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Historical Fiction Reading Guides

Using historical novels for your reading group will provide you with a way to engage in the events that have made our world what it is today. By discussing these events you can open the minds of your members to new possibilities and perspectives.

List of titles:

Before Versailles

Before Versailles transports you to a world of secret passions and plots, a world of duplicity and malice…a world that created one of the best-known monarchs to grace the French throne.

At the most decisive time in the young king’s life, Louis XIV can taste the danger. His court teems with greed and corruption, the wrong woman draws him into a wrenching love affair, and a mysterious boy in an iron mask haunts the woods. The untried ruler is coming into his own in 1661, and Louis XIV must face what he is willing to sacrifice for honor and for love.

Meticulously researched and gorgeously brought to life by New York Times bestselling author Karleen Koen, Before Versailles offers up a sumptuous, authentic exploration of a time that forged a man into a king.

Brief Gaudy Hour

The infamous love of King Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, undertook a rocky journey from innocent courtier to powerful Queen of England. The beauty and charms of Anne Boleyn bewitched the most powerful man in the world, King Henry VIII, but her resourcefulness and cleverness were not enough to stop the malice of her enemies. Her swift rise to power quickly became her own undoing.

Churchill's Hour

In this stunning novel, political insider Michael Dobbs brings alive the curmudgeon persona of Winston Churchill. It is 1941, a year of desperation for England battered by the war. Churchill has only one hope, that the U.S. will come to his country's aid, but Roosevelt is unable to do so because America is wedded to isolation.

The prime minister's agony is compounded by a very personal dilemma. Pamela, the wife of his dissolute son, Randolph, has fallen in love with FDR's special envoy to England, Averill Harriman. With England threatened by a German invasion and a desperate Russia devastated by the advancing Nazi onslaught, Churchill must convince America his cause is theirs. How he does so is so damning he will take the secret to his grave. Following his acclaimed Churchill novels Never Surrender and Churchill's Triumph, Dobbs' taut reimagining makes England's feisty prime minister jump off the page.

Churchill's Triumph

World War II is about to end when the world’s three most powerful men gather at Yalta in the Soviet Crimea: an idealistic and exhausted Franklin Roosevelt, a dyspeptic and feisty Winston Churchill and a brutal Joseph Stalin. Once proud allies, they will lie and cheat and deceive each other. And, while doing so, they will change both the map and the destiny of Europe.

In this riveting historic novel, you become a fly on the wall of history. For those fatal eight days at Yalta, you are privy to the heart and mind of England’s prime minister who hopes he has enough strength to negotiate with the Russian dictator and enough whiskey to last the week. Carrying the burden of history, Churchill becomes Europe’s conscience, when, to save the peace agreed to at Yalta, he must decide whether to commit a devastating act of betrayal.

Frenchman's Creek

Jaded by the numbing politeness of Restoration London, Lady Dona St. Columb revolts against high society. She rides into the countryside, guided only by her restlessness and her longing to escape.

But when chance leads her to meet a French pirate, hidden within Cornwall’s shadowy forests, Dona discovers that her passions and thirst for adventure have never been more aroused. Together, they embark upon a quest rife with danger and glory, one which bestows upon Dona the ultimate choice: sacrifice her lover to certain death or risk her own life to save him.

Frenchman’s Creek is the breathtaking story of a woman who searches for love and adventure and embraces the dangerous life of a fugitive on the seas.

God Is an Englishman

The first novel in the epic God Is an Englishman series, this book is a stirring saga of England in the 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution takes hold, forever changing the landscape of England and her people.

Adam Swann, scion of an army family, returns home in 1858 after service with Her Majesty’s army in the Crimea and India, determined to build his fortune in the dog-eat-dog world of Victorian commerce. Swann is soon captivated by Henrietta, the high-spirited daughter of a local mill owner. As Swann works to build his name, he and Henrietta share adventures, reversal, and fortune.

