Top recent read is definitely Imperial Governor by George Shipway. Brilliant writing just speeds the book along.
Also up there is The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi : its superb science fiction, but equally a brilliant heist novel. Unputdownable !
In " serial writing" best so far are the Ballista series set in 3rd Century Roman Asia Minor by Harry Sidebottom , and the Alan Lewrie 18th Century sea novels from, Dewey Lambdin. Both are consistently good in different ways.
If buying online I used to use the Book Depository a lot, especially if I am after a single book, as it has Free delivery (to most of the world, at least) and was independent. These days ( since 2012 or so ) it is a subsidiary of Amazon, but still has free delivery and some sharp prices.
Marks out of 10..always willing to give more information.
The Experiences of Loveday Brooke : Lady Detective- Catherine Louisa Pirkis
Armadale- Wilkie Collins
Sometime soon, I'll read these
The Death of Bunny Munroe - Nick Cave
Killing the shadows - Val McDiermed
The Snowman - Jo Nesbø
The Girl who kicked the Hornet''s Nest - Stieg Larsson
The Burning Land - Bernard Cornwell
Carthage must be Destroyed - Richard Miles
Lifeless - Mark Billingham
Transition - Iain Banks
The Fort - Bernard Cornwell
Nights of Villjamur - Mark Newton
The Postman always rings twice - James M Cain
Warsaw 1920 - Adam Zamoyski
Past ( Recent and further...)
Family Favourites - Alfred Duggan [8,5/10] The real life story of a strange Roman Emperor, the youth Elagabalus. Written in Duggan's usual style ( that is from the viewpoint of a person close to the action, and in a simple and often factual style) it is a great exploration of a thoroughly obscure, but interesting person. Dealing as it must with the blatant and public homosexuality of the Emperor, it is quite graphic for its time (1960), although not explicit in any way. Details are left to the reader, but the sexual inclinations and the forced eccentricities of this boy, who has nothing to do all day, since his relatives rule for him, is a model in making real history very interesting.Recommended.
Rome's Executioner - Robert Fabbri [3/10] I gave up about 40% through. Badly written ( very poor grammar, appalling punctuation. At times reads like a bad translation. ). Ostensibly based on the life of Vespasian, but for all that, a predictable plot and little imaginative writing to make the passages sparkle.
November 2012 -December 2012
A Deadly Injustice- Ian Morson [5/10] Historical mystery set in 13th Century China. Not as good as his Falconer books. Competent, but not particularly exciting
Field Grey- Phillip Kerr [7.7/10]
In the Shadow of the Sword - Tom Holland [9/10]
Wolves of the North - Harry Sidebottom [9/10]
The Bone Thief - VM Whitworth [7.5/10]
Egypt : The Book of Chaos - Nick Drake [ 7/10]
The Last Kashmiri Rose - Barbara Cleverly [6.5/10]
Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End -Persson [9/10]
A Dark Anatomy - Robin Blake [6.5/10]
Praetorian - Simon Scarrow [7/10]
An urban setting of Claudian Rome for our heroes this time around. Solid, believable characters ( I liked, Cestius the Viminal gang leader , and the 'wet-behind-the-ears-and-cocky' Fuscius, the Praetorian optio) mixed up with a fairly standard plot ( grain shortage, Republican and possibly inter-imperial family plots ) and infiltration of elite military unit by real professionals, gives an easily readable and enjoyable book.
Not quite as good as "Legion", but enjoyable and satisfying. Would have been nice to see some of the Praetorians getting a come-uppance though.
Looking forward to being back in Britannia for the next one !
Hawk Quest - Robert Lyndon [10/10]
A thick, 1100+ page book, but very well written, excellent characterisation and an intriguing plot. Core of the book are hawks and hawking ( as indeed is one of the final key plot threads ), but a great adventure book in the best tradition. Not an action book in the style of Cornwell, but action and fight scenes are richly written and enjoyable when they occur. A wonderful historical novel, set in 10th Century Northern Europe.
