The only list that mutters!

Well, it’s that time again, when everyone puts their list of best books of the year up, so I will too. They all put them up too early though, I wait until the year is actually over, if you’ve noticed.

So that makes my list that much better, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Anyway, in time-honoured tradition, here are all the books I finished last year, in the order I read them:

*You’ll note that they are books I read last year, not books that were necessarily released last year, though of course some were. Where I’ve got round to writing a review, click on the book title to go to the review page.

  1. The Templar Cross (Templar 2) : Paul Christopher
  2. Masters of Rome (Vespasian 5) : Robert Fabbri
  3. Crusade (The Making of England 2) : Stewart Binns
  4. American Assassin (Mitch Rapp 1) : Vince Flynn
  5. Good As Dead (Tom Thorne 10) : Mark Billingham
  6. Blood Tracks (Tess Grey and Po Villere 1) : Matt Hilton
  7. The Pale Criminal (Bernard Gunther 2) : Philip Kerr
  8. The Thunder God : Paul Watkins
  9. Hereward The Immortals (Hereward 5) : James Wilde
  10. Fire & Steel (King’s Bane 1) : C.R. May
  11. Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp 2) : Vince Flynn
  12. The Virgin of The Wind Rose : Glenn Craney
  13. Savage Continent. Europe in the Aftermath of World War II) : Keith Lowe
  14. Enemy of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 5) : Douglas Jackson
  15. Cut and Run (Joe Hunter 4) : Matt Hilton
  16. A German Requiem (Bernard Gunther 3) : Philip Kerr
  17. The Templar Throne (Templar 3) : Paul Christopher
  18. The Double Game : Dan Fesperman
  19. Brother’s Fury (Bleeding Land Trilogy 2) : Giles Kristian
  20. Tripwire (Jack Reacher 3) : Lee Child
  21. Transfer of Power (Mitch Rapp 3) : Vince Flynn
  22. Hannibal. Fields of Blood (Hannibal 2) : Ben Kane
  23. Knight of The Cross : Steven A. McKay
  24. Blood and Ashes (Joe Hunter 5) : Matt Hilton
  25. Anarchy (The Making of England 3) : Stewart Binns
  26. Scourge of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 6) : Douglas Jackson
  27. The Templar Conspiracy (Templar 4) : Paul Christopher
  28. The Maharaja’s General (Jack Lark 2) : Paul Fraser Collard
  29. Imperial Fire : Robert Lyndon
  30. Lionheart (The Making of England 4) : Stewart Binns
  31. The Third Option (Mitch Rapp 4) : Vince Flynn
  32. Rome’s Lost Son (Vespasian 6) : Robert Fabbri
  33. The Visitor (Jack Reacher 4) : Lee Child
  34. The Harrowing : James Aitcheson
  35. Keane’s Company (Keane 1) : Iain Gale
  36. The Far Shore (Agent of Rome 3) : Nick Brown
  37. Separation of Power (Mitch Rapp 5) : Vince Flynn
  38. Gods of War (King’s Bane 2) : C.R. May
  39. Executive Power (Mitch Rapp 6) : Vince Flynn
  40. The Secret Speech (Leo Demidov 2) : Tom Rob Smith
  41. Nemesis (Harry Hole 4) : Jo Nesbø
  42. The Count of Monte Christo : Alexandre Dumas
  43. Dead Men’s Harvest (Joe Hunter 6) : Matt Hilton
  44. Echo Burning (Jack Reacher 5) : Lee Child
  45. The Twelfth Department (Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev 3) : William Ryan
  46. The Wolf and the Raven (The Forest Lord 2) : Steven A. McKay
  47. Hannibal. Clouds of War (Hannibal 3) : Ben Kane
  48. Without Fail (Jack Reacher 6) : Lee Child
  49. The Furies of Rome (Vespasian 7) : Robert Fabbri
  50. The Templar Legion (Templar 5) : Paul Christopher
  51. Blood and Blade (The Bernicia Chronicles 3) : Matthew Harffy
  52. Memorial Day (Mitch Rapp 7) : Vince Flynn
  53. The Death of Robin Hood (The Outlaw Chronicles 8) : Angus Donald
  54. Consent to Kill (Mitch Rapp 8) : Vince Flynn
  55. God of Vengeance (The Rise of Sigurd 1) : Giles Kristian
  56. Terror Gallicus (Brennus. Conqueror of Rome 1) : C.R. May
  57. Red Templar (Templar 6) : Paul Christopher
  58. Dead Letter Drop (Max Flynn 1) : Peter James
  59. The Devil’s Assassin (Jack Lark 3) : Paul Fraser Collard
  60. Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp 9) : Vince Flynn
  61. Persuader (Jack Reacher 7) : Lee Child
  62. Iron & Rust (Throne of The Caesars 1) : Harry Sidebottom
  63. Agent 6 (Leo Demidov 3) : Tom Rob Smith
  64. Protect and Defend (Mitch Rapp 10) : Vince Flynn

Well, looking at that list, you can maybe see that my aim for reading in 2016, was to read as many of the series as I’ve got (the books laid in for, Mitch Rapp for example), or already begun, as possible.

