287 books directly related to England 📚

All 287 England books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England

Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England

By Alan Macfarlane

Why this book?

Originally published in 1970, this was another foundational text for me and other witchcraft scholars of my generation.

It grew out of Macfarlane’s doctoral thesis focusing on Essex, which had been supervised by Keith Thomas, whose own great book, Religion and the Decline of Magic (much of which dealt with witches), came out the following year. Even then, the historian Macfarlane was on his way to becoming an anthropologist – a transition visible on every page of this fascinating book.

But its overriding character is that of a work of sociology. Social science models helped to impose interpretative order on…

From the list:

The best books on witch hunting in Britain and Europe

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Book cover of Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England

Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England

By John Putnam Demos

Why this book?

While researching and writing My Enemy’s Tears, I found Entertaining Satan on the shelves of a bookstore in New York City. Sure enough, there was a chapter on Mary Bliss Parsons titled Hard Thoughts and Jealousies. A prominent historian studied my 8th great-grandmother’s case and wrote about it. Local gossip was the author’s first subject for exploration—right on, because gossip is what led to Mary’s imprisonment and trial. Demos explores the lives of many accused of witchcraft and the culture that accused them. Anyone interested in the history of women’s lives and the reasons behind the centuries-long belief…

From the list:

The best books about 17th century America

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Book cover of Anglo-Saxon England

Anglo-Saxon England

By Sir Frank Stenton

Why this book?

This is the granddaddy of history books about the Anglo-Saxons. Much of the history has evolved and moved on since its original publication in the 1940s, but Sir Frank Stenton is comprehensive and thorough and the resulting tome is jam-packed with information.

From the list:

The best books on the world of Anglo-Saxon Britain

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Book cover of Spirits of the Cage: True Accounts of Living in a Haunted Medieval Prison

Spirits of the Cage: True Accounts of Living in a Haunted Medieval Prison

By Richard Estep, Vanessa Mitchell

Why this book?

I will read absolutely anything that Richard Estep writes. He has written books about the Villisca Ax Murders, Malvern Manor, and other crazy-haunted places. This one, about a site in his native England, is utterly terrifying. Estep writes with a very straightforward, matter-of-fact style (his writing reminds me much of my own style), and the evidence he presents for this haunted site is deeply chilling -- especially since his team is one of the groups that has investigated the Cage. 

From the list:

The best books for paranormal enthusiasts

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Book cover of Kingship and Government in Pre-Conquest England C.500-1066

Kingship and Government in Pre-Conquest England C.500-1066

By Ann Williams

Why this book?

For readers who want an expert introduction to the origins of kingship, power, and government in the centuries before the Norman Conquest, Ann’s Kingship and Government is the place to go. A great strength of her book is that it explains key concepts, structures, and terminology as the need arises, and in a way that clarifies the story that is being told. This equips the reader to explore what can otherwise seem like a strange and incomprehensible world. If you want the nuts and bolts of how Anglo-Saxon society and its power structures operated, this is the book for you.…

From the list:

The best books to understand Anglo-Saxon England

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Book cover of Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-Century England

Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-Century England

By Pauline Stafford

Why this book?

Going back into the Anglo-Saxon period, Pauline Stafford’s joint study of the powerful Queens Edith and Emma is essential reading. Stafford’s research into these two women is peerless, providing the most comprehensive study of late Anglo-Saxon queenship to date. She has left no stone unturned in her research, giving fine detail to the lives and activities of her subjects. Stafford’s book certainly disproves the common misapprehension that the Anglo-Saxons did not have queens.

From the list:

The best books on England’s medieval queens

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Book cover of Never Greater Slaughter: Brunanburh and the Birth of England

Never Greater Slaughter: Brunanburh and the Birth of England

By Michael Livingston

Why this book?

Livingston is the undisputed master of conflict geography/cartography, using battlegrounds as the interpretative mechanism for truly ground-breaking scholarship. He has already disrupted centuries of scholarship on major medieval battles such as Hastings, Crecy and Agincourt, completely changing how we view them (and proving where they were actually fought). He’s also an accomplished novelist, and he brings his flair for dramatic narrative to this towering scholarly work, making it as exciting to read as a pulse-pounding action novel. Never Greater Slaughter absolutely raises the bar on what great scholarship can do, and how gripping it can be while doing it.

From the list:

The best works of narrative military history with prose that really sings

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Book cover of The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661

The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661

By Carla Gardina Pestana

Why this book?

Between 1640 and 1660, England, Scotland, and Ireland experienced civil war, invasion, religious radicalism, parliamentary rule, and the restoration of the monarchy. None of that will surprise historians of Britain, but they may not realize the impact of these events on Britain’s new colonies across the Atlantic. Some of them remained loyal to the king until his victorious opponents sent the first major Transatlantic expeditionary force to subdue them. 

Pestana shows how war and rebellion in Britain increased both the proportion of unfree labourers and ethnic diversity in the colonies. Neglected by London, several of them developed trade networks;…

From the list:

The best books on the 17th Century

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Book cover of Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951

Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951

By Ross McKibbin

Why this book?

If you are going to read Orwell you need to know something about what Mckibbin calls the “fundamental mentalities and structures” of English social and political life. This is the best, covering Orwell’s life-span. These were the years when England first began to see itself as ‘democratic’, and yet, “the great mass of the English people was unmoved, or unmoved directly, by the cultures of the country’s intellectual elites”. Enter George Orwell.

From the list:

The best books on George Orwell

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Book cover of Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty, and the Mad-Doctors in England

Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty, and the Mad-Doctors in England

By Sarah Wise

Why this book?

I like to write about public Victorian asylums – where the bulk of English people with mental illnesses were admitted.  But the counterpoint is the private system, where the poor, rich mad spent their time in nice surroundings with wacky treatments. Sarah Wise captures this perfectly through a real-life investigation of the people in the attic – think Jane Eyre, or The Woman in White – and how the law sought to protect them.

From the list:

The best books on the history of English mental health

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Book cover of The Woman in White

The Woman in White

By Wilkie Collins

Why this book?

When you read this early English mystery novel by Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens’ best bud, you travel through time and space. You land in a strangely familiar London before venturing into rural England nearly 200 years ago. And you feel disconcertingly at home, ready to be bamboozled, fall in love, and fight for what’s right. Collins is credited with inventing the crime-mystery genre (I’m not convinced that’s true or important). The writing is mesmerizing, gorgeous. The characters are unforgettable: Walter Hartwright, the earnest, dogged hero; the beautiful, tragic Woman in White; the irresistibly monstrous Italian Count Fosco and his pet…

From the list:

The best crime novels that double as travel books

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Book cover of How To Be Right: In a World Gone Wrong

How To Be Right: In a World Gone Wrong

By James O’Brien

Why this book?

A revealing dive into the minds of those who phone into radio progammes from this LBC presenter, with directly quoted dialogue from the calls. Is the average person who rings in particularly ill-informed and unable to absorb facts and apply logic, or it that a condition that applies to all of us? The book is funny, depressing, and worrying, but always revealing about the state of mind of the British public

From the list:

The best books on how the world works

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Book cover of Closing The Asylum: The Mental Patient in Modern Society

Closing The Asylum: The Mental Patient in Modern Society

By Peter Barham

Why this book?

In England, the Victorian asylums were built as beacons of hope, infused with optimism. But by the late 20th century virtually all of them had gone, unloved and unmourned. So what happened? Peter Barham takes you through the rise and fall of England’s national mental health service.

From the list:

The best books on the history of English mental health

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Book cover of Lars Porsena: On the Future of Swearing

Lars Porsena: On the Future of Swearing

By Robert Graves

Why this book?

No one has ever heard of this book, but it is hilarious! Written by the inimitable poet, critic, author, and wit Robert Graves, it is a rumination on the future of swearing and improper language. Graves had a wonderful ability to talk about things of the utmost gravity in a way that, while not displacing their significance, allowed us to laugh about them. His were, as someone once said, “jests too deep for laughter”. Perhaps at no time in history was such a capability more culturally appropriate and important than during the First World War. Swearing bursts onto the mainstream…
From the list:

The best books on the cultural history of the First World War

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Book cover of Lewis Carroll's England

Lewis Carroll's England

By Charlie Lovett

Why this book?

Although this guide to the many English towns and cities associated with Charles Dodgson, the author of Alice, is now more than 20 years old, it remains the most accessible and comprehensive Carrollian guide for the literary tourist. Lovett, a former President of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, provides admirably clear directions accompanied by over 200 illustrations and photographs, many coming from his own extensive collection. To quote from the cover text, Lovett takes the reader ‘from the tiny Cheshire village of Dodgson’s birth to the Surrey hillside that provides his final resting place … on a journey…
From the list:

The best books about Lewis Carroll and Alice

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Book cover of Civil War

Civil War

By Taylor Downing, Maggie Millman

Why this book?

A personal favorite as I bought this book as a teenager during the 350th-anniversary commemorations of the civil wars in the 1990s.  An underrated book and an excellent introduction to the conflict for anyone interested in the period. Covering major events in Scotland, England, and Ireland it has a multitude of beautiful colorful illustrations that bring the period to life.  The main narrative is interspersed with text boxes focusing on fascinating individuals, events, and cultural and social aspects conveying the richness and diversity of the conflict.   

From the list:

The best books on the Wars of the Three Kingdoms c.1637-1653 (England, Scotland, and Ireland)

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Book cover of Common People: The History of an English Family

Common People: The History of an English Family

By Alison Light

Why this book?

This book is more than just a history of the author’s family. It is full of reflections on life and on family and history in general. At times reading like a detective story, this book inspired me to write about family history. The author delves deep into her working-class origins and explores the lives of characters whose stories – much like the Robinsons in my own work - would have been lost if it had not been for the publication of this book.

From the list:

The best books on social and family history

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Book cover of Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650 - 1775

Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650 - 1775

By Peter Earle

Why this book?

Sailors — among my favorite books — is a vivid account of the lives of English merchant seamen in the 17th and 18th centuries. These were the years when England rose to dominance in global commerce and became the greatest naval power in the world. Acclaimed historian Peter Earle explores every aspect of the sailor's life: conditions of service, wealth and possessions, life aboard ship, the perils of the sea, discipline and punishment, sickness, desertion, mutiny and mortality, and the role of the sailor in times of war. Evocative, scholarly, and colorful, this story of England's "bravest and boldest"…

From the list:

The best books on 18th century mariners

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Book cover of We've Gone to Spain

We've Gone to Spain

By Tom Provan

Why this book?

I bought this book when we first decided to move. It's jam-packed with advice and tips for anybody thinking of moving to Spain. From the kind of property available, to the cost of living, right down to the small details like, the postal service and internet availability. This book is great for those traveling through Spain looking for somewhere to put down their roots.
From the list:

The best books about emigrating to Spain

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Book cover of Keekee's Big Adventures in London, England

Keekee's Big Adventures in London, England

By Shannon Jones, Casey Uhelski

Why this book?

This picture book blends fiction and non-fiction in a brilliant package. It’s part of a series about little KeeKee, a cat who is bursting with the innocence and curiosity of young children, as she travels the world to famous cities. In London, she sees some of the main tourist landmarks and has tea with a certain elegant old woman in Buckingham Palace. I think the book simply stands out because it’s so sincere. KeeKee’s excitement about everything is palpable and while the book has some sound facts in it, it brings the big world down to a tiny, friendly pint-size…

From the list:

The best amazing children’s adventure books about family and exploring

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Book cover of Gloriana: or The Unfulfill'd Queen

Gloriana: or The Unfulfill'd Queen

By Michael Moorcock

Why this book?

Moorcock might be best known for his sword-and-sorcery Elric novels, but he's also a writer of considerable daring and style. Gloriana tells of a Queen of Albion whose empire stretches from the great continent of Virginia to far Hindustan, and then on to Cathay beyond. Half-familiar figures and place names vie with pagan myths and strange ceremonies inside a palace so vast and rambling that every kind of wonder, and the darkest of secrets, have room to hide. The settings and the language are glorious, and the characters, and their schemes and machinations, come vibrantly alive. This is a vivid…

From the list:

The best alternative alternate history novels

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Book cover of Shakespeare the Player: A Life in the Theatre

Shakespeare the Player: A Life in the Theatre

By John Southworth

Why this book?

Written from an actor’s perspective, Shakespeare The Player researches acting companies in Stratford-on-Avon and England during Shakespeare’s youth and adolescence. Southwark explores the possibilities of Shakespeare spending those “Lost Years” from 1585-1592 as an apprentice with acting companies. Shakespeare The Player provides otherwise obscure information about the world of the theater during Shakespeare’s formative years as an actor and writer. 

How else did Shakespeare learn the crafts of writing, playing, and directing for which Robert Greene lambasted that “upstart crow…the only Shakes-scene in a country” in 1592?

From the list:

The best biography books that tell the truth

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Book cover of Sarum: The Novel of England

Sarum: The Novel of England

By Edward Rutherfurd

Why this book?

Sarum is an incredible work that charts the history of the British Isles from the end of the Ice Age to modern times. It sounds like too much to pull off, but Rutherford does a wonderful job of it by restricting the story to the area around 'Sarum’ (Old Sarum) the name of the earliest settlement of the historic city of Salisbury. The story charts the progress of six local families as they march through the centuries, from their origins as Stone Age hunter-gatherers, though the building of Stonehenge, the arrival of Rome, the Norman Conquest, the creation of Salisbury…

From the list:

The best books on early English history

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Book cover of After Story

After Story

By Larissa Behrendt

Why this book?

If you’re a lover of women’s literature – Austen, the Brontës, Woolf – you are in for an utterly original treat with this mother-daughter odyssey. Australian Indigenous lawyer, Jasmine, takes her mother, Della, to England, wanting to indulge her passion for literature with a tour of significant dead-white-author sites. But what is really found along the way are the rich veins of ancient stories and the essential power we all possess: listening. This is a moving and intricate portrait of intergenerational, post-colonial trauma that examines whose stories get to be told and whose need to be told. For me, as…

From the list:

The best Australian novels about bookish girls

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Book cover of Simply Love

Simply Love

By Mary Balogh

Why this book?

