72 books directly related to William Shakespeare 📚

All 72 William Shakespeare books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds

Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds

By Chris Chester

Why this book?

An electrician and his wife rescue an orphaned baby house sparrow and raise him into adulthood and beyond. This beautifully and at times hilariously told story is full of precious revelations about the rich personality of a bird routinely overlooked by us.

From the list:

The best books for understanding and appreciating birds

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Book cover of Shakespeare, Our Contemporary

Shakespeare, Our Contemporary

By Jan Kott

Why this book?

This classic work, first published in the 1960s, interprets Shakespeare’s work as portraying societies corrupted by injustice, cynical political maneuvering, and government surveillance. When it first appeared in the 1960s, it made Shakespeare’s plays seem chillingly relevant. It has the same effect today.

From the list:

The best books that help us understand Shakespeare and his times

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Book cover of Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare

Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare

By Jonathan Bate

Why this book?

Critics argue that William Shakespeare did not write the works attributed to him because he lacked the knowledge of classical myth and history basic to his plots and imagery. Jonathan Bates proves that the curriculum of the grammar school in Stratford-on-Avon provided an education sufficient to explain Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Bate reviews books in English and Latin that Shakespeare would have read and that created his rhetorical brilliance. 

I treasure Bate’s biography because my own background originated in a rural, agricultural setting outside the social and economic circles that usually produce academic types. Bates disproves the fallacy that only…

From the list:

The best biography books that tell the truth

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Book cover of Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485

Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485

By John Julius Norwich

Why this book?

Shakespeare’s magnificent history plays have been described as “a feast of Henrys and Richards.” Who were those kings in real life? This book tells their true stories, and compares those stories to what Shakespeare wrote about them. Turns out he stuck pretty close to history!

From the list:

The best books that help us understand Shakespeare and his times

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Book cover of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

By James Shapiro

Why this book?

Shakespeare scholars hate discussing the “authorship question” for the same reason astronomers hate discussing whether space aliens kidnap human beings. There is no real “question.” But because guessing who wrote the plays has become such a parlor game, James Shapiro took on the challenge. His book tells the crazy history of the “authorship question” and makes irrefutably clear that yes, the fellow from Stratford really did write those plays. This should settle the issue forever—but of course it won’t.

From the list:

The best books that help us understand Shakespeare and his times

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Book cover of Twice-Told Tales

Twice-Told Tales

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Why this book?

Many works of fiction explore the core human motivations and how they guide human behavior, but perhaps none more thoroughly and incisively than this collection of Hawthorne short stories. Hawthorne’s stories undoubtedly inspired The Twilight Zone and countless other works of fantasy and science fiction that convey messages about how human desires and cultural worldviews lead people toward thwarted goals and tragic outcomes. As such, they nicely complement the analyses conveyed by the other four books I have recommended. His stories explore guilt, anxiety, and ambition, as desires for security and growth conflict with the values of prevailing worldviews and…

From the list:

The best books on the core desires that guide human behavior

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Book cover of William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

By William Shakespeare

Why this book?

Shakespeare’s tragedies resonate in most cultures because they address the human condition. That is why Romeo and Juliet have spawned West Side Story, many films, and Russian ballets. I personally organised the Joe and Zara workshop with a mixed group of teenagers working on a modern take on the story. The young people in this ten-minute video from the workshop are impressive. 

Othello too is tragic. Othello describes how Desdemona would come again ‘greedy –to hear tales of adventure sorrow and suffering. ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed and I loved her that she did pity them.’…

From the list:

The best books about mixed relationships

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Book cover of William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life

William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life

By S. Schoenbaum

Why this book?

Schoenbaum’s massive compilation of documents from the life of William Shakespeare is the “go-to” book for anyone who wants the facts about the Bard. A large, folio-size edition, the book contains facsimiles of over 200 contemporary documents that record important moments and events in the life and career of Shakespeare. Arranged chronologically, Schoenbaum’s quite readable narrative explains the significance of each image and creates a living person from the documents that define Shakespeare, the man.

For anyone who asks the question, “Who Was Shakespeare,” Schoenbaum provides the answer. I love “just the facts.”

From the list:

The best biography books that tell the truth

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

Shakespeare the Player: A Life in the Theatre

By John Southworth

Why this book?

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

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

From the list:

The best biography books that tell the truth

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Book cover of Shakespeare's Dog: A Novel

Shakespeare's Dog: A Novel

By Leon Rooke

Why this book?

Shakespeare’s Dog is the craziest Shakespearean book I’ve ever read. Not only is the young Stratford Shakespeare’s tale told by his dog, Hooker ̶ the dog speaks a kind of faux-Shakespearean: full of Elizabethan-esque vocabulary and syntax, Anglo-Saxon bawdry, new-coined usages of common words (“the wind flummoxed”; “I knelled the truth”).  Moreover, Rooke must really know his dogs. Because the dog-viewpoint (a frustrated Shakespeare “bites his toenails”) seems right on the money. The struggle of a prodigy youth and his prodigy dog to escape the tawdry, shallow, raucous banality of provincial small-town life is told with vividness, wit, and pathos.

