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: Lionheart by Stewart Binns

Lionheart Stewart Binns5 of 5 stars

The Making of England 4

My version:
Paperback
Historical Fiction England, Crusades
Penguin
2013
Bought

1176 England

King Henry II reigns over a vast empire that stretches the length of Britain and reaches the foothills of the Pyrenees. But he is aging, and his powerful and ambitious sons are restless.

Henry’s third son, Richard of Aquitaine, is developing a fearsome reputation for being a ruthless warrior. Arrogant and conceited he earns the name Richard Lionheart for his bravery and brutality on the battlefield.

After the death of his brothers, Richard’s impatience to take the throne, and gain the immense power that being King over a vast empire would bring him, leads him to form an alliance with France.

And so Richard begins his bloody quest to return the Holy Land to Christian rule.

I was, I must admit, more than a little sad to have come to the end of this series (what do you call one more than a trilogy?). I’ve grown to rather like Stewart Binns’ style and the sheer audacity of what he’s tried to do here. A history of the formative years, decades, of ‘England’ the land and the idea as we know it today from our history lessons.

The term ‘Lionheart’ has gone down in that there history, and so much so, that it maybe has lost some of its significance. Most people could probably add ‘Richard, The…’ before ‘Lionheart’, but how much more do we know? I knew a little, but not much. Now, I know a whole lot more. About the man, as far as history can tell us about his personality, his background, his reasoning and most importantly, his place at the heart of forming English history. Binns does an excellent job in showing his early years, his coming to power and the changes that brought to the character of the man. A really fine job.

The book, as said, continues in the same vein as the first three, with an easily digestible and flowing style of writing. Again, and given his writerly background, you can imagine that it is all soundly researched, maybe a few liberties here and there, but all fits in rather well. It probably couldn’t be taught as History in schools, but youngsters would still get a good grasp of the overall picture of the period by reading these books. And, I would imagine the Hist Fic purists would not look too kindly on this sort of thing – mostly the Indie ones, who seem to think THEIR research is better than everyone else’s, have you noticed that? Anyway, if you can, get hold of the whole series from the start and go through it all, you’ll never get a better over view of how England and the English came to be and came to be as we are.

You can buy Lionheart at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

ConquestCrusadeAnarchy Stewart Binns

 

 

 

Friend me? On Goodreads?

Speesh Reads, now on Facebook

Review: Anarchy by Stewart Binns

Anarchy Stewart Binns

5 of 5 stars

The Making of England 3

My version:
Paperback
Historical Fiction England
Penguin
2013
Bought

1186 – England.

Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of London, has witnessed first-hand the terrifying and bloody civil wars that have ripped the country apart under the reign of King Henry II – a time in history so traumatic it became known as The Anarchy.

The greatest letter writer of the twelfth century, Foliot writes of a man who has impacted history – Harold of Hereford. Harold, one of the nine founders of the Knights Templar, is a heroic survivor of the fearsome battles of the Crusader States and a loyal warrior in the cause of Empress Matilda.

During a time of ruthless brutality, greed and ambition, Harold carries the legacy of England’s past and its hopes for the future.

Set out as quite a few books set in this period are, by someone telling the story of someone else, or someone telling their story to someone else…get over the initial groans, and you’ve got a really good, involving, interesting and evocative story. Here, it’s even a bit more convoluted, as the story teller is telling a story, as it was told to him by Harold of Hereward, in letters to his church friend high up in the Vatican. However, It continues and fits seamlessly after the previous book, Crusade and, I think, may well turn out to be the best of the series (though there’s only one more to go). Hereward’s descendants are still involved, but, of course, as the story moves on, there are fewer who actually knew him and his legend grows. Though, for all his multifarious exploits in foreign climes, as told in these books and James Wilde’s books, if you think about it, his exploits never seem to have reached back to England. There, there is still mystery and intrigue surrounding him – explained here and by James Wilde as the result of a pact made with King William, to cease the resistance, leave England and never come back.

