The best books about Celtic Britons

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Celtic Britons and why they recommend each book.

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The Mists of Avalon

By Marion Zimmer Bradley,

Book cover of The Mists of Avalon

What an audacious book – a retelling of the King Arthur legend from the women’s point of view. Part history, part fantasy, this book rang true to me in its portrayal of the power of the divine feminine. The female characters own their sexuality and the strength inherent to being a woman. I loved getting deliciously lost in Bradley’s imagination of the mystical skills of our ancient mothers. To this day, I wonder if she might have been writing about reality, not fantasy, and it is our present generation that has lost touch with our astonishing female powers.


Who am I?

There is no place that I find more truth from women than in the books we write, especially memoirs. Starting with my mother, and continuing through my education at Harvard and Wharton, and workplaces including Johnson & Johnson and The Washington Post, women have always fascinated me. Women’s roles are changing rapidly, but not rapidly enough in many ways. From discovering our beauty and sexuality as adolescents to becoming mothers, to navigating the corporate or entrepreneurial climb, to aging while female…it’s all much richer and far more manageable when we tell the truth to each other rather than hiding behind a mask of perfectionism, false chumminess, or cattiness. 

I wrote...

The Naked Truth: A Memoir

By Leslie Morgan Steiner,

Book cover of The Naked Truth: A Memoir

What is my book about?

The Naked Truth explores the intersection of aging, sexuality, and self-confidence of women after age 50 through the eyes of author Leslie Morgan as she audaciously dates five younger boyfriends following the end of a long unhappy marriage. The intensity of marriage and motherhood, along with juggling work and family demands, can result in women (and men) losing touch with ourselves. This book is a road map on how to find your confidence and sexuality again at any age.

The Once and Future King

By T. H. White,

Book cover of The Once and Future King

Who wouldn't want a serious dark age romance to open in horror, and then slip into the Disney landscape of the sword in the stone, before delivering a legendary and literary masterpiece? Make no mistake, this is a serious book from start to finish, capturing the full magical significance of the Arthurian legend, in a spellbinding story of incest, intrigue, plot, and counterplot, set against a heart-rending love triangle, and delivering a coup de grace ending, that is full of both despair and hope, for the future of England and humankind.


Who am I?

Born in the era of the space race and The Sky at Night I was entranced by the moon shots, and avidly read sci-fi and fantasy. An atheist, I became fascinated with world religions, largely due to my increased interest in quantum physics. Which seemed, with its explosion of light and energy from the void, to validate intelligent design. I discovered Gnosticism along the way, and found that it mirrored some of my own conjectures: That a creator may be flawed, misguided, or malevolent, and may not be the most powerful entity, or even the devil, in a pseudo underworld, with an unknown, all-powerful, entity beyond.


I wrote...

Lucifer's Child

By Gideon Masters,

Book cover of Lucifer's Child

What is my book about?

"Expert bodyguard required. High possibility of Death. Leave for foreign parts within the week. Three months or less. Dependent on ability to survive. £75,000.”

John read the psycho ad with incredulity. Against all reason, he found himself considering the prospect: He met the criteria: Thirty years a cop. He was an “expert”. Foreign parts? Who cares! Six-month prognosis? Time enough! Early death? No issue! She would remember the man of action he'd always been, not a cancerous and feeble cripple. £75,000 would nicely replenish the savings he'd taken from Helen, chasing non existent cures. He was in..! And so, the irrevocable chain of events were ignited, that would, ultimately, resurrect and rebuild John's psyche, and thrust him to the forefront of the salvation of humanity.

Excalibur

By Bernard Cornwell,

Book cover of Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur

I was about seventeen, at an airport waiting for a flight to Cyprus when I picked up this book whilst browsing. Didn’t realise at the time it would change my life forever. I read it three times in two weeks, despite finding out after the first time it was the third in a trilogy. I was hooked on the blood and the battles, the brotherhood of Arthur’s soldiers, the bygone era Bernard Cornwell seemed to so effortlessly breathe back to life. I haven’t looked back since.


Who am I?

I first became obsessed with the ancient world at around seventeen, and have spent the subsequent years researching and gathering knowledge on all aspects of ancient life. It was through fiction that this love first blossomed and the yearning for books has not yet ceased. In 2015 I decided I didn’t want to just be a reader anymore, and I began work on what would in 2017 become my debut novel, The Centurion’s Son. I have no plans to stop any time soon.


I wrote...

The Centurion’s Son

By Adam Lofthouse,

Book cover of The Centurion’s Son

What is my book about?

