421 books directly related to London 📚

All 421 London books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

London's Docklands: A History of the Lost Quarter

By Fiona Rule,

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

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.

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

By Alex Werner, Chris Ellmers,

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

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.

London and the Georgian Navy

By Philip MacDougall,

Book cover of London and the Georgian Navy

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.

London's Sailortown, 1600-1800

By Ken Cozens, Derek Morris,

Book cover of London's Sailortown, 1600-1800

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.

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

By Jennifer Worth,

Book cover of The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

Why this book?

I think many Americans didn’t even realize midwives were still “a thing” until the emergence of the award-winning British television series, Call the Midwife. That series is based on Jennifer Worth’s memoir, which details her experiences as a young woman who moves into a convent and becomes a midwife in the slums of London’s East End. Like the other firsthand accounts I’ve mentioned here (Martha Ballard’s diary; Peggy Vincent’s memoir), this book humanizes birth, and reminds us of the important role midwives have played in making mothers feel safe and empowered in a wide variety of times and settings.

For Love & Money

By Jonathan Raban,

Book cover of For Love & Money

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 say them slightly more often than he did in fact; you give him small bits of stage business to mark his silences; you invent lines of dialogue for yourself to break up a paragraph of solid talk that looks too long to be believable. You are trespassing, perhaps, into writing fiction, but the fiction will still be truer to the man and to the occasion than the literal transcription.”

London Labour and the London Poor

By Henry Mayhew,

Book cover of London Labour and the London Poor

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.

Lost London: 1870-1945

By Philip Davies,

Book cover of Lost London: 1870-1945

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.

London A-Z Street Atlas

By Geographers' A-Z Map Co Ltd,

Book cover of London A-Z Street Atlas

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.

Citadel of the Saxons: The Rise of Early London

By Rory Naismith,

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

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 learning lightly.

History of London Transport: The Twentieth Century to 1970

By T.C. Barker, Michael Robbins,

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

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.

London’s Historic Railway Stations

By John Betjeman,

Book cover of London’s Historic Railway Stations

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.

London: The Biography

By Peter Ackroyd,

Book cover of London: The Biography

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.

Street Haunting: A London Adventure

By Virginia Woolf,

Book cover of Street Haunting: A London Adventure

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.

London: A Social History

By Roy Porter,

Book cover of London: A Social History

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.

London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets

By Peter Ackroyd,

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

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 unlike how I wanted the clandestine and criminal world to mirror and reflect the above ground and above-board world in my novel Plague.

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

By Lewis Carroll,

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

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 by Edward Wakeling, a renowned world expert, whose extraordinarily detailed and insightful bibliographical and contextual notes provide an unparalleled insight into Victorian Oxford (London, Surrey, Yorkshire, Sussex, and more).

Some of these volumes are hard to get, but there are some remaining copies at the Lewis Carroll Society if interested. 

Bad News

By Edward St Aubyn,

Book cover of Bad News

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.

Keekee's Big Adventures in London, England

By Shannon Jones, Casey Uhelski (illustrator),

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

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 and is filled with joy.  

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

By Imogen Hermes Gowar,

Book cover of The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

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 ways in which information spread through the streets and in the coffee-houses of eighteenth-century London. This novel was well-deservedly shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018.

Mad-Doctors in the Dock: Defending the Diagnosis, 1760-1913

By Joel Peter Eigen,

Book cover of Mad-Doctors in the Dock: Defending the Diagnosis, 1760-1913

Why this book?

Based on the authentic voices of doctors, prisoners and legal personnel who appeared at London’s central criminal court, the Old Bailey, the book charts the development of forensic psychiatry as a field of medical expertise. Terms like melancholia, mania and delusion were so adaptable that they could be used to account for apparently motiveless crimes, including murder. Judges, juries, doctors and lawyers focused on establishing what a prisoner knew they were doing and would likely have believed about the outcome of the act, revealing the medico-legal foundations of the modern insanity defense.

The Proposition

By Judith Ivory,

Book cover of The Proposition

Why this book?

Judith Ivory has one of the most distinctive voices in historical romance. I wish she was still releasing new work! The Proposition is a fun take on My Fair Lady, where Henry Higgins is a down-on-her-luck duke’s daughter and Eliza Dolittle is a charming rat catcher. Yes, you heard that right. We’re a long way from the usual historical romance fare of dukes and rakes. Not only that, Mick Tremore, the rat catcher in question, has the most wonderful dog Win who threatens to steal the show every time she’s on the page. Charming, clever, witty and full of delicious sexual tension, this is a compelling read – and it has a serious message about how often the greatest barriers to our dreams are those our minds place on us. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows,

Book cover of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Why this book?

Confession one: I saw this book around for months before I read it, and I thought the title was the worst thing I’d ever seen. No way was I going to read a book with that title. Then it was a selection in my book club, so...anyway, I fell in love. It’s charming, terrifying, heartbreaking, and a bit romantic. And so, so funny. Ironic that I would include it in this list, since the protagonist literally starts the book writing about how she’s tired of trying to make people laugh to cope with World War II, and yearns to write something more meaningful. She finds lots more meaningful to write about, and a wealth of new friends besides. The book is full of poignant stories of resistance, fortitude, and the laugh-and-cry at the same time kind of humor, like a 4-year-old war orphan whose favorite game is called Dead Bride. 

Confession two: this book could have had no other title. I see that now.


By Sarah Waters,

Book cover of Fingersmith

Why this book?

Ok, I know this book wasn’t written in the Victorian period, but I realized my Victorian book picks were all written by men. I’ve relied on a lot of women writers when writing my books, but they seem to all be from the present day, Kate Summerscale, Sarah Waters, and Judith Flanders, just to name a few. This novel by Sarah Waters is a richly-described story about baby farmers. As well as terrific historical detail, the writing and plot are absolute joys. It gave me a sense of what could be done.

A Summer to Remember: A Bedwyn Family Novel

By Mary Balogh,

Book cover of A Summer to Remember: A Bedwyn Family Novel

Why this book?

A Summer to Remember is one of my all-time favorite historical romances. The story, set in England’s Regency period (1811-1820) is an excellent introduction to Balogh’s emotional, heart-tugging stories of people who fall in love against all odds. “Pretend Engagement” is one of my favorite Romance tropes, and this story delivers. Kit Butler has no intention of marrying but needs a fiancée to distract his parents. Lauren no longer believes she’ll find love but wants one summer to remember. Enter Kit and the pretend engagement. Over the course of the summer, mutual passion hovers at the edges of their developing friendship. At times Kit is almost unbearably sweet to Lauren. Balogh has a deep, deep backlist. You can’t go wrong with her work.

Five Days of Fog

By Anna Freeman,

Book cover of Five Days of Fog

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.

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

By Andrew Taylor,

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

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 herself as a servant. The intricate plot takes you through the Royal Court, the plans to rebuild St Paul’s and the intricacies of society of that time in history.

The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act

By Catherine de Zegher,

Book cover of The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act

Why this book?

Throughout this book, the artist and editor, Avis Newman converses with the editor Catherine de Zegher about the practical process of drawing. This approach was also important and also most impactful. In the book, de Zegher asks Newman "What happens in the space between the gesture and its landing on the page?" And we love all conversations around the artist’s “doing” and “thinking." Following this conversation, the book gives the reader a window into how the drawer is thinking in the process of making and illuminates a link between performance and drawing by revealing how a drawing is performative as it comes into the world.

The London Restoration

By Rachel McMillan,

Book cover of The London Restoration

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.

The Enemy

By Charlie Higson,

Book cover of The Enemy

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. 

Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders

By Kate Griffin,

Book cover of Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders

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 friends gives a welcome reprieve from the darker aspects of the novel, yet it is those aspects that thrill the most!

Dark Rise

By C.S. Pacat,

Book cover of Dark Rise

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. 

Night Walks

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of Night Walks

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 the city at night – the lost, the lonely, the homeless. Movingly, he finds a sense of community in these isolated individuals who live on the margins of society.

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

By John Gay,

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

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 one of its sections. 

The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City

By Iain Sinclair,

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

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… 

Burning Bright

By Tracy Chevalier,

Book cover of Burning Bright

Why this book?

Tracy Chevalier writes the novels I want to write! I’ve read just about all of them and was particularly excited to discover Burning Bright. Chevalier’s depiction of London in the early 19th century is masterful, and hugely inspiring for me. Burning Bright is a coming-of-age story that centers around two children’s interactions with the great poet William Blake. I met Tracy Chevalier at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Oxford where she made my day by graciously agreeing to accept a copy of my first novel The Towers of Tuscany which was heavily inspired by her novels and even insisting that I sign it! 


By Dan Simmons,

Book cover of Drood

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. 

The Toymakers

By Robert Dinsdale,

Book cover of The Toymakers

Why this book?

Set in 1917, during an era that I have always been particularly drawn to, The Toymakers is one of those rare books that manages to capture magic in a way that feels both whimsical as well as deeply poignant – it truly reads like a fairy tale for adults set against the tragic backdrop of the First World War. Reading this book was like reading the first Harry Potter book – I was totally captivated and transported back in time to London and the Emporium (a wonderful magical toy shop). This book had me spellbound – both in terms of the enchanting forms of magic employed by the toy-makers as well as the darker aspects of their lives and the secrets uncovered.

