333 books directly related to London 📚

All 333 London books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Street Haunting: A London Adventure

Street Haunting: A London Adventure

By Virginia Woolf

Why this book?

Written in 1927 it is one of the most entertaining accounts you will ever read of a typical day in London. Using the excuse of needing to buy a pencil, Woolf meanders through London taking in all the day-to-day activities of the populace. Admiring and also sometimes disapprovingly, she comments on the ordinary lives of every kind of Londoner from the sales girls at the haberdashery to the costermongers in the street.

From the list:

The best books about London for the curious

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Book cover of Turtle Diary

Turtle Diary

By Russell Hoban

Why this book?

Turtle Diary is one of my all-time favorite books. The intimate tone pulls the reader in immediately. Hoban alternates point of view between William and Neera, two lonely Londoners who accomplish a heroic feat and manage to rescue themselves in the process. The writing is spare and beautiful, peppered with delightful asides and observations: “She had a theatre programme in her hand, fresh air and perfume had come in with her. Her blonde hair and leopardskin coat looked as if they’d go out even if she stayed at home.”
From the list:

The best books on the ways that animals redeem us

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Book cover of A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic

By V.E. Schwab

Why this book?

A Darker Shade of Magic by the ever-popular V.E. Schwab is the first in the Shades of Magic trilogy. Schwab always writes well, and this book is no exception. The premise is that there are four versions of London, which are color-coded so we can keep them straight (Red London, Grey London, etc.). The world building is solid and the storytelling is fluid. There isn’t much romance, which probably pleases some people. I generally enjoy having a romance subplot, but don’t think people who share my opinion will be disappointed.

From the list:

The best books with parallel worlds

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Book cover of Rivers of London

Rivers of London

By Ben Aaronovitch

Why this book?

Set in London this humorous series of books follows the magical adventures of PC Peter Grant as he discovers magic is real. And he can do it. This isn’t necessarily laugh-out-loud humour but it’s the type of cleverness that will have you smirking and appreciating the twist on the norm to create the fantastical. If you know London at all, you will find yourself nodding along as you recall the places Grant takes you and it will definitely have you thinking differently about rivers. 

From the list:

The best humorous fantasy that isn’t Pratchett

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Book cover of A Curious Beginning

A Curious Beginning

By Deanna Raybourn

Why this book?

In my opinion, this is a wonderful example of the Lady Detective genre. I found the chemistry between the main character, and her male partner, to be both charming and engaging. Moreover, the world building was excellent, and the author does a great job of presenting the mystery itself while leaving me wanting more once it was solved. It was from books like this, and the classic TV show, The Avengers, that my own series had its genesis.

From the list:

The best spy/detective books with strong female characters

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Book cover of The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How It Changed the City Forever

The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How It Changed the City Forever

By Christian Wolmar

Why this book?

With a razor sharp eye Wolmar (author of many other excellent books on railway history) concentrates his focus on the machinations of the establishment of the world's first railway built under the ground. Overcoming the travails of unbuilt fantasy concepts, the Victorians fear of the dark, finances and the problems of running steam trains in tunnels, London's City Solicitor Charles Pearson, managed to get the first route, the Metropolitan Railway, built and opened by January 1863. Wolmar unpicks the struggles to expand the line, private capitals, a rush to build more lines and the eventual nationalisation of the system in…

From the list:

The best books about subways and urban trains

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Book cover of Mrs. P's Journey: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Created the A-Z Map

Mrs. P's Journey: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Created the A-Z Map

By Sarah Hartley

Why this book?

This is the true story of Phyllis Pearsall who (amongst other adventures in a remarkable life that was also filled with personal tragedy) decided to chart and map the geographical districts of London – a project which eventually tuned into the A-Z map. Over a year Pearsall walked 23,000 London streets to achieve this remarkable feat and set up the Geographers’ Map Company. Pearsall is complex and flawed and Hartley wasn’t always able to separate fact from the fiction (Mrs P was a wonderful storyteller but sometimes contradicted herself). Ultimately Hartley concludes ‘If there is a scene, or a word,…

From the list:

The best books about jobs for women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

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Book cover of Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy

By L.A. Meyer

Why this book?

Mary "Jacky" Faber, an orphaned street kid in early 19th century London, begins her adventures across the seven seas by dressing up as a ship's boy. Throughout the series she builds up quite the amazing resume that would put a Navy Seal to shame. And of course, there is a bit of romance here and there but the focus lies on Jacky sailing the world and kicking butt!

From the list:

The best romance books featuring tomboys

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Book cover of Warlight

Warlight

By Michael Ondaatje

Why this book?

Since my own novel is set partly in post-war England, I was drawn to Ondaatje’s Warlight, which begins in 1945 London as the city is recovering from brutal bombing. Another hook for me was the youthful characters; my book is also populated with war-confused children. Ondaatje’s narrator, 14-year-old Nathaniel, recalls his youth with the benefit of adult wisdom. He and his sister Rachel are abandoned by their parents to the care of some eccentric and slightly dangerous characters. Their teen years are marked by many mysterious events and experiences, only beginning to clarify in retrospect. Do we ever know…

From the list:

The best novels about human relations in the altered reality of wartime

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Book cover of London Labour and the London Poor

London Labour and the London Poor

By Henry Mayhew

Why this book?

A sadly neglected masterpiece that describes a series of visits into the darker areas of the city where few rarely trod. In an extraordinary and vivid series of interviews, Mayhew gets the mudlarks, rat catchers, pure finders, and the whores of Shadwell and Seven Dials to tell their stories in their own voices.

From the list:

The best books about London for the curious

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Book cover of The Romance of Metro-Land

The Romance of Metro-Land

By Dennis Edwards, Ron Pigram

Why this book?

So many railway books concentrate on the networks that have been created, rather than their impact. London’s ‘Metroland’ grew up thanks to the Metropolitan Railway’s ability to develop land alongside the railway, the only company to be given that dispensation. The result was the creation of numerous suburbs which were sold on the basis that they were easily accessible via the railway to central London. This book is a powerful illustration of how railways change the landscapes in which they are sited.

From the list:

The best books on the history of London’s railways

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Book cover of London: A Social History

London: A Social History

By Roy Porter

Why this book?

An interesting but idiosyncratic overview of the history and the resultant growth of London. The result is a book full of interesting insights, amusing anecdotes, and historical highlights. A vivid celebration of the city, but also an elegy for its decline, bubbling with statistics and anecdotes, from Boadicea to Betjeman.

From the list:

The best books about London for the curious

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Book cover of An Underground Guide to Sewers: Or: Down, Through and Out in Paris, London, New York, &c.

An Underground Guide to Sewers: Or: Down, Through and Out in Paris, London, New York, &c.

By Stephen Halliday

Why this book?

I have always admired the pioneering Victorian engineers like Stephenson and Brunel, but especially Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who is less recognised and honoured than others, but whose genius provided a sewage system for London which improved sanitation, reduced disease, and death, allowed for the development of the Embankment and lasted for over a century! This book tells the story of those sewers and ones like them across the world and the remarkable men who designed and built them, many of them little known to their countrymen and women. It's absolutely fascinating, from the technical details to the social impact. It…

From the list:

The best books about secret subterranean London

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Book cover of Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging

By Afua Hirsch

Why this book?

Afua’s father is from a Jewish refugee family, her mother is Ghanian. She grows up in an affluent middle-class suburb of London. As she explores her Black and Ghanian identity she looks at what it means to be British; the political heritage, race, and identity from the inside of a loving mix raced family. It is an important commentary on her experience of being in more than one place at the same time.
From the list:

The best contemporary memoirs by women

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Book cover of What Belongs to You

What Belongs to You

By Garth Greenwell

Why this book?

This debut novel published in 2016 is about a gay American teaching English in Bulgaria in the post-Soviet era, a young man tragically drawn to a charming but doomed male hustler. Greenwell is, to my mind, one of the great contemporary writers emerging in the 21st Century, and he uses a musical ear and love of language to transport us to the broken heart of humanity, by letting us literally see and feel the transcendent event that can at times be at the core of sexual experiences. To simply label this book as "gay fiction" is a great disservice, as much…

From the list:

The best novels to make you think deeper about the human condition

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Book cover of Suffragettes in the Purple, White and Green: London 1906-1914

Suffragettes in the Purple, White and Green: London 1906-1914

By Diane Atkinson

Why this book?

Purple, white, and green are the colours of the WSPU regalia. Suffragette ephemera fascinates me, especially their merchandising (soap, chocolate, board games, chinaware - all sorts of things). I first heard of it at a presentation by Diane Atkinson. This book is the catalogue of an exhibition she put together when she was a curator at the Museum of London. An excellent resource, it's full of images with pointers for where to find more. Ephemera is great for giving a sense of period, so I asked the artists on the graphic novel to cram in all they could.
From the list:

The best books on the lives of suffragettes

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Book cover of Delicious

Delicious

By Sherry Thomas

Why this book?

Set in Victorian England, this novel begins where romances often start—with a beleaguered heroine. She is a brilliant cook with a questionable past. Her patron dies. His brother takes over the estate where—let’s say—she’s been multi-tasking. The brother has perversely cut all pleasure from his life. But oh, that food. Complications develop, including his desire to not desire the food or the cook. There are dark secrets and dark hungers including a hunger for revenge on both the hero’s and heroine’s parts. I love a sexy, twisty story that I can’t put down. This one meets all of my…

From the list:

The best sexy books for smart woman over forty

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Book cover of Zero Proof: 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes for Mindful Drinking

Zero Proof: 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes for Mindful Drinking

By Elva Ramirez, Robert Bredvad

Why this book?

With recipes from renowned bars all over the world -- including Death & Co in Denver and NYC, Employees Only, The Aviary NYC, Broken Shaker in LA, Everleaf Drinks in London, and Little Red Door in Paris -- the book serves as the ultimate guide to making (and enjoying!) well-balanced non-alcoholic cocktails. The beverages are tasty, visual, creative, and fun to concoct, and will motivate you to stay dry for a month (and beyond).

From the list:

The best books on dry months & dry lifestyles

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Book cover of Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park

By Jane Austen

Why this book?

Things here get tricky, but for me, the next best book by Austen is Mansfield Park. Fans are divided, and as you read, you will be, too. You will either have to overlook the piety and passivity of heroine Fanny Price or embrace her as an example of what Austen is most often writing about: the need to be authentic to one’s unique self, in all its flawed humanity, and resilient enough to go after what one really wants. Mansfield Park pulls no punches: the characters fail each other just like in real life. But this being Austen, they…

From the list:

The best books by Jane Austen

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Book cover of The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh

The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh

By Molly Greeley

Why this book?

If you’re not a dyed-in-the-wool historical fiction reader, you might think Jane Austen retellings aren’t for you. That’s only because you haven’t read The Heiress yet. This stunning, dreamy, gothic-infused book takes a minor character from Pride and Prejudice who hardly gets any lines and spins up a story about finding your voice in a world that wants to keep you silent. Anne’s struggle against addiction and desperate desire to embrace the beauty of life feels like it could have taken place yesterday. Also, it’s got lesbian yearning that’s both sweet and sexy, aka the dream. Give me that queer…

From the list:

The best historical fiction for people who don’t read historical fiction

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Book cover of Girl, Woman, Other: A Novel

Girl, Woman, Other: A Novel

By Bernardine Evaristo

Why this book?

This book was surprising in both its humor and expansive narrative. Despite being somewhat experimental in its form, I loved this book as it told the stories of 12 British women of color who ranged in ages between 19 and 93 in London. Each life told separately, builds on the others. Spanning issues of class, gender identity, and family, the novel focuses on intersections of experience as generations of women are woven together. 

From the list:

The best fiction to explore the humor and angst of family relationships

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Book cover of The Prince of Eden

The Prince of Eden

By Marilyn Harris

Why this book?

The seven-book saga featuring the Eden family by Marilyn Harris is an amazing read, but I found The Prince of Eden to be the most moving. Not only is Edward Eden the most likable (though still questionable) of the men in the family, the book sheds light on an era of British history I wasn’t very familiar with, the 1830s-50s. I became a spectator of the social unrest, opium dens, and more within these pages. The fictional characters move alongside historical people and events, leaving their own footprints in the world of possibility within this emotional read.

From the list:

The best books for historical gothic family saga fans

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Book cover of The Last Queen: Elizabeth II's Seventy Year Battle to Save the House of Windsor

The Last Queen: Elizabeth II's Seventy Year Battle to Save the House of Windsor

By Clive Irving

Why this book?

From the Windsors’ Nazi leanings in the 1930s to the perceived chilliness of the royal family following the death of Diana in 1997, Clive Irving chronicles every detail in this analysis of the modern monarchy – while never losing respect for its most adroit exponent, Queen Elizabeth II. As founder of the renowned Insight team of the London Sunday Times that exposed Profumo and Philby, Irving directs his sharpest focus on the Crown’s relations with the tabloid media. But his book went to publication prior to the horse-loving Queen’s humorous reaction to Harry and Meghan’s notorious 2021 encounter with…

From the list:

The best books about the Queen

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Book cover of The Viscount Who Loved Me: Bridgerton

The Viscount Who Loved Me: Bridgerton

By Julia Quinn

Why this book?

