Book Haul – 14 June 2019

Wow, what a week for books.  I got an amazing selection from a variety of publishers that I am really excited to read.  I also got a couple of books I bought online that I have been looking forward to for a while.  This is a fantastic collection and I hope I get to read and review all of them.

Blood in the Dust by Bill Swiggs

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This is an excellent sounding Australian adventure story, which I have just started to read. Already 40 pages in and really enjoying it.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

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This is an intriguing novel that is already getting a lot of interest.  I am looking forward to checking out this book’s curious story.

Cold Storage by David Koepp

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A compelling techno-thriller from one of the screenwriters of Jurassic Park, should be pretty epic.

Ghosts of the Past by Tony Park

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Another intriguing sounding piece of Australian fiction.  I quite enjoyed Park’s last book, Scent of Fear, and this sounds like it will be an interesting historical adventure.

Angel Mage by Garth Nix

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The latest book from bestselling author Garth Nix.  I absolutely loved Nix’s Old Kingdom series when I was younger and I a very keen to check out his new series.

The Unforgiving City by Maggie Joel

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Another book that dives in Australia’s history.  This one should be a really good political thriller.

Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor

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Not sure if I’ll get a chance to read this one, but it still sounds like it could be a lot of fun.

The Lost Ten by Harry Sidebottom

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This is an excellent sounding historical fiction novel that I have been looking forward to for a while.  I really loved Sidebottom’s last book, The Last Hour, and this one should hopefully be just as awesome.

God of Broken Things by Cameron Johnston

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Yet another one that I have been looking forward to.  I really enjoyed Johnston’s debut novel, The Traitor God, and cannot wait to see where Johnston takes this story next.

Top Ten Tuesday – First Ten Books I Reviewed

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, bloggers get to talk about the first ten books that they ever did a review for.

This is quite an interesting topic for a top ten list, and it is one that proved to be a lot of fun for me to put together.  It is always an intriguing prospect to dig back into one’s past, and I was quite curious to see what my earliest reviews were.  Luckily, I have kept a copy of some of my earlier professional reviews for The Canberra Times, which were among the first reviews I ever did.  Thinking back even further, I also remember doing a bunch of reviews or review-like documents for a random assortment of books back in my school days.  I decided to include them, as I count them as books I have reviewed, especially as many of them required a large amount of work to do.  As a result, my list is going to be an interesting combination of historical fiction books and some of the novels I read in high school, which luckily proved to be quite a unique and diverse collection of tomes.

While I am confident that I have listed the books in the order that I read and reviewed them, I may have to get a little vague when it comes to the dates I did them on.  The actual dates are probably lost in some ancient hard drive or long dead family computer, but I am fairly certain of which year I did them in.  Anyway, here is my list in the order that I reviewed them:

 

1 – The Other Side of Dawn by John Marsden – Reviewed in 2004

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I reviewed The Other Side of Dawn when I was in year 8 for an English class I was doing.  I cannot quite remember why we had to do reviews, but I remember inadvertently spoiling parts of the story for someone who hadn’t read it (an important lesson I remember to this day).  The Other Side of Dawn is the seventh and final book in John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, which is one of the best and most iconic Australian young adult series of all time.  I was a huge fan of the Tomorrow series when I was younger (I still am, to be honest; it is a pretty epic series) and I had just finished the final book when I had to write a review for class, so it seemed the logical choice.  I cannot remember too many details about the review, but it got me a good mark, so it must have been alright.  This is one of those series I have read numerous times, and I will have to review it on my blog at some point.

2 – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Reviewed in 2006

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I reviewed this classic American novel from acclaimed author Harper Lee in an English class in year 10.  We were starting to learn a lot about analysis and essay writing at the time and To Kill a Mockingbird was a major focus of our class.  I wrote a bunch of reviews and essays for this book, and I found it to be quite a powerful and moving novel that is still relevant in this day and age.

