24 books like A Painter in Penang

By Clare Flynn,

Here are 24 books that A Painter in Penang fans have personally recommended if you like A Painter in Penang. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Sea Witch

Anna Belfrage Author Of In the Shadow of the Storm

From my list on gritty historical fiction with a pinch of love.

Why am I passionate about this?

Give me a castle ruin or guide me through ancient Roman mosaics and you make my day. Accordingly, my preferred reading is historical fiction. I read (and review) lots of it, like 100 books/year. I am also ridiculously romantic. I want there to be some heart with the blood and war, I want characters I can root for despite the horrifying odds facing them. I want protagonists that step out of the past to drag me back with them. When I read, these are the books I choose. When I write, these are the books I aspire to create—Romantic Historical Fiction, if you will.

Anna's book list on gritty historical fiction with a pinch of love

Anna Belfrage Why did Anna love this book?

Meet dashing Jesamiah Acorne, pirate extraordinaire. This cocky, handsome young man proves to have as many layers as an onion, and right at the center lies the traumatic experiences at the hand of his much older brother. Jesamiah has become a pirate to escape—but also because of his love of the sea. Never will he love anyone as much as he loves the sea and his ships—well, until Tiola enters his life under relatively dramatic circumstances. 

This is a book firmly grounded in research, be it of the historical context or of 18th-century ships. It is because of that foundation that Ms. Hollick’s pirate yarn grows into something utterly addictive. How fortunate that this is only the first book in the series!

By Helen Hollick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Time : The Golden Age of Piracy - 1716.
The Place : The Pirate Round - from the South African Coast to the Caribbean.
Escaping the bullying of his elder half-brother, 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 a vicious attack, and almost certain…


Book cover of Rebel's Knot

Anna Belfrage Author Of In the Shadow of the Storm

From my list on gritty historical fiction with a pinch of love.

Why am I passionate about this?

Give me a castle ruin or guide me through ancient Roman mosaics and you make my day. Accordingly, my preferred reading is historical fiction. I read (and review) lots of it, like 100 books/year. I am also ridiculously romantic. I want there to be some heart with the blood and war, I want characters I can root for despite the horrifying odds facing them. I want protagonists that step out of the past to drag me back with them. When I read, these are the books I choose. When I write, these are the books I aspire to create—Romantic Historical Fiction, if you will.

Anna's book list on gritty historical fiction with a pinch of love

Anna Belfrage Why did Anna love this book?

Rebel Knot is set in 17th-century Ireland, torn apart by religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants. This is a war-ravaged Ireland, a land where hope is in short supply and peace is more of a dream than a possibility. And yet, in the midst of all that violence fragile love can flourish—even between people who belong on opposite sides of the religious fence. Ms. Bazos does a fantastic job of transporting the reader back in time, and her two main characters, Niall and Ainé, are wonderfully complex and relatable. The harshness of the times is vividly depicted—as is the growing attraction between the innocent and traumatised Ainé and her new protector, Niall. 

By Cryssa Bazos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rebel's Knot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ireland 1652: In the desperate, final days of the English invasion . . .

A fey young woman, Áine Callaghan, is the sole survivor of an attack by English marauders. When Irish soldier Niall O'Coneill discovers his own kin slaughtered in the same massacre, he vows to hunt down the men responsible. He takes Áine under his protection and together they reach the safety of an encampment held by the Irish forces in Tipperary.

Hardly a safe haven, the camp is rife with danger and intrigue. Áine is a stranger with the old stories stirring on her tongue and rumours…


Book cover of By Love Divided

Anna Belfrage Author Of In the Shadow of the Storm

From my list on gritty historical fiction with a pinch of love.

Why am I passionate about this?

Give me a castle ruin or guide me through ancient Roman mosaics and you make my day. Accordingly, my preferred reading is historical fiction. I read (and review) lots of it, like 100 books/year. I am also ridiculously romantic. I want there to be some heart with the blood and war, I want characters I can root for despite the horrifying odds facing them. I want protagonists that step out of the past to drag me back with them. When I read, these are the books I choose. When I write, these are the books I aspire to create—Romantic Historical Fiction, if you will.

Anna's book list on gritty historical fiction with a pinch of love

Anna Belfrage Why did Anna love this book?

