As a lover of historical fiction I am always looking for a good book to read. When I find one I like to share it with others.
I will feature one book a month on this page in the hope that you might find something to your taste.
I hope you enjoy this selection.
SEPTEMBER 2015 – ‘To Defy A King’ by Elizabeth Chadwick
From acclaimed novelist Elizabeth Chadwick comes a story of huge emotional power set against the road to Magna Carta and the fight to bring a tyrant king to heel.
The privileged daughter of one of the most powerful men in England, Mahelt Marshal’s life changes dramatically when her father is suspected of treachery by King John. Her brothers become hostages and Mahelt is married to Hugh Bigod, heir to the earldom of Norfolk. Adapting to her new life is hard, but Mahelt comes to love Hugh deeply; however, defying her father-in-law brings disgrace and heartbreak.
When King John sets out to subdue the Bigods, Mahelt faces a heartbreaking battle, fearing neither she, nor her marriage, is likely to survive the outcome . . .
OCTOBER 2015 – ‘Angels At War’ by Freda Lightfoot
Two years have passed since Livia and her sisters were made to suffer the harsh brutality of their corrupt father and finally all seems well in the Lake District: Livia is set to marry the handsome and caring Jack Flint who longs to settle down and start a family, while her sisters are contentedly living at Todd Farm.
Yet Livia still dreams of bringing back to life the neglected and old-fashioned drapery business which was left to her when her father died. But is she prepared to jeopardise the love she shares with Jack to achieve her wish? Racked with guilt over the tragic death of her sister Maggie, she promises never to let anyone down again and to do something worthwhile with her life. Standing in the way of her ambitions is the wealthy and determined Matthew Grayson, who has been appointed to oversee the restoration of the business. His infuriating stubbornness clashes with Livia’s tenacity and the pair get off to a bad start. But as her problems with Jack worsen, Livia finds it increasingly difficult to resist his charms.
November 2015 – ‘Cavalier Queen’ by Fiona Mountain
She loved clothes and jewels and parties. She had exquisite taste in interior design. She seemed destined to reign as one of England’s most glamorous queens, famed for the beautiful palaces she designed and decorated.
Instead, Princess Henrietta Maria of France became caught up in the Civil War, one of the greatest cataclysms in English history. Swept from her life of luxury into the squalid brutality of battle and the loneliness of exile, her heart was torn by the two men she loved – her husband, tragic Charles I and charismatic Harry Jermyn, who designed and built most of London’s West End, including the street which bears his name.
This is their story.
December 2015 – The Taming Of The Queen by Philippa Gregory
Why would a woman marry a serial killer?
Because she cannot refuse…
Kateryn Parr, a thirty-year-old widow in a secret affair with a new lover, has no choice when a man old enough to be her father who has buried four wives – King Henry VIII – commands her to marry him.
Kateryn has no doubt about the danger she faces: the previous queen lasted sixteen months, the one before barely half a year. But Henry adores his new bride and Kateryn’s trust in him grows as she unites the royal family, creates a radical study circle at the heart of the court, and rules the kingdom as Regent.
But is this enough to keep her safe? A leader of religious reform and the first woman to publish in English, Kateryn stands out as an independent woman with a mind of her own. But she cannot save the Protestants, under threat for their faith, and Henry’s dangerous gaze turns on her.The traditional churchmen and rivals for power accuse her of heresy – the punishment is death by fire and the king’s name is on the warrant…
From an author who has described all of Henry’s queens comes a deeply intimate portrayal of the last: a woman who longed for passion, power and education at the court of a medieval killer.
January 2016 – ‘The Royalist’ and ‘The Protector’ by S J Deas
Unusually, I am recommending two books for you to read this month.
William Falkland is a dead man.
A Royalist dragoon who fought against Parliament, he is currently awaiting execution at Newgate prison. Yet when he is led away from Newgate with a sack over his head, it is not the gallows to which they take him, but to Oliver Cromwell himself.
Cromwell has heard of Falkland’s reputation as an investigator and now more than ever he needs a man of conscience. His New Model Army are wintering in Devon but mysterious deaths are sweeping the camp and, in return for his freedom, Falkland is despatched to uncover the truth.
With few friends and a slew of enemies, Falkland soon learns there is a dark demon at work, one who won’t go down without a fight. But how can he protect the troops from such a monster and, more importantly, will he be able to protect himself?
‘The Protector’ continues the story of William Falkland which began in ‘The Royalist’.
February 2016 – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel
England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor.
Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.
From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.
March 2016 – ‘The Soldier’s Farewell’ by Alan Monaghan
Dublin, 1921. The Irish War of Independence comes to a head, in a conflict that will pit Irishman against Irishman, brother against brother . . .
Stephen Ryan, an Irishman who fought for the British in the trenches, is sent to London where negotiations are beginning. He leaves behind his brother, Joe, who has been jailed for his actions in the IRA. There are those on both sides who would see the Treaty fail and Stephen soon finds himself beset by problems – a legal dispute, a blackmail attempt, even a plot to assassinate Winston Churchill.
This is a story about two brothers, played out against the political and military upheavals that racked Ireland in the 1920s. The Anglo–Irish Treaty brings the war with the British to a close, but a new war is emerging and Stephen finds himself once more called upon as a soldier. Assassinations and guerrilla warfare are the backdrop to the call to arms, as both sides attempt to force a new order.
April 2016 – ‘An Officer And A Spy’ by Robert Harris
Paris in 1895. Alfred Dreyfus, a young Jewish officer, has just been convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment at Devil’s Island, and stripped of his rank in front of a baying crowd of twenty-thousand. Among the witnesses to his humiliation is Georges Picquart, the ambitious, intellectual, recently promoted head of the counterespionage agency that “proved” Dreyfus had passed secrets to the Germans. At first, Picquart firmly believes in Dreyfus’s guilt. But it is not long after Dreyfus is delivered to his desolate prison that Picquart stumbles on information that leads him to suspect that there is still a spy at large in the French military. As evidence of the most malignant deceit mounts and spirals inexorably toward the uppermost levels of government, Picquart is compelled to question not only the case against Dreyfus but also his most deeply held beliefs about his country, and about himself.
