In praise of the omnivorous reader

I have always been a voracious reader. I read anything and everything, and don’t care about genre as long as the book is well-written and appeals to me. So since the advent of e-books I am baffled by the idea that readers want to read the same book over and over. I’m also baffled by the idea that only ‘readers of historical fiction’ will like my books. I see rows of identikit covers of thrillers or romances and wonder how anyone can exist on a diet only of this. Like meringues at every meal for seven days in a row. Or refusing to eat anything but liver.

I like a good romance, and I like a good thriller, but not to the point where it’s my sole diet.

Here are a selection of the books I have read recently – all of which I would highly recommend. Great books, every single one, but only one of them is ‘historical’ – The Sewing Machine, and its period is nebulous as it spans the whole of the twentieth century.

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I also belong to a book group where we read a variety of books, some historical, some contemporary, and my enjoyment of them doesn’t depend on their genre at all. Nor am I wedded to a particular period. My historical fiction reading goes from Iron Age Britain up to the 1960’s as you can see from my recent historical reads. (All of these are great reads, so do try any one of them.)

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Like many other authors I have written a series, at the suggestion of my publisher. As a writer, I actually prefer to write stand-alone stories, though occasionally I have linked books together through a minor character or through the setting. I guess for a writer we just need something to convince us that our book will sell to someone.

The process of why I choose a book as a reader depends on a mysterious alchemy of mood, subject, and the appeal of the cover or blurb. I’m very visually orientated, so the cover must be professional in appearance. I love a good typeface and can be swayed into a purchase by lush typography. The other part, the part where my personal psychology links wth the writer’s subject, is much less predictable. Books about artists – yes. Books about big scientific ideas – yes. Books about poets/playwrights/inventors/any person with a creative process – yes. But even with these as areas of interest, I won’t always buy. And looking at my selections above I can see little in common – neither period nor subject, and though I think I know what I like, many of these don’t even fit my own criteria.

This means I could be wasting my time if I only advertise my own books to a narrow swathe of ‘historical fiction readers who like the 17th Century’.  I suspect you can count those on one hand! And Amazon’s ‘if you like this… you might like this’ argument doesn’t always work on me, the reader. I suspect the same is true of many of us. The publishing industry would like us to be more predictable readers, supplied by more predictable writers.

But I praise the omnivorous reader.

Reading in unfamiliar genres gives far more likelihood that you might discover something that moves you, in a genre you might not know you would enjoy. The omnivorous reader is curious, and willing to try something new – in fact already prepared to be amazed or transported.

And on a selfish note, it also means that my books might be picked up by someone who reads Philippa Gregory one week and Hugh Howey the next.

Blog Reviews

5 Great WWII Historicals for Young Adults


World War II stories may hold a special appeal because this was a conflict that young people got swept up in — as refugees, Resistance fighters and youth soldiers — as dire circumstances forced them to behave like adults

So says Kristin Hannah, best-selling author of The Nightingale in this article in the New York Times. It gives three great examples of WWII books for young people, but here are my personal five favourites.

Prisoner of Night and Fog by AnnWare Blankman

How would it feel to be related to Hitler? For young Gretchen Muller, that’s her reality, and when she makes friends with a Jewish boy, that can only lead to trouble. Forced into choosing sides, she goes with her heart, only to find herself in deadly danger. Especially as her brother has just joined the Hitler Youth. A fast-paced, edge of your seat adventure, with a little romance for good measure.

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette GreeneWar 3

When all-American girl Patty Bergen meets a German Prisoner of war in her father’s shop she does not expect to make a new friend. Of course it is not a friend her parents would ever approve of, so it must be kept secret. Patty’s ally is her black family servant, Ruth, who is more like a parent to her than her real family. This novel is a study of racism, bigotry and growing up – all seen through the eyes of ever-curious Patty. I loved Patty’s voice in this novel, and the way her innocent eyes are gradually opened to the reality of the bigotry around her.