From the list:

The best fiction books set in the 16th century

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Book cover of The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus

The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus

By William Shakespeare

Why this book?

A very early effort at a blood-soaked Roman tragedy written (at least partly) by England’s poet laureate. It throws its characters into a boiling cauldron of destructive evil, devising ghastly ways of killing most of them, and features one of the Elizabethan theatre’s most uncompromising villainous monsters, the racially profiled Aaron. It is customary among Shakespeare scholars to try to disown Titus for its lurid gratuitousness, but it does contain some fine poetic writing, brief flashes of the riches to come, and an anticipation of the subtler malevolence that would come to dominate the English stage in the succeeding Jacobean…

From the list:

The best books on chaos and disorder

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Book cover of No Bed for Bacon

No Bed for Bacon

By Caryl Brahms, S.J. Simon

Why this book?

Shakespeare’s plays can be very funny, (many of my friends disagree with this, but I swear by the goddess of Renaissance puns it’s true!), and this is a light, fluffy book that deserves a place on any bookshelf because it embraces silliness and turns it right up to eleven. Our Will’s key predicament is something everyone who has ever written can relate to, being certain you have a literary masterpiece locked up in your mind if only you can be left alone long enough to make it magically appear on the blank page. 

From the list:

The best stories wherein a fictional Shakespeare enters stage right

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Book cover of Shakespeare the Man

Shakespeare the Man

By A.L. Rowse

Why this book?

Shakespeare the Man is not the best book out there on William Shakespeare. There are many others that are better researched and less opinionated. However, Rowse gave me the best impression of what Shakespeare has meant to centuries of dramatists and researchers. It was recommended to me by the late Dr. John M. Bell of NYU, who was the most knowledgeable man on Shakespeare I've ever known. I see why he recommended this. It's a short but thorough read, and very enjoyable. Just don't treat Rowse's every word as gospel. His book is about Shakespeare, the man and myth.

From the list:

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

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Book cover of De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem

De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem

By A. Vesalius, G. Hartenfels, J. Dalton

Why this book?

De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem ["On the Fabric of the Human Body in Seven Books"] will likely catch you by surprise since, unlike most books featured on this website, this one was printed back in 1543. Fortunately, this means that anyone with a working Internet connection and web browser can access this mystifying medical atlas from the sixteenth century. Annotated editions of On the Fabric of the Human Body are available online from numerous medical colleges, so please take the time to find and appreciate this masterpiece of anatomy and artistic imagination.

From the list:

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

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Book cover of Shakespeare for Squirrels

Shakespeare for Squirrels

By Christopher Moore

Why this book?

Christopher Moore’s Shakespeare-themed novels are a hoot! He takes the hallowed works of the Bard and turns them into hysterical adventures starring Pocket (King Lear’s fool), Drool, and their pet monkey Jeff. The second in a trilogy is Shakespeare for Squirrels, Moore’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s irreverent and hilarious and left me breathless with admiration for Moore’s incredibly fertile imagination.

From the list:

The best books to take you backstage when you’re in the mood for a spot of Shakespeare

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Book cover of The Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory

The Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory

By Jorge Luis Borges, Andrew Hurley

Why this book?

I love anything that explores issues of identity, how we define ourselves and others. Throw in a subtle questioning of the ‘truth’ of our most treasured memories, and I am completely hooked. Jorge Louis Borges does all that in this irresistible short story where it is possible for a person to have access to Shakespeare’s memory. As wondrous as this sounds for scholars of Shakespeare’s work, the reality is actually much more mundane and troubling.

From the list:

The best stories wherein a fictional Shakespeare enters stage right

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Book cover of A Dead Man in Deptford

A Dead Man in Deptford

By Anthony Burgess

Why this book?

A Dead Man in Deptford was the last published novel of Anthony Burgess’s lifetime and can be seen as a companion piece to his earlier fictional biography of William Shakespeare, Nothing Like the Sun. A Dead Man in Deptford follows Christopher Marlowe’s life, and Will of Warwickshire lurks very very much in the background of this novel. This somehow adds to the poignancy, as even within his own story, the reader is always aware that Marlowe’s era will be dominated by the name of William Shakespeare. 

From the list:

The best stories wherein a fictional Shakespeare enters stage right

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Book cover of The Birds of Shakespeare: Critically examined, explained, and illustrated

The Birds of Shakespeare: Critically examined, explained, and illustrated

By James Edmund Harting

Why this book?

Also known as The Ornithology of Shakespeare, James Edmund Harting published this book in 1871 as a detailed analysis of all the references to birds in Shakespeare’s plays. He shows that to Shakespeare and his audience, birds and field sports were second nature. His book starts with Shakespeare’s general knowledge of natural history and then tackles different types of birds, such as those with song and the owl and its associations. Harting was an extremely knowledgeable ornithologist and hawker, and his book is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand Shakespeare.

