The best books to escape the everyday into sensuous, exotic landscapes and passionate relationships of the past

Why am I passionate about this?

In the Spring of 2006, I went to the south of France searching for troubadours. It was my MA year and my thesis was looking at the influence of the courtly love tradition on Chaucer’s writing. Troubadours (and the female, trobairitz) were nowhere to be found. The closest I came was a café named Le Troubadour. However, evidence of their lyrics was there in the beauty and lushness of Languedoc in spring. I'm always drawn to the poetry, landscapes, and love stories of the past and have experienced how these connections enrich my life. I've completed a PhD in seventeenth-century literature and become an historical fiction novelist and a devotee of history and historical fiction. 

I wrote...

My Lady's Shadow: Power and intrigue in Medieval France

By Coirle Mooney,

Book cover of My Lady's Shadow: Power and intrigue in Medieval France

What is my book about?

Forced into marrying a wealthy viscount against her will, trobairitz, Maria of Turenne, and troubadour, Gui d’Ussel are torn apart from each other. However, Maria is determined to find a way to use the power she has gained through marriage to raise Gui in society. Her plans are thwarted, not only by Gui himself, whose Albigensian belief is considered a dangerous heresy, but also by her scheming maid, Maryse, who seeks to gain power at Maria’s expense. My Lady’s Shadow is a beautifully written Medieval historical novel exploring the landscape and passions of the troubadours of 12th-century France.

"A feast for fans of early Medieval sagas of troubadours, forbidden passion, and fin amor." - David Field, author of the Medieval sagas series.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Marriage Portrait

Coirle Mooney Why did I love this book?

Utterly beautiful storytelling set in Renaissance Italy, featuring the teenage duchess, Lucrezia de Medici. Identifiable (in modern terms) as an HSP (highly sensitive person), I found her vulnerability, her misunderstood sensitivity, and willingness to love heartbreakingly moving.

Her complex, passionate nature is matched, not by her husband, but by a mute apprentice who accompanies the artist who is invited to court to paint her portrait. An intoxicating mix of sensuous landscapes and dangerous plot twists, this book is a homage to passion, art, and life.    

By Maggie O'Farrell,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Marriage Portrait as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION FINALIST • REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK • NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • The author of award-winning Hamnet brings the world of Renaissance Italy to jewel-bright life in this unforgettable fictional portrait of the captivating young duchess Lucrezia de' Medici as she makes her way in a troubled court.

“I could not stop reading this incredible true story.” —Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club Pick)

"O’Farrell pulls out little threads of historical detail to weave this story of a precocious girl sensitive to the contradictions of her station...You may know the history, and you may think you…

Book cover of The Architect's Apprentice

Coirle Mooney Why did I love this book?

A mammoth of an historical novel set in the time of the Ottoman Empire.

A unique love story between the elephant keeper (and royal architect) Jahan, his special white elephant, Chota, and the interesting princess Mihrimah. As funny as it is heartbreaking, with characters so compelling they felt like cherished friends mourned and missed at parting, but whom I’ll always remember with deep fondness.   

By Elif Shafak,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Architect's Apprentice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A dazzling and intricate tale from Elif Shafak, Booker-shortlisted author of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World - chosen for the Duchess of Cornwall's online book club The Reading Room

'There were six of us: the master, the apprentices and the white elephant. We built everything together...'

Sixteenth century Istanbul: a stowaway arrives in the city bearing an extraordinary gift for the Sultan. The boy is utterly alone in a foreign land, with no worldly possessions to his name except Chota, a rare white elephant destined for the palace menagerie.

So begins an epic adventure that will see…

Book cover of The Foundling

Coirle Mooney Why did I love this book?

With a tight cast of characters, I was intimately drawn into the distressing and mysterious predicament of young heroine, Bess Bright.

Set in Georgian London, Bess has been forced to give up her baby, but when she returns to the home to reclaim her, she discovers she has already been taken. Bleak and tense, this book however resolves into an uplifting tale where characters are treated with compassion and justice is achieved. A mother’s love has the power to transform the bitterest of beginnings. Historical fiction at its best. 

