This may or may not become a regular feature, or at least semi-regular. But it’s pretty much what it says on the tin – my various recommendations from different genres! Today, after finally finishing the beast of a book that is Outlander, I wanted to share my recommendations of historical fiction, a genre that is very close to my heart just behind fantasy and science fiction.
So prepare to travel back in time, and whisk yourself away by reading…
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful— irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath.
They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.
- Time Period: Pre-8th century BC, when the Iliad was written.
- Location: Various Greek city-states, Troy.
- Why Should I Read It? This is a beautiful love story based on ancient works, and one of the most gorgeous portrayals of ancient Greece I have ever read.
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
At Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood three hundred strong. Theirs was a suicide mission, to hold the pass against the invading millions of the mighty Persian army.
Day after bloody day they withstood the terrible onslaught, buying time for the Greeks to rally their forces. Born into a cult of spiritual courage, physical endurance, and unmatched battle skill, the Spartans would be remembered for the greatest military stand in history–one that would not end until the rocks were awash with blood, leaving only one gravely injured Spartan squire to tell the tale…
- Time Period: 480 BC.
- Location: Sparta, Thermopylae.
- Why Should I Read It? If you’re a fan of the film 300, then give this one a try. It is told from the point of view of a Spartan, captured by the Persians, and through him we get a glimpse into Spartan society. Definitely one for the ancient history buffs!
Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant
Is there a family in history more dazzling, dangerous and notorious than the Borgias? A powerhouse of the Italian Renaissance, their very name epitomizes the ruthless politics and sexual corruption of the Papacy.
The father, Pope Alexander VI, a consummate politician and a man with a voracious appetite both as Cardinal and Pope. The younger Juan, womanizer and thug, and their lovely sister, Lucretia, whose very name has become a byword for poison, incest and intrigue. But how much of the history about this remarkable family is actually true, and how much distorted, filtered through the age old mechanisms of political spin, propaganda and gossip?
What if the truth, the real history, is even more challenging?
- Time Period: The 15th century AD.
- Location: Rome.
- Why Should I Read It? The Borgias were a fascinating family, and although the truth about them is now pretty much lost amongst all the gossip and scandal of the past, Sarah Dunant writes a fabulous version of their story. Just enough back-stabbing and political corruptness to keep you turning the pages, without being over the top.
La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas
Margot is one of several in line to inherit the crown in France, where Roman Catholics and Protestants are jockeying for power. Margot’s mother, Catherine de Medici, is intent on seeing her son take the throne once the reign of King Charles IX ends. After being married to a man she doesn’t love and starting a tryst with one she does, Margot contends with her mother’s at-all-costs plan to control the political fate of the volatile country.
- Time Period: 1572 during the reign of Charles IX.
- Location: Paris.
- Why Should I Read It? It’s a fascinating period of history, and Dumas illustrates it wonderfully. I had to study this particular period for history at school, and ended up reading lots of books set in around it.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach — an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord… 1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
- Time Period: 1945 and 1743.
- Location: Scotland – Inverness and the Highlands.
- Why Should I Read It? Jamie Fraser. Is that enough? Oh, well… the only time I really enjoy romance is fiction is when it is in historical fiction, and this book basically has it all. A time travel element, a female lead who doesn’t take crap from anyone, sexy Scotsmen in kilts, castles, beautiful landscapes, adventure, intrigue… ahh just read it please.
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
Armed with only his wits and his cunning, one man recklessly defies the French revolutionaries and rescues scores of innocent men, women, and children from the deadly guillotine. His friends and foes know him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But the ruthless French agent Chauvelin is sworn to discover his identity and to hunt him down.
- Time Period: During the French Revolution (1789-1799), but specifically in 1792.
- Location: Paris, Calais and London.
- Why Should I Read It? ODDS FISH, M’DEAR! Percy Blakeney is one of the best characters of all time – acting out a foolish aristocrat in order to keep his cover, he is really incredibly clever and charming. The whole book is a real adventure, and I also highly recommend the film version starring Anthony Andrews.
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
To rescue her family from poverty and avoid marrying her slope-shouldered cousin, seventeen-year-old Orchid competes to be one of the Emperor’s wives. When she is chosen as a lower-ranking concubine she enters the erotically charged and ritualised Forbidden City. But beneath its immaculate façade lie whispers of murders and ghosts, and the thousands of concubines will stoop to any lengths to bear the Emperor’s son.
Orchid trains herself in the art of pleasuring a man, bribes her way into the royal bed, and seduces the monarch, drawing the attention of dangerous foes. Little does she know that China will collapse around her, and that she will be its last Empress.
- Time Period: 1852.
- Location: The Forbidden City and Beijing.
- Why Should I Read It? It’s a fascinating look at one woman’s rise to power. For me it really appealed because I hadn’t read many books about China, and was interested in learning more. I would not recommended the sequel though!
Have you read any of these recommendations, or do you have any recommendations of your own?
Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.