Bridgerton. Need I say more? Well, yes. This is my favorite of Quinn’s Bridgerton series, and every time I re-read this book, I laugh at the scene in the Viscount’s study. I am laughing right now. Quinn’s historicals are full of fun and joy, perhaps epitomized in a Bridgerton sibling game of Pall Mall that is both merciless and screamingly funny. There’s nobody better at joyful stories than Quinn. If you want to spend a few hours being delighted, read this book. Then go watch Ava Duvernay bring that joy to the screen.

From the list:

The most swoon-worthy historical romances to warm your heart

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Book cover of Five Days of Fog

Five Days of Fog

By Anna Freeman

Why this book?

There aren’t many novels featuring professional female crooks, and Anna Freeman’s gripping story, set in London during the Great Smog of 1952, portrays a really believable all-female gang. Florrie Palmer is torn between her allegiance to the Cutters, led by her mother, and a desire to go straight. It’s a suspenseful, atmospheric read, and partly inspired by the real Forty Elephants.

From the list:

The best books on female crooks

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Book cover of When He Was Wicked: Bridgerton

When He Was Wicked: Bridgerton

By Julia Quinn

Why this book?

Long before Bridgerton graced screens around the world, I loved this Julia Quinn novel (the sixth in her Bridgerton series) about a man who falls hard for a woman he can never have: his cousin’s wife. Michael is head over heels for Francesca and positively loathes himself for it. His angst is so palpable, it made my chest ache. It’s a slow, hot burn—and totally worth the wait.

From the list:

The best romance books with longing so intense, you’ll swoon

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Book cover of The Sea, the Sea

The Sea, the Sea

By Iris Murdoch

Why this book?

This 1978 Booker-winner is said to be the British philosopher and novelist’s finest work. A celebrated London theater director retires from his dissolute show-business life to the seaside, only to encounter his lost boyhood love, for whom he renews a frightening passion made of equal parts nostalgia and fantasy. In addition to its Nabokovian study in obsession and its poetic air of Shakespearean romance, The Sea, the Sea is also a seminar in the ethics of art: the characters debate their obligations to other people, the viability of art when divorced from ordinary human concerns, and even—this is not strictly…

From the list:

The best novels of ideas of the last 50 years

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Book cover of Slightly Dangerous

Slightly Dangerous

By Mary Balogh

Why this book?

Slightly Dangerous is a historical romance novel where you will root and completely fall head over heels for the main hero. I absolutely love how the author wrote the hero’s character in such a way that you find yourself intertwined with him, mind, body, and soul. He is a sort of hero where everyone believes him to be dangerous and heartless, but is the opposite, and this story will take you on the journey of that discovery. Especially when the heroine realizes this as well. This book makes you become a cheerleader, where you will find yourself speaking and whispering…

From the list:

The best books to fall in love with historical romance

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Book cover of Ways of Drawing: Artists' Perspectives and Practices

Ways of Drawing: Artists' Perspectives and Practices

By Julian Bell, Julia Balchin, Claudia Tobin

Why this book?

There’s nothing like looking at the work of other artists to inspire you to draw. In this book, contemporary artists and teachers from the Royal Drawing School in London reflect on drawing and the diversity of ways to go about it through a series of essays that are interspersed with hundreds of drawn images by alumni and leading artists through the ages. A series of practical propositions for you to try out can lead to change and inspiration in your own work, whether it is based in the studio, out in the open, or from your imagination. This book makes…

From the list:

The best books to inspire you to draw

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Book cover of Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage

By Kenneth Roberts

Why this book?

The author’s writing style is now somewhat outdated, but this book is still very worth the time and effort as Roberts weaves the exciting story of the fictional Langdon Towne through the making of America, from the perils of the frontier to the political squabbles of London. Along the way, he becomes the close friend of the larger-than-life character, Robert Rogers. Its breadth of action and depth of intensity make it a truly magnificent book.

From the list:

The best books on wartime historical fiction

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Book cover of The Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence

The Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence

By Jennifer Bell

Why this book?

Bell’s Uncommoners series is set in a richly-imagined magical world where everyday objects have extraordinary powers – and when darkness closes in, Seb and Ivy Sparrow must race to uncover an Uncommon mystery before it’s too late. Featuring a talking bicycle bell, police officers armed with toilet brushes, and the incredible city of Londinium, these books will fling you straight into a thrilling adventure.

From the list:

The best middle grade books to sweep you into another world

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Book cover of Down and Out in Paris and London

Down and Out in Paris and London

By George Orwell

Why this book?

This is one of my all-time favourite books because of how it was written. This book inspired me to be a writer. I read it while doing my erasmus in France where I was working as a waiter in a motel. My working hours were long, like in the book and I really got a sense of the struggle George went through in pursuit of his dream to write. It built into me a resilience that I would one day write something of worth that would be read by others and hopefully instill resilience into them.
From the list:

The best books about following your dreams

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Book cover of Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel

By Cassandra Clare

Why this book?

I was intrigued by this YA novel’s supernatural vibe. I enjoyed how this story incorporated angels, demons, shapeshifters, and automatons into old-world New York and London settings. I found the ensemble of paranormal and supernatural species to have a comic book quality as to the diversity of their talents and abilities to fight for good or with evil. The lead character Tessa is on a journey to find her brother and discovers things about herself that change her perspective of her own place in the world. Clare’s period elements suggest the darkness of Victorian England’s Jack The Ripper or Robert…

From the list:

The best books about other worlds

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Book cover of A Defense of Honor

A Defense of Honor

By Kristi Ann Hunter

Why this book?

I love stories with witty dialogue, and Kristi Ann Hunter is a pro. Her richly detailed books also speak to the heart, so be prepared to shed a tear or two along with uttering a good chuckle. An unconventional heroine driven to help those in need, a clever hero determined to help her, and plenty of secrets and scandals will keep you reading.  

From the list:

The best historical romances sure to make your smile

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Book cover of The Persuasion of Miss Kate: A Humorous Traditional Regency Romance

The Persuasion of Miss Kate: A Humorous Traditional Regency Romance

By Kathleen Baldwin

Why this book?

The stories in Kathleen Baldwin’s My Notorious Aunt series are full of quirky heroines, swoon-worthy heroes, and delightful situations, but this one is one of her best. A messy breakup, in public, sets the hero and heroine on the rocky road to reconciliation, with plenty of complications along the way. You’ll be rooting for their happily-ever-after.

From the list:

The best historical romances sure to make your smile

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Book cover of Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders

Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders

By Kate Griffin

Why this book?

This book was recommended to me by a friend who knew I liked books set in the Victorian era. However, at the time, I had not read any books set in a music hall and certainly not a mystery. This book takes the reader deep into the underbelly of Victorian London and introduces a whole cast of eerie characters as well as some wonderful characters with hearts of gold.

The descriptions of the places our heroine is forced to visit are so exquisitely drawn that I could literally taste, smell, hear and see everything. The charm of Kitty and her…

From the list:

The best books that venture into the darker side of Victorian life

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Book cover of City of Beasts: How Animals Shaped Georgian London

City of Beasts: How Animals Shaped Georgian London

By Thomas Almeroth-Williams

Why this book?

One of the cliches of historical fiction is that it can bring the past to life in a way that factual historical books can’t. If you read the superb City of Beasts you’ll think again! The book studies the many ways in which animals contributed to and shaped eighteenth-century London. History has largely overlooked their presence – but Almeroth-Williams puts them back in all their noisy, smelly, messy, toiling existence. Here, too, are the men and women who worked with them - the drovers, milkmaids, grooms, and pig keepers whose lives don’t often find a place in the history books.…

From the list:

The best historical books about the common people

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Book cover of Free Love

Free Love

By Tessa Hadley

Why this book?

Tessa Hadley’s latest novel Free Love is set in 1967, and it follows forty-year-old Phyllis Fischer through a life-changing year. After a kiss with a twenty-something family friend, Phyllis is moved to leave behind her life as a contented suburban wife and mom, and to enter a very different life in London. Phyllis doesn’t always make the best choices, but she finds her own way twenty years after marrying and having children. Tessa Hadley always writes beautifully layered novels, and Free Love is a compelling look at a family forced to change, as well as a gorgeous evocation of a…

From the list:

The best midlife (yes, midlife!) coming-of-age novels

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Book cover of Rivers of London

Rivers of London

By Ben Aaronovitch

Why this book?

Peter Grant, who narrates his own story, is a London copper. His dad is a down-on-his-luck musician, and his mum cleans for a living. Peter just gets on with it. One day…he sees a ghost. From that time on, Peter finds a whole new identity as a trainee wizard who is also a London copper. Now based at The Folly, with a weird dog, his boss Thomas Nightingale, and the weirder housekeeper, Peter discovers a whole new world in his familiar London. This dual identity; copper and wizard, matches Peter’s other duality as the son of a Caucasian father and…

From the list:

The best books on double identities and other selves

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Book cover of Martin Eden

Martin Eden

By Jack London

Why this book?

While admittedly not a “war” book, Jack London’s masterful novel illustrates notions associated with war and society in an artful way. And he does it within two characters… a truth seeker and a believer in the establishment. From the rich and powerful to the impoverished with no voice, he clearly understood what is behind the masks we don in society. Fantastic read.

From the list:

The best books about emotional conflict and post-war survival within a splintered psyche

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Book cover of Drood

Drood

By Dan Simmons

Why this book?

First of all, Drood is a fantastic trip into the macabre. And, because I love to weave actual truths into my stories, either real-life experiences or real encounters, I am fascinated that Simmons based his novel on the last five years of Charles Dickens's life. Whether this is entirely speculation or otherwise, this novel draws on the character found in Dickens's last and unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Simmons does precisely what I hope to do with my stories; draw the reader into my world and leave them wondering what parts were based on unexpected truths. 

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The best books with plot twists

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Book cover of Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London

Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London

By Caitlin Zaloom

Why this book?

Chicago’s famous ‘open-outcry’ trading pits were packed with hundreds of traders making deals with each other using eye contact and hand signals, or simply shouting out their bids and offers. Anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom did something quite extraordinary. She studied these pits ‘from the inside’ (as a trader’s clerk) and then went on to examine the electronic trading that was starting to replace them – herself becoming a trader. Her book represents anthropology at its most skilled and offers a fascinating glimpse of the lost world of face-to-face trading (nearly all of Chicago’s pits are now closed). 

I researched Chicago’s pits…

From the list:

The best books on financial trading and the global financial system

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Book cover of The White Forest

The White Forest

By Adam McOmber

Why this book?

Set in Victorian England, this novel is a sinister, gothic tale based on the ability of a young woman to read the souls of man-made objects and the disappearance of a young man drawn to the occult. I loved how this book was grounded in the real Victorian London and yet managed to incorporate gorgeously gothic supernatural elements as well as a love triangle involving well-drawn and believable characters. For me, the writing was what really drew me in and I have to admire anyone who can weave historical and fantastical elements as beautifully as this author. 

From the list:

The best historical books to incorporate magic

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Book cover of Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History

Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History

By Barbara A. Hanawalt

Why this book?

I learnt so much from this book when I was writing my biography of Chaucer. It is hard to find out information about childhood in history, and yet it is impossible to try to understand a society if we don’t know how children were brought up, what games they played, how they were educated, what adolescence was like. This book tells us about all those things. You can find out about how children learnt to read, what happened to orphans, the opportunities for pre-marital sex. Looking at a wide range of historical records and literary texts, Hanawalt pieces together a…

From the list:

The best books on medieval life

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Book cover of London's Docklands: A History of the Lost Quarter

London's Docklands: A History of the Lost Quarter

By Fiona Rule

Why this book?

This book is carefully researched and gives fascinating insights into the area around London’s docks. Rule begins her account in Roman times and takes the story through into the twenty-first century. She is committed to explaining how London’s docks, which employed around 100,000 men some sixty years ago, could so quickly have been swept away, and she shows huge sympathy for the people who lived and worked in the area. What I especially like is the range of sources she uses, from archaeological records to personal interviews.

From the list:

The best books on maritime London

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Book cover of Dockland Life: A Pictorial History of London’s Docks 1860–2000

Dockland Life: A Pictorial History of London’s Docks 1860–2000

By Chris Ellmers, Alex Werner

Why this book?

This volume explores all the major aspects of the Port of London, from warehousing and ship repair to the quayside and dock trades. The 2000 edition takes the story right up to the redevelopment of what is now called London Docklands, including Canary Wharf and the Millennium Dome. The many well-chosen illustrations help to convey the drama and mystery of the docks but also the daily grind and danger of some of the work that went on there.

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The best books on maritime London

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Book cover of London and the Georgian Navy

London and the Georgian Navy

By Philip MacDougall

Why this book?

This book focuses on the myriad ways in which Georgian London and the Royal Navy were intertwined. Thousands of Londoners contributed to work that helped to keep the navy at sea; all understood that the navy protected maritime trade, on which London’s prosperity depended. MacDougall looks at bureaucratic links between the navy and the City, and at the practical business of supplying the fleet; he explores key geographical locations in detail and uncovers colourful personalities.

From the list:

The best books on maritime London

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Book cover of The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations

The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations

By Peter Stone

Why this book?

Stone looks specifically at the evolution of the Port of London from Roman times to the present day. His enthusiasm for London’s history is evident on every page. The book is well-paced, accessible, and combines a broad chronological sweep with interesting side-stories which help to bring the pages to life. Clear maps showing trade routes and the growth of London’s dock complex greatly help the reader.

From the list:

The best books on maritime London

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Book cover of London's Sailortown, 1600-1800

London's Sailortown, 1600-1800

By Ken Cozens, Derek Morris

Why this book?

Morris and Cozens have written a series of books that look at the history of East London. These books are a rich resource for historians and offer many points of interest for general readers. In this volume they look at Shadwell and Ratcliff, and chiefly focus on the period between 1700 and 1800, analysing hundreds of archives including land tax records and insurance policies. Their research allows them to up-end the traditional view of a deprived East London to show that actually the population in this period was mixed and included many wealthy families.

From the list:

The best books on maritime London

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Book cover of Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi

Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi

By Yotam Ottolenghi

Why this book?

If you are an experienced cook and looking for new and interesting ways to expand your vegetable horizons and use of ethnic ingredients, try this cookbook by London chef Ottolenghi (he’s not a vegetarian, but a master of preparing vegetables). Recipes have a Mediterranean influence and include dishes like Spicy Moroccan Salad, Sweet Potato Cakes, and Black Pepper Tofu. This book might be for you if you shop at farmers markets (think chard, leeks, pulses, greens) and are comfortable with Mediterranean spices.

From the list:

The best vegetarian cookbooks for easy and delicious meals

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Book cover of The London Cage: The Secret History of Britain's World War II Interrogation Centre

The London Cage: The Secret History of Britain's World War II Interrogation Centre

By Helen Fry

Why this book?

Intelligence was collected in multiple ways by all sides during World War II. The British housed German prisoners at a site called the London Cage, which was located in an upper-class London neighborhood. The London Cage was later used as a Nazi war criminal detention site. While in residence, the German prisoners underwent interrogation, in some cases what we would now call “enhanced interrogation” and in others while under the influence of “truth drugs.” As Fry’s book reveals, the post-9/11 “enhanced interrogations” were not the first of its kind. I recommend this book because it demonstrates the lengths to which…

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The best books on World War II intelligence history

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Book cover of Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War

Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War

By Jerry White

Why this book?

Having grown up in London in the aftermath of WW2, and playing on its bomb sites, I was well aware of the WW2 Blitz. But like most people, I had no idea that London was heavily bombed during the first war as well. This book is detailed and fascinating, and as well as the raids themselves, it goes into a lot of related topics, such as the black-out, prostitution, munitions factories, pub closing hours and the drive for teetotalism, refugees, women’s work, and the aftermath. Well-written and illustrated with photographs, it’s an excellent look at how London fared through the…

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The most readable books on World War 1

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Book cover of Vivienne Westwood: An Unfashionable Life

Vivienne Westwood: An Unfashionable Life

By Jane Mulvagh

Why this book?

This began as an authorized biography, but Westwood proved such a slippery subject that journalist Mulvagh wisely decided to proceed without the designer’s cooperation. The result is a warts-and-all portrait of the important, eccentric, and often infuriating designer, from her scrappy, sloppy punk roots to her current status as the kooky grande dame of British fashion. She’s surrounded by an equally chaotic and colorful cast of feckless boyfriends, gurus, and musicians; London in the 70s and 80s is a character in its own right. Westwood’s raw talent shines through a litany of bad decisions, controversies, and copycats.

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The best biographies of fashion designers

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Book cover of A Philosophical Investigation

A Philosophical Investigation

By Philip Kerr

Why this book?

THEME: Technically, this is not really a work of science fiction per se, even though it takes place in London 2013, twenty-one years before the book's publication. So it explores aspects of the future through a journey into the head of a serial killer and to the heart of murder itself. In the book, London at that time was a city where serial murder has reached epidemic proportions. To combat this raft of murders, the government has created a test to screen people for a predisposition to commit violent crimes. Tested at random, a man is shocked to hear that…

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The best psychological thrillers that will make you think

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Book cover of The Business of Beauty: Gender and the Body in Modern London

The Business of Beauty: Gender and the Body in Modern London

By Jessica P. Clark

Why this book?

Am starting with a tiny cheat as this book isn’t just about women – although it is about the beauty industry which is usually associated with women. What this book is -however – is an exploration about the history of beauty, consumption and gender in Victorian and Edwardian London. It is packed with stories of women beauty salon owners like Sarah “Madame” Rachel Leverson, Helen Rubinstein and Anna Ruppert. I’ve been working on a book that features Anna Rupert and Clark’s book has been an invaluable resource and a great in depth study on the subject.

From the list:

The best books about jobs for women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

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Book cover of Life and death in Spitalfields, 1700-1850

Life and death in Spitalfields, 1700-1850

By Margaret Cox

Why this book?

Excavations in the Crypt of Christ Church, Spitalfields, London in 1984-9 uncovered 1000 skeletons, of which 387 were in coffins with inscribed plates giving the names and ages of the deceased. A mixed team of specialists were able to analyse the bodies and follow up the documentary evidence to reveal extraordinary details of life, dentistry and funerary practices between 1729 and 1859 in this historically rich part of London.

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The best books that show how people in different periods or cultures lived their lives

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Book cover of For Love & Money

For Love & Money

By Jonathan Raban

Why this book?

Jonathan Raban’s nonfiction books take travel writing to another level. He has a special mastery of the intersection of self, journey, place, and narrative. This collection – of essays, short memoirs, travel pieces, and more – isn’t necessarily his best book (that would probably be Passage to Juneau); but it’s full of brilliant reflections on the writing life, and on the challenges facing the writer as a craftsperson. There’s a particularly memorable section on the difficulties of transferring real-world dialogue onto the page. “You isolate the speaker’s tics and tricks of speech, his keywords,” Raban says, “and make him…

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The best books that capture the complexities of writing about the real world

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Book cover of Russka: The Novel of Russia

Russka: The Novel of Russia

By Edward Rutherfurd

Why this book?

I really love Edward Rutherfurd's writing style. He obviously does plenty of historical research, so the events in his epic sagas are accurate, and yet he is creative enough to come up with fictional characters which fit into history in the most interesting and remarkable way. By reading this one, you can painlessly learn several centuries of Russian history and have lots of fun doing it. I would say that this one and "London" are two of his best efforts.
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The best historical fiction on royalty and Russia

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Book cover of Nero: The Man Behind the Myth

Nero: The Man Behind the Myth

By Richard Holland

Why this book?

Written by a veteran London Times journalist this exciting book reads like a fast paced thriller. What I found most interesting is his detailed description of Nero’s most notorious action, the murder of his mother. He writes “It is in the realm of abnormal psychology that an explanation may lie.” He is clearly unaware that what best explains the spooky full moon melodrama played out on a cosmic stage was the blind faith both Nero and his mother had in astrology (see Nero's astrology chart here). 

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The best books on Roman Emperor Nero, the man and the myth

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Book cover of A Street Cat Named Bob and How He Saved My Life

A Street Cat Named Bob and How He Saved My Life

By James Bowen

Why this book?

A fascinating story about two unlikely comrades, who, in their own way, save each other. James Bowen, the Author, is a London street performer (a busker), who earns a living playing his guitar. He's a recovering drug addict, who struggles to stay focused and clean. Bob is a homeless Ginger Cat who James finds injured in his apartment building and takes to the vet. James spends most of cash-on-hand to get antibiotics to treat Bob's wounds, and this act of kindness and sacrifice is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. You'll come to care about them both very quickly and…

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The best books on inspirational animal and human connections

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Book cover of The Wicked Boy: An Infamous Murder in Victorian London

The Wicked Boy: An Infamous Murder in Victorian London

By Kate Summerscale

Why this book?

Although Kate Summerscale is best known for The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, this is a book to read for those interested in mental illness and crime. The boy of the title is indeed a child – one who killed his mother and entered the asylum at the age of eighteen. The influence of Victorian social media – the penny dreadfuls and sensational journalism – feels relevant as today’s youth are lambasted for similar fascinations. The story ends far from Broadmoor and provides hope of recovery from even the most desperate and tragic situations.

From the list:

The best books on the history of English mental health

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Book cover of First Light: The True Story of the Boy Who Became a Man in the War-Torn Skies above Britain

First Light: The True Story of the Boy Who Became a Man in the War-Torn Skies above Britain

By Geoffrey Wellum

Why this book?

First Light is also a memoir by a Battle of Britain veteran, but Wellum was not an ace. Wellum was a very young and very junior pilot during the Battle, and this book, written with the wisdom of hindsight by a mature Wellum, is more reflective and analytical than Deere’s account. That is its value. Wellum is a masterful writer and possesses a marked ability to evoke a mood. It is precisely because Wellum writes with mature understanding that he captures so well the innocence and naivety of his past self. This book does not educate one about the…

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The best books to really understand the Battle of Britain

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Book cover of East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding

East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding

By Raphael Samuel

Why this book?

In a series of interviews, Arthur Harding tells us of his life as an East End rogue at the turn of the century. The characters he encountered are a “Who’s Who” of the underworld at that time and his descriptions of Spitalfields were very useful to me during research for The Worst Street In London.

From the list:

The best books on Victorian London

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Book cover of Charles Booth's London Poverty Maps: A Landmark Reassessment of Booth's Social Survey

Charles Booth's London Poverty Maps: A Landmark Reassessment of Booth's Social Survey

By Mary S. Morgan

Why this book?

Not a book as such, but these maps tell the social historian a great deal about London in the late-1800s. They were compiled by Charles Booth, a wealthy philanthropist, who wanted to highlight the areas of London in the greatest need of help. In order to achieve this, he despatched a team of researchers to every street in London (except the City,) to assess their character. The results were entered onto a colour-coded map – yellow streets were the most affluent; black were the resorts of “vicious semi-criminals”.

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The best books on Victorian London

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Book cover of Lost London: 1870-1945

Lost London: 1870-1945

By Philip Davies

Why this book?

This fascinating doorstopper of a book contains more than 500 photographs of buildings that have long since disappeared from London’s streets. It provides a tantalising glimpse of the city that our ancestors knew and carries me off on a time travelling adventure every time I look through it.

From the list:

The best books on Victorian London

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Book cover of London A-Z Street Atlas

London A-Z Street Atlas

By Geographers' A-Z Map Co Ltd

Why this book?

This facsimile of the original A-Z shows London before huge swathes of the city were destroyed by enemy bombing in the Second World War. It is invaluable when searching for old addresses and presents a picture of areas that had not changed much since Victorian times but would soon be altered beyond recognition.

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The best books on Victorian London

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Book cover of Antic Hay

Antic Hay

By Aldous Huxley

Why this book?

Set in London in the early 1920s, Huxley’s Antic Hay follows a cast of young bohemian and artistic characters, all affected in various ways by the Great War, as they search for SOMETHING to give meaning to their lives. London has changed, the world has changed, and they are lost. Cripplingly shy Theodore Gumbril, the main character, (inventor of Gumbril's Patent Small-Clothes, trousers which contain an inflatable cushion in the seat) searches for love, and meaning, in the shattered society following the end of the war. His search for love – including the donning of a false, confidence-boosting beard, makes…

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The best books on finding a new normal after World War I

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Book cover of Citadel of the Saxons: The Rise of Early London

Citadel of the Saxons: The Rise of Early London

By Rory Naismith

Why this book?

In my own writing I’ve recently ventured into the Anglo-Saxon period, so I know how hard it is to conjure the history of these early medieval centuries from the meagre source material that survives. Rory Naismith manages this brilliantly in his highly engaging history of London in the centuries between the end of Roman Britain and the Norman Conquest. Naismith’s earlier books are on coins and coinage, but he does not allow his specialism to pull the book off balance. It’s a comparatively short volume, but it provides a comprehensive overview of the emerging capital, and it wears its considerable…

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The best books on medieval Britain

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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…

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The best crime novels that double as travel books

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Book cover of History of London Transport: The Twentieth Century to 1970

History of London Transport: The Twentieth Century to 1970

By T.C. Barker, Michael Robbins

Why this book?

This is one of the only comprehensive books on the history of London’s transport system and though long out of print and written in the 1960s, it is still the best explanation of how the network developed. It is the starting point for anyone seeking to research this field.

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The best books on the history of London’s railways

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Book cover of St Pancras Station (Wonders of the World)

St Pancras Station (Wonders of the World)

By Simon Bradley

Why this book?

There are many books on individual London stations but this is by far the best. It explains the architectural background to the station as well as the story of why two major and rival railway stations were built next door to each other.

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The best books on the history of London’s railways

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Book cover of London’s Historic Railway Stations

London’s Historic Railway Stations

By John Betjeman

Why this book?

Another out of print effort, but very significant in both the authorship and the moment in time it captures. This was written as a memorial to the stations which Betjeman expected would be demolished following the fate in the early 1960s of Euston Staton. Betjeman tours round all the stations celebrating their architecture but bemoaning their fate and he helped create the movement which resisted further demolitions and eventually resulted in a lot of the stations being radically and successfully improved.

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The best books on the history of London’s railways

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Book cover of London: The Biography

London: The Biography

By Peter Ackroyd

Why this book?

The daddy of all London books, an encomium to a city of myth. Its buildings hold and hide legends. Its rivers are lost underground. Its backstreets vanish into fable. Its characters are blurred between fact and fiction. Truths have been twisted by fantasy. Tourists are rendered blind, stepping around beggars to photograph the past, and sit in parks reading of a city that only springs to life in the mind, for in reality only the faintest outline traces now remain. A truly remarkable tour de force.

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The best books about London for the curious

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Book cover of The Diary of Samuel Pepys

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

By Samuel Pepys

Why this book?

Through his jaundiced eyes we accompany our erstwhile hero into coffee shops, the arms of actresses, and experience the ebb and flow of London life. Later we watch as his beloved London undergoes the rigors of the plague of 1665 and then how he buries his beloved cheese in the wake of the Great Fire of London. A true classic.

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The best books about London for the curious

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Book cover of London Under London: A Subterranean Guide

London Under London: A Subterranean Guide

By Richard Trench, Ellis Hillman

Why this book?

I wrote a novel, a thriller set in and around Westminster, a place I know well because I was a senior civil servant in Whitehall for many years. This included a number of little-known and ancient subterranean locations, including Roman baths, plague pits, the sewers, the Underground, the 'lost' River Tyburn, and World War Two bunkers. The Subterranean Guide filled in the blanks in my knowledge and opened up other aspects of this hidden world to me. It's a treasure trove of information and written with a light touch that engages everyone from the casual reader to the history…

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The best books about secret subterranean London

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Book cover of London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets

London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets

By Peter Ackroyd

Why this book?

I enjoy Ackroyd's novels as well as his biographies, the former almost always being set in London which he, as a noted flaneur, loves. London Under is not fiction, though it often references the literature and mythologies which have grown up around certain places and landmarks within London, from its earliest incarnation before it was even a city to the present day. Ackroyd chronicles how the London of one time reappears and impacts upon the London of another time, one stratum intruding upon another and shows how the world below mirrors and reflects the world above. This is not…

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The best books about secret subterranean London

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Book cover of London Overground: A Day's Walk Around the Ginger Line

London Overground: A Day's Walk Around the Ginger Line

By Iain Sinclair

Why this book?

OK, this isn't focused on the subterranean, but it does touch frequently upon underpasses and tunnels and is a personal journey, passing through the parts of London where the 'Ginger Line' - the London Overground railway -  runs. Sinclair uses his experiences to illuminate the changing city, a jumping-off point for explorations of places, their past, and present. His journey is bound up with writers and artists of all kinds. He, like Ackroyd, has an eye for the bizarre, but Sinclair has a sense of danger, real and modern, while Ackroyd summons the haunting past.

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The best books about secret subterranean London

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Book cover of The System of the World: Volume Three of the Baroque Cycle

The System of the World: Volume Three of the Baroque Cycle

By Neal Stephenson

Why this book?

The System is the third book in the Baroque Cycle which begins with Quicksilver and continues with The Confusion. The whole Cycle is a rip-roaring, wildly inventive, and massively ambitious saga, ranging from the mid-seventeenth to the early eighteenth century, spanning the globe and casting an amazing set of characters from Leibnitz and Newton, to King George, Thomas Newcomen and William Teach the pirate. It's astonishing and has some of the best subterranean London episodes I've ever read, including an escape from Newgate Prison which takes in the Bank of England, a Roman Temple, and a medieval privy. Read…

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The best books about secret subterranean London

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Book cover of Neverwhere

Neverwhere

By Neil Gaiman

Why this book?

This book allows readers to strongly visualize Neil’s fantasy world and get lost in it. The descriptions are enough to tantalize and run with, and the world that’s built through Neil’s classic prose comes alive on each page. Even if you’re not a fan of the fantasy genre, there’s enough grounded in aspects of reality that make it worth a look.

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The best fiction books set in underground worlds

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Book cover of Transluminal: The Paintings of Jim Burns

Transluminal: The Paintings of Jim Burns

By Jim Burns

Why this book?

Although all the other books on this list feature American artists this pick is by an astonishing Welsh artist. As a young illustrator in London, I was aware of Jim's incredible work and still own a well-worn copy of his first art book from that period. Unlike his American counterparts, Jim worked mostly in acrylics with some airbrush, and he greatly influenced me with his sense of atmosphere and the scale of his imagination. The fact that we both worked in London at the same time, In the same field, and never met until recently makes me a little melancholy.…
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The best books on art of the imagination

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Book cover of Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius

Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius

By Steven Roby, Brad Schreiber

Why this book?

The most emphasized aspect of Jimi Hendrix’s life has always been his turn as a meteoric Rock guitar phenomenon. His exploits in Europe and his triumphant return to the US usually captures most of the ink regarding his existence on this earth. Many people thought that Jimi Hendrix came out of thin air and was manufactured in London. However, this book sheds light on Jimi’s musical foundation as an itinerant sideman on the Chitlin’ Circuit. This was where he honed his craft and developed his chops.

You can’t leave this aspect out and jump straight to Purple Haze and All…

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The best books that start to reveal the genius of Jimi Hendrix

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Book cover of Civilised by Beasts: Animals and Urban Change in Nineteenth-Century Dublin

Civilised by Beasts: Animals and Urban Change in Nineteenth-Century Dublin

By Juliana Adelman

Why this book?

This is one of several excellent books that explores how nonhuman animals shaped cities (see also Andrew Robichaud’s Animal City, Frederick L. Brown’s The City is More Than Human, Dawn Day Biehler’s Pests in the City, and Hannah Velten’s Beastly London, for example). Cities are multispecies spaces and they have always been so, even as the history of a given city shifts and changes. When we walk through a city like Dublin today we may not immediately think about the many, many nonhuman animals who used to roam the same streets and pathways we walk on today.…

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The best books about animal history

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Book cover of Lewis Carroll's Diaries: The Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

Lewis Carroll's Diaries: The Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

By Lewis Carroll

Why this book?

Actually, it is ten books, covering 1855 to 1897 (with a reconstruction of the missing journals of April 1858 to May 1862 – their disappearance being the cause of countless conspiracy theories!). These diaries are the principal source of practically every piece of Lewis Carroll/Alice analysis that has ever been published, and provide a uniquely revealing chronology of the genesis of one of the world’s classic works of literature. These volumes mean that the enigmatic genius of Lewis Carroll is not the sole preserve of academics or historians; through them, he becomes accessible to us all. Transcribed and fully indexed…

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The best books about Lewis Carroll and Alice

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Book cover of The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London

The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London

By Sarah Wise

Why this book?

An exploration of the suspected murder of an Italian child in London that along with the murders of Burke and Hare, changed how bodies are supplied for medical teaching. Set in London in the 1830s it is a factual look at the way cadavers were supplied for medical teaching at that point in history.

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The best books on the supply of cadavers and what they can teach us

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Book cover of The Maul and the Pear Tree

The Maul and the Pear Tree

By P.D. James, T.A. Critchley

Why this book?

There is something very wrong with the official version of the Ratcliff Highway Murders of 1811, in which seven were killed – so much that simply does not add up. Detective fiction writer James and historian Critchley teamed up in 1971 to use their respective talents to sift the contradictory accounts of the killings of the Marr and Williamson households. They brilliantly capture the atmosphere of Regency Wapping and come up with an unusual partial solution, exonerating John Williams, whom tradition has always fingered as the killer.
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The best true crime books that show fact is FAR odder than fiction

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Book cover of The 1946 London Lectures

The 1946 London Lectures

By Maria Montessori

Why this book?

These lectures were delivered by Montessori during the first teacher training course given in London after she returned from forced exile in India as an Italian national during WWII. I received lectures based on them during my own Montessori course in London, but not until 2012 were they organized and edited by my good friend Annette Haines, and published as a book. Montessori’s granddaughter Renilde Montessori wrote the foreword. The lectures speak to many aspects of Montessori valuable today such as: education based on psychology rather than a fixed curriculum, education from birth, unlocking intelligence, social development, education for independence,…

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Book cover of Bad News

Bad News

By Edward St Aubyn

Why this book?

No one captures the self-loathing and paradoxical liberty of the moneyed junkie as well as St Aubyn (except perhaps Anna Cavan). The second novel in his almost-autobiographical Patrick Melrose series, Bad News finds our fucked-up anti-hero on a gargantuan smack binge in New York at the age of 22. How the author – now clean – can reconstruct his frame of mind is remarkable; how he can do it with such precision and wit is mind-blowing.
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The best books about madness, drugs, and rock’n’roll

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Book cover of London Triptych

London Triptych

By Jonathan Kemp

Why this book?

This novel weaves three unique stories told by three very distinctive gay men who live in London at completely different periods of time. What unites them? Internalised homophobia, something as a gay person I remember from a long time ago. Each character yearns for someone. Each in a distinct way. Rent boy, Jack, longs for his regular client, Oscar Wilde. Lonely artist Colin desires the model he paints while staying closeted in the 1950s. And David’s desire lands him in prison in the 1980s.

Each story travels at the same pace with each character reflecting similar highs and lows. And…

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The best gay themed books not about romance

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Book cover of The Pyramids of London

The Pyramids of London

By Andrea K. Host

Why this book?

The Pyramids of London has the most ornate, baroque alternative-history setting of any novel in the entire history of fantasy novels. Seriously. To start with, every kind of mythology is true in whatever region that mythology developed. Also, the pharaohs of Egypt have been vampires for thousands of years. Plus, when they die, vampires might become stars. Which are also gods. Plus France is ruled by the Fae. At night, when the Fae Court of the Moon arises in Paris, gravity suddenly drops dramatically.

Insert a murder mystery into this wildly ornate setting, plus fully realized characters you both believe…

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The best fantasy novels that sweep you into a very strange world

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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…

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

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Book cover of The Grand Alliance: The Second World War, Volume 3

The Grand Alliance: The Second World War, Volume 3

By Winston S. Churchill

Why this book?

Leave it to Churchill to sum up the events of 1941 that determined the ultimate outcome of the war. In his words, the theme of this volume of his epic account of the war is “How the British fought on with Hardship their Garment until Soviet Russia and the United States were drawn into the Great Conflict.” Much of this consists of letters, reports, speeches, and other original documents from that period, woven together by its skillful narrator. Little wonder that Churchill was later awarded the Noble Prize in Literature "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well…

From the list:

The best books on the view from London in 1941

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Book cover of City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London

City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London

By Judith R. Walkowitz

Why this book?

This is Victorian London, a city of dynamic growth, extreme class divisions, obsessions with public sexual danger and pathology, growing anxiety in the face of so much that is unknown and uncertain, and moralizing campaigns for reform. Not least, and the book ends with this story, this is the city of Jack the Ripper. Sometimes Walkowitz is densely analytical, for she is skillful as both storyteller and theorist. In both genres, the experience of modernity is central, as are questions about the body and the self, ethnicity, class, and morality. The city that emerges, in all its dread and delight,…
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The best books on the modern history of cities

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Book cover of The London Eye Mystery

The London Eye Mystery

By Siobhan Dowd

Why this book?

Here’s one for slightly older children. The story of two siblings, one with Asperger’s syndrome, who find themselves at the centre of a riveting detective story. They’re on the hunt to find their cousin Salim, who’s gone missing from a sealed carriage on The London Eye. Throughout the book, we are challenged to see the world from different people’s points of view in order to solve the mystery.

From the list:

The best children’s books exploring empathy

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Book cover of The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

By Imogen Hermes Gowar

Why this book?

I have included a work of fiction in this list both because it is an extraordinary example of period fiction and because it highlights the potential richness of many of the stories we tell as historians. Several of the books I’ve highlighted in this list, as well as my own work, draw on the records of specific people – often merchants, but also consumers and manufacturers – to explore issues surrounding business history. Imogen Hermes Gowar’s Jonah Hancock exemplifies the risk and uncertainty navigated by early-modern merchants as well as the potential cost of their ambition and expertly navigates the…

From the list:

The best books on early-modern business history

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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…

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The best non-fantasy books for fantasy readers

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Book cover of The Post-Birthday World

The Post-Birthday World

By Lionel Shriver

Why this book?

We all have our own private "what if" moments and personal alternate histories. The party invites we wisely declined, the job offer we foolishly accepted, and—above all, I suspect for many of us—the person we did or didn't kiss. Irina, a successful book illustrator in a long-term relationship with a caring if somewhat boring Lawrence, faces such a crossroads when she encounters the laddish but glamorous professional snooker player Ramsey. Which way does she go? The answer, through the book's following alternate chapters, is both. We get to examine the trails, tribulations, and excitements that run through these alternate relationships…

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The best alternative alternate history novels

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The Uninvited

By Dorothy Macardle

Why this book?

This old-fashioned thriller from 1942 is a classic ghost story with an undercurrent theme of the feminism of the time. It’s available now through Tramp Press’ Recovered Voices, one of the programs that are making available old works of literature. I love the trend of bringing old books back for new readers.

Brother and sister Roderick and Pamela buy a suspiciously-cheap house in Devon in the UK, the previous home of a dead and misogynistic artist whose daughter sold Roddy and Pamela the house. The siblings soon decide the house is haunted by revenants of the artist’s love triangle with…

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The best horror books about bad moving decisions

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Her Royal Spyness

By Rhys Bowen

Why this book?

The Royal Spyness series is a cross between Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence and Nancy Mitford. It’s set in the 1930s and stars Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter to the Duke of Atholt and Rannoch. Lady “Georgie” is 34th in line to the throne. When her allowance is cut off she is forced to earn her own money … with disastrous – and deadly – results.

From the list:

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

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Cloche and Dagger

By Jenn McKinlay

Why this book?

Full disclosure: I love all Jenn McKinlay’s books, but the Hat Shop Mysteries are my favorite – probably because I know the area of London she writes about. I also love the Cupcake Mysteries, the Library Lover’s Mysteries as well as her stand alones. Her sense of humor is laugh-out-loud funny and the plots, twisty and fun. 

From the list:

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

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Devil's Bride

By Stephanie Laurens

Why this book?

I love all of Stephanie Laurens’ books about historical London and high society during the Regency period or “the ton”, as it was called. The Bar Cynster series doesn’t disappoint. These books are fun to read and in keeping with the true romance books of boy meets girl themes and girl tames the cagy, self-proclaimed bachelor. Each book deals with a different brother or cousin in the Cynster dynasty and a specific event around their daily lives. The reader gets a sense of current events and the lifestyle of the rich during this period and how money and power can…

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The best books on love gone wrong

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Book cover of The Angel of the Crows

The Angel of the Crows

By Katherine Addison

Why this book?

A thrilling re-telling of Sherlock Holmes in a magical London where vampires and werewolves lurk in the alleys and real-life Angels stroll the streets. A war-weary Watson teams up with a fallen Angel (Holmes) who has to discover who is behind the brutal White Chapel murders terrifying the city. Addison’s twists to the classic cases will have readers on the edge of their seats, but it’s her imagining of this new Holmes and Watson as broken pieces that fit together to form a legendary duo that will keep you up reading late into the night.

From the list:

The best rip-roaring adventure fantasy novels

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Book cover of The East End Butcher Boy

The East End Butcher Boy

By Joe E. Lawrence

Why this book?

This coming-of-age memoir takes me back to my early years living in the East End of London in the 1960s, where people were hard up and renowned for ‘ducking and diving’ and dodgy dealings. Joe’s boss Roy had many such deals going on in the back of his butcher’s shop. Over time Joe became aware that Roy sold much more than just meat, and in fact was raking in more money doing shady deals than selling the usual beef, pork, and lamb. Very entertaining!   

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The best indie faction novels

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Book cover of To Sir Phillip, with Love: Bridgerton

To Sir Phillip, with Love: Bridgerton

By Julia Quinn

Why this book?

I have enjoyed all the books in the Bridgerton Series, even though, or maybe because, they are much different than the Netflix series by the same name. Julia Quinn is the master of writing about women with an attitude, and this book is no exception. Eloise, thought to be a hopeless spinster, finds herself with a pen-pal. She never expected the widower in the letters to propose, but willing to create a new life for herself, she runs off in the middle of the night to accept his offer. The story that follows is charming, realistic, and thoroughly enjoyable. 

I…

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The best books on girls who don’t need to be saved

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Book cover of The Rook

The Rook

By Daniel O'Malley

Why this book?

My husband, a sci-fi/fantasy geek and storyboard artist for The Simpsons TV show shoved this book toward me and told me I had to read it. Seriously, it was a fantastic read and I’m glad he suggested it.

The Checquy is a secret British organization dedicated to dealing with the paranormal—unfortunately, Myfanwy Thomas has been betrayed by someone with in the organization and wakes up randomly in a park with a simple note: "The body you are wearing used to be mine." That alone is intriguing, and as you delve into this world of espionage, magic, and the seemingly impossible,…

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The best fantasy novels that prove secret agencies often mess things up, and we need a hero

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Book cover of Confessions of the Fox

Confessions of the Fox

By Jordy Rosenberg

Why this book?

This book has several mind-benders in it, and I love it. There is a historical manuscript that an academic in the near-future has to verify for authenticity. The manuscript is from the 1700s about a transperson named Jack Sheppard, and his adventures in London. But the footnotes from the near-future academic and their advisors reveal a threat that ultimately cause them to flee. This novel bends and stretches and changes, all the while keeping one narrative in 1724 with the incredible slang of Jack Sheppard, and the other narrative and its meta-revelations stuck (almost always) in the footnotes. By then…

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The best historical misfits that should totally be your best friend if they were alive (or real)

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Book cover of The Screaming Staircase

The Screaming Staircase

By Jonathan Stroud

Why this book?

Imagination + adventure! This series is for older readers, as it can be quite scary, but I just love it. You might think you’ve read every possible twist on the ghost story, but then he comes up with a totally fresh concept. Stroud develops wonderfully unique characters in his books, too. I also loved the Bartimaeus series, and I just finished (and loved) his latest, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne.

From the list:

The best middle grade books of breathtaking imagination

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Book cover of Fingersmith

Fingersmith

By Sarah Waters

Why this book?

Sarah Waters is a master storyteller, and you can’t go wrong with any of her books, but this is among my favorites. Little orphan Susan Trinder is shuttled off to a Mrs. Sucksby, who is something of a mother figure and commands a household of wee fingersmiths and thieves. I was rooting for Susan to break free of her life of crime and find respectability, but she just may have chosen the wrong person to pave the way—the legendary thief who goes by the moniker Gentleman. Susan and Gentleman develop a scheme to swindle an innocent woman out of her…
From the list:

The best books about wily, take-charge women

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Book cover of The Duke and I: Bridgerton

The Duke and I: Bridgerton

By Julia Quinn

Why this book?

I am so glad this book is such a success. I fell in love with the hero right away, when as a child he had trouble speaking and his father rejected him. He grows into a hard man until he meets Daphne Bridgerton and then the story takes off. What fun! 

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The best books with great hunks for heroes

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Book cover of Last One at the Party

Last One at the Party

By Bethany Clift

Why this book?

TCE here is a virus that leaves just one woman alive. I found this quite irritating at first because the law of averages would say there HAD to be at least a handful of other survivors. The story features a woman who would take to her bed for the day if she broke a fingernail. I enjoyed seeing a female character in this role although she has a tendency to be a bit wet. She spends the first few weeks post-TCE breaking into nightclubs, drug dens, and museums and getting smashed. Set in London, it’s a great travelogue for this…

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The best books set in a post apocalyptic future

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Book cover of Faithful Place

Faithful Place

By Tana French

Why this book?

All of Tana French’s books are characterized by intensity. Her protagonists have powerful backstories that generate the emotional drive to solve the mystery they face. In Faithful Place, set close to the present day, the protagonist Frank Mackey grew up working class in Dublin. Now he’s a detective, called home to Faithful Place when his family discovers a suitcase in an abandoned building—a suitcase that belonged to Frank’s girlfriend Rosie, who vanished years ago, the night she and Frank were to run away together to London. Frank always believed that Rosie abandoned him; but what if she was…

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The best books of mystery/suspense by women authors

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Book cover of All Among the Barley

All Among the Barley

By Melissa Harrison

Why this book?

Is this historical fiction or is it sublime nature writing?  Answer: it's both. Melissa Harrison completely immersed me into the rural Sussex world of Edie in 1933, a world unchanged for centuries. It is described in achingly beautiful, hypnotic, poetic language: the kind of prose I'd hoped I would write when I turned from poetry to fiction, but which has so far escaped me. I was utterly captivated by the multi-textured world she creates, and the shock of the ending, and the darkness which lies beneath. I loved the way she trusted the reader to understand what was going on,…

From the list:

The best women's historical fiction

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Book cover of Romancing Mister Bridgerton: Bridgerton

Romancing Mister Bridgerton: Bridgerton

By Julia Quinn

Why this book?

This is the book that kick-started my career! Before walking into a small bookstore in Ghana and picking up this particular novel, I had no idea Regency romance was even a genre. Not only did I find this story engaging, but it was also filled with humor and written in a style that made me crave more. Until that point, I had attempted to write a historical fiction novel (which remains unfinished until this day). As soon as I was done with Romancing Mister Bridgerton I thought, this is the kind of story I want to write. Low and behold,…

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The best historical romance books by contemporary authors

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Book cover of In The Viscount's Arms (Staunton Sisters Book 1)

In The Viscount's Arms (Staunton Sisters Book 1)

By Allyson Jeleyne

Why this book?

This book immediately stood out to me for a couple of reasons: the setting was vividly described, the characters engaged in simple everyday tasks that not only added depth but helped paint a picture of the era, and the author managed to make this story extremely sexy without explicit lovemaking scenes. I stopped writing explicit scenes years ago and have since aimed for a more sensual tone, which actually poses a much bigger challenge. So I’m always interested to see how other authors (of which I’ve encountered only a few), tackle such scenes in a more suggestive manner while still…

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The best historical romance books by contemporary authors

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Book cover of Barnaby Rudge

Barnaby Rudge

By Charles Dickens

Why this book?

Dickens was born in 1812 and Barnaby Rudge is set in 1775 and 1780, the year of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in London. But the fascinating thing about the book is that much of the London Charles Dickens specialized in describing did not yet exist at the time. As the narration has it, "Nature was not so far removed, or hard to get at," and the book is intensely bucolic in a woozy way. See, for example, the description of a central location of the book, The Maypole Inn: "With its overhanging stories, drowsy little panes of glass, and front…

From the list:

The best historical fiction books for making you think you’re really there

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Book cover of Hawksmoor

Hawksmoor

By Peter Ackroyd

Why this book?

Hawksmoor is a tale of murder and ghostly happenings in some London churches. It’s set partly in the modern-day (or 1985, when it was published) and partly in the early 18th Century. The 18th Century language – making full use of the randomized capitalization favoured at the time – is amazingly vivid: "Mr. Vanbrugghe…blew into my Closet like a dry leaf in a Hurricanoe." Indeed, the modern-day scenes are deliberately slightly pallid in comparison with Ackroyd’s fever dream of the past. I have read this book three times, and it remains mysterious to me – which I mean…

From the list:

The best historical fiction books for making you think you’re really there

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Book cover of Some Danger Involved

Some Danger Involved

By Will Thomas

Why this book?

For those who prefer their mysteries to be driven by British proprieties and comforts set against compelling social issues, Will Thomas is a must-read author. 

The reader is taken downstairs and up, through gritty back alleys and up Pall Mall. You learn the city of London and its history via vivid conversation, prose, and action. I have read them all with pleasure. Listening to the audiobooks becomes necessary when you wish to immerse yourself in the varied accents, narrated by the wonderful Antony Ferguson. The mysteries are each of them excellent, but Barker and Llewellyn, enquiry agents extraordinaire, along with…

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The best British mystery books

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Book cover of Murder Must Advertise: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery

Murder Must Advertise: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Why this book?

Before becoming a world-renowned author, Dorothy L Sayers worked in an advertising agency and it’s Pimm’s Publicity that’s the fascinating background for Lord Peter Wimsey to discover who’s behind death, drugs, and debauchery. Peter has to join Pimm’s Publicity but it seems incredible that the chatty, humdrum world of the office should hide a killer, let alone an illicit drug distribution network.

Dorothy L. Sayers’s writing is some of the very best of the “Golden Age” of classic mysteries and this is a story you won’t forget.

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The best classic mysteries ever written

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Book cover of The Weight of Ink

The Weight of Ink

By Rachel Kadish

Why this book?

Talk about your complex characters…this is a dual timeline historical fiction, with one story following a Jewish girl in 1660s London and the other following a prickly older woman in the modern-day city. Ester struggles to find her own agency against her family’s expectations and society’s strictures, while Helen fights to retain hers against colleagues in academia wanting her to retire and itching to steal her research turf, which includes a certain 1660s London neighborhood… With themes of desire, ambition, friendship, and dignity, this novel won its way into my heart with its characters’ burning desire to be seen and…

From the list:

The best historical fiction to hear forgotten voices of resistance

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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…

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The best Georgian and Regency mystery books

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Book cover of Murder on Black Swan Lane

Murder on Black Swan Lane

By Andrea Penrose

Why this book?

Like my Detective Lavender books and the Sebastian St Cyr series by C. S. Harris these novels are also set in Regency London. But the protagonist, Charlotte Sloane is an enterprising – and unique – woman who's carved out a secret and successful career for herself as a satirical cartoonist. She’s the perfect match for the mercurial and scientific Earl of Wrexford, her crime-solving partner, and the chemistry between them adds an extra layer of interest to the novels. The secondary characters in this series are delightful, especially the Raven and Hawk, the street-wise young orphans whom Charlotte has…

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The best Georgian and Regency mystery books

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Book cover of Private Arrangements

Private Arrangements

By Sherry Thomas

Why this book?

Private Arrangements was my introduction to Sherry Thomas’s absolutely exquisite prose and story-telling. The setting is the Edwardian period and gives us a couple who were once passionately in love. The day after their wedding everything goes wrong with no way to pick up the pieces. Indeed, the two have lived apart for the last ten years. Now she wants a divorce, and he has a shocking proposal for her. How on earth can two people who have made such terrible mistakes find their way back to each other? Thomas takes you on an emotional ride on the way to…

From the list:

The most swoon-worthy historical romances to warm your heart

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Book cover of The Lost Apothecary

The Lost Apothecary

By Sarah Penner

Why this book?

As a historical fiction author, I am a picky historical fiction reader, which made Sarah Penner’s, The Lost Apothecary, an exciting find. Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? Set in the back alley of London in 1791, in an apothecary shop, we meet Nella, a woman selling poisonous potions to other women who are looking to kill off the men in their lives. Weaving in a modern-day component, Penner takes us into the life of Caroline Parcewell, a historian on a trip to London who accidentally discovers this series of unsolved murders from centuries earlier. A fantastic story…

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The best books with powerful female protagonists

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Book cover of One Day in December

One Day in December

By Josie Silver

Why this book?

I live a very busy life with four children, two dogs, an awesome husband, and a career of my own. If a book doesn’t pull me in right from the start, I tend to give up on it fairly quickly. This book sucks you in right away and keeps you turning the pages with fervor. It’s a complicated story about friendship, romance, and a young woman who thinks she has everything figured out, until she doesn’t, but then she does, and then she doesn’t. You get the gist.

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The best contemporary romance books set in Manhattan

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Book cover of The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess

By Sophie Kinsella

Why this book?

The story follows corporate lawyer Samantha Sweeting, who has no personal life outside her career. One day, an epic mistake turns her life upside down, and due to various mix-ups she ends up masquerading as a housekeeper to a wealthy family in a British village. There is just one problem: she can’t cook, or clean, or iron, or do anything that is expected of a housekeeper.

I love this book because it has a bit of everything: romance, plenty of humor, drama, even a bit of mystery, all wrapped up in a playful yet insightful journey on life and self-discovery.…

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The best romance, chick-lit, and women’s fiction books

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Book cover of The Mystery of Overend & Gurney: A Financial Scandal in Victorian London

The Mystery of Overend & Gurney: A Financial Scandal in Victorian London

By Geoffrey Elliott

Why this book?

A gripping portrait of a Dickensian financial scandal that led to the last English bank run before the run on Northern Rock in 2007. Founded in 1800 and controlled by Quakers, the firm that was to become Overend and Gurney grew to become London’s leading discount house, specialising in the safe business of discounting bills of exchange. In the 1850s, it became more aggressive and was eventually investing depositors’ funds in highly speculative ventures that promised spectacular profits that never materialised. When market conditions became adverse, Overend and Gurney found itself in dire straits. The Bank of England refused to…

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The best books on financial crises

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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:

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Book cover of Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel

Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel

By Natalie Jenner

Why this book?

Pour yourself a cup of Ceylon and settle into your coziest armchair to transport yourself to Bloomsbury Books, the postwar London bookshop where three determined women are about to make history. Natalie Jenner’s upcoming novel is a quiet and triumphant celebration of literary sisterhood, peopled with real-life literary figures and memorable heroines. 

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The best books to transport you to another era

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Book cover of 1666: Plague, War, and Hellfire

1666: Plague, War, and Hellfire

By Rebecca Rideal

Why this book?

This book is a gripping story of the year 1666 in which three calamities befell London: the Black Plague, the Anglo-Dutch War, and the Great Fire of London. When I read the book in 2021, I found that we were re-living practically the same events in modern times. I live in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Arizona, and in the spring of 2020, shortly after the COVID shutdowns, fires ignited by lighting swept through the canyons just north of my home. I found myself in a “get ready” zone of the region’s “Get Ready, Get Set,…

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The best books that teach you to deal with stress through strong characters and stories

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Book cover of The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden

By Kate Morton

Why this book?

Let’s escape to London and Australia! This historical mystery is written from three generational viewpoints spanning the 1900s, 1970s, and 2000s. Cassandra is mourning her beloved grandmother, Nell, when she stumbles upon an old family secret. Solving the mystery leads her not only to answers surrounding her family but herself as well. Morton masterfully moves between countries and protagonists making you lose yourself in her writing. I dare you to try and put it down!

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The best books for escapism to another time and place in the world

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Book cover of The Ashes of London (James Marwood & Cat Lovett, Book 1)

The Ashes of London (James Marwood & Cat Lovett, Book 1)

By Andrew Taylor

Why this book?

Excellent story - set in 1666 during the fire of London it captures the religious tensions and conflicting politics of the era. Charles 11 is on the throne and in pursuit of anyone involved in the execution of his father. No-one feels safe. James Marwood, son of a Puritan, and Cat Lovett, daughter of a renegade Protestant are in a fast-paced murder plot through the narrow streets and ruins of London. Cat is manipulated by her untrustworthy uncle. Marwood is pursuing the murderer while trying to protect his elderly father. Cat tries to escape her uncle’s home and disguises…

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The best books on gripping historical thrillers, both fiction and non-fiction

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Book cover of A Place to Hang the Moon

A Place to Hang the Moon

By Kate Albus

Why this book?

In this heartwarming novel, we meet William, Edmund, and Anna; three orphaned siblings who are among the children evacuated from London to the safety of the countryside in 1940. I was drawn to the three from the very beginning. They love and care for one another, and are determined to stay together. Despite the cruelty and neglect they face, they can still find humor in the most unlikely situations. But will they find a family that will keep them forever? If I were a character in the story, I would adopt them in a heartbeat.

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The best books for children about WW2—on the home front & across the ocean

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Book cover of The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life

By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Why this book?

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s brilliant storytelling brought me into Ada’s world and made me root for her right from the start. I could feel the excruciating physical and emotional pain she experienced both at the hands of her abusive mother and from her clubfoot. She was prevented from ever leaving her apartment and interacting with anyone besides her younger brother Jamie. I cheered Ada on when she secretly taught herself to walk so she could escape London, and her mother, with Jamie as children were being evacuated by train to the English countryside to get away from the dangers of World…

From the list:

The best MG/YA books that highlight the importance of trust and friendship in difficult times

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Book cover of When the Siren Wailed

When the Siren Wailed

By Noel Streatfeild

Why this book?

Several evacuee novels published in the few decades after the war became beloved classics. Michelle Magorian’s Good Night, Mr. Tom, and Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War, for example, are extraordinary. But my favorite of this era’s evacuee novels is Noel Streatfeild’s. Laura, Andy, and Tim Clark are none too happy to be sent away from their London home, so it’s a pleasant surprise when they find themselves comfortable in the care of Colonel Launcelot Stranger Stranger (not a typo… that’s his name). But when the Colonel dies suddenly, the Clarks run away back to London and their mum. It’s…

From the list:

The best middle grade books about England’s World War II evacuations

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Book cover of Warrant For X

Warrant For X

By Philip MacDonald

Why this book?

Philip MacDonald fought in WW1 before becoming one of the most popular mystery writers of the 1920s and 1930s. Sheldon Garret, the successful American playwright, goes into a London tea shop and overhears two women plotting to kidnap a child and – maybe – murder. Sheldon turns to Anthony Gethryn and with the slender clue of an abandoned shopping list to guide him, Anthony must try to prevent a ruthless crime. Kidnap, murder and blackmail form the spine of this, one of MacDonald’s best novels as Anthony Gethryn races to prevent yet more deaths.
From the list:

The best classic mysteries ever written

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Book cover of Auxiliary: London 2039

Auxiliary: London 2039

By Jon Richter

Why this book?

Auxiliary is one of my favorite cyberpunk books of all time. It’s a detective story set in London in a not-so-distant future. While this alone sounds like nothing too original, you can trust me that the story is unique! Auxiliary is set in a world where automation has sent the majority of humans into unemployment and a seemingly benevolent super-AI takes care of everything for everyone. Until it becomes the suspect in a murder case…

The author also writes horror and Auxiliary features one of the scariest robots I’ve ever seen. But the scariest part about the book is how…

From the list:

The best cyberpunk books you won’t be able to put down

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Book cover of The Maid of Fairbourne Hall

The Maid of Fairbourne Hall

By Julie Klassen

Why this book?

Wellborn Margaret Macy is not used to hard work, so when she falls on hard times and disguises herself as a maid in a gentleman’s palatial home, she’s going to have difficulties. However, it’s not just a matter of getting the silver shiny as she also has to remain undetected by her employer…who tried to court her not so very long ago.

From the list:

The best books about servants (fake and otherwise)

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Book cover of A Proper Charade

A Proper Charade

By Esther Hatch

Why this book?

A Proper Charade tells the tale of Lady Patience Kendrick who is determined to prove herself as something much more than a spoiled young woman. Disguising herself as a maid and plunging herself into the arduous work maids perform, she begins to doubt herself as it’s all much harder than she expected! I appreciate that Patience learns that determination and capability are two different things as it shows how human she is. It effectively ‘unspoils’ her which is a different way of looking at her original goal.

From the list:

The best books about servants (fake and otherwise)

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Book cover of The Mister

The Mister

By E.L. James

Why this book?

E.L. James always delivers steamy, entertaining novels and The Mister is no exception. Maxim is a “spare” to an earldom but that changes when tragedy strikes his family. He’s left with a responsibility he doesn’t want and feelings for someone on his staff he shouldn’t have. What develops is a love story that has stayed with me. The novel reminds me of regency novels but it is set in modern times. If you’re a fan of E.L. James and haven’t read The Mister or if you’ve never read one of her novels, I recommend this one. It is a wonderfully…

From the list:

The best romance novels that will stay with you long after the last page

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Book cover of The End of the Affair

The End of the Affair

By Graham Greene

Why this book?

For anyone who’s had their lives rocked by a clandestine affair or has profoundly fallen in love knowing it will be fatal, this book will hit your heart. A narrative set against the bleakness of post-war bombed-out London, I love the way Greene blends the physical metaphor of this world with his own internal struggles around faith, infidelity, and obsessive love for a self-destructive woman. It showed me that it was okay to love and lose and how one can craft great literature from pain. But more than that, I think it taught me that the passing of time is…

From the list:

The best historical novels to make you believe in love again

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Book cover of Rivers of London Vol. 1: Body Work

Rivers of London Vol. 1: Body Work

By Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Lee Sullivan

Why this book?

Urban fantasy novels following the adventures of a police officer called Peter Grant who discovers he has magic powers and is brought under the wing of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale - the last officially sanctioned police Wizard with the rivers themselves represented by various magical characters. The series starts as a sort of police procedural and is very enjoyable and easy to read.

From the list:

The best science fiction and fantasy series that influenced me

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Book cover of Slow Horses

Slow Horses

By Mick Herron

Why this book?

When my editor (Harvard University’s Randy Rosenthal) first read my debut novel, his feedback was that my characters lacked enough significant flaws. “Readers want to share common ground and empathize with the characters in your novel. No one ever fell in love with a perfect character.” Herron’s novel has abundant characters with egregious flaws. And those flaws do make them so very intriguing. The plot is thick with manipulation and humor. Perhaps the best spy thriller written in the last 20 years. 

From the list:

The best thrillers that will also make you laugh

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Book cover of The Family Upstairs

The Family Upstairs

By Lisa Jewell

Why this book?

A young woman inherits a multi-million-pound house where three people were found dead and four children missing. This was a really easy, smooth read and I couldn’t wait to untangle the past, which includes a toxic friendship and unrequited love, and see if my guesses were correct.

From the list:

The best psychological thrillers with toxic friendships

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Book cover of Ptolemy's Gate

Ptolemy's Gate

By Jonathan Stroud

Why this book?

The conclusion to a charming middle-grade trilogy about a quick-witted demon named Bartimaeus, this book also depicts love and loss with an intensity and realism that resonates with readers of any age. I first read this book when I was about nine years old, eager to find out what would happen to the hilarious characters I’d loved so much in the first few books. I’ll never forget how hard I cried on that school bus home. I was just old enough to understand what that kind of loss would feel like, and still young enough to be moved by the…

From the list:

The best fantasy books to break your heart

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Book cover of The Heat of the Day

The Heat of the Day

By Elizabeth Bowen

Why this book?

The Blitz is over, but Stella lives in a London that is still at war. She moves from flat to flat and her professional life is bound by state secrecy. Her relationship with her lover isn’t what it seems, either, and that seems a metaphor for life in wartime London (or perhaps it’s the other way round). Little in the capital is constant or stable, in contrast with the country houses she retreats to. There’s a tautness to this book that means I have returned to it several times.

From the list:

The best books to immerse you in a wartime setting

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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 Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway

By Virginia Woolf

Why this book?

No great events, nothing unusual happens in Mrs. Dalloway’s 140-odd pages. It took my breath away, though, because of Virginia Woolf’s microscopic examination of her main characters’ personalities through their own thoughts. You reach a point where it’s hard to believe the writer knows so much about them, knows how their minds work. And all this takes place in a single day in central London. Clarissa Dalloway, wife of an MP, is putting on a dinner party that night and she needs flowers. What a ridiculously creaky springboard from which to launch one of the world’s greatest novels! But…

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The best novels to challenge hardcore readers

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Book cover of Love Lessons

Love Lessons

By Joan Wyndham

Why this book?

If I’d been a London teenager at the outbreak of WW2, Joan is who I’d choose to have as my best friend. Joan’s memoirs, taken from her actual diaries, which were written secretly during bombing raids, reveal a conflicted, hormonally charged, humorous woman. This snippet gives you an idea: “Well here I sit in the air-raid shelter with screaming bombs falling right and left…I can’t help feeling that each moment may be my last, and as the opposite of death is life, I think I shall get seduced by Rupert tomorrow.” Written with great wit, and full of joie de…
From the list:

The best WW2 memoirs by brave, witty, resourceful, and downright remarkable women

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Book cover of Jane Austen: A Life

Jane Austen: A Life

By Claire Tomalin

Why this book?

More books have been written about Jane Austen than she wrote herself. Some are scholarly while others clearly seek the titbit which will guarantee sales. Experienced biographer Tomalin walks the sensible path through the great novelist’s life, whose works were attributed only to having been written by a lady. Facts are combined with a well-written and often entertaining narrative. The extensive book is well researched and covers the author’s nearest, dearest as well as the detested.

From the list:

The best books for Regency wars, wit, & wisdom

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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 Riddle of the Sands

The Riddle of the Sands

By Erskine Childers

Why this book?

