Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Joseph Finder – “Power Play”


An action thriller – not exactly non-stop but not slow either... “It was the perfect retreat for a troubled company. No cell phones. No BlackBerrys. No cars. Just a luxurious, remote lodge surrounded by thousands of miles of wilderness.”
“All the top officers of the Hammond Aerospace Corporation are there. And one last-minute substitute — a junior executive named Jake Landry. He's a steady, modest, and taciturn guy with a gift for keeping his head down and a turbulent past he's trying to put behind him. Jake's uncomfortable with all the power players he's been thrown in with, with all the swaggering and the posturing. The only person there he knows is the female CEO's assistant—his ex-girlfriend, Ali.”
“When a band of backwoods hunters crash the opening-night dinner, the executives suddenly find themselves held hostage by armed men who will do anything, to anyone, to get their hands on the largest ransom in history. Now, terrified and desperate and cut off from the rest of the world, the captives are at the mercy of hard men with guns who may not be what they seem.”

JOSEPH FINDER, born 1958, writes extensively on espionage and international affairs relations for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic. He lives in Boston with his wife and daughter.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Pauline Bell – “Under Fire”

Under Fire is the latest in the series of crime novels involving a Yorkshire Town Police Force with Inspector Benny Mitchell. The town, Cloughton, is basically Halifax. A pleasant read but with a rather predictable outcome.
I normally scan in the cover of a library book before returning it. In this case I didn’t bother because I was sure it would be illustrated on either Fantastic Fiction or Amazon. It wasn’t! So no picture.

PAULINE BELL, born 1938, is a former Halifax teacher, turned crime writer. She has three grown-up children, one, usefully, a police constable married to a detective. She enjoys singing, walking in the Dales and reading other people's crime novels.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

A book every six days - or more often!

I used to wonder if my estimates of how many books I have read in my lifetime was exaggerated. I reckoned that on average since I was about 4 years old I have read two books a week (both fiction and non-fiction) which means I have read about 5,400 books - though if one takes out duplicates I suppose one could round it down to about 5,000. (In fact some like ‘Lord of the Rings’, the early Discworld ones and the Stephen Donaldson ‘Thomas Covenant’ stories have been read at least three times!) I began a blog of book reviews on 14th November 2007 and in 23 weeks I have read 47 fiction and 14 non-fiction. That's 2.65 books per week. I have more spare time than when I worked but less than when I was at school / college. I need also to take into account the fact that I spend a lot of time on the computer which prior to ten years ago would have been spent reading. I also read a lot less natural history and general non-fiction. On balance, I reckon my estimate was not too far out.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Stephen Baxter – “Evolution”


The most compelling novel I have read for a long, long time. And that is what it spans – a long, long time. From the days of Primordial soup to some time in the future.
‘“Evolution” is a soaring symphony of struggle, extinction, and survival, a dazzling epic that combines a dozen scientific disciplines and a cast of unforgettable characters to convey the grand drama of evolution in all its awesome majesty and rigorous beauty.’
This is a book that can be compared to standing in the garden and staring at the stars on a dark bight. It puts one in one’s place and makes those day to day worries seem pretty trivial after all.

STEPHEN BAXTER is a trained engineer with degrees from Cambridge (mathematics) and Southampton Universities (doctorate in aeroengineering research). Baxter is the winner of the British Science Fiction Award and the Locus Award, as well as being a nominee for an Arthur C. Clarke Award, most recently for Manifold: Time. His novel Voyage won the Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History Novel of the Year; he also won the John W. Campbell Award and the Philip K. Dick Award for his novel The Time Ships. He is currently working on his next novel, a collaboration with Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Mr. Baxter lives in Prestwood, England.

Masha Hamilton – “The Camel Bookmobile”


Once a fortnight, the nomadic settlement of Madidima, in Kenya receives a visit from the camel bookmobile. Kanika, a young girl who lives with her grandmother, devours the books avidly and dreams of being a teacher. Her best friend is Scarface, a child mauled by a hyena at the age of three and virtually an outcast. Among the many other fascinating characters are the American Fi Sweeney who is out to do ‘something that matters ‘ in the world and Mr Abasi, the local librarian who thinks his camel is possessed by the spirit of his mother.
The camel bookmobile has only one inflexible rule - that every book must be returned on the next fortnightly visit. And then one day, two books are stolen...
A must read....

MASHA HAMILTON worked as a foreign correspondent for five years in the Middle East. In 2004 she travelled to Afghanistan to report on the country’s reconstruction efforts. While the characters in the Camel Bookmobile are fictional, the novel was inspired by the Kenyan Camel Mobile Library, set up by the government to improve literacy in poverty-stricken areas.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Paul Doherty - “The Templar”


Another historical novel and another one of quality. A trip on the first crusade called for by Pope Urban II in 1097. As chronicled by Eleanor de Paynes this draws on a large number of contemporary documents and forms a most realistic and horrific account of the hardships, treachery and bloodshed.

PAUL DOHERTY was born in Middlesbrough and studied history at Liverpool before doing a Doctorate at Oxford. He is now a headmaster in N E London and lives with his wife and family in Epping Forest. He has written dozens of historical novels but this is the first I have read.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Michael Byrnes – “The Sacred Bones”


Brilliant! First Class! Ten out of Ten! Addictive!

