Newest Historical Fiction Reviews

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The House with the Stained-Glass Window by Zanna Sloniowska and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator)

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Marianna, an opera singer in the soon-to-be Ukrainian city of Lviv, is mistakenly shot dead at a political rally in the dying days of the Soviet Union. This novel begins with both anger and hope, as Marianna's coffin is covered in the illegal blue and yellow flag, and her death seems to herald the birth of a new nation. But the day of her funeral is also the day of her daughter's first period – a girl who must learn how to be a woman in this time of drastic change, with no mother to guide her along the way. Full review...

False Lights by K J Whittaker

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Cornwall, 1817.

What if your worst mistake changed the course of history? Napoleon has crushed the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, and his ex-wife Josephine presides over French-occupied England. Cornwall erupts into open rebellion, and young heiress Hester escapes with Crow, Wellington's former intelligence officer, a half-French aristocrat haunted by his part in the catastrophic defeat. Together, they become embroiled in a web of treachery and espionage as plans are laid to free Wellington from secret captivity in the Scilly Isles and lead an uprising against the French occupation. In a country rife with traitors, Hester and Crow know it is impossible to play such a game as this for long... Full review...

Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon

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Ted Lyte was petty criminal, but not usually the housebreaking type. He lacked the courage. However, needs must, and whilst feeling down on his luck he decided to try his chances at an isolated house with a shuttered window. ...he might find a bit of alright behind those shutters! Wot abart it? Ted does indeed find something interesting behind the shutters, but it definitely isn't what he'd hoped. In a locked room he finds seven dead bodies; six men and a woman. Fleeing the house in horror, he is pursued and caught by a passing yachtsman, Thomas Hazeldean, who also happens to be a journalist. Fascinated by Ted's story (and a possible scoop), Hazeldean decides to investigate this curious case and its assortment of odd clues, including a portrait shot through the heart, an old cricket ball and a mysterious note written by one of the victims. Full review...

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

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The first chapter of Salt Creek opens in Chichester, England, in 1874. Hester Finch is a respected and reasonably wealthy member of her community. But she can't stop her thoughts wandering back to her adolescence, spent on Salt Creek Station in the remote South Australian Coorong region. Hester feels has never felt so alive as then, when we had so little. Full review...

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

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At the World's Fair in 1962, it seems that all eyes are focused on the future. The Space Needle dominates the landscape, filling people with anticipation about things to come. One visitor, however, has his mind firmly focused on the past. Ernest Young is helping his daughter Ju-ju with a story she is writing for her newspaper; a story about a young immigrant boy who was given away as a prize in a raffle at the World's Fair in 1909. Full review...

The Captain's Girl by Nicola Pryce

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Last year, Bookbag reviewed, and thoroughly enjoyed, Pengelly's Daughter, a swashbuckling historical romance set in picturesque Cornwall. Now we have the pleasure of reading the much-anticipated sequel. This time, the story focuses on a neighbour of the Polcarrow family, Miss Celia Cavendish, who has been engaged to a cruel man that she does not love. One fateful night, she runs away to the Polcarrow house to beg them for help, and the pivotal events of that night have far-reaching consequences for all involved. Full review...

Across the Ocean by Hawa L Crickmore

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A young cage fighter, Martin Grandson, was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder which required a bone-marrow transplant, preferably from a sibling. Only recently he'd been a fit young man, in the prime of life, but now he was suffering from a rare type of bone cancer: without the transplant he would be paralysed for life and might be dead within the next twelve weeks if he didn't receive the transplant within the next fourteen days. Unfortunately Martin's parents had died in a car crash and there were no siblings or other close relatives. His girlfriend, Celia, was not a match. Full review...

She Be Damned by M J Tjia

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

London, 1863: prostitutes in the Waterloo area are turning up dead, their sexual organs mutilated and removed. When another girl goes missing, fears grow that the killer may have claimed their latest victim. The police are at a loss and so it falls to courtesan and professional detective, Heloise Chancey, to investigate. With the assistance of her trusty Chinese maid, Amah Li Leen, Heloise inches closer to the truth. But when Amah is implicated in the brutal plot, Heloise must reconsider whom she can trust, before the killer strikes again. Full review...