From the list:

The best books about the history of British birds

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Book cover of The Epigrams Of Martial

The Epigrams Of Martial

By Henry George Bohn

Why this book?

With this one I'm not going to recommend an edition, because while Martial is witty, bitingly sarcastic and a keen commentator on his society he can also be breathtakingly obscene. Imagine teenage scrawls on toilet walls - if those scrawls were written by Shakespeare - and you'll be close enough. So pick your edition with care – however broad you imagine your mind to be, an unexpurgated Martial will stretch it a bit more and have you chuckling and nodding the rest of the time.

From the list:

The best books on ancient Rome by ancient Romans

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Book cover of Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady

Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady

By Sally O’Reilly

Why this book?

Staying in the early modern era, this is an imaginative retelling of the story of Aemilia Lanier (1569–1645), a gifted writer in her own right but is often best remembered as a candidate for Shakespeare’s ‘dark lady’. This means some believe her to be the inspiration for the bard’s passionate sonnets. Born Aemilia Bassano she was the daughter of a musician in the court of Elizabeth I. Lanier published Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews) in 1611. This biofiction brings her to life in new ways.

From the list:

The best biofiction books of historical women

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Book cover of The Daughter of Time

The Daughter of Time

By Josephine Tey

Why this book?

A classic novel that explores whether Richard III was responsible for the murder of his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Tey tries to show readers that the case against the vilified king isn’t as open and shut as we may assume. Although this novel is a bit dated (given that it was published over 70 years ago), it is still an interesting “who done it?” 

I found a copy of this book at my grandmother’s house (where I found much to nurture my love of British history) and read it when I was in my early teens. It was…

From the list:

The best historical fiction books on the perils of life at the English court, c. 1483-1547

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Book cover of If I'm Being Honest

If I'm Being Honest

By Emily Wibberley, Austin Siegemund-Broka

Why this book?

I love a good Taming of the Shrew retelling. Ten Things I Hate About You is one of my favorite movies, and this book elicits all the same feelings. Watching an unlikeable main character redeem herself is so satisfying, and of course, the lead guy is a loveable nerd, which I always appreciate. I loved how the main character Cameron learns that it’s ok to be different and that maybe it’s better to be yourself than a queen bee everyone respects but doesn’t like. The snarky dialogue kept me turning pages and I couldn’t wait to see how this book…

From the list:

The best YA retellings and adaptations

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Book cover of Shakespeare's Comedy of Twelfth Night or, What You Will

Shakespeare's Comedy of Twelfth Night or, What You Will

By William Shakespeare, William J. Rolfe

Why this book?

Twelth Night or, What You Will just has to be on here, being the mother of all boys-clothes-wearing heroines. The plot has been adapted in so many books and films that it is definitely worth it to read the original (or better yet: watch the play) to see where the brilliancy stems from.

From the list:

The best romance books featuring tomboys

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Book cover of 27 Essential Principles of Story: Master the Secrets of Great Storytelling, from Shakespeare to South Park

27 Essential Principles of Story: Master the Secrets of Great Storytelling, from Shakespeare to South Park

By Daniel Joshua Rubin

Why this book?

Practicality and simplicity are essential when wanting to learn something, and this book offers both in heaping spoonfuls. Read five pages and you’ll already be a better communicator. But best of all, this book also provides specific examples of each principle from the works of Shakespeare and South Park. Harry Potter and The Godfather. Seeing easily implemented storytelling strategies put to use by the masters makes it far more understandable, accessible, and fun. 

From the list:

The best books for effective communication

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Book cover of The Edge

The Edge

By Dick Francis

Why this book?

I tend to distrust frenetic hype around authors, only to be proven wrong again and again. The Edge was the first Dick Francis thriller I was given, and it won me over completely. Part of its charm is the setting – I’d love to take a train journey across Canada! But adding Shakespeare, theater, and horses to the mystery about a blackmailer on board a luxury train won me over completely. Like all the great books of the crime genre, The Edge can be just read for the sheer excitement, but it can also be enjoyed for the underlying themes…

From the list:

The best mysteries set on ships and trains

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Book cover of Burning Bright

Burning Bright

By Tracy Chevalier

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…

From the list:

The best books to take you backstage when you’re in the mood for a spot of Shakespeare

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Book cover of King Lear

King Lear

By William Shakespeare

Why this book?

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

The best books on how sisters are great but also a pain in your ass

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Book cover of Brief Lives - Volume I

Brief Lives - Volume I

By John Aubrey

Why this book?

John Aubrey’s gossipy Lives allow us to glimpse the unofficial side of his famous contemporaries and near-contemporaries, among them Thomas Hobbes (whom he knew), Shakespeare (who died ten years before he was born), Sir Walter Raleigh, and many others. You can dip in and out, and if you haven’t read them, this is a treat in store.
From the list:

The best group biographies

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Book cover of John Hall, Master of Physicke: A Casebook from Shakespeare's Stratford

John Hall, Master of Physicke: A Casebook from Shakespeare's Stratford

By Greg Wells

Why this book?