I had intended on not starting any new series in ’16, but didn’t quite manage it. I’m going to continue to read up the series I have started, then get on to the one-offs in 2017. I want to be able to still read series, but read the latest book, as it is released. Not be behind the curve. Also, there are some really quite interesting one-offs out there, and in my collection, that I’d really like to get on to. I’m not against reading series or authors writing them, but I’d like to see an author or publisher take more of a chance on a one-off. It seems a given that any new author is signed if he/she has one book finished and two more sketched out. We need to get away from that, I feel. Get away from the feeling that book one is merely setting the scene for two and three and is stretched out further than it really should have been, the otherwise really just fine Harry Sidebottom’s Iron and Rust springs to mind in that category.

I also have a few Non Fiction books lined up that I’d really like to get on with as well.

My Goodreads aim will again be to read 52 books in the course of the year. I made it up to 64 partially thanks to

  1. Two doses of Influenza, one after the other
  2. Some enforced ‘use it or lose it’ holiday home alone while the wife slaved
  3. Listening to audiobook versions of some of the books I actually have physical versions of (I’ve recently moved from Audible to Storytel. Nothing against Audible as a service, just that Storytel gives me unlimited listening a month, for one flat fee, whereas Audible gives you one credit for your fee, after that you have to buy, or wait for the next month’s credit). I can listen to and from work in the bus, and while walking from the bus to work and back and…well, you get the picture

52 – 64 books read in a year is really about the limit for reading, appreciating, ruminating on and writing an honest appreciation I think. Anyone saying they’re reading more, isn’t really doing any one of those properly. And you can quote me on that.

And speaking of categories…

consent-to-kill-vince-flynnblood-and-blade-matthew-harffyThe Award for the ‘Most Improved’ Series Award
Sharing this award is:
Vince Flynn for The Mitch Rapp Series
The still unexplained ten year gap between three and four (or was it two and three?) apart, this series gets better and better. I noted that he seemed to be aiming to write the perfect thriller, he’s there for the last two I’ve read. The UK publishers clearly want you to think ‘Jack Reacher’ when you see the covers, but these are so much better.
Matthew Harffy for The Bernicia Chronicles
Well, if you read book one and then book three, you’d wonder if they were written by the same person. So either he’s got a ghost-writer, or he’s improved a hundred-fold in the space of three books. Personally, I’m leaning towards the former.

the-wolf-and-the-ravenAward for the ‘Best Series Based on the lyrics for Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like The Wolf” Award
Steven A. McKay for Wolf’s Head, The Wolf and the Raven, Wolf’s Bottom, Rise of the Wolf, I’m On The Ground I’m After You and many more.

 

the-death-of-robin-hood-angus-donaldThe Award for ‘Sad To See It End’ Series Award
Angus Donald for The Outlaw Chronicles
I’ve maybe had my doubts about this series a couple of times – too much of it set in France – but…Angus got his revenge in the best possible way with an absolutely magnificent final book. He’s gone on to new writing pastures and I’m still misting over thinking about the final scene in this book. Really, do yourselves a serious favour and read the series (in order) if you haven’t done so yet. Robin Hood lives!

the-furies-of-rome-robert-fabbriThe Award for the Most Consistent Series Award
Robert Fabbri for Vespasian
When I’m blown away by book seven in an on-going series and champing at the bit for the next one, you know the series has something good going for it. The Furies of Rome was nothing short of a masterclass in Historical Fiction, one more authors in that field could well do with reading.

Gods of War CR MayThe Award for The Most Surprisingly Good Series Award
C. R. May for King’s Bane. Well, where did this come from?! Somewhere in East Anglia, I think. And the post to Denmark … well, anyway, Cliff (I feel I can call him Cliff now) was kind enough to send me a copy of the first King’s Bane book, and i was seriously blown away with how good it was and how quickly I became completely immersed in the pre-Viking European world he created.

The Bleeding LandBrothers' FuryThe Award for Biggest Disappointment Award
No! Not in that way…it’s because there are (so far) only two in Giles Kristian’s absolutely magnificent English Civil War trilogy. It’s listed as a trilogy and is set up after book two for a number three, but for one reason and/or another, it’s just a duo as yet. But what a hum-dinger book three is/will (hopefully) be. Maybe we should crowd-fund it? Stranger things have happened. I’m in!

 

But…here is the book I was most impressed with, made the biggest impression on me in 2016

The Prestigious Solid Gold Speesh Reads Best Book of 2016 Award


The HarrowingThe Harrowing
: James Aitcheson

From the moment I started it to the moment I finished it, there was never any doubt in my mind that this was going to be the best book I would read all year. I’m still reviewing the video his words created in my mind every so often. I don’t think it will fade. It was a book set in the aftermath of 1066, that felt bang up to date. It’s the best of 2016 and probably many other years as well.

My review

You can buy The Harrowing here

Honourable mentions

The Death of Robin Hood : Angus Donald
It’ll be a classic for future generations.

The Thunder God : Paul Watkins
Unbelievably good Viking saga. How they should be wrote.

Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith
The final bittersweet book in the Leo Demidov trilogy.

Well, thanks for reading all the way down here, thanks for reading my blog in 2016, I hope you come back in 2017. I also hope the books you read last year, were at least as good as those I read. Have a happy and safe new year – and, good reading!

