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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.
Enthralling, chilling, challenging, and wonderfully readable, this story winds itself around a moment in history. In 1942 a fire started at Seacliff, classed as a lunatic asylum in New Zealand, and all but two of the patients in a female ward perished. C. D. Major uses the fire as a focus and begins the tale there. Edith was five years old when she arrived at the asylum, after the fire she is questioned and a new doctor begins to doubt the reasons for her being shut away from the outside world. Covering the years between 1927 and the 1940’s I found myself either fully immersed in ‘now’ or consumed by ‘before’. The plot itself twists, schemes, provokes, and ensures that this novel can’t be pigeon-holed by genre. The asylum sits brooding, biding its time, while the occupants become entangled and caught in the treatment and rules. Tension sweeps through the tale, and I found myself searching, questioning, hoping. Edith is a fascinating character, she is written with compassion and evoked so many emotions. The powerful ending made me exclaim, it truly spoke to me and has stayed in my thoughts. The author’s debut The Silent Hours was another emotional and impressive read and also comes as highly recommended. I have chosen The Other Girl as one of my Liz Robinson picks of the month, it has a haunting quality that ensures a compelling read.
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.
Shot-through with a vital message about the importance of giving voice and rightful representation to women who’ve been silenced by centuries of patriarchy, this smart novel melds an intriguing art history mystery with Parisian amour. While Khayyam is clear about what she wants to do with her life - become a respected art historian - her identity is more complex. She’s “French American. Indian American. Muslim American. Biracial. Interfaith.” As such, “Others look at me and try to shove me into their own narrative to define who and what I am. But I’m not a blank page that everyone else gets to write on. I have my own voice.” This statement weaves through the whole novel, which sees Khayyam in Paris for the summer, still reeling from a relationship gone awry back home in Chicago, and from her Young Scholar Prize essay being dismissed as “the work of a dilettante, not a future art historian”. When she happens to run into a cute Parisian boy, who happens to be a descendent of bi-racial French writer Alexandre Dumas, Khayyam and said cute boy (also called Alexandre) embark on an intellectual voyage that leads them to Leila, a nineteenth-century Muslim woman connected to Dumas and Byron. Leila’s forgotten life and silenced voice is revealed through her letters, with Khayyam frequently asserting her desire to right the wrong of “the entire world dehumanizing and erasing this woman who had a life, who mattered.” Through Khayyam the novel also addresses issues around representation and cultural appropriation as she wrestles with determining who has the right to tell Leila’s story, including herself. As Khayyam’s findings hot up, so too does her love life. First there’s the spark between her and Alexandre, then there’s the simmering presence of her Chicagoan ex. With Paris vibrantly evoked as her stage - its history, architecture, secret gardens and food - Leila’s personal life and intellectual prowess combine to create a life-changing summer. This comes hugely commended - and recommended - for its portrayal of an intelligent young woman who refuses to bow to expectations, and who’s determined to give voice to the voiceless. Like Khayyam, it’s smart, thoughtful and inspirational.
The momentous struggle between Athens and Sparta as rival powers and political systems will last for twenty-seven years (431 to 404 BC). It will end in the fall of Athens. Filled with cunning political scheming, astonishing military prowess, invasions, treacheries, plagues, ambitions, virtues, and emotions and a lot of intrigue, Conn Iggulden brings to life one of the most thrilling chapters of the ancient world.
Three women. A chance to rewrite history… 1918.The Great War is over, and Clara Carter has boarded a train bound for Cornwall – to meet a family that would once have been hers. But they must never discover her secret… 1939. Hannah has always been curious about her mother’s mysterious past, but the outbreak of the Second World War casts everything in a new light. As the bombs begin to fall, Hannah and her brothers are determined to do their bit for the war effort – whatever the cost. 2020. Caroline has long been the keeper of her family’s secrets. But now, with her own daughter needing her more than ever, it’s time to tell the truth – to show Natalie that she comes from a long line of women who have weathered the storms of life, as hardy and proud as the rugged Cornish coastline… From the Sunday Times bestselling author comes a sweeping, epic novel of mothers and daughters, secrets and lies, and a love that lasts a lifetime…
This is a proper domestic saga starting just after the end of the First World War. Built upon anecdotes about the author’s grandparents and in depth research into the historical records of their generation, Family Business tells a twisting tale of a family who tries to improve their lives while building a road haulage firm in the interwar years. This book has a colourful family at its heart and plenty of bumps in the road to building the family business. There's also scope at the end of the book for the next generation's story to be shared. Although it is a historical novel, I think that Family Business is actually quite timeless in terms of reflecting the day to day routine of many people’s lives. I also liked the added touch of the old images at the start of each chapter. I did find that in places the book is perhaps overly detailed making it a slow read and whereas other details are just skimmed over. The writing style is good but I felt that the book was just missing something to give it an edge.