Captain of Rome - John Stack [6/10]
Just about passable as "pass-the-time" read. Spelling and grammar errors irritate and the plot is a mish-mash of the genres. Not worth bothering with the final part of the trilogy in my opinion.
Terror of Constantinople - Richard Blake [8/10]
Well-written, interesting setting and plot. Worth investing time and money for an entertaining plot involving the out-of-place Saxon working for the Church of Rome in 7th Century Constantinople !
March - April 2012
True Soldier Gentleman- A Goldsworthy [5,5/10]
Overall this was a competent novel, but I don't think this lives up to the hype that surrounded it, and I would recommend borrowing this, rather than buying, just to find out if you like it.
Described as Jane Austen-meets-Bernard Cornwell, I think it matches neither of those authors.
The Austen part is presumably the first part ( ie 40% or more ) set in England as our heroes join, train and participate in the details of regimental life. Doubtless grounded in reality ( ie extracted from original sources ) but it seems laboured and forced as a way of introducing his rather lifeless characters , and doesn't have the style or wit of Austen, especially in the relationship interactions ( male and female ) ! Not to say its bad writing or reading, but definitely not Austen ! Hardly surprising that this reader was glad to see the regiment embark for Portugal ( on page 173 out of 370 ).
The remainder of the book covers the boredom of the initial campaign,and campaign life, followed by the battles of Rolica and Vimiero, and does these well enough, with our rather dull characters' army careers being moved on and fleshed out. The style, at least to me, is more of a populist military historian, than that of a novelist, but it is competent, and the Vimeiro episode in particular gives a good, exciting and necessary lift to the novel's end.
The Russian sub-plot is risible and completely pointless ( perhaps it was inserted to counter the campaign boredom ? ). Maybe it will be the basis of a future novel ( particularly involving the girl , Maria ) but the section with the "nun" in the ruined convent...well, no doubt intending to show how influential Mrs Radcliffe was, even with rough soldier-boys, but hardly required.
Overall, I think this should be edited down and tightened up : maybe that is the case for the later novels, but personally, I will give the next a miss ( or borrow from a library :)
The Guernseyman- C Northcote Parkinson [6.5/10] A well-written novel that is probably more aimed at filling in the gaps of the series, rather than offering a fully-fledged reading experience that the first three published books ( Devil to Pay, Fireship ...) did for me.
All of Delancey's experience's are adequately described, but they are not quite so seamlessly strung together, and some parts ( ie Gibralter, and perhaps some of the America's ) are more history than " cracking naval novel" : not bad for that, but just be aware !
Significant land-, rather than sea-action, but overall enjoyable and if you have read others in the series, you will want to read this.
In my opinion, not as good as the first three, but enjoyable, well-written and enough to encourage reading of the last in series : we will see !
Jester's Fortune- Dewey Lambdin [6,5/10] Not as action-packed as previously, this book finds our hero in a detached squadron in the Adriatic preying on French shipping and allied with Serbian pirates.
This is 1796 and the Invasion of Italy by Buonaparte, who is shown in action as well, presumably to add some depth and personal contact, since Alan met hi ( lost his sword to him ! ) at the siege of Toulon.
Lewrie is more developed as a character here ( more mature ) book-wise and in life, and less naval- and bed-action is the result. Still it is well enough written, although a touch laboured at times when giving background on Balkan and Venetian politics. It also needs some sharper editing, perhaps to reduce the length and focus some actions.
The efforts to represent English spoken by Hungarian's, Serbs etc, although laudable can be tiring.
I think the author tried to balance a novel with an action novel, and doesn't quite succeed. Maybe 10 years into the series he reached a watershed and this is the result.
I'll probably continue with the series, but give it a break before the next one, just to allow it to settle in my head, so to speak !
Trick of the Dark- Val McDiermid [6.5/10] An above average psychological crime novel, but not among her best. Interesting ( for me ) with its Oxford background, but although a decent plot, it was a slow burner and never quite burst into flames. I worked out the main thrust, but the final twist on one of the murders did elude me !