This book was my first experience with Mary Balogh and I instantly became a fan. She is now one of my favorite romance authors. This book broke my heart in the best of ways. Sydnam is injured from the war. He is missing an eye and an arm. Still, he managed to easily make me, and Anne, swoon over his artistic soul. Anne is a single mother with a background just as heartbreaking as Sydnam's but I never doubted for a moment they would end up happily ever after. I rooted for them all the way. 

From the list:

The best books featuring a disabled character as a love interest

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Book cover of Zombie Apocalypse!

Zombie Apocalypse!

By Stephen Jones

Why this book?

While I was born in the United States, New Jersey to be exact, I have always had an affinity for England.  At the time of my birth, my mother was still a ‘subject of the Crown’ and a ‘British Citizen’. She did not become an American Citizen until I was nearly ten years old. So theoretically, I was born a dual citizen of both America and England.  Perhaps that is why I am such a big fan of Netflix's The Crown. As for the book Zombie Apocalypse!, it takes place in England and gives you a glimpse of…

From the list:

The best zombie books for start and stop readers

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Book cover of The Old American

The Old American

By Ernest Hebert

Why this book?

This novel, published in 2000 by the University Press of New England, has in my opinion never gained the readership it deserves. It’s a rich, funny, deeply humane captivity tale based on the true story of Nathan Blake, who was taken by Algonkian-speaking people from his home in Keene, New Hampshire, in 1746, and brought up to Canada, where he was held for three years as a slave. The novel weaves a defamiliarized but extremely plausible-feeling tapestry of early colonial America that complicates the stereotypes established by Cooper’s influential novel set in the same period, and Hebert’s main character, Caucus-Meteor—an…

From the list:

The best historical novels of Early Colonial New England

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Book cover of Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel

Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel

By Sena Jeter Naslund

Why this book?

This book inspired my own writing with its detailed rendering of 19th century life. It has all of my favourite things: lighthouses, ships, horses, buggies, wharves, and whales. “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband or my last.” How can you resist this first sentence? The novel’s massive lighthouse, and the child who has lived there all her life, inform some deep part of my world view.

From the list:

The best books about women in dangerous situations and past times

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Book cover of The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium: An Englishman's World

The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium: An Englishman's World

By Robert Lacey, Danny Danziger

Why this book?

This was one of my earliest research books on early England, and it’s an entertaining introduction to a world that is somewhat familiar, yet vastly different from ours. The authors take us through a calendar year, focusing on activities and attitudes from fasting to feasting, from medicine to marriage practices, and I referred to it again and again as I wrote my novels set in 11th century England. The book is filled with historical anecdotes and intriguing historical figures, bringing that long-ago world to vivid life. My own copy is heavily adorned with yellow marker, in particular the chapter…

From the list:

The best books on early Medieval England and Scandinavia

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Book cover of The Lost Queen, Volume 1

The Lost Queen, Volume 1

By Signe Pike

Why this book?

So many brilliant authors have explored the Arthurian legends that I had trouble believing that there could be more to say. Signe Pike, though, researched the earliest appearance of the legend of Merlin and traced it, surprisingly, to 6th-century Scotland where she set this tale. Merlin and his sister are given their early Celtic names, Lailoken and Languoreth and there is a Scottish/Celtic feel to the book that evokes that historical time and place. I was particularly moved by Pike’s exploration of the dilemma of the peace-weaving queen, forced to choose between loyalty to her birth family and…

From the list:

The best books on early Medieval England and Scandinavia

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Book cover of Forsaking All Other

Forsaking All Other

By Catherine Meyrick

Why this book?

This well-researched story of duty, honour, and love is an exploration of Elizabethan marriage and religious and intolerance highlights how women were a way of advancing the land, wealth, and influence the status of their families. I liked the accomplished storytelling and the use of historical details of the clothing, food, and domestic routine of a Tudor household to bring the period to life.
From the list:

The best historical fiction books about the Elizabethans

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Book cover of A High Wind in Jamaica

A High Wind in Jamaica

By Richard Hughes

Why this book?

I read this book on someone else’s recommendation – I remembered seeing the movie some years back and enjoying it – but what I expected to be a children’s adventure book, suitable for all ages, was anything but that. A hurricane destroys a plantation in Jamaica and the owners of the plantation decide to send their five children on a merchant ship back to England where, the parents assume, the children will be safe from harm. But the ship is captured by pirates, and there the adventure begins. Gradually the book becomes darker and bloodier, and this growing darkness is…

From the list:

The best books about pirates and children

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Book cover of The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

By Rachel Joyce

Why this book?

Set in hospice as Queenie awaits Harold’s arrival, her story is one of love, kindness, and acceptance, and fills in details not fully covered in Harold’s story. Though the books can be read independently, I would recommend reading Harold’s story first and then Queenie’s. When you finish you will be in love with Rachel Joyce.

From the list:

The best uplifting contemporary novels

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Book cover of Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

By Julia Nobel

Why this book?

This story has so many delicious ingredients—ancient boarding schools, secret societies, enigmatic notes slipped into pockets, young allies banding together against a powerful enemy—and they all combine to make the kind of book that classic mystery fans will devour.  

From the list:

The best middle grade mysteries to keep you reading all night

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Book cover of Titanic: The Long Night: A Novel

Titanic: The Long Night: A Novel

By Diane Hoh

Why this book?

The Titanic novel my mum bought me for my eighth birthday, it was this one, which is why it can’t not be included (though mine is tattered and the back cover long lost. I can’t yet bring myself to buy a new one). Titanic: The Long Night is like a hot cup of chocolate on a cold winter’s night. It’s sinking into a bath and thinking, This is exactly what I need. It tells two stories: That of first-class passenger, Elizabeth Farr, who falls in love with handsome first-class passenger and artist, Max Whittaker, and third-class passenger Kathleen Hanrahan, who…

From the list:

The best Titanic books you need to read

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Book cover of The Bodies in the Library

The Bodies in the Library

By Marty Wingate

Why this book?

Although the U.S. has wonderful libraries, England seems to top them, and I’ve always found English mysteries to have a special draw to them. The Bodies in the Library, the first First Edition Library Mystery, is no exception, combining both an English library and a clever mystery. Set in the English town of Bath, the book features Hayley Burke, who has taken the position of curator of a collection of Golden Age mystery books despite the fact that she has no knowledge of mysteries and is faking her experience. So when an Agatha Christie group meets at the library…

From the list:

The best first books of cozy mystery series that feature libraries and librarians

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Book cover of Houses of Power

Houses of Power

By Simon Thurley

Why this book?

A learned, yet eminently readable, book which synthesizes and knits together the findings contained in several of Thurley’s earlier, landmark publications, including The Royal Palaces of Tudor England (Yale, 1993) and Whitehall Palace (Merrell, 2008). Houses of Power is a compact volume (and available in paperback, too). I have often taken my copy with me for reference when visiting the sites described in it. Thurley’s illustrations include fascinating conjectural reconstructions of buildings that either no longer survive or have been greatly altered since Tudor times. A wonderful tool when trying to visualize now-lost buildings.
From the list:

The best books on Tudor art and architecture

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Book cover of The Sorcerer's Tale: Faith and Fraud in Tudor England

The Sorcerer's Tale: Faith and Fraud in Tudor England

By Alec Ryrie

Why this book?

A neglected classic of popular history. This book taught me things about the history of magic that now seem so obvious and important that I wonder how I missed them before. Ryrie tells the story of the fraudulent magician Gregory Wisdom, whose deception of a Tudor nobleman led to allegations of attempted murder by witchcraft. More broadly, he reveals a world in which the widespread acceptance of occult phenomena made counterfeit magic alluringly credible, and charlatans co-existed with “genuine” practitioners of magic. I know of no other book that describes the twilight world of fake and real sorcery with such…

From the list:

The best books about dangerous spirits

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Book cover of Mapp and Lucia

Mapp and Lucia

By E.F. Benson

Why this book?

I recommend Mapp and Lucia, first, because E.F. Benson is a hugely underrated humourist, and secondly, because there is a fundamental connection between his Lucia books and Austen’s. The societies are not dissimilar… the styles are both effortless. I recommend any lover of Austen to check out the Lucia books!

From the list:

The best book choices for readers who like a varied book diet (chomp chomp)

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Book cover of Merciless: A Medieval Romance

Merciless: A Medieval Romance

By Tamara Leigh

Why this book?

Aelflet meet Cyr. Cyr, meet your match. I loved this spunky heroine immediately, her courage to stand up to a pushy knight had me cheering her on. And who doesn’t love a handsome, silver-haired knight who might have a reputation of being merciless but who proves to be the opposite. This D’Argent family has become part of mine and I hope you will invite them into yours as well.

From the list:

The best Christian fiction books with memorable characters

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Book cover of Becoming Mrs. Lewis

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

By Patti Callahan

Why this book?

Becoming Mrs. Lewis is the improbable love story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis. And, at the novel’s onset, their coupling truly feels improbable. While in an unhappy marriage, Joy is very much married. She has young children. Joy has health issues. Joy and C.S. Lewis are separated by a body of water. Yet, Joy is also a very tenacious woman, which also included Joy inserting herself into conversations and places women at that time didn’t frequent. I wholly respect how Joy creates a new life for herself.

From the list:

The best novels with women paving their way in a man’s world

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Book cover of Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy

Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy

By Park Honan

Why this book?

It might surprise you to see a Christopher Marlowe biography over any book on William Shakespeare in this list, but Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy is seriously that good. It made me fall in love with the scoundrel now credited as co-author to Shakespeare’s three Henry VI plays and who likely had a hand in several more. However, this book is also a captivating glimpse into the real-life exploits and suspicious murder of one of the greatest writers in English history. This book should have been made into several films by now. There’s just so much to like about Marlowe,…

From the list:

The best books for understanding the dark side of Shakespeare's world

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Book cover of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I

By Anne Somerset

Why this book?

To be honest, I realized I was at the end of the list and all the books I mentioned were centered around Henry VIII and his era! Elizabeth was just as important and interesting as her crazy father, perhaps even more so. This book is more non-fiction, but again beautifully readable. 

From the list:

The best books for Tudor fans

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Book cover of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

By Jennifer E. Smith

Why this book?

As much as I adore learning new languages, books that transport me to English-speaking countries across the pond are some of my favorites. I love romantic comedies set in Great Britain. 

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight takes us to England, although much of the story is about getting there, which I didn’t mind at all. (Life is about the journey.) This is another fun, young adult romance with more than just fluff, and tons of heart. 

From the list:

The best young adult contemporary romances that take you abroad

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Book cover of Wolverton Station

Wolverton Station

By Joe Hill

Why this book?

Many of the stories contained within Joe Hill’s collection Full Throttle are superb, however, there’s one in particular that stands above the rest, and that’s Wolverton Station. Wolverton Station is an anomaly, in that most of it is dedicated to fleshing out the main character, a cynical, middle-aged man who works for a large corporation. The story takes a hard turn into the surreal in its second half, but in doing so, it highlights how our protagonist sees the world, and how that world might see him. Wolverton Station is one of those stories that showed me that when…

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The best speculative short stories about life

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Book cover of Anyone But England: Cricket and the National Malaise

Anyone But England: Cricket and the National Malaise

By Mike Marqusee

Why this book?

If James and Birley upset the game’s establishment, the impact of Marqusee’s Anyone But England was on an altogether different level. Like James, Marqusee was a Marxist. But where James pulled his punches and has, regrettably, been co-opted by English cricket’s establishment, there is very little danger of Marqusee ever suffering the same fate. One must only read his Wisden obituary to understand this. 

Suffice to say, Marqusee’s unflinching analysis exposed English cricket’s institutional hypocrisy, class discrimination, and racial prejudices long before the issues of elitism and racism became points of serious discussion in 2021. Considering this, it is a…

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The best cricket histories

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Book cover of Regency Spies: Secret Histories of Britain's Rebels and Revolutionaries

Regency Spies: Secret Histories of Britain's Rebels and Revolutionaries

By Sue Wilkes

Why this book?

How did governments spy on their own citizens in the age of quill pens and candlelight? Although Londoners lustily sang “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves,” the reality was that few men could vote, and some were in danger of being dragged off the street and impressed into the Navy. The struggle for democratic reform, however, was met with suspicion by government leaders who feared a revolution like the one in France that toppled the monarchy. Regency Spies uncovers the hidden world of espionage and agents provocateurs who kept an eye on populist reformers like Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt and…

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The best books about Regency England: beyond balls and bonnets

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Book cover of Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen's England

Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen's England

By Rory Muir

Why this book?

In Regency England, the first-born son inherited the property, while the younger brothers had to choose between a handful of “genteel” professions such as the army, the navy, and the church. It was these younger sons (such as Jane Austen’s two sailor brothers), who fanned out across the globe and changed the world forever. We learn about their aspirations and frustrations as they struggle to get ahead in a world where promotion was based on patronage, not merit, and corruption was pretty much taken for granted. Muir gives us an appreciation of the hardships of Regency life, even for the…

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The best books about Regency England: beyond balls and bonnets

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Book cover of Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped the Slave Trade

Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped the Slave Trade

By Siân Rees

Why this book?

While doing research on the British campaign to end the slave trade, I read many books, but no book transported me to the decks of the slave ships and to the rugged coast of Africa like Sweet Water and Bitter. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade is placed in its historical, military, and economic context, but Siân Rees also shows the human side of the story. On every page, there is another amazing/shocking/heartbreaking/inspiring vignette. You meet the sailors and missionaries who fought to smother the slave trade, often at the cost of their lives. The hopes and hardships of life in…

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Book cover of The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700

The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700

By Ronald Hutton

Why this book?

I’m passionate about writing well-researched history which appeals to the general reader and endeavours to present compelling, authentic pictures of times past. Hutton’s book was a great help in understanding the religious and secular festivals which were celebrated by Dame Alice, her peers, and workers, on the days when she served high-status food at her dinner table. Together they appear to have enjoyed many traditional rituals, like Candlemas, Plough days, and the Harvest festival.