This is a great example for anyone who is intrigued to read a physician’s case notes. The edition presents the patient observations of John Hall, son-in-law to William Shakespeare from the 1630s. There is a detailed introduction outing Hall’s life, medical practice, and social setting with further information about his library and his manuscript. Patient’s cases are presented throughout the book with helpful footnotes explaining who people were and illustrations bringing locations and faces to life. There is a helpful glossary of medical terms at the end. This is not necessarily a sit-down and read it cover-to-cover book but it…

From the list:

The best books on early modern medicine

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Book cover of Hamlet

Hamlet

By William Shakespeare

Why this book?

Though his stories are over 400 years old, there’s a reason why we all know the name William Shakespeare. His difficult-to-read but brilliant scenes and universal characters have enlightened us about the depths of human psychology and emotion for centuries. Hamlet, of course, is driven to avenge the death of his father, who was killed by his uncle, Cladius. Yet Hamlet is doubtful about almost everything, including if he can bring himself to kill Claudius. Thus: To be or not to be…? Indecision is what Hamlet is famous for and ultimately his quest for revenge goes horribly wrong. Everyone dies…

From the list:

The best books about revenge that cross borders and time

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Book cover of Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

By Ron Rash

Why this book?

Ron Rash is a national, literary treasure. The author of multiple award-winning novels, this book is an assembly of 34 short stories, most set in Appalachia, and depicting the social nuances and landscape of the American rural South. I recommend this because it will provide a great introduction to the incomparable author known as The Appalachian Shakespeare. As a writer, Ron Rash epitomizes the idea of landscape as destiny, and his well-drawn characters come to life from his flawless use of regional language. 

From the list:

The best Southern books that touch upon culture, history, and society

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Book cover of A Tip for the Hangman

A Tip for the Hangman

By Allison Epstein

Why this book?

A historical mystery about the spy efforts of one Christopher Marlowe—a man that modern audiences know as a contemporary of William Shakespeare. There is evidence that he was in the spy business for Queen Elizabeth, and while there are a number of historical “liberties” taken by the author, the solid facts are there. Christopher Marlowe, or “Kit” as we know him in the text, has a chip on his shoulder and snark in his mouth. He is quick-witted and always has a quip to put someone in his place. It’s hard not to root for Kit as he is continually…

From the list:

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

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Book cover of The Idiot

The Idiot

By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Constance Garnett

Why this book?

This grand novel has with Dostoevsky's goal of portraying “the completely good and beautiful human being” in the sense of a naïve compassion for other human beings no matter their character made a big impression on me and has inspired me for the protagonist of my novel-series Bridges to the World. In the novel, Prince Myshkin's empathy and love for people in his surroundings creates a moral dramatic mirror of the passions, desires, and egoism of worldly society, and brings chaos to the relations of its incarnations, the aggressive Ragózjin and the double-minded Nastaja.  As in Shakespeare's Macbeth, love…

From the list:

The best novels about conflict and love

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Book cover of Wyrd Sisters

Wyrd Sisters

By Terry Pratchett

Why this book?

I love Terry Pratchett’s writing: the humour, the bite, the insightfulness. Wyrd Sisters is the sixth novel in his wonderful Discworld fantasy series and returns us to the doings of the three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick. Any references to Shakespeare’s Macbeth witches or the traditional trilogy of crone, mother, and maiden are purely intentional. Granny Weatherwax with her dry and dour outlook on life, her wisdom, and the power she downplays as little more than “headology” is one of my favourite Discworld characters. At least one of the books about Witchery that I recommend has to…

From the list:

The best books if you are seeking witchery

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Book cover of The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

By William Shakespeare

Why this book?

You may not think of The Merchant of Venice as a trial book, but the majority of Act IV takes place in a Venice courtroom where Shylock, Antonio, Bassanio, and the Duke thrash out the ‘pound of flesh’ business. In a sense, the play itself is a corrupt judgment against Jews, trafficking as it does in nasty anti-Semitic stereotypes. Shakespeare left it to later writers to give a more well-rounded account of Jewish people. But Merchant is at the same time a fine study of the rage that such racial injustice provokes, and as with pretty much everything Shakespeare ever…

From the list:

The best realist novels about criminal trials

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Book cover of Hag-Seed: William Shakespeare's the Tempest Retold: A Novel

Hag-Seed: William Shakespeare's the Tempest Retold: A Novel

By Margaret Atwood

Why this book?

The chronology of my Shakespeare-era novels hasn’t reached The Tempest, but I love how this novel features a production of the play—in a prison. The relation of the inmates to their roles and the protagonist’s personal crisis give Prospero and his island new life in a setting also set apart from society. I enjoyed how the characters come to realizations about Shakespeare’s play as they rehearse, the goal of my own novels from a different angle. Many spinoffs from Shakespeare use his plot devices, but Atwood relies on The Tempest for her plot. Each ‘best’ novel here reveals new…

From the list:

The best novels relating to Shakespeare

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Book cover of The Shakespeare Stealer

The Shakespeare Stealer

By Gary Blackwood

Why this book?