May 2016 – ‘Jackdaws’ by Ken Follett
Two weeks before D-Day, the French Resistance attacks a chateau containing a telephone exchange vital to German communications – but the building is heavily guarded and the attack fails disastrously.
Flick Clairet, a young British secret agent, proposes a daring new plan: she will parachute into France with an all-woman team known as the ‘Jackdaws’ and they will penetrate the chateau in disguise. But, unknown to Flick, Rommel has assigned a brilliant, ruthless intelligence colonel, Dieter Franck, to crush the Resistance. And Dieter is on Flick’s trail…
June 2016 – ‘The Nightingale’ by Kristin Hannah
Despite their differences, sisters Viann and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Viann is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Viann finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.
As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.
JULY 2016 – ‘Winter Of The World’ by Ken Follett
Winter of the World is the second novel in Ken Follett’s uniquely ambitious Century trilogy. On its own or read in sequence with Fall of Giants and Edge of Eternity, this is a spellbinding epic of global conflict and personal drama.
A BATTLE OF IDEALS
1933, and at Cambridge, Lloyd Williams is drawn to irresistible socialite Daisy Peshkov, who represents everything that his left-wing family despise, but Daisy is more interested in aristocratic Boy Fitzherbert, a leading light of the British Union of Fascists.
AN EVIL UPRISING
Berlin is in turmoil. Eleven-year-old Carla von Ulrich struggles to understand the tensions disrupting her family as Hitler strengthens his grip on Germany. Many are resolved to oppose Hitler’s brutal regime – but are they willing to betray their country?
A GLOBAL CONFLICT ON A SCALE NEVER SEEN BEFORE
Shaken by the tyranny and the prospect of war, five interconnected families’ lives become ever more enmeshed. An international clash of military power and personal beliefs is sweeping the world, but what will this new war mean for those who must live through it?
August 2016 – ‘The Lady From Zagreb’ by Philip Kerr
Summer 1942. When Bernie Gunther is ordered to speak at an international police conference, an old acquaintance has a favour to ask. Little does Bernie suspect what this simple surveillance task will provoke . . .
One year later, resurfacing from the hell of the Eastern Front, a superior gives him another task that seems straightforward: locating the father of Dalia Dresner, the rising star of German cinema. Bernie accepts the job. Not that he has much choice – the superior is Goebbels himself.
But Dresner’s father hails from Yugoslavia, a country so riven by sectarian horrors that even Bernie’s stomach is turned. Yet even with monsters at home and abroad, one thing alone drives him on from Berlin to Zagreb to Zurich: Bernie Gunther has fallen in love.
September 2016 – ‘The Fort’ by Bernard Cornwell
‘Captivate, kill or destroy the whole force of the enemy’ was the order given to the American soldiers in the summer 1779.
Seven hundred and fifty British soldiers and three small ships of the Royal Navy. Their orders: to build a fort above a harbour to create a base from which to control the New England seaboard.
Forty-one American ships and over nine hundred men. Their orders: to expel the British.
The battle that followed was a classic example of how the best-laid plans can be disrupted by personality and politics, and of how warfare can bring out both the best and worst in men. It is a timeless tale of men at war.
October 2016 – The Truth Of The Line by Melanie Taylor
In 1572, the good looking and talented Nicholas Hillyarde paints the first of many portraits of Elizabeth I, England’s “Virgin Queen”. His ability to capture the likeness of his patrons makes him famous and his skills are much sought after by the rich and powerful members of the Elizabethan Court. His loyalty to Elizabeth even leads him to becoming part of Sir Francis Walsingham’s information network. One day he is approached by a young man with an intriguing commission. Hillyarde is to paint the man holding a lady’s hand – a hand which descends from a cloud – complete with a puzzling motto: “Attici Amoris Ergo”… There is something familiar about this young man’s face, and Hillyarde is led down a dark path of investigation to discover who this young man may be. Who is the young man? Has Hillyarde stumbled across a dark royal secret, and, if so, is there evidence hidden elsewhere?
November 2016 – ‘The Secret Wife’ by Gill Paul
A Russian grand duchess and an English journalist. Linked by one of the world’s greatest mysteries…
Love. Guilt. Heartbreak.
1914 Russia is on the brink of collapse, and the Romanov family faces a terrifyingly uncertain future. Grand Duchess Tatiana has fallen in love with cavalry officer Dmitri, but events take a catastrophic turn, placing their romance – and their lives – in danger . . .
2016 Kitty Fisher escapes to her great-grandfather’s remote cabin in America, after a devastating revelation makes her flee London. There, on the shores of Lake Akanabee, she discovers the spectacular jewelled pendant that will lead her to a long-buried family secret . . .Haunting, moving and beautifully written, The Secret Wife effortlessly crosses centuries, as past merges with present in an unforgettable story of love, loss and resilience.
December 2016 – ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry
India, 1975. An unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency. Amidst a backdrop of wild political turmoil, the lives of four unlikely strangers collide forever.
An epic panorama of modern India in all its corruption, violence, and heroism, A Fine Balance is Rohinton Mistry’s prize-winning masterpiece: a Dickensian modern classic brimming with compassion, humour, and insight – and a hymn to the human spirit in an inhuman state.
January 2017 – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale. What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.
February 2017 – ‘The Gift Of Rain’ by Tan Twan Eng
Penang, 1939. Sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido.
But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip s family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei to whom he owes absolute loyalty has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is.
With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love.
March 2017 – A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Jean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins.When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle – an experience that leads to the deaths of many.Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners and many end up owing their lives to her indomitable spirit. While on the march, the group run into some Australian prisoners, one of whom, Joe Harman, helps them steal some food, and is horrifically punished by the Japanese as a result.After the war, Jean tracks Joe down in Australia and together they begin to dream of surmounting the past and transforming his one-horse outback town into a thriving community like Alice Springs.
