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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.
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.
I’ll let you into a secret, I have a bit of a reading crush on Natasha Solomons as she writes such beautifully observed and engaging books. Each time I am transported, and her previous title ‘The Song Collector’ was one of my books of the year in 2015. I’m more than happy to announce that ‘House of Gold’ is another triumph. Set between 1911 and 1917 this is a story that reads on an epic scale. Europe sits at the forefront as World War One marches forwards, and for one particular family the Goldbaum’s, their whole existence is fractured and forever altered. In such a huge arena we meet Greta who is sent from Austria to England to marry a distant cousin, her thoughts and feelings create a touchable, emotionally rich and moving story. I felt her pain, the ache of loneliness, and her relationship with her husband and brother are exquisitely realised. I just sat and read from start to finish in one wonderful afternoon. ’House of Gold’ is an absolute treasure, it made me feel, it made me think, it made me realise the knife edge on which humanity sits is razor-sharp indeed.
Wakenhyrst is a glorious darkly gothic feast of a read, and I really had no option other than to choose it as one of my picks of the month. Folklore and superstition are bound up in the Fens, Maud Steame has grown up there, surrounded by gossip, rumours and terrible secrets, will releasing her story set her free? Michelle Paver excels in quietly setting fear loose and disquiet scurrying free. Simply and beautifully descriptive, words leave the page and settle together to gradually create an entire picture. I found myself hooked, then completely snared as Maud’s life unfolds over 60 years revealing the very essence of her being. I feel deeply connected to Maud, and she continues to exist in my thoughts. Wakenhyrst is a fascinating, deeply emotional, and surprisingly beautiful read, I highly recommend stepping inside and setting your feelings free to explore.
The Moon Sister is the fifth epic story in the Seven Sisters series by the international number one bestseller Lucinda Riley. After the death of her father - Pa Salt, an elusive billionaire who adopted his six daughters from around the globe - Tiggy D'Apliese , trusting her instincts, moves to the remote wilds of Scotland. There she takes a job doing what she loves; caring for animals on the vast and isolated Kinnaird estate, employed by the enigmatic and troubled Laird, Charlie Kinnaird. Her decision alters her future irrevocably when Chilly, an ancient gipsy who has lived for years on the estate, tells her that not only does she possess a sixth sense, passed down from her ancestors, but it was foretold long ago that he would be the one to send her back home to Granada in Spain . . . In the shadow of the magnificent Alhambra, Tiggy discovers her connection to the fabled gypsy community of Sacromonte, who were forced to flee their homes during the civil war, and to `La Candela' the greatest flamenco dancer of her generation. From the Scottish Highlands and Spain, to South America and New York, Tiggy follows the trail back to her own exotic but complex past. And under the watchful eye of a gifted gypsy bruja she begins to embrace her own talent for healing. But when fate takes a hand, Tiggy must decide whether to stay with her new-found family or return to Kinnaird, and Charlie . . . The Moon Sister follows The Seven Sisters, The Storm Sister, The Shadow Sister and The Pearl Sister.
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Circe is a strange child - not powerful and terrible, like her father, nor gorgeous and mercenary like her mother. Scorned and rejected, Circe grows up in the shadows, at home in neither the world of gods or mortals. But Circe has a dark power of her own: witchcraft. When her gift threatens the gods, she is banished to the island of Aiaia where she hones her occult craft, casting spells, gathering strange herbs and taming wild beasts. Yet a woman who stands alone will never be left in peace for long - and among her island's guests is an unexpected visitor: the mortal Odysseus, for whom Circe will risk everything. So Circe sets forth her tale, a vivid, mesmerizing epic of family rivalry, love and loss - the defiant, inextinguishable song of woman burning hot and bright through the darkness of a man's world.