Constant Tides is a really lovely story spanning several generations and set in Messina, Sicily. This book is split into three different stories, and from three different periods in history the author weaves together a tapestry of relationship stories with a common essence. The story of Lilla and Enzo is set during and in the immediate aftermath of the 1908 earthquake. Mira and Nicolas’ story is told with the backdrop of WWII, Mussolini leadership and German occupation. Antonio and Caterina’s modern story helps to bring events full circle and shows “When families are close, there is no one closer”. Throughout there is also a collection of equally endearing, interesting and colourful supporting characters. I really enjoyed this book, although by Book 3 I had created myself a little family tree to work out whether Caterina and Antonio were related, or whether they would receive the happy ending I was hoping for. While also being a delightful relationship tale, this book also does a very good job of being a travel brochure for Sicily. The descriptions of the places and the peoples of Ganzirri and Messina were charming and inviting. I feel like I’ve had a little holiday while reading. I don’t want to go into any more detail about the plot. I thoroughly enjoy waiting to see what each outcome would be and where each story would take us, and I would want everyone else that reads this book to enjoy Constant Tides without discovering anything in advance. I think this is a lovely book with real heart and I would recommend it.
This book at the start wasn’t quite what I was expecting and I wasn’t sure whether to read on but I’m glad I did as more of the relationship between Gordon and Emily was revealed I came to appreciate the tenderness in their relationship. What I particularly enjoyed though, and when I felt the story came alive, was the historical story of Badajoz. I felt this period in history during the Spanish Civil War was dramatically and realistically brought to life through the pages of this story along with the everlasting consequences. The last part of the book as the past and the present are brought neatly together is written in a really thought provoking way and brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. A good read. Lynne Packer, A LoveReading Ambassador
Critically acclaimed novelist Michael Farris Smith pulls Nick Carraway out of the shadows and into the spotlight in this exhilarating imagination of his life before The Great Gatsby. Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby’s world, he was at the centre of a very different story – one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I. Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed first-hand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance – doomed from the very beginning – to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavour of debauchery and violence. An epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breathes new life into a character that many know only from the periphery. Charged with enough alcohol, heartbreak, and profound yearning to transfix even the heartiest of golden age scribes, Nick reveals the man behind the narrator who has captivated readers for decades.
Number One bestselling author Philippa Gregory's new historical novel tracks the rise of the Tidelands family in London, Venice and New England. Midsummer's Eve, 1670. A wealthy man waits outside a poor London warehouse to meet with Alinor, the woman he failed twenty-one years before. He has everything to offer: money, land, status - and he believes she has the only thing he cannot buy: his son and heir. Meanwhile in New England, Alinor's brother Ned cannot find justice in the New World, as the king's revenge stretches across the Atlantic and turns the pioneers against each other and against the American Indians. Then, a beautiful widow, Livia, arrives from Venice, telling Alinor that her son Rob has drowned and that she needs their help. She enchants the warehouse family with her sensual carefree warmth, and promises of a new profitable trade selling beautiful statues of marble and bronze to fuel the classical craze among the wealthy landowners. But something in Livia's story doesn't add up and the answers lies across the dark tides in Venice...
From the author of the divinely dark The Binding and several acclaimed novels for young adults, Bridget Collins’s The Betrayals murmurs with menace and the mystery of the grand jeu, an arcane intellectual game that melds music, maths, poetry and philosophy. The novel’s world - at once familiar and strange - is conjured with crystalline clarity and populated by a cast of distinctly charismatic characters. Set in an unnamed disintegrating European country in the 1930s, the story begins when thirty-two-year-old Leo is removed from his post as Minister for Culture and exiled to his former academy, the exclusive Montverre. Here the nation’s cleverest are schooled in the art of the grand jeu, and here Leo is forced to face tragedy from his past as he forms an unsettling connection with the academy’s new female Magister Ludi. Part homage to Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, this boasts a compellingly jolting plot that will keep readers on their toes, and a delicious dénouement - it’s a delight for lovers of literary conundrums.