April 2017 – The Road Between Us by Nigel Farndale
1939: In a hotel room overlooking Piccadilly Circus, two young men are arrested. Charles is court-martialled for ‘conduct unbecoming’; Anselm is deported home to Germany for ‘re-education’ in a brutal labour camp. Separated by the outbreak of war, and a social order that rejects their love, they must each make a difficult choice, and then live with the consequences.
2012: Edward, a diplomat held hostage for eleven years in an Afghan cave, returns to London to find his wife is dead, and in her place is an unnerving double – his daughter, now grown up. Numb with grief, he attempts to re-build his life and answer the questions that are troubling him. Was his wife’s death an accident? Who paid his ransom? And how was his release linked to Charles, his father?
As dark and nuanced as it is powerful and moving, The Road Between Us is a novel about survival, redemption and forbidden love. Its moral complexities will haunt the reader for days after the final page has been turned.
May 2017 – The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman
A boat washes up on the shore of a remote lighthouse keeper’s island. It holds a dead man – and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision.
They break the rules and follow their hearts.
June 2017 – ‘Paris’ by Edward Rutherfurd
City of love. City of splendour. City of terror. City of dreams.
Inspired by the haunting, passionate story of the city of lights, this epic novel weaves a gripping tale of four families across the centuries: from the lies that spawn the noble line of de Cygne to the revolutionary Le Sourds who seek their destruction; from the Blanchards whose bourgeois respectability offers scant protection against scandal to the hard-working Gascons and their soaring ambitions.
Over hundreds of years, these four families are bound by forbidden loves and marriages of convenience; dogged by vengeance and murderous secrets; torn apart by the irreconcilable differences of birth and faith, and brought together by the tumultuous history of their city. Paris bursts to life in the intrigue, corruption and glory of its people.
Author of Sarum, London and New York, Edward Rutherfurd illuminates Paris as only he can: capturing the romance and everyday drama of the men and women who, in two thousand years, transformed a humble trading post on the muddy banks of the Seine into the most celebrated city in the world.
July 2017 – Csardas by Diane Pearson
CSARDAS – taken from the name of the Hungarian national dance – follows the fortunes of the enchanting Ferenc sisters from their glittering beginnings in aristocratic Hungary, through the traumas of two World Wars.
From the dazzling elegance of coming-out balls, feudal estates and a culture steeped in romance, to terror and starvation in the concentration camps – no story could be more dramatic than that of Eva and Amalia Ferenc, whose fate it is to be debutantes when the shot which killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo plunged Europe into the First World War. Their story is enthralling, tragic, romantic – and absolutely unputdownable.
August 2017 – First Of The Tudors by Joanna Hickson
Jasper Tudor, son of Queen Catherine and her second husband, Owen Tudor, has grown up far from the intrigue of the royal court. But after he and his brother Edmund are summoned to London, their half-brother, King Henry VI, takes a keen interest in their future.
Bestowing Earldoms on them both, Henry also gives them the wardship of the young heiress Margaret Beaufort. Although she is still a child, Jasper becomes devoted to her and is devastated when Henry arranges her betrothal to Edmund.
He seeks solace in his estates and in the arms of Jane Hywel, a young Welsh woman who offers him something more meaningful than a dynastic marriage. But passion turns to jeopardy for them both as the Wars of the Roses wreak havoc on the realm. Loyal brother to a fragile king and his domineering queen, Marguerite of Anjou, Jasper must draw on all his guile and courage to preserve their throne − and the Tudor destiny…
September 2017 – At Break Of Day by Elizabeth Speller
In the summer of 1913, the world seems full of possibility for four very different young men.
Young Jean-Baptiste dreams of the day he’ll leave his Picardy home and row down-river to the sea.
Earnest and hard-working Frank has come to London to take up an apprenticeship in Regent Street. His ambitions are self-improvement, a wife and, above all, a bicycle.
Organ scholar Benedict is anxious yet enthralled by the sensations of his synaesthesia. He is uncertain both about God and the nature of his friendship with the brilliant and mercurial Theo.
Harry has turned his back on his wealthy English family, has a thriving business in New York and a beautiful American wife. But his nationality is still British.
Three years later, on the first of July 1916, their lives have been taken in entirely unexpected directions. Now in uniform they are waiting for dawn on the battlefield of the Somme. The generals tell them that victory will soon be theirs but the men are accompanied by regrets, fears and secrets as they move towards the line.
October 2017 – Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Winter, 1916. In St Petersburg, snow is falling in a country on the brink of revolution. Beautiful and headstrong, Sashenka Zeitlin is just sixteen. As her mother parties with Rasputin and her dissolute friends, Sashenka slips into the frozen night to play her role in a dangerous game of conspiracy and seduction.
Twenty years on, Sashenka has a powerful husband and two children. Around her people are disappearing but her own family is safe. But she’s about to embark on a forbidden love affair which will have devastating consequences.
Sashenka’s story lies hidden for half a century, until a young historian goes deep into Stalin’s private archives and uncovers a heart-breaking story of passion and betrayal, savage cruelty and unexpected heroism – and one woman forced to make an unbearable choice …
November 2017 – The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff
(New York Times Bestseller)
In Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen-year-old Noa snatches a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him into the snowy wilderness surrounding the train tracks.
Passing through the woods is a German circus, led by the heroic Herr Neuhoff. They agree to take in Noa and the baby, on one condition: to earn her keep, Noa must master the flying trapeze – under the tutorage of mysterious aerialist, Astrid.
Soaring high above the crowds, Noa and Astrid must learn to trust one another…or plummet. But with the threat of war closing in, loyalty can become the most dangerous trait of all.
December 2017 – Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond’s now legendary ball, one family’s life will change for ever.
January 2018 – House Of The Hanged by Mark Mills
France, 1935: At the poor man’s end of the Riviera sits Le Rayol, a haven for artists, expatriates and refugees. Here, a world away from the rumblings of a continent heading towards war, Tom Nash has rebuilt his life after a turbulent career in the Secret Intelligence Service. His past, though, is less willing to leave him behind. When a midnight intruder tries to kill him, Tom knows it is just a matter of time before another assassination attempt is made. Gathered at Le Rayol for the summer months are all those he holds most dear, including his beloved goddaughter Lucy. Reluctantly, Tom comes to believe that one of them must have betrayed him. If he is to live, Tom must draw his enemy out, but at what cost to himself and the people he loves…?
