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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.
NOW CELEBRATING ITS 75th ANNIVERSARY Betty Smith's debut novel is universally regarded as a modern classic. The sprawling tale of an immigrant family in early 20th-century Brooklyn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of the great distinctively American novels. The Nolan family are first-generation immigrants to the United States. Originating in Ireland and Austria, their life in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn is poor and deprived, but their sacrifices make it possible for their children to grow up in a land of boundless opportunity. Francie Nolan is the eldest daughter of the family. Alert, imaginative and resourceful, her journey through the first years of a century of profound change is difficult - and transformative. But amid the poverty and suffering among the poor of Brooklyn, there is hope, and the prospect of a brighter future.
Full to the brim with ready wit and arch social commentary, this amusing and intelligent book is as relevant today as it was when published nearly 200 years ago. If you haven't previously read any of Austen’s works, this is the perfect place to start, it’s one of her lesser known but more stimulating and provocative novels. Quite literally a book of two halves, we have a story of a young woman learning the difference between reality and fantasy and then a consummate commentary from the author on the literary world at the time. Austen introduces an almost anti-heroine, a kind, caring but not particularly captivating Catherine, then surrounds her with four fascinatingly different characters who range from compassionate, intelligent and gracious to self obsessed, mercenary and petulant. As well as the engaging story, you also discover an author who appears to be somewhat on the warpath. She actually talks to you from the page, her views are so clear, you could be having a face-to-face discussion with her. If you already know Northanger Abbey, reacquaint yourself with this fascinating novel. This actual edition is charming, a perfect size for the hand bag and one to treasure.
Even if you have seen the numerous films and TV adaptations there is nothing quite as good as reading the original book about the Dashwood sisters and the complications and misunderstandings that take place in their love lives. A true classic, a clever, wonderful, romantic read. April 2010 Guest Editor Katharine McMahon on Jane Austen... I can't not choose her. And whichever I've read last is always my favourite. The nuance of emotion, the understanding of human nature revealed by Austen constantly delights me. When I reread Sense and Sensibility recently, for the first time Elinor came across as quite prissy and destined to marry a rather spineless husband. I wonder if that was intended?
January 2014 Guest Editor Jodi Picoult on Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I memorized huge passages when I was twelve and pretended to be both Rhett and Scarlett (hence I had no boyfriend till I was 15…). I loved that Margaret Mitchell had created a world out of words, and I wanted to do the same thing. The LoveReading view... First published in 1936, this book is a historical novel set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War. It tells the love story of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. February 2011 Guest Editor Carmen Reid on Margaret Mitchell... Gone With The Wind must be the grandmammie of romantic novels. Yes it’s over 1000 pages long and you know the story already because you’ve watched the epic film over many a bank holiday. But February strikes me as the perfect month to turn the telly off, go to bed early and wade through this Southern Civil war blockbuster. Tighten your crinoline, practise saying: ‘Oh Ashley!’ And ‘No, no, Rhett!’ And vow to the skies that you will never, ever be poor again! Realise why it’s so terrifically good that Margaret snagged herself a Pulitzer Prize in 1937. Visit our '50 Classics Everyone Should Read' collection to discover more classic titles.
April 2010 Guest Editor Katharine McMahon on Penelope Fitzgerald... Highly evocative of time and place this wonderful novel set in the early 20th century is funny, touching and curious. A real treasure of a novel. I was introduced to this author just as I began to be published, and I love her wit, and her quirky approach to plot. The Beginning of Spring is a delicious novel, and it's as if the entire book is pitched towards the very last few lines. This reads like a small, perfectly formed, Russian novel, but amazingly is written by a very English author. * Selected by our Spring 2020 Guest Editor, Guy Gavriel Kay... A.S. Byatt wrote once that she could make a good case for Penelope Fitzgerald as the best 20th century novelist in the English language in the post-war period. I don’t tend to think in such terms but … I get it. Fitzgerald — especially, but not only, her last four books — is an absolute favourite of mine, and through rereads, too. (Rereading can be a joy, and dangerous sometimes, too.) She started very late in life as a novelist, which will be encouraging for some. Her best book is generally — and rightly, I think — considered to be The Blue Flower, but my favourite, for the humour, tenderness, unexpectedly wry delights it offers, is her novel set 1913 in Russia, The Beginning of Spring. It has, for a protagonist, a beleaguered English printing shop owner in a wonderfully evoked Moscow. His wife has just left him and their three small children, without warning, to return to England. The year is significant: we are on the eve, but not yet the immediate arrival, of the Revolution, and the Great War. There is, among other joys here, a scene in a birch wood at night that is simply unforgettable, because of how mysterious it is. Indeed, the drowsy child allowed to come into the forest is told that ‘she'll understand in time what she's seen.’ She doesn’t, then, nor do we, entirely. It haunts in good part because of that, a small miracle of writing.
An informant claims to have information about the whereabouts of the man entrusted by the Tsar with hiding his gold. As the news of the informant reaches Stalin, however, the man is knifed to death. Stalin summons Pekkala to the Kremlin and orders him to solve the murder. To accomplish his mission, he must return to Borodok, the notorious Gulag where he himself spent many years as a prisoner. There, he must pose as a inmate in order to unravel the mystery...As he returns to the nightmares of his past, is this a mission too far for the great Pekkala?
The Victorian gossipmongers called them The Petticoat Men. But to young widow Mattie Stacey, they are Freddie and Ernest, her gentlemen lodgers. It is Mattie who admires their sparkling gowns, makes their extravagant hats and laughs at their stories of attending society balls dressed up as the glamorous 'Fanny' and 'Stella'. But one fateful night Fanny and Stella are arrested, and Mattie and her family are dragged into a shocking court trial, described in newspapers all over England as 'The Scandal of the Century'. Outraged, Mattie is determined to save her family from ruin, and her friends from shame and penury. She embarks on a brave journey to expose the establishment's hypocrisy - including the involvement of Mr Gladstone the Prime Minister, and the Prince of Wales. For Fanny and Stella are dangerous ladies, and these are dangerous times...
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?