Necropolis: London and Its Dead

By Catharine Arnold,

Book cover of Necropolis: London and Its Dead

Why this book?

London is basically built over layer upon layer of graves. I was thoroughly fascinated by the Bronze Age tumulus on Parliament Hill, which Arnold calls one of the oldest burial grounds in the city, predating Highgate Cemetery by over 4000 years.

The book really grabbed me when it explored the plague pits of the Middle Ages. I could have read much more about those centuries, although so little seems to be left above ground to mark them. The Tudor chapters were equally fascinating.

Once the book moves into the exquisite Victorian-era graveyards, Arnold hits her stride. If you are new to the study of all things dead in London, this is crucial material.


By Rose Montague,

Book cover of Jade

Why this book?

Jade is a being of mysterious power who has traits of shifter, witch, fae, and others. She serves the police force in Winston, in a world in which supernatural beings are everywhere, but are discriminated against. She must solve a mystery and fight to protect herself and her friends. I enjoyed this story. I think you will enjoy it if you like fantasy.


By Brian Ruckley,

Book cover of Winterbirth

Why this book?

Ruckley manages to strike a rare balance between high fantasy prose and Grimdark’s dirt-under-the-nails realism, and combines it all with thoughtful character development and an oftentimes sombre tone. On the one hand it’s about a boy’s coming of age journey and the tragedy of loss, and on the other a bitter and ultimately futile conflict of a people riven by the dogma of an emergent religion. There are visceral and superbly paced clashes between these opposing sides, which are both blinded by the all-encompassing madness of a magic user who is rapidly losing control of his own power. The fact that all of the suffering and slaughter in this story could easily be avoided is what makes it hit deepest. If everyone had just been nice to the poor boy, maybe he wouldn’t have turned into a narcissistic half-corpse hell-bent on psychic slavery and death. But hey, then there would be no story, right?

The Baby Laundry for Unmarried Mothers

By Angela Patrick,

Book cover of The Baby Laundry for Unmarried Mothers

Why this book?

I was so struck by this candid memoir from Angela Patrick about what happened to her when she became pregnant in the early sixties at nineteen that it made me consider my mother’s lucky escape when the same thing happened to her. Both were Catholic and unmarried, but Patrick, unlike my mother, turned to her family for help and was exiled to a mother and baby home. It’s a tale of shame and sorrow, coldness and cruelty – and the scars that remain when a baby is given up.

Twisted Pretty Things

By Ariana Nash,

Book cover of Twisted Pretty Things

Why this book?

I love m/m romance and I love urban fantasy, but until now, that combination hadn’t grabbed me in a way that had me sit up in excitement. I tore through this series (currently and desperately awaiting the final book). Not only does Nash devise a fun and fascinating magic system with Dom’s playing cards, I shipped Dom and Kempthorne so hard. The obstacles they must overcome, both externally and with their inner demons, had me turning pages as fast as I could. It’s an absolute delight.

The Autobiography of a Newspaper Girl

By Elizabeth L. Banks,

Book cover of The Autobiography of a Newspaper Girl

Why this book?

When researching the newspaper angle of my book, I was already aware of the exploits of Nellie Bly, the New York-based pioneer of investigative, undercover journalism. But I wanted to try and track down a journalist who had achieved similar feats in late Victorian and Edwardian London. Enter Elizabeth Banks, an American journalist who emigrated to London at the turn of the century, and plied her trade as a freelancer, selling exposes on the lives of parlour maids, laundry workers, and flower sellers to the likes of The Illustrated London News. Pluck doesn’t even come close to covering her bravery and bravado – some memorable details from her book include her smuggling a camping stove into a London hotel because she couldn’t afford the dining room food, and pestering editors up and down Fleet Street to publish her words. She was a true entrepreneurial London woman, at a time when women were still considered ‘angels of the hearth.' She deserves to be better known. 

Wicked Sexy Liar: Volume 4

By Christina Lauren,

Book cover of Wicked Sexy Liar: Volume 4

Why this book?

This is the fourth and last book in the Wild Seasons series and in our view, the best. Featuring a player who’s just looking to hook up for a night of fun and a girl who likes to avoid the drama, these two get thrown for a loop when they cross paths. It’s hot, it’s steamy and it’s also pretty sweet. The banter these two shared was great and their chemistry felt so real. Plus, we loved watching Luke own his past and his mistakes and seeing London finally admit she was falling for the guy. 

The Satanic Verses

By Salman Rushdie,

Book cover of The Satanic Verses

Why this book?

A complex magic realist novel. Two Muslim Indians are on a highjacked plane that explodes over the English Channel. As they fall into the sea, Bollywood superstar Gibreel Farishta, turns into the Archangel Gabriel, while Saladin Chamcha, a voiceover artist, metamorphoses into the Devil. They struggle with their new identities, with rivalry, with life in Britain, and in Gibreel’s case, with mental illness. Like all Rushdie’s work, it is a post-colonial perspective on the metropolis and the identity crises of the ex-colonised. There are long dream sequences about an Arabian prophet called Mahmoudwho resembles the founder of Islam. The Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced Rushdie to death for blasphemy for this. This all sounds deep and portentousand it isbut it’s also unfailingly funny and original. And brave. An inspiration. 

A Useful Woman

By Darcie Wilde,

Book cover of A Useful Woman

Why this book?

Rosalind Thorne’s life as a gently bred woman is upended when her father abandons the family. Finding herself penniless, Rosalind manages to use her connections and considerable skill to help wealthy society women solve their problems, for a discreet payment. In the course of helping a client who wants to become a patroness of Almack’s, the invitation-only social club, Rosalind discovers the body of an acquaintance in the ballroom. The patronesses of Almack’s want Rosalind to hush up the death, while the victim’s sister wants her to find her brother’s killer. Rosalind proves adept at putting the pieces of a very complex puzzle together, at great danger to herself. I loved Rosalind’s determination and cunning as well as the sardonic portrayal of the ton’s countless social rules, spitefulness, and hypocrisy.

The Affinity Bridge: A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation

By George Mann,

Book cover of The Affinity Bridge: A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation

Why this book?

The first in the Newbury and Hobbs series finds our intrepid pair of investigators trying to tie together an airship crash, a mysterious plague among the less fortunate of London, a spate of murders that leaves Scotland Yard clueless and the reappearing ghost of a police officer. A London on the verge of a technological leap forward provides a backdrop for a Holmesian investigation. There’s plenty more ahead in the series for those who enjoy this one. 

The Luckiest Lady in London

By Sherry Thomas,

Book cover of The Luckiest Lady in London

Why this book?

You like your small, introspective, architecture-of-a-marriage stories? Well, here’s the Romance version. Nothing really happens, plot-wise. It is simply a masterclass of two characters matched in every way that matters, ready to destroy everything they could potentially have because they’re scared of getting hurt. Humorous. Hot. Nerdy. Incisive. Affecting. This will introduce you to the basic foundation of Historical Romance—essentially, “the marriage plot”—in the quiet way you’re looking for.

London: The Novel

By Edward Rutherfurd,

Book cover of London: The Novel

Why this book?

This novel was a massive influence on me. Rutherfurd takes the city of London as his subject, and follows the life of the city through the centuries, taking in Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans etc…right through to modern times. I don't have quite such a huge canvas in my book, but I do follow a series of historical events in a manner which is somewhat reminiscent of Rutherfurd. Rutherfurd takes you on a wonderful journey. 

Campaigns of Curiosity: Journalistic Adventures of an American Girl in London

By Elizabeth L. Banks,

Book cover of Campaigns of Curiosity: Journalistic Adventures of an American Girl in London

Why this book?

Elizabeth Banks was an American journalist who settled in London around 1893. She undertook a series of ‘adventures’ in which she posed as a laundry girl, a crossing sweeper, a flower girl, a chaperone, an heiress, and a domestic servant. In working as a maid, she hoped to discover why domestic service ‘was looked upon with so much contumely’. 

Originally published as "In Cap and Apron" in the Weekly Sun, Elizabeth’s experiences were then published in 1894 in Campaigns of Curiosity: Journalistic Adventures of an American Girl in London. It’s not clear how much artistic licence Elizabeth used when describing her time in domestic service, but she does provide some interesting details about the duties of staff in households where three or four servants were employed.

Tales of Mean Streets

By Arthur Morrison,

Book cover of Tales of Mean Streets

Why this book?

This is another book written by a journalist. The stories in it are about the working class and destitute life in London at the end of the nineteenth century. Not only do they portray intimate relationships, prostitution, crime, and alcohol abuse, but they also give a sense of the life stories of the people who lived in these communities.

A Journal of the Plague Year

By Daniel Defoe,

Book cover of A Journal of the Plague Year

Why this book?

This so-called ‘journal’ was an account of the Great Plague of London of 1665, 57 years later in 1722. The style of writing is graphic, detailed, and visual which is why it comes over as an accurate account; you feel as if you are wandering the streets of plague-infested London, watching as plague-infested houses are nailed up with their occupants inside and watchmen placed on the street outside. While the narrative voice is that of another time, the observation and perceptiveness give the book a contemporary feel so that I felt comforted knowing that at least people in distant times had actually experienced a pandemic. 

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

By Peter Stone,

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

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.

Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War

By Jerry White,

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

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 darkest days of its history.

