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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.
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.
“… Sebastian said: But there is an obstacle, a principle of hers that she’s read of in a book by a woman called Mary Wollstonecraft...” “… Women should be wives and companions to their husbands…” Did Wollstonecraft, the mother of Mary Shelley, author of ‘Frankenstein’, fill the farm girl’s head with too many ideas of feminism? When Sally Sefton runs away from Sebastian at the altar on her wedding day there is a desperate chase to find her. Some of her friends think they know why she ran. But only Cathy Priestley thinks she knows where. Her chief bridesmaid suspects Sally may have joined the Christian Israelites. Will they find her before the group sails on a missionary tour abroad? The split causes a bitter dispute between Sebastian and Wesley, her brother. While feelings are running so high there seems to be no hope of reconciliation between the families. Book one in the series, ‘The Quarry Bank Runaways’, tells the much earlier tale of their fathers when they journeyed on foot to Hackney workhouse in London. They were then boy apprentices who had escaped from the Cheshire cotton mill, desperate to find their destitute mothers. Book two, ‘Mules; Masters & Mud’, is about what happened to the apprentices during the Industrial Revolution, when they were qualified cotton mule spinners. Serious events, including the Peterloo Massacre, impinge upon the lives of Thomas Priestley and Joseph Sefton.
The James Marwood and Cat Lovett series is on my must-read list. If this series is new to you, do start with the truly fabulous The Ashes of London, I have thoroughly enjoyed all three so far, and each new book adds further flavour and intrigue. A body is found at the home of a courtier for Charles II and James is sent to quietly investigate. He knows the dead man, and he also knows who wished him dead… Cat Lovett. The two storylines for James and Cat up to now could almost be made into separate books, each independently as strong as the other. Here, James takes a larger portion of the spotlight, however Cat most definitely remains a focus of the story, and is never too far away. As usual Andrew Taylor lays a veritable reading feast before your eyes, the descriptive and historical treats ensured the words travelled straight from the page into my minds eye. The King’s Evil is a hugely entertaining, wonderfully readable and intelligent historical crime mystery novel, I simply can’t wait for the next in the series, The Last Protector.
Beginning in rural Jamaica in the late 1950s with the island on the verge of independence from Britain, A Tall History of Sugar is an all-consuming story of love, history and self-determination whose author, Curdella Forbes, possesses a majestic ability to evoke the big from the small. Rich details of dialogue, of time and place, of inner states and the outer world, intermesh with a sweeping sense of history, with its pertinent opening line referencing the state of contemporary Britain: “Long ago, when teachers were sent from Britain to teach in the grammar schools of the West Indian colonies (it was Great Britain then, not Little England, as it is now, after Brexit and the fall of empire)…” At the heart of this mythic tale is Moshe, whose appearance and biblical discovery as a baby in a twist of sea grape trees shrouds him in mystery, and elicits much mockery and fear. “With his pale skin, one sky-blue eye and one dark-brown eye…people said the boy just looked like sin. Big sin at work when he was made.” After spending his first years in the company of the childless woman who found him, Moshe forms an unbreakable bond with fellow outsider Arrienne. At school, “with the large girl sitting silently beside him, he felt that he would die of happiness.” While both Arrienne and Moshe excel in their studies, artistically gifted Moshe leaves his politically-engaged soul mate and arrives in England during the hot, fractious summer of 1976, where he hopes to find his birth father. His search takes him from Brixton, borough with a “thousand faces”, to Bristol, where he encounters the incongruity of former slave-owners being celebrated as hero philanthropists, with the urge to be close to Arrienne remaining a constant draw through all his experiences. Complex, compelling and luminously lyrical, this tells a powerful tale I know I’ll return to over and over. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Totally, completely, and utterly gorgeous, this is a beautifully written historical relationship tale with real bite. And can I just qualify the word relationship - this is about the relationships with family, community, fear, nature, as well as the more obvious love. A work of fiction inspired by history, the story begins on Christmas Eve in 1617 when a sudden and violent storm takes the lives of forty fisherman, leaving the stunned women folk learning to survive on their remote northerly Norwegian island. Still reeling from the tragedy, their lives turn in the most frightening direction when the King brings in sorcery laws and a commissioner is installed to root out evil. This is Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s debut adult novel, and I feel as though I have been waiting my reading life for it. The prologue hits with a huge sad inevitability. Kiran Millwood Hargrave writes with a sensitive and considerate pen, the descriptions are truly breathtaking. While there are some savage shocks in store, The Mercies is still a warm, thoughtful and touching read. Chosen as a Liz Robinson pick of the month, we also just had to include The Mercies as a LoveReading Star Book too.
