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Posts Tagged ‘top ten

Top 10 reads of 2015

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How propitious. Thursday is blog day and this post, which is my top 10 reads of 2015 happens therefore to fall on New Year’s Eve. These are the best of my reads this year and are presented in order of Author surname, not preference. And, oddly, there are some of my fave authors not represented here, simply because I’ve not read one of their books this year. And for good measure I’ve thrown in a bonus read at the end! Enjoy the list.

Tobias – Prue Batten

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The first in a trilogy of spin-offs from Prue’s Gisborne series, Tobias was a hit this year since it maintained her absolutely tip-top standards of prose, style and character, while taking a step forward in terms of plot and action. It represents Prue’s best work so far and is a perfect marriage of style and content. Read my review here.

The Emperor’s Silver – Nick Brown

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One of my all-time fave series came back with a bang this year. Nick Brown took a novel character type and a little-used era and created the Agent of Rome. And his protagonist has grown and acquired friends through the series, and though this one stands out partially for the intricate plot, it mostly does so because of the impressive character growth of the supporting cast, which was long anticipated and very welcome. Read my review here.

The Great King – Christian Cameron

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The Long War series is one of the most immersive and expansive series in historical fiction, and the Great King stands out from the rest of the series for me because it contains everything I seek in this kind of work. It covers one of the greatest military engagements in Greek history, explores the Olympic Games and leads us a journey into the heart of Persia. All really good stuff. Read my review here.

The Devil’s Assassin – Paul Fraser Collard

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Jack Lark is one of the best literary inventions of the past decade. A truly unique character idea and one that initially I thought would have trouble managing a second book. And this one is the third! The third Lark book is also a game changer, taking us off on a tangent from what we were expecting, which is a brave move for an author and sometimes fails in execution. This one didn’t. Read my review here.

The King’s Assassin – Angus Donald

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The Outlaw chronicles have been a welcome staple of my reading for years now, and consitently make my top 10. King’s Assassin is something new, though. It feels different from the other novels in the series. To some extent, it felt like what had been a proper boy’s adventure series had grown up, passing through to become something different. It is the penultimate in the series and there is a definite feel of something coming to an end. Read my review here.

America’s First Daughter – Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

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A new writer for me – two new writers, in fact. I’d encountered Stephanie’s work as part of the A Day Of Fire collection, but this was something else and a phenomenal achievement. It was a new type of read for me entirely, and one born from the most unique perspective. It opened up new avenues of interest in my life, and for that alone it deserves a top ten spot. Read me review here.

Eagles at War – Ben Kane

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Again, Ben Kane moves into a new milieu, having dealt with the Caesarian era, Hannibal and Spartacus. And this time he’s moved more into my period of choice. To take on the Teutoborg disaster and try to cover the scope in a single novel is a massive undertaking and he did it justice from both sides of the conflict, which was nice to see. Read my review here.

Lady of the Eternal City – Kate Quinn

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Again, a contributor to A Day Of Fire, Kate Quinn proved herself to me with this novel, which is languorous and exotic and yet at the same time informative and pacy, showing a side of the emperor Hadrian that I had never even imagined. A win on several levels. Read my review here.

Thunder of the Gods – Anthony Riches

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The empire series is on its eighth book now and seems to be running from strength to strength. Here we have moved geographically into the Middle East to explore the Parthian world in a truly action packed and fast paced military adventure. The reason for this win: Riches has settled into the characters beautifully and has managed to change directions with the overall plot arc now. Read my review here.

The Holy Thief – William Ryan

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One of the most atmospheric books I have ever read. Quite simply that. A Gorky Park for this decade, Holy Thief is a perfect marriage of intricate plot and foggy, dangerous, cloying atmosphere. The protagonist is extremely real and sympathetic and I felt totally drawn into the time. Read my review here.

Into The Fire – Manda Scott

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One of the most ambitious novels I have ever encountered, Into the Fire was a duel timeline treat dealing with modern police procedure and political shenanigans and the campaigns of Joan of Arc. It was a masterpiece in both times and probably hits my top ten of all time. Read my review here.

So there we go. 11 books in a top 10, and each and every one a gem. If you didn’t get round to reading one of them this year, go get it for 2016. Happy New Year and happy reading everyone.

Top Ten Reads of 2014

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It’s that time again where I choose the top ten books I read throughout the year. This year I have reviewed fewer books than in the previous two. A few I’ve read have not made it to review because they didn’t quite match up to the level of quality of those I have done, but others were held back because they have not yet been published and were still in draft manuscript form (I read quite a lot of those this year.) Note that these ten are in Author order, not preferential countdown. If you missed these books in 2014 go read them in 2015.

