Sunday, 31 August 2008

M C Beaton - "Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham"

PUBL: 1999 ISBN: 0312948107
Rating ***

The eighth book in the Agatha Raisin series.
M C BEATON see Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Andrea Camilleri - "The Patience of the Spider"

Publ: 2007 ISBN: 978-0-330-44223-7
Rating: ***
Gosh, I've actually read a book. Reading is something that tends to take third place to natural history and socialising when on holiday.
This proved to be easy reading and a little obvious in its plot but the characterisation of the Italian police detective was good so I may well read another in the series at some stage.
Inspector Montalbano Series
1. The Shape of Water (2002)
2. The Terra-Cotta Dog (2002)
3. The Snack Thief (2003)
4. Voice of the Violin (2003)
5. The Excursion To Tindari (2005)
6. The Smell of the Night (2005)
aka The Scent of the Night
7. Rounding the Mark (2006)
8. The Patience of the Spider (2007)
9. The Paper Moon (2008)
10. August Heat (2008)

ANDREA CAMILLERI was born in 1925. His Montalbano mystery series have been bestsellers in Italy and Germany. The author lives in Rome.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Steve Berry – “The Venetian Betrayal”

Publ: 2007 978 0 340 93343 5
Rating: ****

A very good spy / adventure novel with a lot of information about Alexander the Great and Central Asia (a lot fictional but the appendix clarifies which is which). I also learned a fair bit about HIV and Aids. I do like novels with an educational content. Apart from feeling less guilty about reading for pleasure there is a randomness to education this way that makes it great fun.

In 323 B.C.E, having conquered Persia, Alexander the Great set his sights on Arabia, then suddenly succumbed to a strange fever. Locating his final resting place - unknown to this day - remains a tantalizing goal for both archaeologists and treasure hunters. Now the quest for this coveted prize is about to heat up. And Cotton Malone - former U.S. Justice Department agent turned rare-book dealer - will be drawn into an intense geopolitical chess game.

After narrowly escaping incineration in a devastating fire that consumes a Danish museum, Cotton learns from his friend, the beguiling adventurer Cassiopeia Vitt, that the blaze was neither an accident nor an isolated incident. As part of campaign of arson intended to mask a far more diabolical design, buildings across Europe are being devoured by infernos of unnatural strength.

And from the ashes of the U.S.S.R., a new nation has arisen: Former Soviet republics have consolidated into the Central Asian Federation. At its helm is Supreme Minister Irina Zovastina, a cunning despot with a talent for politics, a taste for blood sport, and the single-minded desire to surpass Alexander the Great as history's ultimate conqueror.

STEVE BERRY (born 1955) lives on the Georgia coast in Camden County. He's a lawyer who, for twenty-five years, has helped people both in and out of the courtroom. He's also active in local politics, having served on the Camden County Board of Education and, currently, he is one of five members of the Camden County Board of Commissioners.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Valerio Massimo Manfredi – “Tyrant”

Publ: 2005 ISBN: 1 4050 4091 2
Rating: ****

A novel about Bravery, brutality and adventure. And the rest is history. Sicily 405 AD: the infinite duel between man and superpower begins. Dionysius, Tyrant of Syracuse, will face Carthage, mercantile megalopolis and mistress of the seas. Dionysius brutal military conquests transform Syracuse into the most powerful Greek city west of the mainland. Building the largest army of antiquity he marches to Carthage to fight a war to end all wars.

A thundering historical epic from the Sunday Times bestselling master of the genre. Valerio Massimo Manfredi is described as the leading brand-name author of historical fiction.

Valerio Massimo Manfredi see

Monday, 11 August 2008

Lawrence Block – “Hit and Run”

Publ: 2008 ISBN: 978-0752873503
Rating: ***
(The fourth book in the Keller series)
Keller's a hit man. For years now he's had places to go and people to kill. But enough is enough. He's got money in the bank and just one last job standing between him and retirement. So he carries it out with his usual professionalism, and he heads home, and guess what? It all gets a bit more complicated.
Why is it that assassins can be made into heroes and we don’t find it totally unacceptable. We should do! But the hero of this and the other books in the ‘Hit’ series is a paid killer and we (or at least I) find ourselves wanting him to escape both the police and the bad guys who are, inevitably, chasing him across America.

