Historical Musings #59: What are you reading?

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. I hope everyone is having a good Easter – or as good as it can be under the circumstances. I’m pleased to report that, after struggling to concentrate on anything for the last few weeks, I seem to be out of the reading slump I was in and am starting to write reviews again as well, but I still haven’t been in the right frame of mind to put a long post together in time for today’s Historical Musings. Therefore, I’m keeping things simple this month and asking you to share your current and upcoming historical reads.

I am currently in the middle of two very different historical novels. First, I am still working through Hilary Mantel’s third and final Thomas Cromwell novel, The Mirror and the Light. I bought my copy in the first week of its publication but didn’t start reading it immediately because I wanted to wait until I felt slightly less stressed and distracted and would be able to give it the attention it deserved. I am now completely absorbed in it, but it will still be a while before I’m finished.

My other current read is A Vision of Light by Judith Merkle Riley, a reissue of her 1988 novel which was the first in the Margaret of Ashbury trilogy, set in medieval England. Despite some very dark topics, it’s an easy, entertaining read and I’m enjoying it so far.

The next two historical fiction novels I have lined up are The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor and Royal Flush by Margaret Irwin, both from NetGalley and both authors I have enjoyed before, so I’m looking forward to reading them.

Are you reading any historical fiction at the moment? If not, do you have any coming up soon on your TBR? I’d love to hear about your historical reading, particularly if you have something good to recommend!

25 thoughts on “Historical Musings #59: What are you reading?

  1. Pam Thomas says:

    I’ve just finished The Mirror And The Light and I’m in awe – her writing is absolutely amazing, and I was totally immersed in 16th century England. I know the Wolf Hall trilogy tends to be ‘marmite’ – love or loathe – but I love it. Her writing is just beautiful, on every page there’s a lovely turn of phrase or a wise word.
    I’ve also just finished two other historical books – ‘The Widow’s Confession’ by Sophia Tobin, set in Broadstairs in the mid 19th century. I enjoyed it, particularly the depiction of the very limited lives that women were supposed to lead at that time, and also the lovely descriptions of the beach landscapes and the Goodwin Sands.
    The other one, which I really liked, was ‘Miss Austen’ by Gill Hornby – which is about Cassandra, rather than her more famous sister Jane. Cassandra, much later in life, has gone to the house of an old friend of the family who has recently died, and presumably left a cache of letters written to her by Jane, nearly 40 years previously. Cassandra’s mission is to find the letters, read them, and destroy those which do not present her now famous sister as the paragon of womanly virtue that the family has been so careful to depict. I really enjoyed this, is was quiet, domestic and completely convincing. Cassandra did indeed destroy many of Jane’s letters, and this explores her motives for doing so. Highly recommended.

    • Helen says:

      I love Hilary Mantel’s writing too and so far I’m enjoying The Mirror and the Light every bit as much as the first two books.
      I read The Widow’s Confession a few years ago and can’t remember much about it now, apart from the beautifully vivid descriptions of the landscape that you mention. As for the Gill Hornby book, I have to admit I had dismissed it as just another in a long line of books about Jane Austen, but you make it sound so good (and so different to what I assumed it would be) I obviously need to reconsider. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Helen says:

      Sorry you weren’t really a fan of the first two books, but I know what you mean about reading this one for completeness. I hate leaving a series unfinished, even if I’ve stopped enjoying it!

  2. FictionFan says:

    Glad to hear you;re coming out of your slump! I’ve just finished Flemington by Violet Jacob, a Scottish classic set during the Jacobite Rebellion (aren’t they all? 😉 ). It was really very good – once I get back into reviewing properly I’ll be recommending it.

  3. Margaret says:

    I began reading The Mirror and the Light just after it was published and decided I need to take it slowly to try to take in all the detail. It is beautifully written and I’m loving it. I also have The Last Protector from NetGalley, A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry and The Deep by Alma Katsu on my TBR list.

    It’s hard at the moment concentrating on writing reviews but I hope to get back to it soon.

    • Helen says:

      I agree that The Mirror and the Light is definitely not the sort of book that should be rushed. I’m glad you’re enjoying it too. A Thousand Moons is a beautiful novel too – I read it a few weeks ago and really liked it.

      I hope you’re able to get back to writing reviews soon. It’s so difficult to focus at the moment, isn’t it?