Review: Imperial Fire by Robert Lyndon

Imperial Fire Robert Lyndon

3 of 5 stars

My version:
Hardback
Historical Fiction Europe, China
Sphere
2014
Bought

AD 1081: Vast empires struggle for dominance

From the Normans in the north to the Byzantines in the south, battles rage across Europe and around its fringes. But in the east, an empire still mightier stirs, wielding a weapon to rule the world: gunpowder.

Seeking the destructive might of this ‘fire drug,’ grizzled mercenary Vallon is sent by the defeated Byzantine emperor on a near-impossible quest the far-off land of Song Dynasty China. Leading a highly trained squadron, Vallon is accompanied by the physician Hero, Wayland the English hunter, and a young upstart named Lucas. All have their own reasons for going, all have secrets.

It’s a quest that leads them across treacherous seas and broiling deserts and into the uncharted land of mountains and plains beyond the Silk Road. Many will die…but the rewards are unbelievable.

I must admit, I’m struggling to grasp what he had in mind with this. If it was a follow up to the first one, Hawk Quest, yes, it does feature several of the same characters (those still alive, at least), but talking the characters and story so long away from the first book, it can’t really be classed as a follow up, more a new one. Maybe he wanted to write about how it was for some of the first travellers/envoys to cross over from Europe to China. What, where and what it looked like on the way. I really wouldn’t know if this is how it was, or if this is how it was in his imagination after doing his research. I’ve got nothing to reference in my reading experience, and I would shoot for that neither have those who bought and enjoyed the first one. Is it about how gunpowder got back to Europe, who knows, as they don’t return! And the culture clash there surely was, as there still is today, well, that’s not done a right lot with. Apart from concubines. Does it do anything apart from travel to China, not really. I can’t see any conclusions, any points being made – apart from the Jesus travelled to India theory/myth (I will allow, I’ve not seen it put forwards as being before, rather than after, the crucifixion), but even that is tacked on, rather than being an integral part of the story development.

Yes, it’s still nicely written, that is familiar from the first, and I’m guessing it is researched as well as he can to be as authentic as he can make it. The character, the ones that we met previously, don’t really do anything much here. Vallon, ostensibly the lead character, comes out particularly badly I thought. He’s indecisive, insipid, generally lost. Wayland, the bluff north country character seems relatively unscathed and unaffected by his time with the Turks and doesn’t do much, except go off on the tacked on quest after the Christian monk in the Himalayas.

Yeah, I was disappointed as I enjoyed Hawk Quest a lot. I admit I struggled through this one, once it became clear that, for a book about travelling thousands of miles to China, it wasn’t really going anywhere.

You can buy Imperial Fire at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

Hawk Quest Hardback 1

 

 

 

Me on Goodreads

Friday book news

…is back! And, on a Saturday!

Imperial Fire

Imperial Fire, Robert Lyndon‘s follow-up to Hawk Quest, has now been released.

You can order it here:

Amazon

The Book Depository

Or, if you fancy a signed first edition copy and don’t mind paying full-whack and possibly postage the same cost as the book (depending on where you live of course) you can try Goldsboro Books. That’s where I put my order in. They’ve taken the money, so I’m guessing he’s now signed and it is on its way.

Interestingly, The Book Depository have it also listed as having this cover (left).Imperial Fire 2

From what I can tell, that may well be the US hardback cover. Though they’ll have to wait a little longer for it to be released over there. As they should. Maybe I’ll have to run a post like the one I did for Hawk Quest, showing the different covers different countries got.

I can’t really see from the UK cover, what the story might be about. But the US one does rather seem to say ‘China’, doesn’t it? I’m guessing he’s continuing with the characters, those that were still alive, from Hawk Quest, so maybe they travel off to China, getting all Marco Polo on our asses. I guess I won’t have to wait too much longer to find out.

God of VengeanceIf you breeze over to Amazon, you can see that Giles Kristian‘s next, to be called ‘God of Vengeance‘ – a return to his ‘Raven’, Viking characters – will be released on the 10th April. I’m not too sure about the cover. Without knowing what the story is about, I can’t say whether it reflects it or not. Maybe it does. But, I doubt it. It’s too static. Not Vikingy enough. “But there’s a longboat on the cover!”, I guess he would say – but the dead, black background? OK, they’re runes, but it all looks like a new version of Homer’s Iliad or something, than a rampaging, rollocking story about a band of desperate Viking desperadoes. Which I’m guessing, even though it is a prequel to the other Raven stories, and not necessarily featuring the ‘Wolfpack’ as we know and love them, it is about.

Were it me in charge of things over at the publisher, I’d have said – try again. Give me something that at least looks as if it comes from the same historical period as the other three Raven books. I’m guessing that there won’t be any dramatic changes to this cover for the hardback version when it is released, be interesting to see if they keep the design for the paperback version.

You can pre-order God of Vengeance here:

Amazon

The Book Depository

Hannibal Clouds of War New Front

Ben Kane‘s next title, Hannibal Clouds of War, out on 27 February, has got itself a new cover.

Well, not a new, new cover, more a slight change to the original proposed cover.

