Monday, December 24, 2007

My 2007 Favorites

Happy New Year!
Thanks for helping me launch this blog and for sticking around to read it. I've had a lot of fun with it. I started out with the personal mission that I wanted to feature writers whose books I've read and liked; to my surprise, some of the writers I ended up interviewing found me, instead. It's been an honor to feature their voices. Whether the writer is a woman or a man, published by a large commercial house or an independent, one thing stood out for me: historical fiction writers are some of the most dedicated and passionate people I know.

This also means I stuck to my 2007 resolution, which was to read more than I did in 2006. I managed to finish 34 books this year, 2 more than last year. Some books I reviewed for the Historical Novel Reviews; others, I read for this blog, and others for pure entertainment. I'm not including research books in my resolution, because I'm always doing research and I tend to read from an assortment of different books. While I usually finish almost all the non-fiction I tackle for research, it's done hapharzardly, as I careen from 16th century fashion accessories to buildings to family dynasties and politics, sometimes all within the same day.

Anyway, 2007 ended up being a terrific reading year for me, so I decided to compile my favorite 12 books for the year. This list doesn't include books featured on this blog; while they're also favorites, I wanted to highlight books I haven't mentioned. This list also isn't exclusive to books published in 2007. Hopefully, you'll find something new and exciting here. Also, please feel free to share any book you read in 2007 that kept you up at night, made you miss your bus stop, or consumed an entire afternoon of your life before you knew it. If you can, include a URL, too. As you may have noticed, I'm always on the look-out for new books to buy! And here's to reading more in 2008.


1) C.J. Samson, SOVEREIGN

I'm a huge fan of the Matthew Shardlake mysteries, and in this third installment we're taken on progress to York, where Matthew must contend not only with the chaos of a royal progress but also the protection of a dangerous political prisoner. There are no anachronisms here: Shardlake's world is claustrophobic, treacherous and at times terribly cruel -- a Tudor England rarely depicted in fiction. Available in hardcover.

2) Patrick McGrath, MARTHA PEAKE

This haunting, gothic tale set during the American Revolution kept me up well into the night. Through the story of a young man facing an eerie legacy, we learn of the legendary Martha Peake, her eccentric, tormented father, and unexpected journey to the American colonies, where she finds herself immersed in the struggle for independence, both outwardly and in her spirit. Available in trade edition.

3) Judith Merkle Riley, THE WATER DEVIL

The conclusion to her bestselling Margaret of Ashbury trilogy was first released in Germany, and it took more than fifteen years to be finally published here - but it was well worth the wait. With her trademark wit and sparkling prose, Ms Merkle Riley launches the resourceful Margaret and her family on a tumultuous, dysfunctional visit to her husband's familial manor, where supernatural events collide into human foibles, often with darkly humorous, spine-chilling results. Available in trade edition.

4) Michelle Lovric, THE FLOATING BOOK

The story of the first printer to set up shop in Venice is only one velvet layer in this evocative novel set in Venice in the 16th century; through the story of a vengeful woman, a poetic printer and the girl who loves him, Ms Lovric combines breathtaking lyricism with an ambitious storyline filled with delicate word gems. Available in hardcover and trade editions.

5 - 8) Pauline Gedge, THE LORD OF THE TWO LANDS Trilogy

THE HIPPOTAMUS MARSH, THE OASIS, and THE HORUS ROAD are three novels that comprise Ms Gedge's epic reconstruction of the Egyptian princes' revolt against the invading Hyskos, which led to the founding of the 18th Dynasty, arguably the most famous of ancient Egypt. This is taut, compelling storytelling; while more military in theme than her other books, Gedge's uncanny ability to immersh you in the fascinating details of a vanished world without resorting to anachronisim is a wonder in of itself. The trilogy is best read in order. Available in hardcover and trade editions.


Eleanor of Aquitaine is the Plantagenet poster girl and I'm not often drawn to books about her simply because I've read so many. Ms Ball's novel lanquished for years after it sold before her publisher decided to release it; who knows why it sat for so long, because Ball's take on a young, impetuous Eleanor who's a little pagan in her outlook on life is unexpectedly original. Combine it with a facility for description, and you've got a book worth reading, even if you think you know everything about this charismatic queen. Available in hardcover and trade editions.