Here’s one example: Hutton emphasizes New Year’s Day was important for gift-giving and feasting: on January 1st, 1413 Dame Alice bought gloves and rings for her…

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The best books about medieval life and widows who prefer independence to remarriage

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Book cover of England and the Discovery of America, 1481-1620

England and the Discovery of America, 1481-1620

By David B. Quinn

Why this book?

This remains so far, the best documented investigation of the earlier contacts between England and the North Atlantic world from the late fifteenth century to the early seventeenth century. Superbly researched and written, it permits to unveil the complexity and the mystery behind the “new world” with which England entered contact. 

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The best books to understand the Atlantic world in the early-modern period

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Book cover of Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy

Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy

By Malcolm Gaskill

Why this book?

If you mention witches, most people think fantasy novels, but this is a factual history about the real life witch-hunts that took place across the East of England in the 17th Century. It unpicks the brutal and most likely self-serving crusade of the original Witchfinder General, Mathew Hopkins and the religious hysteria of the time. It is a worthy counterbalance to classic horror films such as Witchfinder General and to all the varied and imaginative fiction that has been written about witches and witchery over the centuries, my own included.

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The best books if you are seeking witchery

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Witchcraft in Old and New England

By George Lyman Kittredge

Why this book?

Nearly a century old now, this was one of the first books to open up this subject for me, and to connect witch-beliefs (and trials) in England and colonial America. It’s more of a collection of essays than a coherent monograph, but they’re thoughtful essays, and, crucially, not excessively lofty. Kittredge was at pains to understand witchcraft in the past rather than judging it from the vantage point of an enlightened present.

They are chapters on image magic, shape-shifting, diagnostic tests, witches’ sabbats, and many other subjects – all discursive explorations, drawing in examples from here and there, and presented…

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The best books on witch hunting in Colonial America

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Book cover of The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England

By Carol F Karlsen

Why this book?

A ground-breaking work, which demonstrates how the theoretical witch was embodied by real women, and how a seemingly bizarre fantasy was plausible in among the shapes and rhythms of daily life. This influential study is as much a social, economic and cultural history of seventeenth-century New England as it is strictly speaking a history of witchcraft – indeed, Karlsen demonstrates clearly that the latter cannot be assimilated with an appreciation of the former. Context is everything, and without it we just fall back on stereotypes and tired assumptions.

Witches and neighbours were two-sides of the same coin, the former a…

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The best books on witch hunting in Colonial America

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Book cover of Building Anglo-Saxon England

Building Anglo-Saxon England

By John Blair

Why this book?

Blair approaches the history of these centuries by dividing mainland Britain into environmental and cultural zones. In doing so, he highlights the role of geography, geology, infrastructure, trade and even rainfall in determining trends of settlement, social cohesion, and material culture. Blair examines how landscapes were created – the evolution of villages, towns, and religious complexes – while exploring the relationship between centres of power and the satellite hubs around them. The book is richly served by colour images, artists’ reconstructions, maps, and diagrams. Comparisons to Scandinavia (where early timber structures survive) help bring the houses and surroundings of the…

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The best books to understand Anglo-Saxon England

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Book cover of How to Be a Tudor: A Dawn-To-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life

How to Be a Tudor: A Dawn-To-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life

By Ruth Goodman

Why this book?

In this book, Ruth Goodman takes the reader through a day in the life of an ordinary person in Tudor England. Along the way she covers a wide range of topics including hygiene, clothing, education, work, leisure, and diet. This is not the only book to cover everyday life in the 16th century but it is elevated above other, similar, books by the anecdotes Goodman provides from her own experiences as a re-enactor. Where other authors might tell you what a Tudor bed was like, or how people ploughed, this book tells you what it feels like to sleep…

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The best books on everyday life in Tudor England

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Book cover of The English People at War in the Age of Henry VIII

The English People at War in the Age of Henry VIII

By Steven Gunn

Why this book?

Rather than examining Henry VIII’s wars as military engagements or part of international politics, this book looks at the impact war had on the English people. How were towns and villages affected by the need to provide men for the royal army? What was the impact of war on trade and agriculture? How were ordinary men persuaded to enact the violence required by war, and what was the physical and mental impact on them? How were wars justified and linked to a sense of Englishness? Originally given as a series of lectures, the chapters are connected but can be dipped…

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The best books on everyday life in Tudor England

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Book cover of Rich Apparel: Clothing and the Law in Henry VIII's England

Rich Apparel: Clothing and the Law in Henry VIII's England

By Maria Hayward

Why this book?

Maria Hayward is my go-to author for all things clothing and fashion in Tudor England. In this book, she focuses on dress during Henry VIII’s reign, and the sumptuary legislation that regulated what people could wear. However, this is more than just a study of legislation. Hayward also uses wills, portraits, inventories and letters to describe and analyse the actual clothes owned by people from across the social spectrum. Of particular use to newcomers to the history of fashion is the information she provides about the different types of fabric and accessories, and her glossary.

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Book cover of All the King's Cooks: The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace

All the King's Cooks: The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace

By Peter Brears

Why this book?

Peter Brears takes us ‘below stairs’ at the court of Henry VIII and into the kitchens that fed and waited on up to 1000 people a day. Structured around the different rooms that made up the kitchen, he details the food and drink that was being produced and gives a snapshot of the ordinary people working there. The book is nicely illustrated with sketches of Tudor implements and methods of cooking. For anyone who wants to try eating like a Tudor, the book concludes with a selection of recipes, all of which have been trialed in the kitchens at Hampton…

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Book cover of England's Other Countrymen: Black Tudor Society

England's Other Countrymen: Black Tudor Society

By Onyeka Nubia

Why this book?

In this thought-provoking book, Onyeka Nubia encourages us to re-examine Tudor concepts of race and ethnicity in Tudor (and Stuart) England without assumptions based on post-colonial narratives. What emerges is a nuanced picture of complex interactions, attitudes, and prejudices. As well as studying the writings of Tudor scholars, theologians, and authors, Nubia looks at the lives of individual Africans in England, showing that they weren’t “strangers” but lived as part of English communities - whether in cosmopolitan London parishes such as St Botolph without Aldgate, or in rural villages.

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Book cover of In Search of England: Journeys into the English Past

In Search of England: Journeys into the English Past

By Michael Wood

Why this book?

Wood is known for his stellar television documentaries, but he’s also a prolific and talented author. This gem of a book delves into some of the most famous legends of English/British folklore, ones that still capture the popular imagination. He then examines some key historical events and people from the earlier Middle Ages, and their importance even now. Written in an engaging style, it’s an excellent introduction to the roots and origins of so much British culture.     

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The best books on British folklore and customs

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Book cover of Stephen: The Reign of Anarchy

Stephen: The Reign of Anarchy

By Carl Watkins

Why this book?

The reign of King Stephen (1135–1154) was characterized by chaos and disorder, as he and his cousin Matilda fought over the succession to the English throne. This makes it a challenge to offer a coherent account, but Carl Watkins succeeds where others have failed in his short history of Stephen’s reign. The whole book, minus its academic endnotes, runs to under 90 pages, but it packs a considerable punch, thanks to Watkins’ elegant and enviable prose style. 

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The best books on medieval Britain

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Book cover of Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England

Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England

By Keith Thomas

Why this book?

This classic study is now fifty years old and focuses on England. It looks at ideas about witchcraft in the context of entire worldviews in which beliefs about astrology thrived and most people wore amulets to protect themselves from spirits. It chronicles change over time and, while its arguments have been much debated since, provides a wide-ranging account that remains inspiring.
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The best books about the Witchcraze

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Book cover of Seating Arrangements

Seating Arrangements

By Maggie Shipstead

Why this book?

Seating Arrangements is a smart, summery romp of a read set on the fictional island of Waskeke off of New England. The novel takes place in the days building up to Winn Van Meter’s eldest daughter’s wedding and takes a satirical look at the habits of a certain social class – the drinking, clubbing, and ancient social conflicts. Like a frothy cocktail, it goes down easy and packs a wallop.

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The best books that capture Cape Cod and the islands

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Book cover of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

By Jeanette Winterson

Why this book?

Jeanette returns to her life story twenty-five years after Oranges are the Only Fruit. She escapes the religious cult she grew up in and finds solace and excitement in sexuality and learning. And she takes us on the journey of discovering her routes, her biological mother, her acceptance of Mrs. Winterson, and her struggles to live with the wounds of displacement, of being the wrong child, of bringing joy to those who love her words.
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The best contemporary memoirs by women

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Book cover of Road to Divorce: England, 1530-1987

Road to Divorce: England, 1530-1987

By Lawrence Stone

Why this book?

The leading authority on the history of divorce in England, Lawrence Stone’s brilliantly researched books are scholarly and highly readable. Road to Divorce is a frank and intimate account of the changing moral views of the past. It is utterly engrossing, full of drama, and leads readers to appreciate what a shocking prison marriage proved to be for hundreds of thousands of couples who, until 1857, needed an Act of Parliament to escape a bad marriage. Wives found it far harder than husbands to get a divorce as the legal obstacles were greater.
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The best books on women’s history

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Book cover of Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750

Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750

By Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Why this book?

Ulrich, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for A Midwife's Tale, first wrote this ground-breaking study of women in early New England. With her characteristically elegant prose and inspired organization, she details the varied roles women played in family, community, and religious life. An illuminating work, and a page-turner.

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The best books on seventeenth-century America

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Book cover of Three Men in a Float: Across England at 15 mph

Three Men in a Float: Across England at 15 mph

By Dan Kieran, Ian Vince

Why this book?

Entry into the Mongol Rally from Europe to Ulan Ude in Russia requires a car with a maximum engine size of 1.0 litre. The premise is that such a farcically inappropriate vehicle will invite adventure and interaction with locals. 

Obviously, a 600-mile odyssey across southern Britain in an elderly electric milk float, with unreliable batteries and a top speed of 15 mph invites all kinds of mishaps.

Comedy writers Dan and Ian tackle alternate chapters. Since Dan authored the bestselling trilogy Crap Towns: a guide to the worst towns in Britain, there is plenty of off-the-wall detail about the places…

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The funniest road trip memoirs

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Book cover of The Last Queen of England

The Last Queen of England

By Steve Robinson

Why this book?

In The Last Queen of England, fact, and fiction are intertwined as genealogist Jefferson Tayte races against time to solve a puzzle, set by members of The Royal Society, relating to the rightful heir to the throne. Can Tayte crack the code and solve the mystery before there is yet another murder? Can he avoid becoming yet another victim of the conspiracy?

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The best genealogical mystery novels

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Book cover of Mayflower: Voyage, Community, War

Mayflower: Voyage, Community, War

By Nathaniel Philbrick

Why this book?

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history, Philbrick’s book tells the extraordinary story of the first fifty-five years of the Plimoth Colony, beginning with the arduous and perilous journey of the little wooden ship Mayflower and ending in the bloody King Philip’s War, which nearly wiped out the New England colonists and the native populations as well. Philbrick's writing style is compelling and never boring. This book is full of factual information and makes an old story new.

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The best historical books on colonial Plymouth

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Book cover of Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery

Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery

By Margaret Ellen Newell

Why this book?

This title caught my attention because we usually associate slavery with the American south. But the Puritans brought many indentured laborers from England to help build their settlements and operate their farms and businesses. When these white men worked their way to freedom, the settlers turned to indenturing Native Americans, and enslaving captives of warfare, selling some of them for goods and African slaves from the Caribbean. (I found a reference in this book that my ancestor, Dr. Mathew Fuller, participated in this trade during King Philip’s War.) Newell’s book, full of primary sources, gives excellent background on, and understanding…

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The best books to understand the true founding of America

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Book cover of Walking Through Spring

Walking Through Spring

By Graham Hoyland

Why this book?

On the face of it this is just another book about walking in the countryside: so what? Well, it is far more than that. There is a depth and breadth to the challenge of the walk that is entirely unexpected. The idea behind the book was to walk from the south coast of England northward to the Scottish border and in doing so to develop a new trail through the English countryside, and in doing so he plants an acorn every mile in the hope that a line of oak trees would be his legacy. There his however so much…
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The best books to stretch your imagination

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Book cover of Between Two Thorns

Between Two Thorns

By Emma Newman

Why this book?

Prepare to have your world turned upside down in this peculiar take on the faerie novel. We meet Cathy as a resident of modern England but learn she’s actually an escapee from “The Nether,” a faerie mirror world that’s stuck in the 19th century. As a historian, I absolutely love how Newman moves characters between the worlds—without time travel! And just imagine being in the shoes of a young woman forced to straddle the freedoms that come with modern life with a life with an arranged marriage. And above all, she must appeal to the whims of the faerie…

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The best YA faerie novels

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Book cover of A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson and the Convicts of the Princess Royal

A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson and the Convicts of the Princess Royal

By Babette Smith

Why this book?

Thoroughly enjoyed reading about the various fates of a shipload full of convict women who at the time were barely more than chattels of men. Susannah Watson was one of many women who stole in England to feed her starving children and found herself transported for 14 years (which in reality became a lifetime). These survivor women were inspiring and resilient in a pioneering time.

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The best books on Australian women in history

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Book cover of Forensic Medicine and Death Investigation in Medieval England

Forensic Medicine and Death Investigation in Medieval England

By Sara M. Butler

Why this book?

This book overturns a long-held notion that the English were slow to adopt forensic practices in death investigations, by showing just what medieval people did when a body turned up dead in mysterious circumstances. The records created by coroners’ inquests reveal the rather impressive thoroughness of this key element of late medieval law enforcement, including the regular presence of medical professionals on inquest juries.  

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The best books on the history of forensic medicine

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Book cover of Sexual Forensics in Victorian and Edwardian England: Age, Crime and Consent in the Courts

Sexual Forensics in Victorian and Edwardian England: Age, Crime and Consent in the Courts

By Victoria Bates

Why this book?

