Historical Fiction

MILLSTONE OF DOUBT (THRONDIKE & SWANN #2) by Erica Vetsch

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After wrapping up a whirlwind case as an agent-in-training for the Crown, Lady Juliette Thorndike has tried her best to forget Bow Street runner Daniel Swann and the improper, impossible feelings she has for him, a man entirely below her station. Although she and her family have often flouted class barriers, she worries that Detective Swann would only be embarrassed by her interest, a girl from such a frivolous world compared to his own.

But Daniel has some improper, impossible feelings of his own, and when a murder at a local mill looks like the work of anarchists, both Scotland Yard and the Crown get pulled into the case–meaning Daniel and Lady Juliette will be working together once more. As Juliette attempts to comfort (and glean information) from the victim’s grieving daughter, Daniel does some digging into the mill’s enemies. But the case is more complicated than it seemed, jeopardizing not only their hearts but their lives.

A (sweet) Regency romance pairs with an edge-of-your-seat murder mystery in a page turner with plenty of clues to piece together. Vetsch eschews the angst and slow-burn commonly infused in historical mystery relationships, relying instead on the murder itself and secrets from her hero’s past to drive suspense while the detective couple advances smoothly toward their happily ever after. Published by a Christian house, the book’s characters practice Christianity, but spiritual elements are smoothly incorporated with a light hand. A fun read for fans of the genre!

RUST IN THE ROOT by Justina Ireland

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As a Floramancer and young woman of Afrikan ancestry, Laura has always known the Prohibition targeted her people specifically. When the Great Rust set in in the 1930s, the small-time Negro mages bore the brunt of the blame, even though white Mechomancers were the ones who’d taken the purity of the power imbued in in nature (the Possibilities) and exploited it for financial gain in their Industrial Revolution. But the Blights are getting worse, and the U.S. government has put the dangerous burden of fixing it on the Bureau of the Archane’s Colored Auxiliary.

With few options for gaining a license to practice Floramancy–or even earn enough money to live–Laura takes a new name (the Peregrine) and an apprenticeship with the Floramancer known as the Skylark who is tasked with finding the source of a particularly rotten Blight in Ohio. But when the Colored Auxiliary arrives, the Peregrine and her mentor realize something is wrong. The Blight bears an alarming resemblance to the Klan’s Necromancy–a horrific evil that touched the Skylark’s life once before. And as they travel toward the heart of the dark magic, the Peregrine realizes that there were secrets within her power she was keeping even from herself.

Justina Ireland once again proves herself the queen of historical fantasy, crafting a richly grounded world with a detailed, inventive magic system that both accentuates past evils and demands that readers recognize and analyze alarming trends in the modern world. She perfectly balances her voice with historical colloquialisms and modern sensibility and weaves a cast of nuanced secondary characters to support her heroine. This novel is a must-read for YA and NA fantasy fans! I cannot recommend it highly enough.

BLOOMSBURY GIRLS by Natalie Jenner

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Evie Stone was without question the most qualified candidate for the research assistantship at Jesus College, Cambridge. A member of the first class of women allowed to graduate from the College, she achieved higher honors than her male colleagues, and the most recent paper she collaborated on was ground-breaking. And yet, it is not at all surprising when one of her less-qualified male colleagues lands the position, and she winds up as a shop assistant in a bookstore. Now that the men are back from the war, it is a common enough story for women like her.

But Evie–as always–has a plan. With her demure exterior and her knowledge of rare books hidden underneath, she is certain she won’t have any trouble enacting that plan under the very noses of the misogynist male hierarchy at the shop. As she begins to form friendships with the other two women at the shop–an aspiring author who should really be running the fiction department and a mathematically minded mother of two, trapped in a toxic marriage–she wonders if she could trust them to become allies in her plan and if their little supportive sisterhood might empower them to pursue some dreams of their own.