It’s no secret that I am a fan of Dinah Jefferies and this is as beautifully and vividly readable as one would expect. Slip back into history and join Belle Hatton who travels to Burma in 1936 to become a nightclub singer, accompanying her is a newspaper clipping suggesting her parents left Ragoon 25 years previously in mysterious circumstances. Two time frames sit side by side, in 1921 we meet Belle’s mother, lost and traumatised, while in 1936 Belle finds her life increasingly in danger. I adore the descriptive detailing, you can almost close your eyes and take in a deep breath of a bygone era. The colour of the place and people just pops with intensity. Belle begins a relationship with a man, yet it doesn’t take centre stage, it is important but certainly not the be all and end all of this particular story. There is one unforgettable moment, using an event from history that is shockingly dramatic and provocative, I saw with Belle’s eyes, felt the pain and fear. I feel as though I could pick up a Dinah Jefferies book without knowing the author and would instinctively know it was hers, each book is completely individual yet the style of the author remains. The Missing Sister is richly and expressively eye-catching, it swept me up into the pages, releasing me only at the very satisfying ending.
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), and so just has to be one of my picks of the month.
A fascinating, intricate, provocative read, set in motion by events in 1942, and brilliantly highlighting human need and emotions. Ester escapes from Norway to Sweden after her family are deported to Auschwitz, involved in the resistance she is part of a plot that rears again 25 years later, and then in 2015 a link to the past finally begins to answer questions decades old. As I began to read, the words so clear, stark and powerful, painted an immediate moving picture in my mind. I've previously read and adored crime fiction by Kjell Ola Dahl, you are expected to keep up as he drives the plot forward and this is no different. Three time spans and intrigue galore could create an incredibly knotted labyrinth of a tale, yet this is told and translated so beautifully, each moment opens into the other as a series of doors that you just need to open and walk through. The Courier sent a shiver coursing through me, it is a truly eloquent and rewarding tale, and oh that ending!
It’s 1950 and ten-year-old Michael is heading to Cape Cod for the summer. His train journey from Grand Central sets the tone, with the spectre of WWII looming large in a very real way as his memory streams images from train journeys he took in Germany, when it was essential to “keep your eyes shut and pretend you haven’t yet woken or that you’re already dead.” On arrival Michael stays with Richie and they strike up a bond with eccentric neighbour Edward Hooper, who’s depressed by his impotence as an artist, and his intellectually sharp wife Jo, who’s given to passionate, impetuous outbreaks. Personal loss, regrets, loneliness and hazy hopes are played out against a background of sweeping change (post-war transition; the beginning of the era of American consumerism) and the powerfully painted Cape Cod setting. In an era of quick digests and speedy swiping, this novel of depth and honesty stands as a testament to the potent value of taking one’s time.
A fascinating intricate storyline greets you in this dual time-frame novel. Lady Isabella Gerard, the owner of a stunning golden gown orders it destroyed, from that moment on lives linked to the gown are forever altered as it influences, and even possesses those who come into contact with it. I have to say that it is actually rather difficult to force-fit The Woman In The Lake into a genre as it spills into a number, including historical, relationship, mystery and it contains more than a whiff of supernatural too. Nicola Cornick has created characters with some, shall we say, undesirable traits (the reasons for which become clear), and I have to say that I enjoy a little wild and wicked! Seriously though, a character feels more well-rounded when you feel you can see them in their entirety. I just let myself go with a whoosh into this storyline, enjoying the supernatural edge, and would now love to visit Lydiard House to see the painted window. The Woman In The Lake is so deliciously easy to read and it’s highly entertaining.
A feverishly seductive story, it whispers, cajoles, beckons from history until the past forcefully assaults the present. When Ruth’s estranged father dies she returns to Edinburgh and discovers the hidden diary of her ancestor Thomas Erskine. Fascinated by his story Ruth finds herself in extraordinary danger when she starts to delve into the past. The prologue offers a warning, while the first chapter thoroughly sets the scene in 1760 as 10 year old Thomas witnesses a murder and sees the shadow of the dead man as it leaves the body. Barbara Erskine has based the story on her own family history, she paints a picture with a beautiful delicate balance and inner strength as the drama starts to unfold. Ruth’s story stands resolute in this time, and with a delicious shiver of fear I let the story take me where it willed. I always knew where I was, even as the past pushed ever closer. Spellbinding and gorgeously readable, as all becomes clear The Ghost Tree really is the most perfect title - highly recommended. Take a look at our Ambassador Book Buzz for The Ghost Tree.