When Bergen PI Varg Veum finds himself at the funeral of a former classmate on a sleet-grey December afternoon, he's unexpectedly reunited with his old friend Jakob - the once-famous lead singer of 1960s rock band The Harpers - and his estranged wife, Rebecca, Veum's first love. Their rekindled friendship come to an abrupt end with a horrific murder, and Veum is forced to dig deep into his own adolescence and his darkest memories, to find a motive ... and a killer. Tense, vivid and deeply unsettling, Fallen Angels is the spellbinding, award-winning thriller that secured Gunnar Staalesen's reputation as one of the world's foremost crime writers.
Spiralling down into darkness this fascinating and compelling historical novel is based on the true story of an inmate of Bethlam Royal Hospital (Bedlam) between 1800 to 1815. James Norris an American, was restrained, chained to a bar and confined in isolation for more than ten years, here Emily Bullock takes a look at possibilities and makes them fly. James tells his own tale, the words slinking, twisting, disappearing into the fog of his memory and thoughts. Bedlam broods its way through the centre of this story, with other inmates and the keepers affecting the atmosphere. As James visits the past in his mind, his relationship, role as seaman, and even Fletcher Christian, famous for his part in the mutiny on the Bounty all entwine to explain the man James has become. The writing sparked vivid details in my minds eye, and although my heart physically ached at times, there are also moments of hope to be found within the pages. Inside the Beautiful Inside is a rather special book, it opens a door and shines a penetrating light of awareness into the shadows of history. Highly recommended.
A lovely, gentle exploration of a bygone time, yet there is a quiet strength to this compelling read. It is also one of those books that just may surprise you. Violet Speedwell, still suffering the loss of both her fiancé and brother in the First World War, moves to Winchester in search of a new life. Canvas embroidery, bellringing, the surplus of women after the war, expectations and the judgement of society, all sit alongside each other as Violet explores new thoughts and feelings. Tracy Chevalier writes with true eloquence, the descriptions bloom, the characters sing, and she allows you to ponder, to consider. Notes of caution and unease pierce the tale, with occasional moments of biting intensity. Violet is fascinating, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her. In the acknowledgements I found out about the character who actually did exist, and I now want to explore Winchester Cathedral. Expressive and beautifully readable, A Single Thread is an engaging and rewarding tale.
Berlin, 1979. When the CIA's most valuable spy is compromised, the Agency realizes it does not have the capability to bring him to safety. If he cannot evade the dreaded East German security service, the result will be chaos and a cascade of failures throughout the Agency's worldwide operations. Master Sergeant Kim Becker lived through the hell of Vietnam as a member of the elite Studies and Operations Group. When he lost one of his best men in a pointless operation, he began to question his mission. Now, he is serving with an even more secretive Army Special Forces unit based in Berlin on the front line of the Cold War. The CIA turns to Becker's team of unconventional warfare specialists to pull their bacon out of the fire. Becker and his men must devise a plan to get him out by whatever means possible. It's a race against time to prepare and execute the plan while, alone in East Berlin, the agent must avoid his nemesis and play for time inside the hostile secret service headquarters he has betrayed. One question remains - is the man worth the risk?
