Goodreads – bad ‘Recommendations’

Goodreads really needs to tighten up its ‘recommends based on your…’ algorithms, or whatever the coding-ninjas call these things.

For the first, I don’t ever think I’ve seen anything in the recommendations they list, that I would either go within a million miles of, have heard about, or haven’t got already. OK, the middle one is supposedly why the recommendations are there/could be useful, but then one looks at the always dreadful cover and … nope!

GoodreadsThe latest is this:

Now “Because you shelved ‘Judgement and Wrath’” a book about a British vigilante/’problem’ solver, shooting it out with a nutcase American serial killer/professional hitman, they recommend one by a failed model/failed everything else, one by Sharon Osbourne and … well, I haven’t actually bothered looking any further along the line.

I wouldn’t normally have even looked at this panel, as I’ve learned there is nothing to see here. But, well I thought “what on earth are they recommending what looks to be a book with a bird on the cover for?”

I’m more likely to pull my own toe-nails out than even go into a shop that sells these books. So why are they so crap at it? Something to do with having been bought by Amazon, I bet you a zillion spondoolies. (Yet) another reason not to buy books from Amazon then.

I’ll be clicking on the ‘hide’ button in future.

And, we’re done.


Friday Book News – 16 May

All Kindles Lead to Rome
Exciting Roman news, if news about Roman stuff excites you. Yeah? Well, read on then…
Robert Fabbri announced he will have a new short-story exclusively out on Kindle, on 21 May.
The Racing FactionsIt’s kind of like a side-project of sorts, to his ‘day job’ of the Vespasian novels, the first of which, Vespasian Tribune of Rome, I read – and enjoyed – not so long ago. Featuring a character called Marcus Salvius  Magnus, it is in fact the second ‘side-story’ he has written, the first was called The Racing Factions. As the name possibly suggests, it was set in and around the chariot racing scene in ancient Rome and involved bets not being honoured, vengeance being extracted in the shady underworld of Rome and attempting to fix elections and chariot races. In The Dreams of Morpheus, they’re saying this will happen:

The Dreams of Morpheus

Rome, AD 34. Marcus Salvius Magnus, leader of the Crossroads Brotherhood, is searching for the resin of an eastern flower that can unlock the realm of Morpheus. His patron, Senator Pollo, needs it for the city’s most powerful woman, the Lady Antonia, in order to recoup a considerable debt.
Meanwhile, rebellion is in the air. The people in Magnus’ area believe they are being given short measure at the grain dole. As the Ides of October festival dawns bright and clear to celebrate the completion of agricultural and military campaigns, a violent riot erupts. Can Magnus help right the wrongs that have been perpetrated upon the stirred-up crowd?
In this exclusive e-novella for fans of the Vespasian series, Magnus must lead his men in securing a deal over the sale of the highly treasured resin, with its unique power to transport the taker to another place, whilst battling his way through Rome’s savage and corrupt political arena.

If you live in a land that allows Kindle downloads (to your Kindle device or iPhone app) you should commence rejoicing now, then pre-order. If you live in a land that doesn’t allow Kindle downloads, you may need to – ahem – jump through a few hoops…

Dreams of Morpheus on Amazon Kindle

The Racing Factions on Amazon Kindle

Hereward IV
When in Rome…the next in James Wilde’s Herward series ‘Wolves of New Rome’ has got a cover.
Hereward Wolves of New RomeAnd this is it.
Absolutely excellent that it is the same style as the previous three. Someone somewhere at James’ (UK) book company, knows how to do their job, eh? I have seen other series where they change the covers, even subtly (though non the less irritatingly) between three and four. Douglas Jackson’s ‘of Rome’ series springs immediately to mind. I can’t always guess why, but maybe they had agreed a trilogy of Herewards covering his ‘known’ life, or at least that we have other people from the period and after writing about him, with an option for (at least) a fourth. Here with James’ original three, maybe they thought he’d greater a strong enough brand with the guy who plays Hereward and the type, to carry the series onwards. As I say, as far as I can see, there isn’t a right lot of evidence, archaeological or otherwise, for Hereward outside his legend status. I haven’t read enough about Hereward after he leads the rebels to William the Conqueror at Ely and then goes off into the mists of history…to say what even the legends say happens next. Stewart Binns’ Hereward does go on to join the Varangian Guard, which is what James Wilde’s Hereward seems to be doing as well, so maybe there is some sort of legend of that happening. James in Hereward III, seemed to also be suggesting that Hereward could be the source of the robin Hood legends. If you’ve read Hereward III, you’ll know what I mean.
Can’t wait – well, I can obviously, but you get the idea – until 31 July (when Amazon say it is released).
James Wilde website
And speaking of Robin Hood…

The name is Hood, Robin Hood
OutlawThe title of the seventh book in Angus Donald‘s Robin Hood Outlaw Chronicles will be The Bloody Charter. I’m not gonna guess what it’s about just yet, but Angus says it will feature, or at least include, Robin’s (in Angus’ Robin Hood world, that is) two sons Miles and Hugh.
If you haven’t got started on this series yet, get stuck in now, you have a lot of reading pleasure ahead of you. If you’ve been in but not continued for any reason – get back in, the last published story Grail Knight, was absolutely excellent.
Here’s a handy, cut-out-and-keep guide to the books in the order you (not necessarily) need to be reading them in:

1. Outlaw   BUY
2. Holy Warrior   BUY
3. King’s Man   BUY
4. Warlord   BUY
5. Grail Knight   BUY
6. The Iron Castle (published 3 July)   ORDER
7. The Bloody Charter (published in 2015)

Click on the title, to go to my review of the book, click on BUY to order it.
I’ve linked here – and will do more and more in the future – to The Book Depository. TBD will send worldwide with free post and, in contrast to Amazon, do pay tax in the UK. I know TBD are owned by Amazon, but so long as Amazon don’t pay tax in the UK, but charge me for that tax, I won’t use them. Especially as well, as I have mentioned before, they won’t now send free to Denmark when ordering over £25. There are plenty of other places that are equally as good and which do pay tax.
There is even, in the UK, a movement to have customers boycott Amazon, until they pay proper tax. Like you and I do.
Check this article from The Guardian.

Amazon: “find alternatives”

I’m trying to. Especially after they stopped delivering for free to Denmark if I ordered over £25.

But Margaret Hodge, chair of the public accounts committee in the British Houses of Parliament says we “should” because of Amazon’s tax dodging. Dodging of UK taxes, she means.

Here’s a link to The Guardian’s article on the problem.

I’ve largely switched to Goldsboro for signed first editions, to The Book Depository for just about anything (I know they are owned by Amazon, but as far as I can see, they are at least registered in the UK) and they will post ‘free’ (their prices are a shade higher than Amazon’s, presumably to cover this. Or, who also have a kind of ‘Marketplace’ where they will link you to supplier companies for new, or second hand versions of the title you’re looking for. Or the very wonderful Waterstones Marketplace, which is similar to the Play system. I’ve also had excellent results from Abe books, as have most people.

There. Do what you can to avoid Amazon, eh? And maybe they’ll start paying the taxes they should. Like you do. Like I do. And I guarantee – unless you also live in Denmark, or Sweden or Aruba – I pay a higher tax rate than you (and certainly higher than Amazon) do.

I’m probably howling at the moon here, but if you’re reading this and order from somewhere other than Amazon and can recommend them, please comment below, eh?

Say what you like about Amazon…

The Pagan Lord…but. I ordered Bernhard Cornwell’s latest in the (let’s see what they’re calling the series this week) ‘Warrior Chronicles’, The Pagan Lord a good while back. When it was announced I think.

I got an email from Amazon last Friday, that they had dispatched the book.

It arrived, here in Denmark, Monday morning around 10.00. Delivered by a very pleasant lady from Post Danmark.

I’m thinking that must be some sort of a record. That Amazon must have some sort of arrangement with the Post Danmark people. Whatever they did – maybe it was just magic – you can’t fault service like that.

The Pagan Lord (printed)So, a hardback, first edition and I began reading Monday afternoon. As I’d coincidentally just finished the previous one (Olen Steinhauer Victory Square).

Incidentally. The picture to the left here, is a scan of the actual version I have. As I’ve noted before, the picture Amazon show, isn’t always the one you get. Amazon seem to get an image ahead of publication and use that. I’m not actually sure they ever update it, even after publication. So, you will see is is slightly different from the pre-publication version. As far as I can see, the actual image of the warrior is the same. Bernard Cornwell’s name is the same typeface, but now it’s in white. The title is in gold not white and the copy at the bottom is different. Instead of the standard ‘In a clash of kingdoms…’, there is the more book-specific ‘one man will decide the fate of a nation.’ It’s a really good looking affair. A matt cover, with embossed author name and title and really does look and feel worth the money. I’m about half way through now, enjoying it very much and review ideas are forming up nicely.

I’m going to recommend this one to you, purely based on the cover and the half I’ve read. If you’ve read the previous six, you’ll get more out of it, but if you haven’t, this one hangs together just fine on its own.

Review to follow as soon as I’m done.

Bill Bryson urges e-book bundle tie-up

Bill Bryson urges e-book bundle tie-up

This, what seems like a very good idea, was on the BBC website yesterday.

Author Bill Bryson (I don’t think I’ve ever read any of his, unfortunately), is making a very interesting suggestion in the link above. If you can’t be bothered clicking up there, here’s the gist: His suggestion is that sales of ‘hard’ copies of books – hardbacks, paperbacks – could be in some way protected, even encouraged if an eBook version were in some way ‘bundled’ in with the purchase. He makes a point, one that I hadn’t even come within binocular-distance of, of feeling forced to choose, between a hard-copy and an e-version, when one is in the market for a new book. He seems to be saying that as he travels a lot and reads books (for the convenience of not having to pack an extra suitcase for books to take on the journey, I guess), he reads books on his e-reader. But, if I get his point, he prefers having the ‘hard copy’. But he can’t/doesn’t want to, buy the thing twice. So has to choose, before buying, based on ‘where am I most likely to read this one?’

The BBC article is crediting Bill Bryson with ‘urging’ the idea, but it seems as though Amazon got there first. As I read the piece, they (Amazon) are about to, or already do in the US, offer digital downloads. For their Kindle, presumably. For free, or for a reduced consideration (over buying it for your Kindle direct).