Studded with literary giants like Daphne du Maurier and Samuel Beckett, BLOOMSBURY GIRLS explores the tensions between women’s ambitions and the social mores that sought to subdue them in post-WWII Britain. With a gradual start and several protagonists, this story is ideal for readers who enjoy settling into an immersive environment and befriending the characters who live there. The ending delivers a triumphant and joyful “down-with-the-patriarchy” climax that will have literature enthusiasts cheering. This title is an excellent pick for fans of women’s fiction and for book clubs!

A Special Message from the Author:

Dear readers,

I am immensely grateful for the outpouring of affection that so many of you have expressed for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society and its eight main characters. When I wrote its epilogue (in one go and without ever changing a word), I wanted to give each of Adam, Mimi, Dr. Gray, Adeline, Yardley, Frances, Evie and Andrew the happy Austenesque ending they each deserved. But I could not let go of servant girl Evie Stone, the youngest and only character inspired by real life (my mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and my daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team). Bloomsbury Girls continues Evie’s adventures into a 1950s London bookshop where there is a battle of the sexes raging between the male managers and the female staff, who decide to pull together their smarts, connections, and limited resources to take over the shop and make it their own. There are dozens of new characters in Bloomsbury Girls from several different countries, and audiobook narration was going to require a female voice of the highest training and caliber. When I learned that British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, had agreed to narrate, I knew that my story could not be in better hands, and I so hope you enjoy reading or listening to it.

Warmest regards,

Natalie

TO MARRY AND TO MEDDLE by Martha Waters

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Julian’s proposition is perfectly logical. By gaining a respectable wife, he will be able to shake off some of the scandal that surrounds his operating a theater business. And by marrying, Emily will no longer be a pawn of her father, who plans to insist on her engagement to the loathsome man who holds his gambling debts. The marriage will be convenient to both of them.

But once she is wed, Emily finds that she is no longer content to be the perfect, respectable lady, caring for the household and the whims of the man who controls her life. She wants to be helpful to her husband in more ways than by entertaining the ladies of the ton. She wants to take an active role in her husband’s work. Julian is horrified–the entire point of the marriage was to pull his theater out of scandal, not embroil it in more! But the only thing more inconvenient to their marriage of convenience would be if Julian and Emily actually fell in love…

Waters is quickly becoming one of my favorite Regency Romance authors! She hits the tropes spot on for a fun, devourable read. Heroine and plot are both more subdued in this novel compared with the previous two of the series, but Violet and Diana and their much-aggrieved gentlemen make substantive appearances in the novel’s most hilarious scenes. (Diana and Jeremy’s wedding is quite spectacular.) I recommend this title to fans of the genre, especially the “Marriage of Convenience” trope.

A DUKE, THE SPY, AN ARTIST, AND A LIE by Vanessa Riley

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Felton knows immediately that the landscape of Port Royal his friend found in Covent Garden was painted by his estranged wife–and now he has some idea of where to search for her. He doesn’t blame Cecilia for leaving him, not after he accused her of infidelity with his father. But since realizing that he was actually in love with the beautiful woman he married to save his own life when a spy mission turned deadly, he has been desperate to find her.

But Cecilia has been back on the island of her birth searching for her own family–her true family. Marriage to Felton was nothing like the adventure he promised. With him gone for months at a time on missions and most of his family discriminating against her for the color of her skin, her artistically-minded father-in-law was her only defender and source of happiness. Her husbands accusations were merely final blow to a marriage that was already dying. But when she finds her free-born sister, who was sold into enslavement by Felton’s cousin, just in time for her to die in her arms, Cecilia realizes she may have to return to her estranged husband. Because a former spy might be the only person who can help her achieve her greatest desire: revenge.