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I suspect I have now reached a point where certain authors are pretty much guarenteed a place in my top ten unless a new unknown suddenlyblows my socks off. Mike Arnold is one such. Captain Stryker’s adventures are a highlight of my year and are always highly anticipated, never failing to thrill. In this fifth installment, Arnold created a perfect tightly-knit mix of action, suspense, intrigue and character. See my full review here.

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In one of the most outstanding Roman series available, Nick Brown upped his own game again this year with a heady, evocative, exotic thriller, sending Corbulo on the hunt for a stolen relic in the eastern provinces. Corbulo and his allies continue to grow and evolve as characters, and Brown quickly shot to the top reaches of the Roman A-list for me. See my full review here.

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Paul Collard managed a rare thing last year with the Scarlet Thief: he took a barely touched milieu and a fresh, unusual idea for a character and crafted a stunning debut. This year’s sequel could easily have been either a poor follow up or a yawn-worthy repeat of book 1. Yet, despite the inherent difficulties, he managed to keep the tale fresh and exciting, and the story echoed at times one of my fave movies – Zulu. Read me full review here.

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One of history’s fiercest sieges retold in one of the year’s most tense, gripping novels. Angus Donald’s characterisation of Robin Hood continues long beyond the death of Richard I and into the reign of the ignoble King John in this latest offering, which is one of the strongest in the series so far. See my full review here.

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Valerius Verrens is one of the best Roman characters in literature, running the whole gamut from war hero to tortured lover to dishonoured refugee to spy and so much more. Jackson has written books that are tense, dark, exciting, edgy and more, and in this latest, he really doesn’t disappoint. Read the full review here.

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This far, Hannibal has been my favourite of the three series by Kane. It is, I think, the most human, the most sympathetic and the most varied in scope, despite how geographically wide the Forgotten Legion books were. Hanno and Quintus are well-pitted against one another, and are both taken to the reader’s heart. This latest in the series takes one of the most critical moments in the Punic Wars and weaves an exciting tale around it. Read the full review here.

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I had read Kristian’s Raven saga and, like you I’m sure, was hungry for more. But he was busy on his civil war series. And then suddenly we were treated this year not to a new Raven book, but to a prequel. The beginning of it all, as Sigurd flows into the pages of fictional history. Gods, I’d missed Sigurd, and he came back with a bang. Read the review here.

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Remember how I mentioned the possibility of a new find blowing my socks off? Well had it not been for a read of Ridpath’s opus on a whim, Douglas Jackson would have had two books in this list! Ridpath’s tale of love, loss, intrigue, espionage and tense uncertainty in pre-war Berlin was something of a surprise for me. One of my absolute faves. Read the full review here.

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Kydd is as much the quintessential Napoleonic era sailor character as any Hornblower, Bolitho, Ramage or Aubrey. And he travels to some stunning locales to take part in some truly nail-biting escapades. Stockwin manages to write in a very authentic period prose and yet tell tales with the cinematic punch of a blockbuster, and I think Pasha is his most absorbing to date. The story also contains changes that will affect the future of the series. Read my full review here.

So there you go. Ten books to catch up on if you missed them. Happy new year every one. I hope you all have a good one, and I cannot wait to see what new gems 2015 will produce.

Written by SJAT

December 31, 2014 at 9:00 am

Top Ten Reads of 2013

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It’s that time of year again where I choose the top ten books I read in 2013. In fact there are a number of other books that could have made it into here, but I had to limit it to ten, really, and it was tough. Note also that these ten are in Author order, not preferential countdown. If you missed these books in 2013 go read them in 2014.

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Actually, I had real trouble choosing between this and the follow-up (Assassin’s Reign) by Mike Arnold. Both are superb. For some reason, though, Hunter’s Rage edged in. Very tightly plotted and written, HR for me took the pace of Arnold’s first book and combined it with the depth of the second, resulting in a rollicking action-packed Civil War epic across Southwest England. It was the book that made me realise that, despite the comparative sticker on the front, Captain Stryker had, for me, surpassed Sharpe as a great character. Full review here.

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Prue Batten is the mistress of the silken word, and with the Gisborne series she has moved away from the Faerie worlds that brought her talent to the fore, and into Medieval history. The first Gisborne book held me in its satin grasp to the very last word, despite the deliberate failings in the principal character which drove me nuts. This second book in the series had all the grace of the first, but threw in a solid plot of murder and mayhem that took us half way across the then-known world. Full review here.

