How Far to Bethlehem?: Norah Lofts

★★★½

I discovered this book during a pre-Christmas exploration of the Book Barn, a few miles from where I live, and decided it was perfect for the festive season. The plan was to finish it last night, on Christmas Day, but what with the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special, and the satiety brought on by too much Christmas pudding, I didn’t quite get round to it. It’s a thoughtful, rich rendition of the Nativity story, in which the familiar events of the bible are set within their historical context at the turn of the 1st century AD. Most intriguing is Lofts’s vision of the three wise men, who between them span the three known continents of the ancient world.

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Esther: Norah Lofts

★★★½

My enduring mission to hunt down fiction set in Achaemenid Persia brought me to this book: a retelling of the story of Esther by Norah Lofts, who impressed me with her King’s Pleasure. Expressly aimed at teenage readers, it’s a charming little book which conveys both Esther’s intelligence and the king’s humanity in a far more effective and engaging way than the painful film One Night with the King. It was so enjoyable, in fact, that I was willing to accept a fairly major historical swerve.

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The King’s Pleasure: Norah Lofts

★★★★

I thought twice about buying this, mainly because of the title, which implied an historical romance full of heaving bosoms and ripped bodices. Plus, did I really need another take on the overly familiar tale of Henry VIII, Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn? But I’ve heard a lot about Norah Lofts over the years and so did buy it, and to my relief it was a very pleasant surprise. Thoughtful and intelligent, it was grounded in the period mindset in such a way that I never felt myself sinking into a quagmire of historical exposition.

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