Widge is an orphan in Elizabethan England, where orphans are sadly too common. But Widge is unusual. He has a unique talent which he learned from his first master: he knows a secret kind of shorthand. Sold to a dastardly villain who wants to use that talent to steal Shakespeare’s newest play, Widge finds himself in London apprenticing with the theatre company. Will he steal the play or risk his life to be loyal to the only “family” he’s ever known? Inspired by Shakespeare’s Lord Chamberlain's Men – and a very real problem of plays being stolen – there’s plenty…

From the list:

The best middle grade historical novels with exceptional child heroes

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Book cover of The Deer and The Cauldron: The First Book

The Deer and The Cauldron: The First Book

By Louis Cha, John Minford

Why this book?

There is an argument to be made that Jin Yong (aka Louis Cha) is modern China’s version of William Shakespeare. From Cha’s unimaginably rich and bottomless imagination come unforgettable stories and characters that have had a huge impact on not only contemporary China but the rest of the world. Writing in the category of wuxia (martial arts fiction) he sold 100 million copies of his books, making him China’s most famous author. Countless films and TV shows have been based on his stories, that typically portray the under classes struggling against overlords. One of my favorite memories of travels in…

From the list:

The best books to better understand and appreciate China

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Book cover of All's Well

All's Well

By Mona Awad

Why this book?

I could barely put this book down. It’s incredibly well written and has themes that are close to my heart and not often explored in literature, especially through a somewhat unhinged female perspective: physical therapists, chronic pain, Shakespeare, performing, desire and self-identity. The body is at the core of this fleshy, raw, and brilliant novel.

From the list:

The best books to help you reflect and reset

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Book cover of Where the Forest Meets the Stars

Where the Forest Meets the Stars

By Glendy Vanderah

Why this book?

I love offbeat stories that surprise me! We meet Jo as she arrives at a cabin out in the woods for a scientific bird study, and of course, she arrives with a lot of emotional baggage. She soon meets a little girl who comes out of the woods like she’s homeless. Jo gets a neighbor involved, although not through her choosing. The neighbor doesn’t seem to like people or want to be bothered, but soon they both find themselves responsible for this lost little girl. This story has mystery and intrigue, and a slowly developing romance and family dynamic that…

From the list:

The best romantic dramas with unique storylines

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Book cover of The Witchcraft Sourcebook

The Witchcraft Sourcebook

By Brian P. Levack

Why this book?

Of all the books I consulted while writing my own, this is the one that surprised me the most and that I most frequently revisit. It is a collection of historical documents on witchcraft in the Western world from the Roman Empire to the eighteenth century, and I cannot recommend a better book on the subject. It's fascinating, painstakingly researched, instantly accessible to any reader, and either hilarious or horrifying, depending on how you pick your poison! There is a particularly interesting document that details how one sells their soul to the Devil which I was delighted to see…

From the list:

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

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Book cover of Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy

Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy

By Park Honan

Why this book?

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

From the list:

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

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Book cover of Time Out of Joint

Time Out of Joint

By Philip K. Dick

Why this book?

Suburbanite Ragle Gumm is overcome with a sense of urgency to play a bizarre newspaper game every day. He’s so good at it, he makes a living from its cash prizes. But lately, his world seems to be fraying around him. Things he sees and knows are suddenly...not. And if you can’t trust the very ground you’re standing on, what’s left? This takes the whole “maybe my world isn’t what I think it is” idea about as far as it can go, and it was just about the first story to ever do that. The best, most satisfying book I…

From the list:

The best books about a world under secret control

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Book cover of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

By Stephen Greenblatt

Why this book?

A literary biography, Will in the World connects the plots of Shakespeare’s plays and the sentiments of his poems to the writer’s life and career. No one living knows more about Shakespeare than Stephen Greenblatt. His research is solid and impressive. In this book, Greenblatt verges a bit into speculative possibilities. Where, exactly, was Shakespeare living—what was he doing?—during “The Lost Years”? Was the “Shakeshafte” mentioned in a Lancashire document our man, perhaps tutoring as a schoolmaster in a Catholic home? 

Greenblatt carefully points out that he is discussing possibilities, not certainties. But a possibility mentioned too many times by…

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The best biography books that tell the truth

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Book cover of Hamnet

Hamnet

By Maggie O'Farrell

Why this book?

I loved Agnes, and her character was all the more fascinating as I kept reminding myself she was a fictionalized version of Shakespeare’s wife. She has this mysterious, other-worldliness to her that I just adored. Her survival skills are what protect and guide her in life, far more than the protection of marriage or societal guidelines. She knows herself and cares not one iota if people say she’s too wild or too old or too odd. And, anyway, none of this matters when it comes to her parenting because she’s a strong and devoted mother to her children.  

