The Walter Scott Prize Shortlist 2023

The shortlist for the 2023 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has been announced today! Thanks to this prize, I have discovered lots of great books and authors over the last few years and always look out for the longlists and shortlists; in fact, trying to read all of the shortlisted titles since the prize began in 2010 is a personal project of mine (you can see my progress here).

From the longlist of twelve books which was revealed in February, I have managed to read four of them: The Romantic by William Boyd, These Days by Lucy Caldwell, Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris and The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk. I also have a few of the others waiting on my TBR. But did any of the books I’ve read make the shortlist? Let’s find out…

The 2023 Walter Scott Prize Shortlist

These Days by Lucy Caldwell (Faber)

Two sisters. Four nights. One City.

April, 1941. Belfast has escaped the worst of the war – so far. Following the lives of sisters Emma and Audrey – one engaged to be married, the other in a secret relationship with another woman – as they try to survive the horrors of the Belfast Blitz, These Days is an unforgettable novel about lives lived under duress, about family, and about how we try to stay true to ourselves.


The Geometer Lobachevsky by Adrian Duncan (Tuskar Rock Press)

It is 1950 and Nikolai Lobachevsky, great-grandson of his illustrious namesake, is surveying a bog in the Irish Midlands, where he studies the locals, the land and their ways. One afternoon, soon after he arrives, he receives a telegram calling him back to Leningrad for a ‘special appointment’.

Lobachevsky may not be a great genius but he is not foolish: he recognises a death sentence when he sees one and leaves to go into hiding on a small island in the Shannon estuary, where the island families harvest seaweed and struggle to split rocks. Here Lobachevsky must think about death, how to avoid it and whether he will ever see his home again.


Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris (Hutchinson Heinemann)

1660. Colonel Edward Whalley and his son-in-law, Colonel William Goffe, cross the Atlantic. They are on the run and wanted for the murder of Charles I. Under the provisions of the Act of Oblivion, they have been found guilty in absentia of high treason.

In London, Richard Nayler, secretary of the regicide committee of the Privy Council, is tasked with tracking down the fugitives. He’ll stop at nothing until the two men are brought to justice. A reward hangs over their heads – for their capture, dead or alive.

Act of Oblivion is an epic journey across continents, and a chase like no other. It is the thrilling new novel by Robert Harris.


The Chosen by Elizabeth Lowry (Riverrun)

One Wednesday morning in November 1912 the ageing Thomas Hardy, entombed by paper and books and increasingly estranged from his wife Emma, finds her dying in her bedroom. Between his speaking to her and taking her in his arms, she has gone.

The day before, he and Emma had exchanged bitter words – leading Hardy to wonder whether all husbands and wives end up as enemies to each other. His family and Florence Dugdale, the much younger woman with whom he has been in a relationship, assume that he will be happy and relieved to be set free. But he is left shattered by the loss.

Hardy’s bewilderment only increases when, sorting through Emma’s effects, he comes across a set of diaries that she had secretly kept about their life together, ominously titled ‘What I Think of My Husband’. He discovers what Emma had truly felt – that he had been cold, remote and incapable of ordinary human affection, and had kept her childless, a virtual prisoner for forty years. Why did they ever marry?

He is consumed by something worse than grief: a chaos in which all his certainties have been obliterated. He has to re-evaluate himself, and reimagine his unhappy wife as she was when they first met.


The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane (Allen & Unwin Australia)

In September 1883, a small town in the South Australian outback huddles under strange, vivid sunsets. Six-year-old Denny Wallace has gone missing during a dust storm, and the entire community is caught up in the search for him. As they scour the desert and mountains for the lost child, the residents of Fairly – newlyweds, landowners, farmers, mothers, artists, Indigenous trackers, cameleers, children, schoolteachers, widows, maids, policemen – confront their relationships with each other and with the ancient landscape they inhabit.

The colonial Australia of The Sun Walks Down is unfamiliar, multicultural, and noisy with opinions, arguments, longings and terrors. It’s haunted by many gods – the sun among them, rising and falling on each day in which Denny could be found, or lost forever.


Ancestry by Simon Mawer (Little, Brown)

Almost two hundred years ago, Abraham, an illiterate urchin, scavenges on a Suffolk beach and dreams of running away to sea… Naomi, a seventeen-year-old seamstress, sits primly in a second class carriage on the train from Sussex to London and imagines a new life in the big city… George, a private soldier of the 50th Regiment of Foot, marries his Irish bride, Annie, in the cathedral in Manchester and together they face married life under arms. Now these people exist only in the bare bones of registers and census lists but they were once real enough. They lived, loved, felt joy and fear, and ultimately died. But who were they? And what indissoluble thread binds them together?