Albinus, the son of a revered Roman veteran Silus, has always longed to be a farmer, not a soldier, and lives his days ploughing and reaping the harvests, with his bride-to-be, Licina. But Silus’ has darker ambitions, and wishes for Albinus to follow in his footsteps in the army. As the conflicts between father and son come to a head, a growing threat comes down from the vengeful Germanic tribes to the north. Just as Albinus and Licina are about to marry, their settlement is raided by barbarians and Silus and his veteran comrades are brutally killed, while Licina is kidnapped by the raiders and taken to their king as a gift.

Believing her to be alive, Albinus sets out on a quest to find Licina, finally fulfilling his father’s wishes. As the barbarian hordes gather and plan a major rebellion against the Romans, Albinus finds a new fighting spirit within him and grows in stature among the legionaries. Licina meanwhile has a fight of her own, to escape from slavery and find Albinus. Time is running out, as the northern tribes head for Rome, decimating everything in their path…

The Sword and the Circle

By Rosemary Sutcliff,

Book cover of The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

This is a vivid, dramatic and well-paced version of the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It is set in a legendary time full of castles such as Tintagel, or as here: "Meanwhile Sir Lancelot had lain six days and six nights prisoned in the vault below Sir Meliagraunce’s castle, and every day there came a maiden who opened the trap and let food and drink down to him on the end of a silken cord. And every day she whispered to him, sweet and tempting…" I love the resonance of Sutcliff’s writing; rereading it just now, I couldn’t resist reading it out loud just for the beauty of the sound of the language—something I’m very conscious of because I write poetry.


Who am I?

I’m a writer of historical novels and primary literacy books, and a poet. I was born in Trinidad and live in London. So why am I writing about the magic of castles? I’ve loved visiting them since I was a child, when I’d run round them and imagine what had happened there. Back home, I’d immerse myself in reading legends and fairy stories—at bedtime, lying in my top bunk, I'd make up stories to entertain my sister in her bottom bunk. So it was natural to move on to writing fictionthe novel I’ve just completed is about King Canute. I’ve written primary literacy books for Collins, Oxford, and Ransom.


I wrote...

Castles

By Maggie Freeman, Pat Murray, Mike Phillips

Book cover of Castles

What is my book about?

I’ve always loved castles. So when I was asked to write this primary literacy book about them I put in it the things that I enjoyed as a childclimbing spiral stairs, being up on the battlements or down in the dungeon, for example. I feel strongly that children need to enjoy books if they are going to want to read them.

King Lear

By William Shakespeare,

Book cover of King Lear

When I first sat down to write a novel about three sisters, step one was to reread King Lear which is about exactly that. The three sisters in Lear are quite different from mine. Among other things, they like each other much less. But for that delicate sisterly balance between so-glad-I-have-you-to-share-the-burdens-of-an-aging-parent and I-might-actually-have-to-kill-you, nothing beats King Lear.

Who am I?

I like books about big families, especially unusual ones, but I have only one sister and only one child, so when I set out to write about these families, I read about them first. We place so much importance on how kids are raised, what kind of childhood and home life and family they have growing up, what gifts and what challenges they’re bestowed by genetics, history, identity, society, circumstance. Siblings usually share all or at least most of these markers and yet turn into often wildly different adults. It’s also true that all those fine sibling balances – love/hate, adored/annoyed, admired/appalled, alike/different – are great fun to read and write.


I wrote...

One Two Three

By Laurie Frankel,

Book cover of One Two Three

What is my book about?

From a New York Times bestselling author comes a timely, topical novel about love and family that will make you laugh and cry...and laugh again. How do you let go of the past when the past won't let go of you?

Everyone knows everyone in the tiny town of Bourne. But the Mitchell sisters are especially beloved, and not just because they’re teenage triplets. Mirabel is the smartest person anyone has ever met, and no one is fooled by her wheelchair or her Voice app into thinking otherwise. Monday is the town’s purveyor of books now that the library’s closed—tell her the book you think you want, and she’ll pull the one you actually do from the microwave or her underwear drawer. Mab’s job is hardest of all: get good grades, get into college, get out of Bourne.

The Crystal Cave

By Mary Stewart,

Book cover of The Crystal Cave

I recommend this book especially if you love the more ancient tellings of Arthurian legend. Being an Arthurian nerd myself, I really appreciate the amount of research this author did before jumping in to tell her version of the story. These books focus more heavily on the character of Merlin—capturing his mystique beautifully. Mary Stewart helps the reader encounter the greater magic, that goes beyond a wizard in a blue pointy hat, and a sword in the stone. This reimagining of the Arthurian world kept me turning the page, and I was not able to put it down. 


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the fantastic since childhood—ever since I read my first book, The Princess & the Goblin. As a young adult, I lived on the Emerald Isle of Ireland and I fell in love with the history and legends of the British Isles. Stories of King Arthur, Saint Patrick, and the mighty warrior Cu Chulainn inspired my imagination. Now through years of studying Arthurian Legend and Celtic Mythos—I write historical fantasy filled with the ageless inspirations of the ancient Celtic world.


