Thursday, 31 January 2008

Diana Gabaldon "Lord John and the Hand of Devils"


Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series are excellent. The Lord John series - which uses one of the characters from the Outlander series - is less than excellent ; merely very good! In contrast to the Outlander books - which transcend time and have a most unusual plot-base - the Lord John books are straightforward historivcl novels with a touch of mystery. Also unlike the Outlander books those with Lord John as the main character are short - only "Lord John and the Private Matter" ranking as a novel and even then it is only half the size of her Outlander blockbusters. 'Lord John and the Hell-fire Club' is described as a chapbook and this book, "Lord John and the Hand of Devils", contains it as well as the novellas 'Lord John and the Succubus' and 'Lord John and the Haunted Soldier'. Of all those listed below the only one I have not read is 'Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade '.

The whole Lord John series has got confused with the novella being published before she had finished the preceding novel, etc. This has been further enhanced by the publishers putting the review for the Brotherhood of the Blade under the Hnd of Devils! Even to the extent of their publicity cover having the wrong plot title!

I understand another book in the Outlander series is in preparation - I cannot wait.

DIANA GABALDON (Diana Jean Gabaldon Watkins), born 1952, is the author of the internationally bestselling Outlander series - all featuring Claire and Jamie Fraser. Although American by birth, Diana has become fascinated by the history of Scotland, England, France and the USA in the mid-18th century when the struggles that would determine the shape of the modern world were taking place. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband and their children.
1. Cross Stitch (1991)
aka Outlander
2. Dragonfly in Amber (1991)
3. Voyager (1993)
4. The Drums of Autumn (1996)
5. The Fiery Cross (2001)
6. A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005)

Lord John novels/ novellas/ chapbooks
Lord John and the Hell-fire Club (1998)
Lord John and the Private Matter (2003)
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (2007)
Lord John and the Hand of Devils (2007)

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Campbell Armstrong "Jig"

According to Jeam B. Palmer in the Library Journal - Jig is "A fast-paced, accomplished novel that explores the Irish Republican Army, contemporary terrorism, and American involvement, by the author of many award-winning novels. British officer Frank Pagan is sent to the United States to find the mysterious Jig, an elusive IRA terrorist on a mission to recover a large missing sum of IRA money. Jig, though a terrorist, is also a hero of sorts and so the non-IRA elements from Northern Ireland are attempting to eliminate him. In character and atmosphere Jig is very reminiscent of The Day of the Jackal , though Armstrong's characters elicit more sympathy. His accurate, apt images, his sardonic humor, his ingenious plot twists, and his amiable characters place Armstrong on a par with LeCarre and Ambler. Don't miss this one. " ,
Usually when an author is compared to one of the acknowledged greats (like Forsyte) one is in for a disappointment. In this case there is no disappointment in any of this fast-paced thriller's 600 pages. Of it's type - a crime thriller - this is a ***** five star book.

CAMPBELL ARMSTRONG , like Jeffrey Campbell and Thomas Altman, is a pseudonym used by Campbell Black. He was born in Glasgow in 1944 and educated at Sussex University where he obtained a BA degree. Three years after his first novel was published in 1968, he moved to the United States, where he taught creative writing. He lived there for twenty years with his wife and children, and produced twenty novels before moving to Ireland in 1991. He has been in the front rank of modern thriller writers for many years, and his bestselling novels include the highly acclaimed Jig series. His recent heartbreaking memoir, 'All That Really Matters', was also a remarkable success, particularly in Scotland and Ireland, where it was a No 1 bestseller. Following the international success of 'Jig' (1987), many of his books, including 'Brainfire' and 'Asterisk', are once again available in the United Kingdom.

Martin Jenkins and Charles Robert "Streets of Liverpool"


This 2006 hardback booklet should really have been entitled buses and trams of Liverpool as that is what it mainly consists of - every pciture is of a type of tram and bus thpough the authors do their best go make the background streets as interesting as possible.

I was delighted with one or two views because they are the sort which you don't get anywhere else including the route I walked home along Bowring Park Road from Ryebank - long since disappeared (both Ryebank and the route).

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Michael Jecks - "Dispensation of Death"

Another light-hearted and easy-going historical murder mystery. One of two 2007 novels in the Medieval West Country Mysteries with Sir Baldwin Furshill, Keeper of the King's Peace in Devon, and his friend, Bailiff Simon Puttock. This is not a series that has to be read in order and I tend to rely upon whatever comes into Pensby Library as they don't seem to crop up in charity shops.
For a change the pair have gone up to London where they get involved in the politics and murders of the King's court.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Anthony Trollope “Ralph. the Heir”

I love Anthony Trollope. He is certainly among my top ten authors. I found this one at the flea market a couple of weeks ago and have been dying to start it. The problem is that his books are un-put-downable. It is not the plot so much as the style of writing that makes one want to carry on until, all too soon, the 731 pages are read.

Ralph the Heir was originally published in 1871. The novel moves from country estates to London clubs, with property, illegitimacy and inheritance behind the character studies. The style of life may have changed somewhat in 130 years but the character delineation is as accurate now as it ever was.