I have a passion for the 17th century and this novel based on actual diaries and letters from IRL people living through the realities of the English Civil War is a favourite. Ms. St. John writes about her own ancestors, and she imbues her characters with so much life, so many contrary opinions. These are difficult times, and especially for mother Lucy St. John whose son is a through-and-through royalist while daughter Luce is head-over-heels in love with Parliamentarian John Hutchinson. Luce is utterly fascinating: intelligent and with a passion to truly reform, she never loses her humanity or her ability for compassion. This novel is a real treat for anyone desiring well-researched historical fiction – with the added benefit of having a spoonful or two of love to complicate things! 

By Elizabeth St. John,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

”A fantastic read." Editor’s Choice, Historical Novel Society

London, 1630. Widowed and destitute, Lucy St.John is fighting for survival and makes a terrible choice to secure a future for her children. Worse still, her daughter Luce rejects the royal court and a wealthy arranged marriage, and falls in love with a charismatic soldier. As England tumbles toward bloody civil war, Luce’s beloved brother Allen chooses to fight for the king as a cavalier. Allen and Luce are swept up in the chaos of war as they defend their opposing causes and protect those they love.

Will war unite or divide…


Book cover of Julia Prima

Anna Belfrage Author Of In the Shadow of the Storm

From my list on gritty historical fiction with a pinch of love.

Why am I passionate about this?

Give me a castle ruin or guide me through ancient Roman mosaics and you make my day. Accordingly, my preferred reading is historical fiction. I read (and review) lots of it, like 100 books/year. I am also ridiculously romantic. I want there to be some heart with the blood and war, I want characters I can root for despite the horrifying odds facing them. I want protagonists that step out of the past to drag me back with them. When I read, these are the books I choose. When I write, these are the books I aspire to create—Romantic Historical Fiction, if you will.

Anna's book list on gritty historical fiction with a pinch of love

Anna Belfrage Why did Anna love this book?

Several years ago, I came across a series of books set in Roma Nova, a surviving remnant of the Roman Empire. I was fascinated by Ms. Morton’s description of this (unfortunately non-existent) country and her casual references to Roman rites and traditions that had somehow survived to modern times. Julia Prima is the foundation story, set in the 4th century when the Roman Empire is crumbling at the edges. Ms. Morton brings the uncertainties of the times to vivid life. The conflicts between Christians and pagans are exploding, previously safe roads are plagued by bandits and through all this Julia rides towards the distant Rome, determined to find the man she loves. ‘Nuff said, methinks! 

By Alison Morton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Julia Prima as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"You should have trusted me. You should have given me a choice."
AD 370, Roman frontier province of Noricum. Staying faithful to the Roman gods in a Christian empire can be lethal. Half-divorced Julia Bacausa is condemned to an emotional desert and a forced marriage, Lucius Apulius barely clings onto his posting in a military backwater. Strongly drawn to each other, they are soon separated, but Julia is determined not to lose the only man she will love.

Neither wholly married nor wholly divorced, Julia is trapped in the power struggle between the Christian church and her pagan ruler father.…


Book cover of The Defence and Fall of Singapore

Malcolm H. Murfett Author Of Naval Warfare 1919-1945: An Operational History of the Volatile War at Sea

From my list on Asian theatre in the Second World War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I lived and taught in Asia for over 30 years and love the place to bits. Leaving Oxford for Singapore may have seemed like a daring adventure in 1980, but it complemented my doctoral research and introduced me to a wonderful set of students who have enriched my life ever since. Asia has a fascination for me that I can’t resist. I have written and edited 15 books on naval and defence themes, much of which have been set in the Asian continent. An associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for the past 25 years, I am also the editor for the series Cold War in Asia. 

Malcolm's book list on Asian theatre in the Second World War

Malcolm H. Murfett Why did Malcolm love this book?

I have known Brian Farrell both as a colleague and friend for more than two decades but that isn’t the reason why his book on the fall of Malaya and Singapore appears on my book list. It does so because I believe it’s the best book on the subject that has been written thus far. I have read many and, in my opinion, none of them matches the quality and range of research, analysis, and insight that he brings to the subject. Moreover, he isn’t afraid to say it how it was. He doesn’t skulk about in the shadows but draws out where the problems were and who caused them. Anyone who knows Professor Farrell wouldn’t be surprised about that! He remains impressively scholarly and independent. 