LAWRENCE BLOCK was born in 1938 and also writes under the pseudonyms Jill Emerson, Chip Harrison, Paul Kavanagh, Sheldon Lord
A Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, Lawrence Block is a four-time winner of the Edgar Allan Poe and Shamus Awards, as well as a recipient of prizes in France, Germany, and Japan. The author of more than fifty books and numerous short stories, he is a devout New Yorker who spends much of his time travelling.

Valerio Massimo Manfredi – “The Last Legion”

Publ: 2003 ISBN 978-0333907696
Rating: ****
A brilliant new historical epic from the best-selling author of The Alexander Trilogy. As the Western Roman Empire begins to collapses in 470AD, a small band of Roman soldiers, rescue a young Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor and his tutor..... A mix of ‘The Decline and Fall’ with the beginning of the Arthurian legend – brilliantly written and researched.
(The summary of the plot in Fanatstic Fiction suggests that the writer read a totally different book!!!)

VALERIO MASSIMO MANFREDI (born 1943) is an Italian historian and archaeologist and was voted Man of the Year 1999 by the American Biographical Institute. Manfredi's books have been translated into several languages. He is the author of the enormously successful Alexander trilogy.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008


I love having series of books on my shelves. when we lived in yew Tree and had a large study it was possible to have a whole host of series and the effect was great. Here I am very limited but I still manage to have my New Naturalists and my Terry Pratchetts all together.

I don’t just like books, I like anything associated with them and collect bookmarks. I would, if I had space, also collect book-ends. As it is I have just four or five book-ends that are more than merely functional pieces of wire or wood.

These are my two favourites. They are by Clarecraft and depict Terry Pratchett’s Death and the wizzard (sic) Rincwind.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Louis de Bernières – “A Partisan’s Daughter”

Publ: 2008 ISBN: 9781846551413
Rating - *****

Best known for “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” this latest work by Louis de Bernieres is equally good. When I first read “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” I decided there was no way I would watch the film because it would be impossible for it to capture the atmosphere if the book and the skill of the writing.
Set in North London during the Winter of Discontent, A Partisan's Daughter features the relationship between Chris, an unhappily married, middle-aged Englishman and Roza, a young Serbian woman who has recently moved to London.
While driving through Archway in the course of his job as a medical rep, Chris is captivated by a young woman on a street corner. Clumsily, he engages her in conversation, and he secures an invitation to return one day for a coffee. His visits become more frequent and Roza starts to tell him the story of her life, drawing him increasingly into her world- - from her childhood as a daughter of one of Tito's Partisans through her journey to England and on to her more recent colourful and dangerous past in London.
A Partisan's Daughter is about the power of storytelling. It is also a beautifully wrought and unlikely love story which is both compelling and moving to read.
Some quotations:-

“My wife was alive back then, but the trouble is that sooner or later, at best, your wife turns into your sister. at worst she becomes your enemy, and sets herself up as the principal obstacle to your happiness.”

“I don’t think that most women understand the nature of a man’s sexual drive. They don’t realise that for a man it isn’t just something quite nice that’s occasionally optional, like flower arranging.”

“She reminded me of a great loaf of white bread, plumped down on the sofa in its cellophane wrapping.”

“I sometimes wonder whether the reason that puritanical religious types are so keen on marriage is their certain knowledge that it’s the one way to make sure that people get the least possible amount of sex.”

“I don’t have any understanding of what being in love is, though I think it’s happened to me a few times, and especially with Roza. You can’t look it up in medical encyclopedias, and you don’t get documentaries about it on the television. I have been thinking recently that it’s learned from films and novels and songs, and there’s probably nothing natural about it.”

“It (the cart horse) was apparently called ‘Russia’ because it was very big, a complete liability, and always going where it wasn’t wanted.”

“I heard that the Russians have a proverb about Yugoslavs. It goes, ‘Where there are two Yugoslavs there are three factions, and that’s just the communists.’”

“It was the kind of cigarette that performs a tonsillectomy all on its own.”

“God and I have an agreement to leave each other alone. I don’t bother Him and He doesn’t bother me. If we meet in the street we raise our hats and smile and give each other a wide berth.”

“New Zealand is a lovely place. It’s just like England when i was young, full of quiet, decent, humorous people who eat bread and butter and whose clothes don’t quite fit.”