Ben posted on his Facebook and Twitter Wednesday, that Wilbur Smith had come up with the goods, quote-wise. I’m guessing they have somehow got an advance copy of the book in front of the great man and he has liked it so much, he’s allowing Ben to quote him on the book. The quote is, in case your eyesight isn’t up to it:

Who is the rising star of historical fiction? I say Ben Kane

Today, he’s showing off a cover, an up-dated cover, with the afore-mentioned quote/gold dust, front and centre. They also seem to have brightened the soldier’s face area up a bit, and got the plume/crest a lot more reddish, though that could just be compared to the version of the cover I originally posted. I think it is, because the Amazon order page has a picture that looks exactly the same as the version Ben posted today, apart from the quote rather than the ‘Sunday Times…’ bit. It does really have a zing about it, don’t ya think?

Hannibal Clouds of WarIt seems, on the face of it from how Ben phrased it on his Facebook page, that they may not have started printing the covers yet. Which, having been in the game myself before moving over to Denmark, I find a little hard to believe. Ben’s quite rightly thanking his people for managing to get the cover re-done, with Wilbur Smith’s quote on it. I’d rather go for the angle that the designers and printers have now got a version together with the quote on. Meaning, I would not be at all surprised if there aren’t at least a few, maybe even a few thousand, of the original version printed and ready to go on a book. Now THAT would be worth getting hold of. As I say, and having been in the business, I’d put money on some of the originals finding their way onto shipped copies. Anyway, Ben’s quite rightly over the moon about the quote, that should hopefully get Ben out in front of a wider market, so it’s all good. As others on his Facebook page pointed out, Ben is already a star of the Historical Fiction world. Be interesting to find out which other HF authors Wilbur Smith knows of, or is comparing Ben with. What he may be on to, is what I’m getting from this cover and the re-design of Hannibal 2 – Ben is ready for and aiming for the big time, these new covers say Ben is moving into the Premier League of Authors.

Hannibal Clouds of War New Front & Back copy

Anyhoo. Here’s the whole thing, hardcover version, front, spine and back:

I’m crossing my fingers that they’re going to get some gold, embossing going on on the name, either Ben, or the title. Though I could well imagine a ‘flat’ version would look equally sexy.

As the paperback version of what Amazon refers to as ‘Hannibal 2’, has been done in the same photographic and design theme as this new Clouds of War (‘Hannibal 3’), I’d say the paperback version of Clouds of War, won’t differ that much from the hardback. They’d be fools if they re-invented the wheel there, as my old boss used to say.

You can order Hannibal Clouds of War here:

Amazon

The Book Depository

or, if you’re quick, you can order a signed copy from Goldsboro Books, just be aware that you’ll pay RRP and cop for some juicy postage charges. Though if Ben has time to date and first line it, it may well be worth the extra few sheets. For instance, at Goldsboro, a signed and dated The Forgotten Legion (that’s Book 1), will cause some serious open wallet surgery, coming in at a sizzling £165.

Happy reading.

Friday book news

A family affair

Feud

If you look to the right >> you’ll see that I am currently reading Feud by Derek Birks. Unfortunately, what you can’t see how much I’m enjoying it. Well, now << you can see it.

Set in England in the mid 1450’s and (where I am at the moment) the 1460’s, the eagle-eyed historians amongst you will have noticed this is the time of The Wars of The Roses.

Anyway, on his Twitter Monday, Derek announced that the follow-up to Feud, to be called A Traitor’s Fate, will be out on Kindle on 1 November. As Feud has also been released on Apple’s iBooks, I’m guessing it will be available there at around the same time.

A Traitor's Gate

As I am reading – and enjoying – Feud on the Kindle app on my iPhone, I’m thinking I might as well get the new one on that as well. In a later Tweet, he also said he is starting the third in the series. I haven’t detected any clues as to a title yet, but – I better get reading!

Read more about what looks like being a truly epic series, amongst other things, on www.derekbirks.com

BuyFeud: Kindle UK   Kindle UK   Paperback UK   Paperback US   Apple iBook

Back in the saddle

Hawk Quest Hardback 1

(Yet) Another book I enjoyed tremendously (this year?), was Hawk Quest, by Robert Lyndon (after a recommendation from Ben Kane). I noticed at the weekend, that Amazon have what appears to be his second book Imperial Fire available for pre-order here, with a release date of  the 2nd January 2014. Here’s what the synopsis says: ”
In the world after 1066, vast empires clamour for dominance.
From the Normans in the north to the Byzantines in the south, battles rage across Europe and around its fringes. But in the east, an empire still mightier stirs, wielding a weapon to rule the world: gunpowder.
Seeking the destructive might of this ‘fire drug’, the mercenary Vallon – a man made as of grit and earth as much of flesh and blood – is sent by the defeated Byzantine emperor on a secret and near-impossible quest to the far off land of Song Dynasty China. Alongside a squadron of highly trained soldiers, Vallon is accompanied by the learned physician Hero, hermit-like tracker Wayland and a young, ego-driven upstart named Lucas. All have their own reasons for going, all have secrets.
It’s a quest that will lead them across treacherous seas and arid deserts and into the uncharted land of mountains and plains beyond the Silk Road. Many will die… but the rewards are unbelievable.