A beloved novel by a beloved author, God Is an Englishman is a treasure both for R. F. Delderfield fans and the growing legion of fans of historical fiction.

Great Maria

Her father is a robber baron…

Her husband has grand ambitions and a quick temper…

She will become...the Great Maria.

A lush portrait of the eleventh century that leaves out none of its harshest nature, Great Maria is Cecelia Holland at her most evocative. A mere fourteen years old, strong-willed Maria is betrothed to Richard. Theirs is a marriage of conflict, yet one that grows over the years into respect and partnership. As they struggle—at times against each other, at times side-by-side—Maria and Richard emerge as full-blooded characters you’ll never forget.

 

King's Fool

When country lad Will Somers lands himself the plum position of jester to the mercurial King Henry VIII, he has no idea that he’s just been handed a front-row seat to history.

With a seat near the throne and an ear to the floor, Somers witnesses firsthand the dizzying power struggles and sly scheming that marked the reign of the fiery Tudor king. Somers watches the rise and fall of some of the most enigmatic women in history, including the tragic Katherine of Aragon, the doomed Anne Boleyn, and Mary Tudor, who confided in the jester as she made the best of the fragile life of a princess whom everyone wished was a prince.

Based on the life of the real Will Somers, King’s Fool is infused with Margaret Campbell Barnes’s trademark rich detail and historical accuracy. This intimate peek into the royal chambers gives readers a unique view on one of the most tumultuous periods in English history.

First published in 1959 by world-renowned historical novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes, King’s Fool is a remarkable insider tale of the intrigue, ruthlessness, and majesty of the Tudor court. When country lad Will Somers lands himself the plum position of jester to the mercurial King Henry VIII, he has no idea that he's just been handed a front-row seat to history.

My Cousin Rachel

From the bestselling author of Rebecca, another classic set in beautiful and mysterious Cornwall.

Philip Ashley’s older cousin Ambrose, who raised the orphaned Philip as his own son, has died in Rome. Philip, the heir to Ambrose’s beautiful English estate, is crushed that the man he loved died far from home. He is also suspicious. While in Italy, Ambrose fell in love with Rachel, a beautiful English and Italian woman. But the final, brief letters Ambrose wrote hint that his love had turned to paranoia and fear.

Now Rachel has arrived at Philip’s newly inherited estate. Could this exquisite woman, who seems to genuinely share Philip’s grief at Ambrose’s death, really be as cruel as Philip imagined? Or is she the kind, passionate woman with whom Ambrose fell in love? Philip struggles to answer this question, knowing Ambrose’s estate, and his own future, will be destroyed if his answer is wrong.

Never Surrender

This extraordinary work of historical fiction by bestselling author Michael Dobbs finds Winston Churchill at his lowest ebb—pitted in a personal confrontation with Adolf Hitler and the ghosts from his past.

The battle begins on Friday, May 10, 1940, when Hitler launches a devastating attack that within days will overrun France, Holland and Belgium and bring Britain to its knees at Dunkirk. Never Surrender is about Churchill’s courage and defiance, his ability to lead a nation during three of the most crucial weeks in its history. Without the physical forces necessary to stave off German attack, Churchill uses the force of words to stand in Hitler’s way, to show that no accords will be made.

To read this book is to live these tense days at Churchill’s side, to experience his feelings of deep inadequacy as he deals with defeatist ministers, intransigent generals and a military disaster of biblical proportion.

Sins of the House of Borgia

A Notorious Duke
An Infamous Duchess
An Innocent Girl

Violante isn’t supposed to be here, in one of the grandest courts of Renaissance Italy. She isn’t supposed to be a lady-in-waiting to the beautiful Lucrezia Borgia. But the same secretive  politics that pushed Lucrezia’s father to the Vatican have landed Violante deep in a lavish landscape of passion and ambition.

The Mapmaker's Daughter

How far would you go to stay true to yourself?