This fascinating study shows that victim-blaming has a long history and doctors have been part of the problem, playing a significant role in constructing and reinforcing rape myths in the years 1850-1914. The unique focus on age, medical beliefs about puberty, and public concerns about sexual offences and working-class sexuality explains why even children under the legal age of consent might not be seen as sexually innocent. Medicine provided a scientific rationale for deeply entrenched and remarkably stable popular beliefs about ‘real rape’ and ‘victimhood’, contributing to the serious burden that female victims faced in court. 

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The best books on the history of forensic medicine

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Book cover of The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead: Stories

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead: Stories

By Chanelle Benz

Why this book?

This story collection grabbed me right away from the title and stole my heart with some of the most exciting and visceral characters that I’ve read. In “West of the Known,” my favorite story, a young girl escapes violence to become an outlaw; in “The Diplomat’s Daughter,” a woman renames and reworks herself into a feared force of nature. I’ll be honest that reading this book inspired me and scared me; I wanted to write as powerfully and truthfully about anger and violence in women as Chanelle did. So when I asked her to read an early copy of my…
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The best books celebrating angry women

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Book cover of The Last Witches of England: A Tragedy of Sorcery and Superstition

The Last Witches of England: A Tragedy of Sorcery and Superstition

By John Callow

Why this book?

The immersive and tragic history of a witch trial in Bideford, Devon, England in 1682 puts the “witches” back at the centre of their story and tries to imagine their world with sympathy and insight. This is a very well-researched book, drawing on documents from the town and printed news pamphlets about the trial, as well as on the author’s wider knowledge of witchcraft and demonology (the study of devils and witches). It evokes the sinister atmosphere in the town very effectively. The story is well told, pacy, and easy to follow, and I learned a lot about the women…

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The best books on witchcraft in history

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Book cover of Sufferers and Healers: The Experience of Illness in Seventeenth-Century England

Sufferers and Healers: The Experience of Illness in Seventeenth-Century England

By Lucinda McCray Beier

Why this book?

Originally published in 1987 this book is a classic text for those studying health and disease in this era. Drawing on diaries and printed materials it explains what people died of in the era and what conditions they lived with. It describes how people responded to ill health both spiritually and medically and it provides a series of case studies to illuminate different aspects of health, including women’s health. Using practitioners’ casebooks, it thinks about the differences between an urban surgeon and the practice of rural physicians. It thus moves beyond generalizations to show that practitioners worked alongside each other…

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The best books on early modern medicine

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Book cover of Ill Composed: Sickness, Gender, and Belief in Early Modern England

Ill Composed: Sickness, Gender, and Belief in Early Modern England

By Olivia Weisser

Why this book?

This very readable book recovers the expressions, beliefs, and behaviors of early modern patients. It illuminates how understandings of disease causation, the progress of illness, sickbed experiences, and recovery were expressed in distinctly gendered ways. The richly detailed discussion describes how religious beliefs and social interactions shaped the experience of health and medicine at this time. Weisser draws on over forty diaries and fifty collections of correspondence from the middling and upper levels of society to paint this picture. To illuminate the experiences of the sick poor Weisser turns to pauper petitions, designed to overturn decisions made by overseers of…

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Book cover of The Quiche of Death: The First Agatha Raisin Mystery

The Quiche of Death: The First Agatha Raisin Mystery

By M. C. Beaton

Why this book?

The Agatha Raisin series features a 52-year-old successful PR executive who retires to a small country village in England. Agatha is a force of nature, she’s irascible, difficult, and determined but utterly endearing. She’s not averse to cheating either and it’s when she passes off a quiche as her own in a village contest (the quiche turns out to be poisoned) – Agatha is the prime suspect. The situations Agatha gets into are very much like I Love Lucy.  

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The best books set in small communities where murder and humor abound

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Book cover of Lady of Milkweed Manor

Lady of Milkweed Manor

By Julie Klassen

Why this book?

I’m a sucker for a book that pulls at my heartstrings. A woman finds herself pregnant during an unforgiving time. She’s sent to a home so it can all be kept a secret, here she meets other women in similar situations. This book made the plight of these women real as they struggle to make peace with what’s happened, as they give birth and say goodbye or get creative and find ways to stay in their children’s lives. 

As a mother to both biological children and foster children, I am often drawn to the stories of mothers and this one…

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The best historical romance novels that will transport you in time and leave you with a happy sigh

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Book cover of Watership Down

Watership Down

By Richard Adams

Why this book?

Maybe I am prejudiced by the fact Richard Adams was nice enough to call my first novel one of the best anthropomorphic stories known to him, even if I don’t like the word much. But Watership Down, that epic tale of rabbits and the psychic, vulnerable Fiver, was most certainly an inspiration. Again, another great bridge into adult reading, with each chapter framed by quotes from world drama, stretching back to the Greeks. It is of course Adams’ skill at getting inside animals, giving them unique characters, reflecting our own, while staying true to animal habits, but also his…

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The best fantasy novels with themes on animals, nature and the environment

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Book cover of Testimony

Testimony

By Anita Shreve

Why this book?

One of Anita Shreve’s lesser-known novels, I love Testimony for the contemporary conundrum it introduces. No more sweeping things under the rug; administrations must deal with transgressions in a public manner. In Testimony, students at another New England boarding school behave badly, capturing a lewd act on film. No matter how you code it, a crime has been committed, and the school must deal with it.

While the novel explores multiple points of view, the perspective of the accused student’s mother had the greatest effect on me: “You stand up… You get into your car and back out of…

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The best campus novels for the 21st century

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Book cover of Matilda, Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England

Matilda, Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England

By Tracy Borman

Why this book?

While I take issue with the book’s subtitle (the Anglo-Saxons had queens!), this first full-length biography of Matilda, the wife of William I, is not to be missed. Matilda of Flanders, who served as regent of both Normandy and England was a hugely important figure in the later history of English queenship, providing a model by which the wives of her descendants attempted to live. Tracy Borman takes what little information survives on Matilda to weave a compelling and captivating narrative, fleshing out the life of a woman who has hitherto remained in the shadows.

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Book cover of Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787

By Winston Graham

Why this book?

Probably my first serious crush (along with Mr. Darcy, of course). I fell in love with Ross Poldark and his wife Demelza and spent all my pocket money buying the series. It’s the 1780’s and times are hard in Cornwall: ruined harvests have brought corn riots and the wealthy landowners bemoan the lowering price of tin and copper. Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall to find his beloved Elizabeth engaged to his cousin. Winston Graham is a very exact historian. I love this historical period. It’s a great series and a must-read if you love eighteenth-century Cornwall. 

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The best historical books set in Cornwall

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Book cover of Art for the Love of Sark

Art for the Love of Sark

By Various Artists

Why this book?

This book is brilliant quality, beautifully designed, and really good value. It shows the natural beauty and fragility of the unspoilt natural environment of Sark, a tiny Channel Island off the coasts of England and France.

To look at its contents is to love it. Illustrations from over 20 internationally famous wildlife artists show how the environment is both rugged and beautiful. A plethora of unpesticided flora vies with an unmatched diversity of wildlife, shown with artistic skill. The life of the people and their unique world is reflected by artists from England, Russia, France, Germany, and Holland.

Its incredible…

From the list:

The best coffee table books on landscape, architecture, and the natural world

Book cover of Guard Your Daughters

Guard Your Daughters

By Diana Tutton

Why this book?

The true identity of Diana Tutton remains uncertain. She published three idiosyncratic novels in England in the 1950s, all of which have now fallen into obscurity. Of those, Guard Your Daughters is the best: it describes a loving family dedicated to protecting the children’s mother, whose poor health has led to an insular, overly sheltered lifestyle for her many daughters. Each of the girls is distinct and vividly drawn by Tutton, who has a keen eye for the traditions, tensions, and excitement of siblings in their teenage years. Over the course of the novel, the sisters gradually forge more connections…

From the list:

The best novels about families from the mid-twentieth century

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Book cover of The Good Wife of Bath

The Good Wife of Bath

By Karen Brooks

Why this book?

14th century England was another period I knew little about, and this wonderfully researched story made it real to me. With authentic and witty dialogue, a setting where sheep farming and weaving are predominant as means to make a living, and women are the property of their husbands, I was transported into Eleanor’s world and deeply invested in her fate. The true-to-life setting and emotional subtleties made it an immersive and enjoyable read.

From the list:

The best historical fiction books that will make you feel like you are there

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Book cover of The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844: Frederick Engels

The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844: Frederick Engels

By Frederick Engels, Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky

Why this book?

The boring title masks a great book written by Marx’s collaborator. It has all the anger and verve of an angry young man appalled by the conditions of English cities in the mid-nineteenth century. It is classic that reads as it was written yesterday. It is not only evocatively descriptive it also passionately engaged with moral outrage. A classic of urban writing and social concern.

From the list:

The best books on cities and their power to change lives and attitudes

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Book cover of Nooks & Crannies

Nooks & Crannies

By Jessica Lawson, Natalie Andrewson

Why this book?

This story differs from the others on my list, as it takes place in England in the early twentieth century. Setting and time period aside, the plucky main character Tabitha along with her pet rat and fellow detective (in her mind) steal the show and our hearts. We can’t help but root for her despite all she comes up against and all who belittle her as she follows clues in her unique and endearing manner through a giant and possibly haunted estate. Nooks & Crannies does a fine job balancing humor and wit with more serious subjects such as murder…

From the list:

The best middle grade mystery books with heart that take place in the real (but seemingly fantastical) world

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Book cover of Hour of the Witch

Hour of the Witch

By Chris Bohjalian

Why this book?

Published in 2021 and set in 1662, Hour of the Witch provides a refreshingly defamiliarized and unusually intimate perspective on early colonial Boston, a city better known for the momentous historical events that unfolded there more than a century later. Notable for its well-researched and plausible account of seventeenth-century divorce proceedings, this immersive historical novel tells a tense and harrowing story of spousal abuse, domestic power imbalances, and accusations of witchcraft as a method for revenge and reputational assassination. The story is true to the past but also feels quite contemporary, offering a fascinating window into the history of early…

From the list:

The best historical novels of Early Colonial New England

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Book cover of Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

By Mary Rowlandson

Why this book?

Ok, this isn’t actually a historical novel, but it was a bestseller when it came out back in 1682 and in some ways it does read like fiction. The story of a Puritan settler and her three children who were captured by Narragansett Indians during King Phillip’s War, Rowlandson’s account, judged by contemporary mores, is both racist and religiously bigoted. Still, it provides a rare first-hand rendering of the Puritan experience of a central truth of 17th century America: the collision of two radically distinct societies and the personal fallout resulting from that collision. As such it’s an invaluable…

From the list:

The best historical novels of Early Colonial New England

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Book cover of My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane

By Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

Why this book?

My Lady Jane is a retelling of the true-life story of Lady Jane Gray, who lived in Tudor England during the reign of Edward VI. Though the plot isn’t as fast-paced as other novels, it is nonetheless engaging, and so are its main characters, with plenty of banter and humor throughout the whole book that had me laughing out loud on several occasions. If you are into period pieces, this lighthearted read is guaranteed to entertain you.

From the list:

The best young adult books on retellings that capture the imagination

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Book cover of Culinary Recipes of Medieval England

Culinary Recipes of Medieval England

By Constance Hieatt

Why this book?

Constance Hieatt, who died in 2011 before this book came out, was probably the most important historian of medieval English food and cookery. She discovered many recipes in manuscripts that would otherwise have gone unnoticed and edited and commented on a huge body of evidence for English medieval cookery. This book is the culmination of a career’s worth of identifying recipes and reconstructing them for modern readers. Its value lies in providing answers to practical questions about medieval cookery with examples and references from the sources. Professor Hieatt was particularly interested in making medieval recipes available for modern cooks, and…

From the list:

The best books on food and drink in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night

The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night

By Peter Spier

Why this book?

This old classic still holds its charm. Sing along all the way and enjoy the autumn farmland illustrations as a fox runs through a tobacco barn and across the moonlit countryside bringing the farmer’s grey goose back to his young ones for dinner. Spoiler alert, they do pick the bones clean.  

From the list:

The best singing picture books

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Book cover of Journey to the River Sea

Journey to the River Sea

By Eva Ibbotson, Kevin Hawkes

Why this book?

I’m always on the lookout for fiction in which the writing itself is dazzling. Eva Ibbotson’s prose is truly something to savour and this novel is the jewel in her crown. Maia, an orphan, is sent from England to stay with distant relatives, the Carters, in Manaus, Brazil. The family is weird and mean but Maia finds two young friends—Clovis, an actor, and Finn, who is partly a Brazilian native, but heir to his British grandfather’s fortune. Clovis longs to return to England and Finn happily changes places with him. Finn and Maia journey down the Amazon (the “River Sea”)…

From the list:

The best historical fiction for young readers featuring journeys

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Book cover of The Alchemist of Souls: Night's Masque, Volume 1

The Alchemist of Souls: Night's Masque, Volume 1

By Anne Lyle, Larry Rostant

Why this book?

As with most of my books, I came across these entirely by accident. I don't remember how or where, but I picked one up and then I was on the hunt for the other two. These books are fun, historical with a twist of the fantastic, with secrets, intrigue, and some very interesting and subtle romantic plotlines woven in. I've read these a couple of times now and whenever I glance at my shelf I remember that I want to read them again, to see if I can find something new once more.

From the list:

The best historical fiction books you can't put down

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Book cover of Ice Land

Ice Land

By Betsy Tobin

Why this book?

In this genre-bending novel the author weaves Norse myth with a tale set in the very real world of early medieval Iceland. Her descriptions of the landscape are wondrous, and her portrayal of the lives and culture of the early settlers of Iceland ring true. I loved how she quite successfully brought the Norse gods and one particular goddess down to earth. I am not as knowledgeable about the Nordic gods and their stories as I would like to be. This novel was a terrific way to begin a journey of discovery taking me in that direction.

From the list:

The best books on early Medieval England and Scandinavia

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Book cover of Around the World in 80 Cocktails

Around the World in 80 Cocktails

By Chad Parkhill, Alice Oehr

Why this book?

Australian bartender Chad Parkhill tells the origin stories of eighty iconic cocktails, mixing history and geography in this clever book that is at once a resource and drinks manual. Want to know how the G&T traveled from India to England? Or the history of the Kir Royale? This book shares it all so readers are sure to be the smartest guests at the next cocktail party. Vibrant, lush illustrations make the book extra-captivating. 

