If, like me, you're looking for books to put on your Christmas wish list, and you have a weakness for historical fiction, here are three titles you might enjoy.
The Phoenix of Florence by Philip Kazan
This is a vivid evocation of a brutal era in Italian history. With blood flowing freely and corruption rife, we are introduced to the commander of the Medici police force in renaissance Florence: someone respected and feared in the city, yet who shows surprising sensitivity and compassion for the position of women in a male-dominated society. A figure who, all the while is guarding an astounding secret from his past.
I relished Philip Kazan's evocative use of language and marveled at the complexity of his plot as I raced through the twists and turns of the story. Comandante Onorio Celavini reminded me, in places, of C J Sansom's Shardlake - until the book took a shocking twist into his back story and made me question everything I thought I knew about the secretive Celavini.
If you enjoy thrillers, mysteries and historical fiction that transports you breathlessly into a different time and place, this book delivers on every count.
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
In 19th century Oxfordshire a man with an injured face bursts into a riverside inn beside what might be the Thames - carrying what looks like a large doll. Then he collapses.
Regulars quickly realise that the doll is, in fact, the body of a very young girl and hastily summon Rita, their local nurse and midwife - who, hours later, discovers a pulse in what she was initially convinced was a corpse.
The injured man, based on real-life photographer Henry Taunt, celebrated for his images of the Thames, subsequently explains that he found the child floating in the river. The story then revolves around the mystery of this small girl - who refuses to speak - and the various people who seek to claim her.
Atmospheric and beautifully written, the story carries you along as if you are caught in a flooding watercourse. Setterfield's historical tale straddles the line between reality and the supernatural and carries you along as if caught in a flooding watercourse. It also delivers a touching and enfolding love story, with characters who are vivid and engaging, and a fascinating insight into Victorian photography.
"A river no more begins at its source than a story begins with the first page." Wise words from a gifted author, whose story twists and turns like the lesser-known tributaries of the Thames.
War Lord by Bernard Cornwell.
And now for something completely different.
Most of us know about the Battle of Hastings, but what about that of Brunanburgh (present day Bamburgh, in Northumberland) in 937 AD?
[The present day Bamburgh Castle]
In his series of books about the heroic Uthred of Bebbenburg, Bernard Cornwell has brings to life unfamiliar figures like King Athlestan and his father, King Edward, plus the fabled King Alfred and his heroic daughter, Ethelflaed. War Lord is the culmination of Uthred's life as a legendary warrior in the forefront of the extraordinary events that culminated in the defeat of a viking invasion and finally joined the troubled Saxon kingdoms into a single one called England. Cornwell's language is spare and his knowledge and research impressive, imparting facts about a little known and complex past with a master's touch. Would that history had been this exciting at school.
If you enjoy historical fiction, there should be something here to entertain you during the long winter evenings to come. All are available on-line from Amazon.