* The Sunday Times Number One Bestseller * From the multi-million, number one bestselling author of Labyrinth and The Taxidermist's Daughter, comes The Burning Chambers: a gripping story of love and betrayal, mysteries and secrets, conspiracies and divided loyalties . . . Carcassonne 1562. Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father's bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE. But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou's help if he is to get out of La Cite alive . . . A thrilling adventure, and a heart-breaking love story, The Burning Chambers is a historical novel of excitement, conspiracy and danger like no other . . .
‘My story starts and ends at railway stations, though of course I can’t know this yet as I clamber off the boat-train at Victoria that warm May afternoon… ‘ Growing up in a strict religious family in the 1920s, Annie Lang is witness to disturbing events that no one will explain. Only the family dog may know the answers. Six years on, student Annie returns from France to find her beloved brother in a mental hospital and her ally, the Sunday school teacher, vanished without trace. With the help of her childhood diary, and sister Beatrice, Annie turns detective to unearth the truth. Her journey leads to a discovery so disturbing that she believes it will ruin all their lives, unless they can atone for the past. Ros Franey beautifully captures that point when a child can sense, and indeed dissent against, secrets that adults think they are too young to grasp. Impulsive, brave and lovable, Annie Lang is formidable when she takes matters into her own hands.
Abolitionism; farmer-turned-fugitive; shifting social and political sands - this companion to the author’s award-winning The Purchase is an epically-scaled feat of historical fiction. Virginia, 1855, and farmer John Dickinson’s fate and fortunes are on the downturn as the country shifts towards Civil War. John’s irresponsible brother has lost the family wealth, and now a Canadian outsider, “birdwatching abolitionist” Doctor Ross, is about to seal the dysfunctional family’s future. Ross, whose “desire to free slaves was about justice rather than virtue; he hated the slaver more than he loved the slave,” tells the farm’s slaves of “the glories of a country that is owned by England, where no fugitive law grabs you and sends you back down to bondage.” Ross also promises to “provide a compass and a knife and a map” and safety to those willing to take flight. Then, faced with cripplingly mounting debts and agitated slaves, and feeling “bedeviled by a sense of oncoming doom”, John and family are compelled to flee to the West aboard a wagon, enduring grave perils and personal demons as they journey in search of a new existence. Stylistically bold (no speech marks), meticulously detailed, and driven by a rich cast of characters (I particularly liked the folkloric story of young Martin and his bear companion), this novel calls for careful contemplation, and will reward readers who enjoy thoughtful historical epics.
A stunningly beautiful, courageous story, one that crosses through time to 1612, when witchcraft allegations went hand in hand with fear, power and corruption. This is a work of fiction based on real people, local residents, Pendle witches and all. Mysterious, yet almost gentle, I let the words take me, I felt myself floating, and then bites of uncertainty and disquiet started to gnaw at my awareness. The persecution of the women hammered home while an otherworldly existence lodged itself in my thoughts, and remains there. Deceptively powerful, moving and provocative, Stacey Hall has created a beautifully eloquent tale. Opening a window into a vivid feast of a read, as a debut novel The Familiars stands out from the crowd.
I do think the author is a remarkable story teller and I very much enjoyed reading the book. It was very pleasing to see how quickly the action was launched and how the novel maintained its pace. The first sentences almost had the rhythm of the horse’s feet and I loved the fact there were no wasted words. Reading and enjoying the first few paragraphs of a new novel is often key to whether the reader reads on and I loved this first chapter, which could have belonged to many genres. The novel has a clear story line full of well distinguished characters with quite distinct personalities. Obviously as it is based on actual historical events there is an interest in ondering about the accuracy and truthfulness of the portrayal. In this case that simply adds to the general intrigue. Most of the writing is extremely plausible but there were odd moments when I had doubts - for example I had to suspend belief in the scene between Goering and Margaret where they held their conversation. I found it difficult to believe Margaret was likely to pick up important information within the pattern of her life. However this did not detract in any way from my enjoyment of the book. Setting the novel during the mid part of the twentieth century gives it solidity and purpose. It is instructing the reader at the same time and giving a neat and clear explanation of what was happening during the pre-war and war years. For a reader it is always good to learn something from a novel which is separate from understanding the plot and the interaction between characters. I would highly recommend this book. Maxine Broadbent, A LoveReading Ambassador
Gosh this a fascinating little book, I really did feel as though I was discovering a forgotten manuscript. Translators notes greet you at the start, advising that a complete text from the 11th century has been found and translated using cryptology. Thomas Woodward describes his life from 1066 when he was taken in after a raid and trained to become a spy, through to 1098 when he explains his life and the decisions he has made to his son. James Hutson-Wiley has created a simple diary-like discourse, Thomas describes the world around him, in particular, the trade of goods, including sugar, with clarity. Stuffed full of interesting tidbits I sank into this world and galloped through the pages. The Sugar Merchant surprised me, I thoroughly enjoyed my sojourn to the 11th century and found a fluid, absorbing and worthwhile read.