I found no real fault in the quality of the writing, but I can imagine quite a few aficionados will. There’s a real fluid flow to the story, a sense of purpose and no one can argue he doesn’t know his way around a story, or how to tell it. If you take the time to think about the story, the people, the times, you could end up, as me, feeling quite affected by the concepts of loyalty to people and ideals, that are expressed here. I was very sad to finish the book. As in, there being a slight watering of the eyes, that people gave their own futures, for the futures of others (and theres no surprise he is a former soldier and teacher has also written books on WWI and WWII). People who put their own hopes and dreams to the side, for the sake of other people. Most poignant of all, the link to Harold, Hereward and what might have been on Senlac Hill if just five minutes had gone differently in 1066.

Say what you like about the writing, the books, they do inspire to maybe go find out more about the periods. If only to see if the people did really do all the things he has them doing. Anyway, quite apart from feeling proud that there were such men who called themselves Englishmen and were willing to lay down their lives, or change their lives, for the ideal of an England their children could be proud of.

You can buy Anarchy at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh reads:

ConquestHerewardHereward Wolves of New Rome

 

 

 

Me on Goodreads

Review: Hereward The Immortals by James Wilde

Hereward The Immortals5 of 5 axe blows

My version:
Hardback
Historical Fiction Hereward, Normans, Vikings
Bantam Press
2015
Bought, Signed

AD1073. Under the merciless sun of the East, a dark force has risen – a Norman adventurer whose bloody and unquenchable ambition rivals that of King William himself. He has conquered his land, built his fortress and he has amassed his army. And now he has taken Constantinople’s ruler as his prisoner…

It falls to Hereward to rescue this precious captive. For the great warrior-in-exile and his spear brothers, it will mean mounting a raid that could prove the most daring of their lives. Assisting them in this task, will be an elite and legendary band of fighters, the Immortals – so-called because they believe they cannot die in battle. But it will not be enough – for enemies hide within the bloated, bejewelled heart of Byzantium: vipers who would spread their poison, who wish to see the English dead and who will strive to turn a mission that was at best dangerous into one that is now suicidal…

Before I opened the book, I really didn’t want to like it. I didn’t want them to think I could be bought by putting my (blog) name on the back. Did I mention they’d printed a quote from my review on the back? Well, that SPEESH there, that’s me, that is.

And yet, I failed. They won.

Well, you know the kind of book you know is going to be a beast right from the first sentence? This.

All the old memories and pleasure from previous outings with Hereward come flooding back right from the start. The Immortals really is everything you want from – not just a Hereward book, but from – a book. And, that’s a full stop back there.

Hereward The Immortals Signed pageThat Hereward left England and later journeyed to Constantinople to join the Varangian guard, seems to be common, almost accepted, knowledge amongst Historical Fiction authors, well, those I’ve read anyway. I’m doubtful that there is any hard evidence for this, though to be fair, there’s little hard evidence for anything to do with Hereward. The way I see that, is that it means there’s plenty to get your teeth into, for the writer and a reader. Only stick-in-the-muds are gonna get all po-faced on our asses and poo-poo certain ‘liberties’ but, as I pointed out to one, if you can’t point out that it didn’t happen and it is possible, then shut the fuck up and go back to writing your historical romances (Mr Wilde does address some of the limitations of the source material at the end of the book).

So, if you’ve been with James Wilde’s story so far, you’ll know that after being on the losing side at Hastings, and later at Ely, Hereford made a deal with William the Bastard, to leave England and never come back. Hereford seems intent on upholding his side of the bargain and, over the last couple of books, has made his way to Constantinople, intent on joining, with his loyal band of followers, the Emperor’s Varangian guard. They are prevented from joining by the animosity of certain guards with long memories and because they haven’t got the signing-on fees. This book sees the rage at the injustice of their situation, explode in glorious fury.

Hereward’s small band of Ely rebels, has got even smaller over the course of the last couple of books and continues that way here. However, the really interesting ones, Kraki, Guthrinc, Herrig ‘The Rat,’ for instance, seem to develop and fill out a little more here, come more out of the background, prove they are not the ‘Enterprise’ landing party member in the red shirt, and sometimes almost take equal billing with our main man. And, where there are good, honest warriors, there will always be…Ragener. What’s left of him anyway. He was the one that scared us shitless in the original trilogy and while he may have lost a few body parts, he’s certainly lost none of his menace. He is a superb adversary for the story, an unpredictable, predictably evil homicidal maniacal mirror to the well-meaning character of Hereward.

