Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Lindsey Davis – “A Body in the Bath House”

Publ: 2001 ISBN: 13579108642
Rating: ***

The first Lindsey Davis book I tried I didn’t get very far into. Nevertheless I tried again and enjoyed my second effort. The hero, Falco, comes to Britain and causes as much chaos as he is meant to solve.

A couple of quotes:-
Sometimes the Fates must have a drop too much to drink; while they lie down groaning with headache, they forget to screw you.
...By now the Fates must have woken up with a real hangover...

The Marcellinus villa was supposed to be about twelve miles away – that was probably as the crow flew, and in my experience British crows were tipsy old bunches of feathers who could not use maps.

LINDSEY DAVIS was born in Birmingham in 1949 but now lives in Greenwich. After an English degree at Oxford she joined the Civil Service but now writes full time. In 1999 she received the Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective for her creation, Marcus Didius Falco.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Allan Mallinson - "A Close Run Thing"

Publ: 1999 ISBN: 0553507133
Rating: ****

In the tradition of Cornwell's Sharpe, this historical military adventure is the first of a series about Cornet Matthew Hervey, a young cavalry officer in Wellington's army of 1815. Bringing alive the Napoleonic era and the armies whose blood stained the soil of turbulent nations, here is the story of one man whose valour and vision bring him honor, betrayal, and a challenge beyond his imagining.

Written with stunning authenticity, and sweeping from battleground to country mansion, from French château to smoky Irish hovel, A Close Run Thing gilds history with a bold imagination in an unforgettable tale of the fortunes of war and the conflicts of the spirit.

Brigadier ALLAN MALLINSON was a serving cavalry officer. Besides the Matthew Hervey series, he is the author of Light Dragoons, a history of four regiments of British Cavalry, one of which he commanded, and a regular reviewer for The Times and the Spectator.
The Matthew Hervey series comprises:-
1. A Close Run Thing (1999)
2. The Nizam's Daughters (2000)
3. A Regimental Affair (2001)
4. A Call to Arms (2002)
5. The Sabre's Edge (2003)
6. Rumours of War (2004)
7. An Act of Courage (2005)
8. Company of Spears (2006)
9. Man of War (2007)
10. Warrior (2008)

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Michael Jecks – “The Mad Monk of Gidleigh”

Publ: 2002 ISBN: 0 7553 0169 2
Rating: ****

Sir Baldwin de Furnshill sets off again as Keeper of the King’s Peace in the winter of 1323 to solve another murder. I think this is the best Michael Jecks I have read yet. Helped by recent visits to the location of the plot – Dartmoor and its environs – and being able to visualise Lydford castle as we saw it a few weeks ago, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book.
It seemed longer than previous Michael Jecks books I had read and the dénouement was better than most of these sort of historical murder mysteries which normally rely rather too heavily on the historical aspect and don’t have such good murder mystery plots.
If you are going to read a 14th Century murder mystery, this is one of the best ones to begin with.

MICHAEL JECKS – see The Malice of Unnatural Death.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Diana Gabaldon – “Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade”

Publ: 2007 ISBN: 1844132005
Rating: ****

Unlaid ghosts from the past are stirring. Lord John's brother has mysteriously received a page of their late father's missing diary. Someone is taunting the Grey family with secrets from the grave, but Hal, with secrets of his own, refuses to pursue the matter and orders his brother to do likewise. Frustrated, John turns to a man who has been both his prisoner and his confessor: the Scottish Jacobite James Fraser.
Fraser can tell many secrets - and withhold many others. But war, a forbidden affair, and Fraser's own secrets will complicate Lord John's quest. Until James Fraser yields the missing piece of an astounding puzzle - and Lord John, caught between his courage and his conscience, must decide whether his family's honour is worth his life.

DIANA GABALDON see Lord John and the Hand of Devils.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Bernard Cornwell – “Sharpe’s Triumph”

Publ:1998 ISBN: 978-1-4395-0132-0
Rating: ****

Sharpe's Triumph: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye September 1803 is the second book in the Sharpe series
Sharpe's Triumph covers Sergeant Sharpe's service with the British Army in India, before the Peninsular War and Waterloo. The story begins with a treacherous attack by Maj. William Dodd, a British officer who has defected from the East India Company. Surviving the massacre, Sharpe vows to take revenge, a vow that leads him to serve with Gen. Arthur Wellesley and to take the field when Wellesley leads an impossibly small force of 5000 men against the 50,000 of the Maratha Army quartered at Assaye.
I thoroughly enjoyed the action and the historical detail. I’ve never studied this period of history and apart from knowing a bit about Wellington it’s all fairly new to me. A great way of learning!
I’m now keeping my eyes open for Sharpe’s Fortress and Sharpe’s Trafalgar...


Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Terry Pratchett – “Nation”

Publ: 2008 ISBN: 0385613709
Rating: ****

This is listed on Fantastic Fiction as a Children’s Book while Pratchett describes it as being for “Adults of all ages”. I would have preferred a new Discworld novel but one cannot have everything. Pratchett still remains my number one storyteller. This is my first Terry Pratchett novel since I began this blog last November indicating it must be nearly twelve months since he published anything.
The plot – “Finding himself alone on a desert island when everything and everyone he knows and loved has been washed away in a huge storm, Mau is the last surviving member of his nation. He's also completely alone - or so he thinks until he finds the ghost girl. She has no toes, wears strange lacy trousers like the grandfather bird and gives him a stick which can make fire. Daphne, sole survivor of the wreck of the Sweet Judy, almost immediately regrets trying to shoot the native boy. Thank goodness the powder was wet and the gun only produced a spark. She's certain her father, distant cousin of the Royal family, will come and rescue her but it seems, for now, all she has for company is the boy and the foul-mouthed ship's parrot. As it happens, they are not alone for long.....”

TERRY PRATCHETT OBE - Terry Pratchett, born 1948, is one of the most popular authors writing today. He lives behind a keyboard in Wiltshire and says he 'doesn't want to get a life, because it feels as though he's trying to lead three already'. He was appointed OBE in 1998. He is the author of the phenomenally successful Discworld series and his trilogy for young readers, The Bromeliad, is scheduled to be adapted into a spectacular animated movie. His first Discworld novel for children, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents”, was awarded the 2001 Carnegie Medal.
I have read the whole of the Disworld / Bromeliad and Johnny Maxwell series (in some cases reading them twice):-
1. The Colour of Magic (1983)
2. The Light Fantastic (1986)
3. Equal Rites (1987)
4. Mort (1987)
5. Sourcery (1988)
6. Wyrd Sisters (1988)
7. Pyramids (1989)
8. Guards! Guards! (1989)
9. Eric (1990)
10. Moving Pictures (1990)
11. Reaper Man (1991)
12. Witches Abroad (1991)
13. Small Gods (1992)
14. Lords and Ladies (1992)
15. Men at Arms (1993)
16. Soul Music (1994)
17. Interesting Times (1994)
18. Maskerade (1995)
19. Feet of Clay (1996)
20. Hogfather (1996)
21. Jingo (1997)
22. The Last Continent (1998)
23. Carpe Jugulum (1998)
24. The Fifth Elephant (1999)
25. The Truth (2000)
26. Thief of Time (2001)
27. Night Watch (2002)
28. Monstrous Regiment (2003)
29. Going Postal (2004)
30. Thud! (2005)
31. Making Money (2007)

The Last Hero (2001) (with Paul Kidby)

Discworld (Childrens)
1. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001)
2. The Wee Free Men (2003)
3. A Hat Full of Sky (2004)
4. Wintersmith (2006)

Discworld (picture book)
Where's My Cow? (2005)

1. Truckers (1988)
2. Diggers (1990)
3. Wings (1990)

Johnny Maxwell
1. Only You Can Save Mankind (1992)
2. Johnny and the Dead (1993)
3. Johnny and the Bomb (1996)

M C Beaton - "Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor"

Publ: 2007 ISBN: 9781845294489
Rating ***

The usual format - I think I may be beginning to tire of Agatha for a while.

M C Beaton see Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death.

Valerio Massimo Manfredi – “Empire of Dragons”

Publ: 2006 ISBN: 9780330438261
Rating: ***

Beginning in Persia this historical novel, set in 260AD, sees Romans travelling East to the Chinese empire. I enjoyed it but sadly it did not live up to the previous Manfredi novels - Tyrant and The Last Legion. The English seemed a bit stilted at times despite the translator being the same person – Christine Feddersen-Manfredi.

Valerio Massimo Manfredi see The Last Legion

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

If I were a Millionaire

If I were a Millionaire one of the things that I would most enjoy doing is buying books and, more to the point, tracking them down. I would try to trace copies of all the books I've ever owned plus the missing ones from series that I have read or collected. Apart from the cost of the books I would need to be a millionaire to have the space to store them all.

In the meantime, in the absence of that elusive Lottery win, I shall continue to enjoy rambling around charity shops and looking through their books. There are two charity shops just around the corner from Helen and Ian's and I wandered along there today between the rainy spells. In the first I found two Ellis Peters 'Cadfael' mysteries that I hadn't read.

Ellis Peters (an alias of Edith Pargeter) died in 1995 and the 20th Brother Cadfael mystery was written in 1994 so I doubt there will be any more in the series. I have read seventeen of them so to find two of the missing three was a real bonus. So expect reviews soon of "The Hermit of Eyton Forest" (1987) and "The Holy Thief" (1992).

This only leaves "The Potter's Field" (1989) for me to find.

In the second shop I found an M C Beaton book - one of the Hamish Macbeth series, "Death of an Outsider". What is particularly good about this is that it is one of the early ones in that series.

Leonardo da Vinci - "The Complete Works"

Publ: 2005 ISBN: 9780715324530
Rating ****

Leonardo da Vinci was born out of wedlock on April 15, 1492, in an age when illegitimacy was highly unacceptable. (He had 17 half-brothers and sisters.) If that were not enough he was left-handed and a vegetarian! Unable to enter into a traditional career, he was free to do what he wanted. Despite having little to no formal education, he led a spectacular life. He is probably most well known for being one of the greatest artists of all time but he was also a scientist, inventor and humanist philosopher. (He believed that fossils were remnants of once-living animals and he may had basic ideas of evolution.)

