Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction – 2022 Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2022 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 thirteen books, which was revealed in February, I have managed to read The Sunken Road, Mrs England, Still Life and Rose Nicolson – and still have some of the others waiting on my TBR. But have any of the books I’ve read made it onto the shortlist?

Surprisingly, there are only four titles on this year’s shortlist, rather than the usual five or six – and here they are:

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig

Embra, winter of 1574. Queen Mary has fled Scotland, to raise an army from the French. Her son and heir, Jamie is held under protection in Stirling Castle. John Knox is dead. The people are unmoored and lurching under the uncertain governance of this riven land. It’s a deadly time for young student Will Fowler, short of stature, low of birth but mightily ambitious, to make his name.

Fowler has found himself where the scorch marks of the martyrs burned at the stake can be seen on every street, where differences in doctrine can prove fatal, where the feuds of great families pull innocents into their bloody realm. There he befriends the austere stick-wielding philosopher Tom Nicolson, son of a fishing family whose sister Rose, untutored, brilliant and exceedingly beautiful exhibits a free-thinking mind that can only bring danger upon her and her admirers. The lowly students are adept at attracting the attentions of the rich and powerful, not least Walter Scott, brave and ruthless heir to Branxholm and Buccleuch, who is set on exploiting the civil wars to further his political and dynastic ambitions. His friendship and patronage will lead Will to the to the very centre of a conspiracy that will determine who will take Scotland’s crown.

Rose Nicolson is a vivid, passionate and unforgettable novel of this most dramatic period of Scotland’s history, told by a character whose rise mirrors the conflicts he narrates, the battles between faith and reason, love and friendship, self-interest and loyalty. It confirms Andrew Greig as one of the great contemporary writers of fiction.

*

News of the Dead by James Robertson

Deep in the mountains of north-east Scotland lies Glen Conach, a place of secrets and memories, fable and history. In particular, it holds the stories of three different eras, separated by centuries yet linked by location, by an ancient manuscript and by echoes that travel across time.

In ancient Pictland, the Christian hermit Conach contemplates God and nature, performs miracles and prepares himself for sacrifice. Long after his death, legends about him are set down by an unknown hand in the Book of Conach.

Generations later, in the early nineteenth century, self-promoting antiquarian Charles Kirkliston Gibb is drawn to the Glen, and into the big house at the heart of its fragile community.

In the present day, young Lachie whispers to Maja of a ghost he thinks he has seen. Reflecting on her long life, Maja believes him, for she is haunted by ghosts of her own.

News of the Dead is a captivating exploration of refuge, retreat and the reception of strangers. It measures the space between the stories people tell of themselves – what they forget and what they invent – and the stories through which they may, or may not, be remembered.

*

Fortune by Amanda Smyth

Eddie Wade has recently returned from the US oilfields. He is determined to sink his own well and make his fortune in the 1920s Trinidad oil-rush. His sights are set on Sonny Chatterjee’s failing cocoa estate, Kushi, where the ground is so full of oil you can put a stick in the ground and see it bubble up. When a fortuitous meeting with businessman Tito Fernandez brings Eddie the investor he desperately needs, the three men enter into a partnership. A friendship between Tito and Eddie begins that will change their lives forever, not least when the oil starts gushing. But their partnership also brings Eddie into contact with Ada, Tito’s beautiful wife, and as much as they try, they cannot avoid the attraction they feel for each other.

Fortune, based on true events, catches Trinidad at a moment of historical change whose consequences reverberate down to present concerns with climate change and environmental destruction. As a story of love and ambition, its focus is on individuals so enmeshed in their desires that they blindly enter the territory of classic Greek tragedy where actions always have consequences.

*

The Magician by Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín’s new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles.

The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived—the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile.

~

As you can see, I’ve only read one of these four books, Rose Nicolson – and loved it, so I would be very pleased if it won! I will be trying to read the other three, but might not have time before the winner is announced at the Borders Book Festival on Friday 17th June.

Have you read any of these books or are you tempted to read them? Which one do you think will win?

Classics Club Spin #29: The Result

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

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. The number that has been selected is…

11

And this means the book I need to read is…

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

I wasn’t expecting this one to come up, for some reason, but I’m quite pleased that it did! Hughes’ Ride the Pink Horse was one of my books of the year in 2021 and The Expendable Man in 2020, so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy this one just as much.

Did you take part in the spin? Are you happy with your result?