I’m not sure how old Hereward is here (I’m sure I could figure it out if I put my mind to it), but the point is there’s still lots of life in the character, literally and physically. Both in this story and, hopefully, for plenty of stories to come. There’s passion a-plenty. There are do-or-die, breathless, white-knuckles gripping the book battles, that will get the pulse racing, the heart beating, the nerves a-jangling. Desperate last minute, backs against the wall, no end in sight rescues and escapes against all the odds. The story itself feels like it’s balanced on a knife- an axe-edge, the whole way through. Like their fate could go either way at any time. Hereward The Immortals has it all…and is quite probably the most complete, certainly the most enjoyable, since the series began. Probably was as enjoyable to write as it was to read. Certainly hope so.

You can buy Hereward The Immortals at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh Reads that you may find useful:

HerewardHereward The Devils Army2Hereward End of DaysHereward Wolves of New RomeConquest

 

 

 

Me, on Goodreads

Review: Crusade by Stewart Binns

Crusadeout of 5 knights

My version:
Paperback
Historical Fiction Norman Europe
Penguin Books
2012
Bought from Waterstones

1072. England is firmly under the heel of its new Norman rulers. The few survivors of the English resistance look to Edgar the Atheling, the rightful heir to the English throne, to overthrow William the Conqueror. Years of intrigue and vicious civil war follow, which will see brother against brother, family against family, friend against friend.

In the face of chaos and death, Edgar and his allies forma a secret brotherhood, pledging to fight for justice and freedom wherever they are denied. But soon they are called to fight for an even greater cause: the plight of the Holy Land. Embarking on the epic First Crusade to recapture Jerusalem, together they will participate in some of the cruellest battles the world has ever known – the savage Siege of Antioch and the brutal fall of Jerusalem – and together they will fight to the death.

Stewart Binns’ second book in his Making of England tetralogy (go look it up), brings us to the aftermath of the 1066 conquest. Hereward, who was the source for the story in book one, is gone from England and here, we see the story through they eyes of Edgar, who should, by rights, if it wasn’t for William invading and all, be King of England. He isn’t. He’s a recluse in the northern parts of England, in touch with the land and the ancestors of the ancient peoples. So the story is told by him and of course, is based around his travels and recollections. Hereward still casts a long shadow over the book. Here, he is as much a talisman, as the amulet they carry. If only he would come back, or come to their aid, it’ll be alright. Hereward is getting a re-working through James Wilde’s books, but he still needs to emerge from the title of England’s forgotten hero (for example my spell-check constantly wants to alter Hereward to Hereford, the ignominy!). Stewart Binns has done his part excellently in Conquest and here in Crusade.

How much is truth and how much is fiction, it’s hard to tell. Though, that is a good thing. Of course, the stand-out highlights, the aftermath of the invasion, the Norman possessions in Italy and Sicily, the First Crusade are well-documented historical fact. A lot of the other stuff, the friends and companions he makes and travels and fights with, not so sure. As with the first book, to have the aim of basically weaving a tale around and through the major (European and Middle Eastern) events of the period, does mean the main character has got get around a fair bit, meeting the leading personalities and being present at a vast assortment of the major battles, etc. If you’ve read the first, you’ll know the type of thing going on here. However, rather than seeming strained, Stewart Binns’ style and plotting really doesn’t feel too strained. Actually, it reminded me of Tim Severin’s Viking series in that way. A thorough knowledge of the main points, interestingly and well formulated into a story. As with Tim Severin’s work(s) I also found that Binns’ style is a nice type of melancholy, as befits a main character telling his story, looking back, missing the friends he’s telling about and maybe rueing the chances he didn’t take, the opportunities he didn’t make the most of and the way fate passed him by. There are therefore, some nicely poignant sections. Particularly referring to Senlac Hill (look it up). About it now being just 20 years after and all Englishmen are thinking about it constantly. Not something I’d thought about before as we usually see the next period of history, through the Normans’ eyes.

