The best books where the past is another country, and you want to visit it

Why am I passionate about this?

I always wanted to be an archaeologist and literally dig up the past, touching objects telling me about people I could never know. Why did Shetland Celts make spherical stone balls? Whose hand held that bone needle? Was that a natural or a sacrificial death? In a different way, using the great gifts of words and imagination, reading historical fiction satisfies the same desire. Yes, that was what it felt like to work for William I, known in his time as William the Bastard; yes, that was how it felt to fear for your partner’s life every time he went to sea or into battle. Please, let these books open your eyes, your mind, too.

I wrote...

The Wages of Sin

By Judith Cutler,

Book cover of The Wages of Sin

What is my book about?

It’s the 1860s in rural England. Matthew Rowsley has just been appointed as Lord Croft’s land agent. He finds he can’t improve the land, however, without taking an interest in the people living on it – and he worries as much when a housemaid vanishes as much as when his lordship disappears. Can Mrs. Faulkner, the housekeeper, explain? Together they discover that there is something rotten at the heart of Thorncroft.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Persuasion

Judith Cutler Why did I love this book?

This is the odd one out in my selection, because it was actually written at the time it was set.

It’s Austen’s only novel featuring more mature people, Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth, the man she was forced to jilt when she was a girl. The slow, measured reunion of two people you would like as your friends has to my mind never been better.

By Jane Austen,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Persuasion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 17.

What is this book about?

'In Persuasion, Jane Austen is beginning to discover that the world is larger, more mysterious, and more romantic than she had supposed' Virginia Woolf

Jane Austen's moving late novel of missed opportunities and second chances centres on Anne Elliot, no longer young and with few romantic prospects. Eight years earlier, she was persuaded by others to break off her engagement to poor, handsome naval captain Frederick Wentworth. What happens when they meet again is movingly told in Austen's last completed novel. Set in the fashionable societies of Lyme Regis and Bath, Persuasion is a brilliant satire of vanity and pretension,…

Book cover of An Infamous Army

Judith Cutler Why did I love this book?

Georgette Heyer’s frothy Regency romances are the sort of books you want to read when you have flu – chicken soup for the soul, if you like.

They’re all beautifully researched and wittily written – and they have a Happy Ending that makes you sigh with satisfaction. This is one of her rare serious books, set in Brussels in June, 1815 – the eve of Waterloo.

Yes, there is romance – but it is only part of a serious and gritty examination of warfare at the time.

By Georgette Heyer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked An Infamous Army as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If you love Bridgerton, you'll love Georgette Heyer!

'The greatest writer who ever lived' ANTONIA FRASER
'My generation's Julia Quinn' ADJOA ANDOH
'One of the wittiest, most insightful and rewarding prose writers imaginable' STEPHEN FRY

1815, and the British and French armies are massing ahead of one of the greatest battles of all time ...

Occupied by the British, Brussels however is en fete.

And Lady Barbara Childe, renowned for being as fashionable as she is beautiful, is at the centre of all that is fashionable and light-hearted.

When she meets Charles Audley, the dashing aide de camp to…

Book cover of Middlemarch

Judith Cutler Why did I love this book?

This is another of my go-to books in time of trouble.

Writing in 1871-72, Eliot goes back to the Midlands of her youth at the time of the Reform Act, 1832. So far, so dry as dust, I you say. But Eliot writes so well, creates such wonderful characters and deals with problems that still vex us today, not least the speed of change when you’d rather things stayed the same. But no one could not love the idealistic Dorothea, the frustrated Dr. Lydgate and the poet Will Ladislaw who becomes a great social reformer.

It’s one of the longest novels in the English language, but I’m always so distressed when I have finished it and have to say goodbye to the characters I’ve come to know so intimately.

By George Eliot,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

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

'One of the few English novels written for grown-up people' Virginia Woolf

George Eliot's nuanced and moving novel is a masterly evocation of connected lives, changing fortunes and human frailties in a provincial community. Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfilment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; Dr Lydgate, whose pioneering medical methods, combined with an imprudent marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamond, threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstrode, hiding scandalous crimes from his…

Book cover of Beloved

Judith Cutler Why did I love this book?

Heavens, this is such a tough book.

The subject – the effects of slavery on the people enslaved – is never going to be easy, and Morrison’s dense prose and time shifts are challenging. At one time I taught the book to British A-level students. They found it hard to understand; I found it hard to explain without sinking to the banal. But I believe it changed all our lives.

You can’t say that of many books.

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Toni Morrison was a giant of her times and ours... Beloved is a heart-breaking testimony to the ongoing ravages of slavery, and should be read by all' Margaret Atwood, New York Times

Discover this beautiful gift edition of Toni Morrison's prize-winning contemporary classic Beloved

It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her…

Book cover of The Hawks of Delamere

Judith Cutler Why did I love this book?

Edward Marston is a really prolific writer – he’s written seven or eight series of historical novels.

My personal favourite is the Domesday series, which follows the adventures of a group of men ordered to put right any mistakes in the Domesday Book, which William the Conqueror used to tax his English subjects. En route, Ralph Delchard and his colleagues also find time to solve a brand new crime – proto-private detectives, I suppose. The book roisters along with some strong female characters to lighten the masculine darkness.

The main reason I chose this is because when I read it I contacted the author to say how impressed I was. And then – Reader, I married him!

By Edward Marston,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, is enraged when his hawk is killed by an arrow in the Forest of Delamere. When two poachers are caught, he orders their execution yet neither of them fired the arrow. As Ralph Delchard and Gervase Bret come to Cheshire to settle a series of disputes between Church and State, they are guests of the Earl. But when they explore the castle and discover that the Prince of Gwynedd is being held there as a hostage, a number of questions arise. Who is trying to rescue him? Why is Idwal, the over-zealous Welsh priest, lurking…

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Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

By Ralph Hickok,

Book cover of Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

Ralph Hickok Author Of Vagabond Halfback: The Saga of Johnny Blood McNally

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Green Bay and my dad was the official scorer for the Packers, so I was immersed in pro football history even as a child. During my careers as a newspaper feature writer and editor and as an advertising copywriter, I also became a sports historian. My magnum opus was “The Encyclopedia of North American Sports History,” 650,000 words. But my favorite by far is my biography of Johnny Blood. I was 12 or 13 when I decided I wanted to write it, 33 when I began working on it, 38 when I finished it, and 78 when it was finally published.

Ralph's book list on the history of pro football

What is my book about?

From Kirkus Reviews: "This debut short-story collection paints the wistful life of a newspaper journalist as seen through his sexual and romantic encounters...

Throughout, Hickok writes in an assured style, pulling readers along. The narrow sexual focus results in a distorted picture, yet other aspects of Art's life emerge at the edges—his intelligence, his career as a journalist, and even the sincerity with which he gives in to his male urges and construes sex as love... 

Subdued yet alluring; a pensive reflection on the male psyche."

Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

By Ralph Hickok,

What is this book about?

A man arrives in a new city, hoping to start a new life, but he’s still haunted by memories of past loves…
A 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl have a brief romantic encounter when their families are vacationing in neighboring lakeside cottages…
Two teenagers enjoy sexual experimentation when she babysits for her little brother while her parents are out drinking…
A high school boy has a crush on an older woman who identifies with Molly Bloom…
A college freshman falls in love with a high school freshman and is amazed at the depths of her passion…
A guy wins…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Ohio, Regency, and presidential biography?

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