Simon Mawer’s compelling and original novel puts flesh on our ancestors’ bones to bring them to life and give them voice. He has created stories that are gripping and heart-breaking, from the squalor and vitality of Dickensian London to the excitement of seafaring in the last days of sail and the horror of the trenches of the Crimea. There is birth and death; there is love, both open and legal but also hidden and illicit. Yet the thread that connects these disparate figures is something that they cannot have known – the unbreakable bond of family.


I Am Not Your Eve by Devika Ponnambalam (Bluemoose)

I Am Not Your Eve is the story of Teha’amana, Tahitian muse and child-bride to the painter Paul Gauguin. She shares her thougths as he works on one of his masterpieces, The Spirit of The Dead Keeps Watch, a work so important to Gauguin that it haunts his later self-portrait. As Teha’amana tells her story, other voices of the island rise: Hina goddess of the moon, a lizard watching from the eaves, Gauguin’s mask of Teha’amana carved from one of the trees.

Woven in are the origin myths that cradled Polynesia before French colonists brought the Christian faith. Distant diary entries by Gauguin’s daughter Aline – the same age as her father’s new ‘wife’ – recall the other hemisphere of his life. This is the novel that gives Teha’amana a voice; one that travels with the myths and legends of the island, across history and asks to be heard.


First of all, it’s unusual to have seven books on the shortlist! Recently there have been five or six and last year only four. I liked but didn’t particularly love either of the two I’ve read – These Days and Act of Oblivion – so I hope there’ll be something I enjoy more amongst the other five. I was disappointed not to see The Romantic on the shortlist as it was by far the best of the longlisted books I had read and probably my favourite book of 2022. However, I’m not entirely surprised as prize judges tend to go for books that are more ‘literary’, whereas I’m happy with good storytelling and strong characters. Anyway, well done to the seven shortlisted authors! I’ll see how many more of these I can read before the winner is revealed.

What do you think? Have you read any of these or would you like to read them?

The winner will be announced at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland in June.

Classics Club Spin #33: The result

The result of the latest Classics Club Spin was revealed today.

The idea of the Spin was to list twenty books from my Classics Club list, number them 1 to 20, and the number announced by the Classics Club represents the book I have to read before 30th April 2023. The number that has been selected is…


And this means the book I need to read is…

Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

An Englishman plans to assassinate the dictator of a European country. But he is foiled at the last moment and falls into the hands of ruthless and inventive torturers. They devise for him an ingenious and diplomatic death but, for once, they bungle the job and he escapes.

But England provides no safety from his pursuers – and the Rogue Male must strip away all the trappings of status and civilization as the hunter becomes a hunted animal.


I’m very happy with this result and glad I’ve avoided some of the longer books on my list! I’ve seen the excellent 1976 BBC adaptation of this book and am looking forward to reading it.

Have you read this? What did you think of it? And if you took part in the Spin which book did you get?

Classics Club Spin #33: My list

I wasn’t going to take part in the next Classics Club Spin as I’ve had a stressful week and not much time to think about blogging, but in the end I couldn’t resist. I’m coming towards the end of my Classics Club list now and would like to finish it by the end of the year, so joining in with the spins will help me to reach that goal. If you’re not sure what a CC Spin is, here’s a reminder:

The rules for Spin #33:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 19th March the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 30th April 2023.

Here’s my list:

1. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
2. The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins
3. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
4. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
5. Random Harvest by James Hilton
6. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
7. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
8. The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy
9. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
10. Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household
11. The Elusive Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
12. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
13. Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
14. The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins
15. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
16. The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy
17. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
18. Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household
19. The Elusive Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
20. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault


With only 13 books left on my Classics Club list, I’ve had to include some of them twice. I don’t really mind which one I get, but something short would be nice!

The Walter Scott Prize Longlist 2023

The longlist for the 2023 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction was announced yesterday! Thanks to this prize, I have discovered lots of great books and authors and always look out for the longlists and shortlists; in fact, trying to read all of the shortlisted titles since the prize began in 2010 is a personal project of mine (you can see my progress here).