February 2018 – Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeh Chadwick
An awkward misfit, nine-year-old Fulke FitzWarin leaves his family for the household of Joscelin de Dinan, Lord of Ludlow. Once there, he begins to learn the knightly arts which he desperately hopes will free him from the shadows of his past.
Joscelin’s youngest daughter, Hawise, befriends Fulke when he most needs it. But as the years pass, an enemy to Ludlow changes their friendship unalterably, forcing them onto opposite sides of a cruel divide.
When the menace to Ludlow intensifies, Fulke must confront the future head on or fail on all counts, all the while desperate to know if Hawise stands with or against him.
March 2018 – The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory
‘How long do I have?’ I force a laugh.
‘Not long,’ he says very quietly. ‘They have confirmed your sentence of death. You are to be beheaded tomorrow. We don’t have long at all.’
Jane Grey was Queen of England for nine days. Using her position as cousin to the deceased king, her father and his co-conspirators put her on the throne ahead of the king’s half-sister Mary, who quickly mustered an army, claimed her crown and locked Jane in the Tower. When Jane refused to betray her Protestant faith, Mary sent her to the executioner’s block. There Jane turned her father’s greedy, failed grab for power into her own brave and tragic martyrdom.
‘Learn you to die’ is the advice that Jane gives in a letter to her younger sister Katherine, who has no intention of dying. She intends to enjoy her beauty and her youth and find love. But her lineage makes her a threat to the insecure and infertile Queen Mary and, when Mary dies, to her sister Queen Elizabeth, who will never allow Katherine to marry and produce a potential royal heir before she does. So when Katherine’s secret marriage is revealed by her pregnancy, she too must go to the Tower.
‘Farewell, my sister,’ writes Katherine to the youngest Grey sister, Mary. A beautiful dwarf, disregarded by the court, Mary finds it easy to keep secrets, especially her own, while avoiding Elizabeth’s suspicious glare. After watching her sisters defy the queen, Mary is aware of her own perilous position as a possible heir to the throne. But she is determined to command her own destiny and be the last Tudor to risk her life in matching wits with her ruthless and unforgiving cousin Elizabeth.
April 2018 – Small Wars by Sadie Jones
Hal Treherne is a soldier on the brink of a brilliant career. Impatient to see action, his other commitment in life is to his beloved wife, Clara, and when Hal is transferred to Cyprus she and their twin daughters join him. But the island is in the heat of the emergency; the British are defending the colony against Cypriots – schoolboys and armed guerillas alike – battling for union with Greece.
Clara shares Hal’s sense of duty and honour; she knows she must settle down, make the best of things, smile. But action changes Hal, and the atrocities he is drawn into take him not only further from Clara but himself, too; a betrayal that is only the first step down a dark path.
May 2018 – Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements
An enthralling adventure story, honest and powerful. The Wars of the Roses are imagined here with energy, with ferocity, with hunger to engage the reader.’ Hilary Mantel
February 1460 In the bitter dawn of a winter’s morning, a young man and a woman escape from a priory. In fear of their lives, they are forced to flee across a land ravaged by conflict.
For this is the Wars of the Roses, one of the most savage and bloody civil wars in history, where brother confronts brother, king faces king,
and Thomas and Katherine must fight – just to stay alive …
June 2018 – A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
A modern classic, this epic tale of families, romance and political intrigue, set in India, never loses its power to delight and enchant readers.
At its core, A Suitable Boy is a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny.
July 2018 – The Summer Before The War by Helen Simonson
It is late summer in East Sussex, 1914. Amidst the season’s splendour, fiercely independent Beatrice Nash arrives in the coastal town of Rye to fill a teaching position at the local grammar school. There she is taken under the wing of formidable matriarch Agatha Kent, who, along with her charming nephews, tries her best to welcome Beatrice to a place that remains stubbornly resistant to the idea of female teachers. But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape, and the colourful characters that populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For the unimaginable is coming – and soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small town goes to war.
August 2018 – The Soldier’s Story by Bryan Forbes
In the uneasy post-war peace of occupied Germany, a British soldier is billeted to a bombed Hamburg hotel. Alex’s days are spent investigating Nazi war criminals, but it is a chance meeting with a German university professor in a shabby back-street bookshop that changes his life. Having befriended the professor and his wife, Alex falls in love with their only daughter, Lisa, only to discover that the professor may not be as innocent as he first appeared. The stale aftermath of a long and hideous war has left the old society in ruins. There are still many secrets to uncover and Alex has to ask himself what is more important – love or truth? As he digs deeper into the professor’s past Alex is forced to recognise that he cannot have both.
September 2018 – Munich by Robert Harris
MUNICH, SEPTEMBER 1938
Hitler is determined to start a war. Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace.
They will meet in a city which forever afterwards will be notorious for what is about to take place.
As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the channel and the Fuhrer’s train steams south, two young men travel with their leaders. Former friends from a more peaceful time, they are now on opposing sides.
As Britain’s darkest hour approaches, the fate of millions could depend on them – and the secrets they’re hiding.
Spying. Betrayal. Murder. Is any price too high for peace?
October 2018 – The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
“On a mountain above the clouds, in the central highlands of Malaya lived the man who had been the gardener of the Emperor of Japan.”
Teoh Yun Ling was seventeen years old when she first heard about him, but a war would come, and a decade would pass before she travels up to the Garden of Evening Mists to see him, in 1951. A survivor of a brutal Japanese camp, she has spent the last few years helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, she asks the gardener, Nakamura Aritomo, to create a memorial garden for her sister who died in the camp. He refuses, but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice ‘until the monsoon’ so she can design a garden herself.
Staying at the home of Magnus Pretorius, the owner of Majuba Tea Estate and a veteran of the Boer War, Yun Ling begins working in the Garden of Evening Mists. But outside in the surrounding jungles another war is raging. The Malayan Emergency is entering its darkest days, the communist-terrorists murdering planters and miners and their families, seeking to take over the country by any means, while the Malayan nationalists are fighting for independence from centuries of British colonial rule.