From the list:

The best cocktail books for armchair travelers

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Book cover of The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century

By Ian Mortimer

Why this book?

This book really did fulfill the title! It helped me travel back in time to the 1300s in England. I felt like I was there and engaging all my senses, learning how it felt, tasted, sounded, looked, and smelled. The details were thorough and helped me write my fictional time travel book more realistically.

From the list:

The best books for time-traveling back to the past

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Book cover of The Rose Garden

The Rose Garden

By Susanna Kearsley

Why this book?

The main character of this novel travels back in time to 18th century Cornwall. The time-travelling element is beautifully done and swept me from the present to the past seamlessly and with such intrigue that I felt like I was struggling to adjust to the differences of the past with the heroine. The ambiance of medieval times stays with me and helped inspire me as I wrote my time travel book.

From the list:

The best books for time-traveling back to the past

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Book cover of The Captive Heart

The Captive Heart

By Michelle Griep

Why this book?

Reminiscent of the wildness, adventure, and romance of The Last of the Mohicans, Captive Heart sizzles on every page. This is Michelle Griep's best book yet and one that played out before my eyes like an epic movie I kept wanting to watch over and over. The romance is perfect, the adventure nonstop, and the characters really touch your heart. 

From the list:

The best Christian romance novels that will keep you on the edge of your seat

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Book cover of Mr. Gumpy's Outing

Mr. Gumpy's Outing

By John Burningham

Why this book?

Everyone wants to join Mr. Gumpy on his boat! Children, goats, pigs, chickens! What an adventure! I love the odd word choices as a chance to learn new words like ‘muck about” and “squabble” as well as teaching the difference between the goat “bleating” not bleeding! (As a teacher, I feel qualified to go there.) So fun, kids love acting this out this one also. And we always have a tea party at the end, just like in the book.

From the list:

The best books that go on an adventure

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Book cover of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, Volume One

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, Volume One

By Gordon Dahlquist

Why this book?

A three novel serial with tones of Victorian adventure and steampunk fantasy that sets three disparate characters against a mysterious cabal with influence in the government of an unnamed European country (possibly an analogue of Victorian England) – with the sinister glass of which the books are made able to record and play back real-life events (quite often sexual or violent) to be experienced (quite literally) by the reader.

Each chapter of the books are seen from the point of view of one of the main characters; Miss Celeste Temple – a stereotypical Victorian adventuress and heir to a fortune…

From the list:

The best science fiction and fantasy series that influenced me

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Book cover of The Little White Horse

The Little White Horse

By Elizabeth Goudge

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The best quirky fantasies with feisty “take charge” girls

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Book cover of A Quiet Life in the Country (A Lady Hardcastle Mystery, 1)

A Quiet Life in the Country (A Lady Hardcastle Mystery, 1)

By T.E. Kinsey

Why this book?

This series is a little lighter, a lot funnier, than the ones recommended above. As usual, it’s the characters who latched hold of me. Lady Hardcastle is a widow in 1920s England with an amazing maid who has all sorts of talents. The two of them decide to find a house in the country where they can live in peace and quiet. But you guessed it—murders start coming their way to solve. The Lady Hardcastle series is not too grim, not too silly. Just plain fun!

From the list:

The best cozy mysteries by contemporary authors

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Book cover of The Cross of Lead

The Cross of Lead

By Avi

Why this book?

Crispin is a young serf in Medieval England--an orphan despised by everyone for reasons he does not understand. Though I never had problems as dire as Crispin faced, I frequently felt mistreated as a child, and like him, the forest was my comfort and refuge. Like him, I had a lively curiosity about the lives of others and many times learned important lessons through observation. I shared Crispin's tendency to hero worship those who befriended me, and like him, I generally chose my role models well.
From the list:

The best coming-of-age books for almost any age

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Book cover of The Agency: A Spy in the House

The Agency: A Spy in the House

By Y.S. Lee

Why this book?

I absolutely loved this series! The heroine is a young woman struggling to survive the harsh streets of Victorian England. Caught stealing, Mary Quinn is convicted and sentenced to hang. However, the Agency rescues her from the noose and provides her with an education. In return, she trains to work as an investigative agent among the upper-class society of London. These books expose the realistic darker side of that world, but if you could handle Oliver Twist, you can handle these. Lee captured the mystery and intrigue so brilliantly I could not put them down.

From the list:

The best YA books about secret spy schools for girls

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Book cover of The Witch's Daughter

The Witch's Daughter

By Paula Brackston

Why this book?

Like the millions that made this a bestseller, the cover of The Witch’s Daughter was the first hint of the intriguing story. The hem of a long dress is raised to reveal a pair of old-fashioned lace-up shoes. You know those feet could dance or run at any moment. Heroine Elizabeth doesn’t disappoint. A strong and immortal witch, her story sweeps back and forth from the 1600s to present day while unspeakable evil pursues her. The story weaves history with involving and multi-dimensional characters. Elizabeth isn’t afraid to reveal her fear even as she uses her great power. She’s the…

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The best books about witchy women

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Book cover of Tell Me How the Wind Sounds

Tell Me How the Wind Sounds

By Leslie Davis Guccione

Why this book?

This is another one that I read years ago that has stayed lodged in my brain. I enjoy a young romance that is handled complexly, instead of following typical trope guidelines. In this case, two teens meet on an island in New England, one is deaf and one is not. It is very rare to find disabilities represented in Young Adult Literature, despite the genre usually striving for diversity. And this is a very cute story. I love the idea that the girl, Amanda, has to break out of her comfort zone and learn how to connect with someone vastly…

From the list:

The best books if you seek a peculiar romance

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Book cover of Far from the Tree

Far from the Tree

By Rob Parker

Why this book?

The first book in Rob Parker’s excellent Thirty Miles Trilogy sees twenty-seven bodies discovered, vacuum-packed, and buried in a woodland trench. DI Brendan Foley and his newly established police force are the ones tasked with cracking the case but is it a coincidence that these bodies have been buried in Foley’s hometown? Set in the historic town of Warrington, located midway between Manchester and Liverpool, the book explores the murky underworlds of the two cities and the consequences of a war between two drug-dealing gangs as it spills out into the surrounding area.

From the list:

The best crime novels set in the grim North of England

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Book cover of Right to Kill: A gripping Yorkshire murder mystery for 2022 (DS Joe Romano crime thriller series book 1)

Right to Kill: A gripping Yorkshire murder mystery for 2022 (DS Joe Romano crime thriller series book 1)

By John Barlow

Why this book?

When a local drug dealer goes missing in the small town of Wortley, West Leeds, no one cares. No one except Detective Sergeant Joe Romano, back on home turf in ‘God’s Own County’ of Yorkshire. And even when the drug dealer turns up dead some believe it poetic justice. Romano believes every life counts though, and with the killer about to strike again he puts everything on the line, including his career, to prove that no one has the right to kill. This is a very modern take on the classic police procedural novel, a world-weary cop fighting against the…

From the list:

The best crime novels set in the grim North of England

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Book cover of The Vanished Bride

The Vanished Bride

By Bella Ellis

Why this book?

Talk about feisty women who advance against tremendous odds! Despite the stultifyingly constrained life of “almost-poor” women in early Victorian England, out in the moor country, the three Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) slip around the rules, their father, and manage their wayward but beloved brother—all while being determined to become writers—and solve the occasional murder that happens in their neighborhood. Great period details and fascinating information about these three remarkable sisters, along with a great mystery read. This is the first book in the series.

From the list:

The best historical mysteries with famous people as the amateur sleuths

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Book cover of The BFG

The BFG

By Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake

Why this book?

Giants, giants that eat people, a giant that gives you dreams and lots of silly words and disgusting bodily functions. Fantastic. This was one of the first books I read and it was a real laugh-out-loud one. I hadn’t known up to that point that books could be like that. Roald Dahl had a unique way of writing and speaking to kids. Laughter is so important!

From the list:

The best children’s books to make you laugh

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Book cover of The Secret History

The Secret History

By Donna Tartt

Why this book?

If I could adapt any book into a movie, this would be the one. I love everything by Donna Tartt, but this one remains my first and my favorite. I reread it probably every 5 years or so. When this book came out, YA wasn’t an official genre in publishing yet, and this is an example people give of a book that would have worked as a YA novel. Richard meets a group of Classics students and their charismatic teacher and is let into their secret fellowship. The book sucks you into a group of characters you long to be…

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The best YA books about secret societies

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Book cover of Jack's Return Home

Jack's Return Home

By Ted Lewis

Why this book?

Published in 1970, it’s a touchstone crime novel for all writers wanting to explore the small towns and cities of the industrial north. Leaving London to return home to Scunthorpe, Jack Carter is a man on a revenge mission and wants to know who murdered his brother. With a keen eye for social attitudes and lives in a one-horse town, the novel transcends the page, and under the title of Get Carter, it gives us one of the great crime films of the 20th century. More than that, the novel’s Humber setting taught me I could also write about…
From the list:

The best crime novels to mark the trials and tribulations of the North of England

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Book cover of No More Heroes

No More Heroes

By Ray Banks

Why this book?

Set in Manchester, Ray Banks’s gift to us is a razor-sharp contemporary Private Investigator series, a relative rarity within the UK crime writing scene. His surly PI, Cal Innes, may be battered and bruised, but his big heart continues to beat. Finding himself in the centre of a racist uprising in the city, it’s a place that needs a hero and he’s going to be the man who rises to the occasion. Using the classic PI template created by the great US writers, it showed me that I could also adapt the format and apply it to my own writing…
From the list:

The best crime novels to mark the trials and tribulations of the North of England

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Book cover of Long Way Home

Long Way Home

By Eva Dolan

Why this book?

Stretching the geographical boundary a little, Dolan’s police series takes us to Peterborough, another location scared by political and financial neglect. It’s the terrain I tread in the Joe Geraghty series, our cities are not too different. Beyond that, Dolan also makes giving the police series a fresh shot of adrenaline looks easy. Based in the Hate Crimes Units, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira, give voice to those who are marginalised and without voice, a welcome rebalancing and one that questions the power and position of the police.
From the list:

The best crime novels to mark the trials and tribulations of the North of England

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Book cover of Death at the Seaside

Death at the Seaside

By Frances Brody

Why this book?

The North of England isn’t all post-industrial urban centres of decay. As well as being home to large and important cities, its green spaces are plentiful and attract numerous tourists to its many attractions. Frances Brody’s PI Kate Shackleton series makes use of Yorkshire’s picturesque and pleasant rural settings, not least the rolling moors leading to the coastal town of Whitby in the series’ eighth outing. Set in the 1920s, Brody’s series is also a reminder of the importance of subverting and challenging social norms, but never at the expense of entertaining the reader.
From the list:

The best crime novels to mark the trials and tribulations of the North of England

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Book cover of Witch Bottle

Witch Bottle

By Tom Fletcher

Why this book?

Although this is a slow-burning horror with an air of menace throughout Witch Bottle is a very human book. It is a story about grief and loss and loneliness and conjures up a deeply unsettling atmosphere that stayed with me long after I’d turned out the light. Uncanny, in the truest sense of the word. 

From the list:

The best books to provoke a sense of dread

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Book cover of The Secrets of Paper and Ink

The Secrets of Paper and Ink

By Lindsay Harrel

Why this book?

This is one of my top favorite books of all time. It ticks all the boxes: travel, drama, romance, friendship, books, tea. In this time-slip women’s fiction read, we get to experience the magic of Cornwall in both modern-day and more than 150 years ago. The rich characters provide depth and intrigue, with just enough touch of romance to keep you turning pages. But the real start of the show is the Cornish countryside, cuisine, and culture. If you’re looking to escape in your armchair to an enchanting land, this story is for you.

From the list:

The best books to scratch your travel itch

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Book cover of Suffering the Scot

Suffering the Scot

By Nichole Van

Why this book?

A lady trying to reform a gentleman takes a delightful twist in this story about a perfectly civilized Scotsman who inherits a British title and the family and estates that go along with it, only to find they all expect him to need lessons in etiquette. Nichole Van knows just the right tone to take to make you fall in love with them all. 

From the list:

The best historical romances sure to make your smile

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Book cover of How I Live Now

How I Live Now

By Meg Rosoff

Why this book?

Daisy, whose life “so far has been plain” leaves New York to visit relatives in London. After she arrives, war breaks out and Daisy’s ordinary world becomes extraordinary. Like the British children’s novels I used to gorge on (a long time ago!) all the grownups are gone, paving the way for a taboo relationship. I was surprised at how easily Rosoff convinced me that England was at war. But mostly I was captivated by the writing. Meg Rosoff writes this novel in the kind of run-on sentences I hate unless Salmon Rushdie is writing them, except…they work. Beautifully. I can’t…

From the list:

The best YA novels featuring strangers in strange lands

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Book cover of Gentry Culture in Late Medieval England

Gentry Culture in Late Medieval England

By Raluca Radulescu, Alison Truelove

Why this book?

I found this study of gentry culture, with essays on political influence, education, social networks, religious activities, and the display of ‘gentility,’ a useful guide to a social class that was evolving in the period of my research. It also helped me understand why Dame Alice was so successful in running her own household and did not remarry – she was secure in the knowledge that she could exercise power and influence as an independent woman. Many of the other books I read about medieval households focused on the aristocracy, their sumptuous lifestyles, lavish entertainment, ostentatious festivities, opulent recreations, and…
From the list:

The best books about medieval life and widows who prefer independence to remarriage

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Book cover of Out Front the Following Sea

Out Front the Following Sea

By Leah Angstman

Why this book?

Pre-revolution America is not usually my era for historical fiction but when I tell you that this novel grabs you with visceral detail, I mean it. Smells, textures, glares—everything is so vividly told! The resistance in this novel is really simple survival, as the whole New England village seems to have it in for our heroine Ruth. But she stubbornly holds out, trying to forge a path forward for herself. We get treated to some local politics, some ship lore, run-ins with Indigenous Nations (some good, some bad) and local brigands, and always anchored in Ruth’s evolving notions of right…

From the list:

The best historical fiction to hear forgotten voices of resistance

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Book cover of A True Picture of Emigration

A True Picture of Emigration

By Rebecca Burlend, Edward Burlend

Why this book?