War Code_Name_Verity_-_Electric_Monkey_coverCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

As the name might suggest, there’s a lot about truth and lies in this book. It centres around Verity herself, a nameless WWII spy who we think is gladly betraying her country to the Gestapo in order to survive. The novel begins as a confession. But in an unexpected twist it also turns out to be as much about Maddie: her best friend, a female flyer who dropped her into occupied France. Gripping, and intellectually stimulating, this is one of my top reads.

War 4My Family for The War by Anne C Voorhoeve

Translated from the German, this is the story of Ziska who is put on the Kindertransport to come to England to escape the Nazi persecution of her family. Taken in by strangers , she has to become part of her new family, who start to become as real to her as her distant parents. Against the backdrop of war-torn London, Frances, as she is now known, struggles with questions of identity, family, and love.

War 5Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

This Newbery-award winning book is the story of a ten-year-old Danish girl who courageously helps to save the family of her Jewish friend. Lois Lowry was apparently inspired by the letter of a young Dane, who, on the eve of his execution, reminded young and old to remember; and from that remembering “to create an ideal of human decency.” Although for younger children, I found this to be a mesmerising and poignant read.

And … if you are an adult, and like me, love books set in WWII, you can get a free copy of my WWII book Past Encounters, by emailing me or signing up for my newsletter.


The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau – historical fiction highlight

Occasionally I will highlight books that I think readers of Royalty Free Fiction might enjoy. Nancy Bilyeau’s tudor series with the nun, Joanna Stafford fits my criteria well.

The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

Paperback Publication Date: February 13, 2014
Orion Publishing
Paperback; 432p
ISBN-13: 978-1409135807

Series: Joanna Stafford, Book Two

Genre: Historical Mystery

A curse to kill a king, a fight to save a nation. Follow young Joanna Stafford right into the dark heart of King Henry VIII’s court in this stunning Tudor thriller.

England, 1538. The nation is reeling after the ruthless dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII.

Cast out of Dartford Priory, Joanna Stafford – feisty, courageous, but scarred by her recent encounter with rebellion at court – is trying to live a quiet life with her five-year-old charge, Arthur. But family connections draw her dangerously close to a treasonous plot and, repelled by violence and the whispered conspiracies around her, Joanna seeks a life with a man who loves her. But, no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape the spreading darkness of her destiny. She must make a choice between those she cares for most, and taking her part in a mysterious prophecy foretold by three compelling seers.

Joanna embarks upon a testing journey, and, as she deciphers the meaning at the core of the prophecy, she learns that the fate of a king and the freedom of a nation rest in her hands.

Praise for The Chalice

“Expect treason, treachery, martyrs and more.” — Choice magazine

“A time in which no one at all can be trusted and everyday life is laced with horror. Bilyeau paints this picture very, very well.” — Reviewing the Evidence

“Bilyeau creates the atmosphere of 1530s London superbly.” — Catholic Herald

“Bilyeau continues from her first novel the subtle, complex development of Joanna Stafford’s character and combines that with a fast-paced, unexpected plot to hold the reader’s interest on every page. — Historical Novel Society

“Joanna Stafford is a young novice caught up in power struggles familiar to readers of Hilary Mantel and C.J. Sansom, but with elements of magic that echo the historical thrillers of Kate Mosse.” — S.J. Parris, author of ‘Heresy,’ ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Sacrilege’

“Second in this compelling and highly readable Tudor thriller series following the 16th century adventures of (now cast out) nun Joanna Stafford. Treason, conspiracies and a dangerous prophecy draw Joanna back from the quiet life she had made for herself after being cast out of Dartford Priory – but she isn’t prepared for the gravity of the situation she finds herself in or the responsibility she now holds. Nancy Bilyeau has followed up her impressive debut with an accomplished historical thriller perfect for fans of C. J. Sansom, Philippa Gregory and S. J. Parris.” — Lovereading UK