ANTHONY TROLLOPE (1815-1882), the son of a failing barrister, was brought up an awkward and unhappy youth amidst debt and deprivation. His first novel appeared in 1847 when he had established himself in a successful civil service career in the Post Office. He became one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of Trollope's best-loved works, known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, revolve around the imaginary county of Barsetshire; he also wrote penetrating novels on political, , social, and gender issues and conflicts of his day. Another brilliant series is the six Palliser novels. In all he wrote 47 novels and 16 other books. I have read the Barsetshire and Palliser novels and a couple of others but the lesser known works are hard to get hold of nowadays.

Chronicles of Barsetshire
1. The Warden (1855)
2. Barchester Towers (1857)
3. Doctor Thorne (1858)
4. Framley Parsonage (1860)
5. The Small House at Allington (1864)
6. The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)
The Barsetshire Novels (omnibus) (1906)

1. Can You Forgive Her? (1864)
2. Phineas Finn (1869)
3. The Eustace Diamonds (1872)
4. Phineas Redux (1874)
5. The Prime Minister (1876)
6. The Duke's Children (1880)

The other three I have read are “Miss MacKenzie” (1865); “He Knew He Was Right” (1869) ; and “Cousin Henry” (1879).

By the mid- 1860s, Trollope had reached a fairly senior position within the Post Office hierarchy. Postal history credits him with introducing the pillar box (the ubiquitous bright red mail-box) in the UK – but in fact the boxes were painted green until later in the Victorian era. He left the Post Office in 1867.

Some quotes from 'Ralph, the Heir':-
“He was a man with prejudices, - kindly, gentlemanlike, amiable prejudices.”

“But he had no such hope. Clarissa had given him thrice that answer, which of all answers is the most grievous to the true-hearted lover. ‘She felt for him unbounded esteem, and would always regard him as a friend.’ A short decided negative, or a doubtful no, or even an indignant repulse, may be changed, may give way to second convictions, or to better acquaintance, or to altered circumstances, or even simply to perseverance. But an assurance of esteem and friendship means, and can only mean, that the lady regards her lover as she might do some old uncle or patriarchal family connection, whom, after a fashion, she loves, but who can never be to her the one creature to be worshipped above all others.”

“We may almost say that a man is only as strong as his weakest moment.”

“It was a foul, rainy, muddy, sloppy morning, without a glimmer of sun, with that thick, pervading, melancholy atmosphere which forces for the time upon imaginative men a conviction that nothing is worth anything.”

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Elizabeth Ferrars “Foot in the Grave”

Life for Henry and Christine Findon suddenly changed when their peaceful house was invaded by family and friends. First some left shoes disappeared and the day after their arrival, a murder takes place... great Agatha Christie type fun. Originally published in 1973 it was reprinted a few times, most recently in 1994.

For a full list of her books see:-

It only took a few hours to read but worth it and I'm delighted to have found a new easy-to-read crime author.

ELIZABETH FERRARS (Morna Doris MacTaggart Brown) was born in 1907 and died in 1995. I am amazed that I have not come across Elizabeth Frrars before., She is the author of 66 general crime novels (1945-1996) in addition to 7 more crime novels in the Toby Dyke series which she began publishing in 1940. Described on the cover of the one I read as being Agatha Christie-like I can confirm that it was. Not too much blood and gore but plenty of character delineation and mystery. Her books are still being re-issued.

"For well over half a century, from 1940 to the day she died, the writer Elizabeth Ferrars ploughed a distinguished furrow in the crime and detection field. She was a perfect representative of what is known in the United States as a writer of "cosy" mysteries: detective stories that purely entertain, with an involving puzzle solved by reasonably lifelike characters, and do not overly challenge the "status quo" or perhaps (more crucially) threaten the average reader's susceptibilities.

Ferrars was literate, intelligent, often ingenious, not frighteningly intellectual, and those who picked up her books - hundreds of thousands of them per year (she was consistently placed in the highest Public Lending Right band, always earning the maximum payment) - were guaranteed an enjoyable and absorbing couple of hours.

Born in Burma in 1907, Ferrars received an establishment education: Bedales School in Hampshire (1918-24), then University College London (1925-28), where she gained a diploma in journalism in her final years. In her writing career, two mainstream novels published in the early 1930s (under her real name, Morna MacTaggart) were a false start. The publication in 1940, however, of Give a Corpse a Bad Name led to a lifetime's imaginative and accumulatively - for her bank balance - useful toil. She started as she meant to go on. Having found her niche she proceeded to bombard her publishers, Hodder & Stoughton - who had a penchant for superior crime fiction, although an over-paternalistic attitude towards its own practitioners - with manuscripts. Her first five books were all issued in the three years from 1940 to 1942, and for this reason she may legitimately be regarded as one of the very last authors of detective fiction from the genre's "Golden Age": since wartime paper restrictions finally transformed good, fat library novels into sad and skinny chapbooks in 1942, generally regarded as the year when the door finally closed on the great days of Mayhem Parva."