One November evening in 1831, Rebecca and John Burlend, three children in tow, stepped off a riverboat. Emigrants from England, they had reached Phillip’s Ferry, Illinois, the end of a dangerous journey. But instead of the village they expected, they found only forest. They burst into tears.  

The couple eventually buys land and clears it by “girdling”—stripping bark so trees die and drop their leaves, letting in enough sun for growing crops. Those include “Indian” corn whose stalks support beans. Indoors, a rag strip in a dish of lard burns with enough light to sew by. But farm life is…

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The best books to inspire the backyard homesteader

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Book cover of Reservation Road

Reservation Road

By John Burnham Schwartz

Why this book?

One of the common reactions to the death of a loved family member–especially any death we perceive to be unnecessary or unnatural–is extreme anger. We have to blame someone, and yes, there’s plenty of reproach and self-recrimination in John Burnham Schwartz’s novel, Reservation Road. But there’s a clear culprit–a hit and run driver–and it seems the police are hardly bothering to investigate, and in a case like that, anyone would have a target for their helpless rage. We see Ethan, a father who witnessed his ten-year-old son killed, become obsessed with tracking down the perpetrator himself to accomplish some…

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The best novels about families struggling to cope after sudden death

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Book cover of Collected Ghost Stories

Collected Ghost Stories

By M.R. James

Why this book?

When I first set out to write a horror novel, I wanted to read as many “scary” books as possible to get in the mindset. My goal was to indeed be scared for the enjoyment of it, but there was another reason behind it – to discover what exactly scared me and why. My goal was to then apply this to my book. M.R. James was recommended to me by a friend, and it certainly gave me the heebie-jeebies almost immediately. I especially love the story, "Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.” Talk about creepy!

James…

From the list:

The best spooky novels that will give you goosebumps

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Book cover of Providence in Early Modern England

Providence in Early Modern England

By Alexandra Walsham

Why this book?

In the world of the Reformation, nothing happened by chance. Providentialism was the belief that every event in the human and natural world was a result of the direct will of God, and was infused with meanings for people to interpret. With great sensitivity and insight, Walsham draws us into these unfamiliar ways of thinking, where everything from a bout of bad weather to the unmasking of a political plot could be a message from God demanding an urgent collective response.

From the list:

The best books on the English Reformation

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Book cover of The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

By Nancy Marie Brown

Why this book?

Recent genetic research on the human remains of a 10th-century Viking grave excavated in 1878 in Birka, Sweden, rocked the world of Viking studies when it determined that the warrior buried with numerous weapons and two horses was not male, but female. I loved how this author imagines what that woman’s life might have been like. She also suggests that the woman buried in the Birka grave was merely one of many female Viking warriors, offering data drawn from archaeological finds, from historical accounts, from language studies, and from the sagas to support the theory that ‘shield maids’ really did…

From the list:

The best books on early Medieval England and Scandinavia

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Book cover of All Quiet on the Home Front: An Oral History of Life in Britain During the First World War

All Quiet on the Home Front: An Oral History of Life in Britain During the First World War

By Richard Van Emden, Steve Humphries

Why this book?

Wonderfully readable, and full of first-hand accounts via interview and letter, this book tells you what it was really like for the people of Britain during WW1 – the rationing, the blackout, the Blitz, the shortages; how the women took over the men’s jobs, from driving railway engines to ploughing the fields; the emotional impact of dealing with the flood of wounded and the deaths; and the hardship and increasing mental problems as the war seemed never to be going to end.

From the list:

The most readable books on World War 1

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Book cover of The Debatable Land: The Lost World Between Scotland and England

The Debatable Land: The Lost World Between Scotland and England

By Graham Robb

Why this book?

 I love this as something quite different – essentially a close encounter with the Border by bicycle. He knows his history, writes well, and brings it all down to ground level, and conveys the lasting atmosphere (lovely, bleak, ruinous, enduring) of these Debatable Lands. A fine piece of historical travel writing by a deeply knowledgeable and astute writer. Makes you want to go and experience for yourself – if you do, take this book in your pannier (preferably waterproof).

From the list:

The best books for the walking the wild side of the Scotland-England borderlands

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Book cover of The Rings of Saturn

The Rings of Saturn

By W.G. Sebald, Michael Hulse

Why this book?

What makes a great novel? One that will be read forever? Top critics and commentators such as Harold Bloom and Nicholas Royle say the greatest fiction is written in a foreign language that somehow or other we understand. It is strange, unusual, uncanny, yet tells us profound truths about the human condition. The Rings of Saturn did even more for me; I thought it was miraculous. On the face of it, the narrator simply hikes through East Anglia. But he blends reportage, history, philosophy, mental ruminations, and much else in a melancholic commentary on life. Even translated from German, Sebald’s…

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The best novels to challenge hardcore readers

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Book cover of Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

By William Cronon

Why this book?

When European colonists settled North America, they began to significantly alter the landscape in ways that were deeply ignorant of ecological health. Now, over 400 years later, that impact has not lessened. However, over that time, there have been significant ebbs and flows in the landscape relative to how it’s used (or not used). This fascinating book follows that trajectory as it explores the environmental history of New England. Even for those not familiar with this particular region, this book offers a unique window into how dynamic and fluid landscapes and ecosystems can be over the course of time.  

From the list:

The best books about regeneration, our relationship with the landscape, and restoring ecological health

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Book cover of Harvest Home

Harvest Home

By Thomas Tryon

Why this book?

Sure, most people might like to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and move to a quaint village in the countryside where folkloric tradition is woven into modern life and the locals wax poetic about corn and harvest festivals. But if you do, don’t ignore the foreshadowing.

This book is an old-fashioned traditional horror story with a slow build and a New England cadence to its voice. It’s widely credited with inspiring Stephen King’s Children of the Corn and was adapted into a miniseries starring Bette Davis. I love its timeless style and milieu, with shades of The…

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The best horror books about bad moving decisions

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Book cover of The Prince and the Pauper

The Prince and the Pauper

By Mark Twain

Why this book?

Disney got their hands on this title too. Mickey Mouse starred in it.

Mark Twain, in nearly all his writings, continually attacked the hypocrisies found in humankind and society, and never more so than in this book. It is a very fun read—witty, sarcastic, comic—but also a scathing attack against injustice and intolerance. It champions fairness and equality and denounces those who judge others by appearance only. It promotes the idea that all those who make laws, and profess them, should also be subject to them. I wish every political leader would read this book.

From the list:

The best "classic" YA titles we think we know but don’t

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Book cover of The Evening and the Morning

The Evening and the Morning

By Ken Follett

Why this book?

A prequel to the famous best-seller The Pillars of the Earth this book follows the fortunes of three disparate characters as they navigate the perilous Viking-riven world of 10th-century England. Although some of Follett’s books are considered ‘light’ reading by many he’s a meticulous author who enjoys his period research and always presents his readers with stories as rich in historical accuracy and verisimilitude as they are in drama and intrigue. A broad cast of characters gives us a view of life from all the strata of English (and Norman) society: from noblewoman to slave; craftsman to monk. A long,…

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The best books on early English history

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Book cover of Medieval Wall Paintings in English & Welsh Churches

Medieval Wall Paintings in English & Welsh Churches

By Roger Rosewell

Why this book?

Today surviving medieval church wall paintings are a bit of a rarity in England, but during the Middle Ages every church, almost without exception, would have been an absolute riot of colour, with saints, angels, and demons battling their way across the walls. What Rosewell's book does is allow you to understand not just what you are seeing, but how and why they were made in the first place. It explains the way in which the pigments were made, who painted them, and even who paid for them. It also contains an absolutely fantastic selection of images, that bring to…

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The best books on medieval churches

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Book cover of The Last Garden in England

The Last Garden in England

By Julia Kelly

Why this book?

A delightful blending of strong female characters, lyrism of nature and gardens, historical background of the second world war, and five parallel perspectives over the fate and purpose of a beautiful place, going around a century of transitions. I enjoyed the author’s way of symbolically mirroring the lives of the characters into the garden that connects them unexpectedly and mysteriously, over time. This book is a gentle reminder of how our own destiny may be influenced by total strangers, who are neither aware, nor intentional, about the lasting effects of their actions.

From the list:

The best books on relationships that define us across time

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Book cover of Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior

Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior

By Catherine Hanley

Why this book?

There is no better place to start this list than with Empress Matilda, England’s first reigning queen. Matilda, who vied for the English throne against her cousin, King Stephen, has always been a personal favourite of mine. She came tantalisingly close, in 1141, to securing her coronation and recognition of her rule. I was therefore very excited to read Catherine Hanley’s expertly written biography. I love the detail given on Matilda’s actions, with Hanley’s research impeccably detailed. This is one of the most valuable accounts of the life of an early English monarch.

From the list:

The best books on England’s medieval queens

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Book cover of A Song of Years

A Song of Years

By Bess Streeter Aldrich, Anne Reeve Aldrich

Why this book?

Song of Years captures all of the struggle and angst of carving out a home from pure, unspoiled Iowa prairie by those bold pioneers who risked everything to do so. While reading, I became the heroine, Abby Deal, as she sacrificed and struggled to wrest a life and create a home from the frontier that challenged her and her family at every turn. Realistic, even epic, this 1939 novel is on my keeper shelf. 

From the list:

The best novels about home

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Book cover of Dance Upon the Air

Dance Upon the Air

By Nora Roberts

Why this book?

I‘m cheating a bit here and recommending the trilogy. Nora Roberts is a storyteller par excellence and this trilogy from early in her career pre-curses (see what I did there?) the fantastic tales she will pen later. The trilogy is about three sisters—witches, of course, and their quaint New England hometown. Romance is only part of these stories, but if you like romance, you’ll be happy. Magic and curses abound, all tied up neatly in three books by Queen Nora. 

From the list:

The best witchy books to read on a full moon night

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Book cover of The Captain of All Pleasures

The Captain of All Pleasures

By Kresley Cole

Why this book?

One of my all-time favorite stories set on the high seas with a daring sea captain and a worthy heroine. The story involves two competing shipping companies in 19th century England, and two captains (the English Earl, Captain Sutherland, and the American, Captain Lassiter). Each must win the Great Race from London to Sydney to survive.

When Lassiter is imprisoned, his daughter, Nicole, who has been raised at sea decides to enter the race for him. Nicole is attracted to the handsome Sutherland, who when he first encounters her in a dockside bar, thinks she's a whore. Circumstances make them…

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The best pirate sea stories

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Book cover of The Windflower

The Windflower

By Laura London

Why this book?

Set during the War of 1812 this is a great pirate romance. It tells the story of innocent, sheltered Merry Wilding, an American living in Virginia with her maiden aunt. Merry has a talent for drawing faces from memory, a talent her brother, an American spy will use to his benefit, exposing her to pirates and worse. On her way to England with her aunt, she is kidnapped. Taken to a pirate ship, Merry meets the English pirate, Devon, who remembers her from a night long ago. 

The writing is superb, the characters courageous, heartwarming, and very special; the descriptions…

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The best pirate sea stories

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Book cover of The Man on the Street

The Man on the Street

By Trevor Wood

Why this book?

Jimmy is a homeless veteran grappling with PTSD but when he hears the sound of something heavy falling into the Tyne after an argument he does his best to pretend it’s not his problem. Then he sees the headline about a girl looking for her missing father, and the girl, Carrie, reminds him of someone he lost. He decides to stop hiding from his past and take action but when the police don’t believe him it’s up to Jimmy and Carrie to find out the truth – whatever the cost. This Newcastle-set mystery is both gripping and incredibly moving, not…

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The best crime novels set in the grim North of England

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Book cover of Sirens

Sirens

By Joseph Knox

Why this book?

The first in Knox’s Manchester-set Detective Aidan Waits series, Sirens sees disgraced cop Waits looking to redeem himself by rescuing the teenage daughter of a prominent politician. Waits finds himself forced into an undercover operation to infiltrate the shady world of Zain Carver, an enigmatic figure who lures young women into his world only for them to disappear. Dark, gritty, and gruesome, this is Northern Noir at its best.
From the list:

The best crime novels set in the grim North of England

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Book cover of The Dark Winter: A Detective Sergeant McAvoy Novel

The Dark Winter: A Detective Sergeant McAvoy Novel

By David Mark

Why this book?

It’s always strange when another writer tackles the same city you’re mapping, but it’s also a reminder that we see places in fundamentally different ways. I write about Hull as an insider looking out with David taking the opposite approach, arriving in the city as a journalist. In the debut outing for DI Aector McAvoy, it may be his writing background that allows him to look the place in the eye and draw a fantastically vivid city dealing with multiple social issues, but also one in which he finds its heart packed with spirit and hope.
From the list:

The best crime novels to mark the trials and tribulations of the North of England

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Book cover of Fortune Like the Moon (Hawkenlye Mysteries)

Fortune Like the Moon (Hawkenlye Mysteries)

By Alys Clare

Why this book?

Because my character Janna seeks refuge in an abbey while on her quest to find her father, I found it interesting and instructive to read about Abbess Helewise and life at Hawkenlye Abbey in more detail. I also enjoyed trying to second-guess whodunit as the Abbess and her helpmate, lord of the manor, Josse d’Acquin, solve the many crimes that come their way. And I was intrigued by the supernatural elements introduced by Alys Clare, with the abbey being situated so close to the ancient forest in the Great Weald, and how the two worlds often intertwine. 

From the list:

The best medieval murders and mysteries in fiction

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Book cover of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

By Avi

Why this book?

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle sparked my interest in seafaring tales. As a young reader, I was drawn in by the deeply personal narration of teenage Charlotte as well as the themes of class and gender. Before this book, I didn’t know that girls could be swashbucklers themselves. It was the gateway that my imagination needed to begin writing my own stories.