The Emperor's Babe

By Bernardine Evaristo,

Book cover of The Emperor's Babe

Why this book?

I’m embarrassed that I only read this book recently because it’s a wonderful engagement with ancient evidence to create a vision of Roman Britain. Evaristo uses the burial of the so-called Spitalfields Lady – a woman buried in a sarcophagus with scallop shell decorations and a rich range of grave goods – to create Zuleika, a lively girl who lives with her Nubian parents in Roman London; in blank verse, the story follows her life from being married off as a child bride to catching the eye of the emperor Septimius Severus. Evaristo mixes historical detail with contemporary slang and references, bringing her vision of London under a multi-cultural Roman Empire vividly to life.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

By Steven Johnson,

Book cover of The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

Why this book?

Johnson’s exploration of a public health crisis and science in the making was one of the references I used in writing my own book. In August 1854, hundreds of people in the impoverished Golden Square neighborhood of London fell violently ill. Many died. By mapping the movements of the victims, Dr. John Snow traced the source of the infection to the Broad Street pump, a public water source that had been contaminated with Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that causes cholera. Johnson’s account shows how a normally benign microbe was rendered deadly in a crowded mass of people who ended up drinking their own sewage—at a time before the existence of microbes was known. 

The Duke of Wellington, Kidnapped!: The Incredible True Story of the Art Heist That Shocked a Nation

By Alan Hirsch,

Book cover of The Duke of Wellington, Kidnapped!: The Incredible True Story of the Art Heist That Shocked a Nation

Why this book?

If you saw the recent film, The Duke, then you’ll know the story of Kempton Bunton and the crazy art heist from London’s National Gallery, when Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington was stolen. This is one of the most interesting and quirkiest of all art heists and this book is the definitive telling of it.

Memoir of a Fascist Childhood: A Boy in Mosley's Britain

By Trevor Grundy,

Book cover of Memoir of a Fascist Childhood: A Boy in Mosley's Britain

Why this book?

This is a through-the-looking-glass journey into the darker side of British politics. Grundy’s parents were violently anti-Semitic and obsessed with Oswald Mosley, and he himself became active in Mosley’s post-war Union Movement, before turning away from Fascism. It is surreal, scary, and hilarious by turns. It also gives important insights into the origins of today’s Far Right politics.

Russka: The Novel of Russia

By Edward Rutherfurd,

Book cover of Russka: The Novel of Russia

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.


By Michael Ondaatje,

Book cover of Warlight

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 what’s really happening?

Antic Hay

By Aldous Huxley,

Book cover of Antic Hay

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 for an absurd kind of comedy. Antic Hay is a savage satire, a switchback of emotions, swooping between humour and despair – though the slight plot does sometimes get rather side-lined by intellectual discussions and I admit to skipping the odd page. However, it gives an excellent flavour of the mind-set of what is sometimes known as the ‘Lost Generation’.

St Pancras Station (Wonders of the World)

By Simon Bradley,

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

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.

The Romance of Metro-Land

By Dennis Edwards, Ron Pigram,

Book cover of The Romance of Metro-Land

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.

London Under London: A Subterranean Guide

By Richard Trench, Ellis Hillman,

Book cover of London Under London: A Subterranean Guide

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 geeks like me.

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

By Iain Sinclair,

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

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.

Small Island

By Andrea Levy,

Book cover of Small Island

Why this book?

Set in 1940s England and Jamaica, the novel explores racism and colorism, caste and class. Two couples—one British, the other Jamaican—who are living in one house, end up negotiating their biases in post-WWII London. Bring an illegitimate, biracial baby into the mix, and the tensions run high.

While the impact of Jamaica on British identity is the specific subject matter, Small Island reads as an exploration of the blurring—deliberate as well as unexpected—of cultural and racial lines in the US, as well. In this way, Small Island spoke to me about American-ness as much as it revealed to me the story of race in Great Britain.

Plus, the book is wonderfully, intoxicatingly readable!

The 1946 London Lectures

By Maria Montessori,

Book cover of The 1946 London Lectures

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, solving social problems through education, when to give children the truth and when fairy tales are appropriate, and the difference between work and play.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

By Kate Summerscale,

Book cover of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

Why this book?

This riveting book covers the gruesome discovery of a murder in a Georgian house in the sleepy village of Road in Wiltshire. That someone has died is awful enough but realising that the murderer is a member of the household brings fresh horrors. The author meticulously follows the crime and subsequent investigation, sticking strictly to the facts while using her imagination to recreate the tense atmosphere while bringing the characters to life. Unputdownable.

The London Journal of General Raymond E. Lee 1940-1941

By James Leutze (editor),

Book cover of The London Journal of General Raymond E. Lee 1940-1941

Why this book?

Lee was the popular, well-connected military attaché in the U.S. Embassy in London. A staunch supporter of U.S. aid for Britain, he played an important role in preparing for America’s entry into the war. During the Blitz, he castigated American correspondents who described London as “devastated” by the German bombing campaign. “London is not devastated, and if you want one soldier’s opinion, it will not be devastated,” he told them. His diary reflects his determination to counter the defeatist predictions of Joseph Kennedy, who had served as U.S. ambassador in London until 1940.

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

By Diane Atkinson,

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

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.

Jack Dawkins

By Charlton Daines,

Book cover of Jack Dawkins

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 with much of that 'different world' quality that Fantasy readers so love.

Zero Proof: 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes for Mindful Drinking

By Elva Ramirez, Robert Bredvad (photographer),

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

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).

Black Beauty

By Anna Sewell, Kristen Guest (editor),

Book cover of Black Beauty

Why this book?

This classic book was so important to me when I was a child. It not only was about horses, which I obsessed over at the time, but without me even knowing it, it solidified in me the belief that all creatures need and deserve kindness and compassion. As an adult, I see Black Beauty as one of the most influential books of my life, plus I absolutely adore how this book has been so instrumental in changing countless animals’ and humans’ lives for the better.

All Among the Barley

By Melissa Harrison,

Book cover of All Among the Barley

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, without spelling it out. Superbly controlled and crafted. I can only stand back and applaud.

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

By Allyson Jeleyne,

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

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 conveying the passion between the hero and heroine successfully. This book is an excellent example of how less truly can be more.

Barnaby Rudge

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of Barnaby Rudge

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 bulging out and projecting over the pathway, the old house looked as though it were nodding in its sleep." Dickens had a deep affection for the century before his own; he evokes it brilliantly here. 

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

By Lauren Willig,

Book cover of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

Why this book?

I fell for Baroness Orczy’s dashing fictional hero—the Scarlet Pimpernel—after watching the 1982 film by the same name starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour. I then went on to read the entire book series he was based on! It wasn’t until I came across Lauren Willig’s charming Pink Carnation series, which pays homage to clever and elusive British spies like the Scarlet Pimpernel, that I found a new historical spy hero to delight in. I loved the modern-day protagonist Eloise Kelly, who’s in present-day England working on her dissertation, as well as her historical counterpart Amy Balcourt, who leads the fascinating and romantic parallel story in this very enjoyable dual narrative novel.

The Lost Apothecary

By Sarah Penner,

Book cover of The Lost Apothecary

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 of revenge, and the strength of women who band together.   

A Darker Shade of Magic

By V.E. Schwab,

Book cover of A Darker Shade of Magic

Why this book?

I’m an absolute sucker for both intricate world-building and alternate dimensions, and the way Schwab manages to thread the needle between fantasy and traditional science fiction concepts made my head spin. I was hooked from the moment I realized there were parallel worlds. Kell and Lila are great leads, and I loved the combative energy between them. I really love slow-burn relationships, including friendships, and it’s fun to see this pair go from strangers to tentative allies. While A Darker Shade of Magic doesn’t feature a queer romance, the second book in the series does, and it’s well worth the wait. 

Warrant For X

By Philip MacDonald,

Book cover of Warrant For X

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.

A Tale of Two Cities

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of A Tale of Two Cities

Why this book?

This is the very famous historical romance of Charles Dickens which describes the terrifying French Revolution. In the novel, Dickens verifies the historical plausibility of the Revolution. But he also condemns the inhuman persecution and execution. The book vividly describes the terrifying scene of the revolution and variety of characters who have different attitudes towards the revolution. Many readers are deeply moved by the self-sacrifice and heroism of Sydney Carton who bravely faced the scuff in order to save the happiness of the woman he loved.

New Grub Street

By George Gissing,

Book cover of New Grub Street

Why this book?

Gissing is forgotten now because he was a realist working in romantic times. Fiction writers were the rock stars of Victorian England. New Grub Street explores the other side of the coin: the vast number of struggling writers who hankered after the fame and fortune that was never to be theirs. At the heart of the story are two friends, the pragmatic materialist Jasper Milvain and the talented but idealistic Edward Reardon. The modest success of one novel prompts Readon to marry, saddling him with an overwhelming financial burden that crushes his talent. Milvain values money over everything else in life at a time when everything else in life depends on money. I found Gissing’s hard-boiled novel touching because, without flinching, he shows the inner conflicts of people trapped by circumstance.

The Mummy (or Ramses the Damned)

By Anne Rice,

Book cover of The Mummy (or Ramses the Damned)

Why this book?