I read physical books at home, eBooks (or whatever else it is they’re called this week) on the bus, or when I’m bored at work (if you’re one of my bosses – you didn’t just see that. Still, as they’re all Danish, they probably wouldn’t understand it anyway, so I’ll be alright). Anyway, on Amazon (I think) you can download an MP3 of an album, if you have ordered the physical one. It may just be the vinyl copy (I have friends who still buy vinyl) but now it seems like Amazon may well be going to try giving away, or offering a discounted digital version, with hardback or paperback books you buy from them.

With DVDs I know often you get a link to be able to download a digital copy of the film you’ve bought. Saves having to jump through the hoops of trying to download and use a programme to copy it and remove the DRM (if you’re a film company, you didn’t just see that. I wouldn’t think of doing that with a film I have bought, paid for and consider I now own).

Still, getting a link – somehow – to be able to download a digital copy of the book you’ve just bought in hardback or paperback, sounds a very interesting idea. As I said, I hadn’t thought of it in the way Bill Bryson puts it, as being forced to choose between the digital and hard copy of a book, but I can certainly see where he’s coming from. Obviously, (companies like) Amazon could include a link to the digital copy in with the book’s packaging. From a bookshop, not sure. Maybe at the check-out, they’d give you a link, but it should only be able to be redeemed by someone who has actually bought the book, not just picked it up in the shop and looked inside to get the link. Though, someone on the till at a supermarket isn’t going to be in a position to spend a whole lot of time looking for a link to the book you just bought in with your bread and milk. Maybe, you make this deal something only specialist bookshops can offer? Though, if you’re in a specialist bookshop, you may not be interested in the digital version, which is why you’re in a specialist bookshop after all. Though some, Waterstones, do sell digital book readers as well as hard copies. Oh well, erm…solve that little conundrum, and you’ll be very popular. Maybe not with The Bookseller, but with me. And Bill Bryson, by the looks.

Goodreads buys Amazon!

Eh? What?

Oh well, here’s a link to the Amazon Press Release, before you go reading the BBC’s or whoever else’s slant on the thing.

Personally, I’m really not sure of what to make of this one

I use Goodreads as a place to document my reading habits.

These get posted to my Facebook should anyone other than me be interested. And (very) occasionally they are.

I post reviews there and they send it immediately to my Blog. The one you’re reading now.

I do follow some other people. Not entirely sure why. Maybe so I don’t feel alone. Or so they can read my stuff?

Recommendations - OverviewBut I don’t use Goodreads for recommendations. It’s far too Amero-centric. And I really don’t like US book covers, on the whole. Especially their ‘I like it, but can we get another kitchen sink in that?’ attitude to book cover design. And then, just look at that The Norseman cover there. Would you buy that? If you’re over 16?

Recommendations - Medieval EnglandIf I look up Medieval Historical Fiction, something I’m very interested in, I find hundreds of books classing themselves as ‘Historical Fiction’. But are often basically bodice-rippers set in various periods from later Middle-Ages onwards. And consequently no good to man nor beast. If we look at the Recommendations > Medieval England,  as above, the first you’ll notice is a book set almost exclusively in the Middle East (Brethren), another set in Rome and Greece (Ship of Rome) and the first on the list Empire, is set in England sure enough, but in AD181. Which is pushing the ‘Medieval’ envelope beyond breaking point, and that’s not to mention the tattered ruin that is the ‘England’ envelope, I feel sure you’ll agree.

I did join the Ancient & Medieval Historical Fiction Group on Goodreads, but left after a falling out with the leader and ‘no post left unanswered’, all around general busy-body ‘Terri‘. She took exception to me taking exception to a thread which I thought was *removed what might be slander* and *ditto* at best. I actually took all of my worst comments about that out of my original post and just pointed out that the opinion of several posters in that thread’s idea that it was something to be proud of, having worked in a job where there was serious risk of physical injury, at the age of 13, wasn’t actually something to be overly proud of. In my opinion. Obviously, not being *removed due to cold feet* and being pissed off to the extreme with this ‘Terri’ person’s quite distasteful habit of posting a reply to every single other post on their group, meant I didn’t fit. I was being ‘mean’. But I never got a recommendation or even came close to a thought of ‘must check that out’ in the, admittedly short, time I was a member.

Games Traitors PlayI also don’t read reviews on Amazon. Never have done, never will. I have posted reviews on there. Three, if I remember rightly. And they were at the request of an author I have read and posted reviews of here on Speesh Reads. Jon Stock liked my reviews, hey, I liked his books, so I posted them on the relevant book pages.

So why write reviews if I don’t read or use them myself?

Well, for me, writing a review is something I like doing.

I was in advertising for 24 years back in the UK. (We were a small firm, very much at the beck and call of the clients, rather than the other way round, which seems to be most people’s perception of the business through films and tv) I used to write a lot of copy for all sorts of things. TV ads, radio, newspaper adverts, brochures, pamphlets, you name it. Mainly because there was only me who could do it and we very rarely had, or managed to give ourselves, enough time or funds to send it out to a ‘professional’. So, somewhere along the line, I have gained the idea I can write. But I know it is only short things I can write. I have absolutely no ability, intention or inclination to write a book, novel or even a short story. Other people can do it a whole lot better than I can, so why not let them? You don’t keep a dog and bark yourself? A Twitter post is generally all I can manage.