By Brian Farrell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shortly after midnight on 8 December 1941, two divisions of crack troops of the Imperial Japanese Army began a seaborne invasion of southern Thailand and northern Malaya. Their assault developed into a full-blown advance towards Singapore, the main defensive position of the British Empire in the Far East. The defending British, Indian, Australian and Malayan forces were outmanoeuvred on the ground, overwhelmed in the air and scattered on the sea. By the end of January 1942, British Empire forces were driven back onto the island of Singapore itself, cut off from further outside help. When the Japanese stormed the island…


Book cover of Weight of Whispers

Neil Crawford Author Of The Urbanization of Forced Displacement: UNHCR, Urban Refugees, and the Dynamics of Policy Change

From my list on urban refugees.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m interested in the lives and experiences of refugees and the policies and processes that support, protect, and obstruct them. I’m also interested in cities–how and why they attract people, the dangers and prospects they offer, and the unique way in which humanitarianism happens (or doesn’t happen) there. I’m an interdisciplinary academic who has spent years researching these issues and more. 

Neil's book list on urban refugees

Neil Crawford Why did Neil love this book?

We can learn a lot about urban refugees from works of fiction. This short story is a tragic tale of Boniface Louis R. Kuseremane, a Rwandese prince, who finds himself in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

The story does well to remind us that refugees come from all backgrounds and how quickly support and wealth can disappear. Nairobi initially exists as a stop-off on route to continued comforts in Europe, but the protagonist finds himself trapped on a downward spiral as his social and material privileges slip away.

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor is most well known for her beautifully written novels Dust and The Dragonfly Sea, but long before these, her short story Weight of Whispers won the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing.

By Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor,

Why should I read it?

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


Book cover of The Night Tiger

Tam Francis Author Of The Flapper Affair: A 1920s Time Travel Murder Mystery Paranormal Romance

From my list on vintage fashion, passion and dance reads.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write cross-genre fiction with a pen in one hand and a vintage cocktail in the other, filling the romantic void, writing novels when my husband deployed. When in port, we taught swing dancing and have been avid collectors of vintage sewing patterns, retro clothing, and antiques. All of which make appearances in my stories. I’ve always been fascinated with the paranormal and have had some unexplained experiences, some of those made their way into my stories as well. I live in a 1908 home in Texas that may or may not be haunted. I have book reviews, vintage lifestyle tips, recipes, interviews, giveaways, and games on my site!

Tam's book list on vintage fashion, passion and dance reads

Tam Francis Why did Tam love this book?

I was fascinated with the depiction of the 1930s Malaysian dance halls steeped in music, fashion, and dance. As a writer who dabbles in the paranormal, the cultural spirits and supernatural elements were intriguing. The split narrative appealed to me since my Jitterbug Dress series is a dual narrative set in the 1940s and 1990s. The author also set the narrative apart by telling the story in different tenses and POVs (Ren and William’s story is in third person past, while Ji Lin’s story is first person, present). Choo did a great job of juxtaposing the beast or wild animal inside each person, where the line of who we are inside and what we present to society is drawn all while creating tension and suspense, keeping me guessing on how all these narratives intertwine. 

By Yangsze Choo,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Night Tiger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER | REESE BOOK CLUB PICK | BBC BIG JUBILEE BETWEEN THE COVERS READ

'It reminds me of Where the Crawdads Sing . . . it's an amazing book' Rhys Stephenson on BBC's Between the Covers

'You won't be able to put this one down!' Reese Witherspoon

They say a tiger that devours too many humans can take the form of a man and walk among us...

In 1930s colonial Malaya, a dissolute British doctor receives a surprise gift of an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy. Sent as a bequest from an old friend, young Ren has a…


Book cover of Spirits Abroad: Stories

Dale Stromberg Author Of Melancholic Parables: Being for the Antiselving Reader

From my list on little stories that link to tell big stories.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I drafted the pieces which eventually comprised Melancholic Parables, I had no plan. Only upon arranging them into a collection did I discover that, surprisingly, they shared emotional moods and thematic elements. In other words, I had stumbled into a linked collection. Writing a single big story is no small feat, as is writing small stories which each intrigue and delight in their own right—but to create and arrange multiple small stories so that they aggregate into a big story, one greater than the sum of its parts (in ways sometimes counterintuitive, sometimes virtuosic) is a special storytelling skill which I think these five authors’ work exemplifies.

Dale's book list on little stories that link to tell big stories

Dale Stromberg Why did Dale love this book?

As an immigrant to Malaysia, I can attest that the delightful stories in this collection are electric with Malaysian spirit.

The magic in these tales is literally magic, sometimes whimsical, sometimes discomfiting, imbued with warm and ironic wit. The throughline linking the stories is that they focus either on experiences of the uncanny in Malaysia, or the uncanny experiences of Malaysians abroad.

The included story “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” won a Hugo award, but my personal favourite may be “The Terra-cotta Bride.”

By Zen Cho,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the LA Times/Ray Bradbury Prize

Nineteen sparkling stories that weave between the lands of the living and the lands of the dead. Spirits Abroad is an expanded edition of Zen Cho's Crawford Award winning debut collection with nine added stories including Hugo Award winner "If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again." A Datin recalls her romance with an orang bunian. A teenage pontianak struggles to balance homework, bossy aunties, first love, and eating people. An earth spirit gets entangled in protracted negotiations with an annoying landlord, and Chang E spins off into outer space, the ultimate…


Book cover of The Wisdom Of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom

Uma Krishnaswami Author Of Out of the Way! Out of the Way!

From my list on picture books about trees.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and grew up in India. As a child, I once planted a mango seed and watched it sprout and grow into a sapling. We moved away after that but I always wondered what might have become of that little tree. I remembered that long-ago experience when I was writing my picture book, Out of the Way! Out of the Way! in which a boy, a tree, and a road all grow together. The tree is central to that book, so I picked five picture book titles that also center trees. 

Uma's book list on picture books about trees

Uma Krishnaswami Why did Uma love this book?

Here’s a book to sample and savor again and again!

I loved the combination of poetry bolstered with clear, well-sourced nonfiction text on every single spread. This tribute song to forests is based on groundbreaking work about how trees create communities and sustain the places where they grow.

While placing trees in the context of the “wood wide web,” this book transports us to a glorious range of places. Beeches in Germany, an elm tree in Central Park, tualang saplings in Malaysia, kapoks in Brazil, silver birch in China, diverse forests in Colorado—all of it brings us closer to the wisdom of trees in the places we each call home.  

By Lita Judge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wisdom Of Trees as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

With lush illustrations, poems, and accessible scientific information, The Wisdom of Trees by Lita Judge is a fascinating exploration of the hidden communities trees create to strengthen themselves and others.

We clean the air and seed the clouds, we drench the thirsty land with rain. We are like wizards.

The story of a tree is a story of community, communication, and cooperation. Although trees may seem like silent, independent organisms, they form a network buzzing with life: they talk, share food, raise their young, and offer protection. Trees thrive on diversity, learn from their ancestors, and give back to their…


Book cover of Evening Is the Whole Day

Maya Bernadett Author Of Stories My Grandmother Told Me: A multicultural journey from Harlem to Tohono O'dham

From my list on on the power of family to shape us.

Why am I passionate about this?

Family is one of the few truly universal experiences that all human beings have, because we all come from somewhere. Every human on Earth is raised by someone, so it’s something we can all relate to, for good or for ill. Universal experiences like family allow us as human beings to relate to others, and that common ground is what provides joy and meaning in life. I appreciate that I don’t have to have a master’s degree or PhD in family studies or family therapy to glean insights into how our families shape us. My own observations and analytical writer’s mind made me realize the importance of storytelling in keeping families together, especially across generations.

Maya's book list on on the power of family to shape us

Maya Bernadett Why did Maya love this book?

And you thought your family was crazy! Set in Malaysia, this fascinating story combines family drama with class issues, ethnic tensions, the effects of colonial rule, and even ghosts. I love how writer Preeta Samarasan evokes a mysterious, almost magical feel to the setting and characters, as the reader gets acquainted with the wealthy, yet deeply dysfunctional family at the center of the story. No matter how bitter, enraging, or disappointing these characters feel towards each other, they are still bonded together, and the story ends on a hopeful note. This family can redeem itself-even if it takes moving to another country to do it.

By Preeta Samarasan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Evening Is the Whole Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A spellbinding, exuberant first novel, set in Malaysia, that introduces us to a prosperous Indian immigrant family, as it slowly peels away its closely guarded secrets.

When the family's servant girl, Chellam, is dismissed from the big house for unnamed crimes, it is only the latest in a series of losses that have shaken six-year-old Aasha's life. Her grandmother has passed away under mysterious circumstances and her older sister has disappeared for a new life abroad, with no plans to return. Her parents, meanwhile, seem to be hiding something away - from themselves, and from one another.

As the novel…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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