But who is Nakamura Aritomo, and how did he come to be exiled from his homeland? And is the true reason how Yun Ling survived the Japanese camp connected to Aritomo and the Garden of Evening Mists?
November 2018 – ‘The General’ by C S Forester
The most vivid, moving – and devastating – word-portrait of a World War One British commander ever written.
C.S. Forester’s 1936 masterpiece follows Lt General Herbert Curzon, who fumbled a fortuitous early step on the path to glory in the Boer War. 1914 finds him an honourable, decent, brave and wholly unimaginative colonel. Survival through the early slaughters in which so many fellow-officers perished then brings him rapid promotion. By 1916, he is a general in command of 100,000 British soldiers, whom he leads through the horrors of the Somme and Passchendaele, a position for which he is entirely unsuited and intellectually unprepared.
Wonderfully human with Forester’s droll relish for human folly on full display, this is the story of a man of his time who is anything but wicked, yet presides over appalling sacrifice and tragedy. In his awkwardness and his marriage to a Duke’s unlovely, unhappy daughter, Curzon embodies Forester’s full powers as a storyteller. His half-hero is patriotic, diligent, even courageous, driven by his sense of duty and refusal to yield to difficulties. But also powerfully damned is the same spirit which caused a hundred real-life British generals to serve as high priests at the bloodiest human sacrifice in the nation’s history. A masterful and insightful study about the perils of hubris and unquestioning duty in leadership, The General is a fable for our times.
December 2018 – Empire of Sand by Robert Ryan
A sweeping epic historical novel about Lawrence of Arabia, one of the most compelling characters in British history.
1915: While the war in Europe escalates, a young intelligence officer named Thomas Edward Lawrence is in Cairo, awaiting his chance for action. His superiors, however, have consigned him to the Map Room at GCHQ. But there’s more to Lieutenant Lawrence than meets the eye. A man of immense energy, he runs a network of agents across the Levant. Lawrence is convinced that an Arab revolt is the only way to remove the Ottoman presence, and leave a free self-governed Arabia. Soon, alarming reports reach him of trouble in Persia, orchestrated by infamous German agent Wilhelm Wassmuss. Intent on taking down Wassmuss and, at the same time, unlocking the secret of his success, Lawrence assembles a small group and travels to Persia…
January 2019 – Barkskind by Annie Proulx
Longlisted for the Baileys women’s prize for fiction 2017
A New York times book of the year
From Annie Proulx, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain, comes her masterwork: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about the taking down of the world’s forests.
In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters – barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years – their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions; the revenge of rivals; accidents; pestilence; Indian attacks; and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.
February 2019 – Canvey Island by James Runcie
It is 1953 in Canvey Island. Len and Violet are at a dance. Violet’s husband George sits and watches them sway and glide across the dance floor, his mind far away, trapped by a war that ended nearly ten years ago. Meanwhile, at home, a storm rages and Len’s wife Lily and his young son Martin fight for their lives in the raging black torrent. The night ends in a tragedy that will reverberate through their lives. This poignant novel follows the family’s fortunes from the austerity of the post-war years to Churchill’s funeral, from Greenham Common to the onset of Thatcherism and beyond, eloquently capturing the very essence of a transforming England in the decades after the war. It is a triumph of understated emotion, a novel about growing up and growing old, about love, hope and reconciliation.
March 2019 – The Words In My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd
The Words in My Hand is the reimagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th century Amsterdam working for an English bookseller. One day a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives – the Monsieur – who turns out to be René Descartes.
At first encounter the maid and the philosopher seem to have little in common, yet Helena yearns for knowledge and literacy – wanting to write so badly that she uses beetroot for ink and her body as paper.
And the philosopher, for all his learning, finds that it is Helena who reveals the surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him, as gradually their relationship deepens in a surprising story of love and learning.
April 2019 – Lionheart by Sharon Penman
Richard I was crowned King in 1189 and set off almost immediately for the Third Crusade. This was a bloody campaign to regain the Holy Land, marked by warfare among the Christians and extraordinary campaigns against the Saracens. Men and women found themselves facing new sorts of challenges and facing an uncertain future. John, the youngest son, was left behind – and with Richard gone, he was free to conspire with the French king to steal his brother’s throne.
Overshadowing the battlefields that stretched to Jerusalem and beyond were the personalities of two great adversaries: Richard and Saladin. They quickly took the measure of each other in both war and diplomacy. The result was mutual admiration: a profound acknowledgement of a worthy opponent.
In Lionheart, a gripping narrative of passion, intrigue, battle and deceit, Sharon Penman reveals a true and complex Richard – a man remarkable for his power and intelligence, his keen grasp of warfare and his concern for the safety of his men, who followed him against all odds.
May 2019 – The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
Somewhere in the soot-stained ruins of Restoration London, a killer has gone to ground…
The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away.
James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman – in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder…?
Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death… and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.
July 2019 – ‘To The Bright Edge Of The World’ by Eowyn Ivey
Winter 1885. Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester accepts the mission of a lifetime, to navigate Alaska’s Wolverine River. It is a journey that promises to open up a land shrouded in mystery, but there’s no telling what awaits Allen and his small band of men.
Allen leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he had never expected to have. Sophie would have loved nothing more than to carve a path through the wilderness alongside Allen – what she does not anticipate is that their year apart will demand every ounce of courage of her that it does of her husband.
August 2019 – ‘A Dangerous Inheritance’ by Alison Weir
Two women separated by time are linked by the most famous murder mystery in history, the Princes in the Tower.
Lady Katherine Grey has already suffered more than her fair share of tragedy. Newly pregnant, she has incurred the wrath of her formidable cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, who sees her as a rival to her insecure throne.
Alone in her chamber in the Tower, she finds old papers belonging to a kinswoman of hers, Kate Plantagenet, who forty years previously had embarked on a dangerous quest to find what really happened to her cousins, the two young Princes who had last been seen as captives in the Tower.
