A novel is like a long, warm drink but a poem is a spike through the head”. By her definition, this novel is both these things - as potent as a poem, as addictive as a long, warm drink. Have a look at our Ambassador Book Buzz for The Confessions of Frannie Langton.
This is a really superb book, the type of book that you can sit comfortably in a chair in a winter's night and just totally relax with. The Author has written the story in a smooth continuous flow of writing which allows the Reader to follow the story easily without having to backtrack to previously read material to keep the theme of the story in mind. The book itself satisfies many genres and thus will appeal to a wide range of readers. The work includes love, classical background, fear, battles, friendship and so many other areas. The main characters are with the story from beginning to end with a few twists along the way which brings surprise to the reader and also draws the readers attention to a deeper understanding of the story. A classical themed story but not all romance and god's. A good read guaranteed. Catherine Bryce, A LoveReading Ambassador
Sparked by the author’s reading about a real reform school in Florida, this deeply affecting novel centres around the unforgettable Ellwood Curtis. “Raised strict” by his grandmother, Ellwood was “intelligent and hardworking and a credit to his race”, and driven by the wisdom of Martin Luther King: “We must believe in our souls that we are somebody, that we are significant, that we are worthful, and we must walk the streets of life every day with this sense of dignity.” At high school - where the books were defaced by racist slurs written by white students who knew where their old books were headed - Ellwood thrives under a teacher who lets him know of an opportunity to go to the local black college. But Ellwood never got to go. One mistake sees him sent to Nickel Academy where he’s “swiftly appalled” by the low level of education. “I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it,” he resolves, invoking Dr King for strength. It’s not long before Ellwood realises that rather than being a place that seeks to transform boys into “honorable and honest men”, the school is fuelled by violent abuse - “Nickel was racist as hell - half the people who worked here probably dressed up like the Klan on weekends” - and many kids disappear from this horrendous environment. While Elwood grasps onto Dr King’s “Do to us what you will and we will still love you” mantra, his friend Turner subscribes to the notion that survival is dependent on them adopting their tyrants’ cruelties. Like Ellwood himself, this novel has a steady, direct tone, underpinned by resolve and dignity in the face of inhumane abuse. Traversing timeframes, and with a stop-you-in-your-tracks ending, this stunning book from the Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad exposes oft-hidden historical horrors with poised humanity, and shows-up the ricocheting, inter-generational resonance of institutional racism and abuse.
Full of her trademark mix of unforgettable characters and heart-breaking secrets, The Butterfly Room is the new spellbinding, multi-generational story from Sunday Times bestseller Lucinda Riley. Posy Montague is approaching her seventieth birthday. Still living in her beautiful family home, Admiral House, set in the glorious Suffolk countryside where she spent her own idyllic childhood catching butterflies with her beloved father, and raised her own children, Posy knows she must make an agonising decision. The house is crumbling around her, and Posy knows the time has come to sell it. Then a face appears from the past - Freddie, her first love, who abandoned her and left her heartbroken fifty years ago. Already struggling to cope with her son Sam's inept business dealings, and the sudden reappearance of her younger son Nick, Posy is reluctant to trust in Freddie's renewed affection. And unbeknown to Posy, Freddie - and Admiral House - have a devastating secret to reveal.
Beautifully and deliciously foreboding, this is an eloquent, thrilling treat of a read. Iris and Silas meet as construction begins for the Great Exhibition in 1850, for one it is an experience soon forgotten, for the other the beginning of a dangerous obsession. Members of the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood gather, their ideals and connection to the Arts and Crafts movement fascinating to observe, particularly when compared to the logic and occupation of Silas. The Doll Factory won the Caledonia Novel Award 2018, and it is easy to see why it was immediately snapped up, the storyline while disturbing is enthralling and the descriptive detailing exquisite. Elizabeth MacNeal allows us intimate access to the thoughts and feelings of both Iris and Silas, opening a doorway to the potential and possible future of the story which succeeds in increasing the tension to almost unbearable levels. I felt a duty of care to both parties, wanting to warn, to ease, to prevent harm. As the story gathered me in and opened my eyes, I felt a shiver of chills gathering, forcing goosebumps down my arms. There is a darkness of the gothic variety to be found with The Doll Factory, it is also the most incredibly rewarding read and comes with a highly recommended stamp from me.
Awash with atmosphere, passion and suspense, this first novel in a new series by the mistress of popular historical fiction is an immersive, entertaining, feminist-spirited feast. Impoverished midwife and herbalist healer Alinor goes to a graveyard on Midsummer Eve wondering if she might find the ghost of her missing abusive husband. Instead she encounters James, a wealthy, handsome man who will change the course of her life. With England in the throes of civil war, James is a fugitive and Alinor puts herself at risk to take him across the dangerous marsh to his place of sanctuary. James cannot comprehend meeting “a woman like you in a place like this”, words that ignite Alinor’s heart and soul through her otherwise bleak existence: “I am bound as a tenant to a neglectful lord and I cannot leave. I am wife to a vanished man and cannot marry, and I am sister to the ferryman and he will never carry me across to the mainland and set me free”. While helping James does lift Alinor from the mire, the tongues of local gossip women and bawdy men are set wagging, threatening her very existence and her daughter’s shot at a new life, and wise Alinor knows only too well that “no woman is innocent… Everything is our fault: sin and death are at our door, from now to Judgment Day”. The love story and evocation of time and place are utterly enthralling but, most of all, this is a dazzlingly compelling portrait of a complex, dignified woman standing strong and proud against the cruel confines of her class and sex.