Robert Lyndon
Robert Lyndon

The link with what I think of when I see ‘1066’, was a little tenuous in Hawk Quest. So the ‘an epic novel of the Norman Conquest’, should possibly have had ‘of the Norman Conquests’ removed. It having very little to do with them, and all. This one too, with its ‘In the world after 1066’ seems to be a little pushing it a bit, given the ‘quest to the far off land of Song Dynasty China’ part. I’d be pretty certain that the Chinese had, at that point, no idea the year was 1066. Anywhere. It certainly wasn’t ‘1066’ in China at the time, I’m thinking. But, it really doesn’t matter. Apart from to the person trying to place the book in the mind of the vast majority of their target market, I suppose. Hawk Quest was a world-wide success as far as I can see and, hopefully, this one will be just as excellent – not to mention epic – as its predecessor was.

There isn’t a cover picture yet for Imperial Fire, but you can place your order on Amazon here. As I have done. Or on Book Depository here. The only difference with the two (apart from that Amazon will be a little cheaper than Book Depository on release), is that you’ll pay for the book now on The Book Depository and at the time of release on Amazon.

Foyles Rush In

Foyles Book Bundles

As I mentioned a week or so ago, Bill Bryson was calling for e-books to be somehow included with the purchase of a ‘normal’ version, perhaps the hardback, or to be offered at a reduced price, if you bought a physical copy as well. Amazon, I’m told, are doing something similar to how they offer an mp3 version of an album you have bought on vinyl. That kind of thing, but for books.

So to today. Today, I got an email from Foyles bookstore (they’re in the UK) the business part of which I’ve put above. As it says, they are , on selected titles, offering the e-book version as well, if you buy the hardback version. According to their webpage, it’s in conjunction with Harper Collins and there are – on the face of it –  some pretty attractive (to me anyway) titles on their intro page. Immediately grabbing the eye are Max Hastings’ Catastrophe and Bernard Cornwell’s The Pagan Lord.

Here’s the deal. There are eight books from Harper Collins available in the ‘book bundle’ promotion. You buy one as shrink-wrapped hardback, you get a unique code which will allow you (or someone else) to download the e-book version. Presumably they’re shrink-wrapped to make sure the ‘someone else’ is someone you know and to stop someone else getting at the code without buying.  If you have already bought a copy of one of the books in the promotion (presumably from Foyles), you can get a code from them. They suggest that they’re testing the waters here, with the inference being that they may offer more books from Harper Collins and more books from different publishers, if it goes well.

Price-wise however, the e-book version from Foyles is not free. Or anything near it.

The Pagan Lord (printed)Let’s look at the Bernard Cornwell The Pagan Lord. I pre-ordered and paid £11.25 for the hardback from Amazon – it was sent the day it came out. They’re currently offering it for £9.00. Other places linked to on the Amazon page for The Pagan Lord, are offering it for £5.99, with a couple of notes delivery. Even factoring in the exorbitant Danish VAT (‘MOMS’) and postage here to Denmark, the whole lot ‘only’ (you’ll see why ‘only’ in a moment or two) cost me £16.73.

Foyles Logo

Foyles, for the hardback and the e-book version bundle, want £25.00. And they’re suggesting that is a reduction on the normal price (of both?) of £30.00! The inside cover of my The Pagan Lord, states the RRP as £20.00. Elsewhere, Foyles are offering the hardback version of The Pagan Lord, at £15.00, stating that you save £5.00. If you scroll down to their section allowing you to download the e-book version only, and you’re looking at £13.99. Only £2.00 less than the hardback price. The e-book version doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon’s Kindle store as yet (there’s no link to it anyway), but it can’t be long off. Apple are offering it (here in Denmark) for 129 Kroner. That is £14.65, near as makes no difference. The UK iBooks site has it at £13.99. So Foyles’ e-book price is in-line with the cheapest available e-book price – so far.

However, that £13.99 is the iBooks ‘hardback’ price. The price now. On the Danish iBooks store, it is possible to pre-order, if you want to wait a while, the ‘paperback’ iBooks version. That will cost you 85kr, or £9.65. Well under the £13.99 Foyles are wanting for the here and now e-book version.

The bottom line? Foyles are offering the two, as a ‘book bundle’ for the knock-down price of £25.00. If you compare the cheapest price you could do the same (hardback and e-version) for, of £9.00 (I’ll go for the Amazon hardback price, but remember you could get it for as little as £5.99), and the cheapest (if you wait a bit) so far e-book version of £9.65, the whole will cost you £18.65. That’s £6.35 less. Which would, of course, would get you another hardback Pagan Lord. You do get free UK delivery (if you buy for over £10) from Foyles, but then you do from Amazon as well. To Denmark – it’d cost me another £5.00 to have it posted.