3 – Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst – Reviewed in 2007

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In the latter half of 2007 I was still in school, and we got a choice of which English classes we wanted to attend.  Due to my love of the genre, I chose to do a fantasy fiction course, which was unfortunately taught by the very worst English teacher in our school, whose bad teaching still haunts me to this day.  While the class as a whole was pretty shocking, we did get to read and review Daughter of the Empire.  I was already a huge fan of Raymond E. Feist and his Riftwar series, so this was the perfect book to read in class.  We did a number of reviews and essays for this book, and I loved it so much I have re-read Daughter of the Empire and its sequels several times in the last 12 years, even doing a review of the Empire trilogy on my blog last year.

4 – The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett – Reviewed in 2007

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The same fantasy course also required us to read and give an in-depth presentation on a fantasy book of our choice.  I chose one of my favourite books in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, The Last ContinentThe Last Continent is the 22nd book in the Discworld series, and follows one of Pratchett’s most entertaining protagonists as he adventures around a continent on the Discworld that is definitely not Australia.  I gave quite a good presentation on this book, if I do say so myself, and it was a great book to round out the class on.  A review of The Last Continent will probably show up on this blog in the future, as it is quite a funny read.

5 – Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell – Reviewed in 2008

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Another book reviewed as part of an English class.  Postmortem was the book we had to read and review as our main assessment in a pretty good crime fiction course.  It was an interesting book to analyse, and we did a pretty detailed examination and discussion of the book throughout the length of the course.  I have never really gone out of my way to read any other Cornwell books, but I am glad we got the chance to review Postmortem, and it was quite an intriguing piece of crime fiction.

6 – Outlaw by Angus Donald – Reviewed 26 September 2009

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Back in 2009, while I was in my first year of university, I got an opportunity to review some books for The Canberra Times.  They were in need of someone to review historical fiction, and as that was the genre I was mostly reading at the time, I managed to secure a position as The Canberra Times’s historical fiction reviewer for a few years.  For my first review, they gave me a couple of books publishers had sent them and told me to have a go at writing an article.  The first book I read for this was Outlaw, the first book in Angus Donald’s The Outlaw Chronicle series.  I really enjoyed this book and thought that it was a great reimagining of the classic Robin Hood story, and it proved to be an excellent book to do a proper, professional review for.  Despite enjoying this book, I never got the chance to read any of the other books in The Outlaw Chronicles, which I see managed eight books in the end.  I might have to see what Donald has been writing lately.

7 – Pieces of Eight by John Drake – Reviewed 26 September 2009

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In addition to Outlaw, my first article in The Canberra Times also featured a review of Pieces of Eight by John Drake.  Pieces of Eight was another reimagining of a classic tale, as Drake created his own version of Treasure Island in this series.  Pieces of Eight is the sequel to Drake’s first book, Flint and Silver, and featured a compelling adventure on the high seas.  This was another great book to read, and I had a lot of fun reviewing Pieces of Eight.

8 – King of Kings by Harry Sidebottom – Reviewed 21 November 2009

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This was the second book in Sidebottom’s Warrior of Rome series, which continued the story started in his amazing debut, Fire in the East.  Sidebottom is one of the top authors of Roman historical fiction, and back in 2009 I was very excited to check King of Kings out after enjoying his first book so much.  This was another great historical adventure, with an epic twist at the end.  Sidebottom is still going quite strong; The Last Hour was released last year, and his latest book, The Lost Ten, has just come out.

9 – Raiders from the North by Alex Rutherford – Reviewed 21 November 2009

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Raiders from the North is the first book in Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul series, which charted the rise and fall of one of history’s most powerful and self-destructive dynasties.  This was a very good book that looked at a very unique period of history that is quite under-represented in fiction.  I ended up reading and reviewing nearly every book in the Empire of the Moghul series over the next couple of years, and I really enjoyed this very intriguing series.

10 – The Gladiator by Simon Scarrow – Reviewed 19 December 2009

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This is a good place to end my list.  I am a huge fan of the Scarrow’s The Eagles of the Empire series, and it was one of the main historical fiction series that got me into the genre.  As a result, I was very happy that I got a chance to review the ninth book in The Eagles of the Empire series, The Gladiator, so early in my reviewing career.  The Gladiator is an excellent addition to the series which pitted its protagonist against a new type of opponent.  This series is still going strong, with its 17th book coming, The Blood of Rome, coming out last year.