For more detail see her obituary -
Independent, The (London), Apr 19, 1995 by Jack Adrian

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Michael Jecks “The Malice of Unnatural Death”

Like Ellis Peters, Michael Jecks had created a credible and fun medieval setting for his mysteries. In this case the town of Exeter is the setting and with Helen and Ian living there it makes it quite interesting.

It is 1324, the kingdom is in an uproar. Roger Mortimer—once the king's most able commander, now his most hated enemy—has escaped from the Tower and hired an assassin to murder the monarch. Others have the same idea. In Coventry, a special assassin has been hired: a necromancer by the name of John. But just as his plan begins to succeed, the plot is uncovered. John must escape to a smaller city: Exeter. And when the bodies of a local craftsman and the king's messenger are found in Exeter's streets, Sir Baldwin Furnshill and Bailiff Simon Puttock, are asked by the Bishop to find the murderer. The dead messenger was carrying a dangerous secret, and the Bishop is desperate that it not be discovered. Baldwin and Simon are reluctant to get involved, but political pressures are growing, and the two must find the murderer before he strikes again. But when murderers use magic, no one is safe.

The list of Medieval West Country Mysteries:-
1. The Last Templar (1995)
2. The Merchant's Partner (1995)
3. A Moorland Hanging (1996)
4. The Crediton Killings (1997)
5. The Abbot's Gibbet (1998)
6. The Leper's Return (1998)
7. Squire Throwleigh's Heir (1998)
8. Belladonna At Belstone (1999)
9. The Traitor of St. Giles (2000)
10. The Boy-Bishop's Glovemaker (2000)
11. The Tournament of Blood (2001)
12. The Sticklepath Strangler (2001)
13. The Devil's Acolyte (2002)
14. The Mad Monk of Gidleigh (2002)
15. The Templar's Penance (2003)
16. The Outlaws of Ennor (2004)
17. The Tolls of Death (2004)
18. The Chapel of Bones (2004)
19. The Butcher of St. Peter's (2005)
20. A Friar's Blood Feud (2005)
21. The Death Ship of Dartmouth (2006)
22. The Malice of Unnatural Death (2007)
23. Dispensation of Death (2007)
24. The Templar, the Queen and Her Lover (2007)
25. The Prophecy of Death (2008)

So far, the other ones I have read, are:-
The Last Templar
(The first book in the Medieval West Country Mystery series)
When a spate of burnings occur in a quiet Devon village, Bailiff Simon Puttock is grateful for the help of the astute yet strangely reticent Sir Baldwin, who has recently come to live nearby. Are the deaths linked, and will the murderer strike again?

The Traitor of St. Giles
(The ninth book in the Medieval West Country Mystery series)
A warrior lies dead, one of his hounds dead at his side, and nearby is the body of a convicted felon. Could the felon have killed a trained knight and his dog? And if he did, where is the knight's horse and money? And then Baldwin and Simon learn that the dead knight was ambassador to the king's hated friends, a man with many enemies.

The Boy-Bishop's Glovemaker
(The tenth book in the Medieval West Country Mystery series)
When Ralph, a noted philanthropist, is found dead, Exeter's people are baffled, but then a youth is poisoned in the Cathedral and the mystery deepens. Was it suicide, or was he killed by outlaws in revenge for the hanging of their comrade? Hidden by the Christmas celebrations, there is a ruthless murderer who will soon strike again.

MICHAEL JECKS, born in 1960, gave up a career in the computer industry to concentrate on writing and the study of medieval history, especially that of Devon and Cornwall. He and his wife and daughter now live in northern Dartmoor.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Alexander McCall Smith "The Right Attitude to Rain"

McCall Smith is one of those writers whose style(s) you either love or hate. I love the way he writes. Like most people I was introduced to him some years ago when the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency came out and brought Mme Ramotswe and Botswana to our attention. Since then I have read some from each of the following series:-

No 1 Ladies Detective agency;-
1. The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (1998)
2. Tears Of The Giraffe (2000)
3. Morality for Beautiful Girls (2001)
4. The Kalahari Typing School for Men (2002)
5. The Full Cupboard of Life (2003)
6. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (2004)
7. Blue Shoes and Happiness (2006)
8. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (2007)
9. The Miracle at Speedy Motors (2008 - not yet read)

Isabel Dalhousie:-
1. The Sunday Philosophy Club (2004)
2. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (2005 - not yet read)
3. The Right Attitude to Rain (2006)
4. The Careful Use of Compliments (2007 - not yet read)

Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld:-
The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom (omnibus) (2002)
At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances (2003 - not yet read)
The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs (2003 - not yet read)
Portuguese Irregular Verbs (2003 - not yet read)

44 Scotland Street:-
1. 44 Scotland Street (2005)
2. Espresso Tales (2005 - not yet read)
3. Love Over Scotland (2006 - not yet read)
4. The World According to Bertie (2007 - not yet read)

One of his stand-alone books:-
The Girl Who Married a Lion: And Other Tales from Africa (2004)

One of the novels relating to philosopher Isabel Dalhousie, "The Right Attitude to Rain", is quite legitimately filled with little sidetracks where the heroine philosophises about matters big and small. There is, for example, a lovely piece on the ethics of e-mails and whether one should answer every e-mail one gets and the tyranny of those who expect instant responses. Equally amusing is Isobel's view on the test of acculturation into the British way of life - whether one liked Marmite. "The Right Attitude to Rain", like many of his books is full of lovely little quotable bits. And here are a few examples to whet your appetite.