Although best known for the Mona Lisa I find his anatomical drawings the most compulsive viewing in this book.

M. C. Beaton - "Agatha Raisin And Kissing Christmas Goodbye"

Publ: 2007 ISBN - 9781845295769
Rating ***

M C Beaton's imperfect heroine is once more thrown (or did she jump) into solving murder.

M C Beaton See Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Bernard Cornwell - "Sharpe's Escape"

Publ: 2004 ISBN: 0007120133
Rating: ****

Set in September 1810, this fits just after Sharpe's Battle and Sharpe's Havoc in the series.
In September of 1810, just before repulsing the French army on the bare slopes of Bussaco ridge in central Portugal, Captain Sharpe is forced to take Lieutenant Slingsby, Colonel Lawford's arrogant, heavy-drinking brother-in-law, under his wing. Sharpe then stumbles into a confrontation with Ferragus, the malevolent brother of their treacherous Portuguese ally, Major Ferreira, whom he catches illegally hoarding flour to sell to the enemy. Another most enjoyable book.

Bernard Cornwell - see Sword Song

Friday, 5 September 2008

John Caldwell et al - "The Grounds and Gardens of the University of Exeter"

Publ: 1969 ISBN: 978-0900771033
Rating ****

The University of Exeter has one of the most beautiful settings of any University in England. It's estate, of some 300 acres, sweeping across hills which face south and west, contains a great range of plants and trees. Some of the property was laid out and planted by the firm of Veitch in the second half of the 19th century; and the arboretum includes trees from all the temperate regions of the world.
There are supporting notes on the history of the acquisition of the parts of the estate and the University buildings, and on climate and soil. The whole is illustrated by eight colour plates and 65 black and white photographs
There are eight plans. with 350 individual species / sub-species of tree and shrub marked on them. Sadly, the fact that it was published 40 years ago means it is well overdue for an update, some of the trees having disappeared and a large number having been planted since then. One whole plantation lacks any species marked.
Nevertheless, it is essential reading and reference for anyone with the time to wander around the grounds throughout the seasons of the year.
The book is available on-line at


I am forever forgetting to put non-fiction into this blog. This is partly because the blog was originally intended for fiction only. A second reason is that I skim through a lot of non-fiction or simply use it for reference. In future I shall try a lot harder to include it.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Bernard Cornwell - "Sharpe's Tiger"

Publ: 1997 ISBN: 0006490352
Rating ****

The first (chronologically) of the Richard Sharpe series, and of the Sharpe India trilogy. It takes place in Mysore, India and tells of Sharpe's adventures and triumphs against the Tipu Sultan during the Siege of Seringapatam. Up to this time Cornwell had been going back through the period of the Napoleonic Wars to find new incidents into which to place his hero. Rather than do this, he adopts a "prequel" approach and uses an earlier campaign period in the history of the British Army, that of colonial India. The novel opens with Richard Sharpe serving as a private with the British army, then invading Mysore and advancing on the Tippoo Sultan's capital city of Seringapatam.

Thoroughly enjoyable. No doubt I shall be reading a good many more of the Sharpe series.

The Sharpe Series
1. Sharpe's Tiger (1997)
2. Sharpe's Triumph: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye September 1803 (1998)
3. Sharpe's Fortress (1998)
4. Sharpe's Trafalgar: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 (2000)
5. Sharpe's Prey: Richard Sharpe and the Expedition to Copenhagen, 1807 (2001)
6. Sharpe's Rifles: Richard Sharpe and the French Invasion of Galicia, January, 1809 (1988)
7. Sharpe's Havoc: Richard Sharpe and the Campaign in Northern Portugal, Spring 1809 (2003)
8. Sharpe's Eagle: Richard Sharpe and the Talavera Campaign July 1809 (1981)
8. Sharpe's Christmas (2003)
9. Sharpe's Gold: Richard Sharpe and the Destruction of Almeida, August 1810 (1981)
10. Sharpe's Battle: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes De Onoro (1995)
11. Sharpe's Company (1982)
12. Sharpe's Sword (1983)
13. Sharpe's Enemy (1983)
14. Sharpe's Honour: Richard Sharpe and the Vitoria Campaign February to June, 1813 (1985)
15. Sharpe's Regiment: Richard Sharpe and the Invasion of France, June to November 1813 (1986)
16. Sharpe's Siege: Richard Sharpe and the Winter Campaign, 1814 (1987)
17. Sharpe's Revenge: Richard Sharpe and the Peace of 1814 (1989)
18. Sharpe's Waterloo: Richard Sharpe and the Waterloo Campaign 15 June to 18 June 1815 (1990)
19. Sharpe's Devil: Richard Sharpe and the Emperor, 1820-21 (1992)
20. Sharpe's Escape (2004)
21. Sharpe's Fury (2006)