There are twelve books on this year’s longlist and here they are:

The Romantic by William Boyd (Viking)

These Days by Lucy Caldwell (Faber & Faber)

My Name is Yip by Paddy Crewe (Doubleday)

The Geometer Lobachevsky by Adrian Duncan (Tuskar Rocks)

Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris (Hutchinson Heinemann)

The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph (Dialogue Books)

The Chosen by Elizabeth Lowry (Riverrun)

The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk (Doubleday)

The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane (Allen & Unwin)

Ancestry by Simon Mawer (Little, Brown)

I am Not Your Eve by Devika Ponnambalam (Blue Moose Books)

The Settlement by Jock Serong (Text Publishing)


I’m delighted to see The Romantic on the longlist as it was one of my favourite books of 2022. I would love to see it win – I really thought it was wonderful! I’m not surprised to see Act of Oblivion here too, as Robert Harris has been nominated for (and in fact, won) this prize in the past. It’s not a book that I personally loved, but I’ll be quite happy if it makes the shortlist. The only other one I’ve read is The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley, an entertaining read but not one I was expecting to find on the longlist, so I’ll be interested to see whether it progresses any further.

These Days, The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho and Ancestry are all books I’m aware of and would like to read (I have reserved These Days from the library), but I haven’t even heard of the other six! I obviously need to do some investigating.

The shortlist will be announced in April and a winner in mid-June at the Border Books Festival in Melrose, Scotland.

Have you read any of these books? Are you pleased to see them on the longlist?

Reading Resolutions for 2023

Happy New Year! I hope your 2023 reading is off to a good start. As I do every January, I have listed below some reading resolutions for the year ahead. I don’t do very well with numerical targets and goals or anything that restricts my reading choices too much, so these are just some loose plans to help shape my year of reading.

* Finish my Classics Club list. There are only sixteen books left on my list and I’ll be reading at least one of them this month (Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell) so I think this is very doable! My deadline for completing the list was actually last November, but I’m not really bothered about that; I would just like to finish the remaining books and have already started to prepare a new list!

* Re-read some old favourites. I say I’m going to do this every year and then hardly ever do it! I used to re-read a lot, but now, with my endless TBR, there always seems to be something else that needs to be read first.

* Resist the temptations of NetGalley. After a lot of hard work I have finally got the number of review copies waiting on my NetGalley shelf down to single figures! NetGalley is a great source of new books, but you can very quickly find yourself requesting more than you can keep up with. While I’m sure I’ll still request some, now that I’m down to a manageable number I want to focus more on books I already own.

* Make some progress with my Reading the Walter Scott Prize project. I did quite well with the 2022 shortlist, reading three out of the four shortlisted titles, as well as some others from the longlist. However, there are still lots of books from previous years’ shortlists that I haven’t read yet, so I’ll try to read some of them this year. I’ve already discovered lots of great new books and authors through this particular prize and am looking forward to discovering more.

* Continue with some of the series and trilogies I’ve started and never finished! There are so many of these I couldn’t even begin to list them all here, but a few I would particularly like to go back to are Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, Ellis Peters’ Cadfael mysteries and Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles. There are many, many more!

* Take part in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and Read Christie 2023 (although I won’t do the Christie challenge every month as it can become too much). Apart from these two year-long challenges, I will be joining in with any shorter reading events and themed weeks/months that appeal to me.

* My final resolution is the same every year – make every book I read a potential book of the year! That means being more ruthless about abandoning books I’m not enjoying (something I find very difficult) and being more selective about which books to pick up in the first place.


What about you? Do you have any reading resolutions or plans for 2023?

My favourite books of 2022

With only a few days of 2022 remaining, it’s time to look back on my favourite books of the year. Before I started to put this list together, I thought it would be a very short one; although I enjoyed my reading this year, I didn’t feel that I had read many books that really stood out as exceptionally good. However, I’ve ended up struggling to narrow the list down! It was obviously a much better year than I thought it was.

In no particular order, here are my books of 2022:

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (1947)

This is the third year in a row Dorothy B. Hughes has won a place on my books of the year list! I loved this dark, atmospheric novel as much as I loved The Expendable Man in 2020 and Ride the Pink Horse in 2021.

From my review: “I had high hopes for this novel and it certainly didn’t disappoint! All three of the books I’ve read by Hughes have been so much more than just straightforward crime novels; she takes us right inside the minds of her characters and although they may be damaged, unhappy and not the most pleasant of people, she makes them feel believable and real, if not exactly sympathetic!”

The Romantic by William Boyd (2022)

This is the first book I’ve read by William Boyd and what a great one I picked to start with! It tells the story of Cashel Greville Ross, following him through his life from birth to death as he befriends the Romantic Poets in Italy, searches for the source of the Nile, joins the army in Sri Lanka and uncovers family secrets in Ireland.