"She glanced at the political news from Italy; which appeared to be a series of reports of battles between acronyms, or so it seemed..."

"The rules of the jungle did not apply to those who wrote the rules of the jungle."

"And Joe... was an Anglophile by any standard; except by the measure of Marmite."

"That," said Isobel, "is the nost painful feature of lost love. You wonder what the other person is doing. Right at this moment. What is he doing?"

"Hopw many people in the United States believed that they had been abducted by aliens? It was a depressingly large number. And the aliens always gave them back! Perhaps they were abducting the wrong sort."

"Mimi thought of somebody she knew who often spoke of a mutual friend's tendency to consult the plastic surgeon. 'Such a conservationist,' the critic said. 'She desrves some sort of award.' "

ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH has a double existence. He is a Professor of Medical Law, but also an author who has now written over fifty books on a wide range of subjects. These range from specialist titles such as 'Forensic Aspects of Sleep', (the only book on the subject) to 'The Criminal Law of Botswana' (also the only book on the subject) and from the widely translated 'The Perfect Hamburger' (a children's novel) to 'Portuguese Irregular Verbs' (a collection of stories about eccentric German professors). His collection of African stories, 'Children of Wax', received critical acclaim and has been the subject of an award-winning film.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Memorandoms for...the diary of John Carrington

"Memorandoms for... " The Diary between 1798 and 1810 of John Carrington - edited by W Branch Johnson

There are not many advantages to being ill but just occasionally it means i can lie back and rewad a load of books with a clear conscience, knowing I'm not well enough to do anything that requires more effort and in too much pain to sleep. as a consequence I've got through a fair bit of reading this week - a lot more than my one every six days!

I have always had a love of diaries and nothing quite recreates the feel of an era than reading the words written at the time by ordinary folk. John Carrington was born in 1726 and his diary covers the years 1798 to 1810. A resident of Hertfordshire he comments on local affairs in which he is heavily involved as a farmer, chief constable, tax assessor, surveyor of highways and overseer of the poor.

The book, published in 1973, was edited by local historian W Branch Johnson (born 1893) whose background notes form an essential part of understanding the diary.

Frederick Forsyth "The Veteran"


I have so many works of fiction waiting to be read at the moment that it is rare for me to bother reading anything twice but Frederick Forsyth is such a marvellous story-teller thst I thought I would make an exception in his case when I came across 'The Veteran' in the library. I first read this book of five short stories when it came out in 2000 and thought it would bear re-reading. It did.

"A collection of five heart-stopping stories from the master thriller writer. A miracle in war-torn Siena that begins with the persecution of a young nun in the turbulent days of the sixteenth century and culminates in the bitter German retreat from Italy; a drug smuggling heist on an international flight where the Knock pit their wits against the smugglers; a brural urban murder, where a brilliant QC decides to defend the killers, resulting in a startling justice; an incandescent art scam at a famous London auction house, and a brilliantly plotted revenge that shatters the elegant world of the Old Masters - each story is a remarkable tour de force. And above all here is a brilliant novella, 'Whispering Wind', which begins with the single survivor of Custer's Last Stand at the battle of Little Big Horn. Then follows the rescue from rape and murder of a Cheyenne girl and a flight across the mountains and forests of the West, ending in a savage present-day manhunt in the wild lands of Montana. "

FREDERICK FORSYTH CBE (born August 25, 1938) is an English author and occasional political commentator. He is best known for thrillers such as The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Dogs of War, The Fist of God, Icon, The Veteran, Avenger and recently The Afghan (which latter I do not recall having read yet). All bear the stamp of his masterly story telling and thorough research.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Nigel Tranter "Hope Endures"


One of the New Year Resoultions made by Ian was to list the books he read this year. First of all he had to read them and, more to the point, finish them. If I were to restrict this blog to books I finished (as was my original intention) Nigel Tranter's "Hope Endures" would not get a mention. I got as far as page 74 (of 198). I have read a tremendous number of Nigel Tranter books in the past but I found this a bit bland. I think I may just have outgrown the author now.

"The story of Thomas Hope, who counselled three kings through a tumultuous time in Scottish history. An age of change, violence and upheaval brought vividly to life in this gripping historical novel by one of Scotland's best-loved authors. "Hope Endures" is the last novel Nigel Tranter completed before his death in January 2000. The son of an Edinburgh merchant, Hope had a spectacular beginning to his career: at the age of seventeen, before he had even finished his legal education, he travelled to France to triumph in his first court case and caught the attention of his young king, James VI. It was the beginning of a life at the heart of the government of Scotland. From James VI and I to Cromwell, from John Knox to Montrose, Lord Advocate Hope was a rock in a fast-changing world. He witnessed the reigns of Charles I and Charles II, the founding of the East India Company, affairs of state and affairs of the heart, matters political and diplomatic, No dry-as-dust-lawyer, he was a friend as well as an advisor to the three kings he served."