I wrote...

Elanor and the Song of the Bard: The Once and Future Chronicles, Book 1

By Angela R. Hughes,

Book cover of Elanor and the Song of the Bard: The Once and Future Chronicles, Book 1

What is my book about?

Merlin was all Elanor could think of since her strange dreams had begun. She kept reminding herself that he was not real. He was just a dream. However, it didn’t feel like a dream, and thoughts of him never left her mind. She mused on this as she walked the few blocks to the bookstore. The bell on the door jingled as she entered and headed to the back shelves that held the fiction books. An older gentleman stood nearby, scanning the pages of a book he held in his hands, King Arthur and His Knights. “Elanor.” The old man’s voice stopped her cold. Her heart raced as she slowly turned to face him. “How do you know my name…”

The Sword in the Stone

By T. H. White,

Book cover of The Sword in the Stone

I love the medieval English setting, and the author clearly knew what he was talking about when it came to such energetic pursuits as archery, falconry, hunting, and jousting. The novel wasn’t terribly well-served by Disney’s cinematic retelling of it, but the idea of exploring King Arthur’s childhood is a fascinating one and the execution is terrific. The main character, Wart, is very well realised and White’s Merlyn is a brilliantly cunning and believable wizard.


Who am I?

Although as an adult I very much prefer true-life adventures to fictional ones – it’s why I wrote Heroes and Rescue, as well as Survivors – many of the most enjoyable books I read as a child were fictional accounts of daring and danger, mostly if not entirely centred on children with whom I could identify. I found them inspiring and still do, and can’t help feeling that if after nearly 50 years I can still remember so many of the details – and, trust me, I really can - the authors of these five must really have known what they were up to. I really hope no one will be put off them because of their age because I feel they have genuinely stood the test of time.


I wrote...

Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond

By David Long, Kerry Hyndman (illustrator),

Book cover of Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond

What is my book about?

When it comes to extreme stories of survival few can match these inspirational tales of genuine courage, heroism, and ingenuity. Ranging from Africa to the Antarctic, from classics such as Ernest Shackleton to the crew of Apollo 13 and the man who inspired the movie 127 Hours, these incredible real-life adventures describe how ordinary men, women, and children faced down dangers and were able to achieve extraordinary things by drawing on their strength, bravery, and self-belief. We can all accomplish more than we think can, and Survivors shows how it’s done.

English Heritage Book of Shrines & Sacrifice

By Ann Woodward,

Book cover of English Heritage Book of Shrines & Sacrifice

This well-illustrated and highly readable book (available in hardback and paperback) is a comprehensive discussion of archaeological evidence for sacred buildings in late Iron Age and Roman Britain: ranging from grand Classical public sanctuaries, such as the temple of Claudius at Colchester, to rural, more intimate shrines, such as the temple dedicated to Apollo Cunomaglus at Nettleton in Wiltshire. Many sanctuaries, particularly in south-west England, seem purposefully to have been built within a day’s walk of each other and (sometimes, perhaps) within sight of one another, and it is tempting to see these ‘chains of sanctity’ as pilgrim routes, akin to the Camino trails of southern France and northern Spain. Reconstruction drawings in this book cause the ruins of Roman Britain’s shrines to spring into life, and make it easy to imagine what it must have been like to visit and worship at these holy places. The finds, also, tell…


Who am I?

I am an Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University. I have been writing books on later prehistoric and Romano-British and Roman provincial cults and customs since the 1980s, and my fascination with this subject remains undimmed. I have travelled all over the world as a visiting lecturer and in 2015 my book Bog Bodies Uncovered won two US Books of the Year awards. I have always been of the view that research is pointless unless it is shared and easily communicated, and so I try to avoid academic jargon and to present my publications both as accessible to general readers and as relevant to people at the cutting edge of their own research.


I wrote...

Sacred Britannia: The Gods and Rituals of Roman Britain

By Miranda Aldhouse-Green,

Book cover of Sacred Britannia: The Gods and Rituals of Roman Britain

What is my book about?

Two thousand years ago, the Romans sought to absorb into their empire what they regarded as a remote, almost mythical island on the very edge of the known world--Britain. The expeditions of Julius Caesar and the Claudian invasion of 43 AD, up to the traditional end of Roman Britain in the fifth century AD, brought fundamental and lasting changes to the island. Not least among these was a pantheon of new classical deities and religious systems, along with a clutch of exotic eastern cults, including Christianity. But what homegrown deities, cults, and cosmologies did the Romans encounter in Britain, and how did the British react to the changes? Under Roman rule, the old gods and their adherents were challenged, adopted, adapted, absorbed, and reconfigured.

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