From my review:The Romantic is a long novel, but I read most of it in one weekend because it was so gripping I couldn’t bear to put it down. Although the story never becomes bogged down with historical or geographical detail, it’s still completely immersive and I loved every minute I spent in Cashel’s world.”

That Bonesetter Woman by Frances Quinn (2022)

I loved this novel about a female bonesetter in the 18th century. Our heroine, Durie Proudfoot, is based on the real-life Sally Mapp and is a wonderful character. I never stopped hoping she would find happiness and a way to do the job she loved.

From my review: “This is a fascinating novel, particularly as it’s loosely based on the lives of real people…Poor Durie experiences one setback after another, but her passion for bonesetting and helping those in pain really shines through.”

The Dark by Sharon Bolton (2022)

I don’t read a lot of contemporary crime these days, but I always make an exception for Sharon Bolton. The Dark was the long-awaited fifth book in the Lacey Flint series and I loved it! I also enjoyed Bolton’s other novel published in 2022 – The Buried – but for the purposes of this list I decided to restrict myself to one book per author.

From my review: “She’s back! After an eight year absence – during which time Sharon Bolton has written several excellent standalone crime novels – Lacey Flint has returned in possibly her darkest and most dangerous case yet. It’s the fifth book in the series and after such a long wait, I’m pleased to report that I think it’s as good, maybe even better, than the previous four.”

A Pin to See the Peepshow by F. Tennyson Jesse (1934)

I had wanted to read this book for years and got round to it at last this summer! It’s based on the 1922 Thompson-Bywaters case and is a fascinating novel – not really the crime story I’d expected (not until near the end, anyway), but that didn’t matter at all.

From my review: “I loved this book, although I had expected the crime element to play a bigger part; the section of the novel based on the events of the Thompson-Bywaters case only takes up around 100 pages out of 464. The rest of the book is really a character study of Julia Almond and an exploration of the world in which she lives. Jesse spends a lot of time building this up, but I never felt that a word was wasted – every detail seemed necessary…”

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper (2021)

Ancient Rome is not usually a favourite setting of mine, but I found this novel about a group of prostitutes working in a Pompeii brothel completely absorbing. I need to hurry up and read the second book before the last in the trilogy is published next year.

From my review: “I loved following Amara around the bustling, vibrant city, going into the shops, taverns and bathhouses, taking part in the Vinalia festivities and watching the gladiators in the amphitheatre…Elodie Harper doesn’t shy away from having bad things happen to her characters, but there’s some warmth and humour in the novel too.”

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler (2022)

I loved this fictional biography of the 19th century theatrical family the Booths, which focuses not just on John Wilkes Booth, but also on his parents, brothers and sisters.

From my review: “I enjoyed learning about a group of historical figures I’d previously known almost nothing about – I particularly liked the parts about the colourful theatrical careers of Edwin and Junius Brutus – and every time I picked the book up I looked forward to finding out what would happen to the family next.”

Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper (1977)

I loved all five books in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence and read the final one, Silver on the Tree, early in 2022. I can’t decide which book in the series is my favourite, as they are all so good! This one blends Arthurian legend with Welsh folklore and even some time travel.

From my review: “Although I’m sorry to have come to the end of the series, I enjoyed every minute of it. This particular novel is the perfect finale, bringing together all the characters and storylines from the first four books as we head towards the great, decisive battle between the forces of the Dark and the Light.”

Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes (2022)

I’ve read a few retellings of Greek myths this year, but this is the one I enjoyed most. It’s the story of Medusa, which made a nice change from novels about the Trojan War!

From my review:Stone Blind is subtitled Medusa’s Story but is actually written from the perspectives of many different characters, all coming together to tell the tale of the Gorgon Medusa and Perseus’ quest to capture her head…I can’t really say anything negative about this book.”

The Winter is Past by Noel Streatfeild (1940)

I read this adult novel by a favourite childhood author of mine in early December with snow falling outside – and I couldn’t have chosen a better time of year to read it!

From my review: “I loved this book; it’s very character-driven but with just enough plot to keep the story moving forward. I always find it fascinating to read books set during the war that were actually written before the war was over – it puts a very different perspective on things, when neither the characters nor the author have any idea how long it will last or how bad things are going to get.”

Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead (2022)

I loved this detective novel set in the 1930s that felt as though it could really have been written in the 1930s! I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, coming next year.

From my review:Death and the Conjuror is a homage to the great locked room mysteries of the Golden Age and a clever and entertaining novel in its own right…As with any good mystery novel, there are plenty of suspects, an assortment of clues and lots of red herrings!”