It’s an un-cluttered style, simple and direct, no aires and graces. I’ve not read reviews of this (or the other books), but I’d imagine that many self-styled ‘discerning’ Historical Fiction writers and reviewers would pooh-pooh the books for this very reason. You and I; we can sit back and enjoy the ride. And enjoy it I did, very much.

You can buy Crusade at The Book Depository

Related reviews:
Conquest Hereward Hereward The Devils Army1 Hereward End of Days Hereward Wolves of New Rome

Me, on Goodreads

Review: Hereward Wolves of New Rome

Hereward Wolves of New Rome

Hereward Wolves of New Rome by James Wilde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was very pleased about this one. About how good it was and how it developed and, I felt, totally refreshed the series I have loved from the start, from the opening chapter, in fact.

Fast-paced and urgent, streamlined and effective, it is tightly-written, yet still felt like James was enjoying (tremendously) having set his character free from the historical straight-jacket. Of having to fit into the period of English history Hereward began in and what is known about him occurs. As with James Aitcheson’s final book in the ‘Bloody Aftermath’ series, this really is a great leap forward for the character, the series and not the least, for us.

As far as I can see, what little there is known about the ‘historical’ Hereford, stops a short while after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It seems there was sporadic English ‘resistance’ in the period following and Historical Fiction writers (those I’ve read, anyway) have decided it was Hereward doing the leading of the resistance. Until it all stopped. As the population dropped from 2,000,000 before the invasion, to 1,000,000 in the years afterwards, thanks to King William’s bringing of Norman ‘civilisation,’ it’s clear that the/any resistance stopped primarily because there were very few English people left to do the resisting. Hist Fic writers have decided that Hereward survived and, for one reason or other, left England, with a band of followers. He travelled east to Constantinople, to seek his fortune – and work off his frustrations – with the Emperor’s Varangian Guard.

In End of Days (the one before this) Hereward comes to an agreement with William, to leave England. Hereward is ‘convinced,’ shall we say, by William, of the health benefits both to the (remaining) English people and to himself, if he does so. So, he leaves. Luckily for us, James’ Hereward leaves with several of the more interesting characters from the previous stories. He can’t leave with his love interests (as Stewart Binns has ‘his’ Hereward do in ‘Conquest’), but here he has Kraki, the ex-Viking and Alric, the monk – and Hereward’s conscience – who has been with Hereward from the start. They are now much more than just supporting characters and I really liked their development here. Hereward ihimself, is still plagued, unusually for a man who generally lets his axe talk first and asks questions later, by regrets and remorse, guilt and a sometimes irritating level of uncertainty about the rights or wrongs of his actions. That’s how we would be, I guess, but would a 11th Century warrior have those same doubts? To that level? I’m not so sure. It’s not James’ fault, writers generally seem to think that by adding in that sort of thing, it gives their character depth and we’d understand it. We can’t, no matter how much archaeology advances, look inside someone from the period’s head and understand their feelings, but you do sometimes wish, they were a bit more convinced of themselves, feel justified in doing what they do, from the off. A Jack Reacher set in the 11th Century maybe (to my credit, I have subsequently learned that James sold his Hereward books to his publishers as ‘a Jack Bauer (24) for the 11th Century.’ Glad I got roughly in the same ball-park first!). Anyway, fortunately for us, Hereward has a tough time controlling his demons and often just gets on with the slaying of enemies.

Clearly, to continue the Hereward series, James had to take Hereward out of England, it couldn’t have continued on otherwise. I must admit, I wasn’t all that hopeful of the success of the series after book three, which while good, did, on reflection, feel like it was a bit forced. Here, in Wolves, James’ Hereward has broken his historical shackles, there is a real sense of purpose – from James as well as Hereward – and a really great flow to the story. Hereward grows and the series will continue, that I know. And I’m really looking forward to it doing so, on the reading of this.

Buy Hereward Wolves of New Rome

See also

Hereward

Hereward. The Devil’s Army

Hereward. End of Days

If it’s 2015, it must be time for – Book of the Year 2014!