When I criticize a book, I do so based on my own gut feelings. What I really like doing, is struggling to put into words what my gut feelings were. What did I like or didn’t like and why about the book. It isn’t easy. It’s difficult. But I like it because it is a challenge. I don’t find it easy. I spend a long time on getting it just right – and it isn’t easy being your own critic as well. Was that right? Did I feel that way? Have I said it how I felt? Have I remembered the facts I’m criticising? (I quite rightly got picked up recently on Goodreads for spelling Sumerian, with two ‘m’s).

The Splintered KingdomAnd I wrote a review of ‘The Splintered Kingdom’, sent a link to James Aitcheson and had to have it pointed out by him that in at least two places, I referred to the book as ‘The Shattered Kingdom’. Not a bad title in itself, but wrong of course. So I do it for me, for my pleasure and mostly my satisfaction. That some other people find them interesting or even useful, I don’t know, is just lovely.

But I don’t read reviews. I look at the Publisher-supplied blurb on the back of the book when I’m in England – as I’ve mentioned before, English paperbacks over here are rare as rocking-horse shit, and cost the ‘nose from a jet fighter’ (to translate a Danish phrase), so generally aren’t even worth checking out. I read the publisher-supplied blurb on Amazon, but don’t scroll down far enough for the reviews.

There has actually been a fair bit of publicity recently about the trustworthiness – or not – of Amazon’s reviews anyway. As it has come to light that a lot of the positive reviews have actually been written, in disguise, by the author themselves! And there was a case I remember reading something about, where someone had traced all the reviews that could be safely attributed to one particular ‘reader’ and worked out that if they actually had read all the books they were claiming to be writing reviews of, they would need to have read 20-odd books a day, or something. A physically/temporally impossible amount anyway. Even if you allow for that they had the money to buy all the books in the first place! The New York Times ran an article on just this sort of thing the other day.

I don’t get paid for writing stuff here. I wish! I don’t get freebies either. I wish! I would say if I got sent a book by an author. And I would review it as if I’d bought it myself. I did get sent James Aitcheson‘s second novel, The Splintered (or was it Shattered) Kingdom by his publishers. I think they’d mistaken my blog with one that people read. Irritatingly, I’d ordered the book from Amazon the week before anyway and it arrived the week after theirs’ did! And I posted that I’d got it on here. That’s the only freebie I’ve ever had *sob* So send some more, this habit is costing me a fortune!

Hawk QuestI also use author recommendations. Ben Kane, for instance. I picked up one of his on spec once when I was back in England The Forgotten Legion it was. Then, after I read that and thoroughly enjoyed it, I saw his name pop up on the back of another book I looked at saying it was very good, I bought that. Now that I’m following him on Twitter, it is of course easier to follow his recommendations. I don’t buy everything he recommends, he’s seriously a lot more into Rome and all things Roman than I am and a lot of that is clearly not what I’m interested in. But if I have the book on my radar anyway, or he makes it clear in his description that it is a subject that I have an interest in or am open to, then I will maybe give it a go. The magnificence that is Hawk Quest comes to mind as following that route. Though I don’t remember it having been made into a film, looking at what they’ve done to the cover there. Mine is a lot more laid back. And better for it.

Otherwise, I read about subjects I’m interested in. I’ve always, ever since a young boy joining the Ancient and Medieval History Book Club, been interested in the Vikings. So I am open for anything Viking-related. How I got into Robert Low and Giles Kristian. And, I live over here in Viking-land now. Where the Vikings come from, if you follow the reasoning that they were all called ‘Danes’. And I love spy stories and I love Len Deighton and so to find that all these things collide in Jeremy Duns, makes reading his Tweets and recommendations very satisfying. See how it works?

So where does that leave me with the news that Amazon have bought Goodreads?

Part of me hopes they leave well alone. But knowing the on-line world’s usual maxim of ‘fixing what ain’t broken’, another part of me knows they’ll change it. If they absolutely have to then, hopefully they’ll start with the website design. It’s dreadful. Goodreads could really do with bringing into the 21st Century. Then, I can well imagine that when I write a review on Goodreads, it will also post on the book’s page on Amazon – with the swear-word spelling suitably altered, of course. I mean, you write a review including shit or fuck or anything else that gets shown or said on Danish tv at all and any time of the day without a blink of the eye, on Amazon and see how it is uploaded. I hope they still allow for the review to be sent to your blog as well, though it wouldn’t surprise me a jot if that was turned off. Amazon will only want you going to their site for the buying of the book, not to my site for a review. Even though I use links to Amazon when I up-date my reviews for use on the blog (sending a post from Goodreads sends the text, but no links, tags or sections or links. These I add later). Amazon however, really don’t like outside programmes using their database. For instance:

Delicious Library

I can recommend a book/film/stuff cataloguing programme called Delicious Library. I use it on my Mac here. A couple of years or so ago, there was also an app for Delicious Library on the Apple App Store. I got it immediately. Then it got withdrawn, never to appear again. This is what it says on their Wikipedia page:

The only Delicious Library app was withdrawn from the iOS App Store in July 2009. Amazon had asked for the app to be removed due to violation of the Amazon API terms and conditions section 4e “(e) You will not, without our express prior written approval requested via this link , use any Product Advertising Content on or in connection with any site or application designed or intended for use with a mobile phone or other handheld device.” N.B- The terms and conditions have since been updated

No idea what all that means. Such a shame. But great that I still have it and it still works! Hoorah!