Classics Club Spin #29: My list

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin – the first of 2022! I’ve only read one book from my Classics Club list so far this year, so this spin has come at a good time for me.

If you’re not sure what a CC Spin is, here’s a reminder:

The rules for Spin #29:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 20th March the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 30th April 2022.

And here is my list:

1. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
2. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
3. The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy
4. The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by ETA Hoffman
5. Farewell the Tranquil Mind by RF Delderfield
6. Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
7. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
8. Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
9. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
10. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
11. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B Hughes
12. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
13. My Theodosia by Anya Seton
14. Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
15. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
16. A Laodicean by Thomas Hardy
17. Random Harvest by James Hilton
18. The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins
19. A Pin to See the Peepshow by F Tennyson Jesse
20. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

I have made a few changes to my Classics Club list since the last spin, removing some books I no longer felt like reading and replacing them with others that sounded more appealing to me or that have been on my TBR for a long time. They might not all be books that are traditionally considered ‘classics’, but at least there’s nothing here that I’m dreading reading! I would be happy to get any of these in the spin.

Are you taking part in the spin? Which number do you think I should be hoping for on Sunday?

Walter Scott Prize Longlist 2022

The longlist for the 2022 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).

There are thirteen books on this year’s longlist:

Blue Postcards by Douglas Bruton (Fairlight Books)

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks (Hutchinson Heinemann)

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig (Riverrun)

Mrs England by Stacey Halls (Manilla Press)

The Ballad of Lord Edward and Citizen Small by Neil Jordan (Lilliput Press)

The Sunken Road by Ciarán McMenamin (Harvill Secker)

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed (Viking)

News of the Dead by James Robertson (Hamish Hamilton)

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota (Harvill Secker)

Fortune by Amanda Smyth (Peepal Tree Press)

Learwife by J.R Thorp (Canongate)

The Magician by Colm Tóibín (Viking)

Still Life by Sarah Winman (Fourth Estate)

~

I have only read two of the books on the longlist so far. I loved Rose Nicolson and am not surprised to see it included here and I also enjoyed Still Life (apart from the lack of speech marks, which was annoying). Mrs England has been on my TBR since last year and I will definitely try to read it before the shortlist is revealed, while The Fortune Men and Snow Country are also books that I was already thinking about reading. Of the others, I’m familiar with Learwife and The Magician but haven’t been tempted to read either, and the rest are completely new to me. I’m always surprised when I haven’t heard of half of the longlisted titles, considering how much historical fiction I read!

Have you read any of these books? Which ones would you recommend?

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

Top Ten Tuesday: My favourite books of 2021

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to list our top ten books of 2021. I know there are still a few days of December left, but I’m confident that I’m not going to finish anything before the end of the year that would make it onto my list, so it should be safe to post it today!

~

1. Good by Stealth by Henrietta Clandon (1936)

From my review: “This wonderful Golden Age crime novel from 1936 was written by John Haslette Vahey; Henrietta Clandon was one of his many pseudonyms…I found this one so much fun to read, I will certainly be reading more of his books! The book is hugely entertaining and often very funny and although some parts of the story don’t seem at first to have much to do with the overall plot, everything falls into place by the end and the significance of even the smallest detail becomes clear.”

2. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (2021)

From my review: “I loved this! I’ve never read Kate Quinn before, although she has been recommended to me several times, so I’m pleased that my first experience of her work has been such a good one. The Rose Code wasn’t a perfect book, but the few flaws that I noted were quickly outweighed by the gripping plot, strong characters and interesting historical setting.”

3. China by Edward Rutherfurd (2021)

From my review: “Like all of Rutherfurd’s novels, this one is clearly the result of a huge amount of research…I think anyone with even the slightest curiosity about China, its history, geography and people, will find a lot to interest them in this book – just be aware that it’s quite a commitment and will take a while to get through, even for the fastest of readers!”

4. The Green Gauntlet by RF Delderfield (1968)

From my review: ” It was lovely to be back in the Shallowford Valley and become reacquainted with Paul and Claire Craddock and their family, friends and neighbours…Although there’s plenty of action and always something happening in the Valley, the story moves along at a leisurely pace and the focus is on the daily lives of the characters and the relationships between them.”

