Book reviews - 2018

Another year, another list..

Book
Comments
Score (out of 10)
I would say a book of two halves..  there was every indication that this book was a bit of a 'tread-water book' written in order to bridge a period in the history the book is set against, that wasn't too exciting - for a lot of the first half, although the descriptions and background, and quality of writing, was as good as ever I kept thinking "yes, yes, yes, but what's it all about?!" - I would say the story only really kicks in in the second half...  from then on it it was a real page turner.. for those who don't know these books this is the fifth in the Master of War series which covers the life and adventures of the English knight Sir Thomas Blackstone and his force of archers and men at arms in the 100 Years War..  in this book his band of men have managed to escape Italy (a good book worth reading if you are into Condottiere) and are back under the command of the King, Edward, charged with taking into control the French towns ceded to the English in the recent treaty between England and France....  against them are roving bands of rogue armed men (routiers), the French army, and the plotting's of the French dauphin who seeks to destroy Blackstone..  very good... and a surprise ending! (no spoilers)8
See blog post [clicky]..8
I enjoyed this one even though the setting is more Gangs of Rome, than bloody battlefield, there is still plenty of action..  Cato and Macro have returned from their campaigning in Spain as hero's but arrive in Rome to find that Claudius has died, his natural and adopted sons are at each other throat for the succession...  the followers of Britannicus his natural son are looking to return to the values of the Republic, whilst those of Nero recognise that he is by far the stronger candidate...  Cato and Macro are pulled both ways before they realise that they are just pawns in a political battle and make their own minds up how to act..  excellent..9
I got three books for a fiver in one of the remaindered book shops..  this is volume one and introduces the hero of the series Captain Daniel Rawson of the Duke of Marlborough's Foot...  a bit "Boys Own" in style but it romps along with a good thickish veneer of history over the top..  the characters are all a little one dimensional, the hero is an all round Superman good egg, the girls swoon, and the men a brave or cad's...  this one is set round events just before and at Blenheim..  the coverage of the assault on the Schellenberg was very good..7
Volume 3 in the series (somewhat irritatingly the three books I got are 1, 3 and 5 in the series! ) but by the end of this I'm beginning to realise that Daniel Rawson is a little one dimensional (and lacking in imagination!) - much the same as the previous story but this time ending with the battle of Ramilles..6
Volume 5 in the series - and if I'm honest it's a bit of a relief I didn't have to read all five..  as another reviewer put it - they are a trifle "thin"..  not in terms of pages, just food for thought..  this one ends with the battle of Malplaquet...6
See review here [clicky] 8
See review here [clicky] 9
I really enjoyed this and was a bit disappointed to find it was the last in series (apparently) when I finished it as he hasn't done any more and it's now six years since it was published (2012) and no news of a return on the horizon..  either way fifth in the series of the Sergeant Tanner books though by this stage of the war, Tanner has received his commission, and in this book is now a company commander with the (fictional) King's Own Yorkshire Rangers. The book covers the Sicily campaign, and although the characterisation is a little week and wooden, the background story is excellent..  covers in some detail the deal the American's did with the Mafia (supposedly brokered by Lucky Luciano from jail in the US) and in fact gives the book its title. From a covert operation at the start of the book, Tanner is involved throughout, and finally lands on the beaches with his men for Operation Husky. A good read..9
I read the whole of the dark Materials trilogy a number of years ago, and am in awe at the imagination Pullman clearly has. He has dreamed up an entire world, with elements of 50's and 60's Britain, but with an entirely alternative technology & science. This is a return to that world, and is a pre-cursor to the Dark Materials trilogy dealing with the birth and very early life of Lyra. So we meet her father, Lord Ariel, her mother (boo hiss), and a cast of amazing support characters, one of whom has a three legged hyena as his daemon...  superb! Can't wait for volume 2.. and this is my first 10 of the year10

As a younger man I read all of Steinbeck's Monterey books after I saw the film "Cannery Row" with Nick Nolte in 1982 (!). Good as I remember the film being (and I need to watch it again), and although this book is not strictly speaking in that Cannery Row series, I struggled a little with this one until I attuned myself to the pace and style (often find that when I finish one book I struggle with the next until you reboot your reading mind).. once I got there though the book romped along, and you began to really understand the hearts and minds of the little group of drifters who clustered around Danny as their focal point, and who eventually separate when his focal point is removed...  living from day to day, caring for each other, drinking wine by the gallon, and having gentle and not so gentle adventures, while living by an immutable set of paisano rules..  very gentle...8
Squadron leader Yeoman series - this time set in the Suez, period, but rather than the main theatre of operations this is set in a fictional Arab country in the region, and deals with the ever present (for that area) struggle against Russian who are looking to increase their sphere of influence.

The Russian's have sought to influence the ruler of one of the smaller Arab nations with offers of military advisors, hardware, and the ability to invade the adjacent country who they have long had as enemies... What the ruler doesn't know, or only suspects, is that the Russians want more than just to help..

In the other country - Yeoman and two squadrons of Venom fighter jets are tasked with helping them to resist the invasion..

A good enough yarn, full of twists and turns, Jackson is good on planes and hardware, but not one of the best in the series...
6
Been meaning to rad this for years, and then Amazon through it up as a daily bargain for Kindle so I took the plunge and sent them my 99p..

It just goes to show what value you can get for 99p.. simply superb..  atmospheric, descriptive, account of his first year in Provence having taken the decision to sell up and move there after years of holidaying there ..  each chapter is a month, and full of well written accounts of neighbours, restaurtants, food, and wine..  and always the food...  very good.
9
DG gave me this (loaned?? I need to check!)years ago and it's been sat on my bedside table ever since..  but this year I took an new year intention to read at least one non-fiction book a month and this is this months...

This is an old book, my edition was printed in 1943 on that slightly thin, and weightless paper the British government bought in under war time rationing...  that in itself adds atmosphere!

What we get is a brief history of the Royal Armoured Corps in the war to date, and given it was published in '43, this is mainly BEF in France, the retreat, and then he cuts to North Africa for Wavell's campaign against the Italians..........

He has a flowing style, that puts you in mind of reading one of those Pathe newsreels - but he also spoke to a lot of the combatants at the time, so we have interesting insights into what it was like to fight in a tank with no main gun against German Pz3's and 4's...  how good the Matilda II was (albeit slow, and quickly outgunned)...  I particularly liked the coverage of the Wavell campaign...  Reminded me very much of the Alan Moorehead books..  recommended.
9
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