8) Patricia Finney, GLORIANA'S TORCH

The conclusion to her trilogy featuring the tormented spymaster Becket and his posse of friends is as compulsively readable, and graphically accurate, as the previous two books. Here, Becket finds himself tracking a munitions plot that may lead to a Spanish attack on England, even as his friend Simon is captured as a spy by the Inquisition and chained to one of the Invincible Armada's galleys. The depiction of the Spanish point of view is rare, and the events surprise, even if the Armada's attack on England is an oft-told tale. Available in hardcover and trade editions.

9 - 12) Alice Borchardt, WOLF Trilogy

Alice Borchardt's death in 2007 was a loss to the historical / fantasy realm. I've had THE SILVER WOLF, NIGHT OF THE WOLF and THE WOLF KING in hardcover for years, but they got buried under subsequent purchases. When I finally unearthed them, I found Ms Borchardt's writing is lush and surprisingly unsentimental, and her tale of shapeshifters in Rome and France during the Dark Ages thrilled me without sacrificing historical detail. For me, these books strike that elusive balance between historical fiction, romance, and the supernatural. The trilogy is best read in order. Available in mass market paperback.


Carla said...

What an interesting collection of novels! I never have success listing my top ten of anything, as I always get to about 100 and then give up. Among the novels that stood out for me this year were several re-reads, Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy and The Wicked Day and Mary Renault's Theseus novels. I also enjoyed Susan Higginbotham's The Traitor's Wife, the story of Eleanor de Clare (niece of Edward II), full of historical detail and told with a welcome touch of humour. In non-fiction, I found Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, by Ronald Hutton, absolutely fascinating. Very detailed and scholarly, never over-simplified, and written with real style and wit that's a pleasure to read (e.g. describing Roman religious ceremonies as "part abbatoir and part barbecue").
Best wishes for the New Year!

Gabriele Campbell said...

Lol Carla, that sounds like the description of a tauroctony right on. :)

Happy New Year, Charles. May there be more interesting books and more people to interview in2008.

C.W. Gortner said...

Already more books to buy! Thanks, Carla. I've never read the Mary Stewart Merlin books, actually, though I bet I've got them in a box somewhere. I have read Mary Renault's Theseus books, plus everything else she's written. I love The King Must Die and The Persian Boy. I have Susan's book, too, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. She very kindly interviewed me a while back and I must return the favor. The Pagan religions books looks great too; I have a fascinating book called the Dictionary of Pagan Religions.

Happy New Year to you and to you, as well, Gabriele! May 2008 bring you both much health, happiness, and, of course, great books to read. I can't believe how fast 2007went by. I better get cracking on my latest manuscript! :)

J.M. Aucoin said...

Wohoo! Glad to find someone else who enjoys the Shardlake series. I just happened to stumble across 'Dark Fire' a little over a year ago at a small bookstore and picked it up on a whim-- and boy am I glad I did. The series is such a fun read with just the right amount of action, adventure, mystery and historical fact. It's brilliant and "Soveriegn" is no different. Can't wait for the next installment to come out.

My top three books I read in '07 (not that they all came out in '07) would have to be: "Soveriegn" by C.J. Sansom, "The Sun Cver Breda" by Arturo Perez-Reverte, and "Evidence of the Sword" a collection of short mystery/historical stories and novellas by Rafael Sabatini (by far, my favorite author).

Now I have to get started on the large stack of books in my room (I need more bookshelves)!

C.W. Gortner said...

Yep, I have the same joy: books everywhere! Oh, well. I haven't read "Sun Over Breda" yet. It's on my 2008 TBR list. And C.J. Samson has a new one coming out called "Revelation" plus a stand-alone novel set during the Spanish Civil War called "Winter in Madrid." My agent represents him in the US and tells me "Winter" is amazing. I'm hoping to perhaps invite him to be interviewed :)

J.M. Aucoin said...

Oh yea, I saw. I basically check Amazon regularly for new Arturo and Sansom books. I'm excited for whatever they come out with.

And if you interview Sansom, I'll be very jealous, but would love to see that interview, haha :-)

Russell Whitfield said...

Carla Nayland's "Paths of Exile" literally made me miss my bus stop. I was up in London for an important meeting (well as important as business meetings ever get), and I was so immersed in the book, I missed my stop by miles and was really late. I had to write and tell her.

Carla's knowledge of the period is so extensive that one is utterly drawn into the story and is never jolted from the reality that she has created. This goes beyond a novellist simply researching a period...I think that Carla really lives and breathes this stuff and it shows in the writing. It flows so effortlessly that for a time, one can walk Carla's walk and breathe in the cold air of Dark Age England.

Highly recommended!