The best historical books that don’t confuse ‘strong women’ with ‘hard hearts’

Who am I?

I’m the author of 10 books published in the historical genre, and 7 more in other genres (which also feature women who have been tested and hardened in various fires). I have spent years reading first-hand accounts of wartime ambulance drivers, nurses, farm labourers, pilots, and others, and I have uncovered the startling true lives of some remarkable women – it’s furnished me with a desire to showcase women like this in fictional settings, and give them the satisfactory stories they deserve but too often never had. My characters are all fictional, but they couldn’t exist without those powerful examples of strength and courage.


I wrote...

The Secrets of Pencarrack Moor

By Terri Nixon,

Book cover of The Secrets of Pencarrack Moor

What is my book about?

1930, Cornwall. Bertie Fox has had her dreams of motorcycle racing cut short by a life-changing accident, but now her thrill-seeking ambitions have turned towards the skies; along with two friends, Bertie has joined the flight training school on Pencarrack Moor.

When a fourth girl moves onto the base, it's clear she's hiding something from her fellow pilots, and the more the young women get to know the secretive Irene, the more they suspect she might be just as dangerous as she is mysterious. Soon they uncover something more sinister than they could have imagined. As they're drawn into a complex web, dark pasts and uncertain futures threaten them all—and the Pencarrack girls must learn who they can trust, before it's too late...

The books I picked & why

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The Wheelwright Girl

By Tania Crosse,

Book cover of The Wheelwright Girl

Why this book?

Being a Devon girl, I have really enjoyed this series, and this book in particular resonated with me on a number of levels. Grace is such an ‘everyday’ kind of character at the beginning, albeit with ambitions towards working in a ‘man’s world.’ But, as circumstances force her to take on new roles, and her life takes unforeseeable turns, she grows in character and strength. Both ‘sections,’ if you like, are equally compelling, and the research is impeccable, but never screamingly obvious. Having written WW1 books myself, that era was always going to be the part that interested me the most, but I was happy to find the whole story equally absorbing. Dartmoor and its surrounds are, as ever with this author, painted subtly, but with love

The Wheelwright Girl

By Tania Crosse,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A compelling wartime saga about a spirited young woman seeking happiness on her own terms.

Perfect fans of Nadine Dorries, Rosie Goodwin, Dilly Court, Freda Lightfoot and Catherine Cookson.

Originally published as Wheels of Grace.

Dartmoor, 1914.

Grace Dannings is a farmer’s daughter. But that’s never stopped her wanting more.

She dreams of making her mark as a London Suffragette. Too bad she’s still stuck in Walkhampton, the sleepy village where she was born.

As a child, she could escape to the wheelwright’s mill. Spellbound, she’d watch labourers hammer white-hot iron and timber into wagon wheels.

Now she’s a woman,…


Outlander

By Diana Gabaldon,

Book cover of Outlander

Why this book?

I picked up this book (twenty-odd years ago) because it was set in the same area where my parents were living, and the estate is even mentioned by name. I was immediately drawn to its main character, Claire, and fascinated by the situation in which she finds herself; Scotland in the days leading up to the ’45 Rising and the battle of Culloden. The way she, a doctor, is initially reduced to simply being the chattel of whichever male currently rules her, is frustrating, but as she searches for a way home, her courage and resilience grow. Just as importantly, the way she adjusts her own thinking to account for the differences in attitude commands respect, too. The story is now famous, but it still feels like an old friend.

Outlander

By Diana Gabaldon,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked Outlander as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The first book in Diana Gabaldon’s acclaimed Outlander saga, the basis for the Starz original series.

One of the top ten best-loved novels in America, as seen on PBS’s The Great American Read!
 
Unrivaled storytelling. Unforgettable characters. Rich historical detail. These are the hallmarks of Diana Gabaldon’s work. Her New York Times bestselling Outlander novels have earned the praise of critics and captured the hearts of millions of fans. Here is the story that started it all, introducing two remarkable characters, Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser, in a spellbinding novel of passion and…


The Light Within Us

By Charlotte Betts,

Book cover of The Light Within Us

Why this book?

This is book one of a wonderful series: The Spindrift Trilogy. Because it’s set in Cornwall, where I grew up and where I set most of my books, it naturally drew me in quickly. The series features a rich cast of characters, mainly female at the start, although as male children are born, and grow up, the balance shifts a little. It follows the fortunes of an artistic community that springs from a personal crisis, and the rich mixture of characters keeps the story lively and optimistic while still dealing with the darker side of human nature, and the uncertainty in any new venture where so many almost strangers are brought together. This sense of community is something I myself try to convey in my work, and here it’s done beautifully.

The Light Within Us

By Charlotte Betts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A delightful historical saga which is so beautifully woven together that from the very start I was enchanted' Jaffa Reads Too

From the award-winning author of The Apothecary's Daughter comes a beautifully evocative, family drama, perfect for fans of Santa Montefiore, Lucinda Riley and Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Chronicles.

1891. Spindrift House, Cornwall.

Talented painter Edith Fairchild is poised to begin a life of newlywed bliss and artistic creation in the inspiring setting of Spindrift House, freshly inherited by her charming husband, Benedict, and overlooking the stunning harbour of Port Isaac. But when her honeymoon turns sour, her dreams are…


Through the Barricades

By Denise Deegan, Aimee Alexander,

Book cover of Through the Barricades

Why this book?

This book took me on a (completely unexpectedly) emotional ride. Leading up to the Irish Easter Rebellion in 1917, the story is blended so easily with historical fact, that you don’t realise you’re (probably) being educated as you immerse yourself in the lives of Maggie and Daniel. They’re characters who stay with you long after you’ve closed the book, and you can’t help but think of them: Patriotic Maggie in Dublin, fighting for her rights every bit as ferociously as the men and boys, and Daniel in Gallipoli. But the author doesn't try to impose their own politics on the reader; the force of these characters’ personalities makes every decision they make unquestionably the right one at that moment, no matter what the consequences. A truly remarkable story.

Through the Barricades

By Denise Deegan, Aimee Alexander,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Through the Barricades as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BOOKLIFE ‘BOOKS TO WATCH’

Her country overtaken by a foreign power, Maggie Gilligan signs up to fight for her people's freedom. Daniel Healy, in love with Maggie, joins the enemy - to try to save her.

Falling in love is never easy. At times of war, it's lethal.

Through the Barricades is a story of friends to lovers at a time of war, of two people who are prepared to die: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their conflicting duties put them on opposite sides. Will they and their love survive?

This friends-to-lovers story is inspired by…


Testament of Youth

By Vera Brittain,

Book cover of Testament of Youth

Why this book?

I first began reading this just as background research, in an attempt to get the character ‘voice’ right for my own WW1 series, but, as with many other books I was pulled in against my expectations. Vera’s decision to become a VAD nurse, and her determination to do the best possible job under unthinkable circumstances, made me want to learn everything about this era and the people who lived it. It threw a cold light onto what had, until then, been a sort of fuzzy half-knowledge, and it’s an example of the best in humanity, wrapped in what could easily be an extravagant fiction; knowing it was an autobiographical account made it so much poignant. It shows how powerful the drive to help others can be, despite the hardships endured. 

Testament of Youth

By Vera Brittain,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Testament of Youth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An autobiographical account of a young nurse's involvement in World War I.


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