From the list:

The best adventure books with women at sea

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Book cover of The Salt Path: A Memoir

The Salt Path: A Memoir

By Raynor Winn

Why this book?

In their 50s, Raynor and Moth Winn suddenly lost their Welsh farm, home, and livelihood. Simultaneously, they were given Moth’s fatal diagnosis of a rare degenerative disease. Deeply in love for 32 years, this unconventional couple faced the loss of everything they’d loved together, including Moth’s life. While Raynor and Moth chose to walk the 630-mile West Coast Path in the south of England, my husband of 37 years and I traveled England and Europe in search of a place that spoke to the poetic longings of our souls. When my husband’s health also disintegrated, I needed the same resilience…

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The best books by women about grieving the loss of a quirky marriage partner

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Book cover of Missing Susan

Missing Susan

By Sharyn McCrumb

Why this book?

Imagine being in a tour group with the most annoying person in the world, Susan. Every tour group has that one person who talks non-stop about things that don’t matter. The difference here is that the tour guide Rowan Rover is an inept hitman who can’t seem to bump Susan off. An added element of fun is that the group is touring England’s most famous murder sites. When I was learning to write mysteries, I had two prominent influences, Sue Grafton and Sharyn McCrumb. Both taught me how to construct a solid mystery. Sue Grafton opened my eyes to the…

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The best books that made me laugh out loud

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Book cover of The One-In-A-Million Boy

The One-In-A-Million Boy

By Monica Wood

Why this book?

I’m recommending this because it will break your heart, and everyone needs that experience now and again with a book. It tells the story of a unique and unlikely love that blossoms slowly between a 104-year-old woman (whom you will learn to adore) and a young boy scout who calls to her house to fulfill one of his tasks. There’s a tragic twist early on that introduces us to the boy’s parents, and there are some lovely subsequent turns in this most magical tale. It’s the first Monica Wood book that I read, but I must hunt her down and…

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The best books on the messiness of life and love

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Book cover of Invisible Immigrants: The English in Canada since 1945

Invisible Immigrants: The English in Canada since 1945

By Marilyn Barber, Murray Watson

Why this book?

Although the English are among the largest immigrant groups contributing to the development of modern Canada, their story remained, for the most part, untold until the publication of this book in 2015. In this carefully researched work of popular history, Marilyn Barber and Murray Watson recount the personal experiences of English immigrants who elected to come to Canada between the 1940s and 1970s, England’s last major wave of emigration. Most of these postwar English immigrants thought they were going to a country whose language and culture would be familiar. Instead, like other immigrants, they contended with separation from loved ones…

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The best books to capture Canada’s colourful immigration history

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Book cover of Loyalty's Web

Loyalty's Web

By Joyce DiPastena

Why this book?

Set in medieval Poitou (a region of France once ruled by the Kings of England), this romance has a likable, courageous heroine willing to sacrifice her reputation and her safety to protect her family from scandal and possible execution. With a balance of action, intrigue, and romance, it painted a vivid picture of the history of this region and the intricacies of the hazardous court of England. The tender, sweet romance unfolded beautifully and the prose was masterfully crafted. The author’s meticulous research inspired me to include historical and regional details in all of my writing.

From the list:

The best swoony historical romance novels that don’t need bedrooms scenes

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Book cover of Rape of the Rose

Rape of the Rose

By Glyn Hughes

Why this book?

The Rape of the Rose is an unforgettable novel that details the horrors of the Industrial Revolution in nineteenth-century Britain. Hughes, also a poet of note, portrays the enslavement of children in those “dark Satanic mills” with disturbing precision, offering his youngest characters shreds of dignity, which life has deprived them of so roundly. He also shows men and women maimed and worked to death by owners intent on extracting every last ounce of their labor. A major figure in the novel is a father who flees a mill and joins the Luddite Revolution. I read this book thirty-five years…

From the list:

The best literary novels if you love to read thrillers—and want to take a breather or dig deeper

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Book cover of The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

By Patrick Collinson

Why this book?

Thirty years after its first publication, Patrick Collinson’s elegantly written account of how Protestantism transformed English society remains fresh, challenging and surprising. Focusing on art and culture, urban life, the family and ideas of nationhood, it persuasively argued that it makes more sense to see the Reformation as a drawn-out process rather than a dramatic ‘event’, and as one that was coming to fruition only in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. It is also a triumphant demonstration of how short books can punch above their weight.

From the list:

The best books on the English Reformation

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Book cover of The Social Universe of the English Bible: Scripture, Society, and Culture in Early Modern England

The Social Universe of the English Bible: Scripture, Society, and Culture in Early Modern England

By Naomi Tadmor

Why this book?

At the heart of the Reformation in England was an insistence that people be allowed access to Scripture in their own language, but translation was invariably a selective and creative process. Tadmor brilliantly shows how the translators of the Hebrew Bible (‘Old Testament’) remade the ancient world in the image of contemporary Tudor society, editing out many references to slavery and polygamous marriage, and merging together distinct forms of political governance through consistent reference to the authority of a ‘prince’. The findings are eye-opening, and the book should be required reading for modern biblical fundamentalists.

From the list:

The best books on the English Reformation

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Book cover of Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain 850-1520

Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain 850-1520

By Christopher Dyer

Why this book?

For me, this isn’t a book that I read cover to cover; it is a book that I very frequently refer to when I want information. This is my go-to book when I want to check how much a labourer was paid, and what that money would buy, for example. It is an economic history and, as such, helps you to understand the fundamentals of how medieval society worked and was put together. So you can find out not only about the life of an aristocrat, but about the life of a peasant, free or unfree, and about life in…

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The best books on medieval life

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Book cover of Spitfire Women Of World War II

Spitfire Women Of World War II

By Giles Whittell

Why this book?

I have an obsession with WWII, submarines of the era, and especially the Battle of Britain. As women in dangerous and often traditionally masculine roles also appeal, it makes sense that true stories of these gallant pilots are right in my wheelhouse. Or cockpit…

During the war, female pilots were recruited to ferry planes for the Air Transport Auxiliary to RAF bases, freeing up male combat pilots.

Unarmed, without instruments or radios, the women often flew over the hostile skies of southern England in new or repaired aircraft, flight testing them on the way. Navigation was done by compass headings…

From the list:

The best books featuring kick-ass females of sea and sky

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Book cover of Poet and Painter

Poet and Painter

By Anthony Bertram, Claude Colleer

Why this book?

More than any other book, this volume of letters between friends, and the unguarded insight they allow, gave me a sense of the man, his rhythms of speech, his manner of expression and his character. Career details and everyday mundanities mix with deeper concerns and the kind of excavation of ideas only really close and respectful friends can express.

From the list:

The best books on Paul Nash and the impact of WW11 on artists who lived through it

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Book cover of The Long Ships

The Long Ships

By Frans G. Bengtsson, Michael Meyer

Why this book?

Something of a forgotten classic, this used to be the most widely read novel in Sweden. Though not strictly a book about English history, the story describes the impact of the raids of the Northmen on England through the eyes of our protagonist, Red Orm, and details his adventures in Moorish Spain, Ireland, Sweden, and the Byzantine Empire. This is a classic tale of exploration and discovery that also manages to present us with a very believable view of the late 10th-century world, especially that of Anglo-Saxon England during the reign of Ethelred the Unready. If you enjoy high adventure…

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The best books on early English history

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Book cover of Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage

By William Golding

Why this book?

Lord of the Flies – at sea. Golding won the Booker Prize in 1980 for this novel about a tragedy that unfolds aboard a ship sailing to Australia in the early nineteenth century. Edmund Talbot narrates the tale in lively, entertaining letters to his godfather and benefactor, an English lord. 

Talbot is a thoroughly unpleasant character – an entitled, self-serving snob, whose pursuit of a woman, portrayed as a jolly jape, would earn him an assault charge today. 

The first part describes Talbot’s impressions of his fellow passengers, including the laughable Reverend Colley; his coming to terms with the stench…

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The best books about historical sea voyages

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Book cover of Eight Days of Luke

Eight Days of Luke

By Diana Wynne Jones

Why this book?

The Norse gods enjoyed hiding their identities and fooling their enemies (usually with bloody results). Wynne Jones’ fantasy novel for young adults and above is a dazzling trickster tale set in modern England, its main character a wretchedly mistreated boy who has adventures with… She gives plenty of clues to work out the Norse identities, but the worst tricksters are only revealed unexpectedly on the last pages.

From the list:

The best books for people with a passion for Norse myths and legends

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Book cover of Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South

Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South

By Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Why this book?

This extensive and prize-winning narrative of Southern women’s daily existence in the antebellum era covers all the bases on this subject. With the following chapter titles, how could it not? Southern Women, Southern Households; The View from the Big House; Between Big House and Slave Community; Gender Conventions; Women Who Opposed Slavery; And Women Who Did Not. A must-read for anyone wishing to delve into the subject of women’s lives in the antebellum south.

From the list:

The best books on plantation life in the Antebellum South (Colonial and early federal America)

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Book cover of Edward IV (The English Monarchs Series)

Edward IV (The English Monarchs Series)

By Charles Ross

Why this book?

Like Gillingham’s book, it was published decades ago yet it is still the best overall work on Edward IV. Ross manages to give the reader a clear picture of this king and the tumultuous events in which he played a pivotal role. It is a balanced, thoughtful account which is ideal for a newcomer to the subject.

From the list:

The best books on the Wars of the Roses from a historian and author

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Book cover of Narratives Of The Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706

Narratives Of The Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706

By George Lincoln Burr

Why this book?

This collection of contemporary 17th century works covering (mostly New England) witch-related cases before, during and after the 1692 trials was one of the earliest sources I discovered at my local public library back in the early 1960s. It provides a window into the varying reactions people had to the uncanny and what they did about it.

From the list:

The best books to understand why the Salem Witch Trials occurred

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Book cover of One Small Candle: The Plymouth Puritans and the Beginning of English New England

One Small Candle: The Plymouth Puritans and the Beginning of English New England

By Francis J. Bremer

Why this book?

Most people knows that the Pilgrims were religious, but most Americans today know very little about the beliefs and practices that animated the separatists who chose to leave England and the Dutch Republic and cross the ocean. Francis Bremer is the best possible guide to this essential part of the Pilgrim story. Bremer knows puritanism better than anyone, and he knows how to fit the Pilgrims into that larger framework. In One Small Candle (the title comes from William Bradford’s history), Bremer explains how the lay leadership of men and women was central to separatism and to the religious organization…

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The best books on the Mayflower Pilgrims and their beliefs, practices, and habits

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Book cover of Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

By Peter Sis

Why this book?

In 1938, a young Englishman named Nicholas Winton canceled his ski vacation. Instead, he went to Prague to help the Jewish children seeking refuge there from the Nazis. Up until the start of the war in 1939, he made arrangements to send nearly 700 children to safety in England. He did everything from raising funds and locating foster families, to obtaining travel documents—even forging them when necessary. Then he went home and never told anyone what he had done. Fifty years later, his wife found all the records he’d kept and she tracked down as many of those children as…

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The most beautiful children's books about unusual true tales of courage during the Holocaust

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Book cover of At the Yeoman's House

At the Yeoman's House

By Ronald Blythe

Why this book?

This book is about a historic house in rural Suffolk in the East of England, which the author inherited from the artist John Nash. Blythe has himself made a career of writing about various aspects of the local landscape and how it, and the ways in which people have made their lives in the English countryside, have changed. The yeoman’s house itself, ‘Bottengoms’, was built in the 16th century, adapted, fell into ruin, and was then restored, and continues to be maintained to this day. It incorporates a garden and is set into the archetypally English countryside of Suffolk.…

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The best books on history, archaeology, people, and places

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Book cover of The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape

The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape

By James Rebanks

Why this book?

James Rebanks was born in England’s Lake District into a family who valued the hard work and ancient traditions of shepherding in the high hills. Later, he winds up at Oxford, seemingly headed for a life of financial success in the city, and realizes that while the world at large may value such success, he values the quiet, steady, solitary shepherd’s life and chooses that instead. He beautifully depicts a life steeped in tradition, honoring the seasons, and filled with characters. I loved learning about a slice of life that I knew little about.

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The best books about making huge life changes and the stories behind them

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Book cover of The Coming of the Fairies

The Coming of the Fairies

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Why this book?

This is a surprise pick. It’s the first book about “real” fairies that I read. I was 15 years old when my local librarian showed me the book. The author was best known for creating the Sherlock Holmes series, and he wrote a book about fairies? 

The Cottingley fairies appear in a series of photographs taken by two young girls living in England in 1917. When the pictures came to the attention of writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of the existence of fairies. Many people accepted the images as genuine; others believed…

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The best children’s books about fairies

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Book cover of Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery: Britain and Ireland 1066–1485

Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery: Britain and Ireland 1066–1485

By John Gillingham

Why this book?

This is a fantastic introduction to what was going on in the British Isles during the medieval period. The scholarship is up-to-the-minute, the writing is witty and engaging, and it is teeming with original ideas. It’s not a political history, plodding predictably from one reign to the next, but a sweeping overview, covering diverse topics such as the decline of slavery, the rise of parliament, kingship and queenship, religion, education, leisure, crime, and chivalry.

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The best books on medieval Britain

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Book cover of Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island

By Bill Bryson

Why this book?

To me, travel writer Bill Bryson represents the world’s yogi-master in literary observational humor. This book is snigger, snigger, chortle, laugh-out-loud funny. Notes from a Small Island is Bill’s first book (I call him Bill because he writes in such a familial way, I feel like I am travelling with him as a friend while reading). Written after the American teacher had spent 20 years living in England, it describes Bryson’s rambling journey around the farms, clifftops, and motorways of the great isle. His observations as an outsider hilariously expose the inanities and insanities of the Brits and their unique…

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The best inspirational life-changing memoirs

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Book cover of King of All Balloons: The Adventurous Life of James Sadler, the First English Aeronaut

King of All Balloons: The Adventurous Life of James Sadler, the First English Aeronaut

By Mark Davies

Why this book?