I thought I’d actually wait until the year was over (2014, just in case you…) before putting my heads together and seeing what I’d read that was worthy of

The Speesh Golden Bookmark*

for best book/read I read in 2014.

As usual, I don’t seem to have read any of other places’ ‘Books of the Year.’ Partly because I don’t often get on to actually reading books that were released in the year their list covers.

Anyway, I have readed** a fair few books this year. Listened to a fair few as well, after being temporarily (slightly) blind.

So, with grateful thanks to our sponsors –

RegionMidt (the people I work for and who pay, indirectly, for all the books and who really need to put a stop with the Danish Government’s attempts to starve the hospitals of money, calling it ‘savings’ when everyone at the sharp end (me) knows they’re ‘cuts.’ How can you put a price on health? Your health, my health. Can’t. Bastards).

Sydbank (our bank who turn a blind eye to a little overdraft now and then).

And a couple of authors who were kind enough to send me a copy of their books after reading this here blog and surmising, correctly as it turned out, that I might like to be sent their book(s): Here is a list of all the books I have finished in 2014. In order of finishing:

1. The Bourne Imperative : Eric Van Lustbader
2. The Ways of the World : Robert Goddard
3. Ratcatcher : Tim Stevens
4. Secret of the Seventh Son : Glenn Cooper
5. The Last Conquest : Berwick Coates
6. Stay Another Day : Mark Timlin
7. Swords of Good Men : Snorri Kristjansson
8. The Last Minute : Jeff Abbott
9. Arrows of Fury : Anthony Riches
10. Grail Knight : Angus Donald
11. Hannibal. The Patrol : Ben Kane
12. The Small Boat of Great Sorrows : Dan Fesperman
13. Stettin Station : David Downing
14. Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs : Hugh Bicheno
15. The Whitehall Mandarin : Edward Wilson
16. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Sp : Len Deighton
17. The Lion and The Lamb : John Henry Clay
18. The Rule of Four : Ian Caldwell
19. Out of Exile : Luke Preston
20. Conquest : Stewart Binns
21. Defender of Rome : Douglas Jackson
22. The Lost Symbol : Dan Brown
23. Of Merchants and Heroes : Paul Waters
24. Fortress of Spears : Anthony Riches
25. The Holy Thief : William Ryan
26. The Leopard Sword : Anthony Riches
27. Dead Men’s Dust : Matt Hilton
28. The Wolf’s Gold : Anthony Riches
29. The Dying Hours : Mark Billingham
30. A Farewell to Justice : Joan Mellen
31. The Bat : Jo Nesbø
32. Siege of Heaven : Tom Harper
33. Book of Souls : Glenn Cooper
34. Rome’s Executioner : Robert Fabbri
35. The Eagle’s Vengeance : Anthony Riches
36. A Colder War : Charles Cumming
37. The Emperor’s Knives : Anthony Riches
38. Natchez Burning : Greg Iles
39. The Wolves of the North : Harry Sidebottom
40. 1066 What Fates Impose : G.K. Holloway
41. The Fort : Bernard Cornwell
42. Judgement & Wrath : Matt Hilton
43. The Amber Road : Harry Sidebottom
44. Not In Your Lifetime : Anthony Summers
45. Mission To Paris : Alan Furst
46. The Bourne Retribution : Eric Van Lustbader

So, the best of the year?

Gonna have to be in two categories here. Historical Fiction and plain old Fiction. Maybe also Non-Fiction. Go on then, Non-Fiction as well.

“So what are they?!”

Best Historical Fiction book I read all year:

What Fates Impose1066 What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway

No doubt about this one. And it’s not just because I finished it late in the year and can’t remember too far back…It’s because it’s a superb book, telling an interesting story in a wonderful way. I can’t remember being so impressed by a book for a good long while. I even forced it upon my neighbour (I/we live in Denmark, he’s also English, fortunately) and he loved it as well. You will believe the English are gonna win, I can assure you. Could do with the cover being a bit more dynamic, but otherwise, I cannot recommend this to you all highly enough.