Everything changes for rural lad Emmett Farmer when a gloriously grouchy wise woman compels him to be her bookbinding apprentice. While this line of work is generally shrouded in superstitious fear, Emmett is shocked when his mentor explains that they “don’t make books to sell, boy. Selling books is wrong”. Rather, their gothically intriguing trade involves binding unwanted memories into books: ”Whatever people can’t bear to remember. Whatever they can’t live with. We take those memories and put them where they can’t do any more harm”. Most clients are wealthy; well-to-do gentlemen who have their servants and wives bound so they forget what wrongs their masters and husbands have done to them. No wonder then, that Emmett is horrified to discover a book bearing his own name, and so a tempestuous tangle of secrets unfurls. The novel is also fragrantly spiced with witty references to literary history and the novel as an art form: “It makes one wonder who would write them [novels]. People who enjoy imagining misery, I suppose. People who have no scruples about dishonesty”. Yet through the duplicity of her exquisitely crafted characters, and luminous storytelling, this novel’s author reveals truths of the human spirit in a most entertaining and absorbing fashion.
An incredibly engaging, fascinating, and rather beautiful read, this book will stay with me for some time. A couple seek refuge after the Spanish Civil War and end up in Chile, where years later they again face exile. Covering the period from 1938 through to 1994, this is a story that crosses continents, examines topics such as fascism, war, and migration, yet is as intimate as intimate can be. I entered and thought no more about the fact that this was translated from Spanish by Nick Caister and Amanda Hopkinson, it so clearly, simply, and fabulously done. Within the first few pages there were tears in my eyes. I couldn’t stop reading, thoughtful and sensitive, yet not afraid to focus on unbearable sorrow, this feels as though it could be a biography. As Isabelle Allende explains in the acknowledgments, while this is a novel, with fictional characters (though based on people she has known), the historical events and people are real. She says: “This book wrote itself, as if it had been dictated to me” and I truly felt that. A Long Petal of the Sea opened my eyes and my heart, and has left me wanting to know more. Coming as highly recommended by me, it has also been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book.
Let the battles begin... 'I foresee great struggles at my funeral games.' Babylon, 323 BC: Alexander the Great is dead, leaving behind him the largest, and most fearsome, empire the world has ever seen. As his final breaths fade in a room of seven bodyguards, Alexander refuses to name a successor. But without a natural heir, who will take the reins? As the news of the king's sudden and unexpected death ripples across the land, leaving all in disbelief, the ruthless battle for the throne begins. What follows is a devious, tangled web of scheming and plotting, with alliances quickly made and easily broken, each rival with their own agenda. But who will emerge victorious: the half-chosen; the one-eyed; the wildcat; the general; the bastard; the regent? In the end, only one man, or indeed woman, will be left standing...
The case of the extraordinary child . . . London, 1863. A strange puzzle has reached Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age. To recover a stolen child, Bridie must enter the dark world of medical curiosities. The public love a spectacle and this child may well prove the most remarkable spectacle London has ever seen. Things in Jars is a Victorian novel unlike any other, one that explores what it is to be human in inhumane times.
My heart is full of love for this darkly beautiful and mind-twisting novel. Set in the time of Elizabeth I, a curse given in anguish and hate is set to run amok. At birth Beau is burdened with great beauty and is due to be the cause of the death of his father, while unrelated to the curse, Randa is born a mix of beast and human. And, so begins a story of the greatest highs and the lowest lows, of revenge and hope, love and despair. The first sentence sucked me in, and I was held in thrall throughout. This is a completely gorgeous blend of Shakespearean drama, the very darkest of fairy tales, and the simply wonderful pen of Wray Delaney. I felt a reassuring half-formed recognition as I read, yet at the same time, a prickle of awareness that I was an explorer, charting an entirely new world. I highly recommend The Beauty of the Wolf to anyone who hungers for a bite of difference, with a more than a twist of glorious darkness. I have chosen this as both a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month, and a LoveReading Star Book, it’s fierce, it’s wonderful, I adored it.
This is an absolute belter of a novel. Awaiting you is a stunning, murderous mix of Eastern European folklore and a serial killer, set during 1935 in rural Czechoslovakia. Psychiatrist Dr Viktor Kosarek takes up a position in Hrad Orlu Asylum for the criminally insane to study the ‘Devil’s Six’, while in Prague, a serial killer is announced. The page and a half prologue sets the novel up brilliantly, the last sentence, so starkly delivered, chilled me to the bone. My mind entered the most vividly real locations, I slipped through the streets of Prague and flinched as I entered the Castle. Craig Russell crosses several genres and balances a number of themes seamlessly, which I just adored. My thoughts pushed and pulled at my emotions as they balanced together on a cliff edge. The Devil Aspect, is a dark, haunting whopper of a story and it set my imagination on fire. So good, it has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book and just had to be one of my Liz Robinson picks of the month.