A King's Commander - Dewey Lambdin [6.5/10]
Mystery Mile - Margey Allingham [6/10]
The Prow Beast - Robert Low [9/10]
Smallbone Deceased - Michael Gilbert [8/10]
Strong Poison - Dorothy L. Sayers [6.5/10]
The Caspian Gates - Harry Sidebottom [8/10]
The Quantum Thief - Hannu Rajaniemi (10/10 )
Utterly wonderful and amazing hard SF heist novel...
Buy it and read it yourself
The Preacher - Camilla Lackberg [3/10] (review from my Amazon one ) I didn't really enjoy this book, and admit to fast-reading the last 20 pages or so, just to complete it.
Her first book, "The Ice Princess", was a great story, good plot and translated very well.
This book is too long, badly edited, if at all, and the translation is poor, lacklustre, naive and very basic. It seems like a word-for-word translation, the letter rather than spirit of the book. Stephen T. Murray may have translated the Steig Larsson books, but he either outsourced this one, or had a series of very bad "off days" while working on it !
This translation detracts enormously from what is an adequate, although not, it must be admitted, a sparkling plot. There are far too many clumsy sentences and a bizarre mixture of British and American English, which, for me at least, was a great distraction from the book and plot.
Although there a a few twists, I think the plot itself is fairly simplistic, and had little of the interest or sophistication of The Ice Princess. The characterisation is limited, and, quite frankly, many of them are naively drawn. I became fed up with the complete incompetence of the "rebel", older detective, and of the police chief as well : they added little to the novel and should have been dealt with quickly. Also the swearing seemed a bit incongruous for some of the characters, and the descriptive passages were far too clichéd.
The attempt to develop the main detective/Hedstrom family via the hard-done-by younger sister, Anna and her relationships, added very little to the plot. If it was an attempt to show character interest and development for the series it was poorly done (although that might be the journeyman translation effort as well ).
Personally, I would have to check the reviews of other books in this series carefully before purchasing another, but I hope that Camilla Lackberg gets backs to the level of the Ice Princess, and that her translators put in a real effort to bring what promised to be an interesting author to the English-speaking world.
Empire : Wounds of Honour - Anthony Riches [8/10]
The Chalk Circle Man - Fred Vargas [ 8/10]
The Gun Ketch - Dewey Lambdin [ 8/10]
HMS Cockerel - Dewey Lambdin [8/10]
The Last Days of Newgate - Andrew Pepper [5/10]
Absorption - John Meaney (7/10 )[ Review to come]
Tragedy at Law - Cyril Hare (8/10 )[ Review to come]
Tyrant:Storm of Arrows - Christian Cameron (6/10 )[ Review to come]
White King and Red Queen - Daniel Johnson (7/10)[ Review to come ]
Tyrant - Christian Cameron (7/10 )[ A slightly unusual period for an historical novel, as it is set in 323 BC around the Black Sea, and follows an ex-captain of Alexander the Great's army who is dismissed by his employer ( outsourced to cheaper troops :) , then finds a new job and mission with the Tyrant of Olbia. A great story follows, well-written ( although the author seems obsessed with using the phrase " currying a horse" and never reverts to the simpler "grooming" that would give our ears a rest and our eyes variety ! ) and well-paced read. Enough detail of mercenary and other life in a Euxine city as well as on the Steppes. I enjoyed it enough to order the next in the series, and expect to devour that as much.]
Rome: The Emperor's Spy - M C Scott (2/10 )[ Have to admit, this is one of the rare books I gave up on. M C Scott is also Manda Scott, writer of the half-decent Boudicca books. Here, however, she tries to re-invent herself as MC Scott ( not quite sure why ) and this tale of a Roman 'super-spy' during Emperor Nero's reign is the result.