The author had a look at the type of books I read/reviewed on the site and asked if I would like a copy sent. I haven’t been paid for the review other than getting the book for free.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Good ol’ G.K. also informs me that it’s on Amazon UK and Amazon US, should you really not want to get it from The Book Depository.

The Best Fiction book I read in 2014

…well, there were two. In order of equalness – or alphabetical, you decide –
I give you:

9780007467471A Colder War by Charles Cumming

Stunning book, absolutely. Glues itself to your hands, turns your brain inside out and has me counting the days to a sequel/follow up/his next one. Spy story par-excellence, bang up to date, harking back to the great spy novels of yore. Simple and effective and much better than a fair few others of his I’ve read. For once, the references to John le Carré are right. Go buy it.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

 

 

The Whitehall MandarinThe Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson

OK, I read a lot of John le Carré when I was younger, so I like a good spy story and this is just that. Not in the shadow of le Carré at all, out on its own. A really interesting, intreguing journey through the’ 60’s, ’70’s, spy scandals, the diplomatic hot-spots and turning points. World-wide in scope, uniquely English in execution. I loved this one from start to finish. Get it bought. Do it now!

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

 

 

The Best Non-Fiction book I read all 2014, was:

A Farewell To JusticeA Farewell to Justice. Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assasination and the Case That Should Have Changed History by Joan Mellen

First, an absolutely incredible piece of work. Mind-boggling marshalling of facts into evidence. I really did think this was the last word on the whole affair. Joan Mellen owns the Kennedy conspiracy. Though… Anthony Summers has butted in with Not In Your Lifetime, Mellen still rules – for now.

Another pretty dreadful cover – and don’t let the Oliver Stone quote put you off, you need to read this book.

Here’s my review.

Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Mentioned in dispatches:

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles.

Fabulous. Stunning. All that.

I posted a review. The Natchez tourist people follow me on Twitter. Excellent stuff.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Alan Furst - Mission to ParisMission to Paris by Alan Furst

His best…so far.

1939, Paris, Berlin, Paris. Subtle, suspense, something else good beginning with ‘s.’

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

The Small Boat of Great SorrowsThe Small Boat of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman

The Balkans, the Second World War, the Balkan conflict, Italy. One that gets better the more I think about it. And bought for a song in the Porthcawl RNLI shop. Result.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

I hope you enjoyed the books you read in 2014 and that you’re looking forward to the ones you’ll read in ’15.

Remember to read real books (that’ll be ones made from paper) and make sure you only ever use Amazon for books if you really can’t avoid it, or until they start paying the right amount of tax. Like you and I do.

*There isn’t a golden bookmark. I made that up.

**Yes, I know…

Review: Conquest

Conquest
Conquest by Stewart Binns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is probably going to be seen as a guilty pleasure and I have glanced at reviews which would suggest it is quite possibly not all that cool to say (a bit like admitting to thinking The Da Vinci Code was one hell of a rattling good and enjoyable read, which is was, you know it), but … I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Yes, I can see what is wrong with it, but as a whole, it holds together nicely, and with a relatively unobtrusive style and is an all round rattling good tale.

Of course, I’ve come across Hereward several times. Several recent book series have featured the 11th Century Fenland Terror. James Aitcheson has had him in his tale. James Wilde has written three, soon to be four, excellent novels based on him and his exploits, real or imagined. The brilliant Marc Morris, in his The Norman Conquest non-fiction look at the people who brought you 1066 and all that, mentions Hereward several times and provides a good look at all the facts, the few there are, about him, as well as mentioning some of the more speculative stories. Whether you come from other books to Marc’s book, or go from there to other Herward stories, you can see that (amongst others) the two James’ do at least touch base with what is ‘known.’ As does Stewart Binns here. However, and perhaps even more than James Wilde (at least until I’ve slapped some peepers on #4 ‘The Wolves of New Rome’), he picks up the Hereward ball and runs more than a little further with it. Wilde and Binns both seem to agree on Hereward’s struggle with his anger issues, but they solve them in different ways. I don’t think James Wilde has his Hereward at Senlac Hill, nor does James Aitcheson. Their Herewards only really come front of stage in the period after Hastings. I think both Binns and Wilde are also implying that Hereward, real person or not, is possibly the source for the later development of the Robin Hood myth. Something that possibly Robert Holdstock might like to comment on (if he hasn’t already done so and quite honestly, after struggling through the stream of consciousness nonsense that was most of Gate of Horn, Gate of Ivory, I finally let him go his own way) in a ‘Mythago Wood’ novel. I don’t know.