LOUIS DE BERNIÈRES' first three novels are “The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts” (Commonwealth Writers Prize, Best First Book Eurasia Region, 1991), “Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord” (Commonwealth Writers Prize, Best Book Eurasia Region, 1992), and “The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman”. The author, born in 1954, was selected as one of the Granta twenty Best of Young British Novelists in 1993. “Captain Corelli's Mandolin” won the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Best Book, 1995.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Rating the books

I have decided – again inspired by trying to join a book club site – that I should rate the books I read on a simple scale of some sort.

I decided 1 to 5 stars was about as simple as one could get.

In broad terms the ratings can be interpreted as follows:-

5 – As good as it gets. As for example a George Eliot classic with good plot, fine English, an educational content, and fine character delineation. (In the case of non-classics an originality of plot counts for a lot.) Worth reading more than once.
4 – A good read all round - especially those with some educational content rather then just a good story-line unless that story-line is exceptional.
3 – Enjoyable but nothing special – as, for example, the second or third of a series like M C Beaton’s Agatha Raisin novels where the first one might well rank as a four star but after that they may be great fun but not quite so special. The rating that I give most of my easy-to-read, general fun books which take my mind off things and, equally important, can just be picked up and take no effort.
2 – Pretty average and not especially recommended as worth reading.
1 – Poor – just about finished – or maybe not!
0 – Did not get past first few pages.


The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique, numerical commercial book identifier, based upon the 9-digit Standard Book Numbering (SBN) code created in the UK by the booksellers and stationers W.H. Smith and others in 1966. The ISBN can be found on the back of the title page where the copyright and date of publication information is also to be found.

The 10-digit ISBN format was developed by the International Organization for Standardization and published as an international standard, ISO 2108, in 1970; (however, the 9-digit SBN code was used in the UK until 1974). Currently, the ISO TC 46/SC 9 is responsible for the standard. Since 1 January 2007, International Standard Book Numbers have been of 13 digits, compatible with Bookland EAN-13 barcodes.

Some search engines use a book’s ISBN so if you want a search engine to lead to your book blog it is helpful to put the ISBN on each review. Also, when I tried to download my whole review blog to a bookclub –type site ( that I was joining it only registered one book on my ‘Books read’ shelf because it only found one ISBN. I am amending that deficiency.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Simon Brett – “The Witness at the Wedding”

Publ: 2005 ISBN: 1 4050 41 36 6
Rating - ****

Another Fethering mystery. Possibly the best yet from the mystery point of view. I was convinced I knew whodunnit but the whys and wherefores escaped me until the very end.

SIMON BRETT – see The Body on the Beach

Peter Ackroyd – “The Fall of Troy”

Publ: 2006 ISBN 0 7011 7911 2
Rating - ***

This book is set in the 19th century during the excavation of the Bronze Age site of Troy. You won't really learn much from this book since so much is myth and separating it from the history and from ramblings of Obermann's diseased mind is virtually impossible. Nevertheless it is cleverly atmospheric and good fun.
Sophia Chrysanthis is only 16 when the German archaeologist, Herr Obermann, comes wooing: he wants a Greek bride who knows her Homer. Sophia passes his test, and soon she is tying canvas sacking to her legs so that she can kneel on the hard ground in the trench, removing the earth methodically, identifying salient points, lifting out amphorae and bronze vessels without damaging them. Obermann is very good at the art of archaeology but the atmosphere at Troy is tense and mysterious. Sophia finds herself increasingly baffled by the past . . . not only the remote past but also Obermann's own, recent past — a past that he has chosen to hide from her.
Much to the annoyance of colleagues Obermann claims “Archaeology is not a science. It is an art.” But she, too, is very good at the art of digging up the past . . .
My favourite part is where Obermann is ‘exorcising’ a house and borrows a vicar’s cross and some well water to perform a made up rite which involves him quoting Latin texts at the local Turks who fail to realise he is quoting Virgil. Decimus Harding, the vicar does not know whether he should permit it but when Obermann actually starts Decimues says “He is mixing up his Virgil, That is blasphemy.”

PETER ACKROYD is a highly acclaimed historian, biographer, poet, and novelist. He was born in London in 1949 and studied at both Cambridge and Yale universities.