Anyone who knows me knows that I have a bit of a book problem. And when I say a bit, I mean I have a HUGE book problem. All of my bookshelves are full to bursting and I even have piles of books on my living room floor and boxes of books under the bed and in storage. In fact, if I’m not busy typing away on whatever project I’ve got going on then I can be found with my nose in a book.
Over the past twelve months I have read some absolutely cracking books. So I thought I’d do a bit of a round up of ten of the best ones I’ve read. Now, some of them weren’t new releases when I read them whereas others were – and they aren’t all history related!
10. The Last Royal Rebel by Anna Keay
The life of James Duke of Monmouth has long been a fascination of mine, and I promise it’s nothing to do with the overly handsome portrait….okay, maybe it is a little bit. When I found out about this book I got really quite excited as it had been a while since I had read a decent and engaging biography of the tragic young Duke. If you have any sort of interest in the Seventeenth Century and Restoration then I would heartily recommend this book.
9. The Black Prince of Florence by Catherine Fletcher
This book was under the Christmas tree in 2016 and was the first book I read in 2017. Being a bit of a fan of the Italian Renaissance, I wanted to expand my horizon towards the later (High) Renaissance, and what better way than a biography of a member of one of the most influential families of the time? This truly is a remarkably well written biography that makes you feel as if you are living in the treacherous world of the Renaissance. Highly recommended.
8. Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Mary de Guise by Melanie Clegg
I must admit that for a while, before reading this, I’d been avoiding reading anything much related to the Tudor dynasty. There’s a very simple reason for this – a while back I’d developed a bit of Tudor fatigue as let’s be real…it can be a bit overdone. It’s only really within the past year or so that I’ve been getting back into it, particularly given the links that the dynasty have with my own interests. This book brings to life Marie de Guise, a woman who is better known as the mother of Mary Queen of Scots and let’s just say that her life was a turbulent one. A quick read, granted, but one I thoroughly enjoyed.
7. 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire by Rebecca Rideal
This is another book that I had gotten seriously overexcited about although I was a little late to the party in reading it. Rideal’s book takes the reader through one of the worst years in English history up until that point – plague had wracked London, followed by the Dutch Wars and then the ruinous Great Fire of London. It really brings to light just how awful 1666 was. Another one I would highly recommend to anyone interested in Restoration England. Plus, Samuel Pepys gets a mention and he’s just brilliant.
6. The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
I’m sure I’m not the only one who grew up reading Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ books and following in Lyra’s footsteps. From the moment I found out that Pullman was writing a prequel, I awaited its release with bated breath – and on release day I took myself off down to the bookshop and got this beauty into my grubby little paws. It did not disappoint in the slightest and I found myself once more lost in Lyra’s world of the alethiometer, Dust and daemons.
5. Young & Damned & Fair by Gareth Russell
When I reviewed this book, I believe that I called it ‘the Bible on Catherine Howard’ and I still believe that. There has been so much written about Catherine Howard that slanders her as an adulterous whore who deserved everything she got. But Russell does a wonderful job in this book, painting a picture of the doomed Queen that shows us she wasn’t that whatsoever. It’s a sympathetic look at a young woman who was, in many ways, nothing more than a victim.
4. Julian of Norwich by Janina Ramirez
I was definitely late to the party with this little gem of a book, especially given as how Dr Janina Ramirez is a favourite historian of mine. Julian of Norwich is a beautiful little book, telling the story of the anchoress who spent her life walled in a cell. Brilliantly written it brings a subject of history to the fore that I myself knew very little about.
3. In The Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant
When I first opened the prequel to this novel, I did so with a hell of a lot of trepidation. Nearly every single novel that I had read that featured the Borgia family was just badly written and regurgitating the incest myths that have surrounded the family for centuries. In Blood & Beauty, Sarah Dunant proved that a novel on the Borgias could be well researched, accurate and beautifully written. Her second book was no different. It tells the story of the later part of the Borgias and heavily features the character of Machiavelli. The characterisation is just top notch and the scenes are woven together beautifully. This has to be one of my favourite novels of all time.
2. The Colour of Betrayal by Toni Mount
Toni Mount’s Foxley Medieval Murder Mysteries – where on earth do I begin with how brilliant these books are? Set in Medieval London, Mount weaves together stories of murder, love and betrayal so expertly that you are immersed in the world that she has created. Sebastian Foxley has, I am completely unashamed to say, become a bit of a crush…
1. The Templars: The Rise & Fall of God’s Holy Warriors by Dan Jones
And at the very top spot in my top ten books of 2017 is this beauty. I’d been expecting a lot from Dan Jones with this book, given as how impressed I’d been with his work on the Wars of the Roses and the Plantagenet’s but he really surpassed himself here. I have a bit of an interest in the Templars and Crusades thanks to visiting a number of Templar strongholds in Portugal and have dipped into other books on the subject, but this? This book brings the subject to life for those who don’t know much, and also to those who are well versed in Crusader and Templar history. The narrative is so beautifully written, showing the Templars in an incredibly sympathetic light. In this book you see the good and you see the bad – Jones certainly doesn’t shy away from describing things, as gnarly as they were. It is definitely the best historical biography I have read in a long time, and I honestly think it’ll be one hell of a job for anything to beat it!