But, I think it all goes to show that Goodreads is good, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. Amazon is good – it’s pretty essential for me really – but there are other places you can get your e-books and real books. If I lived in the UK, I would, and I’m not making this up, buy from a real bookshop. Amazon is the closest thing I can get to that living here in Denmark. Goodreads and Amazon together, could be good. But only Goodreads can really benefit from this move, as I see it. And I hope, to all that can be hoped to, that they do it the right way.

The Jury is out…

*Cities – Talking Heads

There sure are book bargains to be had out there

Hereward End of DaysI recently ordered the next in James Wilde’s Hereward series, Hereward End Of Days, as a hardback. Up until recently, I only ever bought paperbacks. For no other reason than they were cheaper. That’s changed a little. I just became impatient to read the next in a series. So, when Hereward The Devil’s Army came out just after I was finished with the paperback of Hereward, I decided to throw caution to the wind (!) and get the hardback. Subsequently, for one reason or another, mostly impatience, I have ordered hardbacks from Amazon where necessary.

(I have gone through why I need to order books from Amazon. I live in Denmark. English books are both hard to come by and very expensive. If I place an order with, which qualifies for Super Saver delivery and comes in at over £25.00, I can get cheaper books delivered to my door for free)

So, I came to think, Hereward The Devil’s Army and End of Days sure will look good on the shelf in all their hardback goodness, but they would look even better if Hereward was also hardback. But I’m a bit late to get the hardback on Amazon – as a quick glance showed – so, what to do? Well, I Googled (Yahoo!-ed, actually) ‘Hereward Hardback James Wilde’ and came up with Waterstones Marketplace. This seems to be a bit like clicking on Amazon’s ‘other buying options’, where you can buy a book secondhand, where available. Anyway, there was a hardback copy of Hereward available, a couple in fact. The various companies generally will describe what kind of condition the book is in, so I chose the one in the best condition.

The price? £0.60p. That’s 5kr, $0.90. Generally, what is considered in many countries to be a bargain, I think you’ll agree.

Then there’s postage and packing. Though as the book was only 5kr, what does it matter how much p&p is?! Well, postage and packing was only £4.00-ish. The whole lot, to the door, came to just 40kr. Bearing in mind the last time I wrote about picking up a hardback bargain, Philip Kerr‘sIf The Dead Rise Not, that came to just under 50kr (still an almighty bargain, of course), you do have to add in the cost of getting into town on the bus on top of that (don’t get me started on that subject).

So, now the Hereward section of my hardback book shelf looks a little like this.

They’re hardbacks, arranged by author, not subject. If you’re wondering why we have Norman Conquests, Spy story, Norman Conquests, World War 2…

This is how it looks in, kind of, close-up. The condition is not 100% perfect – there is a little bend and the tiniest of tears at the top right there – but considering it is second-hand and has been posted from the UK and I’ve occasionally had new books sent from Amazon arrive in slightly worse condition, I’d rate it at 95% perfect and absolutely nothing to grumble at.

This is the back of the book. Nothing wrong there, eh?

The company I ended up buying the book from then, through Waterstones Marketplace, was Better World Books. I know nothing of them other than this transaction and that they are in Scotland. They say in their details that to Europe, post can take up to 14 days, I think mine arrived in 10, so no problems there. It was packed efficiently enough. I wouldn’t have minded a little padding around the book, but it was secure and water-tight enough and didn’t seem to have suffered any due to the gentle attentions of the UK postal service (the Danish service is much, much better. I have several examples to prove the difference, but to long and involved to go into here).

So, on the basis of this one transaction, I will certainly recommend both Waterstones Market Place and Better World Books to you.

Breaking Hereward III news!

So, hot on the heels of my exclusive (that is, if you rule out the author mentioning it on Twitter and the cover appearing on Amazon) news the other day, of Hereward III quite probably being due out/available to order/buy in July…Comes official confirmation. For ‘official confirmation’, read; you can now order it on Amazon.

Hereward TweetJames Wilde posted this on Twitter on Thursday, I think.

(Not really the best way to pretend it’s ‘Breaking News’, eh? “I think…”)

This does at least give us a look at the cover – and it doesn’t disappoint. Looking at that, I feel quite alright about what is going to be inside. Clearly, as a recent film so aptly put it; ‘There will be blood…’

Here’s the cover a bit larger. Looks like more of the same, eh?

That’s a good thing, by the way.

It would be interesting to find out who is playing Hereward on these covers. To get an idea of how/who makes the choices in the book cover process.

Is it an actor? It obviously wouldn’t be good to have a recognisable actor on the front, as it would make you think more of the previous characters the guy has played; ‘that’s him from there. You know, that film where he’s a spaceman!’, rather than ‘Hey! That’s Hereward from the two previous books!’. While I do hope lots and lots of people read – and enjoy – the Hereward books as possible, as I have done, I’m sure being on the covers of James Wilde’s Hereward books, isn’t going to raise type-casting concerns for the chap…

But, is it a friend of the author’s? Or, how much influence does an author actually have in these sort of decisions? I would have thought, as the book publisher is the one putting the money up front initially (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the arrangement wasn’t a lot like record contracts used to be in the good olde days, where the artist pays the money back out of (hopefully) future earnings) and they (the publisher), knowing the business of what sells, what is appropriate, what is needed, would have the final say. But, how much artistic control does the author have in these decisions? Has an author ever dug their heels in for their ideas and taken a book away from the publisher, because they had a ‘difference of opinion’ over the cover? I see the cover of a book as fulfilling the old cliche; ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression.’ It’s that simple and that important.