 

I hope you enjoy my list; I had a good time putting it together.  I will have to try and scan a few of these earlier columns onto my blog in the future.  It was fun going back and seeing what some of my earliest reviews were.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Lost Ten by Harry Sidebottom

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.

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This week I will be looking at an exciting new historical fiction novel that is coming out in April 2019, The Lost Ten by Harry Sidebottom.  Harry Sidebottom is a well-established historical fiction author whose novels set in the Roman Empire are some of the best in the business.  I have long been a huge fan of Sidebottom.  I have previously mentioned how his second book, King of Kings, was one of the first books I ever reviewed, and I absolutely loved his most recent release, 2018’s The Last Hour.  So I am extremely eager to get my hands on The Lost Ten, which sounds like it will be quite a fantastic read.

Goodreads synopsis:

A desperate rescue attempt deep behind enemy lines . . . this nail-biting adventure has all the hard-edged appeal of the Bravo Two Zero mission.

When Valens, a junior officer in the Roman Army, joins a crack squad of soldiers on a dangerous mission, little does he know what’s in store for him. Tasked with rescuing the young Prince Sasan, who has been imprisoned in the impenetrable Castle of Silence, the troops set out across Mesopotamia and into the mountains south of the Caspian Sea.

Deep in hostile territory, inexperienced Valens finds himself in charge. And as one by one his soldiers die or disappear, he begins to suspect that there is a traitor in their midst, and that the rescue is fast becoming a suicide mission.

Valens must marshal this disparate group of men and earn their respect, before it’s too late…

I love the sound of this plot synopsis, as it implies that Sidebottom will continue his winning formula from The Last Hour, where he combined pulse-pounding thriller elements with his usual detailed and intriguing historical fiction plots.  This worked extremely well with The Last Hour, which was essentially 24 in Rome, and I am excited to see how a high-risk special forces mission will play out in this ancient setting.

I very intrigued by the Castle of Silence that is referenced in the synopsis, which brings a very intense and impenetrable stronghold to mind.  From the other details contained within plot summary, it sounds like the Romans will have to infiltrate the Parthian Empire.  I love the idea of a small force getting into this massive and sprawling empire, and I am very interested to see how the Parthians are able to insert a spy into a crack Roman unit.

Overall, I am extremely excited for this latest book from Harry Sidebottom, who has to be one of my favourite historical fiction authors.  The Lost Ten sounds like it will be a thrilling and action-packed novel, and I really cannot wait for Sidebottom to once again blow my mind with his thriller/historical fiction hybrids.

The Last Hour by Harry Sidebottom

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Publisher: Zaffre

Australian Publication Date – 1 May 2018

World Publication Date – 8 March 2018

 

Ballista is back, baby!  One of the best writers of Roman historical fiction, Harry Sidebottom, brings back his original protagonist for an incredibly gripping and action-packed novel that perfectly combines the thriller and historical fiction genres.

In Rome, in 265 AD, Marcus Clodius Ballista, former Dux Ripae of Rome and loyal friend of Emperor Gallienus, enters the Mausoleum of Hadrian to meet with an informant who wishes to talk to him about a plot to kill the emperor and usurp his throne.  But the meeting is a trap, the informant is murdered, and Ballista is forced to jump into the River Tiber to escape the horde of assassins sent to kill him.

Washed up outside of the city and pursued by killers, Ballista only has 24 hours until Gallienus is murdered.  With the conspirators still unknown to him, Ballista has no idea who he can trust and who can help him, but he must find a way to warn the emperor of the plot against him.  If he fails, not only will his friend will be assassinated but Ballista’s family will also die in the ensuing takeover.

Now alone, unarmed, and with no money, bodyguards or friends around him, Ballista must find a way to re-enter the city and transverse the entirety of Rome to get to the emperor’s side.  But the city is now a very dangerous place for him.  The city watch are fully mobilised and ordered to arrest Ballista at all costs.  In addition, mobs of disguised killers are searching for him everywhere, and they have no intention to taking him in alive.

As Ballista makes his way through the streets of Rome, he must find a way to avoid all the people searching for him while also overcoming the other dangers that lurk throughout the city.  Will Ballista be able to save his friend and his family, or will his final defeat take place in the heart of the empire he has spent his whole life protecting?