From the list:

The best novels with female protagonists who challenge norms and don’t care if others judge them

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Book cover of The Tale of Genji: The Arthur Waley Translation of Lady Murasaki's Masterpiece with a New Foreword by Dennis Washburn

The Tale of Genji: The Arthur Waley Translation of Lady Murasaki's Masterpiece with a New Foreword by Dennis Washburn

By Murasaki Shikibu, Arthur Waley

Why this book?

This masterpiece - believed to be the oldest full-length ‘novel’ in existence - is an extraordinary exploration of human feelings, emotions, and relations as fresh and beguiling today as when it was first written one thousand years ago. I include this as non-fiction because it is a true account of daily life at the Heian Japanese court. Lady Murasaki’s characters draw the reader into their passion and terrors in an uncannily modern way, still so alive today. Readers will find themselves immersed in a strange and distant culture whose inhabitants’ loves, rivalries, suffering and follies they can easily identify with.…

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The best non-fiction books that will immerse you in far-flung places and times

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Book cover of Stories of Freedom in Black New York

Stories of Freedom in Black New York

By Shane White

Why this book?

This beautifully written history focuses on another nineteenth-century Black New Yorker who defies expectations and deserves our attention. Like Educated for Freedom and Black Gotham, White’s story places us in historical moments surrounding the 1827 law ending slavery in New York State. White puts us on the vibrant, noisy, streets of the city, inviting us to see both hope and defiance in how Black people dressed, how they walked down the street, and what they did at the theater. At the center of this history emerges James Hewlett, a man whose life is worthy of at least one feature…

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The best books about 19th-century Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

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Book cover of In the Garden of Iden

In the Garden of Iden

By Kage Baker

Why this book?

Kage Baker is an Isaac Asimov compared to Terry Pratchett’s Marx Brothers. In the Garden of Iden is more sci-fi than fantasy, including time travel, cybernetics, and nanotechnologies. And love and loss. This book is part of a series of novels that Baker crafted about time-travelling enhanced humans who carry out critical tasks throughout history. 

What I loved most about this book is how very human her main characters are. Like Pratchett and Bill Shakespeare, Baker is a master at showing us human nature. Her comedy is high comedy. I laugh because I recognize myself in her characters. Baker has…

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Book cover of The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession

The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession

By Charlie Lovett

Why this book?

Antiquarian Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale is informed by his expertise. TBT is a paean to books, their production, archival, transmission, forgery. This book should appeal to readers who love books. The story of Peter, a present-day apprentice rare books dealer, alternates with that of Bartholomew Harbottle, a crooked Elizabethan book dealer, a friend of William Shakespeare. 

The book follows a Shakespearean document as it passes from hand to hand over time. At first, the document appears real. Then forged. Then partially forged. Then perhaps real. Then a perfect copy shows up. Which one is real? Which one is fake?…

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The best fiction books set in the 16th century

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Book cover of Gertrude and Claudius

Gertrude and Claudius

By John Updike

Why this book?

Everyone may love a hero, but let’s face it: They’re far more enthralled by a really good villain. An antagonist can be far more conflicted and complex, and thus more interesting, than a steady, predictable protagonist. And when it comes to infamous couples gone bad, two of the most famous are Gertrude and Claudius from Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. I was once part of a traveling Shakespeare company, years ago, and sometimes still act. So novels that feature characters from classic plays and either update or develop them more deeply fascinate me. Updike’s skilled, vivid take on Hamlet’s mother and…

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The best books about the romances of famous literary couples

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Book cover of Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare's Love-Life

Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare's Love-Life

By Anthony Burgess

Why this book?

Readers will either be drawn to this book by a novelist who studied Shakespeare in depth or put off by Burgess’ language. His wordplay is quite mad at times, especially when ‘WS’—Will Shakespeare—is drunk. No contemporary novelist would likely create such a mixture of Elizabethan and modern English. Despite Burgess’ knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and works, much of the plot is fanciful. However, his daring is encouraging, his imagination freeing. I never considered writing a book where Shakespeare speaks, but Nothing Like the Sun suggests, why not? Many biographies seem fictional in their guesswork; Burgess’ vitality and imagination outshine the…

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The best novels relating to Shakespeare

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Book cover of The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet

By Myrlin A. Hermes

Why this book?

Hermes’ novel displays a different sort of playfulness, opening in Wittenberg with Horatio as narrator. It connects not only to Hamlet but also Shakespeare’s sonnets. Shakespeare is a character in the topsy-turvy fashion, not speaking directly. I loved the clever weaving of Shakespeare’s lines into the dialogue and the suspenseful, twisting plot. Hermes employs gender-bending differently than I do and touches on the authorship controversy, as I do not. Her identification of the dark lady and fair youth of the sonnets is unique. I appreciate her creativity and her way of incorporating quotations. In my work, there are speeches from…

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The best novels relating to Shakespeare

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Book cover of Picture and Poetry, 1560-1620: Relations Between Literature and the Visual Arts in the English Renaissance

Picture and Poetry, 1560-1620: Relations Between Literature and the Visual Arts in the English Renaissance

By Lucy Gent

Why this book?