  4. Café Society says:

    I’ve just finished Helen Fields new novel, ‘These Lost & Broken Things’ which is set in the early years of the 20th century. Up until now she’s written modern day police procedurals, this is her first historical novel and it does have certain thriller elements to it, nevertheless as I was reading it I was thinking of you Helen. It might be worth your while having a look at it.

  5. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    I’m glad to hear your out of the woods now with your reading slump. After a lot of trial and error, I’m beginning to find nonfiction the most digestable at the moment, which is maybe not such a bad thing, as I’ve been saying for ages I need to get my nonfiction numbers up. I have the Mirror and the Light ready to go when my consentration is better. Mantel’s style is beautiful, but rather dense, so I’m saving it for a time when my attention span is greater.

    • Helen says:

      The Mirror and the Light is definitely a book that needs a lot of concentration so I think you’re doing the right thing waiting until you can give it your full attention. I’m only a few chapters into it but loving it so far, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy it when you do decide to read it.

  6. volatilemuse says:

    I felt the same about reading and reviewing although I have days when I’m back in gear and days when I’m not. I had just got to the end of the the first volume of Mantel’s trilogy when everything kicked off and I decided I couldn’t cope with beheadings and plague and so on so I’ve put it on hold for better times.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, some days are more productive than others, aren’t they? I can understand not wanting to read Mantel’s books at the moment – I hope you enjoy them at some point in the future!

  7. whatcathyreadnext says:

    I’ve just finished A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry, the follow-up to Days Without End. I’m still gathering my thoughts to write my review however, although it was beautifully written, I don’t think it quite lived up to the first book. I have a copy of The Mirror & the Light but I need to find the right tike to embark on it. It’s size is rather daunting.

    • Helen says:

      I’m not very far into The Mirror and the Light yet but it’s great so far. The size is certainly daunting, though, so I think you definitely need to pick the right time to start reading.

  8. Calmgrove says:

    Good for you, Helen — I don’t suppose it helps to know that you’re not the only one, if a few of the bloggers I follow are a guide, but it’s never nice to find that what is your usual solace is not up to it.

    The nearest I’ve got to historical recently is Agatha Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott: I read and enjoyed her Middle East novel Absent in the Spring, set in the year or two before WW2; and now I’m in the middle of her first Poirot novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles which first appeared a hundred years ago in 1920. And then there’s Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome which I’m also reading, published even before WW1. I suppose that’s historical enough! 🙂

    • Helen says:

      The Mysterious Affair at Styles was the first Christie novel I ever read and I had considered re-reading it this year to mark the centenary, but decided against it as I already have some of her other novels lined up for a reading challenge I’m taking part in. I hope you’re enjoying it.

      • Calmgrove says:

        Very much, Helen! I’m jotting things down in a notebook as I read it, trying to second guess whodunit before the reveal — I know I’ll fail miserably, just like Hastings probably will, but it helps me engage more fully. 🙂

  9. Judy Krueger says:

    I have read quite a lot in the past two weeks. Since I have time on my hands, when I am not engaging in some mad spring cleaning project, I have been concentrating on finishing some long historical non-fiction: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West (reading 5 pages a day because it is so dense, but mostly loving it) and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (a chapter a day, also dense, but quite enlightening as to how my country got to be the way it is.) The other day I started my next long fiction book: Anathem by Neal Stephenson. But I may need to intersperse some shorter, lighter reading before this week is over.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve had Black Lamb and Grey Falcon on the TBR for years but still haven’t read it. The size is daunting, but it sounds so interesting!

  10. jessicabookworm says:

    Today, I finished the time-travelling adventure, River Rising by John A. Heldt, which took the characters and I back to the America Golden Age of bustle dresses, gunslingers, and robber barons. Not the greatest book, but it was a light, easy reading distraction from current events. As for the near future, I am hoping to start reading Alison Weir’s 3rd Tudor Queens book, Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen soon.

    • Helen says:

      River Rising sounds like perfect escapism at the moment! I hope you enjoy the Jane Seymour book – I think that one might be my favourite of the four I’ve read in the series so far.

  11. piningforthewest says:

    I’ve just finished Niccolo Rising which I really enjoyed and at the moment I’m reading The Rescue by Joseph Conrad.

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