I found it far too ordinary, and had far too much unnecessary details when trying to show how "super-human" her super-spy is. The plot appears to be about a prophetic scroll that gives the date of when Rome will burn , and a Jewish rebellion will occur, although it is subsumed under details of daily life with a chariot-race team . It could be good, but for me is continually sluggish, and was getting nowhere fast. I tried twice to re-invigorate my interest in it, but when I tell you that a history of chess in the Cold War reads better and has more interest, I think you understand why I gave it the boot. I now remember that I didn't actually read the third book of Manda Scott's Boudicca trilogy, as the second was nowhere as good as the first. There's a lesson there !]
The Schoolgirl Murder Case- Colin Wilson 7.5/10 [ Competent, but not an inspiring detective novel. Probably more interesting as an observation on mid '70s London life ( they go to the pub often at lunchtime, drink vodka rather than beer if there is an interview later ! ) and a fine insight into occult/sex links for murderers ( or maybe how magic/occult/sex obsession works its way into physical violence and murder ). I'd probably read another of his, as they are well-written.
The Boat of Fate - Keith Roberts 8.5/10 [ The publishers' blurb calls this "a fine thumping panorama of Rome's death throes in Gaul, Africa and Britannia : high romance". Certainly, that encapsulates the core of the plot and locations, but there is more than that there. The tale is of an Hispanian son of a Roman and a Briton who seeks himself, if he but knew it. Seduced by dreams of glory in the Roman Army as a boy, he stumbles through his puberty and early adulthood, fumbling for a real life, and encountering expulsion from his home, work in Rome with his uncle and through a lucky accident he finally ends in the army as a Tribune in Gaul.
We follow his military adventures ( although these are in no way like those in Scarrow's or Cornwell's books : here the military action is limited, since this is a novel, and not an action novel ! ) with each part well described in natural language and simple action. Misfortune on misfortune puts our (anti-) hero in various interesting situations until he ends up in Britannia at the point that the Roman legions leave. Here is the crux of the novel and here the complex character of our hero arises and is resolved. A well-written novel with varied locations, descriptions, incidents, all well-described and satisfying.A great novel of the decay of the Western Roman Empire and how one man copes and comes to terms with it, and growing up inside it. Thoroughly enjoyable.]
The Hidden - Tobias Hill 7/10 [ Superbly written, and in a poetic style. Descriptions ( nature and other ) are truly exceptional. The plot is relatively simple, and develops slowly, although the novel is never boring. The blurb speaks of a 'dark epiphany' as the novel's climax. Well, not quite sure if that hype is really the culmination, but it is a thought-provoking novel. A man in search of his life, escaping his old world of divorce and probable guilt, becomes drawn into a closed society in an archaeological dig in Sparta. Is he accepted ? or not. This is the key point in the novel, along with his view of himself and his participation in, and/or acceptance of, general society. A good insight into ancient Spartan society as well. The Hidden of the title is reflected in the Spartan background. Well worth the read ]
The Gotland Deal - N J Crisp 6/10 [ Competent enough, but not the best. Written in 1976, by a TV screenwriter, and sometimes it seems a bit like that, with characters just sketched, and not always developed enough. Decent enough plot, accurate relationships, but lacking a touch. I feel that a modern take on this, or a more "literary" author would add greater depth and excitement. Interestingly, his later thriller "Dangerous Obsession" was turned into a film that he disowned ! ]
Legion - Simon Scarrow 7.5/10 [ Up to scratch for the series. A different location, but similar themes.Properly fleshed-out characters, with maturity for the main characters showing through. A nice history lesson as the battle-plan of Cannae is re-used by a well-read Prefect. The next in series will be on my list !]
Imperial Governor - George Shipway 10/10 [ An utterly superb novel. Set in Roman Britain in AD 61 : the time of the Iceni's rebellion under Boudicca. It is presented as the memoirs of the Roman Governor, Suetonius, and succeeds brilliantly. Not in the same slash-and-burn individual-action style of Simon Scarrow, but a refined and elegantly written book that is extremely satisfying to read : I will look out some more of his work. The Chilian Club and The Paladin are recommended, but both are out of print : abebooks.com here I come ! See here for fine information about him and his books]
Supping with Panthers - Tom Holland 7/10 ( excellent Gothic tale. If I mention characters such as Bram Stoker, Doctor Bell, Mary Kelly and the fact its set mainly in 1888 London, you can guess which direction it takes ! Tom Holland also wrote the excellent non-fiction Persian Fire and Rubicon., histories of, respectively the Persian Invasion of Greece, and the end of the Roman Republic : both superb.)