If you haven’t read The Mummy by Anne Rice, you’re totally missing out. Her deliciously intense prose and ability to render an environment with emotional impact always thrills me. And while I love the Vampire Lestat books, the tale of Ramses and Julie is part Beauty and the Beast, part Raiders of the Lost Ark, and all awesome. Anne Rice brings you to the early 20th century in London while Egyptian “recovery” was all the rage and I swear you can see, feel and taste that experience on every page. It’s billed as a horror, but I’ve always read it as a deeply adventurous and exciting love story.

Vixen in Velvet

By Loretta Chase,

Book cover of Vixen in Velvet

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.


By Sarah Waters,

Book cover of Affinity

Why this book?

Set in the dark prison walls of Victorian London, and the prim and proper front parlours of the upper classes, this is another subtle, creepy suspense. The Victorians of England had a fascination with the paranormal—from photographing the dead to séancesand this is what draws the protagonist into the drama. A privileged young woman, during her weekly round of duty at a local prison, becomes entranced by a beautiful and gifted spiritual medium, who’d been accused of trickery at one such event. The story is so deftly told you honestly cannot work out what’s real and what isn’t, and I truly did not see what was coming. Honestly, this is a masterclass in storytelling. Utterly horrific, it left me reeling. And on top of that, you get a terrific snapshot of well-researched history. First class!      

Jack's Return Home

By Ted Lewis,

Book cover of Jack's Return Home

Why this book?

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

The Book Cat

By Polly Faber, Clara Vulliamy (illustrator),

Book cover of The Book Cat

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! 

A Defense of Honor

By Kristi Ann Hunter,

Book cover of A Defense of Honor

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.  

The Persuasion of Miss Kate: A Humorous Traditional Regency Romance

By Kathleen Baldwin,

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

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.

Oliver Twist

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of Oliver Twist

Why this book?

As a young kid reading Dickens for the first time I was mesmerised by this journey into the underworld of Victorian London. I would go on my own imaginary adventures with the Artful Dodger and his gang of thieving street urchins. Years later, when writing my own book about modern street gang members I had the same sense of going on a thrilling journey of discovery and escapades.

Marrying Winterborne

By Lisa Kleypas,

Book cover of Marrying Winterborne

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 breath of fresh air, due to how the characters were realistically written and relatable.


By Robert Cedric Sherriff,

Book cover of Greengates

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 a “new” house charms my socks off. 

At Bertram's Hotel: A Miss Marple Mystery

By Agatha Christie,

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

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?

Good Things to Drink with Mr. Lyan and Friends

By Ryan Chetiyawardana,

Book cover of Good Things to Drink with Mr. Lyan and Friends

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.

Good Night, Mr. Tom

By Michelle Magorian,

Book cover of Good Night, Mr. Tom

Why this book?

This is an exceptionally good middle grade book! It tells what really happened to British children who were evacuated from the cities to the countryside during WWII. It caused me to question my English grandparents about their experiences during WWII. Imagine how people would react today if the government ordered them to put their children on a train to go live with strangers in some other part of the country.

Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

By Jacqueline Winspear,

Book cover of Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

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 was using his voice to criticize the powers within government. I just love how Maisie deliberately wields her compassion in order to see the full picture of a case.

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

By G.K. Chesterton,

Book cover of The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

Why this book?

If Lewis’ Till We Have Faces is a deeply buried metaphor for religious experience, The Man Who Was Thursday requires an excavator to unearth. Both books explain their metaphors in the final pages, but Thursday does this much less clearly. Unless you’re pretty familiar with Christianity, you’re probably gonna miss it. But what a wonderful surprise to get to the end of this strange story and realize that Chesterton was sneakily describing the sneakiness of God’s beauty, just like Lewis did.

Howards End

By E.M. Forster,

Book cover of Howards End

Why this book?

This is one of my favorite novels ever. Though it describes the author’s own society—Edwardian England—it tackles so many human subjects that will resonate for a modern reader. That a man was able to inhabit so many fully realized female characters is nothing short of miraculous. The plot concerns a social collision one can imagine happening today: two earnest, well-intentioned intellectual sisters in London meet a snobby upper-class family and, later, an impoverished bank clerk. While trying to help the clerk, the sisters create a crisis. How all these lives intertwine tells a story of marriage, betrayal, widowhood, forgiveness, and love. All roads lead to a house in the countryside called Howards End. The author’s famous epigraph says it all: “only connect.”

The Secret History of the Blitz

By Joshua Levine,

Book cover of The Secret History of the Blitz

Why this book?

Today, it is almost impossible to imagine aircraft roaming freely over British cities, disgorging bombs onto the streets below. So, it’s vital for us to have access to the personal, unvarnished stories and contemporary accounts from those that actually lived through this particular horror. In The Secret History of the Blitz Levine pulls no punches as he documents the behaviour of ordinary people faced with extreme experiences. Some reacted with fortitude, uniting in neighbourhood solidarity and extending charity to strangers. Others exploited the chaos, breaking legal and moral codes for their own personal enrichment. To this day, the British psyche collectively benefits from the social concept of a Blitz Spirit. But we should remember it was always a two-sided coin.

The Cater Street Hangman

By Anne Perry,

Book cover of The Cater Street Hangman

Why this book?

I’m a woman. I have been successful in my profession, but even in today’s world, I have had to endure patronizing and sometimes obstructive men, who clearly showed that women were not welcome. The maxim that to succeed in a man’s world you had to be twice as smart and work twice as hard, still holds true. So, I am drawn to stories of strong women, like Charlotte Pitt in The Cater Street Hangman, who overcame the obstacles created by the beliefs and rules of the society in 1800s England. I am also the great-granddaughter of the protagonist of my own book, and was raised on stories of her life and how she survived and triumphed despite the rigours of her life and times.

While the policeman Thomas Pitt is the protagonist of this novel, his wife Charlotte, born to an upper-class family, defied the strict rules of her society to marry “beneath her.” Her connections to the aristocracy of the time, England in the 1800s, her intelligence, and her strength of character allow her to assist her husband, providing an entree to a society that scorns those of lower birth. The book taught me a great deal about Victorian England and how the strength of character and determination would allow me to overcome obstacles in my own path.

Open Water

By Caleb Azumah Nelson,

Book cover of Open Water

Why this book?

What I personally loved about Open Water was just how original it was. From the second-person narration to the poetic prose and the beautiful portrayal of a Black man, not only being on the receiving end of love but also, the giver – a depiction we don’t see enough in publishing. I also enjoyed following how two artists fell in love, organically. And yet, I didn’t feel like a fly on the wall. A key takeaway I got from the story was how freeing vulnerability can be, but also, how difficult it can be to express emotions in words. Although triggering in places, overall, I found Open Water a comforting read; there were lots of cultural references that made me smile and nod my head, such as Peckhamplex cinema and Morley’s chicken shop. 


By Nikki May,

Book cover of Wahala

Why this book?

I flew through Wahala. Pacy, suspenseful, and binge-able, this novel did not disappoint; it delivered in all areas. Zany, memorable characters – tick. Messy, complicated entanglements – tick. Tantalising, mouth-watering descriptions of Nigerian food served in south London restaurants – tick, tick. (The author kindly included a few recipes at the back of the book!) Wahala reminded me of how enjoyable reading can be when you find a widely-entertaining book that you can kick back and sink your teeth into. An engrossing, riveting read that explores the complexity of adult female friendships, I highly recommend it. 

A Thief in Time

By Cidney Swanson,

Book cover of A Thief in Time

Why this book?

I am most excited to talk about this book since Cidney Swanson became one of my favorite authors. I’ll admit a lot of people don’t know who she is, but she’s a very sweet and talented author more people should know about.

Halley, our main character, ends up house-sitting for a well-to-do scientist. As she’s sitting for him in his fancy house, an earthquake hits and Halley is now face-to-face with an earl definitely not from this time period. The earl is confused to say the least, but Halley and her friends are now responsible for helping him get back to where he belongs. Turns out the scientist has secrets in his fancy house, and he’s not willing to share. When Halley and her friends find themselves involved in the scientist's mess, they are now trying to help the earl and save themselves. This book has danger, intrigue, and sweet romance. It’s the perfect quick read for someone who loves sweet books and is a lover of time travel.

A Quiver Full of Arrows

By Jeffrey Archer,

Book cover of A Quiver Full of Arrows

Why this book?

This collection of short stories about simple yet distinct events that can occur in the life of any person impressed me as I was able to relate to the stories. Archer has beautifully expressed the feelings of many characters. In particular, the stories "Old Love" and "The Luncheon" still fascinate me.

Light Perpetual

By Francis Spufford,

Book cover of Light Perpetual

Why this book?

In 1944, the Woolworth’s in London was bombed, killing 168 people. 15 were kids.

In this story, the author brings back 5 of those children and writes a story of how they might have been growing up and as adults. It is a tearjerker and really makes you wonder what all of those 15 children would have been like.

Several senseless tragedies leave a lot of “What-ifs,” and this one really pulled at my heartstrings.

Secrets and Suitors

By Joanna Barker,

Book cover of Secrets and Suitors

Why this book?

A swoon-worthy love story. A handsome young man who gives you all the feels. A young woman standing her ground. A passionate kiss that is so worth the wait. 

What can I say, I am totally in love with this story. Secrets and Suitors was one of the books that made me fall in love with the regency period. It has everything I want in a good story, without the steam and inappropriate scenes. The shy main character has to learn to fight for her rights and the man she loves and not let her father dictate her life. I love a strong female lead, willing to deal with the consequences by going for what they want.

