The best books for history, mystery, and nautical adventure

Helen Hollick Author Of Sea Witch
By Helen Hollick

Who am I?

I'm a British author, a USA Today bestseller, scribbling stories since I was 13 but became a published author in the 1990s when I was 40 with a retelling of the King Arthur legend set in the post-Roman 5th century. I then wrote two novels concerning the pre-Norman Conquest era, and am currently writing a cozy mystery series set in the 1970s. I also love tall ships and the sea, particularly the Golden Age of Piracy (diverse subjects, I know!) I enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, wanted to read something similar – fun, fantasy, and for adults, but couldn’t find anything... so wrote my own.


I wrote...

Sea Witch

By Helen Hollick,

Book cover of Sea Witch

What is my book about?

The Time: The Golden Age of Piracy – 1716. The Place: The Pirate Round, from the South African Coast to the Caribbean. The People: A charming rogue of a pirate captain and a white witch. The Story: from the age of fifteen Jesamiah Acorne has been a pirate with only two loves – his ship and his freedom. But his life is to change when he and his crewmates unsuccessfully attack a merchant ship off the coast of South Africa. He is to meet Tiola Oldstagh an insignificant girl, or so he assumes,  until she rescues him from almost certain death. And then he discovers what she really is. But what has the strongest pull? 

Love for a woman, or love for the sea?

The books I picked & why

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To Be A Queen

By Annie Whitehead,

Book cover of To Be A Queen

Why this book?

If you are interested in early England’s history you would have heard of Alfred the Great – but what of his children, especially his daughter, Æthelflæd, who became The Lady of Mercia, almost, our first English Queen? Set between the years AD 874 and AD 918, Ms. Whitehead’s research about this turbulent period of Viking invasion, and of Æthelflæd's life, is impeccable. All the characters are believable and the writing itself is beautiful. The author handles the politics, the personal feelings, and the warfare with skillful competence. What is so enthralling about this novel is the author's dextrous ability to blend the facts (those few that are known) with her imagined ‘made-up’ scenes and interactions. This is how good historical fiction should be written and how history should be told – as well-crafted, superb storytelling.

To Be A Queen

By Annie Whitehead,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the true story of Aethelflaed, the 'Lady of the Mercians', daughter of Alfred the Great. She was the only female leader of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. It is the tale of one family, two kingdoms and a common enemy. Born into the royal house of Wessex at the height of the Viking wars, she is sent to her aunt in Mercia as a foster-child, only to return home when the Vikings overrun Mercia. In Wessex, she witnesses another Viking attack and this compounds her fear of the enemy. She falls in love with a Mercian lord but is heartbroken…


Best Murder in Show: A Sophie Sayers Village Mystery

By Debbie Young,

Book cover of Best Murder in Show: A Sophie Sayers Village Mystery

Why this book?

Maybe not a 'murder mystery' in the typical sense of Agatha Christie, but this is a delightful, cozy read, ideal for an afternoon snuggled before a blazing fire (wine and chocs to hand) or for lazing on a sunny beach (plus wine – maybe not the chocs). As someone living in a small Devonshire village I look forward to our annual summer show (hopefully without a corpse hidden anywhere!) I thoroughly enjoyed the rural background of this delightful little tale. Don't take the murder-to-solve element too seriously, instead, enjoy the lives of charming and quirky English Cotswolds’ characters, and the events that unfold around them in this, the first, of a highly enjoyable series. We need more entertaining cozy mystery novels like this series!

Best Murder in Show: A Sophie Sayers Village Mystery

By Debbie Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Best Murder in Show as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Sophie Sayers inherits a cottage in a sleepy English Cotswold village, she's hoping for a quieter life than the one she's running away from.

What she gets instead is a dead body on a carnival float, and an extraordinary assortment of suspects.

Is the enigmatic bookseller Hector Munro all he seems?

And what about the over-friendly neighbour who brings her jars of honey? Not to mention the eccentric village shopkeeper, show committee, writers' group and drama club, all suspiciously keen to welcome her to their midst.