5. Castle Barebane by Joan Aiken (1976)

From my review: “I thoroughly enjoyed reading it – both the domestic parts and the gothic adventure parts. The atmosphere is wonderful, there’s a suitably sinister villain and I loved the remote setting…I’m certainly planning to read more of Joan Aiken’s books and am hoping they’re all as good as this one!”

6. A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick (2021)

From my review: “The main focus of the story, however, is Henry’s younger half-brother, William de Valence, and his wife, Joanna de Munchensy of Swanscombe…There’s not much information available on the real historical figures, particularly Joanna, but Chadwick’s portrayal feels convincing and believable and I enjoyed getting to know them both.”

7. Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig (2021)

From my review: “I loved Andrew Greig’s last book, Fair Helen, a beautifully written historical novel based on a Scottish Border Ballad, so when I saw that his new one, Rose Nicolson, was going to be set in the same time and place I couldn’t wait to read it. Now that I’ve had the opportunity, I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed it just as much as Fair Helen and can highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about Scotland in the 16th century.”

8. The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Penman (2020)

From my review: “The Land Beyond the Sea is a fascinating novel. I have read a lot about Europe in the medieval period, but not so much about other parts of the world…As with Sharon Penman’s other books, this one has clearly been very well researched and her afterword and author’s note are almost as interesting as the story itself.”

9. St Martin’s Summer by Rafael Sabatini (1909)

From my review: “I had high hopes for St Martin’s Summer – and I’m pleased to say that it definitely lived up to my expectations. First of all, it’s a lot of fun to read…there are duels, disguises, impersonations and all sorts of other tricks and deceptions, some of which are obvious to the reader, but not to the characters, who repeatedly fall into each other’s traps!

10. Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes (1946)

From my review: “I would probably never have picked this book up based on the description alone as it didn’t really sound like my usual sort of read. And that would have been a shame, as I thoroughly enjoyed it…The setting is wonderfully atmospheric and Hughes creates an amazing sense of place…I loved this book and am so pleased it came up for me in the Classics Club Spin!”

~

So that’s my top ten…however, I have also read a lot of Agatha Christie novels this year for the Read Christie 2021 challenge and it didn’t seem right not to put any of them on my list – so I’m adding an eleventh book and highlighting my favourite Christie novel of 2021. I enjoyed all of them, but the one that particularly stood out for me was December’s read:

11. The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (1931)

From my review: “My favourite thing about this book, though, was the setting; many of Christie’s mysteries are set in small villages, but the wintry weather gave this one a special atmosphere. I loved it and am glad the Read Christie challenge prompted me to pick it up this December!”

~

Have you read any of these?

What are your favourite books of 2021?

Classics Club Spin #28: The result

The result of the latest Classics Club Spin has been 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 12th December. The number that has been selected is…

12

And this means the book I need to read is…

Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B Hughes

It’s carnival time in Santa Fe, and three out-of-town visitors are drawn together in the heat, the smells and the colour of the festival…

Sailor, a hood from Chicago, is there to confront his boss, Sen, a crooked politician, to try to get money for what he knows about the murder of Sen’s wife, killed supposedly during a robbery gone wrong.

Following them both is Mac, a man from the same side of the tracks as Sailor, but who has made very different choices. He’s a cop now, and wants Sailor to testify against Sen and put him away.

The three strangers collide, retreat and advance through the streets of New Mexico, moving ever closer to a charged and unexpected outcome…

~

I’m happy with this result! It’s not a book I would normally have chosen to read based on the description, but The Expendable Man was one of my favourite books read last year and I’ve been looking forward to reading more by Dorothy B Hughes. It’s also one of the shorter books on my list so I should easily be able to finish it by the deadline.

Did you take part in the spin? Are you pleased with your result?

Classics Club Spin #28: My List

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin! I’m looking forward to taking part in this one – Spin 28 – as I feel I haven’t been reading as many classics as usual this year.

If you’re not sure what a Classics Spin is, here’s a reminder:

The rules for Spin #28:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 17th October the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 12th December 2021.

And here is my list:

1. A Laodicean by Thomas Hardy
2. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
3. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
4. Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
5. The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford
6. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
7. Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada
8. Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
9. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
10. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
11. Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
12. Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B Hughes
13. La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas
14. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
15. Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
16. The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins
17. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
18. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
19. The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy
20. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

~

I don’t really mind which of these I get, but Black Narcissus would be nice as Brona is hosting a Rumer Godden Reading Week in December.

Are you taking part in the spin this time? Which number do you think I should be hoping for?