NIGEL TRANTER OBE, one of Scotland's best-loved authors, wrote over ninety novels on Scottish history. "In November 1999, the well-known Scottish novelist, Nigel Tranter, OBE, celebrated his 90th birthday at his home in Gullane, East Lothian. He was in fine form on that occasion - regaling people with his stories, as he loved to do. He was still working away on his latest novels, taking notes during his walks on the sands at Aberlady Bay on the shores of the river Forth, east of Edinburgh, in his ubiquitous notebook. Unfortunately, he became one of the casualties of the influenza outbreak which gripped Scotland that year and he passed away suddenly on Sunday, 8 January. Magnus Linklater, the chairman of the Scottish Arts Council said that he popularised Scottish history more than anyone else in the last 100 years. Others commented that the only history many Scots knew had been learned from reading Tranter's stories, which were as historically accurate as he could make them. He disliked conventional "history" and brought the past to life by his storytelling. A short outline of his life and achievements can be found at"
His works include -

MacGregor Trilogy
1. MacGregor's Gathering (1957)
2. The Clansman (1959)
3. Gold For Prince Charlie (1962)

Master of Gray Trilogy
1. Lord and Master (1961)
2. The Courtesan (1963)
3. Past Master (1965)

Bruce Trilogy
1. The Steps To The Empty Throne (1969)
2. The Path of the Hero King (1970)
3. The Price of the King's Peace (1971)

1. The Young Montrose (1972)
2. Montrose, the Captain-General (1973)

House of Stewart Trilogy
1. Lords of Misrule (1976)
2. A Folly of Princes (1977)
3. The Captive Crown (1977)

James V Trilogy
1. The Riven Realm (1984)
2. James By The Grace of God (1985)
3. Rough Wooing (1986)

Mary Stewart Trilogy
1. Price of a Princess (1994)
2. Lord in Waiting (1994)

Novels -
Trespass (1937)
Mammon's Daughter (1939)
Harsh Heritage (1940)
Watershed (1941)
Eagle Feathers (1941)
The Gilded Fleece (1942)
Delayed Action (1944)
Tinker's Pride (1945)
Flight of Dutchmen (1946)
Island Twilight (1947)
Man's Estate (1947)
Colours Flying (1948)
Root and Branch (1948)
The Stone (1948)
The Chosen Course (1949)
The Freebooters (1950)
Fair Game (1950)
High Spirits (1950)
Fast and Loose (1951)
Tidewrack (1951)
Bridal Path (1952)
Cheviot Chase (1952)
The Queen's Grace (1953)
Ducks and Drakes (1953)
The Night Riders (1954)
Rum Week (1954)
Rio D'Oro (1955)
There Are Worse Jungles (1955)
The Long Coffin (1956)
The Enduring Flame (1957)
Balefire (1958)
Spaniards' Isle (1958)
Man Behind the Curtain (1959)
The Flockmasters (1960)
Nestor the Monster (1960)
Spanish Galleon (1960)
Kettle of Fish (1961)
Birds of a Feather (1961)
The Deer Poachers (1961)
Drug On The Market (1962)
Something Very Fishy (1962)
Give a Dog a Bad Name (1963)
Chain of Destiny (1964)
Silver Island (1964)
Pursuit (1965)
Stake in the Kingdom (1966)
Fire and High Water (1967)
Lion Let Loose (1967)
Tinker Tess (1967)
Cable From Kabul (1967)
To the Rescue (1968)
Black Douglas (1968)
The Wisest Fool (1974)
The Wallace (1975)
Border Riding (1977)
Macbeth The King (1978)
Margaret The Queen (1979)
David The Prince (1980)
True Thomas (1981)
The Patriot (1982)
Lord of the Isles (1983)
Unicorn Rampant (1984)
Cache Down (1987)
Columba (1987)
Flowers of Chivalry (1987)
Mail Royal (1989)
Warden of the Queen's March (1989)
Kenneth (1990)
Crusader (1991)
Children of the Mist (1992)
Druid Sacrifice (1993)
Tapestry of the Boar (1993)
Highness in Hiding (1995)
Honours Even (1995)
A Rage of Regents (1996)
Poetic Justice (1996)
The Marchman (1997)
The Lion's Whelp (1997)
High Kings and Vikings (1998)
A Flame for the Fire (1998)
Sword of State (1999)
Envoy Extraordinary (1999)
Courting Favour (2000)
The End of the Line (2000)
The Admiral (2001)
Triple Alliance (2001)
The Islesman (2003)
Right Royal Friend (2003)
Marie and Mary (2004)
Hope Endures (2005)

With a couple of exceptions I have read all of them up to about 1993, many twice as, second time around, I endeavoured to read them in chronological order. Of them all I would undoubtedly recommend the Robert the Bruce trilogy as being among the best of his works.