White Rabbit: The Fall

By London Miller,

Book cover of White Rabbit: The Fall

Why this book?

He’s heir to a violent legacy. She’s on the hunt for a story that’ll launch her career from Page Six to the six o’clock hour. When their paths cross, she knows she’ll follow this lead anywhere. I love it because Miller’s really good at writing dark romance. It’s a tricky genre to get right because of the subject matter, but if you can nail it you get a sort of grim satisfaction from the underworld justice. But then one has to ask: what happens when someone comes around asking questions? What happens when emotions get in the way of objectivity or professionalism? And what do you do when someone you’re falling for is revealed to be a monster amongst monsters?

Almost English

By Charlotte Mendelson,

Book cover of Almost English

Why this book?

Marina is another scholarship girl (there’s a theme here) trying to escape her messy family life, but from the get-go, she feels like an outsider at her new boarding school, Coombe Abbey. At this school, everyone’s given a cruel nickname, but even worse is being so invisible you don’t have a nickname at all. Marina doesn’t cope well at all, and one of my favourite hilarious episodes is when she visits the beautiful, drafty, impossibly cool home of her boyfriend and has mortifying sex and a terrifying night-time poo. The ending had me in tears (but from laughter and sadness).

Pandora in the Congo

By Albert Sánchez Piñol, Mara Faye Lethem (translator),

Book cover of Pandora in the Congo

Why this book?

Pandora in the Congo was recommended to me by a friend, and although initially unsure due to its quirkiness (especially the further through you read), I ended up loving it. Set in 1914, this story is again set in a prison cell, with the main character re-telling the horrors he endured in the Congo on a mining expedition, which he alone became the sole survivor of. 

Sinister Street

By Compton MacKenzie,

Book cover of Sinister Street

Why this book?

This fine coming-of-age novel was originally published in two big red volumes. It's large and reads like an enormous European tapestry laid out in some cold castle museum, with vivid dyes and a thousand patterned intricacies to ponder. It was a literary sensation when it was published, a favorite of the young romantics of the WWI generation, and Mackenzie followed it up with several branching-off sequels. He writes with such vividry that the dusky London streets and country cottages in this book are fresh and living even now. This book affected a young F. Scott Fitzgerald so much that in the early drafts of Fitz's first novel, he actually copped the name of the protagonist of this book.

Cut to the Quick

By Kate Ross,

Book cover of Cut to the Quick

Why this book?

Kate Ross's books are unique in her choice of protagonist—outwardly a self-obsessed dandy rather than a hero—and in her deftness at creating the classic whodunit.

Although Julian Kestrel's ancestry is a bit vague, he clearly moves among the upper class with ease. After rescuing a young lord from a gaming hell, he is invited to a country house party. Unfortunately, he wakes up next to the body of a beautiful but very dead woman.

The only thing disappointing about this series is its shortness. The author passed away prematurely after writing only four books.


By Georgette Heyer,

Book cover of Frederica

Why this book?

Georgette Heyer, often called the “Queen of Regency Romances,” was a skilled writer, who crafted nearly thirty Regencies, and her Frederica is not just my personal Heyer favorite but my personal Regency favorite of all time. Bar none. I’ve read it often. It’s literate, entertaining, funny, and satisfying. Romantic, too, but subtle, with only one very gratifying kiss at the end. Yet the slow simmer as Alverstoke shifts first from self-absorbed libertine to a man involved in Frederica’s life and family and finally to a man deeply and selflessly in love is brilliant. Unexpectedly sexy, too.  Dialogue is always intelligent, lively, and authentic. Situations are true to the time. I especially love that Frederica is no great beauty and Alverstoke not very heroic, yet they still end up as the perfect match. And make Frederica the perfect Regency romance.

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

By Jennifer Worth,

Book cover of Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

Why this book?

London's East End dockland in the 1950s had no midwife services other than those organised by a small order of nuns. A trained nurse, Worth was one of its staff confronted by the needs of the slum tenements of the area, which at the time still laid claim to being the largest port in the world. Her story is of mainly closed, self-contained communities, elements of which exist today next to the British capital's new financial centre of Canary Wharf. Both sad and uplifting, the book is an incitement to come, walk and imagine the ghosts of the old London docks.

The City of Endless Night

By Milo Hastings,

Book cover of The City of Endless Night

Why this book?

Milo Hastings’s book, The City of Endless Night, written right after the end of WWI, foretells Germany’s eventual rise to power again. The book’s main character Lyman De Forrest takes us through a socially stratified underground Berlin, where 300,000,000 people live. In the lower strata, every aspect of life, including how much a person gets to eat each day (based on their weight), is controlled. Despite being more than 100 years old, this book is surprisingly modern and the food politics are just as relevant.

Sketches by Boz

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of Sketches by Boz

Why this book?

This is often overlooked by readers of Dickens. I think the term “sketches” is important here at a point where Dickens was still experimenting with his art and particularly his characters which were always going to be his greatest strength. Sketches by Boz is a collection of fascinatingly detailed insights into London life intertwined in episodes (or scenes) as Dickens terms it through a richly caricatured study of a set of interesting lives of the working classes, in a way that only Dickens has ever been able to do. The “sketches” had, prior to this, been serialized in weekly installments (the soap operas of the day). Dickens had experienced sufficient highs and lows of social mobility in his own life to fully qualify his portrayals. "The Tuggses at Ramsgate" is perhaps for me the most memorable but the whole volume is bursting with energetic individuality and character. I have always deliberately left reading Dickens’ work until the winter to add to the atmosphere. How London has changed from this, and not all of it for the better!

Leadville: A Biography of the A40

By Edward Platt,

Book cover of Leadville: A Biography of the A40

Why this book?

Platt calls this ‘a biography of the A40’ and it is about the road that most people coming and going between London and Oxfordshire drive along without looking. The suburban houses that line it, many scheduled for demolition, some empty and some squatted, intrigued Platt and he began visiting them, talking to the inhabitants and finding out how they became stranded in this hinterland. Their accounts are funny, poignant and sometimes astonishing.  The A40 tells a story about the history of London and the visions and failures of urban planning in the 20th century.

The People of the Abyss

By Jack London,

Book cover of The People of the Abyss

Why this book?

Published in 1903, this classic piece of investigative journalism describes novelist/journalist Jack London’s visit to London in 1902, during which he tried to understand how the poor live by living himself as a pauper. Full of vivid descriptions of the people he met as he stayed in doss-houses, walked across the city to find work, and scraped for food, this experience made a profound impression on him. He later said "No other book of mine took so much of my young heart and tears as that study of the economic degradation of the poor." The characters you meet in this book, and their stories, just burst off the page.

The Nether World

By George Gissing,

Book cover of The Nether World

Why this book?

This is a novel about life in the London slums in the 1880s. You really get a sense of just how hard it was to make ends meet in these communities. I loved it for the details about what people ate, where they lived, and the language. I trawled books like this for authentic words and expressions that I could put in the mouths of my characters in my own books.

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

By Christian Wolmar,

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

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 1948.

A Street Cat Named Bob and How He Saved My Life

By James Bowen,

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

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 you'll really hope that everything turns out well for both of them. James tells his story in very blunt terms, about dealing with addiction and trying to turn his life around.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

By Hallie Rubenhold,

Book cover of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Why this book?

The five women who were Jack the Ripper’s canonical victims have always been just that, his victims. Rubenhold gives them back their identities, in their own right, as mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives and challenges the ‘traditional’ view. For three of them, there is no evidence that they were prostitutes, but all five were women battling personal demons who were down on their luck. They were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. The Five is not the story of their deaths, but their lives.

East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding

By Raphael Samuel (editor),

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

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.


By Catharine Arnold,

Book cover of Bedlam

Why this book?

Long before the Victorian asylums, there was Bethlem – London’s ancient hospital for lunatics. Like Broadmoor, Bethlem also looked after high-profile criminals, but within a private and charitable institution that was mostly for the capital’s waifs and strays. Bedlam gives you a sense of how mental health developed as a concept from the medieval period to the present day.


By Neil Gaiman,

Book cover of Neverwhere

Why this book?

How can one not like this book? It sucks you in without you realizing what life’s moral story it is based on. There is no preaching or in your face. Just excitement and entertainment. In the end when you realize the story is about homeless people who are totally ignored in everyday life you say “Wow” and realize the moral of the story. And it hits many of us one way or another and how we look at those less fortunate. What a master Neil is, to entertain and teach

Tunnels (Book 1)

By Roderick Gordon, Brian Williams,

Book cover of Tunnels (Book 1)

Why this book?

Another overlooked book because it is targeted for children. It’s the first in a series and is darker in tone than others. The imagination of the underground world here is neat and built in such a way that lets you envision it. The plot can be a bit disjointed for younger readers, and there are some twists to keep it interesting, but overall, is a fast read.

Transluminal: The Paintings of Jim Burns

By Jim Burns,

Book cover of Transluminal: The Paintings of 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. They say you shouldn't meet your heroes; I find this not to be true. Once again Nice big full-page images, as all art books should be!

The Maul and the Pear Tree

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

Book cover of The Maul and the Pear Tree

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.

Zero History

By William Gibson,

Book cover of Zero History

Why this book?

This novel represents a sharp turn for me. Until I snapped up Zero History in an airport bookstore many years ago, the science fiction I’d read seemed like dry, intellectual exercises. The characters didn’t have depth. They never made me laugh (or cry). But Zero History unleashed a passion in me for speculative fiction, and eventually, it turned my own writing in that direction as well. To this day, it’s one of my all-time favorite novels. While it’s the third book in a William Gibson trilogy, it is entirely complete on its own. There’s a pop culture, cool vibe about it as the story taps into the lives of three people with unusual gifts – which a global marketing magnate dearly wants to use in various ways.

Walking on Glass

By Iain M. Banks,

Book cover of Walking on Glass

Why this book?

I love Iain Banks’ work and this book seems to encapsulate the best of his early work: epic sci-fi, mental breakdown, and fantastic comedy. Switching between three storylines, one of which contains the best imagery in all SF and fantasy, Walking On Glass mixes reality with insanity and imagination with the every day to superb effect.

The Sea-Wolf

By Jack London,

Book cover of The Sea-Wolf

Why this book?

Most people like London’s The Sea-Wolf for the protagonist, Humprhey Van Weyden, who tries to teach Wolf Larson (the Sea Wolf) to be moral. But I actually think The Sea Wolf actually is moral to begin with. He uses a sense of expediency to make his decisions, but even there, along the way of the voyage, we see changes in him as he reconsiders Van Weyden. Ultimately, it’s an incredible journey of multiple characters in the book finding their truest selves.

The Pyramids of London

By Andrea K. Host,

Book cover of The Pyramids of London

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 in and root for, and off you go, on a fantastic journey through a world that is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

The Grand Alliance: The Second World War, Volume 3

By Winston S. Churchill,

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

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 as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”

The Uninvited

By Dorothy Macardle,

Book cover of The Uninvited

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 his wife and his model/lover. When the artist’s daughter starts coming to visit, things get worse fast, but by the end of the book, every mystery is solved, discussed, and tied up with no loose ends, after a satisfying twist you might see coming.

The first half of the 20th century as a setting is like reader catnip to me. Extra points that this book was actually written then, and reflects the writing and story styles of the era. Have a pot of tea while you’re reading this book and imagine yourself speaking very properly while living on the coast of England.

The East End Butcher Boy

By Joe E. Lawrence,

Book cover of The East End Butcher Boy

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!   

The Unlikely Spy

By Daniel Silva,

Book cover of The Unlikely Spy

Why this book?

The author clearly did a great deal of research for this book, and this is certainly something I truly love in this World War 2 novel: it provides that solid and rich actual background against which the story is set. It is fascinating to see how both the Nazis and the Allies were playing a game of deception, trying to outmanoeuvre and outsmart each other. The writing is very good, the characters are complex, all with their flaws, all very interesting indeed, all feeling very credible, real. An engaging spy thriller that remains one of my favourite in this genre.

Lady of Milkweed Manor

By Julie Klassen,

Book cover of Lady of Milkweed Manor

Why this book?

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

As a mother to both biological children and foster children, I am often drawn to the stories of mothers and this one stuck with me for a long time. I ached for and cheered for the characters in this book and in the end tears were flowing and my heart was full.

Last One at the Party

By Bethany Clift,

Book cover of Last One at the Party

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 brilliant city.  I started to warm towards her when she finally pulls herself together and we watch as she learns the skills needed to survive. 

The Prince of Eden

By Marilyn Harris,

Book cover of The Prince of Eden

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.


By Peter Ackroyd,

Book cover of Hawksmoor

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 as a compliment. 

Guitar School

By Madame Sidney Pratten,

Book cover of Guitar School

Why this book?

Madame Sidney Pratten is a unique figure in the history of the guitar and sadly neglected by history. She was well known and well connected in her day and taught many notable members of Victorian London society to play guitar, including Princess Alexandra. Her real name was Catharina - in her public work she used her husband’s name, as was common at the time - and she published her Guitar School after many years of teaching, to great acclaim. It is the most informative, wise, and practical guitar book I know, full of useful information, beautiful music, and insight into the learning process.

This book is not currently available.

Some Danger Involved

By Will Thomas,

Book cover of Some Danger Involved

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 the supportive characters, become like dear friends with whom you wish to revisit regularly.

The Weight of Ink

By Rachel Kadish,

Book cover of The Weight of Ink

Why this book?

If you love historical novels like I do, with dueling timelines, great characters, and plot lines, then, Rachel Kadish’s book’s for you. Like my book, there are two time periods, two protagonists, two competing plots, and two worlds. This juxtaposing keeps the reader on their toes while they are impatient to move from one timeline to the next while adding a further dimension to the storyline.

The Scent of Death

By Andrew Taylor,

Book cover of The Scent of Death

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 the time, I understand why they fled.

The Sea, the Sea

By Iris Murdoch,

Book cover of The Sea, the Sea

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 a realist novel—the morality of using magic to transform the world. Most novelists don’t face the ethics of art and literature this fearlessly; I love the challenge Murdoch poses to those of us who practice the art.

Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel

By Natalie Jenner,

Book cover of Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel

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. 

The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

By M. John Harrison,

Book cover of The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

Why this book?

The setting of this masterful story is contemporary London, but one dominated by water: rain, rivers, canal boats, ponds. As the novel progresses, the characters’ only partially successful attempts to connect feel hampered by the decreasing definition of the boundaries between land and water. A sense of hopeless inevitability pervades every page, that in the world of this drowning London something has changed. Something irreversible.

A Proper Charade

By Esther Hatch,

Book cover of A Proper Charade

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.

Rivers of London Vol. 1: Body Work

By Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Lee Sullivan (illustrator)

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

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.

Northwest Passage

By Kenneth Roberts,

Book cover of Northwest Passage

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.

The Family Upstairs

By Lisa Jewell,

Book cover of The Family Upstairs

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.

Mrs. Dalloway

By Virginia Woolf,

Book cover of Mrs. Dalloway

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 it works, rewarding the persistent, avid reader. First published in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway will be read forever.

Down and Out in Paris and London

By George Orwell,

Book cover of Down and Out in Paris and London

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.

Busman's Honeymoon

By Dorothy L. Sayers,

Book cover of Busman's Honeymoon

Why this book?

Inside the cover of this precious gift was scrawled: “To Jo. For who, besides Harriet, deserves Peter Wimsey?”

Who indeed. Lord Peter might be a bit of a toff to some; but his brilliance, his turn of phrase, his PTSD, and above all his passion for Harriet Vane reaches my heart and stirs my imagination. It is difficult to choose a favourite Sayers novel — indeed, Gaudy Night may take the gold — but when Peter finally finds himself in Harriet’s arms, all is right with the world.

The Murder Room: An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery

By P. D. James,

Book cover of The Murder Room: An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery

Why this book?

It is hard to resist a detective who is also a poet. Such wordy pursuits, mingled with crime detection, loudly declare sensitivity and left-brain-right-brain involvement, a perfect combination in the elegant, exceedingly attractive Adam Dalgliesh. (My own detective is named, in part, after him.)

All the Dalgliesh mysteries are marvelous. However, in The Murder Room, the detective’s new relationship with Emma Lavenham comes to a critical point. As the description says, “as he moves closer and closer to a solution to the puzzle, he finds himself driven further and further from commitment to the woman he loves.” The poor dear.

Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age

By Malcolm Le Grice,

Book cover of Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age

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.


By Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake (illustrator),

Book cover of The BFG

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!

A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia

By Clara Benson,

Book cover of A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia

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 fun to be swept along with Freddy as he tries to untangle a web of blackmail among society’s upper crust.

Lying about Hitler

By Richard J. Evans,

Book cover of Lying about Hitler

Why this book?

Another great hit in Evans’ long series of books about Nazism, this is a very particular one: Evans was invited to take part as an expert in a trial for defamation brought by a British historian, David Irving, long suspected of being a tad too friendly towards the Nazi regime. This 2002 book recounts the trial and focuses on Evans decisive role: he went through Irving’s voluminous, and meticulous, books, finding misleading interpretations favoring the Nazi view of controversial events in World War II and, very particularly, views minimizing the scale of the Holocaust and Hitler’s role in it. This may be the ultimate book about detective work in the fight against misinformation.

Beloved Poison

By E.S. Thomson,

Book cover of Beloved Poison

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!

The Yard

By Alex Grecian,

Book cover of The Yard

Why this book?

I stumbled across this book while browsing through a charity shop – a murder/mystery set in Whitechapel when Jack the Ripper is still roaming free. I am by no means a follower of Ripper stories, legend or myth, despite recommending this book, but there is something about Victorian London in the 1880s that fascinates me.

The Yard is the first in a series that I have devoured over the last few years. I love Alex Grecian’s easy writing style and the main character, Detective Inspector Walter Day is one I wish I had created myself. He has a brilliant mind, a quick and quiet humour, and a soul that is truly good. Of course, he does have his faults, but they are all forgivable…at least for me!

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

By David Foster Wallace,

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

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.

The Bone Season

By Samantha Shannon,

Book cover of The Bone Season

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.

City of Beasts: How Animals Shaped Georgian London

By Thomas Almeroth-Williams,

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

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. If you want sights, sounds, and smells, here they are in plenty. Few books I’ve read, fact or fiction, have given me such a vivid impression of the every day, working life of Georgian London.

