Book reviews - 2018

Another year, another list..

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...
Been meaning to read this for years, and then Amazon threw 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..  an 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, restaurants, food, and wine..  and always the food...  very good.
See blog review [clicky] 8
Been looking forward to this and was not diapointed - Radcliffe is one of those natural story tellers, and this tilogy details the fictional life of Theo Trickey, a paratrooper in the the early days of the parachute regiment...  Radcliffe continues Theo's story, using the same present and past view of his life, and that of the doctor who nurses him in the present while they are in a POW camp following Arnhem. Absolutely fascinating and a real page turner...  so Trickey trains as a commando is transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute regiment is on the Bruneval raid (Operation Biting), before being seconded for SOE operations (a mission that ends in a particularly harrowing way...) in Italy at the time of Mussolini's overthrow, and then rejoining the regiment in time for Operation Torch in Tunisia..  absolutely excellent - can't wait for volume 310
There are a number of authors that classify under the category of "master story tellers" - they're the one's who grip you from the first page, and just tell a story you really want to hear the end of, and Nevil Shute is right up there in the upper reaches of the list..  Pied Piper, Trustee from the Toolroom, On the Beach, and this one, are absolute classics...  told from the perspective of the heroine, Jean Paget, this is the story of her life from the moment she is captured by the Japanese in Malaya, to her survival under brutal conditions, to meeting Joe an Australian POW, her immediate post war life, inheritance, and a life in Australia..  a belter, no other word for it, and an absolute time capsule...  recommended...10
What an absolute belter - I have had this in hardback for some time, and read it when it first came out, but it came up on one of the Kindle deals a few weeks ago for 99p and it seemed stupid not to at that price (his Ardennes, and Stalingrad books also popped up for the same price and I also snapped them up - I suspect they are drumming up interest for the imminent release of his history of Arnhem) Immensely readable history of the Normandy landings from the point when the meteorological team gave the "go", to the freeing of Paris, and covering all the beaches, the breakouts, Caen, Operations Goodwood/Epsom/Totalize etc, the truly harrowing description of the fighting around Falaise, the American breakout by Patton, and the politics, always the politics of Eisenhower's truly monumental role in keeping the Allied forces pointing in one direction, while at the same time having to deal with Churchill/Montgomery, Patton, and de Gaulle...  an amazing book, chock full of first hand accounts, insights into the way the two sides fought wars, a re-appraisal of Montgomery (Beevor and I have to say I are not fans)...  my takeaways? The importance of propaganda at keeping the Germans in the war, the absolute ferociousness of any fighting involving the SS (both sides... and although it's Hollywood fiction put "Fury" in mind), the single mindedness of de Gaulle/Leclerc, and the bravery of the men on the ground...  very much recommended...10
I'm a big fan of Robert Harris, Fatherland, and especially "An Officer and a Spy" about Dreyfuss are all absolutely riveting..  I have the new one he's just written ("Munich") on my list for holidays in four weeks time...  this one was another of those Kindle bargains that pops up every now and again (well worth getting on the daily email distribution - not always any good but every now and again a nugget turns up) and was on a subject I knew absolutely nothing about until this book..  like old school Forsyth/Clancy, Harris has immersed himself completely in the process the Roman Catholic Church goes through to elect a new Pope, and it is absolutely fascinating..  told from the perspective of the Dean who is the official in charge of conducting the process, it involves the stories of the 118 elected cardinals who will chose the new Pope, how they go about it,l their back story, how one is favourite, and then is not, before finally arriving at the decision, and the white smoke issues to let the world know that a decision has been made...  in this book we have Lomeli the aforementioned Dean of the College of Cardinals, struggling with his one faith, while also ensuring the election of a new Pope..  the struggle between conservative and liberal wings of the church, between the Italian core and the other "newer" countries, there is human frailty uncovered which affects the result, and at the end while I guessed the result, the last bomb shell wasnt expected at all..  recommended.. 9

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