David Hewson – “A Season for the Dead”


Whilst Sara pores over ancient texts in the Vatican reading room, a brutal murder is taking place in a nearby church. Then suddenly a crazed man enters the Vatican carrying a bloodied bag. He walks up to Sara's desk. He has something he would like her to see. Soon Sara is linked to a series of murders.

Set in modern Rome this crime thriller introduces the reader to Nic Costa who later appears in a series of books -

1. A Season for the Dead (2003)
2. The Villa of Mysteries (2004)
3. The Sacred Cut (2005)
4. The Lizard's Bite (2006)
5. The Seventh Sacrament (2007)
6. The Garden of Evil (2008)
7. Dante's Numbers (2008)

Even to someone who doesn’t know Rome and the Vatican at all the atmosphere is well created. The plot is clever and original. The writing style easy and the whole combination a thoroughly enjoyable read.

DAVID HEWSON (born 1953) has written a number of novels since 1996, as well as the Nic Costa crime series,several travel and desktop publishing books and the story of the Wye Park (Kent) battle - Saved: How an English Village Fought for Its Future... and Won (2007). . A weekly columnist for the Sunday Times, he lives in Kent.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Stephen Lawhead - "Patrick"

In 2003 Lawhead published the novel Patrick: Son of Ireland, which follows the historical life of Saint Patrick (and was arguably a prequel of Byzantium, as it deals with the same order of monks, the Cele De). Set in an era of brutal conflict and turmoil, this epic adventure is the first novel to tell the full story of the slave who became a saint. In the summer of 405AD, Irish raiders attacked the western coast of Wales, carving a fiery swathe through the peaceful countryside. Among the survivors who are rounded up and taken back to Ireland is Succat: an impulsive sixteen-year-old son of a powerful Romano British family. Succat is sold as a slave and put to work tending sheep. Repeated escape attempts lead to ever more brutal and savage beatings, until he comes to the attention of Cormac, a young novice druid. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and, as Succat learns the ways of the Irish people. Once more he tries to escape, this time successfully, and returns to his home only to find his father's estate in ruins and sold off. He travels North and then off to Gaul where he joins the Roman Legion as a soldier, becomes a hero, suffers the the horrors of a plague-filled Rome; and thence back to Ireland, where he will embark on a mission for which his name will be remembered throughout history. Patrick is a gritty and unsentimental portrait of one of the Western world's great icons, featuring an accurate and compelling rendering of the historical period -- an era full of brutal conflict, adventure, turmoil, and visionary inspiration.

(I loved the Amazon review of the book - part of which I have pinched above for convenience - which had him married before leaving Ireland and being given his name Patrick in Ireland rather than in Italy... Did the reviewer read the book, I wonder).

STEPHEN R. LAWHEAD was born in America on July 2nd 1950 and is an internationally acclaimed author of mythic history and imaginative fiction. He has written over 22 novels and numerous children's and non-fiction books. His works include Byzantium and the series The Pendragon Cycle, The Celtic Crusades, and The Song of Albion. Lawhead (Steve to his friends) makes his home wherever in the world he happens to be and that has included Austria, the Pacific, Nebraska, and, since June 200, back in Oxford where he first lived in 1986, to do research for The Pendragon Cycle, a reinterpretation of the legend of King Arthur in a Celtic setting combined with elements of Atlantis.

His latest project is the 'King Raven trilogy - an authentic retelling of the Robin Hood legend. Lawhead's family also seem to have a talent for writing. Alice Slaikeu Lawhead co-wrote the Pilgrims Guide to the New Age and has written several works of non-fiction. His eldest son Ross Lawhead is co-author of the Hero! series. Stephen and Alice have one other son Drake Lawhead, to whom Stephen dedicated The Warlords of Nin, the second book in the Dragon King Trilogy.

Previously I have read his Pendragon cycle -
1. Taliesin (1987)
2. Merlin (1988)
3. Arthur (1989)
4. Pendragon (1994)
5. Grail (1997)

After a spell of ill health last year Lawhead is hopefully fully recovered and back to his writing.

Friday, 4 January 2008

David Gemmell “Troy – The Shield of Thunder”


This is the second volume in the Troy trilogy by David Gemmell, published in 2005. I read the first (“Troy – Lord of the Silver Bow”, 2006) last year, just before I started this Book Every Six Days Blog. I now can hardly wait to start the third volume “Fall of Kings” published in 2007 and co-written with Stella Gemmell.

In the first novel we were introduced to Troy: city of gold and heroes, beloved of the gods, where wealth, privilege and rapacious greed walk hand in hand, and where the greatest of tragedies is about to unfold. Helikaon (aka Aeneas), prince of Dardania, sets sail for Troy. On board his ship, the largest in the Aegean Sea, but regarded by many as dangerously unseaworthy, is his trusted friend and sea-captain Zidantas. Also aboard are a young, impressionable youth who has never been to sea, and a deadly Mykene warrior, intent on revenge. Their journey to the fabled city will encompass storm and near shipwreck, personal tragedy and a bloody sea-battle whose bloody aftermath will haunt Helikaon and his companions for the rest of their voyage.

