The best character-driven historical suspense books with clean romance

Jessica Russell Author Of Hot Winter Sun
By Jessica Russell

Who am I?

My first experience with historical fiction was reading The Witch from the Sea by that iconic author, Victoria Holt. This sparked a 40-year-long love affair with that genre that’s still burning intensely. I’ve been immersed in such fiction for a lifetime and have read the works of virtually every great author in this genre. I started my own series in 2020 because I feared this type of no-fluff fiction was becoming obsolete. There were 17th Century English characters making noise in my head so I used my creative writing background to bring them to life on the pages of my books, under the pen name Jessica Russell. 

I wrote...

Hot Winter Sun

By Jessica Russell,

Book cover of Hot Winter Sun

What is my book about?

Richly written, Hot Winter Sun is set against the backdrop of the English Civil War, raging between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers. During this turbulent and chaotic era, an unlikely love story emerges between Catherine, a penniless villager, and Robert, co-heir to one of Cornwall’s wealthiest estates.

In this fast-moving murder mystery, nothing is what it appears to be, and with each page, the story’s unusual plot delivers. Hot Winter Sun is ultimately a tale of love, hate, envy, mercy, and redemption during one of the most tumultuous times in England’s history.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of On the Night of the Seventh Moon

Why did I love this book?

I started reading this story and thought at first that it was average. I was going along, wondering what would happen next, and then slam! I had to sit there and say, “What!” Really?” You couldn’t tear me away from it until the final word! It seems that so many authors these days try to replace poignant, dramatic characters and stellar plots with profanity and graphic sex. This writer does the opposite and this book is the absolute best showcase of that type of talent. There was a twist, and then another twist, and then another twist, yet they were all completely believable. That book stayed with me forever and I’ve read it many times since.

By Victoria Holt,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked On the Night of the Seventh Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For generations, Victoria Holt has dazzled and entertained millions of readers with her spine-tingling novels of romantic suspense. On the Night of the Seventh Moon is one of her most evocative, magical, and chilling. Come take a journey into a dark and shadowy forest where nothing is as it seems.…

On the night of the seventh moon, according to ancient Black Forest legend, Loke, the god of mischief, is abroad in the world. It is a night for singing and dancing. And it is a night for love.

Helena Trant was enchanted by everything she found in the Black Forest—its…

Looking Back

By Belva Plain,

Book cover of Looking Back

Why did I love this book?

I was so tired of books that follow a formula with every author trying to imitate whoever had a bestseller that week when I picked this up. Nothing was what I expected! This was a totally character-driven book and so realistic with regard to how people actually behave and feel instead of contrived dialogue and predictable reactions. I could clearly visualize each and every person in this novel and the character development was superb. On top of that, the plot just didn’t quit! You will never believe the ending. 

By Belva Plain,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Looking Back as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestselling author Belva Plain goes to the heart of what it means to be a woman, a wife, and a friend, in her powerful new novel—a story of love and betrayal that measures the limits of loyalty, friendship, and forgiveness.

They met at school and have been inseparable ever since: Cecile, confident, elegant daughter of privilege; Norma, extraordinarily gifted and sadly troubled; and beautiful, ambitious Amanda, determined to rise above her humble southern beginnings. Two are married. One despairs of ever finding love. Three women. Leading their busy adult lives. Yet first and always: friends.

Then something…

Anne and Charles

By Rozsa Gaston,

Book cover of Anne and Charles

Why did I love this book?

This book pulled me in from page one and I could not stop reading. I have rarely found Historical fiction written in a way that makes you feel as if you are truly there. The era did not seem abstract and far away, but instead, I felt like I was in the room with the characters in every single scene. It was vivid, colorful, realistic, entertaining, and I could have never predicted all the things that would happen. Rarely can I find authors who write about Anne of Brittany or that time period, let alone do it well, but this one was a winner! 

By Rozsa Gaston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Anne and Charles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A historically sharp and dramatically stirring love story."—Kirkus Reviews"

Gaston's blend of royalty, young love, and the French Renaissance is enchanting."—Publishers Weekly

When Anne of Brittany's father dies in 1488, she becomes Duchess of Brittany, her country's ruler at age eleven. For the next three years, the unmarried, orphaned duchess is pursued by suitors while Brittany is invaded by its larger, more powerful neighbor of France. With no other way out, at age fourteen she agrees to marry Charles VIII, King of France, to save her country. Better to be a queen than a prisoner...

Unexpectedly, a passionate relationship ensues.…

Lost Island

By Phyllis A. Whitney,

Book cover of Lost Island

Why did I love this book?

This intricately written story sparked my interest from the very first page. Every time the author introduced a clue to the plot, I immediately wanted to know what it meant and what was coming. I was “chomping at the bit” as they say, and there was never one moment where the story lagged. Every single sentence needed to be there and the mystery had layer after layer with no way to ever predict what would happen. This is a historical fiction writer who definitely understands how to weave a top-notch suspenseful tale, and that’s what this is. 

By Phyllis A. Whitney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lost Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From a New York Times-bestselling author: An island off the Georgia coast holds the memory of a broken heart and the secrets of a woman's past.

It's been years since Lacey Ames last saw Hampton Island, where she grew up amid the sandy marshes with her childhood sweetheart, Giles Severn, and her cousin Elise-and where Elise had stolen the man Lacey loved. Lacey never forgot the hurt and betrayal she once suffered at Giles's grand family home of Sea Oaks, but a curious and compelling summons from Elise prompts her return.

Once Lacey arrives, she realizes how little has changed.…

A Woman of Substance

By Barbara Taylor Bradford,

Book cover of A Woman of Substance

Why did I love this book?

This book took me into the heart and mind of a woman in a transparent way that made me feel as if I was there with her, as a young girl working as a maid to the high-powered woman she became, when women weren’t supposed to have power! It was a true saga the way I believe they were always meant to be written, where every dramatic scene and experience of the heroine’s life are rich and multidimensional. This story had truly unusual and unforgettable characters who never did or said exactly what you expected!

By Barbara Taylor Bradford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Woman of Substance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The unputdownable multi-million copy bestseller charting the rags to riches story of Emma Harte

With new Foreword from Fern Britton.

In the brooding moors above a humble Yorkshire village stood Fairley Hall. There, Emma Harte, its oppressed but resourceful servant girl, acquired a shrewd determination. There, she honed her skills, discovered the meaning of treachery, learned to survive, to become a woman, and vowed to make her mark on the world.

In the wake of tragedy she rose from poverty to magnificent wealth as the iron-willed force behind a thriving international enterprise.…

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