Spain, 1492. On the eve of the Jewish expulsion from Spain, Amalia Riba stands at a crossroads. In a country violently divided by religion, she must either convert to Christianity and stay safe, or remain a Jew and risk everything.

It’s a choice she’s been walking toward her whole life, from the days of her youth when her family lit the Shabbat candles in secret. Back then, she saw the vast possibility of the world, outlined in the beautiful pen-and-ink maps her father created. But the world has shifted and contracted since then.

The Mapmaker’s Daughter is a stirring novel about identity, exile, and what it means to be home.

The Miracle Thief

Do you believe in miracles?

Sister Juliana does. She’s seen miracles happen as she tends Saint Catherine’s altar and guards her relic. Yet she doesn’t quite dare to believe that even Saint Catherine could help her atone for her wicked past.

Anna does. And she so desperately needs one. In a time when a deformity is interpreted as evidence of a grievous sin, in a place where community is vital to existence, Anna has no family, no home, and no master.

Princess Gisele wants to. A miracle is the only thing that can save her from being given to a brutal, pagan chieftain in marriage.

For those who come in faith, saints offer the answer to almost any prayer. But other forces are plotting to steal Saint Catherine’s relic, to bend the saint’s power to their own use. Penitent, pilgrim, princess—all will be drawn into an epic struggle where only faith can survive. But in a quest for divine blessing, only the most ruthless of souls may win the prize.

Theirs Was the Kingdom

The second novel in R. F. Delderfield’s classic God Is an Englishman series

Theirs Was the Kingdom is a stirring saga of England in the late 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution takes hold, forever changing the landscape of England and her people.

The 1880s in England were a laissez-faire decade of national optimism and prosperity, of rampant colonialism, typhoid epidemics, and a Diamond Jubilee. This follow-up novel to God Is an Englishman continues the saga of the Victorian giant of commerce Adam Swann, his tough-minded wife Henrietta, and their five children. This prolific tale records the triumphs and tragedies of a memorable family and a nation at the height of its imperial power.

A beloved novel by a beloved author, Theirs Was the Kingdom is a luminous historical novel of a family’s fortune and a nation’s destiny

Through a Glass Darkly

Peopled by a cast of unforgettable characters, here is the story of a great family ruled by a dowager of extraordinary power; a young woman coming of age, seeking love in the midst of a storm; her mother, the cruel and self-centered Diana; and of a man haunted by a secret that could turn all of their dreams to ashes…

To Serve Them All My Days

The beloved classic saga from master author R. F. Delderfield, subject of a landmark BBC miniseries.

To Serve Them All My Days is the moving saga of David Powlett-Jones, who returns from World War I injured and shell-shocked. He is hired to teach history at Bamfylde School, where he rejects the formal curriculum and teaches the causes and consequences of the Great War.

Eventually David earns the respect of his students and many of his fellow teachers, against the backdrop of a country struggling to redefine itself. As David falls in love and finds himself on track to possibly take on the headmaster role, he must search to find the strength to hold true to his beliefs as the specter of another world war looms.

To Serve Them All My Days is a brilliant picture of England between the World Wars, as the country comes to terms with the horrors of the Great War and the new forces reshaping the British government and society.

Winston’s War

It is the dawn of World War II, and Neville Chamberlain believes he has bought “peace for our time” from Adolf Hitler, who has just seized Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. The English are alarmed by the huge German army, while the soldiers that would defend London don’t even have steel helmets. For many, compromise and appeasement seem to be England’s best defense.

But there are a few leaders who don’t agree. Among them is Winston Churchill, who understands that the relentless march of fascism will be democracy’s death knell. In October 1938, Churchill pleads his case in the press to the BBC’s Guy Burgess. One of these two will become the most revered man of his time, and the other will be known as the greatest of traitors.

This stunning novel brings to life the surprising political intrigues that set the stage for World War II, and brings alive the passionate, grumpy, whiskey-drinking Winston Churchill, as he inspires his fellow countrymen to take on the world’s mightiest army.

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