Historical Musings #54: Historical Highlights

This month – on Wednesday 16th October to be precise – my blog will be ten years old! To mark the occasion, I thought I would use this month’s Historical Musings post to look back at some of the best historical fiction I have read since I started blogging in 2009. I have listed a selection of highlights for each year and apologise to any books and authors I haven’t managed to include!

In 2009:

* This was not a full year of blogging – just two and a half months – and only a few of the books I read in that time could be classed as historical fiction, but I particularly enjoyed The Moonlit Cage by Linda Holeman.

In 2010:

* I read my first Georgette Heyer novel, The Talisman Ring, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t started reading her books earlier! I also read my first books by Sarah Waters, Tracy Chevalier and Lisa See and have gone on to read more by all of them.
* One of my favourite books of the year was The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, a book which sparked my interest in the Wars of the Roses and Richard III.
* I also loved The Black Tulip, The Meaning of Night and The Saffron Gate.

In 2011:

* My first read of the year was the wonderful The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier. Only part of the book is set in the past and the rest is contemporary, but I love the way the transitions between the two are handled.
* Andrew Taylor and Jane Harris were two authors I read for the first time in 2011 and still love. I read two books by each in 2011 and my favourites were The American Boy (by Taylor) and Gillespie and I (by Harris).
* Other books I particularly enjoyed were Jamrach’s Menagerie, Passion, The Sisters Brothers and Stone’s Fall.

In 2012:

* This was the year I discovered Dorothy Dunnett! Reading the six books that make up The Lymond Chronicles – and then later in the year, the eight books of The House of Niccolò – was the highlight not just of 2012, but of my whole ten years of blogging.
* I also loved Scaramouche, Here Be Dragons, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Wolf Hall. I read the first book in Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series this year too.
* The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye was probably the biggest surprise of the year, as I didn’t expect to like it much but ended up really enjoying it.

In 2013:

* I started two new series that I loved but still haven’t finished: Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series and Maurice Druon’s The Accursed Kings.
* New authors read for the first time in 2013 included Elizabeth Fremantle, John Boyne, Mary Renault and Anne O’Brien. I also read my first two books by Guy Gavriel Kay – Tigana and The Lions of Al-Rassan, fantasy set in worlds closely resembling real periods of history.
* Other favourites this year were The King’s General, Bring Up the Bodies, King Hereafter and Captain Blood.

In 2014:

* I started two new historical mystery series in 2014 – first I met Matthew Shardlake in CJ Sansom’s Dissolution – and then Thomas Hawkins in Antonia Hodgson’s The Devil in the Marshalsea. Another historical crime novel I enjoyed, sadly not part of a series, was The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes.
* I read my first book by Robert Harris: his excellent novel about the Dreyfus Affair, An Officer and a Spy.
* I also loved The Moon in the Water, Hild, Bitter Greens, Zemindar, Falls the Shadow and The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters. Another good year!

In 2015:

* I read Elizabeth Goudge for the first time in 2015 (The Child from the Sea) and I also enjoyed Alias Grace, The Sea-Hawk, Gildenford, and the Ibis trilogy.
* After avoiding books set in Ancient Rome for most of my life, two of my favourite books of the year turned out to be Imperium and Lustrum by Robert Harris, the first two books in his Cicero trilogy.
* Here on the blog I announced my Reading the Walter Scott Prize project (something I have sadly neglected in recent months and need to get back to). In April 2015 I also started my monthly Historical Musings posts. In the very first of these posts I asked a simple question: Do you read historical fiction?

In 2016:

* I read a lot of classic historical fiction in 2016 including Lorna Doone, Mauprat, Kristin Lavransdatter and Redgauntlet – and I finished Alexandre Dumas’ d’Artagnan series this year as well.
* The Classics Club Spin gave me Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger. A great result as I loved it!
* I also enjoyed reading Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy, Restoration and Merivel by Rose Tremain – and my first of Rosemary Sutcliff’s adult novels, The Rider of the White Horse.