I’ll have to ask Mr Wilde sometime. On Twitter, that is. I don’t want you getting the impression I know him!

Erm, anyway, back to the ‘News’ angle.

You can pre-order Hereward. End of Days on Amazon now. I’m guessing it is probably just the version at the moment. Mainly because I’m pretty sure that the publication date for the first two in the series was later in the USA than the UK, and there did have to be some changes, not least in the title. Not sure why it was deemed necessary, but there you go. The release date seems to be set at 9 – 13 July. You can pre-order it now for £14.99 (128kr, $23.25, €17.40), as I have done, The money will only come out of your account when it is shipped (mainly for my Father, that) and if the price is different on release date (obviously hopefully lower) you pay the price on release date. If you’re in Denmark, as I am, you pay Danish VAT/Sales Tax…but that’ll still be cheaper than getting it down town Aarhus – even when you take into account paying postage to Denmark, as the order is below £25. Unless that bookstore I was in the other day is doing a deal, though I suspect not…but, I’m rambling.

There are several interesting loose ends to be picked up and continued after Hereward. The Devil’s Army. Rivalries to be continued and Normans to be vanquished. At least temporarily, given the larger historical context. But never mind that, I think this is the one I’m most looking forward to (so far) this year.

Go order it now! There’s clearly an upward curve on these Hereward books – the first was great, the second was greater, the third will be great…well, whatever is better than ‘greater’. And hopefully, despite End being in the title, there will be a #4, #5 and so on…I’ll have to ask him.

What I’m buying right now

I’ve only ever been sent one book for free, for review. And I’m not saying which one. But it was excellent anyway.

And I’d ordered it off Amazon anyway the week before the author asked me if I’d like a free copy…all very tortuous, but in short – send more!

However, I buy all (but one) of the books I’m reading and reviewing here.

Oh yeah, I did get some off an e-reader programme a friend brought over from the UK last March, but what I mean is, I do this for fun and the love of a good book rather than any reward.

Publishers: Feel free to send more books!

I can be bought.

Back to business, I just pressed the button on another Amazon order (if you order over £25.00, they’ll send to Denmark for free. They do charge Danish VAT (MOMS) at 25%, but they don’t charge P&P if Amazon have them in stock, i.e. if they don’t come through a third party).

Here they are, in no particular order, four in total:

Dirty Little SecretDirty Little SecretJon Stock

I read and reviewed the one of his I got as a Christmas present. I’m not sure why I got #2, instead of #1 in the series, but there you go. Ask my sister.

This is what seems to be the latest, #3, given it’s a hard-back. Looking forward to getting stuck into this one.

Dead Spy RunningDead Spy RunningJon Stock

THIS is #1 in the Marchant series as far as I can tell. I read number two, as I said, but didn’t feel like I’d missed out on anything not having read the first. It just made me absolutely determined to get #1 ASAP. Which is what I’m doing.

The Caspian GatesThe Caspian Gates (Warrior of Rome 4) – Harry Sidebottom

And now for something completely different…I got a hardback version of #5: Wolves of the North, for Christmas. But, of course, hadn’t read #4. I really should sort that Amazon Wish List out before Christmas next year.

So, have to order and read this one, before I can get onto the brand-new Christmas hard-back version of #5. Where a Christmas present costs me money, eh?

The Road to RomeThe Road to Rome (The Forgotten Legion Chronicles 3) – Ben Kane

He may have moved on since The Forgotten Legion, to Hannibal and Spartacus, but here’s where I am with Ben Kane.

I figured I should finish this series off before I got into the others.

Review: The Splintered Kingdom

The Splintered Kingdom
The Splintered Kingdom by James Aitcheson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I read a better, more satisfying book, of the Historical Fiction (or any other) genre this next year – I’ll be astounded.

Or for many years to come. Or at least until the next in the ‘Bloody Aftermath’ series.

The ‘Splintered Kingdom’ really is that good. Superbly plotted and well paced, it is a thought-provoking, richly nuanced and tremendously satisfying book. A vivid, convincing imagining of a tumultuous period in England’s history. A book alive with incident, battles, tense last-minute rescues and not least, perhaps the most satisfying of all; alive with possibilities for the future direction(s) of the story.

But hey, read on…

Set in 1070, The Splintered Kingdom is of course, a follow-on from the first in the 1066: The Bloody Aftermath series, yet is so self-contained that while you really owe it to yourself to go read Sworn Sword (now), you absolutely can get the most out of Splintered Kingdom without having done so.

(Better make sure your chair has a good cushion, grab a cup of coffee and/or a sandwich and a blanket, ’cause as the great Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin once so succinctly put it; I’m gonna ramble on, for a while here)

The Splintered Kingdom begins with our Norman knight Tancred a Dinant the newly installed owner of an estate on the western edges of the English midlands, called Earnford. In this case; a Frenchman’s Englishman’s home is now his castle (!). The estate was given to him by his lord Robert Malet, who…well look, you’re just going to have to read Sworn Sword now, aren’t you?