All Regency romances stretch the historical truth, embellishing the “Marriage Mart” into a ton where Dukes are plentiful and “love matches” abound. Riley allows Black characters to into that world–not only through the romanticized history of marriage in the peerage but also in the historical realities for people of color in Regency England: the tens of thousands of free Black people as well as the free and enslaved people Black people in colonized Jamaica. Riley’s romances are more history-laden than most historical romances, and her writing style is more literary, so be prepared for a slower but richer read. I highly recommend all three of Riley’s Rogues and Remarkable Women books to fans of Regency Romance novels and to fans of the Netflix series “Bridgerton.”

THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEWOMAN WITCHES by India Holton

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There are no such things as witches. Charlotte Pettifer certainly isn’t one. And she certainly hasn’t been selected as the future leader of the secret League of Gentlewoman Witches because no such organization exists because witches don’t exist. And if they did exist, their future leader would certainly be discrete enough not to mount her broom in St. James’ Square in broad daylight and fly over the crowded streets just to escape a confrontation with a despicable and distressingly attractive Irish pirate.

But of course, Charlotte is a witch and the League’s rightful heir and therefore the only person with the legitimate right to steal the amulet that belonged to the foundress of the League (and, I suppose it must be mentioned, the creator of the spell that gave the pirates the ability to fly their battle houses over London). And when one such pirate steals the amulet for herself, Charlotte does not hesitate to commandeer a pirate’s house to give chase–both to retrieve her amulet and to get a second taste of the delightful freedom of flight. That she happens to commandeer the house of the Irish pirate is purely coincidental. That they appear to have formed an alliance is merely a distortion of the true reality that they are committed enemies who very maliciously kidnapped each other. That they occasionally find themselves locked in a broom closet together, their eyes locked, their bodies pressed close…well, everyone needs a bit of exercise…

Sometimes I skim books. Shameful, but true. But not this book–I couldn’t risk missing a single, hilarious word! From the absurdity of this series’ premise to the banter between the hero and heroine to the wealth of cleverly overturned literary allusions, I was laughing aloud the whole time. Add to that the deliciously steamy romance, thrilling adventure plot, and substantive cameos from the hero/heroine of the previous book, and you have a five star historical romance that you won’t be able to put down. I cannot recommend this series highly enough!

THE VALET’S SECRET by Josi S. Kilpack

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Rebecca Parker has always been a practical woman. She entered the service in an aristocratic household when she needed work, left the service when her daughter was born, and moved in with her father when her husband died. But now, with her daughter grown and in a comfortable position as a baronesses companion and her father’s abuses too severe to be borne, she is ready for a bit of freedom. Still, she never expected that freedom could mean sharing a passionate kiss with a stranger on the side of the road.

The connection between Rebecca and the mysterious valet is mutual and instantaneous. Unfortunately, Kenneth is not a valet–but rather a reluctant heir to an earldom who was seeking a bit of freedom by wandering the countryside in his valet’s clothing. Kenneth knows he should tell Rebecca the truth, but their connection is too strong and the moment passes. But his deception cannot last forever. And when the truth is revealed, will love be enough to lead two practical, duty-bound people to throw off the expectations of their classes and make their fairytale come true?

This sweet (clean) Regency romance is undeniably a Cinderella story (complete with a ball and glass slippers) yet the telling feels fresh and engaging–probably because of the loose connection to the fairytale early on and the twist of the future-earl’s deception. It is also always refreshing to see a mature couple in a Regency romance. Rather than a debutant and the rakish youth, Kilpack gives us a widow and widower in their 40s, both with grown children. As they reconsider the restrictive norms that keep them apart, they are also reconsidering their lives–how they have lived in the past and how they may be ready to break out of their society-dictated boxes and start anew. A fun, quick read for fans of clean historical romance.

THE RED PALACE by June Hur

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Hyeon worked her whole life to become a palace nurse. It wasn’t an easy path for her, especially without the support of her father, a prominent justice who barely acknowledges her and her mother, who was once his concubine. Hyeon’s success as a nurse and rise to the prestigious palace position was largely thanks to her mentor, Nurse Jeongsu.