A quirky and brilliantly insightful book which is now, unfortunately, out of print. But do snap it up if you chance upon it in a second-hand bookshop or can find a copy online. It is deceptively modest-looking: a slender paperback, with only a handful of illustrations. My hunch is that it will change the way you think about paintings, sculptures, and buildings in the works of Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne, and their contemporaries. Certainly, that is the effect it had on me.

From the list:

The best books on Tudor art and architecture

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Book cover of A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599

By James Shapiro

Why this book?

Strictly speaking, this is not a book about Tudor art or architecture. Rather, it tells the gripping story of a pivotal year in the life of Shakespeare – and Shakespeare’s England. Drawing on all manner of sources, including household inventories and travel diaries kept by foreign visitors to London and the provinces, Shapiro vividly evokes the textures of life in sixteenth-century England: from the humble stained cloths that adorned the walls of taverns and comparatively modest households like the one in which Shakespeare was raised to the tapestries, oil paintings and other objets d’art that lined the walls of the…
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The best books on Tudor art and architecture

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Book cover of The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair

By Jasper Fforde

Why this book?

The Eyre Affair introduces a world subtly more insane than ours. The first time I met it I took in the alternate Britain where the Crimean war is still going on after seventy years, cheese is illegal, and there’s a special police department to tackle fights between opposing Shakespeare and Bacon fans, that was enough absurdity to draw me in. After that it just took me down the helter-skelter and into the “bookworld” of Jane Eyre, where the characters stand ready to perform the moment a reader starts reading. It is Alice in Wonderland with the straightjacket off and not…

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Book cover of Little Prince: The Story of a Shetland Pony

Little Prince: The Story of a Shetland Pony

By Annie Wedekind

Why this book?

King Lear is one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. There is a special satisfaction watching this arrogant, childish king demand love that he doesn’t deserve and then fall from glory – I wouldn’t wish this curse on anyone, and yet, in the end, he learns to love. He becomes such a better version of himself. I loved Little Prince in exactly the same way. A conceited Shetland Pony won my heart a thousand times over.

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Book cover of Dirt & Deity: Life of Robert Burns

Dirt & Deity: Life of Robert Burns

By Ian McIntyre

Why this book?

This is an extensive biography of Scotland’s celebrated bard, Robert Burns, and includes a collection of unpublished letters. Scotland’s own “heaven taught ploughman,” gave life a run for its money, giving us in his few but fruitful years lines of poetry that match Shakespeare himself. 

Oh, would some 
Power the giftie
gie us
To see ourselves as
Others see us!

McIntyre gives Burns a good shot. No Scottish writer, including myself, could think of their career trajectory without Robert Burns standing out prominently along that line. He gave us the gift of hubris and the gift of the poetic gab. 
From the list:

The best Scottish books to lose yourself in the dream that is Scotland

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Book cover of Masterpiece

Masterpiece

By Elise Broach, Kelly Murphy

Why this book?

A middle-grade novel about an artistic beetle? Sign me up. This delightful story of a talented beetle named Marvin, his human friend James, who work together to help the Metropolitan Museum of Art recover a stolen artwork is delightful, thrilling, and heartwarming. It’s not always easy to have (or not have) artistic talent!

From the list:

The best middle grade books that promote a love of art

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Book cover of Entertaining Mr. Pepys

Entertaining Mr. Pepys

By Deborah Swift

Why this book?

Entertaining Mr. Pepys explores the world of British theater during a time when women were finally allowed on stage as actresses. I loved it because of how the author explored her main character’s fascination with acting, which reminded me very much of how Grace in my own book is captivated by the stage and willing to go to any lengths to become an actress. I have read several of Swift’s novels and credit them with inspiring me to write my own novels based on women in the arts.

From the list:

The best books to take you backstage when you’re in the mood for a spot of Shakespeare

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Book cover of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By Maya Angelou

Why this book?

Maya Angelou’s famous memoir captures her childhood in rural Arkansas and wild adolescence in California with extraordinary sensitivity and insight, and rich, evocative detail. Every character, from her powerful grandmother, tumultuous parents, dear brother Bailey, and a panoply of others, fairly roar off the page, illuminating the wondrous, weird, tragic, and punishingly ordinary events of Angelou’s often heroic young life. 

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The best coming-of-age stories by diverse women

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Book cover of The Taming of the Drew

The Taming of the Drew

By Stephanie Kate Strohm

Why this book?

Many YA novels set in a theatrical environment are heavily romance-focused. This book is the best I’ve found in that category. The hero, recent high school graduate Cass, has a super-strong voice that made me laugh out loud. She’s snarky, off-color, bold, and impatient. The theater plotline weaves throughout the story as Cass and cohorts perform The Taming of the Shrew at a summer theater. She steals ideas from Shakespeare’s play to torment her costar and nemesis, Drew. 