The area is close to the ancient Offa’s Dyke and therefore too close for comfort to the Welsh border. Life on the estate is generally happy and peaceful, judging by the lovely passages describing Tancred’s life and the countryside surrounding Earnford. However, tensions with their Welsh neighbours are never far below the surface (and in invading Britain, the Normans have of course, stormed in the middle of an age-old conflict between the English and the Welsh – the reason why Offa had his dyke built in the first place) and Tancred has to start by leading his men on a hunt after some of their women are captured and taken hostage. Tancred is obviously respected, perhaps even liked, by his subjects and has found himself a new woman, pregnant now with their first child. His assimilation into local life as the estate’s new Lord seems complete, even though we’re not more than four years after the Conquest; “French and English making merry together: I hadn’t thought I’d live to see it happen”, as Tancred says at the celebration the whole village throws following the safe return of (most of) the hunters and hostages. Clearly this is something of a pleasant surprise for him.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, Tancred soon finds out that while the ordinary English people on his property may, if not like him, at least tolerate him – the English rebels don’t like him. One. Little. Bit. He is a marked man and there’s a price on his head. The English rebels (remember, this story is told from a Norman point of view) have allied themselves with the Welsh and want him dead. Not just him obviously, Normans in general, but him in particular.

Then again, the English lords now opposed to Tancred and the Normans, were ones who fought alongside Harold at Hastings, but survived. They swore fealty to William, yet haven’t just gone quietly into the night. They are perhaps understandably more than a little miffed at the new King William giving their old lands away as rewards to his fellow Normans. So some have moved over the border into Wales and allied themselves with everyone’s ancient enemy, the Welsh. All in the hope of driving their new, common enemy, out. The Welsh they once had to hold at bay now help in attacking their old lands! Meanwhile, off in the north, the English rebels even ally themselves with the Norman’s old cousins, the Vikings, who are trying to invade again after Harald Hardrada’s failed attempt to beat the English back in ’66 at the battle of Stamford Bridge. Which of course, delayed and weakened Harold Godwinson’s progress south to fight William and the Normans. Old scores and generations’ old hatreds might have to wait. For now.

What James does especially well in The Splintered Kingdom I feel, is set out how all these many contradictions play on the surface, while always hinting at the tensions that simmer just beneath, as the story rolls on, gathering new elements, constantly building and unfolding. Like following a wisp of smoke as it grows thicker leading back to its fire, I thought. Or, given the way the country and life down on Tancred’s English manor is described at the start; as clouds gathering on a clear summer’s afternoon, with the promise of a coming storm.

And the storm comes.

Warnings of trouble brewing elsewhere in the supposedly conquered kingdom come and Tancred is ordered away to help the fight. Something that he imagined he would relish, but when confronted with the reality, he’s suddenly not so sure; “For all the times in the past year that I had longed to lead my conroi into battle, I had never thought that when the summons came it would feel like this.” Is Tancred perhaps a changing man? Is England changing him? Can he square his Viking warrior roots and lust for battle, with the demands of looking after a growing local community who depend on him? Conflicts, tensions and enemies mount, the fragile control the Normans had over the kingdom starts to shatter and Tancred must set off to defend a land he once helped conquer but now calls home. Nothing is straightforward, nothing is as it seems – there are twists, turns, contradictions, shifting alliances and, as my old Grandma used to say; “dirty dickery” galore – as you’ll find. The principle of my enemy’s enemy being my friend and the least worst choice, abounds. The whole thing careers unstoppably onwards, via tense chases, ambushes and more double-crossing. On to a nail-biting climax in York, Tancred’s old stamping ground from ‘Sworn Sword’. You just knew it. It can’t be stopped.

I really did feel a lot of times, ‘The Splintered Kingdom’ read like there was a film playing in my head. A film, where everything seems nice and peaceful and sunny and tranquil and relaxed. But you know when you bought the ticket that it said ‘thriller’ and you know there’s a shock or double cross coming. Soon. You know it, there must be. But you just don’t know when. You know it’s coming. You want the character to look round and see what you can see is behind him. You want to skip ahead to the end of the paragraph and find out, but you don’t dare spoil the tension. You can’t close your eyes of course. You can’t stop it. You know it’s coming, but even so, when it does – BANG! It’s still a shock. You’re thrilled to be thrilled. I had several of these moments during ‘The Splintered Kingdom’. I could HEAR the sweet music playing as I read and then tripped and fell headlong down a bank into a huge surprise (a couple of times the wife had to ask why I was saying ‘Ha!’ out loud). And there is one HUGE surprise towards the end of the novel. One which suddenly throws the whole thing open again and makes you wish James hadn’t stopped where he has (I’m currently wrapping pens, paper, more coffee and ProPlus pills to send over to Wiltshire – I need to know!).

“Oh, good grief!”

OK, not long to go now.

