Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Books I Read in 2008

In what I hope to make an annual tradition, here is a list and brief impression of the historical novels I read this year. I was fortunate to have some of these authors as guests on my blog; others I hope to invite. Some of these books I read for pleasure, some for review and some for research; some were released in 2008, others will be released in 2009 and others are older books I just happened to discover. Overall, for me, this was a banner year as I enjoyed almost every book I read.

1. The Twice Born - Pauline Gedge
Pauline Gedge returns to form in this brilliant first installment of a trilogy about the rise of a magician priest to the Pharaoh Ramses. Eerie, magical, and filled with details of life in ancient Egypt.
2. The Sun and the Moon - Vonda McIntyre
This beautiful novel is about a sea monster who is captured and brought to Versailles, and the effect it has on a bold young woman in the court of Louis XIV.
3. Lady of the Roses - Sandra Worth
The deadly War of the Roses as seen through the eyes of a brave woman determined to safeguard her family from the destruction.
4. Kleopatra - Karen Essex
5. Pharoah - Karen Essex
She's been written about 1,000 times; but I must admit, Karen Essex's two-volume novel is my favorite portrayal of the legendary Egyptian queen. It's witty and gorgeously rendered.
6. Mistress of the Sun - Sandra Gulland
I liked her Josephine B. trilogy; but I fell in love with this exquisite portrayal of Louise de la Valliere and the beginning of the Sun King's extravagant reign.
7 -12. Los Reyes Malditos (The Accursed King Series) - Maurice Druon
This six-volume re-issue in Spanish of Druon's masterpiece series brings to unapologetic life all the intrigue, cruelty and recklessness of medieval France. No author has ever made me revel so much in such despicable characters.
13. Gladiatrix - Russell Whitfield
This debut about a female gladiator is as fast-paced and thrilling as a trip to the arena. If Angelina Jolie signed up for the film version, she'd make Crowe's Gladiator look like a wimp.
14. Stealing Athena - Karen Essex
Elegant rendition of the story of the famed Elgin Marbles, as told through the eyes of the wife of the man who brought them to England and the courtesan lover of the Greek lord who commissioned them.
15. Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin
Compulsively readable, creepy thriller about a medieval forensics expert and a serial killer of children.
16. The Boleyn Inheritance - Philippa Gregory
My favorite book of hers; fast-paced and at times quite humorous, it tells the intertwined stories of giddy Cat Howard, resentful Jane Rochford, and sage Anne of Cleves. Guess who survives?
17. Needle in the Blood - Sarah Bower
18. The Book of Love - Sarah Bower
Two of the most exquisite novels I read in 2008, the first about the making of the Bayeux Tapestry and a doomed love affair; the other about a Jewess caught in the tentacles of the Borgia clan. The language is breathtaking and the stories finely crafted as music boxes.
19. The Wise Woman - Philippa Gregory
An unrelentingly grim tale set in Tudor England, about a young woman's determination to rise in power and the chaos she unleashes on a local lord's household.
20. Vlad - C.C. Humphreys
Unsettling, masterful evocation of the historical Dracula as seen through the eyes of his three intimates.
21. Brethren - Robin Young
First in a trilogy about a youth's adventures in the ranks of the Templars, this was an unexpectedly exciting read with much more going for it than the ubiquitous DaVinci Code link.
22. The Heretic Queen - Michelle Moran
Michelle Moran returned to ancient Egypt in her sequel to Nefertiti and delivered a balanced, nuanced look at the doomed queen's niece and her struggle to become queen in her own right.
23. Signora da Vinci - Robin Maxwell
This fascinating, erudite tale of Leonardo da Vinci's mother brings Renaissance Florence to vibrant life. It will be released in January. Look for more about this book on this blog soon!
24. The Borgias and their Enemies - Christopher Hibbert
Good, if basic, account of the Borgia family and their influence. I read it for research and discovered some tidbits.
25. Mistress of the Revolution - Catherine Delors
Catherine Delors' masterful debut about a naive young woman caught up in the terrors of the French Revolution and her struggle to find her own independence.
26. The Witch's Trinity - Erika Mailman
Another creepy read, about an older medieval woman's descent into torment as she battles her own memory loss and a family member's accusation of witchcraft.
27. The Dracula Dossier - James Reese
A stylish paen to Victoriana, this tells the story of Bram Stoker's inspiration for his famous vampire novel. While working as a theatre manager, Stoker becomes immersed in the killings of Jack the Ripper. Extensive footnotes add to the feeling of stepping back in time.
28. Revelation - C.J. Sansom
I love this Tudor series about Shardlake, the hunchback lawyer, and this is one of the darker entries yet, as Shardlake races to save a boy caught up in a religious frenzy and stop a serial killer who is murdering people with Biblical-styled wrath.
29. The Queen's Bastard - Robin Maxwell
This account of Arthur Dudley, alleged illegitimate child of Elizabeth I and Robert of Leicester, is distinguished by its scholarship and the intertwined stories of Elizabeth's struggle to assert her queenship over her heart, and Arthur's adventures as he travels to Flanders and Spain.
30. The Book of Unholy Mischeif - Elle Newmark
Another ARC I read, this unusual look at the world of 15th century Venetian chefs and hermetic secrets exalts the effects of food on the soul, and the sacrifices we make to preserve our truths.
31. Under A Marble Sky - John Shors
Lovely, detailed tale of the building of the Taj Mahal and of the forbidden love between the royal daughter of the king who commissioned it and its humble-born architect.
32. The Fencing Master - Arturo Perez Reverte
My favorite Reverte book to date, an elegant thriller about a stoic old-fashioned fencing instructor in late 17th century Spain and a mysterious woman who turns his world upside down.
33. Company of Liars - Karen Maitland
Dark and twisting, this tale of nine travelers trying to elude their own secrets and the Black Death in 14th century England captured me from the first page to the last.

