The beginnings of a book list for 2023

This is a selection of fiction and non-fiction books I’m very much looking forward to reading in early 2023.

“An insatiable passion possesses me, which even today I cannot and would not stop … I never grow tired of books …” – Francesco Petrarca

The Book of Eve by Meg Clothier published on 2 March 2023: Beatrice is the convent’s librarian. For years, she has shunned the company of her sisters, finding solace only with her manuscripts.

Then, one carnival night, two women, bleeding and stricken, are abandoned outside the convent’s walls. Moments from death, one of them presses something into Beatrice’s hands: a bewitching book whose pages have a dangerous life of their own.

But men of the faith want the book destroyed, and a zealous preacher has tracked it to her door. Her sisters’ lives – or her obsession. Beatrice must decide.

The book’s voice is growing stronger.
An ancient power uncoils.
Will she dare to listen?

The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd Robinson published 22 June 2023: A girl known only as Red, the daughter of a Cornish fortune-teller, travels with her father making a living predicting fortunes using the ancient method: the Square of Sevens. When her father suddenly dies, Red becomes the ward of a gentleman scholar.

Now raised as a lady amidst the Georgian splendour of Bath, her fortune-telling is a delight to high society, but she cannot ignore the questions that gnaw at her soul: who was her mother? How did she die? And who are the mysterious enemies her father was always terrified would find him?

The pursuit of these mysteries takes her from Cornwall and Bath to London and Devon, from the rough ribaldry of the Bartholemew Fair to the grand houses of two of the most powerful families in England. And while Red’s quest brings her the possibility of great reward, it also leads into her grave danger . . .

Scarlet by Genevieve Cogman published 11 May 2023: Revolutionary France is no place to be, especially for aristocrat vampires facing the guillotine. But the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel are determined to rescue them. And they have an ace up their sleeve: Eleanor, a lowly maid from an English estate with a striking resemblance to French royalty.

For Eleanor, the League and their legendary deeds are little more than rumour – until she’s drawn into their most dangerous plot yet. The mission? Travel to France in disguise, impersonate Queen Marie Antoinette and rescue the royal family. If they succeed, it’ll be the heist of the century.

But there’s more to fear than ardent Revolutionaries. For Eleanor stumbles across a centuries-old war between vampires and their fiercest enemy. And they’re out for blood . . .

Circus Train by Amita Parikh published on 12 January 2023: Europe, 1938. Even as the daughter of the extraordinary headlining illusionist, Lena Papadopoulos has never quite found her place within the World of Wonders – a travelling circus that traverses the continent in a luxury steam engine. Brilliant and curious, Lena yearns for the real-world magic of science and medicine, despite the limitations she feels in her wheelchair. But when a young French orphan, Alexandre, comes aboard the circus train, Lena’s life is infused with magic and wonder for the first time.

But outside the bright lights of the circus, darkness is descending on Europe. War is about to shatter Lena’s world, and take away everything she holds dear. And to recover what she has lost, Lena will have to believe in the impossible.

The Darlings of the Asylum by Noel O’Reilly published on 8 December 2022 (courtesy of Netgalley): I must pull myself together. I had to find Dr Rastrick and demand my immediate release. My stomach knotted at the prospect, but I knew I was perfectly sane and that he must see reason.

In 1886, a respectable young woman must acquire a husband. But Violet Pring does not want to marry. She longs to be a professional artist and live on her own terms.

When her scheming mother secures a desirable marriage proposal from an eligible Brighton gentleman for her, Violet protests. Her family believes she is deranged and deluded, so she is locked away in Hillwood Grange Lunatic Asylum against her will.

In her new cage, Violet faces an even greater challenge: she must escape the clutches of a sinister and formidable doctor and set herself free.

This tantalizing Gothic novel from Noel O’Reilly tells a thrilling story of duty and desire, madness and sanity, truth and delusion from within a Victorian asylum.

God’s Traitors by Jessie Child’s: A woman awakes in a prison cell.

She has been on the run but the authorities have tracked her down and taken her to the Tower of London – where she is interrogated about the Gunpowder Plot.

The woman is Anne Vaux – one of the ardent, brave and exasperating members of the aristocratic Vauxes of Harrowden Hall.

Through the eyes of this remarkable family, award-winning author Jessie Childs explores the Catholic predicament in Elizabethan England – an age in which their faith was criminalised and almost two hundred Catholics were executed.

From dawn raids to daring escapes, stately homes to torture chambers, God’s Traitors exposes the tensions masked by the cult of Gloriana – and is a timely reminder of the terrible consequences when religion and politics collide.

God’s Secret Agents by Alice Hogge: A thrilling account of treachery, loyalty and martyrdom in Elizabethan England from an exceptional new writer.

As darkness fell on the evening of Friday, 28 October 1588, just weeks after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, two young Englishmen landed in secret on a Norfolk beach. They were Jesuit priests. Their aim was to achieve by force of argument what the Armada had failed to do by force of arms: return England to the Catholic Church.

Eighteen years later their mission had been shattered by the actions of a small group of terrorists, the Gunpowder Plotters; they themselves had been accused of designing ‘that most horrid and hellish conspiracy’; and the future of every Catholic they had come to save depended on the silence of an Oxford joiner, builder of priest-holes, being tortured in the Tower of London.

‘God’s Secret Agents’ tells the story of Elizabeth’s ‘other’ England, a country at war with an unseen enemy, a country peopled – according to popular pamphlets and Government proclamations – with potential traitors, fifth-columnists and assassins. And it tells this story from the perspective of that unseen ‘enemy’, England’s Catholics, a beleaguered, alienated minority, struggling to uphold its faith.

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