Shelter by Sarah Franklin

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Connie Granger has escaped her bombed-out city home, finding refuge in the Women's Timber Corps. For her, this remote community must now serve a secret purpose.
Seppe, an Italian prisoner of war, is haunted by his memories. In the forest camp, he finds a strange kind of freedom.Their meeting signals new beginnings. But as they are drawn together, the world outside their forest haven is being torn apart. Old certainties are crumbling, and both must now make a life-defining choice.
What price will they pay for freedom? What will they fight to protect? Full review...

Court of Lions by Jane Johnson

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Kate Fordham arrived in the sunlit city of Granada a year ago. In the shadow of the Alhambra, one of the most beautiful places on earth, she works as a waitress serving tourists in a busy bar. She pretends she's happy with her new life – but how could she be? Kate's alone, afraid and hiding under a false name. And fate is about to bring her face-to-face with her greatest fear. Five centuries ago, a message, in a hand few could read, was inscribed in blood on a stolen scrap of paper. The paper was folded and pressed into one of the Alhambra's walls. There it has lain, undisturbed by the tides of history – the Fall of Granada, the expulsion of its last Sultan – until Kate discovers it. Born of love, in a time of danger and desperation, the fragment will be the catalyst that changes Kate's life forever. Full review...

You Die When You Die by Angus Watson

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Finnbogi the Boggy and his tribe of mushroom men (Vikings) must take a road trip through hostile territory whilst being hunted by the greatest fighting force ever seen (Amazonian Native Americans). Vikings meet Native Americans in a clash of cultures and potentially the end of the world. When the Queen of the known world says your tribe has to be exterminated then your immediate future may not be so rosy. Full review...

Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession: Six Tudor Queens 2 by Alison Weir

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Thomas Boleyn sends his daughters abroad to be trained at the courts of European royalty. Not only does this give them an education in the ways of the elite, it could also ensure a good marriage. Unfortunately he hasn't reckoned on the ideas that one of them, Anne, picks up and as for marriage… Anne is determined to marry for love not through some paternal arrangement. Yet the reality turns out to be different, driving a wedge through her family on a road leading to dark tragedy. Full review...

The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway

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When young seamstress May Bedloe is left alone and penniless on the shore of the Ohio, she finds work on the famous floating theatre that plies its trade along the river. Her creativity and needlework skills quickly become invaluable and she settles into life among the colourful troupe of actors. She finds friends, and possibly the promise of more. But cruising the border between the Confederate South and the 'free' North is fraught with danger. For the sake of a debt that must be repaid, May is compelled to transport secret passengers, under cover of darkness, across the river and on, along the underground railroad. But as May's secrets become harder to keep, she learns she must endanger those now dear to her.

And to save the lives of others, she must risk her own... Full review...

Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft

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Young bride Olivia Sheldon finds returning to her childhood home in Egypt a bitter-sweet experience. On the one hand, she has been reunited with her estranged sister Clara, and the pair have formed a deep and loving bond. On the other, she has an unhappy marriage to her domineering husband Alistair, who only married her to spite Clara, who had refused him previously. Life with the sadistic Alistair is unbearable, with Olivia subjected to horrific abuse at his hands, daily. As a lady with no means of supporting herself, Olivia seems trapped without any means of escape, only finding solace in the company of her sister and friends. But when her dear sister goes mysteriously missing in the bustling streets of Alexandria, it is up to Olivia to try and solve the mystery of her disappearance before it is too late. Full review...

Dunstan: One Man Will Change the Fate of England by Conn Iggulden

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

The young Dunstan shows no sign of the sainthood he'll later attain. Son of a Wessex thane and sent to a monastery for education, this isn't a lad who responds to discipline. However an enquiring, intelligent mind begins to emerge and then comes the big break. Lady Elflaed calls to put a proposal to him after hearing about what she considers to be a miracle and the monks consider another in a long line of excuses. Yet Dunstan will outshine all his teachers as well as knowing seven kings and holding responsible positions in their courts, as the book's title suggests. Whether we believe in the miracles or not, Dunstan certainly had quite a life! Full review...