Two women from different worlds. And a secret that will change everything . . . London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London's Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst - that Clara has died in care - the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed - by her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl - and why. Less than a mile from Bess' lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend - an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital - persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.
What a political drama! I hear you say that with Brexit, we have had enough of those! However, regardless of whether you actually like politics, this is a read you cannot miss in 2020. With Dark Understandings is written by an author with a wealth of experience on which to base his writing. He has worked with Wall Street, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and International Business Machines (IBM). He has also advised on economic and technology projects specific to Afghanistan, so he certainly knows his stuff. The book is based on the author's experiences. With Dark Understandings is full of twists, one minute the reader thinks they figured everything out, then another twist. A tip to other readers: expect the unexpected! This book has just published in February 2020 and I recommend it with a capital R. Jane Brown, A LoveReading Ambassador
Destiny's War Part One: Saladin's Secret by Pyram King is the first of five proposed short novels, in which the author weaves together events from the Middle Eastern theatre of WW1 with ancient legends from the same area and explores the complex effects of one upon the other. It's a fascinating mix of fact and fiction, well-researched and very readable. The story is narrated by one Francis Marion Jager, aka Mare, a journalist of Swiss-German and American descent, who, at the start of the book, is writing for a London paper. When his services are no longer required, he is invited to accompany British troops on a secret offensive, as he is fluent in both German and Arabic. The latter he has learnt during travels with Bedouin, along with a detailed geographical knowledge of the area. The action takes place in Egypt and Syria in 1917, but with frequent reference to the powerful history of the region, which soon becomes dangerously entwined with the 20th-century arena of war. The book is illustrated with monochrome pictures of some of the main players and venues in the narrative. They are very atmospheric and, being understated, also slightly sinister. They evoke feelings of unease and impending doom, which is borne out in the storyline. The author highlights the inadequacies of command and lack of preparation in the British army at this time and writes using terminology, particularly for foreign nationals, that would have been common amongst officers. The battle scenes are also quite graphic so, if you are easily offended, this book is probably not for you. I found this story informative and well-constructed, though I would have preferred the very useful footnotes to have appeared at the bottom of each page, rather than at the end of the chapters but it holds a lot of promise for the rest of the series. Drena Irish, A LoveReading Ambassador
A wonderfully original, emotionally complex novel that delves into why Cassandra burned a treasure trove of letters written by her sister, Jane Austen - an act of destruction that has troubled academics for centuries. 1840: twenty three years after the death of her famous sister Jane, Cassandra Austen returns to the village of Kintbury, and the home of her family's friends, the Fowles. She knows that, in some dusty corner of the sprawling vicarage, there is a cache of family letters which hold secrets she is desperate should not be revealed. As Cassandra recalls her youth and her relationship with her brilliant yet complex sister, she pieces together buried truths about Jane's history, and her own. And she faces a stark choice: should she act to protect Jane's reputation? Or leave the contents of the letters to go unguarded into posterity ... Based on a literary mystery that has long puzzled biographers and academics, Miss Austen is a wonderfully original and emotionally complex novel about the loves and lives of Cassandra and Jane Austen.
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 is 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.
I was interested as Emily lived in Halifax West Yorkshire - having lived in Halifax and Heptonstall I was drawn to this. This book is set in the 30s - Emily has a very strict father and although she wants to marry Walter, as you guess the father is not consenting. He comes across as a nasty man but Emily in intent on her desire to get married and a war is looming. Emily and Walter set sail for a honeymoon in the United States. They are enjoying life together until they get caught up in Britain in WWII. Then the bombs start falling in Britain and the story is told by Emily and the female perspective of the war. I found this a really interesting story of life in World War Two and I would recommend it. Jane Brown, A LoveReading Ambassador
From the detailed domestic scenes dappled with loss, love, hardship and hanging on, to sweeping waves of war, the rare power of Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King creeps up on you, catches you unaware, becomes compulsive in the manner of complex classics of the ancient world. It’s 1935 in Ethiopia and newly-orphaned Hirut is employed as a maid by an officer in Emperor Hailie Selassie’s army. In her previous life, Hirut’s father taught her to use a gun: “This, he says, you do not touch unless you are prepared. Prepared for what, she asks. He slips the bullet back into his pocket. Prepared to be something you are not.” And this is what Hirut is prepared for when Ethiopia is invaded by Mussolini’s vengeful army. Not content to merely care for the wounded, she devises a plan and rouses women to rise up and fight. As they shift from being housewives, to nurses, to warriors, their stories are haunting, harrowing and stirring, and this novel confirms Mengiste’s status as a writer blessed with lyrical bravery and unique vision. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
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?