The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire is a beautifully written historical fiction novel loosely based on Thomas De Quincy’s early life. English essayist Thomas de Quincy (most famous for “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater”) is the first protagonist that we meet, some years after most of the novel’s narrative takes place. The story is told to us in alternating chapters told by Thomas, Anne and Tuah. Thomas we are familiar with; Anne, is a young girl when we meet her. Forced by life, bad luck and circumstance into a life of prostitution. Tuah, is a young orphaned boy when we meet him. Taken from his home by Dutch slave traders and bought onto a ship bound for the UK. Tuah is sold to the ships captain who takes him under his wing and teaches him English until they arrive in the U.K. Thomas after a troubled early life finds himself on the streets of a London as a young man. He has no idea of how the real world operates having been bought up relatively comfortably. You might ask what connects these characters. Well it’s not at all clear at first, but as the narrative progresses we begin to see how they are unquestionably linked. Thomas falls upon hard times when he arrives in London, abandoned by his family, he is discovered by Anne on the street following an altercation with some men of less than desirable character. They are strangers to each other, of different worlds but drawn together by a need for companionship and laudanum … and that’s where the real story begins. The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire is highly recommended for any historical fiction fan. Vicky-Leigh Sayer, A LoveReaidng Ambassador
A captivating and absolutely thrilling historical tale that sits as a perfect sequel to the first in the series The Ashes of London. Please do start with the first book, it is a stunning read and sets the characters and scene so beautifully. After the Great Fire of London a court is established to judge the cases of discord between landlords and tenants. Suspicious deaths appear to link to the Fire Court, and as James and Cat attempt to find answers, their individual stories become more closely intertwined. After the drama and sheer visual spectacle of the first book, I did wonder how on earth the series would continue, and it is safe to say with great aplomb. The intricate plot immediately wormed its way into my head, slicing, enthralling, and sharply focused. There is one particularly unexpected and shocking moment that quite literally stopped my whole being, I sat in for a moment in silence before continuing, desperate to know more. Will you feel the same, will the words travel from the page, trap your feelings and hurl your thoughts in the air? This is a series that could run and run, The King’s Evil is already calling to me and quite simply can’t arrive quickly enough. The Fire Court has become part of a must-read series for me, it is highly recommended and one of my picks of the month.
A stunningly beautiful, courageous read, one that crosses through time to 1612, when witchcraft allegations went hand in hand with fear, power and corruption. This is a work of fiction based on real people, local residents, Pendle witches and all. Let me tell you about the cover of this book, which really is very gorgeous indeed. The green leaves sooth, with fiery bursts of orange-red and gold, I then noticed the fox, the ring, pendant, feather… and last of all, the noose, which of course once I had seen, reached out and became all I could see. I tell you this, because the cover reminds me of how I felt about the book, mysterious, yet almost gentle, I let the words take me, I felt myself floating, and then bites of uncertainty and disquiet started gnaw at my awareness. The persecution of the women hammered home while an otherworldly existence lodged itself in my thoughts, and remains there. Deceptively powerful, moving and provocative, Stacey Hall writes with an eloquent pen. Opening a window into a vivid feast of a read, as a debut novel The Familiars stands out from the crowd.
