The best books found in idiosyncratic bookshops and lovely libraries

Who am I?

I love a library, an eccentric bookshop, or the roadside book exchange cupboards where I live in rural southwest France. There is serendipity and synergy in what can be found through browsing (as opposed to purposeful searching). I am the author of five historical novels set in medieval Europe and centred on strong female leads. Idiosyncratic bookshops and lovely libraries bring unexpected twists to my research and writing. My six-year-old grandson recently started to read after his mum and I read many bedtime stories to him. It was a thrilling moment to hear him join the ranks of readers. Writing is inspired by and learned from voracious reading. 

I wrote...

Daughter of the Last King

By Tracey Warr,

Book cover of Daughter of the Last King

What is my book about?

1093. A brutal invasion and a curse. The three sons of William the Conqueror fight each other for control of the Anglo-Norman kingdom. The Norman Marcher lords are let loose to conquer Wales. Nest ferch Rhys is the daughter of the king of southwest Wales. Captured during the Norman assault on her father’s lands, she is raised by the powerful Montgomery family. Nest is groomed to be the wife of a Norman, despite her pre-existing betrothal to a Welsh prince. Arnulf Montgomery is her intended husband, but Count Henry, the youngest son of the Conqueror, is also captivated by the Welsh noblewoman. Book I in the Conquest trilogy centring on the turbulent life of Nest ferch Rhys and the reign of King Henry I.

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The books I picked & why

The Summer of the Danes

By Ellis Peters,

Book cover of The Summer of the Danes

Why this book?

Found at Animal Kitchen Bookshop in Narberth, Wales, which has now, sadly, disappeared.

A bookshop that looked like a pet shop from the outside and was piled high with books in absolutely no order inside. After an hour’s happy trawling, I asked the owner if he had any Ellis Peters.

He fished out a box from under his desk and I took as many as I could carry.

This is my favourite Cadfael medieval murder mystery because of its setting in Gwynedd Wales and the appearance of Cadwaladr, who I was very interested in researching at the time.

Like my Welsh trilogy, The Summer of the Danes is set during ‘The Anarchy’, the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda.

The Summer of the Danes

By Ellis Peters,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1144, a strange calm has settled over England. The armies of King Stephen and Empress Maud have temporarily exhausted each other. Brother Cadfael considers peace a blessing, but a little excitement never comes amiss to a former soldier and Cadfael is delighted to accompany his young friend, Brother Mark, on a mission of church diplomacy to his native Wales, not expecting to be caught up in yet another royal feud. The Welsh prince Owain Gwynedd has banished his brother Cadwaladr, accusing him of the treacherous murder of an ally. The reckless Cadwaldr has retaliated by landing…

The Golden Egg

By Donna Leon,

Book cover of The Golden Egg

Why this book?

Found at the Festilitt annual secondhand booksale in Parisot, France.

Any Donna Leon book is irresistible to me. I know I will enjoy inhabiting those Venetian streets and cafes with her Inspector Brunetti; dining with his family, including his wife, who is an expert on Henry James; hearing more about his colleagues (good and bad) at the police station.

Like Peters’ Cadfael series or Jane Austen’s novels, Leon works on a little piece of ivory – a constrained world and community that the reader can step into. Once there, with Inspector Brunetti, we must puzzle out another well-crafted mystery that evidences both the cruelties and the kindnesses of the human heart.

The Golden Egg

By Donna Leon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'The familiar characters and Venetian location are described with remarkable freshness and, as always, the edifying result is both amusing and thought-provoking.' Sunday Telegraph

A New York Times Bestseller

Celebrated by The Times as one of the 50 Greatest Crime Writers, Donna Leon brings Venice to life in the twenty-second Brunetti novel of this bestselling series, where our detective must uncover the mystery surrounding a mute man's murder.

When making routine enquiries into a possible bribery case that could embarrass the mayor - a humiliation Vice-Questore Patta is very keen to avoid - Commissario Brunetti receives a call from…

Book cover of The Women Troubadours

Why this book?

Found in the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s Library in Carmarthen during my MA Creative Writing.

Bogin delivers racy translations of the female troubadour poetry and a substantial essay on their context. This was a serendipitous find for me, as I was writing about an 11th-century woman in southern France at the time, Almodis de La Marche, and it set me off on another bout of research that led to another bout of writing.

Female troubadours figure in several of my novels and a very louche, Welsh bard spy is a key character in my trilogy. He is based on my best friend and muse.

The Women Troubadours

By Meg Bogin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the first twentieth-century study of the women troubadours who flourished in Southern France between 1150 and 1250-the great period of troubadour poetry. The book is comprised of a full-length essay on women in the Middle Ages, twenty-three poems by the women troubadours themselves in the original Provencal with translations on facing pages, a capsule biography of each poet, notes, and reading list.

Book cover of The Written World: Past and Place in the Work of Orderic Vitalis

Why this book?

I stumbled on this book in Raven secondhand bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I was researching for my 12th-century trilogy, Conquest, and this book is a brilliant critical study of the Anglo-Norman chronicler, Orderic Vitalis. The book is wonderfully written and conveys the astonishing beauty of Orderic’s own work.

Orderic, as he writes, ranged far and wide across the Anglo-Norman kingdom in his imagination and then returned to his ‘black-clad life’ as a monk.

Raven and Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop in Paris are amongst my top favourites. I love to visit Shakespeare for its cramped unevenly floored labyrinth and intelligent array of books.

I greatly enjoy a bookshop – these two and Victoria Bookshop in Haverfordwest spring to mind – where the staff is obviously as lovestruck by books as I am.

The Written World: Past and Place in the Work of Orderic Vitalis

By Amanda Hingst,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Anglo-Norman monk Orderic Vitalis (1075-c.1142) wrote his monumental, highly individual Historia Ecclesiastica as an exercise in monastic discipline intended to preserve the events and character of Christendom for future generations. Though cloistered since childhood in a Benedictine monastery near Normandy's southern border, Orderic gained access to an intellectual world that extended from Scotland to Jerusalem through his engagement with texts and travelers that made their way into his monastic milieu. His Historia Ecclesiastica, with a breadth of vision unparalleled in its time, is a particularly fertile source for an investigation of concepts of space and historiography in the high…

Book cover of Aethelflaed: The Lady of the Mercians

Why this book?

Found in the British Library, where I would be quite happy to move in on a permanent basis if only they would let me.

I’ve read many excellent biographies of medieval women there, including Kimberley LoPrete’s Adela de Blois, Alison Weir’s Queens of the Conquest, Kari Maund’s Princess Nest of Wales, and Lois L. Honeycutt’s Matilda of Scotland. Clarkson’s biography is eminently readable.

In lucid and concise prose garnished with maps, genealogies, a good index, and bibliography, this book paints a fascinating picture of King Alfred’s daughter.

Aethelflaed: The Lady of the Mercians

By Tim Clarkson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The true story of the Lady of the Mercians.

At the end of the ninth century AD, a large part of what is now England was controlled by the Vikings - heathen warriors from Scandinavia who had been attacking the British Isles for more than a hundred years. Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, was determined to regain the conquered lands but his death in 899 meant that the task passed to his son Edward. In the early 900s, Edward led a great fightback against the Viking armies. He was assisted by the English rulers of Mercia: Lord AEthelred and…

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