The Hopkins Conundrum by Simon Edge

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Tim Cleverley inherits a failing pub in Wales, which he plans to rescue by enlisting an American pulp novelist to concoct an entirely fabricated mystery about Gerard Manley Hopkins, who composed The Wreck of the Deutschland nearby.

In Victorian England, Gerard Manley Hopkins lives a life full of confusion and contradiction, but discovers a calling for poetry that threatens to overrule his calling to God. And, speaking of God, Five nuns leave persecution to travel to a new world – only to find themselves in more trouble that they could ever have imagined… Full review...

The Shadow Queen by Anne O'Brien

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Born in 1328, Joan of Kent may be of royal blood but she's from a family tainted by treachery. Her father Edmund Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent, was executed for his part in the infamous Montague plot. However Joan has grown up under the protection of her cousin, King Edward III with all the advantages and attributes of a princess. Yet, much to her mother's chagrin, obedience isn't one of these attributes. Joan's head strong feist takes her on a varied journey in life. Having said that, three husbands, five marriages (technically) and a son destined for the English throne means that it's also been one heck of a life! Full review...

The Girls of Ennismore: A Heart-Rending Irish Saga by Patricia Falvey

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Ireland 1900: Ennismore House's young heiress Victoria had hoped that she and Rosie Killeen would be friends forever. Rosie soon comes to know better as there's a social chasm between those who live in the House and those, like Rosie's family, who have been brought up merely to serve them. The days of innocence are coming to an end in many ways. Soon, as the cry for Irish Home Rule becomes louder, there'll be more than steps on society's ladder between them as each must discover their own way in a nation that will never be the same again. Full review...

The Butlins Girls by Elaine Everest

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Fresh-faced Molly Missons has just arrived in Skegness to start her new job as a Butlins auntie. Behind the smiles and confident appearance, she hides a secret; she has taken the job to escape escalating problems at home. She soon finds good friends in her chalet-mates Bunty and Plum, and it turns out that they each have their own reasons for wanting a fresh start. Meanwhile, Molly is shocked to discover that her movie-star crush Johnny Johnson is working as an entertainment adviser at the camp. Is he really as suave as his on-screen persona? And why is he working at the camp anyway? As hidden secrets become discovered, Molly and her new friends face new threats and dangers that may threaten their new-found freedom. Full review...

Blood Forest by Geraint Jones

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Felix. The lucky one. He doesn't feel especially lucky when he staggers out into the grove and finds twelve of his comrades butchered and mutilated in the worst possible ways. He felt even less lucky when the soldiers arrived, Roman cavalry. He might have run, but he knew he'd never make it. He stepped out to face whatever came next. Full review...

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

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If you find the techniques used by Rembrandt and Vermeer fascinating, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos provides a masterclass in how to work up a canvas in stages. Framing the novel as the story of a seventeenth century Dutch painting, Dominic Smith vividly sketches out the main contours of his characters and the three time periods they inhabit before we are even one fifth of the way through. Sara is one of the few women artists of the period and her painting is of children skating on a frozen canal, her now dead daughter its central figure. The painting has been in Marty de Groot's family since before Isaac Newton was born and he is the patent lawyer from whom it is stolen in 1950s Manhattan. Ellie Shipley forged a copy of the painting in her postgraduate student years and in 2000 finds herself at the centre of a gathering storm which threatens to destroy her reputation as one of Sydney's foremost fine art academics. Satisfying though those first descriptions are, we then understand these are merely the author's equivalent of the delicate chalk lines used by painters of the Dutch Golden Age to mark out the composition which will follow. Full review...