All in all, I think this is going to be a tough sell. I can’t see the advantage in going for a Foyles book bundle, even if I lived in the UK. I haven’t looked at the other books in the promotion, maybe you’ll save a fortune on some of them. But Bernard Cornwell is very popular, not just in Historical Fiction circles. So he should be a ‘typical’ example to use. Even a candidate for a ‘loss-leader’, I’d have thought. Unless people aren’t already clued up on what they can get books for, or if they don’t care what a book costs them, or they’re blinded by this being a bundle!, then this has got ‘no deal’ written all over it.  As I’ve mentioned more than once, I’m absolutely not against paying full-whack/RRP for a book. I have done, I will do again. As I have also said more than once, I rather fear Amazon have got us accustomed to paying very little for a book. So little, that a not unreasonable RRP looks expensive. But I’m not so well-off I can just throw money away. I buy from Amazon when I want over £25.00 worth of books at the same time (free delivery to Denmark on orders over £25.00, you see). Or for single items, I’ll order from The Book Depository. And I did, this last summer, buy several books at RRP from Topping & Co in Ely. Happy to do so and happy to do so, so it supports the high-street book shops. Two were signed copies, so there was what you might call ‘added value’, but the other one wasn’t. Unfortunately, but understandably, other people are not so altruistic. And they’re surely going to look at that £25.00 price and say “no way!”, aren’t they? I wouldn’t be sounding so sure that this was going to take of, if I were Foyles. Though just because I can’t see why, doesn’t mean it won’t. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, that’s for sure.

If you haven’t already done so, you can see the Foyles book bundle deal here.

Today, 14 October, is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings

Tom Lovell's painting of Hastings
A painting of the battle by Tom Lovell, commissioned by National Geographic.

Today, the 14th of October, in 1066, the Norman conquest of Britain really got underway following their victory over the English at The Battle of Hastings.

Well, I’m guessing that the date is more the historian’s best guess, rather than having actual written (or otherwise) evidence for it. Until we find a diary with

“14 October 1066. Got up, messed about a bit, fought in Battle of Hastings. Went home”,

it’s probably going to be a best guess, date-wise. And didn’t we change calendars at some point since then? Or is that taken into account?

Nevermind, today is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, hoorah!

Except it was a little further inland, seven miles to be exact, from Hastings, at a place now called Battle. There’s lucky, eh?

“Where shall we have our battle?”
“Well, there’s a place just up the road called Battle?”
“Brilliant!”

Is probably how it didn’t go.

So, William the Conqueror – except he wasn’t ‘conqueror’ going into the battle (and he wasn’t The Bastard, either. He might well have been one, but I guess you didn’t call him that to his face. And live very long), met Harold Godwinson (he of very few nick-names) And we lost. As I’m still English, it’s still ‘we’.

I’m not going to try and go into the details of the battle, that takes a long time and a better writer. If you want to know more, you can do so here. The English Heritage site for the site, is here.

So, why highlight the battle? Well, as I mentioned previously, just at the moment, several of the books, several of the series of books I’m reading, seem to be set in the period leading up to the battle, the battle itself and the aftermath, life as a result of the Norman victory.

So, let’s take a look along the shelves in the Library here at Speesh Towers:

The Norman Conquest 2I’ll start with the non-fiction outing, The Norman Conquest, by Marc Morris. A really tremendous book and a great, thrilling, read. I’ve rambled on previously and at length about this book, so I won’t go into depth once again about how good it is.
It just is.
And, he recently made nonsense/mincemeat of the claims that even Battle wasn’t the actual site of the battle. Go read it for yourself and decide if you want to argue with him.

Justin Hill - ShieldwallShieldwall by Justin Hill (and the follow-up Hastings, whenever that comes out) is set in the years before the Norman invasion. Hastings, I’m guessing, will probably take in the battle.

If I were you, I’d buy the paperback version of this one. The cover is really good.The hardback, for some reason, is really poor in comparison. Just as well they didn’t just republish with the hardback cover in this case.

Berwick Coates - The Last ConquestOne I have yet to read, is The Last Conquest by Berwick Coates. The blurb says “The Normans have landed in Sussex, ready for battle. They have prepared for everything about the English – except their absence… King Harold and his fyrd, are hundreds of miles away, fighting to expel the Viking host in the north. But they have heard that William has landed and rumour is that they are marching back, triumphant and dangerous – and spoiling for a second victory…This is the story of the greatest battle ever seen on British soil and of the men who fought it.”

HerewardHereward The Devils Army2Hereward End of DaysJames Wilde‘s Hereward, Hereward The Devil’s Army, Hereward End of Days, cover the period of the invasion, but are more concerned with the English resistance in the period immediately after the battle at Hastings.

SwornSwordThe Splintered KingdomKnights of the Hawk 2James Aitcheson‘s Sworn Sword, The Splintered Kingdom and Knights of the Hawk are also set in the period in the immediate aftermath of the battle of Hastings, but are seen from the Norman’s side.

Hawk Quest Hardback 1Hawk Quest, by Robert Lyndon, is set in the period of the battle and invasion, but the action takes place away from the usual places associated with the Norman conquest. Though it is subtitled An Epic Novel of the Norman Conquests.

You can possibly add Angus Donald‘s Robin Hood series as well, though it comes a little while after 1066, it is still dealing with how life was as a consequence of the invasion.

Well, that’s what I’ve got on my shelves. I will no doubt, buy more. I’m always open to good recommendations, if you have any.