The first time I read this book I was sailing through the Frisian Islands, where it takes place—though unlike its two main characters, I didn’t have to worry about German patrols or being arrested as a spy. A classic thriller, the remote and shifting islands of the area help to drive the plot. It could, quite simply, take place nowhere else. Great sailing scenes as well!

From the list:

The best novels that take place on the coast

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Book cover of The Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War II

The Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War II

By Madeline Martin

Why this book?

Martin and I shared the same agent for many years, which is how I came across this novel. It’s set in London and has the most divine main character whom I immediately fell in love with. I find that most readers don’t want too much heavy historical information when they read for pleasure, and Martin has just the right balance of history with her fiction. Also, who wouldn’t love reading about a bookstore that is desperately trying to survive the war!

From the list:

The best books to make you fall in love with WWII fiction

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Book cover of The London Restoration

The London Restoration

By Rachel McMillan

Why this book?

A love letter to London, this novel takes place immediately after the war, as a newlywed couple tries to pick up the pieces and fall in love again. But she’s keeping secrets from him—she must, having served as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park. And he’s struggling with nightmares from his service as an army medic. When her former boss ropes her in to help bring down a Soviet spy ring somehow connected to her beloved Christopher Wren churches, the secrets and nightmares could very well defeat them. A beautiful tale with literary depth.

From the list:

The best World War II novels to inspire you

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Book cover of The Last Dog on Earth

The Last Dog on Earth

By Adrian J. Walker

Why this book?

If you are like me, and you are a vehement admirer of both dogs and tales of global destruction, The Last Dog on Earth, is the perfect canine-based/post-apocalyptic book for you! Centered around an expletive-spouting dog named Lineker, and his agoraphobic owner, Reginald, Walker’s story of survival in the dystopian ruins of a future London is at times humorous, dark, and thought-provoking. On an unexpected quest to deliver an orphaned girl to her family, Lineker and his owner are faced with dangers from all angles including riots, murderous government agents, and of course squirrels—the common and hated enemy of…
From the list:

The best books to help you survive the apocalypse

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Book cover of The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours

By Kate Morton

Why this book?

I’m a sucker for books with a creepy setting—and a rundown castle in the English countryside was the perfect, eerie location for this twisty, unsettling novel. With alternating timelines, unreliable characters, and multi-faceted mysteries, this tale of family secrets kept me on my toes—and reminded me that the stories behind our favorite childhood stories are often darker than we realize…and often best left untold.

From the list:

The best historical fiction books about sisters that *might* make you ugly cry

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Book cover of If I Never Met You

If I Never Met You

By Mhairi McFarlane

Why this book?

Mhairi McFarlane is a go-to author for me. I love her witty turn of phrase, and her characters and settings are always so real and relatable. Laurie is a great female protagonist, with a meaningful career and a loyal circle of friends, and I like that she’s shown to have a full, rounded life outside of her romantic relationships. There’s sparky dialogue, emotional depth, a very hot leading man, and fantastic chemistry between the two leads that fizzes off the page. 

From the list:

The best fake relationship romcom books

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Book cover of Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age

Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age

By Malcolm Le Grice

Why this book?

LeGrice was a founder of the London Filmmakers’ Co-op in 1968 and has worked ever since as a film and video maker, teacher, and writer. His book collects a large number of theoretical and critical essays on a range of topics, from film as material to the way films variously position the spectator as a consumer and/or self-conscious critic, to comparisons between film and digital media, in aesthetic, technological, and ecological terms. The essays are always approachable, even when he is discussing more abstract theoretical problems. Many examples are discussed.

From the list:

The best books on artists’ film and video

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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 A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia

A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia

By Clara Benson

Why this book?

I’m always onboard for a mystery set in the exclusive circles of London society, and Freddy Pilkington-Soames, a young gentleman in 1920s London, is just the ticket when I want a fun, lighthearted read. Freddy’s mother ropes him into helping clear away a bothersome little matter, a dead body in her front hall. Before Freddy quite knows what’s happened, he’s interviewing suspects and tracking down clues. Although Clara Benson is a modern author, I love how she’s captured the tone and language of the lighter Golden Age mystery romps. A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia’s is breezy and lighthearted. It’s…

From the list:

The best undiscovered 1920s historical mysteries

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Book cover of Slammerkin

Slammerkin

By Emma Donoghue

Why this book?

Maybe it’s because of my working-class roots, but Mary Saunders, an obscure but very real historical figure, is the sort of woman I wanted to root for. After all, it takes initiative, ingenuity, and not a small dose of impetuosity to rise from a lower-class schoolgirl to, well, some higher station. I was saddened to see how Mary’s yearnings to free herself from the shackles of her class forced her into prostitution at a young age. But when she made a dangerous misstep that set her on the run and landed her a position of a household seamstress, I couldn’t…
From the list:

The best books about wily, take-charge women

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Book cover of Maisie Dobbs

Maisie Dobbs

By Jacqueline Winspear

Why this book?

The 17 Maisie Dobbs books are set mostly in England during the 1930s but they do begin in the late 1920s, so I include them in this list. A girl from a poor family, Maisie begins her working life at thirteen as a housemaid, then works her way from servant to scholar to nurse to psychologist and investigator. The psychological trauma of the Great War (1914-1918), which was supposed to end all wars, pervades these books. The period detail will pull you into the mystery every time.
From the list:

The best Roaring Twenties mystery series

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Book cover of The House We Grew Up in

The House We Grew Up in

By Lisa Jewell

Why this book?

In England, we have the Queen who opens Parliament and then we have the Queen of Domestic Suspense and that is Lisa Jewell. Lisa has written a slew of phenomenal novels but The House We Grew Up In always comes first to mind whenever I think of her work. The quality of descriptive detail in this book means that years after I first read it, I can still picture every room inside the Bird house and recall every twist and turn in Lorelei Bird’s journey as she transitions from a normal mother in a messy home to a toothless hoarder…

From the list:

The best suspense novels in a suburban setting

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Book cover of Vixen in Velvet

Vixen in Velvet

By Loretta Chase

Why this book?

Nobody tops Loretta Chase when it comes to writing a woman on a mission. Leonie Noirot comes from a long line of swindlers and con artists, but her business sense at fashion is no fake. When she runs up against a man who thinks he can both outsmart her and humble her, just because he’s a wealthy marquess, well… he’s in for a revelation. Leonie’s determined to win their bet and make her own fortune, and then fall in love. Simply marvelous.

From the list:

The best historical romances starring independent women

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Book cover of Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover

By Sarah MacLean

Why this book?

This book is #4 in the Rules of Scoundrels series and while they are all good, this one was my favorite. I particularly enjoy the wit and wisdom of the heroine and how she manages three different personas and three different lifestyles. The series satisfies my interest in fallen or bad boy heroes that manage to redeem themselves enough to earn the love of a good, independent woman.

It’s delightful! It’s a fun series filled with the types of characters that I love to read (and write) about!

From the list:

The best historical romance books with heroines disguised as boys

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Book cover of The Masqueraders

The Masqueraders

By Georgette Heyer

Why this book?

For those Regency romance purists and Georgette Heyer fans out there, it would be criminal to leave this tale off the list. Known as the Queen of Regency, Heyer weaves an interesting tale about two masters of disguise. Both brother and sister dress and conduct themselves as the opposite sex in this adventure! Do you enjoy witty banter? Me too! I love lighthearted, humorous moments, and I was not disappointed.

This book is very true to regency form in terms of language, vocabulary, and sentence structure. That being said, you’ll enjoy this book more if you already have a solid…

From the list:

The best historical romance books with heroines disguised as boys

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Book cover of The Enemy

The Enemy

By Charlie Higson

Why this book?

This book is the first in a series and is aimed at the teenage market, but I defy any adult to read it and not feel a shiver of fear. Everyone over the age of fourteen has succumbed to a deadly zombie virus and the kids have to try and survive. A gripping plot and the writing is heartbreaking, funny, and horrific. 

From the list:

The best children's books that will make you feel things

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Book cover of Beloved Poison

Beloved Poison

By E.S. Thomson

Why this book?

Jem Flockhart is an apprentice apothecary at St. Saviour’s Infirmary in London. The building is falling down around the patients. The doctors hate each other. Jem finds six tiny coffins in the crumbling dank chapel – and a murder mystery begins. This book pulled me right into the dark rancid squalor of gaslit London and doesn’t shy in its horrific details. It’s dark, it’s atmospheric, it’s an amazing read. So glad it’s the first in a series!

From the list:

The best gothic novels for a cold winter’s night

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Book cover of Writers Dreaming: 26 Writers Talk About Their Dreams and the Creative Process

Writers Dreaming: 26 Writers Talk About Their Dreams and the Creative Process

By Naomi Epel

Why this book?

This is one of only a few books I’ve found that looks directly at the way writers can use dream awareness in their creative practice. It’s a collection of interviews with twenty-six well-known authors compiled by dream researcher and radio-show host Naomi Epel, in which they talk about specific dreams that have inspired them and their thoughts about dreaming in general. I bought a copy to dip into on the train to London for a meeting but found it so fascinating, I abandoned my plan to do some sightseeing afterward, and made instead for the nearest bench and takeaway coffee,…
From the list:

The best books on dreams for writers who want to boost their creativity

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Book cover of The Muse

The Muse

By Jessie Burton

Why this book?

This was a different book than the normal Erotic Romance. I loved the cover, it just says so much about the story itself.

When women started to die at a famous artist's castle, suspicion ran rampant in Alvarez and Elle's minds. Who did it? Who could they trust? The mystery surrounding them mounted and everyone was a suspect. With a woman locked in the attic and an older woman seeking human blood and human organs for her sacrifices, you had a suspenseful time dissecting all the twists and turns in the book.

From the list:

The best books with provoking plotlines

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Book cover of The Book Cat

The Book Cat

By Polly Faber, Clara Vulliamy

Why this book?

This gorgeously illustrated book is the story of Morgan, who becomes the Book Cat at the real publisher Faber. I adored TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats as a child, and Morgan was a real cat who was one of the inspirations for the poems. These are his adventures during the London Blitz – in some ways a familiar story, but so moving from a cat’s point of view! 

From the list:

The best animal stories to tug your heartstrings

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Book cover of Duck, Death and the Tulip

Duck, Death and the Tulip

By Wolf Erlbruch

Why this book?

It may seem like too much to have Death as a character in a child's picturebook. But this book can be a good companion to children's curiosity or their experience of death and loss in their own lives, whether it be of a pet, a loved one, or someone in their community. There is an unafraid normality to the characterisation of Death in this book. This Death is friendly, companionable, and caring. Duck's reaction to Death mirrors what our own might be; a little scared at first, and after a while, there is comfort, care, and acceptance. This might be…

From the list:

The best children's books about grief and death

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Book cover of Dancers in Mourning

Dancers in Mourning

By Margery Allingham

Why this book?

Few authors could delver more perfectly into characters than Allingham. Although she created excellent puzzles, the beauty of her books is in the incisive portrayals. Here, she does a magnificent job of stripping away the glamour and finding the pride and jealousy behind the lively theater world. And it's impossible not to be engaged by the shrewd and mysterious sleuth, Albert Campion.

From the list:

The best mysteries in the theatre world

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Book cover of Murder at Drury Lane: Further Adventures of the American Agent in London

Murder at Drury Lane: Further Adventures of the American Agent in London

By Robert Lee Hall

Why this book?

Historical setting is the main draw here. Benjamin Franklin is in 1750s London, and the interest comes from the history. Franklin becomes involved in the lively theater scene of the era, and we get to see the sage's particular genius at work. The great joy here comes from all the period details and the delightful descriptions of the theatre world in Georgian England.

From the list:

The best mysteries in the theatre world

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Book cover of Our Endless Numbered Days

Our Endless Numbered Days

By Claire Fuller

Why this book?

Peggy is eight years old when her survivalist father takes her from her London home and moves her into a remote cabin in the woods and tells her the outside world has been destroyed. They can’t go back. 

If you know anything about my novels, it’s that I absolutely love writing adult fiction from the perspective of young adults. People often ask me why I don’t write YA if I enjoy that age for narrators: it’s because I love coming-of-age stories and the emotional spectrum of children learning to understand the nuances of adult life.  

This book nailed it for…

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The best books on dysfunctional fiction families you can’t help but love

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Book cover of Marrying Winterborne

Marrying Winterborne

By Lisa Kleypas

Why this book?

Marrying Winterborne is an all-around feel-good romance for the ages. Every step of the way, you are rooting for the hero and heroine. A traditional historical romance story that will melt your heart and will leave you imagining your own love story in the making. The hero draws you in with his brooding yet protective personality, and the heroine captures your heart with her innocent yet loyal love for her man. I loved this book because it honestly truly made me cry while reading it, which is no easy feat to accomplish. I also found it to be a real…

From the list:

The best books to fall in love with historical romance

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Book cover of This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

By David Foster Wallace

Why this book?

Reading This is Water is a heartbreaking but beautiful experience, because the author, a philosophical and literary giant, took his own life. Wallace gave us so much in his too-short life. And, he had so much more to give. Nevertheless, this tender little book will fill you with compassion for yourself and for humanity in general. It is not a manual for living, but for seeing the world around you more clearly so that you can let more beauty and goodwill into your mind and heart while spreading the same to others. This is a little treasure.

From the list:

The best books for making the most meaningful life

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Book cover of Greengates

Greengates

By Robert Cedric Sherriff

Why this book?