Harry Sidebottom is a renowned British historian and veteran author of Roman historical fiction, having previously written two best-selling series, Warrior of Rome and Throne of the CaesarsThe Last Hour is the 10th book from Sidebottom and a spinoff off from his Warrior of Rome series, featuring his original protagonist, Ballista.  Ballista is a heavily fictionalized version of a famous Roman prefect, and served as the main character of Sidebottom’s first six books.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Sidebottom’s works, as his debut novel, Fire in the East, was one of the first pieces of historical fiction that I ever read, and featured one of the best accounts of a siege that I have ever read.  His second book, King of Kings, was also one of the first books that I ever reviewed, and was a fantastic sequel that featured great story elements, set in an interesting and underused period of Roman history.  Sidebottom’s latest book, The Last Hour, is an amazing hybrid of the thriller and historical fiction genres, featuring an intense, high-stakes journey through the ancient city of Rome.

The thriller aspects of this book are exhilarating.  The protagonist is aware of a devastating assassination that is about to be committed and has only a limited time to reach and save the target.  Sidebottom incorporates a ticking clock element to the story, as Ballista is constantly aware of the passing of time and how short a period he has to complete his objective to save not only his friend but his entire family as well.  Needless to say, the author takes this story right down to the wire, and the reader has no idea whether Ballista will succeed or not; readers who are familiar with the previous books in the series will recall that King of Kings ended with Ballista and the previous emperor being both betrayed and captured by the enemy.  The story gains a significant amount of intensity as the protagonist has no idea of who he can trust, nor who is aligned against him.  Sidebottom also goes out of his way to ensure that the readers are in the dark about who the main conspirators are, even towards the end of the story.  This intrigue is compounded as Sidebottom gives his audience a tantalising view of the antagonists meeting while also frustrating the readers by ensuring that these characters use codenames when talking to each other.  As a result, the reader is intently drawn into the story by both the protagonist’s mad dash through the city and the immense desire to work out who the conspirators are and what their full plan is.

In addition to its electrifying thriller elements, The Last Hour also features an incredible exploration of ancient Rome and the range of people the protagonist encounters during his time in the city.  Sidebottom is determined to highlight several different groups of people that were a factor in the city, including the city watch, the Praetorian guards, the emperor’s Germanic bodyguards and the frumentarii, who served as the emperor’s secret police.  Each of these groups is an essential part of the emperor’s security and has a significant role to play in this novel, and the readers will be intrigued by Sidebottom’s descriptions of each of them.  Ballista also encounters a range of other Roman citizens, from simple shopkeepers and men of the street to members of the city’s criminal underground, cults of Egyptian priests, hidden Christians and even drunk Roman nobles looking to assault people they meet on the street.  Each of these adds to the rich tapestry of the historical city that Sidebottom has woven into existence.  This tapestry is further enhanced by Sidebottom’s determination to provide detailed examinations of several of ancient Rome’s buildings and locations.  These range from historically significant locations, like the coliseum, the Praetorian camp and the emperor’s palace, to more mundane locations that were a unique feature of the city of Rome, such as massive bathhouses and large apartment-style buildings.  All these historical elements serve as terrific background for this extraordinary thriller based story.

Readers of this book are also in for an action-packed treat as the protagonist rampages through ancient Rome, continuously fighting off either the people hunting him or the regular citizens of Rome attacking him for their own reasons.  As a result, The Last Hour is filled with innumerable action sequences that are guaranteed to amuse and delight all the action fanatics out there.  Readers will be gifted with sequences that include a crazy fight and flight across the rooftops of the city, and a down-and-dirty fight in the steamy and mechanical workings of a bathhouse.  There is also a siege on the roof of one of the city’s monuments and a large pitched battle in the streets of Rome.  These fight scenes are great fun and increase in intensity throughout the book as the protagonist’s countdown goes on.

Harry Sidebottom has once again produced an incredible, fast-paced and exceedingly exciting action novel that combines the very best elements of a first-rate thriller with all the research and detail of an excellent historical fiction novel.  A truly unique and utterly entertaining piece of literature, The Last Hour once again shows why Sidebottom is one of the very best authors writing about ancient Rome.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars