The best books about blood feuds

Many authors have picked their favorite books about blood feuds and why they recommend each book.

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Days of Darkness

By John Ed Pearce,

Book cover of Days of Darkness: The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky

This book by a Kentucky journalist, based on the sparse court records and on interviews with descendants of the feudists, helped me understand that the Hatfield-McCoy feud was not an isolated occurrence. In addition to the Hatfield-McCoy feud, it describes five other feuds being conducted in Kentucky at the same time. There appear to be similar patterns governing the combustion and ferocity of all these feuds, having to do with a struggle for control over the shifting social, economic, and political hierarchies following the upheavals of the Civil War and the invasions launched by lumber and coal companies.

Who am I?

My father’s favorite first cousin Ava married Homer McCoy, a direct descendant of the Fighting McCoys. Homer’s aunt married a Hatfield, so my family is distantly related by marriage to both the Hatfields and McCoys. As a girl, Ava witnessed the aftermath of the feud: The elders in her household froze whenever they heard pounding hoofbeats in the night. She assured me that the reasons for the feud were far more complicated than escaped hogs or the derring-do of sociopathic veterans nostalgic for the bloodbaths of the Civil War. I started reading whatever I could find and visiting feud sites, trying to understand what had really gone on and why.


I wrote...

Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance

By Lisa Alther,

Book cover of Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance

What is my book about?

America’s most notorious family feud began in 1865 when a Confederate relative of “Devil Anse” Hatfield allegedly murdered Harmon McCoy, a wounded Union soldier home on leave. Nearly three decades of violence and murder ensued. Attempts to arrest the perpetrators resulted in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The feud events were not isolated atrocities. Other feuds were erupting all over the Southern Appalachians during that time, and Blood Feud examines some of the many issues involved in this carnage. The image the feuds spawned of bloodthirsty mountaineers permeated American culture and set the stage for industrialists to invade those mountains and extract their coal and timber, guarding the profits for themselves and leaving behind a legacy of poverty, ill-health, and environmental devastation.

The Moon-Spinners

By Mary Stewart,

Book cover of The Moon-Spinners

I found The Moon-Spiners through a Disney movie of the same name (book was better). When I found out it was also a book, I went hunting at my local library and fell in love with the way Stewart immediately pulled me into her stories, evoking awe, fear, laughter ,and romance. She wafted me away to exotic places, and into exciting and romantic adventures with strong female characters. I went on to read all her books, even the Arthurian ones, but her romantic suspense books remain my favorites and the ones I turn to when I need a comfortable visit with old fictional friends. 


Who am I?

I feel like I’ve read all of my life—though I know at some point someone had to teach me—but stories and storytelling are in my DNA. The first four books were my writing “primers.” I learned more about storytelling from them than any how-to book. They also fueled my passion to write in different genres. You will notice the words “blush free” in some of my recommendations. That is because I love well-told stories that live between prim and steamy, books where I don’t have to flip past the steamy stuff to get back to the story. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!


I wrote...

Relatively Risky: The Big Uneasy Book One

By Pauline Baird Jones,

Book cover of Relatively Risky: The Big Uneasy Book One

What is my book about?

Get lost in the no-holds-barred Big Uneasy, blush-free romantic suspense series! Enjoy the rapid pace and humorous stories filled with lovable characters that will have you taking an armchair trip to the mysterious city of New Orleans! 

The Little White Horse

By Elizabeth Goudge,

Book cover of The Little White Horse

Okay, this is an old-fashioned book with some old-fashioned views, but it was my childhood favorite, so I had to include it! Orphaned Maria is sent to live with a distant relative at Moonacre Manor, but all is not as perfect as it seems, and it isn’t long before Maria discovers a world of hidden secrets and ancient feuds. It can’t have been easy growing up a feisty girl in Victorian England, but Maria Merryweather manages it, and I love that about her. She is stubborn, brave, and inquisitive, refusing to let anything dampen her spirit. As well as a passion for life Maria also has a passion for good food, (like me) so eat a snack while you read this because the descriptions will make you hungry!  A perfect balance of mystery, magic, and teatime treats.


Who am I?

I write books about feisty girls who follow their dreams and don’t let fear stand in their way. Growing up in London I was an extremely shy child with a full-blown fantasy life, but at eighteen decided it was time to channel my inner “feisty girl”, take charge of my destiny, and travel to America to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Now, many years later I am the proud author of five middle-grade novels, and the mother of four amazing children who are all off following their own dreams. When I’m not writing books about feisty girls, I’m reading other people's. Here are some of my favorites.


I wrote...

The Courage of Cat Campbell (Poppy Pendle)

By Natasha Lowe,

Book cover of The Courage of Cat Campbell (Poppy Pendle)

What is my book about?

The one thing Cat Campbell wants more than anything is the one thing she can’t have – magic. That is until the day Cat discovers she has indeed inherited her mother’s magic gene. But as a ‘late bloomer’ witch Cat’s magic is difficult to control and not only does she have to battle with spells going wrong, she also has to face the disapproval of her mother, who gave up magic long ago and wants nothing to do with it. When the town of Potts Bottom is turned upside down after the notorious witch Madeline Reynolds escapes from prison, Cat grabs at the chance to prove herself, her magic, and to help her family and town by setting off on the riskiest adventure of her life.

Julie and Romeo

By Jeanne Ray,

Book cover of Julie and Romeo: A Novel

There simply aren’t enough romances that focus on older main characters, so I particularly loved that this funny, Shakespeare-inspired love story had a 60-year-old divorced heroine and an equally mature widower hero. The protagonists are rival florists in Boston, and their families have been embroiled in a feud that has spanned several generations. Watching the way this novel played out—especially with so many meddling family members!—was great fun. And if, like me, you always wished the original Romeo and Juliet could have, maybe, been transformed into a comedy with a happier ending, Jeanne Ray’s light, modern romance just might be for you.


Who am I?

I was born a bookworm. As a kid, I’d read daily—for hours and with wild abandon—across authors and genres. But I always had a special love of British classics: Shakespeare, Forster, the Brontës, tales featuring lords, ladies, and English heroes like the Scarlet Pimpernel. When I first encountered Jane Austen, I was a high-school freshman. Her writing forever changed my perspective and, thus, my life. I went on to devour all of her books, and later, to study her work for a summer at Oxford University. I visited her old haunts, too, like Bath and Chawton, and remain charmed by her stories and inspired by her when I write my novels.


I wrote...

According to Jane

By Marilyn Brant,

Book cover of According to Jane

What is my book about?

In Marilyn Brant's smart, wildly inventive debut, which Family Circle called “a charming book,” one modern woman in search of herself receives advice from the ultimate expert in matters of the heart: Jane Austen.

It begins when Ellie Barnett's high-school English teacher assigns Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet "tsk" of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who's teased Ellie since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, the author's ghost takes up residence in Ellie's mind, determined to stay. Over the next two decades, Jane's wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the frustrations of adolescence and into adulthood, serving as a trusted voice. Years and boyfriends come and go, but everyone has something to learn about love—perhaps even Jane herself.

Nimona

By ND Stevenson,

Book cover of Nimona

Graphic novels are a source of wonder to me, mainly because I long to be good enough at drawing to create my own. Indeed, my greatest ambition is for an artist to love one of my books enough to adapt it. So I can’t write a list of fierce-girl books without mentioning Nimona: a shapeshifter who thrives on mayhem and will literally set the board on fire if you beat her at fantasy-world Monopoly. Nimona proves how much emotion and humor it’s possible to pack into a relatively slight number of pages, and also that girls don’t have to be good to be lovable.


Who am I?

When I was growing up, I cared far too much about what other people thought of me. I was afraid to reveal my unabashedly dorky self – the one who loved reading fantasy and dreamed of being an author herself someday – for fear of being laughed at. As a result, my favorite protagonists were always the obstinate girls. The passionate girls. The girls who kept trying, no matter how hard things got; who fought to protect themselves and the people they loved. I wanted to be more like them. I still do. But if that isn’t possible, at least I can write them.


I wrote...

Dawn Rising

By A.F.E. Smith,

Book cover of Dawn Rising

What is my book about?

Ever since she can remember, Alyssia has experienced unsettling visions: flashes of four other people’s dark and difficult lives in a world that’s not her own. She’s always believed them to be her brain’s way of filling the void left by the accident that killed her parents and took her memories. That’s why she tries very hard not to think of these imaginary people as friends.

Yet when she wakes up inside one of her own visions, it becomes clear that she was seeing the truth all along. Now, she’s no longer just an observer. Now, she has the chance to change things.

Mad Blood Stirring

By Edward Muir,

Book cover of Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta and Factions in Friuli During the Renaissance

We often think of the Renaissance as a time of intellectual and artistic advances, elite cultural experiences, and royal courts or sober republican governments. It was also a time of violence – and attempts to control that violence. Muir focuses on a violent riot known as the Cruel Carnival of 1511, which took place in the remote Friuli region of northern Italy, then under the control of the Republic of Venice. He uses this event to explore vendetta conflict, factional violence, and peasant culture, showing a very different side of Renaissance Italy. This book is a fascinating exploration of ritualized violence and its meanings and makes a compelling case for its gradual control – or at least redirection – as dueling became the ritual of choice to maintain or restore honor.


Who am I?

I teach medieval and early modern European history at Dublin City University, with a particular interest in 16th-18th century Italian history. My own research focuses on the religious, legal, and popular culture of northern Italy, particularly Venice and the Veneto region. I became fascinated with Renaissance Italian history as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, and then went on to do a masters and a PhD at Northwestern University. I have taught at Northwestern, the College of William and Mary, the University of Warwick/Warwick in Venice, and the State University of New York at Cortland.


I wrote...

The Bishop's Burden: Reforming the Catholic Church in Early Modern Italy

By Celeste McNamara,

Book cover of The Bishop's Burden: Reforming the Catholic Church in Early Modern Italy

What is my book about?

The Bishop’s Burden examines the reform of the 17th-century Italian diocese of Padua within a framework of European Catholic Renewal, a process that occurred over the 15th-17th centuries. It argues that reforming bishops were forced to be creative and resourceful to accomplish meaningful change, including creating strong diocesan governments, reforming clerical and lay behavior, educating priests and parishioners, and converting non-believers.

The Bishop's Burden helps us understand not only the changes experienced by early modern Catholics, but also how even the most sophisticated plans of central authorities could be frustrated by practical realities, which in turn complicates our understanding of state-building and social control.

Jade City

By Fonda Lee,

Book cover of Jade City

Switching to a more recent science fantasy novel, I loved Fonda Lee’s take on The Godfather meets Dune in a science fantasy setting. Sure, it’s not those same stories, but I love her inclusion of the gray side of society as having power and a semi-sanctioned place all their own. Lee leverages the concept of clans, honor, and neutral factions, weaving a prodigal child plot that is certain to grow thicker with the sequel. In a world where society is dominated by unseen levels of politics and mafia-like entities, the magical power of jade makes all the difference when conflict and violence are the measures of the day. Beyond all the maneuvering and doubt, a violent reckoning can be thoroughly satisfying and shouldn’t be overlooked.


Who am I?

I love dystopian science fantasy for the fact that it defines its own reality. The distant, magical aspects of every dystopian world create separation from the world we live in. The reader must cling to the characters, accept their motives and flaws, and finish the ride no matter where it goes. Not every plot needs to reform the status quo. Star Wars was the white-washed exception, and even that got dark at times. Combining flawed characters with flawed settings makes a novel compelling without the need for overly fantastic powers or world-altering events. Sure, I include those too, but futuristic dystopia offers plenty of challenges for simply surviving each day.


I wrote...

Psyker

By Rory Surtain,

Book cover of Psyker

What is my book about?

Fast-moving, edgy, and dark but not graphic or gratuitous, Psyker challenges readers to experience a far different reality from their own.

In the dark, distant future, densely populated hive cities rely on ancient technologies and rigid laws in order to endure. Paric Kilhaven, a scion of a noble House, navigates the sinister, alluring world of his city’s underhive, hoping to escape the fate of an outlawed psyker. Rival gangs and chaotic forces align against him in a fight for the planet’s survival.

The Weight of Feathers

By Anna-Marie McLemore,

Book cover of The Weight of Feathers

Another book remarkable for its descriptions, The Weight of Feathers combines the real world with enough distance and faint magic to make everything in it shimmer. Not everything makes perfect sense, and not everything needs to, because in Anne-Marie McLemore’s rewriting of the classic Romeo and Juliet love story, the taste of aguas frescas and the clinking of wind chimes make the otherworldly seem perfectly plausible. The Weight of Feathers is the sort of book that made me want to live in its world, to be privy to the hidden magic. The love story unfolds gradually as the deep cultures and subtle, colorful fantasy steal away the senses.


Who am I?

I am a part-time pooka and native of the Unseelie Court. I collect acorns, glass beads, and pretty rocks, and the crows outside my house know me as She Who Has Bread. My fantasy novels are crafted in the dead of night after offering sacrifices of almonds and red wine to the writing-block deities. You can reach me by scrying bowl, carrier pigeon, or @egradcliff on social media. If I can’t describe myself in fantastical terms, why take me seriously as a fantasy author and recommender?


I wrote...

The Wild Court: A Celtic Fae-Inspired Fantasy Novel

By E.G. Radcliff,

Book cover of The Wild Court: A Celtic Fae-Inspired Fantasy Novel

What is my book about?

Fae and fire, magic and mayhem…what perils await beyond the veil?

As night descends on the autumn festival, a time of revelry turns into one of fiery destruction—as fae pour across the veil and the Gut becomes a battlefield in an otherworldly war. Determined to protect his kingdom and the people he loves, Áed is catapulted into a realm as unfamiliar as it is dangerous, where magic is king and wild courts vie for supremacy. While the faerie Queen's missing consort holds the key to life and death, tenuous alliances raise questions about Áed’s connection to the mysterious Bone Court. His survival hinges on cunning as much as illusion. On a mission like no other, no one will survive unscathed. May be enjoyed as a standalone.

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