Helikaon also met his old friend and master-storyteller, Odysseus, and fell in love with a woman as beautiful as a goddess. But when he arrived in Troy — a city riven by the destructive rivalries of King Priam's younger sons —he found a city ready to implode, and, with nearby enemy kingdoms eyeing the city's riches, he knew a terrible war cannot be long in coming.

In this second novel, the war in Troy is looming, and all the kings of the Great Green are gathering, friends and enemies, with their own dark plans of conquest and plunder.

Into this maelstrom of treachery and deceit come three travellers — Piria, a runaway priestess nursing a terrible secret, Kalliades, a warrior with a legendary sword, and Banokles who will carve his own legend in the battles to come.

Shield of Thunder takes the reader back into the glories and tragedies of Bronze Age Greece, reuniting the characters from Lord of the Silver Bow — the dread Helikaon and his great love, the fiery Andromache, the warrior Achilles, the mighty Hektor, and the fabled storyteller, Odysseus.

Among other books of his that I have read are the stand-alone novel “Echoes of the Great Song” (1997) and the Rigante novels - 1. Sword in the Storm (1998); 2. The Midnight Falcon (1999); 3. Ravenheart (2001); 4. Stormrider (2002)

DAVID GEMMELL, born in 1948, is widely acknowledged as one of the best writers of heroic fantasy. His first novel Legend, published in 1984, began the popular Drenai Saga, and he has published thirty novels in total. Sadly, David Gemmell passed away on Friday, 28th July 2006, two weeks after heart bypass surgery He is also known as Ross Harding.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

"A Selection from the letters of Lewis Carroll "


(The Rev. Charlkes Lutwidge Dodgson) to his child-friends.... edited by Evelyn M Hatch 1933

I read a lot of diaries and books of correspondence and find them a fascinating insight into the life and times of people famous and obscure over the centuries. But for a long term project that I shall explain to my readers another day I probably would not have bothered with Lewis Carroll but I am glad that I did.

Normally I try very hard to see the best side of people and not to judge people’s motives and behaviour based upon the usual preconceptions and biases. For some unknown reason, in the case of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – the creator of Alice in Wonderland – I have always had difficulty giving him the benefit of the doubt. An unmarried man who spent his life surrounded by little girls... I regret to say the stereotype seemed a little unhealthy to me.

This book almost certainly vindicates him. It is apparent from his bucketloads of correspondence that he simply enjoyed entertaining them. His letters to his child-friends is in turns silly, mock bad tempered, and full of little puzzles for them to do. He obviously got enormous satisfaction out of their company and their correspondence and the feelings must have been mutual as many of his child-friends continued their correspondence into later life when they were grown-up and married. Having got that admission of stereotyping off my chest I can go on to review the book itself...

Well edited, the background to each set of correspondence is explained including how he met the child in the first place – often chance encounters in the park or on the beach or through them writing to him as the author of the Alice books and ‘The Hunting of the Snark’. The chance encounters become less sinister when you realise he made money taking perfectly respectable portrait photos of the children for their parents.

The letters themselves show a man who was taking the opportunity to both amuse and educate and whose role was that of the ‘Uncle’ who pretended to be grumpy but wasn’t really. A couple of examples follow:-

Ch. Ch. Ap. 30/81
Hateful Spider,
(You are quite right. It doesn't matter a bit how one begins a letter, nor, for the matter of that, how one goes on with it, or even how one ends it - and it comes awfully easy, after a bit, to write coldly - easier, if possible, than to write warmly. For instance, I have been writing to the Dean, on College business, and began the letter "Obscure animalcule," and he is foolish enough to pretend to be angry about it, and to say it wasn't a proper style, and that he will propose to th Vice-Chancellor to expel me from the university: and it is all your fault!)....
And so farewell,
ever scornfully yours,

Christ Church,
May 16, '90
Dearest Isa,
I had this (a copy of Sylvie and Bruno) bound for you when the book first came out, and it's been waiting here ever sionce Dec. 17, for I really didn't dare to send it across the Atlantic - the whales are so inconsiderate. They'd have been sure to want to borrow it to show to the little whales, quite forgetting that the salt water would be sure to spoil it....
Ever your loving
Uncle Charles

The Chestnuts,
Jan. 1. '95
Yes, my dear Edith, you are quite correct in saying it is a long time since you heard from me: in fact I find that I have not written to you since the 13th of last November. But what of it? You have access to the daily papers. Surely you can find out, negatively, that I am all right? Go carefully through the list of Bankruptcies: then run your eye down the Police Cases: and if you fail to find my name anywhere, you can say to your mother, in a toine of calm satisfaction, "Mr Dodgson is going on well." I've brought with me here, as a sort of holiday-task, a bundle of 50 or more letters requiring answers - It needs great energy to begin on them....

The REVEREND CHARLES LUTWIDGE DODGSON (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), better known by the pen name Lewis Carroll, was an English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican clergyman and photographer.

His most famous writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass as well as the poems "The Hunting of the Snark" and "Jabberwocky", all considered to be within the genre of literary nonsense.