But time is not on Kate’s side – nor on Katherine’s either …
September 2019 – The Woman in the Photograph by Stephanie Butland
An empowering, thought-provoking feminist novel that will change the way you see the world. Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Day, Claire Fuller and Joanna Cannon.
- Veronica Moon, a junior photographer for a local newspaper, is frustrated by her (male) colleagues’ failure to take her seriously. And then she meets Leonie on the picket line of the Ford factory at Dagenham. So begins a tumultuous, passionate and intoxicating friendship. Leonie is ahead of her time and fighting for women’s equality with everything she has. She offers Veronica an exciting, free life at the dawn of a great change.
Fifty years later, Leonie is gone, and Veronica leads a reclusive life. Her groundbreaking career was cut short by one of the most famous photographs of the twentieth century.
Now, that controversial picture hangs as the centrepiece of a new feminist exhibition curated by Leonie’s niece. Long-repressed memories of Veronica’s extraordinary life begin to stir. It’s time to break her silence, and step back into the light.
October 2019 – The Balloonist by James Long
Lieutenant Willy Fraser, formerly of the Royal Flying Corps, has been delegated the most dangerous job on the Western Front – a balloon observer hanging under a gasbag filled with explosive hydrogen, four thousand feet above the Ypres Salient, anchored by a slender cable. Swept across enemy lines after his balloon is damaged, Willy is hidden by Belgian farmers, whom he grows close to during his stay. With their aid, he manages to escape across the flooded delta at the English Channel and return to his duties. But once he’s back in the air, spotting for artillery and under attack, Willy is forced to make an impossible decision that threatens the life of the woman he has come to love.
December 2019 – Black Sheep by Susan Hill
‘Powerful… Poignant, bleak and haunting, this is a small masterpiece’ Sunday Mirror
Brother and sister, Ted and Rose Howker, grew up in Mount of Zeal, a mining village blackened by coal. They know nothing of the outside world, though both of them yearn for escape. For Rose this comes in the form of love, while Ted seizes the chance of a job away from the pit. But neither can truly break free and their decisions bring with them brutal consequences…
‘Gripping all the way to its unexpected end’ Spectator
December 2019 – Dictator by Robert Harris
There was a time when Cicero held Caesar’s life in the palm of his hand. But now Caesar is the dominant figure and Cicero’s life is in ruins. Exiled, separated from his wife and children, his possessions confiscated, his life constantly in danger, Cicero is tormented by the knowledge that he has sacrificed power for the sake of his principles. His comeback requires wit, skill and courage – and for a brief and glorious period, the legendary orator is once more the supreme senator in Rome. But politics is never static and no statesman, however cunning, can safeguard against the ambition and corruption of others.
Riveting and tumultuous, DICTATOR encompasses some of the most epic events in human history yet is also an intimate portrait of a brilliant, flawed, frequently fearful yet ultimately brave man – a hero for his time and for ours. This is an unforgettable tour de force from a master storyteller.
January 2020 – Sworn Sword by James Aitcheson
January 1069. Less than three years have passed since Hastings and the death of the usurper, Harold Godwineson. In the depths of winter, two thousand Normans march to subdue the troublesome province of Northumbria. Tancred a Dinant, an ambitious and oath-sworn knight and a proud leader of men, is among them, hungry for battle, for silver and for land.
But at Durham the Normans are ambushed in the streets by English rebels. In the battle that ensues, their army is slaughtered almost to a man. Badly wounded, Tancred barely escapes with his life. His lord is among those slain.
Soon the enemy are on the march, led by the dispossessed prince Eadgar, the last of the ancient Saxon line, who is determined to seize the realm he believes is his. Yet even as Tancred seeks vengeance for his lord’s murder, he finds himself caught up in secret dealings between a powerful Norman magnate and a shadow from the past.
As the Norman and English armies prepare to clash, Tancred begins to uncover a plot which harks back to the day of Hastings itself. A plot which, if allowed to succeed, threatens to undermine the entire Conquest. The fate of the Kingdom hangs in the balance …
February 2020 – A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger
A stunning debut historical thriller set in the turbulent 14th Century for fans of CJ Sansom, The Name of the Rose and An Instance of the Fingerpost.
London, 1385. A city of shadows and fear, in a kingdom ruled by the headstrong young King Richard II, haunted by the spectre of revolt. A place of poetry and prophecy, where power is bought by blood. For John Gower, part-time poet and full-time trader in information, secrets are his currency. When close confidant, fellow poet Geoffrey Chaucer, calls in an old debt, Gower cannot refuse.
The request is simple: track down a missing book. It should be easy for a man of Gower’s talents, who knows the back-alleys of Southwark as intimately as the courts and palaces of Westminster. But what Gower does not know is that this book has already caused one murder, and that its contents could destroy his life. Because its words are behind the highest treason – a conspiracy to kill the king and reduce his reign to ashes…
March 2020 – A Treachery of Spies by Manda Scott
A Treachery of Spies is an espionage thriller to rival the very best, a high stakes game of cat-and-mouse, played in the shadows, which will keep you guessing every step of the way.
A body has been found. The elderly victim’s identity has been cleverly obscured but one thing is clear: she has been killed in the manner of traitors to the Resistance in World War Two.
To find answers in the present, police inspector Inès Picaut must look to the past; to 1940s France, a time of sworn allegiances and broken promises, where the men and women of the Resistance fought for survival against Nazi invaders.
But, as Picaut soon discovers, there are those in the present whose futures depend on the past remaining buried, and who will kill to keep their secrets safe. Old fashioned espionage might be a thing of the past but treachery is as dangerous as ever.
April 2020 – A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles
On 21 June 1922, Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.
Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely. But instead of his usual suite, he must now live in an attic room while Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval.
Can a life without luxury be the richest of all?
May 2020 – I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Despised for his weakness and regarded by his family as little more than a stammering fool, the nobleman Claudius quietly survives the intrigues, bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the imperial Roman dynasties. In I, Claudius he watches from the sidelines to record the reigns of its emperors: from the wise Augustus and his villainous wife Livia to the sadistic Tiberius and the insane excesses of Caligula. Written in the form of Claudius’ autobiography, this is the first part of Robert Graves’s brilliant account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome, and stands as one of the most celebrated, gripping historical novels ever written.