In 2017:

* 2017 got off to a good start with The Red Sphinx and His Bloody Project and continued to be a good year for historical fiction. Some of my favourites of the year included Golden Hill, Wintercombe, Towers in the Mist and A Gentleman in Moscow – and two books by Rebecca Mascull, The Wild Air and Song of the Sea Maid.
* I read Shadow of the Moon for a summer readalong. As an MM Kaye fan, I don’t know why I hadn’t read it earlier, and of course I loved it.
* I also enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale, the first in a fantasy trilogy grounded strongly in historical Russia, and I started Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles (yet another series I still need to finish).

In 2018:

* I enjoyed re-reading Penmarric by Susan Howatch and really don’t know why I do so little re-reading these days.
* Some of my favourite historical fiction novels in 2018 were about real historical figures such as the Brontë sisters (Dark Quartet), Elizabeth Mortimer (Queen of the North) and William Marshal (The Scarlet Lion).
* I loved meeting Emmy Lake in AJ Pearce’s wartime novel Dear Mrs Bird, a book I thought was the perfect combination of light and dark.

In 2019:

* Well, 2019 isn’t over yet but so far some of my favourites have been The Way to the Lantern by Audrey Erskine Lindop, Things in Jars by Jess Kidd and The Devil’s Slave by Tracy Borman.


I hope I’ve convinced you to try some of these books, if you haven’t already! What are your own historical highlights of the last few years?

23 thoughts on “Historical Musings #54: Historical Highlights

  1. Jane says:

    Ten Years!! Congratulations! I’m definitely going to read the Rose Tremain’s (and her autobiography) and Devil in the Marshalsea sounds like a winner too.

  2. Carmen says:

    Congratulations on your Blogiversary! 🙂 Since I’m following you I have learned of many books/authors that otherwise would have remained unknown to me, so thanks. 🙂 Over the nine years that I blogged, I read contemporary mysteries/thrillers towards the beginning, making the transition to mostly contemporary fiction and historical fiction with only occasional dabbling in other genres.

  3. Margaret says:

    Congratulations! So many wonderful books including one of my favourites of all time -The Sunne in Splendour! Here’s to many more years of happy reading and blogging!

    • Helen says:

      Thank you! The Sunne in Splendour is great isn’t it? I enjoyed the first two books in Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy too and have the third one lined up to read soon.

  4. FictionFan says:

    Congratulations! Ten years is amazing – very few bloggers seem to stock it out for the long haul. I hope you’re still going in another ten years. 😀 This post is full of temptations – I’ve read a few of them, but not enough. Some are on my TBR though, like Dorothy Dunnet (never read her), Jane Harris (only read The Observations) and The Black Tulip. No wonder none of us have enough time for re-reading…

    • Helen says:

      Thank you! I can’t believe it has been ten years. I’m glad you’re tempted by some of these books…though sorry that it means less time for re-reading!

  5. jessicabookworm says:

    Wow, Helen! Happy 10th blogoversary for Wednesday! 😀 From this fabulous list of books I have read The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier and Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien.

    As for my own historical reading, in 2012, I read my first dual-narrative novel by the wonderful Susanna Kearsley. In 2014, I read The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and The Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle. In 2015, I read Mariana by Susanna Kearsley and Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. In 2016, Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, and Turn of the Tide and A House Divided by Margaret Skea. In 2017, I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson and My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier. Finally last year, I read The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory, Kin by Snorri Kristjansson, The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier and Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen by Alison Weir. 😀

  6. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    Congratulations on reaching 10 years with the blog. Here’s to many more. I’m going through a Historical Fiction phase at the moment and many of the titles you have mentioned including Gillespie and I, Alius Grace, His Bloody Project, Dark Quartet and the Cazalet Cronicals are already on my own TBR.

  7. Judy Krueger says:

    Happy 10th Blogiversary!! An achievement and it was fun to look back with you. We have enjoyed many of the same books and I have learned about historical fictions authors I hadn’t known before from you. So thanks.

  8. Small Review says:

    Congrats on your anniversary! I enjoyed reading this post, as well as all your other posts. You’ve inspired many of my favorite historical reads lately (Susan Howatch, Sharon Kay Penman, Gerry Durrell, and many, many others).

  9. Sandra says:

    Ten years! That’s an achievement, Helen, Happy Blogiversary! Yours was one of the first blogs I followed when I started in 2016 and I’ve had so many ideas from your reviews. I hope you plan to keep blogging for another ten years at least 🙂

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