His facility at word play, logic, and fantasy has delighted audiences ranging from children to the literary elite, and beyond this his work has become embedded deeply in modern culture, directly influencing many artists.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Books I want to read

Cecelia Ahern - Where Rainbows End
Martin Amis – Money
Noa Ben Artzi-Pelossof - In the Name of Sorrow and Hope (Fondness for Reading)
Tim Atkinson – Writing Therapy (The Dotterel)
Larry Beinhart – Wag the Dog
Saul Bellow – Herzog
Caroline Birch - The Naming of Eliza Quinn (2005)
Tony Blackman - Flight to St. Antony (Bookfoolery and Babble)
Ray Bradbury - Bradbury Stories - 101 of his most celebrated tales
Geraldine Brooks - Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague (Bryony)
Sylvia Brownrigg – The Delivery Room
Brian Callison - Redcap (2006)
Italo Calvino - If on a Winter's Night a Traveller
James Clemens - Wit'ch Fire (Bryony)
Joseph Conrad - To-Morrow
Len Cooper - Library of the Dead
Marie Corelli - The Soul of Lilith
Michael Cox - The Meaning of Night (Bluestalking)
Neil Cross - Natural History
Debra Dean - Madonnas of Leningrad (A Life in Books)
Joyce Dennys - Henrietta's War (Nan)
Charles Dickens - Tom Tiddler's Ground
Paul Doherty - Satan in St Mary's (1986)
Paul Doherty - The Death of a King (1985)
Rob Eastaway - How many socks make a pair? (Mark)
Martin Edwards - The Coffin Trail (Nan)
Erin Einhorn - The Pages In Between (Bookfoolery)
Henry Fielding - Tom Jones
Christopher Fowler - Full Dark House
Christopher Fowler - The Victoria Vanishes
Ariana Franklin – Mistress of the Art of Death (GeraniumCat)
Tana French - In the Woods
Cornelia Funke - Inkheart (Library Thing)
Sue Gee - The Mysteries of Glass (A Work in Progress)
Gunter Grass - The Tin Drum
Lynne Griffin - Life without Summer (Bibliophile by the sea)
Tarquin Hall - The Case of the Missing Servant (Nnan)
Georguina Harding - The Solitude of Thomas Cave (Workin Progress)
Thomas Hardy - Jude the Obscure
R.W. Holder - How Not to Say What You Mean
Nick Hornby - The Polysyllabic Spree (A Life in Books)
Polly Horvath - My One Hundred Adventures (Seven impossible things before breakfast)
Herlen Humphries - Coventry (Sandra)
Roger Hutchinson - Calum's Road (Mark)
Henry James - The Portrait of a Lady
P. D. James - The Lighthouse
Raymond Khoury - Sanctuary
Raymond Khoury - The Sign
Laurie R. King – Locked Rooms (Nan)
Wally Lamb – The Hour I First believed (Shabbygirl)
Harper Lee - To Kill A Mockingbird (again?)
Marina Lewycka - A Short Istory of Tractors in Ukrainian
Pat McIntosh - The Harper's Quine (Geranium Cat)
Allan Mallinson - A Regimental Affair
Allan Mallinson - A Call to Arms
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
L E Modessit Jnr - The Magic of Recluce
Vladimir Nabokov - Lolita
Vladimir Nabokov - Pnin
V. S. Naipaul - A Bend in the River
Joyce Carol Oates - Garden of Earthly Delights (1966)
David Okuefuna - The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn's Archives of the Planet
Ellis Peters - The Potter's Field (1989)
Per Petterson – Out Stealing horses
Gervase Phinn -The Other Side of the Dale (1998) (GB)
Scott Pratt - An Innocent Client
Samuel Richardson - Pamela (1740)
Samuel Richardson - Clarissa
Bernhard Schlnk - Homecoming
Diane Schoemperlen - Forms of Devotion
Alastair Scott - Stuffed Lives
David Sedaris - When you are Engulfed in Flames
Sandi Kahn Shelton - Kissing Games of the World
R.C. Sherriff - The Fortnight in September (Nan)
Daria Snadowsky - Anatomy of a Boyfriend
Veronica Stallwood - Death and the Oxford Box (1993)
Laurence Sterne - Tristram Shandy
Samuel M. Steward - Murder is murder is murder (1989)
William Makepeace Thackeray - Vanity Fair
Tan Twan Eng - The Gift of Rain
Leo Tolstoy - Anna Karenina
Leon Uris - A God in Ruins
Leon Uris - O'Hara's Choice
Henry Wade - Constable, Guard Thyself! (Martin Edwards)
Winifred Watson - Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
E. B. White - Charlotte's Web (again?)
Sue Wilkes – Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives (Sue Wilkes) NF
Jacqueline Wilson - The Story of Tracy Beaker
Michael Wright - C'est la Folie (2006) (GB)
Anna Zoudouris - Messenger of Athens (Marcel)

(Names in brackets are of the blog/person that made me decide to add a book to the list. Titles in blue are non-fiction.)