Where Sworn Sword and The Splintered Kingdom really do score for me, is how they play against my expectations of the Norman period. James Aitcheson studied History at Cambridge University so clearly knows his medieval and Norman onions. As I mentioned in my review for Sworn Sword, and which I’m going to bore you with again here: The conflict between the obvious ‘reality’ of this story and my previous understanding of how beastly the Normans were towards the English, post-invasion, is one of many dichotomies this novel/series presents me with. The plucky but unlucky English hero Harold, is, to the story’s Norman hero, ‘Harold the usurper’. These are not (all) the arrogant, confident, all-conquering Norman knights I thought I knew from my history lessons. They are land-owners worried about their property and especially worried about what might happen while they’re away campaigning in Wales or elsewhere. Speaking as an Englishman, the Normans should be ‘the enemy’! Here, it’s the English (not to mention the Welsh) who are. It’s also the English who are the rebels. “That can’t be right!” I tell myself. THEY’RE in OUR country! Tancred is, but shouldn’t be, an immensely likeable character – he’s a nasty Norman, for goodness’ sake! He’s surely not how a Norman should be, my imagination cries. So, contrary to the stories of the Norman Conquest we (English) have grown up with, here is a genuinely likeable Norman knight who seems to truly care for his English subjects. He’s not the aloof, brutal French warrior an English reader of this story would expect after countless ‘Robin Hood’ stories and films down the years (OK, just me then). The Splintered Kingdom, Sworn Sword before it and Tancred, are nothing if not a challenge to my expectations.

However, despite his many outward complications, I think Tancred is in reality a simple man. His problem is simply that he is constantly torn between two sides. As I mentioned earlier, I think it is perhaps important to remember that the Normans were at this point only a few of generations from their Viking origins. Normandy, comes from ‘Northman’, after all. A Viking called ‘Rollo’ (not enough ‘Rollo’s, or ‘Rolf’s around these days, I feel – even here in Denmark) founded what became Normandy, in A.D. 911. Tancred’s own Viking roots are never far below his outwardly calm surface. His feeling that his sword arm itches when battle is near and the feeling of battle calm, even joy he gets during a fight, is pure Viking. His heart often says fight, but his head says no. As one interesting passage puts it; “‘The sword is not the answer to every problem,’… ‘Sometimes it is better to keep it sheathed and stay your hand. You would be wise to remember that.'” And remember it he often has to. But luckily for us – not always!

This concept of the inner dichotomy in Tancred’s personality – between the old-fashioned, hot-blooded Viking warrior constantly spoiling for a fight and the lord and master of an English estate, with people looking to him for guidance and protection – is broadened, brought out of Tancred and reflected many times across the story itself. A little awkward that, but inner personal struggle reflecting external, historical conflicts, I guess I mean. Alliances come and go, between people and groups who really shouldn’t be in alliances and which all serve to keep Tancred on his toes, constantly wondering if he can work out which way history will have him move. That’s just one more reason why it is such a splendid book, so many possibilities.

And I really hope that the possibilities presented by Tancred’s personal struggle, of feeling fellowship with his English ‘subjects’, while still being bound by Norman rules, could be something explored in future Tancred stories. The clash of loyalties and realities is actually similar to that we should have seen, but didn’t, in Bernard Cornwall’s recent ‘The Death of Kings’ (whilst I thought it was the best in the series so far, the struggle between Uhtred’s Viking roots and his English loyalties was not, I felt, given the space the problem deserves. A bit of a wasted opportunity, if you ask me). Here, Tancred is conquerer, turned defender. Many of his own countrymen turn against him as his actions challenge their expectations and his fame irritates them. And speaking of ‘countrymen’, Tancred mentions several times that whilst he is unquestionably on the outside, a Norman, he is in fact Breton, not a Norman by birth. And Bretons have common Celtic, Welsh even, roots, don’t they? Sweet. So where should his loyalties now lie when it’s the Welsh come knocking at his back door? And, bear with me here; is it a subtle, but significant, nuance added to Tancred’s character that he now wears his hair long? In the ‘British style’ (apparently). Not in the short, severe style favoured by his fellow Norman knights. Something else they criticise him for. Outwardly English, inwardly Norman. Could it be an indication Tancred is in danger of ‘going native’? Normally something English people do when THEY live too long in a foreign country. If I were to speculate over future developments; could it indicate that Tancred, comes to bear arms against his former countrymen? In the future, I’d have Tancred come to question where his loyalties really lie. ‘Home’ or ‘abroad’? Really put him on the spot and see which way he jumps. If I were James. Just a thought…

I don’t want to make this sound like this is the perfect historical novel, but it’s certainly on the way there. There were a couple of incidents I thought were a little awkward, but it’s close and the series is getting closer. If ‘Sworn Sword’ showed great promise, then ‘The Splintered Kingdom’ delivers. And then some. If you thought the first one was good, just wait until you read this. If you haven’t read the first one – what are you waiting for? Go buy it – and this one, now!

You can buy ‘The Splintered Kingdom’ from Amazon.

You can download ‘The Splintered Kingdom’ from Apple’s iBooks.

You can buy ‘Sworn Sword’ from Amazon.

You can download ‘Sworn Sword ‘(as I did) from Apple’s iBooks.

A disclaimer:
I’m English. I grew up in and around the western English midlands. I lived half my life up in Yorkshire, not that far from York. In my younger – drinking days – York always had a reputation as a ‘fighting’ town – so not much changed in 1,000 years? I now live in Denmark, where the Vikings come from. I speak Danish. The rest of my family have lived in south Wales for around 30 years. My maternal Grandmother always insisted our family surname was of French origin.

View all my reviews