What if you weren't the hero? Kihrin grew up on tales of long-lost princes and grand quests - despite being raised in a brothel, making money as a musician and street thief. One day he overreaches by targeting an absent noble's mansion, hunting for jewels. There he witnesses a prince performing a terrifying dark-magic ritual. Kihrin flees, but he's marked by a demon, and his life will never be the same again. That night also leads to him being claimed as a lost son of that prince's royal house. But far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family's power plays and ambitions. He must also discover why his murderous father finds Kihrin more valuable alive than dead. Soon Kihrin attempts to escape his relative's dangerous schemes but finds himself in far deeper waters. He becomes tangled in a plot to kill the Emperor, rob the Imperial Vaults, claim a god-slaying sword and free bound demons to wreak havoc across the land. Kihrin also discovers the old tales lied about many things: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love - and the hero always winning. But maybe Kihrin isn't fated to save the empire. He's destined to
Blood & Sugar is the thrilling debut historical crime novel from Laura Shepherd-Robinson. June, 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark. Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing . . . To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation will threaten his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and force a reckoning with his past, risking the revelation of secrets that have the power to destroy him. And that is only if he can survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford . . .
Escape Route: The untold story of the SS (Journeys through fiction) is a historical novel, set during the second war. The novel already has a chequered history, it has had several different versions but ultimately this version in English tells the story of Andreas Spinger. Spinger was a determined genius who was with Hitler from the very early stages of the Nazi party and its beliefs and ideals. Spinger is not a name that will be immediately identifiable as a key figure within the Nazi party, this novel portrays how when the Nazis eventually took power he was indeed a key figure, responsible for overseeing a covert organisation within the SS to spy on the ministers, military leaders and organise looting amongst other activities. As is explained in an early stage of this novel, Hitler had not come to absolute power with the majority of votes. However he did have the support of most of the German people to enable him to eventually rise to power. This novel is much more than a history of WW2 and the atrocities of the Nazis. Throughout this novel, fictional characters are interwoven with real people and truthful and factual information. A lot of unknown history is revealed, particularly as the war draws to a close and the party begin to fall, Spinger is instrumental in planning the route of escape for some; including a mysterious and very powerful leader. This novel is a must-read for anyone interested in this fascinating but horrific period of history. Vicky-Leigh Sayer, A LoveReading Ambassador
Oh what a beautiful all-consuming dream of a ride this is. Set in Moscow, a young woman finds herself at the centre of a battle for both humanity and a deep hidden magic. The Winter of the Witch is the third in the ‘Winternight’ trilogy, however, I confess that this was my first experience of the three. I would most definitely recommend starting at the beginning with The Bear and the Nightingale as I’m now desperate to experience the wonder of the rest of the story, though it’s worth noting that it is so good, I immediately felt completely at home. I fell entranced into the tale and within the first few chapters I was so at one with the sense of place and characters, I actually cried at a heart-stopping moment. While the feel of a deep dark fairy tale washes over the listener, Katherine Arden creates a vivid realist bite and also encouraged me to connect as deeply with the more challenging characters as the more loveable ones. The Winter of the Witch is a fascinating, engaging, quite glorious story and I absolutely adored it. Highly recommended.
20th Anniversary Edition When Griet’s father, a notable tile-maker, is blinded she goes to work for artist Vermeer to support her destitute family. She’s an outsider from the start, a poor Protestant in a well-to-do Catholic household who’s regarded with suspicion by her fellow staff, especially when she alone is entrusted to venture into the master’s studio. Soon enough Griet experiences the magic of artistic creation, of seeing colour anew, of seeing everything anew. But, as her passion for art is aroused so too is an ache of guilt as she grows ever distant from her family. Then there’s the attention and lusts of the handsome butcher’s son who seeks her hand in marriage, and the lascivious approaches of her master’s wealthy patron. The intrigue and tension of the Vermeer household, and the ebb and flow of life in a 17th century Dutch market town are described in painterly detail through Griet’s keenly observant eyes as a swelling scandal spills to the outside world from within the duplicitous household. At once a compelling page-turner and a tour de force of tension and coming-of-age turmoil, this novel remains a must-read for historical fiction fans some twenty years after publication.
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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