Occasionally one comes across a book that is so good one doesn’t want to put it down. Then, even more rarely, one finds a book that is so good one has to put it down because one doesn’t want it to end.. This is just such a book.

A thriller of tremendous pace it begins with an attack on a holy site in Jerusalem and flashes back to the Knights Templar and across to the Vatican. I love fiction which includes lots of well-researched material from which one learns about life in times past or foreign parts. This has everything. I have learned about Islam, Christianity, Judea in the first century, Rome and the Vatican, the Knights Templar and genetics – all within a fast-paced and enjoyable thriller.

MICHAEL BYRNES – This is Michael Byrnes first novel (2007) – hopefully the first of many. Byrnes is the founder and CEO of a mufti-million pound insurance brokerage firm. He lives in Florida with his wife and two daughters.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Susanna Gregory – “The Tarnished Chalice”


This is the twelfth chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew. For a previous review of her work and style see -

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

E O Parrott – “How to Become Ridiculously Well-read in One Evening”


A great little fun-filled book containing a collection of literary encapsulations which précis many of the great works of literature. I cannot do better than give an example:-
John Steinbeck – Of Mice & Men (by Basil Ransome-Davis)
Two working men named George and Lennie,
Who slaved away for every penny,
Dreamed, when their working days were over,
Of living, as it were, in clover
On their own spread in rural ease
With rabbits hopping round the trees.
But Lennie, though a t heart a child,
Would, in a panic, grow so wild
That George, his minder, always feared
That Lennie would do something weird.
Alas! It happened, George’s pal.
Teased by a wanton femme fatale,
The boss’s son’s seductive wife.
Freaked out and took the lady’s life.
At which George, with an anguished frown
And smoking gun, put Lennie down.
The moral is that violent habits
Do not consort with keeping rabbits.

So now, if you haven’t read Of Mice and Men, you no longer need to!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Tessa Barclay - "A Tissue of Lies"


Not my usual sort of book, this turned out to be a sort of superior class romance with a bit of the historical and moral thrown in... I was a bit misled by the blurbs on the back which seemed to suggest it was a historical crime novel. Set in Victorian times it is "A race against time to save a family name . . . - Jenny Corvill, mistress of the Waterside Mill in the Scottish Borders town of Galashiels, was looking forward to taking it easy as a new wife. But when her sister-in-law disappears with a dashing young playboy, the Corvill family is plunged into disaster. Jenny must undertake a terrifying and dangerous journey into the seedy underworld of Victorian London and rescue her sister-in-law before its too late . . ." It took about an hour and a half to to read the 404 pages. A bit of a change from spending six days on George Eliot!

TESSA BARCLAY Tessa Barclay is a pseodunymn used by Jean Bowden whoi was born in 1925. She also uses the names - Barbara Annandale, Jocelyn Barry, Jennifer Bland, Avon Curry, Belinda Dell...

Friday, 4 April 2008

Amanda Hemingway – “The Sword of Straw”


Also published under the title of ‘The Traitor’s Sword’. If you like Philip Pullman you should enjoy Amanda Hemingway.

This is the second part of the Sangreal Trilogy, a follow up to “The Greenstone Grail”. Once more our hero, Nathan Ward, and his family and friends are caught up with dream adventures that take him into parallel universes. This time we have a fairy tale princess to add to the mix. I can’t wait to read The Poisoned Crown (2006).
AMANDA HEMINGWAY, born 1955 says she has “already lived through one lifetime – during which she traveled the world and supported herself through a variety of professions, including that of actress, barmaid, garage hand, laboratory assistant, journalist, and model. Her new life is devoted to writing.” And how well she is doing it!

Some Quotes -

...And now he had met a princess. Well, a princess should be a nice girl, Annie thought, rather doubtfully. She reviewed the track record of various princesses, in fact and fiction, and was not particularly reassured. Still every boy met a princess, sooner or later. It was inevitable.

And then, quoting someone, Nathan didn’t know who: The moment of the yew tree and the moment of the rose are of an equal duration. Now, looking at the princess Nathanm understood. This is a rose-moment, he thought... And he knew he must live the moment – live it with every cell in his body – before it slipped away.

“In the story – her manner carefully detached – “the hero marries the princess. It’s customary.”

“Advice is the one gift you can give people that they never actually want. Should I give any, I always keep the receipt, so they can send it back when it doesn’t fit.”

Ernest Baker – “The Diary of Ernest Baker 1881-2”


The Diary of a Victorian Schoolboy in London.
This 14 year old boy wrote the sort of diary one would expect of a lad of that age. The fact that it was written 125 years ago is, of course, what makes it fun – showing that “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”

An added bonus are Ernest’s little sketches.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Robert Harris – “Enigma”


Another excellent Robert Harris book. This time the plot revolves around the Government decoding station Bletchley Park during the Second World War and the famous enigma codes.
Favourite quote...
Officially it was almost spring but someone had forgotten to pass the news on to winter.”
For more about Robert Harris see Pompeii.