James Sadler was the first Englishman to fly. He was a brilliant man – his balloon design is the one we still use – but because he was an Oxford pastry cook he was ignored by the university. I am interested in lost and forgotten history and this is a story that needed to be told.
From the list:

The best books about Oxford where town meets gown - the bits the tourists miss

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Book cover of The Princess Who Hid in a Tree: An Anglo-Saxon Story

The Princess Who Hid in a Tree: An Anglo-Saxon Story

By Jackie Holderness, Alan Marks

Why this book?

This is the story of Frideswide and the creation of Oxford as a place of learning told for young children. Our grandchildren are weaned on superheroes and I would like them to know the stories of heroes and heroines from the past as well.
From the list:

The best books about Oxford where town meets gown - the bits the tourists miss

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Book cover of Atonement

Atonement

By Ian McEwan

Why this book?

This book, set initially in England just before WWII, is rich with big themes – a love that crosses class boundaries, war, jealousy, guilt. Because of a wrongful accusation, a housekeeper’s son is imprisoned and eventually finds himself going to war. His accuser, the younger sister of his lover, attempts over the years that follow to make atonement. It’s a sad and beautifully told tale of lost love and years of regret, and what might have been if one hasty act had gone undone. The twist at the end is amazing. This story stayed with me for a long time…

From the list:

The best books on the messiness of life and love

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Book cover of Catherine of Aragon: Infanta of Spain, Queen of England

Catherine of Aragon: Infanta of Spain, Queen of England

By Theresa Earenfight

Why this book?

Displaced by the fascinating Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), first queen of Henry VIII, is often depicted as a bitter old woman. Not so, says Theresa Earenfight. Although this book will not appear in print until December 2021, queenship scholars have a good idea of what is coming: Earenfight has been lecturing on Catherine for several years now, and we can hardly wait to get our copies. By exploring inventories of Catherine’s material belongings, Earenfight, a meticulous and imaginative scholar, reveals a whole new side to this allegedly drab and austere queen. We already knew that Catherine was intelligent…

From the list:

The best books that restore vilified early-modern European queens and noblewomen

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Book cover of History of the Great Civil War: Volume I

History of the Great Civil War: Volume I

By Samuel Rawson Gardiner

Why this book?

Samuel Rawson Gardiner’s comprehensive and detailed account of the civil wars has laid the foundation for many of the subsequent histories of the conflict. It was the first account of the civil wars written by a professional historian who had spent a lifetime exploring the expansive and diverse first-hand accounts of the conflict.

All the books in this series are fantastic and highly recommended. 


From the list:

The best books on the Wars of the Three Kingdoms c.1637-1653 (England, Scotland, and Ireland)

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Book cover of The Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland: 1638-1651

The Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland: 1638-1651

By Martyn Bennett

Why this book?

Still the best introductory text for students covering all major events in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in a concise and accessible manner.  This book steps away from the more Anglo-centric analyses of the conflict, looking at events in Ireland, Scotland and Wales in some detail.  In contrast with the books above, Bennett also steps away from the experience of political elites and examines the experiences of ordinary soldiers and civilians during the conflict.  

From the list:

The best books on the Wars of the Three Kingdoms c.1637-1653 (England, Scotland, and Ireland)

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Book cover of The Last American Puritan: The Life of Increase Mather

The Last American Puritan: The Life of Increase Mather

By Michael G. Hall

Why this book?

Hall's biography of one of the most influential Puritans in colonial New England offers a rich reading experience. Mather had a finger in everything, and seeing New England through his eyes helps the reader make sense of the political and religious factions, doctrinal struggles, the relationship between lay people and ministers (always less conservative than their followers), and the sweetness and suffering inherent in family life.

From the list:

The best books on seventeenth-century America

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Book cover of Prospero's America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676

Prospero's America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676

By Walter W. Woodward

Why this book?

Woodward's biographical approach, and his good fortune in finding a subject who left so much material to peruse, allows readers to come to know early New England in rich detail. Winthrop was a man of wide interests, including alchemy, religion, and medicine, and he used his knowledge to contribute to the physical well being of his neighbors (Native and colonist alike), to steer the Connecticut Colony through political challenges, and to participate in trans-Atlantic scientific exploration. A fascinating read.

From the list:

The best books on seventeenth-century America

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Book cover of England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond

England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond

By Jon Savage

Why this book?

The original and best record of the initial (British) punk explosion in the 1970s, this is required reading for anyone with any interest in the history of punk. It's thorough, thoughtful, and entertaining in equal measure, a book I've read more than once.
From the list:

The best books about the history of punk rock

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Book cover of Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy: Women in York and Yorkshire C.1300-1520

Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy: Women in York and Yorkshire C.1300-1520

By P.J.P. Goldberg

Why this book?

A classic cited in every title on my list, Goldberg’s book provides a glimpse into the lives of women in the area, both rural and urban. The book grew out of the question, How far was marriage a necessity for medieval women? His focus is on women in the north, with its unique labor issues. To answer the question he examines the economy and how women participated in it, with an emphasis on the changes brought on by the decline in population after the Black Death in the later 14th century.

He covers tradeswomen, servants, prostitutes, farm laborers, with…

From the list:

The best books about medieval York

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Book cover of Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

By Emily Bernard

Why this book?

Faithful to its title, this brilliant book starts with the body — an unspeakable injury to the narrator’s body, a crime, a horror. Bernard writes with a specificity that is gut-wrenching without being sensational. And all along, running alongside the sensory language is the author’s intellectual river, constantly washing over and over a moment, a scene, a feeling, a thought. This book includes twelve interconnected essays, each building on the other despite how many years – and miles – separate them.
From the list:

The best lyrical memoirs that act as salve to the soul

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Book cover of Pigeon English

Pigeon English

By Stephen Kelman

Why this book?

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and currently an AQA English Literature GCSE text, Pigeon English is a debut novel that captures the experiences of eleven-year-old Harrison Opuku. A new arrival from Ghana, he lives with his mother and sister amongst the gang culture on a south London housing estate. Harri is an appealing narrator who uses a mixture of West African slang and a rapidly acquired local vernacular. The text is enlivened by dialogue presented in the form of a playscript with illustrations and lists promoting the visual quality of the story.

From the list:

The best contemporary adult novels with young narrators

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Book cover of Jack Dawkins

Jack Dawkins

By Charlton Daines

Why this book?

Most Fantasy readers enjoy an occasional change and Historical Fiction is a popular companion genre, especially when it's set in England. Whether you love Classics or your experience of Dickens is limited to seeing the musical, Oliver!, the Artful Dodger is a fascinating character and this book follows him into adult life when he returns to Turn of the Century Victorian England. It's an easy read which is historically accurate but doesn't get bogged down in teaching history. A fast-moving adventure with humour and dastardly villains with a flavour that only this era can produce.

Overall it's a fun story…

From the list:

The best non-fantasy books for fantasy readers

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Book cover of The Witchfinder's Sister

The Witchfinder's Sister

By Beth Underdown

Why this book?

A thoughtful and well-researched novel about the “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, who hunted witches in eastern England during the mid-seventeenth century Civil War. Or rather, it’s not about Matthew but about his fictional sister, Alice. Focusing on Alice is a clever and thought-provoking way of telling a famous story, making us look harder at the women involved in the witch hunt and how they might have felt about their experiences. How did women feel about witchfinders in their families and among their friends? Did they really suspect other women of witchcraft? Were they able to avoid becoming complicit in witch-hunting?…
From the list:

The best books on witchcraft in history

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Book cover of The Other

The Other

By Thomas Tryon

Why this book?

Hugely influential since its publication in the 1970s, Tryon’s deliciously twisted book about a pair of identical twins who happen to have different birthdays and are left to their own (unusual) devices after their father dies, has often been imitated, but never equaled. Shocking upon its initial release, jaded readers may see the ending coming now, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer ingenuity of the horror leading up to it. A masterpiece of psychological terror.
From the list:

The best horror books to make you reconsider having kids

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Book cover of Hornet Flight

Hornet Flight

By Ken Follett

Why this book?

Another great thriller by Follett, what I found different and interesting for this book was the setting, Nazi-occupied Denmark during World War 2. The mixing of fictional and historical events is well accomplished. Typical of Follett, the novel presents intertwining stories in an adept way that builds tension throughout. It is very well researched and the places really come to life. I loved the abundance of technical details that don’t feel overwhelming, though. With memorable, strong characters, all determined to reach their goals, the writer did a great job in placing them into a well portrayed, true-life context. I loved…

From the list:

The best World War 2 novels for people who love history and fiction

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Book cover of Norfolk Rood Screens

Norfolk Rood Screens

By Paul Hurst, Jeremy Haselock

Why this book?

Surviving medieval painted rood screens are one of the wonders of England's churches. Each one artwork in its own right. In this magnificently illustrated work, the authors highlight twenty-four of the finest surviving examples, showing them in all their glorious detail. It may not be a groundbreaking work, but it is most certainly an inspiring one. If you ever thought the Middle Ages were drab and colourless, then this book will undoubtedly change your mind. A visual feast.

This book is currently out of print.


From the list:

The best books on medieval churches

Book cover of Lassie Come-Home

Lassie Come-Home

By Eric Knight, Marguerite Kirmse

Why this book?

There is absolutely no way I can create a list of best dog books for kids without including this classic that truly captures and celebrates the mysterious bond between a dog and its person. I have said many times that my book, A Dog’s Way Home, was a “love letter” to Lassie Come-Home, which I first read at age nine and have re-read many times since. Set in England and Scotland, the story follows the separation of young Joe and his loyal and beloved collie, Lassie. When Joe’s family falls on hard times, Lassie is sold to a…

From the list:

The best books about dogs for grades 3 and up

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Book cover of Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

By James Hilton

Why this book?

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is supposed to be a sentimental paean to a lost England. I am here to say that this is wrong. The sentiment in Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a true sentiment: a sentiment for what was lost – the ideal of the gentleman – and grief for what those good, earnest teachers turning out schoolboys had done: turned boys, with all their enthusiasm and courage and hope, into meat for the grinder of the First World War. Goodbye, Mr. Chips is not the story people think it is. Read it and see.

From the list:

The best overlooked and/or largely forgotten historical fiction novels

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Book cover of The Last Plague

The Last Plague

By Rich Hawkins

Why this book?

Take the body horror nightmare of John Carpenter’s The Thing and substitute the remoteness of that film’s Antarctic setting for the densely populated familiarity of the UK. When a deadly infection strikes, four friends must cross a chaotic, war-torn England to reach their families. The infection turns people into vile, cannibalistic monsters that are almost Lovecraftian in their grotesqueness. There’s something about the juxtaposition of the normality of UK life and the unrelenting horror of the infection that really hits home. This is a vicious book that pulls no punches and spares no one. Beautifully written, and bleak as hell.

From the list:

The best books that capture the inevitable bleakness of the apocalypse

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Book cover of Mr. Wroe's Virgins

Mr. Wroe's Virgins

By Jane Rogers

Why this book?

I remember Jane Rogers talking about the book when it was first published and made into a TV series in the 1990s. She said she wrote about the past because it was a way of shining a forensic light onto the issues which surround us today. In this case, the subject was religion - hard to write about in the modern world without treading on toes or being accused of cultural appropriation. But the past belongs to us all. In this way, I can write in The Prisoner's Wife about what happens when Fascism is allowed to flourish, and in…

From the list:

The best women's historical fiction

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Book cover of When Beauty Tamed the Beast

When Beauty Tamed the Beast

By Eloisa James

Why this book?

I think this was the first historical romance I read where the hero had a disability, which added great depth of character. It was also the first historical romance I read where the hero had a medical profession. This subject matter – medicine during the early to mid 19th Century – piqued my interest so greatly I’ve since written several novels in which the hero or heroine is medically trained. I’m especially keen on challenging various misconceptions relating to medicinal practices during this period, like the fact that hand washing is still being credited to Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865) even…

From the list:

The best historical romance books by contemporary authors

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Book cover of Red, White & Royal Blue

Red, White & Royal Blue

By Casey McQuiston

Why this book?

I nearly put down this book right after I started it because I wasn’t sure I was smart enough to get through it. McQuiston’s vocabulary is beautiful, but I am notoriously simple-minded. I’m forever thankful that I didn’t. A love story between the President’s son and the Prince of England isn’t something you think you need, but you do – you very much do. Mild SA (not main character) trigger for this one.

From the list:

The best gay books where no one dies at the end, and one where they do

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Book cover of Random Passage

Random Passage

By Bernice Morgan

Why this book?

I am in awe of the strength, determination, and hope of early pioneers. Imagine uprooting your family from what few comforts they know and travelling across the ocean to an unknown barren land to start over. Where survival means every member working hard day in and day out to build a place of shelter, gather and grow food, and fish the cold Atlantic waters in order to care for and build a life while struggling to survive harsh weather and dangerous seas. Would I be strong enough to endure such a difficult life?
From the list:

The best Canadian historical fiction with strong female characters

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Book cover of Mr. Rochester

Mr. Rochester

By Sarah Shoemaker

Why this book?

When I first came upon Sarah Shoemaker’s novel, I felt myself issuing a silent challenge: Can the author really inspire my sympathy for the gruff and tormented hero of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre? While I’d always loved the atmospheric moodiness of the novel and could empathize to a degree with Jane Eyre herself, Mr. Rochester’s dark, brooding, and secretive nature made me uneasy, and I wasn’t quick to find him as endearing as some other classic literary heroes. However, it was fascinating to be brought into the point of view of this particular Edward Fairfax Rochester! I appreciated experiencing…

From the list:

The best romance novels inspired by British classics

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Book cover of The Scent of Death

The Scent of Death

By Andrew Taylor

Why this book?

I can understand why Andrew Taylor is an award-winning writer of historical mysteries. I really enjoyed The Scent of Death which is set in 1778 in the besieged loyalist stronghold of New York in the middle of the War of Independence against Britain. I was particularly fascinated because of our personal connection. Some of our Charlton ancestors emigrated from Northern England to become farmers around New York at this time. When the Yankee rebels won the war, like many loyal to the Crown, they scurried up to Canada. Having now read this vivid description of what life was like at…

From the list:

The best Georgian and Regency mystery books

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