I’ve visited the battle site, at Battle, and even on a wet and miserable Autumn afternoon, as it was for me and possibly them then, it is a place well worth taking the time seeing.

Hawk Quest – conquers the world!

One of the books I’ve enjoyed reading most last year, is Robert Lyndon’s Hawk Quest.

Wonderful book, story, you name it.

Great cover as well, in my opinion. Which is what leads me to this post.

Well, in doing a post the other day, the Goodreads/Amazon one, I mentioned the cover. It was a surprise to me to find they’d found it necessary to ‘improve’ on it. Seems to me, we’re in much the same ball-park as ‘if it ain’t broke, fix it anyway’, though they’ll justify it as a re-fresh. An attempt to get new readers, after the book has presumably got a good reception since it first came out in 2011/12. And why not? It’s worth every penny.

Let’s start at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start…This is the hardback version I have on the shelves here at Speesh Towers. It was released, as far as I can see, in the UK 05 January 2012

Hawk Quest Hardback 1

I bought it after seeing that Ben Kane was raving about it. Quite rightly. He wrote a review which you can read on Goodreads. The cover quote seems to be taken from this review, though I doubt it was done for Goodreads originally. The quote isn’t exactly how Ben wrote it either, they’ve shuffled it around a little to (presumably) have more impact.

I have also seen that there is a paperback version of this cover. You can order it here. It may be one of those larger sized paperbacks, given its hefty price tag.

What puzzles me, is that for the UK paperback (released 02 August 2012) they’ve changed it so completely.

Hawk Quest UK Paperback

Really, I’d have left well alone. Rather than commissioning so total an overhaul. I don’t know why, and I don’t think it’s an improvement. Look at those sparks, for goodness’ sake! And that huge red sticker!

Then I thought, OK, purely for fun’s sake, let’s see just how much the Hawk Quest cover changes in so many versions as I can find.

So, moving across the pond, this is what seems to be the US hardback version, released 09 April 2013

Hawk Quest US Harback

Got ‘straight to DVD’ written all over it. Except it isn’t. A DVD cover, I mean. If you liked Lord of the Rings, you’ll like this. Which is actually exactly the right analogy to be selling, really. They’ve certainly gone balls-out for ‘epic’ here, haven’t they? Though they have clearly haven’t got the balls to run the whole of cuddly uncle Ben’s recommendation. But it does mean, given Ben Kane is front and centre there, that he carries some weight, figuratively speaking, in US Historical Fiction reader circles, eh? Didn’t realise that.

Although…You know, when I started preparing this post, a while back, in a different form, I was pretty sure I’d seen a listing for the above cover on a re-printed UK hardback version. Can’t find it now. So the above might be that one, masquerading as the US hardback cover. Which would explain the Ben Kane quote, if he isn’t that well known in the US after all.

But look at this. I don’t know how this one fits in the great scheme of things, apart from maybe an early attempt. Until the receptionist pointed out “that T looks like a C!” I like the style of lettering, but it does look like Hawk Quesc, doesn’t it? You can still see it on the Goodreads page for Hawk Quesc.

Hawk Quest with odd T

Then of course, there’s the German version

Der Thron der Welt

Germans being Germans, they’ve changed the whole lot. They don’t like the English language on the best of days – for instance; Germans always overdub English-language films, rather than like here, in Denmark, keeping the original English, but putting Danish subtitles. My German is not what it could be, so I can’t make much of a guess as to what the title has been changed to. It sure isn’t Hawk Quest though, is it? Being now fluent in Danish, does help however, as the two languages do actually overlap in many areas. A guess from me would have the title as ‘The throne of the world’, but don’t quote me on that. And on Amazon’s page for it, the German translator even gets a credit!

The German people behind Hawk Quest have however, produced a really quite excellent video you can see on YouTube or here. Captures the scope and epic nature of the book and story perfectly. Whoever did that film (it’s best seen on the page here, actually) needs an award. Then they need to be given the film rights and then they need to be left alone. There would without doubt come an epic to match Lord of the Rings. And that guy doing the voice-over, wonderful. No idea what he’s saying, but he needs the job of narrator for the film. Bringing my Danish to bear on the German language, some of the words on screen are about ‘mighty enemies…a great journey beginning…the court of Constantinople’ and ‘crossing borders.’ Some of the other promo material also looks the absolute business

German Promo Hawk Quest

Really nicely done. I’d be extremely happy if that’s how mine looked, that’s for sure. I got the above and link from Rowohlt.de You can see their Hawk Quest page and the video again here.

In Spanish, it’s called La Gesta del Halcon. I’m guessing, by the looks of it, that is a straight Spanish translation of Hawk Quest

La Gesta del Halcon - Spanish Hawk QuestI think this one looks just excellent as well. Maybe if the illustration was a little more photo realistic. It looks a little un-finished here. Needs something in the foreground, even though there’s the small type there. And the flying hawk could be a little better placed. That’s what I’d have said to the designer showing me this before I took it to the client.

I’m not sure if this is the chap that did the above illustration, but you can see what looks like a rejected cover idea – the illustration and the whole cover idea on the blog of José Luis Martin.