I was completely and utterly consumed by this debut, it slowly took hold, crept into my thoughts, drew me in, and then refused to let me go. I really didn’t want to stop reading, and even now Cora Burns enters my mind and stops for a while. Cora Burns born in gaol and raised in a workhouse, finds herself in gaol once again before a scientist takes her on as a servant, just what exactly is his current experiment? The story starts in savage darkness, then spins forward in time before rolling between 1865, 1874 and 1885, slowly answering questions yet creating more. Carolyn Kirby has created the most deeply felt and amazing character in Cora (to me she isn’t a character but as real as real can be). There were times when I almost didn’t want to read her story, I wanted to shut my eyes, hum, and put my hands to my ears, and yet I simply couldn’t stop, the words haunted me, called to me, devoured me. The Conviction of Cora Burns enthralling, fascinating and so incredibly worthwhile, developed into the most unexpectedly fierce and beautiful read (I think you will understand if you step between the pages).
Discover and be transported by eight wonderfully diverse stories based on the myth, legend and folklore at eight English Heritage sites from the toe of Cornwall to the tip of Northumberland. Editor Katherine Davey, English Heritage, and September Publishing have worked their magic alongside the authors while Clive Hicks-Jenkins has created striking and disquieting illustrations to accompany each story. To give you an idea as to the quality on offer, the authors in order are, Edward Carey, Alison MacLeod, Paul Kingsnorth, Sarah Hall, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Sarah Moss, and Fiona Mozley. Journalist James Kidd introduces the tales, highlighting the importance of folklore, and states that: “The moods of the eight stories are similar eclectic, by turns comic or uncanny, absurd or scholarly, angry or fanciful, unsettling of poignant”. The location each story has been based on, sits at the end of the story, as while some are obviously of the site, others hover, offer, suggest. The afterword by the knowledgeable Charles Kightly explains the background to each of these new stories, the history and tradition that each site is steeped in. From sharp and pointed, to lyrical and whimsical, the creative and inspiring stories in These Our Monsters twisted in my mind. If you enjoy an original and wonderful blend of folklore, myth and legend, stop right here!
I absolutely adored this very special, surprising and exquisitely written novel focusing on the period between the First and Second World Wars. In 1925 Selina Lomax regularly appears in the papers as she and her friends attend parties and live life to the full. When Selina meets struggling artist Lawrence Weston her life changes beyond all recognition. I entered ‘The Glittering Hour’ expecting the beautiful relationship tale that I found. However I also left having experienced so, so much more. Iona Grey has created sentences that caught and transported me with their stunning descriptions. The story slinks through time and space, effortlessly revealing links from the past that become present in the future. As I read, moments of understanding speared my awareness and left me reeling. I felt joy, tenderness, aching sadness, and I cried, really, really cried at the beauty in front of me. I wield my highly recommended stamp of approval all over The Glittering Hour, it really is the most wonderfully heartfelt and meaningful read, and so sits as a LoveReading star book.
This moving, thoughtful, and expressive historical novel walked into my heart with deep empathy, and more than a hint of fantasy. Set during the Second World War, between 1941 and 1944, The World We Knew explores the nature of war, anti-Semitism, and what people can become when faced with the hardest of choices. When Hanni Kohn approaches her rabbi to help save her 12 year old daughter from the Nazi regime, assistance comes from the least likely of places. The first chapter, stark, urgent, and compelling was so intense I almost stopped breathing. As the chapter came to a close I sat for a moment in contemplative silence. I simply adored how Alice Hoffman balances the fantasy element of the novel, it feels as though a truth has been sent free. I disappeared into the words, and took to my heart that survival isn’t just a matter of life or death. One word of advice, you may need to have tissues close to hand, I cried at the beauty of the ending. The World That We Knew is not only one of my picks of the month, it has also been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book.
There are times when someone suggests you make a discovery, a finding that fills your heart and makes it ache. Award-winning Jackie Morris does exactly that here as she introduces the reader, not only to The House Without Windows, but also the author behind the tale. Barbara Newhall Follett was twelve when this, her first novel was published. Described as a child prodigy, Barbara was born in 1914, and had published two books before she was fourteen, just before Christmas in 1939 she walked out of her home and was never seen again. As I read Jackie’s beautiful introduction opening a window into Barbara’s life, a shiver darted down my arms leaving goosebumps in its wake. It isn’t often that an introduction makes me cry, yet this one did. CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal award winner Jackie also illustrates the story, each illustration accompanying the tale with grace and beauty. The story sits and flourishes in nature, there is an innocence and joy in the natural world that encourages you to see with fresh eyes. The childlike glee, the longing to escape, the connection with the wilderness... when sitting alongside the introduction, adds an extra dimension to this touching story. The House Without Windows has claimed a piece of my heart, and I’ve chosen this little treasure as one of my Liz Robinson Picks of the Month.
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?