By Stacey Halls, Patrick Knowles (illustrator), Lucy Rose Cartwright (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The captivating Sunday Times bestseller from the author of The Familiars

Two women, bound by a child, 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, Bess is astonished to be told she has already claimed 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's lodgings…

Book cover of Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages

Coirle Mooney Why did I love this book?

This non-fiction book is a marvellous study of the Medieval mindset.

With suberb illustrations, both in drawing and words, containing great humour, extraordinary beliefs, fantastical creatures, and surprising passion, dipping into this book is an uplifting experience. Were people really so very different then?

Dive into this book and enter the landscape, anthropology, and metamorphosis of Medieval times. With a narrative style that is precise, yet playful, the author captures this elusive period into a net of riches for our pleasure, entertainment, and education.

By Jack Hartnell,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Medieval Bodies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Just like us, medieval men and women worried about growing old, got blisters and indigestion, fell in love, and had children. And yet their lives were full of miraculous and richly metaphorical experiences radically different from our own, unfolding in a world where deadly wounds might be healed overnight by divine intervention, or where the heart of a king, plucked from his corpse, could be held aloft as a powerful symbol of political rule.

In this richly illustrated and unusual history, Jack Hartnell uncovers the fascinating ways in which people thought about, explored, and experienced their physical selves in the…

Book cover of The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi

Coirle Mooney Why did I love this book?

This dual timeline novel is based on the transformative relationship between the 13th-century love poet, Rumi, his contemporary wandering dervish, Shams of Tabriz, and a twenty-first-century homemaker who alters her life based on their teachings and the intensity of their bond.

The author weaves these characters into a narrative that celebrates love in all its forms as the most powerful force of nature. This book features fictionalized characterisation of real personages, as well as presenting a variety of other characters representing humanity in all its greatness and ugliness. Philosophical and thought-provoking, this book deepened my life.   

By Elif Shafak,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Forty Rules of Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The international bestseller from the author of the Booker-shortlisted novel, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World, The Forty Rules of Love is part of our Penguin Essentials series which spotlights the very best of our modern classics

*One of the BBC's '100 Novels That Shaped the World'*

"Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven't loved enough..."

Ella Rubinstein has a husband, three teenage children, and a pleasant home. Everything that should make her confident and fulfilled. Yet there is…

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Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

By Patrick G. Cox, Janet Angelo (editor),

Book cover of Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

Patrick G. Cox Author Of Ned Farrier Master Mariner: Call of the Cape

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

On the expertise I claim only a deep interest in history, leadership, and social history. After some thirty-six years in the fire and emergency services I can, I think, claim to have seen the best and the worst of human behaviour and condition. History, particularly naval history, has always been one of my interests and the Battle of Jutland is a truly fascinating study in the importance of communication between the leader and every level between him/her and the people performing whatever task is required.  In my own career, on a very much smaller scale, this is a lesson every officer learns very quickly.

Patrick's book list on the Battle of Jutland

What is my book about?

Captain Heron finds himself embroiled in a conflict that threatens to bring down the world order he is sworn to defend when a secretive Consortium seeks to undermine the World Treaty Organisation and the democracies it represents as he oversees the building and commissioning of a new starship.

When the Consortium employs an assassin from the Pantheon, it becomes personal.

Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

By Patrick G. Cox, Janet Angelo (editor),

What is this book about?

The year is 2202, and the recently widowed Captain James Heron is appointed to stand by his next command, the starship NECS Vanguard, while she is being built. He and his team soon discover that they are battling the Consortium, a shadowy corporate group that seeks to steal the specs for the ship’s new super weapon. The Consortium hires the Pantheon, a mysterious espionage agency, to do their dirty work as they lay plans to take down the Fleet and gain supreme power on an intergalactic scale. When Pantheon Agent Bast and her team kidnap Felicity Rowanberg, a Fleet agent…

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