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Slight cheat for you here, in that this hasn’t yet been released, so you haven’t missed it. I had the opportunity to beta read ‘An Archaeological Guide to Walking Hadrian’s Wall (East to West)’ by M.C. Bishop last month. Like its earlier West to East counterpart, this is a stunning guide to the wall for anyone who might like to walk a stretch of it. You don’t  have to walk the whole thing to appreciate the guide. In fact, given the depth of knowledge, the surprising humour and the multitude of fabulous anecdotes, you don’t even have to leave your armchair to enjoy it. Boot up your laptop, start Google Earth and follow along. Watch for its release shortly.

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For me, Nick Brown sort of came from nowhere. I read all three books in this series in 2013, and wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m often nervous starting reading a new Roman writer, as I tend to get twitchy in case they’re horribly inaccurate or they beat me at my own game. Brown impressed me. He has created an enthralling character, who gets thrown into a variety of life-threatening situations. The first two books were very different from one another, which is refreshing for a series, and this third was a total departure again, taking us on a fabulous manhunt across the Mediterranean and into action and intrigue. Read my review here.

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My current read is actually Paul Fraser Collard’s second Jack Lark novel: The Maharajah’s General and it is, if anything, better than this, but will not be quite finished by midnight tonight, so it doesn’t count! The first was actually a real surprise to me, as it’s a long way from my era comfort zone (Mid 18th century Crimea), and yet it gripped me with an intensity few ancient world novels can. As a debut it was excellent. I find myself thinking that it’s been so long since Sharpe was televised that maybe Jack Lark should take a turn on the screen. Collard writes in a style that I find comparable to watching a thrilling historical movie. Read my review here.

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Doherty continues to be both friend and nemesis. He and I tend to vie for top spots together a lot, and have become firm friends over the past few years. Yet the excellence of his work makes me grumble! 😉 Strategos was a tour-de-force for me, an epic of the Byzantine borderlands. In book 2, Apion has grown into a strong leader, haunted by his past and with strands of fate woven into his future. It is a powerful military tale, packed with intrigue and atmosphere. Read the review.

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Angus Donald’s Outlaw Chronicles have always been a fave, with some particularly strong titles in the series, but Grail Knight definitely hits the top of the arc. Far removed from the old Robin of Sherwood forest robbing the rich and donating to the poor, this book takes us on a great quest to the Albigensian lands of SW France and, in a move I couldn’t have anticipated, even made me sympathetic to the one character in the series that I truly loathed. Reviewed here.

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Ben Kane now has three series under his belt, two completed and one ongoing. This being the latter is not why the book stands out though. Hannibal, to me, is Kane’s strongest work, with the best characters, the most gripping action and the most powerful plot. It is more human than the Forgotten Legion series, and deeper than the Spartacus bilogy. It is Kane at his best, and Fields of Blood took the strong foundation of the first Hannibal book and built on it, continuing the tale as the Carthaginians ravage Italy, with Rome almost powerless to stop them, forever threatening the fragile relationships between the protagonists. Review is here.

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I’m not an avid reader of crime and mystery, but occasionally I like to delve. I’m also not a huge fan of the Victorian era, though again I occasionally like to see a bit of Ripper/Sherlock type work. D.E. Meredith managed with her first Hatton & Roumande mystery to hook me completely with a tale that had me guessing to the end, packed with such atmosphere, you can almost smell the oppressive smog of 19th century London. CSI Victorian England dragged me right in. Read the review here.

The Eagle's Vengeance Empire VI

You simply can’t go wrong with Anthony Riches’ Empire series. If you like action and the Roman military, it’s the place to be. And the series seems to be going from strength to strength, with each novel surpassing its predecessors. After dragging us to the far corners of the Roman world in books 4 and 5, book 6 takes us back to where it began, on Hadrian’s Wall. Chock full of action and character, with a few unexpected twists, Eagle’s Vengeance is up at the top of Riches’ work. Review is here.

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So that’s my top ten. If you’re not on it, it’s no reflection on your work, as it was a really hard choice to pin down, and some of my fave writers have missed out because I’ve not read any of their books in 2013. A prime example of that is Doug Jackson, whose latest, Sword of Rome, is my next read and will be the first novel I delve into in 2014. An honourable mention has to go to Louise Rule, whose Future Confronted is a powerful book (check out my previous post for a review) and vied for a place.

I’m looking forward to some great books in 2014. In the meantime, Happy New Year to everyone, readers and writers all, and enjoy your work and leisure. Books are still the world’s best medium.

Cheers, all.

Written by SJAT

December 31, 2013 at 1:36 pm