If you love M C Beaton's Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series, you'll…


The Only Life That Mattered: The Short and Merry Lives of Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and Calico Jack Rackam

By James L. Nelson,

Book cover of The Only Life That Mattered: The Short and Merry Lives of Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and Calico Jack Rackam

Why this book?

Pirates. Who can resist the romanticized, swashbuckling Golden Age of piracy? (I know I can’t – my own created fictional character is a pirate!) Perhaps the most famous pirates of all are Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and Calico Jack Rackham. James L. Nelson’s novel about their scurrilous lives is based on the few historical records that exist, and he weaves a highly credible tale about their dastardly seafaring deeds – and how they came to be pirates in the first place. The author himself has a talent for writing exciting adventures and his knowledge of sailing a tall ship is unsurpassed – he actually worked aboard a replica tall ship, so he knows his stuff from stem to stern. This is an adult read with adult content of sex and violence, but then, these characters were pirates...

The Only Life That Mattered: The Short and Merry Lives of Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and Calico Jack Rackam

By James L. Nelson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Fed up with an outlaw existence, Calico Jack Rackam swears off the pirate life, until he meets Anne Bonny, a woman who would as soon stab a man as give him a good tumble-that is, unless he's a pirate. Soon Jack finds himself out on the high seas, with Anne by his side and his men spoiling for action.


A Rip in the Veil

By Anna Belfrage,

Book cover of A Rip in the Veil

Why this book?

As soon as I met her, I liked the main character, quick-witted, intelligent Alex, who found herself stranded in 1658 even though she is a woman of the 21st century. This is time travel where belief has to be suspended – easily, in this case – where the author combines two timelines into a credible and highly entertaining series of adventures for Alex and Matthew Graham, a 17th-century Scotsman.

Shades of Outlander? The time travel and the political events of the period yes – everything else, no. Miss Belfrage’s characters are very much her (and their!) own creation, her writing is snappy with excellent dialogue. Her historical detail is superb, while the plot itself is intriguing and complex and flows well through its twists and turns. This is the first in the series – a series that improves as it progresses like a fine, maturing wine. One of those series where you don’t realise how deeply the characters have grabbed your attention until you realise that you just want more and more of them.

A Rip in the Veil

By Anna Belfrage,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Rip in the Veil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A Rip in the Veil' is the first book in The Graham Saga, Anna Belfrage's time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham. On a muggy August day in 2002 Alexandra Lind is inexplicably thrown several centuries backwards in time to 1658. Life will never be the same for Alex. Alex lands at the feet of Matthew Graham - an escaped convict making his way home to Scotland. She gawks at this tall gaunt man with hazel eyes, dressed in what looks like rags. At first she thinks he might be some sort…


The Crystal Cave

By Mary Stewart,

Book cover of The Crystal Cave

Why this book?

Merlin’s story – with a difference. This one could really have happened: OK, disregarding the magic, but the events and the people are truly believable. Set in the 5th/6th century, the boy Merlin learns how to use his special abilities and becomes King Arthur’s friend and advisor, and so the legend is created. The first of Ms. Stewart’s Arthurian saga, I fell in love with these books when I first read them back in the 1970s. They were to set me on my own writing career, for I’d never liked the historically inaccurate and implausible traditional Arthurian legends, The Crystal Cave drew my attention to how Arthur (if he’d existed!) would likely have lived in the post-Roman era, and that the Medieval fabricated tales of knights, Lancelot and the Holy Grail were nowhere near as exciting as the very real Anglo-Saxon transformation from Britain into England – and the turmoil it created. And so, I discovered a different Arthur which led to me writing my own trilogy. Books that can inspire novice writers to write are treasures indeed.

The Crystal Cave

By Mary Stewart,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Crystal Cave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The spellbinding story of Merlin's rise to power.

Vivid, enthralling, absolutely first-class - Daily Mail

So begins the story of Merlin, born the illegitimate son of a Welsh princess in fifth century Britain, a world ravaged by war. Small and neglected, with his mother unwilling to reveal his father's identity, Merlin must disguise his intelligence - and hide his occasional ability to know things before they happen - in order to keep himself safe.

While exploring the countryside near his home, Merlin stumbles across a cave filled with books and papers and hiding a room lined with crystals. It is…


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