Moving to what seems like Slovakia, I give you The Path of the Hawk (I think):

17408590

Now, you see, that is much more like it. OK, they’ve probably done it to save some money, but re-using the UK original cover is exactly what I would have done. For them all. The hawk looks like a bit of an afterthought and all they had in the stock libraries, but this is how it should have been for them all, you ask me. Strip out the English type, put in your own country’s language – bingo, job’s a good ‘un.

The Turkish publisher delights in calling it The Grey Falcon. Which is wrong on a couple of fronts. Still, I couldn’t spot the difference if there were two pecking away at me right now, could you?

TurkishI really like this one too. Brooding and full of depth and feeling. Whoever’s come up with this one is worth whatever it cost. However, that blind typist is gonna have to go, eh?

Not to the Gulags though, as through my extensive mastery of the Russian language, I can clearly see they have their house in order alright. The ships, I’d have to think about

RussianA rough translation of the Russian title would be ‘Help, I’m trapped on a Collective Farm…’ I think that’s pretty accurate.

Then finally, there’s this one

hawkq2-1024x640

It’s from a company called The Handmade Press. Click on the name and you’ll go to their website. Their site says Design, illustration and typography for the advertising, publishing and music industries. There’s some absolutely wonderful design work on their website – look for The Glass God book cover (also for Little Brown), outstanding. The above picture is on their site, but no information other than ‘Design, illustration and typography.’ The original hardback version I have credits ‘Illustration © Steve Stone Design Sean Garrehy – LBBG.’ That might be Little Brown Book Company? This picture looks like an idea that they maybe put forward to showcase their typography solution for the way the words ‘Hawk Quest’ should be done. I’m speculating, uninformed-ly. But it does look like they had a hand in the process somewhere along the line. Maybe The Handmade Press did the typography? As they seem to have done for The Glass God.

I hope they don’t mind me posting the picture and links, I will of course take the section down if they wish. Otherwise, they’re in Leicester, England and you can get them on +44 (0)7872 529 716 or by email: studio @ thehandmadepress .com

There you have it. Amazing to think how that little paperback you* have in your hands in your own language can have a whole life you never realised.

*Clearly by ‘you’, I mean me.

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

Review: Hawk Quest

Hawk Quest
Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is without doubt a big, glorious, involving book. One you can get totally lost in.

It’s a rich, twisting, and thoroughly absorbing tale. One that travels through Spain, France, England, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Finland (I think), what is now Russia and all the way down the rivers and rapids to Constantinople. Whilst the cover says it is a novel of the Norman Conquests, it isn’t – as such. I’d say it is fundamentally a journey through the world as known by later period Vikings.

Personally, had I been the author, I’d have argued against (presumably) the Marketing Department’s suggestion of putting ‘An epic novel of the Norman Conquests’ on the front cover. Yes, there are Normans in it – and they are of course bad – and it takes place in the period shortly after the conquest of England, but if you’re looking for a Sworn Sword or another Hereward, you’ll be better looking elsewhere. It is at least an epic, that bit’s spot on.

It just goes to show how hard it is to pin down what this multi-faceted book actually is. On the face of it, it’s a reasonably simple tale. An Arabic leader demands a ransom for a Norman knight he holds. Money, lots of it, or four rare, snow-white hunting hawks. From the title of the book, you can perhaps guess which option they decide upon.

A motley band of adventurers come together through accident and circumstance and proceed try to to carry out the quest of the title and the book is their adventures along the way. Vallon is a Frankish knight on his way back from being held captive by the Moors in Spain, when he runs into Hero, a young Sicilian scholar travelling with his master and teacher. The old Arab is dying, but has the details of the ransom wanted for a captured Norman knight out in the Middle East. The journey goes to England, where they meet up with a wild kind of woodland-dwelling outcast boy, called Wayland. Handily, he is an expert when it comes to handling Hawks. They are effectively chased out of England and travel to Iceland, then Greenland after the Hawks they need. They collect other adventurers on the way and are pursued by all manner of Normans, Icelanders and on the ‘return’ journey through Norway and Russia, by Vikings and marauding Steppe nomads.

Whilst Vallon is the leader of the group, the most interesting character, perhaps not surprisingly given the author’s background, is young Wayland. The author is a falconer and Wayland is the character in the book who hunts, captures and cares for the hawks of the book’s title. Passages describing him, and his adventures in the countryside – both fighting, protecting his comrades and capturing the Hawks – are superb. Robert Lyndon really brings the wildlife, forests and countryside of 11th Century Europe vividly to life. You can almost smell it!

There’s a little and a lot of everything here (well over 600 pages in the hardback version I have, so lord only knows how many it’ll have when it comes out in paperback). But whilst it is a long story, it’s one that is constantly moving, action-packed and manages to stay focused the whole way through.

So while it is a quest and it is set in the (in England anyway) Norman period, it isn’t a novel of the Norman conquests. Vikings are in it, but it isn’t a Viking novel. It’s a quest, a long involved one at that, but it isn’t ‘Lord of the Rings’. Maybe it’s just written for the love of it. Yes, that must be it. Stop trying to sort out what it is or isn’t, Steve. Stop over analysing and enjoy – is what I told myself about a third of the way in. And enjoy it I did, very much indeed.

View all my reviews