The Summer House Party by Caro Fraser

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

In the gloriously hot summer of 1936, a group of people meet at a country house party. Within three years, England will be at war, but for now, time stands still. Dan Ranscombe is clever and good-looking, but he resents the wealth and easy savoir-faire of fellow guest, Paul Latimer. Surely a shrewd girl like Meg Slater would see through that, wouldn't she? And what about Diana, Paul's beautiful sister, Charles Asher, the Jewish outsider, Madeleine, restless and dissatisfied with her role as children's nanny? And artist Henry Haddon, their host, no longer young, but secure in his power as a practised seducer. As these guests gather, none has any inkling the choices they make will have fateful consequences, lasting through the war and beyond. Or that the first unforeseen event will be a shocking death… Full review...

The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy

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It's AD 633 and Albion is a divided island made up of petty warlords who want to be treated like honourable royalty but act like gangsters. Romans are a memory that have entered into myth and the souls of Albion are torn between the old Gods and the new Christ. It is in this world that we follow the adventures of Beobrand as he undertakes the classic hero’s journey. Beobrand moves from wide-eyed teenager to hardened and honourable warrior through a brutal rite of passage as he hunts the killer of his brother and seeks to become a true warrior. Full review...

The Tyrant's Shadow by Antonia Senior

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Warning: spoilers ahead for Treason's Daughter. Patience lives with her widowed brother, William, helping to care for his son Richard (nicknamed Blackberry). Despite the Civil war ending, the times are still uncertain. Cromwell is increasingly annoyed with a parliament of rebels refusing to go to the electorate for ratification. William sees this problem at close quarters once he's effectively forced to become Cromwell's legal advisor in an atmosphere poisoned by espionage and religious factions. However when Patience comes across Shadrick Simpson, a charismatic preacher, all becomes clearer for her at least. Meanwhile Sam Challoner, William's brother in law, comes home after privateering with Prince Rupert and realises that the fight at sea is better than peace at home. At least when you're privateering you know who your enemy is. Full review...

Deposed by David Barbaree

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

A.D 68. A deposed emperor lies in a prison cell, betrayed and newly blinded by those who were sworn to protect him. He is now crippled and deprived of power, left completely on the edge of despair with a frightened young slave named Marcus as his only companion. Ten years later and it is Emperor Vespasian who wears the purple. Things may have settled since the civil war but Vespasian's son Titus is plagued by worry about plots to murder his father. Gruesome atrocities and mysterious disappearances are rife throughout Rome; it is a city full of falsehoods and intrigues with the fear of rebellion lurking beneath the surface. Furthermore, a man who used to be emperor still lives – a blind man who everyone believes to be dead. His name is Nero and he seeks revenge against those who wronged him. Full review...

The Married Girls by Diney Costeloe

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Wynsdown, 1949. In the small Somerset village of Wynsdown, Charlotte Shepherd is happily married to farmer Billy. She arrived from Germany on the Kindertransport as a child during the war and now feels settled in her adopted home. Meanwhile, the squire's fighter pilot son, Felix, has returned to the village with a fiancée in tow. Daphne is beautiful, charming... and harbouring secrets. After meeting during the war, Felix knows some of Daphne's past, but she has worked hard to conceal that which could unravel her carefully built life. For Charlotte, too, a dangerous past is coming back in the shape of fellow refugee, bad boy Harry Black. Forever bound by their childhoods, Charlotte will always care for him, but Harry's return disrupts the village quiet and it's not long before gossip spreads. The war may have ended, but for these girls, trouble is only just beginning... Full review...

Prussian Blue: Bernie Gunther Thriller 12 by Philip Kerr

3.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Bernie Gunther is not your typical hero. In 1939, he was stationed in Berlin as a police officer handling murder cases and occasionally doing work for some high-ranking Nazis. Although never a Nazi party member himself (he was a known member of the Social Democratic Party), he understood that the best thing he could do for himself at that time was to make himself indispensable to men like Reinhard Heydrich and Martin Bormann. So when he is assigned to solve a murder that has occurred at Hitler's Berghof in the Bavarian mountains, he knows that he needs to do it quickly and discreetly – not just for justice's sake, but for his own. He is given exactly one week to apprehend the suspect, and he hopes that with the help of his friend Friedrich Korsch, an investigator with the Krimialpolizei (or Kripo, for short) he just might get lucky. Full review...