Based on her great-great grandparents’ experiences, Tammye Huf’s A More Perfect Union is a heart-rending, soul-stirring story of the love between a black slave and an Irish immigrant. A lucid, bold tale of the despicable brutality of slavery, personal conflicts, and a bond that will not be broken. Henry O’Toole fled Ireland in 1848 to escape the famine. On arriving in New York, “America stabs me with homesickness” and he can’t find a job - “Every day it’s the same. No Irish”. Compelled to flee the city, he changes his surname to the English-sounding ‘Taylor’ and heads to Virginia. House slave Sarah is separated from her Momma and brother when she’s sold as a “quick-cleaning-slave-who-don’t-get-sick”. She and Henry meet when he comes seeking work as a blacksmith at the plantation she’s been sold to. Here Henry is moved by the sound of slaves singing at night, while Sarah paces her hoe in the kitchen garden to “the rhythmic strike of the blacksmith’s hammer”. The stirring attraction between them is palpable, but theirs is a forbidden relationship - inter-racial marriage is illegal, and viewed as an abomination. What’s more, she’s owned by another man. The couple are in an excruciating situation, their complex personal conflicts evoked with shattering clarity. Sarah has to reconcile loving a man whose white skin represents her oppression, and she’s also ostracised by fellow slaves. Then there’s the searing exchange when Sarah sees Henry making neck rings and shackles. When he protests that he has no choice, that he needs to earn money, that he knows what it is to be shackled by poverty, Sarah’s response captures the despicable inhumanity of enslavement: “’I know you been through a hard, hungry life,’ she says. ‘I want you to understand that slave suffering is a different thing. When somebody owns you, there ain’t nothing they can’t do to you.’” Both their voices are conjured with brilliant authenticity, and their story builds to an agonisingly edgy crescendo as the risks they take are as immense as their love. I cannot recommend this enough. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Set within the viciously violent reign of Jack the Ripper this is a historical crime novel with real attitude. When Susannah sees newspaper reports of a number of ferocious murders, she fears her new husband may be involved as he has been disappearing at night and returning bloodied and secretive. Goodness what a premise this is! While blood-soaked and brutally descriptive, it feels convincing and authentic rather than salacious and glorified. Clare Whitfield doesn’t hold back, but I felt she looked beyond the obvious violence with thoughtful consideration. Not only does she explore the Jack the Ripper case with this novel, she also highlights violence against women, abject poverty, and prejudice. Through the novel we are shown a glimpse of other lives, a connection begins to form before deliberately slicing away again to the main story. This is one of those books where there is no shining perfect light of a character to attach yourself to, here life is a struggle, at times a battle, just to survive. Compelling, thought-provoking, and powerful, People of Abandoned Character has been chosen as a LoveReading Debut of the Month.
A gobble-it-up fiery and intense yet thoughtful debut novel about family, betrayal, and witchcraft. Opening the pathway to a fabulous historical fantasy series this calls out as a must-read for young adults. Set during the civil war in 17th century England, 15 year old Evey has to flee with her little sister Dill when her mother is murdered. As with all good young adult novels, it is perfectly easy to slide into and really enjoy as an adult too, particularly with the wonderful cover drawing you in. Touching history, it flies into fantasy, as author Finbar Hawkins examines the meaning of witch. Evey is a complex character and as she tells her own story she has the ability of self-reflection, even if she doesn’t always like what she sees. Witch is a read that fair on crackles with energy, it also encourages thoughts to both consider and soar and deservedly sits as one of our LoveReading debuts of the month.
Inspiring, gorgeous, powerful. The Lost Lights of St Kilda is a beautifully written story brimming with guts and determination. When Fred meets Chrissie in 1927 a love flickers into being, the memory of their time together remains with them through the challenging years ahead. This may be described as a love story between two people, it is also a love story about St Kilda, Scotland’s first World Heritage Site. Elisabeth Gifford has used fictional characters in a real setting, with the abandonment of St Kilda and the Second World War adding an incredibly vivid framework to the story. Taking place over forty years, the novel actually starts in 1940 with Fred as a prisoner of war, plotting escape. From here we move backwards and forwards in time, in such a way that the words continued to flow into my awareness and created an intricate patchwork of knowledge and understanding. This love feels real, there is an inner core of strength, hope, and resilience on offer that really spoke to me. I rather fell in love with The Lost Lights of St Kilda, it joins my Liz Robinson picks of the month and comes as highly recommended by me.
Be prepared for a reading maelstrom to suck you in whole when you open this LoveReading Star Book. Set in 1634 a boat leaves the East Indies with a detective duo on board. Although one is locked up and facing execution, their skills are very much needed when the voyage is beset by a terrible forewarning. Stuart Turton’s debut picked up the Costa First Novel Award Winner for 2018. The Devil and the Dark Water is just as fabulous and will be going straight onto my list of favourite books this year. It is the perfect novel to read as the nights are drawing in, the story built itself into a reality, I was there, bearing witness. Surprises wait in store, strange beings stalk the decks, and several locked room/ship mysteries just beg to be solved. My thoughts were broken open, and exploded one way then the other as I sought answers. All of the characters are fascinating in their own unique way and while I initially thought I was meeting a Holmes and Watson pair, I quickly realised they were very much their own men. The Devil and the Dark Water crosses genres in the most wonderfully entertaining way and sails straight onto my list of Liz Picks of the Month. I’ll be standing and applauding this one!
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?