Carfax House: A Christmas Ghost Story

By Shani Struthers,

Book cover of Carfax House: A Christmas Ghost Story

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.

Confessions of a Shopaholic

By Sophie Kinsella,

Book cover of Confessions of a Shopaholic

Why this book?

I loved the plucky, flawed, and funny protagonist, Becky Bloomwood. She had an engaging voice and got herself into hilarious situations. This was one of the rare books that made me laugh out loud and it was what sparked my interest in writing a humorous chick-lit novel of my own. I also enjoyed the other books in the series, which follow Becky as she becomes a wife and eventually a mother. The series was a great example of an author creating character arcs for both the protagonist and supporting characters that evolve throughout different stages of their lives. 

The Woman Destroyed

By Beauvoir Simone De,

Book cover of The Woman Destroyed

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 Nelson Algren, broke up their transcontinental passion of four years. 

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

By Julian Woodford,

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

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. This book taught me things about everyday life in London I wanted to know but didn’t know how to look for.

Martin Eden

By Jack London,

Book cover of Martin Eden

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.


By Pat Barker,

Book cover of Noonday

Why this book?

An accumulation of memories haunt and inform Noonday, a novel that stands alone as the third in a trilogy spanning both world wars. I particularly love Barker’s avoidance of sentimentality. She is an honest writer who digs deep and gives no easy solutions as she follows a cast of characters who originally met as students at the Slade School of Art in London. Elinor, who is central, still suffers from the death of her brother Toby in the Great War. Barker’s skillful evocation of the past gives weight and resonance to every word, reminding the reader of the increasing complexity of character formation with life’s most intense and sometimes tragic experiences. 

The Lion's Circle

By Amelia Ellis, Rachel Ward (translator),

Book cover of The Lion's Circle

Why this book?

Like the novels in my first 3 picks, this one is part of a series. Nea Fox, the protagonist, is a private eye working out of London. The story contains a series of intricate puzzles with exotic characters and engaging relationships. Think of the Fu Manchu novels if they had been written by Patricia Highsmith. In this one, Nea investigates an alleged haunting and reveals a great deal of monkey business. And if it’s action you like, this may be the most exciting lesbian mystery of all.   

Silent Fear

By Lance Morcan, James Morcan,

Book cover of Silent Fear

Why this book?

Silent Fear is a stunning mystery novel, scary because it is set in an institute for the blind during a lockdown. There is a serial killer on the loose and no inmates have the ability to see their persecutor. Yes, this one gets right inside your mind and I felt privileged to read it.

In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939

By Minkah Makalani,

Book cover of In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939

Why this book?

Why did some Black Americans turn to the communist movement during the interwar period? This is one of the key questions Makalani seeks to answer in his book. He understands the limits of the movement, particularly its doctrinaire approach and the left’s limited engagement with race heading into the 1920s. He focuses on how Black Americans played a role in turning communism’s attention to racial issues while reconsidering certain theories of communism within their own radical networks. Makalani also emphasizes how many Black sojourners accepted communist tactics while maintaining their hesitancy towards the broader movement. Makalani provides a critical look at the Comintern and its efforts, while stressing the development of a unique Black radical movement. 

Lights Out in Wonderland

By DBC Pierre,

Book cover of Lights Out in Wonderland

Why this book?

Before ‘uplit’ was even invented, there was DBC Pierre. His fiction has been described as a ‘joyful celebration of the human spirit’ and that is none more evident than in his protagonist in Lights Out, Gabriele Brockwell, a twenty-something narcissistic pleasure seeker optimistically stumbling through life before ultimately finding his place in it. A book that leaves you with the thought that optimism is the key to turning bad luck into good.

Nights at the Circus

By Angela Carter,

Book cover of Nights at the Circus

Why this book?

Oh Fevvers - "Lor love you!" The opening words of this book chime in my heart like the bow bells. Sophie Fevvers, trapeze artist, Cockney Venus - face like a ‘meat dish,’ Fevvers who keeps her champagne in a cracked toilet bowl, on discarded fish ice from Billingsgate market. As the protagonist in Angela Carter’s magical realist masterpiece, Nights at the Circus, Fevvers lives and breathes London. London is in her nails and her hair, her bum, her voice, her attitude, and most of all in her history – she was hatched from an egg in a London brothel. Fevvers is the ultimate London heroine, shaped by the city’s grime, beauty, vulgarity, and kindness, and she carries London with her even when in the furthest reaches of Siberia. This is one of those books driven like a steam train by its central character, and I still remember where I was during each and every reading and re-reading of it. 

Doctor White

By Jane Goodall, Julie Litty (illustrator),

Book cover of Doctor White

Why this book?

This book inspires hope and is based on a true story. Think about the pros and cons of a dog being allowed in a hospital. What could go wrong with a dog walking the halls and visiting patients? Is it possible for patients to actually benefit from being visited by a dog?

The Cthulhu Casebooks - Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils

By James Lovegrove,

Book cover of The Cthulhu Casebooks - Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils

Why this book?

Arguably the greatest of all detectives, Sherlock Holmes died early in his career when his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sent him hurtling down the Reichenbach Falls in ‘The Final Problem’. But Holmes soon came back to life—firstly in The Return of Sherlock Holmes and in later years as a character in numerous spinoffs/riffs/reboots. One of the best of these is James Lovegrove’s series of Lovecraftian horror stories featuring Holmes and Watson. They are all great but the third one, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils, has the best title. Lovegrove writes stylishly and wittily and his deadpan approach to the absurd monsters he conjures up makes these a delicious read.   

The Two Drovers and Other Stories

By Walter Scott,

Book cover of The Two Drovers and Other Stories

Why this book?

Known best for his Waverly novels as well as Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, Sir Walter wrote many of the greatest short tales ever told. “The Highland Widow” is perhaps the greatest short tale ever. A subdued Scotsman living in a foreign London (at that time) and the foremost writer of his time he railed against our English overlords whilst pragmatically trying to maintain the status quo. (The letters of Malachi Malagrowther are a good example, marvellous reading, where he impugns the bank of England with great wit and Scalding rhetoric.)

He gave birth to many volumes of short tales, many under Pseudonyms (such as Malachi Malagrowther) as the English authorities were aware of his influence over the populace of London and his gift for romanticising the “Highland gentleman”. As a writer, he was unsurpassed in his time both in terms of sales by volume and in the quality of writing. I am both a writer and a Scotsman and so felt myself drawn to his chivalric and beautifully told tales all holding a touch of darkness and menace. Yet it is his sculpting of a tale and his words that enchant me. Had he been Austrian or Swedish it would not have mattered the writing is so delightful. 

Tales of the Klondyke: The God of His Fathers

By Jack London,

Book cover of Tales of the Klondyke: The God of His Fathers

Why this book?

My mother read Call of the Wild and White Fang to my brother and I whilst still children. Well, those tales stayed with me over the years despite forays into Science Fiction, Religious Dogma, psychology, historical fiction, and fantasy. As an older boy I returned to the works of Mr. London and read Martin Eden, The Sea Wolf, and many of his short tales. Tales of the Klondyke are perhaps the best of them and so take my prize as number one on my list. (Though I had an argument with myself over Voltaire’s Candide and Other Tales and Aeschylus' Tragedies) for the top spot.

Each tale in this collection whilst imagined strikes me as true in every way, sure a little drama is added but I suspect that those heroes just trying to survive existed. And so, in a way I have come full circle, and this is my favourite collection of short tales.

Marriage A-La-Mode

By John Dryden,

Book cover of Marriage A-La-Mode

Why this book?

This is a sparklingly funny play. I love its contemporary freshness, its fleetness of foot, and its irreverence. It satirizes the fashion for all things French among London’s social climbers. It sugars the pill of all that satire by bringing a fast-paced plot to a comic ending of marriage and reconciliation. It taught me that writers in seventeenth-century England like the play’s author, John Dryden, were importing words and ideas from France as they sought to trace a middle way between a servile mimicry of French culture and an insular rejection of it. 

The Survival of Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth

By Matthew Lewis,

Book cover of The Survival of Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth

Why this book?

The murder of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ is the most famous cold case in British history. Matthew Lewis delves into the context of the disappearance and the characters of the suspects and asks a crucial but often overlooked question: what if there was no murder? Lewis provides a rounded and complete assessment of this most fascinating historical mystery.

The Pickwick Papers

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of The Pickwick Papers

Why this book?

The extraordinary story behind the creation of The Pickwick Papers forms the backbone of my novel, so I must include this among my recommendations. The Pickwick Papers is full of life—loads of characters, many writing styles. There is humour—but there is also the tragic tale of an alcoholic dying clown. And, above all, this book is a journey: you feel that you have been on a long, long voyage when you reach the last page—and you will want to go on that voyage again and again. The Pickwick Papers is more like a library of experience than a single novel. I have never read anything like it. 

Blind Justice

By Bruce Alexander,

Book cover of Blind Justice

Why this book?