“Sharply observed, cleverly paced and sympathetically written, this book more than fulfils the promise of THE CROWN, itself named as last year’s most impressive debut novel by the CWA Ellis Peters judges. If Joanna Stafford is to return to see out the final years of Henry’s tempestuous reign and the accession of his Catholic daughter Mary, I am sure I will not be alone in waiting eagerly for her.” —

“A stunning debut. One of the best historical novels I have ever read — ALISON WEIR

THE CHALICE offers a fresh, dynamic look into Tudor England’s most powerful, volatile personalities: Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner and Bloody Mary Tudor. Heroine and former nun Joanna Stafford is beautiful, bold and in lethal danger. Bilyeau writes compellingly of people and places that demand your attention and don’t let you go even after the last exciting page” — KAREN HARPER, bestselling author of MISTRESS OF MOURNING

“Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII’s reformation been so exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before everything she loves is destroyed.” — C.W. GORTNER, author of THE QUEEN’S VOW

“Bilyeau paints a moving portrait of Catholicism during the Reformation and of reclusive, spiritual people adjusting to the world outside the cloister. This intriguing and suspenseful historical novel pairs well with C. J. Sansom’s Dissolution (2003) and has the insightful feminine perspective of Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s The Heretic’s Wife (2010).” — BOOKLIST

“As in The Crown, Bilyeau’s writing style means that the story reads almost flawlessly. The narrative really makes the reader throw themselves into the story, and makes it so the book is really difficult to put down. I was really very impressed with Bilyeau’s writing (As I was in The Crown), and honestly can’t recommend this book highly enough.” — LOYALTY BINDS ME

“THE CHALICE is a compelling and pacey time machine to the 16th Century. And when you’re returned to the present, you’ll have enjoyed an adventure and gained a new perspective on a past you’d wrongly thought to be a done deal.” — Andrew Pyper, author of THE DEMONOLOGIST

“The Chalice is a gripping, tightly-plotted mystery, with a beguiling heroine at its heart, that vividly conjures up the complex dangers of Reformation England. Bilyeau’s deftness of touch and complete control over her complex material make for a truly exciting and compelling read.”— ELIZABETH FREMANTLE author of QUEEN’S GAMBIT

“THE CHALICE is brimming with sinister portents, twisted allegiances, religious superstition and political intrigue. It’s a darkly fascinating Tudor brew that leaves you thirsting for more.” — PATRICIA BRACEWELL, author of SHADOW ON THE CROWN

Watch the Book Trailer:

Buy the Book Amazon UK  Book Depository Orion Publishing Waterstones

About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013.

Some earlier milestones: In 1661, Nancy’s ancestor, Pierre Billiou, emigrated from France to what was then New Amsterdam when he and his family sailed on the St. Jean de Baptiste to escape persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Pierre built the first stone house on Staten Island and is considered the borough’s founder. His little white house is on the national register of historic homes and is still standing to this day.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Author Links Website Blog Facebook Twitter Pinterest Goodreads

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Book Blast Schedule

Monday, February 17
Mari Reads
The Lit Bitch
Book Drunkard
Closed the Cover
Historical Tapestry
Royalty Free Fiction
Passages to the Past
Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, February 18
Princess of Eboli
Words and Peace
Big Book, Little Book
Curling Up By the Fire
Peeking Between the Pages
Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Historical Fiction Obsession

Wednesday, February 19
Broken Teepee
Kincavel Korner
A Bookish Affair
CelticLady’s Reviews
The True Book Addict
Teresa’s Reading Corner
So Many Books, So Little Time

Thursday, February 20
Drey’s Library
Booktalk & More
Must Read Faster
Reading the Ages
The Maiden’s Court
Historical Fiction Connection
Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Friday, February 21
HF Book Muse-News
On the Tudor Trail
Flashlight Commentary
Ageless Pages Reviews
Muse in the Fog Book Reviews
Confessions of an Avid Reader


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