NEW THIS WEEK: August 28, 2023

A new novel by Emma Donoghue is always a treat, particularly (to my mind, at least) when it takes the past as its inspiration. Learned by Heart weaves its magic from two historical figures: prolific diarist Anne Lister and Eliza Raine, her first of several lovers and the one about whom the least is known. The main action takes place in 1805, when the two women, just teenagers at the time, become roommates a Yorkshire boarding school. One of the book's two interwoven narratives traces the trajectory of their early lives, love, and separation; the other consists of letters Raine writes after the demise of their relationship, when she has developed mental health issues and been confined in a small private asylum. The novel has special appeal for readers fascinated by Lister (the subject of works including the HBO series Gentleman Jack) and the history of same-sex relationships in the 19th century. But its view of female friendships, women's lives, 19th-century racial and class assumptions, and heartbreak, among other themes, makes it a richly rewarding read whether or not lives like Lister's are your primary interest. Read our more detailed review of the book here and find out more about the author and the book on Donoghue's informative websiteLearned By Heart can be purchased on Bookshop, Amazon U.S., and Amazon U.K. (8.29.23)

This exploration of Ireland during the reign of Queen Victoria is an excellent treatment of the topic. Rather than exploring politics or Ireland's relationship with England in depth, Maxwell focuses on the social and cultural life of Ireland during the period. Ireland's complex religious and sectarian dynamics are deftly explained, as is the experience and aftermath of the Great Famine. That said, my favorite aspects of the book are those that convey what might be called the texture everyday life in Victorian Ireland. The colorful—and sometimes confounding—figures who shaped that life make succinct but vivid appearances, as do the huge changes in technology that characterized the era and transformed its work, class system, and landscape. Maxwell, a former officer at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, is an expert on Irish genealogy; Life in Victorian England displays his gift for placing individual lives in a broader context. Find out more about Dr. Maxwell and his other publications on the Pen & Sword website and buy the book at Bookshop, Pen & Sword, and Amazon U.K. (UK publication date 8.30.23.)