Twelve - Jasper Kent 5/10 ( not quite what I expected, having veered into vampire fantasy in Russia, 1812, but acceptable - just. I doubt if I will buy the sequel. )
Ship of Rome - Jack Stack 5.5/10 [ Competent, and a decent enough plot,but not particularly exciting. Some passages are well-enough written, but for me, despite the unusual setting of the Roman Navy, it doesn't quite make it. A first novel, I think it needed more editing and polishing, and with those, a removal of the pointless sex scenes, and an addition of a bit more overall balance, it could be acceptable, but at the moment, I won't be buying the next one. Maybe the library... ]
The Lady for Ransom - Alfred Duggan 7/10 [ Another fine novel from Duggan. Always the same style, but invariably well-written, excellent characterisation, enough action, plenty of historical detail and a good plot. Not much more you can ask for, and its just the right length at around 250/300 pages. Why wasn't this guy phenomenally successful ? ]
Lion of the Sun - 7.5/10 Harry Sidebottom ( a good continuation of the the tale. I think the writing is excellent and the background detail enough to satisfy, but not enough to intrude on the story. Great characters all around and fine history. I did think the end a little rushed and possibly a touch convenient, but it just about worked ! Looking forward to the next episode )
Tutankamun - Nick Drake [7/10]
July 2010 and before
The King's Commission - Dewey Lambdin
The French Admiral - Dewey Lambdin
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club - Dorothy L Sayers
Warrior of Rome " King of Kings" - Harry Sidebottom ( 7/10 Well written and plotted - a good read. Not quite in the Bernard Cornwell league, but not far off. I will read the next one without a doubt )
Conflict of Empire - Sam Barone (journeyman read - just about competent, but not gripping : too much unnecessary and "bad sex" as well 3/10 )
The King's Coat - Dewey Lambdin (wonderful read 8/10..action on board 18thC ship and ashore in bed ! Next two in series already ordered )
The Rose of Tibet - Lionel Davidson (8/10...brilliant. He is sadly missed. I read his Kholimsky Heights many years ago: also excellent, and a touch more modern thriller)
The Redeemer - Joe Nesbo (7/10)
Bobby Fischer Goes to War - Edmonds and Eidenow (7/10)
The Gladiator - Simon Scarrow (7/10..a continuing Roman-based series...every one excellent)
The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham (6/10)
Borkmann's Point - Hakan Nesser (7/10...a chess-playing detective ! in a Scando-Dutch setting)
The Fall of Rome - Michael Curtis Ford (6/10...competent historical adventure set in the 480 ADs )
Blood on the Strand - Susanna Gregory (6/10..competent 1600's whodunnit, but a bit stretched at times)
Falconer and the Ritual of Death - Ian Morson (7/10...1300 Oxford setting for a monkish detective)
Fever of the Bone - Val McDermid (9/10...she is an awesome crime writer..superb)
The Dante Club - Matthew Pearl (7/10..intriguing 1860s US-based mystery)
Too Close to Home - Linwood Barclay (2/10...not even close to the previous "No Time for Goodbye"..actually, why bother : a waste of time))
The Whale Road - Robert Low (8/10...superbly written Viking adventure tale set in the frozen wastes of 10th century Russia)
The Northern Crusades - Eric Christianssen (7/10...a history of the Northern Crusades : how European Christians subdued the "Pagan" Baltic States, Finland and a bit of Russia: you didn't even know they happened!!)
Credo - Melvyn Bragg (8/10)
Reaper's Gale - Steven Erikson (7/10...a continuing fantasy series..all a good, with a strong dose of humour to flavour the tales, although a touch "dense" at times)
Top recent read is definitely Imperial Governor by George Shipway. Brilliant writing just speeds the book along.