Happy reading to you all in 2009!


Amy @ Passages to the Past said...

Hi C.W.!! Glad to see you back! This is a great list...I've been looking for a good non-fiction book on the Borgias and it looks like I'm gonna try the one you suggested...thanks. I also have Company of Liars on my list...wasn't it just fabulous?!

Happy New Year!!!

Justin Aucoin said...

I don't think you read enough ;-)

Happy New Year!

Marg said...

That's a pretty good list! I have read a number of them, but there are others that are on my list to get to one of these days.

Catherine Delors said...

I watched the TV adaptation of "The Accursed Kings" last night. What a wonderful work of historical fiction. Thanks for including Mistress of the Revolution in your list, and best wishes for 2009!

C.W. Gortner said...

Oh, Catherine, I'm pea green with envy! You speak French and I'm dying to see that series. I downloaded an episode online but my French is sadly not nearly as good as it used to be! I got lost, though I loved seeing Jeanne Moreau.

Hi Amy, yes, Company of Liars was tremendous. I was totally into it. Some critics have said it was dreary; I can't figure out what they wanted but I loved the eerie darkness of it, plus I think Camelot was the perfect candidate to tell the tale. I'm really looking forward to reading her next one; I've already pre-ordered it from the UK. The Borgia book by Hibbert is a good introduction; after that, I highly recommend Sarah Bradford's Lucrezia Borgia and Ivan Cloulas' The Borgia.

Hey, Justin, Happy New Year to you, too. Keep fencing! Actually, I was feeling guilty I hadn't read enough, till I checked the list. I didn't do too badly, huh? :) I didn't even include the research books I re-visted for my Catherine de Medici revisions, either. Then I wonder why I don't get out more!

Happy New Year to you, all! It's been terrific getting to know everyone via the blog. May 2009 bring you much success, health and happiness.

pandacub said...

I've just discovered this blog and I can't wait to read more!

I love your list as I'm always on the lookout for more historical fiction recommendations and I already have read (and loved) some of your favourites, like The Fencing Master and The Boleyn Inheritance), so I can't wait to try some of the others! Of course, now I have to find a copy of your book too, C.W.!

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I'd love to be in your 2009 list of read books. I've only just had mine published (Marius' Mules - ISBN 1849238901) and am absolutely dying to hear any reviews and comments (good or bad) from fans of the genre. Any chance this year CW?