June 2020 – To The Ends Of The Earth by Frances Hunter
Brilliant but troubled, Meriwether Lewis never found his footing after returning home from the West in triumph. It is with some reluctance that the young discoverer accepted the job as Governor of the sprawling new Louisiana Territory he had just explored. Within a year of arriving in St. Louis, the remote frontier town that served as capital of the West, Lewis’s life had entered a downhill slide. He became convinced that he would soon be dismissed in disgrace by the corrupt politicians in Washington he had sworn to serve, and vowed to travel to Washington to set the record straight. The next weeks of Meriwether Lewis’s life can fairly be called one of the great unsolved mysteries of American history. All anyone really knows is that on October 11, 1809, Meriwether Lewis was found shot dead in a remote inn on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee, a road through the wilderness so dangerous it was called “The Devil’s Backbone.” Was it suicide? Or murder? To this day, historians cannot agree. No inquest was ever held into Lewis’s death; no investigation was ever undertaken. Based on extensive historical research, To the Ends of the Earth reconstructs Lewis’s last days and brings alive the atmosphere of intrigue and danger that characterized the early American West. Then, in a powerful reimagining of the tale, it is given to brave William Clark, Lewis’s best friend and partner in discovery, the role of discovering the truth. Clark’s relationships with Lewis, his teenage wife Julia, and his African-American slave York form much of the emotional core of the novel. Readers will join Lewis and Clark on the final voyage of their legendary friendship in a story of honor, vengeance, and, ultimately, redemption.
JULY 2020 – The Twentieth Wife by Indi Sundaresan
An enchanting historical epic of grand passion and adventure, this debut novel tells the captivating story of one of India’s most controversial empresses — a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles, and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal Empire. Skilfully blending the textures of historical reality with the rich and sensual imaginings of a timeless fairy tale, The Twentieth Wife sweeps readers up in Mehrunnisa’s embattled love with Prince Salim, and in the bedazzling destiny of a woman — a legend in her own time — who was all but lost to history until now.
AUGUST 2020 -Silence by Shusaku Endo
Beneath the light of the candle I am sitting with my hands on my knees, staring in front of me. And I keep turning over in my mind the thought that I am at the end of the earth, in a place which you do not know and which your whole lives through you will never visit.
It is 1640 and Father Sebastian Rodrigues, an idealistic Jesuit priest, sets sail for Japan determined to help the brutally oppressed Christians there. He is also desperate to discover the truth about his former mentor, rumoured to have renounced his faith under torture. Rodrigues cannot believe the stories about a man he so revered, but as his journey takes him deeper into Japan and then into the hands of those who would crush his faith, he finds himself forced to make an impossible choice: whether to abandon his flock or his God.
The recipient of the 1966 Tanizaki Prize, Silence is Shusaku Endo’s most highly acclaimed work and has been called one of the twentieth century’s finest novels. As empathetic as it is powerful, it is an astonishing exploration of faith and suffering and an award-winning classic.
SEEPTEMBER 2020 – The Far Pavilions by M M Kaye
The Far Pavilions is the story of an English man – Ashton Pelham-Martyn – brought up as a Hindu. It is the story of his passionate, but dangerous love for Juli, an Indian princess. It is the story of divided loyalties, of friendship that endures till death, of high adventure and of the clash between East and West.
To the burning plains and snow-capped mountains of this great, humming continent, M.M. Kaye brings her exceptional gifts of storytelling and meticulous historical accuracy, plus her insight into the human heart.
October 2020 – The First Casualty by Ben Elton
The first casualty when war comes is truth . . . Flanders, June 1917: a British officer and celebrated poet, is shot dead.He is killed not by German fire, but while recuperating from shell shock well behind the lines. A young English soldier is arrested and, although he protests his innocence, charged with his murder. Douglas Kingsley is a conscientious objector, previously a detective with the London police, now imprisoned for his beliefs. He is released and sent to France in order to secure a conviction. Forced to conduct his investigations amidst the hell of The Third Battle of Ypres, Kingsley soon discovers that both the evidence and the witnesses he needs are quite literally disappearing into the mud that surrounds him.
Ben Elton’s tenth novel is a gut-wrenching historical drama which explores some fundamental questions:
What is murder? What is justice in the face of unimaginable daily slaughter? And where is the honour in saving a man from the gallows if he is only to be returned to die in a suicidal battle?
November 2020 – Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.
Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.
Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.
December 2020 – The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Sometimes when he didn’t know he was being watched Meggie would look at him and try desperately to imprint his face upon her brain’s core . . . And he would turn to find her watching him, a look in his eyes of haunted grief, a doomed look. She understood the implicit message, or thought she did; he must go, back to the Church and his duties. Never again with the same spirit, perhaps, but more able to serve. For only those who have slipped and fallen know the vicissitudes of the way . . .
January 2021 – Dissolution by C J Sansom
England, 1537: Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church and the country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. Under the order of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent through the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: the monasteries are to be dissolved.
But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege – a black cockerel sacrificed on the altar, and the disappearance of Scarnsea’s Great Relic.
Dr Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell into this atmosphere of treachery and death. But Shardlake’s investigation soon forces him to question everything he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes . . .
February 2021 – The Book Of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
WINNER OF THE COMMONWEALTH PRIZE FOR FICTION
Based on a true story, Lawrence Hill’s epic novel spans three continents and six decades to bring to life a dark and shameful chapter in our history through the story of one brave and resourceful woman.
Abducted from her West African village at the age of eleven and sold as a slave in the American South, Aminata Diallo thinks only of freedom – and of finding her way home again.
After escaping the plantation, torn from her husband and child, she passes through Manhattan in the chaos of the Revolutionary War, is shipped to Nova Scotia, and then joins a group of freed slaves on a harrowing return odyssey to Africa.
