Top Ten Historical Fiction Books 2014

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It's been a great year for historical fiction and we had a hard job keeping to ten books, but here they are in alphabetical order by author:

The Good Italian by Stephen Burke

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Enzo is an Italian living in Eritrea, part of Mussolini's new Italian empire of 1935. In charge of the quiet Massawe Harbour he leads an equally quiet life, trying to adhere to gentlemanly standards; being the good Italian. His friend Salvatore, a Colonel in the occupying Italian army, thinks Enzo should live a little and have some fun with the local women, just like his peers. Enzo isn't so sure but decides to engage a local cook/cleaner - see how it goes. The streetwise Aatifa gets the job, both she and Enzo being surprised by things that weren't in the job description. Meanwhile Mussolini has plans for Massawe that will change Enzo, Aatifa (and everyone around them) forever. Full review...

Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald

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1850s India: Laura Hewitt accompanies her newly married cousin Emily Flood and Emily's husband Charles to the exotic sub-continent for a visit to Charles' half-brother Oliver Erskine. Although none of the travellers have ever met Oliver, many of the people they encounter have heard of him and the way he rules his small fiefdom as its Zemindar. These stories tantalise Laura as the information conflicts and she's unable to develop a mental picture of the man. That's not all that's conflicting: there's an increasing feeling of unrest in this furthest outpost of Queen Victoria's empire which will eventually lead to one of the bloodiest episodes in Indo-British history. Laura, Emily and Charles are naïve, but that won't save them from what's to come – something beyond their worst nightmares. Full review...

Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle

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Now that their sister Lady Jane and father, Henry 1st Duke of Suffolk, have been beheaded for treason, the remaining Grey sisters, Katherine and Mary have hidden all signs of their protestant reformist faith. Their mother Frances can escape court but Mary Tudor has other plans for the girls, keeping them under royal scrutiny. This is a dangerous spotlight to be subjected to. As the trademark heretic burning of the Spanish Inquisition comes to England, the Greys must work harder to impersonate good Catholics. Their lives depend on it. However Katherine is less than tactful and set on her own path. Is Mary strong enough to protect both of them? Full review...

The Repercussions by Catherine Hall

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Once home from her role as a photo-journalist in Afghanistan, Jo decides to move into the Brighton flat that her great aunt Elizabeth has bequeathed her. While searching through the belongings that go with the home, she finds Elizabeth's WWI diaries from the time that she nursed wounded servicemen from the Indian Corps at the Brighton Pavilion. These entries cause her to reflect on her time recording the more current war and enables her to open up to her ex-lover Susie in a series of letters, telling her how it was, the lives of those she met out there, what it did to them and, indeed, to her. Full review...

Wars of the Roses: Trinity (Wars of the Roses 2) by Conn Iggulden

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A bewildered Henry VI has awoken from the catatonic state that took him away from the business of ruling – and living – for over a year. His job is now to regain the reins of his kingdom that was a little too ably ruled by Richard Neville, Duke of York in his absence. Henry's wife, Margaret of Anjou, thinks Richard enjoyed the regency so much he's plotting a permanent takeover. The bigger problem is communicating it to Henry as she's increasingly side-lined. The approaching storm is gathering momentum threatening the House of Lancaster and a convalescing king whose recovery may only be temporary, even if he lives that long. Full review...

The Curse Of The House Of Foskett (The Gower Street Detective Series) by MRC Kasasian

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Personal (not private!) detective Sidney Grice is still smarting because he's thought to have sent an innocent man to the gallows. It's also hit him in the pocket as work has dried up as a result. He's therefore pleased and intrigued when he's visited by a potential client who wants him to look into the Last Death Club, a group of people who have each put £2,000 in the kitty, the sum of which will go to the last person surviving. Unfortunately they seem to be dying quicker than planned and rather unnaturally. Sidney is about to accept the case when his client drops dead in Grice's study in front of him and his ward and assistant March Middleton. It may not improve his reputation any, but his attention has been piqued; he'll take the case anyway. Full review...

The English Girl by Margaret Leroy

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Stella Whittaker moves from a quiet English town to Vienna in 1937 to improve her music skills. Staying with old family friends, the Krauses, she feels less comfortable than she expects as a sense of mysterious menace hangs over the household. Nevertheless, Stella enjoys her new life and the sophistication of the city. More than anything, she enjoys falling in love with Harri, a young Jewish doctor. And despite many warning signs, Stella’s love for him blinds her to the possibility of trouble when it seems inevitable to others. Full review...

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin

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On 5th December 1872 the merchant brig Mary Celeste was found devoid of human life (or death), floating aimlessly in the Atlantic. Many, including Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are intrigued by the mysterious absence of all crew and Captain Benjamin Briggs' family (keeping the Captain company for the trip). Meanwhile investigative journalist Phoebe Grant wants to reveal the charlatans behind the popularity of spiritualist mediums and chooses Violet Petra as her study sample. Does Violet have the powers she claims and why is she getting so upset about Conan Doyle's Mary Celeste story? Phoebe is determined to find out and, in doing so, will be pulled into a maritime conundrum that may never be completely solved. Full review...

The Brethren (Fortunes of France) by Robert Merle and T Jefferson Kline (translator)

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After fighting for France for most of their adulthoods, the two Jeans, de Siorac and de Saveterre (nicknamed 'The Brethren') take over the chateau and settlement at Mespech in the Perigore region of France. There the newly founded community flourishes as people like Jonas the stone-cutter move in, signalling growth. De Siorac does his bit by producing a family. However this is the 16th century and conflict is never far away. Nationally France is threatened by Spain and England but it's also a threat to itself as brother fights brother – Catholic versus Huguenot. Indeed, the Brethren live in fear of the consequences of their own Huguenot faith although de Siorac doesn't make life easy for himself – his wife Isabelle is Catholic. His personal battles reflect those of the country and have effects that, for him, are just as critical. Full review...

The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark

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Elizabeth Pringle bequeathed her house on Arran to Anna Morrison even though she didn't actually know her. Anna just happened to walk past and ask to buy the house decades earlier. Elizabeth hadn't said yes but always remembered the young lady, walking past with the baby in the pram. The baby, Martha, is now an adult visiting Elizabeth's house – Anna's house – after Elizabeth's death. Through the belongings that Elizabeth left with it, Martha sees glimpses of a past life while hoping that that this refuge will now become a haven for her mother before it's too late and while she still has a mind to take her back to the good times. Full review...

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