But when a massacre at the student hospital leaves four women dead, Nurse Jeongsu is arrested under suspicion of murder. And when an anonymous pamphlet circulates accusing the Crown Prince of the murders, Hyeon realizes two terrible truths: first, that Nurse Jeongsu will be convicted and executed to divert suspicion from the Palace, and second, that Hyeon herself has unwittingly provided the prince with a false alibi by claiming to treat his illness that night. She knows she must investigate the massacre herself if she has any hope of saving her mentor from execution, even when it means defying her father and forming an unlikely alliance with the young and unconventional police inspector who seems to respect her, despite her being a woman and a commoner, but who has the power to destroy her life–or maybe break her heart. But Hyeon will risk her heart, her job, and her father’s disapproval to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, with so many bloody secrets hidden within the Palace walls, the truth may cost her life.

Suspenseful, romantic, and rich with the fascinating history of the Korean Joseon Dynasty, THE RED PALACE is perhaps my favorite June Hur novel yet! She seamlessly weaves together the story of a young woman struggling to find her place in her family and her society with a based-on-a-tragic-true-story murder mystery–plus, a swoon-worthy romance that delighted my historical-romance-loving heart. I highly recommend this novel for any YA collection and to any teen and adult fans of historical mysteries.

THE RUNAWAY DUCHESS by Joanna Lowell

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Lavinia had no choice but to marry the elderly, lecherous duke–not after the duke she was supposed to marry jilted her, exposed a family scandal, and had her father arrested. With her family disgraced and no skills to earn money except by marrying it, she grits her teeth and trudges down the aisle. But it’s what the wedding night holds that she truly dreads: not only being forced to share a bed with her loathsome husband but what that husband might do when he discovers he is not her first lover. So when a young botanist stops her on the train platform, mistaking her for a new colleague, she flees her honeymoon–and her past life.

Neal’s future wife is nothing like he expected. She more closely resembles a Society debutante than an intrepid explorer; he can hardly imagine her doing all the daring feats she describes in her memoirs. But he still fully intends to ask her to marry him after their stint collecting plants in Cornwall is complete. Surely she, too, will be looking for a like-minded, intellectual spouse. And if she agrees to be his bride, they can be married to fulfill his mother’s hopes for him before she succumbs to her cancer. As his professional relationship with his bold explorer deepens, however, Neal is in for more surprises, perhaps the biggest of which is that he is falling in love–and for reasons he never would have imagined.

Lowell made a bold choice to cast one of her previous book’s villains as her heroine–but it payed off! She matched her deeply flawed heroine with a seemingly perfect hero, only to subvert our expectations for both and somehow make us love them more. With this book, Lowell proves that the acclaim her debut earned was not a fluke. She is a new star in the historical romance genre.

FORTUNE FAVORS THE DUKE by Kristin Vayden

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When the Duke of Wesley died, he tore a hole in the lives of his loved ones–both the remarkable, business-minded woman he had planned to marry and the scholarly brother who had to give up his position at Cambridge to succeed his brother as Duke. The first time Catherine and Quin encounter one another in Hyde Park, the meeting is marked by the mutual pain of loss. But as fortune continues to throw them together, their feelings quickly shift from grief to friendship, and then–to their mutual guilt–desire. When a meddling relative tries to wrestle control of Catherine’s finances, Quin is only too eager to help her outsmart her cousin and the crone of a chaperone he has assigned her. Unfortunately, collaborating will make it that much more difficult to keep the promises they made to themselves to honor the late Duke’s memory by staying out of one another’s arms.

This is the Brother’s Sinister read-alike I’ve been waiting for! It actually captured some of my favorite elements of both Brother’s Sinister and Bridgerton: the snarky, scholarly, Cambridge-centric friend group and the unconventional heroine from the former and the strong yet meddling female relatives and elderly eccentrics of the latter. Add hilarious banter and a few sexy moments in a library, and I was sold. I highly recommend this one to fans of Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas, Joanna Lowell, and Julia Quinn.