Whoa, whoa, it’s one of these posts again! Yes, it’s been a while. But I feel it’s been that way with most of my features to be honest… Anyway, I recently FINALLY finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (the best so far, in my opinion), and thought it would be fun to share some book recommendations based on the game. Each book cover links to the Goodreads page.
If you want to read about… the Borgias.
If you want to read about… assassins.
If you want to read about… the Renaissance.
And of course, the Assassin’s Creed books set in Italy.
Have you played Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood? What did you think? Do you have any recommendations to add?
As the title suggests, it’s time to share my top reads of 2014! I read so many good books this year that it’s not a top ten, but a top fifteen… And now, in no particular order:
Lexicon by Max Barry was a wonderful surprise. Sent to me by Hodder, it took a little while for me to pick it up, but I’m so glad I did. It is insanely clever and unique and DEFINITELY worth a read. Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene was another surprise from Hodder (who spoil me!), a fantastic new start to a fantasy series, with a truly gorgeous cover. And Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë… oh this book. I am so SO glad I re-read it!
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor was one of those books that I’d heard such good things about, bought a copy of and still hadn’t read. Then I finally got to it at the beginning of the year, and was blown away. I even met Laini in April, when the third book in the series was released, but I still have yet to read that one. Perfect for my Borgia fascination, Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant is a wonderful piece of historical fiction that I just devoured. It’s got everything you could ever want in historical fiction – backstabbing, court gossip, murder – and everything you would expect from a book about the Borgias. And The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, why did I take so long to get to you?? I have the second book in Leiden, and I’m looking forward to reading it in January.
Another classic I’m glad I tried, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is truly wonderful, and completely satisfied my taste for books set in Oxford (yes this is a thing). Insignia by S.J. Kincaid, on the other hand, completely satisfied my thirst for another book similar to Ready Player One. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is a fantastic, if rather long, follow up to The Name of the Wind. It is one epic fantasy series I will not forget.
The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud was one of those books that took me completely by surprise; I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did and now I recommend the series to everyone. Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes was another wonderful library find, the first in a Young Adult fantasy series that I can’t wait to continue. And when it comes to autobiographies, I’m not sure if you can beat Cash by Johnny Cash. One of my favourite singers, his life was absolutely fascinating to read about and I loved the way it was written too – as if the reader is just sat having a drink with Johnny.
A very recent addition to my list, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is another one that caught me by surprise. At first I wasn’t sure, but as I read more of the book I was utterly enchanted by her take on dragons. And once again showing that I really need to branch out and maybe not always judge books based on genre, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was an ABSOLUTE treat. I loved Cath and instantly identified with her. And finally, Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding pretty much satisfied my post-Firefly needs. SO GOOD.
What were your top reads this year?
Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.
Last month I read a total of thirteen books: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, X-Force Vol 2: Old Ghosts by Craig Kyle, Ultimate X-Men: Ultimate Collection Vol 1 by Mark Millar, The Quick by Lauren Owen, Marvel 70th Anniversary by Stan Lee, Prince of Fools (The Red Queen’s War #1) by Mark Lawrence, Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand by Ed Brubaker, Dangerous Days in the Roman Empire by Terry Deary, Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant, Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, The Three by Sarah Lotz, Boy21 by Matthew Quick and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
I’m still reading Marvel comics! There are suddenly a lot more available on the county library system, so I’m making use of it while I still can. My standout book of the month was definitely Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant, about the Borgia family. I find them fascinating, and this account of their lives (albeit partly fictionalised) was just brilliant. Brave New World was my book group’s Sci-Fi Book of the Month – unfortunately I didn’t get round to our fantasy choice, but I’m hoping to read it this month.
- I read four books towards the Avengers vs. X-Men Challenge and fully recruited Storm, contributing three bonus points to my team. I also managed to defeat Loki for an extra three bonus points! July’s villain is no other than the notorious Dr. Doom, and I already have my books planned to defeat him. They’re all ARCs waiting for review – even better!
- I raised my Goodreads goal to one hundred books, and have currently read eighty-four towards that goal.
Off the blog:
June has been STRESSFUL – hence a lack of posts towards the end, as well as lack of commenting on other blogs. If you saw my post on accommodation last week – well I think it’s sorted. I’ve finally been able to reserve a room. But the email says they’ll let you know at the latest five days before the move in date whether it’s approved. FIVE DAYS?? What if you get rejected? I expect they rarely reject anyone unless they’re not a student and have somehow got through the system – but WHAT? What if you’re rejected, how do they think you’ll find somewhere else in five days, because all other student accommodation will have gone by then. Ugh. Well… if all goes to plan, I have myself my own little apartment in Leiden. A little further than I thought from the faculty, about a 10-15 min bike ride/25 minute walk to the centre, but it’s somewhere to live! And an actual apartment to myself. And of course I’ve nosed around the area on Google Maps, and it looks lovely 🙂 Now that it’s sorted, I feel like I can get on with making other arrangements for Leiden.
Oh, and I also discovered a new love for Jane Eyre, which I re-read for the first time in seven years after reading it at school. I watched the newer film version with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wakowski, and the soundtrack is just GORGEOUS.