Theater Quotient: High. Much of the plot revolves around rehearsals and elements of the play trickle into real life.

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The best novels for tweens, teens and young adults who love theater

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Book cover of Macbeth

Macbeth

By William Shakespeare

Why this book?

You think you know a book, and then an adaptation blows your understanding wide open. This play always rewards re-reading, but especially in tandem with Akira Kurosawa’s film adaptation, Throne of Blood. Set in Medieval Japan, the film looks and seems utterly different from Shakespeare’s writing; astonishingly, Kurosawa’s adaptation uses none of the language from the original play, even in translation! The film is completely self-contained within its Japanese historical and visual setting, and yet the play’s plot, characters, themes, and motifs reappear in the film: prophecy, the mysterious powers of nature, ruthless ambition, fear and revenge, madness, and…

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The best books to read in tandem with their eccentric movie adaptations

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Book cover of Rembrandt's Eyes

Rembrandt's Eyes

By Simon Schama

Why this book?

His earlier and best-known book, The Embarrassment of Riches, may offer a more comprehensive synopsis of the culture of the Dutch Republic’s Golden Age, including everything from the fashions, drinking and dice games that paradoxically thrived amid the strictures of Calvinism to the interpretations placed on passing natural events such as comets in the sky or the appearance of a whale on the beach. But Schama here gives us a loving and humane portrait of its greatest artist, doing in words what Rembrandt did in paint for his subjects, presenting his humanity with truth and dignity enlivened by inimitable…

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Book cover of The Golden Ass

The Golden Ass

By Apuleius, P.G. Walsh

Why this book?

Not so much a novel as a loosely connected set of rambling anecdotes dealing with everything from incompetent market officials to Greek myth and sex and superstition. The whole thing is told with great verve and is a sackful of fun. Try P.G. Walsh's translation available from Oxford. World Classics.

From the list:

The best books on ancient Rome by ancient Romans

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Book cover of Menaechmi; Or, The Twin-Brothers

Menaechmi; Or, The Twin-Brothers

By Plautus, Henry Thomas Riley

Why this book?

Ever wonder where Shakespeare got his ideas from? He plundered the classics, especially Plutarch and Plautus. Plautus can't really complain about that as his plays are mostly re-workings of (now lost) Greek originals. This play is Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, set 1500 years earlier. It's still a good read and should elicit a few giggles. Try Riley's translation on Digireads.

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The best books on ancient Rome by ancient Romans

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Book cover of Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island

By Bill Bryson

Why this book?

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

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Book cover of The Sea, the Sea

The Sea, the Sea

By Iris Murdoch

Why this book?

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

From the list:

The best novels of ideas of the last 50 years

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Book cover of Grimms' Fairy Tales

Grimms' Fairy Tales

By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Why this book?

In the middle of the night, when I reach for a book to avoid a midnight worry-fest, I love to read fairy tales. The Grimms' Fairy Tales are wonderful because they are very short, and there is a huge variety of stories in these collections. I don't want to read for hours, I just want to read enough to go back to sleep and have some wonderful dreams. Now, many of the Grimms fairy tales are violent and deal with extreme situations, but for me, this is like cartoon violence—they make me think, sometimes they make me laugh, but they…

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Book cover of The Corinthian

The Corinthian

By Georgette Heyer

Why this book?

Love is not the only thing that is in the air in this one. Penelope happens to dangle off a window in boy clothes just when Mr. Right comes passing by.

If Heyer's romance books were a food, they would be red velvet cupcakes – sweet and elegant. I have yet to read one of hers that is not amazing.

From the list:

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Book cover of Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage

Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage

By Stephen Budiansky

Why this book?

If you’ve ever been a fan of the James Bond books or movies, spy-thrillers, or anything involving MI6, this book is about where it all began: the golden age of English espionage. Filled with captivating plots and characters straight out of history, this book was the bedrock that I built my story upon. Please check it out. You will never look at English history the same way again.

From the list:

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Book cover of Shakespeare's Rebel

Shakespeare's Rebel

By C.C. Humphreys

Why this book?

I loved this swashbuckling tale of Shakespeare’s fight master because it took me back to Elizabethan England and right on to the stage at The Globe theater. There’s plenty of action and intrigue (the main character’s not only an actor and fight master but a spy!) that inspired me when I was writing the action scenes in my book. The author fills the pages with an impressive amount of historical detail while maintaining a brisk, page-turning pace.

From the list:

The best books to take you backstage when you’re in the mood for a spot of Shakespeare

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Book cover of The Crossing Places

The Crossing Places

By Elly Griffiths

Why this book?

The first of Elly Griffiths’ books featuring Dr. Ruth Galloway is an introduction that has drawn me into the rest of the series. Galloway is a forensic archaeologist at a Norfolk, England university, and the details of her field research and how her academic life intersects with more modern murder mysteries is a glimpse at the scientific side of real crime. The cast of characters around her is a “family” I enjoy visiting.

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