The story begins, perhaps surprisingly, in the mountains of Greece. To where the heir to the Eastern Roman Empire, travels in search of enlightenment from a legendary old warrior, now turned hermit. Turns out, the old warrior knew the Prince’s father, fought for him in the Varangian Guard. The warrior is now 82, but instead of giving the Prince the One to Ten of what to do, tells him a story, from which he can draw his own lessons from. It is the warrior’s life story.

You’ve guessed by this point, that the old hermit, is Hereward, though he does seem to have the name Godwin for some reason. He begins telling his story from his wild childhood days, through his rebellious youth, to adulthood and maturity, through many of the period’s historic milestones his lifespan has encompassed. He was, of course, at Hastings and tried to rally the English forces thereafter, but had to, in the end, leave and travel abroad.

There are several nice touches. Here, Hereward has to persuade a reluctant Harold to take the throne. Where Harold actually sympathises with Edward’s position and therefore, William’s claims. You can see, with some of the incidents that go on in Harold and Hereward’s time in Normandy, where some of the tactics they would later use against William, come from, for instance. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence for any of the above, though if I remember rightly, James Wilde does have Hereward on the continent before Hastings. Here, Edward, on his deathbed, makes Harold his successor. Again found in other books and history. After the rebellion dies out, Hereward agrees to go abroad (James Wilde has his Hereward meeting William, but only after the battle, Morris says there is a legend that they met), to save England from further turmoil and anguish at William’s hands, but that could be blamed on Hereward.

As a whirlwind tour of the period’s hotspots and big names, in Britain and (the rest of) Europe, it is undoubtably a great read. Some of the people he meets, may be stretching it a little, but then I don’t know enough about (for instance) Spanish folk-law to comment with any certainty. In that respect, it read a little like Tim Severin’s Viking trilogy, just crammed into one book. Severin has one Viking journeying to all the places associated with the Vikings’ history, meeting most of the big players and generally living the fullest life imaginable (another excellent read/guilty pleasure if you’re one of the costumes and corset Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction lilly-livers elsewhere on Goodreads). Maybe this is like that but on steroids, having to pack it all into one book and all. And it can feel a bit mechanical for that. Like he had to check all the names and places of his list and he was damned if he wasn’t going to get them all in! The stuff about a mystical talisman too, I could have done without. Never liked fantasy elements creeping in to what essentially wants to be read like a true story. Takes it all on a bit of a seers and sages trip. It’s better when it has even its tenuous grip on reality. But, people of the time believed in all that and the One God to rule them all hadn’t replaced the touching of wood to ask for the help of the spirit who lived in that wood … still hasn’t really, has it?

So, it gets a solid three stars from me. However, it gets a fourth star solely for mentioning, on several occasions (starting on page 385) the Bishop of Aarhus. Why? Well, that’s the town in Denmark where I now live! Cool, eh? It is Scandinavian’s oldest town, I read today, though in Viking times, was called ‘Aros.’ However, I haven’t checked when the name changed, so I can’t call young Stewart B. on it. Not that anyone would know where a town called ‘Aros’ was…hmm…not that namy people know where Aarhus is, so much of a muchness.

Leave your ego at the front cover and enjoy a good romping read. I for one will certainly be getting hold of the next in what I think is a trilogy. These sort of things usually are.

Oh yeah, read the dedication at the start. A very interesting, quite possibly unique, sentiment. I’ve not come across its like before. Proves his heart’s in the right place, whatever you think of the rest of the book.

View all my reviews

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.

Reading Conquest by Stewart Binns

ConquestHad this one waiting on the shelf for a while. 300-odd pages in and Hereward reminds me of Robert E.Howard’s Conan. Ordinarily, that would be good, but this is England, not Cimmeria or even Hyboria.

Reading Conquest by Stewart Binns

View on Path