March 2021 – Pompeii by Robert Harris
A sweltering week in late August. Where better to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples? But even as Rome’s richest citizens relax in their villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum, there are ominous warnings that something is going wrong. Wells and springs are failing, a man has disappeared, and now the greatest aqueduct in the world – the mighty Aqua Augusta – has suddenly ceased to flow. Through the eyes of four characters – a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist – Robert Harris brilliantly recreates a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.
APRIL 2021 – Caravans by James A Michener
First published in 1963, James A. Michener s gripping chronicle of the social and political landscape of Afghanistan is more relevant now than ever. Combining fact with riveting adventure and intrigue, Michener follows a military man tasked, in the years after World War II, with a dangerous assignment: finding and returning a young American woman living in Afghanistan to her distraught family after she suddenly and mysteriously disappears. A timeless tale of love and emotional drama set against the backdrop of one of the most important countries in the world today, Caravans captures the tension of the postwar period, the sweep of Afghanistan’s remarkable history, and the inescapable allure of the past.
May 2021 – Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
When 14-year-old Sophie encounters a mysterious mentor who introduces her to philosophy, mysteries deepen in her own life. Why does she keep getting postcards addressed to another girl? Who is the other girl? And who, for that matter, is Sophie herself? To solve the riddle, she uses her new knowledge of philosophy, but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined.
An addictive blend of mystery, philosophy and fantasy, Sophie’s World is an international phenomenon which has been translated into 60 languages and sold more than 40 million copies.
June 2021 – The Slaves Of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton
Measuring out the wartime days in a small town on the Thames, Miss Roach is not unattractive but no longer quite young. The Rosamund Tea Rooms boarding house, where she lives with half a dozen others, is as grey and lonely as its residents. For Miss Roach, ‘slave of her task-master, solitude’, a shaft of not altogether welcome light is suddenly beamed upon her, with the appearance of a charismatic and emotional American Lieutenant. With him comes change – tipping the precariously balanced society of the house and presenting Miss Roach herself with a dilemma.
July 2021 – Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.
On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a sudden fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home? Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that Hamnet will not survive the week.
Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright: a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
SEPTEMBER 2021 – The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson
The Cardinal tells a story of a working-class American’s rise to become a cardinal of the Catholic Church. The daily trials and triumphs of Stephen Fermoyle, from the working-class suburbs of Boston, drive him to become first a parish priest, then secretary to a cardinal, later a bishop, and finally a wearer of the Red Hat. An essential work of American fiction.
OCTOBER 2021 – A Fine Madness by Alan Judd
A remarkable and meticulously researched novel from award-winning writer Alan Judd, exploring the life of literary genius Kit Marlowe, whose violent death composes one of the most fascinating unresolved mysteries of all time.
In Elizabethan England, the Queen’s chief spymaster, Francis Walsingham, and his team of agents must maintain the highest levels of vigilance to ward off Catholic plots and the ever-present threat of invasion.
One agent in particular – a young Cambridge undergraduate of humble origins, controversial beliefs and literary genius who goes by the name of Kit Marlowe – is relentless in his pursuit of intelligence for the Crown. When he is killed outside an inn in Deptford, his mysterious death becomes the subject of rumours and suspicion that are never satisfactorily resolved.
Years later, when Thomas Phelippes, a former colleague of Marlowe’s, finds himself imprisoned in the Tower, there is one thing that could give him his freedom back. He must give the king every detail he is able to recall about his murdered friend’s life and death. But why is King James so fascinated about Kit Marlowe – and does Phelippes know enough to secure his own redemption?
November 2022 – A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.
December 2021 – At First Light by Vanessa Lafaye
1993, Key West, Florida. When a Ku Klux Klan official is shot in broad daylight, all eyes turn to the person holding the gun: a 96-year-old Cuban woman who will say nothing except to admit her guilt.
1919. Mixed-race Alicia Cortez arrives in Key West exiled in disgrace from her family in Havana. At the same time, damaged war hero John Morales returns home on the last US troop ship from Europe. As love draws them closer in this time of racial segregation, people are watching, including Dwayne Campbell, poised on the brink of manhood and struggling to do what’s right. And then the Ku Klux Klan comes to town…
Inspired by real events, At First Light weaves together a decades-old grievance and the consequences of a promise made as the sun rose on a dark day in American history.
January 2022 – Island Song by Madeleine Bunting
In 1940, Helene, young, naive, and recently married, waves goodbye to her husband, who has enlisted in the British army. Her home, Guernsey, is soon invaded by the Germans, leaving her exposed to the hardships of occupation. Forty years later, her daughter, Roz, begins a search for the truth about her father, and stumbles into the secret history of her mother’s life.
Written with emotional acuity and passionate intensity, Island Song speaks of the moral complexities of war-time allegiances, the psychological toll of living with the enemy and the messy reality of human relationships in a tightly knit community. As Roz discovers, truth is hard to pin down, and so are the rights and wrongs of those struggling to survive in the most difficult of circumstances.
February 2022 – Queen of Bedlam by Laura Purcell
London 1788. The calm order of Queen Charlotte’s court is shattered by screams. The King of England is going mad. Left alone with thirteen children and with the country at war, Charlotte has to fight to hold her husband’s throne. It is a time of unrest and revolutions but most of all Charlotte fears the King himself, someone she can no longer love or trust. She has lost her marriage to madness and there is nothing she can do except continue to do her royal duty. Her six daughters are desperate to escape their palace asylum. Their only chance lies in a good marriage, but no prince wants the daughter of a madman. They are forced to take love wherever they can find it, with devastating consequences. The moving true story of George III’s madness and the women whose lives it destroyed.
April 2022 – The Good Doctor Of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford
‘You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.’
Warsaw, 1940. The Jewish ghetto is under the Nazis’ brutal control. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children slowly starve within the walls.
But while all around is darkness, one man brings hope, caring for the ever-increasing number of destitute orphans in the face of unimaginable conditions.
And, torn apart as the noose tightens around the ghetto, how will one young couple’s love survive the terrible tests of wartime?
Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to tell their story. This novel is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, and on the life of one of Poland’s greatest men, Dr Janusz Korczak