The Baldwins live a small but happy life in London, until the bombshell day when Mr. Baldwin retires. He loses his raison d’etre, but his wife too has her life upended by his constant presence. Slowly their domestic bliss begins to unravel. Until they decide to do something beyond radical: they move to the county – to Greengates, a spanking new 1930s villa – and a thrilling fresh start together. I really mean “thrilling” too. This quiet and affectionate exploration of a couple remaking their humdrum life moves me to tears, even while the fascinating details of equipping and running…

From the list:

The best book where the house is a character (and someone’s got to clean it)

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Book cover of Dark Rise

Dark Rise

By C.S. Pacat

Why this book?

Did you fall in love with tales such as Lord of the Rings and other great fantasy classics about the battle between good and evil growing up? Then Dark Rise is the perfect book for you. It's an epic full of twists and where nothing is ever as it seems. And, of course, getting to read a book with such a classic fantasy feel to it, with the inclusion of some queer rep, was just so refreshing and exciting. 

From the list:

The best fantasy books with LGBT+ rep

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Book cover of The Bone Season

The Bone Season

By Samantha Shannon

Why this book?

Samantha Shannon’s world-building in this series is second to none. We find ourselves in a future alternate version of the world, where the government monitors the population for those people with extraordinary powers: clairvoyants. Paige, our main character, is one of these – and a bit of an antihero to boot (my favourite kind of hero!). You will love and be frustrated by her – and root for the simmering romance plot.

From the list:

The best fantasy books with female main characters and awesome magic

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Book cover of Carfax House: A Christmas Ghost Story

Carfax House: A Christmas Ghost Story

By Shani Struthers

Why this book?

I can’t have Christmas without a good ghost mystery and for me, Carfax House perfectly fits the bill. When her husband gets caught up at work in London, a lonely wife prepares their new country home for Christmas. But an elusive female figure haunting the building and its fog-strewn grounds reconnect her with a traumatic experience from the past. The contrast between the enforced jollity of Christmas and the strain on the woman’s psyche threatens to wreck her increasingly fragile grip on reality.

From the list:

The best ghost mystery stories

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Book cover of At Bertram's Hotel: A Miss Marple Mystery

At Bertram's Hotel: A Miss Marple Mystery

By Agatha Christie

Why this book?

It’s hard to choose a Miss Marple book – they are all so good – but I have settled on this one as it reminds me of London, where I used to live. Miss Marple is my favourite elderly female protagonist of all time, because of the means by which she takes such good advantage of people’s underestimation of her abilities. She is wise, insightful, and clever, and I find her enjoyment of her ‘treat’ visit to the hotel very endearing – who wouldn’t love a holiday in a posh hotel at someone else’s expense?

From the list:

The best crime novels with elderly female protagonists

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Book cover of Night Walks

Night Walks

By Charles Dickens

Why this book?

Dickens wrote this essay, which is one of his very best pieces of non-fictional writing, at a period when he was undergoing something of a crisis, largely because of the breakdown of his marriage. It describes a walk he took at night through the streets of London, though in fact it is probably a composite of many nocturnal strolls he took in the late 1850s. Although the piece is sharpened with Dickens’s characteristic spirit of satire, it is remarkable for the sympathetic warmth with which it sketches those who, in contrast to Dickens himself, have no choice but to inhabit…

From the list:

The best books on the city at night

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Book cover of Trivia, Or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London

Trivia, Or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London

By John Gay

Why this book?

This brilliantly funny poem, written in heroic couplets, is a satirical celebration of the teeming streets of London in the early eighteenth century, when this imperial city’s pretensions to order were constantly threatened by the chaos of an expanding, and highly mobile, population. It is an instruction manual for survival – "Through Winter Streets to steer your course aright, / How to walk clean by Day, and safe by Night" – but also a colourful cityscape comparable to the paintings produced by William Hogarth at roughly the same time. It offers a highly atmospheric description of London at night in…

From the list:

The best books on the city at night

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Book cover of The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City

The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City

By Iain Sinclair

Why this book?

Iain Sinclair is London’s finest London poet, even though he hasn’t published poetry for decades, and The Last London is his elegy to a lost London – a London that is being buried beneath the concrete, glass, and steel of private housing developments. As ever, Sinclair conducts his archaeological excursions into the city and its forgotten precincts by tramping its streets relentlessly – in this book, principally after dark. He records his observations and reconstructs his encounters with others in a hypnotic, poetic prose. Here is a city fading into the night because it is erasing its history… 

From the list:

The best books on the city at night

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Book cover of The Art Whisperer

The Art Whisperer

By Charlotte Elkins, Aaron Elkins

Why this book?

Alix London is the spunky lead character in Charlotte Elkins’ four-novel-long series of art mysteries. Alix is an art restorer with a sordid past, who is helping a rich Seattle businesswoman build up an art collection. The Art Whisperer is a fantastic story about forgeries, restoration, museum politics, and murder. Elkins is able to describe the art world in such a way that even those not interested in art history would enjoy this book and series. 

From the list:

The best mysteries featuring amateur sleuths searching for lost art

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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 Good Things to Drink with Mr. Lyan and Friends

Good Things to Drink with Mr. Lyan and Friends

By Ryan Chetiyawardana

Why this book?

Ryan is undoubtedly the biggest name in cocktails right now. He has pioneered numerous venues in London and around the world focused on changing the way we think about bars and cocktails.

His book is not only a great entry into the world of cocktails with great classic recipes, but it also showcases interesting flavour combinations and techniques that can be used both in a bar and at home.

From the list:

The best books to improve cocktail making

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Book cover of Sarah Canary

Sarah Canary

By Karen Joy Fowler

Why this book?

In Karen Joy Fowler’s Sarah Canary, we get glimpses of the American railway being built, one painful railroad tie at a time, hewn from the raw landscape at a cost of human misery and lives. This novel is funny, poignant, and serves up a full course of rich, historical story that never lets you go, whether giving insights into the tough realities faced by the suffragist movement or the grim mistreatment of Chinese workers as they built the western railways.

From the list:

The best novels that capture building/making

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Book cover of The Woman Destroyed

The Woman Destroyed

By Beauvoir Simone De

Why this book?

Abandonment and the end of love terrify me. In The Woman Destroyed, the happy diary of a fifty-year-old woman turns into a descent into hell when Beauvoir's narrator finds out that her husband is having an affair and is actually leaving her. Beauvoir wrote it in order to send a feminist message to women in the fifties, to convince them to get a job and define their identity outside their family life. I wonder, however, whether the intensity of the grief we feel in that novella wasn't experienced by Beauvoir herself the summer when her American lover, the novelist…

From the list:

The best novels by French women

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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 Good Night, Mr. Tom

Good Night, Mr. Tom

By Michelle Magorian

Why this book?

Will, the neglected and maltreated son of a fanatically religious, mentally disturbed mother, has never experienced love or kindness. At the outbreak of World War II, he and other children are evacuated from London to the countryside. In the home of his foster father, Mr. Oakley, whom he calls Mister Tom, Will slowly understands that life can be very different from what he has been used to – and Mr. Oakley, a widowed recluse, is brought out of his self-imposed isolation. Meanwhile, the war, at first a distant rumble in the background, comes closer and closer to the village and…

From the list:

The best books for children and young people about war and refugees

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Book cover of The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age

The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age

By Leo Damrosch

Why this book?

A book about a group of London intellectuals – sometimes friends, sometimes frenemies – who expressed their influential ideas with an elegant style that I find irresistible. (Dr. Johnson strongly influenced Jane Austen, so if you like Austen, you’ll like Johnson.) This book is filled with anecdotes of friendships, rivalries, partying, and bickering, with a fair amount of Georgian bawdy humor sprinkled throughout. You’ll meet writers, poets, playwrights, legislators, and bluestockings. The Club gives you multiple biographies plus a portrait of London in the late Georgian period. Spending time with this book is like spending a few hours with Dr.…

From the list:

The best books about Regency England: beyond balls and bonnets

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Book cover of The Boss of Bethnal Green: Joseph Merceron, the Godfather of Regency London

The Boss of Bethnal Green: Joseph Merceron, the Godfather of Regency London

By Julian Woodford

Why this book?

The story of how one unscrupulous person seized control of the evolving institutions of municipal government to line his own pockets might not strike everyone as seat-of-the-pants reading but Julian Woodford’s account of Joseph Merceron is vivid and still relevant today. The long career of this scoundrel is also woven into the larger picture of the times: the ebb and flow of political campaigns; the British reaction to the French Revolution, the effect of the long-running wars against Napoleon, the rapid growth of London, and the scourge of cholera. Stepping into this world is like stepping into a Hogarth print.…

From the list:

The best books about Regency England: beyond balls and bonnets

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Book cover of The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star

By Maureen Johnson

Why this book?

Many YA readers will be familiar with Maureen Johnson’s homerun success with the Truly, Devious series, but perhaps not have heard of her earlier Shades of London series. Anyone who loves ghostly tales and admires Johnson’s quirky, rock-solid prose should give The Name of the Star a read, stat.

This is the book equivalent of my spirit animal. I'm actually slightly alarmed at how closely Maureen Johnson's fantastic novel and my own interests align. Serial killers, ghosts, boarding schools--every element is wonderfully presented, and always with Johnson’s signature, humorous touch. Just perfect.

From the list:

The best young adult books for spooks and thrills

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Book cover of The Crimson Petal and the White

The Crimson Petal and the White

By Michel Faber

Why this book?

I’ve just finished writing a novel set in Victorian England and Michel Faber’s novel has been a touchstone for me. I’ll be delighted if I can get anywhere near this book’s characterful visualisation of the era, its playful connections with our own time, and the absolute reality of Sugar, Faber’s terrific protagonist.

From the list:

The best novels to immerse you in another time and another place

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Book cover of Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

By Jacqueline Winspear

Why this book?

This is a historical mystery, but so much more than a whodunit. It’s fourth in the series, but can be read alone if you don’t mind spoiling the earlier books a bit. It’s a stand-out to me because it’s about raising one’s voice against inhumanity, even when it seems commonplace, or necessary.

Maisie is an intuitive detective and as such, has to fight against conventional police interference, client skepticism, and male smugness. But what she’s fighting for is the right outcome for everyone concerned, including the victim of the crime. This novel focuses on an artist ex-soldier of WWI who…

From the list:

The best historical fiction to hear forgotten voices of resistance

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Book cover of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

By Natasha Pulley

Why this book?

Natasha Pulley’s grounded historical novel marries detailed research of late-19th-century England and Japan with something stranger and more fantastical – but these elements together heighten the narrative. Clerk Thaniel Steepleton’s relationship with clockwork-maker Keita Mori centers the story – they change one another in ways that even fate can’t completely anticipate. There’s a lot of tenderness between them, and it captures the way that falling in love can feel like meeting someone again, instead of for the first time. Also, there’s a pet clockwork octopus. That’s vital. 

From the list:

The best novels for when something queer’s afoot

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Book cover of Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines

By Philip Reeve

Why this book?

How can one not love a book about moving Traction Cities? In a magnificently imagined world where these Traction Cities fight for what is left of a destroyed future earth (left behind by us humans – from a stupid massive war to end all wars – go figure eh!).

Tom Natsworthy is aboard the traction city of London. London needs to feed and hunt for smaller cities to feed into its mighty jaws. Tom soon learns that London’s sinister hierarchy of scientists are building their own bomb – MEDUSA. Tom is thrown from London when he befriends a physically and…

From the list:

The best fantasy & steampunk books with wildly worldly invention, highly questionable morals, & supreme ideas

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Book cover of Jane Austen: Her Life: The Definitive Portrait of Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Art, Her Family, Her World

Jane Austen: Her Life: The Definitive Portrait of Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Art, Her Family, Her World

By Park Honan

Why this book?

There are many biographies and other narratives of Jane Austen, with many published since 1997, when Professor Park Honan updated his original book. Even so, his biography is still, in my opinion, the best. It is comprehensive, detailed, and accurate, with copious endnotes. The author also had unparalleled help from descendants of Jane Austen. His writing style is straightforward, and he is excellent at depicting the overall context of her life and how it influenced her writing, from her two brothers in the Royal Navy to productions in the London theatres.

From the list:

The best books about Jane Austen

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Book cover of Blood and Roses: One Family's Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses

Blood and Roses: One Family's Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses

By Helen Castor

Why this book?

This book tells the story of the wars of the Roses through the lens of one family – the Pastons. This family left an extraordinary archive of letters, and it included many fascinating characters, especially women. The Paston women fought off sieges on their houses, wrote Valentine letters to their husbands, ran off with servants, and managed complicated household finances. As a family, the Pastons were social climbers, who tried to get on at court and to improve their position. Through them, we hear about high politics, but also about the domestic life and loves of the gentry in the…

From the list:

The best books on medieval life

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Book cover of 11 Harrowhouse

11 Harrowhouse

By Gerald A. Browne

Why this book?

I have a special fondness for 11 Harrowhouse, the 1973 thriller that spins the tale of a huge theft of rough diamonds from The System, a fictional London diamond powerhouse modeled on the real-life De Beers. When I started writing about diamonds, De Beers was still the Darth Vader of diamonds—all-powerful, feared, despotic. More than eighty percent of the world’s rough diamonds poured through its London headquarters at 17 Charterhouse Street. In the novel, thieves thread a hose from the roof into the diamond vault, and hoover up the loot. In reality, a different method was used to steal…

From the list:

The best books about stealing diamonds

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