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett (2022)

A book written almost entirely in the form of transcripts of audio files recorded on an iPhone is the sort of book I would usually hate – but not this time! I enjoyed the story and loved the little puzzles, codes and word games incorporated into the plot.

From my review: “It’s always a nice feeling when you start to read a book and can tell after just a few pages that it’s going to be one of your books of the year…I loved this book and on reaching the end, I wanted to go back to the beginning and read it all again to look for all the clues I’d missed the first time.”

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (1954)

Having read several of Rosemary Sutcliff’s adult novels, I finally read the book for which she’s probably most famous. Although this is described as a children’s book, I think it’s one of those novels that can be enjoyed by anyone of any age. It’s also the second book set in the Roman period on my list.

From my review: “I wasn’t sure whether I would love this book the way everyone else seems to have done…Of course, I needn’t have worried; The Eagle of the Ninth is a beautifully written novel with wonderfully vivid and colourful descriptions, a gripping plot inspired by historical fact, a very likeable young hero and even a touch of romance – what’s not to love?”

Blue Water by Leonora Nattrass (2022)

I loved this sequel to last year’s Black Drop. It works as a standalone and is an excellent historical mystery which takes place during a long sea voyage. I often struggle to stay interested in books with a nautical setting, but had no problems with this one!

From my review: “Well, I enjoyed Black Drop but this second book is even better! With almost the entire story taking place at sea and therefore with a limited number of characters, the mystery has a ‘locked room’ feel and kept me guessing until the end.”

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie (1957)

I took part in the Read Christie 2022 challenge this year and read seven Agatha Christie novels. I enjoyed all of them, but this Miss Marple mystery from 1957 was my favourite, I think. Honourable mentions to After the Funeral and The Man in the Brown Suit.

From my review: “I found this a particularly enjoyable Miss Marple novel – probably in my top two or three…We never find out exactly what leads Miss Marple to identify the correct suspect. However, I didn’t have a problem with this. The solution does make sense, even if we don’t know how she arrived at it, and the culprit was actually the person I suspected myself (again, not based on any real evidence – just a hunch!).”

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin (2022)

I didn’t expect to enjoy this Regency romance so much; I thought it would be very light and frothy and derivative of other authors. But although it is obviously strongly influenced by Heyer and Austen, I found it witty, entertaining and different enough to be a great read in its own right. I’m looking forward to Sophie Irwin’s second Lady’s Guide coming next year.

From my review: “Although I could predict from early in the novel how it was going to end, that didn’t make it any less fun to read. Sophie Irwin throws just about everything into the story that you would expect to find in a Regency romance: balls, dinner parties, trips to the theatre and the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, carriage rides, notorious gambling dens, elopements to Gretna Green and encounters with highwaymen.”

The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola (2022)

Inspired by the scandal of ‘The Vanishing Children of Paris’ in 1750 and the technological advances in the creation of clockwork dolls and automata at that time, this is a fascinating novel set just a few decades before the French Revolution.

From my review:The Clockwork Girl is Anna Mazzola’s third novel and, I think, her best so far. Not only is the cover beautiful, the setting is also wonderfully dark and atmospheric and the story is fascinating…an engaging and unusual novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.”

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon (2007)

This book had been waiting on my shelf for years and I finally got round to reading it this August. Set during the Crimean War, it’s the story of a young woman who travels to the battlefields in search of her cousin who set out to join Florence Nightingale and become a nurse.

From my review: “If I had known I was going to enjoy this book so much I would certainly have made time for it before now…I was impressed by the way McMahon has us thinking we know which characters we’re supposed to like or dislike, then turns everything around and makes us think again.”


And that’s my list for this year! What did you enjoy reading in 2022?

Classics Club Spin #32: The Result

The result of the latest Classics Club Spin was revealed today.

The idea of the Spin was to list twenty books from my Classics Club list, number them 1 to 20, and the number announced by the Classics Club represents the book I have to read before 29th January 2023. The number that has been selected is…


And this means the book I need to read is…

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Pretty, impecunious Mary Preston, newly arrived as a guest of her Aunt Agnes at the magnificent wooded estate of Rushwater, falls head over heels for handsome playboy David Leslie. Meanwhile, Agnes and her mother, the eccentric matriarch Lady Emily, have hopes of a different, more suitable match for Mary. At the lavish Rushwater dance party, her future happiness hangs in the balance.


This is not one I was particularly hoping for, but I’m happy enough with that result. I liked but didn’t love the first book in this series, High Rising, and was assured that some of the later books are better, so I’m looking forward to continuing with them.

Have you read this? What did you think of it? And if you took part in the Spin which book did you get?