Blind Justice, set in 1768, is the first of Bruce Alexander’s 11 Sir John Fielding mysteries. Its hero is the famous blind magistrate of London’s Bow Street Court; its narrator is thirteen-year-old Jeremy Proctor, whom Fielding’s wisdom has saved from an unjust accusation of theft. The pair investigate the death of Sir Richard Goodhope, who has been discovered shot in his library, locked from the inside. Sir John assumes suicide, but Jeremy’s observation of a detail that the magistrate could not see suggests murder. Proof of murder involves following Goodhope’s history through London’s streets, gambling houses, coffee houses, and great houses—to Drury Lane theater and Newgate—in a compelling portrait of eighteenth-century London.

Forever Amber

By Kathleen Winsor,

Book cover of Forever Amber

Why this book?

My grandfather went to elementary school with Kathleen Winsor, whose bestselling historical romance, Forever Amber, was banned in some places for being too sexy. I haven't read the novel since I was a teenager, but I loved it at the time and would probably still enjoy it for the sheer romanticism today. Amber starts as a peasant and works her way up through the ranks of lords and ladies of restoration England, becoming the mistress of King Charles IIbut she does it with way more bodice ripping than Becky Sharp ever dreamed. Amber navigates the Great Plague and Fire of England while, all along, she yearns for a man she can't have. Think Gone With The Wind, but without the racism. 

Refugee Boy

By Benjamin Zephaniah,

Book cover of Refugee Boy

Why this book?

In a world where the number of forcibly displaced people is rising faster and to the highest levels ever, I believe this beautifully written story of fourteen-year-old Alem is incredibly important. Thinking he’s on a short holiday to the UK with his father, Alem, who is an aspiring architect, happily soaks in the sights and sounds, making apt comparisons between London and the urban landscapes and architecture of Ethiopia. However, Alem is about to have his world turned upside down. The next day, his father abandons him in the UK in a desperate attempt to keep him safe from the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. This means Alem is forced to navigate the asylum process and get used to living in the UK while trying desperately to hang onto the hope that his parents are still alive and that they might one day be reunited as a family.

The Dark One

By Ronda Thompson,

Book cover of The Dark One

Why this book?

A trio of tall, dark, broodingly handsome werewolves await, in this action-packed, high-passion, angsty trilogy indulging the fantasy of ‘the beast within’. A terrifying transformation befalls the men of the Wulf dynasty, and the curse can only be avoided by never falling in love. The perfect premise for romance!

Das Berliner U- und S-Bahnnetz: Eine Geschichte in Streckenplänen von 1888 bis heute

By Alfred B. Gottwaldt,

Book cover of Das Berliner U- und S-Bahnnetz: Eine Geschichte in Streckenplänen von 1888 bis heute

Why this book?

Don’t worry if you are not fluent in German: this book is packed with images and if you want to understand the way the Berlin U-Bahn system expanded - it is required reading. Gottwaldt was the first person to collect and publish historic maps of the system and reproduction of the maps is exceptional. Starting in 1888 - before the present U-Bahn was conceived - his selection of cartographic delights includes the city’s earliest urban rail lines. The 1896 plan of the ’Nord-Ring’ and ’Sud-Ring’ foretells how the pattern of Berlins current S-Bahn and his example of a 1922 track map exhibits just how extensive railway land was in Europes biggest cities. My favourites are the 1934 and 1936 diagrams which echo the work of Beck in London. If mass transit interests you: find this book!

Liar's Poker

By Michael Lewis,

Book cover of Liar's Poker

Why this book?

Before Lewis became a bestselling author of The Big Short and Moneyball, he was an investment banker. If you wish to understand banking culture, the reason why they do seemingly irrational things, or behave in ways that would be reprehensible to the general public, this account of Lewis’ time as a junior banker explains it all in vivid detail. 

It details his rise from a trainee, having food and phones thrown at him on the trading floor, to the banking art of getting a million-dollar bonus and pretending to be unhappy about it.

A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War

By David Boyd Haycock,

Book cover of A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War

Why this book?

This book covers the drama and upheaval of the years leading up to the war to end all wars, and how five young British artist’s lives were changed utterly by their experiences, with all the energy of a great historical novel. All artists hope to find a powerful subject to drive their work, but this generation had to somehow express the madness and horror they found in those fields of Europe. A later generation would learn from these expressionists, futurists and vorticists and conjure international careers out of those lessons, but this very English group, during this century defining decade, did the heavy lifting.

Brothers in Arms: John and Paul Nash and the Aftermath of the Great War

By Paul Gough,

Book cover of Brothers in Arms: John and Paul Nash and the Aftermath of the Great War

Why this book?

A thoroughly researched visual study of two brothers, close and highly imaginative playmates as children, but then gradually divergent adults as they came to terms with their war experiences. John had a tougher war, yet seems to have been able to leave the horror behind as he embarked on a brighter, more decorative illustrative style. Paul would be haunted his entire life by shadows of death and depression, but would become one of this country's most important and powerful artists.

Life and death in Spitalfields, 1700-1850

By Margaret Cox,

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

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.

Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library

By Tom Harper,

Book cover of Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library

Why this book?

Wide-ranging, high-production values, a good balance of maps and text, and excellent value for money. Includes many different types of map not least those of fantasy worlds.

The Cambridge Illustrated History of Ancient Greece

By Paul Cartledge,

Book cover of The Cambridge Illustrated History of Ancient Greece

Why this book?

Not – repeat not – because I am its editor and wrote more than half of it but mainly because this is I believe the one-volume, one-stop-shop book to have on your shelves or digitally on your computer if you want to gain something like a complete understanding and appreciation of the world or rather worlds of Ancient Greece. I can do no better than quote from the ‘blurb’ provided online by the C.U.P. itself.

It is sumptuously illustrated throughout, almost entirely in colour. It offers fresh interpretations of the whole range of ‘Classical’ Greek culture, different aspects of which are expertly handled by members of an international cast of top-notch scholars both male and female. These aspects include: the influences of the environment and economy; the effects of interstate tensions; the implications of (bi-, homo-, hetero-normative) sexuality; the experiences of workers, soldiers, slaves, peasants and women; and the roles of myth and religion, visual and other (e.g. dramatic) art and culture, and of science and education. The linguistic, literary, artistic and political legacy of ancient Greece is far-reaching and vibrantly alive still to this day. This is the book to show you why that is and should have been so.

The book was sufficiently well regarded when it first appeared (1998) for me to have been awarded the prestigious John D. Criticos Prize of the London Hellenic Society.

The Paying Guests

By Sarah Waters,

Book cover of The Paying Guests

Why this book?

I had the pleasure of hearing Sarah Waters speak at the Derby Book Festival in 2015, bought a signed copy of her latest novel, and have been recommending it ever since. The Paying Guests is set in the wake of World War I, and the historical context is beautifully rendered. Frances Wray and her mother have been living a quiet and orderly life on a street where the houses have ‘a Sunday blankness to them… every day of the week.’ It’s a life stuck in time, in a house whose ‘heart stopped… years ago.’ Then the Wrays’ new lodgers arrive, and they are noisy, gaudy, messy, dramatic, attractive. The two worlds collide with Frances caught between them, and what follows is both a captivating love story and a gripping crime story.


By William Gibson,

Book cover of Agency

Why this book?

William Gibson’s latest novel Agency is as prophetic as his establishment of cyberspace and cyberpunk culture in the 80s and 90s. His latest novel chronicles reality-busting skirmishes among gangsterish multi-generational families based in a glitzy post-apocalyptic 22nd century London. In this future, nano-machines conjure luxuries from nothing while sky-high scrubbers struggle to restore a ravaged atmosphere after the jackpot, a global environmental catastrophe. Agency tells a heist-type story about the emergence of Eunice, a sentient AI born in our stub out of American special operations research. Leading a cross-dimensional band of techies, publicists, hipsters, and hackers, ace software designer Verity fights to introduce Eunice to her world in order to save it. Yet Gibson is telling us about today's ecological and technological forces. He writes of pre-jackpot life in our era: “‘Did we ever come to terms with the sheer cluelessness of it?’

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

By Mary S. Morgan,

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

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”.

The Spread of London's Underground

By Tim Demuth,

Book cover of The Spread of London's Underground

Why this book?

Capital Transport is a boutique publisher that has produced many books on various aspects of London’s transport system and this one is particularly good as it sets out the growth of the network in a series of maps based on Beck’s iconic design. There is a spread for each decade, illustrating the development of the network including sections that have now been lost. 

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

By Samuel Pepys,

Book cover of The Diary of 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.

Machines Like Me

By Ian McEwan,

Book cover of Machines Like Me

Why this book?

Adam is a limited edition robot who can pass for human (something I can’t do on a bad day). It takes a while for Adam to learn to be part of that world, but as time passes, he moves from being the slave of his owner Charlie to being better than him in every way (just ask his girlfriend!). I kept thinking of what would it be like to have a better version of me hanging around the house. It took slaves a long time to be recognized as people, how long for the robots?

The Circulation of the Blood and Other Writings

By William Harvey, Kenneth Franklin (translator),

Book cover of The Circulation of the Blood and Other Writings

Why this book?

Go on. Give yourself a treat! Read the book which started it all! There’s nothing quite like reading the original source. Harvey wrote in Latin but this is a good translation with an excellent introduction by Andrew Wear, an expert on the period. And as a bonus, the Everyman edition includes The Anatomy of Thomas Parr – an account of the dissection of a Shropshire farmer said to be 152 years old, performed by Harvey himself. What killed Parr? Coming to London, a city “full of the filth of men”. Be warned!